Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “zombies”

The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

When M R Carey announced that he was writing a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts, I was a bit sceptical. My tolerance for prequels is generally low, as they inevitably face a pressing issue of having to justify their own existence. There have been some great prequels, but I think more that have felt pointless. The Boy on the Bridge doesn’t quite succeed in justifying its own existence and it never feels anywhere near as strong as The Girl with All the Gifts, but particularly towards the end it comes together with certain moments of power held back by an oddly arch and impersonal tone.

Readers of The Girl with all the Gifts will remember the Rosalind Franklin, a tank/lab sent out by the remaining seat of UK government of Beacon after the arrival of the cordyceps plague of hungries/zombies. Melanie and her group took refuge in the abandoned tank and it played a vital role in the closing sections of the book and

The Boy on the Bridge is the story of the Rosalind Franklin and the crew of scientists and military who populate it. The Boy on the Bridge jumps into the heads of most of the crew of the tank, sent from Beacon to try to find a cure. Dr Samrina Khan is a scientist who discovers that she is pregnant shortly into their journey. She has a strange bond with Steven Greaves, a sort of autistic-savant young man who is considered by some to be the best hope for formulating a cure. Whilst in the highlands of Sctoland, Greaves discovers a group of child hungries who act like no other hungries they’ve seen before. This discovery kicks off the events which eventually culminate with an abandoned Rosalind Franklin, somewhere in London.

Although there’s a lot that is interesting in The Boy on the Bridge, for much of my time reading I found myself wondering why this story needed to be told. Revelations, such as the cognisant child hungries, will be of no surprise to those who have read The Girl with all the Gifts and it’s difficult to say what more this adds to our understanding of the setting. Carey uses the enclosed and claustrophobic space of the Rosalind Franklin well and I enjoyed the details of the strange life they’re all having to live together. It suffers somewhat from the horror movie problems of much of the plot being based entirely around people doing very stupid, illogical things. Obviously I would rather read characters driven by emotion than logic as I’m not a robot, but too often I just found myself exasperated, when I think I was meant to be horrified.

The lack of a clear main character hurts the book; there’s no one that can rival Melanie in terms of sympathy and engagement. There are some intense moments which should hit harder than they really do, because perhaps with the exception of Greaves I never really felt like I got a grip on any of these people. Greaves is a good character and I think the novel would have worked better if structured more clearly around him, as The Girl with all the Gifts was with Melanie.

The Boy on the Bridge is perfectly readable and I wasn’t bored, but I can’t imagine it making anywhere near the splash of The Girl with all the Gifts. That said, an intriguing epilogue sets the stage for a potentially great follow up. I’d be all for this, moving the series forward rather than returning to the past.

 

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The Walking Dead: Season Two for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC, Ouya, OS X, Android and iOS

Ow, my emotions. For most of its run, I’ve felt the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead to be overshadowed by The Wolf Among Us. It’s certainly not as consistent as the first season, with a fairly meandering plot and far less direction than the original, but particularly in the final two episodes everything came together, culminating in scenes as tense as anything else Telltale has created, and they have created some tense scenes in their time.

Whatever your choice at the end of the first season of The Walking Dead, Lee is gone and Clementine is out in the world all by herself. Set a couple of years after Season One, Clementine has grown both physically and emotionally. She is no longer the adorable and naive child of the first season, with her natural kindness tempered by a streak of pragmatism and much stronger survival instincts. Clementine comes across a new group, with new conflicts and dramas, and with them sets out to continue the long trudge for survival.

That description probably sounds quite vague, and that’s largely because for much of Season Two the plotting is rather meandering and unfocused. It’s not boring or anything, Telltale’s characterisation is strong enough to carry it through this, but there’s little sense of building tension and stakes over the course of the episodes, compared to The Wolf Among Us which did this really well. Episode 3 onwards begin to show a massive improvement however, but the central fascinating conflict which shapes the finale only really begins to manifest itself in Episode 4. Don’t get me wrong, I was thoroughly gripped by Season Two, but there’s a strong sense of making it up as it goes along. When it works though, it really works, with some decisions almost bringing me to tears of tension and frustration.

Season Two plays, well, much like Season One, in that there isn’t much in the way of gameplay. The action scenes are better, more in the vein of The Wolf Among Us, but there’s even less puzzle solving. That’s actually a good thing though, the one or two times Season One tried to be a real adventure game were clunky and broke immersion. Season Two is an even further development in Telltale’s movement away from adventure games to interactive storytelling, and that’s really not necessarily a bad thing.

