Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Hateful Eight (Film Review)

The Hateful Eight can basically be summed up from its opening credits sequence. It's recognisably Tarantino, recognisably paying tribute as much to older film techniques as the Western genre itself, and it's beautiful. Yet, even as you watch it, the whole thing is just dragged out until you're left questioning if this is really all there is to the film.

The story follows several men trapped in a cabin during a blizzard. Two bounty hunters, their hostage, a coachman, a hangman, a would-be sheriff, an old general, the mysterious owner, and a man writing the story of his life. As they lay in wait, suspicion grows among them, and some begin to wonder how truthful their stories really are...

Now, if that little description sounds like Reservoir Dogs, no, it's not just you. This is most definitely a very Tarantino-esque setting and the dialogue supports that wholeheartedly with many of the characters being the overblown but brilliantly written figures you've come to expect. However, it shows more of the build-up, develops more of the overarching plot and stages the events in a very different manner which keeps you guessing for some time. Even the flashbacks, only introduced towards the end, are there to add new elements into the mix. The problem is that, every time I try to think of a flaw and how to remove it, it ultimately turns into Reservoir Dogs with cowboys.

There is a long, long build-up towards even reaching the cabin and gradually introducing the characters one by one. This isn't done in so much the way Inglorious Basterds did it, introducing the villain and key secondary plots before moving into the main one, but just showing the journey of getting to the cabin. In effect, you have a bounty hunter being picked up by a stage coach, a whole routine of being introduced and then their individual stories. There's certainly good bits to it, filled with those same snappy dialogue and characterising moments we've come to expect, but it also feels dragged out. The whole introduction itself is extremely slow burning, showing the characters talking bit by bit, moment by moment whereas most other directions would have skipped it to keep up the pacing. Even then this might have worked, probably would have worked, but it starts to repeat things. A lot. The chief example is in the early stages where the whole introduction scene is effectively done twice over with only a couple of minor variations added in; that and a two minute door closing joke which is practically a running gag. One which is repeated a good three or four times before the film is over, and started to lose its humour when it was repeated the second time, only minutes after the first one.

The real crux of the film's problems are that many of its scenes prove to be oddly superfluous. They're an oddly good kind of superfluous, the kind where you are watching and interested in seeing how things play out, but at the same time, you're left just hoping it will actually get to the crux of the action. Beyond a few scuffles or some mild distrust, there's very little actually pushing the story forwards and you're just left to admire the admittedly fun visuals and wait for something to inevitably spark up. 

Once the film hits the halfway point however, things dramatically improve. A lot of the fat is suddenly trimmed down, a lot of the problems holding it back are removed and it starts to become a true Tarantino film. The characters here start to have the same sort of impact, conflict and driving motive you would come to expect. The effect is akin to having a bunch of people hold up in one place before putting a gun on the table. It's such a dramatic and sudden shift that you're rapidly engaged, and the slow burn up to that point does assist with the drama somewhat, as you have become fully attached to the cast. What's more, the twist reveals and dramatic turns do genuinely help to keep you guessing about the true nature of who is who there. This works in some cases, and assists in some surprising character shifts which fit right in with the story itself. The problem, however, is that many others seem to be foretasted far too openly. What seems like it should have been a dramatic reveal is oddly predictable, and the only real payoff comes when the film takes the time to actually show you how it certain crimes were performed.

However, what cannot be criticised is the film's atmosphere. While it might have taken its time and remained oddly off-kilter, there is no doubt that the film builds up a dreadful and extremely harsh atmosphere. It's the opposite of Django Unchained, slower, more methodical and crueler by half, with death and crime rampant beyond all belief. While still spiced with enough moments of humour and quirkiness to prevent apathy from the darkness, there's a grittier edge to things which can't help but keep you paying your full attention.

A lot of this review might have sounded very divided, almost begrudging to even acknowledge its quality, but much of that comes from comparisons with its predecessors. It is still a very good film, and one I most definitely recommend viewing, but unlike the others it's hard to suggest doing so more than once and we've honestly seen far better from this director. Almost every other one of his films are sheer golden monuments to the film industry, but this one is just very good by comparison. Certainly take the time to watch this one, or at the very least rent it, but definitely lower your expectations before going in.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Lego Marvel's Avengers (Video Game Review)

It seems people just can’t get enough of smashing things into brightly coloured fragments of plastic these days. Having covered everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Doctor Who, the Lego video game franchise has grabbed onto just about any big name franchise it could get its hands on. However, with this latest one, you’d be forgiven for starting to get just a little tired of the series’ gimmicks.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Games Workshop Unveils Build+Paint Kits - An Option For Casuals At Last

So, yesterday's news was rather negative about Games Workshop, and right on a day i'd planned to actually praise the company. Well, to make up for that we thankfully have something far more positive to discuss: Mainstream appeal. 

The problem the company has suffered from for some time is a lack of coherent focus when it comes to actually targeting a single demographic. We've covered this many times on here and even newcomers to the blog can probably guess their problem: The company ignored, even actively shuns, its established older gamers in favour of new ones. It often causes problems for those dedicated to their hobby in everything from an anti-tournament mentality to actively shutting down community hubs. The problem is its desired audience of teenagers and prepubescent boys might notice prices are a little on the high side, especially as just starting the game can cost up to a hundred quid. Why spend that when they can get their tactical fix just grabbing a free copy of War Thunder or League of Legends, right? With Age of Sigmar being slow to draw in a new audience and small scale 40,000 games having gone out the window years ago, the company has done something very smart: They're treating their models as models for once. 

Announced on, hobbyists were treated to the sight of decades old units and artwork suddenly on display as modelling kits. Supplied with glue and paint of their own, they were intended to be re-introduced as single shot releases which could either be individually bought as personal enjoyment, or used as the start of some new army. With a wide variety of individual units and vehicles on offer, it seems fairly clear that they're going all in with this one, and it's explicitly made for younger players. This is as evident from the less wallet draining structure which ought to help parents ease their child into a hobby they might well give up just a few years as much as their design. With far fewer fiddly parts or individual bits, the models are hard to get truly wrong while at the same time they still offer the same joy of building something new. Oh, and for those already thinking this will cost an arm and a leg, apparently Games Workshop brought back the old prices along with the ancient models. Advertised estimated costs range from £10.00 to £25.00 depending upon their size and structure, in other words the sorts of prices I was seeing back in 2001 or so.

These kits are planned to be placed around more stores beyond Games Workshop itself, with Barnes & Noble high on that list. This will ultimately mean that, besides the likes of Black Library releases in Waterstones, we'll start seeing more active promotion for the kits. This in turn will draw a wider number of people with any luck, and we might start to see a trickling influx of new gamers. 

On the positive side of things, this will ensure we have more of a ongoing generation to keep things going. There's something in place to actively offset the mentality that all armies must be large enough to fill the entire table or dedicated rules can only focus upon huge forces. If newcomers are starting to buy their units piecemeal, it means there is more encouragement to see lower points games again. Atop of this, we also have the strong chance of having people ease themselves into the hobby and stick with it out of dedication. Quite often it seems those who tend to stick with tabletop gaming the most are the ones who buy their armies bit by bit. They stick with them out of love of the universe and determination rather than buying most of it at once and barely getting the time or inclination to actually build half of the stuff. 

The fact that these are older units and molds means that there is less cost placed upon the company itself. We can see faster implementation of this, and with a wealth of older kits on hand, it means there's an easy well of ideas and units to call upon to expand this range. Should it prove to be successful, we might see releases in waves or perhaps even editions if we're lucky. Better yet however, it also means that those after older kits for the sake of nostalgia or just to add a bit of character to their army have options besides eBay and knock-off dealers from China. Plus, if they do the smart thing and add a small story or some lore in the kit, we might see more players invested in story over mechanics.

