Sunday, 29 June 2014

Afflicted Dawn (Book Review)

Of all the horror genres to still remain true to their classic incarnation, the zombie genre is one of the most overplayed today. With DayZ, The Walking Dead and countless other releases attempting to capitalise on the idea of a zombie infested post-apocalyptic planet, the genre has become over-saturated with a single idea. Afflicted Dawn is an attempt to put a new spin on the genre with a variation of the traditional zombie, treating them more like a rabid plague with horde instincts.

Following a potential cure for cancer having some unexpected side effects, much of the world has been left in ruins. Thanks to injections creating half a billion potential carriers long before anyone has the opportunity to react, the infection soon spreads like wildfire, cutting down everything in its path. It takes barely any time at all for society to collapse and humanity’s remnants are minor factions of survivors. Among those we see are an uncle and niece attempting to avoid the fighting, a dwindling band of US soldiers, and a woman who has witnessed the worst of humanity in this dark era. More horrifying of all is that the Afflicted are not mindless, they are gradually learning, adapting and becoming far more effective at hunting down the few uninfected left alive.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

5 Doctor Who Moments Better Than Rose's Goodbye

In a recent poll something very strange happened. When asking the public to name the single greatest scene in all of science fiction, from the very beginning of the genre to this year's films, fans banded together selecting a very unexpected choice. Beating out John Hurt's death in Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey's famed ending, and even the Hulk and Loki scene in the Avengers, fans selected the goodbye between Rose and the 10th Doctor. 

Now, opinions vary on how good this scene was. Some critics the cinematography and abruptness of the moment, while others love it and see it as a proper farewell to the characters. The greatest scene in all science fiction though? No, definitely not. Not even close. There are thousands of better shot, more meaningful and generally better handled scenes and moments from pop culture which stand out far more. Hell, there's even better ones just in Doctor Who more deserving of such a title. Want proof? Here's a short list of examples in no particular order.

1 - "One day, I shall come back"

Seeing a companion leave the show is never an easy thing, both for the fans and the Doctor himself. The first time this ever happened was with the Doctor's own granddaughter, and was one of the few departures given a slight by the Doctor himself. Seeing her desire to remain on Earth following the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth he locked her out of the TARDIS. Speaking with Susan through the monitor screen, he gives a speech encouraging her to set down roots of her own and to have her belong to somewhere. He wished for her to have a life of her own, and not to become completely tied down with "a silly old duffer like me."

The speech that followed credited Susan with looking after him as much as he had her, and spoke of his pride in her. Promising one day to return, he proceeded to encourage her to "go forwards with your beliefs, and prove to me I am not mistaken in mine." It's delivered with fantastic conviction by William Hartnell and there's an especially human moment when his benediction falters at the very end.

The speech has become associated within the franchise when it comes to moving on. Whether it be to a new incarnation or new era, it's been used as a reminder to allow new creators to not be utterly tied down to old ideas, but to never fully abandon them. Many still remember it to this day as the opening to The Five Doctors, the last great reunion of the franchise.

2 - Davros And The Virus

While the Doctor's speech heralding the end of his first life has become an iconic speech of heroism, one similar powerful moment cemented one figure as the ultimate villain for years to come. Summarising his megalomaniac nature and proving he was totally beyond redemption, Davros paused and pondered a question posed by the Doctor: What if you created a virus which would destroy everything?

Intended by the Doctor to serve as some opening, some analogy to help show Davros what the Daleks truly were, it backfired spectacularly. Rather than considering the damage it would bring, the potential for total oblivion or even the loss of life, Davros only saw the power it would bring. He only saw the opportunity to totally secure a future which would, in his own words, set him up above the gods. 

The scene is brilliantly acted both by Tom Baker and Michael Wisher and truly capitalises upon the magnitude of events. The Doctor has been captured, his total knowledge of all Dalek defeats and potential weaknesses taken and recorded, Davros himself is in total control. It's at this point the Doctor truly realises the monster he is facing, and that Davros himself will never cancel the project at the cost of billions of lives. Worse still, he might even welcome the prospect, as it might prove the superiority of his creations. It's one of the best moments of Genesis of the Daleks and displayed the magnificent villainy of the character. It's no small wonder he'd be brought back to face almost every future incarnation from there on.

3 - Farewell Jo Grant

One of the best regarded departures from the series was the exit of longtime companion Jo Grant in The Green Death, leaving the Third Doctor at long last. Having fallen in love with scientist Clifford Jones, the two of them announced their planned marriage not long after the story's villain had been defeated. Visibly upset at this development, the Doctor briefly downs a glass of wine and quietly leaves while the party is in full swing, heading for home in silence.

While your mileage may vary in terms of how good a story The Green Death is, it's no surprise this scene has remained in the minds of audiences. It really epitomizes who the Doctor is for his companions and what his life is like. He enters a person's life, everything is an insane journey of wonders, adventures and life threatening situations, but once it's over he leaves in silence. He understands and accepts others wish to have lives beyond what is seen in the TARDIS and will leave them to it, but that still leaves his own loneliness.  Even in this era, when his species was still alive and he was relatively young, the Doctor was an exile among his own kind and with few who truly understood him. 

For all Russel T Davies and Steven Moffat would play upon his isolation, Jon Pertwee departing in silence and driving away into the night is a more effective methods. Subdued, underplayed, and allowing the actor to really take most of the dramatic weight for the scene, expressing it through his actions rather than words.

4 - Indomitable

Another big Fourth Doctor moment, something which has echoed on over the years was his speech during the Ark in Space. Standing amid the last remnants of human civilisation, frozen in cryogenic chambers and waiting to rebuild on the sun scorched earth, Tom Baker delivered one of the Doctor's greatest speeches. declaring humans to be an "inventive, invincible species" and praising the efforts of the ark's builders to survive the end.

