the rantings and ravings of a not quite sane cow

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods: Final Cut

For those not familiar with Stargate, Children of the Gods was the 2 hour (with ads, so it ends up being closer to an hour and a half) pilot that premiered around 12 years ago. And, to be honest, it hasn't aged well, especially when compared to newer episodes of the series.

Okay, first let me discuss finances. I paid $50 for the first season. This DVD of just the first episode is $30. Is it worth it? Hell yes!

If you like CotG as it is... congratulations, you're in the minority. While it's a decent episode (most Stargate episodes are), it's pretty poor compared to some other episodes. Some of the dialogue in it is just painful to listen to, the pacing slows to a crawl at some points, the special effects are bad, inconsistent, and badly inconsistent, the video quality is pathetic in some spots, some of the shots give you a great view of everything but the action, the music feels like awkward mashup of the Stargate movie theme and new stuff, some people's voices sound nothing like they should, it's completely unsuitable for kids (hey, Stargate is supposed to be a family friendly show), and there are plot holes big enough to fly a 747 through. In short, calling it a train wreck is overly generous. Despite all that, it's a good episode (by TV standards. By Stargate standards, it's not great). But it stands up to the test of time far worse than most of the early episodes.

If you don't want me to spoil anything for you, just scroll down to the second bold text after this. If you've already seen it or you don't care, read on.
Okay, now let's look at what they've done to make it better. First, visuals. The old opening title sequence is gone and there's a new one, not similar to anything you've seen from Stargate before. It's not badly done, but it does nothing to seem like it belongs to Stargate - just change the text and it could serve for anything even remotely related to sci fi. A decent number of the special effects shots have been redone, things like gate puddles and wormhole effects have been redone to look like they do later in the series (although some of the puddles don't seem to have been redone, and they stick out pretty badly). There's also more serious changes like redoing the glider chase on Chulak, as well as a couple of fairly distinctive scenes (like leaving the pyramid on Abydos). Some of the shots in the original were actually pretty poor quality, and some had noticeable defects, these have been fixed.

Sound: Most of the music has been redone so that it doesn't awkwardly include the movie's theme... sounds good but isn't particularly notable (unlike the original, in which it was notably bad). Some of the dialogue has been recorded, so characters now sound much more like... themselves.

Okay, now I really have to warn you. SPOILERS AHEAD. If you don't want to read them, scroll down to the next bold text (not far).
Now for how it's been cut. I'm not going to lie to you (about this): it's about 5 minutes shorter than it used to be. Among the cuts are possibly parts you may like (such as Carter's famous line when meeting "the boys" for the first time), but many of those are "so bad it's good" parts, so not a great loss. Also gone is the infamous nude scene. Stargate is supposed to be a family show... in that kids may not like it but there's no harm in showing it to them. There are still scenes with unclad ladies, but everything's tastefully obscured. Also gone is the bit just before the end with Kawalski alluding to the next episode... now it can stand by itself. This maybe gives the episode a bit of a happier ending than it should have (since Sha're and Skaara have both been made hosts) but is better in the long run. Overall it feels like the whole episode goes together a lot better... and it feels like it belongs to the series a lot more. The original cut, excluding the familiar characters, settings, themes and basic premise, could almost seem like it belongs to another series.

Good news! No more spoilers. Bad news! There's not much review left. Good news! There's not much review left.
Special features: sadly not much. There's a new commentary on it, full of Brad Wright pointing out changes you may or may not notice and Richard Dean Anderson being funny. No, really, if you have the DVD, listen the commentary now. If you don't have the DVD, buy it and listen to the commentary. There's also a short piece on how this came about and a few of the changes they made - it's good for watching once but that's about it. And... that's it, no more special features. I would have preferred some more in-depth stuff about redoing it, maybe some interviews with some of the cast... oh well.

Overall: if you're a Stargate fan, buy this. If you're not a Stargate fan, buy this (it makes for a great introduction to the series, better than the original cut).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Demo Impressions: Batman: Arkham Asylum

As a general rule, licensed games suck. In fact it's a statistic that I just made up that 95% of games based on movies suck. Other licenses tend to fare a bit better, but not by much. Comics tend to be the exception (and by exception, I mean 1 or 2 percent more don't suck). So don't worry, this Batman game is based on the comics. Don't worry if you don't read the comics (I don't, but I do tend to know a bit more than the average person), as most of the major characters are either obvious (like Batman) or in the moves (like the Joker). Well from what I've seen anyway (for a 2 gigabyte download, the demo isn't very long). It does help that there are profiles of all the major characters. There's also trophies of some of the characters, that you can zoom and rotate on, to either get a better view of someone, or the perfect crotch shot of The Dark Knight himself.If you're expecting a story like the latest movies though, it looks like you'll be disappointed, as the story has a real comic book sort of vibe to it.

Okay, for the graphics... they're damn fine (that is to say they're completely awesome). As this bat is based off his comic appearances, don't expect anyone to look like someone from the movies (well, the Joker looks a little bit like Heath Ledger, but that could just be because Heath Ledger makes a damn fine Joker). Places aren't too dark (there's no point having a dark hiding spot if you can't see it yourself). Arkham looks creepy enough that you'd want to be crazy to go there (wait, that's not right). There are plenty of excellent graphical cues for things like dropping down from a ledge and grabbing someone, or swinging around with the grapple.

Sound, like graphics, is top notch. Music helps to set the scene but doesn't get in the way (although with how some of it sounds, I almost wish it did). You may or may not recognise any of the voice actors - it really doesn't matter, as they all do a great job. All your attacks sound like they connect (and really hurt), and all the other sound effects (gliding, grappling, etc.) sound like what I'd presume they'd actually sound like. Like the graphics, it's all the small touches that make the difference... like the chatter between all the goons (just for one example).

All that I've described so far would make a fine movie for sure, but this is a game so I must talk about what makes it a game. Firstly the combat... it's very fluid, goes together very well and before you know you'll feel ready to take on a whole room of goons at once. It's a nice nod to the comics in that you never actually kill anyone - you just knock them unconscious. Unlike the last Batman game I played though, you don't have to go to the ridiculous length of slapping the batcuffs on every thug you K.O. in the first round (and run out of cuffs 10% of the way through the level). I guess the combat is probably most comparable to Assassin's Creed, but it tends to be a lot better here since I'm not just blocking until I can get a counter in. In this, it's just lots of fun to pull of different combos and beat the crap out of anyone stupid enough to fight you. Of course if you don't want to fight someone, assuming you can get a decent vantage point you can glide kick into them for an instant K.O.

This isn't really a platforming game (if there was a way to jump I didn't find it), so any elevation will have to be achieved by using grapple points. This brings me to the fairly cool detective mode - at the press of a button it tints the screen blue but highlights things like grapple points, vents, and enemies, Look at an enemy and you can see their heart rate (how alert they are) and whether they're feeling fine, nervous, unconscious, etc. As for the rest of the HUD - does its job, stays out of the way, just like a good HUD.

Finally... controls. I used a 360 controller (but I have the PC demo... go figure) and it works great. Various fighting commands and context sensitive actions are on the face buttons, the right trigger crouches and the left trigger pulls out tools (in the demo, Batarangs are all you have). The bumpers handle detective mode and the grapple, sticks are as you'd expect (left = movement, right = move camera - for the most part it's a third person affair but it does occasionally go into first person). The d-pad selects from your tools (as I said though, Batarangs only in the demo). It goes together quite well and I can imagine that the 360 version would control in exactly the same way. Keyboard and mouse controls (I tried them for a little bit) aren't too bad but this really is a more controller-oriented affair.

And the all important question will I buy it? Of course I will!