Tag Archives: Nova

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm – An Evolution of Gameplay and Story

      “Heart of the Swarm” improves off “Wings of Liberty” in most places where it counts. The story has more going on, the characters are more interesting and the side missions are really enjoyable as well as the hero leveling system that the game gives in how Kerrigan grows through the game. You are given choices that matter and affect gameplay, which is more than “Wings of Liberty” was ever able to do. I’ll get into more of what I mean later in the review, but this is a game that improves upon the original in almost every way.

The downsides are really in how there is too much emphasis on Emperor Mengsk as the villain and not enough on the threat of the Xel’Naga, which sadly hurts the overall arc of the Trilogy.

The story picks up where “Wings of Liberty” left off with a de-infested Kerrigan with Raynor’s Raiders and Valerian Mengsk. When Dominion forces attack she is separated from them all and when she believes Raynor to be killed goes on a revenge mission against Mengsk as she takes control of the Swarm and grows once more into her role as the Queen of Blades.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the Starcraft Universe and in this game we get so much more of it. From Narud’s experiments and the infested resurrected Stukov and the Hybrids from the last game, from the Primal Zerg and the Zerg who witnessed the Xel’Naga come but only cared about becoming stronger and better and did not care for the greater war in the Universe as Amon created them on the Primal Zerg world…from the power of the Dominion and recruitment of the Brood Mothers as Kerrigan re-establishes herself as the Queen of Blades. I love this Universe and this game does nothing but enrich it. We also get to play as Raynor’s Raiders taking on a Mercenary army with their Battlecruiser in order to find out where Raynor is trapped and so that he can rescued. The world is so wonderfully dark and complicated.

Evolution Missions – On the way of taking control of the Swarm once more Abathur, Kerrigan’s Evolution Master gives missions where you can shape Zerg into different strains. Each choice is permanent but their are pros and cons to each. You can have faster and weaker units that can fly, greater number of units or stronger individual units with greater regeneration depending on the choice you make…and on those missions you take out Dominion or Feral Zerg forces. They are so much fun.

The Nature of the Swarm – The Swarm is change and evolution. This is one reason Kerrigan works so well as the leader because she is constant change and adaptation and now being free of the Overmind she no longer as Amon’s influence on her (that she originally got through the original purpose of the Zerg and the Overmind). It is powerful seeing her take charge of the swarm and see how their primary drive to live, change, evolve and grow. The Zerg are not static and this game really shows how easy it is for the Swarm to grow and become one of the strongest powers in the Universe. It is in their nature and when they have direction from the Queen of Blades the Overmind or one who knows them, they are unstoppable.

Kerrigan and her Team – Kerrigan has my favorite Team out of the 3 games. I like how Abathur is a selfish being that only sees the point in making things more efficent regardless of cost (so weird, awful and alien) how Zagara only values strength and bettering the Swarm and serving Kerrigan how Stukov has no one so only wants acceptance and the Swarm is the only acceptance he has now that he is dead to humanity and Dehaka and his obsession with essence and his drive to survive and change through anything.

Leveling Kerrigan and Shaping the Swarm – The gameplay is fun and part of the reason it is so much fun is you power up Kerrigan and her abilities and these abilities influence her as hero unit and also your base and how quickly you can build or what you start. She is a powerhouse and the right upgrades make her an unstoppable force on her own or one who can sustain the Swarm and have a large group. The Swarm is also shaped from the Evolution Missions stated above too.

Okay: The Power of Emperor Mengsk – I’m putting Emperor Mengsk’s power and the Dominon as okay and not a pro for two reasons. The first is that he should have been weaker after Valerian took half his fleet and second Kerrigan destroyed his forces on more than one occasion. This game happens just after he got his butt kicked last game. The reason I don’t put him as a con is he did have Narud and via Narud Amon backing him so he was powerful that way and there was a good amount of time between “Brood War” and “Wings of Liberty.” For these reason I won’t put him as a con.

