The Forerunner Saga, a sort of prequel book series to the HALO video games, began quite well with the first book, titled Cryptum. The second book, Primordium, was a letdown, but not completely. It provided an interesting history of one of the characters in the original 3 HALO games (I won’t spoil the end). But I couldn’t leave the series hanging and, partially since this cover boasted the Didact and his combat cryptum from HALO 4, I hoped it would be better than the second book. Out of the three, I think this one is my favorite. Of course, it wouldn’t make as much sense if I hadn’t read the first two. Playing HALO also helps with understanding how this tale fits into the universe. The flow of this book is quite unconventional, and is set up as a series of “translated” data strings. Instead of chapters, each section is a “string” and is told from a different character’s point of view. The only problems I had with this book were the brief instances of mild language (maybe two) and the evolutionary, “billions of years” sort of mindset. That being said, this story world doesn’t seem like ours. Yes, there are humans, but even Earth is known by a different name. Because it is science fiction, the “millions of years” parts didn’t bother me as much as they would have in another genre. For those who don’t know, there are glyphs at the top of some of the chapters. If one copies these and match them up, there are HALO 4 experience points to be unlocked on the website (http://halo.xbox.com). This book closes out the series quite well, and I can quite happily give it 4 out of 5. Though relatively short, it’s worth a read because of the all the game references near the end.
Wow, are we already to Iron Man 3? Has it really been a year since Avengers? I guess it has. But I was interested in the whole Iron Man 3 line when I first saw pictures of it. Who doesn’t want a set with two exclusive figures?! The boat looked fairly lackluster, but I was willing to wait and see for myself when I got the set. Iron Man is one of my favorite Superheroes. So I’m probably bias a bit in my opinion of this set, but overall it’s a very good set. The functions, while not new, are used in a very nice new way, that is really quite amazing. New minifigures are a big draw to LEGO sets for me, and this set has three new ones. All three designed excellently. I’m not sure about the boat really. The functions are great though. LEGO has done an excellent job with this set, I’m sure this scene will make more sense once the movie comes out. I really like the missile lever. Has to be one of my favorite functions in a LEGO set for quite some time. The boat could possibly been a little better, but overall I’m quite pleased with it. I think that the price is spot on, and pretty average for a set of this size. Of course, I couldn’t be happier with the minifigures. The Iron Man helmets do take some warming up to though. There wasn’t anything extraordinary parts wisse, but there wasn’t anything bad about it either. Dark green is good!
The third (or fourth, if you count The Avengers) installment in the Iron Man series has finally arrived! Upon going to the theater, I was certain that it would not be better than its predecessor, The Avengers. And, of course, that opinion stands. While quite entertaining, Iron Man 3 doesn’t quite match Avengers. Now that that’s out of the way, we can focus on the strengths and few weaknesses of the latest Marvel movie. Basically, we’ll start with the few weaknesses. If you’ve been reading our blog, you should know we don’t take lightly or kindly to certain content in the film. Overall, there seems to be less language and other questionable content than in the previous two films, however, that is still more negative content than Thor, Captain America, and Avengers. Now for the strengths. The first thing one notices about Iron Man 3 is the story. The Mark 42 armor is epic with its new abilities, but the movie’s focus is more on Tony Stark and his growth as a person than on the armors (he is Iron Man after all). Don’t worry, there are great action sequences (especially with the many armors in the trailer), plenty of humor, and two major plot twists that are very unexpected, one of which is the ending. Though there have been mixed reviews among our friends, Iron Man 3 gets 4.5 out of 5 from me and 4.5 out of 5 from Masked Builder. And yes, after the post-credits scene we are promised that Tony Stark will return. Hopefully it will be Robert Downey Jr., but that remains to be seen.
The first thing one notices about Ted Dekker’s latest book is its very non-traditional release. Any interested reader is able to pick up the ebook of part one, titled “Identity”, for free. So, of course I did. About 50 pages later, I was hooked on the story. But then, I found out that the remaining three ebooks would each cost $3. So I opted for the paperback version, which includes all four ebooks, only in print. The whole story measured up to if not exceeded my expectations. First of all, the interesting plot reminded me somewhat of the movie Inception in the way it twists and turns. How does Dekker keep track of it? I don’t think I could’ve had I been the writer! And there was also a pleasant surprise along the way that if I’m not vague could present a spoiler. I’ll just say this: he ties this book, and therefore the series that will stem from it, into the Paradise Books trilogy (Showdown, Saint, and Sinner). As for Dekker’s message in this novel, that is also clear. The $15 price seems a little high for how short the book is (I read it in a few hours over the course of two days), but the message makes it worth every penny. And no, I won’t spoil the message by telling you what it is. Eyes Wide Open easily earns its 4.5 out of 5 rating, yet I couldn’t quite give it a 5. It’s completely worth buying (I know I’ll read it again), and I can’t wait for book two of the Outlaw Chronicles, Water Walker.
I knew very little about this set when it was given to me, so I looked it up and found that it looked to be a very good set. As I’m going to study engineering, the architecture series really quite appeals to me, however, I’d never gotten one as I really like minifigures. There’s no one good word to describe my feelings for this set. It’s large, accurate, and I had an amazing time building it. I was mostly surprised at how complex the model really is, though I’m fairly sure this is common for Architecture sets. 1188 pieces make this the second largest set in the line, and a very good introductory set for it. This isn’t a set you can play with, however, it would make a great model to put on your desk as a conversation piece. The design is top notch. It matches the real building nicely and I find no flaws. There are a variety of techniques in this set that I thought were interesting. I didn’t pay for this set, but for any set with this large if a piece count anything between $100-$130 is very fair. There was a huge selection of tan light bley, and dark bley tiles and plates. These sets are known for that but I didn’t realize it until I got one. I would pick the gem up if you’ve been thinking about it, or even if you haven’t!
