I Am Pilgrim review

I Am Pilgrim review

Tepid sub-Dan Brown trash that confuses content with an absurdly inflated page count

I think what got my goat with I Am Pilgrim is that it opens with a quote by John le Carre. That’s setting yourself up for a fall, and you have to be pretty sure of your game if you’re going to dance with the big boys your first time out of the gate. For those who are probably reading this, it’s like starting a fantasy novel with a quote by, say, Terry Pratchett or a sci-fi novel with a quote by Iain M. Banks. At best, you look like you’re pretentious, at worst, you’re going to remind readers there are far better writers out there you’re doing a very bad job of aping. I Am Pilgrim doesn’t do a bad job of aping le Carre, it doesn’t even get close. It does a bad job of aping Tom Clancy technothrillers, and reads like a discarded first draft of Dan Brown’s. It is without a doubt one of the worst books I have ever read.

The biggest problem is that Terry Hayes doesn’t seem to understand that without pacing, no matter how interesting or elaborate the plot is (and trust me, the plot isn’t, being a riff on an old theme), a book will fall flat on its arse. I Am Pilgrim cannot sit still, with innumerable chapters barely lasting two pages, bouncing from flashback to flash forward to side story to monologue without a care in the world, dragging you further and further from the plot until it snaps back after a lengthy discussion about the protagonists troubled past. And what a past! Troubled orphan! Became head of a top ultra super special secret US government agency at a young age! His code name may as well have been Marty Stu. Every other character is a crude sketch barely elaborated on, except the nameless villain. It’s a rather sad state of affairs when the most interesting, compelling and nuanced character is a hard-right fantasy of an Islamic fundamentalist known only as the Saracen, because subtlety is a dirty word to Terry Hayes. May I note that from the way he describes every female character, everyone we meet in I Am Pilgrim apparently models for Abercrombie & Fitch. It reads like it was intended from the very start to be adapted into a Jason Bourne knockoff, which is apparently what’s happening. The cast as a whole are as deep as a puddle, and are as forgettable as a damp fart.

The worst part is that there are not bad ideas here, but instead of being a couple of passable spy thrillers, it wants to shove them all into one place. The protagonist shows up on a beach in Turkey and the book veers into a thirty-odd page detour about a past mission, which has absolutely no bearing on the plot. This happens again and again, as if the author thinks if he just tells us about enough things, it’ll make up for the flat characters, tepid plot and complete lack of tension. It’s 900 pages, which again, you better be very sure of your game to make a thriller last that long.

For someone so keen to establish his credentials by quoting a master of the genre, Terry Hayes apparently missed every lesson le Carre taught in his works. I Am Pilgrim is a flat, tepid meandering mess with aspirations of being gutted by a competent screenwriter and being made into a Pound Shop Jason Bourne than being a good novel. Don’t waste your money, pick up The Honourable Schoolboy instead.

2015 – What I Reckon

Welcome to 2016.

I had debated doing something of a retrospective on 2015, but in the end, it was a bit shit. That’s all you need to know, really. Well, for my personal life, 2015 was bloody awful. And yet, there was some pretty good stuff that came out last year. Plenty of people have waxed lyrical about the top ten, but blow that. Here’s What I Reckon as the best of last year.

Game of the Year – Tales from the Borderlands

The con is on.

The con is on.

Technically this started in 2014, but given Telltale were as punctual as they usually are when it comes to games not based on overrated fantasy TV shows, most of it came out in 2015, finally finishing up in November. The most egregious gap being in the order of four months.
Despite Telltale showing off what’s exactly wrong with the episodic release model, Tales from the Borderlands is an absolute blast. I waxed lyrical earlier on about the first episode, and the season as a whole kept the pace, paying off the intrigue in an entirely satisfying manner. What made it enjoyable was the brilliant cast and top-notch writing (only one scene falling flat, and even then if you take it in one particular context) as well as paring down the classic point/click setup to the essentials, never letting anything get in the way of the laughs.
If you love adventure games, Borderlands or stories with a Coen Brothers-esque feel, you can do a lot worse than try Tales from the Borderlands. Certainly the best thing Telltale have made.
As a final side note, the music is top-notch. Busy Earnin’ sets the tone for the first episode amazingly, and the music the game bows out on is perfect. I won’t say what. Play it, enjoy it, let me know what you think.