The art style still looks nice, but as with The Wolf Among Us it runs fairly badly. I really hope the move to the next generation consoles fixes a lot of this, as it’s ridiculous that fairly low-key games like these run so horribly. Still, the character models are better than the first season’s, and the voice acting is still absolutely fantastic. Despite the tiff character models and unconvincing facial expressions, the performers manage to sell us these characters as real people with only their voice, something very hard to do.

The Walking Dead: Season Two may not quite have the impact of the first season, it’s nonetheless an absolute must play. Clementine is one of the best characters in gaming, and spending more time with her cannot be a bad thing. Bring on Season Three.the-walking-dead-game-season-2-walkthrough

The Last of Us: Remastered for PS4

I was actually a bit nervous when I picked this up. I mean, it’s so revered, it’s impossible not to wonder if it really could live up to the hype. Well, I needn’t have worried; I absolutely understand the hype. The Last of Us really is special. Included in the PS4 remaster is the similarly excellent Left Behind DLC.

The Last of Us takes place around two decades after a zombie apocalypse, caused by some kind of fungal infection which causes the infected to lose their minds. The protagonist is Joel, a weary man who lost his daughter in the initial panic. With the surviving humanity living in heavily militarised quarantine zones, Joel works as a smuggler. When hunting down a stolen cache of weapons with his companion Tess, Joel encounters Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, a rebel group fighting the quarantine zone authorities. In exchange for the location of the weapons, Marlene asks Joel to bring a teenaged girl named Ellie to a Firefly safehouse outside the quarantine. Initially reluctant, Joel soon discovers Ellie’s secret; that she is infected, but has not turned, seemingly the only person with an immunity. Joel and Ellie embark on an epic trek across the country to the Firefly safe house, with the infected and waves of bandits pitched against them.

Summaries like that is part of the reason I couldn’t get too excited for this game. It basically sounded like The Walking Dead crossed with Children of Men, with nothing too original. Although the concept itself isn’t brimming with originality, in terms of execution I’ll struggle to think of anything which does it better. Joel and Ellie feel like real, fully rounded people, and their journey together is absolutely convincing. The Last of Us also manages to avoid the zombie clichés, with a story which had me gripped and frequently incredible emotional. There are lighter moments too, with the banter between Joel and Ellie regularly raising a smile. The Left Behind DLC, which focused on Ellie both during and prior to the game, was frequently laugh out loud funny. It’s all bittersweet though, with a palpable feeling of sadness throughout the whole thing.

The Last of Us has a key theme, which may sound cheesy: love. Not just love as a redeeming force, but as ultimately the most dangerous thing in this new wasteland. No practical society can truly last, because people are incapable of making sacrifices for love. It is simultaneously humanities best and worst trait. Now, this concept is one that I’ve seen explored loads of places before, but possible never better than in The Last of Us. This is a game which will rattle around in your brain for a long time to come. I also have to mention Ellie; the feisty female sidekick in FPS games have given us some great characters in the past, such as Half Life 2’s Alyx Vance or BioShock: Infinite’s Elizabeth, but Ellie manages to eclipse them both. She’s strong, funny and vulnerable, and easily one of the best game characters of all time.

Again, I was initially concerned that the gameplay would suffer to the story, but that isn’t the case. The Last of Us is a third person shooter with survival horror elements, a bit like Resident Evil 4 but less clunky. There’s a strong element of ammo conservation, with stealth encouraged whenever possible. The shooting is responsive and satisfying when a shoot-out does occur, but you never feel powerful, with Joel being much less hardy than your standard shooter protagonist. This adds to the horror element, with a crafting system allowing Joel to create shivs or makeshift bombs from objects scavenged from the world. There’s also a weapon upgrade system and a skill tree and they’re pretty simple, giving you a nice element of customisation. The stealth is really effective, with a cover system which is contextual but actually functional, something the Assassin’s Creed games have been pretty much failing to pull off for years. There are some light puzzles, but you’ll spend most of your time picking through wreckage, sneaking around or shooting.

