Doctor Who – Top 10 Big Finish Cyberman Stories

Big Finish has been producing the Doctor Who Main Range (formerly called the Monthly Range) since 1999 and is therefore fast approaching its 20th anniversary of creating Doctor Who audio dramas. Big Finish have not produced as many Cyberman audios as they have Dalek ones, but after 20 years of production, there is still a significant number of excellent Cyberman stories. This article ranks the best of the Big Finish Cyberman stories, starting with:

#10 – The Gathering

Gathering_(Doctor_Who)The Gathering has a strange place in the Cyberman story pantheon in that it doesn’t feature any actual Cybermen, but rather deals with the horrific aftermath of a Cyber incursion. This audio tells the kind of story that would be unlikely to appear in the TV series, and not only because it features some gruesome body horror, but the story also serves as Tegan’s return to the Fifth Doctor’s life after several years, and the focus on this aspect of the story, coupled with the lack of any actual Cybermen, is what puts this instalment at the bottom of the list. However, that is not to say it is a bad story, and it is an audio that Peter Davison fans should definitely check out.

#9 – Last of the Cybermen

dwmr199_last_of_the_cybermen_cover_large.jpgA homage to the Cyber-War plot from the early Cyberman stories, Last of the Cybermen depicts humankind’s final assault on Telos in an effort to wipe out the Cybermen for good. Featuring the Sixth Doctor alongside Second Doctor companions Jamie and Zoe, this audio has many twists and turns and has a terrifying depiction of the conversion process but is somewhat deflated by its pacing issues and underwhelming conclusion. Although it is fun to have Jamie and Zoe back fighting Cybermen, this was done far better in Legend of the Cybermen and as such this audio is further down the list than it would otherwise have been.

#8 – Human Resources

human resources.jpgThe final two-part story to the first series of Eighth Doctor Adventures, Human Resources Parts One and Two are an excellent conclusion to the strong first outing for the Eighth Doctor and new companion Lucie, played by Sheridan Smith. The story arc of the series is brought to a satisfying close and the Headhunter also makes an appearance, although the Cybermen themselves do not feature until quite a way through the story – which is good for tension, but means that there is not as much time for Cyber-action as is normally the case in 2-hour long audio plays.

#7 – Hour of the Cybermen

DWMR240_hourofthecybermen_alt_1417.jpgThe newest Cyberman story in the Main Range, Hour of the Cybermen is set on Earth and is a rare example of a Sixth Doctor UNIT story. The premise is simple – the Doctor arrives on Earth only to find that the UK has been afflicted with a terrible drought – but only the UK, not the rest of Europe (perhaps a veiled political message?) and eventually the Cybermen are revealed to be behind it. What makes this audio unique is the fact that it features the return of David Banks and Mark Hardy, who played the Cyber-Leader and Cyber-Lieutenant in Earthshock, The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. Their iconic voices make this audio a real treat, and although Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic Cyberman voice, it is good to hear the old voices back again.

#6 – Sword of Orion

dwmr017_swordoforion_1417_cover_large.jpgSpeaking of Nicholas Briggs, Sword of Orion was the first story he wrote for the Eighth Doctor and the Cybermen in the Main Range, as well as being the first Cyberman story Big Finish produced. The format is simple but effective, which is particularly good considering the fact that this is Charley Pollard’s first ride in the TARDIS. The Cybermen also get some great action in this story, and their sinister nature is portrayed excellently in several scenes, particularly a gruesome encounter that the Doctor has with a Cyber-conversion plant that has stalled in mid-production = leaving the partly-converted victims to die horribly. Overall, this story is a strong instalment for the Cybermen, but doesn’t quite do enough new with them to warrant being in the top five.

#5 – The Reaping

The_Reaping_coverThe first Sixth Doctor to feature the Cybermen also features Peri, and deals heavily with her family and backstory meaning that those who are not fans of this particular companion may be immediately turned off this story. However, the concept itself is novel, with the idea of a highly futuristic Cyberman turning recently deceased humans into more Cybermen is similar to the concept for the New Series finale Death in Heaven, and that episode’s focus on the companion is also shared by this audio. Peri’s tragic story coupled with some really grisly Cyberman scenes makes this audio a must-listen for fans, particularly since it sets up several elements for both The Harvest and The Gathering.

#4 – Legend of the Cybermen

61lCIfV0rALAs previously mentioned, Legend of the Cybermen is a fantastic story involving the Sixth Doctor alongside Jamie and Zoe, and features the Cybermen invading the Land of Fiction from the Second Doctor story The Mind Robber. For those who haven’t seen that episode, it was essentially introduced as an excuse for the production team to use lots of historical and fantasy props for an episode, but ended up as a psychedelic journey through a crazy land featuring several fictional characters, and in this audio the Cybermen arrive there to convert them all. As the Cybermen work from an angle of total logic, this story depicts a sort of holy war for them, as they try to wipe the ‘scourge’ of fiction from the land.

#3 – The Harvest

dwmr058_theharvest_1417_cover_large.jpgThe first and arguably best of the loose ‘Cyberman Trilogy’ of The Harvest, The Reaping and The Gathering, this Seventh Doctor audio features the debut of Hex as well as the first encounter that the Seventh Doctor and Ace have had with the Cybermen since Silver Nemesis. The story focuses not only on Hex encountering the Doctor and Ace but also the side story of the Cyber-Leader transitioning into a human, something that is fascinating to listen to. With some great dialogue between the Doctor and the three main antagonists of the story, as well as the computer ‘System’, The Harvest is definitely one of the best Cyberman stories in the Big Finish back-catalogue.

#2 – The Silver Turk

20141022095558dwmr153_thesilverturk_1417_cover_largeThough the Eighth Doctor has a fair few Cyberman stories, this is his first and (so far) only encounter with the Mondasian Cybermen. The premise of having Mary Shelley in the TARDIS makes for a fascinating listen, particularly as she begins to feel sympathy for the Cybermen. Over the course of the story, several Mondasian Cybermen are used as marionettes and performers, and although they are somewhat sympathetic, they are also horrifying in their own right, and there are some really creative ideas that come together well in this story – but to give away any more would certainly venture in the territory of spoilers.

