Saturday, 30 June 2012

Xcursus: The Amazing Spiderman Movie Review!

Well lucky me once again! Being in India, I got to catch The Amazing Spiderman in cinemas today (June 29)! I’ll be keeping this review spoiler-free so if you are wary about reading further for fear of spoilers- don’t be.

I’ll skip the summary of the movie cos you guys already know how the whole Peter Parker tale plays out. I will say this though- this reboot adheres closer to the comics by starting with Pete’s first love in the comics- Gwen Stacy. It also keeps the story strictly to Parker’s high school days, so don’t expect J. Jonah Jameson to make an appearance. Instead we got Peter having to deal with the high school bully, Flash Thompson.

Director Marc Webb (interesting surname eh?), successfully serves up a movie that is a seamless amalgam of action, drama, humor, romance, special effects & good story. Webb does a commendable job of executing the story, bringing a more real, grittier Manhattan than the one we’ve witnessed before. He’s also made good use of the 3D especially in the action & web-slinging scenes. The fights are slick & fast-paced, which is great for a Spidey movie, but I found the quick action hard to follow in some places due to the 3D. What's great about the action here though is that unlike Raimi's trilogy, Webb has employed a lot of practical effects to pull off the web-slinging & most of the action is not computer generated & definitely feel very real.

The writers & director have done well to try & distance this film from the original trilogy & it’s like they put in whatever was missing in those three original (OG) movies. I love that they've involved Peter’s parents in the story. I also like the different reactions Spidey gets from the general public here than in the OG films. AND there is a slight nod to the first Spiderman movie & you’ll will know it when you’ll see it. It's great to see the contrast of the post-spider bite scene in this movie than in Spiderman- a train-load of hilarious moments set to a brilliant soundtrack (I need to know the name of that song that plays!!)

About the acting- when you got Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben & Sally Field as Aunt May, you know you can’t go wrong, but I’ll focus on our two leads- Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker aka Spiderman & Emma Stone (Zombieland, Easy A, The Help) as Gwen. Andrew is perfect for the role- he may have unconventional looks & a much leaner physique than Tobey Maguire did, but I think he brings his own charm to the character- in my opinion, this is exactly how Spidey was meant to be portrayed in the first place! An awkward kid who hides his emotions with his (entertaining) wise-cracks. He’s simply trying to find his place in his crazy new world. Garfield is fantastic in his emotional & dramatic scenes! Unlike Maguire’s sappy, goody-two-shoes act, this Parker definitely feels more real, human & vulnerable. Andrew does a great job nailing the comedy as well & I love how the tension of dramatic or action packed scenes in the movie is interjected with some great laughs.

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Ah! We all know she’s an awesome actress & she’s constantly proven her mettle with every film she’s done. You can see why she decided to do this film- TASM’s Gwen is not simply a damsel in distress who needs to be saved by Spidey every friggin time (a la Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane). No, no, this Gwen is a sexy, sassy AND intelligent gal. Well, she has been all those things in the comics so it should come as no surprise.
With both being science nerds, it’s great to see Peter get a partner in Gwen who’s on the same wavelength as he is. Gwen definitely has her moments & Stone’s acting, as is the case with Garfield, is top-notch, portraying a girl torn between her superhero boyfriend & her police captain father. It’s an absolute delight to watch the amazing chemistry between Stone & Garfield as we witness a cute teenage love story within the whole scheme of things (which is sure to keep your girlfriend engrossed in the movie lol).

Onto the villain- the Lizard! FINALLY fans get to see the (long-awaited) reptilian menace on the silver screen! Though many have been cribbing about the look & effects of the Lizard in the movie I thought he looked great, though I do admit the CG is slightly distracting & iffy in a few places, especially on his facial close-ups.
The humanoid face however, makes him more realistic & in my opinion, it would’ve been silly to see a proper Lizard with snout et al speak, in a live-action film. The threat feels very real for Spidey here, not too cartoony like Green Goblin from Spiderman. There are times when you definitely feel like he’s more than Parker can handle! The fact that motion capture was used out here, means all the movements & expressions of the Lizard are of Rhys Ifhans himself, who has done a good job overall as well.