The speech itself was brief, only a half a minute long, but Baker's delivery and the dialogue were what made it stand out. It was a rare moment of the Doctor truly praising humanity, as opposed to often snide or humorous remarks, and commenting upon their ability to survive all. It was brief, succinct and avoided being utterly overblown, and it was a very rare moment for the series. 

Unlike modern Who, which for all its great qualities did repeat this sort of speech far too often, it didn't seem to be milking this element of the Doctor's character nor allowed it to hang over the story. This said, it did also relay some of the best qualities of the episode in brief, foreshadowing what was to come. The entire story was built upon humanity attempting to survive a foe during his weakest hour, and even touched upon how remnants of humanity's best qualities could survive in monstrous forms. To give a bit of context to that last statement, this was classic Doctor Who's take on Alien, and it remains highly regarded by many show-runners to this date. Well, despite the painfully 70s design of the station anyway.

5 - "Just This once, everybody lives!"

Yes, finally an example from the modern series. Included in the final moments of The Doctor Dances, the Doctor manages to find a victory. Despite haywire nanomachines running rampant throughout the population of Britain, converting all in its path into broken copies of a lone child looking for his parent, they manage to win. Better yet, they manage to reverse the effects of the nanomachines and just for once save everyone.

Every serial throughout every era tends to end in a few deaths. Whether they be redshirt side characters, big name cast members or even companions, someone will die. Not here, as for once they manage to escape with everyone alive - A accomplishment which he has rarely achieved in his long life.  It's a truly momentous scene which speaks as much about the show's history as it does the Doctor's point in that life. He has been through the Time War, witnessed two entire races massacre one another in a violent struggle, killed them by his own hands. This was an act which was so traumatic it would take an entire regeneration of his life to fully recover from, so managing to fully avert a massacre here is all the more meaningful.

I'd say more, but honestly, of all the ones on here this is the one to watch as a part of the entire story rather than on its own.

Friday, 27 June 2014

WARHAMMER 40,000 ETERNAL CRUSADE Opens Founders Program, Artwork and Early Gameplay Revealed

After much foreshadowing, hints and developer interviews, Behaviour Interactive’s MMO, set in the grim darkness of the far future, has finally opened up founders support. As you would expect, this gives the option for players to back the game financially, with certain rewards as starting bonuses. The various packs give buyers the option to reserve a character name, have a unique title of the Arkhona Vanguard, reserve a Guild name, and early access to the title among many other benefits. These are the basics however, with many offering far more lucrative options. The high tier $450 Xenos pack offers various permanent bonuses and enough money to buy effectively every item for all factions in the game.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

CD Projekt Red Hacked, THE WITCHER 3 Ending Leaked

The latest victim of the internet’s insatiable desire to uncover all spoilers, CD Projekt Red awoke to find details of their unreleased game splashed across the internet. An unnamed employee working on the last installment of THE WITCHER trilogy had their Google Drive hacked into and the resulting files uploaded onto 4Chan and Reddit.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Knightmare Tower (Video Game Review)

In many respects Knightmare Tower is very similar to our last review. It's straightforwards arcady action which gradually scales over time and rewards the player with ever increasing buffs. You slaughter your way through hordes of foes until final victory and at the end of the day it's gaming distilled down to pure, raw, fun through relentless combat. However, there's a few things which clearly set it apart from Meltdown, the least of which is the visual style and setting. 

Following the most quintessential of generic fantasy plots, a villain appears, storms a king's castle and kidnaps his princesses. Imprisoning them within a tower of monsters, a knight is enlisted to free them and slay all hellspawn which lay wait in his path. Of course, few traditional fantasy myths have said knight launching himself up the tower via rocket. Or for that matter, feature several hours of the hero air-juggling himself into low orbit via the corpses of his enemies.

Oh and if that wasn't quite metal enough, you also have vertical tidal wave of lava you need to outrun.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Rocket Girls (Light Novel Review)

Trying to give a brief analysis on Rocket Girls is simultaneously extremely simple to outline, but also surprisingly complex.

On the one hand its an amalgamation of various tropes and ideas any avid watcher of anime can instantly pick out, from the exaggerated caricatures of people to the hefty dose of zaniness which is thrown into them mix. It's also lightly written, skipping a lot of the real meat you would expect to find on a on a book of its length and keeping details to a bare minimum.

On the other however,  Nojiri wrote it with clear self awareness of just how the book was going to be seen and visibly wrote many sections to appeal to a young adult audience. What's more is that many ideas present involving space travel were well ahead of their time, and for the most part the science is surprisingly accurate and in-depth.

Monday, 23 June 2014

9 Huge Failings Slowly Killing Steam

As digital distribution continues to replace brick and mortar stores, Valve’s power only seems to grow with every passing year.

With just over seventy-eight million active members using Steam, the company all but completely eclipses its competition despite good showings from the likes of, Green Man Gaming and many others. You can also probably argue Origin should be counted, but any distribution platform which needs to hold new titles ransom to encourage members to join is clearly doing something very wrong.

However, while Steam has well earned its popularity it’s hardly without some failings, as it only takes a very brief examination to pick out several critical flaws within the platform. These range from the company’s basic mindset when it comes to dealing with certain issues, to failing to truly promote latest releases.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Xenonauts (Video Game Review)

Initially created in answer to 2K Marin’s XCOM first person shooter, Xenonauts serves as a spiritual successor to the original UFO: Enemy Unknown. Retaining many design elements streamlined in Firaxis’ remake, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game sees the return of mechanics fans of the original have been crying out for.

