Review: “Brighton Belle” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

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Well, it has been way too long since I last wrote a book review (I think that the last one was in 2014!).

So, I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting detective novel called “Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan that I got as a Christmas present last year (along with two other novels by the same author), and finished reading about fifteen minutes before I started writing this review (which was originally written quite a few months ago).

So, let’s take a look at “Brighton Belle”. However, I should probably point out that this review may contain some moderate PLOT SPOILERS:

This is the 2016 reprint (published by Constable [London]) that I read. I'm not sure if the original 2012 printing of the book used this cover art, but it looks really cool.

This is the 2016 reprint (published by Constable [London]) that I read. I’m not sure if the original 2012 printing of the book used this cover art, but it looks really cool.

“Brighton Belle” is the first novel in Sheridan’s ‘Mirabelle Bevan’ series – a series of self-contained detective novels set in Brighton during the 1950s. Mirabelle Bevan is a former military intelligence officer who ended up working in debt recovery after the end of World War Two.

“Brighton Belle” takes place in 1951 and it begins with a pregnant woman called Romana Laszlo arriving in Brighton. It soon turns out that she has run up some fairly large debts in London and, with Mirabelle’s boss off sick, it is up to Mirabelle to find her.

After talking to a Hungarian priest that she knew during the war, Mirabelle learns that Romana has died in childbirth. Although Mirabelle initially thinks that all she has to do is to make a formal claim against Romana’s estate, something seems slightly off about everything. So, she begins to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that, although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, it’s fairly compelling. Sheridan’s third-person narration is slow-paced enough to allow for descriptions and characterisation, but fast-paced enough to remain interesting. “Brighton Belle” isn’t the kind of book that takes weeks to read, but it also isn’t the kind of lightning-fast thriller novel that you pretty much have to read in one sitting.

In other words, it’s the kind of wonderful book which you can read at your own pace. You can enjoy it in five-minute bursts or, like I did, read half of it within the space of about three hours. Another thing that helps to make “Brighton Belle” more readable is the fact that it’s a reasonable length too. In an age where virtually every novel seems to be a 400+ page doorstopper, it’s good to see a modern novel that is a streamlined 243 pages in length.

The mystery at the heart of “Brighton Belle” is, as you might expect, filled with all sorts of clever twists and turns. Whilst I’m wary about giving anything away, it’s one of those novels where several of the plot twists will initially seem slightly contrived until later in the story, when they begin to make sense. There’s also a well-placed red herring or two too.

However, despite all of the clever plotting, some parts of the ending seem a little bit rushed. Likewise, one part of the story seems more like something from an American detective novel than a British one.

At one point in the story, a character gets away with shooting an unarmed criminal in the back, with barely any questions or repercussions from the police. In an American detective story, this would hardly raise an eyebrow. But, in a story set in Britain, it just seems a little bit unrealistic and out of place (at the very least, there would have been an arrest and probably a trial).

Although I’d initially expected “Brighton Belle” to be more of a “Poirot” style detective story, it’s probably slightly closer to the hardboiled detective genre. Throughout the story, Mirabelle meets an assortment of shady characters and, like any good “film noir” detective, uses various extra-legal methods in her investigation. This is made especially interesting by the fact that Mirabelle isn’t really a typical hardboiled detective character.

In fact, despite working in wartime intelligence, she had little to no experience of fieldwork during the war. So, she often has to rely on information she remembers from military manuals, her instincts and things that she heard from people she worked with. This helps to add an extra element of suspense to the story, since she doesn’t really come across as the kind of experienced detective that is common in the noir genre. But, at the same time, she’s intelligent and tough enough not to come across as being too out of her depth either.

The other characters in this novel are all fairly well-written too. The main villain of the story is chillingly mysterious and, apart from a few intriguing hints, we never get to learn too much background information. The best supporting character is probably Vesta, a clerk in the office across from Mirabelle’s who ends up getting drawn into the mystery too. Although she mostly ends up being Mirabelle’s sidekick, she also becomes the closest thing that Mirabelle has to a friend and there’s also a good amount of contrast between the two characters’ personalities.

One slight problem with this novel is that, although the historical elements of the novel come across very well, I never really got a vivid sense of place. Even though it’s been a few years since I was last there, I’ve visited Brighton more times than I can remember and, yet, when I was reading the book, I found myself imagining the setting as a generic seaside town. This didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story, but I’d have liked to have seen more descriptions of the narrow lanes, the ornate pier, the coast etc..

All in all, despite my occasional criticisms, “Brighton Belle” is an enjoyable novel. The characters are interesting and the mystery becomes more and more compelling throughout the novel. It’s very readable and short enough that you can read it over a few days or in one 5-6 hour session. If you like the “film noir” genre, or enjoy historical crime drama shows like “Boardwalk Empire” or the old ITV adaptation of “Poirot”, then it’s worth taking a look at this book too.

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

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Mini Review: “Dead.Air [Beta V.1 (old version)]” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles ridiculously far in advance. Likewise, I try to include at least one “Doom II” WAD review/mini review here every month.

