Review: “Dimension Of The Past” (Levels For “Quake”)

Well, since I was still in a “Quake” kind of mood, I thought that I’d check out a set of unofficial levels from 2016 called “Dimension Of The Past” that were made by a company called Machine Games to celebrate Quake’s 20th anniversary.

As usual, I used the “Darkplaces” source port whilst playing these levels. However, due to issues with either the source port and/or my computer, I had to lower the graphics settings to 16 bits per pixel in order to get a playable framerate. So, the quality of the graphics/textures in the screenshots in this review is probably slightly lower than the ones you’ll see if you play the game on normal (32 bit) settings.

So, let’s take a look at “Dimension Of The Past”:

“Dimension Of The Past” contains eleven levels for “Quake” – including an introductory level, a secret level (that I didn’t find) and a deathmatch level. These levels are “vanilla” levels that just contain the standard textures, monsters etc.. from the original game. Since the level set presents itself as a ‘fifth episode’ for the original game, then this decision makes a lot of sense.

One of the very first things that I will say about “Dimension Of The Past” is that it quickly goes from being ‘enjoyably challenging’ to ‘borderline unfair’ very quickly – even on normal difficulty! If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve built up an attitude of dogged determination from playing quite a few ultra-challenging modern “Doom II” WADs over the past few years, then I’d have probably abandoned this level set out of frustration fairly early on.

Seriously, even this part of the second level will give you quite a challenge… and it’s easy compared to the later levels!

Seriously, don’t let the easy first level lull you into a false sense of security! Even though this level set has been made by a modern games company, it is anything but easy!

These levels do the usual “Doom II” WAD trick of throwing lots of mid-high level monsters at you regularly. But, whilst much stronger forms of this sort of creative unfairness can work really well in “Doom II”, it doesn’t always translate that well to “Quake” for a number of reasons.

The first reason is the “Quake” contains a much gloomier aesthetic than “Doom II” – as such, it can sometimes be difficult to see where to run to when you are besieged by monsters. The second reason is that “Quake” and “Doom II” have different weapons that handle differently. The third reason is that the movement speed in “Quake” is at least slightly different to that in “Doom II”. The fourth reason is that both games have different monsters that act (and attack) differently.

For example, there isn’t a proper “Doom II” equivalent of the fast-moving Fiends in “Quake” (the closest thing is possibly the weaker and slower pink “demon” creatures).

The borderline unfair difficulty in “Dimension Of The Past” is further compounded by the fact that many of the levels are at least slightly stingy when it comes to health and ammo. Whilst there is often just enough to get through each level, there are at least a few segments of “Dimension Of The Past” that feel more like an old survival horror game than a thrilling action game. In other words, you’ll probably have to flee from monsters sometimes.

Seriously, this part of the fourth level even looks a bit like something from a “Silent Hill” game!

Again, there are some amazing modern “Doom II” WADs out there that rely on the player not being able to fight literally every monster in order to create thrillingly fast-paced gameplay that almost seems more like a type of puzzle game than anything else. But, due to the age and visual style of the game, this sort of gameplay works better in “Doom II”. The cute cartoonish graphics, ludicrous movement speed, perfect weapon progression, simple monster AI and more well-balanced gameplay mechanics in “Doom II” mean that this type of gameplay becomes an thrilling abstract puzzle.

But, in a grimly gothic game like “Quake” – with very slightly more intelligent monsters and with different weapons, then even a relatively mild example of this type of gameplay just doesn’t feel as fun.

Likewise, the fact that it’s harder to dodge projectiles in “Quake” doesn’t help either.

This also has something to do with emotional tone too – in “Doom II” WADs, completing a brightly-coloured level containing 300+ cartoon monsters makes you feel like an expert gamer. Yet, thanks to it’s bleak emotional tone (that evokes feelings of vulnerability), completing one of these 20-75 monster “Quake” levels just feels like you’ve survived some kind of grim ordeal.

If this was “Doom II”, then this scene would involve gleefully fighting Hell Knights in a cartoonish corridor. But, it’s a bit more frantic and grim in “Quake”.

But, even just running away from monsters doesn’t work all of the time in “Dimension Of The Past”. The final level contains no less than six shamblers – all of whom have to be defeated in order to complete the level (four block your path, and a barrier in front of the exit won’t lower until the final two are defeated).

This wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the level also contains death knights, yores, scrags…. and barely enough health and ammo pickups! Seriously, unless you find a hidden quad damage early in the level and use it in the most efficient way possible, then you won’t even get to the final part of the level. And, when you get there, you’ll need to play very tactically until you finally, eventually get lucky and defeat the final two shamblers with whatever scant ammunition you have left.

Seriously, even though it is possible to get them to fight each other… don’t rely on it!

Again, this sort of hilariously extreme difficulty can work really well in “Doom II” WADs, but even relatively mild examples of it just don’t translate well to “Quake”.

The fact that ammo is so scarce that you occasionally have to resort to using the axe doesn’t help either!

Although “Dimension Of The Past” begins with a couple of sci-fi style levels, the majority of the level set is taken up with gloomy, gothic medieval-style levels. This creates a grim and foreboding atmosphere that is reinforced with a few fiendishly evil set pieces throughout the game – such as a fast-paced puzzle segment where you have to stop yourself from being crushed by finding two hidden switches within about 10-20 seconds.

Seriously, I even tried rocket jumping out of here a couple of times, before I finally realised you have to shoot two hidden switches!

