Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull | Game Dev Tycoon
And more from Dragon Age: Origins as the Hero of Ferelden enters "The Deep Roads".
MOVIE REVIEW /// Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Movie summary: In 1957, archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. is called back into action and becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. (IMDb)
I was an hour into watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when I started wondering to myself just why this movie had such a bad reputation and why I had memories of it not being very good at all. Yes, there are some serious wobbles in that first hour (most noticeably the 'nuclear fridge' incident), but there's so much more good that I was getting ready to completely reverse my opinion.
Then the second half of the movie happened. The second half of this movie almost, but not quite, derails everything, with an overreliance on CGI spectacle, corny action (I know this franchise has had it's corny moments in other films, but it's really bad here) and an ending that just... exists. I didn't finish the movie viewing it badly, just more disappointed with the wasted potential.
There's a fair number of people that have suggested that even if Indy (Harrison Ford) had never got involved in events in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the same thing would've happened with the wrath of God destroying the Nazis and it's almost matched here, with Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko returning the titular skull to its place of origins to pretty much the same effect, with it being Soviets disposed of this time.
The ending is also undercut by the use of so much CGI being used in place of practical effects to try and give proceedings a more epic scope, which Indiana Jones has never really been about. These movies have always been about the characters first and foremost, and their reactions to the events going on rather than being bystanders watching from the side-lines.
This focus on character is also why the first half of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull works, because there's a lot of catching up to do considering how much time has passed both in and out of universe since The Last Crusade. This isn't the same Indy as in the original trilogy, but that only makes sense considering how much older and more experienced he is, especially taking into account his apparently heavy involvement in the Second World War.
I'm not a huge fan of Shia LaBeouf either, but the introduction of his character, 'Mutt' (real identity revealed in that weaker second half), serves a purpose with his irritation of Indy by showing just how much of what audiences think of Indiana Jones is still present, with the older character proving more intelligent, resourceful and even more capable in a fight than the younger man.
I would still partially recommend watching Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, not just for completeness' sake, but also because I really do like that first big chunk of the movie. It's only when the CGI takes over that it really starts to fade, with some terrible set-pieces and nonsensical combat also not really helping make the second half feel like a rousing climax - but Ford and the returning Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood just about make it worth it to keep going until the end.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a real Jekyll and Hyde movie that has an actually pretty good first half, but takes a nosedive in quality in the second half. There's so much good early on that I was wondering why this movie has the reputation it does and then I was reminded of the many, many reasons - here's hoping James Mangold can see the series out on a high!
[6/10 - Decent]
GAME REVIEW /// Game Dev Tycoon
Game summary: Replay the history of the gaming industry by starting your own video game development company in the 80s. Create best selling games. Research new technologies and invent new game types. Become the leader of the market and gain worldwide fans. (Steam)
With it's cartoony graphics, Game Dev Tycoon feels very much like an old Theme game or like the current Two Point games, which was a great nostalgia hit for me. The gameplay even fits pretty well too to start off with, being a fun and simplified look at making games, but the fun slowly drains away and not only becomes tedious later on, but makes the contrast with the visuals even worse.
It's simple enough to start off with, with your avatar just creating games in their garage and trying to make enough money to create another game, then another and so on. It's pretty enjoyable too, although being old enough to remember what worked at the time (the game starts in the Eighties and works its way forward) feels a little like having cheats permanently enabled.
Everything being so simple and straightforward is really enjoyable and, even if it might not be the case, it still lets you feel like you can experiment and get creative with the kind of games you make. It's all a bit silly and doesn't take itself too seriously, but that's what makes it so much fun to play - the barebones interface and lack of any real visual excellence can be easily overlooked as a result.
The problems come a few hours into the game, when you've grown from being a single person making games at home to running a business and having to manage your staff. It might well be realistic that a game studio founder might find they have to spend more of their time managing the company instead of being as heavily involved in the dev work as they used to be, but that isn't much fun to play.
After those highly-enjoyable opening few hours, it turns into a game where you're watching numbers and how your employees are coping more than anything else. Maybe there is an option to hire an office manager later on that I've never reached, but I've burnt out on Game Dev Tycoon once the team has got to 5-6 members every time I've tried.
And each time it's the same feeling: why am I still playing this? The experimentation and 'anything goes' feel of those opening few hours were spent and I realised I was just repeating the same tasks by rote because I had to in order to keep things moving rather than because I wanted to. In other words, it began to feel more like work than a game and I really can't get on board with that.
