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Sacred Icon – What’s New for 2019

Sacred Icon is currently in hiatus until February, but in the meantime here are some updates on what to expect from this site in 2019:

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Big Finish Reviews

With more and more Big Finish audios being announced every week, it can be hard to keep up – and reviewers try their best to cover as much as possible on a regular basis without bankrupting themselves in the process. Nonetheless, Big Finish’s extensive back-catalogue of Doctor Who audios that were released monthly from late 1999, there’s plenty that can be picked up cheap on the Big Finish website.

This means plenty to review, and the Best of Big Finish series will continue in 2019 with more audio reviews, some branching out into the spinoff series like I, Davros and New Series sets like Classic Doctors, New Monsters.

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Doctor Who Reviews

Starting with a review of the New Year’s Special, for now titled Resolution (hopefully short for Resolution of the Daleks) we will be delving back into reviews of Series 11, starting with an overview of the series discussing what it did right and how the production team could build on it to make Series 12 even better.

We will be ranking the episodes in Series 11 and also ruminating on what changes we could see in Series 12 and the future of Doctor Who in general. Although there will be no Doctor Who series in 2019, expect a variety of Doctor Who content surrounding the show, including a review of the newly animated The Macra Terror, a Second Doctor story that has been missing for decades.

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Asylum of the Daleks Diorama

In celebration of the 55th Anniversary of the second serial of Doctor Who and the first episode of the show to feature the Daleks, a serial aptly titled The Daleks, Sacred Icon will be showcasing a diorama of custom-made Dalek Asylum inmates. As a melting pot of all different Daleks throughout their history, the Asylum brings together Dalek designs from all different eras of Doctor Who and is a perfect celebration of the iconic monsters.

The first episode of The Daleks, titled ‘The Dead Planet’, involves the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and her teachers Ian and Barbara landing on Skaro and encountering the show’s first alien menace – the Daleks. The first episode ends with the infamous cliffhanger involving and unknown threat menacing Barbara and she wanders around the empty city, and ends with her chilling scream and the thing reaches out to her. As such, the actual Daleks themselves are not shown until the next episode, ‘The Survivors’, which aired on the 28th of December 1963.

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More Halo Content

Although we do not yet know the release date for Halo: Infinite, it seems certain that the game will release in late 2019 or early 2020. 343 Industries will be releasing teaser material soon and so expect discussion posts about these, as well as reviews of any trailers or preview material.

Also coming in 2019 on Sacred Icon will be more pieces to do with the Master Chief Collection, including reviews of the new updates and how the multiplayer has changed by 2019.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Review

As a follow up to Star Trek – First Impressions of Deep Space 9, we will be reviewing the highlights of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine up until and including Season 5, as well as more Star Trek related content. Expect reviews relating to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as a possible review of a ‘classic’ Star Trek game called Star Trek: Shattered Universe.

And finally…

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The Picard TV Show?

Another potential release for 2019 is the Picard TV show, set to star Patrick Stewart and continue the story of Jean-Luc Picard in the Prime Star Trek timeline, following the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Nemesis. Star Trek fans hope that the iconic captain will be back on our screens in 2019.

If the show does release next year, then expect an episode-by-episode review from Sacred Icon. For more content, check out more from Sacred Icon:

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Have Microtransactions ruined Star Wars: Battlefront?

After the controversial release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II in late 2017, the game has recently seen a revival thanks to the release of several free expansions. However, with EA being mired with complaints about the microtransaction system, the short campaign and the poorly designed level progression system, there are clearly still fans out there that are not happy with the newest installment in the Battlefront series. In fact, there is a significant portion of the Star Wars fan community that staunchly prefers the original Star Wars: Battlefront II that released in 2005 over the EA-branded remake. But are the two games in any way comparable?

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The original Battlefront II

When it was released in 2005, the sequel to 2003’s Star Wars: Battlefront aimed to improve on just about everything that had featured in the original by adding in space combat, more classes, a better rewards system and countless other gameplay, aesthetic and layout changes that helped to firmly establish Star Wars: Battlefront II as one of the most popular Star Wars video games out there. In the eyes of many fans, the game takes its place alongside other Star Wars classics like Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as one of the best video games of its era, and thanks to a dedicated community that has seemingly only strengthened in the wake of the release of the EA Battlefront series the game continues to be one of the most popular Star Wars releases to date.

