Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Monday 24th February 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been about 10 years since I last watched the first Pirates movie, but I remember it fondly as a very entertaining action-adventure film. Then the two sequels came out: Dead Man’s Chest had some decent bits but was a far more flawed film than the original, but like The Matrix Reloaded those flaws could have been forgiven had the concluding third film clicked all the pieces into place; unfortunately, like The Matrix Revolutions, At World’s End failed to do that in a satisfying way.

Now I’ve finally got round to watching On Stranger Tides, and… ‘Salright, I s’pose.

Wisely, the running time and sheer scale are reigned-in compared to At World’s End: last time we had giant sea goddesses, giant kraken, swordfights on giant rolling water-wheels and swordfights on horizontal ships stuck in giant whirlpools; this time we have human-sized mermaids, and swordfights set on solid ground. I mean, the action’s still ridiculous and implausible, but at it’s a relief to see the series retreating a little from the “bigger=better” philosophy.

Unfortunately the smaller scale doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s very good action. I remember that a clip showing Jack’s escape from King George was the first pre-release promotional clip I saw from this film, and it was the thing that put me off watching it entirely. There are better action scenes later on in the film (Jack tackling some Spanish soldiers with a rope wrapped round a coconut, for example), but this is an action film in which the action is probably the least exciting part. It’s not that it’s hard to tell what’s going on, the fights are competently shot in that respect, it’s just all… somehow tedious. If you care about the characters and stakes, you can be enthralled by any action scene, whether it’s short and mundane, or ridiculously OTT in scale – you don’t start nitpicking flaws, because you don’t want to. But if you find the action dull, you actively look for problems, and start asking pesky questions like “Hey, why didn’t that baddie attack our hero just then, he had a clear opening?” and “It may have been off-screen, but surely that guard would have seen him dodge out of sight just now?” and “THIS IS SILLY I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT WOULD EVER HAPPEN”. (Yes, I know that last one’s not a question.) Consequently, the blacksmith’s shop swordfight early in the first Pirates film is still probably the best action sequence the series ever had.

Onto some more positive notes (with qualifiers):

I thought that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were at their best when they went all surreal and supernatural, with memorable images like the crab army and the intentional capsizing of a ship at sunset. On Stranger Tides has much less of that sort of thing, but what is seen works well: shrunken ships in bottles like Superman’s Kandor, water droplets that flow in reverse, a ship whose rigging comes alive at its captain’s command.

Blackbeard’s a good villain; his attitude is more deadpan and his tone of voice more cultured than that of the other pirates, which makes it somewhat disappointing that they give him the same “arr, that it be” speech patterns as a character like Barbossa. The mermaids are good, though I’m not quite sure what the point was of giving them Splash-style leg transformations, since after we see it happen to one she never walks but just gets gets carried. The absence of Orloondo Bland (thank you, Mark Kermode, for giving the world that name!) is good; his equivalent in this film is much better, a cleric whose relationship with one of those mermaids is probably the film’s best subplot. (The film’s concerns about religious faith and whether Edward Teach’s soul can ever be saved also work well: sketched in just well enough to give the relationships between Blackbeard, the missionary, and Penélope Cruz’s character some weight, without becoming obtrusive.)

Against my better judgement, I still quite like Johnny Depp flouncing around in the role of Jack Sparrow. Sorry.

The film’s depiction of the ritual involved in drinking from the Fountain of Youth is extremely reminiscent of the Holy Grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and compared to that, it comes off… poorly.

And there’s also something else that the film reminded me of. There are voodoo dolls in this movie. I’m not sure if they are from the original On Stranger Tides novel, but I know what they put me in mind of, and Pirates of the Caribbean really, definitely is no Monkey Island 2.


Dark Souls progress: part 4

Monday 10th February 2014 Leave a comment

Original forum post: 10 February 2014

Been playing the game pretty sporadically since my last progress update a month ago. (A month in terms of when I originally wrote them, that is; these first four are going up on this blog in one batch!)

Read more…

Dark Souls progress: part 3

Monday 10th February 2014 1 comment

Original forum post: 11 January 2014


Lvl26, 13h playtime. Main weapon: Longsword (now upgraded to +4).

