Thursday, 16 August 2018

Horus Heresy: Slaves to Darkness by John French (Warhammer 40,000 Novel Review)

For the last three books (ignoring the anthologies, of course) the Heresy has been closing off plot lines. The fate of several legions has been dealt with, a few long-standing questions resolved and side stories closed off. We've had the end of the Imperium Secundus, seen what becomes of the Space Wolves and both the White Scars and Blood Angels are at Terra. So, Slaves to Darkness does the next thing the story needed: Unity. While the subtitle might be "Chaos undivided" a more accurate one would be "Let's get the band back together".


Horus has fallen. At the moment of his legion's triumph in breaking the Imperial blockade to Terra, the wound inflicted by Leman Russ has torn open once more. It is more than merely a mortal blow, and his very spirit has seemingly been splintered by it. As the Sons of Horus fight to disguise this truth from his brothers and hold the battle line together, other primarchs are dispatched to find their wayward brothers. With the Siege of Terra upon them, it is time to gather every remaining astartes within the traitor legions and march on the Emperor's palace.

The Good

Surprisingly, one of the big highlights of the book proves to be Perturabo. John French's depiction of the character has not been a popular one in the past, often reducing the Lord of Iron to a screaming maniac. Along with the Forge World rulebooks, it seems to have approached him with the impression that he's more interested in finding excuses to kill his own troops than effectively leading his forces into battle. This was most obvious when compared with the (if somewhat problematic) more detailed look at the character Angel Exterminatus offered, which gave him some much-needed depth. More than a few people might have expected the return of the hammer-wielding madman, but the Perturabo we get here is far more tempered in his nature.

The Iron Warriors primarch is blunt, expects total obedience and will bump off officers at a rate a Commissar would baulk at, but it's not without reason. The way he's written doesn't make it seem as if he's looking for an excuse to kill everyone around him, or simply has rage as his only emotion. It's far closer in nature to the original Index Astartes source material than with many past works, and what we have here more than makes up for a few past mistakes.

Equally, Fulgrim has undergone a smooth transition to his daemonic self, shedding the last few humane qualities which clung to the character. He's undeniably Slaaneshi, and the way in which he revels in his excesses is certainly something we have seen before. However, the use of call-backs to his past self and grim reflections of prior books. While this is true of Angron as well, Fulgrim's nature allows him to converse, explore and respond in more ways than simple violence. Combined with the openly flippant and unconcerned nature, it makes him an amusing contrast to the more dedicated primarchs. As a quick example, when he's found in this book and asked to take control of his legion again, he's living it up on a daemon world created by his patron god, and openly tells his brothers to bugger off.

The reason I highlight these two, in particular, is that the book needed a solid basis for the others to work from and build the rest of the narrative around. Without that, the story would have been utterly overburdened in trying to divide its focus between so many different primarchs, their subordinates, and other characters besides. While the likes of Lorgar and Malgohurst also serve as a means to drive the narrative forward - and it's always nice to see the Twisted take a front row seat again - it needed a bolder and more brazenly examine the inherent problem the traitors suffer: Chaos is chaos.

That comment might sound like an obvious one, but all too often Chaos itself is treated as an ordered and regimented thing. It's more a way to show someone go a bit mad, glue some spikes onto their armour and then fly about with all these new daemon powers from one of the four gods. Despite all the various novels which directly contradict this, the general fandom view of this does tend to categorize and label Chaos in this easily defined manner. It's something which is admittedly not helped by the use of daemons emulating their tabletop models, but that's an unfortunately unavoidable issue when it comes to this sort of thing. Chaos, as it's shown in this book, is self-destructive, completely corroding and far from this path to easy power than you might expect. many points serve as a slap in the face if you're wholly aware of its self-destructive properties, as it finds ways to constantly remind you of just how this effects anything on a large scale.

