Review: “Christmas Tree” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next horror novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD 🙂

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive a few times, I found myself looking at a WAD from 2011 called “Christmas Tree“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. According to the text file accompanying the WAD, it is designed for ports (ZDoom and GZDoom are listed as examples) that support 3D floors.

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

“Christmas Tree” is a rather cool little single-level WAD that also possibly includes new music (or it could be one of the standard pieces of music that I don’t remember).

The premise of this WAD is that you have to defeat most of the monsters in the level in order to complete it. So, like a trimmed-down “Slaughtermap” level, this level is something of an arena. But, the level does some rather innovative stuff that sets it apart from a traditional “Slaughtermap” level.

Yes, this is a clever twist on a familiar style of level 🙂

For starters, the difficulty level is something that practiced players will find moderately challenging, rather than fiendishly difficult. Unlike a slaughtermap, where there are too many enemies to fight (thus turning the level into a challenging fast-paced puzzle), you actually have to defeat almost all of the enemies here.

As such, the difficulty level is a little bit more forgiving, with a large arena and lots of weapons, health etc… scattered around to give you a fighting chance. This also makes the gameplay feel a little bit like the classic “Serious Sam” games too 🙂

One interesting way that this level adds some challenge is via the use of pain elementals. Although the large arena means that there is plenty of room to duck, dodge and circlestrafe, this is a level where the sky will quickly become orange with lost souls that will zip at you from every direction. Interestingly though, at least some of these don’t count towards the number of monsters you have to defeat before the level ends.

Yes, these little monsters become more of threat than you think during this level.

The level design is also really good too. Although you might be a bit confused about what to do (and the relative lack of weapons) at the very start of the level, it won’t take you long to find the teleporter that drops you on top of the Christmas tree. The tree is made out of four platforms of varying sizes that mostly serve as brilliantly-balanced mini-arenas 🙂

Although you’ve got the constant threat of lost souls to contend with, the difficulty in these mini-arenas is handled really well. Although the top of the tree is just there to give you a few items, the smaller circles of the tree contain fewer monsters but also fewer items and less room to dodge/strafe (and vice versa with the larger circles). Plus, the tension between staying on the tree and jumping off it to the relative safety of the arena below also adds a bit more depth to the gameplay too 🙂

Yes, this level is kind of like four micro levels in one 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun and well-designed little level 🙂 It’s thrilling, complex and really well-balanced 🙂 If you’re an experienced player and want to enjoy yourself for 20-30 minutes, then this level might be worth checking out 🙂

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

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Review: “The Hymn” By Graham Masterton (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read a Graham Masterton novel.

But, although I’ve got a few other Masterton novels that I’ve been meaning to read, I ended up stumbling across my old copy of Masterton’s 1991 novel “The Hymn” (which I first read about sixteen or seventeen years ago) and decided to re-read it.

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

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Note: I read the the 2000 Warner Books (UK) paperback reprint of “The Hymn” but I won’t include an image of the book cover here because, although the cover art is probably technically “safe for work”, the combination of implied nudity and a subtle visual allusion to the extremist views of the story’s villains made me err on the side of caution here. Sorry about this.

On a side-note, although the cover art is somewhat “edgy” by modern standards, it is really well-designed. Not only does it make excellent use of attention-grabbing visual contrast, but it also contains enough dramatic-looking visual storytelling to give the reader a general impression of the story whilst also keeping things mysterious enough to make them want to read more. Plus, on a technical level, the quality the of painting is absolutely superb too (seriously, I miss the days when painted cover art was standard for horror novels).
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The novel begins in Southern California. A Vietnam veteran called Bob Tuggey is working in a McDonalds when he happens to see a blonde woman carrying a can of petrol across the car park. He has a war flashback about a Buddhist monk immolating himself in protest. He suddenly realises what the woman is about to do. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, he rushes out to the car park. But, he is too late.

A while later, wealthy restaurant owner Lloyd Denman is chatting with his staff and preparing for another day in Denman’s Original Fish Depot when the police show up. They inform Lloyd that his fiancee, Celia, has set herself on fire. Reeling with grief and puzzled by the bizarre circumstances of her death, Lloyd decides to investigate.

Out in the California desert, a group of cops get a call about a mysterious bus fire. When they reach the smouldering bus, they find all of the passengers still sitting in their seats as if they had made no attempt to escape the furious inferno that claimed their lives.

