Review: “Doctor Who – Smile” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the second episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them, I hope to review as many episodes as possible.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Smile”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

So, let’s take a look at “Smile”:

The episode begins in the TARDIS with Bill asking The Doctor lots of questions. In the traditional fashion, he offers to take her anywhere in time and space, much to Nardole’s chagrin.

Whilst all of this is going on, a woman called Nadia is standing in a field of wheat on another planet in the future, watching a group of robots (called Vardies) tend the crops. However, she receives a radio message from her sister telling her to return to the buildings nearby. When she meets her sister, she smiles at Nadia before telling her that their parents have been killed by the robots.

As well as being incredibly chilling, this scene also stars Mina Anwar from “The Thin Blue Line” (who plays Nadia’s sister).

Needless to say, Nadia doesn’t smile. This upsets the robots….

So, naturally, they resolved the misunderstanding over a cup of tea and some scones.

Of course, after all of this, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where the TARDIS ends up taking Bill and The Doctor….

Hey, it’s a friendly robot! This is going to be a fun adventure!

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is an absolutely brilliant sci-fi/horror episode.

The idea of robots (both traditional robots and micro-bots) who kill anyone who doesn’t pretend to be happy is genuinely chilling and the episode gets a lot of suspenseful drama out of this. Although, since this is “Doctor Who”, there’s also a lot of comedy too and – unlike in the previous episode – this episode actually gets the balance between comedy and horror right!

Like how the robots still look hilariously adorable when they are in “killer robot” mode.

One of the reasons why this episode works so well is because, unlike some episodes of the show, it’s actually traditional science fiction! In other words, there’s a logical and scientific explanation for everything that happens in the episode. This helps to keep the story coherent, as well as making the horror-based parts of the episode even more chilling too (eg: the idea that the city is built out of micro-bots etc..). There is nothing mystical or supernatural in this episode, just good old fashioned malfunctioning technology.

Of course, this also gives the episode a bit of a thriller-like storyline, since The Doctor and Bill have to work out why everything has gone catastrophically wrong. Likewise, they also have to find a way to stop the robots before more human colonists begin to arrive on the planet. So, yes, this episode is a good mixture of science fiction, horror, comedy, suspense and (mostly) intelligent problem-solving. In other words, this episode is “Doctor Who” at it’s best!

There are so many interesting things in this episode, such as the fact that the robots communicate via emoticons/ emojis (which is both hilarious and chilling at the same time). Likewise, they insist that all humans wear badges that display their mood – this allows for a lot of suspenseful dramatic moments where we see that a character’s true emotional state is different from the one that they are expressing.

Although the idea of a “flawed utopia” is an incredibly old trope in science fiction, this episode actually manages to do something new and interesting by turning the idea of a utopia itself into a source of horror. The idea that the utopia is only a utopia to people who act like they’re living in a utopia is a brilliantly intelligent and chilling one. Likewise, the whole idea of well-intentioned robots going horribly wrong (because they lack an understanding of humanity) is also genuinely chilling too.

One of the cool things about this episode is the set design. The utopian city is the kind of shiny, modern-looking thing that looks very trendy and very “new” – and, yet, the only safe place in the city is a grimy, old 1980s-style spaceship that looks like something from “Blade Runner” or “Red Dwarf“. This clever visual contrast between safe and dangerous places is an absolutely brilliant subversion of typical visual storytelling in the science fiction genre.

In this episode, this shiny, trendy, clean and new modern building is incredibly dangerous…

And this cool-looking “Blade Runner”/”Red Dwarf”-style area is reassuringly safe. YES! Finally, sci-fi set design that makes sense!

As for the writing, it’s really good. There’s lots of classic “Doctor Who” style clever rapid-fire dialogue, lots of intelligent ideas and lots of hilarious questions from Bill too. Likewise, the pacing of this episode is considerably better than in the previous episode. Since the episode starts out with something horrific, the slower-paced scenes when Bill and The Doctor arrive on the planet actually work because they help to build suspense.

The only criticism I have of the episode’s storyline is possibly the ending where the Doctor pretty much lets the robots get away with mass murder (and actually insists that the humans pay them rent for living in the city). Likewise, a major part of the episode’s storyline is that the robots/micro-bots have become sentient and that the Doctor thinks that they should be considered to be life forms. Yet, he has absolutely no problem with “turning it off and on again” and wiping their memories near the end of the episode. Although this is a logical course of action, it kind of goes against everything else that The Doctor has said about the robots.

Likewise, the Doctor is predictably horrified when the human colonists take up arms against the robots. Yet, he has no real problem with killing one of the robots in self-defence earlier in the episode (by throwing it off of a bridge). So, yes, the whole “The Doctor is a pacifist” thing is handled in a wildly inconsistent and incoherent way in this episode.