The actual technical design of the levels is really good. Most of the levels are the kind of creative, non-linear levels that used to be standard in FPS games. You’ll be searching for keys, backtracking, opening doors elsewhere with switches etc.. As much as I might criticise the difficulty in these levels, I cannot really criticise the level design too much.

In fact, the only major criticism I have is that a hidden platform you need to jump onto in order to get to the ending of one level is quite literally shrouded in shadows and next to impossible to find (seriously, I was stuck for at least an hour before I discovered it!). Then again, this might be a byproduct of the 16 bit graphics setting I mentioned at the beginning of the review (since it tends to make the shadows a lot more solid).

Seriously, it took me at least an hour to work out that I was supposed to jump here!

However, one minor design quibble I have is that there’s no “ending” to this game – not even a small text screen. Once you finally, eventually beat the punishingly difficult final level, then you are… just taken straight back to the introductory level. In fact, since I hadn’t seen this level for a few days, I initially mistook it for a ninth level – before noticing the difficulty selection portals.

All in all, “Dimension Of The Past” is a set of technically well-made levels whose borderline unfair difficulty will heavily challenge even the most experienced retro FPS gamers. However, I just wish that this had been a “Doom II” WAD instead. A lot of the design tactics here would work really, really well in “Doom II” – but are somewhat ill-suited to “Quake”.

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

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Review: “Quake: Dissolution Of Eternity” (Expansion For “Quake”)

Well, after playing the amazing “Scourge Of Armagon” official expansion for “Quake”, I thought that I’d check out the other one. I am, of course, talking about Rogue Software’s “Dissolution Of Eternity” expansion from 1997.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I played “Dissolution Of Eternity” using the Darkplaces source port rather than the GL Quake source port supplied with the version of the game available on GOG. Not only was this because, after working perfectly exactly once, GL Quake then started crashing my computer every time I tried to play the game – but also because using Darkplaces allowed me to save hard drive space. Seriously, the download of “Quake” on GOG is a bloated 1.1 gigabytes in size!

Likewise, due to some problems with Darkplaces and/or my computer, I had to lower the texture quality to “16 bit” during the last couple of levels of “Dissolution Of Eternity” in order to maintain a playable framerate. So, if the textures in a couple of the screenshots in this review look slightly posterised, that’s why.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dissolution Of Eternity”:

When you get here, choose the door on the right and don’t look back!

“Dissolution Of Eternity” contains 15 new levels (split into two episodes), new monsters, new textures, alternate ammo types and apparently new music too (but, again, I couldn’t get the music to work).

One of the very first things that I will say about “Dissolution Of Eternity” is that you shouldn’t judge it by the first episode. In fact, it’s probably best to skip the first episode altogether (and, yes, this expansion actually has a proper episode selection area) and just play the second one – because it is way better. But, more on that later.

The first episode, “Hell’s Fortress”, contains seven reasonably well-designed non-linear levels that contain challenging, fast-paced gameplay. However, this episode just lacks personality. It is drab, dull and dreary.

*Yawn*

Yes, the actual gameplay may contain a few really cool moments and E1M5 looks vaguely cool (in a gothic Lovecraftian kind of way) but, for the most part, this episode really isn’t anything that memorable – even down to the relatively weak boss fight at the end.

The fifth level of episode one is probably the best. I mean, there’s a reason why a demo of it plays in the background when you start the game.

And, yes, this electric pentagram in E1M4 looks cool – but this episode isn’t anything to write home about.

On the other hand, the second episode (“The Corridors Of Time”), is amazing!

Seriously, it contains all of the creativity and personality that the first episode lacks… and then some more. Not only are the levels in this episode longer, even more complex and slightly more challenging – but there’s loads more variety and creativity too. If you only play one episode, play the second one!

If you choose wisely when you start the game, then you should see THIS.

There are too many standout moments in episode two to mention. But, the best ones are probably the ancient ruined streets in part of E2M1, the amazing gothic ancient Egyptian setting of E2M4, the awesome Aztec-style settings in E2M6 and the epic boss battle (against a dragon!) in E2M8.

Thanks to the more complex level design and increased variety of interesting settings, this episode is an absolute joy to play πŸ™‚

Since the background music didn’t work here, I supplied my own. Seriously, this Ancient Egypt level is even cooler with “Powerslave” by Iron Maiden playing in the background πŸ™‚

And, yes, there’s an Aztec level too: )

And you get to slay a dragon too! Thankfully, this isn’t a “puzzle-based” boss. But, the battle is tough enough for a final boss battle πŸ™‚

E2M4 is probably the best level in the episode, and it includes things like a giant temple to Osiris, Egyptian mummies, sarcophagi, complex mazes, smaller sphinx statues, smaller pyramids and even an excellent mini-boss segment. If you love classic Ancient Egypt-themed FPS games like “Exhumed“, “Killing Time” and “Serious Sam: The First Encounter“, then episode two is worth playing for this level alone πŸ™‚

And, yes, there are even pyramids too πŸ™‚

Another cool thing about the second episode is that, every level or two, you will have to fight several small mini-bosses. Near the end of many levels, a powerful ancient Greek/Babylonian/Egyptian-style giant (called a “Guardian”) will rise from the ground and attack you.

