Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 137 — ‘Check and Mate’

“Check and Mate” brings J.R. and Bobby’s contest for control of Ewing Oil to a satisfying but somewhat silly conclusion. In the final scene, the brothers learn J.R. boosted the company’s profits by $40 million, making him the clear-cut winner. With his victory clenched, J.R. announces he’s reneging on his earlier promise to split the company with Bobby, even if Bobby comes up short. Suddenly, Bobby receives some last-minute news: He just made a killing on his Canadian drilling deal, making him the contest’s winner. J.R. wants to go back to their original power-sharing deal — and of course Bobby agrees. Would we expect anything less from this show?

Indeed, this is another example of “Dallas’s” rather fanciful approach to big business. J.R. and Bobby receive the contest results while meeting with lawyer Harv Smithfield on the last day of the competition. Legally, shouldn’t this meeting have taken place the following day, when all the profits could have been counted? Also, in the previous episode, Bobby’s Canadian partner Thornton McLeish still hadn’t struck oil; now we learn Bobby and McLeish not only hit big, they managed to sell their shares to some bigger oil companies. Talk about a fast sale!

But even if this scene stretches credulity, it remains one of the best corporate showdowns from a series that practically invented them. Bobby’s 11th-hour victory is surprising and dramatic; I usually don’t like to see J.R. get beat, but when Bobby does it, I let it slide. Besides, Larry Hagman gets to show a lot of range here — unabashed smugness when J.R. thinks he’s won, muted humility when he realizes he’s lost — and that’s always fun to watch. (I also appreciate how the sequence includes one last letter from Jock, whose explanation that the true purpose of the contest was to bring his sons together makes the storyline feel like Jock’s version of J.R.’s master plan from the TNT series. Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

The lasting consequences of J.R. and Bobby’s fight yields mixed feelings too. There’s no doubt the battle has changed Bobby, who compromised his integrity in his quest for power and ended up losing his wife and son along the way. Bobby is now a damaged man, and Patrick Duffy does a nice job imbuing his character with a sad, soulful weariness. I wish we could say something similar about J.R. After the Southfork fire, J.R. had an attack of conscience and agreed to jointly run Ewing Oil with Bobby, regardless of which brother won the competition. He changed his mind pretty quickly and spent the episodes before “Check and Mate” secretly plotting to stab Bobby in the back when the final results were announced. No one wants to see J.R. turn into a good guy, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting to watch him wrestle with breaking his promise to Bobby? It would have revealed a new depth to J.R.’s character and made the yearlong battle for Ewing Oil, one of “Dallas’s” milestone moments, feel even more meaningful.

Even with these slight shortcomings, “Check and Mate” remains the seventh season’s strongest hour yet. With J.R. and Bobby’s war ending, the show shifts its attention to two supporting characters: Ray and Donna, whose marriage is rocked after Ray is arrested for Mickey’s mercy killing. (This makes Mickey one of the last casualties in the war for Ewing Oil, along with Rebecca Wentworth and Walt Driscoll.) Did Ray pull the plug? Or was it Lil, the only other person in the room at the time? Steve Kanaly is a portrait of quiet resolve as Ray goes through this episode refusing to discuss what happened in the moments before Mickey’s death. The silence is frustrating, but it’s also perfectly in keeping with the character of Ray, a laconic cowboy if ever there was one. Whether Ray pulled the plug himself or he’s simply taking the fall to protect Lil, we wouldn’t expect him to talk about it.

Even if Ray doesn’t have much to say, Kanaly still manages to give the audience a sense of Ray’s inner torment. In “Check and Mate’s” moving next-to-last scene, he sits at the patio table outside his home and asks the deeply depressed Lil for permission to bury Mickey at Southfork. Kanaly’s delivery breaks my heart, but as I watched this scene I remembered Ray and Jock’s memorable conversation at that very table in “The Fourth Son,” when the old man told Ray he was his son. It’s a subtle but poignant reminder of how Ray tried to take Mickey under his arm, the way Jock did with Ray, and how Ray’s efforts ultimately fell short. On the other hand, whether Ray killed his cousin himself or he’s just protecting Lil, is he not exhibiting a Jock-like sense of duty and honor?