Show of the Year – Rick & Morty

The show in a single image.

The show in a single image.

I enjoy Doctor Who for what it is, but in a lot of ways being a national treasure and money machine for the BBC does rather hamstring it. When you have an older time-travelling genius and their younger, dumber sidekick, you really can do a lot of stuff, but maybe not stuff that is possible on a BBC budget or in a show intended for the nebulous family audience. Rick & Morty is the Doctor Who without restraints.
Rick & Morty is about misanthropic drunken super-genius Rick and his idiot grandson Morty, and the adventures through time and space they have. It’s a brilliant, hilarious, dark show that gleefully skewers sci-fi tropes. It’s smart without being condescending, dark without being “edgy”, and avoids the tedious and low-hanging fruit. It doesn’t shy away from showing the “reality” of having someone like Rick around, or just what living like he does would do to you. Sure, it does have the odd off episode (I’m not a fan of the second Interdimensional Cable episode, for example) but if it does have a flaw, it’s that there’s huge gaps between seasons. But when you get episodes like Rick Potion Number 9 or Total Rickall, they more than make up for it.

Wildcard! Not The Show of the Year At All – True Detective Season 2

Sums it up rather neatly.

Sums it up rather neatly.

Whilst Lynchy as hell in parts, and Vince Vaughn did an amazing turn, it was pretty mediocre. I have a horrible feeling the first season might have been a fluke.

Film of the Year – Mad Max: Fury Road

Gorka! Gorka! Gorka! GORKAMORKA!

Gorka! Gorka! Gorka! GORKAMORKA!

Oh Jesus. There’s a small industry dedicated to just how this is wonderful for various reasons, but what I love about it is that’s it’s what I’ve wanted in a film for bloody years, a two-hour chase with crazy stunts and freaky post-apocalyptia. It starts and hardly lets up, rather appropriate for a film based entirely around a chase. I love the design of the entire thing, the emphasis on visual storytelling, and the whole slightly mythical quality the film has. That it has a mainly female cast with arguably a female protagonist (Max is, if anything, a passenger in his own movie, helping things along but not driving the plot), which along with the new Star Wars, does seem to point towards a more balanced cross-section of protagonists in mainstream speculative fiction, as the pair of films are monumentally successful despite the whining of the fedora-clad man-children of the internet. That it does everything so well without slapping you in the face with an overbearing message makes it wonderful. It could have so easily have just been a tiresome tract, but never once forgets that a fast-paced action movie should be fun.
Special note to the soundtrack! It’s great! Sharp and fast-paced and they even tie it to the massive truck with a gimp playing a flamethrower guitar, so when it’s on the horizon, you only catch it lightly.

So that was that. There was a lot of good stuff, like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fallout 4, Danger 5… Lots and lots of lovely things. I can only hope this continues.

“It has to be swan genitals!”

I’m rather neglecting this again.

I won't lie, it's been a while.

I won’t lie, it’s been a while.

I want to say that nothing’s been grabbing me to review it, or at least wax suitably lyrical, but that’s a bit of a fib. Not much of a fib, I admit, but still, it’s a fib. Off the top of my head, there’s been the sublime Jessica Jones on Netflix (which I’ve yet to finish because of reasons beyond my control), Rick and Morty being the Doctor Who that we need but don’t deserve, Yahtzee putting his money where his mouth is with The Consuming Shadow, and actually visiting places like Whitby and York. But I’ve not really had the urge to write about it.

It was my birthday yesterday. I’m 29. 29! I won’t pretend this year hasn’t been absolutely awful, as I’ve spent a lot of it in a state of anxiety. But disregard that. Things are on the upswing. I’m trying, oh-so hard, to stop being a misanthropic miserable shit, which is going against twenty years of experience.

