Full spoilers follow for Marvel’s The Punisher’s sixth episode, “The Judas Goat.” Make sure to keep up with our full season binge.
The Judas Goat” is an intricately-layered hour of television that sets up a new arc for this season that will inevitably carry us through until the finale.
There are so many great moments to discuss, but the ending seems like a good place to start. Billy Russo’s reveal is an excellent example of how to effectively develop a villain, much of which has to do with Ben Barnes skill as an actor. For most of the episode, you can see the sadness in his eyes, as he learns more about the possibility of Frank being alive. There are a few ways to look at this: either Billy is just a really good liar (like Madani suggests), or he’s genuinely concerned about Frank.
The original Hand of Fate succeeded largely on the strength of its concept. It combined the rules of a roguelike with a deck-building card game to create something unique, and the devious, ever-present Dealer made the whole thing feel like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons experience where the Dungeon Master was actively trying to stop you. It was a great idea, but had some major issues that held it back from reaching its full potential. It was a good game crying out for a great follow-up; thankfully, Hand of Fate 2 has delivered just that.
In each of the sequel’s 22 missions, you select several encounter and equipment cards from your personal deck. These are then mixed in with the Dealer’s deck to form the card base you’re playing with. The cards are scattered onto a table face-down, although the shape and structure they form changes on a mission-by-mission basis. As you move across the table turning over one card at a time (usually either looking for or moving towards a specific card), you’re issued challenges that might or might not help you achieve the mission’s goal. The outcomes of several situations are dictated by games of chance and skill–rolling dice, perfectly timing a button press to an on-screen pendulum, stopping a spinning wheel at the right time–and there are various stats you need to follow and maintain, as your character can run out of money or starve to death. There are also several cards that throw you into combat, at which point the game briefly turns into a third-person action experience until all your enemies are downed (or you die, failing the mission).
While in the first game you were constantly on the hunt for the boss card, in Hand of Fate 2 there’s far more variety in objectives, and the game is better for it. You usually still have to find and kill a boss, but each mission now has its own gimmick. These can include challenging you to work out which character of three is plotting a murder, or tasking you with escorting an innocent potato farmer. Each mission has a strong sense of identity and purpose, and many of them are clever.
However, while the game gives you plenty of opportunities to escape bad situations or reasons to rethink your deck if your current plan isn’t working, the start-over-if-you-die structure can sometimes be excessively frustrating in certain scenarios. A prime example is the Justice mission, in which you travel around the 28 cards laid out on the table, gathering resources and dodging enemies through games of chance, continually traveling back to your base card to use said resources to strengthen your fort. It’s tremendous fun, but less so when you’re killed an hour into it, right at the end of one of the many, many intense battles you’ve been made to fight. It’s hard to pull yourself back into retrying a mission when these things happen. It also took me many attempts to beat the Strength mission, which starts you at low health and takes away your ability to heal by eating food. In a typical roguelike, where heavy randomisation makes the game feel different each time you enter, this wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But the individual missions in Hand of Fate 2 often ask you to fight the same battles repeatedly, and replaying the more difficult ones over and over is a strain. Thankfully, until you reach the very end, you’ll have multiple unfinished missions unlocked at any given point; if one is giving you grief you can usually jump into another.
Hand of Fate 2’s combat has gone through an overhaul. It discards the ineffective camera, clunky controls, and unclear parry cues for a system that feels much closer to the Batman: Arkham Asylum fighting system that so clearly inspired it. It’s not a unique system, and the game lacks variety in both enemies and tactical possibilities, but it’s now much more satisfying to take on a group of enemies. Parry and dodge cues are clear, and managing the timing of your attacks and moves requires active attention.
You can equip different weapons before battle, which are divided into three classes (heavy, two-handed, and one-handed), and what to equip largely depends on your opponent. Thieves, for instance, are weak against blade attacks, which do little damage but let you attack multiple times in quick succession, while several different kinds of guard are easier to fight if you’re carrying a one-handed sword and a shield. However, the more hectic battles can still be hard to read, and the quality of the fights may vary depending on which equipment you’ve managed to source during your journey–if you aren’t able to find or buy useful weapons, it can turn into a slog. Luck plays a big part in Hand of Fate 2, and while you can manufacture better luck with a good deck, there’s always the somewhat frustrating possibility that random chance will strike you down.
In most missions you’re joined by one of four unlockable companions who provide buffs during combat and specialize in improving your odds of victory in some specific circumstances. The mighty Colbjorn, for instance, can offer an extra die for you to roll should you need it in certain scenarios. These companions also add to the already rich incidental storytelling of the game. Playing through each mission, uncovering cards, and watching as conflicts and allegiances twist and shift depending on the story you’re pursuing at any given point gives you a strong sense of the game’s world, even if it’s largely confined to text. The Dealer, who is once again voiced by Anthony Skordi, is a treasure of a character, repeatedly referencing events from the first game and hinting at the dark secrets he keeps stored somewhere within his robes. He’s not an antagonist in the same way he was in the original game, and ultimately feels like a deeper, more mysterious character.