Unfortunately, there is a double edged sword with this news. While certainly extremely positive, those who know the company's history might want to pause and think what this means for the game itself. It wasn't too long ago that CEO Tom Kirby referred to Games Workshop as a toy company, and that their big emphasis was on miniatures over lore or rules. We have often seen shiny new units jammed into the game despite canon rejecting it or their designs ill fitting the army after all, as if the designers just wanted to do something and damn whatever problems it caused. With that in mind, the fact these are being sold as model kits might have a few averse effects. Should they be successful, it's not too hard to imagine Games Workshop using it as an excuse to focus more upon flash over substance, with plastic figures prioritised over well written books. While the game itself might keep people engaged, and I personally do not think it would be entirely abandoned any time soon, we could see a gradual devaluing of the rules.

Still, when all is said and done, this does seem like a step in the right direction. It opens the gates for a greater influx of people and it means concerns about the hobby dying out might be alleviated for at least a while yet. Whatever the future might bring though we have plenty of time to speculate, guess about the future or even just wait and see how things shape up as Games Workshop releases more news. If you want more information, I highly recommend the source cited here.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Wulfen Revealed - New Low For The Space Wolves

Some days the image really does just speak for itself. This is one of them. There's really nothing which I could add here which the image doesn't scream for itself, so i'll instead just echo the same old fandom response: Who the hell thought this looked good?

Leaked online yesterday, fans were given a new glimpse of the wulfen, the first updated design in years. There had been hints of this coming for quite some time, and after just over a decade with no updates it was a fun thing to consider. That said, it's hard to imagine anything missing the mark quite so much as this one short of making them all poodle marines. In fact, personally, i'd go so far as to say this perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with Space Wolves today.

Let's be clear - The Space Wolves have been sliding more and more towards being a joke over the last few editions, and a bad one at that. The Fifth Edition broke away from the more stoic depictions of that era to offer a louder, more bombastic chapter and seemed to push to restore some of the fun lost since the Second Edition. While more humour and a few moments of levity is hardly a bad thing, no one seemed to quite know where to draw the line. Worse still, it pushed them so far into self parody in a manner which can be best described as "wolfwolfwolfwolfwolfwolfwolfwolfywolfwolf!" Rather than being space vikings with a werewolf trait to them, the wolf element was focused upon above all else. The current game is ridiculed for reaching the point where the army has entire units riding wolves and even their very prayers invoked them more than the Allfather. Don't believe me? Read it for yourself -

Now, this isn't to say that the wolf spirits aren't a core part of them, that would be an absolute lie. However, what writers seemed to forget is that their relationship with wolves was a dangerous one. Rather than just the sheer awesome power, pack mentality and relentless nature the current codices focus upon, it was also a curse. It left the chapter isolated from the galaxy, limited to being only a rather vast chapter rather than a progenitor of a vast host of battle brothers, and at any moment one of them could fall. In much the way the Blood Angels hid their curse, the Space Wolves were haunted by the ever looming threat of the wulfen and to risk their most powerful assets overwhelming them, turning them into abominations. Released only in the times of direst need, these creatures were shunned, chained up as animals and regarded as a haunting fate which might befall their chapter. So tell me, when you take that into account, is any of this actually reflected in the models you see here? 

These new wulfen are savage to be sure, but way too much focuses upon the tribal nature over anything else. It only takes one look at them to see that these aren't barely controlled animals or men lost to their primarch's curse, but instead just a bunch of feral nutters clubbing people with axes. The very fact they're all lugging about melee weapons defeats half the message behind them, showing that they're still in possession of their mental faculties enough to carry melee weapons, and that's before getting to the actual design. Short of the furry lower legs and slightly more 80s hair, these guys are quite obviously human. Well, posthuman, but you get my point - There's just way to much pale skin on display and the fact those are visibly human faces on the models doesn't help matters. It just screams "WOLFY WOLF WOLF! WOLF-POWER IS AWESOME GUYS!" in the kind of abhorrently shrill desperation usually reserved only for bad 90s Marvel comics.

Even accepting that these are supposed to be Space Wolves with more of a tribal aesthetic, what the hell happened here? Besides their leader strutting about like a hairy ballet dancer crossed with the Predator, you have four men stuck with snarls worthy of Rob Liefeld's art and weapons which don't match up with their equipment. Yeah, feral, furry and partially insane? Of course they'd be wielding some of the single most ornate weapons their chapter could produce. The fact they retain this but somehow lost the one thing you could easily justify - you know, the power armour which is all but literally drilled into their bodies - just makes this design all the more baffling. It honestly looks as if designs intended for Age of Sigmar were rejected there, and someone just recycled it for the Space Wolves. Ultimately, these are the sort of marines the actual wulfen would feel shame at simply by association. 

A bigger problem still with the models is that even from these images they mount details upon details upon details. So much has changed here, there has been such a dramatic, staggering push for something wholly new that it's as if the designers have forgotten the art of simplicity. Say what you will about space marine power armour and its pauldrons of doom, but it worked because of is simple, well rounded and broad design. It was a blank canvas, easily changed and modified to suit various needs and with the eyes focusing upon a few key points. These wolf humpers? The second you try to fix in on one bit, it links into another, until you're stuck trying to follow layers upon layers of over-engineered bling. It's chaotic, uncontrolled, ill defined and - in some ways - even outright unpleasant to look at. Even the Vostroyan First Born aren't this bad, and they're some of the most ornately decorated gun fodder this side of tabletop gaming.

The reason i'm making such a big point of this however, is that this just keeps happening. Oh not as a whole, every army has its missteps once in a while, but with the Space Wolves in particular. It seems that every edition is bringing some new embarrassment, from a flying brick which manages to make the Thunderhawk Gunship look aerodynamic and literal giant wolf cavalry to the new Dreadnoughts and Santa Grimnar's steam-powered wolf slay. At almost every point the good ideas have been phased out in favour of something ridiculously bad, and it just keeps happening with this specific army. It's not as if Games Workshop is incapable of making good designs either; the Broadside replacements were beautiful, the Leman Russ redesigns were fantastic, the new space marine characters have been universally brilliant. With the Space Wolves though, it just seems that they're using them as a dumping ground for bottom-of-the-barrel designs.

While we've yet to learn what the rest of the army will look like, I can personally only hope it will be a damn sight better than these jokers.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Master of the First by Gav Thorpe / The Long Night by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Audio Drama Review)

Continuing to serve as a chance to see the greater universe about them, this latest audio drama duology offers more traitor action. Following up on the events on Caliban and the Night Lords captured following their legions defeat, they each take very different paths, gradually showing the changing nature of the galaxy about them. Despite the different setting, scale and even overall approach and focus by the author, their similarities lie in their roots. Each protagonist shows how their pasts ultimately shaped them, and that even in this late stage in the Heresy it only requires a slight nudge for a hero to become a turncoat to his own kind. An interesting point to be sure, as each warrior's choice hinges upon a decision their respective leaders made long, long ago...

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Sliding Scale of Tyranny - Is The Imperium A Better Federation Than The Tau Empire?

Times have been interesting for the Tau Empire. Between a new codex, a major plotline devoted to their faction, the death of a major character and a plethora of new stories, they're definitely having their moment in the spotlight. This said, as Mont'Ka showed, this has hardly been the start of some new golden age, and the authors involved seem to have very particular opinions about how the Empire works.

Games Workshop as a whole seems to be more focused upon the darkness hidden behind the Greater Good and repeating the Emperor's past mistakes. While that can result in some awe inspiring tales (read Fire Caste, it's woefully underrated) the pendulum seems to now be swinging the other way. Authors have been pushing hard against the idealistic "good guy" outlook they arrived with back in 2001, so much so that the Empire's shade of grey morality has turned well and truly black. In fact, it's so bad by now that you have to question if the Imperium of Man is actually doing a better job at being a diverse alliance of people than the Tau Empire.