Not only is this guy a formidable foe, but if you retreat or hang around too long, he’ll start spawning weaker copies of himself too. Often, the portal at the end of the episode will only open when the “original” Guardian is killed. Not only does this add extra challenge to the game, but it also makes finishing each level feel like even more of an accomplishment:

And, yes, these battles can be wonderfully epic πŸ™‚

The other new monsters in “Dissolution Of Eternity” are all reasonably good too. In addition to an ogre that fires a different type of grenade, there are also floating wraith creatures, electric eels, stone knights, lava mini bosses, stronger “Egyptian Mummy” versions of the zombies, a mini-boss version of the episode one boss and “invisible” swordsmen (fortunately, they aren’t completely invisible – there’s a floating sword and a light on the ground).

These new monsters help to add some extra challenge and variety to the gameplay. However, they don’t really seem to have the same level of uniqueness or “personality” as, say, the gremlin monsters from the “Scourge Of Armagon” expansion.

However, the zombie mummies are about as metal as you can get \m/

Instead of new weapons, “Dissolution Of Eternity” includes three new ammo types (“Lava nails”, “Multi-rockets” and “Plasma”). These basically serve as an “alternate fire” mode for many of the game’s weapons (and you can toggle between “standard” and “improved” ammo by pressing the weapon’s number key). Plus, there’s actually enough of this extra ammo scattered around the expansion for it to actually be useful in many of the game’s combat encounters.

Yes, this looks really cool… and you’ll actually get to use it semi-regularly too πŸ™‚

The lava nails allow both nailguns to not only be more powerful, but also to carry extra ammo too. The multi-rockets allow the grenade launcher to fire cluster grenades (which look cool, but aren’t that useful practically) and the rocket launcher to launch a powerful barrage of four rockets (which is a lot more useful).

The plasma ammo for the lightning gun… didn’t work properly (on my computer, at least) and did nothing more than place a floating blob of plasma in front of the player.

All in all, about half of “Dissolution Of Eternity” is really brilliant (and the other half is fun, but a bit drab). Although this expansion contains lots of cool extra stuff and a decent number of challenging and enjoyable levels, it often doesn’t quite reach the level of personality and fun found in “Scourge Of Armagon”. Even so, the fourth and sixth levels of episode two are well worth playing though.

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

Review: “Quake: Scourge Of Armagon” (Expansion for “Quake”)

Quake” is one of those games that I only ever seem to play every few years. I first played the shareware sometime in 1996-8, I played some of the full version in 2005 and I actually completed the full version in 2013.

Still, whilst looking on GOG a couple of weeks before I prepared this review, I noticed that a re-release of the game that included the two expansions (“Scourge Of Armagon” and “Dissolution Of Eternity”) was on special offer.

So, I thought that I’d return to “Quake” once again. And, since “Scourge Of Armagon” had the most cool-sounding title, it was the first expansion that I decided to play.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I played “Scourge Of Armagon” using the Darkplaces source port rather than the GL Quake source port supplied with the GOG version. Not only was this because, after working perfectly exactly once, GL Quake then started crashing my computer every time I tried to play the game – but also because using Darkplaces allowed me to save hard drive space. Seriously, the download of “Quake” on GOG was a bloated 1.1 gigabytes in size!

So, let’s take a look at “Scourge Of Armagon”:

Yay! Quake! It’s been way too long!

“Scourge Of Armagon” is an official third-party expansion (by Hipnotic) from 1997 that contains fourteen new levels (and three secret levels, although I only found one). In addition to this, it also contains new items, new monsters, new weapons and (apparently*) new music.

(*The music didn’t work in the version I played – I don’t know if this was because of the source port I used or the method I used to get “Scourge Of Armagon” to run. However, I vaguely remember some comments about the lack of music on the game’s GOG page too – so, it could possibly be a general issue with this version of the game. Likewise, since I wrote this review quite far in advance, I don’t know if it has been patched by now or not.)

The game’s story is fairly standard stuff – you play at the Ranger once again, who has to travel through a slipgate in order to defeat the forces of one of Quake’s generals called Armagon. In other words, it’s just an excuse to fight lots of monsters.

Seriously, I mean a lot of monsters!

Be sure to play the original “Quake” before you play “Scourge Of Armagon”!

Since this is an expansion, it is designed to be even more challenging than the original game was. So, it isn’t for new players! But, as thrillingly fun as these challenging new levels are – the difficulty curve is somewhat strange, since the final boss is ridiculously easy:

Seriously, I beat this guy on my second attempt. Despite the dramatic way that Armagon is introduced, this is just a “circlestrafe and hold the fire button down for a minute” type of boss fight!

One of the interesting things about “Scourge Of Armagon” is that it is split into three “episodes”. Although these episodes cannot be selected individually (and you’ll lose your weapons every 5-6 levels or so), this structure allows the game to contain a surprising amount of variety.

Most notably, the first “episode” is a sci-fi themed episode that obviously takes a lot of influence from the then-upcoming “Quake II” – this episode is also filled with grunts, enforcers, zombie dogs and robot scorpions.

It’s been a few years since I played “Quake II”, but I’m pretty sure this is a Strogg logo… in “Quake 1”!

This episode also includes a rather creative level that is set in an underground mine – featuring an “Indiana Jones”-style boulder segment, some cool-looking outdoor areas, some impressive machinery etc…

The other two episodes mostly consist of the kind of classic gothic medieval Lovecraftian horror type levels that will be instantly familiar to fans of the original game. Plus, the third episode starts with a level that reminded me a bit of an ‘evil’ version of “Riven” too πŸ™‚

Seriously, it’s almost like “Riven” but with guns and monsters!