Should I witter on about my wanderings? Or should I do a few more reviews? What do you think, dear reader?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter review

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter review

The Astronauts’ take on the adventure game is worth the ride, but is far from perfect

From the title itself to the setting to the apparent villains of the piece, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one long love letter to the literary roots of HP Lovecraft. The player takes the role of paranormal detective Paul Prospero, who is drawn to a backwood town in rural America by a letter by one Ethan Carter (no doubt a nod to Lovecraft’s self-insert character Randolph Carter) who is being stalked by the members of his family, who are in the thrall of The Sleeper, a mysterious and horrific entity that turns his family against him. They try to kill him in a variety of horrifying ways, from running him over with a train to bricking him up in a tomb. The theatrical, elaborate methods in which they try to kill him evoke some aspects of, say, Edgar Allan Poe. Then you discover young Ethan is someone who loves to read, and his own stories are littered throughout the game… There’s more to this than readily meets the eye.

The game, mechanically, is pretty simple. You explore the landscape in the first person, interact with objects and through that, solve simple puzzles to solve the various murders. The trick is finding where the various implements are, or in the case of when you have to organise a timeline, choose which events happen in what order. It’s a very simple game, and the difficulty comes from the fact that very little is spelled out or left in your path. You’re expected to explore and try things out. This isn’t a huge problem as you cannot actually die (nor can anything harm you, with one notable exception) but a few puzzles feel a bit trial and error, in sharp contrast with others which are barely puzzles at all. One involves you going through portals in doorways, recreating a the layout of a house to uncover a hidden room, which can be a bit tough as a lot of the rooms look exactly the bloody same, being decrepit and abandoned. Compare this to a previous one that just involves walking past a series of booby traps and then looking at them, the puzzle being just finding them all.

The one part that the game falls flat, for me, is a side section in the mine. Up until this point, the game has taken a very slow, careful, measured approach to horror. There’s little overt horror, with the fear coming from the desolation, the solitude, the feeling of isolation. Nothing can hurt you, nor are there any moments where you could get hurt. This section, however, takes a cue from Amnesia: The Dark Descent, as you have to navigate an underground maze that is haunted by a zombie miner that will effectively kill you with a jump-scare as it tries to rip off your face. It’s a rather jarring change of tone that is entirely at odds with the rest of the game in every way.

I will say that whilst I saw the twist coming from the moment I downloaded the game, the game (mine maze notwithstanding) is put together very, very well. The pacing, tone and atmosphere are spot on, with the music and sound design creating a wonderful mood of tension as you slowly uncover just what happened to Ethan Carter and what his family have done. Graphically, especially the redux update, it’s a gorgeous game. One part of the game that I adore is just wandering around the game area, forever in a perpetual sunset of 7pm. If anything, one of the reasons why I hate the mines is that it’s visually dull and dark, instead of the beautiful vistas of the rest of the game.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is, if nothing else, a novel take on the adventure game concept. It sets up a brilliant sense of atmosphere, and tells a fun story (even if it’s clear it’s not what it seems from the word go). However, the puzzles range from the farcically easy to the ridiculously obtuse, and the mine maze section is such a jarring change of tone and style that it can really sap your enthusiasm if you’re not a fan of games like Amnesia. Wait for it on sale, and give it a whirl. Despite the drawbacks, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is worth experiencing.

Grim Fandango Remastered review

Grim Fandango Remastered review

LucasArt’s point and click swansong is the very best and very worst of the genre

GrimFandangoRemastered001Classic point and click adventure games died a death for a very good reason, because they were an arse to play. To sum the genre up in its heyday, it was a visual novel that locked content behind puzzles. If the story was engaging and the puzzles were fun, it’s fun. If the story was trite and the puzzles were illogical nonsense, it was a slog. Grim Fandango was the last hurrah of LucasArt’s original adventure game output, and it’s perhaps the exemplar of the genre. Grim Fandango has brilliant writing, a cracking plot, astounding art direction, and beautiful music and voice acting. It’s sadly shackled to some outright awful controls, some puzzles that barely make sense, and it’s clear where some parts were hacked out due to time and budgetary constraints. But get past that, and you have the once and future adventure game, of which all others are but pale and jealous echoes.