Needless to say, the Doctor doesn’t approve of this.

Likewise, the acting in this episode is fairly good too. Although some of the episode’s horror comes from the actual storyline, a large part of what makes this episode so chilling is the acting, and the main cast manage to pull off the whole “pretending to be happy, whilst obviously not happy” thing surprisingly well. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this episode also guest-stars Mina Anwar from “The Thin Blue Line“, which was a really cool surprise.

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant episode. It contains a really good mixture of genuinely chilling horror, (mostly) logical science fiction and a fair amount of humour. The set design in this episode is brilliantly creative, the acting is really good and there’s lots of brilliant dialogue too.

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

Review: “People Watching” (Season 1) (Animated Youtube Series)

Well, I don’t usually review things on Youtube but I thought that I’d make an exception in this extra article. This is mostly because, over the past ten weeks, the creator of my favourite webcomic (Subnormality” By Winston Rowntree) has been releasing a weekly animated Youtube series called “People Watching” which was co-produced by a humour/journalism site called “Cracked”.

So, since the individual episodes are a bit too short to review on their own, I thought that I’d wait until the first season of the show had finished and review it as a whole.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, this is a show that is firmly aimed at audiences in their 20s-30s. So, if you don’t fit into this age group, then you may or may not enjoy it as much.

So, let’s take a look at season one of “People Watching”:

This is most of the series’ cast, although one character is standing behind the camera in this scene.

Although “People Watching” contains several recurring characters, the episodes are self-contained and can be watched in pretty much any order (it’s best to watch episode 10 last though).

Like in Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics, the episodes often tend to focus on observations about society, introspective topics and cultural commentary. The series also contains a mixture of comedy and serious moments. Sorry if this description sounds a bit bland, but it’s a really difficult series to describe in a single paragraph.

Let me start by saying that the art in this series is actually as good as the astonishingly detailed art in “Subnormality”. I’d initially expected the level of artistic detail to drop somewhat due to the practicalities of the animation process. But, Rowntree’s art is as spectacular as ever.

Plus, the Sphynx also makes a cameo appearance in the background here.

As for the animation quality, it’s surprisingly good considering that this is a low-budget series on Youtube. Although there are occasional examples of clunky animation (such as someone running in the early parts of episode four), limited animation and/or re-used backgrounds – the animation is, on the whole, fairly good. Since this is a series where the main emphasis is on the dialogue and the storytelling, the limitations of the animation don’t really get in the way of the show.

Likewise, the voice acting in this series is fairly good too. Since the series mostly focuses on a group of new characters, there isn’t the “this character shouldn’t sound like that” problem that you can sometimes get when comics and/or novels are adapted to the screen. The main characters sound like fairly ordinary American or Canadian twentysomethings and the voice acting just comes across as “acting” rather than “voice-acting”.

But, in terms of story quality, the series is something of a mixed bag though. For every good episode, there’s usually one.. less-good… episode.

But, when this series is good, it is good! So, I’ll start with the best moments. As a side note, the episode titles displayed in the episodes are different from the video titles (“Cracked” is notorious for random, inexplicable title changes).

The best episodes in the series are probably episode four and episode nine. And here’s why…

Episode four (“Death Is Bullshit”) revolves around a character having a near-death experience and then trying to find some way to rationalise the concept of death. Although this sounds like a super-depressing episode, it is one of the most psychologically nuanced and emotionally profound things that I’ve ever seen on Youtube. Surprisingly though, it seems to be one of the least popular episodes in the series – if the Youtube comments when it was originally realeased were anything to go by.

Yes, it might look like science fiction. Parts of the episode might even sound like science fiction. But, it isn’t an episode about science fiction!

However, if you remember that it’s supposed to be an episode about psychology and not about science fiction or new age philosophy, then it will probably make you cry with it’s sheer emotional profundity.

Even though the episode itself points out that it’s about the fear of death and it’s effects (eg: in a spine-tingling moment, one of the characters quite literally points out that “death f**king makes you crazy”) a lot of people assumed that the episode was some kind of new age tract and criticised it. But, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as profound or well-written on Youtube. Seriously, watch it!

Episode 9 (“In Defence Of Talking During The Movie”) isn’t as weighty or philosophical as episode four is, but it’s certainly the most fun episode in the series.

The episode revolves around two characters called Ted and Martha who are having a hilarious conversation about a movie that they’re watching on TV. After the movie finishes, they decide to go to a nearby cinema to watch (a parody of) one of the “Taken” films.

