Saturday, 16 January 2077

Support The Wertzone on Patreon


After much debate (and some requests) I have signed up with crowdfunding service Patreon to better support future blogging efforts. You can find my Patreon page here and more information after the jump.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

RUMOUR: Bethesda were planning OBLIVION and FALLOUT 3 remasters back in 2020, along with a possible DISHONORED 3

A leaked schedule for Bethesda video games from 2020 suggests that the company was at least planning remasters for two of their older titles, as well as a new game in one of their biggest franchises.

The leak appears to have been an accidental release of information as part of Microsoft's ongoing battle to clear international legal hurdles preventing its acquisition of Activision-Blizzard. The schedule has known projects on which did eventually release (such as Redfall and Starfield), as well as unannounced games including Dishonored 3. The leak also suggests that Microsoft envisages just a three-year wait for The Elder Scrolls VI, the follow-up to the much-acclaimed 2011 title The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Even though the list is official, we should take it with a grain of salt as it is very clearly outdated. The list is pre-COVID, and the COVID pandemic caused massive delays and multiple project cancellations in many companies. It's not clear which of the projects on the list remain extant (beyond the already-confirmed Elder Scrolls VI).

The list also indicates that both The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) and Fallout 3 (2008) are to be remastered, not remade. This would likely be a moderate graphical overhaul and some minor technical and UI improvements (similar to the recent, somewhat underwhelming Red Dead Redemption remaster) but otherwise leaving the games alone.

This is notable as a group of fans have been remaking Oblivion for the past decade with considerably more advanced graphics and a full UI overhaul drawing on later Bethesda games like Fallout 4 (2015, itself already confirmed as getting a next-gen remaster and re-release next year). This project, known as Skyblivion, is currently due for release in 2025 and has Bethesda's support (as well as persistent rumours that Bethesda may make it an official release if the quality is high enough). An Oblivion remaster may be redundant in that case, but it's worth noting that back in 2020 there was widespread scepticism over any of these fan remasters actually being finished. Three years later and with more in-depth coverage of the project's development, Skyblivion does indeed appear very close to completion.

Dishonored 3 is a welcome idea. Dishonored (2012) and Dishonored 2 (2016) are two of the greatest video games of the last decade and cemented Arkane Studios' reputation for great game design and fantastic worldbuilding. Deathloop (2021) - set in the same world albeit in a different game genre - also did well. However, the underwhelming commercial performance of Prey (2017) and Redfall (2023) has somewhat damaged Arkane's reputation, alongside the departure of much of the OG team at the company behind its earlier games. There will be likely scepticism that the remnants can deliver a worthwhile successor, especially as stand-alone expansion Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (2017) delivered a pretty final ending to the story of the series. Deathloop takes place in the same world and does open up some more narrative possibilities for that setting, so a further game in the series might have some legs to it.

Finally, the list suggest that The Elder Scrolls VI will follow three years after the release of Starfield. Given Starfield's two-year delay from the list, that suggests they may be envisaging a 2026 release date for Elder Scrolls VI. With Bethesda only recently spooling up full-time work on the game, that feels very optimistic. Many fans have been projecting a release date of 2028 on the low end to 2030 on the higher.

The leak is interesting, but as yet none of the projects mentioned on it beyond Elder Scrolls VI and the Fallout 4 remaster have been formally confirmed.


Piranha Games have announced that MechWarrior 5: Clans is in development, targeting a 2024 release date. The game is a stand-alone companion title to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (2019).

Unlike the open-world Mercenaries, Clans is a linear game featuring sequential missions. Set several years after the end of Mercenaries' last expansion, Rise of Rasalhague, the new title sees the Inner Sphere invaded by the Clans, a number of small but powerful factions who fled the Inner Sphere centuries ago. The Clans field more sophisticated technology and weaponry than the Inner Sphere and believe they have a destiny to reconstruct the Star League, the mighty interstellar empire whose collapse led to the current era.

The player is a MechWarrior belonging to Clan Smoke Jaguar who climbs the ranks during the Clan Invasion of the Inner Sphere, particularly Smoke Jaguar's invasion of the Draconis Combine. Intriguingly, previous BattleTech lore had established the Smoke Jaguars as villains, or at least somewhat villainous, suggesting this new game will have you playing the bad guys, or it might attempt to fill in more detail and colour to the faction. The game will see you commanding a five-Mech unit as the war grinds on. If you want to catch up on a guide to the franchise's lore, I have you covered here.

