Review: “Necessary Evil” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for a fast-paced novel, so I thought that I’d take a look at one I’ve been meaning to re-read for a while. I am, of course, talking about Shaun Hutson’s 2004 horror thriller novel “Necessary Evil”.

Since I had some vague memories of reading this novel around the time when the paperback edition came out (and being amazed that Hutson was moving back towards writing horror again after several years of writing gritty crime thrillers), I was curious to see what I’d think of it a decade and a half later.

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

This is the 2005 Time Warner Paperbacks (UK) paperback edition of “Necessary Evil” that I read.

The novel begins in Iraq in 1990. Several men are being chased through the desert by an unseen foe and eventually find an abandoned town where they think they will be safe. Needless to say, they aren’t. And, after they are killed in various grisly ways, Saddam Hussein shows up with one of his scientists, Dr. Sharafi, to observe the results of this “test”.

Whilst all of this is going on, there are several segments set in London in 2004. A local criminal called Matt Franklin is sitting in a pub with his girlfriend Amy, an aspiring singer, when he realises that he’s got to go off and meet several of his mates. They are planning an armed robbery of an armoured van delivering wages to an army base.

When they put their plan into action some time later, things seem to go fairly well for them until they eventually get the van open and find that it is filled with corpses instead of money. Seconds later, an unseen sniper shoots two of them. Matt and the survivors flee and hole up in a garage. Someone is out to get them. Meanwhile, a detective called D. I. Crane arrives at the crime scene and quickly discovers that this is more than just an ordinary robbery case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a gripping, gritty and fast-paced novel that only Shaun Hutson could have written 🙂 If you like your thrillers to be a bit less “modern Hollywood”, a bit more morally ambiguous and with a bit of a horror flavour to them, then this novel is worth reading. This is also one of those novels from when Hutson gradually started reintroducing elements of the horror genre to his fiction, but it is still slightly more of a thriller than a horror story – not to mention that it was also a fairly “topical” novel at the time it was released too (which is both a good and a bad thing).

Still, being a Hutson novel, I should start by talking about the horror elements. This novel contains a mixture of scientific horror, suspense, claustrophobia, terrorism-based horror, monster horror, cruel/sadistic horror, bleak nihilism and – of course- ultra-gruesome gory horror. Although this novel isn’t exactly frightening, the horror elements really help to add extra suspense and atmosphere to many scenes and Hutson’s famous gruesome descriptions also add a lot of extra impact, grittiness, realism and/or moral ambiguity to many of the novel’s violent moments too.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good 🙂 Although this novel technically fits into the action-thriller genre, this is backed up by expert use of suspense – whether it is various tense and paranoid stand-offs, the scenes where Matt finds himself under threat from an unseen foe, some segments about a mysterious group of terrorists plotting an attack or the moments where Matt is forced into an uneasy alliance with the police, this novel uses suspense really well.

However, some of this suspense is undercut thanks to a few scenes where another group of characters explain some central elements of the story before the main characters discover them. Still, this is compensated for by a few mild political thriller elements featuring a fictional prime minister (who, unlike the actual one at the time, is implied to be more of a conservative), which have a bit of ominous conspiracy thriller atmosphere to them, in addition to a healthy dose of cynical satire.

Of course, there are also some spectacularly cinematic action set-pieces too – including a couple of gripping car chases, a few fight scenes, a military raid and a grippingly fast-paced ending segment that mixes fast-paced action with tense claustrophobia really well (even if the science in the part involving fire extinguishers – emphasis on “extinguishers” – is very shaky). If you’ve read some of Hutson’s thriller novels before, then you’ll probably know what to expect – not only does he have a talent for writing gritty, impactful action sequences but they also include his trademark level of gun geekery and anatomical knowledge too.

As for the atmosphere, this novel is kind of an interesting mixture of a gritty Cockney gangster story, a dark nihilistic horror story and the kind of military/police thrillers that were all the rage in the early-mid 2000s.

This also brings me on to the novel’s historical context. First published two to three years after 9/11 and about a year before the 7/7 attacks (which makes some moments eerily prescient), this novel is very much about the fear of terrorism at the time – and, if you first read it during the mid-2000s (like I did), then it came across as very topical back then. It also examines other issues of the time like the limits of government power (or the lack of limits to it) and the morality of torture too. However, all of this “topical” stuff (and a small amount of “politically incorrect” dialogue etc…) mean that it’ll probably seem a bit dated if you read it for the first time today.

Still, all of this stuff aside, this novel also contains some evocative moments of 1990s and early-mid 2000s nostalgia – such as a poignant scene where Amy sings a few lines from Evanescence’s “My Immortal” or the general atmosphere of some parts of the novel. In addition to this, the novel also takes influence from the “edgier” parts of the 1990s too, such as the very Tarantino-esque scene after the failed robbery or two moments where this novel makes brilliant use of Bill Hicks quotes/references 🙂

In terms of the characters, the main characters are reasonably well-written. Matt has a rather bleak and depressing character arc, where the events of the story turn him into an even more morally ambiguous anti-hero, whose death wish is only tempered by his burning desire for violent revenge. Likewise, although D.I Crane gets slightly less characterisation, the tension between his duty and the practical realities of the case give him some much-needed depth. Not to mention that it is also really cool to see the two of them team up with each other in the later parts of the novel after so much mutual suspicion and criticism.

As for the writing, this novel is modern-style Shaun Hutson 🙂 In other words, like in his crime thrillers from the mid-late 1990s/early 2000s and many of his more recent novels, this one is written in a fast-paced, gritty, “matter of fact” and/or informal way, with the novel still retaining some elements of his classic horror fiction via the use of a more descriptive style during gorier or more dramatic moments. Plus, this novel also contains a few classic Hutsonisms too, such as mention of a scapula bone (which is, of course, shattered), one type of pistol and descriptive words like “mucoid”, “putrescent” etc… 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 Although this novel is a slightly lengthy 468 pages, the writing style and pacing mean that it never feels bloated or over-long. Likewise, the novel contains a really good mixture of suspense, set pieces, emotional drama etc… and multiple plot threads that really help to keep the story compelling. It is also paced much more like a thriller than a horror novel, resulting in a more consistent pace throughout (rather than a slower build-up throughout the story, as you’d expect in a horror novel).

All in all, whilst this novel is a little dated, it is still a really gripping, fast-paced and gritty horror-flavoured thriller novel. Yes, it focuses slightly more on the thriller elements than the horror elements, but both still go together really well and result in a rather compelling and atmospheric novel. Yes, you’ll get the most out of it if you have already read it during the mid-2000s, but it is an interesting look back at this time – not to mention that the underlying story elements are still as dramatic, gripping and/or atmospheric as they were back then.