Let's be clear here, the Imperium at its heart is most definitely a Frankenstein's monster of dystopian governments. Cobbled together from just about every worst fascist dictatorship in history, you'd be hard pressed not to find some iconic ideal, method or image not embraced by its governing body. The police are closer to special forces than anything else, and combined with the Inquisition they have near unlimited authority. Their armies are perpetually conquering worlds, fighting wars of annihilation against hostile alien races in the name of their leaders, and stepping out of line will often result in a short drop with a sharp stop. Well, if they don't have a bullet to spare. Really, if the Aquila wasn't obvious enough, their warships, great machines and even the astartes themselves are reliant upon a slave caste to ensure continued operation. Adepts, in many major worlds, are little better and the ghoulish use of Servitors only furthers this, ensuring the corpses of dissidents are put into their service.

Long story short, the Imperium isn't exactly all sunshine and rainbows even on the best of days. However, that is just the core of the human empire itself and the surprising thing is that it only seems to care about certain parts of humanity. For the most part, so long as they pay their tithes, continue producing their wares and ultimately play their part, most worlds are left to their own devices. While any attempt to actually break away from the Imperium would be met with hostility, and you still have the odd Inquisitor or Lord Commander throwing their weight about, some doctrines are looser than would be expected.

Think for a moment of the worlds seen in Black Library's releases or even just some of the bigger names from human armies. You have Tanith, Mordia, Necromunda, Macragge, Medusa, Cadia and Tallarn just for starters. Besides the same general technology and loyalty to the Imperium, no two are even remotely identical. On a governmental level they're incredibly diverse, ranging from being ruled as a feudal loosely linked series of duchies, a group of borderline Mad Max survivalists living out of war caravans to a hierarchical autocracy. Hell, even if you focus upon the one truly universal factor among all of them - their worshop of the Emperor - even that shifts and changes about. Tanith is noted to have various spiritual figures worshiped besides him, Tallarn is puritanical to a fault but with a heavy spiritualist streak, and Necromunda... god only knows. The point is that, even at their cores, their lifestyles, traditions and linking aspects are wildly different from one another. Before you even get into the differences in language, taboos or class structure, these are varied worlds granted a good deal of autonomy from the Imperium itself.

Even the planets which do serve as a hub for Imperial rule are hardly cookie cutter designs, with the likes of Thracian Primaris and Scintilla having their own unique governmental foundations. Both are ruled by noble houses to be sure, but at the same time the way in which those houses negotiate power, deal among themselves or associate themselves with other Imperial authorities varies quite heavily. As much as some critics might claim the Emperor stripped worlds of their unique cultures and identity during the Great Crusade, it only takes a moment to see that the exact opposite was at work. The last strands of his plan, his real plan before the Great Heresy, still hold in place, uniting the bulk of humanity under one banner despite their differences.

Now, with the state of the Imperium in mind, let's consider how the Tau Empire has been presented over the years. Let's even be generous and ignore Mont'Ka's depiction of press ganging entire human populations as slave labor. That might well have been an out of place or extremely badly worded statement, and for argument's sake we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Instead, consider this for a moment - What was different about Mu'gulath Bay compared with other Sept Worlds? Really think for a minute about everything from that book, and what it involved. The population were devoted to the Greater Good, they were divided up into a caste system, and they were trained from an early age to fulfill a single role within their Empire. When it comes down to it, sadly, there was little to nothing else. The problem is that, this is no different from just about all tau held worlds.

While some Septs are noted to retain a few key differences ranging from a grudging distrust of aliens to a hot tempered stereotype among their people, that's about it. There's no cultural variation here, nothing to truly distinguish each world from one another save for a small handful of basic tropes. The tau as a people aren't so much a massed coalition of varying beliefs as a single force spread out over a few different planets. The way it's presented would be akin to each and every planet on the Sabbat Worlds being identical to Tanith, right down to the faux Scottish accents. Even the very subject of autonomy or right to rule themselves is out of the question, as they all have exactly the same hierarchical structure and same rulers. In this regard, it's not so much a federation or alliance as just a single massive nation.

Some are going to inevitably going to argue that just focusing upon the tau is unfair. In some regards they're right, as the Empire itself is fairly young and compared with the Imperium it's still developing. One empire's worlds are thousands of years old while others have only been set up for a few generations, and while I would personally argue that's more than enough time to show some real variation, there's some merit to that remark. Even culturally you could argue there's a reason for this inward uniformity, and that the caste system is just a diverse series of people following a single goal. At least until you looked into how recent stories have treated worlds absorbed into the Empire.

When they were initially presented, the tau effectively allowed most races to retain their basic social structure. While they would often be altered or fitted in to align with one caste or another, and were required to dedicate their lives to the Greater Good, that was about it. Those we saw willingly join (even those suspected to have joined them Empire thanks to weapons grade brainwashing) didn't change much. 
The kroot were allowed to continue their ways, serving as scouts and auxhilary troops for the Fire Caste. 
The vespid were largely divided between the Earth and Fire Castes, with some serving as miners and others as rapid assault troops. 
The same even went for minor examples such as the nicassar, a race of space nomads, who were allowed to continue on their way but were occasionally asked to serve as scouts, escorts and transports for the Air Caste. This last one is especially notable as the nicassar were one of the early examples forced to join them through superior firepower. Yeah, even those races the tau actively subjugated were basically left untouched once they joined.

This outlook of having the tau as more a varied coalition of forces remained consistent for the better part of a decade. There was always an undertone of darkness to be sure, always a question of "how good are they truly, when Plan B is 'I'll keep shooting you until you agree to my terms'?" That was about it though. However, just before the Sixth Edition, it seemed that a few Games Workshop employees had other ideas about how they operated, especially in regards to human integration. What started initially as "join us, stick to the Greater Good, don't kill anyone doing the same" started to take on a bizarre mix of Communist, Borg and Middle Ages Crusade ideologies.

Rather than just joining them, humans were suddenly instead expected to embrace their entire culture and utterly abandon everything which was non-tau. Really, let's go through just a few stories which really touched upon the subject:

Courage and Honour. Easily the worst novel of Graham McNeill's otherwise excellent Ultramarines saga, the tau here were presented as mind controlling bastards. Along with getting many other things wrong, the tau seemed to regard alien cultures as something to be censored and eventually erased entirely in favour of their own Greater Good. This was not only the reason initial negotiations broke down, but  was also what shook the heir to the governor's throne from mind control after an seeing an Ethereal's utter contempt for faith in the Emperor.

Shadowsun: The Last of Kiru's Line. It featured Fire Warriors who were basically Imperial Guardsmen with an added streak of xenophobia. You can read more here, but the basics relevant to this discussion of it were:
Sneering, self-superior contempt for religions of any kind.
A regard for any non-tau icons as effectively unclean, doing all but screaming "Blasphemy!" at them.
A self-righteous belief that all species should bend over to serve the tau and submit to their innate superiority.
Xenophobic, petty reactions to other species. I.E. When the tau force is decimated by a forest predator, Shadowsun vows to have its entire species exterminated for humiliating her.

The Kauyon. The audio drama featured many similar elements found in the aforementioned Shadowsun novella, with added flaws such as treating respect of the Ethereals as effectively religious worship. There's honestly a point where the protagonist hopes that the "Auns are watching over him". The protagonist retains an odd contempt for humanity's own beliefs and attitudes, all the while quoting the "Axiom of Mindfulness" a-la Codex Astartes.

For The Emperor. Yeah, even the Ciaphas Cain books aren't exempt from this, and actually feature one of the earliest examples of character assassination. Supporters of the Tau Empire are shown instantly emulating their traditions and cultural details, notably shaving their hair save for braids in the manner of the Castes.

The Shape of the Hunt. The human forces engaged by the White Scars are presented as borderline fanatics, thrown at the astartes to slow them down and almost seem like a gross exaggeration of tau traits. It goes so far as to show humanity trying to emulate their new alien masters by painting their faces blue.