I’d also like to mention that it was good to see Indian actor Irrfan Khan (A Mighty Heart) as Dr. Ratha as well. Irrfan is a very critically acclaimed actor out here in India so his first appearance in the film got some good audible reactions from those in the theater. And though it is a small role it doesn’t feel like a blink-&-you’ll-miss-it kinda role, his presence is felt throughout. And speaking about "blink-&-you’ll-miss-it", Stan Lee's cameo here?? OMG it's his best till date!

Lastly, I want to touch upon the costume- Most fanboys hated it when it was first revealed while the film was still being made, but I loved it from the start! Sure, it seems a bit much that a teenage boy could pull off such an over-the-top costume but then again, we’re talking about a boy who’s got spider-powers. And guys, the costume’s eyes aren’t yellow- more like silver in color which is reflective. I love that they went for mechanical web shooters! Pretty much how it is in the comics & how it should be.

If you are a comic book &/or comic book movie nerd you’d definitely enjoy this movie, but if your knowledge of Spiderman is restricted only to the OG Spidey trilogy, I suggest not going in with too many expectations & just aim at enjoying a fresh take on the Spidey-verse. This is definitely not a rehash of the OG (thank god!) & it’s a more realistic take, as is lately becoming a trend in CBMs ever since Nolan’s Bat-verse.

And before I forget- wait for an after-credits scene. It's supposed to highlight the villain for the next film, but I still don't have a clue who it is! Anyone who knows just message me on Facebook or email me. Don't comment out here about that cos we don't wanna spoil the fun for others now do we?

So my final verdict? I give it a 7/10. Good story, brilliant acting, great villain. BUT some rushed action & slightly iffy CG doesn’t make me go gaga enough to have a second go at it in theaters. I was also let down with that whole "Spiderman POV" scene that we saw in the trailer(see below). I thought there was more to it- there isn't.

What did you think of the film? Let me know in your comments below! My next (& last) movie review for 2012 will of course be for The Dark Knight Rises! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Xcite! Marvel Avengers Alliance game: Review & Tips!

If you've read this post, then you're probably already playing Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook. If not, then it's not too late to start playing now. It's a pretty fun for an FB game, that's bound to keep you occupied for hours- or errr, at least until your energy runs out on you.

I've been compiling this post ever since I started playing the game (i.e. Feb 29, when the beta got live out here in India). Having reached level 100 on Sunday, I thought it would be fitting to FINALLY post about what I love & loathe about the game & some tips & tricks I've learnt along the way or that others have told me about. Consider this to be my review for the game as well.

NOTE: Due to the many changes that have taken place ever since this post, some info here may be outdated (& I have struck through those). For all the new MAA changes/updates & tips go HERE!

Get all the deats on Spec Ops #6 out HERE!
^(L) My agent reached level 100 on Sunday!
(R) My current hero roster as of today (13/06/2012)

*Story- I really like the clever way in which they've woven in almost EVERY villain & the corresponding heroes who usually go up against them. So even if you aren't totally into comics, there's a whole range of characters you'd end up learning about that you might not have been aware of before...

*Graphics- aren't bad for a Facebook game. LOVE the character designs & their powers as well as the weapons & their effects! I also really dig the sound effects.
^Designs for the alternate X-Men costumes! White Crown Phoenix, Brown & tan Wolverine, Classic Storm & Shadowcat Kitty Pryde!

*Some challenging levels- Some missions can be a REAL BITCH! I remember having a real hard time trying to beat the Chapter 3 Mindless Ones & Hacked Servoguards for the first time!

*Keeping things dynamic- New stuff is being constantly introduced: new Chapters (currently 7/10 Chapters are up on the game), Special Operations (Spec Ops 001 is underway where you got the task of 5 starring 3 S.O. missions to acquire Mockingbird in your hero roster), new weapons, new heroes (Black Panther was the latest, with 5 more new heroes set to be introduced!), new costumes, etc.
Mockingbird, the reward for completing Spec Ops 001: Don't Say a Word
   Black Panther, the newest addition to the MAA roster! >
*Dialogues- LOVE the dialogues! Some are really funny & witty! And the dialogues before Boss fights are also real fun!

