Review: “Doctor Who – The Pyramid At The End Of The World” (TV Show Episode)

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

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Pyramid At The End Of The World”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

The episode begins with a recap of the previous episode, intercut with new scenes of Bill and Penny spending the evening together and talking about The Doctor.

Plus, these new scenes help to keep the recap interesting if you’ve already seen the previous episode.

However, after Bill tells Penny about the Pope interrupting them during the simulation, there is a sudden noise and the room is swiftly filled with soldiers!

It seems like disappointing dates are some kind of universal constant for Bill.

The soldiers are guarding the Secretary General of the UN, who wants to talk to Bill because she knows how to find The Doctor. As is standard in all world-threatening emergencies, the Doctor has been appointed temporary president of Earth and the UN need to find him.

When Bill asks why, the Secretary General shows her a map of a disputed area, with the US, Russian and Chinese armies nearby. There is a pyramid in the middle. A 5000 year old pyramid. A 5000 year old pyramid that wasn’t there yesterday…..

Either that, or Google Earth really hasn’t been updated for this part of the world for quite a while…

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it seems to be another two-part episode. However, unlike the previous episode, this episode is much more of a thriller-style episode.

In the classic sci-fi thriller sense of the term. Seriously, don’t expect this episode to be an action movie or anything like that.

The zombie-like aliens inside the pyramid want to force humanity to ask for their leadership (with the rationale that love is a better form of control than fear, despite using all sorts of scare tactics to obtain said love) and The Doctor has to come up with some stratagem to stop them manipulating humanity into agreeing to their proposals.

There is some interesting political stuff here, such as the UN and military characters eventually deciding to informally take back political control of Earth, despite appointing The Doctor president a while earlier. In some ways, the entire episode is possibly a musing on the nature of democracy – especially since the antagonists in the episode constantly ask for the “consent” of humanity (I’m guessing that this could possibly be a reference to Herman & Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent“, but I haven’t actually read this book)

Another interesting thing about this episode is the sub-plot, which takes place inside a GM food laboratory in Yorkshire that handles dangerous chemicals. In many ways, this part of the episode reminded me a bit of something from a brilliantly cheesy old TV show called “Bugs“, which was kind of cool.

Yay! Boring, but vaguely futuristic, laboratories! I’ve missed you!

However, the events of these segments of the episode are somewhat predictable (eg: a hungover scientist working with dangerous chemicals etc..) and they undercut the mystery of some earlier parts of the episode.

Yes, the makers of the show need to get the audience up to speed with what is happening. But, given that a central part of the episode is The Doctor trying to work out how the aliens are going to force humanity to ask for their help, actually showing this to the audience before The Doctor knows about it robs the episode of some of it’s suspense. Even so, it is still a good set up for the episode’s shocking cliffhanger ending.

Although this episode is a thriller episode, it is an old-school thriller with the focus placed firmly on strategy, thought and experimentation rather than on mindless action. This is all backed up with lots of really well-written dialogue that is filled with the kind of witty lines and pithy observations that define the show. The relative lack of action in the episode also helps to give the episode’s fantastical events a slightly more “realistic” tone.

Yes, a fair amount of the episode consists of discussions in this briefing room

Plus, the suspense is also increased by the enormity of the threat that the Earth faces. At one point the Doctor actually orders the three armies to launch a strike on the pyramid as a show of strength. Yet, even this uncharacteristic moment of belligerence doesn’t exactly end as planned:

Hey! Teleportation is cheating!

And they can also do THIS too. Earth is doomed!

The set design and special effects in this episode are also fairly good and are on par with a mid-budget movie of some kind or another. The coolest location in the episode is probably the centre of the pyramid, where the aliens view various possible timelines via a cool-looking glowing thing.

Because a computer or a machine of some kind would just look boring. Seriously though, I love the mood lighting here 🙂

All in all, this episode is a surprisingly compelling thriller episode. Yes, it seems to be the set up for the much cooler next episode (which, from the preview, seems to be proper old-school dystopian sci-fi 🙂 ), but it does this really well. Yes, the cliffhanger ending is a little annoying and the scenes set in the lab should have been saved until later in the episode, but even so it’s a proper old-school sci-fi thriller episode.

