Tuesday 31 August 2010

Book Reviews

Warhammer: Temple of the Serpent
C.L. Werner
Black Library/Games Workshop

Available from 2nd September - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

After a series of failures, Skaven Grey Seer Thanquol is offered a chance to redeem himself by going to the island of Lustria to kill the Prophet of Sotek. Dogged by assassins and stranded in a foreign land of giant lizards, Slann, temple cities and endless jungle, Thanquol must use all of his cunning, magic and his Rat-Ogre, Boneripper, if he is to come out alive.

The Warhammer 40,000 novels seem to be out to be the darkest, grimmest, tankiest, shootiest, Orkiest novels out there, drumming home death and despair. The Warhammer Fantasy novels, by comparison, seem to want to be the pulpiest, cartooniest, Conaniest barrels of action and comedy this side of Indiana Jones. And Temple of the Serpent seems to want to up that ante once again. Temple of the Serpent reads like Robert E. Howard after a sugar and Saturday Morning Cartoon binge. The battle scenes are awesome, and this contains not only Skaven, Slann and a Barbarian, but also dinosaurs, zombies, pirates, lizard men and **SPOILER** (highlight to read) zombie pirates **END SPOILER**.

On the down side – let’s face it – reading like Robert E. Howard isn’t always a good thing, and it’s rather unfortunate that Werner has (in this instance) picked up a few of Howard’s bad habits as well. The scenery description leaves a lot to be desired, and the frequent leaping from fight to fight to action scene to fight has the knock on effect of making it read like a dungeon crawl. Dungeon Mastered by Robert E. Howard. With ADHD. On fire.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Very frequent, and very bloody.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, pulp, fantasy adventure that reads like Robert E. Howard – in ways both good and bad. Fun for Warhammer fans, but there’s little here to elevate it above “average” for readers with a casual interest. 6/10

The Folding Knife
K.J. Parker

Available Now - £8.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Basso the Magnificent is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he’s only ever made one mistake. One mistake, though, can be enough.

I have a problem with K.J. Parker, and that is that she comes up with great settings, great characters and great concepts for a novel, and will then completely balls it up in the actual execution by focusing on the minutiae to the exclusion of anything interesting. Here in The Folding Knife, we see several wars and battles, but from the perspective of the head of the bank, who sees it all in numbers and figures. Sure, some of his plans are clever – perhaps even devious – but what is the logic behind presenting a fantasy/war series as an exercise in accounting?

People don’t read fantasy to be bored by economics. They don’t want their hero to be a fucking civil servant, no matter how “lucky” he is (which is not an interesting character note, by the way, it just makes him seem jammy).

And at what point did it seems like a good idea to have two characters with the same name, huh?

It starts off bland, becomes dreary, and before the two-thirds mark you’ll be praying for the end.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several large battles, including detailed blood and violence. Several detailed and gory murders. Some punching, etc.
Sex/Nudity: Sex is alluded to, but is always “off camera”.
Swearing: Some “fucks”, “shits” and “bastards”, but not a huge amount.
Summary: A dreary as buggery fantasy novel that concerns itself more with the economics of war than any actual warfare. If you’re a high-school Business Studies teacher you’ll love it, but in that case you’re probably a tosspot anyway. 2/10


Winner of the Best Action Choreography Award at the 1994 Hong Kong Film Awards, the awards for Best Martial Arts Direction and Best Editing and at Taiwan’s prestigious Golden Horse Film Festival and generally considered one of the most breathtaking and spectacular martial arts action movies of the 1990s, The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk comes to DVD in September 2010 courtesy of Cine Asia.

Directed by Corey Yuen, the director of The Transporter and DOA: Dead Or Alive and the action director of numerous hit Hollywood action movies such as X-Men and Lethal Weapon 4, and starring Jet Li (The Expendables), Michelle Reis (Bodyguards And Assassins), Chu Kong (Once A Thief) and veteran Chinese actress Josephine Siao (Hu Du Men), the film boasts some of martial arts cinema’s most inventive and creative combat sequences, showcasing Jet Li’s legendary skill, speed and power to dazzling effect.