One of the things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it isn’t perfect, it’s a really interesting mixture of the horror, detective and thriller genres. It’s a compelling story that can be richly atmospheric, occasionally cringe-worthy, inventively horrific and occasionally unintentionally hilarious.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. In addition to lots of grisly fire-related horror, the novel also includes suspenseful horror, occult/paranormal horror, psychological horror, WW2-related horror, slasher movie style horror, disturbing horror, character-based horror and tragic horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright frightening, there are enough disturbing moments and macabre scenes to place it firmly in the horror genre.

As you might expect from a horror novel, one of the major themes of the novel is death. Whether it is the many scenes that focus on characters mourning the dead, or the scenes involving the undead, this is a novel about both the after-effects of death and the fear of death. In addition to this, it is also a novel about the dangers of extremist ideologies and how charismatic people can exploit the fears of others for their own ends.

Surprisingly, “The Hymn” is also both a detective and thriller novel too. The novel balances these two elements fairly well, with Lloyd’s investigation into Celia’s death eventually segueing into a slightly more fast-paced game of cat and mouse between the forces of good and evil.

Plus, like in many classic detective novels, the police are very little help to Lloyd (even suspecting him of some of the novel’s macabre murders at one point) and it is up to him and his friends to get to the bottom of what has happened.

These compelling detective/thriller elements also mean that, whilst some of the later parts of the story might come across as a little bit silly, random and/or contrived, you’ll probably be too gripped by the story to care too much about this.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. The novel includes enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to Lloyd and the people he teams up with during his investigation. Likewise, there are a lot of scenes of character-based drama where the characters try to deal with and make sense of the events of the story. Plus, many of the background characters also come across as vaguely realistic people too.

On the other hand, the novel’s fascist villains (Otto and Helmwige) walk a very fine line between being genuinely disturbing antagonists and cartoonish sources of unintentional comedy (eg: the scene where Helmwige takes a bath, Otto’s Renfield-like habit of eating insects and his “Indiana Jones villain”-like appearance etc.. ). Surprisingly, the creepiest character in the novel is probably Celia – since her character arc shows how an otherwise good person can be manipulated into performing unspeakably horrific actions.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Leaving aside infrequent cringe-worthy descriptions, I was genuinely surprised by the sheer quality of the writing in this novel. The novel’s narration is a really good mixture of intelligent, descriptive formal prose and more fast-paced “matter of fact” descriptions. It really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and depth to the characters. However, the novel’s numerous classical music, posh food/wine etc.. references can come across as a little pompous at times.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 346 pages in length, this novel is slightly longer than you might expect but is still the right length for the story it is telling. Likewise, although the story is fairly compelling, the pacing can often be at least slightly slower than you might expect. Even so, this allows for a lot of atmosphere, descriptions and characterisation. Not to mention that the later parts of the novel become a bit more fast-paced too.

As for how this twenty-eight year old novel has aged, it both has and hasn’t aged well.

On the one hand, some parts of this novel can come across as either old-fashioned, conservative or “politically incorrect”. For example, in contrast to the punk sensibility of a lot of other 1980s/early 1990s horror novels, the relatively uncritical focus on various story elements (eg: Lloyd’s wealth, classical music etc…) here can feel a little bit conservative or old-fashioned when read today. Plus, although the novel is generally critical of things like discrimination, expect to encounter at least a small number of very “politically incorrect” moments.

But, on the other hand, the novel as a whole still remains very atmospheric, dramatic and compelling to this day. Likewise, the complete lack of mobile phones (the closest thing is a car phone) in the story also helps to add extra suspense and drama to several scenes 🙂 Plus, due to the disturbing events in the US over the past couple of years, the story’s main plot feels even more chilling today than it probably did during the less polarised/politicised early 1990s. So, yes, this novel has both aged well and aged terribly.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect novel, it is a surprisingly atmospheric and compelling one that manages to blend the horror, detective and thriller genres in a fairly interesting way.

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

Review: “Lifeblood” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly. This is mostly because I needed a slight break from “traditional” horror fiction, but still wanted to read something horror-related.

So, I thought that this was the time to finally read the second hardboiled vampire detective/crime thriller novel (a novel from 1990 called “Lifeblood”) in the second-hand P.N.Elrod omnibus that I bought several months ago.