Read more…

Dark Souls progress: part 2

Monday 10th February 2014 Leave a comment

Original forum post: 8 January 2014

Read more…

Dark Souls progress: part 1

Monday 10th February 2014 Leave a comment

Not being a PS3 owner, it’s no surprise that Demon’s Souls passed me by. But somehow, I managed to completely miss the fuss about Dark Souls until very recently. The 400-page-plus thread on the main videogame forum I visit was one my eyes always glanced past in the topic index. So it wasn’t until last year’s anniversary issue of Edge proclaimed it one of the games that Should Have Got A Ten (alongside my beloved GoldenEye) that I took any notice of it:

People fixate on the difficulty because it’s the easy talking point, but FromSoftware’s masterpiece is arguably less preoccupied with difficulty than your garden-variety firstperson shooter. We’ve grown accustomed to being asked to choose between words like casual, normal, legendary, survivor, insane, nightmare and the rest before we ever taste a second of gameplay. Dark Souls boasts the courage of its design convictions. The world of Lordran has an established temperament and everyone who travels there will face the same travails. The uniformity of experience is part of what makes flinty-eyed Dark Souls veterans feel such intense solidarity when they discuss the game. Nobody gets a free pass. Nobody is born with a silver dagger clenched in their teeth.

The game holds you in exceedingly high regard. It believes you are capable of accomplishing remarkable feats, ones that might well seem impossible when first encountered. If you bailed out before completing the game, it was only because you disagreed with its opinion of your capabilities.

That had me intrigued. Then in December it was offered for about £4 as a download on Xbox Live, so I snapped it up.

This post – and subsequent ones in this series – are basically the progress updates I posted in the Rllmukforum Dark Souls thread. I bought the game and began playing early in December, but didn’t really get stuck into it until after Xmas. This first progress update was originally posted there on 1 January 2014 (getting stuck on Dark Souls: a fun way to spend New Year’s Eve!)

As for the difficulty: I’ve played lots of challenging games, but the hardest ones I’ve completed before now are probably Perfect Dark (you might not remember it being such a hard game, especially compared to Jet Force Gemini, but levels like Attack Ship and Maian SOS are ridiculous on Perfect Agent, especially with the low framerates of the original N64 version!), Ninja Gaiden Black (default difficulty) and Ninja Gaiden 2 (but only on its default Path of the Acolyte “Normal” difficulty; I’ve reached the werewolf boss in my Path Of The Warrior “Hard” run, which I return to approximately annually…).

Right, let’s praise the Sun and get going!

Read more…

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Tuesday 24th September 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been a fan of Björk’s music for a fairly long time now, but I’d always avoided hearing Selmasongs, the soundtrack album for Dancer in the Dark. That’s mainly because I don’t like listening to musicals’ OSTs until I’ve seen and heard the tracks in their original cinematic context. However, I was kind of dreading watching Dancer in the Dark: I’d heard it was a good movie, but a book about Björk I read several years ago gave a summary of the film’s plot, and it sounded like pretty much the most unrelentingly depressing story ever.

Well, it’s not relentlessly depressing, mainly because the musical numbers (both the songs and the choreography) are really, really good. I know that any cheerfulness in those scenes is tempered by the irony that the conventions of Hollywood musicals are being applied to such a downbeat story, but it was something that worked for me, if only because I’m a fan of her music outside of this film.

The film was made in between Björk’s albums Homogenic and Vespertine (by general consensus among her best), and I could hear aspects of both those albums in the film’s arrangements: the incorporation of cacophanous machinery into “Cvalda” kind of recalls the noisy beats of songs like “5 Years” and “Pluto” in the latter half of Homogenic, whereas other songs have more delicate arrangements reminiscent of the “microbeats” of Vespertine. (The echoing, bassy male backing voices in “I’ve Seen It All” kind of came across to me as an inversion of the female backing vocals that repeat the phrase “she loves him” in “Pagan Poetry”.) And of course, as this is a musical, occasionally you’ll hear something that could have come from Björk’s most famous song/video: “It’s Oh So Quiet”.

The standout song is probably “I’ve Seen It All”, which contains the memorable couplet:

What about China? Have you seen the Great Wall?
All walls are great, if the roof doesn’t fall!

I can’t decide whether those lines are deceptively simple and genuinely clever, or merely endearingly cute and childlike. Whatever it is, the rhyme works in context, and I really like it.