Not Enough Xel’Naga Exploration – We get a glimpse of the nature of the Xel’Naga on Zerus (the Zerg homeworld) and when Narud’s true form a changeling is revealed and what dialogue he gives us. Otherwise they are an abstract threat even though we the prophecy of Kerrigan’s role going on and really needed more in the lead up to whatever her future is.

The Narud and Amon Payoff – Narud is the mini-boss before Arcturus Mengsk and it is only over the course of 3 missions. He really should have been a bigger deal. Mengsk makes more sense narratively but for the overall game Narud has been the greatest threat of them all. He is the reason the UED no longer exists as a threat, he is the reason the Protoss continued to fall apart and his master Amon is the reason the Zerg almost destroyed everything fulfilling their role in the big picture. With better writing, he really should have been the end boss or played a much bigger part in the story. He’d been around for so long why did he suddenly stop manipulating the Zerg when he clearly still had control of some Protoss forces, Moebius and the elements of the Dominion. Narud and the Xel’Naga deserved better and I think Blizzard didn’t know what to do with them after setting them up so well in “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft.”

The Cons: Raynor and Revenge as Primary Motivation – I think the writers meant it to mirror Raynor’s love for Kerrigan as his motivation in “Wings of Liberty” but it sucked that Kerrigan was turned into that as well. I never got those vibes from her in any of the original games and making her The Bride from “Kill Bill” was fine but her best character moments are when we see her accepting her role as the Queen of Blades and finding motivation beyond revenge as she cares for and shapes the Swarm. That was where she was amazing as we already got her revenge story back in “Brood War” and it was handled so much better.

I really enjoyed “Heart of the Swarm.” This is a game for all the flaws it has (largely based in story with Emperor Mengsk being this unstoppable force who still continues to lose through 2 games) and the lack of focus on Narud, Amon and the Xel’Naga makes the upcoming threat feel only so strong. It also sets up Kerrigan as the Chosen One which is stupid storytelling in general, even though I like that Kerrigan’s flaws are all her own. she is ruthless and driven and a little bit of a sociopath but it makes her compelling because it is her mind that shapes the Swarm and we see how she makes the Zerg Swarm less of an all consuming force and more a precision weapon focused on perfection and change. For these reasons I would rate it higher than “Wings of Liberty.” There is better payoff storywise, better gameplay and the campaign missions are a lot of fun and honestly, my favorite heroes are the Heroes from the Swarm and how wonderfully alien they all are. This is another one of my favorite games.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty – A Bit of Revolution and about Time

  “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” was a game I’d been waiting for, for a long time. It was the original “Starcraft” series that got me into RTS games and also was a huge influence on my love of science fiction stories. I still remember playing through the game for the first time at my friend’s place in college on his computer as I saw just how awesome the campaign was, I’d been waiting for this game for a long time. Years later after a second playthrough, I still really enjoy this game, but the flaws are much more apparent as well as what it misses that “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft” brought to story. I’ll do an overall comparison after reviewing all the games of “Starcraft II.”

The story picks up with war beginning again as Raynor’s Raiders seek to overthrow Mengsk and stop Kerrigan’s Swarm. This involves putting news of Mengsk’s betrayal out to the world while taking on Zerg and Dominion forces and seeking Xel’Naga artifacts for the Mobius Foundation as they may be the key to taking out Kerrigan’s Swarm.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. There is a great variety of strategy to each of the campaigns and how you use your hero units and troops. You can outlast and go all out with a large fully upgraded force, or push forward with any level of balanced forces. It’s extremely enjoyable and there is a reason that even after years of not playing this game I couldn’t put it down once I started playing it again.

Mission Variety – There is a great amount of mission variety, from a prison breakout where you defend a giant Odin piloted by Jim’s friend Tychus, a choice to do a ground based hero mission on Char or Air Assault against Kerrigan’s Swarm and some racing against the clock where you save civilians before Kerrigan destroys you. You also have a huge Prophecy side quest with Zeratul discovering Kerrigan’s role and the what the oncoming destruction will be and how to stop it. These are small hero driven missions.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and captures the old west feel of the Terran as well as the tension of war, the threat of the Swarm of the mystery of the Protoss. It has a lot of salutes to the original soundtrack while still remaining to be it’s own thing.