Honourable Mention – The Isos Network

dwea0204_theisosnetwork_1417_cover_large.jpgAlthough some fans will be put off by the more traditional ‘talking book’ style of the audio adventures of earlier Doctors, there are some genuine gems in amongst the catalogues of the first three Doctors. The Isos Network is an excellent bridge between the final two Second Doctor Cyberman episodes, and although there are some strange concepts included in this story, such as giant sentient slugs, the Cybermen are still fantastic in this story and the voices in particular are excellent.

#1 – Spare Parts

dwmr034v_spareparts_1417_cover_largeThe top spot, however, goes to Spare Parts, a story that serves as the origin story for the Mondasian Cybermen and has several links with the final First Doctor story, The Tenth Planet. Pitting the more human and fallible Fifth Doctor against the Genesis of the Cybermen was a fantastic move, as it sets up a dark and gritty tale that gives Genesis of the Daleks a run for its money, and that’s saying something. The gloomy world of Mondas with its desperate, hopeless inhabitants is countered by the down-to-Earth and optimistic Hartman family, and their tragic story helps drive the emotional weight of the story. The Cybermen themselves are at their best in this story, creepy and intimidating, and Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic impression of the original Mondasian Cybermen voices. Filling out its four parts nicely, this audio is a great jumping-on point for new listeners and is perhaps one of the greatest Big Finish audios of all time.

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Star Wars – Battlefront II Conversion Pack v2.3 Review

Following up on last week’s article comparing EA’s Battlefront II with the original Star Wars: Battlefront II from 2005, this review will cover something slightly different but still related to the original Battlefront II. One of the major selling points for the original Battlefront II is the mods, and one that many consider essential is the Battlefront II Conversion Pack v2.3, a mod that adds dozens of new features to the game including new maps, new units, new heroes, new weapons and new vehicles. What makes this mod important is that it also adds many of the maps and features of the original Star Wars: Battlefront to the game,including the beloved Bespin: Platforms.

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What’s Old

Many of the original Battlefront’s maps were fans favourites, including Geonosis: Spire, Kashyyyk: Docks and Rhen Vhar: Harbor, and the look and feel of the original Battlefront is replicated in this mod through the use of the ‘Classic Conquest’ mode, which aims to faithfully re-create the original Battlefront, even down to removing the sprint feature. Lots of the old maps are also playable in normal Conquest mode with the new units and vehicles, but the mod also ensures to retain the original Star Wars: Battlefront II as well – playing on Conquest mode on the original maps from the game gives you the classic Battlefront II experience with no significant additions – and many of the original maps have added modes that include the new units and vehicles.

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What’s Even Older

kotor.pngProbably one of this mod’s biggest selling points is the addition of a whole new era – the KOTOR era, set four thousand years before the events of A New Hope, based on the legendary Knights of the Old Republic games. This era is included on almost every map, and even sports its own Space map, and features many units from the KOTOR era including Dark Jedi Acolytes, T3-Units, Sith Heavy Troopers and the surprisingly effective Jedi Gunman. One slight drawback with this era is the total exclusion of all vehicles on ground maps, something that makes maps like Bespin: Platforms and Hoth somewhat redundant. However, the Heroes in this mode are varied and exciting, and there is even a Hero Assault option enabled on most viable maps for the KOTOR era, meaning you can pit all the KOTOR Heroes against each other in a similar fashion to Hero Assault with Galactic Civil War. Speaking of which…

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What’s New

Torrent.jpgThis mod adds a huge range of content to both the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War eras including new units, new classes, new vehicles, new weapons, new Heroes, new modes and overall a generally improved gameplay experience compared to the standard game. Every new map now features several new classes, and as points are earned the player is ‘promoted’ until eventually unlocking the Commander class, which is a boon-focused unit with a powerful blaster and an orbital strike droid. Before that, however, the player unlocks a Commando class, and for the Clone Wars era the Clone Commando is used for the Republic faction from the game Star Wars: Republic Commando, which is a fantastic detail in itself, but the Commando class itself is perhaps the best part of the game – it completed changes the gameplay, as you get stronger and more versatile weapons to the point that it feels like you’re playing as a Hero.

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What’s Even Newer

The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as there has been a patch and even a content update for this mod – the latter of which adds the ability to play Galactic Conquest in the KOTOR era, even adding the KOTOR era ships and fully integrated with the standard Galactic Conquest system of unit and bonus purchases coupled with the strategic fleet movement.
This mod also features countless other brand new features that add even more to an already bountiful mod. Hunt mode is now expanded to feature the KOTOR era and more maps, including Felucia, Polis Massa, the Death Star and even the maps from the original Battlefront. A new Order 66 mode pits Jedi against Clones on a variety of maps, and there is even a mode that pits random creature Jedi against various bounty hunters, and playing as a Jawa Jedi is hilarious.

drallig.pngNot only that, but there are several new versions of classic modes that are spread across the various maps. Trying out different combinations of modes and eras can lead to some unexpected and sometimes hilarious results, such as pitting KOTOR-era Sith against Ewoks, Mandalorians against Sith Assassins on Kamino, Clones against Acklay on Felucia or even Jedi vs Sith in the Death Star.

The best thing about the Conversion Pack mod is how much it makes the 2005 Star Wars: Battlefront II feel like a totally new game, whilst at the same time preserving everything that fans loved about the original. Not only that, but it also incorporates elements from some of the most popular Star Wars games out there, from adding the maps of the 2003 Battlefront, to the addition of the KOTOR era, to even something as simple as adding in the Commando class, clearly this mod was created by true Star Wars fans who understand what players want from a Star Wars Battlefront game.

EA should be taking notes.