The moments of frustration in Hand of Fate 2 are worth enduring for the sweetness of its adventures, and getting to know the different cards and learning to build a deck that is perfectly suited for the mission you’re entering is satisfying. Hand of Fate 2 is a realization of the first game’s promise, and it’s exciting to play a game that blends seemingly unrelated elements together so well.
“Gunner” feels like so much more than your average superhero show. Marvel’s The Punisher has taken away all of the superpowers and mythological jargon found in its other series and replaced it with something more relatable. This approach keeps each episode feeling fresh and important. There’s no filler here, so far.
The themes of post-war trauma and its effects on Frank are still prevalent, but this episode is beginning to explore the complex issue of what it means to be a dad. While The Punisher is far from a show like Modern Family, it’s admirable that the writers are choosing to explore the subject using Frank and David.
“Home” would have made an excellent season finale, but there’s still one more episode left before it’s time to say goodbye to the bloody adventures of Frank Castle. This episode was a shining example of how good The Punisher can be when it gets everything right.
The imagery used throughout was stellar. Frank’s visions of Maria provided more valuable insight into his past. This wasn’t a physical struggle for Frank, but more of a mental one. He wants to die because he doesn’t believe he deserves to live. While highly unlikely, Bernthal deserves an Emmy nomination for his performance here.
Marvel’s The Punisher continued to showcase its strengths with a harrowing episode focused on the backstories of two seemingly different men who we learn have a lot in common. There is a tremendous amount of character development with Frank and David, and even though the season is still in its infancy, “Kandahar” will likely rank among the very best episodes in the entire Netflix Marvel universe.
There is an unflinching, brutal honesty to the way showrunner Steve Lightfoot is crafting the story of Frank Castle. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Punisher isn’t going for quick laughs and colorful action sequences. There are moments in this episode that are shockingly savage. While it’s difficult to say, the violence is a necessary component for us to understand where Frank comes from; he may call himself The Punisher now, but it wasn’t the death of his family that triggered his transformation, it was his time spent as a soldier.
Marvel’s The Punisher ends on a quiet note for Frank Castle. Without a war to fight, the troubled soldier must find a new way to exist in a society that still fears him. “Memento Mori” does everything a good finale should do, but not in the moments of over-the-top action and violence. Instead, the episode is at its best when dealing with the aftermath of this bloody season.
There’s a price to pay for Frank’s vengeful rampage across New York City. Having consequences is a necessity in order to tell an effective story centered around Frank Castle. If he just killed hundreds of people and felt no remorse or sorrow, then this would be a less effective series.
For most of the season, Marvel’s The Punisher has done a good job of balancing all of its characters and plotlines into a cohesive story. However, in “Front Toward Enemy,” the writers started adding stories that were unnecessary.
Still, there were some fantastic moments centered around Lewis, Curtis, and Frank. All of these soldiers have a unique way of looking at how the world should be after wartime. Curtis tries to help people, Frank avenges his family, and Lewis blows up buildings.
An episode where Frank Castle doesn’t kill anyone is a rarity, but he managed to complete most of his mission without a single fatality. There’s a message in “Crosshairs” that deals with a bigger issue. The issue of senseless killing.
Some may say that Marvel’s The Punisher is the wrong show at the wrong time. Frank finds it easier to kill when he’s on a mission, but he doesn’t ignore that what he’s doing can have grave consequences.
Finally, Apple has broken itself out of a four-year design rut with the iPhone X. On top of carrying over all the best features the iPhone 8 has to offer, this high-priced flagship phone removes the Home button that has defined the iPhone for a decade, in favor of an elegant screen that goes all the way up, and swaps the fingerprint reader for a high-tech facial scanner. It all comes together well in an excellent phone, though sometimes it feels like it’s different just for the sake of being different.
The base-model iPhone X starts at $999 for 64GB, and jumps up to $1149 for the 256GB version, with no other option for expanding storage. That’s… not cheap. It’s a full $200 more than the 64GB iPhone 8 Plus and $300 more than the standard iPhone 8. You can easily spend less on a decent laptop.
With each passing year, Sports Interactive iterates on the long-standing fundamentals of its Football Manager series. A slight tweak here and there: applying some ease of use adjustments, or tinkering with the 3D match engine–like a manager moving pieces around a whiteboard. Some of these tweaks might not become evident until you’ve spent hundreds of hours entrenched in the virtual dugout, while others may only affect those eccentric enough to deploy a tactic featuring a Raumdeuter. In Football Manager 2018, minor refinements are similarly sprinkled throughout; but, crucially, there’s also a significant new addition, and other impactful overhauls, that are palpable from the get-go, profoundly changing the way you manage and interact with your team on a daily basis.
The first of these is a new module called Dynamics that focuses on the topsy-turvy world of player morale. The concept of squad happiness has existed in Football Manager since the early days, but the cause and effect of your actions was previously hidden behind an algorithm we weren’t privy to, which made managing your player’s mood a case of pure guesswork and gradually learning through repetition. That all changes in FM 2018, as each interaction with your squad now has a clear, defined outcome that helps keep your chosen group of expensive primadonnas in check. A detailed hierarchy displaying your team leaders and most influential players advises you on who not to annoy; social groups determine which individuals sit around the breakfast table with each other based on parameters like their shared nationality and how long they’ve been at the club; and myriad other menus track your player’s individual mood, their confidence in you, and the consequences all of these variables has on team chemistry.