The Universe – The Universe is the same wonderful one from past games except that it gives us more characters and reestablishes there has been some stability after the “Brood War” as the Dominion is now one of the core powers once more and the Swarm is a large threat while the Protoss as a power are scattered. I love this Universe and it was wonderful to jump into it agai as Jim Raynor, even if some of the characters really annoyed me and felt cheap compared to the characters of games past. You get flavors of the Universe in news reports from the Dominion Channel and witness one corrupt news anchor fall apart as another with integrity rises, mirroring Jim Raynor’s own journey through the campaign.

The Complex Rogues – The complex rogues are the best part of this game…whether it is Zeratul as the Dark Wizard seeking to keep back the end, even if it means saving Kerrigan, the woman has meant nothing but destruction for his people, Tychus as the Merc who believes in Jim but also wants to be free so will kill Kerrigan if given the chance and of course Gabriel Tosh, the rogue spectre seeking to overthrow Mengsk who also helps you through Zeratul’s visions. These are easily the best characters in the game with Jim as the rogue trying to do the right thing in the difficult situations he is put in. Hell Valerian Mengsk (Emperor Mengsk’s son) is even complex in his own way as he wants to find a way to fix infestation and in doing so be a better savior to his humanity than his father ever was. These characters drove the story and made me click them for conversations when you are the Battle Cruiser “Hyperion.”

Okay: Prophecy and Destiny – I don’t really like the idea of prophecy and destiny as all powerful beings like the Xel’Naga would have been destroyed if they could have seen the future. It also ends up giving plot armor to all of Kerrigan’s actions in “Brood War” and this game does not deal with the monster she currently is, instead we get mopey lovesick Raynor, which really hurt the storytelling as he gets a love interest out of it and it hurts Kerrigan’s agency in her actions.

The Cons: The One-Dimensional Characters – There are a few of these, with the worst offenders being the nerd stereotype Egon and the love interest scientist Ariel Hanson. They only function as plot devices to tell Raynor things and I never saw them as complete characters. Matt Horner is also this to some degree as he is the noble revolutionary, and we never get why. This was the disadvantage that comes with a large cast and so many characters really should have been developed that weren’t. This is the weakest of the the “Starcraft II” games because of this.

“Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” and is a great game I’d recommend. The gameplay and mission variety are absolutely wonderful and the complex rogues are a lot of fun to follow, even though I hate how prophecy turns some of them into some a certain level of plot device. If you haven’t played this game already and are a fan of RTS games, I highly recommend it. As a fan of the Starcraft Franchise, they would have had to really mess this up for me to hate it, but even as someone who was away from the game for years it is still a solidly great game worth time. It took long enough to make and if you have, it’s about damn time to play.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017): Growing Beyond Caesar

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is easily the best of the Franchise. This is a film series I reviewed back when the blog was beginning that shows just how strong the new series has held up (Given “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is number 1 for me until today and “Dawn” is in the Top 5″ of the series). This is a series that deserves far more credit than it has been given as it has tacked social and political issues while never forgetting the character arc of Caesar which drives the series to it’s conclusion in this film (please no more after this). This is the perfect end as Caesar’s arc is completed and we see how this series ties into the classic series completing the time cycle that has played throughout all these films. I’ll explain more in below, but for now, this a series that might make my Top 5 for this year and is easily the best of the series, both Classic and New.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes” was directed by Matt Reeves, who co wrote it along with Mark Bomback with the producers being Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

The story involves the last remnants of humanity seeking to annihilate the apes under the Colonel as the virus takes away speech and the human and ape populations are on the risk of extinction, as Caesar seeks peace and home away from the struggle.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The World – The reboot world has been nothing but good for me as a re-imagining of the apocalypse. We get to see the forest slowly take over the human settlements as the apes gain more power through the spread of the Simian Flu (the virus that kills off humanity and also has other affects). Hell, there is whole mini-series before “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” that shows the viruses decimation of mankind. It is tragic and beautiful and this film is the final payoff where militaristic mankind losing itself to the virus faces off against the apes set to inherit the world.