The game does not require MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries to play or run. Mercenaries fans do have some more content incoming, though, as Piranha will release The Dragon's Gambit later on this month, a 15-mission DLC which sees the player's mercenary company allying with the Draconis Combine during the Fourth Succession War.

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Steam turns 20 years old

PC video game distribution platform Steam turns twenty years old today. Normally that wouldn't be a major milestone outside of technical interest, but Steam's achievements and position in the industry remain unique, despite some criticisms.

PC games company Valve Corporation launched Steam on 12 September 2003. The first - and for a while only - thing you could do on Steam was use it to patch up your existing Steam games, particularly Counter-Strike. The service did not even have a store front on release. Valve had identified the enthusiasm for online multiplayer early, but also identified that many gamers experienced frustration when new patches were released, as these tended to be released ad hoc and it sometimes took days for them to be disseminated over the entire playerbase. Valve proposed developing a universal updating service with several other companies, including Microsoft, but were shot down. They began development of their own service in 2002. This idea wasn't totally new, as Blizzard had released their Battle.Net service at the end of 1996, but Steam was working on a different scale.

Valve quickly realised the same system could be used to sell and download games in their entirety. Valve ran videos and interviews demonstrating how this would work with the video game Impossible Creatures by Relic Entertainment, with the entire game being downloaded over broadband in just a few hours. Ironically, Impossible Creatures would not be actually released on Steam until 2015.

Valve also sold the benefits of the service for combating piracy, which was widely believed at the time to be killing the PC gaming market. This led to consternation from gamers, already wary of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software trying to restrict when and where they could play games. To assuage concerns, Valve also demonstrated that the system could be used as a mass distribution system for free mods by releasing the popular Half-Life mod Day of Defeat on the service.

After a successful launch, Valve shut down all of their other online matchmaking and updating websites and systems, effectively forcing gamers to migrate to Steam over the course of 2004, to some controversy.

On 16 November 2004, Valve released Half-Life 2. One of the most eagerly-awaited games of all time up to that point, preceded by months of hype, Half-Life 2 was sold at retail and as a Steam download, but all copies of the game had to be activated and authenticated on Steam, even if the game was to be played solely offline in single-player mode. This led to vast criticism and anger from both critics and the gaming community, as broadband internet was still in its relative infancy. However, Valve stuck to their guns and the game's overwhelmingly positive reviews saw a million copies sold worldwide within a relatively short timeframe. Shortly after release Valve demonstrated the versatility and convenience of Steam by releasing an extra bonus level, Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast via the service.

In 2005 Valve signed its first distribution agreement with third-party vendors. The first third-party game was Rag Doll King Fu, followed quickly by the more acclaimed Darwinia. Over the next few years numerous other publishers and developers jumped on board, attracted by the company's generous royalty cut (far superior to boxed retail). Critics continued to complain loudly about the service being a form of intrusive DRM, but fans began to see the convenience of having all their games, multiplayer services and achievements in one place.

It is possible that Steam would have remained a relatively minor success, especially as Valve proved reluctant to release more high-profile original games, but the PC gaming market underwent serious contraction after the release of the Xbox 360 console in 2005 and the PlayStation 3 the following year. Both consoles had comparable power to gaming PCs of the time and pushed the development of HD graphics at a much more affordable price. The result was something of a stampede of gamers to the new consoles, including PC gamers who previously would have not considered switching to console but were lured over by the likes of the Halo series on Xbox. Previously PC-centric developers like Bethesda were also focusing heavily on the console versions of their next-generation games, like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) and Fallout 3 (2008). For several years the future of PC gaming appeared to be in doubt.

The result was an explosion in the indie game sector starting in the late 2000s, alongside Valve using numerous inducements to try to get PC publishers and developers to rally around Steam as a centralised, global launch platform for their games. Valve also initiated aggressively-priced "Steam Sales," sometimes selling games just a year or two old for heavy discounts. This approach proved successful, if again controversial, and PC games began to see an uptick in sales again towards the end of the decade. A good sign of Steam's success was the appearance of competitor products: Ubisoft launched the Ubisoft Games Launcher (aka Ubisoft Connect, later UPlay) in November 2009 and Electronic Arts launched Origin in June 2011.

An earlier competitor was Polish company CD Projekt. The company had enjoyed success by launching its first original game, The Witcher on Steam (as well as physical release) in 2007. In 2008 they launched Good Old Games, a variation on Steam which focused on older, out-of-print games and employing patches and community knowledge in making them compatible with modern systems. CDPR won early victories by recruiting Interplay and Ubisoft to their cause. In 2010, rebranded as GoG, they carried out a successful relaunch spearheaded by the re-release of classic CRPG Baldur's Gate. Valve noted CDPR's success and began launching older games themselves, although generally without the care and attention GoG spent on compatibility.