Broken Sword. This is the big example, as it's more or less the sole example of a human loyal to the Tau Empire living on a conquered world. Taken from the Damocles collection, it portrays life there in a very strange light indeed. For starters, as the tau terraformed and changed the world, they rapidly went about erasing and destroying and semblance of the prior society there. Humans were taught the tau language, given tau names, taught only of tau values and ultimately were brought up to hate the society they had been before the tau arrived. Rather than having any degree of self-determination, the world is shown as being under the direct control of the Ethereals at every turn, with all decisions made by them.

These are just a few such examples of how writers present the tau, and they're by no means all bad. Most (even Broken Sword) are remarkably well written, but they all present the same thing: Cultural annihilation. Whatever societal identity an alien race might have had, it is instantly overridden once the Ethereals take control, and even its basic autonomy is denied to it. They're no longer a world defined by themselves so much as a fast they're a part of the Tau Empire and serve the Greater Good. This, to put it simply, isn't a federation. It's a dictatorship which forces any and all who align with them to exist only as a part of their Empire, and regard themselves only as helpers of the tau. While there might obviously be some bias in these tales, the fact that even pro-Tau Empire stories reflect this new attitude is telling of how Games Workshop sees this faction.

Ignoring just about everything prior to mid Fifth Edition - which the company sadly has a history of doing by now - the tau we see today focus less upon unity than they do assimilation. When you truly stop to compare one with the next, the elements which help define one government as a federation or republic are far stronger within the Imperium than the Tau Empire. While the tau certainly have a more open and friendlier attitude towards alien races, that almost exclusively comes down to the fact they won't commit genocide on sight. Plus, given that within a few generations new species are cultivated to only have the mindset, values and laws of the tau, does that even really make them alien at the end of the day?

This certainly isn't some article trying to get you to support one army over the other, but simply to encourage people to stop and take a long, hard look at how modern lore defines the armies you like. In this case, if the Tau Empire can even truly be defined by the more benevolent idealism which once established them as a major power. Once you do, you can often find that some of the more definitive ideas of the setting have been thrown into question and that, ultimately, some factions have arguably even lost their way. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Starlight (Comicbook Review)

Given his recent work, if you removed Mark Millar’s name from the cover, you’d never guess this was one of his tales. Between Nemesis, Kick-Ass, ruining Marvel with Civil War and sticking to the grim and gritty aspects of modern comics, it’s almost expected for any title he’s involved in to involve copious amounts of rape, murder and worse things beyond the two. However, some forget this was the same man who brought us Superman: Red Son and once worked on some of the most optimistic stories of the JLA comics. Perhaps, in some ways, this is just the author returning to his roots.

What you have here is the tale of a washed up high adventure sci-fi hero finding his place in the sun again. Forty years ago Duke McQueen saved the universe. A test pilot who was dragged to an alien world, much of his youth was spent fighting to defend a peaceful kingdom again endless horde of alien conquerors, warlords and abominations. That was then, and this is now. Having taken a chance via a collapsing wormhole to return home, he was met only with ridicule and incredulity, with even his own children refusing to believe his old stories. Now a widower, he sits at home, left only with his old memories to comfort him. That is, until a rocket ship lands on his front lawn, its pilot desperately calling for his help.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (Video Game Review)

Resurrecting a classic is never an easy task, especially when it comes to changing just about everything while staying true to the original. Abandoning the cold battlefields of the void and story of the Kushan exiles, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak looks at first glance like a bad spin-off, the sort of thing that will be remembered as Homeworld in name only. However, the moment you scratch the surface, you soon find a game made by a developer extremely loyal to the lore and ideas that made the original series into a beloved icon.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Echoes Of Aetheria (Video Game Review)

There's no denying Steam is a dumping ground for games. Between Valve's hands off approach and refusal to properly moderate releases, the company has allowed no shortage of rubbish thrown together by talentless morons onto their store page. Along with being a waste of space however, it's turned many great asset systems into almost an online social taboo. When anyone sees anything put together via Unity, via Unit Z or via RPG Maker, they'll almost immediately pass over them as bottom of the barrel "faux retro RPG" junk. However, there are always a few exceptions, such as today's example: Echoes Of Aetheria.

Made under developer Dancing Dragon Games, this serves very much as a spiritual successor to Skyborn. Set in a world of magic and steampunk technology, many of the same tropes and elements appear from the airship engineering girl with a mouth to the militant Imperial conquerors. However, what makes it stand out is a much grander scale, a very different way in which battles play out and ultimately a different perspective on the world as a whole.

The world is set to enter a new golden. With Empire of Verdia and Kingdom of Sayunaa preparing to wed their heirs to the throne, two of the world's great powers are about to fully merge. However, foul dealings are afoot. As the ceremony is stormed by several guards and Princess Soha is kidnapped, it is left to an unlikely alliance between the duty-bound knight Lucian and tech-savvy thief Ingrid to rescue her. Yet, even as they complete their ask, they soon find their world making less sense with every passing moment. Each is left questioning just what is truly at work here.

While the old kidnap the princess plot is one which has been done to death, there was at least enough at work sense here to play with events. It's just used as a spark, a starting point to reveal the bigger machinations at work, and to really get the ball rolling. Honestly, it's not just the chase you have to contend with, along the way you also have to foil a bomb plot, fight your way through a small army of guards, discover you can trust little to no one and work your way through a hidden fortress. Plus, by the time you get there, the Princess has freed herself via Jedi mind trick methods and joins you as the mage. While normally this would make the opening feel a little overly rushed - and it does admittedly make it hard to ease yourself into the lore - it's nevertheless the right kind of rushed. It's akin to Final Fantasy VII's opening attack on the mako reactor, where you have little to no grounding but it's exciting enough to make you want to know what the hell is going on. By the time you do start to get some real grounding and understand where the plot is going, you're already hooked in.

The story itself is much vaster in terms of scale this time. Whilst Skyborn mostly stuck to a single city and a few surrounding lands, Echoes Of Aetheria sees you trekking across an entire continent. Every area really feels as if the developers were just given a blank cheque and told to cut loose with their creativity, and focus more upon a running narrative than areas to grind. As such, you end up with things like the Victorian steampunk version of Omaha Beach, artillery and all, and an airship dock brimming with guards. Many of these areas are designed for you to only run through once and never come back, which comes with two advantages. First and foremost, it means that while they're admittedly a little linear, there's more up-front engaging events, character moments and scenery to keep you interested. Secondly however, it emphasises the fact that the game has been made to avoid grinding as much as possible. While you still need to grind here and there for irritating boss encounters, but it's not nearly as bad as the JRPGs of old and leaves you racing through the experience without too many issues.

Another interesting point to note is that the game isn't afraid to split the party as well. Several scenes and major events feature a single character heading off away from the others or the role of central protagonist shifting to someone else for a while, which allows the game more of a chance to really explore more if its world. The one chance you truly get to explore Sayunaa stems from Soha personally visiting the regent, and it does allow for some truly great character moments. While they're certainly not going to win any awards any time soon and do fall into the same old categories we've seen plenty of times over, it's thanks to these moments that each of them are given a little more depth. Well, that and the flashbacks Lucian undergoes which reveals more of his personal history. 

Now, some of you probably have more than a few alarm bells going off in your head at this point, and I wouldn't blame you. A lot of this does sound very much like Final Fantasy "THIS IS A CORRIDOR GAME AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!" XIII. It's certainly true that the two share many of the same elements, but it honestly seems that Dancing Dragon were taking notes as SquareEnix blundered about making every error possible. For starters, there's no Snow and Lightning, by which I mean there's no unlikable sociopath or glory hog blind to collateral damage stealing the spotlight. Besides Ingrid herself occasionally becoming overly cocky, none of the characters ever grate upon your nerves and it's genuinely interesting to learn more about them. Because of this, the game offers brief pauses once in a while to learn more about them as you progress. There's no driven rush to force you into progressing down a single narrow path, and the story repeatedly stops to offer the player a chance to visit outposts and small settlements to rearm, explore and talk more with the characters. It's akin to what you'd usually expect of a Bioware game, such as Dragon Age: Origins' camp or the SSV Normandy; somewhere which serves as a place to settle down and just learn more about your party.