During the late 1970s, the Cold War is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a massive alien fleet. Resisting all attempts to repel them, their initial strike is suddenly brought low by an unknown interceptor. After many long years in silence, the clandestine Xenonauts organisation created to defend the world against alien attack reveals itself. Seeking the backing of both NATO and Russia, its handful of troops, scientists and engineers are all that stands between humanity and potential annihilation.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Future Of Warhammer 40,000 Lies Beyond War

Yeah, it's time for one of these again, but it's not about the subject you probably think it's going to focus upon. If you have been reading this blog for the last couple of years you'll know that I personally disagree with a lot of lore decisions (usually by one specific writer) and the general approach to the setting by Games Workshop. While there have been some definite improvements of late, there's one major problem which continues to plague their nightmare future universe. One major failing which no edition has really gotten right, and a major issue which authors desperately need to explore and focus upon: The universe's history. The ten thousand years of lore which writers seem to have skimmed over with barely a word commenting upon them.

Now, many of you have likely already jumped to pointing out examples such as the Badab War, Horus Heresy and early Tyrannic Wars. While it is true that Games Workshop has explored those events, to great effect in the latter two examples, they are brief periods of time. Short wars which, no matter how galaxy shaking, focused almost purely upon warfare and armies in question, and only took place over a small fraction of the Imperium's history. Even the timelines we do get or the (often bastardised and extremely crude) attempts at storytelling we get in supplement codices, each covering hundreds of years, are only invested in certain armies. Any changes, often only focus upon the army in question and never examine the bigger picture when it comes to the Imperium.

No work ever tries to examine the socio-political shifts within the factions, to show their development over hundreds of years thanks to trends, losses of technology or even changes of leadership. Despite these elements being crucial to any fleshed out setting, no background work or book ever really examines it in any great detail. While we do have a skeleton of a history to map out certain events, entire eras of the setting's history go almost completely unremarked. 

Just sticking with the Imperium for the time being, let's consider just a few major events which have gone almost completely ignored: 

  • The Imperium splits into two separate empires for nine hundred years in an era known as the Nova Terra Interregnum before joining again in late M35. 
  • The Adeptus Mechanicus undergoes the Moirae Schism thanks to a doctrine that believed the future could be read in the astronomican. This results in the prediction that it and the Ecclesiarchy would merge into a single church.
  • The Scouring, the massive campaign following the Horus Heresy with the decree that the traitors be driven into the Eye of Terror, is undertaken. Countless worlds are purged, retaken, and annihilated entirely even as warring Imperial factions try to form a cohesive force against xenos incursions and traitors alike.

We have perhaps a few basic paragraphs covering each one, all of them almost excursively focused upon either the founding of an army or finding some way to veer off into exploring the military side of things. Just to list some of the biggest details explored in each: 

  • What little was added to the Nova Terra conflict was the Cypher was involved with the Dark Angels launching a strike to try and capture him. Also a mysterious event known as the Pale wasting which has since gone unexplained beyond it requiring a massive military campaign, and the founding of the Death Spectres. 
  • The Moirae Schism goes almost entirely unmentioned and ignored save for the founding of the Sons of Medusa chapter. 
  • The Scouring only glorifies the role of the Ultramarines and is commented upon as a time when the Codex Astartes was enforced.

You can see the problem can't you? The ramifications and major upheavals behind these massive events are barely examined, barely event commented upon, and are sidelined in favour of focusing upon space marines and the military. While those would certainly play a part, there are much bigger ideas at play here which could be looked into, each examined in detail and worked into the war stories. It would dramatically help to show the shifts and changes in a setting which is so often seen as stagnant and bereft of information. It's rich to be sure, but there is so much here which could be done to suggest an ongoing narrative, with changes in major figures and attitudes of various eras.

To give a comparison with another successful series, the Battletech franchise has seen multiple eras in which various factions, empires and major powers have risen and fallen. If you were to compare what the universe is like during the Word of Blake Jihad to its earliest days, certain trait elements still remain but the political landscape has completely transformed over time. Major characters have been born and died, classes of vehicles have been repeatedly upgraded or made obsolete with newly re-discovered technology and historical knowledge has shifted with misinformation and incorrectly recorded facts. Battletech isn't the only example of this either, as we have the likes of the Legend of the Five Rings, which covers multiple dynasties, story arcs and major developments.

Even Warhammer 40,000 itself has dipped into this on a few occasions, when the right writer has been given the right faction.

When given the duty of writing Codex: Sisters of Battle during the second edition, Gav Thorpe wrote out more or less the entire Age of Apostasy. The lore involved explained how major shifts within the Imperium had led to Vandire's control, from its beginnings millennia ago to the actual event, the impact upon populations and the empire's internal decay. While the majority of it centered around war and establishing an army, the greater scope allowed for an examination of the Imperium and to form a major cornerstone in its history. 

The same goes for the latest edition of Codex: Tau Empire by Jeremy Vetock, which took the outlined development of the tau and vastly fleshed it out. Showing how they had rapidly advanced on their homeworld, the contacts made with other races and how the Empire was changing over time.

Both examples did not shy away from war, conflict or skimp on the campaigns to help really flesh out the army's military, but they offered far more substance to the setting's history. They showed far more development beyond the importance of a few wars and a couple of significant models which could be taken in armies.

This is the sort of scale and type of examination Warhammer really needs to utitlise more often. Writers need to stop placing so much extreme emphasis upon the twilight days of M41 or the events of the Horus Heresy and instead examine everything in between. Show just how the Imperium developed, show how the Craftworld Eldar have survived for so long in the face of such a hostile galaxy, show how the orks have adapted to foreign tactics and even emulated their greatest war machines; but above all show how each one developed and changed as a people, through belief or social upheaval. It's this approach Games Workshop needs to take with its future works to make the most use of the tools they have on their hands and truly branch out into new ideas. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dark Disciple (Book Review)

Shifting gears from the last novel, Dark Disciple sees the trilogy approaching a different kind of warfare. Despite being a continuation which examines the impact of Dark Apostle's finale, especially the internal politics created from the recent shift in power, the primary focus here is squarely placed upon Marduk's ambitions. We see here just how far he will go to go in order to achieve power, and some elements which display how the Word Bearers still manage to remain relatively united even after their total corruption.

