Review: “Doctor Who – World Enough And Time” (TV Show Episode)

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

So, that said, let’s take a look at “World Enough And Time”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

The episode begins on an icy world, where the Doctor climbs out of the TARDIS and begins to regenerate. Then, we flash back in time to a giant spaceship that is hovering beside a black hole. The bridge of the spaceship is deserted. The TARDIS arrives… and Missy steps out, before introducing herself as “Doctor Who”.

And, yes, Bill and Nardole are her companions. Seriously, this would make an awesome spin-off series!

Of course, it quickly becomes clear that the Doctor is watching remotely and that it is some kind of training exercise for Missy. However, the exercise is soon interrupted by a message from a mysterious blue man who claims that humans have been detected onboard. He quickly bursts onto the bridge and brandishes a gun, frantically asking the three which one of them is human.

If he can detect that humans are there, then surely he’d be able to scan everyone and work out who is human fairly quickly.

Quickly, the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS and tells him to put the gun down. But, he points to a screen that shows a lift ascending and points out that “they” only come for humans (although this makes me wonder why he’s so scared of them if they aren’t interested in him). The Doctor tries to reason with him, but…

How heartless!

Suddenly, the lift doors open and mysterious masked men advance towards Bill’s body. Thinking quickly, the Doctor implants a message in Bill’s subconscious mind before they can carry her away to be “repaired”. Needless to say, it is up to Missy, The Doctor, Nardole and the armed man to find Bill. Whilst all of this is going on, Bill wakes up in a creepy old hospital….

Hmm… “28 Light Years Later”?

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is… WOW! There’s so much stuff to say about this episode! It’s an astonishingly good horror episode, it’s a brilliant piece of drama and it is an amazing piece of science fiction. Plus, this episode is a good example of how to start a two-part episode properly.

In other words, the episode is filled with all sorts of intriguing mysteries and shocking (but not entirely explained) plot twists that will keep you completely and utterly gripped, whilst also really wanting to see the next episode. Yes, this episode is the set up to what I presume is the series finale but what a set-up it is!

The horror elements of this episode are genuinely creepy and they mostly revolve around the mysterious hospital that Bill finds herself in.

For example, not only does this place look downright terrifying, but it is filled with masked men who occasionally scream robotically in agony or beg for death. The creepy nurse who runs the hospital responds to this by quite literally just pressing the mute button.

Seriously, this episode could almost be an actual horror movie in some parts!

Seriously, this has got to be the creepiest episode of “Doctor Who” that I’ve seen for quite a while. Not to mention that it has a real “Silent Hill” vibe to it too!

Hmmm… is this Alchemilla Hospital, by any chance?

The science fiction elements of this episode are also amazingly good too. Since the spaceship is near a black hole, time passes at a different speed in different parts of this ship and this element ends up becoming a central part of the plot. Unlike the “science fantasy” of some episodes of “Doctor Who”, this one actually tries to be a work of “hard” science fiction.

Likewise, the episode also takes a lot of influence from classic dystopian sci-fi too – with the run-down hospital and the grimy city surrounding it resembling something from a dystopian sci-fi film.

Seriously, if those buildings were a little taller and there were a few neon lights, this could almost pass for a scene from “Blade Runner”!

Not only that, the episode also explains some of the motivations behind the existence of the creepy hospital, which actually makes it even scarier (since the people living there are in such a dire situation that they’re forced to resort to horrific medical experiments in order to prolong their lives).

As for the story of the episode, it is brilliant on so many levels. Not only does this episode begin to explain a part of the show’s mythology but there are other shocking reveals too, such as the fact that Missy and The Master actually meet each other (and it is left at least mildly ambiguous whether they are different people or the same person at different points in their life).

And, yes, that isn’t even the most shocking thing about this scene!

But, shocking plot twists aside, the “ordinary” storytelling in this episode is really good too, with a very good mixture of witty dialogue, suspenseful horror and intriguing science fiction. Although the pacing of this episode is deliberately slow (perhaps to mirror the fact that time moves at a different speed), it never once gets dull or boring in any way.

The set design and special effects in this episode are, in a word, sublime. Some parts of the episode look like a cross between “Silent Hill” and “Blade Runner“. The lighting design is absolutely spectacular too, with clever placement of blue, red and orange lighting in some parts of the episode. Likewise, the level of special effects in this episode is easily on par with a mid-high budget Hollywood movie. This episode is cinematic!

Seriously, this is one of the coolest-looking spaceship bridges I’ve ever seen!

And this location looks like both something from “Silent Hill” AND something from “Blade Runner” 🙂

And the lighting in this lift is AMAZING 🙂

All in all, this episode is astonishingly good in so many ways. Not only that, it will also leave you eager to watch next week’s episode too. It succeeds as a horror episode and as a science fiction episode too. Despite the occasional misstep along the way, it really seems like this series of “Doctor Who” is just getting better and better in so many ways.