While many of the locations themselves disappear or become unavailable after a time, many others are offer the opportunity for people to revisit and explore a little more of them. These are often made more like your common or garden pixel RPG location, intended to be fully explored and almost labyrinthine in nature. It makes them perfect for the odd occasion where you do need to grind, but it also ensures that sense of adventure in the game is never fully lost. With all this said however, even the supposedly linear locations are fairly open and surprisingly nuanced in their design. Even areas which, by rights, should have just featured you running in a single direction such as a supply train raid, which literally involves you getting to the front and freeing someone. An easy task to be sure and potentially a boring one, but Dancing Dragon turns it into something exciting by allowing you to explore the surrounding grounds, ambushing guards, jumping rail cars and looting everything in sight.

What's more, it's often counter-productive to simply run headlong through locations. Each and every one features a number of hidden treasures plus a very large and valuable chest. Those who actually bother to take the time to hunt down the key are often rewarded with a high grade weapon, a pile of moolah or even a few surprising items to help explore locations. It gives a major edge as you progress throughout the game, and its simple presence encourages anyone progressing through the game to leave no stone upturned before finally moving on. Like the character bits though, it's another moment where you don't have to do it but you're rewarded for doing so.

So, with all of the above in mind however, how does the combat hold up? In the contrast to Skyborn's minimalist look and relatively basic agro system, Echoes Of Aetheria has shifted gears and switched to a combat grid. Divided in half, each opposing group can now use their turns to alter their formations and shift about to allow characters a chance to use more varied abilities. For example, save for projectile attacks and magic, the front rank of each group can only be attacked, allowing the squisher wizards to hide behind the beefier tanks. However, as there's no solid "tank" class in the game and even Lucian can go down to a few blows, you're frequently encouraged to make full use of status buffs and blocking abilities. Dropping a turret down on the front row or even a pile of rubble can buy groups valuable time to heal, and it means the player can cycle in and out the characters they want to take the brunt of any assault. Plus, as some abilities can only strike in certain places or directions, it can legitimately allow you to nullify a frustrating ability if you're smart about placing characters.

The actual abilities themselves are equally surprising, as they abandon the traditional MP bar you might expect. Instead, each group gradually charges up points as they progress through combat, dishing out or enduring damage until the bar fills. The more bars fill, the more devastating abilities you unlock. Using these drains the bar itself and it turns combat into more of a case of patiently planning and waiting out certain strikes. After all, if you can't have your entire party hit the boss with every powerful spell in your arsenal all on the first turn, that alone's going to turn things into an uphill battle. What's also interesting is the staggering system, which allows the party to knock back a foes in turn order or delay their attack. If correctly used on the right foe it allows for a player to leave them in limbo, but for the most part it's useful for getting an extra turn or two in before they hit you hard.

The abilities themselves are certainly varied even if most are usually just some play upon the usual "Heal, Buff, Fireball" combos we know and love, but a few fun ones slip in there now and again. Really, name another turn based RPG which allows you to drop piles upon piles of junk in front of you so the enemy can't physically touch your characters. Unfortunately though, it's with the abilities that Echoes Of Aetheria reaches its first stumbling point. For seemingly no reason, you can only actually equip a few abilities at a time, six at most but only one or two early on. There's really no apparent reason for this arbitrary limitation, and ultimately it just results in additional pre-boss battle busywork more than anything else. This is only made worse as you unlock more skills, and you can be left second guessing what to roll into battle with. Then again, half the time you might even not notice this as you just breeze through events.

Even on the hardest difficulty, vast swathes of the game are surprisingly easy to stroll through without slowing down and there's few if any speed bumps. You'll keep going, keep grinding, and keep leveling up before hitting a brick wall known as Alexi. There's not so much a difficulty curve as a sudden difficulty spike about ten hours in, which lasts all of one battle before you go right back to normal for a while. Okay, fine, there's always the one boss like that but after such a casual stroll it's jarring to suddenly bump into something which can easily wipe the floor with you. It's even worse when the game keeps damn well doing this at random from there on, suddenly presenting the player with an armoured, seemingly invincible, boss who will ruin your day, only for the following sections to never reflect that sudden shift. It's like the developer wanted there to make a harder game, but opted to reserve it only for a scant few moments.

Even ignoring the combat issues though, what will likely frustrate many players to no end is how the game simply refuses to explain things as it goes along. This hits both the lore and gameplay fairly hard, and while it does a good job with the basics of both, the intricacies and certain key details are lost entirely. more than once you might find yourself walking out of a level, leaving behind that giant, precious treasure chest. However, as the game gives you no indication you only have that one precious opportunity to nab it, or that the door you walked through was even the exit, you end up losing some of the game's best loot. Jumping sections, the crafting system and even how certain enemies will fight are all plagued by these problems, and it can leave you taking a trial and error approach to almost everything.

The lore issues meanwhile are, sadly, the same thing Final Fantasy XIII has been criticised for. Way too much is just left for the codex or just general world-building articles. Rather than allowing them to compliment what you see in the game, it almost seems as if it's required reading in some way. This is especially evident early on as you're offered no chance to really speak with any characters or for the world to be slowly built-up, it can take some time to get to grips with things. There's excitement still, as mentioned at the start, but that's not quite enough when that starts to wear off and you just want to know what's what about the world. This does admittedly improve as time goes by, but there's still bits you'll keep missing without stopping to repeatedly read.

With all things considered though, even with the notable flaws which plague the game, that simply turns it from something which could have been fantastic into something simply great. It's saying something when a game which can be criticised for being too easy and not telling quite enough was still engaging enough for me to sink a couple of dozen hours into it. There's a truly vast world here, and a fascinating setting which is more than deserving to see a future sequel explore its kingdoms, nations and empires in-depth. If you're looking for a good RPG or even just an example of a truly great RPG Maker release, Echoes Of Aetheria one comes with a strong recommendation. Let's certainly hope it's the start of a new saga, and a promising new franchise.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Starbound (Book Review)

Tales of exploration among the stars, discovering strange new worlds and old threats are certainly nothing new. They are a cornerstone in the space opera subgenre after all, and some of the most influential franchises have been built upon that theme. However, overdone as it often is, there are rare books that prove capable of putting a new spin on old ideas, such as today’s example: Starbound.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India (Video Game Review)

If you wanted to truly sum up the Chronicles games in a single word, it would be “serviceable”. They’re ultimately entertaining if a little shallow; each intended to offer some slight variation in the often creatively stagnant and progressively less colourful Assassin’s Creed games, but still provide a cheap enjoyable experience. This was ultimately the case with the previous game set in China, and India is really more of the same.  

The narrative here really takes a back seat compared with the core series, and much more focus is placed upon the vibrant environments. While certainly not as vast, showy or buggy as the recent releases, this stealth platformer nevertheless has a distinct ancient atmosphere about it, and the art direction is as stunning as ever. Better yet, the translation to 2.5D has hardly harmed the game and it retains a kind of simplistic charm akin to the original Prince of Persia. A big chunk of this is thanks to the fact that the mechanics are very sound and offer some good tactical variety in admittedly linear levels. Smoothly designed environments encourage a fast paced but careful approach, with your choices being to distract guards, hide until they pass or go around them entirely via hookshot. 

Combat remains an option but, in a refreshing change of pace, it’s hardly a guaranteed win thanks to downgrading the instant-win counter-moves. Rather than just waiting until someone stabs at you before skewering them, you’re left with a very small health bar and limited number of tools to work with. As such, the days of merrily wading through armies Templars are gone, and you’re actually encouraged to keep an eye on patrol routes, cover your tracks and move silently. In other words, you need to actually be an assassin for once. 

