Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Assasin's Creed: Treasure in Heaven?

If I may I'd like to briefly detour from my usual pure geekiness to explore some of the moral, and religious complications and issues raised by the game, and in particular the high ground it claims by this mysterious "templar's treasure" that it introduces in the latter phases of the game.

My stance

I've made vague mention of this already, but I feel I should probably clarify that I'm a Christian. Now Christian means a lot of things these days, and terms I would use, such as "born-again" or "evangelical" to describe myself are sometimes aquainted with "nut job" today (though they are good terms to use) so I will try to briefly explain my position.
I believe that God exists first of all and that there is enough evidence from the bible, from nature and my personal experience for me to be confident in saying that. I believe that He has described Himself in the Bible and that it is a trustworthy account when it says he is good, loving, creator of the universe, judge, eternal, holy and the saviour of mankind. I believe that in sending Jesus (who is fully God) to die on the cross is the only way I can call myself a Christian and it is only because of His great love, which I in no way deserve, that I have hope and a future.
I've no doubt been vague or unclear here, but I thought it important to give some idea of my worldview - if you want to know more drop a comment, otherwise I'll get back to the game.

The Crusades

Ok, my research on the Crusades is somewhat cursory, but it needs be be addressed nonetheless, I will first deal with the crusades in general, then move of the the game's portrayal. The Crusades can be depicted as a war against Islam by Christianity - I beg to differ. The wars were made by political forces, such as the British Crown and the Papacy to expand territory and power and inspired by as well as using religious fervour to promote the cause. The wars began when the Byzantine Empire called for help against attacking Turks - The Pope got in on the game and called for all Christians to invade Turkish lands, promising immediate forgivness for sins if they died in battle (this is something a Christian already has through Jesus Christ and so it was a disgusting and putrid thing to offer to the poor followers who went out and got massacred) and the Dutch Kingdom set out and were soon followed by others. These wars expanded and went on for centuries, incorporating all sorts of political rivalries and factions along the way, which is where the game takes it's focus.
The game picks up in the time of the Third Crusade, about a century into the fighting, where the battle is fought between two legendary leaders: Richard the Lionheart, of England and Saladin of the Saracen forces. With Saladin succesfully retaking key locations and being surprisingly chivalrous to those defeated the time was very much one of confusion, perfect for creatures such as the Assassins and Templars to operate. The game makes a very fair portrayal of the times, with neither side as the monsters, but with most people simply seeking to get on with life and the darker figures on both sides being rooted out by the Assassins. The game also accuratly portrays the fact that individual leaders were often the cause of darkness in the lands. With the protagonist being a Muslim, the game does slightly favour the Islamic forces, but with their lands being invaded I guess it's kinda fair, but it doesn't take a chance for a cheap shot at Christianity or to pander to contemporary pro-Islamic media either.

So with this fairly well-balanced presentation (though I guess it might be more honest to present more of the horrors commited by both sides) I wonder why they chucked in what happens next.

A piece of Eden

The game deviates from plausibility somewhat by introducing the supernatural Piece of Eden, treasured by the Templars and Assassins alike. I felt this was a let down as it stretched the game beyond believable limits. I was happy with the futuristic gimmickry of the Animus, but an ancient superpowered object detracted from the magnificent middle-ages gameplay that makes Creed so great.
The object is recaptured by the Assassins early on in the game and left in mystery till the end. It is given the name "Piece of Eden" and attributed to it are such events as the parting of the Red Sea, the success of the Trojan Horse and "let a simple carpenter turn water into wine." It is revealed as a powerful illusion caster, but it's greater power is in the obvious debunking of all religion, the true goal of both Assassins and Templars, though they have different motivations and means.
I felt this was an anti-climactic and somewhat arrogant end to a game that had dealt so well with one of the most complex subject matters available. To have a weird orb that just disproves both Christianity and Islam as mere illusion is far to simplistic as well as a bit offensive as well as just plain boring. I admire it's guts in not just saying all religions are ok and all that PC garbage, but "all religions are lies" isn't a tremendous amount better.
The Crusades are an immensly difficult subject, and so many attrocities were commited in the name of Christ and through the political power of "The Church" that I expected a comelling and distrubing tale to be unravelled, but instead I got a piece of (alien?) technology seemingly thrown in just for the sake of it, and the game could have managed just fine without it - though sequels may redeem it's use somehow.
I'm rapidly running out of things to say so I'll end by saying that Assassins Creed had a great opportunity to deal with some very heavy issues through the video game media, but it seems to me that they wussed out of the big stuff and decided to smooth over it all with a nice simple "we know it all" answer - and that, for me, was a let down.

