Today’s Art (29th February 2020)

Well, this is the seventh digitally-edited painting in my 1990s-style “Horror Bookshop” art series and, although for time reasons, it was a bit more minimalist than I’d expected, I really like how it turned out 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Horror Bookshop – Stockroom” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – February 2020

Well, it’s the end of the month, so I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles about writing etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month (with a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month’s articles/reviews were a bit slower to write than I’d expected due to being busy with other stuff (eg: although they appeared daily, I had to rely on my “buffer” of pre-written articles quite a bit – so they took longer than a month to prepare) but they turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

In terms of reviews, I surprisingly ended up reviewing three modern computer games (Neverending Nightmares“, “Hard Reset Redux” and “Devil Daggers) but, due to both this and the shorter length of this month, I only ended up reviewing ten novels this month.

Anyway, my favourite novels that I reviewed this month were probably “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers, “The End Of The Day” by Claire North, “The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson, “Accursed” by Guy N. Smith and “World’s End” by Joan D. Vinge.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – Feburary 2020:

– “Three More Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important For Writers
– “Three Sneaky Hacks For Writing A Novel If You’re A Short Story Writer
– “Three Tips For Writing Victorian-Style Narration
– “Why Knowing Your Chosen Genre Results In Better Stories – A Ramble
– “How To Mix First And Third Person Perspective Narration”
– “When Should You Reference Your Previous Stories?
– “Three Reasons To Use A Formal Writing Style In Your Story
– “Three Reasons Why Horror Stories Are Set In The Past
– “Four Reasons Why Horror Novels Are Similar To Heavy Metal Music
– “Good Action Sequences In Thriller Novels Are Like Puzzles – A Ramble

Honourable mentions:

– “Why Difficult Computer Games Are Good For Your Creativity
– “Three Rambling And Rose-Tinted Tips For Adding Early-Mid 2000s Nostalgia To Your Art Or Story

Today’s Art ( 28th February 2020)

Well, this is the sixth digitally-edited painting in my 1990s-style “Horror Bookshop” art series and, annoyingly, it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped (I’d originally planned to include a medieval executioner on the left-hand side of the painting, but he was kind of badly-drawn, so I eventually ended up shrouding this part of the painting in shadows instead).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Horror Bookshop – Reading Nook” By C. A. Brown

Three Rambling And Rose-Tinted Tips For Adding Early-Mid 2000s Nostalgia To Your Art Or Story

Well, although I’ve probably talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at early-mid 2000s nostalgia today. After all, this time period is probably still just about recent enough at the time of writing for it not to be a major source of pop-culture nostalgia in the way that the 1980s and 1990s currently are. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about random ways to add some early-mid 2000s nostalgia to your story.

I’ll mostly be focusing on early-mid 2000s Britain (and to a lesser extent America) here and this article may well turn into more of a nostalgic ramble than any actual serious advice. Although, of course, the irony here is that when I was a teenager during the early-mid 2000s, I never actually thought that I’d get nostalgic about such a “crappy” part of history. Of course, in comparison to the modern world… Anyway, onwards with the article.

1) Horror, gloom and angst: Although the 1990s technically ended in the year 2000, they probably ended culturally on one terrible day in 2001. The mood of optimism, innocence and hope that characterised a lot of 1990s culture came to a reasonably abrupt end after 9/11. Although this resulted in more polarised politics, wars, more authoritarian government in both the UK and US etc… It also had an effect on popular culture too. In short, things got a bit gloomier, more “serious” and angst-ridden. This is one of the core cultural differences between the 1990s and early-mid 2000s.

Of course, this change was most noticeable in the thriller genre. Whilst the relative peace of the 1990s forced writers, screenwriters etc… in this genre to come up with imaginative, wonderfully silly and gleefully unrealistic plots, almost everything in this genre suddenly became focused on serious topical stuff like terrorism, moral issues surrounding torture etc.. during the early-mid 2000s (eg: TV shows like “24”). In this time, the detective genre also saw more of a shift towards police procedural type stories that focused on forensics etc.. (as seen in TV shows like “CSI” etc..)