The unfortunate thing is that, for all its simplicity, there’s not much in the way of replay value to be had here. While past core games from the series at least offered some fun when it came to exploring the vast open worlds, Chronicles: India ends and that’s about it. Even the score attack element offers little to be truly invested in, and the collectibles are forgettable at best. It also hardly helps that, despite the shift in style, many side activates just seem to be the same ones the main games have done to death. 

Overall, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is fun, simple and engaging but ultimately just has a very short lifespan. While certainly a refreshing take on the Assassin’s Creed series, it falls short of its full potential and can seem a little insubstantial as a result. Definitely give it a look, but don’t expect anything truly revolutionary. 

Verdict: 6 out of 10

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Tharsis (Video Game Review)

After a lengthy Early Access program, Tharsis finally hit Steam as a finished product, promising players a harsh survival digital board game aboard a lone colony ship travelling to Mars. With the odds stacked against you, risks of further disasters and supply shortages, this is the sort of game which makes FTL: Faster Than Light look like a walk in the park.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The 10 Worst Tanks of the Second World War

In many respects, the Second World War was the golden age of the tank. It was a rare time when the playing field was level for such technology, and everyone was advancing from the same starting point. As such, over the course of just a few years, we saw countless designs being drawn up, put into combat and then being surpassed in a relatively short amount of time. It was also the last true era where the heavily armoured behemoth seemed to be dominant on the battlefield, lacking some of the more direct or advanced forms of air support seen today. It's perhaps for this reason that the image of the M4 Sherman, Tiger Mark 1, Panther and others still endure to this day.

Still, for all its successes, the Second World War had its fair share of failures and ill conceived war machines. These ranged from those hampered by poor conceptual design elements to utterly insane builds which no one in their right mind should have ever backed in the first place. With so much on offer though, there's a couple of basic ground rules which limited this selection:

  • Each tank needed to at least reach the prototype phase. Without this, Germany's Panzers would make up the vast bulk of this list.
  • The tanks can't be Italian, as they have so many they're probably going to have their own list at some point.
  • Only one super heavy tank is permitted on the entire list. Given nearly all such designs proved to be failures, or never reached the battlefield, it seemed only fair to list the single worst one of the bunch on here.
  • Each needed to be on the drawing board or in full production between 1933 to 1945, just to ensure each would be involved in the actual war itself. Or, in the case of those who didn't even manage to enter combat, at least was being test driven while the Nazi regime was about.

So, without further ado, onto our list of mechanised failures!

10. Type 95 Ha-Go

Japan's greatest victories during this era tended to come from its air force and navy, and with good reason. The actual army itself produced very few truly fierce weapons of war, and the development of their armoured corps barely extended beyond a few light tanks. This left them woefully undermanned, and heavily reliant upon light vehicles such as the Type 95. The end result was the kind of curb-stomping rarely seen outside of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

So, what was the big problem with the Type 95? For starters, it was basically made with combating near-medieval forces in mind. China during this time was not exactly a technological powerhouse, and much of its military tended to consist of small bands of poorly armed militia, most of who were outfitted with pistols or swords. They were the sort of foes the Red Army would laugh at even on its worst day, and the tanks didn't exactly need to be heavy hitters as a result. Because of this they had paper thin plating and a rapid firing, if low power and highly inaccurate, main gun.  While certainly speedy and well suited to tougher tropical environments like Malaya, these strengths were offset by various mechanical failures and a number of extremely unreliable and temperamental engine issues.

While the tank's opening battles were actually successes, they were often against similarly outdated designs, poorly equipped troops or inexperienced commanders. This gave them an edge during the early 1940s, especially in Burma where it was thought conventional tanks would be of no use. Then, as time went by, the Allies quickly realised not only were infantry weapons capable of shredding the Type 95's paper thin armour and engine block, but it didn't actually have the firepower to take down Matilda IIs, M4 Shermans or even M3 Lees. Suffice to say, it was all downhill from there for Type 95 crews.

While she might have had luck on her side in her early conflicts, the Type 95 was outclassed and outdated before Japan even entered the war.

9. Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I (A11)

While certainly not nearly as bad as some of the later examples on this list, the Matilda is hardly a vehicle which will be remembered with any reverence. An oddity of its era and a hold-over from cruder 1930s designs, it was distinct for having a rather mismatched combination of armour and armament. Apparently built around the idea of having heavy armour first and a solid cannon second, it was outfitted only with a single turret mounted Vickers .303 or Vickers .50. In English, this was a heavily armoured and well built tank whose only offensive armament was a machine gun. As you might guess, this left them rather ill equipped to face certain threats, particularly armoured positions and vehicles.

The overall design of the Matilda was also rather flawed. It notably suffered from having severely exposed tracks and running gear, meaning the tank could endure severe punishment but could be immobilised with comparative ease. Furthermore, being a relatively compact design, crewmen had to each take on multiple duties at a time. Well, least one of them did at any rate. Along with directing the vehicle, the commander was expected to serve as the radio operator, gunner and loader all in one, while the driver was just left with the job of getting the tank from point A to point B. That was it. The tank was so small and so cramped that there was no room for someone else, and the very act of opening the main hatch would prevent the turret from aiming directly ahead. Top all of this off with a slow speed of eight miles per hour, and the British army was left with an infantry support tank which did a good job of providing cover and supplying covering fire against light targets, but little else.

Put into service only shortly before the outbreak of war, the Matilda only saw the initial engagements across France. Though a mixture of its poor armament and atrocious tactics, the Matilda failed to gain any real successes. Its only claim to fame was spearheading the Battle of Arras, which came close to turning the tide against the German advance. No one bothered to continue the line after Dunkrik, and was succeeded by the more combat effective Matilda II. It was ultimately an inglorious end for a flawed tank.

8. KV-2

Whatever you might say about the Russian military, they truly are pragmatic to the core. More-so than any other fighting force, they reworked, re-purposed and reused practically everything they had, throwing it into battle. This led to some famous designs such as the many T-34 variants, and some rather infamous ones such as today's example.

The idea behind the KV-2 was simple - Use the same basic frame of the KV-1 heavy tank to create a mobile artillery piece and effectively tack a howitzer onto it. While certainly good in concept, as with many things, quite a few flaws quickly became evident as they were sent into battle. While they retained the KV-1's glacial speed and heavy plating around its base, the turret itself was incredibly thinly armored with next to no sloping of any kind. With only three inches of flat armour present to protect the various crewmen operating the gun, and an extremely high profile, these things were a cinch to put out of commission. Top this off with the fact enemy forces could see these things slowly approaching from miles off, and the tank was a disaster waiting to happen.

Even discounting the possibility of direct conflict, which in all fairness they were never made for, the KV-2 had no shortage of its own problems. Using the KV-1's engine, it was plagued by countless reliability issues in its early years, which was hardly the best combination to go hand in hand with its slow speed. The turret itself, along with making the tank extremely top heavy, could not even traverse unless the vehicle was on relatively level ground, meaning it did not even have mobility going for it. Oh, and much like many of the bigger, badder tanks of this war, it was so heavy it couldn't use most bridges.

Few if any KV-2s lasted past 1942 and the only use the looting happy German army found for them was as artillery observation platforms. In fact, things became so bad that the Soviets themselves (aka, the we'll-throw-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-at-the-Nazis brigade) eventually issued a mass recall, put KV-1 turrets on them all, and sent the back out as standard tanks. It's only in recent years they have gained any real popularity, largely thanks to World of Tanks and War Thunder omitting 90% of their mechanical faults.

7. Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B (Tiger II)

Being one of the big iconic mechanical beasts of the war, the inclusion of the Tiger II on this list is probably going to ruffle the feathers of a few treadheads. However, while it might have been a boon for Germany's propaganda, these things suffered no shortage of problems in everything from logistics to basic maintenance.

While often infamous for being problematic and over-engineered, the Tiger I at least had the element of surprise on its side and few competitors. By the time the II rolled off the production lines, Germany was in real trouble and tactics had been developed to counter them. They were rushed into service, hampered by poorly trained crewmen and plagued with notable design flaws. Chief among these was an extremely overtaxed drive, which had never been intended for something of the II's size and weight, and a double radius steering gear which was extremely prone to failure. Seals and gaskets also frequently tended to leak fuel, and of the many sent out into battle only a few tended to arrive on the front-lines. 