I’m mentioning this because, on Christmas morning last year, I was greeted with a really cool surprise – an early beta of a WAD called “Dead. Air” , which is the sequel to a really cool cyberpunk WAD I reviewed last year called “Dead.Wire” 🙂 And, yes, I know that I’ve still got to finish and review “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” too.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Likewise, there’s probably an even better updated version of “Dead.Air” out there by the time that this article eventually goes out. Still, for historical reasons if nothing else, I’ll be looking at this earlier version.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dead. Air [Beta V.1]”:

screenshot_doom_20161225_030912

Like with it’s predecessor, “Dead.Air” is a single-level cyberpunk horror WAD that includes new weapons, sounds, textures, monsters etc… One of the first things that I will say about “Dead. Air” is that it is much more of a horror-themed WAD than it’s predecessor was.

Woooo....

Woooo….

At the beginning of the level, you start out in an ominously quiet area, consisting of a darkened room and several gloomy grey corridors. Not only are you partially invisible, but the automap is clouded too. You have no weapon.

Soon, you find a weak “Quake II”-style infinite ammo laser pistol. Then you hear the howls of monsters. But, for a second, you can see nothing. Then it dawns on you – the monsters are partially invisible just like you…..

 So much for having an advantage!

So much for having an advantage!

After exploring this mysterious area for a while and fighting some monsters, you’ll reach the main part of the level and this is cyberpunk horror FPS gaming at it’s finest. The main level takes place within a giant city-like area, with several large futuristic side areas that you’ll visit at various points.

One of the first things that you’ll notice is that the monsters both look, and sound, a lot creepier than usual. But, somehow, the new cacodemons still manage to be adorable though 🙂

Oh, you! :)

Oh, you! 🙂

Not only do the monsters look creepier, but some been tweaked slightly too. For example, the new version of the pinky demon has a significantly more powerful attack than usual. So, keeping your distance from them becomes much more essential than it normally is in “Doom II”. Although it sounds like a small difference, it transforms a mildly annoying creature into a formidable foe that will force you to use new tactics.

Despite not having a functional mouth, they'll still eat you significantly faster than conventional pinky demons.

Despite not having a functional mouth, they’ll still eat you significantly faster than conventional pinky demons.

When confronted with a horde of these creatures, you're basically screwed... unless you can find something to hide behind that they can't get through...

When confronted with a horde of these creatures, you’re basically screwed… unless you can find something to hide behind that they can’t get through…

Another cool change is the fact that all of the weapons have been replaced. The pistol has been replaced with a suitably awesome machinegun. The super shotgun has been replaced by something that is like a cross between the shotgun from “Painkiller” and the flak cannon from “Unreal Tournament”.

The chaingun has been replaced with a nailgun. The rocket launcher has been replaced by a *meh* grenade launcher. The plasma cannon has been replaced by something a bit more powerful. And the BFG has been replaced by… this:

So many explosions :)

So many explosions 🙂

But, best of all, that weak “Quake II”-style infinite ammo pistol I mentioned earlier can be upgraded! You’ll find upgrades for it hidden throughout the level (I found about four or five of them) and they will gradually turn it into a weapon that is actually useful. Seriously, I love the new weapons in this WAD 🙂

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Yes, the level channels you towards various arena-like set pieces, but large parts of it still manage to be fairly non-linear. There’s also a good variety of ominously gothic areas, futuristic city areas and awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk areas (which have really cool red/green/blue and black colour schemes):

 For example, in this red area, you have to get rid of all of the monsters before you can leave. Plus, if you fall off the platforms, you'll lose 20 health - but won't die instantly (unless you have less than 20 health, which you soon will - given the number of monsters that appear). Now, THIS is good design!]

For example, in this red area, you have to get rid of all of the monsters before you can leave. Plus, if you fall off the platforms, you’ll lose 20 health – but won’t die instantly (unless you have less than 20 health, which you soon will – given the number of monsters that appear). Now, THIS is good design!]

 Likewise, you can choose which themed area you visit first :)

Likewise, you can choose which themed area you visit first 🙂

The only fault I could find with the level design was the fact that the epic final battle (featuring about 8 cyberdemons!) has so much stuff happening in it that if, like me, you’re using an old computer then it will slow down to an absolute crawl.

Fun fact: This screenshot is only marginally slower than the gameplay was on my (old) computer.

Fun fact: This screenshot is only marginally slower than the gameplay was on my (old) computer.

Since this slowdown rendered this part of the level unplayable, I was forced to use cheats to get through it. Still, if you’ve got a more modern machine, then it’s probably a lot more awesome. The ending to this level is really cool too, and actually includes a small cutscene (of sorts).

Yay! Retro horror 1980s CRT monitor goodness :)

Yay! Retro horror 1980s CRT monitor goodness 🙂

As for the gameplay, it’s as challenging as you would expect for a modern “Doom II” level. That is, to say, it isn’t for beginners! If, like me, you’re a moderately experienced player then it will probably take you 1-2 hours to complete this level on medium difficulty.

One cool thing about the gameplay in this level is that it includes both “traditional style” gameplay (eg: exploration, puzzle-solving, a moderate number of monsters) and more modern-style “slaughtermap” areas (eg: linear arenas with lots of monsters). Since I love both styles of gameplay, I really liked how this level was able to include both (albeit more of the latter) but I thought that I’d mention it nonetheless.