The traitor legions as they are will not exactly be bringing their A-game to Terra. Many have lost more than they have inherently gained with their alignment to Chaos, as they have suffered a severe breakdown in discipline, supplies and control since the start. While The Path of Heaven had briefly cited this with Horus' conversation to Mortarion, Slaves to Darkness truly shows it. It explores it, it details it, it takes a massive great spotlight and shines it on the legions saying that "This is Chaos", with the larger forces working almost in spite of themselves. Because of their disorganised nature and lack of true investment in the wider war, Horus' strike on Terra has become as much a decapitation effort as a hail mary pass. His legion's way was to claim the heads of the enemy leadership before dividing and destroying the body. Yet, this has turned into an effort to execute the strike while he still has forces who will effectively coordinate such an attack.

What should be praised with French's efforts is that, while this is an exploration of Chaos' weaknesses, it never tries to make the legions themselves truly weak. It avoids the Iron Hands syndrome of taking the message of weakness and emphasising it or exaggerating it until any strength is wiped away. For example, it's made clear that Angron is a loose cannon and a monster who will butcher everything in his path without pause or remorse. Yet, even as it details this, it never downplays the fact he can murder everything in his path, and Khorne's blessing will allow him to solo whole armies at a time. The powers of Chaos can teleport entire legions across light-years of space, bend the fabric of reality and bring a man back from the brink of death. So, while it might show how the empire Horus dreamed of was destined to fail, it never downplays the individual benefits of the Ruinous Powers.

The last point of praise - the last one I can praise without spoiling some of the best bits of the book, such as the saga of a certain Iron Warrior - is its use of scale. We all know that the Siege of Terra is going to be huge. Really, it's the big battle of the setting, with a vast engagement so huge that it is a war unto itself. As such, a few writers might have made the mistake of trying to directly compete with the Siege on that front, but instead, it opts to use scale in a very different manner. By having the viewpoint characters be so diversely scattered throughout the galaxy, by having each repeatedly call-back to past events and story arcs, there's a true sense of immensity to it. It feels as if this is building toward a storm, and serves as a reminder of just how huge all that has come before it truly was.

Even when the book does delve into bolter porn, it's well-timed and extremely well planned. Much of this surrounds the Iron Warriors, but it's used to comment on the state they are in. It draws attention to how the world has changed and ultimately what has become of the well-supplied supplied forces which once made up the legions. This is most evident during the rearguard actions against the Ultramarines and their allied battlegroups, but it even shows up on a very ground level view. Away from the primarchs, the gods and the prophecies, you can see how this has reshaped the soldiers fighting in them even when they are just astartes fighting other astartes bereft of Chaos' direct influence. Plus it even tries to deal with one long-standing issue of casualties, but that does, unfortunately, open up one possible plot hole as it is.

So, with that final note, it's onto the bad parts, as you might imagine.

The Bad

The book doesn't know how to use all of the primarchs. That's all that needs to be said at the start here: It doesn't know how to fully explore and examine each in the right way. This results in several having little more than cameo appearances in the final chapters, mentions or even existing in the background. This could easily be forgiven to a point, but even those which are given the spotlight fail to fully stand out. The reason Perturabo and Fulgrim's roles in the book were so openly praised is that without them this entire novel would have failed. While Lorgar does play an essential role within the story, his presence seems to be there as a mere vehicle. He exists to show off a few interesting scenes while punting the story along to a new location, and his own personal developments only emerge very late into the story. Angron suffers from a very similar issue, in that he exists largely as an obstacle for Perturabo rather than offering more insight into his new daemonic state.

While you might have thought that Horus would be at the forefront of this, even that isn't true. The few moments he gets to highlight his character almost purely emphasise the past and serve either as flashbacks or minor conversations. He's sidelined throughout much of the tale due to the after-effects of his duel in Wolfsbane, and this only hurts the book. Despite the fact his very name is in the series headline, we have seen very little of him overall in this saga. The last time he took any role of true prominence was all the way back in Vengeful Spirit (a deeply flawed book to say the least) and given how his final moment will soon be upon him, he needed more time devoted to his character. By sidelining and limiting his presence here, it didn't hurt the book but it seems like a move which will hurt the series.

