Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes for Wii U, Wii, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PC and OS X

Oh God these games are such a guilty pleasure for me. I just can’t stop playing them; something about them just appeals to me so much. Lego have developed a really successful monopoly on all things superhero haven’t they, with the fact they also hold the rights to Marvel Lego games. Lego Batman 2 isn’t quite as good as the later Marvel game, but, as all these games are, it’s a lot of fun.

Lego Batman 2 opens at the Gotham Man of the Year awards, where Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are up against each other. The proceedings are interrupted by an attack by the Joker, which promptly sees him captured by Batman and Robin then thrown into Arkham. Luthor breaks Joker free to help him win the imminent Presidential election, and find a stash of Kryptonite to protect his ambitions from Superman.

This was the first Lego game with voice acting, and the brilliant humour present in Lego City Undercover and Lego Marvel Superheroes hasn’t quite been perfected yet. Still, there are plenty of laughs, with most to be found in the comedy duo of the sunny Boy Scout optimism of Superman and the permanently dour attitude of Batman. The actual plot is pretty weak, lacking even the simple plot twists and fun found in other Lego games. Still, it’s worth the odd chuckle.

Lego Batman 2 plays like every other Lego game, and bears most in common with Lego Marvel Superheroes unsurprisingly. Certain abilities and characters are basically the same between games; Superman and Iron Man are basically the same, both being armed with flight, strength and the ability to melt gold stuff with laser eyes/cannon. You’ll still be smashing and building your way through a series of levels, with sections broken up by the open world, in this case Gotham City. The open worlds in these games very much peaked with Lego City Undercover, and there isn’t really much fun to be had in the open world, unless you’re an avid collector. The biggest difference is to be found in the range of costumes Batman and Robin can come across, which give them different abilities. Still, with a Lego game you know what you’re getting, and I got what I expected, which is no bad thing.

One disappointment is that, despite the subtitle of ‘DC Superheroes’ and with the exception of Superman, the other members of the Justice League play quite a minor role, only showing up at the very end. They seem like they’d be fun to play too; the Flash’s speed seemed really enjoyable for the very brief time I got to play as him, and the Green Lantern got to use his ring for a light twist on the typical building mechanics in the series. I guess I don’t really want any more Lego Batman, I want Lego Justice League, more in keeping with the epic scale of Lego Marvel Superheroes.

It looks as charming as these games always do, with the voice acting being as top notch as ever. The music has some nice little touches too, with the highlight being John William’s Superman Theme kicking in every time you lift off as Superman in Gotham. There’s a lot of polish in these games, and Traveller’s Tales really commit to whatever series they’re adapting with such gusto.

This is a Lego game, and you know what you’re going to get? Like DC heroes and like the Lego games; you’ll probably like it! Apathetic towards DC heroes and the Lego games; there’s nothing here for you.Legobatman2


Trine 2: Complete Story for PS4 and PC

I never played the first Trine, and first attempted Trine 2 when it was re-released on Wii U. It didn’t really do much for me, but I decided to give it another chance when it showed up as one of my PS+ games. I’m glad I did, because not long after I got sick of it on Wii U, the game began to ‘click’ for me.

Trine 2 follows the wizard Amadeus, the knight Pontius and the thief Zoya, who have been united into one by the power of the mysterious artefact known as the Trine. After a series of strange vines begin to engulf the land, the three are reunited and go in search of the source of these growths, all whilst being watched by a mysterious figure. The plot is simple and predictable, not quite succeeding at the fairy-tale charm it’s clearly going for. The best moments are the banter between the three heroes, but these moments are sadly slightly too few and far between. This actually stepped up somewhat during the Goblin Menace campaign, which was once DLC and is now included in the ‘Complete Edition.’

Trine 2 is a physics based platformer, where the player switches between the three heroes to manipulate the environment to progress. Amadeus can conjure boxes and planks to create paths or press switches, as well as use his magic to manipulate certain parts of the environment. Pontius is mostly used for combat, fighting with a sword, but he sometimes needs to use his shield to traverse dangerous areas. Finally, Zoya can fire a bow and arrow, as well as use a grappling hook to swing onto certain parts of the environment. There’s an upgrade system, but these aren’t permanent, and you can fiddle around with your ability load out to tackle certain situations. Many puzzles require a combination of thinking and reflexes, and most of the time the physics works well and as you would expect. Creating items with Amadeus was clearly designed with a mouse in mind, so it can get a little bit fiddly with a controller’s right analogue stick. One thing I really liked about Trine was the possibility to ignoring what the game obviously means you to do and create your own path. Certain abilities make traversal much easier, which some may even argue go so far as to break the game. I didn’t though; it struck me as simply a respect for player choice and agency. Trine 2 is quite a lengthy game, especially with the Goblin Menace DLC included. There’s definitely plenty of bang for your buck, and lots of opportunity for obsessive collecting for those so inclined.