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Doctor Who – Top 10 Big Finish Dalek Stories

Big Finish has been producing the Doctor Who Main Range (formerly called the Monthly Range) since 1999 and is therefore fast approaching its 20th anniversary of creating Doctor Who audio dramas. In the 20 years that these audio plays have been in production, Big Finish has expanded their Doctor Who releases further than the Main Range to include many standalone series like the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Dalek Empire series with a vast array of excellent Dalek stories to listen to. However, there are definitely some that stand out as truly spectacular stories and perhaps even some of the best examples of Doctor Who stories in any format, including the Classic and Modern TV series, and this article ranks the top ten, starting with:

#10 – We Are The Daleks

we are the daleks

Intended as a potential jumping-on point for would-be listeners who felt intimidated by the increasing number of story arcs and continuity related to the Big Finish Main Range, We Are The Daleks aims to tell a self-contained, somewhat familiar and yet entirely new Dalek story, and it achieves all three of these goals and more. Whilst the end result is hardly groundbreaking, and is certainly not as introspective or formula-inverting as some of Big Finish’s other Dalek stories, what fans got with We Are The Daleks was a classic Dalek romp that takes advantage of being set in the 1980s but with the hindsight of knowing what advancements in technology would bring in the 21st century, and the idea of combining Dalek technology with the basic human desire for video games was an ingenious one.

#9 – The Dalek Transaction

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Though it may seem an odd choice to include an audio from the UNIT: The New Series range considering the fact that it is a spinoff, The Dalek Transaction proves that great Dalek stories can be done in any form of Doctor Who media, not just the Doctor-focused ranges. Despite the wider lore surrounding UNIT: The New Series, Big Finish have made it very easy for fans to jump into the series with each box set, and although this audio can only be picked up as part of the UNIT: Encounters box set, you are almost immediately given everything that you need to know to understand the story and the characters. And as far as the story goes, although the idea of a critically damaged Dalek being held prisoner isn’t a new one, this story certainly takes a new and dynamic approach to the concept that pleased many a Dalek fan.

#8 – Blood of the Daleks

blood of the daleks

The opening two-parter to the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Sheridan Smith playing new companion Lucie Miller, Blood of the Daleks aims to both introduce the audience to Lucie and the more brooding Eighth Doctor whilst also delivering a fantastic Dalek story. Unsurprisingly this episode has plenty of references to other Doctor Who stories, particularly Dalek stories, as this audio was designed as not only an introduction to new companion Lucie but also to the Eighth Doctor and the idea of Doctor Who audios as a medium, as this was the first episode in a series that Big Finish pushed as a jumping on point for new Doctor Who fans back when the New Series had only just started. As it stands, Blood of the Daleks is a great opener to the Eighth Doctor Adventures and is one of the best audios to use as a means of getting accustomed to the format, for those who have not listened to many before. The relationship between Eight and Lucie is composed perfectly, and there is a great dynamic between them that develops as the plot unfolds.

#7 – Masters of Earth

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This audio peaked the interest of many veteran Dalek fans on its announcement as it features the Sixth Doctor and Peri visiting Earth during the Dalek Occupation, as seen in the famous First Doctor episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The idea of the Doctor visiting eras in Dalek history from the Classic show is something that the New Series should definitely work on creating, as it gives some great marketing opportunities as well as setting up innumerable ideas for potential time-travel focused stories. Masters of Earth delivers on this, as whilst its twist is predictable, it does a great job of recreating the feel of Dalek-controlled Earth that fans saw in the 1960s. As this is an audio set later in Peri’s timeline, her character is much more manageable than she appeared in the show, and Peri arguably gets a proper encounter with the Daleks that Revelation of the Daleks tragically denied her.

#6 – Order of the Daleks

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A recent outing for the Sixth Doctor and his new companion Constance Clarke, this audio’s eye-catching cover is fitting considering how this audio stands out among many of its peers. Make no mistake, Big Finish is still just as fantastic as it always has been, but there has been a recent trend of Big Finish Dalek stories being less experimental than perhaps they once were. Enter Order of the Daleks which manages to not only utilise the concept of a Stained Glass Dalek for a great cover design but also as a great peg for an original and wholly unique Dalek story idea, that being: what would the Daleks do if they crashed on a primitive planet, and were forced to use primitive technology to repair themselves? The result is a great story that showcases how great Colin Baker is as the Doctor but also provides new companion Constance Clarke with an opportunity to make a mark on the Doctor Who timeline – and as audio-only companions go, Constance is every bit as great as classics like Charlie and Lucie. The conversations between the Dalek Commander and the Doctor in this story are brilliant and, without spoiling too much, there is some very good development of the Daleks psychology in this story that any Dalek fan should check out.

#5 – The Dalek Contact/The Final Phase

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The Fourth Doctor Adventures are a fantastic range of audios, particularly since they star one of the most popular Doctors in the history of the show, as well as fan-favourites like Leela, Romana and K-9. However, an interesting aspect of this series is that it manages to replicate one of the many odd quirks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, in that there is a disproportionally small number of Dalek stories considering the sheer number of stories that the Fourth Doctor has, both for TV and in his own audio series. The Fourth Doctor Adventures definitely benefits from this, as the few instances in which the Daleks do appear feel like special occasions and, as special occasions go, The Dalek Contact and The Final Phase are both great Dalek stories, making it especially exciting that it features the Fourth Doctor, Romana I and K-9. For fans of this era of the show, this two-parter is definitely one of the best Dalek stories.