The two types of enemies are the ‘infected’ and bandits, which need to be approached in very different ways. The most interesting enemy is the ‘clicker’, which is a blind infected which sees through echolocation. You have to move very quietly to avoid being caught, and when they do they kill you in one bite. You can create distractions using bottles and bricks to distract foes human and infected alike; you’ll have thrown lots of these by the time the credits roll. Although not nearly as slick as other shooters, the gameplay of The Last of Us supports the narrative, whilst actually being fun as well. If all you want to enjoy is some top quality shooting, go buy Wolfenstein; The Last of Us isn’t about being satisfying, it’s about being rewarding. The game is a decent length as well, long enough to feel epic in its scope, but short enough that it tells a compact and tight story. With the DLC, and the multiplayer as well, The Last of Us: Remastered is a great package.

The Last of Us: Remastered looks fantastic, easily holding its own against current gen games (although that in itself is perhaps a little worrying). The environments are detailed, and the faces for the characters utterly lifelike. It’s weird imagining that Joel and Ellie aren’t played by physical actors, instead being mo-capped by people who look nothing like them. That’s not to put down the actors though; the performances are phenomenal, with industry stalwarts Troy Baker and Nolan North making career best performances, and the less known Ashley Johnson being a revelation as Ellie. Of course, one of the biggest differences between the PS3 and PS4 version is the upgrade to 60 FPS, which really drove home to me for the first time just how much of an improvement it is. The ability to hit 60 FPS consistently is going to be the big challenge for this generation of consoles, with Naughty Dog showing us how it’s done.

The Last of Us: Remastered is the best game I’ve played for the PS4 so far, and as someone who didn’t own a PS3 I’m so glad I got an opportunity to play this. Believe the hype; The Last of Us is one of the most affecting gaming experiences I’ve ever encountered.res_751911e58d5f561cf3458aad33f7bc8f

The Walking Dead: 400 Days for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC, Mac, iOS and Ouya

400 Days is a cheap DLC pack for The Walking Dead, which contains everything that made the original so great in microcosm.

400 Days follows five characters that will apparently appear in the second series of The Walking Dead. We only gain brief snapshots of their lives, but Telltale’s characterisation is still so good that that is really all we need to begin caring for and understanding them. We pick the order that we play these stories, and they intersect and cross over each other, before finally converging in an epilogue at the end.

There’s none of the awkward wandering around busy work that marred the main game, with a simple focus on tight, intense interactive storytelling which was the clear strength of The Walking Dead. The voice acting is wonderful as usual, and the cartoony visuals remain bizarrely effective at creating this sinister and unpleasant world.

For such a low price, 400 Days is an essential toe dip back into Telltale’s marvellous Walking Dead world, offering more of what made the main five episodes so great with an interesting new plot structure to boot. With very little, it makes me attached to five new characters that I cannot wait to meet again in Season 2.images

ZombiU for Wii U

ZombiU has drawn many comparisons to Red Steel, the seemingly promising Wii launch FPS which turned out to be absolutely terrible. Both games were made by Ubisoft and generated a lot of hype as a ‘mature’ game for a new Nintendo console, and both were held up as potential showcases for their console’s respective innovations; motion controls for the Wii and the tablet controller for the Wii U. Thankfully, ZombiU is not, despite what some reviewers have claimed, the Wii U’s Red Steel, and is in fact something much better than that.

ZombiU tells a fairly standard apocalypse story, taking place in a London swarmed by undead hordes. The player controls a series of random survivors, who are guided by a figure known as the ‘Prepper’, an ex-army type who has created a safe house in the London Underground and assists other survivors from  a remote location through radio. As the survivors journey throughout London, they are tied up into the question of the origins of the zombie blight, and how it can be reversed.

A huge part of my enjoyment of this game came from the London setting. I mean, sure, it’s very much a tourist’s vision of London, but I don’t really have a problem with this. I mean, when you’re fighting zombies inside the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace I’m sure as hell not going to complain. It’s actually in these big set pieces that the game most shines, with these locations genuinely rendered in an atmospheric, if entirely inaccurate, manner. When attempting to recreate the more normal streets of London ZombiU is less successful, and it just doesn’t ever quite feel right.  I almost wish that ZombiU had gone full tourist and bought us to Covent Garden, Westminster and St. Paul’s. Sure, it may have been a bit contrived and silly, but this is a zombie game for crying out loud, if that isn’t an opportunity for silliness I don’t know what is. All said however, the setting works. Although I imagine that the inevitable sequel will move elsewhere, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to them sticking with London, as there’s a lot more they could do there.