Since watching the film, I’ve heard the Selmasongs album, and for the performance of “I’ve Seen It All” on the CD, the film’s actor Peter Stormare is replaced by everyone’s favourite vehicle-phobic, asymmetrical-eylidded, multi-instrumentalist rock frontman, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. But he doesn’t just sing the few lines that Peter Stormare sang in the film; instead, all the song’s lines alternate between Björk and Yorke. That means that although in the film the song made sense as a question-and-answer conversation, that doesn’t carry across to the album version, and for that reason I have to say that I prefer the movie version. (Sorry, Thom!)

So, it’s safe to say that the music was my main focus when watching the film. What about its other aspects?

A couple of reviews of the film I’ve read since watching it have noted that its filming style was offputting, the camera rarely showing what you want to see. Hentai Cop’s review, for example:

… Lars makes the film really tough to watch on a technical level. He shoots the film digitally and handheld, mostly in close-ups that frequently zoom in and out. The style is disorienting and reclusive, which makes Bjork the main focus of every shot (and complements her character’s blindness, as the the frame becomes very limiting).

Comments like that surprise me, since I didn’t find the camera’s motion any more distracting or offputting than in anything else handheld – say, an episode of The Thick of It.

So, unlike some people, I had no problem with the film’s abrupt musical transitions, with the concept of mixing upbeat Hollywood musical with downbeat misery, or with its filming style. In fact, it was only really the story’s melodramatic nature that put me off the film at all: accepting the inherent implausibility of the plot was, for me, by far the biggest hurdle. I felt like I would probably get most out of the film if it made me feel that the doom that would befall Selma was inevitable, that the film could never end any other way; instead, there were several points in the film when I felt myself thinking, “No, I can’t believe that in real life, this character would really be that stubborn! Surely this time this character will, for once, make the sensible decision to get out of this situation!” (But – spoiler! – she does not.)

Despite that, I liked the film a lot, even if that was more for the musical sequences than anything that happened in between them.

Other reviewers more cinematically literate than me can say where this stands in the von Trier oeuvre. As it’s the first of his films I’ve watched, I can’t do anything like that. In fact, I don’t know whether I’ll ever watch enough of his films to be able to do that – right now, all I know is that I never, ever want to watch Antichrist…

[4 out of 5]

Categories: Films, Music, Reviews Tags: , , , ,

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Friday 21st June 2013 Leave a comment

(Rewatched 3 June 2013.)

This was, I think, the first Star Trek movie I ever saw. I don’t remember much of that viewing, except that the fact I hadn’t seen Wrath of Khan meant that I didn’t get much out of it.

Watching it now: it’s okay, I suppose. The problem is that it’s very much an in-between film. On the one hand we have the film’s main goal, to resurrect Spock. As dramatic as the idea of resurrecting one of the world’s most recognisable fictional characters sounds on paper, if you look at it another way, the ultimate aim of the movie is merely to return to the status quo: our familiar crew, reunited again. Put that way, it’s really quite a mundane goal around which to base a movie.

That wouldn’t matter too much if there was another interesting storyline going on. But the Genesis Planet aspect of the plot is really just an epilogue to Wrath of Khan; the concept is not developed significantly enough to justify stretching it out and dedicating a whole second movie to it.

So, one storyline is a continuation of something that didn’t really need to be continued from the previous film; the other might seem extraordinary, but is a goal that, rather than moving the series forward, just returns it to the same comfortable setup in preparation for future adventures. Like I said, a bridging, “in-between” film, rather than a satisfying movie in its own right.

Even the death of Kirk’s son David happens in a rather un-dramatic fashion. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if there was a more direct link between Kirk’s efforts to resurrect Spock and the death of his son – the price he pays for the return of his friend?

David is a bland character, and he and the Vulcan Saavik get lots of screen time that would have been better dedicated to other things. For example, McCoy’s conflicts with Spock were one of the fun things about the original TV series, but the idea of them occupying the same body is wasted in this film: we get a couple of minor jokes involving the doctor suddenly coming out with Spock-y logic, but that’s about it.

It’s far from being an annoyingly bad film. It passes the time pleasantly enough. There are things to enjoy: for one thing there’s the novelty of seeing Christopher Lloyd in Klingon make-up (though he’s not the most threatening baddie).

