Multi-Review: Four Under-Appreciated Albums, TV Shows, Games etc….

Well, I thought that I’d do something a bit different today. This was because I’d originally planned to write an article about why “under-appreciated” creative works tend to miss the recognition that they deserve. However, I soon realised that I’d probably spend most of the article talking about various albums, TV shows, games etc.. So, I suddenly thought that it might be a better idea to just review these things instead.

Although the article as a whole will be ridiculously long, each review will probably be shorter than my usual reviews, but I’ll try to avoid reviewing anything that I’ve already reviewed before (eg: “Blood“, “People Watching“, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams“, “Gemini Rue“, “Deus Ex: Invisible War“, “Killing Time“, “Realms Of The Haunting“, “Charlie Jade“, “Harsh Realm“, “Bugs (series 1, 2, 3 & 4)”, “Farscape (season 1, 2, 3, 4 & mini series)”, Jack Hunter (films 1, 2 & 3) etc..). Likewise, for practical reasons, not all reviews will include screenshots etc…

So, here are a few under-appreciated gems that didn’t really get the recognition that they deserved. Yes, all of these things might not be absolute masterpieces, but they’re better than you think in some way or another.

1) “Virtual XI” By Iron Maiden (Album): The mid-late 1990s isn’t generally seen as a golden age for the legendary heavy metal band Iron Maiden. During this time, their long-running lead singer Bruce Dickinson left the band for several years and was replaced by another vocalist called Blaze Bayley in the interim.

This change also marked a very slight shift in the musical style of the band, where they temporarily moved away from the raw energy of their earlier albums and produced slightly gloomier music which, whilst still recognisably “Iron Maiden”, had a very slight gothic, introspective and/or mildly melancholic tone to it.

Yet, the two albums they released during this time (“The X-Factor” and “Virtual XI”) are vastly under-appreciated classics. But, I’ll be looking at “Virtual XI” here, since it is my favourite of the two (plus one of my favourite Iron Maiden albums) and because it seems to have suffered the most unfair criticism:

“Virtual XI” By Iron Maiden (1998)

The first thing I will say is that you shouldn’t judge this album based on the first two tracks! Whilst the first song (“Futureal”) is good, but not great – the second one (“The Angel And The Gambler”) is something of an acquired taste, and it doesn’t really fit in very well with the rest of the album.

But, despite a slightly shaky start, the rest of the album is solid gold! Although this album was meant to be slightly lighter in tone than the band’s previous album – the introspective melancholia of 1995’s “The X-Factor” has been replaced by a gloomily authoritative sound that is surprisingly epic and almost cinematic at times. Later Iron Maiden albums may have refined or improved the band’s sound, but none has really been able to replicate the unique atmosphere of “Virtual XI”.

Covering topics as diverse as science fiction, Scottish history, the Falklands war, meteor strikes, thunderstorms and ageing, this album is crammed with atmospheric descriptions and appropriately atmospheric music. One of the key features of this album is that it is a lot more dynamic than previous Iron Maiden albums, with many of the songs starting in an ominously slow way, before gradually building to a spectacular musical and emotional climax.

Although I once saw the musical elements of this album described as being “lifeless”, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the guitars don’t always sound as piercing or “sharp” as they did in the 80s and, musically, the album has a slightly gloomier tone to it. But, you have to see this in the context of the band’s development. The deeper and more musically mature sound that the band gradually developed from the turn of the 21st century onwards emerged from this album.

Most of this album focuses on crafting a darkly epic sound that would later be refined when Bruce Dickinson returned to the band. More modern Iron Maiden songs, like “Empire Of The Clouds”, “Paschendale”, “No More Lies”, “When The Wild Wind Blows” etc… aren’t afraid to include ominously slow segments, and it’s all because of this one epic album (or, rather, tracks 3-8 from it).

2) “Unreal II: The Awakening” (Computer Game): Although it has been quite a few years since I last played this game (and I really must re-install it sometime), I have very fond memories of 2003’s “Unreal II: The Awakening“.

One of the main problems with this game is that it was vastly overshadowed by the more ground-breaking and popular “Unreal” (1998) and “Unreal Touranment” (1999). Like those two games, it is a science fiction themed first person shooter game. But, unlike those other games, it contains a much greater focus on immersive storytelling that was somewhat ahead of it’s time.

Although the action-based parts of the gameplay were entertaining, but standard and slightly forgettable, they aren’t why the game is on this list.

Unlike many generic sci-fi FPS games of the early-mid 2000s, this FPS game actually put a lot more effort into immersion and characterisation. Rather than just hopping from mission to mission, you actually have to travel there in a spaceship that is crewed by several supporting characters, in a similar manner to sci-fi TV shows like “Firefly” and “Cowboy Bebop”.

What this means is that, between levels, you get to spend time exploring your spaceship and talking to the ship’s slightly quirky crew of misfits and badasses. This allows the game’s characters to matter a lot more, as well as making you feel like you’re part of some kind of epic sci-fi drama. Not only that, it also lends the game an actual personality too.

In an era of gaming that was defined by generic action games featuring generic grizzled space marines, a game where the space marine actually had a crew of actual characters that he had to rely on was surprisingly humanising and groundbreaking. Yes, the gameplay is nothing special, but this game really deserves more recognition for basically being an interactive sci-fi TV series. It’s fun, memorable, slightly funny and occasionally heartwarming.

3) “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” (TV Series): If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me mention this show from time to time. Although it was popular enough at the time of release (1993-1997) to warrant four entire seasons, it seems to have been forgotten and overlooked somewhat in recent years.

Even though I’m really not a fan of the superhero genre, this old TV show is one of the few exceptions for a whole host of reasons. Eschewing the melodramatic grittiness, complex mythologising and fervent mainstream nerdiness that has defined the superhero genre over the past couple of decades, this show does something truly radical! It is a light-hearted and optimistic romantic comedy series that also includes elements from both the detective and superhero genres.

Realising the sheer silliness of taking the superhero genre seriously, this show affectionately plays these elements for laughs whilst devoting most of it’s focus to the characters of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Both of them are shown to be intelligent, emotionally-complex people who start out as friendly rival reporters (who have been reluctantly paired by their editor) before gradually falling in love with each other over the course of the first 2-3 seasons.

And, yes, they are a ridiculously cute couple too!