Their design issues often meant they were frequently in stationery, hull-down positions despite some surprising agility for their size and even the act of transporting them was a living nightmare. Too large for rail cars and too heavy for bridges, even trying to move these vehicles without using their own power was problematic at the best of times. Even once they got to combat itself, the armour was found to be surprisingly lacking. While certainly thick and well sloped, the metal was rather brittle and the seams would either crack or shatter under multiple impacts. To the Tiger's credit though, no tank was confirmed to be taken out via enemy armoured vehicles despite this glaring flaw. Instead, most were often found abandoned thanks to their fuel consumption issues, having run dry before they could return to a supply depot.

While many of these problems were admittedly gradually overcome with time, the extensive maintenance they required and troublesome reliability would haunt them until the end of the war. Ultimately, the Tiger II really did live up to its name. It was twice the tank the Tiger I had been, with twice the effective armour, twice the size and twice the crippling problems of its predecessor. 

6. A13 Covenanter

While it certainly had its fair share of successes, Britain's armoured development during this era was not exactly something to be elated at. Many new creations were either hampered by poor design choices or, even in the case of successes, downright terrible tactics in the face of the German blitzkrieg. Yet, even as the country was sending out wave after wave of almost laughable fighting vehicles, the A13 Covenanter proved to be so bad no one was willing to actually field the damn thing.

Ordered into production before any prototypes had been built, it was a part of a desperate rush to construct something to replace the Cruiser IV. At first glance it looked to be a promising new tank, with a low profile, extremely well sloped sides and a powerful engine which would give Britain an edge in terms of lighting fast armour. So, what exactly went wrong? For starters, the engine cooling was absolutely borked beyond belief. In order to fit the rather large 12-cylinder engine into the vehicle, the radiators had to be re-positioned to the tank's front. Along with making them remarkably easy to take out, they simply failed to prevent the engine stalling or overheating. Even after an extremely rushed re-design, entirely new problems arose, with the entire crew compartment being turned into an oven by the internal pipes.

While the sloped design was still effective, the thin nature of the armour was found to be woefully insufficient, and barely an improvement over the tank it was intended to replace. German tanks would chew through it in seconds and repeated re-designs led to the more reliable welded turret being replaced by a more risky riveted design. If you're not entirely sure why this is a bad idea imagine that, atop of enemy fire, the crew had to worry about bits of their own tank pinging off and turning into high-speed bullets. Of course, this was nothing when compared with the fact that the tank ran the risk of killing the commander if brought to a sudden stop. The hatch atop of the turret was opened by sliding backwards, lying horizontally atop a set of rubber blocks. The problem was that the locking mechanism was rather unreliable, and if the tank pulled to a sudden halt or even hit a rather large bump in the road, it would scythe shut again. I say scythe as, well, tank gunners and commanders tended to ride with their heads looking over the turret for better visibility. One wrong turn and the driver was likely to be treated to the sight of his comrade's head bouncing past his vision slit.

Want to know the real killer here, though? Several thousand were built before anyone realised just how big its problems were, leaving the army stuck with a massive surplus of these damn things. This was intended as the first step in rebuilding the severely diminished UK military, and proved to be one of the government's worst mistakes since taking Hitler's word for granted. Besides a handful of bridge-layers, the entire Covenanter line remained in the British Isles to serve purely as training vehicles for new crews. The closest they would get to seeing combat was when one was bombed during a German air raid over Canterbury.

5. Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Sd. Kfz. 184.

Better known as the Ferdinand or Elefant, this oversized tank destroyer seemed to be an answer to a question no one asked. Originally built in small numbers during 1943 with several modified versions produced in 1944, it was another victim of the "Bigger is better!" mentality which was dominating German tank designs. Weighing close to seventy tons, it was intended to counter Russian anti-tank weapons and T-34 variants at maximum range, blowing them in half with its massive 88mm cannon from several kilometers away. While it actually performed this role with surprising success, German forces ran into no end of problems before and after that point.

Much like the Tigers, Panthers and other large tracked vehicles, the Ferdinand was extremely slow, mechanically unreliable and guzzled fuel like there was no tomorrow. With a highway/off road fuel consumption of .15/.11 km/l respectively, these things were difficult to move at the best of times and had extreme trouble keeping up with blitzkrieg tactics, even without accounting for their repeated engine failures. Any damage to the tracks via mines or suspension would effectively cripple the vehicle entirely, as they were far too heavy for recovery vehicles and even exterior crew work could only do so much, even during relatively peaceful times between combat. Then, as Germany found out, the tank had no shortage of real problems to contend with in direct combat.

Deployed to help press forwards during the Battle of Kursk, the Ferdinand initially performed its job well, nailing targets at maximum range before slowly grinding forwards into Russian lines. While they achieved a commendable K/D ratio under long range conditions, up close and personal was an entirely different matter. You see, apparently someone had forgotten to give these things a machine gun or any kind of close range defense against basic infantry attacks. With its main gun mounted onto the hull and any awareness of the surrounding area hampered by poor peripheral vision, Soviet troops suddenly realised they could very easily rush these things without any real threat. Armed with Molotov cocktails and grenades, Red Army infantrymen stormed these behemoths the second they were in range, resulting in fascist flambe. Of the eighty-nine committed, few to none would leave that battle.

The later "Elefant" upgrades were intended to overcome the problems which had so badly cost the tank in Kursk, but seemed to matter very little in terms of overall performance. Deployed in Italy, it was soon discovered that most roads and bridges were unable to support these vehicles, hindering their involvement in any offensive role. With most being crippled on both occasions by mechanical faults and failings, they remain infamous as a tank more frequently destroyed by their crew to prevent capture than actual enemy action.

4. T-35

So, here's the single super-heavy which proved to be so woefully made, so inefficient that it managed to beat out all others. While the German Maus, British TOG II and French FCM F1 all had their failings, the T-35 eclipses them all as the spectacular failure which symbolizes why these giant landships just don't work. Really, if you were to ask for a single example, one dazzling, eye popping symbol for just why super-heavy vehicles should never be attempted, you couldn't ask for anything better than this Russian monstrosity.

Like a few other examples here, the T-35 was the product of an older era, as it was first put into service during the mid 1930s. Intended to serve as a symbol of power for the new Russian regime, the entire thing looks like what you'd get if you hired Rob Liefeld as an engineer. With five independently operated gun turrets, it was almost ten meters long and four meters tall. It was an impressive sight to be sure, at least on the parade ground, but anything outside of near perfect conditions was an entirely different matter. Weighing at forty-five tons, it was extremely slow moving and cumbersome, barely able to fully turn and sluggish even by the standards of Great War vehicles. It was also an utter nightmare to operate, causing the crew all kinds of hell as they tried to get the thing to work. You see, while outwardly large, the interior was extremely cramped and narrowed in, so much so that many crewmen were divided up into separate fighting compartments. Those hatches you see on each turret? Yeah, they're not to allow the gunners a quick peek outside, those are how each of them got in and out of the tank.

The turrets in question, while numerous, were also poorly positioned and poorly aligned with one another. Notably, each of the main cannons could only fire upon the same target if it happened to stop at the forwards right side of the vehicle. Anywhere else and only one or two turrets could focus fire at a time, assuming they could even get those orders across. Worse even than the issues the tank had when it came to overlapping fields of fire, the T-35 had armour which would make wet cardboard look impressive on a good day. Capable of being penetrated by damn near anything heavier than a basic rifle, the 11–30 mm of armour plating meant this was little more than a over-sized coffin. Say what you will about the Tigers, but at least they could take a few hits for all their failings.