Seriously, the dialogue in this episode is hilarious. This screenshot really doesn’t do the episode justice.

Throughout the film, both them and various audience members think and comment about how terrible the movie is whilst other characters are horrified that people are talking in the cinema. There’s a bit of random philosophy, some cultural commentary and so much brilliant sarcasm (eg: Martha’s line about how people are expected to sit in “reverent silence” during terrible movies still makes me laugh when I think about it). It’s a fun, funny and heartwarmingly nice episode.

Episode 10 (“Nostalgia”) sits somewhere between these great episodes and the good episodes I’ll describe in the next paragraph. It mostly consists of an optimistic motivational speech (with a few sci-fi elements) that packs a surprising emotional punch, especially if you’ve seen more of the series. I might not agree with literally all of the sentiments in the episode, but it’s still an incredibly dramatic episode and a fitting conclusion to the season.

Plus, episode 10 has the best-looking title card in the whole series.

Anyway, onto the “just good” episodes. The most notable of these is probably episode two, which is an animated remake of Rowntree’s “Non-religious confessional” comic from “Subnormality”. Given that this episode compresses a dialogue-heavy (but short by “Subnormality” standards) comic strip into a single six-minute video, whilst also adding a lot of extra improvements, it’s certainly a good episode.

One of the most astonishing things about episode two is that the backgrounds are sometimes MORE detailed than in the original comic!

Likewise, episode seven focuses on a self-help group for people who look popular but are secretly losers. This episode is fairly close to the tone of the original comics, with lots of introspective dialogue and dark humour.

It also contains a bit more characterisation for some of the main characters too.

Then there are the mediocre and/or terrible episodes. Some episodes, like episode eight or episode three, seem like they could be something interesting – but end up going in a fairly predictable direction instead. Likewise, some episodes can – for want of a better term- become insufferably hipsterish. Episodes five and six, I’m looking at you!

The art and set design in episode six looks really cool, but the whole episode revolves around looking at smartphones and having awkward conversations. Yes, it’s meant to be an episode about how creativity can sometimes be the only form of self-expression some people are comfortable with, but the episode gets this point across in a slightly obtuse, confusing and hipsterish way.

Episode five introduces Ted and Martha and is a critique of the TV show “Friends”. But, well, the dialogue (and the politics etc..) in this episode is probably about as hipster as you can get.

All in all, this series is extremely good though. Or, rather, half of it is. Even so, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, artistically beautiful and well-written pieces of original content that you can find on Youtube. In a sensible and logical world, this wouldn’t be an obscure collection of 5-10 minute shorts, it would be an actual animated TV series! Seriously, if you want to watch something with a bit more depth than the average animated TV show, then check out “People Watching”. Or, parts of it at least (eg: episodes 2,4,7,9 and 10) .

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would average out at about four. But, at it’s best, it’s a six and – at it’s worst – it’s a two or a three.

Review: “Doctor Who – The Pilot” (TV Show Episode)

Well, the new series of “Doctor Who” started yesterday- so, it’s time for a review.

Although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them (eg: the review probably won’t appear for a day or so at least), it has been way too long since I last reviewed an episode of “Doctor Who” (and, yes, I know that I reviewed the Christmas episode a few months ago, but still…).

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Pilot”. Needless to say, this review might contain some SPOILERS.

The episode begins at a university, where the Doctor is teaching. He’s asked somone called Bill to his office because she has a habit of attending his lectures, even though she isn’t a student at the university (she works in the cafeteria).

Yet, instead of complaning or ordering her not to attend lectures, The Doctor is intrigued by the fact that she apparently smiles whenever she doesn’t understand something. So, he wants her to become one of his students and offers to become her tutor.

Needless to say, it isn’t long before Bill realises that The Doctor is slightly… strange.

After a strange series of events involving another character called Heather – Bill, The Doctor and his friend Nardole find themselves fleeing through time and space in the TARDIS in order to escape a mysterious watery ghost who seems to be chasing them across the universe….

The first thing that I will say about this episode is that, as the title suggests, it’s an episode that can be enjoyed if you’ve never watched “Doctor Who” before. It spends a while reintroducing and re-explaining various elements from the series, which slows down the pacing of the episode slightly. Still, as introductory episodes go, it manages to cram a lot of characterisation and storytelling into just fifty minutes.

Plus, unlike the previous series, it’s a proper stand-alone episode. It tells a single story that is concluded by the end of the episode. After the relentless over-use of two-part episodes in 2015, it’s great to see the series returning to what it does best!