What was definitely a much more negative move on the part of John French was how important the Sons of Horus truly are within the story. Compare the opening trilogy with this book and you'll note a number of major differences, the least of all is how it fails to give Aximand and Abaddon anything of relevance to do. While the Mournival is supposed to be a reflection of Horus himself, and a vital part of the legion, it's all but forgotten here. Remember how Aximand was traumatised by his need to kill his brothers? Forgotten and discarded. Remember how Abaddon effectively ceases to exist for whole eras of the series? That comes back in full force here. Multiple C-list characters take their place, and this only further undermines the legion as a whole as it robs them of an opportunity to explore their identity. 

Now, as great as the initial trilogy was there's no denying that the Luna Wolves lacked something in comparison to the other legions. They were not nearly so solidly defined in terms of internal culture, style and visual characteristics. That was because this was Horus' story at the time, and that of Loken. Yet as time moved on, more and more novels began to better utilise the internal cultures of their legions, from the Thousand Sons to the World Eaters. Slaves to Darkness could have corrected this - it certainly had space, but it, unfortunately, failed to use it effectively. Instead, it uses the time to try and flesh out characters who will never be seen again beyond this book, or restore a status quo in time for the Siege itself. This is to say nothing of a major twist involving Maloghurst which was likely intended to be tragic and impactful, but it comes across as infuriating due to its timing and delivery.

The final issue is perhaps the greatest problem which has plagued the Horus Heresy series since the day Fulgrim was published. While some books veered away from this and some actively tried to correct it, time and time again the stories of characters would push too far forward. The state of the galaxy, the state of the legions, the situation with the primarchs themselves, everything doesn't seem like it's from M31 anymore. It's all too close to M41, and in the space of fifteen years the galaxy has more or less reached the state it's supposed to reach in ten thousand. While the Horus Heresy is definitely an integral part of the setting - arguably the most important chapter of its history - it should have been the start of the decay which set into the Imperium. Instead, it's already reached a point where we're now supposed to believe it will remain at, without any change, for the next ten millennia. 

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Slaves to Darkness is still a John French book. It benefits from his descriptions, still and punchy if poetic descriptions, but it stumbles at a few too many points to truly stand out. As result, it's a serviceable tale with some decent moments and interesting concepts, but that's it. Those fully invested in the series will want to get this one due to how it sets up the final arc of this long-running story, and for its more engaging chapters. At the same time though, you will need to stomach as many disappointing moments as great ones to get through this novel.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Anime Review)

I seem to be in a minority of people who enjoyed Van Helsing. It wasn't a good film by any means, it was silly beyond belief and verged on being an outright parody at times. Those criticisms hold true even among those who enjoyed it, but perhaps the greatest problem was how it played everything as a joke. Where am I going with this? Well, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust offers a glimpse into that film if it were done well.

The two share more than a few general story elements. Each hero is a damned if noble figure who is clearly a part of a bigger story, vampires are the main enemies and there is a frequently hostile relationship between two of the main hunters. Some monsters show signs of nobility, and there's enough blood on display to rival Sleepy Hollow. The main difference is that whereas Van Helsing was steam/gear/spindle/stuffpunk, Bloodlust is post-apocalyptic cyberpunk. 


Set in a world where a fragmented human civilization has been forced to content with supernatural and mutated creatures, D serves as a bounty hunter. A half-breed, the dhampir is oathbound to hunt and destroy all vampires in his path, and one new case has taken his interest. A young human woman by the name of Charlotte has been kidnapped by Baron Meier Link, but seemingly without any intention of turning or feeding upon her. D takes the job at a high price, and is forced to contend with both a group of rival hunters and ghosts of the old world in pursuit of his quarry.

The Good

Perhaps the most interesting part of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is how it's treated as just another job for the hero. The events are certainly exceptional, the outcome for many characters is tragic and many wonders show up on screen. Yet, D himself treats this as if it's nothing out of the ordinary, and with a dispassionate expectation at every turn. While in the hands of a lesser screenwriter this would make the world seem boring, it instead accomplishes the exact opposite. 