I'll just quickly reiterate that I am by no means an expert on the game or it's subject matter and if you think I'm in error please discuss and I'll endeavour to look more closely

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Dark Knight Has A Bad Throat

Hey, guys. I assume you've seen the Dark Knight. Prepare to laugh your socks off. And by the way, this video proves that another (very good) actor could become the joker if enough effort was put into it. Enjoy. - Watch more free videos

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Game Review - Assasin's Creed

Again I have the opportunity to tell you about a Video Game I've recently completed. Assassin's Creed was one of the big releases of early 2008 with an intriguing plot and a bold setting of the Crusades. I'd warn you about the spoilers, but the fact that a game set in medieval history is on this blog pretty much gives it away huh? It has had a mixed reception following release, but it remains a popular game with a sequel planned and a prequel released on DS.

Rough Plot

For most of the game you play as Altair, a top member of the game's interpretation of the Hashashin clan, from whom we derive the word "assasin". At the beginning of the game your are show to be arrogant and get one of your fellow assassins killed. For this you are demoted and given the bottom rank and equipment of the secret clan, and to earn your way back into the favour of Al Mualim, leader of the clan, you must carry out several key assassinations to take away the enemies of your leader. But as you travel to different cities and take down different leaders you discover there is more linking these men than violence and corruption and a bigger plot than the one you seek to take down.
You also see the story of Desmond Miles, descendant of Altair, who has been captured by a mysterious corporation who want his anscestor's memories and have a very unusual way of getting at them - but I'll come to that in a bit.


The game utlises a number of different skills and tactics to make your way through the game. As an Assassin you are meant to be invisible and so the game relies on stealth rather than outright combat. You use free running to escape pursuers and quickly navigate across rooftops, you character nimbly hopping across poles and doing incredible leaps that are still kept within the realms of what the human body is capable of. You can't just show up and killa guy though you need to investigate and plan your attack - first you have to find view points that shpw you where you need to go, then you can complete investigations such as pickpocketing, interrogation or even assassinations to gain information on your key target and then you plan your attack.
While the controls are innovative, the disadvantage is that after while you become attuned to them and the leaps, feats and combat are eventually just a matte of holding down the right button. With powerful counter moves even combat against large forces becomes easy to the stage that I would run away from a fight because I just didn't believe it was realistic. Thankfully though, running and hiding is just as much fun as combat!

Sci-Fi stuff

I wouldn't be discussing this game here if it wasn't for some Sci-Fi element. Whilst I was perfectly happy with the medieval setting and didn't need any wizardry to help me enjoy it the sci-fi side is quite intriguing and I think it will earn it's place in the sequels, assuming they live up to expectation.

The Animus

A key element in the game is the Animus. This device is a unique creation of a secret supercompany in the nearish future. Once a subject lies down on it's surface the device taps into their DNA code and unlocks what is called "genetic memory." These are the instinctive memories of an anscestor, passed down through their genes. The company attribute this for what we would call "animal instinct" as well as other intuitions. The device lets captive Desmond Miles access the memory of his ancestor as if he were really there. It is also able to "fast forward" or skip certain memories, though jumping too far can damage the subject or the device.

Abstergo and the Templars

OK, real spoiler territory here.

*BIG SPOILERS*The game unfolds a conspiracy between the Assasins and the Templars, known as a group of Knights of King Richard but truthfully, according to the game, a secret order comprised of men on both sides of the conflict seeking to change men and rule over them. Each one denies the claims of Al Mualim, saying that they are doing good, but each shows evidence of evil. They also posess a treasure capable of great power - but I'll come back to that. Their bid for power is halted as Altair slays them one by one, but one leader remains - Al Mualim, head of the Assasins -he reveals himself to be a Templar who wanted the treasure and it's power to himself and uses his student to kill off his rivals. He is eventually defeated by Altair - it is unknown what happens next as Altair comec into contact with the treasure.