There are just too many good things to say about this show! Whether it’s the brilliantly optimistic attitude that used to exist back in the 1990s, or the gloriously retro wardrobe and set design choices, or even the astonishing retinue of guest stars (eg: Robert Beltran, Dwight Schultz, Bruce Campbell, Jonathan Frakes, Kristina Loken etc..) it’s a fun, nostalgic, feel-good TV show that doesn’t require you to have read 30+ years of superhero comics to enjoy it.

And, again, there’s Bruce Campbell too! Groovy!

4) “Robocop: Prime Directives” (TV Miniseries): This was something that I’d seen on the shelves of charity shops and dingy second-hand DVD shops for years before I eventually decided to give it a watch last year. It is a mini series of four 90 minute episodes that were originally shown on Canadian television in 2001:

Don’t be put off by the bargain bin cover art, this is a hidden gem!

Although these films occasionally lack some of the hilarious social satire that defined the “main” Robocop films, they more than make up for this by including a long, thrilling and occasionally emotional story about what happens to Robocop after the events of the main films. He’s older, even bordering on obsolete, and he still finds himself drawn into yet another criminal conspiracy.

As well as including a few cool cyberpunk elements, one of the great things about this mini series is that Robocop really gets to be Robocop here, a clanking semi-human juggernaut of justice! However, in addition to this, he’s also allowed to be more than just a two-dimensional cartoon character, and actually has a bit more of a personality in this mini series.

Yet, it might lack the sharp wit of Paul Verhoeven’s original films or the giant Hollywood budget, but this is an astonishingly solid quartet of films that take a slightly more “serious” look at Robocop, whilst telling a thrillingly dramatic story too.

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Full Review: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

Well, although I wrote a rambling, in-depth “first impressions” article about “Blade Runner 2049” after seeing it at the cinema last October, I’ve now got a DVD copy of it (as something of a belated Christmas present). So, as promised in the “first impressions” article, here’s a full review. However, it’s more of a general review than an in-depth essay.

Annoyingly, although a special edition of the DVD was apparently available for pre-order on Amazon before Christmas, this planned special edition DVD release was cancelled before the film’s home video release.

Still, the “standard” DVD edition of the film isn’t exactly a ‘bare bones’ release, since it also contains all three short prequel films and a few short featurettes about the “world” of the show. Even so, it would have been nice if they’d released the special edition DVD they’d planned to release.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blade Runner 2049”. This review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

“Blade Runner 2049” is the 2017 sequel to the 1982 cyberpunk masterpiece “Blade Runner“.

Set thirty years after the events of that film, this film focuses on Officer K – a replicant (a human-like clone/android) police officer in a futuristic version of Los Angeles who has been tasked with locating and killing rogue replicants who went underground after a terrorist attack in 2022 wiped all records of their existence.

Needless to say, this isn’t going to be a “cosy” detective mystery…

After he tracks one of these replicants (Sapper Morton) to a protein farm outside the city, they begin a fight to the death. However, once Officer K gets the upper hand, Morton makes a cryptic remark about how Officer K is only comfortable with doing humanity’s dirty work because he has never witnessed a miracle.

Puzzled, Officer K shoots Morton before returning to his car to send a video report to police headquarters. Yet, Morton’s comment still lingers in his mind. And, after noticing a flower beside a nearby tree, he dispatches a drone to scan underneath the tree. To his surprise, a chest has been buried there. The chest contains a skeleton. But, upon further examination, it turns out that this is no ordinary skeleton…..

Plus, it raises the intriguing prospect of a “CSI: Blade Runner” spin-off too…

One of the first things that I will say about “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is one of the best modern films that I’ve seen. It’s intelligent, visually complex, sensibly paced, it respects the audience’s intelligence and it is very well-written. However, after re-watching it, I found that I slightly prefer the original “Blade Runner” to the sequel. Even so, if you’re a fan of that film, then the sequel is well worth watching (if you haven’t seen it already).

In terms of the film’s story, it tells a reasonably complex (but direct) story which is thematically consistent with the original film and also resolves some of that film’s loose ends too. This film’s story will require you to pay attention, but it isn’t too confusing.

And, yes, it also contains a couple of literary references too. But, even if – like me- you haven’t read “Pale Fire”, then the film will still make sense.

Although the film tells a reasonably complete story with a satisfying emotional payoff, a few things are left unresolved for different reasons. The sub-plot about the replicant resistance is left slightly open, presumably in case there’s ever another sequel (although this unfortunately seems unlikely, given the box office for this film). And, of course, the question about whether Deckard is a replicant is, in keeping with tradition, left tantalisingly unresolved.

There’s also a really cool call-back to the origami unicorn from the original film, that is also a reference to Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too 🙂

However, as brilliant as the film’s story is, it leans towards grand, large-scale drama. Although this isn’t an inherently bad thing, it means that the film lacks some of the atmosphere and vivid intensity of the much smaller-scale drama of the original “Blade Runner” film.

Seriously, all of the grand drama is really cool, but I prefer the small-scale storytelling of the original film.

In terms of the film’s pacing, I really liked it, but it is something of an acquired taste. In contrast to typical hyper-fast modern movies, this film tells it’s story in a slightly more contemplative and slower-paced way that is more like a well-written TV mini series or a good novel.

Personally, I feel that this helps to add depth and humanity to the film, whilst being in keeping with the fact that the film is an intelligent cyberpunk detective thriller movie. However, if you’re used to modern superhero movies etc.. you’ll probably find this film to be “too slow” or “boring” or whatever.

Yes, this film actually contains *gasp* dialogue, characterisation, atmosphere-setting scenes etc.. instead of just mindless fights and explosions.

In terms of characters, this film is reasonably good. Not only do we get to see a few familiar faces (eg: Deckard, Gaff, Rachel etc..), but the film’s new characters are fairly good too.

By making the main character (Officer K) a replicant, the film can explore the theme of what it is to be human. Although Officer K is presented as a fairly human character (who is treated like a second-class citizen by some humans), his replicant nature is noticeable through his slightly emotionless and mildly upbeat demeanour (this is different to the typical world-weary protagonists in the film noir genre). Yet, he is also often presented as a somewhat lonely figure, which is in keeping with the film noir genre.

Hmm… a table for one again, it seems.