#4 – Enemy of the Daleks

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When discussing types of Dalek stories, particularly with people who are fans of the Daleks specifically, often the stories that try a different ‘take’ on the Daleks are ranked as among the best, and with good reason. As the Daleks are so prolific among the various media formats of Doctor Who, with dozens of episodes and audios, and even a significant number of books, dedicated to them, and as a result after over fifty years of the Daleks it is often those few stories that attempt to somehow redefine or reinvent the Daleks that are considered the best. However, every once in a while a Dalek story comes along that, although playing straight to almost every single Dalek story trope that the show has ever seen, actually manages to be just so good regardless that it is automatically considered a classic. Enemy of the Daleks is definitely one of these, as what is (on the surface at least) a generic Dalek action romp also manages to deliver a surprisingly good story and present some characters with great emotional depth. When describing Enemy of the Daleks, the key phrase to bear in mind is ‘never judge a book by its cover’, although that hardly seems fair as this audio has perhaps one of the coolest covers of any Doctor Who product across all its many mediums.

#3 – The Apocalypse Element

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If it wasn’t good enough that the Sixth Doctor got to face the Daleks so early in his audio appearances, it just so happens that he got to star in what is undeniably the best of the early ‘Dalek Empire’ Main Range audios. For those not in the know, early in their career as Doctor Who audio play producers, Big Finish brought the Daleks to their main series with four totally separate yet also thematically linked Dalek stories – The Genocide Machine, The Apocalypse Element, The Mutant Phase and The Time of the Daleks, and this later went on to drive the plot of their standalone Dalek Empire spinoff series. Each main range story is good in their own right, particularly The Mutant Phase, but The Apocalypse Element is by far the greatest of the bunch. Not only does it feature Lalla Ward as Romana II, but it also delivers a cracking Dalek story that seems to present what has later become the ‘first act’ of the Last Great Time War.

#2 – The Juggernauts

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Something that might have become apparent to Dalek fans reading this list is the fact that, until this point, no Davros stories have appeared. There are several reasons for this – arguably the most important being that there is rarely a good Dalek story that also happens to be a good Davros story, usually one is sacrificed for the other. However, there are always exceptions to this rule, and The Juggernauts is probably the best example of this. Featuring the Sixth Doctor and Mel in the best story that they share, this audio approaches the Davros/Dalek dynamic in a very different light, and presents the idea of Davros, finally deciding that the Daleks have failed him, attempting to create something to counter the Daleks on a galactic scale – the ubiquitous ‘Juggernauts’. For those who are fans of the 1980s Davros stories, this audio is essentially everything that those stories were trying to be, had they not been held back by budget constraints.

Honorable Mention – The Dalek Occupation of Winter

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Although some fans will be put off by the more traditional ‘talking book’ style of the audio adventures of earlier Doctors, there are some genuine gems in amongst the catalogues of the first three Doctors. A recent example of one of these is the superb The Dalek Occupation of Winter, an audio that utilises the fact that this is one of the Doctor’s first encounters with the Daleks to great effect, and is definitely work picking up as an introduction to the different format for those who are not familiar with it.

#1 – Jubilee

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An audio made famous by the distinction of being adapted into the 2005 episode ‘Dalek’, the first appearance of the Daleks in the New Series, Jubilee has a lot more going on than what is presented in the episode it was later adapted into. ‘Dalek’ is arguably just an adaptation of one plot point from Jubilee, and listeners will quickly realise that there is a lot more to Jubilee than is to be expected of a Dalek story. One of this story’s greatest assets is the fact that it features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn, a Doctor-companion pairing that has rarely been topped in any medium of the franchise. Considering Colin Baker’s rough time on the show and the generally negative reception that his Doctor gets as a result, it is fine poetry that his Doctor happens to be the one that has spearheaded the success of the Doctor Who audios through great characterisation, fantastic scripts and great new companions. However, the greatest thing about Jubilee (and the thing that makes it a great Dalek story) is the Dalek itself and the way it is presented. When listening to this audio all preconceived notions about the Daleks have to be thrown out of the window, as this story depicts a Dalek that demonstrates some definite growth as a character, and without spoiling too much, it is clear where the most emotive moments in ‘Dalek’ were derived from, as Jubilee presents an entirely different yet similarly emotive story that makes the audience feel conflicted feelings of pity for the most pitiless race in the universe.

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Star Wars: Clone Wars – Making the Best of the Worst of Star Wars

“Like fire across the Galaxy, the Clone Wars spread…”

In the wake of the announcement that Star Wars: The Clone Wars will be getting another season before the decade is out, it seems only fitting to look back at the progenitor of all ‘Clone Wars’ TV media – the original Star Wars: Clone Wars show which aired on Cartoon Network in 2003 and was directed, produced and co-written by Genndy Tartakovsky. This series is well-known among the fanbase for famously bridging the gap between Episodes II and III before Episode III itself had even been released. It’s distinctive style and impressive scope makes this series a must-watch for any Star Wars fan, particularly those interested in the prequel era.

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The Battles

Firstly and most obviously, this series is renowned for its depiction of some of the most epic and large-scale battles of the Clone Wars. The battles on Muunilinst, Dantooine, Hypori, Yavin, Mon Calamari and numerous others were brilliantly depicted in this series, with some battles taking up entire episodes and others spanning several episodes in a sequence of mini-arcs spanning the first series. Each of these depicts a totally unique Star Wars battle in enviroments that were not explored in the main films, such as the mass-fighter space battle above Muunilinst in the first few episodes or the uniquely fought battle of the dust fields featuring Mace ‘Keyhole’ Windu and his impressive jumping and punching techniques.

A particular highlight of the series is the Battle of Mon Calamari, a plot thread that takes up only one episode yet depicts several unique scenarios in Star Wars lore – notably, the appearance of a lightsaber working underwater, how factions in Star Wars battle underwater in the first place, and more insight into how the Mon Calamari and Quarren races fight in their native habitat. The inclusion of Kit Fisto as the star of his own individual episode was a nice touch too, seeing as how he is brutally murdered in the next movie.

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The Clones

Oddly enough, one of this series’ major strengths is how it uses dialogue-less sequences with the Clones to depict plot development. A perfect example of this is the entire ARC troopers sequence, which spans several episodes, many of which are totally dialogue-free as the ARC troopers wordlessly delegate commands to each other through the visual hierarchy of the Red Sergeant and his Blue and White subordinates, all of whom work together to form a deadly and efficient squad who recur throughout the series, taking on a threats ranging from a giant cannon to General Grievous himself. Aside from the ARC troopers, the depiction of regular Clones in the Republic Army is effective in demonstrating both their tactical importance and their disposibility.

