Game of Thrones – Season 4 Finale & Roundup

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Game of Thrones has come a long way since the show’s premiere in 2011.  Multiple story arcs and a myriad of characters outmatched only by the show’s gruesome death toll has rapidly made GOT one of the most popular and talked about television shows ever.

As the caption above implies, the family we love to hate – House Lannister will indeed pay (be advised as there will be lots of spoilers), as they finally took a hit after remaining (relatively) intact throughout 3 entire seasons while House Stark had been decimated.

Joffrey's death - one of the most anticipated moments, revealed early in season 4.

Joffrey’s death – one of the most anticipated moments, revealed early in season 4.

As it stands, all of the Stark men have been killed save for a bastard (Jon Snow) and a cripple (Bran Stark), leaving the fate of House Stark very much uncertain.  However, this season the tides had turned for the Lannisters with the shocking death of Joffrey Baratheon in episode 2.  Gleeson’s portrayal of the young inbred king has been so impressive that he has become perhaps the most hated villain of all time.  Fan favourite – Tyrion Lannister had been accused of assassinating Joffrey and sentenced to death, leading to a series of events that led to the nail-biting (and arguably most gruesome) – Red Viper vs The Mountain Battle.  Thankfully , Tyrion has survived season 4 with his head still secured to his neck, and in the process managed to kill his former traitorous lover Shae (strangulation) as well as his indifferent and elitist father Tywin Lannister shortly after (crossbow).

Tyrion's trial/speech, a hallmark of the series.

Tyrion’s trial/speech, a hallmark of the series.

In a strange twist, fans of the books had been clamouring for what was certain to be one of the most anticipated scenes – namely, the reanimated and vengeance-fueled Catelyn Stark but  were left wanting as she never made her appearance amongst the skeleton warriors scene in the series.  Apparently the producers had no intention of including this scene in season 4 though being a somewhat important plot device in the books (from what I understand) perhaps she will still turn up in season 5.  So with both Tywin and Joffrey dead as well as Cersei and Jaime’s ongoing incestuous antics, the future of the Lannister House is starting to look a little shaky too.

Meanwhile, The Hound is left for dead after a gritty brawl with Brienne of Tarth and Daenerys Targaryen has shackled 2 of her 3 dragons (presumably left for dead) and has exiled her (revealed to be a spy) right-hand man – Jorah Mormont.

The Red Viper vs The Mountain.

The Red Viper vs The Mountain.

Game of Thrones follows a 10-episode format with an approximate running time of 50 – 60 minutes per episode.  The show is estimated to have the largest cast on television (257 as of season 3) and has amassed worldwide acclaim as one of the highest rated and most popular television shows ever.  While the show’s myriad of characters and intertwining story arcs will demand your full undivided attention for the most part, audiences are rewarded with splashy, exciting (or long-anticipated) sequences such as the Battle of the Castle Black and the Wall (season 4, episode 9) and Joffrey’s death, all of which is done in spectacular fashion thanks to the series’ high budget.  There seems to be no slowing down for Game of Thrones as 4 seasons in the show remains satisfying, action-packed and interesting with no signs of slowing down or stagnation (the death of many a show).  Now, if George R.R. Martin could just stop systematically murdering all of his characters, that’d be great…

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Prestigio MultiPad 9.7 PRO Tablet PC

3366985Tablet PC’s are all the rage nowadays, compact and convenient, the tablet PC has fast become the device of choice whether you’re using it for business purposes or recreation.  Though not in the same class as mobile PC’s, and sometimes even referred to as ‘underpowered laptops’, tablet PC’s are lightweight tools ideal for books, comics, movies, internet and music, and serve as the perfect media companion when traveling.  These devices are everywhere, and this can be confirmed by strolling through your local mall where you would undoubtedly see people (usually in coffee shops) reading the news while they sip their coffee or groups of people gathered at one table as some work-related slide show or spreadsheet is being displayed.  The real problem with tablet PC’s of course, is picking the right one…

So who are Prestigio and are they any good? Well, while not as renown as Samsung or Apple – the two largest players in the tablet PC world with the Galaxy Tab and iPad respectively, Prestigio is a relatively new brand, only been on the market for a decade and are based in Cyprus, with a business model offering luxury, state-of-the-art technologies aimed at competing with the high-end market.  Prestigio is a fast-growing and well-established international brand sold in 63 countries and is increasingly ranked among the most regarded brands in emerging markets across the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East & Africa) region.