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

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

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Well, I was in the mood for playing another “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting-looking one called “Foursite“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD – although it will probably work on any limit-removing source port that also allows jumping too.

So, let’s take a look at “Foursite”:

screenshot_doom_20161019_134835

“Foursite” is a large single-level WAD which is also the first WAD that it’s creator finished. The WAD itself took something like 200-300 hours to make, according to the documentation. And it shows! Seriously, although this is a “vanilla” WAD, it displays more intricacy and creativity than even some WADs with custom content do.

I did NOT know that the standard "Doom II" textures could look THIS cool!

I did NOT know that the standard “Doom II” textures could look THIS cool!

Plus, I'm sure that this is a "Silent Hill" reference too :)

Plus, I’m sure that this is a “Silent Hill” reference too 🙂

The level itself begins with an eerily quiet trek through several buildings and outdoor areas until you eventually reach a long corridor with four sealed doors, which can only be opened and explored in a particular order. Once all four have been explored, you can leave the corridor and fight the final boss.

As you may have guessed, each of these four doors leads to a themed area that is pretty much a small level in it’s own right. Yes, it’s like “The Crystal Maze“, but in “Doom II”:

Obviously, this contestant wasn't so lucky...

Obviously, this contestant wasn’t so lucky…

The level design is, quite simply, stunning. Since the main level is split into four segments, it is able to be non-linear without being confusing. In other words, there are lots of places to explore but, unlike many ultra-large levels, you’re unlikely to get lost or stuck for too long.

As you would expect from a modern “Doom II” map, there are quite a few dramatic set pieces here and, for the most part, they work really well. There’s a small maze you have to navigate, there are some truly epic-looking areas you have to traverse, there’s even a (surprisingly good/non-frustrating) first-person platforming segment. Seriously, there are so many cool set pieces in this level.

Yes, this is actually first-person platforming done right! The platforms are actually large enough and closely-placed enough to be easily jumped to and from.

Yes, this is actually first-person platforming done right! The platforms are actually large enough and closely-placed enough to be easily jumped to and from.

And THIS! Seriously, this area is really amazing :)

And THIS! Seriously, this area is really amazing 🙂

In fact, the only set piece which may get frustrating is the lift segment. This is where you have to raise a (really cool-looking) platform by running around it and pressing several buttons. Of course, whilst you are doing this, you are constantly bombarded by lost souls and the occasional pain elemental. It’s chaotic, it’s occasionally annoying, but it’s far from being completely unfair.

Of course, the fact that you have to cross a narrow bridge, and jump soon afterwards, when pressing the buttons just adds to the fun.

Of course, the fact that you have to cross a narrow bridge, and jump soon afterwards, when pressing the buttons just adds to the fun.

One set piece that could have been more well-designed is probably the battle near the end of the fourth area. Yes, there’s supposed to be an epic confrontation with two cyberdemons and lots of other monsters. But, this can be easily bypassed by just jumping over a few small bars and pressing a switch.

In fact, it’s actually less intuitive to actually trigger the epic battle you’re supposed to have (in order to do this, you have to understand that switches in “Doom” can often be pressed regardless of height).

This is a challenging fight that looks more difficult than the actual boss battle in the final area of the game!

This is a challenging fight that looks more difficult than the actual boss battle in the final area of the game!

But, you can skip it just by jumping over this pathetically inadequate barrier, pressing the switch and leaving the room.

But, you can skip it just by jumping over this pathetically inadequate barrier, pressing the switch and leaving the room.

In terms of the actual gameplay, I’d say that the difficulty level was probably fairly similar to that of “Final Doom”. Although there are a couple of parts that hint at modern-style “slaughtermap” gameplay, it’s mostly just a souped-up version of old-school “Final Doom”-style gameplay. Even though I really love modern “slaughtermap” levels, “Final Doom” is probably my favourite official Doom game. So, I’m not complaining 🙂

In other words, if you can complete “Final Doom”, then you’ll enjoy this WAD. But, even if you can’t, then this level still actually has a proper difficulty curve to it too (which is something you don’t always see in modern “Doom II” levels). Surprisingly though, I didn’t see a single arch-vile during the 1 1/2 hours it took me to complete the level!

Hmmm.... SOMETHING's missing...

Hmmm…. SOMETHING’s missing…

Although most of the combat is very enjoyable, one rather devious trick that the creator of this WAD likes to use is to throw several spectres at you when you are traversing the level’s gloomier areas. Yes, this is supposed to be scary and suspenseful. But, fighting nearly-invisible monsters in the dark can get a bit frustrating sometimes.

One of the things that I really love about this level is how timeless it feels. Seriously, when I was playing part of it, I felt like I could have been playing this level in 2015, 2014, 2013, or even in 2006. Because it does so many clever things with the classic “Doom II” textures, it feels both old and modern at the same time. It’s different and exciting enough to feel new, but familiar enough to feel reassuringly classic.