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

Mini Review: “Hell’s Revenge” (Demo Version) (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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Well, I was in the mood for playing another “Doom II” WAD and, this time, I was a bit luckier. After a quick look on ModDB, I found a rather entertaining little WAD called “Hell’s Revenge“. However, I think that it’s a demo version of the WAD, so there may or may not be a larger version by the time this review goes out – since I write these mini reviews/reviews ridiculously far in advance.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD (although it took longer to load, due to a texture error message that seemed to have little or no effect on the actual game itself). However, this WAD will probably work on any modern source port that allows jumping.

Anyway, let’s take a look at it:

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The demo version of “Hell’s Revenge” is a two-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”, which is meant to take place after the events of “The Plutonia Experiment”. Despite the screenshots on the ModDB page at the time of writing (late September 2016), the demo seems to be a ‘vanilla’ WAD (with no new textures, monsters, weapons etc..). However, this may well change in later versions of the WAD.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that although it claims to follow on from “The Plutonia Experiment”, the gameplay style is at least slightly different to that of “Final Doom”. In many ways, this WAD is slightly closer to modern ‘slaughtermap’-style WADs than to “Final Doom”. I’m not complaining though 🙂

Yes, this is a WAD for experienced players and, as always, it is a joy to behold. Whilst it may not contain the gigantic armies of monsters that are common in the slaughtermap genre, it uses medium-large groups of monsters to great effect. Most of the time, the monsters are spread out slightly more.

 This is probably the largest "army" of monsters you'll encounter and this is only near the end of the second level.

This is probably the largest “army” of monsters you’ll encounter and this is only near the end of the second level.

Most of the time, something like this is a bit more typical.

Most of the time, something like this is a bit more typical.

This isn’t to say that this WAD is “easy” though. Like in any slaughtermap-style WAD, the emphasis is firmly on fast-paced strategy, having a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom” and on trial-and-error. You’ll find at least a few situations where the best course of action isn’t to fight all of the monsters, but to find a clever way to either bypass some of them or trick some of them into fighting each other.

Of course, sometimes, the best strategy is just to RUN!!!!!

Of course, sometimes, the best strategy is just to RUN!!!!!

Personally, I absolutely love this type of gameplay. As well as being thrillingly fast-paced, the fact that you are frequently outnumbered and outgunned also means that you actually have to think about what you’re going to do. You have to use cunning, strategy and daring – rather than just mindless shooting – in order to get through each of the WAD’s many battles. Seriously, more FPS games should be like this!

As for the level design, it’s really good. Both levels start off in a well-designed “hub” area, with lots of extra rooms, locked doors and passages leading off in different directions. Like any good FPS game level, these levels are the kind of non-linear things that will require a fair amount of exploration and memorisation in order to work out where you’re supposed to go next.

My favourite of the two levels is probably the first one – since it takes place outdoors and it seems a bit more “open” than the cavern-like setting of the second level.

I especially like how this giant square corridor is used as an arena of sorts too.

I especially like how this giant square corridor is used as an arena of sorts too.

However, in terms of pure design, the second level is probably slightly better. This is mostly because of a couple of tiny design flaws in the first level.

Not only is there a small “hall of mirrors” glitch in one area (this might explain the error message I mentioned at the beginning of this mini review), but there is also a very unforgiving first-person platforming segment just before this part of the level. Yes, it’s fairly small and you only have to traverse it twice – but it still breaks up the flow of the gameplay slightly. Not to mention that it’s, well, first-person platforming!

And, for extra "fun", the platform damages you when you stand on it for too long. Then again, you need to be running and jumping fairly quickly to get the momentum needed to clear this chasm. So, I guess that I can begrudgingly understand this design decision.

And, for extra “fun”, the platform damages you when you stand on it for too long. Then again, you need to be running and jumping fairly quickly to get the momentum needed to clear this chasm. So, I guess that I can begrudgingly understand this design decision.

Although the second level is fairly well-designed, one strange thing that I noticed was the fact that you only get the plasma rifle in the very final room (after defeating the arch-vile at the end). Then again, since this is meant to be a demo of a much larger WAD, this strange weapon placement is slightly more understandable.

All in all, despite a couple of tiny flaws, this is an extremely entertaining WAD. It’s challenging, fast-paced and thrilling. Although there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new in the demo, there doesn’t need to be. You’ll be too busy running away from monsters, working out what to do next and enjoying yourself to care.