Set in China's Ching Dynasty, The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk tells the story of a ruthless emperor who enslaves his people, and persecutes a courageous revolutionary group that is mobilizing to destroy his powerful regime. When young folk hero Fong Sai-yuk (Jet Li) discovers that his own father is a freedom fighter who has been targeted for retribution, he embarks on a heroic quest for justice that will unite his people and create a legend that will never be forgotten.

The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk will be released on DVD (£15.99) by Cine Asia on 6th September 2010, and thanks to our friends at Cine Asia, we've got two copies to give away! Send in your name and postal address to legendgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 7th September to be in with a chance of winning a copy!

Saturday 28 August 2010

DVD Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Dominic West
Director: Neil Marshall
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) & £28.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

In AD 117, the Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea, but in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying Picts. Quintus Dias (one of the guys from 300), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus' (one of the guys from 300) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth and destroy their leader Gorlacon.

But when the legion is ambushed on unfamiliar ground, and Virilus taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines. Enduring the harsh terrain and evading their remorseless Pict pursuers led by revenge-hungry Pict Warrior Etain (The bird from the last Bond movie. Not Gemma Arterton. The other one.), the band of soldiers race to rescue their General and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier.

It’s always nice when historical fiction meets OTT violence and blood, but there’s something about Centurion that never really gets off of the ground. Maybe it’s that all of the characters are paper thin, making it impossible to give a monkey’s hypothalamus when they die. Maybe it’s that the political and social machinations surrounding it are mere cobwebs covering the fact this is a rather obvious re-make of The Warriors.

The action scenes are pretty solid, but despite having at least two cast members in common, this is no 300. It’s okay, it’ll entertain you enough, but you can wait for this to come on TV.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Pretty much non-stop gore, stabbering, fighting and death.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A fair amount.
Summary: A decidedly average historical hack n’ slash. The action scenes and deaths are good, but everything else is mediocre. 5/10

Second Opinion - "An enjoyable action film with lots of gore and swearing to keep the majority of the Emotionally Fourteen happy, and whilst the plot may not be the most original, Marshall has stuck to what he does best, and delivered a thoroughly entertaining film filled with gory action and great one-liners. Watch it if you are an action fan or a big fan of Neil Marshall’s previous films, just don’t expect it to be vastly different from anything else he has done before. - 8/10 - Blake Harmer

The Perfect Sleep
Starring: Patrick Bauchau, Anton Pardoe, Roselyn Sanchez
Director: Jeremy Alter
Icon Home Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

In a timeless, unidentified city, a man with no name returns to the violent, brutal domain of gangsters and assassins he left ten years before, back when they dubbed him The Mad Monk for his disregard for his own life and his intense devotion to one woman, Porphyria.

The girl he grew up with and the love of his life, Porphyria is now a beautiful woman - the only thing he has ever wanted and the one thing he can never have. She, alone, is the reason for his return. Her life now in danger, he is the only man who can save her. But waiting for him are several killers who would like nothing more than to see him die a painful death, while standing at their forefront is the formidable Nikolai, the man who raised him and just might be his father. To protect Porphyria, this unnamed man must revisit his former life of torment and torture and confront the father figure he turned his back on so many years ago.

The Perfect Sleep is a really strange film. It looks and (to a certain extent) acts like a classic noir movie, but the action sequences are straight out of John Woo, and sometimes click straight into full blown kung-fu movie action. Yet, even stranger, the style of the cinematography is a direct descendent (or “knock-off”) of Sin City. You’d hope that a bold attempt to try something new like this would be interesting, but actually it’s just a mess.