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

Review: “Resident Evil Genesis” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Well, although I’d planned to read a different novel, a combination of being busy and tired meant that I needed to read something a lot more readable and faster-paced.

Luckily, several months earlier, I’d found my old copy of Keith R. A. DeCandido’s 2004 novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film that I’d bought sometime during the ’00s, but never got round to reading. So, this seemed like the perfect time to actually read it.

Although it is possible to enjoy this novel without having seen the film, I’d recommend watching the film first since the novelisation makes a few changes to various things. But, like with the original film, be sure to have a copy of the sequel (either the film sequel or DeCandido’s novelisation of it) nearby, since it follows on directly from the end of this story.

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

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil Genesis” that I read.

The novel begins with a meeting between a man called Aaron Vricella and another man called Matt Addision. Both are part of a secret group who are devoted to taking down the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company who may be working on illegal bio-weapons. In order to do this, they need someone on the inside and, after some discussion, Vricella reluctantly agrees to allow Matt’s sister Lisa to do the job.

Lisa is, of course, glad to help out because one of Umbrella’s malfunctioning medicines and the subsequent cover-up (and campaign of intimidation) killed her friend Mahmoud. So, she interviews for a computer maintenance position in Umbrella’s mysterious underground Hive facility near the town of Racoon city………

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is kind of like an expanded and slightly re-edited version of the film. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, all of the extra “deleted scenes” help to turn this novelisation into something more like a conventional novel. They add a bit of extra depth to the story and help to fill in some small gaps (eg: how and why Alice’s contact, Lisa, spied on Umbrella) in the story. But, as I’ll explain later, not following the structure of the film’s story also has some negative effects on the novelisation too.

Another good thing is that this novel also includes a lot of extra characterisation which not only helps to add extra depth to the story, but also means that the scenes where background characters (who only appear for a few seconds or minutes in the film) die have a lot more dramatic and emotional impact than they do in the film. Good horror relies on good characterisation and all of the extra characterisation in this adaptation helps a bit with this.

On the downside, the re-edited story means that the novel is fairly slow to start. Basically, all of the stuff that is told via flashbacks later in the film makes up the first 50-100 pages of the novel. This change also means that the grippingly mysterious early scene of the film where Alice wakes up with no memory doesn’t have the same impact in the novel because it happens on page 116 – after we’ve already learnt a lot about Alice’s backstory.

Likewise, the novelisation also adds some extra thematic stuff, but it is somewhat muddled. Basically, one theme in this novel seems to be that the US Govt/Police are stuck in the 1950s with regard to gender politics, with two characters (Alice and Rain) joining the nefarious Umbrella Corporation’s security division because it actually offered to promote them on merit. Whilst this could possibly be political satire, it not only comes across as a little bit heavy-handed but it also slightly undermines the “ultra-rich corporations are evil” theme that also runs through the novel too.

Still, if there’s one thing that this novel gets right, it is the original film’s suspense and sci-fi elements. The slow beginning means that it is even longer until the first zombie lurches into view (it doesn’t happen until page 180). However, like with DeCandido’s adaptation of the film’s sequel, the novelisation doesn’t use the added freedom of the written word to add lots of extra gory horror to the film’s story (unlike, for example, S.D. Perry’s brilliantly macabre novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” videogame). So, this is more of a suspenseful thriller novel than a horror novel.

On the plus side, the fact that the story is told via words means that there’s more room to explore the sci-fi elements of the film. Although these aren’t explained in a huge level of depth, there’s enough extra stuff here to give the story a bit more atmosphere and depth than the film had in this regard.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. The novel is narrated in a reasonably matter of fact way, with the narration being more descriptive in some scenes and more informal during more fast-paced moments. It’s fairly readable and the writing doesn’t really get in the way of the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages in length, it thankfully isn’t too long, although I got the feeling that the story could have probably been told in 150-200 pages. Likewise, whilst the later parts of the novel are more fast-paced than the early ones, the slow-paced expanded introduction robs the story of some of the film’s pacing (although it does add a bit of extra suspense to the novelisation though).

All in all, this is a reasonably good novelisation of the first “Resident Evil” film. Yes, all of the changes and additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, if you want a slightly slower-paced and more suspenseful version of the film with a lot of extra character depth, then this novelisation might be worth reading.

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

Review: “Xmas 2004” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GLBoom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“Heresy” by S.J.Parris), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. And, after clicking on the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up finding a WAD from 2004 called “Xmas 2004“.

Since the weather was annoyingly hot again, I was in the mood for something wintery and, since Christmas 2004 was one of my favourite Christmases, I decided to take a look at this WAD.

Although the WAD’s attached text file recommends using the “GLBoom” source port (which is part of “PRBoom”), I couldn’t get this to work on my computer. So, instead, I ended up using the “ZDoom” source port (after having issues with using the WAD with an older version of “GZDoom”). As such, the lighting in the screenshots in this review may not reflect the intended experience.

Likewise, since the “Wolf 3D” enemies from Doom II’s secret level are used as the basis for the “elf” enemies, this WAD may have issues when played with versions of “Doom II” that do not include this secret level.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Xmas 2004”:

“Xmas 2004” is a seven-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that contains new sprites, textures, end level screens and music. One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that, whilst it does have a few cool elements, it really isn’t that great overall (for several reasons).

I suppose that I should start with the good parts of this WAD, which are the location design, the music and the hub system.

Although the hub system means that, out of the seven levels, only two of them are actual full-length levels, the fact that the Doomguy returns to his apartment (and checks his e-mails) between levels is kind of a cool touch. In addition to this, the new music (a mixture of easy listening, Jingle Bells and relaxing Christmas music) really helps to add a festive atmosphere to the levels too.

Plus, another good thing about this WAD is the location design. Seriously, I absolutely love both the level of visual detail in this WAD and the wonderfully gloomy festive locations too. Yes, this WAD does include a few annoying invisible walls, but there are some really cool-looking locations here:

Woo hoo! This looks wonderfully Christmassy 🙂

Seriously, I really love the location design here 🙂

And this area looks really awesome too 🙂

But, these are the only good things I can say about this WAD. Everything else about it really isn’t that great. I should probably start with the actual gameplay, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of badly-handled difficulty.

Not only is there a paucity of health power-ups here (I only found about four stimpacks in the entire WAD and actually had to use the “Give Health” cheat at one point!), but it is also one of those WADs that includes wide open areas with lots of hitscan enemies who can snipe you from a distance. This is further compounded by the fact that the “elf” enemies in one level are absolutely tiny and therefore more difficult to hit.