Grim Fandango has you in the role of Manny Calavera, a grim reaper-cum-travel agent in an Aztec afterlife dressed up in the trappings of film noir. The central idea is that you have to travel the Eighth Underworld to reach the eternal rest of the Ninth Underworld. If you were a good person, you are granted a ticket on the Number Nine express train which gets you to your just reward in four minutes. Those souls who weren’t so blameless have to travel the world, from cruises and roadtrips for those who aren’t so bad, to walking sticks and being express mailed in packing crates over the course of four years for the truly wicked. Manny is working his time off so he can eventually be allowed to move on, and is angling for the good commissions (namely those who’re destined to ride the Number Nine) and after swiping his smarmy colleague’s client, uncovers a shadowy conspiracy to cheat people out of their eternal reward. So begins Manny’s odyssey as he tries to make sure his former client gets their just reward and bring down the corrupt empire that controls the Department of Death so no one else ends up in that situation. Along the way, he encounters a colourful cast of characters that riff on film noir tropes, with act two (arguably the strongest) riffing to Casablanca wholeheartedly.

Play it again, Glottis

Play it again, Glottis

What stands out for me is the world of Grim Fandango. It’s a mashup of art deco and Aztec, and has an amazing sense of style. The Eighth Underworld has a weird, dreamlike quality in its layout. Rubacava, the setting of the second act, in particular has a layout that reminds me of old dreams that if nothing else makes it striking. The highway that crosses over the town from the police station/morgue and the cat track, the elevator, and especially the bridge to nowhere by Manny’s club, all compound that otherworldly quality, reinforcing the place isn’t bound by natural laws. Outside El Marrow the woodlands are full of dead trees that are mined for their concrete-like marrow that is what everything is built from, and crawling with such wonders as bat-winged spiders as big as a man. The only part I’d say was let down was the third act, but even the Edge has a Myst-like feel to it that makes it endearing.

Where Grim Fandango falls down is the gameplay. The inventory mechanics are pretty simplistic, so there’s no classic LucasArts bolt-fish-onto-banana-to-make-fishnana shenanigans, but the puzzles range from glaringly obvious to needlessly obscure, which in the first place makes you wonder why it’s there beyond adding clicks to slow you down, and in the latter makes you wonder why it’s there because it’s no fun. I think what makes it suffer most is the controls are rather shonky, even if the tank controls are now merely a penance you can inflict on yourself through choice instead of being mandatory. There’s more than one instance I’d figured out the puzzle, but was denied because the click-detection thought I meant something else entirely. Coupled with Manny’s achingly slow walking speed, it can make things an exercise in tedium. It’s summed up best by one puzzle at the start of the third act, where you have to wait for someone to walk past, grab them, and then get someone else to grab them. Miss a part out and you have to wait for the person to walk their circuit again, which takes the best part of a minute, where you’re just standing there waiting for them in a mostly dark screen. Despite all this, it’s worth ploughing through to see the next juicy nugget of story.

What a town.

Rubacava, what a town.

In the end, Grim Fandango Remastered is an amazing example of the Golden Age of Adventure Games, despite the flaws. The second act, with Manny running a nightclub in a crooked port town, is certainly the best and feels the most “complete”. Even if the final half of the game has the feeling of being rushed, much like The Curse of Monkey Island, it’s a fun story told well.

“Nobody knows what’s gonna happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

The Shockingly Dull Truth Behind Majestic 12

(This was originally written as a guest piece for someone else, but I felt it wasn’t a good fit for them, so I never bothered submitting it. It’s been languishing on my hard drive for a while, so I thought I’d post it up so it wasn’t wasted. I was going to post my happy experiences with Age of Sigmar, but I didn’t want to upset the grognards. Instead, here’s the rather dull truth behind Majestic 12.)

Majestic 12 is one of those wonderful bits of conspiracy theory that just seems so right. It’s up there with Area 51, Roswell and the Men in Black as one of the cornerstones of in popular culture when we think of shadowy government conspiracies involving little grey men from half a galaxy away. A mysterious cabal of politicians, scientists and military officers dealing with aliens and recovered alien technology, exploiting it for nefarious purposes, and directing the course of mankind from their smoky, ill-lit conference room has become something of a cliché in ufology fiction, from the Conspiracy in The X-Files, the Majestic-12 of Delta Green, or a more benign example with the X-COM organisation of the games of the same name (or XCOM, if you want to be picky).