The Poisonous of Nationalistic Ideology – The villain of this film is portrayed through the Colonel in Woody Harrelson who is ready to kill humanity when they lose speech, which the Simian Flu has been causing since dawn. This leads to his enslavement of the apes and his turning on his own people who won’t kill their own as he sees this separation as speech as something worth ending, even if it is his son. This is powerful as he has lost himself to his belief and was willing to kill family for it, even as he became it and kills himself and all his abuse of the apes is for nothing…he is a powerless man in a world that has left him behind and he is tragic, but not sympathetic, a good villain.

Caesar and his Team – Caesar and his team are great. You have Maurice as the heart who teaches sign language to the human Nova (who Caesar kills in self-defense), you have Rocket you has been around as the Scotty/Chekov always standing by his captain and Luca, a hardened warrior who finds heart and dies to protect Caesar, and Nova herself who comes to love her adopted family and helps save the apes from the Human Nationalists.

The Ghost of Hate – Caesar has dreams of Kuba as his desire to kill the Colonel (and revenge against humanity for the death of his son too) consumes him. It is powerful and Serkis shows so much emotion in his lines and visions of Kuba telling him to die or to get revenge. This ghost haunts him until he finds an identity beyond himself and Nationalism. In the end, Caesar grows beyond his tribe.

A World Beyond Caesar – A major arc of this series is showing that the apes have an arc beyond Caesar, as does humanity. Humanity is killed because of their fight against themselves, not against the apes. The apes find peace and Caesar dies at the Oasis. Caesar’s arc is complete where no longer has hate and helped his people find more, as Nova is part of their tribe. This is powerful as it shows even in that Caesar is dead and humanity killed itself, it paradoxically lives on in the best of the survivors via Nova. Even when hope is dead, it can still live on.

Okay/Con: A Too Long Ending – This movie has a bit of “Return of the King” going on, as there are a few points it could have ended…Caesar spares the Colonel, the apes escape the prison, the apes survive the avalanche, and finally, the apes find the Oasis. Either of these could have been when Caesar dies from his injuries but they wait for the Oasis. I didn’t hate it, but it did show how long this movie went.

This is a film that might make my Top 5 at the end of the year and is the best of the “Planet of the Apes” Franchise.” It beats Rises as we are given reasons to sympathize with the villains and unlike “Dawn” the stakes and cost are that much higher. This is a wonderful end to an amazing Franchise and I hope they don’t do anything else with it, as there are enough Easter eggs here to tigh into the original “Planet of the Apes” that if you want to catch, I’d advise you see as they only add to the amazing story that takes place here.

Also, here is my past retrospect of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/planet-of-the-apes-franchise-retrospect-worst-to-best-of-the-franchise/

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The best of the “Planet of the Apes Franchise.”

 

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – Not Enough Time with the Apes

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“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” was the last of the original “Planet of the Apes” series I saw. I remember how much it weirded me out initially and when I heard about the time travel plot of the next movie didn’t have much desire to watch on. Now that time has passed, it is better than what I remember, but still has a lot of problems.

The premise of this movie picks up where the first film left off. Taylor has seen the destroyed Statue of Liberty and that humanity destroyed itself and he and Nova continue deeper into the Forbidden Zone. While they are there Taylor goes missing and a new astronaut named Brent arrives on the planet to find the astronauts who went missing. The story picks up with him as he finds Nova and the story unfolds from there.

Pros: The music – The music is once again great and haunting. It captures the post apocalyptic feel really well.

Zira – Zira is once again one of the strongest characters. The sad thing is we only see her in the middle of the film when she takes in Brent and Nova and helps them escape. She is the one who is idealistic and lives through action. She doesn’t speak up when Cornelius hits her though (which is one of the horrid themes in this film). Great job, once again to Kim Hunter.