Interestingly, he falls in love with a companion hologram called Joi. And this is where the film also explores what it means to be human. Although Joi displays something of a personality, it is implied that she has been programmed to please whoever has bought her. This is shown by the fact that she initially appears to be some kind of 1950s-style Stepford Wife character. But, as the story progresses, she becomes more like the kind of intelligent, courageous side-kick that Officer K needs during stressful/complex situations.

As the film progresses, Joi goes from this…

… to this. But, whether it is organic character development or merely programming is left up to the viewer to decide.

In addition to this, Deckard also makes a return too. However, the years have not been kind to him and he has turned into a grumpy, bitter old man. This character evolution fits in perfectly with the events between the two films and it really helps to emphasise how much time has passed between the films.

And, yes, this is how Deckard greets Officer K when they first meet.

The film’s villains (and, yes, there’s much less moral ambiguity in this film than in the original “Blade Runner” 😦) are something of a mixed bag. The main villain, Niander Wallace, is only seen during a couple of scenes and he comes across as a bit of a cartoonish sociopath character.

Villain? Moi?

However, his replicant henchwoman (Luv) is a slightly more interesting character. Although Luv is a merciless killer, she comes across as a more complex and unsettling character (than Wallace) due to her fanatical devotion to Wallace.

And, yes, it’s a bit strange that the villain’s side-kick is actually a better character than the main villain is.

This taps into one of the film’s themes, namely that of authority, devotion, servitude and slavery. Officer K has been manufactured to serve the LAPD (despite some cops despising him for being a replicant), yet he rebels against them… because he has been designed to investigate things. It is implied that he is paid for his work, but he is sometimes treated more like a machine than a person.

Likewise, there are a lot of parallels between Joi and Luv. Joi is designed to be devoted enough to die for Officer K, and Luv is designed to be devoted enough to Wallace to kill for him. Both characters show devotion taken to creepy extremes (in addition to emphasising the dystopian gender politics of the film’s dystopian world).

In addition to all of this, Wallace also gives a rather ominous speech in support of slavery. Yet, in a scene where he cruelly murders a “defective” prototype replicant, it is shown than even he is a slave to his own twisted sense of perfectionism. The only “free” character in this film is Deckard, who has lived most of his depressing life in hiding.

Ok, he’s been hiding in a swanky hotel, but still…

Yet, whilst the film covers many of the themes explored in the original “Blade Runner”, I didn’t really notice many more when I re-watched it. When you re-watch the original “Blade Runner”, you almost always notice something new (thematically, visually etc..). Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t really get this when I re-watched “Blade Runner 2049”. It was still as good as I remembered, but there didn’t really seem to be as many hidden depths to it as I had thought there might have been when I wrote my “first impressions” article.

In terms of set design and lighting, this film is really good. It contains a lot of the beautifully gloomy, neon-lit, dystopian cyberpunk locations that you would expect from a “Blade Runner” film, but it also has it’s own distinctive visual style too. Likewise, although the lighting occasionally includes the obligatory modern blue/orange colour scheme (like on the DVD cover), it also includes other colour schemes too.

Yes, there’s still a fair amount of classic “Blade Runner”-style stuff here.

But the film also has it’s own unique visual flourishes too.

However, it also takes a somewhat minimalist/realistic attitude towards set design sometimes.

For this most part, this change works well. However, just like how the grand sweeping drama of the film lacks some of the intimacy of the small-scale storytelling of the original film, the set design here is often missing one of the key components of the original “Blade Runner”. I am, of course, talking about visual complexity.

Yes, there are lots of sweeping cityscapes, grim wastelands and “realistic” interior locations – but the film often lacks the beautifully complex, chaotic messiness of the original film. In the original “Blade Runner”, you will always notice some new visual detail whenever you rewatch it because the set designs are so visually complex. On the other hand, this isn’t really the case with “Blade Runner 2049”. Even so, it is still one of the best-looking films made within the past decade or two.

All in all, this is a brilliant film which shows that good, intelligent, complex films can still be made these days. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as the original “Blade Runner”, but this is only because it is impossible to surpass perfection. But, taken on it’s own merits, this film is one of the best films that I’ve seen in quite a while.

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

Review: “Deus Ex: Invisible War [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Although the original “Deus Ex” is widely regarded as a masterpiece, it’s sequel from 2003 – “Deus Ex: Invisible War” – doesn’t seem to have gained this stellar reputation. So, when I saw that this game was on special offer on GoG last spring (it had been reduced to a little over £2), I just had to get a copy to see if it was really as bad as people have said that it is.

In short, it both is and isn’t a bad game. I’ll obviously go into more depth in the rest of the review. But, like with the original “Deus Ex”, it’s important to point out that you shouldn’t judge this game purely based on the early parts of it. However, unlike the first “Deus Ex” game, this sequel takes a lot longer to start turning into something a bit better.

That said, let’s take a look at “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Needless to say, this review will contain some PLOT SPOILERS:

The events of “Deus Ex: Invisible War” take place two decades after the events of the first game. Regardless of the ending you chose in “Deus Ex”, a catastrophic event called “The Collapse” happens sometime between the ending of that game and the beginning of “Invisible War”.

This event sets technological progress further back, leading to the world becoming a less centralised place. Like in the original game, the world quickly ends up being run by a series of mysterious and secretive organisations (the WTO, the Order and the Templars).

The intro cinematic looks really cool, and wonderfully cyberpunk. The rest of the game, on the other hand…

The introduction to “Invisible War” begins with a nanotechnology-based terrorist attack that devastates Chicago. Luckily for you, you are many miles away in the Tarsus Academy training centre in Seattle.

You play as a nanotechnology-enhanced soldier called Alex D (you can choose whether you are male or female) who has been in training for years. However, the centre is soon attacked by armed terrorists and you have to escape….

Unfortunately, some of your fellow recruits don’t seem to have enhanced intelligence. Seriously, “more demolition”?

Once you escape the academy, you find yourself on the (mostly) grey and boring streets of Seattle, bombarded by messages from several competing organisations, all wanting you to do stuff for them….

And, yes, these messages can get in the way of the gameplay! Likewise, this is pretty much the only vaguely cyberpunk-looking area in the whole of the Seattle segment of the game.

Before I really get into all of the technical details of the game, I want to talk more about the story and the atmosphere. When you start playing this game, you’ll probably be wondering how this is a “Deus Ex” game.