So let’s get down to brass tacks.  Prestigio offers a wide range of tablet PC’s designed to suit the specific needs of consumers, my model of choice was the MultiPad 9.7 PRO as it is the nearest equivalent  to an iPad or Galaxy Tab, retailing for around R2900 (320USD).  The reason I picked this tablet over the aforementioned competitors is because I believe them to be overpriced, and while Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is Android-based, I disdain Apple’s far-less flexible iOS platform and cannot justify purchasing the Apple product when there are literally thousands of free Android apps readily available.

As with all computer-related hardware, specs are important and thankfully the MultiPad 9.7 PRO has a rather impressive array.  The MultiPad 9.7 PRO is preloaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, a very nice, very neat little OS that not only looks great but is easy to utilize and navigate and comes preloaded with a multitude of apps.  Apart from all the free apps available online as well as the aforementioned preinstalled ones, there are also over 300 000 apps available to purchase on Google Market.  At its core, the MultiPad 9.7 PRO runs on an ARM Cortex A8 Rockchip RK218 cpu @1GHz.  It has a 9.7″ display with a 1024×768 resolution and has back-light LED IPS with a capacitive multi-touch screen using G-Sensor rotation.  It has an internal memory size of 8GB, 1GB of installed DDR3 RAM and supports 32GB Micro SD/Micro SDHC.  Apart from the Micro SD/SDHC, other interfaces include – WiFi, Mini HDMI x 1, Mini USB 2.0 x1, and 1 3.5mm mini jack.  Bluetooth and VGA interfaces are not included and it’s worth noting that as there are no phone features, the only internet interface available is WiFi.  A 0.3 megapixel camera is present on the front of the device, one of the MultiPad’s few drawbacks, and supports the following multimedia formats:

  • ebook formats – EPUB, PDF, TXT, FB2
  • Audio formats – APE, AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC & stereo audio playback.
  • Image formats – PNG, BMP, JPG, GIF
  • Video formats – AVI, FLV, 3GP, MOV, MVN, MKV, MP4, RM, RMVB, WMV, VOB (DVD), DAT & has full HD playback.

The MultiPad 9.7 PRO uses a lithium-ion polymer battery with a decent capacity of 6000 mAh, approx 4hrs video playback, 36hrs audio playback and has a standby time of 120hrs.  The dimensions and weight of the MultiPad 9.7 PRO are as follows:

  • Width (mm) – 241
  • Height (mm) – 187
  • Depth (mm) – 9.6
  • Weight – 610g

The MultiPad 9.7 PRO is an extremely affordable and high-quality device with its best feature undoubtedly being the display. Images and video are sharp and crisp, and with OpenGL 3D technology, multimedia files (such as HD films) run remarkably smooth, and thanks to the HDMI interface, one can easily connect the tablet to a TV.  Much like the Galaxy Tab and iPad, the MultiPad 9.7 PRO also features a scratch resistant screen as well as a high quality metal housing with rubber grip pads on the backside.  You will find all the buttons and outputs located on the topside of the device.  To top it all off, this device comes with a stylish leather pouch.

Conclusion

The MultiPad 9.7 Pro is a superb device, and if like me you were looking for a tablet specifically for books and comics then you need not look further.  Though some may find the lack of phone features and WiFi-only internet annoying, it doesn’t bother me in the least as I have a laptop and PC to access the net, and even then I can download any app I like and just place it onto the tablet.  The only niggle I have with this device is that the Micro SD  card is almost impossible to remove without tweezers and it’s a little annoying that if the tablet is connected to a PC via USB it renders the SD card inaccessible.  If you intend on using this device for comics, do yourself a favour and download the app – QuickPic, as it renders images faster and is more feature-rich than the default image viewer.  All-in-all, the MultiPad 9.7 PRO is a sleek, cost-effective and high-performance alternative to the iPad and Galaxy Tab.

