Review: “Tangled Up In Blue” by Joan D. Vinge (Novel)

Well, after planning to read three other books and then abandoning each of them after a couple of pages for different reasons, I needed to find something to read. And, when looking through one of my book piles, I stumbled across the second-hand copy of Joan D. Vinge’s 2000 novel “Tangled Up In Blue” that I bought shortly after reading Vinge’s “World’s End” and then somehow forgot about.

Interestingly, although this novel is part of Vinge’s “Snow Queen” series, it can be read as a stand-alone story. Still, if you’ve read any of the other novels (and I’ve only read “World’s End”), then you’ll notice a few familiar characters, background elements, places etc…

So, let’s take a look at “Tangled Up In Blue”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Tor (US) hardback edition of “Tangled Up In Blue” that I read.

On the planet Tiamat, two Hegemonic police officers – Nyx LaisTree and his half-brother Staun LaisNion – are just finishing their shift, when they are accosted by a rather uptight “by the book” technican called BZ Gundhalinu who wants them to go to the royal palace for guard duty at a party held by the Snow Queen, celebrating a sucessful hunt of sea-creatures called mers that are used in a longevity serum available only to the ultra-rich.

After the guard duty, the cops go out drinking before slipping away to visit a warehouse. As part of the uneasy relationship between Tiamat’s monarchy and the Hegemony, Tiamat natives are not permitted to own advanced technology. Of course, smuggling is rampant and the Queen uses her political influence to keep it that way. So, both Nyx and Staun are members of an unofficial vigilante group who breaks into smugglers’ warehouses and smashes up the illicit technology.

But, during this latest raid, they stumble across a group of armed men who kill most of them. Barely alive, Nyx recognises one of the men as a fellow police officer. But, before the man can kill Nyx, he is distracted by a commotion. Gundhalinu, having picked up something suspicious on the police frequencies has shown up at the warehouse with his superior officer, Jerusha, to investigate the illegal vigilante activity. Soon, they both get involved in a frantic fight with the mysterious armed cops.

In the aftermath, Nyx is interrogated by a cruel internal affairs officer called Jashari before being suddenly released from hospital and suspended from duty. Racked with grief by his brother’s death and suffering from partial amnesia about the events in the warehouse, he decides to go out and get some answers and some revenge. Meanwhile, Gundhalinu begins to investigate unofficially until he is called in by Chief Aranne and told that Nyx is under suspicion of stealing a valuable artefact and that Gundhalinu will be responsible for following him and finding out more…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a thriller than I’d initially expected 🙂 Not only does it have all of the atmosphere that you’d expect from a novel in this series, but it’s also a reasonably-paced gritty film noir-influenced police thriller too. It is also a really cool blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres too – think “Blade Runner” meets “Game Of Thrones” 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those books that just gets better and better as it goes along.

So, I should start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. It’s slightly more of a traditional-style thriller, with a really good blend of suspense, mystery, mini-cliffhangers, secret societies, political/criminal scheming, spy stuff and a couple of dramatic combat sequences too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced action-thriller novel, this novel reads a bit like a cross between a more focused harboiled “film noir” novel, a gritty drama novel and a vaguely “Game Of Thrones”-style political intrigue thriller 🙂

The novel’s “film noir” elements are interesting too, with the story including the kind of complicated web of criminal intrigue that you’d expect from the genre, not to mention a grizzled detective protagonist (who has been suspended from duty and wants both answers and revenge), a certain level of moral ambiguity, a “Maltese Falcon“-style focus on several people trying to get hold of something, grim/gritty depictions of violence and a complicated love interest character (Devony).

Yet, at the same time, this novel feels a bit more focused than most classic 1920s-50s hardboiled crime novels do, with the story having enough complexity to fit into the genre without ever really becoming confusing (if you’re paying attention). Plus, it also includes a few elements from the buddy cop genre too, which are handled really well 🙂

Not only that, this novel is also at least slightly evocative of “Blade Runner“, whilst also being it’s own thing too 🙂 In addition to the noir elements and the gritty futuristic police-based drama, one of the coolest ways that this novel riffs on “Blade Runner” is probably how the novel’s setting is this wonderfully atmospheric mixture of fantasy-genre style ancient buildings and futuristic tech. Although this gives the novel it’s own unique atmosphere, it’s also a really cool and creative homage to the “used future” elements of “Blade Runner” too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant 🙂 In addition to lots of backstory and vivid worldbuilding that is delivered in a relatively concise way, the novel’s futuristic technology is both a background thing and a central part of both the story’s main plot and the political drama sub-plot in the background. In short, this novel is as much about not having technology as it is about all of the cool things that technology can do. A lot of the novel’s background revolves around people being motivated by being denied technology for one reason or another (eg: political policy, history etc…).

Plus, although this novel is more sci-fi than fantasy, one of the cool things about it is how it blends both genres. In short, it is a sci-fi story that is set in a fantasy-influenced world, where things like monarchies, traditions, feudalism etc… still play a role. Not only is this reflected in the story’s slightly fantasy-influenced setting, but also in the novel’s political intrigue elements – which are wonderfully evocative of something like “Game Of Thrones” 🙂

Thematically, this is both a novel about death and also a novel about loyalty and honour too. Both Gunhalinu and Nyx are both mourning the loss of important relatives, and this has an effect on their actions and characters as the story progresses. The novel also focuses on how loyalty and honour can come into conflict with each other (eg: A secret society, a vigilante group, smuggling gangs, Devony’s torn loyalties, LaisTree’s loyalty to his brother, Gundhalinu’s “by the book” attitudes etc..). This topic is handled in a brilliantly nuanced way, with the story’s eventual conclusion being that the two things aren’t necessarily polar opposites of each other.