Not to mention that there are loads of them too…

Then, there are this WAD’s “comedy” elements. It makes unsophisticated, clumsy and/or imperfect attempts at the “edgy” humour that was more popular in the 1990s/early 2000s – with little to none of the depth, creativity and/or thought that can be found in these older works.

There’s no intelligent social satire here, no creatively-expressed irreverent criticisms – just a few cringe-worthy “politically incorrect” elements (eg: stereotypical “gang member” enemies in one level etc…) which seem to be there for the sake of shock value and some crude jokes, random drug references etc…

In addition to this, the level design is a little bit annoying. Whilst the levels are thankfully non-linear, the combination of wide open spaces, numerous doors that cannot be opened and some slightly hidden level-critical areas means that the levels can be a bit annoying sometimes. Yes, if you explore a bit, then you’ll be able to work out where to go next, but a few elements of the level design seem a little bit obtuse at times.

Although, saying that, one of the levels quite literally tells you where to go.

All in all, whilst this WAD contains some cool-looking areas, it really isn’t that much fun to play. This is a WAD with badly-handled difficulty, occasionally frustrating level design and some cringe-worthy elements, which really isn’t as enjoyable to play as other Christmas-themed WADs like “Mori Christmas” and “Xmas Doom 2015“.

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

Review: “Minion (Special Edition)” By L. A. Banks (Novel)

A while before writing this review, I was in the mood for some vampire fiction (what can I say? I’ve been looking for something as awesome as Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels ever since I finished reading them). And, after looking online, I discovered an author I hadn’t heard of before called L. A. Banks. So, I decided to order a second-hand copy of the first novel in her “Vampire Huntress” series – a novel from 2003/4 called “Minion”.

However, I should probably point out that this novel seems to be the first part of a continuous series and it isn’t a self-contained novel. I was forewarned about this by a few reviews I saw, but don’t go into this novel expecting a full story. Likewise, the edition of “Minion” that I read is a “special edition” version, which apparently contains some extra scenes that aren’t in older editions of the novel.

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

This is the 2004 St. Martin’s Paperbacks (US) special edition paperback of “Minion” that I read.

The novel begins in New Orleans in the 1980s, when the wife of a preacher believes that her husband is having an affair with a mysterious handsome man that he’s met. Filled with jealousy, she ends up consulting a local magician for some kind of spell in order to exact revenge. However, this spell doesn’t exactly work as intended….

Flash forward to the mid-late 1990s and two people called Marlene and Shabazz are in a nightclub, searching for someone called Damali. When the band appears on stage, Marlene realises that the teenage lead singer is none other than Damali. After the concert, Marlene approaches Damali and offers to sign her to her record label – which is, of course, a cover for a group of vampire hunters. Since, although she doesn’t know it, Damali is the Neteru- some kind of mythical chosen one.

A few years later, in 2003, Damali is twenty and she is a well-trained member of the vampire hunting team. The team have travelled to Philadelphia to fight some vampires, but they find themselves in an alleyway where everything is mysteriously silent. Something is wrong. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the vampires attack. However, these vampires are different. They’re more powerful, more ferocious and are nothing like anything Damali has ever seen before….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, during it’s best moments, it’s kind of like a cooler and more badass version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“. Yes, it isn’t a self-contained story and it certainly has a few flaws but, when this story is at it’s best, it’s kind of like watching a really cool late 1990s/early 2000s urban fantasy TV show 🙂 Plus, it’s one of the few novels about vampire hunters that I’ve read which still manage to include a lot of the edginess of a good vampire novel 🙂

Interestingly, this novel is more of a thriller/drama novel than a horror novel. Sure, there are a few moments of gruesome horror, a suspenseful atmosphere and some fairly cool moments of paranormal horror too. But, for the most part, this is more of an urban fantasy drama novel with a few sizzlingly sensual moments and some well-placed action scenes. Surprisingly, this works really well.

In addition to some detective/crime thriller elements, a lot of the story also focuses on the lives of the vampire hunters, their plans, their conflicts and Damali grappling with her fate as a Neteru (which is presented as something of a second adolescence).

Although this novel is one of those stories where the main characters argue with each other quite a bit, this actually works quite well thanks to the general atmosphere of the story and the way that the characters are written. In other words, the conflicts between the characters emerge from their different perspectives, personalities and worldviews rather than just being there for the sake of drama. Likewise, the Los Angeles setting of most of the story is reminiscent of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, whilst also allowing for a lot more atmosphere and grittiness too.

Even though the story could have done with more action scenes, this is compensated for via a reasonably compelling plot and a suspenseful atmosphere in many scenes. Likewise, many of the story’s more action-packed moments are pretty cool too – with the highlights including a fight involving a three-sided sword and a rather cool chase scene that not only includes some beautiful descriptions of Chinatown, but also includes some fairly suspenseful combat scenes too.

Plus, even though this story contains a clear “good vs. evil” conflict, it is thankfully a little bit more sophisticated than this. In other words, most of the “good” characters aren’t joyless, self-righteous bores and some of the story’s villains are a little bit more ambiguous too.

Even the novel’s most puritanical character, Marlene, is given enough characterisation for her more self-righteous moments to make sense in the context of the story. Best of all, Damali is actually a fairly realistic twentysomething main character who (unlike many thriller novel protagonists) actually wants to enjoy life – much to Marlene’s prim consternation.

Plus, one of the characters (Carlos) is initially presented as a villainous drug baron, but he gains a bit more depth (and even some reader sympathy) as the story progresses. In other words, this novel contains a bit more nuance and humanity than “good vs. evil” vampire stories focusing on vampire hunters usually do. This really helps to add atmosphere to the story too 🙂

Still, this isn’t to say that the story doesn’t have some hilariously cheesy elements too. Whether it’s a rival music label who are quite literally run by demons and vampires (and, in true 1980s/90s moral panic fashion, promote goth music and drug-fuelled rock music) or a scene involving an alliance between crime gangs, this story can be a little bit silly. Likewise, one scene involving a vampiric council who reside in the depths of hell is straight out of a cheesy horror movie. Still, these elements help to add some cheesy, light-hearted fun to the story and provide a bit of balance to the grittier and more serious aspects of the story.

But, although this story is reasonably atmospheric and fairly cool, it isn’t without flaws. Most of these happen near the beginning and ending of the novel, which are literally the last places where a writer should make mistakes.

After the prologues, the novel begins with what should be a suspenseful and gripping action scene – but it is bogged down by the fact that this scene introduces quite a few characters very quickly, which can get confusing. Likewise, the climactic moments of the story are basically a long-winded exposition-filled data dump about the series’ backstory. Yes, this segment does also serve as a cliffhanger ending, but it’s a fairly boring way to include one.