And like all things that seem so right when it comes to conspiracy theories, it’s absolute bollocks.

The story goes that President Harry S. Truman set up Majestic 12 (Or MJ12, or Majik-12) in the early Fifties, to facilitate the recovery and research of alien technology. The “12” comes from the alleged twelve members of the steering committee, all respected and notable in their fields. This all came about after the Roswell Incident, which as far as anyone can really tell, wasn’t an incident at all. The purpose of the committee was to cover up the Roswell Incident, study the recovered UFO, and work out how to deal with further interactions with extra-terrestrials. As the Roswell Incident was in fact just a Project Mogul weather balloon that had crashed (designed to study Soviet atomic weapon tests, so understandably the US government wouldn’t want to talk about it at the start of the Cold War) it does rather shoot a fatal hole in this, but just run with the idea it was actually a UFO full of aliens from Zeta Reticuli (I wonder if they visited LV426 on the way out) for the moment. Well, we could if there was anything else to go on. After that, the “facts” such as they are rather fall apart, and we’re flying blind and left to wade in the seething sea of conspiracy theorist bullshit.

The documents apparently were left to sit for the best part of forty years, only to be discovered in the Eighties by ufologists searching for matter related to the Roswell Incident (which, with the Soviet Union still a thing, the US government was still rather reluctant to admit to). However, it’s become clear beyond any reasonable doubt the Majestic 12 Papers were a forgery, with the FBI investigating the matter only to confirm it was fake. A US Air Force investigation also confirmed the documents were fake, and that no such committee was ever formed, and no “Operation Majestic 12” ever took place. Of course, all the US government investigations in the world can’t convince anyone if they assume the US government is in on it, hiding the truth from the public at large, but as near as anyone can tell, Majestic 12 never existed until the Eighties. Just who or why the papers were planted is something of a mystery, but it’s not too much of a stretch to assume it was the people who “found” it in the first place.

Jaime Shandera is the first of the three. A television producer in Los Angeles, he apparently received a package that contained some film that, when developed, showed a handful of pages from the Majestic 12 documents. Beyond this, there isn’t a huge amount about him online, so as the story moves onto how the full set of documents was found, it makes sense to move onto the other two people who “found” the Majestic 12 papers. Apparently Shandera, Stanton T. Friedman and Bill Moore later received mysterious messages that directed them to another document, the Cutler/Twining Memo. These have been held up to prove the legitimacy of the Majestic 12 papers, but much like the papers themselves, the Cutler/Twining Memo is regarded as a rather shabby fake. So who are the other two?

Stanton T. Friedman is a ufologist, but before that, he was a nuclear physicist who worked in research and development for a list of rather reputable companies. In the Seventies, he jacked that in to become an expert on UFOs and has made a rather nice career out of it, lecturing and consulting on the subject around the globe, even appearing before the United Nations in this capacity twice. He’s also rather defensive about the legitimacy of the Majestic 12 papers, and apparently gets little opposition at his lectures. Of course, I’d argue a lot of this is down to the fact outside of a handful of people who make it their business to debunk wooly thinking, most people don’t read up heavily on subjects they consider to be hogwash. In my own experience dealing with 9/11 “Truthers” I will happily concede they have the edge on me in regards to various aspects of minutiae, but that’s because I don’t spend my life trying to see the holes in the official story. People who aren’t spending their lives immersed in conspiracy theories, who probably find them to be utter bunkum, aren’t going to be able to point out the flaws because they don’t care enough to learn where they are. But I digress.

The third member of this jolly trio was the author Bill Moore, who beyond writing a book on the Roswell Incident, co-authored another on the so-called “Philadelphia Experiment”. In any case, both books were not exactly met with critical acclaim, as even to die-hard believers they were considered pretty awful books. Moore’s reputation isn’t exactly the best, as when the accusing fingers started being pointed about the authenticity of the Majestic 12 papers, they were mainly pointed at him.