In terms of the characters, this novel is superb 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters (Gundhalinu, Nyx and Devony) experience a surprising amount of character development as the story progresses, but they also have a level of personal and emotional complexity that really helps to make them feel like realistic, flawed people too 🙂 In addition to all of this, the conflict and contrast between many of the characters is also a major source of drama and depth for the story too 🙂

As for the writing, it is stellar 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is a lot more focused, faster, slightly more informal and more “matter of fact” than the formal narration in Vinge’s “World’s End” was, but without losing any of the atmosphere or depth that you’d expect from this series 🙂 This more focused narration is evocative of the hardboiled crime genre, but never turns into just a typical Chandler/Hammett pastiche. In other words, this novel has it’s own distinctive narrative style 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is better than I’d expected 🙂 At an efficient 235 pages in the hardback edition, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to both the thriller-style structure and the slightly more “matter of fact” writing style, this novel feels a lot more energetic and faster-paced than “World’s End” did 🙂

All in all, this was an even better novel than I’d expected 🙂 Not only is it a cool and creative blend of the sci-fi, film noir and fantasy genres, but it was also much more of a thriller than I’d expected 🙂 If you like films like “Blade Runner” or just want an imaginative thriller that also includes depth, atmosphere and interesting characters, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

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

Review: “Resident Evil: Nemesis” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Ah, “Resident Evil 3”. Having reviewed the videogame, the film adaptation of the videogame and the novelisation of the film adaptation, I thought that I’d complete the set by re-reading the original novelisation of the game – S. D. Perry’s 2000 novel “Resident Evil: Nemesis”.

After all, I’ve re-read the previous four books in Perry’s “Resident Evil” series (you can see my reviews of them here, here, here and here) and it has been about a decade and a half since I last read the fifth one.

Interestingly, although this novel does reference the previous novels in Perry’s book series, it can pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel. Interestingly, the novel also includes a brief author’s note that points out that there are continuity differences between this novel and some of Perry’s previous novels (since the plot of the videogame contradicts some extra plot points Perry added to the first four novels).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Nemesis”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2000 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Nemesis” that I read.

The novel begins with corporate mercenary Carlos Olivera taking a shower, which is interrupted by a phone call from his commander Mitch Hirami. Hirami tells him that the Umbrella Corporation wants the mercs to go into Racoon City to help deal with a recent chemical spill. On his way to headquarters, Carlos is accosted by a mysterious man called Trent who offers him additional information about Umbrella…

Meanwhile, in Racoon City, ex-S.T.A.R.S officer Jill Valentine is hiding in an abandoned block of flats. The hungry moans of zombies carry across the city. She has been hiding out for three days, troubled by flashbacks to her last S.T.A.R.S mission six weeks earlier, where she had barely escaped from a zombie-filled mansion outside the city after another one of Umbrella’s accidents.

Picking up her pistol, Jill begins to make her way out of the block when she smells a gas leak and hears zombies nearby. Following a fight and a spectacular explosion, she finds herself on the streets with zombies closing in on her….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really good horror thriller novel that is both reasonably faithful to the source material, whilst also adding some interesting extra stuff too. Unlike Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the film adaptation, Perry’s novel also makes sure to actually include a decent amount of horror in addition to lots of thrilling action and is therefore the definitive novel adaptation of “Resident Evil 3”.

So, I should probably talk about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it contains a good amount of gory horror, body horror, post-apocalyptic horror, scientific horror, monster/zombie horror, suspense and character-based horror too. This really helps to add atmosphere and drama to the story. In essence, this novel is kind of like a “HD version” of the original 1999 videogame, with the gruesome zombies, monsters, ruined city etc… all “looking” a lot more realistic than they did in the original game 🙂

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good too. If you’ve read a S.D.Perry novel before, then you’ll know that she’s an expert at writing fast-paced action scenes (and, yes, this novel also includes the trademark Perry “ka-WHAMM!” explosion description too). These action scenes are also complimented by a few moments of suspense, some intrigue, the use of 2-3 plot threads and a few spectacular set-pieces too. This all helps to keep the novel compelling and reasonably fast-moving 🙂

As for how well this novel adapts the source material, it does a reasonably good job. All of the important moments from the game are in here, although they’ve occasionally been tweaked or streamlined slightly. The most major change is probably the fact that Carlos and Jill learn that Carlos’ commander Nicholai is a villain earlier in the novel than they do in the game, which allows for something of a “cat and mouse” plot where Nicholai and the main characters try to either avoid or kill each other. Since this change adds more suspense and thrilling drama to the story, it works really well.

In addition to this, the novel also adds a few other things too. Whether it is extra characterisation, an actual explanation for why Jill jumps out of an explosion at the beginning of the game, some extra references to the first two videogames, an explanation for why Mikhail is wounded, a new sub-plot involving Nicholai’s murderous plans to profit from the zombie incident and a few scenes involving Perry’s “Trent” character, this is kind of like an expanded version of the original game 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Not only does everyone get more characterisation than they did in the game, but Jill is also fairly faithful to her portrayal in the game too (whilst also occasionally being haunted by flashbacks to the events of “Resident Evil 1” too). Interestingly though, there’s much more of a “good vs evil” dynamic between Carlos and Nicholai than in the game – with the novel making Carlos seem like even more of a good guy and adding various scenes showing Nicholai doing evil things. Although this does add extra drama to the story, it can come across as a bit stylised when compared to the mildly more understated moral landscape of the original game.