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

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

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

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

The episode begins “A long time ago”, on a balcony beside a lake. A man talks ominously about an execution involving a timelord-killing weapon, whilst The Doctor listens solemnly. However, it soon turns out that it isn’t the Doctor who is going to be executed, but someone else….

On the plus side, Missy is back!

Under some kind of galactic law, The Doctor must serve as the executioner and then must guard the body for a thousand years (Yes, this explains the mysterious vault and the Doctor’s oath). Needless to say, the Doctor isn’t happy about the idea of being an executioner and is racked by moral conflict. However, before he can make a decision, the title credits roll and the events of the episode begin.

Back in the present day, The Doctor is still blind from the events of the previous episode. However, he is able to use his sonic sunglasses in a similar manner to Geordi La Forge‘s VISOR from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. He can see elements of the world, but this is relayed through sonar and computer data. Still, he decides to keep his blindness a secret.

Yes, this is all that The Doctor can see. Still, it has a really cool green/black colour scheme, like “The Matrix”.

However, a while later, he is visited by a cardinal from the Vatican who says that the Pope requests his help. A few seconds later, the pope appears – having made the journey due to the urgency of the situation. The cardinal tells the Doctor of a mysterious heretical document in the Vatican’s vaults called “The Veritas” which apparently drives all who read it to suicide. For reasons that aren’t explained at this point, they want The Doctor to try reading it….

Amusingly, despite the TARDIS being able to translate any language, the Pope still speaks in Italian (?) and the cardinal has to translate for the Doctor in this scene.

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is “WOW!!!”. After the disappointment of the previous episode, my hopes for this one weren’t that high. Yet, this episode absolutely excels itself in so many ways! It’s a great sci-fi episode! It’s a great horror episode! It’s a great thriller episode! It also contains a few memorably hilarious comedic moments too.

Such as an uninvited guest suddenly showing up when Bill is trying to have a romantic evening.

There are almost too many cool things to mention about this episode. There’s a mysterious underground library, there are some elements from the cyberpunk genre, there’s a scary mystery, there are some hilarious moments, there’s more of the Doctor and Missy’s backstory and there are…. zombies !!! 🙂

Ok, they’re technically aliens… or demons, or both. But, they look an awful lot like zombies!

All of these brilliant elements are connected together in a really clever way, which actually helps them to be greater than the sum of their parts.

The science fiction elements actually follow some kind of logic (unlike the “we’ll make it up as we go along” science fantasy of some earlier episodes/series of the show) and this helps to explain the thriller and horror elements of the episode. The comedic moments of the episode also feel like an organic part of the story and, along with the thriller elements, also help to leaven the seriousness of what could be a fairly depressing story in the hands of a lesser writer.

And, yes, this episode is surprisingly dark for a “Doctor Who” episode. Drunken scientists gleefully blow themselves into oblivion with dynamite, a high-ranking American politician overdoses on medication, a priest shoots himself and a couple of major characters also die horribly too. Yes, the ending puts a slightly different spin on what happens, but it is still a surprisingly creepy and dark episode of the show. As a good horror episode of “Doctor Who” should be.

Worst. Party. Ever!

And, although I won’t spoil the ending, I love how this episode is both a (mostly) self-contained story whilst also being part of a story arc. Rather than an unsatisfying and annoying “to be continued…” ending, the episode tells a single story which seems to be the set-up for another more spectacular story. Many of the main plot points of the episode are resolved in a really clever way, whilst also leaving the audience wanting more.

Likewise, we also get a payoff to the mystery of the vault beneath the university. Although the brief presence of John Simm in the “later in the series” trailer at the end of the first episode clued me in to the fact that The Master was probably inside the vault, I didn’t expect The Master to still be Missy instead [EDIT: Yes, Missy appears in this trailer too. But, I assumed that the Master’s past self was in the vault whilst Missy was still out there].

Likewise, the way that The Doctor resolves his moral conflict about executing Missy is yet another “Star Trek” reference (he doesn’t explicitly mention it, but it’s hard not to think of Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru in this scene).

The set design in this episode is also astonishingly good, with a wide variety of locations on show in this episode. From the creepily cold white walls of various futuristic/scientific locations, to suitably gloomy old buildings and a few other interesting locations, the set designs are fairly atmospheric and absolutely brilliant.