All in all, this is an absolutely amazing WAD 🙂 Whilst “Foursite” may not have any custom textures, monsters, weapons or music, it more than makes up for this with astonishingly imaginative, complex and fun level design. It’s very easy to see why a level like this may have taken more than 200 hours to make and, for it’s creator’s first level, it’s absolutely amazing.

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

Review: “Doctor Who – The Eaters Of Light” (TV Show Episode)

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

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

The episode begins with two children exploring a cairn in Scotland, with one of the children claiming to hear music and the other one worried about a scary local legend involving the cairn. A crow lands on one of the stones and starts cawing. The noises sound like “Doc-Tor“. The camera pans to the ancient carvings on the stones, and we get to see a certain vintage police telephone box.

Historically inaccurate!!!!

Then we see the TARDIS arriving in 2nd Century Aberdeen. Despite Nardole’s objections, The Doctor has travelled there in order to settle a historical argument with Bill about the location of the Roman ninth legion. Of course, Bill and the Doctor both decide to go their separate ways to look for the Romans, and prove each other wrong.

Seriously, of ALL the things to have an argument about…

Of course, it isn’t long before Bill notices a fire and decides to investigate. However, she is soon chased away by an angry Pict. Taking refuge in a pit of some kind, she finds a solitary Roman soldier who is hiding there. After establishing that, yes, the TARDIS’s translation software is working properly, they talk and he tells her that he is a deserter from his unit.

The lighting in this scene is amazing 🙂 It’s like a Caravaggio painting!

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Nardole discover a dead Roman soldier – who has seemingly died from lack of sunlight, of all things. Of course, it isn’t long before they also find a devastated and deserted Roman encampment. Of course, it’s time to investigate….

CSI: Caledonia. Coming to the BBC this autumn!

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it’s a good old-fashioned “monster of the week”-style episode, yet it still manages to set itself apart as something distinctive too. A lot of this is due to the witty dialogue, the characterisation, the setting and the structure of the episode. Seriously, compared to some other “monster of the week” episodes in this series, this one is pretty much a work of art!

There’s so much to say about this episode. For a lot of the episode, there are two parallel storylines – with The Doctor and Nardole being prisoners of the Picts, and Bill hanging out with the Romans. Of course, both sides are bitter enemies and both see themselves as mighty warriors, yet are both also absolutely terrified by the monster that threatens them both.

And, given the amount of weaponry, they’re also a little nervous about The Doctor too.

In fact, although it isn’t really that much of a horror episode, fear is one of the main themes of the episode – with the general theme that it’s perfectly natural to feel afraid. Likewise, the fact that the Romans and Picts have more in common with each other than they think is also emphasised by a later part of the episode where the TARDIS’s translator actually allows them to understand each other – and they realise that they’re just people rather than terrifying invaders or savage barbarians.

Plus, although there are a lot of additional characters in this episode – both the Romans and the Picts get a reasonable amount of characterisation, with the main theme being that they’re both really just groups of frightened teenagers who are trying to appear brave [Edit: More so with the Picts than the Romans – since the Roman soldiers point out that they are deserters]. Again, they have more in common than they think.

The pacing of this episode is reasonably good too, being neither too fast nor too slow. Likewise the monster design and special effects in this episode are kind of cool too. For a lot of the episode, the monster is shrouded in darkness, with only it’s bioluminescent tentacles being visible. However, when it is revealed, it is a giant dragon-like creature.

Yes, it’s scarier when you don’t see it fully. But, this is probably part of the theme of “light and darkness” that is also a major part of the episode.

The best special effects in the episode can be seen in one of the more sci-fi based parts of the episode, which revolves around a really cool-looking temporal rift.

Yes, it might be a dangerous temporal rift but, damn, does it look cool!

Not only does this provide lots of cool blue mood lighting, but it also allows the episode to include the fascinating idea of time passing at different speeds too (which is a central part of the plot later in the episode too).

In addition to this, the set design (mostly forests, caves and huts) is fairly good. But, the best part of the episode is – by far – the lighting. Seriously, the episode is filled with so much awesome chiaroscuro lighting that, as I mentioned earlier, makes the episode look a bit like an old Caravaggio painting [edit: Like this one].

Yay! Chiaroscuro 🙂

..And these wonderfully ominous clouds too!

And I’m sure I’ve seen a Cradle Of Filth music video that looks a little bit like this.

The episode is also filled with lots of witty dialogue too, with some of the strongest writing that I’ve seen so far this series. However, one segment of dialogue might be either uplifting (and surprisingly realistic) and/or eye-rollingly annoying, depending on how you look at it.

Basically, after Bill stays with the Romans for a while, one of the soldiers jokes that another soldier is attracted to Bill. After a little bit of hesitation, Bill decides to come out to them (which is kind of realistic, given that coming out isn’t something people only do once in their entire lives). Despite Bill’s nervousness, the Romans are… well.. Romans.