One interesting thing here is that some parts of the second episode are more gothic than usual. One stand-out level here is called “The Crypt” and it features ominous lightning, zombie-filled coffins and all of that kind of stuff πŸ™‚

There’s also some really awesome lighting in this level too πŸ™‚

The level design is mostly really good, with some creative touches throughout the expansion. Most of the levels are the kind of challenging, non-linear things that you would expect from a classic FPS game. But, there are some interesting variations too.

For example, one level called “The Gauntlet” deliberately tries to be more linear than usual in order to create a ‘gauntlet’-like experience.

*Sigh* Remember when linear FPS game levels were actually a rare and amusing novelty?

Likewise, since I’m more of a “Doom” fan than a “Quake” fan, it was surprisingly cool when I saw this in another level:

Yes, the ending to level eight (?) looks a little bit like something from “Doom” πŸ™‚

However, part of the seventh (?) level is somewhat badly-designed. Basically, unless you know some of the tricks that only experienced “Quake” players (and retro FPS gamers in general) know, you’ll get totally and utterly stuck.

Seriously, it was only after wandering around the level about five times that I finally realised that you were supposed to bypass a locked door by standing on top of a small raised area and rocket jumping through a hole in the ceiling.

Unless you’re an avid FPS gamer who knows how to rocket jump, you’ll get totally and utterly stuck on this level!

The new items, weapons and monsters are really cool too. The new monsters consist of formidable robotic scorpions, really annoying floating grenade creatures and, best of all, the gremlins.

These adorable little critters will scamper around and try to steal your weapons. They also make really adorable squeaking sounds and look a bit like cute little green versions of the “Fiend” monster…. which will probably make you feel bad when you inevitably blast them into smithereens with your shotgun.

Plus, they’re almost certainly also a reference to an amazing Christmas movie from the 1980s too πŸ™‚

The new weapons are mostly good. The laser gun is a powerful and useful rapid-fire weapon, whose projectiles will also bounce off of walls too. Likewise, the proximity mine launcher can actually come in really handy sometimes (seriously, there’s one segment where you can use it to defeat a shambler just by firing prox mines through a hole in a nearby door).

The other new weapon is none other than Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor! This mythological weapon can either be used as a simple club or it can shoot sparks at nearby enemies when swung at the ground. However, you probably won’t use this souped-up crochet mallet that often – since it’s often more practical to just use the other weapons.

Pictured: One of about three times that I actually used Mjolnir.

As for the new items, they’re really good too. In addition to a scuba suit and a new type of shield (the “Empathy shield”), the stand-out item is the Horn of Conjuring! This amazing item will summon a random “friendly” monster who will follow you around and help you out. Although the monster’s AI can be a little bit clunky, there is nothing more awesome than having a pet Fiend or a pet Shambler at your side during a fight!

Awww! It’s a pet fiend πŸ™‚ Isn’t he adorable!

All in all, “Scource Of Armagon” is a fun set of enjoyably challenging “Quake” levels with some interesting (if infrequently frustrating) level design. Most of the cool new stuff added to the game works really well too. In addition to this, the expansion neither feels too short nor too long and it will provide at least a few hours of thrillingly challenging 1990s FPS fun πŸ™‚

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

Review: “Mission: Impossible” (Film)

Well, for the final review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at a spy thriller movie from 1996 called “Mission: Impossible”.

Although “Mission Impossible 2” was one of the first films I bought on VHS when I was a teenager, I still hadn’t seen the first one… and it seemed like a good thing to end this series with.

So, let’s take a look at “Mission: Impossible”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS and the film itself contains some FLICKERING IMAGES/LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to be an issue).

After an elaborate scene showing a team of Impossible Missions Force agents managing to trick someone into revealing the name of a person of interest, “Mission: Impossible” begins with a senior agent called Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voigt) getting a secret mission briefing whilst on a flight to eastern Europe.

Someone plans to steal a list of US secret agents from the American embassy in Prague and it is up to the IMF to monitor the theft and track the stolen information to the mysterious buyer. So, Jim gathers an elite team of agents – led by Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) – in a safe house and starts to concoct a plan.

A daring spy mission in Eastern Europe? What could possibly go wrong?

At first, the mission goes well and – despite a few unexpected setbacks – the theft is recorded. Ethan and another agent wait outside the embassy, ready to follow the thief. However, something is wrong! A lift malfunctions, crushing the team’s tech guy. Ethan gets an order from Jim to abort the mission, but Ethan continues the mission anyway.

A while later, Jim sends Ethan a panicked message saying that he is being followed – before a mysterious assailant shoots him and hurls him off of a bridge. Meanwhile, another member of Ethan’s team is killed by a car bomb, before the final remaining member is stabbed by persons unknown.

Panicked, Ethan places a call to headquarters – where he is told to meet up with another senior agent in a nearby restaurant. When he arrives, the other agent tells him that the mission was a decoy mission that the IMF had concocted because they believed that there was a mole in the agency. Since Ethan is the only survivor, suspicion falls onto him.

Realising that he is being framed, Ethan escapes the restaurant in a dramatic way and tries to track down the real mole before it is too late…..

Either that, or he really doesn’t want to be left with the bill.