Still, I wouldn't want to put anyone off playing Game Dev Tycoon thanks to those opening hours being genuinely fun and both a trip down memory for older games while being an history lesson of sorts for younger players (as long as you can figure out who companies like Ninvento, Vonny and Micronoft are really based on...) - plus it's pretty cheap even at full price, making it better value for money than a lot of movies.
Game Dev Tycoon is a really fun game for the first few hours before it devolves into more of a business sim than anything else. It doesn't help that the cartoony looks fit how the game starts, but feel out of place when the gameplay becomes monitoring numbers and bars rather than anything fun. Still, it is pretty cheap at full price and is fun to play those opening few hours again every couple of years, but not much further beyond that.
[7/10 - Good]
GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "The Deep Roads"
And that's that done at long last. Well, I say "at long last", but it wasn't actually that long - it just feels that way. There are so many 'false endings' to the Deep Roads that it just wears you down, especially as I had forgotten just how much nonsense there is to wade through before you finally get out from underground and see the sky again.
First off, Elissa and her group (Oghren, Wynne and Leliana here) wade through a couple of Darkspawn-infested areas which have little to do with the story and just seem to exist for fighting large groups of enemies and completing side quests. It's not 'unfun' to play through, thanks to the group ripping through opponents like tissue paper now, but it does feel very much like going through the motions.
Then you reach the Dead Trenches (pictured above), getting to see the Archdemon in the flesh for the first time and also learning just how insanely vast the Darkspawn horde actually is. It's actually a pretty good reminder of just what you're fighting against and why you're even spending this time under the earth in the first place, with the location also adding a little variety to the constant tunnels and ruins.
From here, it's a fight through the Bownammar, the dwarven City of the Dead, until the group hear Hespith for the first time and the creepiness sets in as what sounds like a poem she's reciting is actually a rhyming description of how Darkspawn Broodmothers are created from dwarven women - involving torture, forced cannibalism of the men and rape, until they are fully converted into obese, tentacled monstrosities.
Lucky for the group that they then get to fight one of these abominations, which actually required some strategy as the Broodmother has a huge amount of health, can really pack a wallop and summons other Darkspawn to help her. Fortunately, Wynne's healing magic, a virtually bottomless supply of healthy poultices and Elissa's now demigod-like toughness make it a test of endurance rather than difficulty.
After Elissa strikes the killing blow, it's on to the Anvil of the Void, where Oghren's wife, Branka, is discovered, having led her entire house into total destruction in an effort to reclaim the Anvil. Branka's clearly unhinged herself at this point, and the group are forced through a series of 'tests' (meaning more battles) until finally reaching the Anvil and discovering that Caridin, a dwarven Paragon from centuries ago, still lives on as a golem.
As it turns out, the Anvil is what the ancient dwarves used to create golems (bring Shale on this mission for some nice additional dialogue), first through volunteers, then moving down through society until it was seen as a punishment, with criminals and 'undesirables' effectively being executed and having their souls stored in the artificial stone forms of the golems.
Caridin wants it destroyed because of how horrific it is - it wasn't his choice to become a golem either - and Elissa agrees, prompting Branka to seize control of some of the other golems through a control rod and another battle breaks out as a result. Again, it's another test of endurance as Elissa keeps the madwoman occupied while the others deal with her golem support.
Once that's done, Caridin creates a crown for you to give to whichever claimant for the dwarven throne you choose, as he doesn't care, throwing himself to his death in the lava below once Elissa destroys the Anvil as he wished and finally freeing himself from being stuck in a stone body. After that, there's nothing left to do other than head back to Orzammar and the petty political bickering still continuing.
Knowing how things out - and mirroring the first time I played through this game anyway - I had Elissa choose Bhelen, the king's son, as the new rule, although I forgot that his first act is to have Harrowmont, his rival, executed! Still, it's a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, harsh as that might be to say, as Bhelen will prove very progressive as a leader - exactly how and why will be explained at a later point.
Elissa doesn't care though, just happy enough that the dwarves will now honour the old treaties and help fight the Blight - it's strange, but neither Bhelen nor the Grey Warden care all that much for each other, but the writing really does make it come across almost like they respect each other for their position, but wouldn't shed any tears over the other's death.
Oghren joins the party here too, now that his wife is dead - the fact that she turned out to be a lesbian (the previously-mentioned Hespith revealed they were lovers) is surprisingly the main thing he finds weird about the current situation rather than something as huge as seeing the sky for the first time in his life. Still, he quickly adapts and is soon badgering poor Wynne about drinking at every opportunity, much to her irritation...