Seriously, Bill mentioned that she read a book about Roman history earlier in the episode. So, you’d think she’d already know that they weren’t exactly the most narrow-minded people in history.

Amusingly, one of the Romans also points out that it’s kind of strange that she’s only attracted to one type of people (This is, sort of, realistic. The concept of dividing people into categories based on orientation only appeared in the 19th century, after all. Prior historical discrimination against LGBT people was based on specific actions rather than who a person is). And, yes, it’s also great to actually see bi characters in a TV show too (seriously, there really aren’t many of them on TV).

But, even so, the whole scene feels like it has been shoehorned into the episode in order to deliver a lecture to the audience. Yes, it’s surprisingly realistic in a number of ways. But the idea of Bill suddenly coming out to the Romans rather than just subtly dropping hints or making some kind of excuse or something seems oddly (and perhaps unrealistically/optimistically) bold.

But, this realism doesn’t really extend to all of the historical details in this episode though. Unfortunately, having watched a few history/film criticism videos (like these) on Youtube a while back, I now tend to notice historical inaccuracies a lot more than I used to – and there are a few here.

When a Roman soldier draws his gladius, it makes a loud metallic “shing!” sound (and, as this video shows, swords don’t do this! ). Likewise, one of the Roman soldiers is holding a flaming torch in the wrong way.

Seriously, he’d be too dazzled by the flames to actually see anything.

Surprisingly, I thought that one of the shields that one of the Picts was carrying was a possibly historically inaccurate medieval “buckler” shield. But, looking on Google Images, actual iron age shields may possibly have been tiny metal things (either that or only the shield bosses survived to the present day, with the wood surrounding them rotting away over time). So, you learn something every day, I guess.

Yes, that guy in the background may actually be carrying a realistic shield. Or just a shield boss. Who knows?

All in all, this is a surprisingly good episode. The characterisation, pacing and dialogue is absolutely brilliant. The lighting is superb and, thanks to the slightly greater level of thematic and structural complexity, this episode is something more than just a “monster of the week” episode.

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

Mini Review: “Back To The Thunder Road” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”/”ZDoom”/”Boom”)

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Well, it’s been a while since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD and, since it seems to be some kind of informal rule of mine that I review at least one per month, I thought that I’d check out a WAD called “Back To The Thunder Road“. I should probably point out that I was fairly tired when I wrote this review and played the WAD, so this may affect the review.

Likewise, I accidentally used the”ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, looking at the text file, “GZDoom” is recommended. But “Boom” is mentioned on the “New Stuff” review that introduced me to this WAD, which recommends “ZDoom”. The only side-effect I found with using “ZDoom” was that there were quite a few ‘hall of mirrors’ glitches, especially near the end of the WAD. However, technically speaking, you probably just need a modern source port that allows jumping.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at “Back To The Thunder Road”:

screenshot_doom_20161015_090308

“Back To The Thunder Road” is a six-level WAD (with a small ending level) that features new music and new level completion screen backgrounds. For the most part, it is a “vanilla” WAD that only features the standard “Doom II” monsters, textures and weapons. But, don’t let this put you off.

Although the six levels in this WAD are relatively short, they are surprisingly well-designed. This is a WAD that is aimed at experienced intermediate players, and it walks a very fine line between using difficult “traditional” levels and more strategy-based modern “slaughtermap”-style gameplay. In other words, there are times when it makes sense to fight every monster you see and there are times when it doesn’t.

However, some of the difficulty in this WAD is achieved through occasionally giving the player a relatively limited supply of ammo. Whilst I didn’t find this to be too bad or too extreme, some players might not like this type of difficulty.

For the most part, the gameplay in this WAD is fast and thrilling. Some of the levels include clever set pieces, such as placing several doors around a lift shaft – meaning that the player has to pretty much run through the door whilst the lift is moving. Naturally, there sometimes isn’t much space – and a mid-level monster or two lurking behind the door.

Getting through that door is more challenging than it looks...

Getting through that door is more challenging than it looks…

... Especially when there's a revenant eager to greet you AND an Arch-vile waiting for you to walk more than a couple of paces through the door.

… Especially when there’s a revenant eager to greet you AND an Arch-vile waiting for you to walk more than a couple of paces through the door.

The best level in the WAD is probably the sixth level. Although the earlier parts of it might not be to everyone’s taste since, apart from a cool vertically-sliding pit area, most of the level sits somewhere between “thrillingly streamlined” and “fairly linear”. However, the last part of the level is either extremely clever or extremely evil, depending on how you look at it.

In the final part of the level, you’ll find a large tower with a thin spiral staircase that runs around the edge. In addition to this, there is a literal swarm of cacodemons heading right at you. So far, so easy…

Yes, you've probably seen something like this before in other "Doom II" WADs. But, keep reading, THIS time, it's different...