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EA’s new Battlefront II

Following the decision by EA to use the name ‘Battlefront’ for their new series of Star Wars first-person shooters, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II had a lot to live up to. Fans were cautious of the game when it was first announced due to the disappointment many had felt following the release of EA’s first Star Wars Battlefront, which promised much and yet delivered little in terms of maps and content. Early signs for Battlefront II seemed more promising, with the inclusion of the prequel and sequel eras as well as more customization, heroes, space battles and the single player campaign mode. In many ways, EA’s Battlefront II did deliver on what was promised, at least in terms of content – but the controversy surrounding microtransactions coupled with the vast amounts of playtime needed to progress through the levelling system led to many players writing off the new Battlefront game early on, particularly since EA had already failed once.

One of the most glaring weaknesses in the new Battlefront games compared to the Battlefronts of the 2000s is the significant reduction in the number of maps and modes, and the lack of customization options compared to older releases. For many players these features helped define the Battlefront games and for some the use of the Battlefront name on EA’s new games is little more than brand association.

However, the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding EA’s Battlefront II was the inclusion of its microtransaction system. Having started as a means for free mobile games to generate revenue through in-app purchases, microtransactions have gradually seeped into the mainstream console gaming market and the increasing numbers of publishers that have turned to this system has been criticized by children and parents alike. Those against the system argue that it comes across as an attempt by publishers to squeeze as much money out of the consumer as possible, and when the system is paired with randomized loot-boxes that have also become popular in the first-person shooter genre of games the result is something akin to child gambling, as children can spend real money on a random selection of in-game content without knowing what content they will actually receive.

This was particularly controversial in the case of EA’s Battlefront II as it was proven that, without using real money to purchase randomized loot-boxes, it would take hours and hours of playtime to earn enough in-game currency to unlock heroes like Darth Vader despite the inclusion of the heroes being one of the game’s main selling points. Ultimately, the controversy surrounding microtransactions in EA’s Battlefront II contributed to a growing movement against the system led by activists and politicians that particularly target the randomized loot-box system. Progress has already been made in some parts of the world, most notably the Belgium Gambling Commission that has made the inclusion of randomized loot-boxes that can be bought with real money illegal.

Despite the assertion from many Star Wars fans that microtransactions ruined the new EA Battlefront, the game has seen a small rise in popularity following the suspension of the loot-box system and the release of several free sets of downloadable content. Whilst there is no way to know for certain exactly how many active players there are in the game, the release of content related to Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Clone Wars era has been met with positive response from what players the game has, so it could be that with the removal of the microtransaction system the game stands a chance of turning over a new leaf and winning back the disappointed fans that are flocking to Star Wars’ rival brands in their droves.

Comic Fans Split Over the Future of Comics after Death of Stan Lee

marvel vs dcIn light of the recent death of comic book legend Stan Lee, many comic fans are wondering what the future will bring for the industry in light of the loss of a major figurehead in the industry and changing times with the rise of the internet.

Stan Lee is best known for his work as creative leader of Marvel Comics, as he transformed the business from a small publisher to a multi-million-dollar corporation that created some of the most iconic comic book characters in history.

Although it is certain that sales figures for physical comics have fallen significantly in recent decades, what is less clear is the exact reason why this is the case.

Many long-time comic fans, like Rob who was interviewed at Worlds Apart, have blamed the internet for the decline in sales – particularly since online comics are proving far more popular with millennials than the physical copies.

However, others argue that the online section of the comic book market is an excellent way of getting young people into comics, particularly since physical comics are more expensive and intangible online versions of comics are better suited for younger readers. In the video Jon discusses the plethora of comics he’s bought online.

As local comic shops begin to evolve with the times, focusing as on merchandise and collectables as much as actual comics themselves, the clear shift in climate in the comic industry presents a worrying change for stalwart fans – but also a promising development for younger readers.

How the 2019 Picard TV Show could change how we look at Star Trek

The Star Trek franchise is perhaps best known for its optimistic depiction of a diverse, harmonious and utopian socialist human society in the future, and the series was founded on creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a peaceful and enlightened future. However, in recent decades the long-lived series has seen a dramatic shift in the tone and feel of its releases to the point where modern interpretations of the iconic brand have lost many of the fundamental themes and morals that defined Star Trek for the first thirty years of its existence.

Fans of the show need not despair, as there is a shining beacon of hope on the horizon – the Picard TV show, set to release in late 2019, has many Trekkies hoping that Star Trek may finally return to the more philosophical and plot-driven stories of The Next Generation as opposed to the action-orientated nature of the newer Star Trek films and TV shows. The fact that Patrick Stewart is returning to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard after so long suggests that there has been some serious decision-making going on behind the scenes as to what the direction of the newer Star Treks should be, and the kind of messages that the franchise should send to younger audiences.