Still reeling from the casualties inflicted by their conflicts with the Adeptus Mechanicus and Imperial Guard, the 34th Grand Host now flies through the Warp towards a new world. With the first part of Marduk's ambitions now achieved, he leads his forces into a warzone, where an Imperial fleet is desperately trying to buy a world time against a Tyranid Hive Fleet. Embarking on an insane mission to retrieve the next piece of their puzzle from this world, Marduk's forces race against time, even as he faces dissent from within. Yet upon this world, a danger unseen by all awaits them.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Vengeful Spirit (Book Review)

It's hard not to notice the growing trend in the last several books of the Horus Heresy. While showing no signs of halting the ongoing exploration of the Imperium's last days as a semi-benevolent empire and the war which destroyed all, there has definitely been a big push to streamline and interlink the universe. Rather than the episodic or semi-individual stories we had previously, many novels now serve as a continuation for countless short tales and other books. We saw this with Betrayer, Scars and Unremembered Empire, even Vulkan Lives to a lesser degree, and that continues here. Unfortunately, despite Graham McNeill being an incredibly talented writer when it comes to weaving countless sub-plots and a broad focus, Vengeful Spirit collapses under the weight of the author's ambition.

Set sometime after the events of Scars and Angel Exterminatus, the books sees focus returning to the Sons of Horus once more. Having allowed the legions of his brothers to do most of the work and remaining on the sidelines for some time, Horus leads both his legion and the Death Guard in a seemingly pointless assault on the world of Molech. Heavily defended by a vast warfleet, Imperial Knights, companies of astartes from other legions and millions of Imperial Army troops, it will be a costly victory at best. However, Horus remains convinced something vital to his war effort remains buried on the world. Something long left out of sight of the galaxy, so potent that the Emperor wiped his sons' very minds to hide it...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cthulhu Saves The World (Video Game Review)

As you can probably guess from the title, this one is a parody of the highest degree. Cthulhu Saves The World is the latest in a long line of RPG parody titles released by Zeboyd Games. Responsible for the likes of Breath of Death VII, the company specialises in parodies of classic RPG titles, often with tentative links to the horror genre in some way. However, even taking into account that a past title featured a zombie were-vampire as a protagonist, this one has an especially unique premise.

Emerging from the oceans, Great Cthulhu prepares to conquer the world. Knowing it will be an easy victory, he is none the less somehow stopped by a single mage who confronts him from a cliff face. With his power sealed away and reduced to a fraction of his usual size, Cthulhu washes up on a nearby beach where he learns (by listening into the narrator, naturally) that the only way to break the curse is to become a true hero. Determined to regain his unworldly power, Cthulhu sets out to become a true hero so he might conquer the planet personally...

The very idea of this premise is ludicrous to say the least and the entire plot is little more than snark fodder for the characters. With choices ranging from poking fun at common RPG tropes and mechanics to the very ideas behind Lovecraft's tales, the game is one gag after another. 

Pretty much everything within it is designed to assist with their delivery, and it's a good thing that for the most part they work extremely well. Zeboyd go the extra mile when it comes to inserting their style of gags into the game, from monster descriptions to even having a Chat option in the menu to hear characters converse. There's very little in the way of serious drama and the entire game is worth it just to hear most of the jokes, especially at its price.

Part of what helps is that while these are obviously groan worthy or cheesy gags, they have a kind of charm to them and thought has obviously been put into the delivery. Even those with limited knowledge of Lovecraft's stories will still get a chuckle out of Cthulhu's bombastically egotistical remarks and generally sociopathic nature. Something which, combined with his frequent conversations with the narrator, makes you wonder if they were using Deadpool as a basis for the character. It would certainly explain lines like "Yes! The great Cthulhu requires groupies. You shall do." Another element which helps in this regard is the characters he is accompanied with, foremost being the happy go lucky Umi and the increasingly insane Dacre. Seeing the former Old One surrounded by such figures is worth checking the Chat option with every new development, even more so than conversing with the NPCs.

As a result of this emphasis upon humour, gags and generally snarky moments, much of the game seems to have been designed to avoid many problematic factors of modern big RPGs. Much like Skyborn, there's an obvious attitude here to help lessen the bigger time constraints and allow things to run much more smoothly. Before we even get into the combat itself, the game comes with a few options to help travel, exploration and even grinding. Dungeons will have an encounter limit, with a grand total of 25 random encounters occurring before you can walk around freely without interruption. To offset this however, it also comes with the ability to automatically initiate a random encounter on the menu. So not only does the game eventually remove a lot of the tedium of random encounters after a while, but it rapidly speeds up the chore of grinding.

Even ignoring this however, many other aspects both during and following combat have been designed to streamline elements down to their barest elements. Combat is presented in a similar manner to Skyborn, skipping a lot of the usual flashy combat animations and allows players to rapidly cycle through moves with surprisingly fast clicks. Atop of this, the game features a combo system which racks up with melee attacks, boosting the power of certain combo breaker moves. This allows for the right bunch of characters to destroy a moderately powerful group within a couple of turns. 

