Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare | X2 | The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Many journeys across great distances...
Game review - Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Game summary: Captain Reyes, a pilot turned Commander, must lead the remaining coalition forces against a relentless enemy, while trying to overcome the deadly, extreme environments of space. (Steam)
I haven't reviewed it yet, but I loved the remake of Battlestar Galactica and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare reminds me of it in the best way possible, with huge battleships jumping into combat, fighter missions and guns that feel only a little bit futuristic rather than just blasters like Star Wars. The story isn't BSG-like at all, but the tone and art style feel so similar that it doesn't really matter.
It's humans against humans here, even if the enemy do make use of a huge number of bots and you have an AI ally of your own - but the focus isn't on the machines at all. The villains of the piece carry out every dastardly act you can imagine for a group of bad guys, but the game never really explains in depth why they're doing what they are - it's not a big deal, but it does them rather faceless and disposable, rather than memorable.
Fortunately, there's enough characters on your side here, including Reyes, a fully-voiced protagonist in a Call of Duty game being a pleasant surprise for me. He's played by Brian Bloom, who's likeness is also used in addition to him also writing the story for the game - quite the starring role here! He's a pretty stereotypical central character for an action-heavy story like this, but is enjoyable enough all the same.
Bloom is ably assisted by the rest of the cast, who all have tightly-defined personalities of their own to bring them to life - Jamie Gray Hyder as Salter, David Harewood as Omar and Jeffrey Nordling as E3N/Ethan being the standouts. There are plenty of other fun characters that pop up along the way, although Kit Harington does feel a little miscast as the primary antagonist, Salen Kotch.
The story does go on a little bit too long though, with the final section feeling like it exists simply to be an ending, with more than one point before then where it feels like everything could've been wrapped up. It's not that the quality of these sections is poor, but they're not quite as good as what came before. At least it's better than the side missions, which feel added just to pad the game out, because this would be quite a short game otherwise.
As for the gameplay, Infinite Warfare is divided into two types: the usual run and gun, plus some space-based dogfighting, which really makes it feel like a BSG game. The game makes the usual mistake of having the player do everything while also making the AI prioritise targeting you over your allies - even if they're closer and not in cover. It can feel a bit cheap at times, but the controls are slick enough that it's never that big of an issue.
One last bit of praise for the score from Sarah Schachner, which I really enjoyed. The majority of it is simply good action music that keeps you engaged in the fighting, but there's multiple occasions that are elevated by certain pieces of music that made those moments stand out and even made me stop in my tracks at one point to listen to the excellent music in the scene.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is another enjoyable entry in the series, elevated by a terrific campaign that reminded me of the modern Battlestar Galactica, which is only ever a good thing. It looks great and the controls are good too - even if the contextual 'action' button does get a bit overused at times. It does go on just a little too long though, and the side missions aren't great either.
Movie review - X2
Movie summary: When anti-mutant Colonel William Stryker kidnaps Professor X and attacks his school, the X-Men must ally with their archenemy Magneto to stop him. (IMDb)
X2 is still quite often held up as one of the best comic-book movies made - even by today's standards - but I honestly can't see why having watched it again for the first time in well over a decade. It's still undeniably a good movie, but 'good' is about as high as I'd be willing to praise it - it was genuinely great for the time when originally released, but compared to now? Not so much.
The biggest problem is the lack of consistency in terms of what the characters are capable of from scene to scene making it difficult to take any other part of the movie seriously when so little care has been applied to a pretty crucial aspect of a superhero movie. I think audiences now wouldn't accept the 'drama' of some of the later scenes when the characters should really have very little difficulty dealing with the situations.
An example? Late on, Magneto (Ian McKellen) has difficulty dealing with two doors, with it being made to look like a serious effort to open them - the second of which he is being urged to open as soon as possible by his ally, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), who is in agony due to the antagonist's machinations. The problem here is that the urgency feels entirely fake as X2 has already depicted Magneto as being more than powerful enough.
Earlier on, he 'catches' the X-Jet - which must weigh 10-20 times more than either door - with a casual gesture and clearly very little effort on his part. He's not injured or in any other way impaired between this point and the struggle with the doors, so what's the deal? This might seem like quibbling, but this happens with just about every single character by the time the movie ends, making it very hard to ignore.