This change in mood also had an effect on films too. One of the interesting things about the early-mid 2000s was that horror movies were actually a popular genre of cinema for a while 🙂

Not only was Hollywood remaking a lot of suspenseful, supernatural-based psychological horror films from Japan (with “The Ring” being the classic example), but it was also a good time for the zombie genre (eg: films like “Shaun Of The Dead”, “28 Days Later” and the “Resident Evil” films) and for new horror franchises in general (eg: “Final Destination”, “Saw” etc…). Of course, some slight hints of the superhero genre (eg: “X-Men” and the first “Spiderman” film) popped up sporadically in cinemas, but they were thankfully still just an occasional infrequent novelty back then.

Likewise, horror was also a popular genre in videogames too 🙂 Yes, the survival horror genre was invented in the 1990s (in both “Alone In The Dark” and the original “Resident Evil”), but it reached its zenith during the early-mid 2000s with games like “Silent Hill 2”, “Silent Hill 3“, “Project Zero/Fatal Frame”, “Forbidden Siren” and possibly the remake of the original “Resident Evil”. It was a good time to be a fan of horror videogames 🙂 Another cool thing was that most horror games of the time still used the classic “tank controls” that – whilst obtuse to modern gamers – are surprisingly intuitive if you grew up with them.

Even music was affected by this gloomy mood too. Not only was the most popular type of heavy metal music during the early-mid 2000s Nu Metal music (and, later, shouty angst-ridden metalcore music). But, even more melodic popular rock/metal groups often tended to have a bit more of an angsty and/or gothic influence to them. This was a time period where both Evanescence’s “Fallen” and HIM’s “Love Metal” albums were reasonably popular 🙂 Yes, at the time, I didn’t really think that they were as good as the 1980s heavy metal I was also listening to, but I still really miss the days when records like these could actually have mainstream chart success.

Likewise, pop-punk music was also afflicted by the angst-ridden mood of the time. Whether it was the slightly heavier, more morose and/or gloomier sound of The Offspring’s “Splinter” album, Sum 41’s “Does This Look Infected?” album and Green Day’s “American Idiot” album when compared to earlier albums by all three bands, early-mid 2000s pop-punk music certainly reflected the mood of the time. And, yes, pop-punk was actually still a popular genre then 🙂

2) Culture, phones and the internet: Both the internet and mobile phones existed in the early-mid 2000s. But, mobile phones were thankfully just phones (not portable computers. Seriously, text messaging was still an exciting new thing. Yes, phone cameras existed on high-end phones – but the picture quality was often atrocious) and faster broadband internet was also only just starting to be widely introduced too (with many people still using dial-up internet).

The blissful absence of smartphones also meant that lots of other portable things were more popular (eg: portable MP3/CD/Cassette players, digital cameras, paperback books, disposable film cameras, wristwatches, notebooks [the paper type] etc…) too. Not only were these more reliable (eg: if your CD player runs out of battery, you can still write stuff in a notebook, read a novel or check the time on your watch) but – novels aside- they often weren’t the type of all-consuming distractions that modern smartphones are. They were functional single-purpose items that didn’t get in the way of life.

The landscape of the internet was also very different too. A few examples of this are the fact that many pages were still optimised for slower dial-up internet (and for desktop PCs too 🙂) or the fact that “social media” tended to consist of more localised, private or topic-focused things like forums, MSN Messenger, MySpace etc… Or the fact that video streaming wasn’t really a thing (Youtube began in 2005 and Netflix was still a DVD rental company during the early-mid 2000s). Or the fact that there was a lot more variety and competition when it came to search engines (*sigh* I miss AltaVista).

Likewise, because the internet was less of a well-developed thing and smartphones didn’t exist, it was less of a distraction too. People actually went to pubs/clubs, read books, played local mutliplayer videogames/ had LAN parties, hung out in town, went to the cinema, took photos of places and other people (rather than of food and of themselves) etc..

3) Fashions and physical media: The fashions of early-mid 2000s Britain tended to be a bit more understated/ordinary, although some fashion trends and subcultures (eg: “emo” fashion, Burberry caps, hoodies, short-sleeved flame print shirts layered over T-shirts, chain wallets, “Boho chic” etc…) emerged during this time. Still, the “look” of the early-mid 2000s is probably a bit more subtle, understated and less out-there than the “look” of decades like the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

Still, one of the really cool things about the early-mid 2000s was that it was one of the last times where physical media was king 🙂 It was a time when CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes (yes, you could still buy them back then), paperback books, magazines and game discs/cartridges were were a lot more widely used. Yes, “100% digital” media certainly existed back then too – but, with the exception of a few sites like the early versions of iTunes and possibly Steam, physical media was usually what people chose when they were actually buying entertainment.