*Customization- The ISO-8 concept makes for a pretty nifty way of allowing you to strengthen your heroes & agent & see which crystals work best. Alternate hero costumes enable you try out different classes & see the ones that are most effective.
^The limited edition Avengers movie costumes that were released for Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow & Hawkeye respectively

*Can't play as a hero!- Yep, you're playing as a SHIELD agent. In the earlier levels you're neither high on power nor weapons, so on most agent turns you just end up playing nurse to your heroes- seeing to their HP & stamina needs, etc as your weapons just won't do much damage & you get owned by the Bosses in no time!

*Slow start- The beginning feels boring cos its so damn easy! I actually reached level 4 in no time & didn't see the challenge at all! After about 2-3 days however, I went back to the game & got hooked.

*Unfair pricing- New characters, weapons, etc are quite often priced differently for different players for god knows what reason! Even the conversion rate for gold to uISO differed for some people during the Spec Ops (for me it was 1 gold = 5 uISO, the way it should've been for everyone. But for some it was 1 gold = 3 uISO).
^The Avengers movie tie-in, limited edition Coulson's Revenge weapon had a whole range of different prices for different players!

*Cumbersome training- Thank god Playdom drastically reduced the training times! I used to perpetually have 2-3 characters lined up in training backlog. Now they seriously gotta bring down the training costs. The main issue however, is being able to train only ONE hero at once. I mean, really?!?

*Team-Ups- In Boss & (optionally) mini-Boss battles, a hero is temporarily teamed up with your team. While some team-ups are really spot on (eg. Spiderman, War Machine), most characters chosen for the team-up come from a fighting class that is neutral or weak against the Boss!

In his premium mission (4.6), Wolverine is strong against mini-Boss Toad but Blob is stronger against him & Boss Sabretooth is of same class, so neutral. >

*There today, gone tomorrow- Character prices change, characters & weapons get nerfed (or as in Cap & Thor's case- buffed), so you gotta constantly stay on top of things.

*Ally troubles- If a friend on your allies removes you from their friend list, they are not automatically removed from your allies & you can't remove them manually either. So you'll be stuck with a low-level ally that may even take up a spot on your list of 50 allies at the bottom of your game screen. Ditto for a friend who was previously playing the game, but has now blocked it.

*Money-grabbing tactics- I've played quite a few online games, but never before have I witnessed a game company that is just so blatantly all-out to get your money. I think the Spec Ops 001 left a bad taste in the mouths of many MAA players (like me) who just play FB games for the fun of it & don't have any intention of spending any cash on them.
Then with only 7 days left for the S.O. to end, PD decides to compensate, by increasing the time limit by another week, drastically lowering the margins for acquiring the stars in the 3 missions, making the battles waaay easier, & buffing up the Boss bonus weapons! It was so weird (in a good way :P ) that after their maintenance on that particular day, I refreshed my game & was welcomed by the message above- I had acquired the pesky Mockingbird, despite the fact I had to still get 2 more stars!

*2 Birds, 3 of a Kind- Every mission has a fight with mini-Boss/es & the main Boss. Don't tackle them separately, instead try beating them in one battle by straightaway choosing the main Boss fight. This gets your score multiplied by 5 for every Boss/mini-Boss you duel. I always try this first & only fight them separately if my heroes seem incapable of beating them this way.

< This is from Hulk's premium mission. I got my battle score multiplied by 15 cos I fought mini-Bosses, Iron Clad & Power Armor, together with Boss, Abomination.

*Pairing Bonuses- You can get bonus points added to your final fight score simply by pairing certain heroes together. Here's a list of Team Bonuses (each for 50 additional points):
Characters Bonus Name
Any X-Men members X-Force
Any Fantastic 4 members Fantastic
Any Heroes with a Flying ability Aviary
Thor /Hulk /Hawkeye /Black Widow /Iron Man /Captain America Assemble
Thing /Hulk /She-Hulk /Phoenix Tossers
Dr.Strange /Mr.Fantastic /Ironman Illuminati
Hulk /Spiderman /Ironman /Mr.Fantastic /Black Panther Egghead
Wolverine /Black Cat /Sif /Black Panther Bloodlust
Spiderman /Black Widow /Spiderwoman Arachnophobia
Thor /Sif Asgard
Luke Cage /Iron Fist Heroes for Hire
Kitty Pryde /Black Cat /Black Panther Cat Fight
Spiderman /Black Cat Cosplayers
Daredevil /She Hulk Ambulance Chasers
Dr.Strange /Hulk Defenders
Hawkeye /Black Widow /Mockingbird Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Storm /Black Panther King & Queen