First seen as the captain of the USS Enterprise-D in the first episode of The Next Generation, Picard soon became a dynamic figurehead of responsibility, reason and ethics in the Star Trek community, even rivalling fan-favourite Spock for best character in the history of the series. Played masterfully by Patrick Stewart for all seven seasons of TNG’s run, Picard embodied the most honest and desirable traits in mankind – passion, mercy, intellect and willpower. Often acting as a mediator and always able to see the bigger picture, Picard became legendary for his ability to uphold his values and principles in the face of adversity and always seemed to take the moral high ground.

In the current political and social climate, it seems there is no better character to return to the front and centre of the Star Trek brand than Jean-Luc Picard. Whilst TNG will always be the keystone Star Trek series and perhaps even the essential Star Trek experience, bringing Picard back for a new show aimed at modern audiences certainly seems like the logical thing to do – provided it is done right. Many fans have criticised newer Star Trek for changing not only the feel but the look of the show, suggesting that the producers have little respect for the show’s history, which has many more fans worried that the new Picard show will be mishandled. It is no secret that the character of Jean-Luc Picard has been mishandled before – the infamous TNG movies from the late 90s and early 2000s depicted Picard as more like an action hero than a morally upstanding life coach, and the state of the Star Trek universe catapulted the once peaceful Federation into several bloody wars before the ‘post-TNG’ plotlines were unceremoniously abandoned by the end of the 2000s in favour of prequels like Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery.

Hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose and with some proper science fiction stories to tell, the new Picard show will stay true to the roots of the character and the franchise to deliver less action thrillers and more thought-provoking stories. Ideally the show will find the effective middle-ground between the two and will deliver something more akin to TNG and less like Star Trek: Discovery. Whatever the direction the producers choose to take it in, there is no doubt that the Picard show will change how we look at Star Trek.

 

Halo MCC – January 2019 Winter Update Adds New Skulls to Halo: CE

Halo: The Master Chief Collection just got a new update for the winter of 2019, and it pays clear homage to the past whilst also looking forward to an exciting future for this under-appreciated title.

Despite having been out since 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has seen a recent revival thanks to renewed efforts by development team 343 Industries to ‘fix’ the game after the fan backlash to the game’s broken state at launch. By altering their perspective on the game from a failed release title to a killer app in dire need of maintenance, the development team are making fast progress on winning fans back over with the new features that have been added to Halo MCC in recent months, including the updated social multiplayer system and an updated UI. Whilst this recent update is not nearly as glamorous, The first and most obvious change to the game is the new menu, new sporting a nostalgic winter theme depicting a Warthog on the Halo 3 multiplayer map Snowbound, surrounded by animated snow, a welcome addition to the app.

Another subtler but no less significant addition is the new ‘Modern Aiming’ feature for the classic Halo games. As Halo MCC features 5 Halo titles from across 2 previous consoles and over 15 years of video game engine development, several of the classic games felt sluggish and slow compared to their more modern counterparts. With the addition of the Modern Aiming setting, the aiming is smoother and auto-aim is tweaked, so  players can choose to use either the original aiming system or the revised version that is more suited to what many younger players will be used to from a shooter game.

Perhaps the most exciting feature for classic Halo fans is the inclusion of more Skulls to Halo: Combat Evolved. Since the release of Halo 2, Skulls have been hidden in levels throughout various Halo games and, when activated, they change how the game plays. With the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011, ten years after the release of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, 343 industries took the opportunity to add skulls into the game, but were limited in how many they were able to test and implement before the game was released. Fans have already discovered evidence within the code of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary that more Skulls were going to be implemented into the game, but were cut. In 343 industries’ recent blog post on the Halo MCC January update, Sean “Scoops” Cooper, a programmer who currently works on Halo MCC, said:

“There are of course more skulls in Halo 2 which have not made their way over to Halo: CE yet, but some of them with good reason. Some have no equivalent features to change (eg, there’s no vehicle boarding in the first game so Jacked is off the table). Others require data or code which did not exist originally and would risk breaking the baseline game trying to make them work. Then a few others haven’t been brought over yet as they require more time and testing.”

