Saturday, May 20, 2017

James Review -- Windswept: Like a Boss

This week I decided to review Windswept: Like a Boss by Adam Rakunas. 

This story is set in a setting where if sugarcane can be used for something it is, including reactor fuel. And the vast majority of human technology runs on sugarcane in some form, and humanity is mostly run by the Big Three, a trio of Megacorporations. The story is set on Santee Anchorage, an independent planet that produces sugarcane which it trades to the Big Three for money and goods, and is inhabited by a mix of humans born there and former corporate employees who fled their contracts.

Padma is now running the Old Windswept Distillery, whose rum is the only thing that can hold back the mental side effects of a space voyage in a semi-conscious state, near the end of her corporate career. But she is struggling to keep her head above water while warding off those who want to buy her distillery and also working a lousy job to slowly pay off the damages she inflicted when forced to wreck an orbital lifter to prevent the spread of Black Stripe, a bioengineered plague designed to devastate sugarcane production throughout human space, which would have been an apocalypse level event for human civilization.

But things soon grow worse when Padma discovers that her nemesis Evanrute Saarien, imprisoned for attempting to murder her (among other charges) and one of the masterminds behind the Black Stripe plot, is out of prison and has formed a new religion calling for followers to stand up against their bosses. As the ranks of his followers grow the danger of a strike paralyzing the world increases. Union president Letty asks Padma to find a way to stop the strike and the cult to buy time for the economic chaos wrought by the Black Stripe and the Big Three ruling that the measures needed to contain it violate Santee Anchorage's trade agreements with them. But as Padma investigates, something seems off and she soon realizes a horrifying truth.  This leaves Padma racing to end the strike before it is too late, but she must also decide just how far she is willing to go in order to do so..

I give this book 6.5 out of 10. It is far more bland then the previous novel without the few interesting action sequences that Windwept had. Also, I feel this is an example of a sequel to a story that didn't really need a sequel. Sometimes such a tale can turn out great--or at least good--but this was not one of those. Also, the motivations of some of the key players in the tale are unclear to me and some scenes read like they were taken out of a B-movie script. And there is even less explained about the setting's big picture than in the previous book with what happened in this one having no real effect on or danger to anyone or anything not on Santee Anchorage.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Introducing My New Web Site

After many years, I have finally created a proper web site. It's still rough around the edges but I like the direction I'm going with it. Please check out www.scottkinkade.net if you feel so inclined.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Defending Homefront: the Revolution (James Review Special)

I decided to join in defending things I like that are widely hated. And Homefront: the Revolution is definitely near the top of the list of most bashed things I enjoy that are widely panned by critics and reviewers. So here is my defense and feelings on Homefront: the Revolution.

Ok first I want to make it clear that while I know Homefront: the Revolution has a number of flaws, I just feel that many reviewers exaggerate those flaws or ignore the fact that many of them were fixed soon after release.

First on the agenda is the bugs. This issue more than any other is one I feel is both blown vastly out of proportion and has been largely fixed via patches. I got the game the weekend after release and the only recurring issue I ran into was the game slowing down massively or freezing for a few moments right after autosaving, and that was fixed. A lot of people seem to think the fact the game had bugs at all should be held against it, while I feel that one of the great things about modern gaming is that DLC patches allow bugs to be easily fixed after the game is released and I know of games with far worse bug issues then Homefront: The Revolution long after anti-bug patches stopped coming that don't get bashed for bugs like this game does.

Now the story. It is pretty basic, set in the near future on an alternate timeline where a technological revolution in North Korea during the 1970s led to the downfall of that country's Communist regime and it transformed into a capitalist technological superpower run in all but name by the Apex Corporation . The USA has been conquered by Korea after the US ceases payments on the debt it owes Korea, leading to an invasion while Apex shuts down all of the US military's equipment purchased from it.You play as a Resistance fighter in Philadelphia struggling to liberate the city. I haven't seen many complaints about the story and most of those come from people who seemed to not understand that this was set in an alternate history, or that it wasn't set in the same timeline as the original Homefront game. If you enjoy stories like the original Red Dawn like I do, or its re-imagining (which I haven't seen yet) then I don't think you will have any big issues with this game's plot. That said, I don't like the new ending added by the final story DLC because I feel it is too close to endings of other recent games with similar themes.

And finally the gameplay. The main game is an open world setting with the character completing a number of primary missions and being given the option to complete side missions to secure new outposts for the resistance or gain other benefits. Planning and caution are vital in this game because if you try charging an enemy base or patrol head-on, you will lose. Health items are rare, and the amount of ammo carried by fallen foes is low so running out of bullets is a regular concern in my experience. That said, I had a lot of fun outside a few issues. First, switching which of the three possible sidearms I was carrying was a huge pain as the game locked in the stealth pistol which was the last of the three that I had purchased from a rebel stockpile and would not let me switch to another like the submachine gun for quite some time. The gameplay changes drastically for the three story DLCs which cut the open world elements in favor of chains of objectives leading towards the story's goal. However, I greatly disliked how the DLCs use invisible barriers or exclusion zones to limit the player's movement. In particular the final DLC, with a description that talked about being able to explore a new map was very bad about this with several difficult battles where I would think of a plan only to discover that couldn't carry out my idea because it involved leaving the mission zone.