We even get a preview of the 'Quicksilver problem' from director Bryan Singer's later X-Men movies, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse: his speed is so great that he should be able to save the day on his own, so he has to be written out or have something happen to remove him from the fight. The same problem happens here with Nightcrawler in the movie's opening sequence at the White House.
Nightcrawler should be able to take on X2's antagonists by himself based on that opening scene, but that would obviously make for a very short movie; it's a brilliant action sequence, but breaks the movie's internal logic later on. Likewise, during the attack on the X-Mansion, we see that the enemy forces' weapons have no effect on Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), meaning he could probably take them all out by himself - but he's told to leave by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) because, again, the movie would end very quickly.
Just to mirror my sentiment of the Nightcrawler scene, it's still a terrific part of the movie and highly enjoyable watching Logan tearing through the bad guys, but it can't help but make the story feel very forced because the characters don't think or act logically, or make use of their powers to the fullest when the movie shows in other scenes that they know how to do.
I don't want to sound too harsh on X2, which I did still enjoy and it really was great for the time it was released, but the bar has been shifted so far upwards that I don't think it would be viewed quite so highly by audiences if released today. It doesn't help that the 'Nightcrawler at the White House' and 'attack on the X-Mansion' sequences are the movie's best parts and both take place very early on, leaving the rest of the film lacking in comparison.
X2 remains a good movie to watch, but might've been considered 'great' before has simply become 'great for the time', with the standard of comic-book movies having risen far higher in the last 18 years. The lack of consistency for what the characters are capable of is the biggest issue and something that definitely wouldn't be accepted today - it makes a lot of the story beats seem very artificial.
Audiobook review - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Book summary: The company of the Ring is torn asunder. Frodo and Sam continue their journey alone down the great River Anduin – alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go. (HarperCollins)
This is going to be a review of exceptions, because The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers does have a number of issues that mean it doesn't quite match up to The Fellowship of the Ring, but they are all ultimately minor complaints that don't ruin the experience - although it should be noted that some of the quibbles are made worse thanks to the audiobook format.
Part of this is the world-building, which is still rather voluminous in nature despite how far we are into the story, especially standing out in the half of the book that deals with Frodo and Sam's journey closer to Mordor. The issue with the audiobook is needing to scan forwards just the right amount if it isn't for you, rather than being able to skim read in a novel, so that may put off some because the new history revealed here can be quite dry at times.
Then there's also the issue of dividing the main plots away from each other completely, with the first half dealing with the remains of the Fellowship and the fight against Saruman's forces in Rohan; and the second being the above-mentioned Hobbit 'road trip'. I'm a very fast reader (when I get the time to actually do any reading) and I don't remember the division of the two stories being an issue for me when I read the book.
It's the audiobook format that is again the issue as you have to go at the speed of the narrator and I have to admit that, by the time the book was over and the section with Frodo and Sam was finished, I couldn't actually remember how the first part had ended and where the next book would pick up the story as a result. A single narrator having to provide the voices for even more characters than the first book doesn't help either - you can lose track of who is speaking and where they are at times.
You could argue that the book has no real beginning or ending either, but that's something that I couldn't possibly agree with as a criticism, because Tolkien wrote the trilogy as one large story and so there was no reason for him to re-introduce characters at the start of The Two Towers or to provide any kind of climax when it ends either - it's simply the middle of one great big book and is written accordingly.
And those are the only criticisms I have for The Two Towers, as it too remains a great story, even if being an audiobook is not the best way to experience it. It did provide me with one surprise though, which was how much it made me sympathise with Gollum - something the movies couldn't manage. Sam's treatment of his and Frodo's companion genuinely made me dislike Sam at one point, and that was quite the achievement considering my knowledge of what Gollum would go on to do.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers suffers from being the middle section of a larger story, having no real beginning nor ending. By separating out the two plots from each other completely, it also means that you can forget about what's going on with the other characters - although it should be made clear that any and all gripes with this second part of the trilogy are only minor and it's still a great story to experience.