One of the first things that I will say about “Mission: Impossible” is that it is a mildly more ‘realistic’ spy film than the “James Bond”-esque action movie that I had expected it to be. It’s compelling and thrilling but, surprisingly, it isn’t really an action movie.

“Mission: Impossible” is a movie with no elaborate gunfights and relatively few chase scenes. Instead, it is a movie where Ethan Hunt must use his knowledge, spy skills, cunning, daring and intellect in order to prevail.

For example, this scene (involving disguises and stealth) is pretty much the polar opposite of the average James Bond movie…

As such, the film’s most spectacular “action” scene is kind of out of character when compared to the rest of the film. Although the film mostly takes a surprisingly “realistic” approach to violence (eg: it rarely happens and it often has serious consequences), all of this realism goes completely out of the window during a thrilling, but utterly ludicrous, chase/fight scene involving a train and a helicopter near the end of the film. Still, the scene in question is certainly thrilling enough – if hilariously silly.

Not to mention that the mid-1990s CGI effects in this scene aren’t too noticeable most of the time.

Yet, at the same time, “Mission: Impossible” isn’t a slow-paced ultra-realistic spy film either. If anything, it’s more like a heist movie mixed with a detective movie and it is brilliant. Although I would have liked to see more “heist”-style scenes in the film, the one that we do get to see is brilliantly clever, expertly-planned and thrillingly suspenseful.

Quite literally in this scene, which is a suspenseful scene involving suspension.

Plus, the spy gadgets in this film are wonderfully brilliant. Although the film is over twenty years old, a lot of the gadgets are timelessly fun to see – such as Ethan’s elaborate disguises, the secret tracker chips, the hidden cameras, the laser deflectors, the exploding chewing gum, the self-destructing video cassettes, the video phone watches etc….

Not only is this pen tipped with a mild poison, but it can also be used to write Teeline shorthand too (although, annoyingly, the whole message isn’t visible).

Still, this film’s age shows somewhat whenever technology is involved – but this just equates to lots of reassuringly bulky gadgets and 1990s nostalgia πŸ™‚

Even though all of the computers use a fictional operating system, the websites still look brilliantly ’90s πŸ™‚

And, yes, Ethan actually has to use a payphone too (although retro mobile phones are shown in another scene though).

Likewise, a fair chunk of the film is devoted to Ethan investigating, gathering a new team and thinking about what is happening too. Although the film isn’t that much of a character-based drama, there’s a decent amount of characterisation for Ethan, some of his team members and the mysterious villains. Likewise, Ethan’s uncertainty about who he can trust is also a key part of the film too.

Ethan’s confusion and shock at the early events of the film are also reflected in a fairly subtle, but dramatic, way that really helps to add some extra drama to the film (basically, he’s shown to be affected by the events of the film but stoically continues his mission).

For example, Ethan is briefly shown to have a guilt-induced nightmare about not getting to Jim in time to save him.

..And when he is awoken by another character entering the room, he overreacts slightly due to his jittery mood.

In terms of pacing and storytelling, this film does really well. At 105 minutes in length, this film is just about short enough to remain focused and dramatic throughout.

Likewise, even though some parts of the plot can get a little bit confusing (including a random location jump from America to London that isn’t even revealed or explained until the scene after it has happened) the film still remains compelling throughout. Likewise, the more thrilling heist/spy-related scenes are also contrasted with slower dialogue-based scenes too.

Such as this discussion involving two members of Ethan’s new team (played by Ving Rhames and Jean Reno).

In terms of the set design and lighting, it’s fairly good – with lots of lush, vivid locations in Prague, some slightly more understated scenes set in London, some vaguely futuristic office locations and a wonderfully dramatic scene that is set on board a French TGV train (although, since it travels through the Channel Tunnel, it should be labelled as a “Eurostar” train rather than a “TGV” ). These spectacular settings are also contrasted with slightly more understated “safe house” locations too.

The scenes set inside the Prague Embassy look wonderfully sumptuous πŸ™‚

By contrast, the safehouses look… marginally less sumptuous. But, still, a room like that in London is still on the posh side of things…

The film’s lighting is reasonable good too, with the lighting during the Prague scenes being wonderfully gloomy and atmospheric . Plus, there’s an excellent use of film noir-style lighting in a later scene set in a train’s cargo compartment too.

There’s some really cool “film noir”-style lighting in one part of the film.

And check out this wonderfully gothic lighting in some of the Prague-based scenes πŸ™‚

Musically, the film is as spectacular as you would expect – with the standout musical moment being a rather dramatic rendition of the famous “Mission Impossible” music during the opening credits and a later scene in the film.

All in all, this is a fun, complex spy thriller movie that contains an intriguing plot, lots of cool gadgets and a decent amount of suspense. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen more “heist” style scenes (since the one scene of this type is really good) and – yes- the ending is a bit silly.

But, if you want a slightly more understated classic Hollywood thriller movie where the main character uses his mind much more often than he uses a gun, then this film might be worth checking out. Although it’s really thrilling, just don’t expect it to be a James Bond-style action movie though.

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

Review : “Nemesis” (Film)

Well, for the penultimate review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at a cyberpunk action movie from 1992 called “Nemesis”. This was a film that I bought on DVD several months earlier whilst going through a cyberpunk phase (well, more of a cyberpunk phase than usual), but never actually got round to watching at the time.

So, let’s take a look at “Nemesis”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. And the film itself contains some FLICKERING/FLASHING LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re fast/intense enough to be an issue).