D's mild surprise at finding certain relics, his familiarity with lost elements and easy readiness to brave all sorts of dangers makes it clear that this is just another day at the job for him. The world is one of technologically advanced bunkers, parasitic sentient lifeforms and scattered settlements relying on fragments of bygone ages. His treatment of them makes you often wonder just what could show up next at any point. If this sounds odd, just think of Dredd for a moment. The film sees two highly trained police officers take out a massive drugs ring, combat internal corruption and rack up a massive body count across several firefights in the line of duty. Yet nothing about this suggests this is out of the ordinary for Judge Dredd himself. This helps to better implicate what sort of world he's in without specifically highlighting it, and the life he leads.

To continue the Dredd comparison for a moment, D himself is something of a static character but that plays to his strengths. He's professional, quiet and distant, often having his actions speak for him. Yet he is not simply a blank slate, and much of his impact on the story stems from how his decisions have changed the lives of others. Whether it's a quiet scene conversing with a rival hunter about fate and eventually fulfilling a promise decades in the making, or the stories stemming from past missions in rural towns, these moments are used to give him some much-needed substance. As such, while his persona and behaviour does not change, he manages to escape the boredom which so often comes with such heroes, and instead has a legendary quality to his actions.

What is most surprising is how streamlined and briskly paced the story behind Bloodlust truly is. Every ounce of fat in any scene, any moment which seems unnecessary to the story has been repeatedly trimmed away, until you're left with a film which never drags. The closest it comes to this is in a few quieter moments, but these serve as both a break between several intense fights and for some much-needed development among its side characters. This could have so easily backfired in so many ways, from the film's focus never staying on a single location to rarely pausing to fully expand upon characters or scenes. Yet it manages to overcome this hurdle by having small but quite meaningful moments peppered throughout the film, hinting at greater stories we never fully see. It's something that Yoshiaki Kawajiri's best films often benefit from, and it means that you have the relentless rush of a popcorn film but an experience which always stays with you. It works, as even the disposable cannon fodder characters stay in your mind until the film's end.

Still, you might be wondering about the actual fighting in this vampire hunting OVA. My answer - Do you really need to ask? The fact Yoshiaki Kawajiri's name is attached (the same guy behind both Ninja Scroll and Highlander: The Search for Vengeance) should tell you all you need to know. The animation is almost unnervingly fluid, and the fights never make the mistake of repeating themselves. When a fight turns into a sword duel atop of a carriage moving at full speed, it pulls out all the stops. You will have the scene go through every possible stunt, attack and engagement possible without upstaging later fights, so the film can move onto something new. Each is visually distinct, and the film constantly changes gears to offer you something new at every turn. It even tries to find new ways to keep having older characters use their abilities in entirely new ways, preventing fights from becoming repetative.

Most prominently though, the film is ultimately extremely beautiful. Even in its bleakest moments, there's a sense of real wonder to the world. The sheer attention to detail with character designs and locations gives it a sense of truly being lived-in, with patch-jobs or personal modifications. You can honestly pause the film at any point in any number of scenes, and suddenly spot a dozen new details you otherwise would have missed. This only further supports the visual storytelling and strengths of Bloodlust, and gives you more of an incentive to pay close attention to the environments.

The Bad

The difficulty in citing Bloodlust's problems is that you can all too easily criticise it for things it was never trying to accomplish. Only touching on certain historical details over fully explaining them is certainly one point, but as is D's relatively static development, or the high body count. You can certainly level criticisms against them, but usually such "flaws" exist in service to another cause.

However, the true failing of the film above all others lies in its villains. It's not that Meier Link lacks pathos or a personality, or that his mysterious patron doesn't have a story behind them. It's just that the film never allows them a chance to properly take advantage of them. Much of the story uses them as a vehicle to drive the story forward or, in the later stages, as a direct threat over full characters. Link certainly gets a few moments where these shine through, but while they are well executed these are just that, moments within the story. Another character does comment on the world's history and offers a few interesting bits of information, but by the end they simply become something for D to fight as the proverbial final boss of the work.