Like Kanaly, Susan Howard also makes the most of her time in the spotlight. She has two terrific moments in “Check and Mate.” In the first act, Donna speaks to Ray in jail after his arrest; the glass partition separating the couple feels like a stand-in for the bigger barrier, which is Ray’s willingness to open up about the circumstances surrounding Mickey’s death. Donna seems to believe Ray disconnected Mickey’s life-support system, and Howard makes her character’s disappointment palpable. “Nobody has the right to play God,” she says with signature breathiness. Donna’s reaction makes sense, given the character’s strong moralistic bent. It’s another example of how well “Check and Mate” scriptwriter David Paulsen knows these characters.

Howard’s second great moment comes at the beginning of the third act, when Donna rides out to a Southfork pasture to confront Ray about his lack of willingness to defend himself. She reminds her husband that his only duty wasn’t to ease Mickey’s suffering; Ray also has an obligation to his marriage. Once again, Paulsen gives Howard a great line, and she delivers it beautifully: “You’re what I wanted all my life. You may not think your life is worth saving, but I sure as hell do.” With this single line, Paulsen manages to encapsulate Donna’s entire history with Ray, including her affair with him during her marriage to Sam Culver and when she rescued Ray from depression after Jock’s death.

The other great performance in “Check and Mate” comes from Charlene Tilton, who is moving and believable in the scene where Ray comes home from jail and is greeted by the Lucy, who in her grief-stricken rage beats on his chest and cries, “You murdered him!” It’s another example of how Tilton, when given good material, is a terrific actress. I also have to hand it once again to Howard, who allows the scene to end on a graceful note. “For God’s sake,” Donna says as she tries to comfort Lucy. “Don’t you know that it’s tearing him apart too?”

Like all great “Dallas” episodes, the details in “Check and Mate” are also worth paying attention to. Toward the end of the scene where Sue Ellen offers to throw a barbecue for Peter and his fellow camp counselors, Linda Gray touches Christopher Atkins’ shoulder; right at that moment, composer Bruce Broughton brings a few piano keys into the background score to ensure the audience doesn’t miss the significance of the gesture. Moments later, when Peter runs back into the building to retrieve John Ross, watch how Atkins bounds up the stairs. Peter is still a boy himself, isn’t he?

Elsewhere, director Leonard Katzman also gives us a great shot during the scene where Cliff approaches Sly as she leaves Ewing Oil for her lunch break. Debbie Rennard stands with her back to the building, facing Ken Kercheval, whose face is reflected in the façade. It’s a clever way to get both performers’ faces in the frame, but is it not also a symbol of how Cliff is increasingly reflecting the underhanded sensibilities of the enemy who works there?


While we are told nothing of what this child of Dark had done prior, Nadalia, originally Nadola, (ナドラ) most assuredly contributed nothing positive to the world. As the apostle of “loneliness”, (孤独) her existence is defined by solitude, and the Chime of Screams derived from her soul implies this to bring her constant anxiety. Her ambient dialogue, as confirmed in the Dark Souls Trilogy -Archive of the Fire-, reveals that her cause for consternation traces back to her very beginning. Nadalia bemoans the fact that she and her “older sisters” (姉) aren’t together as one, implying that she was the last to take form and thus the proverbial runt of the litter. By then, all the others had apparently gone off on their own, leaving the youngest all alone — and Nadalia’s nature made that unbearable. For her sake, all of Manus’ disparate fragments must be reunited, which she seems to believe will occur if she acquires power, specifically powerful souls; with a strong-enough spirit, she can theoretically lure her soul-hungry siblings back to her. When she heard word of the Old Iron King, she found herself the perfect candidate.

Despite the fact that he already had a Queen, Nadalia was confident that she could earn the mighty king’s affection and become his bride. If her sisters are any indication, she trusted in her ability to imitate a beautiful human woman and steal his affections. It is worth noting that item descriptions never once speak to her affection for the man. Rather, it is his potential for her that she is so obsessed with. The Japanese text to her soul even uses terms with connotations of depending on someone, emphasizing her intent to use his great power to take care of all her needs. While all the other children of Dark ultimately seek to become dependents in the house of royalty they approach, Nadalia needs that kind of firm cornerstone to give her peace of mind. Her king is the only solution to her lonesome dilemma. It is no accident then that her Chime of Screams is sloppy iron frozen solid.

When Nadalia arrived to the land of the Iron King, she faced a kingdom in tatters, her would-be husband already dead. By all circumstances, her first indication was witnessed at his famed ironworks, now overrun with Hollows and his crown left abandoned with an empty throne. Just when she had finally found someone to assuage her loneliness, he had disappeared; realizing such an ironic twist of fate brought the apostle utter dismay, bordering on hysteria. Much like she hopes to do with her sisters, Nadalia tried to pick up the pieces in a desperate attempt to still be close to her absent sovereign, to preserve what remained of him. Clutching his crown, the monster took up residence at the bottom of the central tower, burying herself in the king’s throne rife with soot. From there, she divided her soul into fragments to abandon their body and wander the facilities, possessing more relics of the Iron King in lieu of the actual man.