Sean also mentions in the blog that he eventually plans to add more of Halo 2 Anniversary’s diverse range of Skulls to other Halo titles in Halo MCC, an exciting prospect for players who now find replaying older Halo campaign levels to be a bit stale. The new update also features, among several other bug fixes, a fix for the Bandana (Infinite Ammo) Skull on Halo: CE and Halo 2, so energy weapons now have infinite ammo as originally intended.

The last of the major additions included with this update is the ‘Super Duper Fiesta’ mode, a compilation of many of Halo’s popular Fiesta multiplayer modes into one easily accessible playlist. This addition is only for social matchmaking, not competitive, and replaces the usual Team Action Sack setting for the match composer, though the announcement blog post does reassure Team Action Sack fans that this is only a temporary change.

Having recently entered its fourth year, many Halo fans might have given up on Halo MCC following its shabby launch and proceeding spat of abandonment. However, 343 industries have proven before that they are listening to fans via social media, their blog posts, game reviews and their occasional live events. As such, much of the fan feedback that was received about MCC is now being implemented, and future features that are either announced or all but confirmed range from a Custom Games Browser that allows players to search for games created and hosted by other players to a fix for the infamous duel-wielding glitch in Halo 2’s campaign. 343 industries have even stated that the team has been discussing adding Halo: Reach to the MCC, as it is now the only Halo title to not be re-released for the Xbox One in some form, although it has been made backwards-compatible. Halo fans should hold back from getting their hopes up about Reach just yet, however, as the team did stress that it is at this point little more than a remote possibility for the future. Still, the January 2019 Update gives Halo fans lots of hope for the future of not just Halo MCC but the future of Halo as a franchise.

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Star Wars: Jedi Knight II and Jedi Academy

As Star Wars games evolved and adapted throughout the late 20th century it was inevitable that eventually the games would take on a life of their own and become almost totally independent of the film series, and nothing is more telling of this than the success of the Jedi Knight series that focused almost entirely on characters that were never even mentioned in the original trilogy. Yet characters like Kyle Katarn, Jan Ors and Tavion have become just as synonymous with Star Wars for many fans as the likes of Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are for fans of the movies.

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The Story

Both Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy have fantastic storylines set deep within the now ‘Legends’ canon – both games follow the story of Rebel Agent-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn and his fight against the Reborn faction, led by Desann and later Tavion. The development of Katarn’s character is one of ‘Legends’ canon’s greatest achievements, and makes these games all the more interesting as we follow the adventures of one of the Galaxy’s most legendary heroes. The main antagonists of both games are the various Dark Jedi associated with the Reborn faction, notably Desann, Tavion and Alora, and games are also filled with various minor antagonists, obstacles and puzzles to overcome as the player explores the world of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi. An interesting feature in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy allows the player to create their own Jedi, who trains under Kyle Katarn in Luke’s new Jedi Temple on Yavin IV. Whilst Outcast‘s story is more linear, Academy allows players to choose their own missions whilst unravelling the game’s story and decide whether Kyle’s apprentice should stay on the path of the light or embrace the dark side, which gives Academy’s story two very different endings.

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The Multiplayer

By far one of the most memorable aspects of these games was the multiplayer, with maps like Death Star, Nar Shaddaa Streets, Vjun Sentinel, Taspir, Yavin Hilltops, and Coruscant Streets being among the more enduring and iconic maps in the series. Players have been able to use the game’s well-designed lightsaber combat system to create some quite interesting moves and strategies, which was further enhanced by Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy’s improved engine that allowed for double-bladed lightsabers and more advanced gymnastic Force abilities. Every map has a vertical element that can be used in conjunction with the almost limitless freedom that the hilariously overpowered Force Jump provides to take unsuspecting players completely by surprise, which is particularly rewarding in open maps with lots of ledges and platforms. As for the multiplayer setup, there are many different game modes to try, from Free for All to Capture the Flag, as well as modes designed around Star Wars battles in the movies like Power Duel and Siege. Even when playing solo, the game’s bots are challenging enough that it is still great fun.

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The Characters

A notable aspect of the campaign and multiplayer of the Jedi Knight series is the vast array of characters – particularly in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, in which an entire team can be made up of the various types of Stormtrooper in the game – and there are a fair few familiar faces from the Original Trilogy like Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and Mon Mothma. Like all good contributions to the Star Wars lore, however, the Jedi Knight series also has its own large cast of recognisable characters and this, coupled with Jedi Academy‘s character customisation option, means that players are never short of choice in multiplayer when it comes to characters. The voice acting in this game ranges from genuinely good to downright hilarious, particularly in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast that has some funny dialogue but even funnier combat dialogue for the enemies.