Despite the flaws I give Homefront the Revolution 7 out of 10. It is far from the successor to Freedom Fighters that I hoped for when I first heard that an open world Homefront game was coming, but I had fun with it and in no way regret getting it as a birthday present for myself. And as cheap as it is now I feel that if this combination of theme and gameplay is one someone feels they might enjoy, there is no reason not to try it. I'll never understand the hatred it generated or why I see it on so many worst game of 2016 lists.


Friday, May 12, 2017

James Review -- The End of All Things

This week I decided to review Old Man's War: The End of All Things by John Scalzi. It is a collection of e-books released in print all dealing with Equilibrium, an organization intending to destroy the settings two superpowers, the human Colonial Union and the Conclaves made up of hundreds of alien species. The stories take place after Earth, the primary source of new colonists and soldiers for the Colonial Union, severs ties with the Union in response to an apparent Union attack on Earth Station, Earth's primary space station.

Life of the Mind focuses on Rafe Dauqin who when the story starts is a pilot desperately seeking a job after an argument with his previous captain led to the captain telling anyone who would listen that Dauqin was a troublemaker. Dauqin gets a job as one of the pilots on the Chandler, a decommissioned Colonial Union frigate turned into a freighter. The Chandler is supposed to carry Union Ambassador Ocampo to a vacation, but midflight Ocampo orders the ship to carry him to a secret meeting. This turns out to be a trap and the ship is boarded by Rraey, an aggressive species neutral in the heated political affairs between the Conclave and the Union. Ocampo reveals that he is working with the Rraey, and since their plans require a pilot he picks Dauqin. Dauqin's brain is removed and put in a life support container connected to some of the Chandler's controls while the rest of the crew is left to die in escape pods to cover up Ocampo's survival.  Ocampo eventually reveals the existence of Equilibrium to Dauqin, explaining that they plan to use the Chandler and a fleet of similarly seized and controlled ships to launch attacks that will start a war between the Conclave and the Union. But before becoming a pilot Dauqin was a programmer for spacecraft software and, using his knowledge and skills, he begins a desperate effort to gain full control of the ship and escape...

This Hollow Union focuses on affairs within the Conclave.  General Gau, the founder and leader of the Conclave, is planning steps towards bring Earth into the Conclave but many in the Conclave oppose this. And when an Earth diplomatic ship is narrowly rescued after an attack, and the Colonial Union delegation reveals a number of Equilibrium agents within the Conclave, things rapidly grow worse after General Gau is killed and his former advisor Hafte Sorvalh finds himself thrust into leadership and struggles to hold the Conclave together while deciding how to deal with the human and Equilibrium issues.

Can Long Endure follows a Colonial Defense Force unit that is sent on a variety of missions to suppress independence movements on Union worlds. Most of these involve little more than reminding potentially rebellious governments how easily the Union can obliterate them, or dealing with rebel snipers, but there is also a commando raid against the government of a world that has declared independence where they find themselves in a battle against Equilibrium forces secretly brought in to defend the planet.

Then comes To Stand or Fall. The Colonial Union discovers that Equilibrium plans to start a final war between the Union and the Conclave by launching a nuclear strike against Earth using seized Conclave ships while the Union Fleet is dealing with rebellious planets. Not wishing to drive Equilibrium further into hiding, the Union struggles to convince the Conclave to join forces with it to defend the human homeworld and strike at Equilibrium's new base of operations while also convincing Earth to trust them. There is also a sideplot dealing with an effort to reform the Union into something less likely to spark the kinds of discontent that Equilibrium has been using to spark the rebellions.

Finally there is An Alternate Life of Mind which is a collection of deleted or altered scenes from the first story, including Dauqin's father blackmailing the Union into launching a mission to find the Chandler.

I give the book 9.5 out of 10. It had a nice variety of stories to suit different tastes. However, I feel that some of the important events that took place during the stories weren't given enough detail and that some areas of a couple of stories could have been trimmed to make room for more detail in other portions of the tale which I feel were more important to the storylines.




Saturday, May 6, 2017

Movie Review -- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Today we have the 11,687,120th Marvel movie. It is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Is it any good? Let's find out.

The story begins with the Guardians protecting super important batteries for a golden-skinned alien race called the Sovereign. Things go well until Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals a few batteries, incurring the wrath of the Sovereign. A battle ensues...