Apart from the occasional info-dump in the dialogue, a few background details, a greasel or two, and several amusing pieces of wooden voice-acting, there seem to be barely any connections between this game and it’s predecessor. Don’t let this put you off!

This might look more like a low-budget episode of “Star Trek”, but keep playing and it will turn into a “Deus Ex” game… eventually.

Yes, you’ll have to wait a while, but I can assure you that this is very much a “Deus Ex” game when it comes to the story!

Even though the earlier and middle parts of the game often seem like a totally different game altogether, you’ll eventually start to see a few familiar faces and locations again. These are – by far- the best parts of the game! Yet, you’ll only see them for a few hours at most. Seriously, this game would have been so much better if the rest of it was more like those parts.

Yes, JC Denton is back! But, only after you’ve played several hours of what can sometimes seem like a totally different game!

Still, the new stuff isn’t entirely bad. Yes, the fictional world of the game is less expansive and atmospheric than the original “Deus Ex”, but there’s still a fair amount of complexity and detail here. Suddenly being thrown into a confusing web of clandestine politics near the beginning of the game helps to give the game a conspiratorial cyberpunk atmosphere in a much more vivid way than in in the original “Deus Ex”.

Likewise, the game still includes a lot of interesting background details. Yes, the in-game documents are a lot shorter and the locations are often smaller or simpler, but there’s still a lot of background stuff. There are two competing coffee chains (who turn out to be run by the same company), there’s a famous pop star called NG Resonance who also exists as a friendly AI construct who will reward you for giving information to the authorities (although, if you meet her later in the game, the actual NG Resonance acts exactly like you’d expect a rich pop star to – which is hilarious!) etc…

Interestingly, if you don’t explore, you can go through the whole game thinking that NG Resonance is just a friendly hologram..

Rather than a thoroughly annoying celebrity.

Still, at the beginning, it’s a game that will barely feel like a “proper” cyberpunk game, let alone a “Deus Ex” game. But, as it goes on, it gradually becomes more like the cyberpunk “Deus Ex” game that it should have been from the very beginning.

Anyway, onto the technical details and the gameplay…

One of the very first things that I should say about this game is that it was primarily designed for consoles. What this means is that certain aspects of the gameplay have been simplified slightly (which is both a good and a bad thing) and that the various areas of the game are split up into smaller segments that cause a loading screen to appear between them.

Whilst these segments aren’t quite as tiny as some reviewers might have you believe (and some of them are relatively large), they’re a far cry from the vast expansive levels of the original “Deus Ex”.

From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, this is mostly because the designers created artificial parity between the Xbox and PC versions of this game – so, the game is coded to only use 64mb of RAM. There don’t seem to be any mods on the internet that can correct this defect either. So, the loading screens can take longer than you expect:

Yes, you’ll get used to THESE after a while. But, they can be frustrating at first, especially if you’ve played the original game.

Likewise, one thing that I noticed when I started playing “Invisible War” is that it’s surprisingly demanding for a game from 2003. After all, the vintage mid-2000s computer (1.8ghz single core, 2gb RAM, GeForce 6100) I played this game on can run games like “Doom 3”, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, “Far Cry”, “Red Faction II“, “Quake 4”, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and “Half Life 2” on low graphics settings perfectly well. Yet, even with the settings turned down to minimum, this game ran slightly sluggishly during quite a few parts. However, it was still just about playable.

Anyway, in terms of the gameplay, it’s relatively close to the original “Deus Ex”. In other words, it’s an action/role-playing game that is played from a first-person perspective. But, whilst the gameplay is strongly reminiscent of the original “Deus Ex”, there’s less versatility in many areas. It’s kind of like “Deus Ex lite”, which is cool – but it might temporarily annoy you if you are a fan of the original game.

On the plus side, the multi-tools now have a vaguely “Harry Potter”-like animation. Expelliarmus!

For example, whilst there are sometimes multiple ways of doing the same thing (eg: bypassing a door by using a multi-tool, climbing through a vent or finding a key etc..), there don’t seem to be as many as there were in “Deus Ex”.

You also still have nanotechnolgy-based abilities that can be upgraded and chosen (plus, unlike in “Deus Ex”, the repair bots/medical bots have no recharge time). Likewise, although you can still find hidden stuff by exploring – there aren’t as many places to explore.

Still, you can sometimes find interesting places if you explore, like this dubious underground greasel fighting arena.

Plus, although you often get coflicting objectives (in addition to a fair number of optional side-quests), you can switch your allegiances fairly often during the game and, until the later parts of the game, there isn’t really a sense that you have to follow one path.

In some ways, this is actually a good thing though – since the predominant emotion in the early parts of the game is a confused sense of not knowing who to trust. So, the lack of a firm allegiance system is a forgiving way to let players make their own decisions. Plus, of course, it adds replay value to the game too.

However, the game will sometimes channel you along a particular path. For example, I’d originally planned to ignore the WTO chairman’s orders. But, you have to follow them here in order to progress easily.

The most significant gameplay change is probably to the ammunition system. Basically, all of your weapons share a single pool of universal ammunition. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the one hand, it can easily result in you running out of ammo in the middle of a fight. However, when you get your hands on the more powerful weapons (eg: the sniper rifle and/or rocket launcher), it also means that ammo is a lot more plentiful. But, fallen enemies have a habit of falling on top of any ammunition that they drop – which means that picking up extra ammo in during or after a battle can be a little bit annoying.

Even so, if you use the sniper rifle, then you’ll be able to fight from a distance – especially since, if you aim it properly, it will one-shot most enemies who aren’t wearing heavy armour.

In addition to this, one good gameplay change is the fact that – when someone gives you a passcode – the game stores and uses it automatically. One of the frustrating things about the original “Deus Ex” was having to physically write down lots of 3-5 digit passcodes (or trawl through in-game menus to find records of them). So, this change is extremely welcome 🙂

Plus, although this game was originally designed for consoles, it has a proper saving system too … and none of that modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish 🙂 Plus, even more joyously, the only “regenerating health” you get in this game is an upgradable special ability that costs resources every time you use it.

However, the combat in this game can be clunky at times. Although this is something that you’ll probably get used to after playing for a while, don’t expect this to be a slick, intuitive FPS game with totally accurate aiming and perfect AI.

Still, you CAN use this to your advantage sometimes. If you climb a ladder, not only will any pursuing foes not follow you, but they also won’t think to shoot upwards at you either.