What's more, the age of Bloodlust's source material has a frustrating habit of shining through at the worst times. The repetition of D's nature as a half-breed (and its irksome mistranslation as "dunpeal") comes up too many times by far within the script, and certain character moments have a dynamic which veers close to cliche at key points. Some of this can certainly be put down to the original story but, given the liberties Bloodlust was allowed to take, several of these seem like they should have been easy to fix. As a result, the story can appear ill conceived during the first act, which can definitely put off audiences.

The Verdict

On the whole, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a damn good outing. It's not nearly so substantial as other outings, but Kawajiri has always excelled at giving something enough substance to keep you engaged, while maintaining everything else on style. Even if you're an adamantly opposed to the bloodsuckers in all fiction, this is one of the few exceptions where it keeps their more cliched qualities just out of focus enough to keep offering fun new things to offset them.

Even at the few points where Bloodlust has slower moments, the atmosphere, animation and implications usually win out. As frustrating as it can be for it to not better expand on certain world-building details, the glimpses are enough to still make it quite engaging. Especially when it comes to the hints of what sort of society the vampire's once ruled. So, if you have the time and a few quid to spare, definitely give this one a watch.

Verdict: 8.2 out of 10

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Miskatonic (Video Game Review)

There’s no denying that the Cthulhu Mythos has suffered from oversaturation over the last ten years, as there seems to be no end to games which can be listed under ‘Lovecraft lite’ with a tentacle-faced dragon man involved. Those which stand out tend to be the ones which parody the source material, such as Cthulhu Saves the World, Fhtagn! - Tales of the Creeping Madness!, or The Miskatonic.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

2018 Can Burn In The Deepest Darkest Level Of Hell

More delays due to people not bothering to tell me a single damn thing, and deciding that screwing over my schedule is fine. We will be back in two days.

I swear, if 2019 proves to be worse than this one, I will personally welcome Ragnarok as a mercy killing.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Why Gaunt's Ghosts Is Still Warhammer 40,000's Greatest Gateway Drug

Warhammer 40,000 has rarely been in a better time, as it has become much more open to fans of all forms. The push for new games, a better use of social media accounts (seriously, check out their Facebook and Youtube pages if you get even a second) and transparency has earned more goodwill than Games Workshop has seen in decades. New fans can start practically anywhere, with the new novels following the slowly advancing timeline or those of past eras. People have always suggested certain series over others to get into it, depending on the factions they are most engaged by. However, even with that in mind, I would still argue that Dan Abnett's long-running saga is still the ultimate gateway into the grim darkness of the far future. Why? Specifically, because it has run for so long.

Barring the likes of Ian Watson's Space Marine or the like, Gaunt's Ghosts is one of those sagas which has run from the start. It effectively marked the point where the game moved from the last vestiges of the Rogue Trader era into the more modern incarnation it's recognised for today. With First and Only's release in 1999, it was published at the tail end of the Third Edition and with it came more serious storytelling, deeper lore and detailed depictions of figures. While the bolter porn and bizarre humour was still present, it was shaping up into being less of a parody than a varied setting. First and Only reflected this in many ways, as it was simultaneously open to new readers but lacked inherent universal detail.

Think about it for a moment, what do you actually need to know when reading First and Only, just going from the events of the book itself. Very little in all honesty. The space marines are largely a background presence, only showing up briefly or having the odd passing mention in places. The Emperor is outlined as a god venerated by the Imperium, but it doesn't go into the nitty-gritty of his entombment. Chaos? That's introduced as a fantasy element, with daemons, corruption and its worshippers which the Imperium opposes. For the sake of the story, that's all that you need to know. This is the real brilliance of the story, as it keeps things at a human level: It explains as much as it needs to keep the plot moving, and no more, ensuring that events are kept at a Guardsman's eye level.