But, although I don’t want to ramble too much about physical media, it had all sorts of cool effects on everyday life.

Whether it was how your book/CD/DVD collection could also add a bit of life and personality to a room (and is a million miles away from the cold, soulless minimalism that is so popular these days), whether it was things like demo discs on videogame magazines or CD singles in shops, whether it was old ex-rental VHS tapes in gigantic cases (I once found one of “Army Of Darkness” that contained the alternate ending. For years, I thought it was the actual ending of the film), whether it was buying a random second-hand book by one of your favourite authors – only to find that it is a signed copy (this happened to me at least twice with Shaun Hutson novels) etc… I have a lot of nostalgia for the heyday of physical media and, for some things at least, still vastly prefer it to modern “100% digital” equivalents.

And, on a more general level, because physical media was more popular, things like record shops, game shops, second-hand shops, magazine racks, bookshops etc.. used to be a bit more common during the early-mid 2000s than they are today. Kind of like how payphones were also a lot more common because mobile phones were slightly less ubiquitous.

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Well, although this turned into a bit of a ramble, I hope it was useful 🙂

Review: “Ice Station” By Matthew Reilly (Novel)

Well, it’s been about a decade since I last read a Matthew Reilly novel and I was in the mood for something fast-paced, so I thought that I’d take a look at his 1998 thriller novel “Ice Station”.

This was one of two novels in Reilly’s “Scarecrow” series that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. Since I’d enjoyed the first three books in Reilly’s “Jack West Jr” series during the mid-late 2000s/early 2010s (although they were “so bad that they’re good”, they were still gripping enough for me to actually get a new hardback of “The Five Greatest Warriors” shortly after it was released in the UK), my decision to get these books was a bit of a no-brainer.

So, let’s take a look at “Ice Station”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2001 Pan Macmillan (Aus) paperback edition of “Ice Station” that I read.

The novel begins with a couple of book/lecture extracts about Antarctica and about a US military officer called Otto Niemeyer who mysteriously disappeared during the 1970s. The story then focuses on an American research base in the Antarctic called Wilkes Station. The scientists in the station have lost contact with a group of divers who have been sent to investigate an anomaly in the ice. When the rescue team surfaces in an ice cavern, they spot what appears to be a spacecraft lodged in the ice. However, they are soon attacked by something.

Back at the base, one of the researchers sends out a distress call detailing everything that has happened. A crack team of US marines, led by Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, happen to be on the nearest ship and are dispatched to the base. However, the distress call had been sent out on an open broadcast. A broadcast that has been picked up by several other countries who are also interested in the spacecraft below the ice and are prepared to kill for it…

One of the first things that I will say about “Ice Station” is that it is a much better book than I’d expected 🙂 It’s a gloriously gripping, breathlessly fast-paced, gleefully over-the-top, brilliantly spectacular and just generally fun thriller novel that reminded me a little bit of a cross between Clive Cussler’s nautical thrillers, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” or “Aliens” novels (albeit without the zombies/aliens) and maybe Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”:) Seriously, if you enjoy gloriously over-the-top thriller novels, then this one is well worth reading.

So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. This novel contains a brilliantly compelling mixture of suspense, mystery, plot twists, paranoia and the kind of ludicrously spectacular action set-pieces that only the highest-budget of blockbuster films could even dream about. The vast bulk of the novel focuses on Schofield having to hold the base against French and British special forces, with numerous time limits, harsh weather conditions, perilous situations, a murder mystery or two, the possibility of a traitor within his team and certain death looming around every corner.