Trine 2 looks nice, and sometimes looks beautiful. A lot of the environments are uninspired, with the most striking being found in the DLC levels. Still, when it does pull it off it does so with aplomb. The voice acting for the three heroes, and the narrator who tells their story, is cheesy, but fitting. The music is fairly standard ‘fantasy music’ stuff, but it’s quite pleasant and doesn’t distract.

This wasn’t my favourite game of all time, but I still had fun with it, and will definitely be giving a look at the recently announced remake of the original Trine. If you like platformers and puzzlers and messing around with physics engines, Trine 2 may be the game for you.capsule_467x181

Little Inferno for Wii U, PC, iOS, OS X, Linux and Android

Well, this is an odd one. Little Inferno is certainly unique, I’ll have to give it that. From the creator of World of Goo comes the next logical step…a game about burning things in a virtual fireplace?

So, Little Inferno comprises almost entirely of burning things in a fireplace. You receive a series of catalogues, with later ones needing to be unlocked, filled with products that can be burnt, often producing particular effects. Burning creates more money, which is then used to buy more stuff to burn, with a wait period in place for new orders. The burning itself is accomplished by controlling the fire on the touch screen of the gamepad, and is curiously cathartic and fun. The main meat of the gameplay comes from finding ‘Combos’, combinations of items which are hinted at through clues. The first combo is called ‘Bike Pirate’, simply meaning you burn a bike and burn a toy pirate at the same time. They get pretty clever, and are needed to unlock new catalogues and proceed through the story.

Ah yes, the story. The ‘Little Inferno’ fireplace, a new product marketed at children by the ‘Tomorrow Corporation’ has been installed at the home of our protagonist. The world is gripped by cold, and burning these items is marketed as both fun, and the only way to keep you warm. You’ll receive periodic letters from a handful of characters who fill in the gaps and give the player snippets of information about this deeply strange and disturbing world. Little Inferno isn’t quite apocalyptic; it seems like a world on the cusp of an apocalypse, with everyone gripped by an unspoken foreboding about what’s coming. It’s also really funny, and has an ending that truly blindsided me. Little Inferno is a game which sticks in the mind not for its mechanics, but it’s truly disturbing world and darkly funny characters.

The style of the game is reminiscent of World of Goo, with lots of buggy eyes and cartoony visuals, but put through a black and white Victorian lens. Everything is exaggerated, and the effect is oddly creepy. The fire effects are good, they would very much have to be in a game like this. The music is excellent too, with a memorable and evocative main theme as well as an amusing jingle selling the Little Inferno fireplace.

Some have quibbled over the ‘value’ of this game, questioning the light gameplay. I suppose if what you’re after is raw gameplay, fair enough, but I actually sunk a reasonable amount of time into this game and found it genuinely really rewarding. I got it on sale though, so perhaps I’m feeling warmer towards it for that reason. Get it? Warmer? I’ll show myself out.

Anyway, Little Inferno is certainly unique, and whilst it’s gameplay isn’t particularly complex (but it is oddly compelling), it’s creepy atmosphere and dark sense of humour comfortably make up for it.little_inferno_kids

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

People have been recommending this one to me for years, and I’m glad I finally took the plunge. The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first in the (planned) seven book Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, although it stands very well on its own, refreshingly free of ominous foreshadowing about a crisis which threatens the world. Instead we get a gritty, relatively low stakes tale of manipulation and violence, with a liberal splash of dark comedy thrown in for good measure.