“Nemesis” is set in the year 2027 and follows a LAPD detective called Alex who is hunting down a group of terrorists called the Red Army Hammerheads. After being seduced by, and fighting, one of their cyborg data carriers – he finds himself pursued by a group of heavily-armed terrorists. Needless to say, there is a spectacularly epic gunfight between Alex and the terrorists.

Well, what else are they going to use the nearby building site for? Building?

Alex survives, but is seriously injured. So, in classic “Robocop” fashion, he is rebuilt with many cybernetic body parts. He is then sent to Mexico to recuperate, where he also ends up tracking down and killing one of the terrorists who escaped after the gunfight earlier in the film. But, when two cyborgs from the police department arrive to congratulate him, the meeting doesn’t go well and one of them ends up shooting Alex’s pet dog.

Disillusioned, Alex soon quits the police and ends up working as a smuggler in New Rio De Janeiro for a while until he is betrayed by one of his contacts and handed back to the LAPD. Alex’s boss, Farnsworth, tells him that there is a bomb implanted next to his heart and, if he wants to survive, then he’ll do one last job for the LAPD.

The itinerary for a meeting between the US and Japanese presidents has been stolen by a rogue police cyborg (called Jared) and Farnsworth needs Alex to travel to a “low-tech” town in Java called Shang Loo to recover the plans and assassinate Jared. However, when he arrives, it soon becomes clear that things aren’t quite what they seem…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is something of a “so bad that it’s good” film. In other words, if you’re expecting deep characterisation, complex nuanced storytelling and/or intelligent science fiction, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. It’s a cheesy, low-mid budget late-night B-movie of the type that they really don’t make anymore.

And, yes, there are explosions too. In fact, a character in this scene has a shotgun that quite literally fires explosions!

Yet, this is also part of the film’s charm. Everything from the “Neuromancer fan fiction” -style voice-overs in some parts of the film, to the stilted exposition-heavy dialogue, to the riduculous quantities of firearms, to the gratuitous nudity (which, refreshingly, also includes male nudity too), to the fact that almost everyone is wearing “cool” sunglasses, to the fact that one character is literally named “Max Impact”, to the fact that this film will often substitute spectacular gunfights for storytelling means that this film is gloriously cheesy fun.

Well, it’s a fun film most of the time. Although the film’s beginning and ending are thrillingly fun low-budget cyberpunk cinema, the film sags somewhat in the middle.

Yes, there’s still a lot of action but – aside from a few brilliantly thrilling scenes set in a hotel and the surrounding town – some of the scenes set in Shang Loo just consist of chase scenes that take place within various forests. These can get a bit tedious and monotonous after a while, especially when compared to the other parts of the film. Seriously, even though this film is a lean 92 minutes in length, it can occasionally feel a bit longer than that (and not in a good way!).

The film’s action scenes are reasonably good, with the stand-out moments being the extended gunfight near the beginning of the film and a vaguely “Underworld“-like scene where Alex escapes from a hotel room by quite literally shooting a hole in the floor. Likewise, some of the characters carry “Aliens”-like smart guns, complete with augmented reality glasses too.

After all, why use the door when you can make one yourself?

Still, the film will sometimes substitute action for storytelling. Which is probably a good thing in this case, given how silly and/or clichΓ©d some parts of the story can be (eg: the police turn out to be the real villains, Alex needs to reach the top of a volcano etc..). But, this is all part of the cheesy charm of the film.

Seriously, even the hotel receptionists are heavily armed in this film!

Likewise, the special effects in this film are reasonably good practical effects – with the stand-out moments being some fairly interesting “Terminator”-style cyborg scenes – involving things like extendable eyeballs, robots hiding cannons in their brains etc…

Which gives new meaning to the term “headcanon”.

However, the effects during a scene where Alex has to fight a “Terminator”-style robot skeleton near the end of the film are a little bit on the clunky side of things. Still, one cool thing about the film containing cyborg characters is that it’s an excuse for the SFX team to add lots of dramatic sparks during gunfights.

So sparkly!

Although the film’s dialogue is often fairly stilted, clichΓ©d and exposition-heavy, the film thankfully manages to include a lot of “action movie”-style humour. Whilst most of this consists of deadpan “1980s action movie”-style dialogue- there are some other amusing scenes too, such as when one of the villain’s henchmen foolishly tries to bully an old lady:

Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for him.

The film’s characters aren’t that great. However, the best characters are a somewhat morally-ambiguous and thoroughly badass cyborg called Julian, Jared’s AI persona, the hotel receptionist in Shang Loo and possibly Max Impact too.

And, yes, Julian would probably make a much cooler main character than Alex. Unfortunately, she only appears during a relatively small number of scenes in the film.

On the other hand, Alex is something of a two-dimensional character who is a mixture of a grizzled film noir cop and an action hero. A fair amount of his characterisation seems to consist of him moodily wondering whether he’s still human (which gets tiring after a while). Plus, the film’s villains are just clichΓ©d villain characters too.

Oh, we’re the bad guys? Who would have thought it?

In terms of the set design and lighting, it’s ok. Although it is surprising to see something in the cyberpunk genre that doesn’t go for the traditional “neon-drenched mega city” approach to set design, this film’s set design is a bit hit-and-miss.

The more understated, industrial and “realistic” style settings work fairly well. However, the decision to set a significant chunk of the film in a lush tropical forest just kind of goes against everything the cyberpunk genre stands for.