Two months ago, around Christmas, I won a drawing on Effect Radio’s website (http://www.effectradio.com), and the newest album from Our Heart’s Hero, Shine On, was part of the prize pack. I’d only heard the title track on the Effect, and had mixed feelings about the song. Really my only complaint was the massive reverb that seemed to swamp the vocals at times. But now that I’ve had a chance to listen to the album, I’d say I was pleasantly surprised. The album begins with the rousing “Fight Alive”, and concludes with “The Orphans”, which was my least favorite song. There just didn’t seem to be enough to that last song. In fact, I didn’t bother keeping it on my computer. On the other hand, my two favorite songs are “Prayer” and “Forever and Forevermore.” In fact, the latter would have been a fitting conclusion to the album. Truth be told, my original complaint barely stands, and I also keep trying to figure out if the drums overloaded the microphones or if it’s just an intended “thumping” tone. My least favorite song of the ones I kept on my computer has to be “Echo.” The beginning is epic, bordering on dubstep, but then the song is average from there on out. Overall, the album deserves 3.5 out of 5. It’s a good CD, yet has some flaws that could be addressed. Still,if you can get it for $10 or under (or free), do it. The message these guys are singing is so easily recognized, the music can’t help but encourage the listener.
Yes, I know we’re a couple months late to the HALO party, but we’d both been waiting for this game for a long time. And HALO 4 was definitely worth the wait. The campaign begins with a very life-like cinematic introduction, then thrusts the player into the suit of Master Chief and quick action. The graphics are amazing, and there are a lot of immersive first-person cut scenes in addition to the actual gameplay. As most gamers probably know already, HALO 4 picks up four years after HALO 3 left off. The Covenant returns, with Elites instead of Brutes, and new Prometheans join theses classic foes. They consist of Watchers, which hover like Sentinels, Crawlers, which somewhat resemble wolves, and Promethean Knights, which are more humanoid. All the guns and vehicles are upgraded, including more realistic sounds, and there are also new Forerunner weapons. The campaign is amazing, and really a lot of fun! After all, who doesn’t want to pilot a Pelican? The story ending makes sense, and is somewhat sad but not too bad. It leaves plenty of room for HALO 5. Hopefully that’s not too much longer in coming. Multiplayer consists of Spartan Ops and War Games. I wish Spartan Ops didn’t require a LIVE Gold Membership, but I guess nothing can change that. I was able to play all but two chapters of Episode 5 with the Gold trial that came with the game. War Games is pretty much your average First-Person-Shooter multiplayer, only with different HALO twists. Overall, HALO 4 is the total package: an epic storyline and fun, immersive gameplay. 5 out of 5 for this game! Definitely worth getting, and would be even more epic on a 3D screen.
Travis Thrasher’s Solitary Tales series came to a satisfactory close last night as I closed the cover of the last installment, Hurt. The first book, Solitary, started it all for me. I completely devoured that book. The series is written in first person, and I would call the chapters “sections” instead of chapters because there are some that only have one sentence. As for the story itself, I felt for the main character, Chris Buckley, throughout the whole series, even though he starts out less likeable than he ends up. My emotions ebbed and flowed with his, due to the suspenseful, fast-paced writing. There were times I was quite honestly creeped out and terrified (one or two times I almost jumped out of my skin!), but also times when I laughed and was uplifted along with Chris. A few times I definitely doubted the main character and wondered where Mr. Thrasher would take this tale, but I have to say everything worked out in the end. Answers do come, so stick with it, even if the first three books seem dark or end in despair (especially Solitary), because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hurt is an intense, epic conclusion, that’s all I can say without giving any spoilers. This series definitely deserves 5 out of 5. If you’re a fan of really any kind of fiction, pick these up. Just remember: it’s not for the faint of heart. But don’t let me scare you away, of course…
Along with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in December came the release of some new motion-picture technology: HFR 3D. About the same time, the Dolby Atmos sound system was also released. The theater we were able to see the HFR 3D screening most likely had this upgrade, whereas the standard 3D ones probably didn’t. It is amazing! Two of the most notable scenes using the Atmos system are in the Goblintown/Gollum scenes (creature movement) and the waterfalls in the panning scene featuring Gandalf and Galadriel (they grow noticeably louder and softer as the camera passes by). Now for the comparison of Standard Frame Rate 3D and HFR 3D . . . . At first, HFR 3D seems a little strange, though one does get used to it. The picture is so clear, especially on landscape shots, that one feels like they are there. It’s very real, and very detailed. Every movement of the camera is very noticeable, but the motion isn’t too much different from scanning one’s own surroundings in real life. That being said, the motion may be too much for certain people. In my opinion, though, falling scenes are fun! The panning and helicopter shots are stunning, including the completely-CGI panning over Erebor, which is crystal clear in HFR 3D, whereas it wasn’t in standard 3D. Bag End looks so real, probably because it is real now, but I especially noticed the detail on the wood grain above the doorways. Much of the CG was very well done, even in HFR 3D it blended. The eagles were actually better in this format, and Gollum looked basically the same as at lower-frame-rate screening. The only time I found issues with the CGI was briefly with the texturing of the logs on the trolls’ fire, and some of the shots with running Wargs. If I hadn’t been specifically looking for CGI issues, though, I doubt I would have noticed these things. We believe that movies should continue to be shot in High Frame Rate, and HFR 3D should become as widespread an option or offering as Standard Frame Rate 3D. That way, those who enjoy it can see more of it, and those who might have motion-sickness problems or dislike High Frame Rate can continue to attend standard showings of movies. And of course the technology will only improve as more filmmakers begin to use it.