This novel marries suspense and action absolutely perfectly, with each balancing the other out and ensuring that neither gets monotonous. In general, the novel will place the characters in a series of incredibly dangerous situations that they have to survive in various inventive, clever and/or action-packed ways. This cycle between suspense and action works pretty much every time and never really gets old. Not only that, the novel also makes good use of mini-cliffhangers and even a couple of sub-plots to keep things even more compelling 🙂

And, yes, although some of the novel’s set-pieces are highly-contrived “action movie” style scenes that also contain some obvious sci-fi technology (presented as “realistic” secret military equipment, weapons etc..) and some creatively silly bending of the laws of physics, this doesn’t actually matter thanks to the fact that not only does everything have an explanation that usually makes sense but also because of the sheer scale and drama of these scenes. This novel is the best type of thriller novel in that almost every perilous situation is actually a suspenseful timed puzzle that has to be solved through the use of thought, cunning and/or clever tactics rather than just mindless violence.

But, this isn’t to say that this is a pacifist novel. In fact, one of the interesting things about this novel is how much inspiration it takes from the horror genre 🙂 In addition to some chilling moments of suspense, cruelty, nature-based horror and character-based horror, this novel is almost as splatteriffically gruesome as a good 1980s horror novel too. Although the novel’s gory moments are a little quicker and less detailed than in a splatterpunk novel, they lend the action scenes a level of impact, grittiness and weight that you don’t usually see in more sanitised mainstream action-thriller novels.

In terms of the characters, whilst you certainly shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough here to make you care about the characters – with Schofield coming across an expert marine and badass action hero without being that much of a two-dimensional character. His team all have distinctive personalities, the civilians come across as reasonably realistic people and the villains are all suitably evil, formidable and/or chilling too 🙂 Plus, although it was a bit weird to see a thriller novel where the SAS were actually the villains, they’re presented in a suitably competent and fearsome way that makes them a worthy adversary for the main characters.

As for the writing, it’s better than I’d expected 🙂 For the most part, this novel uses the kind of slightly informal and occasionally technical “matter of fact” third-person narration that you’d expect from a fast-paced and highly-readable thriller novel. And, although there are a couple of signature Reilly flourishes (such as about four occasions where he uses a mid-sentence line break for “dramatic effect”), the novel comes across as being much more well-written than what I remember of his “Jack West Jr” novels. The closest comparison I can make is probably the writing style used in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” and “Aliens” novels, yet the writing style still feels very much like Reilly’s.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Yes, it’s a hefty 611 pages in length, but you’ll probably blaze through this in the time it’ll take you to read a non-thriller novel a third the length. I’ve already mentioned how this novel mixes suspense and action perfectly, and this cycle continues throughout the novel. This is one of those books that never gets boring and which pretty much demands that you read more pages than you’d planned to read 🙂

In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged excellently. Seriously, if it wasn’t for a brief mention of a VCR and some vaguely “X-Files” influenced conspiracy theory stuff, you’d be hard-pressed to work out that this novel was from 1998 (rather than 2008 or 2018) if you didn’t look at the publication date.

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a slightly over-the-top, wonderfully silly and very gripping thriller novel to relax with, then this one is well worth taking a look at. It also mixes suspense, mystery and action absolutely brilliantly, whilst also including a few well-placed horror genre elements too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Four Reasons Why Horror Novels Are Similar To Heavy Metal Music

Well, since I couldn’t think of a better idea for an article, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why horror fiction is the literary equivalent of heavy metal music 🙂

After all, although the two things do reference each other occasionally, such as the various Iron Maiden references in Shaun Hutson’s novels or the fact that Cradle Of Filth’s “Midian” album was partially inspired by Clive Barker’s “Cabal“, there are some other interesting parallels between these two awesome genres that are worth looking at 🙂

1) They were both popular during the 1980s (and are still going): Although I was technically around during part of the 1980s, I was unfortunately too young to really experience this awesome decade properly. But, in about 2001/2, I discovered both heavy metal music and horror fiction (seriously, it was one hell of a year 🙂 ) and – surprise surprise – most of the old Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc.. albums and second-hand Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc.. novels I found were all from the 1980s.

It absolutely blows my mind that there was actually a decade where both of these things were actually popular mainstream things, that you could easily find in major bookshops or possibly even hear on the radio. And, surprisingly, both also shared the same fate during the early-mid 1990s too – whether it was how grunge music took heavy metal’s mainstream popularity or how 1980s-style horror fiction pretty much disappeared.