Kirk’s trick with the self-destruction of the Enterprise is probably the best sequence in the film. (Having said that, it does rely on us accepting the idea that a spacecraft that size could be capably run by only a few crewmembers – which, incidentally, also happens to be one of the many suspensions of disbelief involved in watching this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness…)

Fun Fact! Apparently, Frank Welker, animal voiceover god extraordinaire, contributed some screaming noises to this movie! Bit of trivia for you, there.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Monday 8th April 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I last watched Licence to Kill, that most ’80s-ish of the ’80s Bond movies. In my memory it’s always been one of my least favourite entries in the entire series. I’m pleased to say that upon today’s rewatch, I enjoyed it a lot more, and can now honestly say I like it – even if I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Dalton’s preceding film The Living Daylights.

The plane-hooking opening sequence is fun (just look at that shot of Felix Leiter and his DEA allies’ slow-mo charge forward – see, told you it was oh-so-’80s!), but the movie doesn’t really start to get good until Bond discovers the very brutal thing that happened to Felix Leiter and his new wife. The idea of Bond going rogue on a personal mission outside of MI6 is a good one, but not enough is really made of it. Unlike something like the later Mission: Impossible, it doesn’t feel like Bond’s former allies could be just as much of an obstacle as the bad guys: a while after Bond’s “with one bound he was free” escape in the scene with M, one agent turns up angry at him, then immediately dies, and that’s pretty much it. Bond’s licence to kill is revoked, but this has absolutely no effect on his ability to proceed to kill just as many people as ever. He even still gets to have Q helping him – in one of that character’s biggest roles, in fact!

Having said that, it’s not quite true to say that this might as well be an officially sanctioned mission: I really like the neat plotting of the way Bond’s solo quest for vengeance screws up two other groups’ attacks on Sanchez. The way 007 effectively fuels Sanchez’s concerns about betrayal within his organisation is also good, and the length of time Sanchez remains oblivious to the fact that Bond is his enemy makes for an extremely unusual Bond movie. Overall, perhaps because so much of the movie is kept relatively grounded and low-key, the plotting generally (with a few exceptions) progresses more logically than it does in most Bond films. (Everyone: for some excellent commentary on story structure points like this, go and read Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes on the movie. It is indeed the “knifiest Bond ever”!)

The sequence with Bond sneaking around Krest’s operation is a good one; the “maggot coffin” is a fun baddie takedown, and the scene has a satisfying conclusion thanks to how Bond kills Felix’s betrayer. (The way Sanchez dies at the end of the movie – hey, it’s a Bond film, it’s not a spoiler to say that! – is also one of the most satisfying in the entire series.)

The film contains two very good action sequences, the harpoon-plane-waterskiing (featuring gunfire to that da-dada-da-da Bond theme rhythm!) and the concluding tanker chase. They easily make up for the crap bar brawl (noteworthy only for the swordfish bit) and ninja attack. (Ninjas… who are Hong Kong narcotics agents? Mixing up your nations of the Orient a little bit there, aren’t you, writers?) The section inside Sanchez’ smuggling base ranks somewhere in between: the conveyer belt fight against Benicio del Toro is nice and tense, but the setting seems even more Made Of Explodium than the hotel in Quantum of Solace.

As it’s a revenge story, it’s understandable that Timothy Dalton’s performance would be more downbeat than it was in The Living Daylights. But, combined with a general lack of memorable dialogue for him, it does mean that I find him much less fun to watch in this movie than in his first one, which may be a big part of the reason why I like it a lot less. The two Bond girls are also far from the greatest of characters or performances.

(A ridiculously minor nit-picky point, which doesn’t really belong in a review but I want to moan about it anyway: one of the baddies kills Bond’s DEA ally and says, “Guess what? His name was Sharkey!” The emphasis in that sentence has always felt like it’s on the wrong word, as if he’s simply confirming that his name was what he already thought it would be, rather than drawing attention to the irony of his cause of death. For similar reasons, I get disproportionately annoyed with a likewise mis-delivered line in The Matrix: “The image translators work for the Construct program…”)

[003 out of 005]

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Monday 11th March 2013 Leave a comment

The Fountain.
Synecdoche, New York.
A Cock and Bull Story.
The Hours.

Look, I admit it – I’m a sucker for cinematic experiments in metafiction and form. Such movies tend to attract critics’ comments like, “All this self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, and chronological jumbling are mere gimmicks; once you’ve solved the superficial puzzle-box, there’s little of substance to them. They’re not really as profound or interesting as they think they are – they exist only as exercises for writers and directors to smugly say, ‘Look how clever I am!'”