In terms of the writing, it is really good too. For the most part, this novel’s third-person narration is written in the kind of slightly informal and/or “matter of fact” way that you’d expect from a fast-paced thriller. Interestingly though, it is also a bit more descriptive than I’d expected – whilst this can slow the story down very slightly, it helps to add intensity, personality and atmosphere to what is happening.

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly decent. At 272 pages in length, it felt a little longer than I’d expected, but still seemed reasonably focused and streamlined. Likewise, the novel maintains a reasonably fast pace most of the time, although this is broken up by the occasional slower moment of description and/or document that the characters find.

All in all, this is the definitive novel adaptation of “Resident Evil 3” 🙂 Not only does it expand on the source material in a few interesting ways, but it’s also a reasonably compelling thriller novel that also includes a decent amount of horror too 🙂

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

Review: “Resident Evil 3” (PC Version) (Retro Computer Game)

Well, because I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and because I had a bit more time whilst reading another novel, I thought that I’d take the chance to replay an old favourite of mine 🙂

I am, of course, talking about Capcom’s 1999 survival horror classic “Resident Evil 3” (or, more accurately, the PC port of it from 2000). After all, I’ve reviewed the film adaptation of this game and the novelisation of the film (but I haven’t got round to re-reading S.D. Perry’s novelisation of the game yet). So, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t reviewed the actual game itself yet.

This is a game which I first played on the Playstation during the early-mid 2000s and then replayed it at least once when I found a version of it that ran on the PC (during the late 2000s, if I remember rightly). So, I thought that I’d replay it yet again – albeit in “easy mode”, mostly for time reasons.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil 3”. Needless to say, this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES.

*Sigh* I miss the days of budget games, second-hand game shops and when the BBFC was hilariously over-zealous about displaying age certificates on games.

The events of “Resident Evil 3” take place during the same time period as the events of “Resident Evil 2“. It is the late 1990s and the American city of Racoon City has been infected by a zombie virus, leaving the streets crawling with the undead.

Jill Valentine, star of the first “Resident Evil” game, must explore, puzzle and fight her way through the city and reach safety. Not only that, there’s also a giant mutant called “Nemesis” chasing her too.

And, yes, he’s the kind of gnarly heavy metal monster you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden album cover.

One of the first things that I will say about “Resident Evil 3” is that, whilst I should be cynical about it, I absolutely adore this game 🙂 Even though I’m more nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2”, I’ve probably replayed this game more times than any other horror game. It’s just the right mixture of challenging, spectacular and fun. This is probably because it was designed for both die-hard fans of the series and for people who are new to the series.

On the one hand, things like the slightly more action-packed gameplay, the “easy” difficulty option (on the PC at least) and the game’s (ridiculously silly) costume design were designed to appeal to the “mainstream” and/or “casual” gamers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, for fans of the series, the game contains numerous awesome call-backs and references to previous games in the franchise – with the core gameplay not being too different either.

Not only does Brad Vickers have a cameo in this game, but you also get to explore part of the police station from “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

Surprisingly, this dual focus actually works really well and it turns the game into it’s own distinctive thing. But, I should probably start by talking about the gameplay.

Whilst the exploration, puzzle and combat gameplay is fairly similar to the previous two games and is something of an acquired taste (eg: modern gamers might take a while to get used to the movement/combat controls, the animation that plays every time you walk through a door, the fixed camera angles, the limited inventory space and the obtuse puzzles), there are numerous cool additions which help to give the game more depth and drama.

Whether it is the much wider range of locations to explore, the fact that there’s now a “dodge” move (and an auto-aim feature), the inclusion of exploding barrels or the fact that this game contains refreshingly limited early versions of over-used modern things like quick-time events and a crafting system, this game feels a little bit more action-packed and “cinematic” than the first two games in the series. Yet, unlike what I’ve heard about some of the later sequels, this game doesn’t lose it’s identity and turn into a generic mindless action-fest either.

Yes, the only “quick time events” in this game are a few multiple choice questions 🙂

Likewise, the only “crafting” here is a fairly basic gunpowder-mixing system 🙂

This is helped a lot by the inclusion of difficulty settings (in the PC version at least) – if you play on “hard mode”, then the game is more of a traditional survival horror game, with fairly limited ammunition, limited saves and lots of other things that really help to ramp up the suspense and tension. Yes, the auto-aim makes the game a bit easier than previous instalments, but it’s still reasonably similar.

If you play on “easy mode”, then you get unlimited saves (but you still have to use fixed save points) and lots of extra weaponry – which makes the game a bit more relaxing, action-packed and “casual”. So, you can choose what type of game you want it to be – which is really cool.

On “hard” difficulty, this game is a tense, challenging old-school survival horror game.

But, on “easy” difficulty, it’s more of a wonderfully badass action-horror game 🙂 [and, yes, the exploding barrels are also there in “hard” difficulty too]

Still, one change I’m a little ambivalent about is the lack of character selection. Yes, there are technically two playable characters (eg: Jill and Carlos) – but the game switches between them automatically at certain points in the story. In other words, you don’t get two separate campaigns in the way that you did in the previous two games. On the one hand, this means you only get half a game. On the other hand, it does make the story a little bit more streamlined and varied.