Of course, both genres adapted to this sudden loss in popularity by either focusing more on die-hard fans and/or by changing themselves to fit into the mainstream. Whether it was the fact that many classic metal bands had built up enough of a loyal fandom during the 1980s to keep going despite the lack of publicity, whether it was less radio-friendly sub-genres of metal becoming more popular amongst metal fans (eg: industrial metal, death metal etc..) or even the Nu Metal fad of the late 1990s/early 2000s that briefly placed metal back into the mainstream, metal survived in one form or another.

On the other hand, horror fiction mostly survived by hiding itself in the psychological thriller, urban fantasy and crime genres during the 1990s. Plus, of course, a few classic 1970s-80s horror authors – such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and James Herbert – still had enough of a large fanbase to still keep publishing horror fiction during the 1990s too.

And, in the present day, both genres are still going strong – albeit in a fairly different form to how they were during the 1980s. Modern horror fiction has achieved some level of “respectability” and actual scariness by focusing slightly more on traditional suspense, psychological horror etc… rather than shock value (eg: novels like Nick Cutter’s “The Deep” and Adam Nevill’s “The Ritual). Likewise, although a newly-formed metal band is more likely to be a small independent band with a dedicated fanbase these days, there are still a lot of metal bands being formed these days (seriously, look on Youtube). Not to mention that many of the great – and timeless – classic metal bands are still going too 🙂

2) Sub-genres: If there’s one thing to be said for both heavy metal music and horror fiction, it is that they are a lot more complex than non-fans of these genres often tend to think. In short, both things have a lot of different sub-genres that can be so different to each other that they can almost seem like totally different genres.

Whether it is ghost stories, zombie stories, splatterpunk fiction, vampire fiction, psychological thrillers, sci-fi horror stories, weird fiction, gothic fiction, slasher/serial killer fiction and so many other genres, horror fiction can be a surprisingly multi-faceted thing where there is something for everyone. Even so, things are a bit less cut-and-dried than they might seem – given, that for a horror story to be truly scary, it needs to keep the reader on their toes by including multiple types of horror. Still, many horror stories will focus slightly more on one of many different types of horror.

Although genre-mixing is a little less common in heavy metal music, the genre has more sub-genres than I can possibly list here. And new ones are being created all of the time – whether it was the increase in popularity of pirate and viking-themed metal bands during the 2000s, or the way that some modern metal bands include electronic elements in their music (eg: trance metal bands like Rage Of Light etc..) or the fact that there are modern metal bands that make new music inspired by 1980s metal (eg: Iron Spell, Monument, Cauldron, Unleash The Archers etc..), metal is a constantly-evolving genre.

But, if there’s one word that unites the two genres, it is “complexity” or possibly “sophistication”. Although both genres were seen as “low brow” during their 1980s heyday, they will often express more creativity, complexity and variety than you might expect.

3) Awesome painted cover art: Ok, this is much more of a 1980s thing than a modern thing. But, if there’s one thing that both horror fiction and heavy metal albums had in common with each other at the time, it is that their cover art often had some really awesome similarities.

In short, both genres often used really dramatic “realistic”/highly-detailed paintings that would be filled with all sorts of dramatic visual storytelling. In addition to this, they were also one of the few places where new Tenebrist art appeared regularly – whilst updating this old genre slightly by contrasting brighter colours against the traditional gloomy backgrounds.

As works of art, these 1980s book and album covers really didn’t get the popular recognition that they deserve. And, although this cover art style grew out of the limitations of the time (eg: CGI graphics and photo-editing were a bit more primitive or expensive back then), one of the cool side effects of it was that it gave both genres a very distinctive “identity” too.

Or, to put it another way, in the early 2000s, when I only used 56k internet infrequently and smartphones didn’t exist (well, for me, they still don’t 🙂 ), my younger self could easily identify interesting-looking heavy metal albums and old horror novels in second-hand shops by literally just glancing at the cover art. Even though I might never have heard of a particular band or author before, I could tell if they were someone I might like just from the style of the cover art. Can you think of any modern genres, in this age of photo-based cover art, CGI etc… which this is true for?

Plus, of course, when I got into making art, these types of cover art probably had more than a little bit of an influence on how I handle things like lighting and colour – even if my art often tends to have slightly more of a sci-fi/cyberpunk theme to it.

