Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme

Fall of Damnos, Nick Kyme
A Space Marine Battles Novel
416 pages
Advance Review Copy

When Damnos is hit by cataclysmic earthquakes, an ancient force is awakened. Deep beneath the earth, the necrons rise from their slumber to decimate the human populace. All appears lost until salvation comes from the heavens – the Ultramarines brave an orbital bombardment to deploy their forces on Damnos, led by two legendary warriors – Captain Cato Sicarius and Chief Librarian Tigurius.
They are the planet's last, great hope against the remorseless alien foes, but tensions within their ranks threaten to derail victory. As battle rages on Damnos, and the Ultramarines seek to defeat their soulless enemies, Tigurius receives a terrible vision – a vision telling of the death of a hero... http://blacklibrary.com

So we have Space Marines, Ultramarines no less versus Necrons. Second Company, Captain Sicarius and the poster boys of Games Workshop and Space Undead: two of the single most dreaded subjects of most 40k readers. If you're around online, on 40k forums you hear the constant bleating of how Space Marines are boring and how Ultramarines are the most boring of the boring. "Vanilla Marines" they call them. At the initial sight of this novel I can just foresee the "groan" of Space Marine haters the world over.

Add to this Necrons; space undead. Not exactly easy to get folks interested in. Neither of them really: Ultramarines OR Necrons.
Ultramarines and Space Undead, those characters can't be deep, compelling or sympathetic. Right?

Nick Kyme proves everyone dead wrong.

I have to really hand it to Mr. Kyme. He's taken what could be a disaster of subject matter, the ultimate in boring subjects and breathes life in to in a way I would have never guessed.

First off, as some of the best authors of 40k fiction have already expressed, Space Marines are not boring. They can have depth to them. Hypno-indoctrinated superhumans they may be, but they still have all the failing of mere mortals: anger, jealousy and hunbris. The striving for glory is something that really shines within the Ultramarines and it is quickly shown to be a chink in the armour of the Second Company.

As Nick Kyme shows us, straight away we are thrust in to a world where the "perfectness" of the Ultramarines is tested. First off, there is trouble within the chapter and nowhere else is it as clear as within the Second Company. Internal squabbles and strife threaten to undermine the entire deployment. At the heart of this are several of Sicarius' Veteran Sergeants. We get to see the struggle through their eyes and we get a varied perspective on the internal politics of the Chapter as well as the fight against the Necrons. We see personality flaws clearly, mistakes made, hubris shown and dearly paid for. The Ultramarines Second Company certainly pays dearly in this campaign.

On the other side of the battle lines there are the Necrons. I've never seen such characterization of something so...dead before. Prior to this Necrons have been illustrated as typically undead, unfeeling and largely uninteresting antagonists. They awake and snuff out all life. They are no better than the Tyranids. A faceless enemy out to wipe out everything else. Blegh.

When I started reading the first paragraphs of Mr. Kyme telling the Necron side of the tale I was taken aback. My suspension of disbelief was shocked. I got a taste of what it must be like to be as ancient as the stars, hungering, needing, the pain of being lost, craving flesh and utter hatred of the living. It was awe inspiring. So many things I had never considered were laid bare. in-depth explaiantion through prose on how the various sects and divisions within the Necrontyr actually WORK. Warhammer 40k fans who play Necrons are going to geek out so hard on this their head is going to spin. Without a doubt this is *THE* definitive book for Necron fans. Absolutely required reading.

I've read all of Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novels telling the tales of Uriel Ventris and his 4th Company, and they are good. Mr. McNeill weaves a great yarn and has proven Ultramarines can be fun to read about. Now Nick Kyme is ascending to tell of the Glorious 2nd Company and it appears Mr. McNeill has a Challenge to the Throne of Macragge!