And the best pairings would be:
Characters Bonus Names Bonus Points
Cyclops /Phoenix X-Force, X-lovers 100
Kitty Pryde /Colossus X-Force, Hard and Soft 100
Phoenix /Storm X-Force, Aviary 100
War Machine /Iron Man Tinmen, Aviary 100
Iron Man /Mr. Fantastic Illuminati, Egghead 100
Invisible Woman /Human Torch Sibling Rivalry, Fantastic 100
Phoenix /Human Torch Aviary, Hotstuff 100
Phoenix /Ms. Marvel Marvelous, Aviary 100
She-Hulk /Hulk Green Giants, Tossers 100
Hawkeye /Black Widow Frenemies, Assemble, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 150
Hawkeye /Mockingbird Birds of a Feather, West Coast, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 150

^A behind the scenes video for the game. There's 3 more parts to it but I can't seem to find 'em online.

*Making your agent less wimpy- Playing as an agent can be a real bore, unless you've managed to buy some neat weapons or snag 'em from deploys/Boss battles. By completing all the missions (including the Premium Mission) in a chapter upto 5 mastery stars, you'll acquire the golden weapon for that chapter. Check chapter briefings to know the one you'll get. Also don't spend too much on suits earlier on. By stage 65, you'll be able to purchase badass Trenchcoat suits that have 6 & 8 ISO slots!

*Complete Premium Missions first- 5 starring all the other missions first makes the Premium Mission tougher. So if you've got the character required for the Premium Mission in a chapter then after 1 starring all that chapter's missions, 5 star the Premium Mission first & then continue with the rest.

*EPIC Boss Battles!- Completing all the deploys in certain missions might just unlock an Epic Boss battle! Of course, you'd need to have adequate CPs to recruit the required deploy characters. Here's a list of all the Epic Battles:
Elektra (Chpt 2- Mission 3, deploy Black Cat)
Epic Drop: Grecian Sai- Counter & bleed effect

Doctor Doom (Chpt 3- Mission 5, deploy Spiderman)
Epic Drop: The Doombringer- Debuff an enemy & raise your agents' stats

Magneto (Chpt 4- Mission 4, deploy Storm)
Epic Drop: Magnetic Field Generator- Creates shields. When shields are removed the ally gains an extra turn

Loki (Chpt 5- Mission 3, deploy Wolverine)
Epic Drop: Norn Stone- Increase all the agents' stats
The Norn Stone is the only epic Boss weapon I've managed to snag so far  >

Doctor Octopus (Chpt 6- Mission 3, deploy Black Widow)
Epic Drop: Electrostatic Arm- A buff that shock enemies, dealing extra damage when attacking enemies with negative static charge.

Green Goblin (Chpt 7- Mission 3, deploy Spiderman)
Epic Drop: Goblin glider - A "stealthy" ranged slashing attack that deals extra damage on critical hits & to flying characters.

*Catching stars super-quick! From Chapter 4 onwards, to proceed to the next chapter you'll need more Mastery stars after completing that chapter's missions once. Check the missions from previous chapters & see which has the lowest margin to get the next star. Replaying missions from the 1st few chapters when you are on say, Chapter 4 or 5, will not fetch you much XP (useful if you don't want your heroes leveling up too soon while you got a huge training backlog), but you might just finish that mission two stars richer as you'll rack up points with Vitality, Overkill, Survival, etc. Use proper team member pairings & you'll get your score even higher!