All in all, even though this was an early version of the level, it’s still really cool. Yes, it lacks some of the claustrophobic atmosphere that “Dead.Wire” had, but it more than makes up for this with all of the cool stuff that you will encounter when you play this level. The first part of the level is genuinely creepy and both the the monster design and weapon design is stunningly good. Yes, the last part is virtually unplayable on older computers, but it’s still a really cool level nonetheless.

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

Mini Review: “Interloper” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom II” WAD quite so soon. But, due to a combination of being in a stressed mood and realising that the indie game I’d planned to review soon (“Shadowrun: Dragonfall”) might take a lot longer to complete than I thought, I was in the mood for some “Doom II”. So, I ended up playing a WAD called “Interloper“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it’ll probably run on any modern source port.

So, let’s take a look at “Interloper”:

screenshot_doom_20161203_185054

“Interloper” is a five-level WAD that has apparently been inspired by the new “Doom” game that came out last year. Since I haven’t played that game, I can’t comment on any similarities. So, I’ll be looking at this WAD on it’s own merits.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it (mostly) seems to be a “vanilla” WAD, with no new textures, weapons, monsters etc… However, during one or two parts of the game, I noticed that it contained better lighting effects than “standard” “Doom II” has. These might be the result of subtle sprite alterations (eg: adding orange highlights to the sprites), or it could be to do with the source port I’m using – but it looks really cool.

Of course, it WOULD look cooler if the surrounding environment was even gloomier. But, still, the added highlights are just about noticeable on the imp standing on the platform.

Of course, it WOULD look cooler if the surrounding environment was even gloomier. But, still, the added highlights are just about noticeable on the imp standing on the platform.

In terms of the gameplay, this WAD is reasonably good. Although this WAD probably won’t take you more than an hour or so to complete, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. The difficulty level is high enough to be mildly challenging, but low enough to allow this WAD to function as an effective form of stress relief. In addition to this, the WAD actually includes a slight difficulty curve, with each level being slightly more challenging than the last.

As for the actual level design, it’s fairly good. The levels are non-linear enough to require exploration, but they’re also designed in such a way that you are unlikely to get “stuck” for any significant length of time. The only possible exception to this is the very beginning of level two, which features a large pit near the start of the level. This pit seems to have no “idiot proofing” whatsoever and, if you fall into it, you’ll have to re-load a saved game in order to get out of it.

 If there's a lift or a teleport here, I certainly couldn't find it!

If there’s a lift or a teleport here, I certainly couldn’t find it!

But, this aside, the level design here is really good. Some stand-out moments include a large multi-tiered room in level three which obviously required some rather creative programming and/or source port knowledge to create, since it places something like three or four platforms on top of each other in the same room.

 If this level had come out in 1994, it would be put on trial for sorcery!

If this level had come out in 1994, it would be put on trial for sorcery!

Likewise, although this WAD only really uses the “standard” textures, they are used in a way that prevents them from becoming visually monotonous. As well as using a good variety of sci-fi textures and “hell” textures, this WAD also features a few interesting-looking areas too:

Like this creepy red room...

Like this creepy red room…

...Or this ominously damaged corridor.

… Or this ominously damaged corridor.

The most enjoyable levels in this WAD are probably the final two levels. Although an arch-vile appears in level three, the difficulty level only starts to really get fun from the fourth level onwards. Yes, these levels aren’t extremely challenging, but they’re challenging enough to really be fun.

Whilst the fourth level is a fairly well-designed “standard” level, the fifth level is like a very mild version of a “slaughtermap” level, where you’ll be running along a long corridor and fighting a slightly larger number of monsters. This level also features a climactic battle against a weakened spider demon (it took a mere two BFG shots to defeat, although this could be due to prior monster infighting) and two cyberdemons.

Surprisingly, the cyberdemon battle was fairly easy, due to the abundent ammo hidden nearby, the arena-like area and the fact that there are a few low-mid level monsters nearby who will also start fighting the cyberdemons too.

Yes, this final boss battle is a little bit on the easy side, but it'll make you feel like a badass.

Yes, this final boss battle is a little bit on the easy side, but it’ll make you feel like a badass.

All in all, this is a rather fun WAD. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything like that but it’s a solid, well-designed set of levels that will provide you with about an hour or so of amusement.

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

Review: “Technobabylon” (Computer Game)

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The cyberpunk genre is one of those genres that really should appear more often in computer games. After all, it’s an entire genre of sci-fi that revolves around computers.

But, it is a genre has been relatively neglected by modern mainstream developers. Thankfully, indie developers have proved themselves to be more than up to the task of filling this void in gaming culture.

“Technobabylon” is one of those games that I’d been meaning to play for ages, ever since I first read about it (although the price seemed a bit too high for the limited gaming budget I had then), but only got round to buying during a sale on GOG a few days before I originally wrote this review.

I should probably warn you that this review may contain some mild SPOILERS. Likewise, I messed up the chapter numbers in the file names for the screenshots in this review. The chapter numbers seem to be in binary and I mistook “10” for ten and counted the chapter numbers accordingly.

So, let’s take a look at “Technobablyon”:

technobabylon-title-screen

“Technobabylon” is a 1990s-style “point and click” game by Wadjet Eye Games and James Dearden that was released in 2015.