In terms of the writing, Banks’ third-person narration is somewhat on the informal side of things, whilst also being reasonably descriptive too (and fairly “matter of fact” during more thrilling moments). Although it took me a little while to get used to Banks’ writing style (probably because I read a slightly more formal novel directly beforehand), it works reasonably well – with the informal elements also helping to reinforce the story’s atmosphere too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is an efficient 286 pages in length – however, this isn’t a self-contained story (so, it’s more like the first part of a longer novel). Likewise, as mentioned earlier, chapter one overloads the reader with characters and the cliffhanger ending is far too slow-paced. However, the pacing throughout the rest of the story is reasonably good.

All in all, whilst this novel isn’t without flaws, it is still fairly interesting. When it is at it’s best, this novel is as fun as watching a really cool TV show. The middle parts of this novel are dramatic, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, both the beginning and the ending are a bit weak – and the story isn’t even vaguely self-contained. But, these flaws aside, this novel still has some really good moments.

If I had to give “Minion” a rating out of five, it would just about get a four (even though, in some parts, it’s a solid four and a half and in other parts is more of a three and a half).

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” By Keith R. A. DeCandido (Film Novelisation)

Although I reviewed the film version of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” about five or six months ago, I thought that it would be kind of fun to see what the film novelisation of it was like.

Since, although I’ve read all of S.D. Perry’s excellent novels based on the original “Resident Evil” videogames, I can only vaguely remember reading Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation of the third film (Resident Evil: Extinction) about a decade or so ago. So, I thought that I’d check out his 2004 novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2004 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” that I read.

The novel begins by giving us some backstory for Timothy Cain, one of the high-ranking henchmen of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. A scientific team from the corporation begins to re-open the corporation’s secret underground laboratory (called “The Hive”) after some kind of mysterious accident happened there. Of course, once they open the doors, a horde of zombies pours out…

Soon, the local town is infested with zombies. A suspended police officer called Jill Valentine, who has encountered the zombies before, decides to fight them. Meanwhile, a team of Umbrella mercenaries, led by Carlos Olivera, enters the town. A high-ranking Umbrella scientist realises that his daughter is missing. A character called LJ is arrested and almost bitten by a zombie at the police station. One of the survivors of the Hive disaster, Alice Abernathy, wakes up in hospital. Needless to say, the stage is set for some thrilling drama…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a reasonably good adaptation of the film – in other words, it is a gloriously silly, over-the-top action-thriller novel. Or, at least, most of it is. If there is one flaw with this novel, it is that it is a bit slow to start – with many earlier segments of the book being taken up explaining the backstories of various characters and recapping the events of the first “Resident Evil” film.

Even so, when this book hits it’s stride, it is a fun, fast-paced action thriller story that can be read reasonably quickly. However, you’ve probably noticed that – for a novel about zombies- I haven’t mentioned the word “horror” once. This is because this really isn’t as much of a horror novel as I had expected. Sure, there’s lots of death, monsters, suspense and zombies but – like the film – there’s relatively little in the way of horror.

One of the things I loved about reading S. D. Perry’s novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames when I was a teenager was that she was able to inject a bit of horror into the stories. Perry’s novelisations were at least three times as gruesome, grotesque and intense as the videogames were.

However, unlike Perry, DeCandido sticks pretty closely to the relatively bloodless action-thriller style of the film in his novelisation of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. So, if you’re expecting a bit more horror than you saw in the film, then you’re going to be disappointed.

In terms of how this novelisation relates to the film, it is fairly close. Although there is a lot more characterisation than in the film and there are a couple of very small story differences to what I can remember from the film (eg: Alice finds a zombie-filled Italian restaurant, Alice doesn’t use batons during one of the later fight scenes etc.. ), the most noticeable difference that I found was that Jill and Alice have slightly different outfits in the novel than they do in the film. In other words, Jill wears shorts and Alice keeps her lab coat. Aside from this, the book is extremely close to the film.

This is helped by the novel’s third-person narration, which is written in a very informal style which really fits the “cheesy action movie” atmosphere of the film. Although more prudish readers might not like the sheer number of four-letter words that have been added to the narration, they lend the story a greater degree of intensity whilst also evoking nostalgia for the more immature and “edgy” elements of the early-mid 2000s.

The style and tone of the informal third-person narration also changes slightly depending on the character that is being focused on. For this most part, this works reasonably well and helps to immerse the reader further. However, this can be a bit on the cringe-worthy side of things in a few scenes.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 277 pages, the story’s length is fairly reasonable and it never really outstays it’s welcome. The pacing in most of the book is fairly good too, although the earlier segments of the novel were a little too slow-paced for my liking (especially when compared to the beginning of the film).

Yes, taking the time to set the scene and develop the characters would be admirable in an ordinary novel – but this novel is based on an ultra-fast paced, super-cheesy action movie. So, a bit more action in the earlier parts of the story would have been welcome.

All in all, this novel is a reasonably good adaptation of the source material. And for a novel based on a film based on a videogame, it’s surprisingly good. Yes, there are a few flaws. But, for the most part, it is a very readable, fast-paced novel that can be enjoyed within a small number of hours. Still, if you want to read something “Resident Evil”-related, then I’d probably recommend S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil” novels over this one.

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

Review: “Black Wind” By Clive Cussler & Dirk Cussler (Novel)

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of a Clive Cussler phase, I thought that I’d check out the last book in the small pile that my uncle lent me. This is a novel from 2004 (co-written with Cussler’s son Dirk) called “Black Wind”.

Although the edition that I read was a mammoth 677 pages in length, the typeface was (like in many modern books) slightly on the larger side of things. Or, to put it another way, whilst it certainly isn’t a short novel, it didn’t feel as long as Cussler’s “Sahara” – even though both books took approximately the same amount of time for me to read.

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

This is the 2005 Penguin (UK) paperback reprint of “Black Tide” that I read.

The novel begins in 1944. With Imperial Japan on the verge of defeat, a Japanese submarine loaded with several mysterious experimental weapons is deployed to strike America. As the sub makes it’s way towards America, the scientist on board refuses to explain the nature of the weapons to the crew.

But, after the sub sinks a fishing boat near the American coast, a radio message is sent to a US Navy ship – who quickly apprehend the Japanese sub before it can launch any of it’s onboard aircraft. However, not being able to hit it with their weapons, the US ship rams the submarine, causing it to sink into the briny deep with the experimental weapons still intact…..

Then we flash forward to 2007. In the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, a team of scientists are working at a research station when they are suddenly poisoned by a mysterious airborne chemical.