These “relics” apparently refer to the soot permeating the tower, each vestige of her forming a statue out of it. While these idols loosely resemble her, they come with quite a few extra hands wrapped around themselves, as if to both protect them physically and give them security mentally. They also emit black flames, sometimes unleashed in an “outcry” as the pyromancy derived from her soul indicates; sometimes with a healing effect for nearby enemies like that of the Warmth. But most dangerous of all is their ability to diffuse a black fog across fairly wide area, through which they can exacerbate the Undead curse and possess persons or objects either directly or via the soot. In the case of the latter, enemies are simply empowered, but the former makes them complete puppets, as best demonstrated by the abandoned iron equipment freely piloted by the fog and endlessly revived by the idols. Defeating these lifeless empty armors nets us souls, confirming the smoke to be an expression of Nadalia’s spirit. She is the fog, “dancing” around the towers to keep some measure of this place alive.

While all of this might seem like a hopeless bid to turn back the clock, that notion fails to convey the full depths of Nadalia’s denial. Listening to her ambient dialogue, it is clear that Nadalia believes us to be the Old Iron King, perhaps sensing vestiges of his power on our person after slaying the boss — she has familiarized herself with that same power left in the crown she keeps. Moreover, the fragmented monster leaves no question that she has been awaiting “our” arrival. This is why item descriptions consistently describe Nadalia as the “bride of soot”. In her distraught state, she has actually deluded herself into believing that the Iron King is somehow still alive and will come to wed her, granting her his mighty soul in the process. Indeed, despite the fact that her and Nashandra’s chimes can’t be called “holy bells” due to their profane nature, Nadalia’s iron bell nonetheless raises faith, demonstrating her incredible conviction that all her efforts will be rewarded. One might question then exactly why she acts so violently toward her supposed groom-to-be, but her feelings are far more complicated than that.

The statues’ dialogue cycles through a whole mix of emotions. One moment, she is a sobbing mess overjoyed to see her king come. The next, she is a spiteful backbiter blaming him for ruining her plans and making her wait. At the very next, she wants to hold us in a loving embrace, begging us not to run away. At the next after that, she is warning us about her deception, demanding we leave. The child of Dark is simply not of one mind, let alone one soul. Her nature in solitude makes her feel equal parts happy, sad, bitter, loving, guilty, and likely much more, constantly ebbing and flowing between sentiments — at one point, she even has to swallow her resentment bubbling up in the midst of her “happy” swing. The only consistent element is the knowledge that now, after so long, she will not let the mighty monarch slip through her fingers ever again.

Perhaps it is this bipolar obsession with the Old Iron King that makes Nadalia vulnerable solely to the smelter wedges picked up mainly around the ironworks. Even though all of her dialogue cycles through in-game, the Archive of the Fire claims that one line in particular is scripted to occur upon an idol’s destruction. The line very clearly has her reacting to pain, confused and desperate to hold on. With that in mind, this was most likely how it was written to play out when the dialogue was first scripted and recorded, but then it was ultimately never programed into the actual game. In that case, it provides some insight into how she views our actions. To see the “Iron King” stab a pole of melted iron he is so strongly associated with through her breast — where her soul’s power seems to radiate from — must come as utter rejection, catching her off-guard and thus breaking her spirit; in the end, she simply can’t take being alone.

It might be for that reason that, during her long wait for a husband, she has welcomed intruders to the ruined facilities, earning the place the name Brume Tower, or “Tower of Black Fog”, (黒霧の塔) in no time. Those who didn’t manage to escape and spread this ominous reputation either ended up dead or enslaved, the smoke casters exemplifying those whose wills ended up broken by the fog keeping them alive and puppeteered for so long. Not even destroying all the idols and Nadalia’s main body can free them from the smoke, though this might simply be due to limitations in game design. By splitting her mighty soul, the lonely child of Dark has dispersed her influence so that her claws cannot so easily be dug out. We can reassemble the soul by overcoming all her vestiges, but some trace might forever haunt the land. Perhaps that is the perverse irony to solitude: you make yourself firmly planted.