Still, despite all of the cool stuff in this episode, the pacing isn’t quite right. The beginning of the episode is surprisingly slow-paced for a “Doctor Who” episode and, whenever something thrilling, suspenseful or creepy happens later in the episode, it is often broken up by a subsequent scene with a different emotional tone.

This is especially disappointing since this episode really, really tries to be a horror episode. There are even a few scenes that are reminscent of late 1990s/early 2000s horror films too. But, many of the creepy parts of the episode aren’t really allowed to develop to their full potential since the suspenseful atmosphere is often broken by something random and/or silly.

For example, this had the potential to be a really suspenseful scene. But, Bill and the Doctor get into the TARDIS and flee to Australia long before the ghost even gets close to them.

But, although this episode fails slightly as a horror episode, there is still loads of really cool stuff here. In addition to lots of hilarious dialogue and subtle references to earlier parts of the show, there are all sorts of interesting locations and we also even get to hear the Doctor delivering a lecture about time too. Plus, there’s a vaguely “Blade Runner”-like scene that involves a mirror in an old photograph.

One other cool moment in this episode is where The Doctor uses the “monster infighting” tactic from the original “Doom” in order to try to defeat the ghost. In other words, he tricks a Dalek into fighting the ghost by standing in front of the ghost and diving out of the way just before the Dalek fires it’s lasers. Seriously, it’s great to see classic 1990s FPS gaming tactics in TV shows.

Well, the corridor was too narrow for circle-strafing, I guess.

As for Bill, it’ll be interesting to see how her character develops as the series progresses. The scenes involving her include a good mixture of both comedy and serious drama. She comes across as a fairly realistic character, even though she has a habit of asking hilarious questions almost constantly. A lot of the drama and comedy in this episode comes from the fact that Bill has only just been introduced to the TARDIS, time travel, other planets etc.. So, it’ll be interesting to see how her character changes when she gets more used to going on adventures with the Doctor.

One other outstanding feature of this episode is the set design. This episode contains a ridiculous number of locations and they all look suitably interesting, realistic and/or futuristic. In addition to the cool blue/orange colour scheme used in the locations where the Daleks appear, there’s also a scene set on another planet that includes almost Hollywood-level effects:

Seriously, the CGI in this series has really improved over the past decade.

All in all, it’s great to see “Doctor Who” back on TV again. Although this episode doesn’t really “work” as a horror episode and the pacing isn’t quite right, it’s an absolutely great introduction to the series for people who have never watched “Doctor Who” before. It’s kind of like a “greatest hits” compilation of everything that makes “Doctor Who” what it is – even if it ends up being slightly less than the sum of it’s parts sometimes.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.

[OLD VERSION] Mini Review: “Swanky Moppets” (Mod/TC For “Ultimate Doom”/ “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Swanky Moppets Doom mod review sketch

[Note: I write these articles fairly far in advance of publication. And, between writing and posting this review/first impressions article, an updated version of this mod (now called “Gloom Busters”) has apparently been released. So, this review is more of a historical curio, and it is NOT a review of the mod in it’s current state.]

Well, it’s been a while since I reviewed anything “Doom”-related, so I thought that I’d take a quick look at a very unique mod/TC for all of the classic “Doom” games called “Swanky Moppets“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this mod. Likewise, at the time of writing, I’ve only had the chance to play this mod for 2-4 hours at most -so, this is more of a “first impressions” article than anything else.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Swanky Moppets”:


The besy way to describe “Swanky Moppets” is that it’s kind of like a cross between those “Purple Ronnie” cartoons that were inexplicably popular during the 1990s, “Chex Quest” and the old “Commander Keen” games. It’s also literally the polar opposite of “Brutal Doom“. But, at the same time, it’s also it’s own unique thing as well. And it’s hilarious! Here’s the story for the game:

The "Don't cark it!" part still makes me laugh :)

The “Don’t cark it!” part still makes me laugh 🙂

Seriously, I can’t overstate how funny this mod is. Yes, most of the humour is on the subtle side – but it’s always great to see a modern “Doom” mod that doesn’t try to be gritty or serious. This is a mod that’s about classic 1990s style fun, humour, personality and innovation. It’s totally and utterly silly in the best sense of the word.

For example, you’ll find a disposable camera (anyone remember those?), which you can use to take selfie photos with. Although this is a fun novelty, after taking about 10-20 photos, you’ll find that you’ve somehow broken the space-time continuum and have frozen time for about 30 seconds or so (possibly more). You’ll also have goth-vision too!

My whole life is a darkroom... one, big, dark room.

My whole life is a darkroom… one, big, dark room.

Plus, one of the other weapons is a badass motorbike with flames painted on it! Yes! Just yes!

Born to be wild!

Born to be wild!