Luckily for most of the scientists, a National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) vessel nearby happens to pick up their distress call and rescue the survivors. One of the crew is none other than Dirk Pitt, son of the famed NUMA agent Dirk Pitt. Needless to say, Dirk decides to investigate the mysterious poisoning…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s the sort of book that grows on you. At first, I didn’t really like this book. The story initially seemed to lack the dramatic and emotional weight that other Cussler novels I’ve read have had. Everything initially seemed a little too textbook and, well, generic. However, as the story progressed, I found myself enjoying it more.

In terms of the basic story and pacing, it’s reasonably good. There’s a reasonable mixture of political drama, suspenseful scenes, scientific drama and thrilling action. Although the story’s pacing stutters occasionally due to a few slower-paced segments, the story runs fairly smoothly most of the time.

The basic premise of the story is a reasonably clever one and it serves to set up many moments of thrilling drama and action (including some fairly unusual settings and vehicles in later parts of the story too). However, the story is let down somewhat by the characters.

Although the decision to replace Dirk Pitt with his son makes a lot of sense (after all, the original Dirk Pitt is probably in his fifties or sixties by the time this story takes place), it can be a little confusing if you’ve read some of Clive Cussler’s older novels. Pitt the younger isn’t that different from his father (they look identical and have the same name). So, when Pitt the elder shows up about 137 pages into the book, it is a little bit confusing at first.

Although the two Dirk Pitts are well-differentiated later in the story, they’re both just initially referred to as “Dirk Pitt” – with only a few descriptions and the presence of Al Giordino telling the reader that they’re looking at Pitt the elder when he first appears.

Another new character is Summer Pitt, Pitt the younger’s sister. However, for the most part, she’s just another Dirk Pitt-like character and she doesn’t really seem that distinctive or unique. Seriously, as characters go, this novel isn’t that spectacular. Even the novel’s main villain really doesn’t seem to have that much character, depth, personality or uniqueness when compared to the villains in Clive Cussler’s “Sahara” or “Flood Tide“.

There are so many supporting characters and main characters in “Black Wind” that it often feels like each one doesn’t really get quite enough characterisation. And, whilst the thrilling plot covers up a lot of these flaws and keeps the story running smoothly, the slightly shallower characterisation robs the story of some of it’s dramatic weight. Seriously, the story would have been better if it had focused on a smaller number of characters and given them a little bit more… well… character. It would give the story more “personality” and increase the audience’s emotional investment.

Still, as the story progresses, we find ourselves on more familiar ground again. Especially in the later parts of the novel, there is a lot of the type of high-stakes nautical drama and military action that will be familiar to any Clive Cussler fan. Likewise, even during the earlier parts of the story – there are some rather thrilling moments, such as a dramatic car chase involving a ferry.

The narration in this novel is reasonably good. However, although Dirk Cussler’s style is a little bit noticeable (from brief descriptions, subtle differences in the overall narrative tone etc…), the general narrative style is reasonably similar to an “ordinary” Clive Cussler novel. Which is both a good and a bad thing. Although this gives the novel a reassuring sense of familiarity, it also misses out on some of the advantages of having a more distinctive and different co-writer.

For example, the novel “Zero Hour” that Clive Cussler co-wrote with Graham Brown has a faster-paced, punchier and snappier narrative style that comes from the input of an experienced, and different, co-writer. But, in “Black Wind”, the similarity between Dirk & Clive Cussler’s writing styles means that this vital advantage is lost somewhat.

All in all, this novel is a little bit like “Clive Cussler lite”. There’s still lots of thrills, action, witty dialogue and drama – but, thanks to the introduction of several new characters, the similarity between the two writers’ styles and the slightly lower level of characterisiation, this novel doesn’t really pack quite the same punch as some of Cussler’s older novels and some of his other co-written books do. Still, it’s a reasonably decent thriller novel that is very readable and reasonably compelling.

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

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take another look at a film that I really enjoyed when I was a teenager. I am, of course, talking about a film from 2004 called “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

Back then, I’d really been looking forward to this film because, although the previous “Resident Evil” film was different to what I’d expected, this sequel looked like it would be more faithful to the source material. Needless to say, I ended up seeing it at the cinema and it really knocked my socks off 🙂 So much so that I actually ended up getting it on DVD a year or two later.

But, now that I’m somewhat older, I began to wonder if the film was as good as I remembered. So, I thought that I’d take another look at it.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES (but I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems).

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is a sci-fi/action/horror movie that is both a sequel to 2002’s “Resident Evil” and a partial adaptation of an amazing 1990s videogame called “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis“. Although it can be watched as a stand-alone film (since it contains a recap at the beginning), it is best watched after seeing/playing the two things I mentioned earlier.

The events of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” are set into motion when a team of scientists from the nefarious Umbrella Corporation make the questionable decision to re-open the sealed underground bunker from the first film. Needless to say, a horde of zombies pour out and – within hours – Racoon City is in the middle of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

Hmm… It’s probably because the science team’s budget was spent on silly wrist-mounted computers rather than on some kind of rudimentary zombie-proof barrier.

After evacuating some of their key scientists, Umbrella decides to seal off the town. Unfortunately for the zombies, elite police officer Jill Valentine is stranded inside the town with a reporter and another elite officer called Peyton.

The zombies really don’t stand a chance…

Meanwhile, some of Umbrella’s elite private troops, led by the rugged Carlos Olivera, realise that the company has deserted them. Whilst all of this is going on, the automated systems in the city hospital release Alice (from the first film) from stasis.

Cue a vaguely “28 Days Later” – like scene (that re-uses some footage from the previous film)

And, if that wasn’t enough, one of the evacuated scientists realises that his daughter has been stranded inside the city. Hacking into the city’s CCTV and phone network, he contacts the survivors and offers them a deal. He’ll guide them out of the city, if they rescue his daughter….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is best watched when you are a teenager. It is pretty much the textbook definition of a silly, cheesy “so bad that it’s good” action movie. But, even so, what a silly film this is!

Fun fact: This melodramatic explosion comes from an airbourne motorbike that has been machine-gunned after a monster has climbed onto it in mid-air.

Everything from the brilliantly cheesy dialogue to the ludicrous action sequences to the ridiculously rapid-fire editing is totally and utterly silly. Yet, it still works! Although there’s a bit of suspense, characterisation and backstory – most of the film just consists of the characters fighting zombies and monsters in a variety of creatively melodramatic ways.

And, yes, this is one of the more boring combat scenes in the film!

Occasionally, the film shakes things up by having the characters fight evil henchmen too.

And, yet, this works! Although the film tries to have a few serious dramatic moments, it really doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously. It’s a silly, mindless action movie that knows that it’s a silly, mindless action movie.