But for me, that clever-clever self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, chronological jumbling, and puzzle-solving is exactly what wins me over. (Usually.) And it certainly worked in the case of Cloud Atlas!

I have not read David “Not The One From Peep Show” Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, but before going to see the film, The Fountain was the reference point I had in mind. And sure enough, of the above examples, The Fountain is the film that it most resembles, in its cross-cutting between vastly different time periods in order to emphasise symbolic links between events and characters.

I enjoyed the film very much. The 2144 segment was always going to have the most immediate appeal for someone primarily interested in this film because of the Wachowskis’ involvement, and it’s a relief to see that they have lost none of their flair for action direction. (If, indeed, it was the siblings and not Tykwer who directed that segment’s action scenes: the end credits suggest that they did, but interview comments1 suggest that the credits give a misleading impression of how distinctly the film’s directorial responsibilities were divided.) However, all the stories had something to recommend them (the humour of the 2012 segment; the conspiracy of the ’70s thriller; the interaction between Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent’s characters in the 1930s), so that I was rarely disappointed when the film interrupted a story I was enjoying to switch to another one. The abruptness of the transitions between the different stories’ tones and genres was also something that appealed to me rather than a disorientating irritation. Overall I found it a very well-paced movie, flowing along about as well as any non-linear three hour movie ever could. (Although I could have done with a few less solemn, pseudo-profound statements about interconnectedness in the voiceovers.)

Many people have complained of being distracted by the make-up, and Tom Hanks’ attempts at certain accents – it’s true that I was distracted by those things too, but with only a couple of exceptions, keeping an eye out for the different roles each actor took on was an enjoyable distraction.

Hugo Weaving has said in interviews that roles in mainstream blockbusters no longer really appeal to him as an actor. If that means he won’t be doing any more of them, then at least we have Cloud Atlas to represent the ultimate culmination of all his villain-portraying! (Although: yeah, he does resemble the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh at one point…)

[4 out of 5]

1 See Lana Wachowski’s comment in this AV Club interview:

We keep trying to explain to people that, first of all, the credit you see in the movie was this kooky thing invented by the Director’s Guild, because they couldn’t understand how three people could direct a movie together. And they have this convention that the only way directors can be multiply credited on a film is if it’s an anthology, so they invented this bizarre credit to allow their rules to make sense for our film.

Halo 4

Monday 28th January 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve had Halo 4 for about three weeks now, and played through it once on Heroic and the first four levels on Legendary, and in multiplayer I have reached SR35. Impressions so far: it’s a great Halo campaign, but not my favourite – at the moment I don’t think it’s quite as good as Halo 3 or Reach. I didn’t mind playing as the Rookie ODST or Noble Six, but as someone who believes that Halo games’ storylines are of tertiary concern to their gameplay mechanics and level designs, I was surprised by how pleased I was to have the Chief and Cortana back.

Unfortunately, in Halo 4 there isn’t as much close-range fighting with Elites as I’d like, I’m not too impressed with the Promethean Knights, and time will tell how replayable the levels are. (The developers seem to have done less to encourage players to replay the campaign this time – although they’ve added a “personal bests” system to the website, the removal of Bungie’s “metagame” score/time attack system feels like a huge loss to me, and Campaign Challenges refresh much less frequently than they did in Reach.) At the moment my best-to-worst ranking of the campaigns is something like: Combat Evolved/Anniversary > Halo Reach > Halo 3 > Halo 4 > ODST > Halo 2.

Multiplayer is good, but when it comes to loadouts, surprisingly I’m not sure I like having quite so much freedom to choose weapons, armour abilities, and tactical/support packages – unlike Reach’s limited selection of presets, there’s so much freedom in 4’s loadout system that I seem to spend more time umming and ahhing and worrying about whether I’ve picked the right combination of tools than I do simply getting on with playing! However, unlike some players, I don’t have a problem with not knowing what opponents are using – it’s simply the choice of what to pick for my own loadout that bothers me!

I’m not too impressed with Spartan Ops; the mission objectives aren’t that interesting, and the unlimited lives means it feels like there are no stakes to anything – you’re just brute forcing your way through. Pretty cutscenes and bespoke voice acting are really no replacement for the customisability, Skulls, Scoring and Lives of Firefight. (A Halo mode without Grunt Birthday Party? Now that’s just wrong!)