As regular readers of this blog will probably know, I’m a fan of Wadjet Eye’s “Blackwell” series (you can read my reviews of those games here, here, here, here and here). Likewise, Wadjet Eye Games also has a bit of history with the cyberpunk genre when they released Joshua Nuernburger’s excellent “Gemini Rue” a few years earlier. So, naturally, my expectations about “Technobabylon” were fairly high. And this game surpassed them!

The premise and storyline of “Technobabylon” would take quite a while to describe here but, in summary, this is a game where you play as three people living in an AI-controlled mega-city who find themselves in the midst of a strange conspiracy.

Yes, my summary of the game’s plot sounds hopelessly generic and it really doesn’t do the game’s story justice – but if you like deep, intelligent cyberpunk storytelling in the tradition of “Neuromancer“, “Blade Runner“, “Ghost In The Shell” and “Deus Ex“, then you’ll find it in abundance here.

 Well, and ...specialist... robots too. Ok, there's only one of these.

And …specialist… robots too. Ok, there’s only one of these.

One of the most striking things about this game is how unique it is. Although the game makes no secret of it’s influences, it also contains a very unique, fully-formed and distinctive cyberpunk “world”. Every tiny background detail in this game (and there are lots of them) feels like an organic and “realistic” part of the game’s world.

For example, the futuristic equivalent of the word “f**k” is the word “nuke”. This sounds hilariously silly when you first hear it. But, later in the game, you learn that the world has experienced something like seven nuclear conflicts before the events of the game. However, in a stroke of genius, this information isn’t relayed through a sombre monologue or anything like that. You only really learn about it from watching another character play a virtual reality computer game:

... And you'll probably be laughing throughout this entire scene too! Now THAT is good writing!

… And you’ll probably be laughing throughout this entire scene too! Now THAT is good writing!

“Technobabylon” is also different in tone to anything else in the cyberpunk genre and, yet, is pretty much the definition of “cyberpunk” at the same time. It’s a game about “high technology and low lives”, to use the famous quote.

Needless to say, this place looks a lot less grim in virtual reality...

Needless to say, this place looks a lot less grim in virtual reality…

And, like in Warren Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" comics, there are amusing background characters too.

And, like in Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics, there are amusing background characters too.

Seriously, I cannot praise the emotional tone of the game highly enough. Even though “Technobabylon” includes some fairly heavy subject matter ( grisly murders, scientific ethics, terrorism, bereavement, poverty, blackmail, cannibalism etc…), it is never depressing or bleak in tone. The game contains just the right amount of sarcasm and dark humour to balance out these grim parts of the story without robbing them of their dramatic significance.

Oh government computer, you loveable rogue!

Oh government computer, you loveable rogue!

Likewise, the game’s futuristic world isn’t completely dystopian too. Cyberspace is shown to be a meritocratic place where both rich and poor are pretty much equal to each other (albeit with the side effect that poorer people are more likely to become addicted to it as a result). Not only that, since it’s set something like 70 years into the future, being LGBT is pretty much a total and utter non-issue too.

Seriously, this game is a liberal game in the best way possible – it doesn’t preach or anything like that, it just subtly shows how good some parts of the future could be.

This game is also a “mature” game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, it’s a complex, intelligent game. Like in “Deus Ex”, there are moments where you will have to make moral decisions that have no clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. There are times when things are left unsaid. The game’s story also contains actual philosophical depth and will actually make you think. The game’s characters come across as being genuine (and realistic) people, the game shows the existence of multiple political systems etc…

Both amusingly and depressingly, the EU is shown to be ludicrously restrictive and over-protective. Pre-Brexit this was probably kind of funny but, post-Brexit, it already seemed a bit out of date.

Both amusingly and depressingly, the EU is shown to be ludicrously restrictive and over-protective. Pre-Brexit this was probably kind of funny but, post-Brexit, it already seemed a bit out of date.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned the gameplay yet. This is because it is, for the most part, pretty standard “point and click” gameplay. You talk to people, pick up items, walk around, combine items occasionally and solve puzzles.

Although most of these puzzles involve futuristic technology, there's relatively little "moon logic" here.

Although most of these puzzles involve futuristic technology, there’s relatively little “moon logic” here.

But, even if – like me – you’re absolutely terrible at adventure game puzzles (and have to read walkthroughs constantly), then this game is still a lot of fun because of it’s story, it’s characters, the level of interactivity on offer and the brilliantly designed “world” of the game. Seriously, even with heavy walkthrough use, this game still has at least 5-7 hours of gameplay.

Even if you cheat in virtually all of the puzzles, you probably won’t feel like you’ve been cheated by this game. The only possible exception to this is the final ‘chapter’ of the game, where there’s a lot of pointless wandering back and forth before you finally reach the game’s dramatic conclusion. Likewise, one of the puzzles involving finding plant specimens seems to involve a certain degree of randomisation too.

Yes, the puzzle a while before this part of the game seems to be slightly randomised. Still, it isn't that difficult to solve - since you just have to find a plant that matches a particular description.

Yes, the puzzle a while before this part of the game seems to be slightly randomised. Still, it isn’t that difficult to solve – since you just have to find a plant that matches a particular description.

My favourite puzzle in the game is probably the very first “chapter” of the game, which is a self-contained “escape the room”/ game tutorial puzzle.