As for the graphics and visual design, they are awesome 🙂 Yes, even with the PC version’s enhanced graphics, the game’s 3D models and CGI cutscenes still look pretty dated. However, this game has aged really well visually thanks to all of the really awesome pre-rendered backgrounds, dramatic camera angles and dramatic lighting. Seriously, I love old-school pre-rendered backgrounds and this game is an absolute work of art 🙂

Seriously, the background here could almost be something out of “Blade Runner” 🙂

And just check out the awesome lighting here 🙂 Seriously, people knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s 🙂

And just look at all of the background detail here 🙂

In terms of the game’s horror elements, whilst you shouldn’t expect something genuinely scary (unlike, say, “Silent Hill 3), this game is a pretty decent horror game.

In addition to all of the suspense that things like the limited inventory, saves and/or camera angles can provoke – this game also uses jump scares slightly more frequently and effectively than the previous two games in the franchise usually do.

Boo!!! With the exception of the “Dog” scene from the first game, this game has some of the best jump scares in the old “Resident Evil” games 🙂

Other horror elements include the creepily unwelcome return of the series’ giant spider monsters too. Likewise, you can also find lots of ominous in-game documents describing the spread of the zombie virus. Plus, of course, there’s also a really awesome scene where some zombies quite literally rise from the grave….

This is so cool 🙂

In terms of the writing and the characters, they’re “so bad that they’re good”. Whether it’s the series’ traditional hilariously awful voice-acting, the gloriously wooden script, the minimalist characterisation/story or the ridiculously silly costume design….

Note how these experienced, well-trained zombie fighters wear sensible protective clothing like sleeveless vests, tube tops and mini skirts.

…. This game is utterly hilarious. But, this is part of the charm of the series. It was the 1990s, a more laid-back age when “dramatic” games could be hilariously silly. When games were still “low culture” in the same way that old pulp novels, horror comics, B-movies etc.. were.

Plus, in addition to having better 3D models, the ability to skip cutscenes/ door animations and the inclusion of more difficulty options, one interesting feature of the PC version of the game is that the unlockable costume selection option in the Playstation version is unlocked by default (and also now contains something like eight different options too).

And, yes, you can play as the “Resident Evil 1” version of Jill too.

In terms of the game’s music, it is the kind of dramatic, suspenseful, spectacular orchestral music that you’d expect from a classic “Resident Evil” game. In other words, it is absolutely epic 🙂

All in all, whilst this game is a bit of an acquired taste, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 If you miss classic survival horror games, if you want a gloriously cheesy “B-movie” of a game, if you want to wander the streets of a post-apocalyptic city or if you just miss the creativity of the 1990s, then this game is well worth playing 🙂 If you want a tense survival horror game, play it on “hard” difficulty. If you want a fun, slightly quicker and gloriously silly action game, play it on “easy”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then I’d personally give it a five 🙂 But, more objectively, it’s probably more like a four or a three and a half.

Review: “Frank Herbert’s Dune” (TV Mini Series)

Back when I was seventeen, I binge-read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” within the space of a weekend. Over the next year or two, I read the five sequels and watched the first half-hour of the 1984 film adaptation (but stopped watching because I thought it was more of a parody than an adaptation). But, the TV mini series adaptation of the novel was one of those things that I’d been meaning to see for years, but never got round to for one reason or another.

Still, a few days before I wrote this review, I was given a DVD boxset of it (and it’s sequel, “Children Of Dune”) as an early Christmas present – and I binge-watched it over the space of about two or three days (what is it with “Dune” and this length of time?). So, it seemed like the perfect thing to review today.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

“Dune” is a TV mini series from 2000, consisting of three 90-100 minute episodes. This mini series can best be summed up as “Game Of Thrones in space“. And, yes, this is as awesome as it sounds 🙂

The story of “Dune” revolves around three noble houses (Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino) in the distant future. Following a decree from the emperor of the galaxy, control of the resource-rich desert planet Arrakis has passed from the brutal rule of House Harkonnen to the more benevolent rule of House Atreides. As such, Duke Leto Atreides’ son, Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica are travelling from their water-rich homeworld of Caladan to Arrakis in order to join the Duke.

Well, it wouldn’t be a very interesting film if they’d stayed on Caladan (still, at least we’d get to see what Caladan actually looked like…)

On the journey, Paul has strange dreams before he faces a dangerous test from the leader of the mysterious Bene-Gesserit faction to determine if he is indeed worthy of the visions that the Bene-Gesserit mystics have had about him. After passing the test, the leader has a somewhat cryptic discussion with Jessica about how she had been ordained to have a daughter instead.

When Paul and Jessica arrive on Arrakis, House Atreides is ushering in their new regime. They are winning the favour of the people and everything seems to be going well. But, of course, the cruel baron of House Harkonnen has other ideas….

Again, it’d be a pretty dull film if he just accepted the emperor’s judgment and didn’t try to overthrow the new regime…

And this is just the earlier parts of the first episode. As you may have gathered, this is a somewhat complex story. Whilst it’s probably possible to enjoy the mini series if you haven’t read the book that it is based on, I would strongly recommend that you read the first “Dune” novel before you watch it. Even if, like me, you’ve read it ages ago and can only vaguely remember the story, you’ll get a lot more out of this mini series if you read the book first.

However, the series does to try to introduce a lot of things to the audience within the first episode. This is probably why, after watching the first episode, I initially thought that the series was a bit clunky, badly-written and simplistic. In the first episode, there’s a lot of exposition and not that much in the way of moral ambiguity, character complexity etc… Although this episode is still compelling and worth watching, the rest of the mini series is thankfully a bit more complex.