By the early 2010s, Steam had established itself as the de facto global PC games storefront, to the point that many bricks-and-mortar video game stores dramatically reduced or even removed physical PC games from sale. Most games sold physically still needed to be activated on Steam anyway. Steam users became numerous and passionate, calling for boycotts of other launchers from companies who refused to release on Steam as well, citing the inconvenience of managing multiple launchers and software. The success of Steam also encouraged the further development of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony's inhouse storefronts for their consoles (several attempts to create console versions of Steam came to nothing).

By 2020, most rivals had admitted defeat, with both Electronic Arts and Ubisoft agreeing to release their games via Steam once again. In 2022 EA discontinued Origin in favour of the EA App, which allows former Origin players to continue accessing their games.

In late 2018, Epic Games, flush with cash from their game Fortnite, launched a service designed to directly take the fight to Steam. The Epic Game Store used aggressive pricing, a more generous royalty scheme and the promise of completely free AAA games to aggressively expand. However, the service was hugely criticised during its launch phase for lacking basic functions like a shopping basket and user reviews, whilst Epic's attempt to lock in some games to exclusivity periods with them in return for buckets of cash was criticised as anti-consumer. It took several years to implement basic features and remains controversial, despite the number of Epic exclusives tailing off as developers discovered that the bad will engendered from not launching on Steam often outstripped the short-term financial benefits of accepting Epic's pricing terms.

Steam enjoyed a further shot in the arm thanks to the COVID pandemic, with the number of people using the service seeing a sharp increase as they were stuck at home with, in some cases, not much to do other than play video games.

In 2023, Steam is the overwhelmingly dominant games delivery service for the PC format. The service continues to set new records for concurrent players - the latest high of over 33 million was reached earlier this year - and now every major publisher and almost all publishers full stop use Steam as their main launch system. Rivals continue to hang in there - GoG has continued goodwill from its attempts to track down and release older games and Epic Games is continuing to try to make inroads through exclusives and free games - but many have thrown in the towel and admitted defeat.

Criticisms of Steam and its monopoly-like position in the marketplace continue, with criticism of the service sometimes pushing shovelware games released without much attention to quality (or sometimes copyright). The service has sometimes been used for cheating, toxic behaviour and even fraudulent activities, which Valve has sometimes acted decisively to stamp out and, at other times, less decisively. However, Steam has also been praised for almost single-handedly saving PC gaming as a viable format during the 2005-10 period when its future might otherwise have been in doubt, and for prioritising convenience and ease of use for customers.

Probably the biggest and most viable criticism of Steam has been its impact on Valve, its creators. Valve used to create vibrant, exciting and original video games. Steam has given them an astonishing annual income (comfortably in the billions of dollars) which frees them from having to rush games or, indeed, do much work on original games at all. Although Valve continued to publish popular titles in the first few years after Steam launched - Portal (2007), Team Fortress 2 (2007), Left 4 Dead (2008), Portal 2 (2011), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012) and Dota 2 (2013) - it is also unquestionable that their financial security has meant they are not under any pressure to actually make new games. The Half-Life franchise was left on a massive cliffhanger with the release of Half-Life 2: Episode Two in 2007 and the company has so far failed to follow up on it, although VR prequel Half-Life: Alyx (2021) hints at how the series might continue.

My main abiding memory of the first time I used Steam was strewing network cables across my house, to my landlady's consternation, as I tried to get Half-Life 2 to work on its release day. I now have 484 games on the service with some 5,769 hours spent on them (which isn't as bad as I'd feared, spread over nineteen years). My most-played games on the service are Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, Fallout 4, Cyberpunk 2077, The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimBattleTech, XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, Death Stranding, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Grand Theft Auto IV/Episodes from Liberty City and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. Many of the criticisms and wariness about the service remain valid, but I think without Steam, it's questionable if PC gaming would have survived, let alone thrived as it has.

Monday, 11 September 2023

RUMOUR: THE EXPANSE's Shohreh Aghdashloo cast in THE WHEEL OF TIME

Thanks to good detective work by Wheel of Time fan channel WoT Up!, there are well-supported indications that The Expanse actress Shohreh Aghdashloo has been cast in the third season of the show.