The violence can never decide if it wants to be brutal and realistic, or over-the-top and cartoony. The narrator seems desperate to do an impression of Clive Owen in Sin City, because – you know – they haven’t given us enough reasons to do that. If anything, the attempt to make it look arty and unique is what screws it up. If it had cut back on the trimmings and just been more honest about being a detective/kung-fu mash-up, it would have been a lot more enjoyable.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent shootings and kung-fu style violence.
Sex/Nudity: Some partial nudity.
Swearing: Standard for the genre.
Summary: A rather strange cross-genre experiment that, sadly, doesn’t pay off. There’s plenty of talent at work here, though, and I’d be interested to see what they come up with next. 4/10

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
Starring: Michael Jackson, Sean Lennon, Joe Pesci
Director: Colin Chilvers & Jerry Kramer
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £14.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Billing itself as “a combination of footage of Michael Jackson live in concert and a series of fantasy pieces with Jackson as the central character”, Moonwalker should theoretically be showcasing one of the greatest musical performers in history at his creative and commercial peak. Unfortunately, as much as this is a best of Jackson, it’s also a worst of Jackson.

I’m not a hater of Jackson’s. Far from it. I loved him when I was a kid, and there are more than a few songs I like now. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to see Moonwalker as anything other than Messianic self indulgence. The movie opens with a ten-minute “best of” montage, playing the first verse and chorus of his biggest hits over collages of photos and excerpts from music videos. This is followed by a parody of his video for Bad where all of the dancers are replaced with reasonably cute kids. Unfortunately, they are all atrocious dancers.

The re-mastering side is okay. The picture is as sharp as the original source-tape has allowed it to be (ie. not very), but this makes the blue screen work sticks out like a sore-thumb. And there is a lot of it. During the irritating video for Speed Demon (which sees Jackson as a plasticine biker-rabbit for no-real reason...one of the more sensical moments in the movie), the black line around everyone is painfully obvious.

The video for Leave Me Alone, is probably the cleverest that Jackson ever did, and it’s nice to see it here. That’s the highlight, and things dip way down low for the terribly thought out twenty minute video for Smooth Criminal that follows.

When we’re just looking at Jackson performing, he is absolutely on fire. This is him at the height of his career, as his absolutely blinding cover of Come Together shows. If anything, it’s a real shame that the car/robot/rabbit bollocks detracts from that. No other rock star would have wanted to do this (maybe Kiss). What is the logic behind “I want to make a movie where I play a Transformer and rescue a bunch of kids from Joe Pesci.”?

This could only have been a product of the 1990s. Fuck you, 1990s.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling and gunfire.
Sex/Nudity: More crotch gesticulation than a Degeneration-X reunion gig.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Fans of Jackson’s will be whelmed with this Blu-ray edition. It’s cleaned up nicely, but lacks any features or presentation. Everyone else will find this (at best) confusing or (at worst) laughable. 5/10

The Vampire Diaries: Season One
Starring: Nina Dobrev, Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £39.99 (DVD) & £49.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

The Vampire Diaries, which started as a series of novels by L.J. Smith, has become a television sensation among teenagers and adults across the globe.

It's Elena's first day back at Mystic Falls High School since the tragic death of her parents. Along with her Aunt Jenna, Elena tries her best to look after her troubled younger brother, Jeremy, and salvage what family they have left. The first day is already shaping up to be a struggle for Elena until she meets the mysterious new kid at school, Stefan. Elena is touched that he can relate to what she's going through. What Elena doesn't know is that Stefan is a vampire, constantly resisting the urge to taste her blood.

As their undeniable connection grows deeper, Stefan's dangerous older brother, Damon, shows up to wreak havoc on the town of Mystic Falls - and claim Elena for himself.

The difficult thing about The Vampire Diaries is that it started to air on TV shortly after True Blood and to be frank it just comes off as a wimpy, aspartame-filled diet version. With that said, I do actually like it, it's a good example of a high school drama with the addition of vampires (think Beverly Hills 90210 with a little extra bite...pun intended...groan).