The actual plot of ZombiU is more coherent and interesting than I expected, but considering that my expectations were at rock bottom that’s perhaps not saying much. ZombiU is highly tied into the British monarchy, with the prophecies of the occultist and spy John Dee, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, playing a key role. Throughout the game, letters to the our Queen can be found, and she casts a long shadow over much of the game. It’s quite interesting, but never really goes anywhere. Now, there was no part of me that actually thought that we’d encounter a zombie Queen but…well, a man can dream right?

ZombiU is a triumphant assertion of what the Wii U is capable of, creating an experience which simply wouldn’t be possible on other platforms. Basic movement, shooting and basic interaction with the environment is handled gimmick free with the buttons, with the Wii U gamepad screen serving several different functions. When accessing the inventory the game doesn’t pause, with the TV screen pulling out into the third person view while the player roots around their backpack on the tablet screen. This creates some incredibly tense moments as the players gaze flicks back and forth between the screens, focusing on the necessary task on the gamepad whilst looking out for zombies on the TV. This mechanic is used in several different ways throughout the game, and works incredibly well. The gamepad is also used for aiming certain weapons with scopes, using the gyroscope controls to point and aim, offering a degree of accuracy which the Wii U’s predecessor never quite managed to attain, even with MotionPlus.

One of the most interesting mechanics of ZombiU is the way that it handles player death. When the player inevitably falls beneath a wave of zombies, their character doesn’t just respawn at the last checkpoint. Instead, the player awakes in the safe house as a new survivor, and must hunt down and kill their zombified former selves to reclaim their equipment. This is an incredibly cool mechanic, although the actual plot of the game doesn’t do nearly a good enough job of acknowledging this. It took around twenty survivors to get me to the end of the game, but the characters still spoke to me as if it had all been one person, rather undermining one of the central mechanics of the game. If the player dies again on their way to get their equipment back, all of the player’s hard earnt loot is lost, and it was this which caused my great shame. Here I make a confession. I didn’t finish ZombiU. I make a point of finishing almost every game I buy; I hate the feeling of not getting my money’s worth. I have to really detest a game to stop playing (I’m looking at you Dark Souls), so it’s a bit odd that I didn’t finish ZombiU. I ended up in a position in ZombiU is which there was no way for me to continue, however many approaches I tried, and I eventually gave up. Luckily this was right at the end of the game, just after the point of no return, so it could have been worse. It’s galling, but oddly appropriate for the bleak tone this game evokes.

The game is paced well, with a good balance between larger scale set pieces and tenser, more atmospheric sections. There are a few dud sections, such as a weak ‘arena’ action section, which requires quick shooting in a game which really doesn’t mechanically support this kind of gameplay. The gunplay is awkward and slow paced, but that’s normally fine, because you’re not a trained veteran, but simply an ordinary civilian. I was rather piqued by an irritating fetch quest towards  the end, which reminded me unpleasantly of Wind Waker’s Triforce hunt. Like with Wind Waker, this section felt like padding to artificially extend the game. However, also like Wind Waker, the actual experience isn’t horrible, as the world of ZombiU so compelling to explore. It’s just irritatingly lazy and contrived.

ZombiU isn’t exactly a technical marvel, but it’s functional. There are some irritations, such as the jerkiness and repetitiveness of the zombies’ animations, but by and large this game looks pretty great. Sure, the visuals are a bit murky and blurry but, why not? It actually makes things a little bit scarier! The voice acting, particularly for the intriguing ‘Prepper’ is surprisingly good,  and actually got me interested in some of these figures. The moans and snarls of the zombies avoid cliché and silliness to be genuinely unsettling, with the understated soundtrack really helping to raise the tension. ZombiU is quite uneven in places, but it does have a coherent style to it, respectful of classic zombie stories which came before it yet kept carefully distinctive.

ZombiU isn’t an unqualified success; there are a multitude of niggling flaws which persist throughout the game, but at its core this game just works. This is a terrifying, immersive and atmospheric experience, and one which stands as a perfect showcase of Wii U’s potential. Since Ubisoft made a sequel to the disastrous Red Steel (Red Steel 2 is highly underrated by the way), I think it’s very likely we’ll be getting a sequel to ZombiU, and I for one cannot wait. zombiu1

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