Aghdashloo is best-known for her role on all six seasons of The Expanse, playing Chrisjen Avasarala. Her performance on that show was highly acclaimed, and led to her being cast in numerous geek-friendly projects. However, her acting career goes right back to the late 1970s, when she debuted in films in her native Iran. She moved to the UK and then the United States after the 1979 Revolution and began acting in projects there, achieving a breakthrough for her role in House of Sand and Fog (2003). Her TV roles included ER, Grey's Anatomy, 24, House of Saddam, The Punisher and Grimm. In video games, she also voiced Admiral Shala'Raan of the Quarian Fleet in Mass Effect 2 and 3, Lakhshmi-2 in Destiny and Destiny 2, and Roshan in the Assassin's Creed franchise. She reprised her role as Avasarala in this year's The Expanse: A Telltale Series.

Aghdashloo was fan-cast by Wheel of Time fans for the role of Cadsuane, a powerful Aes Sedai who cannot stand the strictures of the Tower so prefers to operate independently of its hierarchy, something that has gotten her in trouble with the sisterhood. In the books, Cadsuane is initially a difficult-to-read figure who may be an ally but also an enemy of Rand al'Thor. Aghdashloo subsequently responded positively to fans on Twitter suggesting she audition for the role, leading to an exchange with showrunner Rafe Judkins. She was subsequently spotted on location when filming for Season 3 began in Prague.

According to WoT Up!, Aghdashloo is actually playing the role of Elaida, a different Aes Sedai. Elaida is the Aes Sedai advisor to Queen Morgase of Andor, thanks to her gift of the Foretelling, comes to believe that the royal house of Andor is pivotal in events to come. She relocates to Tar Valon, where Morgase's daughter Elayne is studying to be Aes Sedai, to better guide her education.

Although I think Aghdashloo would be a better Cadsuane than Elaida, she would still be excellent in that role. It may be that Cadsuane's role in the show will be reduced compared to the books, in which case casting a lower-profile actress for that role might make more sense (Cadsuane has been mentioned several times in the series, so will probably appear in some form), whilst Elaida will be a more important figure who debuts earlier and plays a bigger role in events.

We await full confirmation from Amazon as to Aghdashloo's casting and what role she will be playing, but overall this is excellent casting news.

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Blogging Roundup: 1 May to 31 August 2023

The Wertzone


Video Game: Grounded


Atlas of Ice and Fire

Thursday, 31 August 2023

DESCENT, FREESPACE, RED FACTION and SAINT'S ROW developers Volition are shut down for good

In surprising and disappointing news, the video game studio Volition has been shut down after thirty years in operation. During that time, Volition were responsible for some of the most beloved titles and series in those respective eras. The decision to shut down came after the disappointing performance of their latest game, a reboot of their Saint's Row series, and their acquisition by Swedish mega-company Embracer Group.

Volition started life in 1993 as Parallax Software Corporation, where they started work on a game called Inferno. After various deals with publishers fell through, they teamed with Interplay to release the game, now retitled Descent, in 1995. The game was immediately noteworthy for its 3D graphics and its fast-paced combat. Alongside the following year's Quake, the game became a testbed for 3D graphics cards. The game was quickly followed by Descent II (1996).

The company rebranded itself as Volition and released its space space combat simulator Descent: Freespace - The Great War (aka Conflict: Freespace - The Great War in some territories) in 1998, to immense critical acclaim. The game was praised for taking on the X-Wing and Wing Commander series and beating them both at their own game. They followed up on the game with the massively-praised Freespace 2 (1999), widely regarded even today as the single finest space combat simulator of all time. Unfortunately, a cutting of content, budget issues, no marketing and the collapse of the space combat market (which also adversely affected the same year's X-Wing: Alliance) led to the game being released with relatively little fanfare and extremely disappointing sales. Freespace 2 would go on to enjoy an extremely long tail in sales and a vibrant modding scene that continues to this day.

In 2000 Volition released Summoner, a well-received action RPG based around characters recruiting monsters they could release into combat. As part of the marketing campaign, Volition teamed with the comedy group Dead Alewives to create a Dungeons & Dragons-themed comedy video, in which characters from both Summoner and the in-development Red Faction team up to play D&D. The video was an early memetic success, and was also used to tempt video gamers to try out the then-newly released 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons itself. Lines like, "Where is the Mountain Dew?" and "I attack the darkness!" occasionally crop up in tabletop games to this day. Summoner 2 followed in 2002.