Perhaps the most interesting fact however, is that parties regain all health at the end of battle and instantly revive unconscious characters. This skips a lot of the busywork of returning to inns and healing, but it doesn't completely strip down careful play and effective fighting. As shops only sell weapons and armour, players need to very carefully conserve the potions and 1-Ups they find to revive parties in combat or go for a second chance against a foe who defeats them. This makes a player buying their way to victory, or drip feeding everyone potions, utterly impossible and forces the player to consider when and how they use items. What's more is that this doesn't completely abandon the wear and tear of dungeon crawling or the necessity to return back to certain towns. There are no items to recover MP, and it can only be fully replenished at specific pre-boss save points or inns. The only other alternative is as a reward from fighting certain enemies, the faster you take down monsters, the more MP you are rewarded with.

Then of course we have character progression, which follows the same trend as everything else. Leveling up is fairly rapid, and you'll often only need a dozen or so battles to improve your party, mostly because all overworld monsters scale with your level. This make development rapid, and a lot of the direction you choose to improve characters in comes down to a series of choices. At each level, you are given a choice with how you want to upgrade a character. This can come down to a choice between improving an ability, learning a new ability, boosting HP and MP, or generally slightly improving all stats. 

The system proves to be surprisingly effective for what it is. While it does undeniably rob the player of a lot of choice they might want, it offers a great deal more choice than you would think and allows you to tailor your character. They often affect the direction you want to move your character in and the game does seem to follow in that direction, but still offers choices to alter it again. For example, when he first joins you Sharpe (no, not that Sharpe) is a glass cannon with little HP, but by the end it's very easy to turn him into a high HP tank. Similarly, the first choice with Cthulhu himself effectively comes down to a choice between melee or spell-casting in how you use him. While certain roles such as healer will still come down to one or two specific characters, it's a surprising amount of freedom given how basic the customisation is.

Now, there are a few downsides to the game. Foremost among these is a bug during the opening which never fails to be frustrating. Seemingly happening at random, you can end up with the directional keys not allowing you to scroll between options at the start. As such, you can't load your game and can only start anew. The only way I personally know of to get around this is by closing and starting again. It's infrequent, but it shows up enough to be a growing irritation.

Many of the characters in Cthulhu Saves The World also lack any serious meaning to the story and often feel flat. That might seem like an odd criticism given the previous complement, but on their own they don't have a well rounded enough concept behind them. October only stands out in her own story, and Paws, Ember and Sharpe all distinctly lack traits to really make them remain truly memorable. The only really funny bits are often when they are being used as something for Cthulhu to work off of. Atop of all this, the plot also fails to really close a lot of points brought up, and one major one is only really explained in a post-endgame mode. This unfortunately makes the game feel weaker as it goes on in terms of plot and humour, despite still throwing out some decent gags at a good rate. Also, the game doesn't explain a few elements about the Lovecraft mythos, so those without a basic knowledge of the stories might want to look through a few Wikipedia articles before starting.

The side-quest system is also virtually pointless, only showing up once or twice during the entirety of the game and the world feels undeniably small. While it might be an indie title, there are ones with far bigger and more extensive towns than the likes found here. Too many consist of gatherings of extremely small buildings, and lack distinctive or unique buildings to help make them really stand out from one another. 
Another element which harms the game in the same way is actually doe to one effort to streamline the experience, allowing players to teleport instantly to any previous town. This might look good on paper, but it only ends up making the world feel extremely small as a result and sometimes a little too easy.

On the whole though, Cthulhu Saves The World is a decent game. Much like Skyborn, it's something which won't blow all other RPGs out of the water but it's a surprisingly intelligent title which can be casually played. You can beat the main game in a good ten hours or so and the other modes such as Cthulhu's Angels will add another eight or so to that. It's definitely very good value given that and better yet it comes in a double pack with another parody RPG, Breath of Death VII. Definitely give this one a look if the premise even remotely amuses you, it's well worth the cash.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

15 Bizarre ‘Game Over’ Scenes You Weren’t Expecting

One critical thing which makes any video game stand out from other artforms are failure states. Whether this is a standard death thanks to a depleted health bar or being locked out of a major part of a story, they are ultimately an integral part of what makes the medium appealing outside from film or television. There are more than a few developers who fully embrace this too – to the point of adding some truly bizarre endings to any play session.

Banner Saga Composer Fined Over Rejected AFM Agreement

It seems there is no shortage of problems The Banner Saga runs into. Even after escaping the ridiculous trademark dispute invoked by social gaming company King, one of the major creative forces within the developer Stoic has now run into an entirely new mess. Renowned for his work on the likes of Journey and flOw, composer Austin Wintory is being fined $50,000 by the American Federation of Musicians. His crime? Breaching an agreement which was forced on the AFM members, and widely rejected by the video game industry as a whole.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Blood Will Follow (Book Review)

The second book of the Valhalla Saga, Blood Will Follow sees Ulfar and Audun separated as they flee from the influence of the Old Gods. However, they soon discover that the deities are far from finished with the duo, as Christian King Olav continues to extend his influence across the land.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Meltdown (Video Game Review)

Recently ported onto PC from the iOS and Android, Meltdown sees the player stepping into the combat boots of generic silent space marine Zed, fresh off of the cloning vats his kind are churned out from. Well, actually that’s not entirely fair, he’s still far more memorable than any Call of Duty protagonist. Tasked with taking down a rogue AI on a space station by a shadowy corporation, Zed must fight his way down multiple levels armed only with his bandanna and a wide assortment of guns. The thing is though, none of this matters and for once this is a move for the better. Forgotten even as the tutorial begins, the game instead places total emphasis upon what it does best: Classic top-down arcade style shooting.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Militarum Tempestus: Part 2 - The Rules (A Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)

After taking a look at the lore, here we are with the rules.