Although it can take a while to learn how the game’s technology works (eg: you have to use a gelatinous substance called “wetware” to connect to devices, you have to connect to cyberspace to do certain things etc..), all of the elements of the puzzle are easily found and there’s some truly hilarious comedy too.

This isn't even the funniest line in chapter one. Just try to get the food machine to make a metal fork and you'll be treated to one of the funniest (and most "Futurama"-like) lines from the game.

This isn’t even the funniest line in chapter one. Just try to get the food machine to make a metal fork and you’ll be treated to one of the funniest (and most “Futurama”-like) lines from the game.

Visually, the game is spectacular. Like in the later “Blackwell” games, Ben Chandler’s pixel art is truly superb.

As you would expect from a cyberpunk game, the entire game takes place at night – which allows for some truly beautiful lighting. Likewise, the location design takes heavy influence from both “Ghost In The Shell” (especially the ‘Stand Alone Complex” TV series) and “Blade Runner”. Naturally, it looks extremely cool as a result:

Yay! MORE games need to include "Blade Runner"-like streets like THIS :)

Yay! MORE games need to include “Blade Runner”-like streets like THIS 🙂

And more "Ghost In The Shell"-style stuff like THIS :)

And more “Ghost In The Shell”-style stuff like THIS 🙂

Plus, there's also a little bit of Lovecraftian gothic horror too. Seriously, I LOVE how this game looks :)

Plus, there’s also a little bit of Lovecraftian gothic horror too. Seriously, I LOVE how this game looks 🙂

Even though the download for this game is something like 900mb-1gb in size (seriously, it’s a 1990s-style 2D game! Still, the file size isn’t as bloated as some other modern games in this genre like “Deponia“!), the game runs reasonably well even on old computers – although the walking speed during the cyberspace segments can be a little slow.

Likewise, if you’ve got an older PC, then switch the graphics from 32-bit to 16-bit before you start playing. It doesn’t seem to make an obvious visual difference, and it helps the game to run faster. However, if you save your game with one graphics setting, you can’t access those saves if you’re using another graphics setting. So, change the settings before you start playing!

In terms of the voice acting, it’s really good. All of the voice actors fit the characters really well, and their lines are delivered with a movie-like level of quality. Not only that, the voice acting can sometimes be an essential part of the game’s comedy too – especially with robotic characters like Cheffie and Stepford, who have been designed to sound annoying in a hilarious way.

Yes, the food machine's voice sounds JUST as annoying as you would expect. But, she's hilariously funny at the same time.

Yes, the food machine’s voice sounds JUST as annoying as you would expect. But, she’s hilariously funny at the same time.

In terms of music, most of it just seems to be the kind of ambient futuristic music that you would expect. One stand-out tune is a slightly understated rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, which really helps to add some atmosphere to a couple of parts of the game.

However, since this is a relatively new game, the soundtrack isn’t included in the “standard” game download you can buy from GOG. In fact, you have to shell out another few quid in order to “upgrade” to a version of the game that includes MP3 copies of the soundtrack, and other bonus stuff. Still, at least it isn’t modern-style “DLC”, I guess.

All in all, “Technobabylon” is a perfect sci-fi game. Seriously, it’s up there with games like the original “Deus Ex”. Yes, there are a few annoying puzzles – but these are more than made up for by the complex storytelling, the immersive world of the game and the fact that this is a serious, intelligent sci-fi game that still has a sense of humour. The art looks stunning and the characters are really interesting too. As I said, it’s pretty much perfect! Just be sure to keep a walkthrough handy!

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

Mini Review: “Urban 2” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”)

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Well, although I plan to review an indie game called “Technobabylon” at some point in the near future, I realised that I’d been neglecting “Doom II”. After all, it’s been over a month since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD. So, in light of this sad situation, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a very short WAD called “Urban 2“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, the WAD may possibly work with the original DOS versions of “Doom II” and “Final Doom”, since it also contains an installer of some kind (although you can just use the “URBAN2” and “URBANGFX” files with ZDoom without using the installer).

So, let’s take a look at “Urban 2”:

screenshot_doom_20161129_180140

As you may have guessed from the screenshot, “Urban 2” is primarily a deathmatch level. However, it does contain a certain amount of single-player content. This includes a defined exit and several monsters to fight. This WAD also contains quite a few new textures and a couple of new item sprites too.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it looks cool. The thing that drew me to it initially was the fact that it’s meant to look a little bit like “Blade Runner”:

Seriously, WHY are there so few cyberpunk WADs? The only other vaguely cyberpunk WADs I can think of are "Dead.Wire", "Valhalla", "Hacx", "Nerves Of Steel", "Winter's Fury" and a few levels from "Ancient Aliens".

Seriously, WHY are there so few cyberpunk WADs? The only other vaguely cyberpunk WADs I can think of are “Dead.Wire”, “Valhalla”, “Hacx”, “Nerves Of Steel”, “Winter’s Fury” and a few levels from “Ancient Aliens”.

Since it’s primarily intended for deathmatch, this WAD is very short too. You can complete the whole thing in less than ten minutes even if, like me, your “Doom II” skills have atrophied somewhat from lack of practice.