Homo habilis – New World Encyclopedia

Homo habilis (IPA /ˈhoʊmoʊ ˈhæbələs/), meaning “handy man,” or “skillful person,” is the oldest known species of the genus Homo, to which human beings belong. Homo habilis lived from approximately 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago, appearing first in the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene. It is considered to have diverged from the Australopithecines.

Some scientists have proposed moving this species out of the genera Homo and into Australopithecus. Fossil findings are very fragmentary. Kreger (2005) concludes that “No two researchers attribute all the same specimens as habilis, and few can agree on what traits define habilis, if it is a valid species at all, and even whether or not it belongs in the genus Homo or Australopithecus.”

In the view of theologians, who believe that human beings are special creations of God, Homo habilis provided the foundation for modern humans. Together with its precursors, such as Australopithecus, it can be seen as fulfilling stages required in the course of creating the human physical aspect. (It is also possible that they were not direct ancestors, but rather had a role in preparing the environment for modern humans.)


Homo habilis is one of the earliest known hominids. The term “hominid” technically refers to any member of the biological family Hominidae (the “great apes”), a group of primates that includes extinct and extant humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, the original use of “hominid” was restricted to humans and their extinct relatives; that is, those more closely related to humans than the great apes. This original definition of hominid remains popular with many anthropologists and lay people.

Homo habilis is arguably the first species of the Homo genus to appear. In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis was the least similar to modern humans of all species to be placed in the genus Homo (except possibly Homo rudolfensis). Homo habilis was short and had disproportionately long arms compared to modern humans; however, it had a reduction in the protrusion in the face. These hominins were smaller than modern humans, on average standing no more than 1.3 m (4’3″) tall. H. habilis’s brain capacity was on average 50 percent larger than australopithecines, but considerably smaller than the 1350 to 1450 cc range of modern Homo sapiens.

Another fossil hominid from about two million years ago was found that was originally described as Homo habilis, but was eventually separated, with the larger-brained specimens assigned to H. rudolfensis and the name habilis restricted to the smaller specimens. Homo habilis brains measured only 450, 500, and 600 cc, overlapping Australopithecus, while Homo rudolfensis were strikingly larger, from 700 to 900 cc (Mayr 2001). Ironically a finding of a specimen now assigned as H. rudolfensis (KNM ER 1470), but then considered H. habilis, is credited with leading to acceptance of habilis as a distinct species (Smithsonian NMNH 2007).

Hominid fossil findings are actually quite fragmentary (see human evolution and the accounts of habilis findings below), and thus interpretations are subject to change. The small size and rather primitive attributes have led some experts (Richard Leakey among them) to propose excluding H. habilis from the genus Homo, and renaming them as Australopithecus habilis. Mayr states that “Homo habilis is now considered a late species of Australopithecus.”

Homo habilis is thought to have descended from a species of australopithecine hominid, and its immediate ancestor may have been the more massive and ape-like Homo rudolfensis. Despite the ape-like morphology of the bodies, H. habilis remains are often accompanied by primitive stone tools (for example, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and Lake Turkana, Kenya).

Homo habilis is thought to be the ancestor of the lankier and more sophisticated, Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human-appearing species, Homo erectus. Debates continue over whether H. habilis is a direct human ancestor, and whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species.

Mayr (2001) notes that the Homo genus, a far advanced hominid, appeared suddenly in eastern Africa. He finds this quite puzzling, as H. rudolfensis does not seem to have descended from any known Australopithecus species in eastern and southern Africa, and if it came from Australopithecus species elsewhere (western and northern Africa), then no fossils have been found so far.


Richard Leakey describes the discovery and naming of the first habilis in The Making of Mankind (1981). It was unearthed by anthropologist Louis Leakey’s son, Jonathan Leakey, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, on November 4, 1960, and was called at first “Jonny’s child.” It was announced in 1964. Richard says that Louis named the fossil for its “ability to make tools” and that habilis means “skillful.” By another account, Louis Leakey solicited a name from Raymond Dart, which Phillip Tobias translated as “handyman.” Later, it became OH 7 described under “famous specimens,” below. The definition of this species is credited to both Mary and Louis Leakey, who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, between 1962 and 1964.

This first specimen, OH 7, is the type specimen of Homo habilis. The specimen consists of “a nearly complete left parietal, a fragmented right parietal, most of the mandibular body (including thirteen teeth), an upper molar, and twenty-one finger, hand, and wrist bones” (Kreger 2005).