Trees? TREES?!? This is SUPPOSED to be a cyberpunk film!

Still, the film occasionally contains some really interesting lighting. In addition to some wonderfully gloomy 1990s-style lighting in several scenes, this film also occasionally makes clever used of sunsets and blue and/or orange filters in order to add some visual interest to the film.

Seriously, the lighting in the opening scene is really brilliant. It’s just a shame that more of the film’s lighting isn’t like this.

This blue filter is really cool. However, the new version of Rio De Janeiro looks a lot like the “old” one….

Musically, this film is surprisingly good. The film’s instrumental soundtrack goes really well with the atmosphere and style of the film and it contains a good mixture of more understated music and more dramatic music.

All in all, this film is pretty much “so bad that it’s good”. Yes, a few scenes are a bit tedious but, this aside, all of the other flaws just add to the film’s charm. You can really tell that the people who made this film have tried to make a thrilling, futuristic cyberpunk film. Yes, it’s a fairly unoriginal low-mid budget sci-fi action movie with a few cyberpunk clichΓ©s, two-dimensional characters and some hilariously stilted dialogue. But, this is all part of the fun.

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

Review: “While You Were Sleeping” (Film)

Well, after a brief hiatus, my “1990s Films” review series is back! And, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a Christmas-themed romantic comedy from 1995 called “While You Were Sleeping”. Surprisingly, I hadn’t even heard of this film until I happened to notice it when browsing online a few days before watching it.

But since it was a “1990s American Christmas” film and since it seemed to have some positive reviews online, it seemed like it could be worth watching. So, I decided to get a second-hand DVD of it and see for myself.

So, let’s take a look at “While You Were Sleeping”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. Then again, it’s a romantic comedy and… well….

The DVD cover itself is a massive spoiler!

“While You Were Sleeping” begins with a character called Lucy (played by Sandra Bullock) reminiscing about her childhood and some of the inspirational things that her father said to her.

However, after his death, she has ended up working as a ticket booth clerk in a railway station in Chicago. She also leads a wonderfully peaceful and solitudinous life too (which is somehow a “bad” thing, because it’s a Hollywood movie).

Of course, this is presented as “lonely” rather than relaxing. Because, well, Hollywood.

But, she has a crush on a handsome businessman called Peter (played by Peter Gallagher) who passes through the station every day. Yet, she can’t quite bring herself to ask him out.

However, on Christmas Eve, some hooligans approach him on the train platform and, after a brief scuffle, push him onto the tracks. Witnessing this, Lucy rushes to the train tracks and finds that he’s unconscious. Luckily, she manages to pull him out of the way before he is run over by a train.

Pictured: Peter scuffling with some hooligans.

Later, she decides to visit him in hospital. However, the doctor will only allow family members to see him. So, after a bit of confusion, one of the nurses tells the doctor that Lucy is Peter’s fiancee. When Lucy arrives in the room, Peter is in a coma. She stays and talks to him for a while but, before she can leave, Peter’s family show up and are surprised to hear that he has a fiancee. Feeling awkward about the situation, Lucy decides to play along.

Meh. What’s the worst that can happen?

But, as she gets to know Peter’s family better, she suddenly realises that there’s something developing between her and Peter’s brother Jack (played by Bill Pullman). Then, on New Year’s Day, Peter awakens from his coma…

Hey, where are all of the zombies? Ooops! Wrong movie.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is very much a “feel good” movie. Although I was worried that the film’s premise would be cringe-worthily awkward to watch, there’s thankfully very little “suspense” in the film. All of the film’s potentially awkward situations are handled with a warmth and humour that helps to prevent the film from becoming nerve-wrackingly stressful to watch.

As for the film’s comedy elements, they’re reasonably good. Although there is a small amount of slapstick humour and some slight gross-out humour (eg: a character with a builder’s bum, a hilarious scene involving a story about a pencil etc..) most of the humour is more subtle and character-based, and it works really well.

Although there are some amusing lines of dialogue, many of the funniest moments of the film are when Lucy reacts to various events. The slightly farcical premise of the film is also a fairly good source of humour too. But, the comedy in this film is more of the subtle and light-hearted variety than the “laugh out loud” variety.

Seriously, I cannot praise Sandra Bullock’s acting in this film highly enough, particularly during the film’s subtle comedic moments.

Still, given that this is meant to be a “feel-good” Christmas-themed romantic comedy, this more subtle humour works really well. Not to mention that, due to the premise of the film, it is actually somewhat more of a comedy than a romance.

Yes, there is (sort of) a love triangle and the obligatory happy ending. But, for the most part, the film is more like a “feel good” comedy drama with some romantic elements, rather than a romance with comedy elements. Even so, the romantic elements of this film work fairly well.

And, yes, this scene is surprisingly heartwarming, even if it’s somewhat predictable.

Although some elements of the film’s story are a little bit predictable, there’s still a mild level of uncertainty about how the film is going to end whilst you are watching it. Not only that, the amusing misunderstandings between the characters and the film’s character-based drama also helps to keep the story compelling too.

As I mentioned earlier, this film’s story thankfully avoids nail-biting suspense or extreme awkwardness. This is achieved via some clever narrative devices – such as having two other characters (Lucy’s boss and Peter’s godfather) learn of the misunderstanding and either offer advice or, for various benevolent reasons, help Lucy to keep the pretence.