In true Dan Brown fashion, the Vatican looks suitably old, gloomy and ominous.

The cake is a lie! (And, yes, I’m several years behind on game references…)

They must have built this set just for this episode, since the Oval Office hardly ever turns up in TV shows made over here.

Likewise, the background music in the episode contains very slight hints of the theme tune to “Sherlock”, which fits in really well with the investigation/mystery at the centre of the episode’s story.

And, as if this couldn’t get any cooler, the preview for the next episode seems to include Ancient Egyptian pyramids! Awesome!!!!! 🙂

Yes, the preview of the next episode seems to show Bill and The Doctor exploring a pyramid 🙂

All in all, this episode is a brilliant return to form after the slight disappointment of the previous episode. It is a brilliant blend of horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, thrilling mystery, serious drama and amusing comedy. It sets up the events of the next episode without leaving the viewer feeling short-changed or disappointed. It also helps to develop the central story of the series too. It’s probably the best episode of the series so far.

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

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

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Well, I was in the mood for playing and reviewing another “Doom II” WAD but, after downloading two cool-looking (but non-functional), WADs from ModDB, I was about to give up in frustration when I thought “I’ll try the ‘random file’ feature on Doomworld“.

It took me a couple of tries, but I soon found an interesting-sounding single player WAD from 2010 called “Axebreaker“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Although it will probably work on pretty much any modern source port for “Doom II” or “Final Doom” that allows jumping.

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

It may not look like much in this screenshot, but this is one of the most fun parts of the level :)

It may not look like much in this screenshot, but this is one of the most fun parts of the level 🙂

“Axebreaker” is a short, single-level “vanilla” Doom II/ Final Doom WAD. The level begins in an arena-like area where you are armed with nothing more than a pistol and surrounded by a few low-level and mid-level monsters. This is, by far, the most fun part of the level.

The gameplay at the beginning of the level is fast, frenetic and strategic as you frantically dodge projectiles and search for more powerful weapons. Experienced players will probably find this to be an enjoyable, but short, challenge. However, newer players might find it to be genuinely difficult.

Well, ok it isn't exactly a "slaughtermap", but the combat is surprisingly fast-paced for "Doom II" and you'll probably spend at least the first third of the fight armed with nothing more than the basic pistol.

Well, ok it isn’t exactly a “slaughtermap”, but the combat is surprisingly fast-paced for “Doom II” and you’ll probably spend at least the first third of the fight armed with nothing more than the basic pistol.

One of the best parts of the beginning of the level is probably getting the super shotgun, which is placed on the edge of a ledge that is occupied by a mancubus.

Since you probably won’t have enough ammo to actually fight the mancubus – what you have to do is to lure it to the far end of the ledge. This gives you time to run up the stairs, dodge it’s attacks and grab the super shotgun before falling to safety. It’s moments like this that make “Doom II” such a fun game!

Yay! Strategy :)

Yay! Strategy 🙂

But, despite it’s strong start, the rest of the level isn’t quite as well-designed. The description on the WAD’s “Doomworld” page suggests that you have to spend the beginning of the level gathering weapons for an epic boss battle with a Spider Mastermind.

However, when I played the level, I was able to bypass the entire boss battle and complete the level with a bit of running, some careful dodging and a couple of jumps.

Once you get to the platform that the Spider Mastermind is sitting on, the button that ends the level is hidden behind a short wall. Yes, you’re supposed to press two switches on opposite ends of the platform (after defeating the boss) to lower the wall – but the wall is short enough to be easily jumped over.

Like this!  In fact, even this Arachnotron can be beaten fairly easily by just hiding behind the wall at the back of this area, which can also be jumped onto.

Like this! In fact, even this Arachnotron can be beaten fairly easily by just hiding behind the wall at the back of this area, which can also be jumped onto.

If this was a WAD made in 1994, I could understand why the ending was set up in this way. But, since it’s from 2010, it’s designer must have known that most modern source ports allow jumping by default. This is especially true since it seems like you can’t actually reach the platform that the boss is standing on without jumping onto another platform. So, the wall at the end of the level should have been slightly taller.