Yes, I have one health point. Since I've mostly been playing "point and click" games, platform games and isometric shooters for the month before writing this review, I even actually had to get used to using FPS controls again!

Yes, I have one health point. Since I’ve mostly been playing “point and click” games, platform games and isometric shooters for the month before writing this review, I even actually had to get used to using FPS controls again!

As a deathmatch level, I imagine that “Urban II” probably works really well. The level is divided into a small “street” arena and a subway station. The street area is a fairly simple square arena, with quite a few cool secret areas, lots of explosive barrels, a few alleyways and several low-level monsters.

The subway area consists of a platform, a track, some low-level monsters and the level exist. However the use of a slime texture for the train tracks is somewhat misleading, since it doesn’t actually damage you when you step on it.

 Yes, it's completely harmless! But, unfortunately, it doesn't also give you a healthy green glow.

Yes, it’s completely harmless! But, unfortunately, it doesn’t also give you a healthy green glow.

As a single-player level, it’s short and fairly easy (even if, as I said, you’re slightly out of practice). Even novice “Doom II” players won’t find much in the way of a challenge here. But, to be honest, there’s more to this level than than combat. Even though it might only take you a few minutes to complete it, it’s worth spending those few minutes just for all of the cool visuals on offer here.

It would have been nice to see a full-length single player level in this style, but even a short deathmatch-based level that looks like "Blade Runner" is worth playing.

It would have been nice to see a full-length single player level in this style, but even a short deathmatch-based level that looks like “Blade Runner” is worth playing.

This graffiti art looks really cool, although the lack of imps in this level is somewhat strange (seriously, there are just zombies here).

In addition to all of the enviromental textures, the level also includes a few improved item sprites too. The rocket, bullet box and super-shotgun pickup sprites all contain changes. These changes are fairly subtle, but they all help to make this WAD look a bit more distinctive. I haven’t seen these textures in any other WADs, so they also have a certain uniqueness to them too.

 This new item texture for the Super Shotgun is probably my favourite. However, the actual weapon sprite is completely unchanged.

This new item texture for the Super Shotgun is probably my favourite. However, the actual weapon sprite is completely unchanged.

All in all, this is an entertaining way to spend five minutes. It looks really cool and the new textures work fairly well too. Yes, it’s probably ten times more fun if you’re playing it multiplayer but it’s still cool to see a deathmatch level that acknowledges the existence of single-player gamers too. For what it is, “Urban II” is a pretty cool little level.

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

Review: “Alien Shooter 2: Reloaded” (Computer Game)

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Well, after playing quite a bit of the first “Alien Shooter” game (and completing “Zombie Shooter”), I was curious about what the second “Alien Shooter” game would be like.

Thankfully, there was still a sale running on GOG a few days before I originally prepared this review (in late 2016), so I was able to pick up a copy of “Alien Shooter 2” for 79p. I think that it costs about a fiver at full price though.

And, since I completed “Alien Shooter 2” a few minutes before I started writing this review, this will actually be a full review, rather than a partial review or a first impressions article.

Plus, like with the other games in this series, I should probably warn you that this review contains unrealistic/cartoonish GRUESOME IMAGES and BLOODY IMAGES.

So, let’s take a look at “Alien Shooter 2”:

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“Alien Shooter 2” is an isometric third-person perspective action game from 2009. One of the very first things that I will say about this game is that, unlike the first “Alien Shooter” game, this one actually has something of a story to it. In other words, there’s actual voice-acting, NPCs and even the occasional set piece.

Of course, some of the voice acting is kind of funny, such as the voice acting for this character. I literally laughed out loud when he said “deep in the bowels of this place” in a serious voice.

And, yes, there are set pieces like this one too.

And, yes, there are set pieces like this one too.

In other words, this is more like a “mainstream” game in some subtle ways. A few of the levels are somewhat more linear than usual and all of the levels are vaguely story-based. Whilst this detracts from the timelessly thrilling gameplay slightly, it’s something that you can get used to after a while. Even so, most parts of this game are just as thrillingly fast-paced as the first “Alien Shooter” was. And, thankfully, this game isn’t as easy as your typical mainstream game is 🙂

However, before I go any further, I should probably point out that the controls/perspective can take a bit of getting used to. Whilst I’d had a lot of practice with the previous games, one annoying feature in this game is the inclusion of vehicle-based segments (including at least one vehicle-only level).

The vehicles use a totally different control scheme to that used for normal character movements (eg: directions are from the perspective of the vehicle itself, rather than from the perspective of the overhead viewpoint) which can confuse the hell out of you and cause you to swerve around wildly until you finally get used to another set of controls…. only to then have to get used to the “normal” controls again once you leave the vehicle.

Seriously, why couldn’t the vehicles have used the same movement controls as the rest of the game?

The difficulty curve in this game is kind of strange too. Ironically, some of the earlier levels and one level in the middle of the game are more difficult than the later levels. This is mostly because, by the end of the game, you have such powerful weapons and such impressive stats that you may as well be playing with “god mode” enabled.

Yes, as soon as you get one of the better rocket launchers, the difficulty drops from "hard" to "easy" LOL!

Yes, as soon as you get one of the better rocket launchers, the difficulty drops from “hard” to “easy” LOL!