This scene where Peter’s Godfather tells Lucy to keep up the pretence is surprisingly heartwarming. Not to mention that it provides the set-up for several comedic moments later in the film too.

Likewise, one vaguely suspenseful part about Peter’s ex-fiancee Ashley (played by Ally Walker) showing up ends up being played more for laughs than for drama too.

Despite the vague suspense earlier in the film, Ashley’s main appearence is in this hilarious argument scene (and in an amusing scene later in the film).

Likewise, almost all of the characters in this film are friendly, funny and/or likeable in some way, which really helps to give the film a “feel good” kind of atmosphere. The stand-out character is, of course, Lucy – who manages to be somewhat shy and introverted, whilst also being fairly adept at dealing with the amusingly chaotic events of the film. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, a fair amount of the film’s comedy comes from the subtle ways that Lucy reacts to various events.

Like in this scene involving some “spontaneous” redecorating.

Although the Christmas-related elements of this film are a little bit more understated than I expected, the film still manages to include a cosy, retro “1990s American Christmas” atmosphere that is an absolute joy to experience. Seriously, “cosy” would be a really good word to describe the atmosphere of this film.

In terms of lighting and set design, this film does fairly well. Although most of the set design is fairly “realistic” and looks a lot like something from a large-mid budget TV show, there are some absolutely beautiful shots of Chicago at night and of Christmas-themed locations too.

Such as this beautifully festive cityscape.

Or the wonderfully wintery exterior scenes in some parts of the film.

Or the awesome lighting in this short scene.

Musically, the film’s soundtrack is really good and it complements both the emotional tone of the film well. Whether it is the cheerful rendition of Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” early in the film or the slightly older Christmas music that plays during several scenes, the film’s soundtrack really goes well with the story.

All in all, this is a fun, cosy “feel good” movie that is just a joy to watch. Whilst it might not be “laugh out loud” funny that often, it’s the kind of light-hearted movie that will leave you feeling more cheerful than you were when you started watching it. Although the romantic elements of the film are at least mildly predictable, the film does at least offer a mildly interesting variation on a typical “love triangle” plot and all of the film’s romantic elements work fairly well too.

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

Review: “Math Test” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from writing 1990s film reviews to look at a “Doom II” WAD.

After all, it’s been nearly a month since I’ve reviewed one of these and, although I am also planning to review some “Quake” levels in the future – some long-standing traditions have to be respected! Or, at the very least, paid lip service to in a silly way.

So, with that, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a short novelty WAD called “Math Test“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it will apparently also work with PRBOOM+ and – given that it contains a Dehacked patch- possibly even with just the original version of “Doom II” or “Final Doom” too.

So, let’s take a look at “Math Test”:

This level is harshly unforgiving if you get a question wrong. Oh great! This reminds me a lot of my old GCSE Maths lessons!

As the title suggests, “Math Test” is a maths test… in “Doom II”! Yes, it is an educational, non-violent (if you’re good at maths) Doom II WAD! Brrr… That description just sent a shiver down my spine! Wow, this is the first time that I’ve been scared by a “Doom II” level in quite some time!

The gameplay in “Math Test” revolves around answering four multiple-choice questions and solving a secret intelligence test. If you’re the kind of person who hasn’t tried to forget all of the dreary mathematics lessons that were drummed into you before your sixteenth birthday, then you’ll probably be able to complete this WAD in about a minute or so. It took me a little longer.

And, no, the “2:48” doesn’t include the time it took me to re-load my saved games after getting questions wrong.

One of the interesting things about this WAD is that it also tests your knowledge of “Doom II” too. In other words, if you treat this like an actual maths test, then you will be obliterated by exploding barrels within thirty seconds of starting the level.

Yes, this is much a “Doom II” test as it is a maths test….

Still, since the questions are multiple-choice, even if you’re one of those people who paid more attention to your maths lessons than your extra-curricular computer game practice when you were a teenager – you can still succeed through pure trial and error. Or guesswork.

Seriously, I was able to solve a brain-twisting question about judging the weight of a spherical object from it’s diameter by guessing the answer. After all, it had to be something to do with cube numb… Oh my god! I remember! I remember it all!!!! AAAAARGH!!

There’s actually a… practical use… for all of this obscure and esoteric knowledge?!?

Joking aside, this WAD has a really good sense of humour. Not only is one of the questions worded in an amusingly irreverent way, but the design of the level itself contains the kind of evil humour that “Doom II” WADs do best.

If you answer a question incorrectly, then you are doomed. In fact, even one other part of the level can catch you out if your “Doom II”-playing instincts aren’t finely-honed from years of practice.

So, yes, the minimum requirement for playing this level is getting an A* in your “Doom II” GCSE.

But, like any badly-written school textbook, this WAD also includes a text file with the solution to each question. Even more surprisingly, the creator of this WAD also includes a brief explanation of the mathematical processes behind each answer. So… you’re still learning! So much for “you’re only cheating yourself“!

Musically speaking, the background music in this WAD consists of a jaunty MIDI rendition of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees. As I said before, “Doom II” WADs have a hilariously twisted sense of humour.

Maths and disco music?

All in all, this is a terrifying “Doom II” level that will bring back those hideous memories of studying maths at school that you’ve been repressing for years afterwards. It should come with a health warning!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get Ο€ – which is 3.141… AAARRGH!!! Nooooo!!!!