Whilst the original “Deus Ex” excused the few deficiencies of it’s combat system by occasionally encouraging the player to take a pacifist path, there isn’t really much of this in “Invisible War” (you get a few non-lethal weapons and there are some basic stealth mechanics, but that’s about it). The only example I can think of is possibly one part of the game which seems like a stealth segment at first, but the objective requires you to “neutralise” some troops guarding a plane.

Still, if like me, you loathe and despise stealth segments in games, the fact that this area is more “use tactics” than “use stealth” is wonderful 🙂

In terms of the graphics, this game is fairly decent for something from the early-mid 2000s. But, the improved graphics aren’t taken advantage of as often as they should be. What I mean by this is that although “Invisible War” contains some really cool lighting and a few awesome-looking cyberpunk areas, these are relatively few and far between. A lot of the game takes place in generic buildings, city streets etc… Likewise, thanks to the limitations of the level size and level complexity, don’t expect to see anything too expansive or dramatic.

Yes, there’s a very short Hong Kong-based segment. But, looking at the city through a window is as close as you’re going to get to it.

And, sometimes, the game looks as cool as THIS 🙂

But, the locations willl also sometimes look as dull as THIS too 😦

In terms of the voice acting and music, this game is acceptable. The game’s soundtrack is nowhere near as distinctive or memorable as the soundtrack from the original “Deus Ex”, but it isn’t exactly bad either. The voice-acting varies a bit and can sometimes be a little bit wooden, although this is part of the charm of the classic “Deus Ex” games.

All in all, this is one of those games that is something of an acquired taste. No, it isn’t as good as “Deus Ex”. But, the fact that they tried to make a “lite” version of the game that will run on early 2000s consoles is absolutely adorable. So, I have to applaud the effort, even though the PC version should have received more love (eg: resolving the RAM allocation limit problem I mentioned earlier)

Yes, there are a lot of clunky elements to this game. But, no, you shouldn’t judge it by the first few hours. The later parts of this game are actually good, even if you have to trawl through a fair amount of the game to get to them. Even so, if you can get used to this game’s many flaws, then there is a good game lurking in there. Or at least a “so bad that it’s good” game. So, it’s probably worth waiting until it goes on special offer before buying it.

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

Mini Review: “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”]

Well, although I plan to review a game called “Deus Ex: Invisible War” at some point in the future, I realised that it had been a while since I last reviewed any “Doom” WADs. So, not sure what to review, I ended up using the “Random File” feature on the “/idgames archive” until I found a WAD from 1994 called “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)“.

Note: This WAD will only work with “Ultimate Doom” or possibly old copies of the original three-episode version of “Doom”. Since it takes up the E1M1 level slot, it is NOT compatible with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”. However, given the age of the WAD, it is not only compatible with literally any source port [I used “ZDoom”] but also probably the original DOS version of “Doom” too.

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

“HighWire” consists of a single short level. Although this vintage level doesn’t feature any new textures, weapons, monsters or music, the level has a couple of interesting features that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous or boring.

The main gameplay innovation in this level is that, for the most part, the only weapon available to you is the rocket launcher. Not only that, large portions of the level take place on narrow catwalks above pits of radioactive sludge.

Yes, it’s a 90s level for a 90s FPS game, so expect some inventiveness and creativity 🙂

Although this might sound like a cheap trick, it actually makes the level surprisingly enjoyable. Since you also still have a pistol (with fifty bullets, plus the ten in the backpack at the beginning of the level), this makes some parts of the level a little bit more forgiving – especially given that you often have barely any room to run away from monsters if they get too close. But, the limited ammo supply for the pistol also helps to prevent players from relying on it too often. However, this is a level which requires perseverance and strategy in order to beat.

Basically, when you enter an area, you have to start firing rockets almost immediately. Not only that, you also have to work out which monsters you need to shoot first, lest any get too close to you. This allows a short level with a relatively low number of weak to medium strength monsters (eg: imps, lost souls and cacodemons) to include the kind of challenging, strategy-based gameplay that is only usually found in modern “slaughtermap” levels (that contain hundreds or thousands of more powerful monsters). The strict rationing and relative scarcity of health pickups also helps in this regard too.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of “Doom” that a small number of lost souls on the other side of a room is actually a serious challenge to the player!

As for the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Even though this tiny level is basically a progression through about 4-5 rooms of varying sizes, there are a few clever tricks that help to prevent the level design from appearing too linear.

For example, after beating the first series of catwalks, you enter a room with a narrow path surrounded by lava. This helps to provide a little bit of variety to the room design. But, after you’ve fought all of the monsters in this room and pressed the switch, you actually have to go back across the previous room (via a different path) to get to the next room.

Aside from the very beginning and very end of the level, this is the only room without platforms. Yet, the path-based design helps to keep the room thematically consistent, whilst also providing some variety for the player.

Likewise, the next room (a large area with catwalks) is also fairly innovative for the simple reason that you have to fight two “waves” of monsters.

First of all, you have to defeat several lost souls with a rocket launcher. Then ,after you’ve pressed a button, some raised platforms lower and a number of cacodemons appear. This requires a change in strategy, since you can’t really fight all of them. So, you actually have to fight a couple and work out a way to grab two keys before they swarm you.

As I said, in some ways, this level is similar to a modern-style “slaughtermap” level in terms of strategic gameplay – even though it contains relatively few monsters.

Although the level doesn’t contain any new music, one cool feature is that – because it takes up the E1M1 level slot – it features the classic “E1M1” background music. Given that this is an absolutely epic piece of music which is pretty much symbolic of the classic “Doom” games, it really helps to add some extra drama to the level.

All in all, for a tiny level made in 1994, this is actually surprisingly good! Even with a relatively small number of weaker monsters, the clever level and gameplay design here helps to ensure that even experienced players will find it enjoyably challenging.

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

Review: “Guardians Of The Galaxy” (Film)

Well, although I first heard of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” a few years ago and thought that it looked vaguely interesting, I only finally got round to actually watching it a while before writing this review (ridiculously far in advance of publication) since it happened to be shown on TV a few days earlier and I had time to set up the DVR.