However, I should point out that “Lifeblood” is a sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist” and the novel pretty much assumes that you already know the main characters, backstory etc… Whilst it’s probably theoretically possible to read this novel as a stand-alone story, it’ll make more sense and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read “Bloodlist” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Lifeblood”. Needless to say, this review may contain some moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace (US) paperback omnibus that contained the reprint of “Lifeblood” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in mid-1930s Chicago with world-weary ex-reporter, and vampire, Jack Fleming ordering a drink in a dive bar. Of course, he overhears a mysterious conversation between several other patrons. It isn’t long before things start going wrong and he finds himself in the middle of one of his friend Escott’s cases. A case which would have gone to plan if Escott’s client hadn’t marked the bills Escott was supposed to hand over to the criminals.

After narrowly escaping with their lives and recovering their client’s stolen property, Escott is absolutely furious and decides to play a cruel practical joke on the client to teach him a lesson. Soon after this, things return to normal. Jack spends some time with his lover Bobbi and Escott continues renovating his house.

But, things don’t stay that way for long. Not only does Jack notice a mysterious car following him, but someone also contacts him about his long-lost ex-lover (and the vampire that turned him) Maureen….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a little while for the main story to really get started, it’s a really compelling “film noir” vampire novel 🙂 If you like stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane etc… but wish they contained a little bit of vampirism, then you’re in luck 🙂

In terms of this novel’s horror elements, there aren’t that many. Some of the later parts of the story include some moments of gory horror, sadistic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror, but not that much more than you’d expect from a gritty 1920s-50s style hardboiled detective novel. Even so, vampirism is a central element of the plot and, in addition to a few intriguing plot points, there are also a couple of cool references to “Varney The Vampire” and even a brief H.P.Lovecraft reference too 🙂

Like in “Bloodlist”, Jack’s vampiric state gives him a few extra powers (eg: fast healing, walking through walls etc..) but these are also offset by a number of limitations (eg: wooden weapons are especially harmful, he can’t cross running water, he can’t walk in daylight, he has to sleep near earth from his home) which help to keep many parts of the story suitably suspenseful 🙂

Still, as a hardboiled crime thriller, this novel works fairly well. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-complicated “I need to take notes!” Raymond Chandler-style plot, the slightly more streamlined plot works really well and there are enough sources of suspense to keep the story interesting. However, this novel is probably slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel. Even so, there’s enough chases, armed men suddenly bursting into rooms and mystery to keep things compelling.

Plus, I absolutely love the atmosphere in this novel 🙂 One of the cool things about P.N.Elrod’s vampire detective novels is how they are able to tread a fine line between the wondeful “film noir”-style atmosphere of 1930s Chicago, whilst also including some really cool Sherlock Holmes-style stuff too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect complex deductions, Jack’s sidekick Escott is a vaguely Holmes-like character (eg: a master of disguise with a keen mind, an impish sense of humour, a pipe and a slightly posh turn of phrase) and he really adds a lot to this series 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. I’ve already mentioned how much Escott adds to the story, especially when contrasted with Jack (who is a slightly more typical hardboiled protagonist, albeit a vampire). But, although many of the characters get the kind of vivid and briefly-sketched characterisation you’d expect from a hardboiled detective novel, the novel’s villains are especially dramatic. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they’re certainly good antagonists for Jack.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 As you would expect, the novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of “matter of fact” but descriptive style that you’d expect from a 1930s-style hardboiled crime novel 🙂 Seriously, the writing style really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to this novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 151 pages in the omnibus edition I read (with slightly larger pages), this novel never feels too long 🙂 Likewise, whilst the beginning is brilliantly disorientating (by dropping the reader into the middle of a case and only explaining everything afterwards), the novel does slow down a bit for some of the middle parts. Even so, the pace gradually builds again and the last third of this novel is a lot more gripping than you might expect 🙂

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting and the hardboiled writing, this novel almost feels like it could have been written any time in the past ninety years. Plus, one advantage of it being a relatively modern novel in this genre is that there aren’t really any of the “dated in a bad way” elements you can sometimes find in actual vintage hardboiled novels.