Likewise, all of the well-animated weapons in this mod have a really cartoonish look to them and they’ll often cause large, sparkly explosions when fired. Seriously, this is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed – but the whole screen will often literally be filled with sparkles during firefights:

Yay! Remember when weapons in computer games used to be this joyous and whimsical? Yes, I miss those days too!

Yay! Remember when weapons in computer games used to be this joyous and whimsical? Yes, I miss those days too!

Another cool thing about this mod is the sheer number of weapons on offer – I’ve played it for a couple of hours and I still haven’t seen all of them. Yes, many of them are various types of cartoonish laser guns, but they also often include alternative fire modes too – which is a really cool touch.

However, the visual changes included in this mod are something of a mixed bag. Although the replacements for many of the in-game objects are quirky, funny and interesting – the wall textures can sometimes include clashing colours and/or look slightly too bright.

I guess that this is part of the “look” of the mod, but I’d have preferred it if the mod had stuck to one or two basic colour palettes and had included a balanced mixture of light and dark wall textures in order to give the levels more visual contrast. Still, the visual effects that appear when using certain power-ups make up for this:

Yes, WHY didn't the original "Doom II" look more like this?

Yes, WHY didn’t the original “Doom II” look more like this?

Yes, it might make your eyes bleed if you look at it too long. But, palm trees, sparkles and 1980s colours!!!!!!!!!!! :)

Yes, it might make your eyes bleed if you look at it too long. But, palm trees, sparkles and 1980s colours!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

Plus, if you play “Ultimate Doom” with this mod, then you’ll be treated to a really cool animated screen when you finish each level (in the first episode at least, I haven’t looked at the others with this mod).

Although “Doom II” and “Final Doom” just display a static image at the end of each level, it’s still really cool to see an animated completion screen in “Doom”. Seriously, I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before!

The enemy design in this mod is, in a word, superb! All of the other characters have a distinctive, cartoonish aesthetic – and you’ll actually feel kind of bad about shooting at the adorable cast of characters and creatures that you’ll encounter.

This mod is wonderfully cartoonish.

This mod is wonderfully cartoonish.

Still, in classic “Commander Keen” fashion – the other characters don’t actually die when you shoot them, they just kind of sit down and grin at you. The creatures, on the other hand, explode into a delightful shower of sparkles.

Awww... Aren't they adorable? Now, let's turn them into sparkles!

Awww… Aren’t they adorable? Now, let’s turn them into sparkles!

As for the music and sound design, it’s surprisingly good. A lot of the music seems to consist of cool remixes of the classic “Doom” music and they can actually sound surprisingly dramatic.

As for the sound design, this mod is filled with precisely the kind of “Commander Keen”-style bleeping and zapping sounds that you would expect.

Yes, this sounds pretty much EXACTLY like you'd expect it to sound.

Yes, this sounds pretty much EXACTLY like you’d expect it to sound.

All in all, this mod is fun, unique and very 1990s in the best possible way. It hearkens back to a time when games were joyously silly and even tried to make the player laugh sometimes. It reminds me of a time when games each had their own unique “personality” and aesthetic.

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

Review: “Infestation In Time Revisited TC” (Mod/Levels For “Duke Nukem 3D”)

2017 Artwork Duke 3D infestation in time mod review

Well, I still seem to be in a “Duke Nukem 3D” kind of mood at the moment, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting set of levels called “Infestation In Time Revisited TC“.

Although, at the time of writing, the ModDB page refers to an earlier version of “Infestation In Time”, the download page only includes the new version – which I will be reviewing.

In order to play “Infestation In Time Revisited TC”, you’ll need to download the “eDuke32” source port for “Duke Nukem 3D”. Then copy the ‘Duke3D.grp’ and ‘Duke.rts’ files from your copy of “Duke Nukem 3D” into the “eDuke 32” folder. After this, just follow the instructions that are included in the readme file for “Infestation In Time Revisited TC”. Once you’ve done this, use the dedicated “IITC” batch file to start the game (don’t just use the default “eDuke32” launcher!)

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Infestation In Time Revisited TC”:

infestation in time episode select

“Infestation In Time Revisited TC” contains 14 levels (spread over two episodes), some secret & multiplayer levels, new monsters, new weapons, new textures, 3D models, new gameplay mechanics, new music and new sounds.

As the title suggests, it’s a total conversion – and yet it still looks very much like a “Duke Nukem” game, albeit with a hint of “Serious Sam”.

The basic plot is that Duke is relaxing at home when *shock horror* the aliens decide to invade again. After battling them in Los Angeles, he travels to an EDF base in the Antarctic where he learns that the aliens are using a time machine of some kind….