To be fair, The stories of McNeill's 4th Company and Kyme's 2nd Company are completely distinct. They stand nicely on their own as excellent examples of how Space Marines are interesting subjects, and how the "perfect" can be so flawed...human. The Ultramarines in Fall of Damnos are actually very different from Nick Kymes's previous work on the Salamanders Chapter, which is a testament to his versatility as a writer (I know I expected a bit of similarity, redundancy, re-hashing of the same-ol, same-ol. I was happily surprised in Mr. Kyme's ability to keep his work distinct...unique.)

The characters in Fall of Damnos are very rich. Even the venerable brothers encased in Dreadnought sarcophagi are compelling characters. Sicarius is played fairly close to the vest. I would have liked to see more in to his psyche. We get a view in to him and his command squad and I would like to see more of them, but maybe that is saved for later tales. Kyme started something very cool in Battle for Macragge, and it is played out nicely in this novel. (I'd say more but I don't want to spoil the plot/ key subplots)

Internally there is a planetary map, and a nice Order of Battle sheet which is quite useful in keeping track of who is who.

The cover art by Jon Sullivan is perfect (probably my favorite of his in this series). It clearly gives the appropriate feeling of creepy wrongness of the vile Necrons.

This is a damn fine read! nick Kyme shows he can weave a tale and make Ultramarines, Necrons even Dreanoughts compelling as characters. HUZZAH!
Any shortcomings in the plot were negligible. I only wanted MORE of it. Nick Kyme has a firm grasp of what it means to tell a tale in the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium: characters die, and nobody is safe. Even the mighty are flawed and the smallest of characters can shine as brightly as a superhuman.

4.5 out of 5 Stars.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Marvel versus Capcom 3 by Capcom

Name: Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Type: Fighting
Version: Special Edition
Reviewed by Earl Davis

After a decade of waiting, iconic Marvel and Capcom characters join forces again in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, a re-envisioned team fighting game for a new generation of gamers. Fill the shoes of legendary characters from both the Marvel and Capcom universes as you engage in 3-on-3 battles within living comic book art style environments powered by Capcom's MT Framework, an advanced version of the graphics engine used for Resident Evil 5.

The last time a new Marvel vs. Capcom title was released, the world was a different place. The iPod was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye, Y2K was a looming threat on the horizon and arcades were still operating in malls across America. It’s a dollars to donuts wager to suggest that most people probably can’t even remember the last time they saw an arcade. At the time, it was a destination game; a source of pride for loyal players eager to drop endless streams of quarters and expletives.

Fast forward more than a decade, America has changed. In 2000, nothing actually happened and we realized that our fears were ridiculous. In 2001, we grew up and learned that the things we should fear the most are the ones we’ll never see coming. The years flew by as advances in technology made everything smaller, faster and more powerful. Arcades became a thing of the past and the console wars challenged publishers to up their game. Capcom took up the challenge and released Marvel vs. Capcom 3 into this brave new world of home based and high-speed multiplayer gaming.

At its root, Marvel vs. Capcom remains unchanged. It is a “2D” fighter, featuring three man teams selected from a roster of characters taken from various Marvel and Capcom titles such as the X-MEN, Avengers, Street Fighter and Resident Evil. Anyone who has ever dreamed of smacking Chun-Li around with She-Hulk can now have their cross-over fight club fantasies realized in high definition.

The game runs at a fast pace and I was able to complete the basic arcade mode in just under thirty minutes gathering several trophies (achievements for all you xbox folk) along the way. Let’s face it though, the value of any fighting lies not in the initial play through but in the subsequent replay value. MvC3 is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to replay. With a bevy of characters, each sporting a variety of moves and combinations, this game gives players plenty of replay value.

With MvC3, the game play is old hat to anyone who has played any of the series’ previous entries or any other fighting game produced in modern era. Players select teams of three characters and duke it out using special moves, flashy combos attacks and “hyper” combos which are special finishers boasting ridiculous damage. Tag moves, character switching and even the over-sized, over-powered final boss remain constants in the core game play mechanic as well. However, there are a few notable that help keep this game from being just a rehash of MvC2.