It does has to be said, however, that the casting is not that great. Ian Somerhalder (Damon) just looks too old for his part! He is a thirty-two year-old man, playing the part of a man barely over twenty-one. On top of that the acting could be likened more to the quality of a soap opera rather than a decent TV series.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Plenty fighting and biting.
Sex/Nudity: Snogging and side boob.
Swearing: None of note.
Summary: Decent high school drama that you can have as your secret guilty pleasure. Will I tune in to Season Two? Hell yes, I will V+ it so I can watch it whilst my other half is a band practice! 6/10

WWE - Live in the UK: April 2010
Clear Vision Ltd
Available Now - £17.99 (DVD)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

Twice a year, the WWE crew tour Europe and the UK. Twice a year a lot of wrestlers phone in performances on sub-standard RAW and Smackdown! episodes.

And twice a year, WWE sticks it all on a DVD and flogs it to its booming UK market.

WWE: Live in the UK is a double disc box set that contains episodes of RAW, Smackdown!, Superstars and NXT that were all filmed in the UK.

RAW’s guest host is David Hasselhoff. (Which is confusing. Why wouldn’t they have a British host? They had Ricky Hatton last year.) He’s incredibly comfortable in the role and extremely funny to boot.

There’s not much to mention from the show other than a match between Randy Orton and Batista, which - despite Randy’s slower-than-Matt-Damon offence - enthralls the live audience.

Also worth a chuckle is Hasselhoff’s Divas Baywatch Babe Triple Threat Tag Team Match featuring Kelly Kelly & Gail Kim VS The Bella Twins VS Jillian & Rosa Mendes with Santino serving as special guest referee. Played purely for laughs, each wrestler enters the ring in a red swimsuit, in slow motion, and even Santino gets a slow-mo entrance. Somehow, Santino swallows his whistle and passes out. The Hoff, sat in a ringside lifeguard high-chair calls Hornswaggle to the ring, who dislodges the whistle by hitting his Tadpole Frog Splash from the top rope. Maybe the best part of the DVD.

Smackdown! is similarly event-free, featuring only two decent matches.

The first is a decent 6-Man Tag Match pitting CM Punk, Luke Gallows and NXT rookie Darren Young vs. Rey Mysterio and The Hart Dynasty. Everybody here has a good contest, and The Hart Dynasty and ReyRey work really well together. I’d quite like to see them team together more.

The other is the main event, in which Jack Swagger defends his World Heavyweight Championship in a triple threat match with Edge and Chris Jericho. It’s a good booking decision as the two Canadians guide the green, but capable, Swagger through a decent match with plenty of near falls.

WWE Superstars is a completely forgettable show headlined by MVP and Ted DiBiase. MVP headlining something forgettable? There’s a surprise.

NXT is an entertaining enough affair. The “Talk the Talk” promo challenge is fun, and William Regal vs. Daniel Bryan is brilliant, if criminally short.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Regal busts Bryan’s mouth open.
Sex/Nudity: The Diva’s wear Baywatch swimsuits. The Hoff gets his legs out.
Swearing: Only some awesome, and very British, crowd chants.
Summary: A hit and miss collection of matches. This will sell, especially as it’s filmed in the UK. If you were at the live shows, you probably want this in your collection, but there’s no other real reason to pick it up. 5/10

Disgaea Collection
Available Now - £29.99 (DVD)
Review by Blake Harmer

Whilst I admit I love anime and there are several great examples of anime out there such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Death Note etc...I will also admit that there are quite a few things in anime that irk the shit out of me, and sadly, all of these of things are present in abundance in Disgaea.

When the King of the Netherworld dies and various demons attempt to take control through building their own empires, it falls to the king’s son to set out and reclaim his place as true ruler of the netherworld with the aid of his Vassal Etna and Flonne, an angel in training who was originally despatched by heaven to assassinate the king, only to find out he was already dead.