Still, feeling like it was too easy, I went back and tried to beat this part of the level without jumping over the wall. In the process, I was compelled to explore a bit more and actually discovered several other areas near the beginning of the level that contain extra weapons and ammunition. Not only that, the boss battle is actually quite challenging if you don’t just jump over the barrier at the end.

Especially when you start running out of health and/or ammo for your rapidly-firing weapons.

Especially when you start running out of health and/or ammo for your rapidly-firing weapons.

One thing that increases the difficulty of the boss battle is the fact that part of the area in front of the boss will actually damage you when you stand on it. Likewise, there’s relatively little cover to hide behind too.

In fact, the only way that I was able to get through this part of the level (with the amount of health I had left) was when I discovered that the area in front of the boss doesn’t actually damage you if you crouch. I don’t know if this was a programming error, or something specific to the source port I used, but it was probably borderline cheating.

All in all, this is a WAD with some fun elements – but one which is let down slightly by some poor design choices. Depending on how you play the final part of the level, it’s either laughably easily or enjoyably challenging. Even so, the beginning of the level is quite cool.

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

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

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

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

The episode begins with the Doctor saying “Space… The final frontier. Final because it wants to kill you“. We see two astronauts walking on the outside of a space station, their oxygen is low and they are trying to find a way inside. However, just as one of them gets to the airlock controls… something lands behind the other astronaut. What could it be?

A zombie! In space! A space zombie!

Back on Earth, the Doctor is giving a lecture about the cold void of space and how it is especially deadly because the pressure differences can quicky boil all of the fluids in someone’s body if they aren’t wearing a spacesuit. One student asks him why he’s talking about space in the middle of a lecture about crop rotation.

And, yes, he draws a skull on the board behind him. A space skull. Hmm… that would make a good name for a metal band actually…

A while later, Nardole notices that the Doctor misses space and gives him a stern lecture about remaining on Earth. So, naturally, The Doctor meets up with Bill in the TARDIS and asks her to choose anywhere in space to visit.

Nardole shows up and begins to lecture the Doctor again, before claiming to have sabotaged the TARDIS to prevent the Doctor from leaving Earth. Yet, before they can resolve their argument, they get a distress signal from a space station….

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is very much a horror episode.

Sci-fi horror is a brilliant genre, the zombie genre is also a brilliant genre too. Not to mention that the preview trailer from last week reminded me of this animated Youtube video too. However, the episode both succeeds and fails at being a great sci-fi horror episode.

The best way to describe the story and atmosphere of the episode is that it is like something from “Red Dwarf“, but without the comedy. Seriously, with a few changes, this would actually make a fairly good episode of “Red Dwarf”.

Even the computer screens look a little bit like something from Red Dwarf, albeit without any amusing background text.

In terms of emotional tone, this episode is surprisingly bleak. Whilst most horror episodes of the show usually accompany the horror with humour, this episode actually takes the horror elements a bit more seriously and this works surprisingly well in terms of creating suspense and drama.

But, as much as horror is part of “Doctor Who”, so is comedy. Yes, sci-fi horror is cool. But, sci-fi horror comedy would be even better! Yes, there are a few amusing lines of dialogue but, for the most part, this episode is very much a “serious drama”.

Even this reference to the previous series is more of a sombre scene than anything else…

Even so, the horror parts of this episode work really well. The zombies, although not technically zombies, are proper old-school slow-moving zombies who are also vaguely reminiscent of the Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Since they are controlled by a computer (or, technically, their space suits are), they sometimes tend to act more like machines than people – which adds to the chilling atmosphere of the episode.

However, most of the time, they just act like good old fashioned zombies…

The horror elements of the episode are also enhanced by the fact that the space station’s computer rigidly follows the policies of the company who owns the station (which include selling oxygen to the inhabitants and venting any “unauthorised oxygen” to preserve oxygen’s market value). This is a fact that is also cleverly exploited by the Doctor in a later part of the episode.

Likewise, a lot of drama comes from the fact that Bill ends up inside a malfunctioning space suit that has a habit of freezing, helmet problems etc… which adds a bit of extra drama to a few scenes, albeit in a slightly predictable way sometimes.

In terms of the characters, the few survivors left on the station are -as you might expect – pessimistic, grim and frightened.