One set of fossil remains (OH 62), discovered by Donald Johanson and Tim White in Olduvai Gorge in 1986, included the important upper and lower limbs. An older (1963) finding from the Olduvai site found by N. Mbuika had included a lower jaw fragment, teeth, and upper mandible possibly from a female dating 1.7 million years old. The remains from 3 skeletons (McKie 2000) demonstrated an australopithecine-like body with a more human-like face and smaller teeth.

Famous specimens

  • KNM ER 1813 is a relatively complete cranium which dates to 1.9 million years old, discovered at Koobi Fora, Kenya by Kamoya Kimeu in 1973. The brain capacity is 510 cc, not as impressive as other early specimen and forms of Homo habilis discovered. However, Kreger (2005) notes that some scientists conclude that KNM-ER 1813 is a near perfect Homo erectus, except for its small brain and size, and that it could be an erectus that was small or even be a Homo ergaster.
  • OH 7 dates to 1.75 million years old and was discovered by Jonathan Leakey on November 4, 1960, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. It is the type specimen. It has a lower jaw complete with a number of teeth and the left parietal is nearly completed. The brain size attributed to this specimen (assumed to be a young boy) ranges from 590-710 cc (Kreger 2005).
  • OH 24 (AKA “Twiggy”) is a roughly deformed cranium dating 1.8 million years old, discovered in October 1968, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania by Peter Nzube. It was found in a very fractured state, cemented in limestone rock, and had to be reconstructed, but over 100 small fragments could not be assigned a location in the reconstruction (Kreger 2005). An estimate of 590 cc is given for the brain volume (Kreger 2005). A reduction in a protruding face is present compared to members of more primitive Australopithecines.
  • KNM ER 1805 is a specimen of an adult H. habilis made of 3 pieces of cranium dating 1.74 million years old from Koobi Fora, Kenya. Previous assumptions were that this specimen belonged to H. erectus based on the degree of prognathism and overall cranial shape.


Homo habilis is thought to have mastered the Olduwan era (Early Paleolithic) tool case, which utilized stone flakes. These stone flakes were more advanced than any tools previously used, and gave H. habilis the edge it needed to prosper in hostile environments previously too formidable for primates. Whether H. habilis was the first hominin (member of the tribe Hominini: extinct and extant chimpanzees and humans) to master stone tool technology remains controversial, as Australopithecus garhi, dated to 2.6 million years ago, has been found along with stone tool implements at least 100,000-200,000 years older than H. habilis.

Most experts assume the intelligence and social organization of H. habilis were more sophisticated than typical australopithecines or chimpanzees. Yet despite tool usage, H. habilis was not the master hunter that its descendants proved to be, as there is ample fossil evidence that H. habilis was a staple in the diet of large predatory animals such as Dinofelis, a large predatory cat similar to a leopard. H. habilis seems to have used tools primarily for scavenging, such as cleaving meat off of carrion, rather than defense or hunting.

Homo habilis co-existed with other Homo-like bipedal primates, such as Paranthropus boisei, some of which prospered for many millennia. However, H. habilis, possibly because of its early tool innovation and a less specialized diet, became the precursor of an entire line of new species, whereas Paranthropus boisei and its robust australopithecine relatives disappeared from the fossil record.

The classification of H. habilis into the Homo genus is controversial. Like Homo rudolfensis, H. habilis lacked many of the things that were unique to later hominins, such as slim hips for walking long distances, a sophisticated sweating system, narrow birth canal, and legs longer than arms. Such traits as noticeable whites in the eyes, smaller hairs resulting in exposed skin, and a naked appearance remain theoretical. Despite larger brains than earlier species, and bipedal locomotion, many scientists think H. habilis and its close relative H. rudolfensis to be more ape-like, and not properly belonging in the Homo genus.

BioShock 2

I might as well just come out and say it: the sequel isn’t as good. But how could it be? BioShock excelled because it took us somewhere we had never been, delivering some of us one of the most richly atmospheric, emotional experiences we’ve ever had from a video game. It was only logical that BioShock 2 would return to the undersea city of Rapture; to its magnificent, rusted art-deco style and the lunatic antics of its vicious, gene-splicing population, but it’s left its new developers with an uphill struggle. How do you shock, horrify and amaze an audience with something that has already shocked, horrified and amazed them before? Worse, how do you add to a storyline which the first game pretty much completed? With Ryan and Fontaine dead and Rapture at the point of total collapse, what exactly has the city left to offer us to justify a second visit?