Locke Lamora is the head of the Gentlemen Bastards, a small group of thieves operating in the ancient city of Camorr. The criminal underground of Camorr is ruled by Capa Barsavi, a crime leader who has managed to secure the ‘Secret Peace’; control of the lower areas of the city under the condition that no gangs under his command will rob the nobility. Whilst appearing to be an astute and cautious gang, the Gentlemen Bastards are in fact incredibly ambitious con-men, robbing the nobility and amassing a hidden mass of gold from both the legal authorities and Capa Barsavi. Barsavi’s lengthy reign is under challenge however; a mysterious figure calling himself the ‘Grey King’ has come to Camorra seeking to undermine Barsavi, and Locke, the fabled ‘Thorn of Camorr’ is caught up in the middle of a dangerous contest. At the same time, flashbacks tell the story of how Locke trained as a thief under the tutelage of Father Chains, a con artist who masquerades as a blind priest.

I’m a complete sucker for stories about clever people manipulating clever people, especially if the person being manipulated is also clever and then starts manipulating the person who thinks they are manipulating them but actually the original manipulator is in control all along. Or something. Any character pulling off a masterstroke, be it hero or villain, is guaranteed to give me a frisson and a big ‘ol grin, and The Lies of Locke Lamora probably contains a more of these moments per page total I’ve ever come across. I enjoyed it. It’s fantasy, and there is magic, but it’s completely remote from the protagonists, and not really too much of a factor in most people’s lives. I also really liked the lack of sequel baiting, of hints to a broader conflict, instead opting to tell a self-contained story, whilst still leaving seeds for follow ups. Perhaps a wider narrative will emerge later on, but Lynch ensures that we care about his characters and this world before he begins shaking it’s foundations, taking a similar approach to Patrick Rothfuss. The Lies of Locke Lamora is compelling stuff, and builds towards a really exciting climax. There’s a streak of humour through the whole thing, which is always welcome and Lynch’s writing feels organic and natural. This really is very impressive stuff for a first novel, with Lynch showing a real knack for action scenes and dialogue.

Camorr is where almost the entire book is set, and it’s quite an atmospheric and well developed locale. I mean, it’s basically Venice with weird non-human artefacts hanging around, but anything that differs from your standard Medieval England/Roman fantasy settings is fine with me. I’d probably have been more into it if I hadn’t recently also read Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, which is set in the similarly Italian inspired land of Styria. If I’d read Lynch first I’d probably have enjoyed the setting more. There are hints at some intriguing broader stuff in the setting, but it’s clear that sprawling world building isn’t Lynch’s priority, instead focusing to have one setting down perfectly. That’s fine, not everything needs to be The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and it’s clear that Lynch is an admirably focused writer.

Locke is a fairly inscrutable protagonist, with plenty of mystery still surrounding him even as the book ends. Similarly to Kvothe in the Kingkiller Chronicles, I suspect that Locke himself will be the central mystery of the series, something which sounds good to me! The supporting cast are good, particularly the surprisingly decent con artist Father Chains and Locke’s pugnacious yet oddly gentle best friend Jean Tannen. The best characters are the villains though, although I can’t really explain why without giving much away. As with the rest of the novel, the cast is tight, no larger than it needs to be, lacking the bloat that is so common in fantasy.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a really fun book, and one which stands admirably on its own. It obviously is fantasy, but it didn’t read like fantasy, and whilst it’s very dark, it’s also not too…er, grimdark. This is a book not just for fantasy fans, but anyone who enjoys a story about con artists.lies-of-locke-lamora-banner

Resogun for PS4

This side scrolling space shooter genre isn’t one I typically go for, but from the clear love this game was getting at the PS4 launch, I couldn’t hold out forever. In the end, as good as it is, I still only got limited enjoyment from it. Still, the time I did spend with it was worthwhile.

Rather than being a linear journey from left to right, the five levels of Resogun are instead rings which the player can move left and right on freely, firing in both directions, fighting off waves and waves of alien foes and rescuing humans. There are some tools at your disposal, such as a bomb and the ‘overdrive’ mode which sees your ship briefly firing out a deadly beam to instantly obliterate any foes in the way. Simply put, it’s a huge amount of fun, and oddly hypnotic.

One of the coolest features in Resogun is the flexibility and range of ships which can be used, which genuinely do play quite differently. Since a recent update, you can download ships created by other players. This is largely cosmetic, but a lot of fun; I ended up finishing the final level for the first time with Stephen Hawking. There are plenty of different modes and difficulty levels, so the relatively small five levels gives a lot of value, if you’re the kind of gamer who is interested in high scores and whatnot. The thing is, I’m really not, so I didn’t really play any of the levels more than a couple of times, but I enjoyed the brief time I had with it and absolutely see how someone could sink loads of time into this game.