Whereas the recent Codex: Imperial Guard (and to me personally that army is still the Imperial Guard, no matter what Games Workshop says) featured their forces as a sledgehammer, the role of the Tempestus is more one of a scalpel. With fewer, far more elite, troops, iron discipline and rapid assault vehicles, more than a few players seem to be referring to them as a poor man's Elysian Drop Troops. While that might be true to a point, it's none the less filling a niche option within the army usually reserved for supplements with similar troops from one iconic army being taken in a new direction. In many respects, this is honestly a supplement done right without the many failings often found within those books.

The first major improvement of note is that there is are scenarios, no Planetstrike stratagems, no shoehorned efforts to force players to buy more rulebooks and a clear focus upon vanilla 40K. While there might still be padding here and there, just see the examples in the lore section, there's at least some indication that the design team aren't using this to farm even more cash from people. The only definite bonus the army keeps is one which actually saves the player some cash. The two formations they army can take are already present within the book rather than kept on Dataslate Formations. Already that's a few major gripe dealt with from similar mini-codices, and things keep looking more and more promising from there.

Unlike the supplements, there is much more of a sense of getting a more unique army. Even ignoring the Scions and army specific models, the various rules and unique squad details make this feel like a separated army. Not simply a version of the Imperial Guard with a few new toys and a fresh coat of paint. The most general of these are that all models within the army come with Deep Strike and Move Through Cover special rules, making them extremely mobile and something more akin to the Tau Empire than many other forces. Better yet atop of all this, they do not have to pay the usual tax to be scoring units. As such, in the hands of the right person they're equally effective in both slugging matches and objective based scenarios.

These basic attributes would usually be something to criticise as it might make the army too easy to use, but there are a few distinct elements which do help to balance out this force. Foremost among these is the limitations when it comes to units. Being more like special forces than a sledgehammer, the soldiers in this army are elite. They're the sorts deployed against specific targets rather than frontline troops, and you soon begin to realise that they rely heavily upon successes in initial strikes and keeping up a continual momentum. While they army is tougher than the basic Guard forces, they can't take quite so many hits and can be blunted if approaching the wrong enemy the wrong way.

Take for example the new Taurox Prime APC, which might as well be this army's strength's and weaknesses personified. The vehicle can move quicker than Chimera transports, is more accurate and is far better armed than its contemporaries. At the same time however, the vehicle has some very specific weaknesses which can easily be exploited, namely its armour. At 11/10/10 it's not exactly the most durable vehicle to ever enter the battlefield, and it's long sides mean that it easily runs the risk of being flanked and taken out. Players need to be careful about where it is placed, think about their actions and use their army's best attributes to avoid getting hit too often. Not, as can unfortunately be the case of a few certain armies, rush forwards and rely upon sheer raw power to win the day.

What also separates it from the Imperial Guard is the lack of platoons, instead having choices for footsoldiers consisting of Command Squads and Scion Squads. The former are the HQ choice along with Commissars, and serve in a largely similar role to most Imperial Guard command units. Consisting of one officer and a group of other Scions, he has the ability to give one command per turn to other Scion units within the army. As you would expect, the Command Squad can take a banner, vox-caster and medi-pack as upgrades, along with up to four special weapons from their armory.

The orders in question consist of a variety of good choices, nothing especially outlandish but something which can give the right squad the bonuses they need in a desperate situation. Three focus purely upon enhancing ranged firepower, offering Rending (against vehicles or Monstrous Creatures), Sniper or twin-linked bonuses to the squad they are given to. Two others offer Crusader to assist at close range, and Preferred Enemy which is always a nice temporary bonus. If there is a serious criticism to be made, this is a little simplistic and the only non-killing option is the ability to give a unit Fleet briefly. A few more interesting choices would definitely be of benefit, enhancing gameplay in other ways to make things interesting, or perhaps simply bolstering Leadership. Then again, that last one is what the Commissars are for.

Speaking of Commissars, the psychotic political officers are effectively what you would expect here. They remain as effective as ever at leading squads, counting as Independent Characters, having Stubborn and with a Commissar Lord being an especially tough foe with three Wounds and a WS/BS of five. However, they are a definite problem in one respect due to the Scions' lack of disposable troops. Every one they headshot in the name of the Emperor is felt much more keenly to a unit due to the much smaller squads, meaning they are effective but potentially costly to you.

Along with Taurox Primes are Valkyrie AACs, which remain unchanged from the latest Guard codex. However, they are far more important given the Scions nature and a definite necessity for any army wanting to make the best use of their strengths. After all, the Scions work perfectly well as Air Cavalry and their ability to rapidly deploy and hit hard make these things perfect for quickly reaching objectives.

For the Scion squads themselves we have what you would expect - small somewhat fragile groups of heavy hitters. Coming in basic groups of five soldiers, they come with the option to take vox-casters and up to two special weapons from their armory (flamer, grenade launcher, hot-shot volley gun, meltagun, or plasma gun) meaning players can offer a high output of firepower. Better yet, combined with their ability to Deep Strike means players can send in small squads armed with two plasma guns or two meltaguns to cause havoc with enemy transports. Even without that they're a solid option at BS 4, with carapace armour and AP 3 basic guns, so with some luck they can hit hard and take moderate amounts of fire in the right place. For what they offer, they're also fairly reasonably priced, even in comparison to the old Storm Troopers.

Now, you might be noticing something here from what we've covered thus far - There's no special characters. Much like the lore, the rules place emphasis upon the army as a whole and troops rather than a handful of named heroes, meaning that for once we actually have an army being treated like a proper army. While one or two certainly wouldn't have gone amiss, it's a sign that the creative team might be considering some of the worse effects of recent years. A big improvement given the general apathy usually seen from the company.