The answer is: a new story, a new nemesis, some intelligent new game mechanics and an experience that – in the end – still manages to affect you in a way that few other games can manage. The only thing you need to understand is that not all of this will be apparent within the first few hours. To get the most from BioShock 2 you’ll need to have a little faith.

Let’s start with what’s changed. As you probably know, BioShock 2 puts you in the hefty steel boots of one of the very first Big Daddies. Some ten years before the fall of Rapture you’re, apparently, slain with your Little Sister charge taken away from you. Now, with Ryan killed and Rapture society in the midst of a final breakdown, you awaken once more. Armed with a huge drill and whatever weapons and plasmids you can carry, it’s up to you to find your Little Sister once again and ensure that no harm befalls her.

Without wanting to say much more about the plot, this puts you directly in the way of the schemes of a certain Dr. Sofia Lamb, who, with her collectivist ideals and pseudo-religious iconography, wants to create a new utopia in the wake of Ryan’s failure. As if your regular splicers aren’t enough, you now have to contend with Lamb’s Rapture cult, the Family, plus new enemies in the shape of the gorilla-sized Brute splicers and BioShock 2’s signature enemy, the Big Sisters.

Up to a point, BioShock 2 is business as usual. You quickly get Big Daddy-sized variants of the machine-gun and shotgun to play with, along with a new, more versatile version of the Rivet Gun. You make your way through previously unseen areas of Rapture – a luxury spa resort, an amusements centre, a poor men’s slum, a red-light district – following the instructions of a new ally, Augustus Sinclair, and battling those standing in your way.

As before, you won’t get far without Plasmids; genetic alterations that give you the power to fling fireballs, freeze enemies with ice, move and throw heavy objects with the power of your mind, or hypnotise foes so they’ll take your side in battle. By combining plasmids with conventional firepower, you can take on anything Rapture can throw at you, but if you do fall, don’t panic. Within seconds you’ll reappear at the neatest Vita-Chamber (though hardcore FPS players should note that you can switch this off if you fancy a challenge).

In a range of ways, however, things have changed quite dramatically. The ability to dual-wield plasmids and guns is just the start. The splicers now behave more intelligently, working together more in groups to bring you down. You can still hack turrets and security cameras, but hacking has been changed from a sliding-block puzzle mini-game to a simple stop the needle on the guage affair which doesn’t keep you in the game world (and potentially in danger) all the time. The drill, meanwhile, is a significant melee weapon, chopping through splicers in horrifying fashion and still providing service when it runs out of fuel with a hefty swing that soon batters back all but the toughest Brutes and Big Daddies.

Most importantly, BioShock recognises your Big Daddy status by changing your relationship to the Little Sisters. In the old days you needed a substance called Adam to purchase new plasmids, and the only way to get decent quantities was to take down a Big Daddy, grab his Little Sister, then either ‘rescue’ or ‘harvest’ your quarry. In BioShock 2 you now adopt the Little Sister. Instead of escorting her, you place her on your shoulder, at which point you can pretty much forget she’s there. At the press of a button, however, she’ll detect the nearest source of Adam, sending you to the loaded splicer corpse with a trail of silver mist. When you get there you drop the Little Sister off, then stand guard while she sucks out the Adam with a huge syringe.

Easy? Not on your nelly. The second you put her on the floor, every splicer in the district will descend on your location, hungry for Adam and blood. The focus for you, therefore, is on making the area defensible. For a while this won’t come naturally and you’ll find yourself getting blasted into smithereens, leaving you and your Little Sister back at square one. With time, however, you remember that many weapons come with secondary ‘trap’ ammunition, and that hacked security devices, certain plasmids and the environment can be used to your advantage. Each ‘harvesting’ process effectively becomes a set-piece stand off where you do part of the setting up yourself.

It doesn’t stop there. When a Little Sister has harvested two lots of Adam it’s time to lead her to the nearest vent, at which point you can set her free or do some harvesting yourself. Whichever route you choose, you’ll incur the wrath of a Big Sister. A banshee wail screams out, the big music kicks in, and it’s up to you to scramble and find some way of stacking the odds in your favour before the gangly, suited harpy appears.

Fast-moving, brutal and heavily armed and armoured, the Big Sisters are all but unstoppable, and while you can, to some extent, rely on Vita Chambers and take them down bit by bit, you’ll have a much easier time of it if you plan ahead and use the same kind of tricks you use when defending against the splicers. Big Sisters can be stopped; you just need to use your brains to do so.