All in all, this is a really compelling hardboiled vampire novel 🙂 The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful, the main characters are really interesting and, although the beginning and ending are more gripping than the middle, it’s still a really compelling story 🙂

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

Review: “The Rats” By James Herbert (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d re-read an influential novel in the history of modern horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats”.

In addition to being the forerunner of the splatterpunk genre, it also sparked something of a trend for stories about giant vermin in British horror fiction during the late 1970s and the 1980s, with novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Slugs” novels, Michael R. Linaker’s “Scorpion“, Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” and Guy N. Smith’s “Crabs” novels all taking inspiration from “The Rats”.

Like pretty much everyone who has read “The Rats”, I first read it when I was about fourteen or so. I also read the two sequels (“Lair” and “Domain”) around that time too. But, although I had thought about re-reading “Domain” (seriously, it’s almost as bleakly terrifying as “Threads), I’d been meaning to re-read “The Rats” for ages.

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

This is the 1991 New English Library (UK) paperback reprint of “The Rats” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief and ominous description of an abandoned house in London. Then, the novel tells the tragic tale of a man called Henry Guilfoyle who was driven out of his office job by homophobic bullying from his colleagues after they found out about his relationship with one of the new hires called Francis. Driven to alcoholism by this harrowing experience, he eventually becomes homeless and, after getting drunk on a bottle of cheap gin, is devoured by giant rats.

After this, the story mostly focuses on an art teacher called Harris who grew up in East London and has decided to teach there, despite the area’s rough reputation. After trading witty repartee with his rowdy class, he happens to notice something wrong with one of the troublemakers – he has been bitten by a rat…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it does show it’s age, it’s still a surprisingly compelling and horrific story. In a lot of ways, it is more reminiscent of a disaster movie or possibly even late 19th/early 20th century “Invasion Literature” novels than anything else. The mid-late parts of the story were also much more of a fast-paced thriller than I remembered too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they are really well-written. Whilst this novel isn’t quite as gory as the later splatterpunk novels of the 1980s, it’s still surprisingly grisly and/or shocking for the time it was written. This is mostly because of the focus on the vicious cruelty of the flesh-eating rats and the vulnerability of many of their victims (eg: babies, puppies, children, homeless people etc..).

This gory horror is also paired with other types of horror like monster horror, medical horror, suspenseful horror, atmospheric horror and economic horror. This is a grim, gritty novel that is mostly set in the overlooked poorer parts of 1970s London, where WW2 bomb sites still lay unrepaired, where slums were replaced with impersonal council flats and where no-one really cared about the many homeless people.

To add to the horror, there are a lot of short side-stories and vignettes showing the rats attacking random people, which lends the novel a much grander sense of scale. This is, of course, a technique which would later go on to be used in many 1980s splatterpunk novels. Likewise, whilst authority is shown to be competent sometimes, there’s enough criticism of it to see where the splatterpunk genre got it’s “punk” elements from. As I said, this novel was pretty influential.

Earlier, I likened this novel to a thriller or a disaster movie and this is one of the most surprising parts of the story. Although it is a little slow to get started, it contains numerous suspenseful and/or fast-paced scenes that still remain gripping to this day. The focus on the official response to the giant rats and the occasional pitched battle with them make this novel more thrilling than you might expect.

In terms of the characters, they’re interesting. Although Harris is a fairly ok protagonist, the novel’s characterisation is at it’s very best when Herbert is describing many of the random people who get devoured by rats. Many of these people either live drearily ordinary lives or have tragic backstories and this really makes you care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. Although the novel’s third-person narration does contain some hints of a more formal and old-school style, a lot of the novel is written in a surprisingly fast-paced and “matter of fact” way. This seamless mixture of styles works really well, since it adds atmosphere to the story whilst also keeping the story fairly gripping and/or gritty when it needs to be.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a gloriously efficient 186 pages in length, this novel makes me pine for the days when novels were expected to be short 🙂 Likewise, whilst the earlier parts are relatively slow-paced and suspenseful, the story picks up the pace and becomes a much more grippingly fast-paced novel than you might initially expect 🙂

In terms of how this forty-five year old novel has aged, it both has and hasn’t aged well. Yes, there are a few awkwardly dated moments but, on the whole, there are less of these than I’d expected from a 1970s novel. Plus, although the opening chapter is clearly set in a more narrow-minded age, it hasn’t aged quite as badly as you might expect, thanks to Henry being a reasonably sympathetic – if tragic- main character in this chapter. Yes, this chapter hasn’t aged 100% well, but – for a 1970s novel – it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

The story’s thriller and horror elements have aged absolutely excellently though and this novel is still as grippingly compelling and horrific as it probably was in 1974 🙂 Not only that, the grim run-down 1970s setting of the story also helps to add to the horror too.