 Yes, even though the last two levels contain five bosses [well, sort of...], it only took me two attempts to beat both levels. Whereas, one level in the middle of the game took me at least six tries to get through!

Yes, even though the last two levels contain five bosses [well, sort of…], it only took me two attempts to beat both levels. Whereas, one level in the middle of the game took me at least six tries to get through!

Another reason why some levels are almost unreasonably difficult is because of the game’s saving system. Whilst this game now allows you to replay previous levels, it still uses the dreaded checkpoint saving system (only saving when you’ve completed a level). Given that one difficult level in the middle of the game is literally half an hour long, having to replay the whole thing every time you fail will probably cause you to ragequit more than a few times.

Yes, getting to this part of the level isn't too difficult after a couple of attempts. But, unless you picked up the hidden rocket launcher (or found enough in-game bonuses to buy it) earlier, then you won't stand a chance in the last part of the level.

Yes, getting to this part of the level isn’t too difficult after a couple of attempts. But, unless you picked up the hidden rocket launcher (or found enough in-game bonuses to buy it) earlier, then you won’t stand a chance in the last part of the level.

On the plus side, this game has received some fairly cool upgrades. Not only are there more characters, weapons and stats available, but you also get to choose an upgradeable ‘perk’ at the beginning of the game. The best one to go for is probably the “vampirism” one (which gives you health every time you destroy a monster) since it complements the aggressive playing style that you’ll need to use. Not to mention that it makes the final boss battle a lot easier too.

Plus, the perk selection screen actually has a sense of humour. Seriously? Humour? In an action game from 2009? Maybe there's hope for games after all....

Plus, the perk selection screen actually has a sense of humour. Seriously? Humour? In an action game from 2009? Maybe there’s hope for games after all….

But, unlike other games in this series, you can’t use bonus items you find whilst playing to buy extra lives. You only get extra lives on the rare occasions that a monster drops a “+1” power-up. I don’t know why they left this feature out, since it makes a couple of the levels more difficult than they should have been. But, for the most part, it doesn’t affect the game too much.

Graphically, the game has been given a huge upgrade compared to the previous game. The lighting in this game looks beautiful, and most of the locations, animations and monsters are more detailed too. Whilst this gives the game a lot more atmosphere and allows some parts of it to be even more ludicrously gruesome than the first “Alien Shooter” game, it does come at a cost. If you’re using an older computer, then expect some fairly long loading times both between missions and when you load up the game itself. Still, if you set the graphics to minimum, then the actual gameplay itself will still run at a decent speed.

Fun fact: This game came out at least a year BEFORE “Brutal Doom” did, and yet this one monster death animation somehow manages to be more splatterific than all of “Brutal Doom” combined.

And just check out this awesome lighting! Yes, there are some parts of the game that are set during boring daylight, but the gloomy corridors are the best parts of the game.

And just check out this awesome lighting! Yes, there are some parts of the game that are set during boring daylight, but the gloomy corridors are the best parts of the game.

The game also contains the usual survival modes etc… too. I didn’t really have much of a chance to check these out but from, what I saw, they seemed to be pretty much what you would expect.

All in all, this is still an absolutely brilliant action game. Whilst it lacks some of the pure thrilling simplicity of the first “Alien Shooter” game, it’s still a fairly solid action game.

Yes, some of the changes in the sequel don’t work that well (vehicles especially!) and the difficulty curve is a bit strange, but it’s still the kind of thrilling action game that could probably put most modern mega-budget games to shame. It may look a little bit more like a “mainstream” game, but it’s still pretty much the same thrilling action-fest that the first “Alien Shooter” was.

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

Partial Review: “Eradicator” (Retro Computer Game)

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One of the problems with being a fan of sprite-based FPS games from the 1990s is that there aren’t that many of them out there.

Sure, there are more fan-made “Doom”/”Doom II” levels than you could ever play – but there aren’t that many different games. So, imagine my delight when, during a sale on GOG I found a mid-90s FPS game that I’d barely heard of called “Eradicator” for £1.99 (I think that it’s about a fiver at full price).

Since I bought a few games during this sale and don’t have time to complete them all, this is another partial review. In other words, at the time of writing this review, I’ve only played a little under half of the game. So, whilst this is more than just a “first impressions” article, it isn’t quite a full review either.

So, let’s take a look at “Eradicator”:

And, as you would expect, heavy metal/ hard rock music plays during this screen. \m/

And, as you would expect, heavy metal/ hard rock music plays during this screen. \m/

“Eradicator” is a sci-fi FPS game from 1996 that uses wonderfully retro sprite-based graphics.

Although “Eradicator” uses it’s own unique game engine, it is remarkably similar to the Build engine used in “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Shadow Warrior”, “Blood” and “Redneck Rampage“. Seriously, you can barely tell the game engines apart!

 I can't believe it's not "Build"!

I can’t believe it’s not “Build”!

However, unlike some Build engine games, there’s no source port for this game. The edition on GOG comes with a pre-made DOSBox launcher. What this means is that you can’t really use modern controls with this game (due to the lack of vertical mouse look). So, if you miss “Duke Nukem 3D”/”Blood”-style keyboard only controls, then you’re in luck here 🙂 However, you can also use the mouse for movement and/or shooting if you really want to.