In other words, it’s pretty much a parody of the genre. All of the characters can shoot with pinpoint accuracy, there’s never a shortage of guns, the laws of physics are more like suggested guidelines, there’s at least one explosion every 10-20 minutes or so and there are plenty of “badass” one-liners too.

This film is gloriously immature and doesn’t have an original bone in it’s body. But, this doesn’t matter, because it is fun.

Like this melodramatic headline. Somehow, despite a full-blown zombie apocalypse, the local newspaper still has time to print an extra edition..

Or this “totally not influenced by ‘The Matrix’ ” choice of weapons. And the “I can’t believe it isn’t ‘The Matrix’ ” slow-motion bullet scene in another part of the film. But, well, wouldn’t “The Matrix” be cooler if there were zombies?

In many ways, this film is both similar to and different from the action movies of the 1990s. Whilst it includes more of a 1990s-style focus on team-based storytelling, the team in question contains several cynical, near-immortal, individualistic warriors.

Likewise, whilst the film contains the kind of highly-unrealistic premise that would have been more at home during the more innocent days of the 1990s, the emotional tone of the film is more in keeping with the “serious” mood of the early-mid 2000s.

Yes, it’s a team-based action movie with an unrealistic premise. But it has a gloomier 2000s-style emotional tone and more 2000s-style characters.

Interestingly, this film both is and isn’t faithful to the story of “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis”. Yes, the Nemesis appears – but he has a different origin story (and a slightly different personality). Jill and Carlos also both look a bit like their videogame counterparts, but their personalities are a lot more aggressive and “badass” when compared to the game. There’s also a sequence that has been almost directly lifted from the intro movie from “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” (but with Alice instead of Claire Redfield) too.

Yay! It’s a homage to the real Resident Evil 4 🙂

If anything, this film is more of a sequel to the first “Resident Evil” film than an adaptation of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames. But, unlike the first film, it’s a ridiculously fast-paced “badass” sci-fi action movie rather than a slow-paced, atmospheric and suspenseful horror story.

There’s no need for carefully conserving ammunition, puzzle-solving or methodical exploration here!

Surprisingly, for a film based on a well-known zombie horror franchise, there’s relatively little in the way of gore. Whilst the film certainly isn’t bloodless, there’s more of a focus on fast-paced action than on grisly horror.

Even so, there are still a few grotesque moments here, such as a classroom of zombie children, a decaying skull or a character who has kept one of their zombified relatives alive. But, these are almost the exception rather than the rule.

For example, a classic zombie-movie style scene where a character is devoured by a horde of the undead is almost completely bloodless.

In terms of the characters, Jill and Carlos are just generic “badass” characters a lot of the time. Alice actually gets a bit of characterisation but, for the most part, she’s another “badass” character. The film’s various supporting characters also help to add a bit of individuality, drama, humour and/or suspense to the film too.

In terms of lighting, special effects and set design, this film still stands up reasonably well to this day. Yes, there’s some mildly dated CGI effects in a few of the monster-based scenes. But, many of the effects are timeless practical effects. The pyrotechnics and fight choreography are also really good too. Plus, the Nemesis looks suitably formidable too.

Or, more accurately, he looks a little bit like something from an Iron Maiden album cover. Which is also awesome 🙂

CGI effects aside, the only thing that will really tip you off that this is a film from 14 years ago is the fact that the characters use payphones more often than mobile phones.

Plus, since this is a film in the horror genre, the lighting looks absolutely brilliant too. Likewise, the set design is a videogame-like mixture of realistic and futuristic locations too.

The best lighting in the film has to be the 1980s-style neon lighting here.

The film also makes extensive use of blue/orange lighting too.

However, in terms of editing, this film often uses a ridiculously fast-paced editing style (especially near the beginning), which makes everything seem a little bit trite and abrupt at times. Still, at a lean 90 minutes (approx) in length, this film never gets dull, bloated or boring.

In terms of music, whilst the music in the film wasn’t that memorable, one interesting fact is that the music credits at the end of the film list Cradle Of Filth’s “Nymphetamine” as part of the soundtrack. Although this song is absolutely brilliant, I can’t remember actually hearing it during the film. But, since Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album came out the same year that the film did (and the soundtrack is apparently from Roadrunner Records), it’s possible that they just added it to the CD soundtrack to promote the album.

It’s cool that “Nymphetamine” is in the credits, but I don’t remember hearing it during the film though 😦

All in all, this is a gloriously silly and wonderfully mindless “so bad that it’s good” action movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

It’s a film sequel that is also an adaptation of a videogame sequel. So, yes, you’ll enjoy this film the most if you are aged between about thirteen and seventeen. But, even if you’re re-watching it as a slightly more cynical and (somehow) more mature adult, then there’s still lots of fun to be had here. If you go into it expecting ninety minutes of thoroughly silly fun, then you won’t be disappointed.

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

Review “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [With Unofficial Patch]” (Classic Computer Game)


Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d review a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that I only played for the first time this year.

I bought a digital copy of this game when it was on special offer on GOG earlier this year and, although it seemed to be slightly on the pricier side of things for a game of that age (even when it was on offer), it was money well spent 🙂

Interestingly, the version of this game available on GOG comes with an unofficial patch pre-installed. From what I can gather, this patch fixes many bugs and problems with the original version of the game. I’m not sure if this patch is included in versions of the game sold on other sites (eg: Steam), but it’s probably fairly easy to find on the internet if it isn’t.

One other thing that I should probably point out is that at least some of the minimum system requirements listed for the game on GOG (eg: a 2.4 ghz processor) seem to be somewhat over-inflated, especially considering that this game uses an early version of the Source Engine! I was able to get this game to run on a 1.8 ghz single core processor (with the graphics settings on low). Although, if you’re obsessed with framerates, you’ll probably be dismayed to hear that I only got about 20-30 FPS – but the game was still very playable.

Finally, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some minor SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”:


“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is an action role-playing game which takes place in Los Angeles.

You play as a freshly-created vampire who is due to be executed because the person responsible for turning you into a vampire didn’t get permission from the city’s vampiric elders. However, the aristocratic Prince LaCroix is feeling unusually merciful, and spares your life on the condition that you serve him.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

Soon, you find yourself thrown into a web of conspiracies, politics and crime. To say too much more would be to spoil the game’s brilliantly complex story, but – like in any role-playing game – you get to have a certain degree of influence over how the events of the game play out.

The character creation options in this game are slightly strange. In addition to choosing your character’s gender and stats, you also have to choose from one of seven “clans” – each one has different specialities and abilities. However, each clan only has two character models – but your character can find alternate outfits (which also serve as a type of armour) throughout the game.

From everything that I’d read before playing this game, it’s apparently best to avoid the “Malkavian” and “Nosferatu” clans on your first playthrough since these choices cause quite significant gameplay changes.