*Little Spoilers* The tension between Templars and Assassins has continued to this day. The Templars, under the guise of the Abstergo corporation, are undergoing a quest to gain the treasure and other powers. They abduct Desmond Miles, who belonged to secret clan,of assassins but new nothing of their importance and left. His genes are enough for the Templars though and they use the Animus to get what they want. Some Assassins try to rescue Desmon and fail, but not all in Abstergo are who they seem...

I'm going to address the treasure itself in a seperate post along with the religious issues the game brings up, so I'll post that soon.

Worth Playing?

I've mentioned the game's downside, and I certainly felt them along the way - but I did find it a fun experience, though it was quite bewildering to begin with. I have certainly enjoyed it and would reccommend that you have a go. My friend said that it's not necessarily a game you'd play through twice unless you're an achievement hunter so maybe wait until it drops in price, but when it does, be sure to lay your hands on it.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Star Wars Vector, Chapter 2: Dark Times

Vector has jumped a few thousand years an continues it's tale in the times when the new Galactic Empire is in control of the Galaxy Far Far Away. As in last time this review has some spoilers hidden inside.

The second chapter of the multi-title spanning series "Vector" has concluded it's second chapter, somewhat shorter than the first segment "Dark Times" hold issues 5 and 6 of the series. You're probably a bit late to get in on the action by now, so I'll do you a favour and fill you in.

This story carries on both from the first chapter and also from existing Dark Times stories. In Dark Times so far a Jedi, Dass Jennir and his soldier friend Bomo find themselves sole survivors of an Imperial massacre, they board a ship called the Uhumele and find a friendly crew and go out to seek a way to save Bomo's family, but nothing goes quite right and there aren't too many happy faces in these stories...they are Dark times after all. If you want to catch up on Dark Times the stories so far have been collected in graphic novel format with volume one out and volume two out sometime this month, which will bring you right up to Vector.

The latter part of the story was about a mysterious crate that the crew were trying to sell, in Vector we find that the crate contains none other than Celeste Morne, ancient Jedi with an even older curse. Trapped for four thousand years she is rudely awakened when the crew are betrayed once again and Darth Vader shows up to collect the powerful Sith artifact. Celeste wakes up in disorientation to find that everyone she knew is dead, the Republic is no more and that the Sith, the enemies she swore to destroy are in control of the galaxy.

She launches into an attack against Vader, but there is another power at work - Karness Muur, a Sith Spirit residing in the powerful, plague-inducing talisman wrapped around Celeste's neck. Muur eggs Celeste on, eager to bring out the darkness in her, she refuses, but starts to lose the battle. Muur changes his mind deciding to support Vader and gain a more powerful body and mind to control. Finding herself losing she makes a terrible decision and takes hold of the power of the talisman for herself to the dismay of Muur. As her power spreads so does the Rakghoul plague, infecting all nearby humans. This handily takes care of Vader's clone troopers, causing him to retreat to his shuttle, but tragically also kills Crys Taanzer, crewmember of the Uhumele. As both ships depart Celeste is left alone with her mindless Rakghouls and an ancient Sith ghosts, satisfied that even though she's trapped the evil is trapped with her.

Thus concludes this second chapter of Vector. The story has now moved on to Rebellion, a series set in the early days of the Rebel Alliance where Celeste may meet Vader once again and will most definitely be bumping into a certain son of his - exciting stuff on the way soon. Vector part one, collecting all the stories discussed so far will be out January next year. Dark Times is taking a break to make way for the Clone Wars stuff going on, with the movie and some tie in comics etc.

So that's it from Vector, but with a few more Legacy issues out and the Clone Wars movie coming to cinemas you bet you'll be hearing more from the galaxy far far away before too long.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

SF at the Movies - August 08

OK another month has zipped by and it's time to take a look at what the cinema has to offer us this August.