All in all, this is a compelling and influential horror novel. Yes, it’s a bit dated at times, but it is still a surprisingly gripping, atmospheric, suspenseful and horrific horror thriller novel that retains a lot of it’s drama and power to shock. If you like disaster movies, enjoy the splatterpunk fiction of the 1980s or just want to see why so many other 1970s/80s horror novels included plagues of giant creatures, then read this book. Yes, the lesser-known third novel in the series (“Domain”) is much scarier, but this novel is still a horror classic.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five. After all, it’s “The Rats”. I can’t give it any less than this.

Review: “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a zombie novel that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D. Perry’s 1999 novel “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”.

I can’t remember if I played the PC port of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame before or after first reading this book during my early-mid teens. But, the original “Resident Evil 2” holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons (amongst other things, magazine articles about it were my first introduction to the zombie genre). So, I’ve been meaning to re-read this novel for a long time.

But I should probably point out that, addition to being a novelisation of the original “Resident Evil 2” videogame, this novel is also a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” and “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove“. Although it is possible to read most of this novel as a stand-alone book, a few of the extra scenes (not found in the game) will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Perry’s previous two books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins with a collection of local newspaper articles from 1998, talking about police politics and mysterious murders in the US city of Racoon City. The novel then includes a brief (non-canonical) scene showing Jill Valentine returning to her apartment to pick up some stuff, before joining the surviving S.T.A.R.S team members as they prepare to flee to Europe.

The novel then begins the story of “Resident Evil 2”. A rookie cop called Leon Kennedy is running late for work after misjudging the traffic in New York. It is his first day on the force in Racoon City and he wants to make a good impression on Chief Irons. But, as he approaches the city, he notices that the streets are unusually deserted. Not long after that, he makes a grisly discovery.

Meanwhile, Claire Redfield, is riding her motorbike to Racoon City after not hearing from her brother Chris in several weeks. When she arrives in town, she decides to stop off in a local all-night diner, only to find that the cook has turned into a zombie and started devouring another member of staff.

As more zombies lurch towards her, Claire flees the restaurant and runs into Leon. Needless to say, both of them need to find some way to survive in this city of the dead….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really compelling zombie thriller novel that also does some clever stuff with the source material too. However, since it is a thriller, it doesn’t stand up to re-reading as much as I’d hoped (since the suspense works less well if you already know what will happen). Even so, it’s still a fast-paced, action-packed thrill ride of a story that fans of the zombie genre and/or “Resident Evil” will enjoy 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of lots of well-written gory horror, some body horror/monster horror, some suspenseful horror and a bit of character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t really that frightening, it’s considerably gorier than the original videogame and is a bit like a fast-paced splatterpunk novel (such as Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus) in some ways 🙂

Still, as mentioned earlier, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only is there lots of suspense, multiple plot threads (with mini-cliffhangers), a fast-paced writing style and lots of dramatic fight scenes, but the novel also manages to keep some of the survival horror elements of the original games. In other words, the characters are sometimes low on ammo and/or wounded in some way or another.

In terms of how well it adapts the original “Resident Evil 2”, this novel does a really good job 🙂 The novel follows Leon’s “A” scenario and Claire’s “B” scenario, interweaving both storylines absolutely perfectly. Yes, there are a few small changes (eg: Leon has the magnum from the start of the story, the gun shop guy is already dead when Leon finds him etc…) but the novel manages to cram pretty much every major moment of the game’s story into one book. Plus, some extra stuff too.