One thing that made me slightly wary about this film is the fact that it was made by Marvel. But, thankfully, it isn’t really that much of a *groan* superhero movie. In fact, it’s more of a sci-fi movie 🙂

But, is it any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is a sci-fi/comedy/action film about a group of intergalactic outlaws and a mysterious metal sphere. The film shows how these outlaws meet and the story mostly revolves around various characters trying to get hold of said sphere, in addition to a small amount of galactic politics.

For a “fun” action movie, the plot is slightly more detailed and complex than you might expect and it would probably take me quite a while to describe it in detail – hence the short summary.

Although the film shoots along at a surprisingly fast pace, it never really feels rushed and – to my surprise – the two-hour running time didn’t seem to be anywhere near as bloated as I had initially expected it to be. Likewise, despite the film including a ridiculous amount of multi-million dollar CGI, most of the film’s many action set pieces never really feel like empty drama either. This film had the potential to be another generic CGI-filled modern Hollywood movie, but it’s something significantly better. Why?

Simply put, it has an actual personality.

In addition to a lot of humour, the film actually takes place in a distinctive sci-fi universe that is reminiscent of “Farscape“, “Firefly” and “Blade Runner“. Space is shown to be a lawless place filled with criminals, bounty hunters and dens of iniquity. It also looks really bloody cool too:

This film was released in 2014. Although this awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk aesthetic reappeared in 2017 (eg: the “Ghost In The Shell” remake, “Blade Runner 2049” etc…), it was a fairly rare thing in the year when this film was released.

Seriously, this could almost be a really cool-looking heavy metal album cover!

And I just LOVE this ancient temple location and cool-looking lighting in one of the early parts of the film.

In addition to including a really, really cool-looking 80s cyberpunk-inspired “used future” aesthetic and lots of awesome high-contrast lighting in many scenes, the setting of the film has a real “wild west” atmosphere to it too that is reminiscent of the cyberpunk genre. The galaxy is shown to be a truly lawless and alien place, in a similar way to “Farscape” albeit with it’s own unique backstory and fictional world.

Like in “Farscape”, the main characters are a group of human and alien outlaws. However, unlike “Farscape”, the main human character (Quill) isn’t exactly new to the galaxy.

Yet, despite the slight resemblance to “Blade Runner”, this isn’t really a cyberpunk film. It’s an action comedy film (with a vaguely “Star Wars”-like swashbuckling science fantasy tone) and it excels at both of these things for different reasons. The many action scenes in the film “work” fairly well for a number of reasons.

The first is that they sometimes use the futuristic nature of the settings to full advantage (eg: when the characters break out of a prison on a space station, they cut the artificial gravity at one point) and the second is that most of the action scenes in the film usually take place for a clear reason that is actually relevant to the plot.

Thirdly, there’s the occasional epic spaceship battle. Since these are one of my many favourite parts of classic sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s/2000s, it’s always great to see them getting the large-budget Hollywood treatment. However, the final spaceship battle (which takes place above a city) does get a little bit too over-dramatic for it’s own good (although this is mitigated somewhat by fight scenes that take place within one of the spaceships) and occasionally comes across as more of a CGI tech demo.

Fourthly, because the characters aren’t quite immortal superheroes (with the possible exception of a tree-like alien called Groot, and one part of the ending), there is an actual sense of suspense and tension during many of the action scenes.

Yes, they’re the main characters. But, when they are outnumbered or outgunned, they occasionally have to rely on their wits rather than just their weapons in order to prevail. This helps to stop the action sequences from becoming mindless or meaningless and it helps to avoid the “God Mode” -like boredom that comes from superhero movies (and some superhero-like action movies, like “A Good Day To Die Hard).

Yes, there’s a lot of traditional combat. But, sometimes, the characters have to actually use their brains to get out of difficult situations… what a novel concept!

Fifthly, the film gets the pacing of the action scenes right. Although there are a lot of them, they never really get tiring because they’re interspersed with non-action scenes in a way that neither type of scene gets too much screentime. Unlike some action movies, this allows the film to include lots of action without leaving the audience feel jaded or bored. The only other example of a film I can think of that manages to sustain so many action scenes over a relatively short space of time is “Dredd” from 2012:

Not to mention that some of the set designs in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” also remind me a little bit of “Dredd” too.

As for the humour, it works fairly well for the simple reason that the characters are surprisingly well-developed. Although the film only contains a few carefully-chosen moments of serious emotional drama, these carry a surprising amount of weight and they really make the audience care about the characters. Likewise, since the characters are a band of outlaws who are forced together due to circumstance, there are lots of hilariously sarcastic interactions between them.

One other thing that really helps with the humour in this film is that it relies on several different types of humour. Yes, there’s lots of hilarious irreverence and sarcasm, but there’s also slapstick humour, eccentric background details (like the dog that the Soviets sent into space), jokes that reference earlier moments in the film, occasional 1980s pop culture references and a couple of random cameos (eg: Stan Lee, Howard the Duck etc..) too. This mixture of humour types and the mixture between serious drama and comedy helps to ensure that the film is fairly consistently funny in a slightly unique way.

Plus, I don’t know why, but there’s something inherently hilarious about characters drinking from fountains, hoses etc..

All in all, despite being made by a company that has a reputation for making *groan* superhero movies, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is actually a surprisingly good sci-fi, comedy and action movie. All three elements of this film go together absolutely perfectly to produce something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Even though it’s two hours long, it crams about three hours worth of storytelling and world-building into that time. Not only that, but the film is also worth watching just for the beautiful set designs too – seriously, some parts of this film are a work of art!

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

Review: “Killing Time [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a mostly-forgotten FPS game from 1996 called “Killing Time” that I finished a few hours before writing this review.

Although “Killing Time” apparently started life as a console game (from 1995), the PC port is apparently so different that it’s pretty much it’s own game (modern developers, learn from this!). So, this is what I’ll be reviewing today.

When I bought a DRM-free direct download of this game on GOG last spring, it was on sale and had been reduced to about £2. At full price, it’s about £7-8 or so on GOG. The Steam version, at the time of writing, seems to be marginally cheaper (at a little under £7). Both versions also include a MP3 version of the game’s soundtrack too.