Although there is also a quiz that you can take which will help you choose your clan, I ended up going for the Tremere clan for the simple reason that I got to play as a cool goth character who wears shades at night and can use magic spells.

 This game is amazingly badass :)

This game is amazingly badass 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is atmospheric. Seriously, it’s been a long time since a game has made this much of an impression on me! The style and atmosphere of the whole game is vaguely reminiscent of a brilliant TV show called “Angel“, albeit with a gloomier and more cynical atmosphere.

Although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” isn’t the kind of horror game that will literally make you jump out of your chair with fright, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any horror.

Although there are small amounts of many different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror, startling horror, body horror, gory horror, implied horror, gothic horror, Lovecraftian horror etc…) sprinkled throughout the game, most of the horror is almost subliminally subtle and it comes from the bleak and amoral hidden world that your character lives in and the hard choices that you are forced to make.

Often, the “evil” choice in any situation is presented as being the easier and/or more rewarding of the two. So, expect to feel disgusted/disturbed/creeped out at yourself at least once or twice after you finish playing.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

But, a lot of this gloom is offset with some truly brilliant moments of dark comedy, which help to prevent the game from becoming too depressing. Most of the time, the humour is kept fairly subtle, but it’s great to see a game that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously….

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

 Turning the corner and seeing THIS is pretty much the game's only jump scare. But, it's only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

Turning the corner and seeing THIS is one of the game’s very few jump scares. But, it’s only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

As for the location design, there are gothic areas that look like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, there are nightclubs you can dance in, there are “film noir”-style city streets, there’s a creepy haunted house, there are… so many cool places.

 Curiouser and curiouser, this is like "American McGee's Alice" all over again :)

Curiouser and curiouser, this is like “American McGee’s Alice” all over again 🙂

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from "Blade Runner" :)

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from “Blade Runner” 🙂

And this pier :) The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too :)

And this pier 🙂 The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too 🙂

The gameplay in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a really interesting mixture of things. You can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at will, and this allows the game to include a dazzling variety of gameplay types like melee combat, first-person shooting, exploration, stealth segments, puzzles, moral choices etc…

In addition to this, the game includes some vampire-specific gameplay features. For example, you need blood in order to use your character’s special abilities. But, you have to be careful how you drink blood – if a passer-by sees you drinking someone’s blood, then you lose a “masquerade” point and, if you drink literally all of someone’s blood, then you lose a “humanity” point. These are two scores that you have to be very careful about preserving, since bad things tend to happen if either score gets too low.

Of course, you can avoid this risk by either buying blood from a rather dodgy guy who lives in the hospital basement, by consuming any rats that happen to be scurrying through the sewers or by either seducing or paying another character (and pretending to kiss them, whilst secretly drinking their blood). As I said earlier, it’s a game which will sometimes leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself after you play it.

The health system in this game is kind of interesting too. Although it includes the dreaded regenerating health, this game handles it in a fairly sensible way that actually helps to add some challenge to the game (rather than just turning it into a toned down “god mode” cheat).

Yes, this game has regenerating health. But, it’s the good kind of regenerating health..

Although your health regenerates, it does this very slowly – giving the player an incentive to avoid damage. Although health regeneration can be accelerated by drinking blood, there aren’t really any “health items” in the game (except possibly the “elder vitae” item). So, combat in the game can end up being more challenging than you might expect.

Although this game is a fairly non-linear thing, it also includes some truly brilliant set-pieces too – which also help to keep the gameplay interesting. For example, at one point in the game, there’s a “Timesplitters”-style area where you have to defend the gates of a cemetary against hordes of zombies for five minutes. This is so cool!

And, yes, there's even a "BRAINS" damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

And, yes, there’s even a “BRAINS” damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

Surprisingly, the huge variety of gameplay types here all work fairly well. Even though I normally loathe and despise stealth mechanics in games, this one isn’t too frustrating. Not only is there a meter that clearly tells you how much attention nearby henchmen are paying to you but, if you increase the right stats, then you can be right next to an adversary and they still won’t notice you as long as you are crouching.

Even though I'm literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don't notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Even though I’m literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don’t notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Seriously, the only flaws I found with the gameplay is that a few of the game’s puzzles confused me enough to make me check a walkthrough and that some of the quests involve a bit too much “back and forth”, which is especially annoying given the loading screens that appear whenever you enter or leave a defined area in the game.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Likewise, at two points, the game randomly froze up and demanded that I inserted a disc. Thankfully, closing the program and starting it again solved the problem on both occasions. But, since games sold on GOG are meant to be DRM free, this sudden intrusion from the malingering ghost of the game’s original DRM wasn’t exactly welcome.

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn't happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still... it was annoying!

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn’t happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still… it was annoying!

The game itself is split into four outdoor “hub” areas, various buildings and a fair number of mission-specific areas. The hub areas are large enough to be interesting to explore, but small enough that you won’t get lost for too long either. You can also travel at will between any hub areas you’ve unlocked by finding a taxi (which is a New York-style yellow taxi, despite the game being set in California).

The "Downtown" hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style "film noir" look to it :)

The “Downtown” hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style “film noir” look to it 🙂

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

Although there are some missions that you have to complete in order to progress, there are also optional missions that you can accept in order to gain more money or experience points. Some of these are interesting, some required me to use a walkthrough, some I completely missed altogether and some of them can be repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, the later parts of the game switch to a much more action/stealth-based style of gameplay. Amongst other things, the level before the final boss battle bears a strong resemblance to something from “Deus Ex” or “Half Life”. Like in “Deus Ex”, this is a level that you can complete using either stealth or mindless violence. Or both.

In terms of the dialogue and voice-acting, this game is absolutely stellar. Not only is the dialogue realistic, witty and filled with fascinating background information, but it’s accompanied by the kind of voice-acting that seems so natural that you usually won’t even think of it as “voice-acting” (the only exception is a character called Brother Kanker, whose voice acting is unintentionally hilarious). This allows the game to carry off some truly spectacular dramatic moments that might leave you shocked and some moments that will make you laugh out loud:

Glad to see that the game devs haven't let financial considerations affect the game in any way...

Glad to see that the game devs haven’t let financial considerations affect the game in any way…

The game’s story is the kind of deep, complex compelling thing that will keep you playing even during some of the more boring missions. Although I won’t spoil any major plot points, it seems to be one of those games which – like the film “Blade Runner” – makes you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of something much greater. As you would expect, this is also one of those games that contains multiple endings depending on the choices you make during the game.