“Dereliction Heights” By C. A. Brown

“Computer Parade” By C. A. Brown

“Between Floors” By C. A. Brown

4) Shock value and a sense of humour: One of the cool things about both old-school heavy metal and old-school 1980s horror fiction was that they both had fun with shock value. Whether it was the ultra-gruesome descriptions in the average splatterpunk novel or the hilariously stupid moral panic about heavy metal in mid-1980s America, both genres knew how to rebel and shock.

But, the awesome thing about this is that it was almost always done in a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek fashion. Whether it is the gloriously over-the-top unrealistic silliness of the average “gross out” ’80s splatterpunk novel (see later “giant vermin” novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Breeding Ground” and Michael R. Linaker’s “Scorpion” for great examples of this) or all the hilariously creative and gloriously silly outfits that metal bands used to wear during the ’80s, their sarcastic liner notes/backwards messages about the mid-1980s heavy metal controversy, their on-stage stunts like the giant puppets of Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” mascot or Judas Priest’s Rob Halford riding a motorbike on stage etc..

Neither genre takes all of this “shock value” stuff entirely seriously and this lends both genres a cool, timelessly rebellious and uniquely fun atmosphere that hardly ever turns up anywhere else (I mean, the only other examples I can think of are a few 1990s first-person shooter computer games like “Doom” and “Blood”),

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (25th February 2020)

Well, I thought that I’d take a very short break and make a landscape painting (normal paintings will resume tomorrow). Anyway, this digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took of a rather gothic statue in the grounds of an old house called Hinton Ampner last March.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Hinton Ampner – Statue” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Devil Daggers” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d take a look at a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for a while. I am, of course talking about an indie game from 2016 called “Devil Daggers” (V.3, I think), which I happened to notice was on special offer on GOG several days before I prepared this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Devil Daggers”. However, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) BLOODY IMAGES.

“Devil Daggers” is a minimalist 1990s-influenced first-person shooter game and, in true ’90s tradition, there isn’t much of a story. You play as an unnamed person who finds a mysterious hovering dagger in a gloomy room. When you pick it up, you are transported to an arena in hell where skeletal monsters constantly attack you. There is no end, no victory. Only survival until cold, inevitable death.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 1990s/ early-mid 2000s FPS games then you’ll really enjoy it. Not only does it do some innovative stuff with a familiar formula, but it is also a game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, like a lot of great classic games, the emphasis is very firmly on the actual gameplay.

: Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at a group of floating skeletal monsters in a dark, blood-spattered arena. Text in the upper left corner reads New High Score.

Yes! Gameplay! In a modern FPS game! Who would have thought it?

And what gameplay it is! In essence, this game is a stripped-down version of a classic ’90s shooter, with the player only having a small number of attacks (eg: a continuious fire mode and a shotgun-like blast attack) at the beginning of the game – both of which are accessed via the same mouse button. These attacks become more powerful after collecting a certain number of crystals dropped by fallen enemies (and there’s an incentive to stop shooting occasionally, since they float towards you when you do).

In the classic fashion, you can also run and turn very quickly. You only have one health point. Various skeletal monsters keep spawning endlessly (in a predicable, pre-set fashion that you’ll have to learn). There is no way of “winning” and, instead, you are scored on how long you managed to survive. At the time of writing, my personal best is 149.7742 seconds.

This took me way too much practice. Not to mention decades of playing old FPS games before finding this game.

All of this adds up to an incredibly fast-paced, frenetic, thrilling and streamlined game that also feels a lot like learning a skill 🙂 It is a game where, every time you fail, you’ll want to pick yourself up and practice some more. Not only do you need quick reflexes but, like in many of the classic FPS games of the 1990s, there are tactics and strategies you need to learn in order to stand a chance.

Whilst avid 1990s FPS gamers will probably be very familiar with some of them (eg: circle-strafing etc..), each of the game’s monsters have different weak points, attack patterns etc… that you’ll need to learn if you want to do better than you did last time.

Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at the middle of a giant floating eight-legged skull creature. A smaller skull, the creature's weak point, is glowing from being struck by the daggers.

For example, you need to hit a very specific spot in order to harm this monster.

For example, one of the game’s monsters is a horned skull. After you’ve died a few times, you’ll realise that if you don’t see one of these on screen then it often means that it is right behind you and you have less than a second left to live! So, you need to fight these horned skulls before fighting other types of monsters.