The lack of characters also means that Wargear is devoted to units and helping with certain strategic movements more than just a lot of stabby weapons or HQ only options. In fact, a great many are offered to vehicles. Chief among these is the Auger Array, which is a 25 point drop beacon which can be used within 6" of the vehicle it is with. Something which can make it invaluable for rebelling major offensives against your lines or when more bodies are needed to slow a foe down. Vehicles also gain a fair number of interesting bonuses with Relic Plating giving one Adamantium Will. Recovery Gear allows a vehicle to ignore Immobilised on the roll of a D6. Finally, Fire Barrels inflict D6 S4 AP5 hits on the first enemy unit to charge it.

While all of this is decent if uncomplicated, it does seem to have the obvious problem of a lack of new items for infantry or commanders. The codex also keeps a lot of what the Imperial Guard offer their units, but it is definitely a shame that the codex doesn't offer a little more original material for them.

Finally, the two formations on offer are Airborne Assault Squadron and Ground Assault Formation. These require a Commissar, a Command Squad, three squads of Scions and Valkyries/Taurox Primes respectively. Besides the usual reserve roll of counting as a single unit when they arrive, the former gains re-rolls on any kind of Grav-Chute deployment along with Split-Fire and Twin-Linked as they first come down. The latter meanwhile gains Pinning and Twin-Linked for their opening attacks when they do the same. This definitely seems like the weakest point of the book as it makes initial strikes a little too easy, and while they can offer the much needed momentum the army can use to win games, it seems like too simplistic a way to do so.

Besides the above, the biggest problem with the army is definitely a lack of variety when it comes to units. Yes, they are offered a good number of weapons and this is a mini-codex, but for what the designers were going for it seems there should have been one more squad. Something either to serve as advanced scouts or additional specialists of some kind to help offer a little more tactics and variety. This might have been intentional to try and push using the allies list more, but even then the Tempestus lack the ability to be a unique detachment, meaning that's a wasted of an allies slot.
Also the book does still carry a few current problems despite being a major step in the right direction. The structural problems when it comes to separating out model shots, lore and rules remain a big issue. What's more is that the book lacks any mention of the Force Organisation Chart, which seems like an effort to push Unbound Armies on players.

While hardly bereft of any failings, Codex: Militarum Tempestus is definitely a major improvement over some works we have seen of late. This is definitely the standard supplements and mini-armybooks should be held to, balancing solid lore with good rules. The rules themselves are hardly complex but they do encourage players to focus upon risk management and tactical advantages over unit spamming, sheer power and many negative aspects. Combined with their semi-fragility and high maneuverability, the book seems like something halfway between the Imperial Guard or the likes of the Eldar or Tau Empire. In that respect it could be seen to encourage players to pick up more xenos forces as secondary armies over Space Marines; and let's face it, after the fifth edition we seriously need more variety beyond the astartes.

The book is definitely overpriced at £30.00 for what it offers, but then what do you expect from Games Workshop, and it's far from a disappointment. If you like what you see from this book and are considering getting a new army, this one comes with a recommendation. It won't suit everyone and it won't offer the broadest of tactics, but at the same time what's there is pretty damn good. It might finally be a sign of hope that things will take a turn for the better with the game.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

10 Out Of Character Moments That Annoyed Comic Fans

Pinning down the exact personality traits of a superhero can be a difficult thing at the best of times. Many undergo massive changes in the years since their creation, countless authors have put their own unique spin on the characters involved and then there’s all the retcons to keep track of. Sometimes ignoring some of this can work for the better, freeing up an author to try something entirely new or even to correct old mistakes comics had been stuck with for years. Yet for all the good moments where this works in a comic’s favour, there are a hundred where this lack of respect or knowledge has utterly torpedoed a character. These failings can be often narrowed down to specific moments or fights. The plot twists which stand out as so wildly out of character they cripple decades of character development, or even demolish the most basic concepts behind a hero or villain.

The Oathbreaker's Shadow (Book Review)

Set in the land of Darham, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow follows the story of Raim. Tormented by a spirit conjured by an oath he never recalled making, he is driven into exile by his people. Forced to wander the land as an outcast, he begins hunting for answers and soon begins to uncover darker and more dangerous secrets about the world.

Ahirman: Exile (Book Review)

Of all the factions to be found in the 41st millenium, easily some of the most iconic are the warlords of Chaos. Even among the ranks of the loyalist space marines there are few figures who stand out quite so well as the brutally unrelenting Ahriman, Kharn the Betrayer, the enigmatic Cypher of the Fallen Angels, or the dreaded Ahriman of the Thousand Sons. Each following their own ambitions and dark gods, these millennia old warriors have unlocked secrets which would strip the sanity of lesser men, drowned planets in blood and witnessed the death of humanity’s future. Any series covering a single one of these characters would be worthy of examination, yet Ahriman: Exile opts for a very different approach than what readers would expect.

Set in the wake of the Thousand Sons’ mistake in casting the Rubric, Ahriman is at his lowest point. Failing in his attempts to save his brothers and cast out of his legion, the former Chief Librarian is a far cry from the nightmare he will become. Hiding under a false identity among a vessel of scavengers and renegades, Ahriman is little more than a self pitying shadow of the man he once was. However, fate is unwilling to allow such a person to remain unnoticed. Someone is hunting the Thousand Son, and they will not give him up easily…

Friday, 6 June 2014

Skyborn (Video Game Review)

Of all the games we have reviewed on here, Skyborn is an unusual release. Along with being created on the RPGMaker system with only basic assets, it very much feels like a proof of concept. Much like the original Zone of the Enders, you can tell there's a good game in there with brilliant ideas behind it, but with more money and time something truly outstanding could have been made. It's satisfying, and Dancing Dragon clearly knew exactly what they wanted to create, but so much feels like it's trying to prove what they could do with some more resources.