Whilst the series emphasises the true nature of the Clone Wars, the lack of respect for its Clone characters compared to its successor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is a major disadvantage to the series. However, whilst the Clones are not used for emotional impact, they are effective in their role as the show’s cannon fodder – in fact, the Clone death toll in this series is probably higher than any other piece of Star Wars TV media.

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The Characters

Star Wars: Clone Wars introduced several interesting characters to the Star Wars on-screen canon, particularly fan-favourites like Durge and Asajj Ventress. Both of these new characters get special focus throughout the show, but what is perhaps more important is how Star Wars: Clone Wars depicts its returning characters – and the answer is, it is spot-on. Characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Palpatine, Amidala and Mace Windu seem by all accounts to be accurate depictions of their appearances in the movies, and although this show focuses primarily on combat and less on dialogue, there are still some great character moments, particularly the scenes involving Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Like the later Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the 2003 series does a great job of showing the friendship that existed between Anakin and Obi-Wan before the tragic events of Revenge of the Sith – but unlike its successor, Star Wars: Clone Wars actually shows the evolution of the rivalry between Master and Apprentice that was apparent in Attack of the Clones to a genuine friendship over the course of the series.

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The Villains

Of course, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without the villains, and Star Wars: Clone Wars features the return of many iconic villains from the prequels as well as the debut of even more fan-favourite villains from the prequel era like Asajj Ventress, Durge and General Grievous. An interesting trend in the Star Wars prequel-era TV shows is that they use their villains a lot better than the prequel movies themselves did, and the same is definitely true of this show. A perfect example of this is General Grievous – he makes his debut in this series in one of the most epic lightsaber duels in the show, makes mincemeat of half a dozen Jedi, and then comes back for more later in the series leading up to its cliffhanger – yet his appearance in Episode III makes him seem as though in the meantime he had half of his brain removed. The show even acknowledges this by having Mace Windu crush Grievous’ chest in the finale, causing his signature cough. The character of Durge, a fascinating antagonist to Obi-Wan’s first story arc, is another example of a really interesting villain idea – without giving too much away, he finds some interesting ways to fight toe-to-toe with a Jedi despite not owning a lightsaber, and his terrifying physiology makes him a memorable character in the series.

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The Duels

Needless to say, there are some epic duels in this series. From the more literal interpretation of a Star Wars ‘duel’ involving lightsabers, such as Grievous vs Ki-Adi Mundi or Ventress vs Anakin, to the less conventional such as Durge vs Obi-Wan or Ventress vs Dooku, each and every duel in this series is truly fantastic. This is particularly evident thanks to the wide variety of locations in this series, and the duel between Anakin and Asajj Ventress that involves a lot of jumping between trees in the jungles of Yavin, for example, become immediately memorable. The previously mentioned duel between Grievous and the Jedi on Hypori is a rare example of a Star Wars duel that involves multiple combatants fighting one immensely powerful duelist, and Grievous doesn’t even make use of his four arms and yet he is still able to wipe the floor with many of the Jedi in various brutal ways. Of all the factors that contribute to what makes this series so good, the quality of the lightsaber duels is definitely one of the stand outs.

Overall, even after all this time, Star Wars: Clone Wars is still a thoroughly enjoyable piece of Star Wars media and, whilst it is certainly no Empire Strikes Back, it works wonders to redeem many of the elements of the first two prequels and paved the way for the fantastic pseudo-sequel Star Wars: The Clone Wars years later.

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How to Fix – The Paradigm Daleks

Welcome to the next article in a series called ‘How to Fix’, this piece will discuss how the infamous Paradigm Daleks could be improved in future seasons of Doctor Who, should they ever return. As previously mentioned in Doctor Who Theories – What Became of the Paradigm Daleks? the taller, bulkier and multi-coloured redesign of the Daleks that took place in Series 5, Steven Moffat’s first series as showrunner, was not well-received by fans.

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DW XI I Ep3
Image Credit: Dalek 63 88

The most important thing that was to blame for the poor reception of the New Dalek Paradigm was the lacklustre set that was used for their big reveal in Victory of the Daleks – a tiny room in a disused matchstick factory with a ceiling that was barely high enough for the Paradigm Daleks to even fit. The Dalek props themselves were not nearly as badly designed as fans made them out to be, and alterations to the props for Asylum of the Daleks corrected several issues with the design that were evident from Victory – most notably the plastic-like colours that were replaced with the much nicer chrome finish, but the hump at the back was also reduced in response to complaints about the ‘hunchback’ design. For more information on the specifics of the tweaks to the design click here to visit Dalek 63 88’s comprehensive history of the Paradigm props used in Asylum of the Daleks.

But this seemed to be too little, too late, and the Paradigm Daleks were never seen again following Asylum of the Daleks. In total, they had featured prominently in just four episodes in the entirety of Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, which were Victory of the Daleks, The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang and Asylum of the Daleks. They had also cameoed in  The Wedding of River Song and been featured prominently in several video games and comics of that era, but by Peter Capaldi’s first episode as the Twelfth Doctor to feature the Daleks, Series 8’s Into the Dalek, the Paradigm had disappeared and have never been seen since.