In 2001 Volition released Red Faction, a first-person shooter set on Mars. The game was noteworthy for its destructible terrain and scenery, with players able to blast through walls to create alternate paths through maps. The game was a huge, smash hit for Volition and was followed by three sequels: Red Faction II (2002), Red Faction: Guerrilla (2009) and Red Faction: Armageddon (2011).

In 2004 Volition released their first and only licensed game, The Punisher (2004), which saw Thomas Jane reprise his role as Frank Castle from the film of the same name.

In 2006 Volition made their biggest gamble by deciding to take on Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto series. Volition's equivalent series, Saint's Row, leaned into GTA's ruder, wilder and more insane side, although not quite to start with. Saint's Row (2006) and Saint's Row 2 (2008) at least nominally focus on the gritty underworld crime dealings of the 3rd Street Saints, but become more focused on the doings of crazy characters like Johnny Gat (Daniel Dae Kim) as the series progressed. By Saint's Row: The Third (2011) the series had become a satire of both the GTA format and the glorification of criminal excess, with the game focusing on the Saints becoming a media brand and empire. Saint's Row IV (2013) saw the Saints take over the White House and fight to save Earth from aliens who had conquered the planet and effectively digitised it, with the Saints fighting inside a computer programme which gave them superpowers. Saint's Row: Gat Out of Hell (2015) saw the Saints going to Hell to fight Satan, as you do.

Aware that they had maxed out the viewer disbelief of the series, Volition decided to first create a side-game only nominally set in the same universe, Agents of Mayhem (2017) and then a full reboot of the series, relocating the game to a new city with a new gang and more grounded tone, in the annoyingly-named Saint's Row (2022). Neither game caught gamers' imagination, with the reaction to Saint's Row (2022) being particularly hostile due to the abandoning of previous fan-favourite characters and storylines.

Embracer Group acquired the studio in 2018, but after the initial release and disappointing reception to Saint's Row (2022), they rotated management and oversight of the studio to another subsidiary, Gearbox. As a result of declining revenues and debates over where to take the studio next, it was then decided to shutter the studio permanently.

Sad news. Descent, Freespace, Red Faction, Summoner and Saint's Row are all very worthy franchises, with excellent games and some great ideas circulating around them. Volition were never afraid to take on the big boys and win, and their no-holds-barred attitude was refreshing in an industry that all too often plays it safe. Unfortunately, it seems their downfall was kowtowing to corporate requirements to be safe and predictable, with Saint's Row (2022) not being a bad game, just a redundant one once they abandoned the very thing that set them apart, their absurdist side and idiosyncratic sense of humour.

Hopefully the staff at Volition will find new roles, and Embracer will let some of their franchises live again in new titles that don't completely miss the point of the originals.

Tuesday, 29 August 2023

SHADOW TACTICS developers call time on their company

In sad news, German developers Mimimi Games will be shutting down following the release of their most recent game, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew. The Munich-based team are best-known for their thematic trilogy of stealth games inspired by classic 1990s titles Commandos and Desperados.

The company started off in 2011 with mobile title daWindci, before developing the colourful platformer The Last Tinker: City of Colors (2014). They switched gears to their first stealth tactics game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (2016), an extraordinarily accomplished and impressive title. The team got to work with one of their inspirational IPs when they then made Desperados III (2020). They returned to the success of their first title with a stand-alone expansion, Aiko's Choice (2021), before developing their last game. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew (2023) is a much less linear and more open title than their previous games, whilst preserving their stealth focus. Despite extremely strong reviews, Shadow Gambit's initial sales were disappointing, likely a result of the game launching almost exactly between two of the biggest titles of the year (Baldur's Gate 3 and Starfield).

According to the managers, developing these three games one after the other proved extremely taxing and expensive, and faced with the prospect of doing it all again, they decided instead to call time on the company. It will wind up over the next few months whilst releasing patch and balance updates for Shadow Gambit.

This is sad news, as Mimimi's style of stealth tactics gameplay was extremely addictive, resulting in three polished, challenging games which rewarded ingenious and original play. Hopefully another team will pick up the baton of continuing this style of title.

Monday, 28 August 2023

Babylon 5: The Road Home

John Sheridan, the first President of the Interstellar Alliance, has relocated from Babylon 5 to Minbar, which will serve as the new base for the Alliance. A routine inspection of a new Minbari power plant inadvertently dislodges Sheridan in time, sending him through a series of alternate timelines where his life, and the fate of the galaxy, took a very different turn. Somehow, he has to find his way home.

