Monday, 23 October 2017

Five Great Role-playing Video Games

As with so many of my fellow long-time gamers, I have developed my own list of preferences when it comes to the video games that I play. While I have always been willing to give just about any genre of video game a try (with the possible exception of anything racing or sport related), my absolute favourite have always been role-playing video games.

Considering that I have always been a fan of role-playing games in general (to the extent that I used to have my own collection of rule-books and oddly shaped dice), this probably makes perfect sense. The typical RPG focus on creating your own character, and having that character be a driving force in the story being told, has always appealed to me. Whether the story plays out in the form of group of friends gathered around a table, or in a video game, the primary appeal has always been in the game's ability to create a genuine sense of player agency. By this, I mean the degree to which I can feel as though the story being told is actually mine to some extent – even if, as is the case with many video games, it is all just a carefully constructed illusion.

Any video game that can create that sense of player agency, in which I am allowed to feel as though I am actually driving the story forward, is one that I am almost guaranteed to love. Games such as the five listed below, for example.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 6 - 'Ashes, Ashes'

In the aftermath of Sowande's ill-fated attempt to escape, and take Danny hostage, at the end of the previous episode, the team are left to attempt to process the new information they have been able to uncover. They now know that Danny is the key that the Hand needs to get what they want (something which the audience has known for a few episodes, of course – but, it's still nice for it to finally be explicitly spelt out). Also, the revelation that the Midlands Circle Finance building, which serves as the Hands current base of operations, was built over the strange pit that Matt discovered during the second season of Daredevil, gives them a likely location for whatever the hand are after.

Unfortunately, these new revelations also come with a new source of mistrust among the team. Reacting badly to the idea that his new allies expect him to go into hiding to avoid being captured by the Hand, Danny threatens to go off on his own once more – only to find himself stopped by Matt. I have to admit that the entire scenario struck me as a little contrived. Why, for example, would Danny react with such exaggerated outrage to the idea that he should go into hiding? It just seems like another example of the naive recklessness that he so often shown since the very beginning of his own series. On the other side, though, there is also the question of why the rest of the group be so adamant that Danny actually does need to go into hiding, in the first place? Danny clearly has no intention of giving the Hand what they want – and, he's perfectly capable of protecting himself. So, why not simply press ahead as a group?

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 5 - 'Take Shelter'

The previous episode may have been a slow one, but the promise of more action and excitement made by its final scene did manage to leave me feeling something optimistic about the season's fifth episode. Netflix's corner of the MCU has, after all, managed to provide some pretty fantastic action sequences over the past few years, right up to the great hallway fight that ended the third episode of this series.

With that in mind, though, it's actually a little disappointing to have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed by what we saw as this episode opened. They were clearly aiming for something large-scale, as the Hand brought its full force down on that Chinese restaurant and the heroes found themselves overwhelmed – but, a combination of choreography and the way that the entire sequence was edited left it all feeling a bit messy. There were moments in this opening sequence were I found it very difficult to follow the action, thanks to the way that various shots were cut together. This sequence also managed to leave me with the strange impression that whoever was responsible for choreographing the action, here, didn't actually know what to do with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones – or, how to make use of their own abilities. For Jessica, in particular, this problem seemed to crop up once more in another short action scene later in the episode.

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 4 - 'Royal Dragon'

It seems as though every series in Netflix's corner of the MCU has had at least one episode like this one – a quieter episode, after a moment of action, that forces the characters to assess the situation they have found themselves in. While these episodes have never been the high-light of their respective series, they have still usually served as a good point of transition between one distinct plot-arc and the next – covering ground that needs to be covered before the series can move on to something a little more exciting.

In the case of The Defenders, it is also interesting to note that this is technically the second such episode that this short series has had – with the first also devoting much of its time to acting as a point of transition between each character's respective solo series, and this one. Much like that first episode, this is an episode that takes a deliberately slow pace. While that first episode had to manage to tricky task of juggling four separate sub-plots, this one does have the advantage of finally bringing each member of its core cast together.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 3 - 'Worst Behavior'

While the previous episode of The Defenders may have ended with the first hints at how this group of heroes might come together, the third came to an end by tossing them all together for what should, hopefully, be the first of many genuinely great, fan-pleasing, moments. The sight of the four of them fighting their way through a horde of Alexandra's thugs is exactly the sort of visual spectacle that I had been hoping for with this series. The fact that this action sequence also happens to take place in a hallway just feels like a bonus.

Of course, before we even get to that point, the episode still has a bit of ground to cover, as it works to get all of the key players to the same place, at the same time. Opening with an extended flash-back sequence, revealing the circumstances behind Elektra's resurrection while also giving us some further insight into Alexandra's character, the episode then moves back to the present – where, as we have already learned, Alexandra holds Stick (Scott Glenn) as a prisoner. We still don't know much about Alexandra's plan, of course – though, we do learn that it centres around a strange wall that the Hand uncovered beneath New York and that Danny Rand, as the current Iron Fist, clearly has an important part to play. Of course, before Alexandra can get anymore information out of Stick, the ageing fighter is able to make a pretty spectacular escape – one which involves cutting off his own hand.

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 2 - 'Mean Right Hook'

With the first episode concerning itself predominantly with reintroducing us to the cast of characters, and laying the groundwork for what was to come, it would probably be fair to say that things got off to a slow start. That wasn't something I found to be a huge negative, of course (since the slower pace of the episode did allow plenty of time for some good scenes for each member of its core cast) – but, I did still come to the end of the episode hoping that they would pick up the pace over the next few episodes.

Fortunately, with the second episode, it seems that is exactly what has happened – as we almost immediately see some of the separate plot-lines, set in motion in the previous episode, begin to come together in interesting ways. In the aftermath of the apparent 'earthquake' that shook the city, Matt finds himself compelled to briefly return to his vigilante activities in response to an overheard threat of impending violence. Rather than embracing his role as 'Daredevil' once more, though, Matt's reaction almost seems to suggest that he views it as an odd form of relapse – an idea which is further cemented when Foggy makes contact the next day, offering to share some of his own workload with his former partner, in an attempt to keep him distracted.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Review - 'The Defenders', Episode 1 - 'The H Word'

Much like with Avengers: Infinity War, the release of the first season of The Defenders on Netflix is the culmination of a great deal of planning. It might not match up to the sheer scale and variety of Marvel's various films, but Netflix's corner of the MCU still boasts two seasons of Daredevil, one of Jessica Jones, one of Luke Cage, and one of Iron Fist – a truly impressive amount of content, even if some may have found it all to be of varying quality.

For my own part, despite my own issues, The Defenders is a series that I have been eagerly anticipating – and, something that I can't help but have high hopes for. Sure, I'm aware that I might just be setting myself up for disappointment – but, I'm eager enough to actually see these characters meet, and interact, that I'm prepared to set aside whatever problems I may have had with their respective solo adventures.

Of course, with its first episode, it is clear that The Defenders isn't in all that great a rush to actually get us to that point – considering the fact that, by the end, none of the four central protagonists have actually crossed paths. To be fair, though, this is obviously due to the fact that the first episode, itself, has quite a bit of ground to cover before we get to that point. Not only did this first episode need to reintroduce us to its four protagonists, but it also needed to do so in a way that acknowledged what each had been through, and the circumstances that they currently found themselves in. The first episode does, after all, have to walk a very fine line between catering to those in the audience who have watched each preceding series while also remaining at least somewhat open, and accommodating, for potential newcomers.