Yes, you’ve probably seen something like this before in other “Doom II” WADs. But, keep reading, THIS time, it’s different…

You obviously can’t fight all of the cacodemons, so your instinct will probably be to run up the stairs. Of course, your path is blocked by a few low-level monsters that are standing on the stairs. No problem? Well, in the few seconds you’ve taken blasting these monsters into smithereens, the swarm of cacodemons has started flying upwards towards you and has started to block your path. In level design terms, it’s either absolutely evil or absolutely genius.

Of course, there is a way to beat the level – if you’re willing to realise that both trial-and-error and the usual “Doom II” tactics have their limits, and outside-the-box thinking is required sometimes. But, when you do work out what you need to do in order to complete this part of the level, it is absolutely epic. I’m not going to tell you the solution, but I will give you a hint – look closely at the ammo types you find on the stairs and whether they all match the weapons you’re currently holding.

In terms of music, this WAD is filled with some absolutely awesome 1980s/90s style synth music that gives the game a wonderfully retro atmosphere 🙂 Seriously, I love the music in this WAD.

All in all, “Back To The Thunder Road” is a relatively short, but fun, WAD that will give even experienced “Doom II” players a bit of a challenge. The levels are small, but what they lack in quantity, they often make up for in quality.

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

Review: “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” (Retro Computer Game)

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My first encounter with “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” was on a demo disc from sometime in the late 1990s.

At the time, I didn’t really like it. This was probably because I was playing it on my Dad’s old computer which, if memory serves correctly, only had a Pentium 166. The game was slow and jerky, and it mostly seemed to feature anodyne, bloodless combat between robots. Being a child with a tiny attention span, I soon forgot about the game.

Last autumn, I was looking at a large sale on GOG and waiting for a game I really wanted to go on sale (it didn’t 😦 ). But, near the end of the sale, I noticed that this old game had been reduced to a little under two quid… and I thought “I remember that!“.

Since I had fond memories of playing “Blood II: The Chosen” the previous autumn and since “Shogo” was a FPS game by the same developer, I looked at a couple of reviews and then decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division”:

shogo-logo

“Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” is an anime-themed sci-fi FPS game by Monolith. You play as a soldier called Sanjuro who is sent on a series of missions by his girlfriend, Karthryn’s father Admiral Akkaraju. Kathryn is the sister of his former girlfriend, who died during a previous mission. Sanjuro also gets to use a giant combat robot occasionally. There’s also something about a mysterious type of fuel called “Kato”. And, yes, the plot seems to be both intentionally confusing and designed not to be taken seriously.

Yes, like many great 1990s games, this one doesn’t really take itself too seriously. Yes, there are a few genuine laugh out loud moments, but a fair amount of the humour is the kind of generic sarcastic humour that was popular in the 1990s. It isn’t the funniest classic FPS game I’ve played but, compared to the more modern trend towards ultra-serious FPS games, it is very much a comedy game.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts "magic claw" when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter... no, actually they just start shooting at you.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts “magic claw” when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter… no, actually they just start shooting at you.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he's too serious to make jokes.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he’s too serious to make jokes.

In addition to this, there’s some other funny and/or cool stuff. For example, a few of the enemies early in the game will actually shout Latin phrases from the first “Blood” game at you. I literally trembled with joy when I heard this!

Likewise, the game also has a “Rise Of The Triad” style credits easter egg – if you wait long enough after the end credits finish, you’ll be treated to a few funny messages, before learning more about the development history of the game. Eventually, the credits are filled with a succinct manifesto, which explains why games from the 1990s are so much better than modern ones….

"Gameplay rules", "Breaking the rules rules" etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days....

“Gameplay rules”, “Breaking the rules rules” etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days….

Talking of gameplay, I should probably actually get on to actually reviewing the game.

First of all, about a third of the missions involve piloting a giant robot. Whilst this might sound like a dreaded vehicle segment that has no business whatsoever being in a FPS game (Red Faction II ‘s submarine section, I’m looking at you!), the gameplay in these parts of the game is thankfully just standard FPS gameplay – but you play as a giant robot who has even cooler weapons.

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from "Blade Runner" too!

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from “Blade Runner” too!

The gameplay in the “normal” FPS segments is something of a mixed bag though. Although you get a few imaginative weapons, you’ll probably just end up using the generic assault rifle for most of the game. Likewise, the combat mechanics in this game are… unique. In essence, the enemies behave in a more “realistic” way.

What this means is that the instant that they see you, they will start shooting at you with weapons that are as powerful as yours. If you turn a corner and don’t look first, you’ll end up dead. If you decide to rush towards a group of them, you’ll develop a lethal case of bullet poisoning within 1-3 seconds. If you don’t save your game often, you’ll end up smashing your keyboard with frustration. If you’ve played nothing but slow, easy, modern regenerating health-based FPS games, you’ll get very well-acquainted with the loading screen.