*Getting Command Points fast n easy!- CPs are, at times, not that easy to come by. You can exchange your gold for CPs, BUT besides this you can also start "CP farming"! It's been noticed that you get an almost sure-shot CP drop when dueling the epic bosses. Though Doctor Doom is a favorite for many, he didn't help me at all. Elektra, however, is a guaranteed CP-giver! Plus the battle will fetch you 65 XP on losing which is higher than all the other epic bosses.
Different players have different conditions under which they think CP drops are more certain & I got my own list of favorable conditions for farming with Elektra:
-Melee attacks, especially 2-hit melee attacks (eg. Daredevil's Billy Club, Spiderwoman's Brawl, Black Cat's Cat Scratch) work best on Elektra.
-If you aren't able to get CP in the 1st Round of the fight, use Dardevil's Radar Sense & then use the Billy Club on Elektra.
-If melees aren't successful, & if you MUST resort to ranged attacks then use 1 that hits all 3 foes at once.(eg. Thor's Summon Thunder, Storm's Tornado)
-I won the X-ploiter (but you can get it here) so in the first Round I use it on the foes & then hit Elektra (or the 2 ninjas) with my Super Blade Punch. Not a guaranteed CP-giver but it has worked on many occasions.
-If NONE of these work for the first 2 rounds then use a Coagulator on your team (to stop bleeding), increase health to prolong their life & then continue trying the above tips.

*Acquiring silver speedily!- Contrary to what most players do for Flight Deck missions (i.e. use the heroes they play with the least), I suggest using your highest level heroes. The higher the level of your hero, more is the payout bonus. Of course, you'll need to have a sufficient number of heroes to be able to do this, but once you can, by all means do it! Also by the time your jets reach level 5 (at level 65), you won't have to worry about not getting enough silver through FDs. While you're actually playing the game, send your heroes on 20 minute FDs- they'll not only finish quick, but you'll probably be get sufficient silver so you can buy the items to prepare for your next battle. When you're away use the 2/6/12/24 hour FD options.
^(L) My jets at level 5. (R) At level 100, you can level up your jets to 6.

*Accept your request gifts during battles while playing- At the start, the Health & Stamina Packs 1 & frag grenades are actually useful. So don't accept all your gift requests unnecessarily or you'll hit your gift limit & may fall short of an item while fighting. Instead, during battle when you run out of Stamina or Health, accept those requests before your next fight. Also pick up your energy & SHIELD points by daily visiting your allies' maps.

*Don't accept ALL distress calls- When visiting friends' maps, don't accept distress calls from those who are on lower levels. The higher the level your friend is on, the stronger & more effective will be the help you get. Choosing calls from everyone will in fact distress you when you get a useless agent/low level hero to fight on your behalf who deals almost no damage! Of course, if you have few friends playing the game, well, then you don't have much of a choice then, do you? ;P

*Scoring parameters-
-Vitality: Amount of health you have left by the end. Use health packs towards the end to increase your health.
-Overkill: Bonus for achieving overkills/massive overkills/epic overkills during fight.
-Rounds= 500 - Number of team-turns it took to defeat the enemies.
-Victory: For winning the battle
-Body Count: For each enemy defeated
-Quartermaster: Using high number of items during the fight.
-Endurance: For this, don't increase your stamina by clicking the recharge button, use stamina packs.
-One Shot: Bonus for killing enemies in 1 move.
-Assemble: Bonus for using Cap & Hulk in this fight. Other bonuses are mentioned above.
-Survival Multiplier: Number of surviving heroes at the end of the battle
-Epic Boss Fight Multiplier: This fight was an epic Boss battle.

*Mission completion Mastery star rewards-
No. of Mastery stars Reward
1250 silver coins
21000 silver coins
3100 XP
41 Gold
55 CPs

*My Top 10 Heroes:
1. Hulk (GREAT for one shot kills, epic overkills)
2. Thor (Get his Might of Mjolnir stacked by 2 & he works wonders!) >
3. Captain America (2 words- Shield. Guard.)
4. She-Hulk (Her 2nd power gives her 2 turns & the combo of her & Stomp is quite killer!)
5. War Machine (His Overcharge used with ANY of his other 3 powers is BADASS! He has been nerfed but he's still awesome.)
6. Doctor Strange (His Vapors of Valtorr & team-healing Teresing Boost are very nifty indeed!)
7. Spiderman (He protects the other team members & counters when attacked by tacticians)
8. Storm (Lightning+Blizzard+Tornado=WIN! Plus her protective shroud is very nifty)
9. Daredevil (His Radar Sense lets him counter when attacked by anyone)
10. Ms. Marvel (Use her Absorb Energy along with any of her other powers.)