Here are some more detailed comments about different aspects of the game…


Interesting that for the game’s menu system they’ve gone back to the chunky, screen-filling rectangular panels of the original game, when every game after Halo 2 has used a system of small text menus. Maybe it was mandated by Microsoft, for consistency with the tile-based Metro design of the dashboard? It’s an OK change, but in the pre-match lobbies, I preferred the way players and information were displayed in Reach.

Annoyingly, Challenge and Commendation XP earnings aren’t shown in the post-match XP breakdown, even though that seems to be the point when they’re added to your total. Can’t imagine why that was omitted!

In Reach, the Commendation screens displayed your overall totals for each type of action. In Halo 4, it only shows you the total number you’ve done within your current proficiency level, so you have to go to the website to see your true overall total – not a change for the better, in my opinion.

When you press the Back button to bring up the scoreboard in multiplayer games, you can no longer move while it’s displayed. It also no longer shows which players are in Party Chat like it did before. And when highlighting a player you want to review or mute, you can’t use the right stick – you have to switch to the D-pad. WTF is up with that – holding Back and using the D-pad do not go well together!

What do you mean, saved screenshots don’t get uploaded to the Waypoint website the way Halo 3 and Reach screenshots used to go on Bungie.net? A minor thing, but a step backwards from something that, back in Halo 3, was so innovative for a console game. 😦 In fact, even with the background video disabled I find the Waypoint website as a whole (which I think uses Silverlight?) much slower and more awkward than Bungie’s less flashy, but faster and more usable version.

The Saved Films system has taken a few steps back from previous games – not least because unlike Halo 3 and Reach it no longer shows clip lengths, only file sizes, which is information that’s less front-and-centre and less useful to know. After a good match, it’s quick enough to save a video from Temporary Files to Local Files – but because you can’t choose what name/description to give it, you then have to dig into the map list and find the video in order to give it a more unique description. Then you choose Save to give it a more descriptive name – but it doesn’t rename it, it saves a copy of it. So in order to delete the unwanted duplicate, you have to check the exact save time and file size of both copies (which would be easier if you could compare running times) before deleting the unwanted one. These are minor things, but again, they represent backward steps from Reach (whose file browser system wasn’t perfect either, admittedly).

I loved the Reach level Long Night of Solace, but one thing that kept putting me off replaying it was those long, unskippable cutscenes as it transitioned between the on-foot and space combat sections. (Same way the unskippable end sequence sometimes put me off replaying the original Halo level The Maw.) I haven’t yet replayed Halo 4’s levels enough to tell, but I do hope that it won’t turn out to contain cutscenes as gratuitously unskippable as that…


New Halo game, new grenade arc to get used to! This time you have to aim much higher than ever before, and I still haven’t got the hang of it…

Farewell, plasma rifle, needle rifle, and plasma repeater – never the most useful guns, but ones I always enjoyed using. The Storm Rifle seems like an alternate version of the Plasma Repeater, and I haven’t really found it very useful yet. Likewise, the Suppressor seems less effective than the human Assault Rifle.

I was a fan of the Grenade Launcher from Reach, and although it’s a shame that the sticky detonator loses the EMP effect, the fact it comes with its own radar screen is a lovely touch that can be very useful.

I like the Hard Light Shield much better than Armour Lock in Reach! It loses the satisfying boosting-vehicle-smashing capability, but because players using it are still mobile, it doesn’t bring gameplay to a halt in the same way. And because it’s only effective against attacks from certain angles and delays shield recharging, its strengths and weaknesses are better-balanced. Also, it seems to be the only decent defence against the ridiculous Incinerator Cannon that I’ve found so far…

The Thruster armour ability puts a nice little twist on fighting the Hunters in the penultimate Campaign mission, but at first I didn’t find it very useful in multiplayer: it doesn’t have the speed or range of Evade from Halo Reach, and it recharges far too slowly to use it more than once in any one gunfight. But then I realised that it’s not so much a tool for throwing off an enemy’s shooting/reload/melee rhythm (the Hard Light Shield is the thing for that), and more a defensive tool to escape behind cover when you have no chance of winning a fight. I’ve found it particularly useful on Abandon, where you can fall off one of the high building’s ledges and then Thruster-boost through a ground level doorway.

I like the mechanism used for the Boltshot charge and the Railgun – you have a bit more freedom to choose when to release them than you do with the Spartan Laser, but you can’t just hold it down and wait for something to touch your crosshairs like you can with the Plasma Pistol. (The Plasma Pistol runs down far too quickly for my liking, but I suppose that was how they chose to balance out the fact you can spawn with it.)