Two areas that I could enjoy unequivocally are the visuals and music. The game is beautiful and chaotic, whilst still being clear and not too confusing. It’s a genuine sensory treat and shows off the PS4s capability better than a lot of the AAA titles available at launch.

Resogun is not quite my thing, but I can definitely see the quality here. If you have a competitive streak, or have that compulsion to always beat your high score, Resogun will be a great experience. If you’re someone like me though, who is more focused on novelty and variety…wait until it’s on sale like I did, because it probably is still worth playing.Resogun

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark – Ultimate Edition for PS4

I only really got an idea of this game when the sequel was announced as, happily enough, a Wii U exclusive. Well, now I’m even more excited, as I loved Stealth Inc. It’s a hugely satisfying game, with rock solid mechanics.

There isn’t much of a story, but there’s a bit of a Portal-y esque atmosphere. You play as a clone used to test items in incredibly dangerous environments, goaded by words which appear on the wall. The plot stays in the background, but it’s funny and has a hilarious ending.

Stealth Inc is a platformer/stealth game, with a strong emphasis on puzzle solving. The levels are filled with traps and robots which will obliterate your clone in an amusingly violent manner, so sticking to the shadows is a must. Stealth Inc follows that key stealth game rule of making it clear when foes can and can’t see you, and is probably my favourite stealth experience since Mark of the Ninja. Stealth Inc does well on the puzzles as well, with some incredibly fun and well-designed levels, as well as some really strong twitch platforming. It’s not especially challenging, but really well put together and fun. There’s lots of pushing around blocks and activating switches, stuff we’ve all done before, but mixed with the stealth mechanic it comes together into something which feels very fresh.

There’s a lot of game here, with plenty of levels, with the Ultimate Edition also containing the two DLCs, one focusing on portals and the other on a back to basics challenge. Each of the 8 worlds introduces a new mechanic, so things are constantly kept fresh and exciting. The game is simplistic but stylish, but most importantly it’s clear. There’s never confusion about what will and won’t kill you, making everything feel really controlled and every death (and there will be lots), feel fair. The music is really great as well, really tense and exciting. Stealth Inc puts clarity first, to its strength.

Stealth Inc is simply a huge amount of fun, coming packed with ingenious level design and a gloriously sadistic sense of humour. Bring on Stealth Inc 2 for the Wii U!stealthulti

The Wolf Among Us for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iOS and OS X

As long as Telltale keep making games, I’ll keep buying them. Although I kind of miss their earlier games which were actual point and click adventures, the new interactive storytelling approach started with The Walking Dead is still very welcome. Happily, The Wolf Among Us is easily just as good. As with The Walking Dead, I decided to hold off and look at all five episodes together.

Adapted from the Fables series of comic books, The Wolf Among Us takes place in ‘Fabletown’, a borough of New York City containing ‘Fables’, the characters from fairy tales and folk stories, who have fled their magical homeland many years before in a mysterious exodus. The protagonist is Bigby, aka. The Big Bad Wolf, who now works as the sheriff of Fabletown. Following the murder of Faith, a young prostitute, Bigby is drawn into a mystery which spreads much further than it initially seems.

So, with a Telltale game the plot comes first and foremost, and The Wolf Among Us certainly succeeds there. The plot is twisty and turny, and all of the cool supernatural elements would amount to nothing if there wasn’t a cool mystery at the centre. It reminded me a bit of Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime books in this regard. Bigby is a great protagonist, slightly less of a blank slate than Lee was back in The Walking Dead, and the supporting cast of heroes and villains are instantly memorable. It does a great job of using the famous characters and tropes of fairy tale and myth in interesting and unexpected ways.

Of course, there is a bit of a missed opportunity here. Where the survival theme of The Walking Dead leant itself well to a focus on quick decision making and Quick Time Events, a mystery solving storyline like The Wolf Among Us would naturally lend itself to a slightly more cerebral, puzzle solving approach. This never manifests, and in many ways The Wolf Among Us is even less gameplay focused than The Walking Dead. One massive area of improvement is the combat, which whilst still being entirely based on QTEs, feels visceral and exciting. Sadly, one big issue with The Wolf Among Us is simply how horribly it runs, at least on the Xbox 360. The frame rate is appalling, the glitches persistent and the loading times egregious. It’s a bit odd, as it’s not necessarily a technically ambitious game. For the first time, I feel that Telltale’s episodic structure has meant that many episodes of this game have been rushed. Perhaps they’re just stretched too thin, with The Walking Dead Season Two as well as work on the upcoming Tales of the Borderlands and Game of Thrones.