Set in the steampunk post-war world, the magically empowered winged skyborn hold dominion over the land. Working as best she can under their occupation, mechanic Clara Spencer attempts to make ends meet by repairing the various airships which humans use for transport. However, when her brother not only sells the shop but marries her off to the noble born Sullivan, things start to become a little more complicated...

As with many RPGMaker series, the overall feel and style of Skyborn seems to be trying to capture the classic feel of older RPGs. Much like the original Golden Sun titles, there is great deal here which feels as if it is attempting to emulate the style of the first six Final Fantasy titles, and it's definitely to the game's benefit. It retains that same kind of charm in the visual appearance and direct simplicity of the writing. While hardly dumbed down or particularly extensive, the story itself is strong enough to hold your attention and keep your interest, leaving enough room for your mind to wonder about the rest of the world. There's more than enough there for hints, suggestions and fan theories to keep you invested, but it never feels as if it's lazily written.

While much of this relates to the locations and races of the Skyborn universe, this also carries over to the characters as well. There's nothing especially deep or overly complex about them, but what you do get is enough to make them interesting and likable. Clara is primarily a viewpoint character, but she has an interesting family history she needs to uncover and is distanced from some of the true injustices within the city. Sullivan is seemingly rich and smugly arrogant, but this is revealed to at least in part be a facade and he harbours deep hatred which can cause him to act irrationally. These elements are well used, and they're never over-exaggerated or pushed to the point where they become whiny or irritating.

It also helps that the story knows how and when to progress certain details about the history of the world. There is always something new happening right up to the end, and as soon as one revelation is made, another plot thread to be explored is promptly introduced. If nothing else, it's enough to keep you going until the final cut scene to see how things pan out.

It's definitely a good thing that the story holds up as well as it does, because without it the game doesn't have much to offer in terms of combat.

While not exactly bad, the combat of Skyborn is undeniably basic. A big part of this comes down to the presentation, with little to no combat animations (Read - Static Images) and some fairly obvious character classes, all of which feel as if we've seen them a thousand times before. While a few do have some slight variations on them, it's not enough to really step up above the usual tank, healer, caster, crafter mix found in so many other games. While Skyborn's agro system does offer some slight differences, with glass cannons in particular having to carefully time attacks, it's not enough to stand out. Even by the end, after a few class changing options are added, there's never really enough to make it stand out. It does still feel surprisingly basic despite the obvious thought put into the moves and spells available.

What does seriously help the game in this regard is the crafting and augment system. Various dungeons offer a multitude of new minerals and gems to outfit weapons with, or craft entirely new items, which can give you a big edge. Along with saving money which can be spent on potions and necessary resources, the right combinations can boost weapon strengths to truly outstanding levels. One notable example from my own playthrough was a pistol crafted and augmented for Clara shortly after returning from the desert, which proved to be more powerful than any shop bought weapon from there on. 
This might sound like it would break the game, but the high amount of resources required to create one decent weapon or set of armour means you will only have one truly powerful item. Furthermore this, along with the giant treasure chests, helps to give the game a little more longevity as you attempt to hunt down raw materials littered throughout dungeons. This said, much like the combat the crafting system itself is fairly basic and it won't blow anyone's mind.

Additional elements which help to add longevity to Skyborn is the extra content which can be hunted down. The various cards required to help unlock an additional secret dungeon beneath the city are littered across the entire game, meaning you need to spend considerable time and effort hunting them down. Even ignoring that however, the tournament which unlocks superior equipment and an elaborate crafting shop is something worth repeatedly coming back to and will take a few more hours than the main game. Even then the game still offers a few sidequests to complete for those who want to explore the city.

What actually makes the game really stand out are two quite interesting details which are not featured in many RPGMaker titles. Even ignoring the well drawn and presented character art which appears in conversations, touches have been made to certain areas with rolling fog, insect swarms and solar effects which help make the environments feel more alive. It's a small element but it seriously helps bolster the sense of vibrancy and the visual appearance of each area. Admittedly, even without those however, the game does look brilliantly colourful and captures the classic fantasy feel of older RPGs despite the basic assets utilised in their creation.

The other strength of the game is the music, which is a definite cut above the competition. With a sweeping orchestral quality which eschews the traditional chiptunes, each one adds far more atmosphere to the locations. There's never a point where it feels emotionally dissonant with what is going on and quite often they prove to be surprisingly catchy.

Skyborn is decent enough for what it is, but it won't set the world alight. Again, so much here does feel like a kind of proof of concept and it definitely comes across as basic at many points. That said, there's still enough here to like and very few real mistakes are present in its gameplay or plot. It'll keep you going to the end and it's just about enough to justify its price.
The group I would actually reccomend this to the most are those who lack the time to play full blown JRPGs these days. Clocking in at ten to fifteen hours in total, Skyborn is far from lengthy and a quite casual play, but that will work for people too busy to spend over sixty hours on a single linear JRPG title. If that sounds like it suits you, then give this one a look. 

Besides, what would you rather have? Ten hours on a cheap title with classic charm to it? Or a hundred on an expensive, plot hole ridden release with a character as soullessly unlikable as Lightning?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Martian Manhunter: Son of Mars (Comic Review)

No matter how famous and how outstanding the team, it’s unfortunate that many iconic figures within comics often go so overlooked by the public. When it comes to the X-Men, the majority of the characters people can name will be from their downsized numbers from the 90s animated series. When it comes to the Avengers, few people will be able to name anyone who has not had a film about them, often calling any other interpretation wrong (such as prior incarnations of Iron Man, who used to speak the English language rather than snark and cultural references.) The Justice League is the same, with few decades old characters having little pop culture status and often being overlooked at best, or known for some horribly inaccurate internet jokes at worst. It’s for these reasons that collections like Son of Mars have a place in history, delivering a definitive look into a character, his methods, and his motivations.