Grunts’ backpacks don’t explode any more! 😦 BOOOOO!

The game may look lovely, but it feels less solid than in previous games. Lots of people seem to have had problems with dropped guns disappearing at annoying times – an example of developers needing to cut corners now they’re beginning to push the Xbox 360 too hard?

The Warthog engine sounds a bit weedy in this game…

Jackal snipers and Crawlers with Binary Rifles represent something of a return to the dark days of Halo 2. Oh well, at least this time glowy red things appear over their heads while they prepare to shoot, so you can place your headshots better than you could in Halo 2.

I played through the first mission on Legendary, reached the low-gravity section of the level, died a lot, quit out. Resumed it the next day, and when I shot one of the Jackal snipers, his Beam Rifle floated all the way over to me, and with its help I finished the level in one life – and now the Halo Waypoint website counts that as a Flawless completion, with a best mission time of 10 minutes! I really am not a fan of misleadingly corrupted stats such as that.

At first I thought that way the Jackal sniper’s gun floated over to me in that incident was a remarkable, rare event, but then I read this post by Lothar Hex on Rllmukforum, and since he experienced the same thing, now I suspect that that specific gun may be scripted to preferentially float in the player’s direction:

However I just remembered something from my Legendary playthrough that made me realise why I fucking love the Halo games. On the very first level when you exit the ship, I was fighting some enemies at distance, when I ran out of ammo, I backtracked and discovered a Covie sniper rifle lying near my start position and used it to clear out the enemies. On further playthrough I was looking for this rifle but it never appeared again. Then I realised what had happened. I had taken out the guy with the rifle, and due to the game’s low gravity the Jackal’s death throes had actually launched the rifle towards me because of the area’s low gravity. It just went to illustrate that you can play the game so many times, and the fights will almost never be exactly the same each time. Yes even though games like MOH and COD will have enemies who may try and flank, they are most designed around big set pieces. Halo is design in putting smart enemies in areas of a level and seeing what happens. That situation with the rifle may be a minor example, but the way my battle had turned out combined with the area’s physics and the enemies reactions to my action threw up a little scenario that I doubt could be reproduced so easily.

Elites in this game didn’t really make a huge impression on me. They seem to have a stance that makes them appear narrower than in earlier games, which differentiates them a bit from the broader Promethean Knights. But their behaviour didn’t stand out to me – largely, I think, because most of the combat in the game seemed to take place at longer range than in most other Halos. I’ll try a few missions with Mythic on, to see how they behave when they hang around for longer.

You know in mission 2, Requiem, where as you climb up the tower Cortana says “the Elites have issued a general alert – we’re about to have our hands full”, and then there are four grunts and a Sword Elite who rushes at you? I had to retry that checkpoint many times on Legendary, and found that by timing my sidestep away from the Sword Elite just right, we would continue circle-strafing around each other indefinitely (or until I meleed him a few times, unopposed). That’s not something I ever remember doing in previous Halo games, but here I was able to do it pretty consistently most times I restarted the checkpoint. I wish you could still use Theatre mode in Campaign, because it’s something I’d probably put on my File Share! (But I tried doing the same with a sword Elite I encountered in Spartan Ops, and he seemed to keep doing sword lunges that I couldn’t avoid. Different rank, different behaviour, maybe?)

Those Promethean Crawler dogs are really satisfying to kill with single headshots – just as satisfying as the balloon-like POP that Flood spores made in the original Halo (but only the original). Like Flood spores, their role is to harass rather than really threaten you, but unlike the spores they can do so at range, which is a change that works well. (Annoying that the ones with Light or Binary Rifles can sometimes one-hit-kill you on Legendary, though – but fortunately that orange glow usually gives you some warning.)

I was much less impressed with the Promethean Knights. They remind me of Halo 2 Brutes in their lack of feedback to weapon impacts. I’m normally a fan of flashy digital/Matrix code effects (like the way enemies dissolve in MGS2 Substance’s VR Missions), but in this case it didn’t work for me. There’s just not enough of a visible difference when a Knight’s shield is up or down. Not sure what I think of their teleporting attack – it mixes their attacks up in a good way, but unless you’ve got a close-range weapon like a shotgun, it can result in some cheap-feeling deaths.