It’s a shame that the technical issues are so irritating, because The Wolf Among Us shows glimpses of being a beautiful looking game. The cel-shaded style from The Walking Dead returns, but with an interestingly dark style, with plenty of 80s style synths and strong dark colours. The character designs are fantastic and the voice work, of course, flawless. The potentially brilliant style is infuriatingly marred by the technical issues, and turns a brilliantly designed game into a mediocre looking one.

Technical issues aside, The Wolf Among Us is another brilliant turn from Telltale, and most importantly of all, a damn good story. Now it’s all here, it’s absolutely worth going for.images (1)

The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin

Well, this is it! I’ve now read every George R. R. Martin novel! I’ve discovered that, even before A Song of Ice & Fire, Martin was a hell of a sci-fi and horror writer. Hell, I wouldn’t be at all upset if he returned to it after A Song of Ice and Fire. After A Song of Ice and Fire George.

The Armageddon Rag is set during the early 1980s and follows Sandy Blair, a rock journalist turned novelist. Nostalgic for the long gone spirit of the 1960s, Sandy takes the opportunity offered by his former boss to investigate the ritualistic murder of Jamie Lynch, a rock promoter with many enemies in the industry. Sandy’s investigation steadily leads to stranger and stranger places, but all centred on Nazgul, one of Lynch’s bands which had broken up around a decade prior when the lead singer was shot on stage.

This novel is probably closest to horror, and in many ways reminded me strongly of Stephen King. There’s nostalgia for American music of the 1960s, a struggling novelist protagonist, the murder even taking place in Maine for god sakes; the King comparisons are pretty clear. It’s a good story, with the supernatural horror elements mostly lurking in the background, being genuinely unsettling for their measured use. Much of this novel is simple meditation on the spirit of the 1960s and the music that fuelled it. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are regularly invoked, and the central fictional band Nazgul seem to be a sort of American cross between Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. There’s a little bit too much whining about how poor modern music (i.e, the music of the 1980s) is to my liking, and at times things can get a bit ‘le wrong generation.’ I mean, I don’t necessarily disagree; give me The Rolling Stones and The Beatles over Journey and Bon Jovi any day, but it’s a sentiment I find fairly obnoxious. Martin just about gets away with it though by the sheer passion he conveys for this era, with his reaction seeming truly earnestly felt rather than cynically affected. Overall, it’s just a damn good story, and a fun mystery to boot.

It’s easy to forget just how good Martin’s writing is, but I was freshly reminded towards the end of the novel. Nazgul have an extensive fictional back catalogue, with one album, ‘Music to Wake the Dead’, described in quite a lot of detail. The energy of their performances and personality of the members, as well as the lyrics to the songs and description of the force of the music all combine to create an incredibly strong visceral sensation in the reader. I mean, I know Nazgul’s ‘Ragin’’ is a fictional song, but I can hear it, or at least a version created in my mind. There are loads of songs like this, and Martin captures the excitement and euphoria of a truly amazing live performance with perfection.

Sandy is a fairly bland author surrogate figure, but he gets the job done, and develops towards the end. The members of Nazgul are much more interesting, as are the villains as they reveal themselves. We also get to know Sandy’s old friends from the 1960s, and they’re a well-drawn and likeable bunch. I particularly enjoyed Sandy’s trickster turned professor friend Froggy, and finally understand the origin of a running figure on Martin’s ‘Not a Blog.’ Martin’s habit for setting up linguistic ear worms returns to the fore, with certain phrases repeating again and again as motifs. There’s nothing quite as memorable as ‘Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and Moonboy for all I know’, but we can definitely see how Martin’s style has developed.

The Armageddon Rag doesn’t quite top Fevre Dream and Tuf Voyaging as favourite non-Ice & Fire Martin works, but it’s still a damn good read and a lot of fun. If you’re a fan of Martin, or even a fan of horror or the music of the 1960s,  you could do much worse than The Armageddon Rag. Armagaddon_Rag_Nazgûl_Hot_Wind_Out_of_Mordor

Wolfenstein: The New Order for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Well, this game was significantly better than it had any right to be. Wolfenstein isn’t really a series known to have aged with dignity and wasn’t really on my radar at all, lacking any nostalgia for the earlier ones. I gave it a shot though, and lo and behold I think I have my favourite game of 2014 so far on my hands.