Grade: A

Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception

Info:

Developer/s: Naughty Dog

Publisher/s: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform/s: PlayStation 3

Genre: Action-adventure, platform

Release Date: 2011-10-28

Review:

In 2006, Naughty Dog released the first Uncharted game, entitled Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune, setting a precedent for action-adventure gaming which the likes of Tomb Raider could never possibly match.  In 2009, the bar was raised even higher with the fantastic sequel Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, which was awarded game of the year and is to my mind, one of the greatest games ever made and the best of the trilogy.  The first game set the rules, the second built upon that, improving upon absolutely every aspect – game-play, visuals, story-telling and what have you, and now we have Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception.  So what makes the second installment better…?

To make it very clear, Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception is an amazing achievement in terms of gaming, and is a prime example of cinematic gaming done right.  However, the reason why I reckon that the second installment is superior is due to the fact that with Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog have played it safe in that rather than try something new, they’ve essentially used the second game’s ingredients as a template for Drake’s Deception.  Needless to say, this is far from a bad thing as Drake’s Deception is an exhilarating experience (especially in the later levels and one scene involving a plane…), it’s just a shame that the developers didn’t try to raise the bar even further.  Then again, it is rather difficult to top an action scene where one is on a moving train trying to gun down a Black Ops Hind-D with an anti-aircraft turret.

So in Uncharted 3, the man with the incredible grip (he climbs everything) Nathan Drake returns once more with faithful companion and mentor, Victor (Sully) Sullivan as they embark on a quest to find the legendary lost city – The Iram of the Pillars.  Needless to say, much like Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves, Uncharted 3 is a globe-trotting adventure including locations like London, Yemen, Colombia, Rub’ al Khali and the Arabian Peninsula, which nicely contrast the Asian locales of the second game.  Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception has received a multitude of awards as critics praised every aspect of the game, however the title of  ‘Game of the Year’ was snatched from it in 2011 by Skyrim respectively.

The game starts off in a seedy pub located in London, where Nathan and Victor have agreed to meet a man named Talbot who’s interested in buying Nathan’s ring.  However the transaction gets derailed when the pair accuse Talbot of trying to pay them with counterfeit bills and needless to say, this erupts into a bar-room brawl which then escalates into the back-alley variety.  Nathan and Sully are then subdued by one of Talbot’s associates – Charlie Cutter.  After Talbot’s client – Katherine Marlowe, takes the ring, Cutter then guns Nathan and Sully down, supposedly leaving them for dead.  The story then begins with a flashback to 20 years earlier, where a 14-year-old Nathan is exploring a museum in Colombia in search of Sir Francis Drake’s ring (obviously the ring he intends on selling in the present).  The museum is also where Nathan meets the 39-year-old Sully as well as Marlowe.  From here, Uncharted 3 becomes a globe-trotting and gun-totting adventure that further expands on the Uncharted mythos, in spectacular fashion I might add.

As per usual, this third installment of the Uncharted series, boasts some of the most impressive visuals seen in a game, due to impressive motion capture and voice-acting.  Using 2 motion capture studios – a smaller one in their studio as well as a dedicated stage at Sony Studios (responsible for the motion capture and audio), Naughty Dog were able to raise the bar for video-game motion capture, as Uncharted 3 was shot in the same fashion as a major Hollywood production.  It is the reason why Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series is so fluid and realistic.