In other words, the first episode is really good, but the other two are slightly better.

Visually, this mini series is absolutely sumptuous. Not only are there lots of futuristic set designs that look a little bit like something from “Blade Runner” or something like that, but this mini series is atmospheric. Thanks to the compelling story, the detailed fictional world of the series and some absolutely beautiful lighting, it’s very easy to overlook the shortcomings of the series’ special effects (eg: Painted backdrops, clunky CGI etc..).

One cool visual theme is how the series uses red, green and blue lighting to signify the different houses.

Seriously, I LOVE the lighting in the dream scenes in this film 🙂

Not to mention that the set design, in the first episode especially, is exquisite too 🙂

Thematically, this mini series is a lot more complex than it might initially appear to be. The themes here include things like the morality of empires, the nature of power, determinism and free will, dependence on fossil fuels, religion, terrorism etc…

Yes, this is intelligent sci-fi where the characters and dialogue are more important than the action/adventure-based scenes.

This mini series is also really interesting in terms of how it is simultaneously a liberal and a conservative series. For example, the series is set in a very traditionalist feudal society run by emperors, barons and dukes. Yet, everything is run behind the scenes by the wise women of the Bene-Gesserit. Plus, many of the series’ most well-developed and/or complex characters (eg: Jessica, Irulan and Chani) are powerful women.

Likewise, although the mini series also takes a refreshingly equal attitude towards male and female beauty, nudity etc…, the only LGBT character in the entire show (Baron Harkonnen) is presented as a sleazy and decadent Nero-like villain. Likewise, the show criticises brutal colonialism, yet praises more benevolent colonialism.

So, yes, the mini series is a really weird mixture of liberal and conservative, which is probably a reflection of the fact that it’s based on a book from the 1960s and was first broadcast in 2000. This probably also explains why the show takes a disturbing (to modern post-9/11 audiences) attitude towards the subject of terrorism – since the “rebel” characters we’re supposed to be cheering for regularly use terrorist tactics later in the mini series.

Yes, if the series had been released even a year later, these characters would be anti-heroes/villains rather than just heroes.

The characters in this mini series are all reasonably good. Apart from Baron Harkonnen, many of the characters are intelligent, mature people who have well-defined motivations and personalities. Likewise, although the mini series is about kings and empires, it also realistically shows that a ruler is nothing without a large number of people to support them. So, there’s a really good supporting cast of characters here too.

Plus, if you’re a “Game Of Thrones” fan, Jessica is a brilliant example of a “good” Cersei Lannister-style character.

In terms of pacing and plotting, this mini series has a well-defined three-act structure that follows Paul’s journey from a young prince to a respected ruler. The first episode is a futuristic political drama, that is filled with backstory etc.. The second episode is more of a thriller/horror/fantasy-style episode. The third episode is a political/military drama. It’s an epic tale in three parts.

Although my memories of the novel it is based on are somewhat vague, the mini series seemed reasonably faithful to what I remembered of the book. Of course, the story has probably been simplified slightly. But, if you’ve read “Dune”, then you’ll feel at home here.

Woo hoo! Dune, Arrakis, desert planet… actually looks like how you would imagine 🙂

And, yes, despite the “12 certificate” this mini series is actually more mature than “Game Of Thrones”. It knows what to leave to the imagination and what to show – this lends the story more of a “serious” and mythical quality than the world of “Game Of Thrones” has. It is also able to conjure up a ruthless world of feudal politics, but without the overwhelmingly depressing feeling of nihilism, tragedy and brutality that can sometimes appear in “Game Of Thrones”.

All in all, this mini series is the definitive adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. Yes, it gets off to a bit of a clunky start and it’ll make much more sense if you’ve read the books, but this mini series is a brilliant example of intelligent, mature old-school science fiction. If you haven’t read the book and you like things like “Game Of Thrones”, “Star Wars” etc… then you might enjoy this mini series too.

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

Review: “Pitch Black” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly for the next review in my “1990s Films” series and look at a sci-fi/horror/action film that was originally released in February 2000 (but probably made in 1999) called “Pitch Black”.

On a practical level, I decided to bend the rules because “Pitch Black” was a film that I got on DVD ages ago but never actually got round to watching, so I was curious about it. On an intellectual level, I mostly consider “1990s-style” films to be ones made in the time between 1989 and 2001 (eg: between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11). So, this review is within the spirit of this series, if not the letter.

So, pointless justifications aside, let’s take a look at “Pitch Black”. This review may contain some mild SPOILERS, and I should also warn you that this film contains FLICKERING LIGHTS during an early part of the film (although I don’t know if they’re fast/intense enough to cause problems).

If you look in the bottom left corner, it reads “DVD video – compatible with Playstation 2”. Oh my god, the nostalgia!

“Pitch Black” begins with a spaceship that is transporting cargo and forty passengers (in suspended animation) that is struck by micro-meteorites. The ship’s emergency systems kick in and rouse a pilot and one of the officers from cryosleep, but the captain has been struck by one of the meteorites. Struggling to control the ship, the pilot suggests jettisoning the passengers, but the officer won’t allow it.

So, spotting a habitable desert planet nearby, the pilot makes a dangerous crash landing and manages to save some of the passengers. However, one of the survivors is a dangerous convict called Riddick (played by Vin Diesel) who soon escapes into the desert. The man who is supposed to be guarding him insists that the survivors hunt him down before he attacks them.