When we first see the survivors, they are already armed. Yet, they haven’t shot ANY of the slow-moving zombies on the station…

Another problem with the episode is that it is very heavy-handed with it’s politics. The episode is meant to be a satire about corporations and capitalism but, unlike in great cyberpunk films like “Robocop” and “Blade Runner“, the writer of this episode doesn’t seem to credit the audience with enough intelligence to work this out for themselves from the many clues scattered throughout the episode.

Throwing subtlety and nuance to the wind, The Doctor even gives a speech about the “logical end point of capitalism” at one point. Even Jeremy Corbyn would probably consider the politics of this speech to be “a bit too far left”! I mean, The Doctor practically quotes Karl Marx (and his later comment about capitalism only lasting another six months is oddly radical for a show that is ordinarily just moderately liberal).

More importantly, the satire also doesn’t work because it contradicts itself! The main point of the episode is that the soulless corporation who runs the station thinks that it is cheaper to kill the workers and convert them into zombies. Yet, earlier in the episode, we see an empty space suit being controlled by the station’s computer. Surely, it would be even cheaper for the greedy mega-corporation to just send 40+ empty suits to the station, and just 5-6 technicians to make sure that the suits are working properly.

Yes, this one scene early in the episode completely and utterly undermines the political point that the later parts of the episode try to make.

There’s also a somewhat cringe-worthy scene where an alien called Dahh-ren accuses Bill of racism and – with a limited supply of oxygen left- they spend a while discussing this topic instead of planning how they’re going to escape from the deadly space station whilst they still can. Given the context of the scene, the discussion just comes across as being shoehorned into the episode for the sake of it.

Then again, I’m not sure if this scene is a clever satire of modern online political critics’ constant demands that the media includes more political discussion, or an example of how reading too much online political criticism can affect the creative process.

This is not to say that sci-fi shouldn’t include politics. It’s an intelligent genre for intelligent people, and any speculation about the future will inevitably involve politics. But, political subtext in science fiction should just be that… subtext. It shouldn’t dominate or overwhelm critical moments in the story. A political sci-fi story should be a story that also makes a point about politics, rather than a political lecture that gets in the way of the story.

All in all, this is both a good and a bad episode. The parts with the space zombies, the suspenseful horror elements and the chilling mystery of why the space station turned rogue are absolutely brilliant. The heavy-handed politics and the relative lack of comedy are somewhat less brilliant. When this episode is good, it is really good. When it isn’t, it really isn’t.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about three and a half. The episode has a great premise and some brilliantly chilling scenes, but it needs more subtlety, nuance and humour too.

Mini Review: “Project Einherjar (V1.3 Beta/V.2 ?)” [WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” etc..]

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Well, after seeing about the first twenty minutes of this “let’s play” video/ video review last autumn, I thought that I’d check out a WAD called “Project Einherjar” that I’d heard of before but hadn’t got round to playing.

Since I write these reviews quite far in advance, the version of this WAD that I played seems to be a public beta version (version 1.3, although the file name for the WAD [“PEstuffv2”] seems to suggest that it’s actually version two). It’s possible that a newer version of this WAD may be available when this review goes out. Since the WAD is still technically a beta, this is why I have called this article a “mini review”, despite it’s length.

Likewise, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, and I guess that it will probably work on many other modern source ports. However, you will require a port that allows jumping, crouching, custom weapons etc…

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Project Einherjar:

screenshot_doom_20160916_114018

“Project Einherjar” is a seven-level WAD for “Doom II” and/or “Final Doom” that includes new music, textures, voice-acting, weapons, items and enemies. Interestingly, this WAD was actually made by the creator of “Nerves of Steel“, “Derceto” and “Strange Aeons” as a way of promoting an e-book that he’s written called “The Helios Legacy”.

Although I haven’t read the book, the story of this WAD seems to imply that it takes place before the events of the novel. You play as a character called Juno who lives in a dystopian icy wasteland called Midgard. In “Project Einherjar” she has to break into a fascist-controlled base in order to stop the evil scientific experiments performed by the nefarious Dr.Gaul.

The best way to describe this WAD is probably ” ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ meets ‘Rise Of The Triad: Dark War’ “. However, although the WAD often bears at least a slight visual resemblance to these two games (as well as to the original “System Shock”), it’s also very much it’s own thing at the same time.