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Before delving into speculation and ideas as to how to fix the Paradigm should they ever appear again, the narrative issues with the Paradigm must first be addressed. These issues are totally separate from the more commonly cited problem of the Paradigm’s design, but are perhaps caused by it – firstly, the Paradigm should have been introduced as an officer class for the Daleks from the get-go. Although it is clear that they later became this in Asylum of the Daleks, when they were first introduced they were certainly intended to replace the bronze design entirely. In interviews that were included in behind the scenes material relating to Victory of the Daleks with writer Mark Gatiss, who wrote the story and helped with the design of the Paradigm, he envisions future episodes of the show featuring the Daleks being staffed entirely by the red Paradigm variety, as he considered that the new ‘Drone’ for the Daleks and it was marketed as such at the time. Had the Paradigm been an officer class from the start, with the Progenitor in Victory of the Daleks producing a few Paradigm Daleks and then more bronze drones, perhaps they would have been better received and could have been included as recurring antagonists in a similar fashion to Russell T. Davies’ Cult of Skaro.

dalek series 6The second most glaring narrative flaw with the implementation of the Dalek Paradigm was the lack of Dalek stories in the following series to back up their introduction. Series 6 was devoid of a true Dalek story and this is possibly the greatest contributing factor to the failure of the Paradigm. Had Asylum of the Daleks’ design tweaks been implemented as early as the first half of Series 6, perhaps fans would have been more accepting of them, particularly as the chrome finish makes them look more metallic and less like oversized toys. Possibly in reaction to the poor reception of the Paradigm, Steven Moffat chose to put the Daleks on a mini-hiatus until Series 7, by which time he had made the decision to backtrack on the idea of the Paradigm completely replacing the bronze Daleks and introduced the Dalek Parliament, which featured bronze and Paradigm Daleks working together with no explanation as to why. Since this was the last appearance of the Paradigm, it is safe to say that this decision essentially killed the redesign for good.

series-9-daleks.jpgInterestingly, although the Paradigm were not featured in later Dalek appearances like The Time of the Doctor and Into the Dalek, it was still possible that they were working behind the scenes as the Dalek officer class that they had now become. Information from sources like Doctor Who encyclopedias and fact files from Matt Smith’s era suggest that the Paradigm were still very much alive, and were working behind the scenes to rebuild Skaro and the Dalek Empire, and that the booming voice of the Supreme Dalek threatening the Eleventh Doctor during his initial regeneration scene is in fact a Paradigm Supreme. However, when Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar came around and fans got to see the rebuilt Skaro for themselves, the Paradigm had been entirely replaced with a new form of Dalek command made up of various types of classic Daleks from the show’s history. Not an unwelcome choice of Dalek design for a modern day episode, but a surprising one. Even more interestingly, behind the scenes photographs from the Series 9 two-parter show that the New Dalek Paradigm props were on set at the time, alongside a Peter Cushing movie style Dalek. However, none of these were featured in the episode, and they seem to be the only Dalek props on set at the time that were excluded from the episode. It seems Moffat was considering following through on his idea to have the Paradigm return as the Supreme Council of the new Daleks, but instead opted to imply that they had either disappeared or had been assimilated into the ranks of a newer Dalek hierarchy instead. Either way, the Paradigm were gone for good.

paradigm-daleks.jpgBut if a future showrunner decided in the future that the Paradigm should return? Could it be done? The props themselves are almost certainly in storage somewhere at the BBC, and provided enough time had passed the return of the Paradigm could actually be quite nostalgic for many fans. Not only that, but bringing the Paradigm back might give fans of the Eleventh Doctor’s era some closure. But how could it work? For a start, there would have to be some kind of explanation as to why the Paradigm disappeared in the first place. Perhaps the mysterious Dalek Eternal meddled too much in Dalek history, resulting in the mismatched Empire seen in Series 9, and as a result the Paradigm were exiled. The explanation from the Doctor Who Experience, that the bronze Daleks eventually overthrew their superiors, could also make for some interesting television that harks back to the Dalek Civil War story arc of the 1980s Dalek stories.

If the Paradigm were to return in the future, it is highly likely that more tweaks will be made to their design. Although fans in 2010 were highly critical of these Daleks, there are many aspects of their design that are actually really effective that should be retained in future designs. These include the taller figure that makes them more intimidating, the biological-looking eyepiece that is perhaps one of the creepiest designs yet, and the interesting but sadly undeveloped ‘weapons hatch’ at the back that makes every Dalek capable of transporting multiple weapons or tools at once, which is a great idea that makes sense as a logical evolution for the species. The essential factor to take into account when redesigning the Daleks should be less of “What looks cool?” and more “What makes sense?”. An example of this would be the bolts and rivets on the bronze Daleks – they may look great, but don’t actually make much sense in the logic of the universe, as Daleks would hardly be likely to use human methods of construction when building their army. This goes to show that even the best Dalek designs have their flaws, and adaptations of the classic Dalek look are definitely the way forward for future showrunners who want to try their hand at giving the Daleks a makeover.

Whether they remain a cautionary tale of the hubris of the Moffat era, or they are one day picked up by a showrunner who wishes to do them justice, the Paradigm Daleks will forever be remembered as either a blatant mis-step or a tragic missed opportunity by various factions of the Doctor Who fanbase. One thing that almost all Doctor Who fans can agree on, however, is that although no showrunner should feel apprehensive about trying to put their mark on the Daleks, none should ever again try a Dalek redesign with such zeal without first checking to see if the design actually works well on screen.

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Star Wars – Top 5 Best Rebel Starfighters

The Rebel Alliance was able to scrounge together a ragtag fleet of starfighters that would later evolve into a diverse and highly adaptable fighting force that proved more than a match for the capital-ship focused Galactic Empire. Almost every Rebel starfighter is better or at the very least technically superior to its Imperial counterpart, and although the Empire mass-produced thousands of variants of the TIE class of starfighter, the numerically outnumbered but well put-together Rebel ships eventually prevailed. However, how do these ships rank against each other? There are several factors to take into account here, not least the fact that many Rebel ships are specialised to fulfil particular roles, as well as the speed, weaponry and defensive capability of each fighter. With that in mind, we begin with:

#5 – Z-95 Headhunter

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As snub fighters go, the Z-95 Headhunter was already considered outdated by the time of the Galactic Civil War, even by the Rebels who were renowned for making good use of otherwise outdated ships like the Y-Wing. However, facing a shortage of effective starfighters in its early years, the Rebellion did turn to Z-95s for fleet defence and occasionally as a mainline starfighter, but as the war went on and the Rebels became better equipped they would later mostly rely on the X-Wing as a mainline fighter. Nonetheless, the Z-95 is a good ship in its own right, and its light weaponry and shields coupled with its nimble manoeuvrability made it a favourite for force-sensitives in the New Republic, particularly Jedi.