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The Combat

It has to be said that one of the greatest assets of the Jedi Knight series is its combat mechanics, and even later Star Wars games like The Force Unleashed were never able to capture the simple-yet-effective approach that the Jedi Knight series took with its combat system. Lightsaber battles flow well and feel authentic – rather than having the player and the AI simply bashing sticks at each other until one of them drops dead, the combatants will lock blades and scoring direct body hits requires skill and precision. This means that each combat encounter feels like a mini-duel in itself, making the Jedi Knight games one of the quintessential Star Wars experiences for lightsaber combat.

There are other forms of combat present in the game too, however, and in some levels weapons other than the lightsaber are useful or even necessary. Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy feature a diverse sandbox of weapons and each has a specific function – a Star Wars equivalent of a shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher are all present to make the games accessible to fans of the first-person shooter genre. Like all good FPS games, gunfights in the Jedi Knight series are dependant on movement and good aim, but many of the guns are useless against lightsaber wielders. The game’s weapon sandbox truly shines in the campaign mode, particularly since players can either mince through legions of Stormtroopers with their lightsaber, use the various Force powers to easily sweep through encounters, or choose to play more fairly and switch to gunplay for a more challenging (but ultimately more rewarding) combat experience.

Many who played the Jedi Knight games regard them as among the best of the Star Wars video games, and for good reason. Whilst it may no longer be part of the Star Wars canon, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy remains an essential Star Wars experience.

 

No Doctor Who Christmas Special This Year, Chibnall Confirms

After thirteen Doctor Who Christmas Specials, it would seem that the cornucopia of Christmas plots has finally run dry, as Chris Chibnall has moved the modern-day Christmas tradition to New Years day instead. With every Christmas Day since 2005 playing host to a festive-themed episode, even in years that did not see a regular series, it comes as no surprise that the show’s writers are running out of ways to link Doctor Who to Christmas.

Former showrunner Steven Moffat has already commented on how difficult it was to come up with Christmas-related episodes, with some of Capaldi’s later specials seemingly ignoring the Christmas theme entirely – the last Christmas Special, 2017’s Twice Upon a Time, briefly featured the 1914 Christmas Truce but was otherwise devoid of festive cheer. Moffat, the head writer for Doctor Who between 2010 and 2018, said: “I sort of think we might have mined, and possibly over mined, every single thing we could about Christmas in Doctor Who and the last time we more or less ignored it.” (Quote from the Mirror)

This may come as somewhat of a shock to newer fans of the show, many of whom have grown up with the tradition of having a new Doctor Who at Christmas, but older fans will recognise that the Specials are hardly a longstanding tradition – the Classic Series only ever aired one episode on Christmas Day, Part 7 of 1965’s The Dalek’s Master Plan, which was only aired that day because Christmas happened to land that Saturday.

Since 2005, however, Doctor Who writers have found themselves trapped by the restrictive festive-themed episodes, which has been reflected in their quality. Many of the Christmas Specials are considered to be among the worst episodes of the series – episodes like Voyage of the Damned and The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe being particularly notorious examples. Although early Christmas Specials like The Christmas Invasion are looked back on fondly by fans, many will agree that as a general rule the Christmas Specials are neither scary or engaging enough to be anything more than sub-par episodes.

So what does this mean for the future? The loss of the ‘Christmas Doctor Who’ may seem like the end of an era for the series, and many Brits may lament the fact that the tradition of the festive episode is a thing of the past. However, there are many benefits for the show that could come from this decision. As Doctor Who has moved towards a more cinematic style, with the Christmas Special sometimes being viewed as the true finale of the series, a morbid issue arose in recent years in that the last few Doctors have died and regenerated on Christmas Day. By moving the special to New Years, this creates some great opportunities for future Doctors as having the regeneration take place on New Years Day is far more appropriate.

But what kind of episodes could we see in the New Year’s Day time slot? The last New Year’s Special to air was the divisive The End of Time, Part 2, which brought the reign of the Tenth Doctor to a climactic end but was considered by fans to be over-indulgent and melodramatic. Under Chibnall’s reign, the fact that the New Years Special can branch out to tell stories without being bogged down by the obligatory Christmas theme can only be a good thing, and it lends itself to some fresh new ideas that can move the yearly Doctor Who special away from a tired tradition and towards an optimistic new era as Series 11 draws to a close. With recent rumours that the Daleks are returning in the New Years Day Special, titled Resolution, 2019’s New Years Special could set an exciting precedent for future specials in the years to come.