Overall, although I like the Crawlers and Watchers, the Knights just aren’t differentiated enough from Elites for me – and they certainly don’t have as much character (no equivalent of “wort wort wort”!). Perhaps it’s time for Halo to introduce an enemy type that reverses the “plasma against shields, ballistic against flesh” mechanic (so you’d have to switch to a plasma weapon for an effective finisher, instead of a human bullet headshot), and the Prometheans’ digital nature could have provided a decent excuse for them to behave like that – a missed opportunity?

This post by Aimless on Rllmukforum pretty much sums of the Campaign’s combat for me:

Whilst I definitely rate the campaign highly, I don’t really enjoy fighting the Prometheans.

Crawlers are okay by me: they traverse the environment in a unique way but can be dispatched easily with precision weapons, so they bring a new dynamic to combat. Functionally Watchers are also interesting, although I think they miss a trick by not really requiring a specific approach; as far as I can tell they don’t have a weakspot or a particular vulnerability, so it’s just a case of shooting them with whatever.

For me the Knights are the real disappointment. Fundamentally they require a similar strategy to Elites — pop shield, go for the head — but I think they screw with the dynamic by teleporting away when you’re going in for the kill plus they don’t have the same level of feedback that an Elite’s gradual shield glow, and eventual pop, have. If I’m missing something then hopefully someone can fill me in, but as it stands I don’t really see what they bring to the table other than annoyance; on Legendary the shotgun variant strikes me as particularly cheap.

This is a bit of a tangent, but something I love about the original Halo is that even on Legendary you can take down a Hunter with a single magnum round in the right place. Now I agree they probably should be a little bit more resilient, but the thing I’ve always enjoyed most about the series’ combat is that when you know how to handle them any individual enemy is fairly trivial, the challenge arising from picking apart mixed groups, constantly adapting your approach based on the composition of hostile forces. Whilst this is largely true of Halo 4 — Grunts still only need a headshot, Jackals the one-two to hand and head — I often felt like the only particular strategy the Knights encouraged was “hold on to a power weapon, and don’t put it down or it’ll disappear”.

Here’s another quote from a Rllmukforum post (this one by Kayin Amoh) about something I too experienced in the Banshee sections on Heroic and Legendary:

Although I will say this – if you get into a banshee on Legendary, what happens is ridiculous. Enemies who’ll happily let you snipe them from range (AI at range can be a bit iffy, simply standing around as you pick off their buds) will all – and I mean ALL – immediately turn in your direction and turn you into a melted slagpile within seconds. It’s insane.

I find Banshees less fun in this game than they were before, and not just because of the enemies’ targeting priority: you can’t hover very well, and you can’t fly up as vertically as you could before.


With rare exceptions (Second Sight comes to mind), I’m not a player who attaches too much importance to videogames’ storylines. Generally, all I need in an action game’s plot are are excuses for it to send me to a variety of memorable settings, to fight enemies in varied ways. The Halo games generally do that very well, but it’s not a universe that I have much interest in pursuing in in media other than videogames.

Having said that, the specific trappings of Halo 4’s plot were rather less appealing than those of previous Halo games. Like the Ark of Halo 3, Requiem is a much less interesting Big Dumb Object than the Halo rings were. The Didact makes a much more generic antagonist than eccentric old 343 Guilty Spark, and the Composer’s activation seems a much less urgent threat than the Halos firing, or Reach getting obliterated. To me, the Master Chief’s aim of getting Cortana back to Halsey to fix her rampancy seemed a more interesting reason to hurry along than yet another “It’s The End Of The Universe As We Know It”.

I don’t really like seeing what the Forerunners looked like. The fact that they were unknowable long-dead creatures, communicating only through their Monitors and the glyphs and architecture they left behind, added a lot to the atmosphere of level exploration in Halo games. I preferred that to finding out that one of them is still around, and basically just looks like Lord Voldemort… 😦


The announcer’s pronounciation of “LAWST” annoys me every time!

The two Regicide modes are great fun – better than standard free for all.

As for the maps… I seem to have a lot of success on Abandon (especially whenever I get a SAW in an ordnance drop, mwahahahahah!) I don’t mind playing a lot of Ragnarok, but I’m not keen on the way Haven seems to get selected every time it’s an option. Complex feels a bit like Powerhouse from Reach, but I’m not sure it’s as good.