#4 – Y-Wing

Y-wing.pngAs previously mentioned, the Y-Wing was considered an outdated bomber by the time of the Galactic Civil War, although it did see extensive use by the Galactic Republic during the Clone Wars. The Y-Wing was perhaps best known as the bomber that was used by the Republic to take down the Malevolence, and its practicality led to leftover craft being taken up by the Rebel Alliance to use as a mainline bomber for much of its existence, with Y-Wings taking part in many of the most critical battles of the era, including the Battle of Yavin and the Battle of Endor. The Y-Wing was capable of carrying a heavy payload of ion and proton torpedoes, and some models even featured a manned turret position, but its role as a bomber means that it is not the most nimble of craft. By the end of the Galactic Civil War, many Rebel pilots preferred other ships over the ageing Y-Wings, and their use in later battles was largely due to necessity and the shortage of prototype replacement bombers like the B-Wing. Talking of which…

#3 – B-Wing

BwingThe B-Wing was designed to fill the niche of heavy bomber for the Rebel Alliance during the Galactic Civil War, and became infamous in the Empire due to the fact that B-Wings proved to be capable of taking down Imperial Star Destroyers, and their effectiveness at that task led to many such Imperial craft meeting their demise at the Battle of Endor. Known to be fiendishly difficult to fly, the B-Wing was not common for Rebel fleets during the Galactic Civil War but when it did come into play later in the conflict it proved a valuable asset for the Rebellion that helped to solidify them as a very real threat to the Empire and not a simple ragtag band of dissidents as had previously been believed. Capable of carrying a sizeable amount of ordnance yet still retaining its agility, the B-Wing is definitely a formidable addition to the Rebel fleet.

#2 – A-Wing

A-WingHowever, as nimble goes, nothing beats an A-Wing. Known to be among the Rebel Alliance’s fastest fighters, the A-Wings filled the niche of interceptor and proved far more effective than its Imperial counterpart, the aptly named TIE Interceptor. Like the B-Wing, these fighters proved invaluable during the Battle of Endor and one was even instrumental in the destruction of the Darth Vader’s flagship, the Executor, as the pilot used the fighter’s wedge-shaped design to plow his damaged fighter into the bridge of the Super Star Destroyer, damaging enough key systems to send the ship plunging towards the Second Death Star. As far as durability goes, the A-Wing is lightly armoured and many models featured a shield generator, and its weapons are focused mainly on ship-to-ship dogfights between starfighters. Still, when coupled with other Rebel ship models, the A-Wing forms a crucial part of the Rebel fleet.

Honourable Mention – U-Wing

U-wing_SWB.pngBoth a starfighter and a gunship, the U-Wing is used primarily as a troop transport by the Alliance and proved pivotal in the ground portion of the Battle of Scarif. Though it is the slowest starfighter on this list, it does feature some heavy armaments including side-mounted weapons for in-atmosphere troop deployment and can hold a small but well-armed Rebel taskforce. Working best with other starfighters as escort in space, the U-Wing is usually sent straight to the ground to offload its troops and provide covering fire, a task which it excels in. However, the U-Wing is only an honourable mention as its use in space combat is limited, as space combat gunships were usually much larger fleet vessels.

#1 – X-Wing

RedFive_X-wing_SWB.pngRealistically, only one Rebel ship was going to take the top spot. The X-Wing was a critical addition to the Rebel Alliance’s starfighter force that became their go-to starfighter for most situations, from dogfights to fleet defence. The X-Wing is the favoured starfighter of prominent pilots like Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles and Poe Dameron and has seen use through the Galactic Civil War and well into the post-Galactic Civil War conflicts with minimal changes. Incorporating elements from successful Clone Wars era starfighters like the ARC-170, the X-Wing draws on the best elements previously seen designs and is perhaps best known for its role in the destruction of Imperial powerhouses like the First Death Star, the Second Death Star and Starkiller Base.

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Halo MCC – Top 10 ‘Additional Skulls’ That We Want To See Added to MCC

In the most recent update to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, 343 industries did something unexpected, exciting and ridiculous – they added new skulls to Halo: Combat Evolved, supplementing the game with several skulls that expanded its already impressive array of skulls from Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary that was released in 2011. Halo: CE now features several skulls that, until now, had only been present in Halo 2, like Anger and Ghost, and several more that are staples of the modern incarnations of Halo, such as Thunderstorm and Tough Luck. However, in the blog post accompanying this update, 343 industries suggested that not only will the other Halo titles in the MCC be receiving new Skulls in the future, but also that there will be brand new skulls added to the game that have never been seen before. Since then, fans have been speculating as to what these skulls might do, so here is a list of the Top 5 ‘Additional Skulls’ that fans want to see in Halo: MCC.

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#10 – Invincible Allies Skull

This one is fairly low on the list because, if it ever exists, it will more than likely be a 0x scoring skull, and rightly so – having invincible allies would make the game very easy, in a similar fashion to infinite ammo, but it cannot be denied that having invincible allies would also be hilarious and would open up opportunities for weird and wacky glitches as it would be possible to blast or whack allies into areas that they would usually not enter. This skull has been brought up several times in relation to Halo: CE, as Marine snipers would often teamkill their allies when firing a rapid sequence of shots at eye-level , if marines walked into their line of fire. This Skull might even open up entire new ways of playing levels – if your Marine allies could survive 343 Guilty Spark on Halo: CE, or your Grunt allies could survive Sacred Icon (the level this blog is named for) on Halo 2.