A further document came to light in the mid-Nineties, claiming to be an “operations manual”, but it was swiftly debunked. Of course, this isn’t to tar all ufologists with the same brush. There are many out there who freely admit that the Majestic 12 myth is just that, a myth. But there are plenty who cling to the idea, and if you’re of a particularly paranoid frame of mind, you could argue the split caused in the ufology community caused by the reveal and apparent debunking of the papers is part of a shadowy plan to divide and conquer. Of course, that could be exactly what They want you to think. Wheels within wheels, man!

In the end, the Majestic 12 story is an example of a conspiracy theory that seems to have been given a huge amount of life by popular culture, despite the astonishing lack of any hard evidence. Less than two-dozen pages discovered in the mid-Eighties, repeatedly debunked from all angles, and yet it still has life. Like most conspiracy theories, it gives the impression all that is bad and wrong in the world is the fault of someone, that there is a driving intelligence behind everything evil, that there is some grand and malevolent plan. The truth, as near as we can tell, is that there really isn’t, which is probably a lot more terrifying. There was no Roswell UFO to pull apart to get an edge over the wily Soviets, no dead aliens to be dissected under the stern gaze of a very shaky camera, no live ones to be interrogated, and no mysterious committee of twelve overseeing it all for a shadowy purpose. Much like the Illuminati (another conspiracy theory about a mysterious, influential organisation, albeit with slightly more grounding in reality, if only because the Bavarian Illuminati actually existed) they make for great villains and antagonists in fiction, but that’s all they are.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance review

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance review

Platinum Games’ hack-and-slasher is a blast – while it lasts

Forget Raiden. Jack's back, baby.

Forget Snake. Jack’s back, baby.

Cards on the table, I never really got into the Metal Gear series. Stealth games never grabbed me, and I was a Sega/Nintendo child growing up. The trademark Hideo Kojima weirdness passed me by, with the only real understanding of the series being gleaned from Hiimdaisy’s comics. Metal Gear Rising, however, is not a stealthy game, and avoids the huge swerves and labyrinthine twists of Snake’s adventures, but retains the classic elements of a Kojima tale. Child soldiers, private military corporations, mad science and nanomachines are all in evidence, along with giant robots. But Revengeance is not a sneaking mission, as Raiden (and boy has he changed from the oh-so pretty whiny runt of Metal Gear Solid 2) carves a bloody swathe through mercenary cyborgs and swordfights giant robots.

The plot, for a Metal Gear game, is simple enough. Raiden works for a relatively benign PMC, and after an African politician he was protecting is assassinated by the Winds of Destruction (a group of celebrity cyborg mercenaries working for the biggest PMC in the world) he goes after them, partially for revenge and partially to stop them from destabilising the rest of the world. Along the way he saves abducted child soldiers from a living hell, gets a giant robot wolf buddy (who is considerably smarter than he is), steals someone’s motorcycle, and swordfights a Metal Gear Ray. The last part I think sums up Metal Gear Rising rather neatly, as the battle against an unmanned Metal Gear Ray is the first boss fight of the game, set to Rules of Nature, perhaps the stand-out song in a very impressive soundtrack.

Platinum starts as it means to go on. This is the very first boss.

Platinum starts as it means to go on. This is the very first boss.

Metal Gear Rising has an amazing soundtrack, with each of the Winds of Destruction having their own theme (my favourite is probably Sundowner’s Red Sun, although Mistral’s A Stranger I Remain has its charms), in addition to wonderful tracks like the sublime Rules of Nature. If nothing else, the game has a great soundtrack.

The game itself is simple enough to grasp, as Raiden leaps around like a ninja (because he is a ninja) and fights things with a sword. There’s a variety of attacks and combos to unlock, but the important thing is that you can nab more of the game’s currency and heal yourself if you manage to carve an enemy apart in the right way before hauling out their… sack of nanomachines? This is usually part of a finisher, where you slow the action down and get to carve them into bits. It’s cinematic and nicely paced, as the fights aren’t so overcrowded you feel like the action is stopping every few seconds so Raiden can have a quick snack and pick himself up. Easy to learn (and to button-mash) but difficult to master sums it up rather nicely.