:  Image of an outstretched hand in front of a horde of levitating skeletal monsters. A horned skull looms large in the close foreground.

Yes, this is actually a good thing. It’s when you can’t see the horned skulls that you have to worry.

Plus, since you only have one health point, literally all of the game’s monsters are a serious threat to you – although this is balanced by the classic “bullet hell” technique of giving the player a tiny hitbox. All of this brilliantly replicates the suspenseful and challenging fun of old FPS games like “Blood“, where every battle actually feels like a genuine struggle for survival.

Like in a classic FPS game, there’s a really good variety of monsters too. Like in “Doom” and “Quake”, most of these have a skeletal, hellish and/or Lovecraftian theme to them. And, as mentioned earlier, they all have different attack patterns, weak spots etc.. that you have to learn too. This really helps to prevent the game from becoming monotonous and also sets it apart from famous horde-battle games like “Painkiller” and “Serious Sam“, in that mindless shooting won’t really get you very far.

Although this game doesn’t have a saving system, it doesn’t actually need one. Since you are scored on how long you survive, the game only needs to save your highest score. Plus, like in old-school FPS games, there is a very fast iteration time too (which helps prevent your numerous deaths being too frustrating). Once you die, you can just click “retry” and start a new game less than a second later.

Of course, this can easily lead to a fairly bad case of “just one more go…” where a quick five-minute session can turn into half an hour or more without you even really noticing or caring. So, yes, this game is a serious time-guzzler – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The game has a lot of options too. In addition to a field of view slider, you can also enable/disable various flickering effects etc… and even better, you can actually choose to play as a left-handed character. It’s a tiny thing, but is still really cool to see (given that I’m left-handed) and it also places the game in the tradition of the original “Doom”, “Quake II” (you have to choose it in the options though), the old “Zelda” games and a few others 🙂

Image of an outstretched left hand, the thumb little more than bone, in front of a giant hovering centipede like creature made out of bones.

Seriously, it’s so cool to play as a left-handed character 🙂

One of the cool things about the DRM-Free GOG version of this game I played is that it actually contains an optional “offline mode” 🙂 So, if you believe that single-player games shouldn’t require an internet connection and that the best form of competition is against yourself, then the GOG version of this game is well worth playing 🙂 I haven’t tested the online mode but, from what I’ve read, it seems to involve competing for a place on an online leaderboard.

In terms of the graphics and art style, this game is very heavily influenced by both the hellish atmosphere of the original “Doom” and the creepy Lovecraftian aesthetic of “Quake”, whilst also being it’s own thing too. The game contains deliberately old-school 3D models that still somehow manage to look cooler, creepier and just generally more awesome than the most “realistic” modern “AAA” graphics. Seriously, the moment where the giant skull-spider appears for the first time is something that you’ll never forget. This game is a work of art, and proof that a distinctive aesthetic beats hyper-realistic graphics every time 🙂

An image of the game, but the colours are bright, highly-saturated yellows, reds and pinks.

Plus, whenever you gain a weapon upgrade from collecting crystals, time slows down for a second or so and this cool effect plays.

Plus, like in a lot of great older games, there is a lot of emphasis placed on lighting too. Whether it is all of the various glowing projectiles or the fact that the game tells you that you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the arena (which, of course, has a bottomless pit behind it) by how dark the floor is, it is so awesome to see a game that uses light and darkness in such a conscious and cool-looking way 🙂

In terms of the music and sound design, this game is really good 🙂 The sound effects are all suitably crunchy, which really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and weight to the game. The music is the kind of ominous, creepy ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the original “Quake”. But, whilst this certainly adds a creepy atmosphere to the game, it is slightly at odds with the fast-paced and frenetic gameplay. So, after a while, I just went through my music collection and put some heavy metal music on in the background instead.

All in all, this is a really cool tribute to classic 1990s/early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Doom”, “Quake”, “Blood” and “Painkiller” 🙂 Not only is it enjoyably challenging and incredibly thrilling, but it also sticks to the traditions of innovation and creativity that used to be standard in the FPS genre. It is both very similar and very different to the classic games that it takes inspiration from. It is unique. Just don’t expect to get anything productive done after you’ve installed it though. It’s a time-guzzler, but in the best possible way.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.