In terms of length, this is a full-length game… and then some! Seriously, this is the kind of game that pretty much demands to be binge-played in 2-4 hour sessions. Not only that, you’ll probably have quite a few of these sessions before you eventually finish the game. Whilst the game does a good job with holding the player’s interest throughout it’s marathon-like length, there are a few parts (especially near the end) that feel like unnecessary padding.

The music in this game is, in a word, amazing. Although most of it is the kind of ominous instrumental music that you’d expect in a horror game, it also includes a really brilliant licenced soundtrack too. One of the most amazing moments in the game was near the beginning, when I entered a nightclub (whose lobby was plastered with Bella Morte and Ghoultown posters!) and was given the opportunity to dance to a really cool gothic rock song called “Isolated” by Chiasm.

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Likewise, another outstanding musical moment is when you are standing on the beach with an assortment of other characters and, over the rain and the crashing of the waves, Darling Violetta’s “A Smaller God” plays on a radio in the background. This moment is both relaxing and bleak, mundane and breathtakingly sublime.

All in all, this is probably the closest thing to a “perfect” game that I’ve played in a while. Even though it has a few small flaws, it contains a brilliant mixture of exploration, atmospheric storytelling, dark humour, gothic horror, subtle horror and thrilling combat. It’s a complex, fascinating game that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as classic games like “Deus Ex”.

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

Today’s Art (14th December 2014)

Well, I felt like making some more B&W art based on some old photos I took when I went to Berlin in 2004. This drawing/painting is based on a photo of a futuristic-looking building which I took through the window of a coach on a trip between two museums.

As a blog exclusive, since this picture will probably be on DeviantART by now, I thought that I’d provide a scan of the original photo for comparison too.

As usual, both images in this blog post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Berlin Metropolis" By C. A. Brown

“Berlin Metropolis” By C. A. Brown

And, here’s the photo:

"2004 Berlin Coach Window Photo" By C. A. Brown

“2004 Berlin Coach Window Photo” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Painkiller” (computer game)

“Painkiller” is a gothic fantasy/horror FPS game from 2004 by a studio called Dreamcatcher. Although I played a fair amount of this game about six years ago, I’ve only just got round to replaying it – so this review reflects my memories of the game and my impressions of the game so far.

You play as a man called Daniel Garner who dies in a car crash before the events of the game, his wife was also in the car at the time too. After he dies, he realises that his wife is nowhere to be seen and he isn’t exactly in heaven. But, surprisingly, he is approached by an angel who offers him a chance to go to heaven and see his wife if he kills four generals in Lucifer’s army(and anything else that gets in his way too) in order to prevent a war between heaven and hell.

Although the story isn’t central to the game, it is also expanded on in a series of fairly well-animated and well-written cutscenes between each “chapter” of the game.

Even though this game draws fairly heavily on Christian mythology, it isn’t a particularly religious game (so, don’t let the premise put you off from playing it if, like me, you’re not religious – although if you are religious, then you might be disappointed).

The gameplay mainly consists of killing all of the demons in a particular area of the level and then passing through a checkpoint to the next area of the level until you reach the end. These checkpoints only appear once all the enemies in a particular area are dead and, in many ways, the gameplay is pretty similar to what I’ve played of the “Serious Sam” games.

Whilst this game mechanic means that you won’t spend ages searching for keys, solving puzzles (well, apart from one sub-boss) or trying to complete missions, it can be slightly repetitive. However, there is a surprising variety of different enemies to fight (the manual lists 27 different enemy types), so you won’t be fighting the same enemies over and over again throughout the game.

Naturally, the level design is also fairly linear too – although there are secret areas and hidden items. Not to mention that many of the levels contain large open areas which are perfect for circle-strafing and for running away when you are face with large hordes of demons. This open style of level design is a refreshing change from the corridor-based design of many classic FPS games and, yet, the areas are never so large that you will end up getting lost either.

Although I can only remember a few levels from when I played it six years ago and I’ve only played less than half the game so far, most of the levels I’ve played look fairly gothic (in the traditional sense of the word). So, expect lots of old cathedrals, graveyards, catacombs, creepy 19th century mental asylums etc… The game also contains about twenty five levels, each of which will probably take you about 10-15 minutes to play, judging from what I’ve played so far.

One of the other interesting features is that the HUD contains a small compass which shows you where the demons are – so, you won’t get searching for that one last enemy you need to shoot in order to progress to the next part of the game. So, yes, the only times you’ll get stuck will be when you’re faced with large quantities of enemies and very little health.

The health system in “Painkiller” is pretty interesting too. Although you can pick up armour, the only health pickups you will find are small glowing green and gold orbs which enemies drop after they die. Picking up one of these will restore a small quantity of your health and, after you collect a certain number of them, you temporarily become invincible and extremely powerful (you can basically obliterate enemies with the power of your mind – this is amazingly fun).

Another cool thing about this feature is that you usually get a warning (the screen briefly flashes white and red) about two orbs before it happens – so, if you want to, you can wait until a later part of the level before you pick up the last orb you need to use to activate it.

In addition to this, you can earn “tarot cards” at the end of each level, which will give you certain powers. Each level has something different you’ve got to do to get a tarot card (eg: collect a certain number of items, use a certain weapon etc..) – so there is probably some replay value for people who want to collect all of them.

As for the weapons in this game, you apparently only get five of them. However, each one has a fairly useful (and very different) alternate fire mode. So, in practical terms, you have ten weapons and the focus on alternate fire modes means that you won’t have to waste valuable seconds switching weapons in the middle of battling a large horde of demons.

Whilst I’ve only found the first three weapons so far, they’re all fairly familiar, yet surprisingly innovative too. The default weapon is the “painkiller” – an ornate rotary saw- like weapon you can use to hack through less powerful enemies. However, the alternate fire allows you to fire the tip of it into a nearby wall or enemy and generate a powerful laser beam, provided that you keep the tip of the “painkiller” in your sights.

The shotgun is basically just that, a fairly standard videogame shotgun. Although one cool thing about it is that it will gib weaker enemies at close range. However, it has a really cool alternate fire which is fairly similar to the “freezethrower” from “Duke Nukem 3D”. Basically, you can temporarily freeze enemies and then shatter them with a single attack. Ammunition for the freeze gun is very slightly scarce though, although it isn’t rare enough to put you off from using it when you need to.

The third weapon I’ve found so far is a stake gun which you can use to impale enemies and/or pin them to the walls. This is pretty cool, although the rate of fire is very slightly on the slow side. The alternate fire is a pretty ordinary grenade launcher.

All in all, “Painkiller” is a no nonsense action FPS game. If you are looking for a few hours of mindless fun, then you can’t go wrong with it. Not to mention that, since it’s a fairly old game, you can probably get a new or second hand copy of it fairly cheaply too.

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