What's for dinner? Nanomachines, son.

What’s for dinner? Nanomachines, son.

The problem is, perhaps, the length. The levels are pretty simple and can get monotonous quickly, as office block corridors and city streets (to say nothing of sewers) are wont to do, and don’t seem to last. There’s replay value in getting all the unlocks and collecting the various secret items throughout, but it’s a pretty straight shot without much room to do things differently. The gameplay is satisfying, and beyond one or two boss-fights, it’s a lot of fun (Monsoon is a slog, but Mistral and Sundowner are a blast). There’s even sections where you can, if you want, sneak through under a cardboard box, or distract cyborg mooks with holographic lad’s mags.

In short, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance is a great hack-and-slash brawler with a fun enough story and great soundtrack, only marred by the length and potentially limited replay value. But if you’re sitting on the fence, the opening level has you swordfight a giant robot to a standstill, before chasing it down, leaping from missile to missile, before slicing it in twain. You do all of this on foot. In the first level. Set to this.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood review

I got around to a little bit of writing, so here’s a quick review of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
Machine Games’ cut-price prequel to their 2014 cult hit fails to fly where eagles dare

Visceral, pulpy fun, but is there more to The Old Blood than that?

Visceral, pulpy fun, but is there more to The Old Blood than that?

Wolfenstein: The New Order was a far better game than it had any right to be. A solid, competent and fun shooter with just the right mix of old and new set against a backdrop that played out like a Quentin Tarrantino adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, it had a surprising amount of heart and depth as well. I was hungry for more, even if the game ended in such a way that made a direct sequel difficult. But Machine Games knew they were on to a good thing, and took things a step back to before that fateful day when BJ and company made one last play to stop the Nazi mad-science-driven war machine. The problem is that Wolfenstein: The Old Blood doesn’t really seem to get why The New Order was so good, and so often feels like a talented amateur is trying to recreate a masterpiece by eye, and just comes up short.

The Old Blood, as stated, is set before The New Order, and is split between two chapters. The first, Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, involves the titular Wolfenstein Castle as BJ and Agent One try to sneak in to (and break out of) the enormous Nazi castle to uncover the location of the Nazi super-science headquarters (the result of which is the opening chapter of The New Order). The second, The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs, moves the story on as BJ tracks down Frau Doctor von Schabbs and finds himself forced to stop something ancient and evil that the Nazis are trying to dig up, in their ignorance. I’d say the game feels like two distinct games crudely bolted together, as the former is closer to classic Wolfenstein with a heavy emphasis on stealth and gunplay, and the enemies are the classic Wolfenstein mix of mooks, dogs, Nazi Fucking Frankensteins and even the odd automata. The latter is almost entirely against zombies.

If Machine Games got one thing right, it's the striking style of their take on Wolfenstein.

If Machine Games got one thing right, it’s the striking style of their take on Wolfenstein.

Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves does have the upside of being set in and around Castle Wolfenstein, and indulges in some serious scenery porn. From the cable-car ride in, the weird electric boats, the vast sweeping halls and chambers of the upper castle and the haunting dieselpunk nightmare of the dungeons, it’s a visual feast. It’s just a shame the game doesn’t stick here for longer. However, the gameplay is rather frustratingly linear in places, at odds with what made The New Order so much fun. There, you usually had options for how to break into areas or how to navigate each section of a level. In Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, you have one set solution and woe betide any foolish Amerikaner who thinks that they can just shoot their way through the mandatory stealth sections. The chapter feels over far too fast, and you could easily have spun this out into an entire game the length of The New Order, or at least the length of The Old Blood. Rudi is also a delightfully hateful villain, even if he does love his dog. Agent One is just so agonisingly Welsh it gets silly, trying to be the halfway house between Fergus and Wyatt from The New Order, and only really sticks in the mind for being so very, very Welsh.