One other interesting thing about the combat is that you will sometimes randomly score a “critical hit” – which will do extra damage to your opponent and give you some health too. Given the relative lack of health power-ups in the game and the strength of your enemies’ weapons (as well as the fact that they can score “critical hits” on you too), this helps to keep the game enjoyable.

It's also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the "critical hit" message only appears for a second or so.

It’s also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the “critical hit” message only appears for a second or so.

Likewise, it makes you balance a fast and aggressive playing style with the level of caution and strategy you need to actually defeat many of the game’s enemies. If you like your FPS games to actually be challenging, then you’ll be in heaven here.

Plus, like many classic FPS games, “Shogo” also features boss battles. However, since these bosses are either very large or use explosive weapons, you can usually either find a completely safe vantage point or easily trick them into destroying themselves with the splash damage from their own weapons:

Seriously, in one of the game's two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

Seriously, in one of the game’s two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

In terms of the level design, it’s also something of a mixed bag. Some of the levels are classic, non-linear 1990s-style levels. Other levels are a bit more linear. For the most part, the levels are reasonably well-designed, although I did end up getting completely stuck on one of the “robot” levels. It was only after actually looking at a walkthrough that I learnt that the tunnel you’re supposed to go down is cunningly disguised and very easy to miss, yet extremely obvious when you know where it is.

Plus, interestingly, the game apparently has two branching paths near the end of the game that apparently affect the final couple of levels. Although, at the time of writing, I have only seen one of these paths – the idea was still at least mildly ahead of it’s time.

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it's still better than what I've heard about the ending of "Mass Effect 3".

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it’s still better than what I’ve heard about the ending of “Mass Effect 3”.

Another mixed thing about the level design is the level of visual creativity on offer during some parts of the game. Yes, quite a few of the levels are just the usual generic military bases, sewers, buildings etc.. that any seasoned FPS gamer is well and truly bored of already.

*Yawn* How original....

*Yawn* How original….

But, especially near the end of the game, there is some truly beautiful visual design. Seriously, it is Art!

Yes!

Yes!

Oh god yes!

Oh god yes!

I must be in heaven!

I must be in heaven!

All in all, “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” isn’t a perfect FPS game. But, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a relic from an age when FPS games lived by the mantra of “Gameplay rules!”.

It’s a piece of childhood nostalgia that actually turned out to be better than I remembered. It’s a game from an age where designers knew that FPS games were just meant to be silly fun. It isn’t “Doom II” and it isn’t even “Blood II: The Chosen“, but it’s still probably more imaginative than the bulk of modern, mega-budget FPS games.

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

Review: “Doctor Who – Empress Of Mars” (TV Show Episode)

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

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

The episode begins with a group of NASA scientists eagerly awaiting a transmission from a probe that they’ve sent to Mars. Before the transmission can arrive, The Doctor and Bill turn up to watch.

One of the scientists explains that the probe uses a type of technology that will enable them to see what is underneath Mars’ ice caps. Of course, the transmission from the probe arrives a few seconds later….

Sorry NASA, it looks like Britain got there first!

Using the TARDIS, the Doctor traces the message back to the year 1881 and, along with Bill and Nardole, travels to Mars to investigate. They explore a series of tunnels underneath the Martian ice cap until they suddenly notice that there is a fire burning. Since there’s fire, there’s oxygen … and someone already there.

Soon, both The Doctor and Bill discover that the British army has set up camp on Mars. The 19th century soldiers have travelled there after discovering a crashed spaceship in South Africa. A creature called an Ice Warrior was comatose inside the ship and, after they nursed him back to health and named him Friday, he led them to Mars with the promise that there were riches to be mined:

And, yes, the episode even explains that Friday’s name is a “Robinson Crusoe” reference, as if nobody could work that out themselves.

Of course, both The Doctor and Bill are appalled by the fact that Mars has become part of the British Empire. But, the military officers point out that they haven’t found anything on Mars and are possibly thinking of abandoning the planet. Of course, a few minutes later, the mining team breaks through into a sealed room and discovers a large golden sarcophagus….

Huzzah! Treasure?

The Doctor warns them that this is a hibernating Ice Queen and that they should leave Mars before she wakes up. But, a while later, one of the soldiers decides that it would be a good idea to pry off one of the jewels on the side of the sarcophagus with his pocket-knife…

It’s just one little gemstone. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Soon, it is up to Bill and The Doctor to try to negotiate a peace between the Ice Queen’s reawakening army of Ice Warriors and the Victorians…..

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it’s actually a slightly better episode than I had expected. The preview trailer from last week and a description in the TV listings that went something like “…this time, mankind is the aggressor” made me worry that this would be a silly episode that would also be filled with heavy-handed political lectures, like some previous episodes in the series (such as this one and this one).