But, due to both my computer and the slightly old-fashioned graphics system in the game, this review won’t contain any gameplay screenshots – since any in-game screenshots I took tended to glitch out like this when I took them, and didn’t reflect my actual experience of playing the game. This is kind of a shame since the best way to show what the gameplay looks like is to.. show what it looks like. But, written descriptions and a screenshot from the intro movie’s video file (from the game’s folder) will have to suffice.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Killing Time”:

Note: This is a screenshot from the intro movie. As mentioned above, the gameplay screenshots glitched out to the point of unusability. Still, as intro movies go, this game has a really cool one 🙂

“Killing Time” is a horror-themed FPS game which revolves around an unnamed archaeologist visiting a mysterious island near Maine. His Egyptology professor mentions that the owner of the estate, Tess Conway, took an artefact from an expedition she sponsored and that the artefact’s last known location was her private island. However, ever since a “roaring twenties”-style party on the island in 1932, no-one has been seen there since…..

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is something of an acquired taste. But, like a lot of FPS games from the time, it was incredibly innovative and also included features that were at least slightly ahead of their time (eg: an open world environment, in-game FMV etc..).

The best way to describe this game is that it’s a bit like “Realms Of The Haunting” in that it actually contains a story and a large explorable environment. But, in terms of gameplay and graphics, it’s a bit more like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D“.

The gameplay in “Killing Time” is something of a mixed bag. A large part of the game inovolves exploring the island and finding both keys and spirit vessels (you need something like eight of them to unlock the final boss).

One innovative feature here is that there are no real level boundaries – you can explore about half of the island from the very start of the game. Each segment of the island loads instantly (without needing a loading screen) when you enter it and, for the time, this was really innovative. The only vaguely similar thing from the same year is possibly “Realms Of The Haunting”, but even that had defined level areas in some parts. Seriously, “Half-Life” wouldn’t come out until two years after this game – and “Half-Life” did have loading screens between areas!

But, as cool as this is, it is also one of the game’s main flaws. Since you have to search for lots of keys and items, you literally have to search the entire game for them sometimes! And, as much as I love non-linear FPS games, this can get a little frustrating sometimes. At least when games like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D” make you search for something, you only have to search a relatively small level, rather than an entire island.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the only walkthrough I could find at the time of playing the game was a series of videos on Youtube, rather than a more easily-navigated text walkthrough. Although you probably won’t get completely and utterly stuck that often, it happened to me at least four or five times throughout the course of the game.

On the plus side, the game actually features real time in-game FMV! Basically, there are glowing blue ghosts scattered around the game’s world and, if you walk into one, you’ll be treated to a very pixellated FMV movie that takes place in-game (eg: instead of displaying a full-screen video, the “video” consists of an “.Avi” file that has been converted into an in-game sprite). Or, you’ll get an error message. Or the game might crash. All three have happened to me. Still, for something made in 1995/6, this is ridiculously ahead of it’s time!

These movies deliver hints occasionally and, more often, they tell parts of the game’s story. The acting in these videos is relatively good and they really help to bring the game’s locations to life. One cool feature is that, in two locations, you can move the hands of a clock to see what happened in an area at different times of the day. However, the game isn’t exactly averse to including the same video in two or more different locations, which can get repetitive.

In terms of the combat, this game is reasonably good and as enjoyably challenging as you would expect from a 90s FPS game. The game’s various monsters attack often and in groups, and the amount of ammo available to you can vary throughout the game. It’s fun, furious and frenetic! Likewise, although the game features a vertical look system, it also includes a “Doom”-style vertical auto-aim system too.

Plus, if you use the default “Duke Nukem 3D”-style keyboard-only controls, the combat will probably bring back a lot of memories of playing FPS games during the 1990s 🙂

Although the game apparently includes options for mouse and gamepad controls, I haven’t tested either of these. Still, since this is an official version of the original closed-source game that has been made compatible with 2000s & 2010s – era PCs, it doesn’t include the features (such as modern-style controls etc..) that you would expect from a fan-made source port for an open-source game like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

However, the difficulty can get slightly cheap sometimes. The first half of the final boss battle is a case in point.

Although this boss battle features something vaguely similar to the Nemesis in “Resident Evil 3” (again, this game is ahead of it’s time here!), where you are chased through the mansion by a teleporting monster who can only be temporarily slowed rather than killed, it’s one of those puzzle-based boss battles that 90s developers were so fond of. But, rather than solving a puzzle in the room where the boss appears, you have to find and traverse several monster-filled towers throughout the mansion… whilst being chased by the boss (who gloats at you the whole time).

In terms of the weapons, they aren’t really that creative by the standards of the time. Yes, they have a 1920s/30s theme (like in “Blood) but they’re mostly just a copy-paste of the weapon scheme in “Doom”.

The default weapon is a crowbar (yes, before “Half Life”!) and you can get two pistols but, apart from that, they’re pretty much just the “Doom” guns with different sprites, sounds etc.. (eg: there’s a flamethrower instead of a plasma cannon, a BFG-like ankh etc..). You’ll probably be using the shotgun most of the time, on account of the fact that, although the tommygun is the coolest weapon in the game, it guzzles ammunition at a prodigious rate.

However, the weapon sprites are based on pictures of 3D models, which look slightly out of place when compared to the slightly more cartoonish aesthetic of the rest of the game. Yes, the monster sprites are also based on 3D models, but they have a less “realistic” look than the weapons do.

In terms of movement, this game is a little bit of a disappointment. Not only is there no auto-run option, but the running speed is relatively slow (especially given the distances you have to traverse!). Likewise, if you walk along the edge of a tree or a wall, you slow down slightly. Plus, the less said about the jumping system, the better! It’s more accurate to describe it as a “hopping” system than a jumping system.

Likewise, the game’s map screen is zoomed in so much (even when you zoom out) that it is virtually useless, which is especially annoying in a game that relies so much on exploring large areas.

As for the graphics, I really liked them. Although 1996 is most famous for “Quake“, which introduced proper 3D graphics to the FPS genre – this game uses good old-fashioned sprite based graphics, like in “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D”. I really miss this graphics style in games, so it was great to see it again. The game also has an art deco/ ancient Egypt-style aesthetic in many locations too, which looks really cool. However, there are also a fair number of rather generic-looking forests, corridors, caverns and sewers here too.

As for the level design, it’s something of a mixed bag. The game’s one gigantic level contains some fairly well-designed areas which show how cool 90s FPS games were.

These include areas where you’ll have to use your brain in order to work out what you’re supposed to do (eg: a clever hedge maze-style area where you have to follow a series of clues given by a ghost). These include areas which are perfect for more strategic combat. These also include areas where monsters can leap out at you when you least expect it. Some parts of the level design here are really cool.