However, during the search, one of the survivors finds an underground cave system… and is promptly eaten by something. When Riddick is captured, the survivors initially accuse him of murdering the dead survivor but, after one of them explores the caves and is nearly eaten by a creature, they soon realise that having someone as tough as Riddick on their side might not be a bad idea – especially since he’s even got night-vision implants in his eyes.

Yes, he isn’t wearing those shades/ steampunk goggles just to look cool.

A while later, the survivors stumble across an abandoned geological station, whose inhabitants disappeared 22 years earlier. Whilst several of the survivors work out how to get the station’s spacecraft working again, the pilot uses an nearby orrery to calculate that there was a solar eclipse 22 years ago.

Yes, that glowing thing in the foreground is basically just a 14th-18th century astronomical tool. Futuristic!

Another encounter with the creatures in the station’s drilling room also teaches the survivors that light is harmful to the creatures.

Still, the station’s space shuttle just needs new power cells. So, it’s a simple matter of lugging the cells from the cargo ship’s wreckage to the geological station. I mean, what could possibly go wrong….

Oh, another solar eclipse! What are the chances?

One of the first things that I will say about “Pitch Black” is that it reminded me a lot of both “Alien 3” and “Tremors” in terms of style, atmosphere and concept. It contains both the suspenseful, mysterious desolation of the “Alien” films and the inventiveness (and emphasis on rules-based survival) of the “Tremors” films.

The film also plays with the concept of space quite expertly, contrasting the vast agoraphobic expanse of the sun-bleached desert with the claustrophobic darkness that the solar eclipse causes (where the characters have to remain near light sources at all times, lest they be eaten). This really helps to add a lot of suspense and tension to the film. And, yes, this is more of a suspenseful sci-fi horror thriller than an action movie or a splatter movie.

Yes, the characters spend far more time running away from the monsters than fighting them. Which is sensible!

Although the film contains some action scenes, they are relatively few – with the survivors sensibly realising that running away from, repelling and/or hiding from the creatures is the only sensible way to deal with the situation. This also has the effect of making one scene where Riddick does fight one of the creatures (armed with nothing more than a knife) seem even more dramatic by contrast.

The survivors are a fairly interesting bunch too, including a rather posh British antiquities dealer, an imam who is an expert on desert survival, several members of the imam’s congregation, a rather badass Australian couple (one of whom is played by none other than Claudia Black from “Farscape” and the later seasons of “Stargate SG-1“!), a young girl disguised as a boy, Riddick, the guard and the pilot.

And, yes, Claudia Black plays a vaguely Aeryn Sun-like character too 🙂

Many of these characters get at least a small amount of characterisation and they mostly seem to be a fairly realistic group of characters, who react to the situation (and each other) in complex and realistic ways, and have realistic motivations. Seriously, although a couple of the characters (such as the antiquities dealer) are a little bit on the stylised side of things, the fact that many of the characters are relatively realistic really helps to add a lot of drama to this film.

Riddick, on the other hand, is something of a mystery. The audience gets a few hints about his past but he’s played as a rather ambiguous, extremely tough and fairly mysterious character.

Whilst a lot of films contain morally-ambiguous heroes, Riddick is an especially good example of this type of character. Throughout the film, there’s a genuine unpredictability about him which helps to add to the suspense. In fact, my only criticism of the character is that he sometimes tends to speak in a rather quiet and gravelly way that is occasionally difficult to hear/understand (even with headphones).

Part of the drama of the film is trying to work out exactly what Riddick’s moral code actually is, or if he actually even has one.

The alien creature design is also suitably menacing, with the mysterious creatures resembling a cross between giant bats, hammerhead sharks and the xenomorphs from “Alien”.

Awww! How adorable 🙂

The fact that they are sensitive to light is a key part of the film, although one other interesting element of their physiology (eg: that their “vision” is motion-based) is only briefly exploited in one scene. Likewise, the creatures are also shown fighting with each other at one point.

Another interesting element of this film is that it shows both lifeforms on the planet that didn’t adapt to the presence of these creatures and lifeforms that did:

For example, these dinosaur-like creatures seem to have… gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Whereas, these bioluminescent grubs/slugs won’t get eaten any time soon.

In fact, Darwinism is one of the key themes of this film – with a dialogue segment between the pilot and Riddick about the “survival of the fittest” being one of the film’s more dramatic scenes, which also helps to define both characters’ outlooks on the world too.

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, although it is a very slightly more slow-paced film than I had originally expected. But, given that the emphasis is on suspense and exploring a mysterious planet, then this is understandable. Plus, at about 104 minutes in length, this film is just about short enough not to outstay it’s welcome. Still, the pacing of this film is closer to that of a disaster movie or a horror movie than a thriller/action movie.

The special effects are also relatively good too. However, the film’s late 1990s/early 2000s CGI effects are somewhat noticeable. Still, given that many of the CGI-based scenes take place in dark and gloomy locations, the old CGI often isn’t as noticeable as you might think.

As this is a film about light and darkness, it goes without saying, but the lighting in this film is brilliant! The awesome 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in many parts of the film is also complemented with lots of cool-looking “used future” set design that is very reminiscent of both the classic “Alien” films and “Blade Runner“.

Unfortunately, Riddick ruins this brilliantly gloomy lighting a couple of seconds later by turning the lights on.

A new life awaits you in the off-world col… Or, maybe not.