The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs boils down to building up some rather sinister tones as you sneak around town, dropping hints that the town of Wulfburg is home to something far darker than the Nazis. It turns out it’s just zombies, guys! There’s a rather nice case of backtracking for once, as you explore the map before and after the Nazis awaken the ancient secrets that cause Nazis to burst into flames and come back as zombies, and zeppelins to explode, raining zombies from the sky. The trouble is, zombies are boring to fight, and whilst there’s hints towards something far more interesting, the boss fight is pretty dull. All in all, The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs feels like a huge letdown after the first chapter, and what does work could easily have taken place in Castle Wolfenstein itself.

Zombies. I hate these guys.

Zombies. I hate these guys.

Mechanically, The Old Blood does streamline the perk system of The New Order, and does even give you the chance to heft the tripod-mounted machine gun as a portable weapon. Beyond that, the game is very much the same beast as The New Order, except the addition of the pipe. It’s a close combat weapon that occasionally lets you climb things and knock down walls, which doesn’t come up nearly as often as you’d think. The game lacks the ability to tackle areas via a variety of tactics, and forces you down a particular path. This is particularly bad in the dungeon sections of Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, and almost the entirety of The Dark Secrets of Helga von Schabbs.

Overall, for £15, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a fun enough diversion if you loved The New Order. It’s not a patch on its predecessor, but the first half of the game is a fun enough romp, and could easily have accommodated an entire game. But it’s one strictly for the fans.

As a final note, the game ends on a wonderful cover of The Partisan.

The Warhammer World Grand Opening

This weekend was a hectic one, and a tiring one, but it was a very satisfying one.

Since last August, I’ve been working for Games Workshop on the refit of the Warhammer World site. More’s the point, I’ve been part of the team building a series of exhibits for the brand new exhibition, with my own role building models for those exhibits. Understandably, it’s been under wraps, and it’s just so good to be able to talk about it finally. It’s also really great to finally see the projects finished, installed and enjoyed by the public.

It’s great to get such an overwhelming stream of positive feedback. The mega-display, the Battle for Angelus Prime, which I’ve been attached to on a full-time basis since Christmas, is one thing entirely, but the smaller ones are all incredibly popular. The Bridge (where Skaven invade a Dwarf hold via their own mine workings) has been absolutely adored, as has Imperial Might. Imperial Might, with the Cadians marching past, was the very first board we made and still makes me smile like a loon. Fun fact, the Commissariat Super-Heavy? Every rivet on it has two highlights. The Necron Tomb World went down very well, although I hope plenty of people saw the cutaway into the tomb.

If pushed, my favourite, both as a fan, and as someone who had a lot of free rein when it came to making the models for it, is Chaos Musters. A huge Nurgle board that is so beautifully disgusting it boggles my mind (the chaps behind it really did pull out all the stops), there’s plenty of delightfully nightmarish things on it to see. I absolutely adore it.

So, to all the lovely people who came, thank you so much. You made it all worthwhile.

I had a bit of a bad day, today.

This is becoming something of a regular refrain, and I get the feeling more than one friend has quietly decided to avoid me because of the distressing frequency of the darker periods of my life. Which is fair enough, I suppose, and if you feel that way I won’t blame you for just skipping this entirely to read something a little more uplifting. However, I would ask them to understand no matter how frustrating and tedious this is to watch and to have to listen to or scroll past on social media, living it is a fair bit worse. Nevertheless, today was a few problems coming to a head, and ended up with me having to take some time at work to get my head on straight to stop me doing something silly.

It was another job rejection, this time. I’ve had a fair few of them. The mechanical, canned response from a HR drone is disheartening, especially when you don’t know why. Like another problem that I’ve recently had, not knowing what you did wrong means you have no idea how to do it right next time. It’s perpetual trial and error against moving goalposts, and it’s dehumanising, soul-destroying misery. I just feel utterly useless, no good to no one for anything. You drift through life wondering just what the hell you’re doing, as everything you turn your hand to fails miserably. You don’t feel like you can plan for the future, because you have no steady career, or even a steady job, no relationship to give your life a degree of focus, and no goal to strive for because everything you do strive for you’ve failed at again and again. You don’t live, not really, you just exist.

This isn’t the only problem I have, but today it’s the one that clawed to the forefront of my mind and left me a fair bit of a mess.

Sorry for the stream of misery. I just felt I’d best get it out somehow.