On the surface, skipping so much information might seem like a crime as it's bypassing immense amounts of what would make the setting so great. However, it instead works this in its favour. It's offering the reader glimpses into the overall setting, small details and highlights of its nature. It tells you just enough to make you understand, but doesn't swamp you with details. Heldane? He's a psyker and an Inquisitor. What are those? A psyker is a psychic, a telepath in his case, and an Inquisitor is a member of His Hallowed KGB. It skirts by on atmosphere and letting the reader put two and two together when needed, and in doing so it was given the freedom to more aptly explore elements the bigger setting would overlook. By doing this, it means the novel has the freedom to explore the smaller details of the setting which would be otherwise overlooked.

The Tanith First and Only themselves were an oddity as they were not supported by any major Imperial Guard Astra Mmilitarum IMPERIAL GUARD regiment on the tabletop. They had no models, no standing, no written history outside of the novel, and the same went for the Jantine Patricians and Vitrian Dragoons. The details we were given of their homeworlds showed just how heavily humanity's varied cultures were across the galaxy, from forests which re-arranged themselves at night to cities of glass pagodas. It was used to give the Imperium more of a face, show how people reacted to war in this era, and contrasted with what people would expect of a far future empire. This was only further enhanced by the inclusion of things like the Men of Iron and STCs, showing the techno-barbaric nature of humanity as it rebuilt itself on scraps. That's the big point here, all of this was shown to the reader rather than dumping exposition on them. In doing so, there was more time to explore the characters as well, from Gaunt's surprisingly controlled nature as a Colonel-Commissar to the likes of Larkin.

Now, we have spent much on only the first novel here so far, but there's a good reason for that: It's easy to pick up, read and gain investment in, all without greater understanding of the setting. People could certainly look up those details and see the greater meaning behind them, but that wasn't required reading. This was how it started, and how much of the series - barring a couple of odd moments - would continue from there on. Whether it was the Imperial Navy or the hierachy of the Guard itself, more of the inner workings would be displayed detailing the overall nature of humanity. However, what helped substantially was how Gaunt's Ghosts proved to be a rare series where the bad was dropped, but it retained everything good. First and Only worked well as an introduction, but it did suffer from a liberal use of archetypes, a few overt character cliches and shallow one-shot villains. Ghostmaker would try to overcome this with more limelight moments to flesh out the Tanith's numbers, and the series would truly hit its stride with Necropolis. Even the more static characters would be given more human moments, and revelations to better flesh them out.

Each novel would confront a very different form of warfare, from sieges to infiltration efforts to all-out trench warfare. It ensured the reader that they were never fully comfortable with a single style of story, and quite often it would seem as if Abnett would intentionally oppose what had been written before. The Ghosts' victory at the end of The Founding arc was directly followed by a disgraceful loss, and the odd optimism of early books would heavily contrast with those of later stories. The likes of Traitor General and The Armour of Contempt, in particular, were seemingly written to undercut all previous elements, and keep things fresh rather than allowing anything to become overly familiar. This allowed every book to feel new despite its connections and would be just as open to old hands as new ones. Something which seemed to carry over into the style of the stories themselves. Foreknowledge was certainly a bonus, but it never fully relied on readers keeping fully up to date with events.

Like the overall setting, the series would rely on the reader being told enough to keep track of things at the time. Like many Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, you didn't need to know everything, and you would be told enough to keep track of them. Forget about one side character? Something would be added to remind you of their role and nature in the regiment. Did the exact events of a past book slip your mind? There would be some moment of recollection to let fans catch up with things. It meant that most novels could be approached from a fresh perspective without any serious issues or feelings of being lost.

Now, you certainly can't start with any book in the series as some don't lend themselves well to new readers. Guns of Tanith, for one, is a difficult tale to fully pin down without prior familiarity due to its style and structure. However, many others would easily lend themselves well to fans and update new readers. As a point of curiosity, I tested this myself with a friend unfamiliar with the setting; lending them Traitor General, The Armour of Contempt, and then Salvation's Reach. Because they so frequently and easily updated details or covered prior events, said fan was able to keep track of developments between books and new twists. Why is this important? Because it meant the series could often get away with people starting in later arcs or more recent publications, rather than working through twelve prior books to understand what was going on. Instead, it would tell a good story the reader would follow, and make them want to go back and read those other stories.