Yes, Duke REALLY will get medieval on their asses. Literally!

Yes, Duke REALLY will get medieval on their asses. Literally!

This is my BOOMSTICK!

This is my BOOMSTICK!

Although this mod tells a story, it mostly contains the kind of classic non-linear level design that you would expect from a real FPS game, even in the obligatory train level.

In fact, the only truly linear level in the game is still surprisingly interesting for the simple reason that you spend literally all of it trying to outrun a series of fast-moving explosions.

This level does what it says on the tin.

This level does what it says on the tin.

One really cool thing about the level design in this mod is that there’s a large variety of locations to explore – from a secret Russian base, to the streets of LA, to the middle ages, to Ancient Egyptian catacombs, to – my personal favourite – a gothic realm that exists beyond the limits of space and time:

Complete with "Harry Potter"-style dementors too :) This is so cool :) ... Well, apart from the puzzle near the end of the level.

Complete with “Harry Potter”-style dementors too 🙂 This is so cool 🙂 … Well, apart from the puzzle near the end of the level.

Yay! This is just like "Stargate" and "Serious Sam" :)

Yay! This is just like “Stargate” and “Serious Sam” 🙂

The maker of this mod is also a huge fan of switch puzzles too and, although most of them aren’t too bad – the first level contains a puzzle with nine switches! Yes, there’s probably a solution hidden somewhere in the level but, after a lot of trial, error and fruitless searching, I had to resort to cheats in order to progress:

Of course, the REAL code you need to use here is "DNCLIP" (or typing "noclip" in the eDuke32 command prompt).

Of course, the REAL code you need to use here is “DNCLIP” (or typing “noclip” in the eDuke32 command prompt).

Likewise, level five of the first episode contains a switch puzzle… where the switches are spread out across a large level! Again, for the sake of my sanity, I had to use a cheat code or two.

There's fun difficulty and then there's cheap difficulty. Cheats are useful for the latter.

There’s fun difficulty and then there’s cheap difficulty. Cheats are useful for the latter.

Still, the mod includes some rather innovative new gameplay features. One of these is a cash system where Duke can find $5 bills lying around levels that can be used to buy weapons in several weapon shops that are spread out around the game. There are also ladders that Duke can climb and a rudimentary physics system that has to be used to solve several puzzles:

This isn't actually the solution to the puzzle in question, but it was fun to do.

This isn’t actually the solution to the puzzle in question, but it was fun to do.

As for the weapons, “Infestation In Time Revisited TC” includes some fairly cool ones. Some of the guns now even have 3D models too.

Interestingly, Duke now has two pistols – a “Golden pistol” which is fairly similar to the standard “Duke 3D” pistol and a “realistic” pistol which fires more rapidly (and uses a different ammo type). The shotgun, RPG and tripmines also have new textures, but are basically the same. There’s a slightly useless grenade launcher, a Devastator-style plasma weapon and a flamethrower too 🙂

It's like the freezethrower... but with FIRE!

It’s like the freezethrower… but with FIRE!

As for the new monsters, there are almost too many to mention. This is one of those really cool mods where you’ll never get bored with the monsters for the simple reason that there are just so many different types! But, most surprisingly of all, this game also includes an unused monster from the original “Duke 3D” too:

During my limited experiments with the Build editor when I was a kid, I saw these things in the sprite files and I could never work out what they were supposed to be. But, now I know!

During my limited experiments with the Build editor when I was a kid, I saw these things in the sprite files and I could never work out what they were supposed to be. But, now I know!

Musically, this mod includes both traditional 1990s style music (in the medieval levels) and a classic rock/hard rock soundtrack. Personally, I’ve always thought that Duke would be more of a heavy metal fan, but it’s cool nonetheless. Plus, in true “Serious Sam” fashion, the final boss battle in the second episode does include some epic metal music in the background:

The music is really cool, but this boss battle is actually easier than the episode one boss battle for the simple reason that there's a circular arena and no extra monsters.

The music is really cool, but this boss battle is actually easier than the episode one boss battle for the simple reason that there’s a circular arena and no extra monsters.

All in all, this is a really fun mod. Yes, it might be a bit too puzzle-heavy and some parts of it may be a little clunky, but it’s still ridiculously impressive when you consider that it’s based on a game from 1996 🙂 If you’re a “Duke 3D” fan, this mod is well worth checking out 🙂

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

Review: “Army Of Darkness: Director’s Cut” (Film)

2017 Artwork Army Of Darkness review sketch

I first saw “Army Of Darkness” when I was about fourteen or fifteen. If I remember rightly, I bought an old ex-rental VHS of it (which had a gigantic case, does anyone else remember when rental videos used to have these?). This was some time after I’d seen the first “Evil Dead” film, but possibly sometime before I’d seen the second one.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what I thought of “Army Of Darkness” back then – but the comedy probably went completely over my head, since I probably expected it to be a gory horror movie like it’s predecessors.