The first notable change is on the character select screen. MvC2 boasted a total character count over fifty, depending on which version you played. Capcom decided to pare that number down to thirty-six and the game is better off for it. Each move set has a unique feel and even the character’s that feel like clones on the surface, for example Wolverine/X-23 or Magneto/Dr. Doom, shine as individuals after a little play time.
Control scheme is the focus of the second major change to the series. Capcom has merged the schemes from MvC2 with the traditional Street Fighter style controls to create something new. The four face buttons map to Light Attack, Medium Attack, Heavy Attack and Special Attack (not to be confused with Special Moves). The top trigger (bumper for xbox) buttons are the Assist buttons which swap out team members or call them in for tag-team attacks. It’s an extremely responsive system and friendly to both the casual button masher and the grizzled 2D veteran.

The final notable change is a small one but it is brilliant; the Advanced Guard. Many years ago, one arcade junkie rotated a joystick forward with a quarter degree turn, pressed a punch button and the first Hadoken was thrown. Thus, the first fireball spammer was born. Now, instead of getting constantly pinned to the opposite wall and forced to engage in fireball war, savvy players can press an easy button combination and block while moving forward. There are few greater pleasures in gaming than finally getting to go Hulk-smash on Ryu.

MvC3 isn’t all roses and nerd-gasms, though. A few problems exist and keep the game from perfection. The decision to continue the tradition of undersized, yet overpowered characters creates some frustrating game moments that will have some players screaming “bullsh!t” at their consoles. I’m talking to you Amaterasu and Viewtiful Joe. These characters cannot be hit by a large number of normal attacks and their hyper combos are begging to be nerfed in a future path. I’m as enamored as anyone at Amaterasu’s striking water colors. It shouldn’t cost me half a health bar every time I see them.

Also, Capcom decided to allow “Simple” controls as a selectable option for Ranked online matches. I was beaten at my first six ranked matches in a row. Everyone was pulling off the same moves only a fraction faster than I could. It wasn’t until I noticed that I could turn on “Simple” for a ranked match that I understood why. This means that players can invoke special moves and combos with a single button mash. There is no way for standard players to compete with that speed. It’s something that Capcom needs to address for there to be any validity to the Leaderboard rankings.

This game is beautiful. Period. There are no visual glitches and all of the frames come through with stunning vibrancy at 720p. The backgrounds and models are stunning. Every time a new stage or character is selected, I highly recommend setting the timer to infinite and taking a few minutes to soak up the details.

Audio (Voice):
Capcom went above and beyond with the voice acting. Select Deadpool , listen very carefully, and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. His one liners alone are worth a good portion of the admission price.

Audio (Music):
It’s a generic techno-mix that doesn’t overpower the game. Capcom keeps the music mixed low against the game sounds and voice acting, so it doesn’t detract from the other audio which is far superior.

Plot/ Story:
What? If you think it will have a coherent story, then you obviously haven’t played a fighting game before.

Most of these are easy to get and are based around winning matches with specific team members, like the Avengers or completing a specified move count, like 100 hyper combos. A few are online based, but nothing out of reach for most players.

MvC3: Special Edition comes with a metal case, a mini comic book, three decals featuring MvC3 characters/moves, a one month subscription to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and two downloadable characters, Jill Valentine and Shuma-Gorath. The mini-comic and decals are laughable at best, unless you are eight years old. Unfortunately, MDCU is online 9.99 a month. With a price tag at 99.99 for the special edition, this means that consumers are paying an extra $30.00 for a sub-par comic, a few stickers and two DLC characters that can’t be used until mid-March.

Overall, MvC3 is a solid game with amazing replay value that can be enjoyed by both the casual and hardcore gamer alike. A few balancing issues and one poor design choice keep this from being the perfect game. I highly recommend purchasing the standard version of this game, but don’t waste your money your money on the Special Edition.

4 out of 5 stars