Uncharted 3 uses an ‘upgraded’ version of the engine they used for the first 2 games, resulting in better visuals, environmental effects, physics as well as environmental deformation.  The game also includes new innovative technology that makes elemental effects such as fire, smoke, water and moving sand (the desert sequences look unbelievable) all the more realistic. Six years down the line, it’s impressive to see what Naughty Dog have managed to squeeze out of the PlayStation 3 hardware,  even though Uncharted 3 is undoubtedly graphically superior to Uncharted 2, the graphical leap is far narrower than between the first 2 games, simply because the developers were unable to push the hardware any further.  When you consider that Uncharted 2 is just below 25Gb whereas it’s sequel hovers in at around 50Gb, if developer’s wish to make ‘bigger and better’ games in the future then we may start to see PlayStation 3 games being spread over multiple Blu-Ray disks.  The PS3 hardware has really been put to the test with Uncharted 3 as players are led from one epic scene to the next.  From escaping a burning chateau as fire creeps up the walls, to wandering around an expansive desert landscape as sun and fatigue threaten to undermine your efforts, Uncharted 3 is a beautiful looking game.  Throw in an Indiana Jones style chase sequence on horseback and a daring escape as players are thrust from an aircraft as the hull tears itself apart and you know you’re in for something special.

So Uncharted 3 has the graphical goods but what about playability? Those familiar with the first 2 games will be well-adjusted for this third entry as the controls are just as responsive and fluid as one would expect them to be.  Apart from the usual run-and-gun game-play, Naughty Dog have taken the time to expand upon the melee combat which now includes a counter system – extremely useful when going up against a wily foe.  Needless to say, quick-time events make a return, but they’re so well-placed and implemented that even the quick-time haters will have to appreciate them.  Once again, various treasure pieces are hidden throughout the entire game, and if you don’t manage to find them all the first time around, they will entice you to play the game through again.  Further adding to the longevity of Uncharted 3, is the online multi-player mode that will keep you playing long after you’ve completed the game, though personally I don’t really care for competitive modes in games as the single-player story experience will always be my primary interest.  At certain sections in Uncharted 3, you will be required to solve puzzles in order to progress the story, though the puzzles themselves are relatively straight-forward logic problems and if you do get stuck one can always check Drake’s journal for clues or, if you’re really stumped or just lazy, after a certain amount of time, a help prompt will pop up, offering to solve the puzzle for you (lame).  One thing that I did find irritating about Uncharted 3 was the difficulty curb.  Naturally as you progress through the game, the enemies become more challenging and better equipped – completely understandable, but when the game decides to place you in a room with minimal cover and multiple bad guys engaging you in melee combat as a platoon of overhead snipers and grenadiers take pot shots at you, forcing you to break from cover (resulting in instant death in most cases), then it just becomes frustrating and absurd.

Much like Indiana Jones, Uncharted 3 has an established main musical theme, instantly recognizable and wonderfully catchy.  From the trademark intro music to the exhilarating action sequences, Uncharted 3 ensures that you feel like you’re the hero in some epic Hollywood film.  But it’s not only the score that makes the game so engrossing.  Uncharted 3 has some of the best voice-acting I’ve ever heard in a game.  Nolan North returns once again to voice Nathan Drake, and as expected the dialogue is as witty and humorous as ever, as Drake comes armed with his usual amount of sarcasm and wry wit as he dishes out the quips left, right and centre.

If for some or other reason, you required further inclination for getting yourself a copy of Uncharted 3, do yourself a favour and track down the Explorer Edition, which includes a Nathan Drake statue, life-size replicas of his belt buckle and ring/necklace (with leather strap), a 3D lenticular image,  Special Edition of the game including the DLC and pre-order bonuses, packaged in an art book, made in the fashion of Drake’s journal.  All these items come packaged in a stylish wooden ‘travel case’ which has space for 19 PS3 games.  Talk about value for money *phew*.

Conclusion

Uncharted 3 has done the series proud and is a worthy addition to any gaming library.  Once again, Naughty Dog have outdone themselves by pushing the PS3 hardware even further to create a near-perfect gaming experience, with some of the best and most cinematic game-play and visuals you will encounter in modern gaming.  Uncharted 3 is the definitive adventure game, and I say that confidently even with the new Tomb Raider on the way (though no Tomb Raider game has come close to Uncharted, so won’t exactly hold my breath), so even though it’s not without its faults, I highly recommend it to anyone whoever wanted to experience an Indiana Jones style adventure.  Get it…get in now.

Grade: S