A few years later, I learnt that virtually all of the classic 1990s FPS games made by 3D Realms referenced the movie in some way or another (in fact, the box art for “Duke Nukem 3D” is a blatant rip-off of the poster from this movie – so is the title image for this review). So, naturally, it went on my “to watch” list… for many years.

Last year, I found a cheap second-hand DVD of the Director’s Cut on Amazon (the 2002 UK edition, that also includes the original US version of the film) and – well- I just had to rewatch it!

“Army Of Darkness” is a horror/comedy movie from 1993. After a brief re-cap of the events of the second “Evil Dead” movie, Ash is thrown through a mystic portal back to medieval England (or, a version of Medieval England that looks a lot like an American desert). Captured by some nearby knights, he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between King Arthur and King Henry.

Sentenced to death, Ash is thrown into a pit to be consumed by one of the many zombies that are plaguing the land. Ash being Ash, the zombie soon ends up being chainsaw fodder. Amazed by his prowess in battle, King Arthur and his magician agree to help Ash get back to the present day. Of course, this involves finding the Necronomicon……

As I hinted earlier, this film is actually a dark comedy movie rather than a horror movie.

Although the film does contain some truly brilliant moments of dark humour, a fair amount of the humour is of the slapstick variety. Even though some of this is genuinely funny (such as when Ash is slapped by skeletal hands), it does get a little bit repetitive and predictable after a while. Still, some of the English accents in this film are literally “so bad that they’re good” and I should know, I’m English!

It may be because I’m more used to TV shows than movies these days, but the storytelling wasn’t as great as I remembered. The plot seemed to jump along too quickly in some parts, there are a few small plot holes and the characterisation is wildly inconsistent….

But, this is missing the point of what “Army Of Darkness” is supposed to be about! It’s a movie that’s meant to be fun! It’s a cheesy old American horror comic brought to life and infused with the sarcasm of the 1990s. It’s Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court“! It’s part of a great tradition of medium-budget American comedy horror films from the 1980s and 90s.

It’s a film where zombies are chainsawed mercilessly, where skeletons explode, where medieval knights duke it out with the undead, where the main character is a cartoon character in human form etc… It’s a horror comedy classic.

As well as lots of hilarious skeletons and cheesy zombies, the best thing about this film is the dialogue. There are so many great lines in this film that I’ve heard quoted a million times before in “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Blood” and, well, it’s interesting to see where they all came from. But, even if you’ve never played these games, then you’ll probably find at least a few brilliantly quotable lines here.

Like with the ex-rental VHS I saw when I was a teenager, the “Director’s Cut” keeps the hilariously cynical and pessimistic original ending to the film. This was removed from the original US version of the film and replaced with something that is ten times more badass, but slightly less funny. Having seen both endings, I’m really not sure which one I prefer.

Although I couldn’t spot every difference between the director’s cut and the version I saw on video when I was a teenager, the director’s cut is apparently 15 minutes longer than the original theatrical version. From what I’ve read online, one scene that was originally cut in the theatrical version was a totally bloodless zombie decapitation in the “zombie pit” scene.

Apparently, they had to cut this because the MPAA would have given the film a NC-17 rating if it stayed in. To call this censorship “bizarre” would be an understatement, given that far more violent films were passed by US censors at the time. Then again, it may be an example of the MPAA’s apparent ultra-harsh treatment of any film not by the “big five” film studios. Even the UK censors gave this film a “15” certificate in 1993, back when they were ridiculously strict.

Amusingly, the film was originally planned to have a “PG-13” certificate in the states. Although this is perhaps prescient of today’s cynical trend for watered-down sequels/remakes, the only real difference between this movie and the previous “Evil Dead” films is the relative lack of blood and the extra humour. The visual style of a lot of the film is still wonderfully gothic in the way that only films from the 1990s seemed to be able to be.

As for the special effects, they’re surprisingly good for a medium-budget film from 1992/3. There are epic battles, lots of stop-motion animated skeletons, dramatic explosions, cartoonishly distorted body parts etc… Although some of the effects may look a little bit old-fashioned by modern standards, I imagine that they would have been ten times more epic back in the 1990s.

All in all, this film is a classic. Yes, some of the slapstick humour gets slightly repetitive and the characterisation is a bit random, but this isn’t meant to be a “serious” film. It’s a film about time travel and zombies in the middle ages. It’s from a time when Hollywood actually made films that were meant to be fun!