The Road Home is the first animated film in the Babylon 5 franchise and the first new instalment of any kind since the release of DVD movie The Lost Tales in 2007. The animated medium allows the surviving actors to reprise their roles and also allows new actors to take over the roles of those actors who are sadly no longer with us (and, as oft-discussed, Babylon 5's attrition rate of actors has been extraordinarily high).

The main appeal of The Road Home is nostalgia: the animated film is so steeped in deep cut lore references to the original show that I'm not sure how much newcomers will get out of it, let alone the massive spoilers it contains for the events of the series. For a B5 veteran, it is tremendous fun to once again see Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Patricia Tallman, Tracy Scoggins, Bill Mumy and Peter Jurasik reprise their roles as Sheridan, Ivanova, Lyta, Lochley, Lennier and Londo respectively. Peter Jurasik in particular slips back into his role as if zero time has passed, and his vocal delivery is spot-on (apart from Tallman, the other actors do have some of the sound of the intervening three decades in their voices). The newcomers are mostly decent, with Paul Guyet outstanding in replicating both Michael O'Hare and Tim Choate's vocal performances as Commander Sinclair and Zathras. Andrew Morgado has the hardest job in replicating the unique vocal stylings of Andreas Katsulas and wisely doesn't even try, instead choosing a similar haughty tone and making it his own.

The character animation is very nice, with a good amount of expression captured from the original actors, although the space CGI is sadly disappointing and lacking in detail: the White Star ships look like unfinished pieces of clay and the Starfuries look like their mid-1990s Micro Machine models. It's genuinely disappointing to see the spacecraft looking so lacking compared to their original incarnations, despite some good design ideas (the Shadow warships now having moving protuberances, for example).

In terms of story and character, The Road Home is a mixed bag. Sheridan flipping between time streams is a nice reuse of story elements from the Season 3 two-parter War Without End, but this promising idea is wasted slightly in revisiting scenes and ideas from the original show that we already saw decades ago. Newcomers will be lost without context and OG fans will find this material redundant. As the movie wears on and we get into newer ideas and start seeing alternate timelines where things unfolded differently, things pick up. It's also nice to get to see things we never saw in the original show, like a Vorlon planet-killer in full action and a Minbari jump gate in operation. But whilst that kind of trivia satisfies, there are also a bevy of continuity errors elsewhere that grate.

As a Babylon 5 project, the film has a lot of wince-inducing dialogue and awful humour, which was a hallmark of the original show, and to be frank would be missed if it wasn't present at least to some degree. However, the original show balanced that out with some beautiful speeches and occasional gags that worked well. The latter are mostly missing from this movie. This movie also mistakes long-worn-out memes as humour, so we get a ton of Zathras focusing on his "comic elements" and completely missing the pathos and tragedy that made the character so compelling on his original appearance in the episode Babylon Squared. Tone is something the movie struggles with a lot: the film feels too light and funny for the massive, grave stakes of the story, and any notion of subtlety from the original series has been lost. In the original, the Shadows were master manipulators who rarely emerged from the darkness and worked through disposable intermediaries and minions. Here, they are recklessly suicidal drones who directly attack enemies in swarms, not caring how many die in the process.

The movie (**½) leaves a Babylon 5 fan feeling conflicted: it is undeniably fun to see these characters again, and it's particularly gratifying to see an actual sequel project involving almost the entire cast of the show, for the first time since the end of the original series (the various spin-off media and DVD movies since then have involved just a few characters, or newcomers). The animation is solid, the voice acting mostly excellent, and at 80-ish minutes the film does not outstay its welcome. But the story feels a little pointless, the humour is often painful and the "alternate universe" set up in the movie as a possible future setting for new material is (at least at this prototypical stage) uninspiring.

The film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital platforms now.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2023

HOMEWORLD 3 gets new trailer

Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox Software have released a new trailer for their upcoming space strategy game, Homeworld 3.

Defying titular logic, Homeworld 3 is actually the fifth game in the venerable series and is set around 100 years after the events of Homeworld 2. A new mothership, the Khar-Kushan, has been constructed and launched under the guidance of a new Fleet Command, a scientist neurally wired into the ship to act as its living intelligence system. The primary threat in the new game is "the Anomaly," an artefact capable of destroying planets and shutting down the Great Hyperspace Gates. Karan S'Jet, the Fleet Command from Homeworld and Homeworld 2, is missing in action along with her fleet, leaving her successor and distant kin Imogen S'Jet to guide the Khar-Kushan on a new mission. S'Jet's mission is complicated by the emergence of a new polity, the Incarnate, whose motives are initially unclear.

Homeworld 3 will be released on PC in February 2024.