However, perhaps the greatest reason that the Gaunt's Ghosts series remains the best gateway for fans is due to how it handles characters and tone. The saga makes it clear from the start that almost anyone can die. The Tanith are constantly under-strength, constantly losing people and a few big twists make it clear that named characters will be bumped off. It doesn't do so gratuitously, or to the point of making you feel nothing for their deaths, but it more easily separates it from inherently less grim and dark settings. Characters would develop, change and alter over time, but sometimes that would be for the worse or would mislead you into thinking they had some immunity to death for a time. This was only further enhanced by something fans have nicknamed "promotion from within", where characters would be established long before becoming promenant. MkVenner is perhaps the greatest example of this, and through it you could constantly have lesser characters coming more and more to the forefront. Thus easily covering for those who died.

There is certainly more that could be said about Gaunt's Ghosts - and, once again, there are still great sagas which also serve as an excellent way to get into Warhammer 40,000 - but there is a very good reason why this is deemed a flagship series. The fact it can keep gaining fans almost a decade after its release and four major arcs only prove that, when many others barely reach a fraction of its length. Even with the series edging toward a finale, it wouldn't surprise me if it keeps serving as a lightning rod for new fans to take note of the lore for decades to come.

If you disagree or have your own views on this, or you want to cite another one you would suggest in its place then please leave a comment. Everyone has their own views after all, and this is just mine.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

MOTHERGUNSHIP (Video Game Review)

MOTHERGUNSHIP is one of those very rare releases which earns the all-caps title. There’s no other way to announce its existence than with a skyward scream, because it never does anything small. This is a game where bullets are frequently the size of your head, and guns have so many barrels that even Rob Liefeld would do a double-take upon seeing them. You can not only dual wield five-rotor miniguns, but stack one weapon atop the other, until you are firing a literal tower of guns.

The story here as about as throw-away as you would get outside of a 90s arcade machine, with Earth having been conquered by alien robots and you as the one person capable of turning the tide. Much of this exists purely to offer you more and more varied designs of enemies to fight, but it certainly works. You could be fighting anything from a series of rapid firing turret emplacements to a giant enemy mechanical crab with cannons.

It also helps that the typical FPS experience has been altered significantly, as this is less Halo than it is Touhou. At times this really is a first person bullet hell experience, with all the flashing gunfire, massive projectiles and steams of energy bolts you would expect. Due to the semi-random layout and varied designs, this allows rooms to change massively from one environment to the next, and you can never be wholly certain of just what awaits you around the corner. This should have been MOTHERGUNSHIP’s greatest strength, but it is instead undermined by severe RNG issues. There is no consistency from one room to the next, and you will frequently bump into massive difficulty spikes right after relatively easy environments. If you thought FLT: FASTER THAN LIGHT could be punishing, this game completely eclipses its traps.

The RNG issue is further compounded by weapon drop rates and the fact you only find shops as and when the stars align. While the customisation options are extremely varied and complex, you can end up carrying completely the wrong bits you need to further enhance your current weapons. As such, so much of your victory is put down to sheer luck. Combined with the fact you lose any and all items you carry on death with some very punitive rewards, and what is initially creatively energetic becomes an exercise in frustration.

MOTHERGUNSHIP has the potential to be a great game, but currently, it definitely needs a few patches to balance out its problems. You will certainly have fun for the first few hours, but after a while, the experience will feel like you are bashing your head against a brick wall. In its current state, save it for the sales.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War (Video Game Review)

It’s odd to think that Warhammer 40,000 has not entered the 4X genre before now. With its detailed galaxy, diverse races and vast armies, it would seem like a perfect fit. However, Warhammer 40,000: Gladius is a classic example of ‘be careful what you wish for’. It gets the basics right but never pushes the envelope. As such, it all too often feels like an elaborate Civ VI mod.