*Worst Heroes: (Note- In no order. Not recruited em yet since they are generally known to be meh.)
Sif, Nightcrawler & Mr. Fantastic.

*My Top 3 Weapons:
1. Super Blade Punch (the Energy Fist is a substitute, but this is one of the BADDEST weapons there is!)
2. Digital Decoy (helps your agent & 2 heroes evade single-attacks for 3 turns each)
3. Power of 4 (Gives your agent 4 extra turns. However, I only use this weapon in PvP cos your agent dies in the end :P )
Note: There may be MANY other more badass weapons out there, especially the ones you gotta purchase with gold, but these are the ones I've used & can vouch for.
< My agent's current setup (12/06/2012), along with the weapons that I use in my 4 slots. I just recently tried replacing the x-ploiter with my newly acquired laser spotter & it seems to be a very nifty weapon indeed!

The game manages to keep you occupied AND entertained. It's fun to hire your fave Marvel heroes & fight against the villains- both known & unknown. You'll learn about loads of villains you may not have even heard of which is cool. For being just a FB game, the graphics are pretty neat. I would've rated the game an 8/10, but after seeing the way Playdom treated their loyal players during the Spec Ops 001, I'll give my final rating of 7/10.

*Energy consumption for EACH fight is 10! I think the easy fights should consume 3 energy, medium- 5 & hard- 10. It would make sense to have the max limit of the energy bar increased to 100 from 60.

*Revise the drops of SHIELD points, CPs & energy- When visiting allies, instead of 3 SPs, give 2 SPs. AND give 2 or 3 energy instead of 1. Also be more generous with CPs. We shouldn't have to resort to farming all the time in order to get them. Some of us got SHIELD points in the 1000s, but energy & CPs are ALWAYS needed.

*Changing up the gifts- Remove ISOs & Norton Shields as gifts; they get pretty useless as you advance to higher levels & I don't think many use them. I understand that Norton sponsors for the Shields, but then at least buff them so that they are more useful. Thankfully Playdom has discontinued sending frag grenades as gifts & the Avengers movie tie-in shawarma gifts (right >) are an AWESOME replacement! Frankly I'd also say the Health & Regen packs are useless later but then I know how much I used em when I was on lower levels.

*Cumbersome refresh messages- I suggest making that message closable/minimizable, to prevent loss of energy or progress. It's mighty irksome when you are in the middle of a battle & a message appears that forces you to refresh.

*Way too early announcements for upcoming events- Chapter 7 took forever to arrive. Waiting for it for so long dulled my anticipation & I have yet to even start it! I've been trying to 5 star missions from the other chapters (4/7 done). And then came the then-dreaded Special Ops 001!

*NO lame items in the random picks after fights- ESPECIALLY after boss & epic battles! Getting a frag grenade after an epic battle leaves us feeling -_-

*More returns for PVP- Many don't play it cos they don't get anything out of it. Make the XP received at the end 20-30 if you win & 10 if you lose. Increase the chance of CP drops (& now the unstable ISOs) in PVP as well.

*Training improvements- Thanks for reducing the training time, now please slash the costs- it's REALLY high! Also allowing multiple heroes to be trained at once makes A LOT of sense. In the X-Men's Danger Room, it's not just 1 member getting trained right...?

*Flight Deck Missions- It would be nice if the FD window simply had a dropdown option where you can select the number of minutes/hours you want the FD mission for, with the highest option at 24 hours.

So there you have it folks! My MAA JUMBO post ends here...Do post your comments about any questions about the game or any rants & raves of your own :) And you can always add me on Facebook- just find my FB profile button out here on the right...

*Big thanks to all my MAA peeps at the Marvel Friends Facebook group! Y'all know who y'all are...(MAA addicts, join this group to get some nifty tips from a great bunch of players!)
*Marvel Avengers Alliance FB page (for character design images)
*Playdom MAA Forums

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