All of this is great, but it has to be said that, for the first few hours, BioShock 2 just doesn’t seem to have the magic of its predecessor. It’s hard to say why; the combat is better, the harvest/defend routine adds more variety, and the things that made the first game so atmospheric – the recorded diary entries, the excellent dialogue, the superb music, sound design and art direction – all work just as effectively as they did before.

Maybe it’s simply that you can’t help feeling that you’re playing a slightly less inspired version of BioShock, with the characters and plotline that made the first game so incredibly compelling replaced by new, lightweight substitutes. Even second-rate BioShock is great, and the range of weapons and plasmids gives it a flexibility and space to experiment that you won’t find in, say, Modern Warfare 2, but this just isn’t as spell-binding an experience.

With time, however, BioShock 2 blossoms into something different. It’s not just that the Little Sister stuff opens out the otherwise linear level design, or that the levels themselves improve (which they do). It’s that the game suddenly finds its heart and establishes relationships and motivations that give you the will to push on through until the end. In these later stages the twist and turns of the plot are genuinely shocking, surprising and affecting, and I can’t remember a game since Ico where I’ve so much wanted to finish a game in one huge, breathless chunk. If the first two thirds of BioShock 2 are solid with sporadically awesome moments, the last third is pretty much magnificent. And this time, there’s a real sense that the choices you made – the moments where you took pity or revenge – mattered the whole way through. I won’t say more, you’ll have to play it.

In the end, then, BioShock 2’s single-player campaign finds a rapturous redemption. What’s more surprising is that the all-new multiplayer option doesn’t let the side down. I expected a lazy, half-assed effort, but instead we get a selection of all-against-all and team competitive modes which work hard to fit in with BioShock’s setting, atmosphere and core mechanics. This goes beyond adding plasmids to the armoury or using Little Sisters instead of flags or control points.

It extends to the ways in which you can use all the tools at your disposal – from hacking turrets to analysing fallen foes for a damage bonus – to get a vital edge on your rivals. It still feels like BioShock, and the decision to centre the multiplayer mode on a persistent character with an experience-based plasmid and weapon upgrade system works wonders. The more you play, the better you’ll get and the more fun you’ll have.

So, BioShock 2 isn’t as good as BioShock, but what matters is that it’s still great. Taken mechanically, stripped down point by point as an FPS it still falls victim to the gripes that so many whingers and moaners had about BioShock, but then the appeal of BioShock was never just about the gameplay: it was about the atmosphere, the emotions, the experience. The sequel improves the gameplay, and if it takes a long time to reach the same heights with the narrative, then at least it gets there in the end. Prepare for some early disappointment, but if you loved BioShock, you really don’t want to miss this.

The return to Rapture in BioShock 2 suffers slightly from ‘second time’ syndrome, but give it a few hours and an outstanding game shines through. The single-player campaign is so much more than a retread, and the multiplayer mode works better than you might expect. Rich, emotive, and ultimately very rewarding.

The rise and fall of the Sony empire – ExtremeTech

With the recent report that Sony sold all of its S-LCD interests to Samsung in return for $939 million another flare has been shot, warning that the former king of electronics remains on a downward spiral that has no end in sight. A lack of innovation and misguided decisions (not to mention a few natural disasters) have eroded at the foundation of the company while competitors like Samsung and LG have overtaken the electronics giant in markets such as televisions and mobile phones. It wasn’t that long ago that Sony products were considered the creme de la creme of consumer electronics, the pinnacle for technophiles the world over. What factors have caused this the company’s slide into mediocrity? To answer that question, we need to take a look at Sony during its most successful period, the explosion of the ’80s and early ’90s.

It’s difficult to explain to people born after 1990 what kind of cultural impact Sony had during this time. Simply put, Sony was the Apple of its day, a company that released products that were the result of innovation being merged with everyday media consumption habits. When Sony unveiled the now-legendary Walkman in 1979, it fomented a revolution in the way people interacted with music. Buyers flocked in droves to retailers to get their hands on the device that would allow them to bring their music, in the form of analog cassette tapes, wherever they wanted. It was the must-have device of the decade, cementing the Sony brand in the mind of consumers as the name in electronics. Even when rival companies began churning out lower cost knockoffs, consumer demand for the Walkman remained high because consumers trusted the name. No matter the price, people would buy a device if it had the Sony name printed on it. Sony, not Apple, invented the extreme consumer dedication Cupertino now enjoys.