Space Chimps

Released 01/08/08

Certainly one for the kids in an adventure where a special space probe gets sucked down a wormhole so the bright folks at NASA send the descendant of the first monkey in space after it. They follow it through and find some aliens and stuff - oh and things happen.

X-Files: I want to believe

Released 01/08/08

No longer working for the government, with paranormal investigations closed, Mulder and Scully get sucked back into their dark world when the 'vicions' of a priest solve a number of serious murder cases. I've not seen any X-Files really so I won't be seeing it, but it looks pretty good.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Released 15/08/08

Star Wars makes a surprising reappearance in theatres this August - are the dollar signs still fixed in George Lucas's eyes - I think so!! This movie will be kick-starting a new CGI series of the same name. Set between episodes 2 and 3 this movie involves a risky mission, Anakin's very own padawan and none other than Jabba the Hutt himself. A must see for all Star Wars fans.

That looks like it might be it - but there are also some hit fantasy releases this month with the third Mummy installment out soon as well as Hellboy 2 which I saw on advance preview and can highly recommend.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Doctor Who - New Series, new species part 15

OK, it's been a while in coming, for which I apologise, but I'd kinda completely forgot about this post...what that says about Doctor Who is for you to interperet. I guess this blog is gonne be fairly quiet on the Who front for a while what with there only being specials and one of them featuring (groan) Cybermen. Anyway - best hurry up and look at some beasties hadn't we?

Mindnight Entity

I really liked this creature and the episode it featured in, it managed to be both intriguing and thrilling as well as more than a bit scary. The unknown element made it an even more fearsome opponent for the Doctor as he struggled to survive a nightmare scenario where the fears of man were used as a weapon against him.

Little is known about the Mindnight Entity, not even enough to satisfactorily confirm whether it exists at all or whether it was one creature or many or what. All that is known is that a 'shadow' was seen on the diamond planet Midnight, soon after something ripped open a shielded compartment on a tour vessel crossing the hazardous surface. Then something entered the hull without being seen and possessed one of the passengers, Sky Silvestry. The entity then copied everything the crew said without displaying any other emotion. It got faster and faster until it was speaking simultaneously and exactly what the crew were saying. It then latched onto the Doctor, only copying him until it eventually got ahead of the doctor and he was left absently repeating what it said as the crew pannicked and tried to kill him. Only the brave action of the stewardess saved the Doctor and destroyd the creature...perhaps.

Time Beetle

No satisfactory image and, well, you know what a beatle looks like anyway! I found it a bit dissapointing that the alien looked exactly like an earth beetle, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. I especially liked the link to the Trickster of SJA and see potential for more I stated earlier.

The time beetle was a creature that fed on chaos through causing minor changes in someone's life and feeding off the differences in time and space. It was assisted by a fortune teller whom it used to reel victims in. Even in the altered timeline it could be percieved by a few who would know that something was wrong but couldn't quite detect the beetle. It was defeated by Donna Noble who had Rose's help to change her timeline back, which killed the beetle. The Doctor then identified it as part of the "Trickster's Brigade" making it part of a very dangerous group, if it and it's leader are anything to go by.

Shadow Proclamation

OK so not actually the name for the race, but it's a bit better then "freaky red-eyed folks" I think! These guys were a massive dissapointment I felt as they'd been hammed up and mentioned lots and when they arrived their appearance was brief and underused. I had been hoping for a united multi-race battle against the Daleks, but instead we got a bunch of weird fortune tellers with an unimpressive Judoon military that never turned up again - I felt very much shortchanged by this lot.

A mysterious humanoid race lead the shadow proclamation in a hidden base, guarded by the Judoon forces. The race themselves seem to posess a good deal of knowledge and wisdom, though unlike many other races the did not know of the Doctor's existance and thought the Time Lords a myth. They posessed the skills to confirm the missing planets and their location, but as they prepared for war the Doctor left, preferring to find his own solution.


Just mentioning this for completeness really.

The Doctor hinted that some species of Bee weren't native to Earth and had been returning home, he used this to track Earth's location.

Well that's it, I must admit to being a little dissapointed by the conclusion, though it made a good episode and all that. I hope it's not too long before I can share some more cool aliens with you, but for now - tara!