The gameplay is, for the most part, very good. Although the first level or two are certainly on the easier side of things, this WAD soon becomes at least moderately challenging.

Although the quantity of enemies doesn’t really reach ‘slaughtermap’ levels of magnitude, the relatively large number of enemies with hitscan-based attacks combined with the relatively weaker and/or ammo-hungry weapons in this WAD helps to keep the difficulty level enjoyable.

And, yes, the people here can be absolute fascists about punctuality if you dare to show up late to a meeting!

In terms of the level design, it’s reasonably good although – due to the setting of the game – most of the levels are just “military base”-style levels. However, there’s a decent variety of textures and room types that help to keep things varied and interesting. Likewise, the levels themselves are the kind of 90s-style non-linear levels that show off the FPS genre at it’s best. However, the level design isn’t without flaws.

Although a certain level of puzzle-based gameplay can make a refreshing change from the combat, I ended up almost completely stuck on two of the later levels. Yes, the relevant keys and switches needed to solve these levels can be found with a lot of careful searching and map-reading, but expect to wander around aimlessly for at least several minutes (if not longer).

If I remember rightly, actually getting that red key involves both carefully studying the map and finding a room that, whilst not hidden, isn't immediately obvious either.

If I remember rightly, actually getting that red key involves both carefully studying the map and finding a room that, whilst not hidden, isn’t immediately obvious either.

The new weapons in “Project Einherjar” are pretty cool too. Although the game contains the knife from “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War”, it also contains a reusable ballistic knife that will defeat most low-level enemies with a single shot. The pistol in this WAD also has a new sprite and is actually useful, due to it’s fast firing speed.

Likewise, although this game contains a super shotgun-like weapon (that uses the plasma gun’s weapon slot), it’s actually a lot less useful than the WAD’s equivlant of the basic shotgun. This is mostly because the basic shotgun can be fired ridiculously quickly – which is great, except for when you either run out of ammo and/or encounter enemies that also use this weapon!

Although these shotgun-wielding enemies don't have that much health, one of the boss-level enemies also uses the shotgun too.

Although these shotgun-wielding enemies don’t have that much health, one of the boss-level enemies also uses the shotgun too.

This WAD also includes a rocket launcher (with a cool new sprite and firing animation, but a slower rate of fire) and a slow-firing, but powerful, assault rifle.

In addition to all of this, “Project Einherjar” also contains an item system with lots of cool new stuff in it. There are portable medkits, a portable beserk pack, bouncing betty mines, hazmat suits and a small automated missile turret – all of which can come in handy during various parts of the game.

As for the new enemies, they’re astonishingly good. Although many of the enemies seem to be based on enemies from “Wolfenstein 3D”, there are also monsters, attack dogs, robots and “Wolfenstein 3D”-style bosses too.

Another interesting feature is that there’s actually a mixture of male and female enemy soldiers in this game, which is something that always adds some realism to sci-fi themed games. Plus, unusually for a FPS game, there are actually more female soldiers than male ones.

In addition to this, the monster enemies in this WAD are really well-designed. Although they replace the pink “demon” enemies from “Doom II”, they have a genuinely menacing appearance and they will often rush towards you when you least expect it.

Usually, they don't even have the courtesy to form large hordes. Most of the time, you'll just hear a noise and turn around to find that one of these things is RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

Usually, they don’t even have the courtesy to form large hordes. Most of the time, you’ll just hear a noise and turn around to find that one of these things is RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

One truly outstanding part of this WAD has to be the voice acting! Yes, this WAD actually has new voice-acting and it is hilarious!

Many of the enemies will shout various insults at you and some of them will make hilarious comments. The funniest of these probably has to be the robot enemies who, whilst speaking in a creepy ‘robotic’ voice, will sometimes say ‘f**king really?‘ when destroyed. I literally laughed out loud the first time I heard this!

The comedy value is also enhanced by the fact that some of the low-level male and female soldiers sound like American frat boys/jocks and sorority girls/valley girls respectively. Seriously, as well as the robots, they also have some of the funniest dialogue in the game. However, the mid-level and high-level enemies all sound suitably menacing though.

Seriously, the voice acting for these two enemy types is absolutely hilarious!

Seriously, the voice acting for these two enemy types is absolutely hilarious!

These soldiers, on the other hand, usually make begrudging comments about how long they've had to wait to use their guns.