In addition to adding a lot of extra characterisation to both the main characters and a few of the background characters (eg: Ada, Sherry, Annette, Chief Irons etc…), the novel also includes a few extra scenes and references that link in with the continuity of Perry’s novel series. Whilst the scene involving Jill Valentine has become non-canonical ever since “Resident Evil 3” was released, these extra scenes are a cool bonus for people who have read the previous two books. However, they may be a little bit confusing if you haven’t.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. As you would expect, this novel’s third-person narration is mostly written in the kind of informal, fast-paced, “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a gripping action-thriller novel. But, in a nod to the source material’s horror elements, there is also more formal/descriptive narration during some moments of horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 338 pages, it might seem a little long at first – but, considering that it is cramming two versions of the same game (eg: Leon and Claire’s campaigns) into just one novel, it is relatively short 🙂 Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, this novel is a thriller novel, so expect a reasonably fast-paced story with some slightly slower suspenseful moments too. Surprisingly, this works really well, considering how slow-paced the original videogame is.

As for how this twenty year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although the story itself will probably evoke lots of 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia (and there isn’t a smartphone in sight 🙂 ), it is the kind of adaptation that could almost have been written today. It also has a level of gruesomeness that reminded me of the preview footage I’ve seen of the modern remake of “Resident Evil 2” (yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.)

All in all, whilst the novel’s thriller elements work better when you read this novel for the very first time, it is still a really great zombie thriller novel 🙂 Not only does it cram the whole of “Resident Evil 2” into just one book, but it also adds lots of extra stuff and is also more of an intense experience (eg: pacing, horror etc..) than the original videogame is too 🙂 Even so, you need to read Perry’s previous two “Resident Evil” books to get the most out of this one.

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

Review: “The Ritual” By Adam Nevill (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel “The Ritual”.

This was a novel that I spotted when looking for second-hand books and, since I’d heard that there had been a film adaptation of it (which I’ve only seen the trailer for) and because the title sounded hilariously melodramatic, I decided to get a copy.

So, let’s take a look at “The Ritual”. Needless to say, this review will contain some MAJOR SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Ritual” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing four hikers discovering a grisly animal carcass dangling from a tree in the middle of a forest, before flashing back to several hours earlier.

Luke, Hutch, Phil and Dom were flatmates at university. About fifteen years later, they decide to have a reunion and go on a hiking holiday in Sweden. Of course, tramping through rain-soaked fields and sleeping in tents isn’t the relaxing break that they had somehow expected it to be. And, with tempers fraying and Dom’s knee acting up, Hutch decides to call the holiday to an early end.

So, after checking the map, he proposes taking a shortcut to the next town through a wild patch of unmanaged forest. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is one of the most compelling, creepy and atmospheric horror novels that I’ve read recently. Imagine a mixture of horror stories by Dennis Wheatley, Shaun Hutson and H.P.Lovecraft and this might give you the vaguest hint of what to expect. It is also one of the very few genuinely scary monster novels I’ve ever read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it contains a gloriously unsettling mixture of suspenseful horror, location-based horror, atmospheric horror, occult horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, camping-based horror, paranormal horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, character-based horror, gory horror, sadistic horror, cosmic horror and survival horror (yes, survival horror, in a novel).

Seriously, whilst this novel might not outright shock or terrify you that often, you’ll probably be in a constant state of nervous unease throughout most of the story.

The novel also manages to make the monster genre scary too. In part, this is because it uses the Hollywood trick of not directly showing the monster that much. But, it is also because of the fact that the novel has such a realistic tone and atmosphere that, for large parts of the story, you aren’t really quite sure whether the monster actually exists or not. The novel also makes sure that the monster isn’t the only source of danger and fear that the main characters encounter. Seriously, it’s a scary monster novel 🙂

Plus, if you believe that tent-based camping is only appropriate for music festivals, then this novel will be a chilling source of realistic horror too. Seriously, the novel’s depiction of the squalor, bleakness and general misery of camping in something other than a caravan is terrifyingly accurate. Likewise, the novel’s woods are a really claustrophobic, creepy and menacingly atmospheric location too.

However, if you’re a fan of heavy metal music, some of the later parts of the novel might either be scarier than you expect and/or might make you roll your eyes. The second half of the novel focuses on something similar to the violence and political extremism that the metal scene in Scandinavia was infamous for during the 1990s, with the novel’s human villains being members of an extreme metal band called Blood Frenzy who wouldn’t exactly be out of place in that context.