Following up on the Walkman craze of the ’80s, Sony once again changed the entire face of audio recording when it teamed up with Phillips to perfect the compact disc media format. CDs opened up a vast array of possibilities with the ability to give users a “master” copy of audio files as well as the convenience of being able to quickly select different tracks. The quality and amount of music that can be stored on a compact disc vastly outstripped the cassette tape, and once again thrust Sony into the forefront of media consumption innovation.

Unfortunately, the CD can be seen as the peak of Sony’s influence on the market. While it continued to develop new formats, such as the MiniDisc, none enjoyed the mass adoption that its previous efforts had enjoyed. (Sure, MiniDV and Blu-ray have done well, but only because of a lack of affordable alternative storage mediums. Flash media and streaming online content delivery are making these obsolete.) Sony became a nebulous company that fell prey to both its own avarice and the ability of its competitors to correctly gauge where consumers were going to look next for the next generation of media technology. Namely, the MP3.

If I had to point to a specific day in history that marked the decline of Sony as the worldwide leader in technology, it would be October 23, 2001. This was the date that Steve Jobs took the stage in his mock-turtlenecked glory and announced the next revolution in music, the iPod. In one fell swoop, Apple beat Sony to one of the most important technological advances this century. By giving consumers a device with instant purchasing power and the ability to listen to high quality audio files on the go, Cupertino completely changed the playing field for music consumption, a feat that Sony was no longer capable of.

In 2001, Sony had become a massive conglomerate of largely unrelated divisions. While on paper owning a movie company along with a music production business looks like it makes sense, for Sony it was a different matter. By acquiring several different companies, it created corporate bloat at its finest. Politics and bureaucracy crippled communication and formed factions between the different areas of the company, stifling innovation. Case in point is the fact that Sony was working on its own MP3 version of the Walkman, and would have beat Apple to the punch, except for the fact that some of the different labs inside Sony that were working on development had never even met in person. What was once a focused, innovative brand had become a quagmire of corporate red tape and politics.

Currently, Sony’s most profitable branch isn’t its electronics division, but its financial side. Simply put, the company makes more money selling life insurance than it does electronics. While not entirely unusual, this fact is an indicator of the three elements that Sony once possessed and is now missing: vision, innovation, and brand focus.

To regain any semblance of its former glory, Sony will have to take some decisive actions:

  1. Howard Stringer, Sony’s CEO, will need to be replaced with someone who understands current and future market trends, and be able to cast vision for capitalizing on the ever-changing playing field that Sony is part of.
  2. Take a hard look at the conglomerate that Sony has become and sell off those divisions that are neither profitable nor relevant to the vision mentioned above.
  3. Bring the sexy back to the Walkman brand. Sony has taken what can arguably called the most famous brand name in the history of electronics and slapped it onto any device that is portable. This title should be reserved for a flagship device that seeks to change the way that users consume media like the Walkman did. It should not be the catch-all category that it is now.
  4. Using the the flagship mentioned above, bring unity to the line of devices that allows a person to say “That’s a Sony” when they see it. A good example is the NEX line of digital cameras that Sony offers. One look is all it takes for a camera savvy consumer to know that the device that someone is holding is a mirrorless NEX camera. The lineup of Sony devices should be a progression of mouthwatering must-haves for the technophile, not a listing of total “meh.” The devices should build off each other in a way that not only makes sense but offers enhanced functionality for users.
  5. Speaking of enhanced functionality, Sony will need to strengthen the PS3 as a media platform to deliver paid content to customers. For the first time since its release, PS3 sales are neck and neck with the Xbox 360. The PS3 has a better media experience out of the box than the 360 does, so why hasn’t Sony been pushing that fact at every opportunity? Take care of the network hack issues, strengthen the choices of streaming content (which are already good to begin with) and enact an aggressive campaign to increase the residual income the device brings in. Having a Blu-ray player built into the system is great, but the format is going to eventually lose out to the ever increasing popularity of watching media online. If Sony wants to make even more of a splash, tie the new groundbreaking Walkman device into the PS3 in a way that is actually useful.

Watching the slow, painful decline that Sony has been experiencing over the past fifteen years has been akin to witnessing a loved gadget fade into obsolescence. As a former enthusiast for Sony products, I long for the days when buying a Trinitron television — even though it was more expensive than rest — guaranteed I was getting the best set on the market. For Sony to return to profitability it needs to find a visionary leader (it’s not Howard Stringer, believe me) that will “unite the clans” of Sony, thus enabling innovation to once again rule the day in the company. Until this happens, the future of Sony is very much in doubt — but if all else fails, it could always start selling cheap car insurance like Geico.