These soldiers, on the other hand, usually make begrudging comments about how long they’ve had to wait to use their guns.

As for the music, it’s fairly good – although the best background music has to be the background music for level five, which also incorporates some of the background music from the original “System Shock” too.

All in all, this is a really fun – and funny – WAD that has lots of fast-paced and challenging combat. Yes, you’ll probably get stuck on at least a couple of the levels, but it’s still worth playing for the inventive new weapons, dramatic gameplay and the comedy.

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

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

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

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

The episode begins with Bill and several of her friends house hunting after they’ve had to move out of halls. However, as anyone who has ever been to university here will probably know, this isn’t as easy as it looks.

Surprisingly, they actually visit the estate agents’ though. I’m kind of surprised that their university doesn’t have a list of houses, or that they don’t use the internet to find one. Then again, neither of those things allow for a hilarious montage scene at the beginning of the episode…

After looking around a couple of unsuitable properties, they leave the estate agents’ in despair… when they are suddenly approached by a mysterious old man who offers them a surprisingly cheap deal on a creepy, creaking old mansion. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, apart from this, of course…

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that I was surprised to see that it was set in the present day. Since the trailer last week included an old house and several interesting 1980s/90s-inspired costume designs, I was looking forward to an episode set in some of the coolest parts of the 20th century. But, no, the characters are modern people.

Set in the 80s or the 90s? Ha! What could have possibly given you THAT idea?

But, joking aside, one of the first things that I will say is that this episode is actually a surprisingly good horror episode. It contains a fairly good mixture of comedy, suspense, horror, tragedy and science fiction. Not to mention at least one slightly shocking and poignant plot twist too.

Ok, to seasoned fans of the horror genre, there’s nothing especially scary in this episode. But, even so, it’s still fun to see an episode set in a creepy old mansion with lots of dramatic lightning, rattling doors, a mysterious tower, no phone signal and constant ominous creaking sounds.

And, yes, the house doesn’t even have lampshades! The horror!

It kind of reminded me a little bit of the (genuinely scary) “The Grinning Man” episode of Jonathan Creek, not to mention classic horror/comedy films of the 80s (like “Elvira” and “Beetlejuice). Plus, the creepy old man who rents the house to the students is played by none other than David Suchet!

Ah, with Poirot on the case, this mystery will be solved in no… Ooops, wrong TV show! Still, it’s cool to see David Suchet on TV again 🙂

One interesting feature of this episode is that there is gradually less and less comedy as the episode progresses, which helps to add some tension. However, although the episode initially seems more like a haunted house story and then a story about sentient woodwork, the actual cause of the strange events in the house is … well… silly:

Yes, giant alien woodlice. Obviously. What else could it have been?

Even so, this silliness is offset somewhat by some even sillier scenes of people being devoured by swarms of woodlice. However, the story of why the alien woodlice are eating people is surprisingly poignant and tragic. As bizarrely contrived as it is, this part of the story will still send a shiver down your spine and possibly bring a tear to your eye. Yes, this episode includes some actual drama.

Still, this episode is a good mix of serious and silly. Each of these two things helps to prevent the other from getting too out of hand, and it’s also an absolute joy to see a classic horror-themed episode of “Doctor Who”. Not to mention that, before the silly “woodlice from space” plot twist appears, the idea of sentient wood is a genuinely innovative and creepy one that could have made the episode even creepier.

In terms of the characters and the acting, this episode is reasonably good. Although the bulk of the characterisation in the episode focuses on Bill, The Doctor, David Suchet’s character and another character called Eliza – the supporting cast put in a fairly good performance as what I imagine to be modern university students:

However, the lounge looks WAY too neat and tidy for a student house! Seriously, WHERE are the vodka bottles, the unwashed plates etc..? I hope university hasn’t got THIS boring within the past few years!

All in all, this is a reasonably good episode. Although it isn’t quite a perfect horror episode (mostly due to the silly decision to include woodlice from outer space), it’s still a surprisingly fun piece of retro-style horror comedy, with a few serious moments. It’s significantly better than last week’s episode and, best of all, the trailer for the next episode seems to include zombies… in space! Awesome!

If I had to give “Knock Knock” a rating out of five, it would probably get a four. It’s really good, but could have been better.