A time before identikit superhero movies, “updated” remakes, CGI tech demo movies, generic dialogue-light action movies and endless reboots.

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

Mini Review: “Super Nukem Bros.” (Mod For “Duke Nukem 3D”)

2017 Artwork Super Nukem Bros mini review

Well, it has been ages since I last reviewed any levels for “Duke Nukem 3D”, so I thought that I’d look at a rather strange mod called “Super Nukem Bros.” that is based on the old NES “Super Mario” games. At the time of writing this review, I’ve played about two thirds of the mod, so this review will only reflect my experiences so far.

Since the first “Mario” game I ever played was on the SNES, the NES “Mario” games are slightly before my time – but, after playing a “Doom II” WAD called “Doom: The Golden Souls“, I’m always curious about “Mario”-style FPS games.

As usual, you’ll need the ‘eDuke 32’ source port and a copy of the full version of “Duke 3D” in order to run this mod. [Edit: If you’ve got the modern “World Tour” edition, then this community patch might be helpful in getting the game to run with eDuke 32. I’ve got an older version of the game, so I haven’t tested this patch (with or without the mod) though.]

Just copy the ‘Duke3d.grp’ and ‘Duke.rts’ files from your full version of the game into the ‘eDuke32’ directory. Then create a folder called “autoload” in that directory and copy the mod’s ZIP file into it. Then, when you start ‘eDuke32’, click the box that says ‘Enable Autoload Folder’.

Anyway, let’s take a look at ‘Super Nukem Bros.’:

Super nukem bros - title screen

The game is split into three short episodes, the first two are a re-creation of the very first ‘Super Mario’ game. The third one is entitled ‘An Alternate World’ and I’ll discuss my limited experiences with it later.

One of the first things that I will say is that “Super Nukem Bros.” takes a very literal approach to recreating the original “Mario” game. Each level is quite literally a thin, linear corridor with all of the usual platforms and pipes that you would expect from a “Mario”-style game. Although the game only features “Duke 3D” monsters, it does include a new ‘fire flower’ weapon that replaces the chaingun and/or rocket launcher:

Although it has limited ammo, it can gib virtually any monster with a single shot.

Although it has limited ammo, it can gib virtually any monster with a single shot.

The most amusing part of this mod is the fact that the steroids have been replaced with ‘Staroids’ instead. And, yes, they even play the classic ‘golden star’ music from “Mario” when you use them:

[Insert controversial joke about Russia and the 2016 Olympics here]

[Insert controversial joke about Russia and the 2016 Olympics here]

As for the gameplay and level design, the first two episodes are fairly good when you consider that they’re trying to be an accurate reproduction of a 2D platform game.

...And, yet, it's probably STILL less linear than many modern "AAA" FPS games are..

…And, yet, it’s probably STILL less linear than many modern “AAA” FPS games are..

Personally, I’d have preferred it if the designer of these levels had gone for more traditional FPS levels with a “Mario” style look (like in “Doom: The Golden Souls”), but I can understand that this mod was going for historical accuracy more than anything else.

Although first-person platforming is the bane of many a classic FPS gamer’s existence, it’s handled fairly well in the first two episodes – with generously-sized platforms and a large jump height. In fact, the first two episodes are actually fairly easy. Apart from a frustrating section involving cannons and occasional ammo shortages, of course.

Yes, this is probably the most difficult part of the first two episodes.

Yes, this is probably the most difficult part of the first two episodes.

However, I should probably talk about what little I’ve played of the third episode.

Although I initially thought that this episode contained better and more non-linear level design – the first level alone commits one of the cardinal sins of first-person platforming, which renders it almost unplayable (and led to me abandoning the third episode halfway through the first level!):

 Tiny platforms are ok in 2D platform games. In first-person games, they're nearly impossible! Even without monsters!

Tiny platforms are ok in 2D platform games. In first-person games, they’re nearly impossible! Even without monsters!

As for the music, it’s surprisingly good. All of the music in “Super Nukem Bros” is based on music from the classic “Mario” games, although it has a slightly richer and more complex sound if I remember rightly. The music from the title screen is probably the best track in the entire mod 🙂

All in all, the concept behind this mod is pretty cool and I have to applaud the fact that someone has managed to re-create the first “Mario” game in “Duke Nukem 3D”. However, this mod isn’t without flaws and – if you’ve got a copy of “Doom II” – then I’d recommend checking out “Doom: The Golden Souls” instead if you want a “Mario”-style FPS game.

If I had to give “Super Nukem Bros” a rating out of five, it would get three.