Given that this is the scariest and most disturbing part of the metal genre’s history, I can understand why it would inspire part of a horror novel – although it is kind of annoying that the novel doesn’t really contain a more nuanced, modern and/or realistic portrayal of the genre and it’s fans, given how infrequently heavy metal turns up in fiction these days.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. This is a novel about alienation, loneliness, time, ageing and death. It’s a mid-life crisis story about how friends drift apart and how there is no right way to grow older. Yet, surprisingly, the story doesn’t drift into nihilism. It is a story about how life is valuable and meaningful, even if it is often harsh and apparently meaningless. This theme is handled well and it really helps to add a lot of extra depth and emotional impact to the story.

In terms of the characters, this novel is brilliant. Not only is the realistically complex, and often antagonistic, friendship between the four hikers a major source of drama, but all of them get more than enough characterisation to make you care about them. Likewise, the main characters also suffer from realistic problems (eg: Luke has depression/anger issues, two of the characters are going through divorces etc..), which add tension and character-based drama to the story too.

Plus, even though the novel’s metal band are caricatures, they still become suitably chilling villains as the story progresses. Likewise, the monster is left mysterious enough to remain frightening, but shown enough to be dramatic 🙂

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant 🙂 Whether it is how the novel’s third-person narration sometimes contrasts elaborate formal descriptions of the forest and more informal “matter of fact” descriptions of the characters trying to survive in it, or the disorientating nightmare sequence that somehow uses first, second and third-person perspective within the space of a couple of pages, this novel is really well-written 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 418 pages in length, the novel can feel a little long at times. Seriously, the first half of this book would almost work as a gloriously efficienct short novel 🙂 Likewise, although this novel is a moderately-paced horror story, the consistent use of suspense gives the story more of a thriller-like quality that keeps it compelling. Seriously, I was absolutely riveted during some parts of this story 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant horror novel 🙂 Yes it could have been a bit shorter and, if you’re a metalhead, some parts of it will make you roll your eyes. But, this aside, it is a wonderfully atmospheric, well-written, constantly chilling and utterly gripping horror novel 🙂 Seriously, if you want to see a scary example of the monster genre, then read this book!

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

Review: “Rienzi (Release 6)” [WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”]

Well, since I’m still reading the next horror novel that I plan to review (“The Ritual” by Adam Nevill), I thought that I’d take a quick look at a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD today. After all, it’s been almost a month since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive a few times, I found myself looking at a WAD from 2011 called “Rienzi (Release 6)“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it will probably work with GZDoom etc.. too. However, according to the readme file, it may not run with vanilla “Doom II”/”Final Doom” or the Chocolate Doom source port. Likewise, be sure to enable jumping in whichever source port you use.

So, let’s take a look at “Rienzi (Release 6)”:

“Rienzi (Release 6)” is a short to medium length single-level WAD that also contains a couple of new textures/animations too.

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it has a really good difficulty curve and weapon progression. In the early parts of the level, you’ll be fighting zombies and imps with the pistol before gradually encountering better weapons and more powerful monsters.

If, like me, you’re slightly out of practice with “Doom II” then this level is a good way to reintroduce yourself to it. It’s challenging enough to be fun, but forgiving enough not to be frustrating. In other words, it’s a mildly-moderately challenging level.

So, yes, if you’re out of practice with “Doom II”, then this is a rather fun level 🙂

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. The level contains a really good mixture of gloomy claustrophobic areas and large bright arena-like areas, which help to keep things interesting. Plus, although the early parts of the level seem to be fairly linear, the level quickly turns into the kind of proper non-linear level you’d expect from a real FPS game like “Doom II”.

One strange thing about this level is the keys. Although there are three skull keys hidden throughout the level, the door that they open doesn’t seem to be clearly marked. Still, they encourage the player to search the level thoroughly – which is important because, in the classic fashion, progression at one point depends on finding an unobtrusive passage. Likewise, if you want the plasma rifle, then prepare to look for secret areas.

Yes, this gun is actually a secret item in the level.

In terms of the textures and visual design, this level is really good 🙂 The new textures consist of some animated flames and a suitably fiery teleportation animation when the Cyberdemon appears:

Yes, THIS is “Doom II” 🙂

For the most part, the level uses the standard textures – but thanks to some wonderful lighting and a cool-looking tower in the later part of the level, everything looks really cool 🙂

There is some really awesome lighting here 🙂

Seriously, this looks wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible 🙂

All in all, this is a well-designed level that will provide half an hour or so of fun 🙂 There’s a good difficulty curve, some cool-looking areas and a decent amount of variety too.

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