#9 – Halo 2 Grunt Birthday Party Skull

This one is slightly less likely, but many now forget that in the original Halo 2, the Grunt Birthday Party Skull had a totally different effect to what it became in later Halo games. Originally, activating the skull caused all headshots to turn into plasma grenade explosions, so any time a projectile heads a character’s head – even if they are dead – it creates a plasma explosion. This skull’s effect was likely altered as it did make the game easy, as you could wipe out entire squadrons of Grunts or Flood with a single headshot, but the skull was still fun to use and, like the Grunt Funeral Skull that has somewhat continued its legacy, it can sometimes create lethal deathtraps for the player. If the Grunt Birthday Party Skull in its original form did ever return to MCC, it would likely be implemented under the name ‘Grunt Birthday Party (Classic)’, or perhaps even be given a completely new name. Either way, that feature is sitting dormant in the code of Halo 2: Anniversary and it needs to be released.

#8 – Universal Bandana

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This isn’t an idea for an original or returning Skull, but it is one of the most commonly requested ideas on Halo forums when fans are asked what Skulls they want to see implemented into Halo: MCC, and it is easy to see why. The Bandana Skull allows for exploration and exploitation opportunities in Halo: CE and Halo 2, but is not a feature for Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST or Halo: 4. As far as the hints that 343 industries have dropped in their blog posts are concerned, Universal Bandana will be implemented into Halo: MCC in due course, as it is likely that each game will be updated in separate updates.

#7 – Angry (SPV3)

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Those who haven’t played the excellent SPV3 mod for Halo: CE on the PC will likely not be aware of the Angry Skull, but it is an excellent idea that was implemented to SPV3 but would likely work on any and all Halo games. The Angry Skull turns all previously allied AI against you from the start of the level, meaning you not only have no allies at any time but also have vastly more enemies, and some sections of levels that would usually be a breeze become vicious gauntlets. If this Skull was ever implemented to Halo: MCC, parts like the first section of Crow’s Nest on Halo 3, that features almost 50 Marines, will add to the challenge, particularly if playing on Legendary with other Skulls on. This Skull would likely score around 1.3x, as it would drastically increase the difficulty of many levels.

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#6 – Combat Evolved Vehicle Armour

This Skull would essentially make all vehicles invincible, like they were in Halo: Combat Evolved. As in Halo: CE, this would not apply to certain vehicles like Banshees, Ghosts, Wraiths and likely other enemy vehicles, but would exist to give UNSC vehicles more versatility, especially on Legendary difficulty. This Skull would be non-scoring, likely having a 1x score, although a 0x score is possible. In other Halo titles this Skull would affect the Warthog, Scorpion, Mongoose and Mantis, and perhaps in Halo 2 Arbiter levels it would affect certain Ghosts, Spectres and Wraiths depending on which vehicles are intended for the player in each mission.

#5 – Bottomless Clip

As this feature exists as an option for Halo: Reach and Halo 4 in Forge and other modes, Bottomless Clip would surely not be a difficult feature to program into the campaign. After all, Bandana already gives players infinite ammo, and whilst this Skull would surely have a 0x score, it would make levels like The Storm and Tsavo Highway on Halo 3 a blast (literally). There would be other, practical uses of Bottomless Clip too in several of the Halo campaigns for the purposes of map exploration, boundary breaking, exploits and other shenanigans that Skulls are commonly associated with.

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#4 – Bang Bang

This Skull was from Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, but modders have since been able to access it and discover that the effect turns all weapon sounds into a voice recording of a man saying ‘Pew’. Whilst the idea is funny, the execution requires improvement, and if this Skull is to be added it should be on the condition that all weapons get their own individual voice clips that associate with that weapon, of people trying to imitate the weapon sounds of Halo, that would be pretty funny. Grenades would definitely just be someone going ‘Bang!’ though. Since the gameplay change is entirely aesthetic, this Skull would probably just have a 1x score.

#3 – Wuv Woo (Halo Wars)

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This Skull, which until now has only featured in Halo Wars, turns certain weapon projectiles into rainbow lasers with love hearts spewing from them, a sickening display which strikes fear into the hearts of all who see it. In Halo Wars, the Skull only works on Scarab beams, but for Halo: MCC, each type of weapon should have its own comical design – rainbows for Covenant weapons and confetti for UNSC weapons, perhaps? And in Halo 4 the Promethean weapons can fire multi-coloured blasts instead of their usual standard orange. Again, this Skull is aesthetic, so would likely score 1x.

#2 – Third Person

Based on a cut Skull for Halo 3: ODST, Halo: MCC should include a Skull that switches players to a third person perspective, like in Theater mode or when in a vehicle, at all times – meaning players will have to rely on the HUD more in a fashion similar to the original Star Wars: Battlefront. When combined with the Blind Skull, this Skull would open up great opportunities for making Machinimas, and would allow players to player the Halo games again in a whole new way.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Big Head Mode Skull (All enemies and allies have engorged craniums)
  • Halo 2 Black Eye Skull (Meleeing enemies gives you Overshields like in Halo 2)
  • Gamble Skull (You do more damage, but take more damage)
  • Reverse Assassins Skull (All allied NPCs are permanently cloaked)
  • Brawl Skull (Enemies favour charging melee attacks over ranged weapons)
  • Permanent Cloak (Halo CE/Halo 2) – The player is permanently cloaked
  • Overshields (Halo CE/Halo 2) – The player has recharging overshields

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#1 – VISR Skull

This simple but interesting idea for a Skull would essentially combine the ideas implemented into Halo 3: ODST and Halo: SPV3 by giving the player a night-vision mode instead of a flashlight for levels that are bathed in near-total darkness. Although this Skull would be fairly difficult to program, as it would require coding the VISR mode into all 4 mainline Halo games featured on the Master Chief Collection, but the end results would definitely be worth it. After all, the VISR mode was one of the best things about Halo 3: ODST, and bringing that over to the other Halo games would open up new styles of combat for each title, particularly in the Anniversary modes with their dynamic lighting.

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