Category Archives: Free Time

All kind of things I do in my free time

Movie of the Week: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Silke and I are big fans of the first two X-Men movies, which were both directed by Bryan Singer. The later X-Men movies however were hit and miss. I only liked X-Men: First Class. When I heard that Bryan Singer directed the latest movie X-Men: Days of Future Past I was really looking forward to watching it.

X-Men: Days of Future Past links the story of the early X-Men to the characters from the first two movies. In the near future mutants are all but extinct. Most of them have been hunted down by an army of giant robots called Sentinels. These Sentinels even enslave humans that have latent mutant genes which could lead to mutant children. Despite their formidable powers the mutants have not been able to stop their enemies as the Sentinels not only have superior numbers but are also able to adopt the abilities of the mutants over time. In a last desperate attempt to prevent this dark future the mutants send Wolverine’s consciousness back 50 years in time and into his younger body. Wolverine only has a few days to find the younger selfs of the most powerful mutants and convince them to work together to stop the creation of the invincible army of Sentinels. That of course is no easy feat.

I had high expectations for Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise and I wasn’t disappointed. An exiting plot, good actors and (mostly) convincing special effects provide an action packed experience that rivals the first two movies of the franchise. The movie also unites the original and new cast in a way that respects both and even improves the story. The producers probably went through a lot of effort to get all of the original actors on set, even those who only played minor parts in the first three movies. And the ending raised my hopes for future awesome X-Men movies. 🙂

Movie of the Week: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Although Silke and I both enjoyed The Hunger Games we somehow didn’t manage to watch the sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on the big screen. So we watched the movie in our home cinema (very comfortable seats, free drinks and dog cuddles during the movie) for the first time last Saturday.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen. Although she and Peeta Mellark survived the massacre in the arena they are still in danger as President Snow, the ruthless ruler of Panem, views them as threat to the current order. Katniss’s act of defiance at the end of the games has given people hope. They no longer believe that the capitol is all powerful and the districts are in unrest. To end the rebellion before it really begins the new head gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee devises a perfidious plan to kill Katniss: for the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games the tributes are reaped among the previous victors. As Katniss is the only female victor that district 12 ever had she has to return to the arena and fight for her life again.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very good adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s book . It is exciting and even darker than the first movie. You can sense the latent danger all the time while watching Katniss’s desperate struggle. The excellent cast and the impressive special effects complete the first class viewing experience.

After two successful movie adaptations I’m definitely looking forward to Mockingjay, the great finale of The Hunger Games trilogy. As the last book has been split into two films there should be enough time to do the story justice and deliver a memorable ending.

The Best Part of the Mass Effect Trilogy

After reading a very good article about what Mass Effect 4 should be I remembered that I wanted to write a review about my favourite part of BioWare‘s Mass Effect Trilogy. I already had a draft posting on this topic which, despite containing over 1,600 words, wasn’t even half finished. So let me try again, this time a bit more focused. Be aware that this post contains massive spoilers regarding the story of all three games.

Mass Effect, the first game, has the advantage that the story and the characters are still new and fresh. And it plays that card well. What begins as a tedious exercise in galactic politics, turns into a large scale exploration and finally ends in a desperate fight for the survival of the galatic civilisation. Mass Effect also introduces a lot of iconic characters like Garrus, Liara or Tali. The exciting story is what really sets this game apart, particularly the awesome space battle at the end of the game. It reminds me of the final showdown in Return of the Jedi which happens to be one of my favourite movies.

But Mass Effect also has a bunch of weaknesses. The combat system is somehow unwieldy. Your characters are too slow for free movement in combat and taking cover doesn’t work very well. At the beginning combat is also very difficult, particularly with a power (instead of weapon) focused class. But once you level up your powers and get good equipment it becomes almost too easy. The game also applies classic role play game mechanics a bit uninspired. There are e.g. a large number of weapons available but they only vary in stats like damage per shot or fire rate. And at some point in the game you  inevitably have the maximum possible amount of money and the best possible equipment (bought in a shop) and looting becomes futile. Galactic exploration can also be a bit dull at times as most planets lack detail and feature only standard building layouts.

The second part, Mass Effect 2, improves a lot on the first part. Combat in particular works much better. While your characters are still a bit slow the cover mechanics work this time. You can now win every fight with a mixture of the right tactics and good aiming. The role play mechanics have been modernised. While they are admittedly a bit too simplistic (e.g. no weapon customisation) they feel much less tedious compared to the first part. You find less loot but it is usually much more exciting. A new weapon will look and feel completely different from the weapons that you already have. And the best weapon is not determined by numbers but by what works well for you. Galactic exploring is also much more fun because each mini mission you find is different. No more looking for buildings on a square standard planet map like in the first part.

The story telling is still on a very high level. While the main plot is more straightforward and predictable there are a lot of interesting side missions. Most squad members have a recruitment and loyalty mission which gives an in-depth introduction into each of these characters. The game also features the best adversary of the whole trilogy: Harbinger. You never face it directly, but it taunts you frequently and attacks you relentlessly by possessing its pawns.

But let’s not forget about the Suicide Mission, the grand finale of the game. It starts with a mind blowing space battle and ends in three exiting and unique combat sequences. You get a decent boss battle and there is an epic cutscene after winning the game. During the whole mission Commander Shepard’s decisions make a huge difference. If you didn’t prepare well you will take losses before the real fight even starts. And if you pick the wrong squad mate for an assignment you will get somebody killed. As a result it feels really good if you did your job well and get your whole crew out alive.

The finale game of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3, tries to be bigger and better but only partly succeeds. The combat system is better than ever. Characters can move quickly and dodge which finally allows for free movement in battle. And new enemies, which hunt you down and try to kill you in close combat, make quick movement necessary for survival. But there are also enemies with a lot of fire power which you cannot fight in the open. You have to adapt to the situation quickly to prevail.

BioWare also found a good balance for the role playing elements. Weapons (of which there is a huge variety now) can be modified to increase their strength or improve their handling. Powers have multiple evolutions that you can choose from and can be combined in a lot of ways to create explosions or other effects to increase their effectiveness. Picking the right build, squad members and equipment becomes more important than ever to maximise the combat strength of your party.

The main problem of the third part is the story. While there are epic sub plots, like dealing with the Genophage or ending the conflict between the Quarian and the Geth, the main story leaves a lot to be desired. BioWare had to invent a magic dooms day weapon called the Crucible to give Commander Shepard a fighting chance against the Reapers. This would probably have been more convincing if the Crucible’s existence had been hinted at in the first two parts. But it seems that the story writers didn’t plan that far ahead. The other problem is that the main story is very depressing. It is full of ominous hints that Shepard will die … all the time … and not particularly subtle. And Shepard doesn’t even get a good death. Instead of going down with guns blazing she is already half dead by the time she has to sacrifice herself because an annoying brat says so. The fact that the game play of the final mission is rather dull and none of your previous decisions really matter almost becomes a minor detail at this point.

So which is the best part? You can probably make out my favourite based on the above review.