But, for the most part, this episode is actually a reasonably good piece of old-school sci-fi drama. One of the things that really helps to keep the episode interesting is the fact that the conflict between the humans and the Ice Warriors is a bit more morally-ambiguous than it first appears.

Whilst the Doctor initially appears to take the side of the Ice Warriors, he also realises that they would probably massacre the humans if given the chance.

Rather than a simplistic “good vs evil” episode, the episode is about a conflict between two aggressive military powers and, by extension, two queens (Queen Victoria and the Ice Queen – hence the ambiguous title of the episode and the “God Save The Queen” message at the beginning).

Even so, the Doctor still manages to squeeze in a “state the obvious” lecture about how colonialism is wrong. But, this is fairly brief. The same is true for the other few “obvious” political moments in the episode.

Likewise, the story of this episode isn’t entirely predictable either, and the ending is actually surprisingly clever (with neither side deciding to stay on Mars – for practical reasons, rather than ideological ones).

Another thing that helps to keep this episode interesting is the characterisation. Whether it is Friday’s somewhat conflicted loyalties, the ill-disciplined Victorian troops, or the tension between Colonel Godsacre and the treacherous Captain Catchlove, this episode puts a reasonable amount of effort into the characters. This helps the episode to rise above predictable silliness in some parts.

Yes, the Colonel is probably one of the most complex and interesting characters in the episode.

Still, that isn’t to say that this episode isn’t silly at times. I mean, it’s about Victorian soldiers and reptilian aliens on Mars! It is probably also based on old “Doctor Who” episodes from the 1970s/80s too. Still, the melodramatic parts of the episode are played to full effect and help to add some light-hearted comedy and drama to the episode.

Whether it’s the fact that the Ice Queen gives a very movie-like (for want of a better description) speech to her awakening army or the hilariously old-fashioned Victorian dialogue (eg: “I dare say that the British army is more than a match for a bunch of upright crocodiles” LOL!!), there’s lots of enjoyably silly melodrama here too.

Likewise, the costume design in this episode is pretty much what you would expect. The Ice Warriors look a little bit like people in rubber suits, but this fits in well with the “vintage Doctor Who” atmosphere of the episode. Although I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of the 19th century military uniforms, they look fairly similar to other depictions of Victorian soldiers that I’ve seen. Even so, the episode manages a few interesting steampunk flourishes too:

I say! Does that space-suit contain a built in gramophone?

The lighting and set design in this episode are surprisingly good too. The episode will often contrast the gloomy red/orange Martian caves with bright blue lighting and/or fog.

Orange and blue are apparently the most visually-pleasing complementary colour pair in existence (it’s why these colours appear in movie posters so often) and this fact is used to good effect in many parts of this episode.

This is only a small scene, but the set design and lighting looks really, really cool.

Seriously, you can’t go wrong with orange and blue. Which is probably why it’s so common in movies etc…

The episode also includes some really awesome ominous red/blue lighting too.

All in all, this is an ok episode of “Doctor Who”. It certainly isn’t the best episode in the series (so far, that title probably goes to either “Extremis” or “The Lie Of The Land), but it is hardly the worst either. There’s some vintage-style sci-fi, a plot that veers enjoyably between serious drama and silly melodrama, and some fairly decent set design too.

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

Review: ” I Can Hear You” By Winston Rowntree (Online Graphic Novel/ Extended Webcomic Update)

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic (and his recent “People Watching” Youtube series).

“Subnormality” is perhaps one of the most artistically and thematically complex webcomics on the internet and it is about a million miles away from the more traditional-style webcomics that many people (including myself) make.

One thing that sets “Subnormality” apart from many other webcomics is the almost graphic novel-like length of many comic updates. A side-effect of these extended updates is that the webcomic updates a lot less often than most webcomics do.

So, imagine my delight after a six-month wait to see that a new self-contained comic called “I Can Hear You” (possibly NSFW) had been released recently. So, I just had to review it today (hence this extra blog update).

Before I begin this review, I should probably point out that – at the time of writing – your choice of browser may affect how you see the comic. Whilst the entire comic loads perfectly in both Opera and Chrome, I initially viewed it using Firefox (both last night and about two hours before this review goes out). When viewing it in Firefox, 1-2 segments of the comic refused to load. This problem may or may not be rectified by the time this review goes out. But, if you have any problems, use Opera or Chrome to read it.

Likewise, given the size and length of the comic update, expect a slightly longer loading time than you might expect for a webcomic. Plus, like with many “Subnormality” comics, you will have to scroll horizontally as well as vertically when reading this comic update. In fact, to start reading, you have to scroll to right-hand side of the page and then scroll downwards.

This review will also contain MAJOR SPOILERS too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “I Can Hear You”:

Yes, you might need to turn the brightness settings up a bit to read the title.