Dr. Zaius – Dr. Zaius is once again one of the strongest characters. When he and General Ursus enter the Forbidden Zone, it is he who risks the illusion of the burning and bleeding lawgiver to reveal to the army it is an illusion. Maurice Evans is once again one of the strongest actors.

General Ursus – He is simple but is great in his own way. He is the first named Gorilla to appear in any of the films and is the primary protagonist of this film (Dr. Zaius didn’t want to conquer the Forbidden Zone). He is Xenophobic and and a tyrant showing the dangers of unchecked military power especially when it is backed by religious authority (Dr. Zaius). James Gregory does a great job.

The idea of the Mutants – I think the Mutants in execution weren’t done so well. But they are needlessly evil and crazy. I would have liked at least one good mutant just like we see good apes via the Chimpanzees. The idea of people twisted by Nuclear War and worshiping death is pretty cool though. I think they were trying to critique the worship of death that can happen in some religions, it just wasn’t executed very well.

George Taylor – For what little time he is around, Charlton Heston does a great job. He has a lot more emotion and character than Brent who is a character akin to Nova except he can speak.

Okay: Cornelius – His character is the one once again trying to save face, though still carry on the knowledge of the past. He hits Zira for no reason though and threatens to do so again which is why I will not put him as a pro. It is like needless character assassination to have his character do that.

SPOILERS

The Ending – Everyone dies. This would have been more powerful if we’d had more time with the characters we cared about or Nova and Brent had actually been fleshed out as characters. The Bomb that the mutants worship is used to destroy the Earth.

Cons: The violence against women – I bring this up because it happens a lot in this film. From the mutants using Brent to abuse and rape Nova…to Cornelius hitting Zira. The women are only in this movie to be victims…accumulating in Nova being killed by the apes when the apes invade the Underground.

The Execution of the Themes – The execution of the themes was very poor. I can see them trying to critique religion via the worshipers of the Bomb but no religion worships technology and their words ended up being more comedic than meaningful or critical. “The Holy Fallout.” As an expression for an example. They also could have used how religion can turn people against one another…but all they manage to capture is the hypocrisy of some religious claiming their religion to be peaceful while condoning or acting with violence. The military as a weapon of corrupt authority is never fully explored either since we don’t know what happened to the Chimp protesters since we never see them after their appearance and Ursus never does anything to Zira or Cornelius even though they are heretics.

No Protagonist and Lack of Focus – There are a few people who drive the plot at different points…Taylor at the beginning and end, and Brent through the middle and Zira at one point too. We also have Dr. Zaius drive it at a few points as well whether for or against Ursus. This lack of focus took away from the narrative of the story.

Brent – Is a cipher. He is an uninteresting hero who is easily used by everyone around him. In that way he is comparable to Nova. The script didn’t help flesh him out as a character (he’s the standard hero looking for the group that had landed on the planet before) but the acting doesn’t help. He’s a very forgettable character.

Nova – Is the victim and empty vessel again. She is kidnapped countless times, strangled and near raped by Brent when is being mind controlled by the mutants and in the end killed by the apes. Victimization is all her character is.

Plot holes – Zira and Cornelius were supposed to be charged with heresy as of the end of the last film. This is never brought up again and instead they are made to be leaders of the Academy when Dr. Zaius joins Ursus’s expedition. This is never explained.

This movie is a bit of an unfocused, at times sexist mess with some really intriguing ideas that it doesn’t give full credit for. It was an okay movie and would have been stronger if more time was spent with the apes. It really goes downhill once we’re with the Mutants since that is where the weakest critique and the most grotesque violence is. The Mutants have no complexity and no Chimpanzee faction which takes away from the critique too. Every group as members that are agnostic or against the philosophy expressed by the dominant group. I would still tentatively recommend this film. It didn’t need to made since “Planet of the Apes,” is a solid film on it’s own…but it has some interesting ideas and the time with the Apes are mostly fantastic. More time with the Apes could have made this a good film.

Next we’ll be doing the 3rd movie in the Original Series in this Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect – “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”

My final score for this film is 6 / 10. Slightly above average.