Then the Guardians meet a mysterious man named Ego (Kurt Russell) who informs Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) that he is his father and invites them to his planet to convey additional important information. Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) accompany them, while the others stay behind to guard Nebula (Karen Gillan) whom they have taken prisoner. But things gets dicey for the latter group when Yondu (Michael Rooker) returns for a nice payday at their expense.

Meanwhile, the first group takes in Ego's beautiful planet while he explains just what's going on. However, Gamora senses something's not quite right in paradise. Just what is Ego up to, and how does it affect the rest of the galaxy? And what will happen when the Sovereign come for vengeance? You'll have to watch it to find out.

I feel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great improvement over the first film which I viewed as Avengers Lite. This one's stylish and pretty funny. Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), in particular, provides plenty of heart and humor, especially when given simple yet (for him, at least) very difficult tasks such as retrieving an important item for Yondu.

Also greatly adding to the movie's appeal is the quality soundtrack which features a number of good songs from a variety of artists, in addition to Tyler Bates' score.

The only criticism I have is with the main villain who ends up being pretty generic, albeit no more so than Ronan last time. This particular character has no real motivation other than galactic conquest.

And, finally, I want to mention the epic final battle. It's very kickass and really puts the exclamation point on the whole shebang. 

Bottom line: Go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. As Schwarzenegger would say, "DO IT!!"



Thursday, May 4, 2017

James Review -- Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt

This week I decided to review Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig. 

The story begin not long after the first book in the trilogy ended. Nora Wexley and her team, including her son Temmin, are continuing to hunt Imperial war criminals but there's some discontent within the team as bounty hunter Jas Emari feels they are bypassing opportunities to help victims of criminals and oppressors in favor of focusing on their assigned targets. And shortly after one of their targets dies while in custody, Wexley is contacted by Princess Leia, whose husband Han Solo is in trouble. After the New Republic Senate refused to launch a mission to liberate the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, Solo and his Wookiee co-pilot and best friend Chewbacca received information that would allow a small force to liberate the planet. Solo put together a team of smugglers, pirates, and Wookiees who had escaped the Empire's grasp but something went wrong and most of the force, including Chewbacca, was captured during an Imperial ambush that Solo escaped. But Solo was again under attack when he last spoke to his wife and contact was lost. Leia asks Wexley's team to undertake an unauthorized mission to locate Solo.

Meanwhile within the upper ranks of what is left of the Empire, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, the face of what's left of the Imperial Starfleet begins to distrust Gallius Rax, her adviser who is running the Empire in all but name. This distrust grows worse when Rax begins issuing orders in Sloane's name, including orders that lead to destruction of the Star Destroyer Scythe sent to ambush Wexley's team but got caught by New Republic warships. Sloane launches an investigation to discover more about Rax's past even as they work together to plan an attack on Chandrila, the current New Republic capital.

Wexley's team eventually catches up with Solo as he is working to capture Golas Aram, a retired Imperial prison designer involved with the creation of Ashmead's Lock, a prison on Kashyyyk where Chewbacca is being held. They join forces with Solo to capture Aam then move on to Kashyyk to seize Ashmead's Lock, in reality an ancient AI-run prion ship that crashed on Kashyyyk thousands of years ago and keeps its prisoners in stasis while using them as a power source, which is now being used by the Empire. Among the prisoners they rescue is Nora Wexley's husband Brentin, whom Nora long believed lost forever, and they, their son, and many of the prisoners set out for Chandrila even as the pending Imperial surprise attack grows closer. Meanwhile, the rest of her team joins Han and Chewbacca in forming and launching a new plan attempting to liberate Kashyyyk.

The book also includes a number of interludes showing what is happening elsewhere in the galaxy as well as the short story "Blade Squadron: Kuat" by David J. Williams and Mark S. Williams which focuses on its namesake B-Wing unit during the New Republic' campaign to claim the world of Kaut, the Empire's largest ship and weapon production center,

I give the main novel 7 out of 10. It has an interesting mix of action and political scenes but there are a few key flaws I find in it. First, I feel that the battle against the Scythe should have been covered in more detail rather than ending with the New Republic reinforcements opening fire then that plotline jumping to the battle's aftermath. Also, I find some of the nods to other stories, both fellow Star Wars tales and non-Star Wars stories, to be heavy-handed and unnecessary. In particular, the Nora Wexley, Brentin Wexley, and Wedge Antilles plotline has far too many similarities to the Wedge Antilles, Iella Wessiri and Diric Wessiri story from the Legends continuity for my taste. And on the interlude front I feel that the idea of a pirate band capturing a Super Star Destroyer is stretching credibility to the breaking point at best. The idea of a pirate band managing to maintain and provide a crew for a Super Star Destroyer while manning other ships is absurd in my opinion. I give "Blade Squaduron: Kuat" 6.5 out of 10. I feel it is far too short and would have benefited greatly from another ten pages in length. Also there are some parts that I feel either don't make sense given the conditions at the time the story takes place or don't fit with what is shown in other canon sources, including Return of the Jedi.


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