As if sensing the fact it wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell, the T-35 had this mysterious habit of breaking down right before combat. The whole thing was a mechanical nightmare of course, anything of this size from this era seemed to be, but even by the standards of super heavy vehicles these things were temperamental. Rather infamously, when rushed to respond to Operation Barbarossa, nearly all of the T-35s suffered crippling mechanical failures on their way to  the front-lines. Only one or two are suspected to have been taken out by the enemy, and most of those claims have never been fully substantiated. At the end of the day, the only thing the T-35 accomplished was proving exactly why no one in their right mind would want to further research into giant multi-turreted tanks. Well, outside of science fiction at any rate.

3. The Bob Semple Tank

So, stepping away from problematic and failing Russian pseudo-super tanks for a moment, have here their complete opposite. The Bob Semple tank is the sort of thing which sounds like something spawned from a bad sitcom. I had to actually double check this thing was real before adding it to this list, as even for the time the idea was ridiculous; like some terrible punch-line for how insane some creators could be. The idea, at its core, was basically to have an entire country put together home-made battle tanks in place of actual factory-made vehicles. 

Designed by - or at least named after - New Zealand Minister of Works Bob Semple, the tank was spawned out of the country's need to build a standing military fromk anything and everything on hand. With little established infrastructure to support the construction of a full military force or even basic blueprints, Semple opted for the "here, hold my beer!" approach  and set about having tanks built without any serious planning or direction behind them. Constructed out of corrugated iron, several were based upon existing vehicles such as Caterpillar D8 tractors, with the armour set about it like a steel case. Rather than actually blocking rounds or truly protecting them for damage, the crude plating was just put together with the vain hope of deflecting rounds from the crew within. No, really, and this is what they thought the end result would look like:

As you might expect from a vehicle being built by civilian communities, there wasn't much in the way of actual anti-tank weapons. So instead the creators went for that quantity over quality approach, outfitting them with six Bren light machine guns. These weren't exactly placed in the most sensible of locations, and instead seemed to be put wherever they had room. Just to give a quick idea of how badly some of this was done, one gunner was required to lie on a mattress atop the main engine (as in directly atop of it) in order to fire his weapon.

Well, after taking all of this into account, the Bob Semple tank didn't exactly pass with flying colours when the first prototypes were put to the test. Due to their sheer impracticality, poor handling, awful firepower and being a crime against common sense, the New Zealand army opted not to take Semple up on his idea. It helped that factory built tanks, the very things these shambling creations had been built to briefly replace thanks to a lack of infrastructure, had started to arrive from overseas. Still, while they might have been thoroughly ridiculous, they have developed a kind of cultural fondness in their homeland as a symbol of self-reliance. Plus it helps that Semple took them in his stride, with more than a few amazing quotes which cemented them in this cultural perspective. It's certainly a better legacy than most of those found this list.

2. Tančík vzor 1933

This is one of those few which seems to have slipped between the cracks in history. By all rights this should be held up on a monument, serving as an eternal reminder of how some ideas should never be attempted. Made to augment the Czechoslovakian army, it was copied from the Carden-Lloyd Mk. IV tankette right down to many of its core design elements. However, while the Mk. IV had existed purely as a support vehicle for dragging artillery pieces and the like, someone had the bright idea of converting this thing into a full fighting vehicle. The plan was to basically make a highly mobile machine gun nest, capable of moving quickly from position to position and serving as a counter to any major infantry attack. Unfortunately, the end result left a lot to be desired. 

This thing was regarded as the epitome of a bad tank, even by its test drivers. It was poorly armed, badly armoured, with little room for the gun and noisy as all hell. Actually trying to hit any target was difficult at the best of times, largely thanks to an extremely narrow field of fire and the fact that moving any faster than a snail's pace made the gun woefully inaccurate. Even discounting its unreliability in the heat of battle and tendency to break down at the worst moments, the army quite literally could not think of a role it would be suited for. While it was too poorly constructed to serve as a front-line vehicle, its boxy and narrow design made visibility of the outside world nearly impossible. Even sitting side by side, the crew within had little chance of really communicating with one another, short of screaming over the engine.

Despite everyone short of its creator adamantly hating the design, political intervention ensured that seventy of the Tančíks were made, but largely kept to one side. Thanks to their limited role and general dislike, their only real use was a few minor suppression actions against partisans during the Slovak National Uprising. Unsurprisingly, little has actually been said in terms of their active service which wasn't scathing and highly critical of their performance.

1. A38 Valiant

So, we finally reach the last option on this list, the big one. You might not know of it, not even know of its legacy, but you'll soon understand just why this has been picked out as the worst tank of this era.

Designed in 1943 and produced in the following year, the Valiant was built with the intention of correcting the British army's shortcomings in Burma. The basic concept was thus: Build as small and light a tank as possible with as much heavy armour as they could. Simple enough in theory, until someone apparently decided to abandon all sanity while working on the project.

Severely under-gunned for its weight, the Valiant was armed only with a single 6pdr (57mm) main gun, lacking any variant of bow-mounted machine gun. This might have been fine given it was intended to primarily combat Japanese tanks, but then you get to everything else. Despite being intended as a light design, the vehicle was abysmally slow and had low mobility even by the standards of British infantry tanks. With an incredible top speed of 12mph, it was outclassed by the M4 Sherman despite being the same tonnage, and had only an estimated range of eighty miles. So, it was barely capable of crawling forwards but it made up for that by barely being able to operate beyond supply depots.

Even the armour itself, the very thing it had been built to focus upon, was considered to be woefully inadequate. While certain sections were constructed from cast metal, many others were bolted together. This was a process which had long since been ruled out as being extremely dangerous for the crew within thanks to risk of spalling. Even without that however, it followed an extremely flawed design by having the mantlet on the interior of the turret, turning its entire front into a massive weak spot. Given that this is one of two areas focused upon the most in forwards engagements, the gunner was effectively just waiting to be turned to paste by a lucky round. This problem was only amplified by its high profile despite the low body, meaning it was easy to see coming from a long way off and a blind man could pinpoint it even through a jungle. 

Even without its many basic failings, the ergonomics alone would have marked it as a failure. For example, while putting the vehicle through its paces, the test driver discovered a couple of odd things. For starters, he needed to throw his full weight behind each lever in order to operate them. Pushing them back past a certain point resulted in them jamming so badly they needed to be forced back into position with a crowbar, and the interior was so cramped the driver often risked losing at least one limb. Really, that's not an exaggeration, if he were to get his foot caught between the pedals the confined nature meant amputation was the only way of freeing him. 

The commander was no safer either, as it was discovered that any slight bump or turn risked him bashing his head against the sharp edges of the hatch and concussing himself. A big part of this was down to the wishbone design of suspension, which was considered overly fragile and extremely inadequate for a tank of its type. I wonder why no one listened to those people when they were building the damn thing.

Surprisingly, despite all of this and utterly failings its basic trials, the Valiant still found use in the British military. Soon after the project was shut down, it was hauled away and set up as an example to new officers, showing them what the past had offered. For quite some years afterwards, crews were expected to enter the tank and cite as many failings as they could find, and then list them off for an examiner. Just to put that in perspective - Mere weeks after its creation, this iron cast punchline to a terrible joke was literally set aside as a guide on how not to do it. The entire thing was kept, preserved and displayed as a constant reminder of the Ministry of Defence's failure and how it should never be repeated again. The Valiant wasn't  simply a tank, it was a living testament to Britain's shame as a military power in the world.

So, those are the ten worst tanks of the Second World War. A few of you are likely to wonder why certain choices weren't on here and, in particular, why there are not any American tanks. Truth be told, there were several lined up for this list, especially those preceding the M3 Lee, yet for their every failing it just seemed another country had managed to outdo them. Had this list been longer a good two or three certainly would have made it on there, but for the moment I personally stand by these choices.

If you have your own suggestions or even arguments against those present on this list, please feel free to leave them in the comments. It's been quite some time since there's been a proper history discussion on this blog, and it's always nice to hear the thoughts of others surrounding the machinery of bygone eras.