A harmonious squad generally leads to better results on the pitch, with the team’s collective mental state contributing to the quality of their positioning, vision, and reactions during the course of a match–making it imperative for you to maintain your team’s high spirits if you have any notions of success. Football is a results-based business after all, and player power is definitely a factor in FM 2018. If the squad is displeased with how you’re doing on match days, or how you’re handling their various personalities off the pitch, you’re liable to find yourself unemployed. Thankfully, with the addition of a hierarchy and social groups, there’s a surfeit of valuable information guiding your decision making that helps you understand how to handle different types of player.
If a rugged team leader comes into your office complaining about a lack of playing time, you’re going to have to weigh up the risks of introducing him to the starting line-up when he might be off form, or face incurring a potential player revolt if you turn him down and piss him off. Conversely, if a player on the lower rungs of the hierarchy comes to see you with the same issue, telling him he’ll have to remain patient is less likely to upset even a small portion of the dressing room, and may not bother anyone at all. Admittedly, conversing with players in FM still lacks the subtlety of believable human interactions, but with all of this new information on hand, player reactions appear more logical than ever, and keeping influential players onside will ensure there are fewer unhappy players knocking on your door. It’s a fun, personable new module to toy with, and it emboldens Football Manager’s recent focus on the human side of the beautiful game.
Meanwhile, an overhauled medical centre places an increased emphasis on Sports Scientists, with each one providing you with crucial information on how and why your players are suffering from injuries, and how you can counteract their pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles from occurring too frequently. If there’s a busy period coming up where you’ve got, say, three matches in seven days, you’ll be advised on which players are most at risk of sustaining injuries from the wear and tear of successive action. It forces you to be more proactive with your training schedules and player selection, as you’re encouraged to adjust the intensity of training sessions on a week-by-week basis, and intelligently rotate your team in an attempt to keep your squad healthy without sacrificing results, (which also ties into Dynamics and how you can maintain squad harmony through frugal management of your team’s playing time).
The 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.
Dynamics also factors into FM 2018’s improved scouting system. When it comes to finding new players, you’re now able to set a scouting budget: spend more and you’ll cast your net wider; spend less and you can rely purely on the existing knowledge of your scouts. However much you spend, the process of unearthing new talent is slow. Your scouts will gradually build a picture of the type of player you’re looking at, represented by a rating out of 100 that covers their attributes and also the type of personality they are. A player might be good enough from the statistical side of things, but will they gel with your squad? Maybe they don’t fit into any social groups, or maybe they carry too much influence and will risk upsetting the balance of your dressing room. These are the types of things you have to consider when signing a new player, and it makes each transfer window much more engaging.
AI logic has been modified, too, ensuring other teams are smarter at handing their transfer business. You’re unlikely to see the likes of PSG spending ludicrous amounts of money to stockpile talent they’re only going to leave rotting on the bench–as has been the case in previous years. Transfer fees and budgets have also skyrocketed to reflect these astronomical times, with teams (particularly in the Premier League) holding out for more money for even the most marginal of talents.
When it comes to assembling your team on the pitch, the tactical interface is relatively unchanged. There are new player roles like the Carrilero and Mezzala, and more player instructions–such as the opportunity to direct your central midfielders into wider areas–that give you more options when it comes to establishing your team’s playing style. But it’s disappointing that this aspect of Football Manager hasn’t seen any substantial developments. Building your tactical plan is still far too rigid and restrictive, and would benefit from giving you more control over how your team functions, particularly during specific phases of play. The current tactical interface is serviceable, and there’s now a plethora of useful analysis that pinpoints the strengths and weaknesses of your setup, but a more robust system would elevate this aspect of the series in a crucial way.
Once you emerge out of the tunnel, the 3D match engine is at least better at demonstrating how each team follows your tactical setup. Any adjustments you make mid-match are immediately tangible, and players have enhanced intelligence all over the pitch. You’ll see strikers timing their runs behind the defensive line, players opening up their bodies to curl Thierry Henry-esque finishes into the bottom corner, and midfielders will generally play a more expansive brand of football–if you let them. There are still baffling moments where players will inexplicably stop dead in their tracks, which is particularly troublesome in defence. And goalkeepers are still inconsistent–one moment they’re saving everything that’s thrown at them, the next they’re palming a daisycutter into their own net. It’s certainly not perfect, then, but the 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.
For a game that’s so consuming you might not even realise the sun’s gone down, it feels almost irresponsible to proclaim that giving you more things to do is a resounding positive. Yet the way these new and overhauled systems coalesce with Football Manager’s deep and emotional fundamentals is fantastic. The series’ propensity for telling emergent stories has only increased with this emphasis on player personalities and morale, and it bleeds into every other facet of Football Manager 2018’s design, from transfers and injuries, to team selection and tactical considerations. These are changes that tilt the simulation closer to reality with captivating aplomb, and ensure that the armchair managers among us are kept busy for another whirlwind 12 months of 40-yard screamers and cup final heartbreak.