The New Order follows long time series protagonist BJ Blazkowitz, and opens in an alternate universe where World War 2 has extended into 1946. Blazkowitz and a range of other soldiers launch an attack on the compound of Deathshead, a Nazi scientist and long time foe of Blaskowitz. During the attack, Blazkowitz gains a shrapnel wound to the head, which leaves him in a vegetative state in a Polish asylum until 1960. In this universe, the Nazis have taken over the world following the dropping of an atomic bomb on the United States. After Nazis storm the asylum and murder the kind doctor and his wife who run it, Blazkowitz re-awakens and, with Anya, a young pharmacist and daughter of the operators of the asylum, sets off to Berlin to free his former comrades and join a new revolution against Nazi rule.

The first pleasant surprise of The New Order is the great story. The alternate universe Nazi stuff has been done a lot, but rarely better than here. The true horror of a Nazi victory suffuses the entire experience, and The New Order does a great job of showing rather than telling, letting the clear misery of the populace and scattered propaganda impart to the player the sickness of this regime. Although any sane person will acknowledge the evil of Nazi ideology, it’s always been so far from my own experience that I could only appreciate this on an intellectual level. The New Order made me feel my disgust, on an emotional level, with the sickening reality that, robots and goofy technology aside, the attitude which underpins these villains was one which was widely held, and not that long ago.

Blazkowitz is an unsophisticated protagonist, but the excellent voice work and writing make him a cut above the average gruff, square-jawed American protagonist. Blazkowitz isn’t a misery, he doesn’t brood, he’s capable of a range of emotions. Admittedly, his most common emotion in Nazi slaughtering rage, but we see him capable of joy, love and grief. On the surface he may look like just another bland protagonist, but trust me, Blazkowitz is no Aiden Pearce. One disappointment is that while a Jewish heritage for Blazkowitz is hinted at, it’s never confirmed, something which would obviously change the context of his character significantly. I don’t really know why MachineGames held back from confirming this, but I really wish they had. The supporting cast a likeable and well developed too; they regularly sort themselves out of situations, and aren’t just passive targets for Blazkowitz to protect. So many games feature the American hero who parachutes in and saves everyone, but while Blazkowitz is a help, the rest of the resistance are all perfectly competent without him. There are some wonky tonal issues, with one chapter in particular veering from a viscerally horrifying depiction of a concentration camp to gloriously cathartic killing spree, but mostly The New Order balances its silliness and it’s seriousness well.

Of course, all this would be null if the actual shooting wasn’t good, but, happily, it is! There’s little in the way of gimmicks; all the guns are ones we’ve seen before, but it’s simply flawlessly executed, and never less than satisfying. The New Order balances the strengths of classic and modern shooters brilliantly, whilst jettisoning the weaknesses. The fast pace chaos of classic shooters meets an effective cover system, with none of the weightlessness of classic shooters or the blandness of infinitely regenerating health of modern shooters. The game is linear, but there are multiple approaches to most levels, with the stealth being simple but hugely satisfying. Guns blazing is a viable tactic though, and never less than gloriously fun. It’s worth taking your time through the levels though, as there’s a lot to scavenge and find. An unlockable perks system means that the player is rewarded for mastering particular play styles, whilst also perhaps encouraging you to eventually tackle situations in different ways to unlock perks which might otherwise remain locked. The New Order is a great case of not reinventing the wheel, focusing on tight gameplay and clever level design instead.

The campaign is lengthy, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. The New Order is a great example of just how good a single player only FPS can be, when a developer doesn’t need to divide their resources. It doesn’t even have pointless immersion breaking co-op! It’s brilliantly paced, with a wide range of different environments and situations, meaning that it never descends into the mindless corridor shooting that has infected modern shooters. There’s a timeline split early on, with two versions of the campaign, which will offer some changes, but felt mostly to me like an artificial way to inflate value. This game was plenty good value without it. There are a range of gameplay systems outside the shooting, but they’re always short but sweet.