Unusually for a mid-1990s FPS game, you actually have a choice of characters. There are two alien characters (Eleena and Kamchak) and one human character (Dan Blaze).

Although your choice of character mostly just affects which voice actor you’ll hear throughout the game, each character also has a different first level and two unique weapons too. Plus, if you want to, you can also switch to a third-person perspective whilst playing- although the game is a lot more playable in the traditional first-person perspective.

Kamchak looks quite cool in third-person perspective, but I imagine that the combat probably gets confusing if you use this perspective.

Kamchak looks quite cool in third-person perspective, but I imagine that the combat probably gets confusing if you use this perspective.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, in terms of gameplay and aesthetic design, it’s a bit more like a late 1990s FPS.

In other words, the game’s locations mostly seem to be gloomy, industrial, understated and -sometimes- boring. Likewise, most levels require you to complete one or more mission objectives before you finish the level.

Fun fact: This game came out the same year that "Quake" did. Although, interestingly, the location design is slightly more reminiscent of "Quake II".

Fun fact: This game came out the same year that “Quake” did.

However, some of the worst elements of mid-1990s FPS games are present here in abundance. As well as the dreaded first-person platforming segments, there are puzzles! Some of these aren’t that bad, but there are at least two timed puzzles within the first half of the game which will frustrate the hell out of you.

One requires you to navigate a maze-like base and shoot out three generators within a limited time frame (otherwise you have to do it again). Likewise, another puzzle requires you to press four switches within a limited time (and you pretty much have to memorise the level layout to do this). Plus, there’s also one part of level three where you can get totally stuck if you do things in the wrong order.

Yes, after sprinting around it and pressing switches more times than you remember, you will come to absolutely loathe and despise this particular level!

Yes, after sprinting around it and pressing switches more times than you remember, you will come to absolutely loathe and despise this particular level!

On the plus side, some parts of this game includes the kind of challenging, intense combat that classic FPS games are famous for.

Not only do you get a ridiculous number of imaginative sci-fi weapons (I think that there are something like 15 different weapons available – one of which is like a primitive version of the Redeemer from “Unreal Tournament”), but there is also a reasonable variety of different cyborg/ alien monsters to fight and even at least one boss fight too.

I almost got stuck on this, until I remembered that -whilst the flamethrower looks cool - the rocket launcher is a MUCH better weapon to use!

I almost got stuck on this, until I remembered that -whilst the flamethrower looks cool – the rocket launcher is a MUCH better weapon to use!

Another cool, imaginative thing in this game is that you can actually remotely control things like robots, security cameras and guided rockets.

Learning how to do this can be a bit annoying (through trial and error, I learnt that you have to press the “action” key twice) but it’s really cool when you know how to do it. Needless to say, this imaginative feature is an integral part of the game and you’ll have to use it in a few areas in order to progress.

Yes, controlling enemy robots is cool - but it can take a while to work out how to do it.

Yes, controlling enemy robots is cool – but it can take a while to work out how to do it.

In terms of the level design, it’s ok. It’s fairly standard mid-1990s level design. Compared to more linear modern level design, it’s brilliant. But, compared to other games from the time, it’s nothing spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have a lot of fun exploring the non-linear levels (even if some look a bit dull and/or are a bit confusing) but it’s nothing special.

Like many classic 90s FPS games, “Eradicator” also comes with a level editor. Although this apparently also includes a feature that allows you to convert “Doom” WADs into “Eradicator” levels, there seems to be little to no documentation about how to use the editor.

Not only that, it’s a proper old-school DOS program too. For example, in order to convert “Doom” levels, you apparently have to manually type out the file path for the level in question:

This looks cool, but unless you've memorised the exact location of your "Doom" WADs, then you're going to have problems.

This looks cool, but unless you’ve memorised the exact location of your “Doom” WADs, then you’re going to have problems.

In terms of music, the best music in the game is probably the title screen music. The rest is either forgettable or nonexistent. But, like in many classic 90s FPS games, your character will occasionally make comments during gameplay. Most of the time, these are just “realistic” functional comments about the mission, rather than humourous comments though.

In terms of the voice acting, it’s kind of meh. The voice-actors for Eleena and Dan Blaze both sound at least mildly bored and unenthusiastic. The voice-actor for Kamchak seems to be trying to impersonate a Klingon from “Star Trek”, which is kind of amusing. Still, it’s cool to play an old-school FPS game where your character isn’t ominously silent throughout the game.

 If you play as Eleena, then she will quite literally say "This must be a factory" in this area. Thank you, captain obvious!

If you play as Eleena, then she will quite literally say “This must be a factory” in this area. Thank you, captain obvious!

All in all, from what I’ve played, “Eradicator” is an ok game. Although it’s absolutely great to play a sprite-based FPS game from the 1990s that I haven’t played before, “Eradicator” doesn’t quite reach the high standard of “Doom II”, “Rise Of The Triad” “Blood” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

Yes, it’s miles better than “Star Wars: Dark Forces“. But, it’s still just sort of average. The visual design is a bit dull, the game’s more innovative features can be a bit clunky at times, and the puzzles can be annoying too. But, it’s still fun nonetheless. It’s a game from a time when FPS games were about exploration and imagination, rather than just online multiplayer and mindless corridor-like levels.

If I had to give what I’ve played so far a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.