And just check out this amazing green lighting too 🙂 This film may have been released in 2000, but it’s definitely from the 1990s 🙂

In terms of the music, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. However, the creatures’ bat-like echolocation noises often provide suitably ominous, and almost musical, background noise during many scenes.

All in all, “Pitch Black” is a suspenseful, claustrophobic sci-fi horror movie that is filled with well-written characters, an intriguing premise and some really cool visual design. Like a lot of classic sci-fi horror films, this one also often relies on not explaining everything in order to create a sense of intrigue and drama. Yes, it was a slightly different film to what I had expected – but it’s still a really good one. If you like the “Alien” films, then this one is worth watching.

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

Review: “Deus Ex: Game Of The Year Edition” (Retro Computer Game)

2017 Artwork Deus Ex review sketch

As surprising as it might sound, the very first time that I played “Deus Ex” was in 2016!

In my defence, I think that I once found a second-hand copy of it in a shop back in the day – but couldn’t get it to run on my old computer (which, even for the time, was ancient). Likewise, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance, so I actually played “Deus Ex” last summer.

Still, this isn’t to say that I’d never heard of “Deus Ex” before. It’s one of those games that is widely renowned as a classic. But, there are plenty of “classics” in a variety of mediums that I still haven’t seen, read or played.

In fact, the only reason that I ended up playing “Deus Ex” was the fact that it happened to be on sale on GoG during their summer sale, when I went on a small game-buying spree (so there might be some other retro and/or indie game reviews in the future). Since a couple of the screenshots vaguely looked a bit like “Blade Runner“, getting a copy was an absolute no-brainer.

The DRM-free download of “Deus Ex” ( the “Game Of The Year Edition”) I bought cost about £1.39 during the sale, if I remember rightly. This version also came with several downloadable extras, such as a MP3 copy of the soundtrack.

At full price, it apparently costs £7.99 on GoG. The full-price game is somewhat cheaper at £4.99 on Steam (although, at the time this review went out, there was a winter sale on Steam), although it’s a ‘barebones’ edition – with no extras, and with Steam’s internet-based DRM too.

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


“Deus Ex” is a cyberpunk sci-fi game from the year 2000, that is a strange combination of a first-person shooter game and a role-playing game.

The game is set several decades in the future, where the world has been ravaged by a plague called the “grey death”. The only reason that society continues to function is because those in authority have priority access to the limited supplies of a vaccine called “ambrosia”.

You play as JC Denton, a nanotechnology-enhanced agent (who looks a bit like Neo from “The Matrix”, if he was played by John Travolta) for a UN special forces agency called UNATCO. For his first mission, JC is sent to recover a stolen consignment of ambrosia from a terrorist group called the NSF….

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there's even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there’s even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

To say too much more about the plot would be to give away major plot spoilers (although there may be some mild SPOILERS later in the review).

So, all that I’ll say is that whilst current audiences will probably guess one of the plot twists within ten minutes of starting the game, the story contains a significantly higher level of complexity, intelligence and philosophical depth than most games from 2000 had.

Seriously, the game’s story is probably on par with a great movie or a good (non-superhero) comic!

Whilst this may not seem that surprising these days (or to people who have played a few “point and click” games) – for a FPS game released in the year 2000, it was probably quite surprising. This is probably why the game gets a lot of acclaim for it’s story to this day. For the time, it’s story probably seemed even more complex and unpredictable than it is by current standards.

One thing that I will say right now is that you shouldn’t judge this game by your first impressions of it!

In other words, the game gets off to a fairly slow start. Although I think that you can skip the tutorial level, it’s pretty much essential to play it if you want to understand some of the game’s more complex mechanics. Yes, this isn’t exactly your average retro FPS game….

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing "Half Life" in this part of the tutorial.

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing “Half Life” in this part of the tutorial.

In fact, the thing that initially made me wary about this game was the fact that the tutorial level contained a rather frustrating stealth-based segment. Since I absolute loathe stealth-based games, this didn’t exactly make me excited to play the main game. However, as I’ll explain later, the stealth mechanics are thankfully only an optional part of the gameplay.

After a cutscene or two (which can all be skipped, if you really want to. But this is one of the few FPS games where you WON’T want to skip them!), the game itself gets off to a relatively slow start with a mission-based level that is set in a very gloomy and mostly generic-looking military base in New York. But, don’t abandon this game! Trust me, if you get through the boring early parts, then it gets significantly better!

If you stick around, then not only will you be rewarded with the complex storyline that I mentioned earlier, but you’ll also be rewarded with some significantly more interesting and atmospheric locations to explore too. My personal favourite was probably the part of the game that was set in a futuristic version of Hong Kong, since this looks a lot like something from “Blade Runner”:

Dammit! Why can't the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Dammit! Why can’t the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

In addition to this, the mid-late parts of the game are also significantly more fun than the beginning because you’ll have both a greater understanding of the game’s mechanics and also a much better array of weapons, items and nanotechnolgy at your disposal. So, don’t let the first few levels put you off from playing what is actually a really fun game.

The gamplay in “Deus Ex” is surprisingly innovative and it hearkens back to a time when the FPS genre was a hotbed of innovation and creativity. One of the first things that I will say about the gameplay is that it’s surprisingly open-ended.

There are multiple ways to complete each level, depending on your favourite playing style. Even though the game initially encourages you to take a stealth-based pacifist approach, it’s perfectly possible to play this game like a traditional (and mostly enjoyably challenging, if occasionally frustratingly difficult) FPS game.