The New Order isn’t exactly a visual powerhouse, and is one of those games depressingly held back by the need to appear in the last console generation. It still looks great though, and the actual visual design is fantastic, really helping to immerse the player in this world. There are all kinds of fun details as well, such as a great soundtrack including the Nazi version of The Beatles and The Animals. The voice acting is stellar, both for the English and German parts. This game isn’t afraid of making you read subtitles sometimes! Deathshead is a bit too muchof a silly cliché to be truly menacing, but he gets the job done as a baddie. You certainly grow to hate him very quickly. The better villain is the secondary Frau Engel, who runs a concentration camp with gleeful sadism. The New Order has a really strong aesthetic, and it’s a setting I really hope MachineGames return to.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is, most of all, a focused game. It doesn’t aim to be a jack of all trades, opting instead to simply to the basics really well. In the end, this produces an overall more satisfying experience than the sprawling variety of something like Watch Dogs. The New Order joins Mario Kart 8 as a surprise contender for game of the year so far.wolfenstein-header

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

I can’t believe that this one flew under my radar for so long. I haven’t read any Stephen Baxter, but I’m a big Terry Pratchett fan, and this is honestly one of my favourite books he’s been involved in. It’s almost as good as Pratchett’s other great collaboration, Good Omens with Neil Gaiman. The Long Earth pushes my buttons pretty damn hard, delivering one of the most well developed sci-fi premises I’ve ever seen.

The Long Earth takes place 15 years after ‘Step Day’, when the schematics for a strange device were uploaded to the internet. Very easy to make, and powered by a potato, children around the world began to build the ‘Stepper.’ These odd devices only work for those who made them, and allow the user to ‘step’ into a seemingly infinite number of parallel Earths. There are two directions that can be stepped into, called ‘West and East’, with people only able to move between one world at a time, and causing severe nausea for the stepper. These Earths are almost entirely barren, lacking any sign of civilisation, but with many containing strange creatures subtly different from those of our universe. Now known as the ‘Long Earth’, these parallel universes have had a massive effect on the main Earth, now known as Datum Earth. New colonies are forming in the Earths in the immediate East and West of the Datum, with some striking out as far as possible to form new societies away from the hustle and bustle of the Datum. For reasons unknown, iron cannot be bought between worlds, so the new societies must start from a relatively blank slate. The exodus of much of the world’s population to the Long Earth has had a striking effect on the Datum Earth, with some businesses cropping up to exploit the new resources, but with many major economies crashing.

The main protagonist of The Long Earth is Joshua Valiente, a ‘natural stepper’, who can step even without the aid of a stepper, and doesn’t suffer the nausea which slows most explorers. He is a celebrity in the Long Earth, after famously saving the lives of many of the children who first stepped on Step Day, whilst only a child himself. He is recruited by Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle repair man who somehow ended up with a mechanical body, and a staggering intellect. He is now a senior partner in The Black Corporation, a powerful business with interests in the Long Earth. Lobsang and Joshua will travel further into the Long Earth than any others who have gone before, trying to discover some of the myriad of secrets to be found there.

So…yeah, The Long Earth is high concept if I’ve ever seen one. The premise itself is a wholly new spin on the parallel universe genre, and the Long Earth is a setting filled to the brim with fascinating details and discoveries. The reader is bought along with Lobsang and Joshua on their journey, and I couldn’t wait to find out what new weirdness would be hiding in the next Earth. The element I loved most about The Long Earth was the logical and detailed description of how the world has changed since Step Day. Many high concepts don’t really hold up to much scrutiny, but Pratchett and Baxter seem to have considered everything, and there’s an admirable amount of internal consistency. Okay, the actual concept may be outlandish, but Pratchett and Baxter manage to make it feel plausible.

I haven’t read any Baxter, but I’ve read a lot of Pratchett, and actually more often than not I couldn’t tell whether it was him or Baxter writing, a strength in a collaboration. There are a few flashes of Pratchett sardonic wit, but by and large The Long Earth is played much straighter than Pratchett fans may be used to. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s not like The Long Earth takes itself too seriously, but this definitely isn’t a comedy.

Joshua is a likeable if not particularly engaging protagonist. Much better is Lobsang, the arrogant and entertaining reincarnated human machine consciousness. This isn’t a book with a massive cast, although it does like to occasionally dip into lives of various characters, giving us a series of little vignettes about life since Step Day. This gives us a broader perspective of the changes to the world, but overall the star of this novel in the setting, the Long Earth itself.

It’s probably clear by this point that I loved this book. It pressed my buttons pretty hard, and I can’t wait to pick up the rest of the series.TLE-Big

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