“I Can Hear You” is a sci-fi romance comic that tells the story of an unnamed couple who are caught in the middle of a mysterious apocalyptic event (implied to be an alien invasion or a paranormal event of some kind).

The comic is narrated by one member of the couple who talks about how they met, how they prepared for the apocalypse and about their life together in an underground bunker. The comic is a bittersweet meditation on love, disasters, the media and life in general.

This is the adorable, but nameless, couple at the centre of the story.

One of the first things that I will say about “I Can Hear You” is that, in many ways, it is more like a heavily illustrated short story than a traditional comic. Although a few panels contain speech bubbles, most of the narrative comes from text “voice overs” that are placed beside the artwork (and occasional subtitles on a TV screen).

This was a very deliberate formatting choice since one major element of the story is that noise attracts danger. So, for the most part, we only see one character’s silent thoughts. I can’t remember where I heard or read it, but I once remember seeing a piece of writing advice about how large-scale events are often best depicted by focusing on one small-scale part of them. And, this comic update fits into this idea perfectly.

Yes, it’s a bit different to a traditional comic. But, there’s a good reason for this formatting choice.

The pacing of this comic is, as you would expect, fairly slow and contemplative. Although the comic gives the reader occasional glimpses of the outside world, a lot of the comic takes place inside both the couple’s makeshift bunker and the narrator’s thoughts. This slow pacing helps to give the comic a slightly more “realistic” atmosphere – but, if you’ve seen or read a lot of things in the horror genre, then it will probably also start to create a nervous sense of suspense too.

Although it isn’t really a horror comic, I found myself on the edge of my seat – nervously waiting for something shocking or horrific to happen near the end of the comic:

I wonder what gave me that impression….

Still, when the slightly ambiguous ending of the comic arrives, it is anything but horrific. If anything, it’s hauntingly beautiful and poignantly bittersweet.

More subtly, the comic also leaves it slightly ambiguous as to whether the events of the ending were accidental or whether they were a deliberate – albeit subconscious- choice by the narrator (since she expresses some emotional turmoil later in the comic. And, shortly before the ending, she leaves the bunker door slightly ajar after getting water in the middle of the night). Likewise, the (probable) death of both characters is left entirely to the audience’s imaginations too, with their bedroom merely shown to be covered in leaves or petals of some kind.

One interesting thing about this comic is how it both follows and doesn’t follow the traditions of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi genre.

Although there is an ominous sense of bleakness lingering in the background, large parts of the comic are actually surprisingly cheerful for something set during an apocalypse. Since the couple are truly in love with each other, their time spent together in the bunker is often shown to be an almost heavenly expression of intimacy. They listen to an MP3 player together, they watch TV, they sleep with each other regularly and they pass the time by doing silly things like doodling on their calendar.

Whilst all of this is going on, the comic also gives us intriguingly mysterious hints about how the world is handling the crisis. There are silent television broadcasts that tell the main characters surprisingly little, there are official information leaflets (but not enough emergency supplies), there are ominously gradual changes to outdoor locations, and there is even a musing on how history only ever focuses on things from an emotionless perspective and how, perhaps as a way to stay sane, distant disasters rarely elicit a strong emotional response.

Yes, this is yet another oddly profound “Subnormality” moment.

Not to mention that the few hints we’re given about the nature of the apocalypse are as imaginatively surreal as you would expect from a “Subnormality” comic.

Plus, there’s this scene which points out that all of the people in charge of disaster planning were immature teenagers once.

On an artistic level, this comic is absolutely beautiful. As you would expect from Winston Rowntree, the art is the kind of hyper-detailed and unique thing that many other artists can only dream of making. However, one minor criticism I have of the art is that – during the later parts of the comic – it is almost too dark to see. Yes, this fits in with the events and themes of the comic, but it can make some of the later images a bit more difficult to “read”.

This is especially important since, despite his reputation for text-heavy comics, Rowntree is also a master of visual storytelling too. Often, the background details of a “Subnormality” comic contain more information than entire comic updates by other artists do. So, by heavily darkening the later parts of the comic, it makes it harder for the audience to gain extra story information.

Still, this darkness is used consciously for dramatic effect in several parts of the comic. Since it soon serves as a way to differentiate between the events that are happening in “real life” and the more optimistic (and brightly-coloured) daydreams that the narrator has. This level of visual contrast really helps to heighten the emotional impact of at least one later part of the comic, even if it makes the comic more difficult to read as a result.

All in all, this is a serious, mature, emotional online graphic novel that would probably knock many traditionally-published comics out of the water. Yes, it’s poignant and at least slightly depressing in some parts – although this is balanced out by the beautiful romance at the heart of the story and some rare humourous moments. Yes, I’d have probably preferred to see a very slightly more light-hearted comic update featuring Justine, Ethel, the Sphynx etc.. but this comic update is serious storytelling at it’s best.

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