But, that said, there are also some really annoying areas too. Several corridor-based areas can get confusing, one of the keys is hidden in a way more befitting a secret area (eg: a moveable pillar that is hidden amongst lots of non-moveable pillars. Good luck finding it without a walkthrough!) and there are even one or two parts that require you to use the game’s horrible jumping system. Plus, with important items spread out across the game’s map, the item placement and extreme backtracking can feel like padding sometimes.

In terms of the music and the voice-acting, this game is surprisingly good. The game’s soundtrack is filled with lots of roaring twenties-style jazz/swing music and more ominous horror-movie style ambient music. Both of these things really add a lot of atmosphere to the game, and there’s nothing quite like tommygunning zombie monsters to the sound of jaunty swing music.

But, one slight problem with the music system in the game is that the background music changes very abruptly when you move between areas, which can break the immersion slightly. Likewise, the voice-acting in this game is a little cheesy, but it fits in well with the vintage atmosphere of the game.

All in all, this game is an acquired taste. If you stick with it, then you’ll have a lot of fun. But, it has a fair number of flaws too. Still, compared to the generic military-themed FPS games of the modern age, this game has an actual personality. It’s imaginative and unique and, as I said, a lot of fun once you’ve learnt to put up with it’s shortcomings. At full price, it’s worth thinking carefully before buying this game. But, on special offer, it’s a no-brainer.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get three and a half. It has flaws, but there is a good game hidden in there!

Mini Review: “Brown And Red” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”/”Boom”)

Well, although I’d planned to finish and review a classic computer game called “Riven“, I seem to have drifted away from that game a bit. So, instead, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a level for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” called “Brown And Red” because it’s been about a month or so since I last played any new fan-made levels for these awesome games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD and encountered no technical problems with it. However, it was apparently designed for “Boom-compatible” source ports (and I’m not sure if ZDoom falls under this category). As usual, I also used the medium difficulty setting [the “Hurt Me Plenty” setting].

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brown And Red”:

“Brown And Red” is a short, single-level “slaughtermap” WAD. If you’ve never heard of this type of level before, it’s a level that contains many more monsters than you can actually fight. What this means is that, contrary to the macabre name, the emphasis of the game shifts from mindless combat to something more like fast-paced puzzle-solving.

In a good “slaughtermap” level, knowing when to run or hide instead of fight is part of the challenge. Having a dogged sense of perseverence and trying to avoid too much combat are essential elements of winning. It’s a type of level that rewards experienced players who have an intuitive understanding of the “rules” of “Doom” and can turn them to their advantage. And, when done well, it is one of the most thrilling FPS gaming experiences it is possible to have.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case in “Brown And Red”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun level – but, as a “slaughtermap” level, it fails for the simple reason that it’s far too easy. And, before anyone says anything, I almost always use medium difficulty – so I’m saying that it’s easy compared to other slaughtermaps I’ve played on medium.

The level starts off in a small claustophobic series of corridors where you’ll have to fight a few mid-low level monsters. The lighting and shadows in this part of the level are really excellent and they help to add a bit of atmosphere to the level.

Although it’s not particularly scary, it certainly fits into the classic ‘Scary, dark and fast’ quote about the original “Doom”.

After this, you find yourself somewhere that will be familiar to anyone who has played a “slaughtermap” level before – a large arena-like area that is suspiciously empty…

Filled with gigantic hordes of monsters? Ha! What would give you that idea?

Of course, after you’ve explored a bit and thought about picking up the rocket launcher, the monsters start appearing. Although I expected this to happen, this moment was spectacularly dramatic enough to actually take me by surprise.

With an inhuman roar, a swarm of cacodemons and a small crowd of pinkie demons is violently disgorged from the building at the other end of the arena. Whilst this is going on, the air is filled with the distinctive screeching of multiple Revenants teleporting in. It’s a really cool moment:

Seriously, this screenshot really doesn’t do it justice.

But, since you’ve got a fully-loaded rocket launcher, since the monsters you’re fighting are slow and relatively weak, since the arena is fairly large and since the most dangerous monsters in the arena (the Revenants) are contained within alcoves that have pillars right next to them that you can hide behind, it really isn’t anywhere near as challenging as it should be. Add to that the surprising abundance of health items in the area, and it really isn’t a proper “slaughtermap”.

After you’ve wiped out literally all of the monsters at a fairly leisurely pace, it might take you a couple of minutes to work out how to open the door at the other end of the arena. Once you’ve opened it, you find yourself in a medium-sized rectangular room with a button in the middle of it.

Hmm… Should I press this button? Maybe something nice will happen?

Needless to say, once you press the button – the room locks itself and monsters start teleporting in. This part of the level is, at least, moderately challenging. Thanks to the size and shape of the room and the fact that some parts of the floor will damage you if you stand on them for too long, there’s a bit of a challenge here.

I’m still puzzled by the random face in the background though.

Yet, like earlier in the level, this part of the level is let down by a couple of poor design choices. The first is that this area contains enough plasma rifle ammunition for you to fight literally all of the monsters (especially when you take monster infighting into account) and still have some power cells left over afterwards. Given that this is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, there’s a good reason why ammunition for it is usually fairly scarce in most challenging “Doom II” levels.

Secondly, there aren’t any seriously threatening monsters. This area would be vastly improved by the inclusion of even a single arch-vile. Having a monster with an extremely powerful attack and the ability to resurrect other monsters forces the player to think fast and to play more tactically. Without an arch-vile or two, the main strategy for this area is just “run around and hold down the fire button”.

After this area, you walk down a rather cool-looking series of corridors and then…. the level’s over.

Which is a shame, because this part of the level makes it seem like the rest of the level has been lulling you into a false sense of security.

One thing that helps to make this level a bit more interesting is the music. Even though the gameplay is a bit on the easy side of things, the gloomy and vaguely “Resident Evil”-like instrumental music in the background helps to add a sense of ominous dread to the level.

All in all, despite my criticisms, this isn’t exactly a “bad” level. It’s a fun way to spend twenty minutes or so. But, I guess that this is one of the few “slaughtermap” levels that probably should be played on higher difficulty settings. Still, if you’re new to the genre or are less experienced with “Doom II”, then it’s probably a fairly gentle way to introduce yourself to this type of level.

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