In other words, if you see a couple of adversaries, you can either sneak past them carefully, render them unconscious with non-lethal weapons, or….

 ...Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

…Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

This extended player choice also extends to how you complete the objectives in each non-linear level. Most of the time, there are multiple ways to do this.

For example, if your route is blocked by a locked door, then you can either use up some of your limited resources to bypass the lock, you can find a key/passcode, you can (sometimes) blow the door to smithereens, you can occasionally hack a nearby computer and open the door remotely or you can find an alternative route (eg: a window, an air vent etc..) for getting past the door.

At this point, I should probably talk about the passcode system, since many locked doors require a 4-5 digit code in order to open.

Most of the time, you can find these codes via in-game documents or through dialogue. Although I think that the game keeps a record of all documents you’ve seen, it’s often quicker and easier to just keep a pen and paper handy at all times when playing this game. You’ll be using it a lot!

Another minor problem is that the game’s (otherwise well-designed) locations sometimes cross the line from being “atmospherically gloomy” to being “almost too dark to see anything”.

I understand that the copious use of shadows is meant to improve the game’s stealth mechanics (and because it looks really really cool 🙂 ) but, although the game contains a torch feature, this has a limited power supply. So, when this runs out, you can occasionally be reduced to stumbling around blindly in the dark!

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It's gloomy, but you can still see where you're going.

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It’s gloomy, but you can still see where you’re going.

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

Likewise, after you’ve completed your objectives, you sometimes have to trudge back to the beginning of the level (or a specific earlier part of the level) in order to progress. Whilst this isn’t too much of an issue in the smaller and/or more visually-interesting levels, it can be somewhat boring in the larger and more generic-looking “military base” levels.

But, apart from these minor flaws, the level design is absolutely superb. The game quite literally rewards exploration by either giving you points for exploring non-essential areas, or placing extra items in these area. Seriously, I love games that actually let you explore 🙂

If I remember rightly, this area isn't really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

If I remember rightly, this area isn’t really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

One innovative feature in this game is the fact that you have a choice of several upgradable “augmentations” which you can give your character during the game. These allow JC to do things like regenerate some of his health, to spend longer underwater, to run faster etc..

All of these “augmentations” drain a power meter, so they have to be used (and chosen) carefully – but they are one of the major things that makes the later parts of the game significantly more fun than the earlier parts of the game.

The weapons in this game also include a limited upgrade system. But, although there is a decent array of both realistic and futuristic weapons (some lethal and some non-lethal) on offer, you’ll probably just end up using the three or four that you really like (in my case, the crowbar, the dragon sword, the pistol and the GEP gun) because….

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons....

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons….

You also have a limited inventory, with different items taking up different amounts of space. Although items of the same type can thankfully be stacked (eg: seven power cells will take up the same amount of space as just one), this also means that you’ll have to plan your weapon and item choices very carefully. If you’re used to playing old-school FPS games, then this will probably be frustrating at first but it soon becomes an interestingly challenging part of the game in it’s own right.

This theme of player choice is tightly-woven into the game’s settings and storyline too. I’ve already mentioned the non-linear explorable levels, but you can also have some mild degree of influence on the game’s plot too.

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas...

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas…

For example, a scene in one of the earlier parts of the game presents you with a moral dilemma. You have been tasked with catching a senior figure in the NSF but, when you find him, he quickly points out that he is unarmed (and that it is against UN law to shoot him).

A few seconds later, one of your more violent and fanatical colleagues shows up and orders you to shoot him, or she will. You then have the choice of either shooting the NSF guy yourself, walking away (and letting the other agent shoot him) or killing the other agent (in order to save the prisoner’s life). Someone is going to die in this part of the game, and it’s up to you to choose who it is.

Seriously, this game has a level of genuine maturity and philosophical depth that was almost unheard of (except for in “Point and click” games, what few of them remained back then) in the year 2000. In fact, a very critical part of the game revolves around making a gigantic philosophical choice that has no clear “right” or “wrong” answer. This is how you make a genuinely “mature” game!

In terms of length, this is a proper full-length game. This is the kind of game which you can play for a couple of hours every day (with the occasional 3-4 hour marathon session too) and it will still take you at least a week to complete it. One of the cool things about retro games is the fact that they are actually a decent length, and “Deus Ex” is no exception to this!

As for the voice-acting in this game, it’s reasonably good. Most of the time, it’s so good that you won’t even think of it as “voice-acting”. However, when you are playing some of the levels that aren’t set in America, expect to hear at least a few dodgy accents (this is probably most noticeable in the levels that are set in France. Although some of the voice acting in the Hong Kong level isn’t exactly stellar either).

Likewise, like in a “point and click” game, you actually get to choose some of your own dialogue sometimes, which is really cool.

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly "realistic" but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly “realistic” but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

In terms of music, the soundtrack is amazing! Whilst it isn’t quite as good as the soundtrack to “Blade Runner“, it is occasionally vaguely reminiscent of some parts of it – albeit with a slightly faster tempo and more of an “electronic” sound. As I mentioned earlier, the download of “Deus Ex” that I bought from GoG comes with a MP3 copy of the soundtrack, and it’s worth buying for this alone!

All in all, I can see why this game is renowned as a masterpiece. Yes, it certainly has a few flaws (especially near the beginning) but, if you are willing to persevere with playing it, then you will find a FPS game that is like no other. You will get to enjoy an intelligent, complex story and have the sheer joy of playing a game that lets you play it the way you want to.

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