I can happily say that Disgaea is probably the most annoying programme I have ever seen. The characters are overly cutesy and seem to eternally spout unfunny Japanese humour out of their rectums at every inappropriate second. The pauses where everyone falls over when someone makes a bad joke, the lack of facial features when they are sad because everything has been replaced by their eyes, Disgaea suffers from it all, and there is not a single point where it could be considered charming.

The only enjoyment I received out of this collection of turd was when every time something bad happened to the characters, such as when rocks fell on them, I felt a slight tinge of happiness, only to be horribly disappointed when they emerged alive and unscathed.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Cartoony explosive violence but there is no gore or dismemberment, no matter how much you may wish it on the cast.
Sex/Nudity: There are a few references to boobs but everything here is pretty tame as the king’s son is still young and na├»ve about the opposite sex.
Swearing: None, apart from the large amounts of bile I was shouting at the television.
Summary: Unless you happen to be a big fan of the Disgaea franchise and like its quirky and unfunny humour, then this collection is no more than an expensive collection of coasters. Also, if you do happen to like Disgaea, and not just for it’s fairly decent JRPG computer games, then please watch some decent anime and realise the error of your ways. 1/10


The always monster-tastic Metrodome Group have gathered together three of their biggest, baddest and monstrous movies into a special three disc box set! And because we - and they - love you so much, we're giving away three free copies of this awesome compilation!

Included in the set is:

Mega Shark V Giant Octopus: From the depths of the ocean they came for the most titanic struggle ever witnessed. Two mythical beasts, defying the laws of nature and threatening all of humanity in a vicious battle to certain death! '80s pop sensation Debbie Gibson stars as maverick marine biologist Emma MacNeil. She witnesses a catastrophic collision with a rapidly melting glacier, unleashing two enormous behemoths trapped in the ice for millions of years locked in terrible, mortal combat! With the help of a military specialist tasked with destroying these beasts, MacNeil must stop the onslaught of disaster and mayhem. Ships are annihilated, planes fall from the sky, bridges crumble, cities flee for their lives and the world stands on the brink of disaster at the fins and tentacles of the most fearsome monsters on the planet. The fight of a thousand millennia is about to kick off!

Lockjaw: Terror scales new heights of intensity when a voodoo curse, thought buried in the mists of time, reignites the fanged horror of the infamous Kulev Serpent, the gargantuan Lockjaw. When his wife is killed in a devastating accident by delinquent vacationers, distraught Alan Cade calls upon demonic forces he can barely comprehend to exact his revenge. Once summoned, Alan realizes too late that this ancient evil cannot be tamed or reasoned with. It will stop at nothing and no one will be spared. Now the only thing that stands in its way is Army special ops vet and master hunter Nick Kirabo (hip hop superstar DMX - Cradle 2 the Grave and Never Die Alone) who has been waiting for Lockjaw to return.

Bear: An idyllic trip into bear country turns into a nightmare when the mini-van carrying two brothers and their partners suddenly blows a tire on a mountain road and rouses the attentions of one of the inhabiting Grizzly population. Defiantly one of the brothers, Wall Street hot-shot Sam, pulls out a gun and kills the curious creature. Big mistake! As the group head on into the woods, the bear's mate, a ferocious eight-foot-tall Grizzly, arrives on the scene and attacks. As they battle against the surprisingly cunning and intelligent beast, secrets between the brothers and their own mates begin to emerge. Trapped inside their van, fighting for their lives, the group must use their wits and every last drop of survival instinct they have to survive and escape a fierce showdown with the claws of death!

For your chance of winning a copy, send in your name and address to monstergiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Saturday 4th September. The first three names drawn from the electronic hat will win a copy each!

Friday 27 August 2010

Dickass DM

Remember good, old-fashioned gamebooks? They promised all the fun of a role-playing game, with none of the social interaction - what more could a teenage boy desire? The thing is, that while the gamebook became a great gaming experience in its own right, the only RPG it could possibly have simulated was one being GM'd by Satan himself. 90% of decisions led to certain death, and combat was often fatal.

Satan wasn't available, so Brad will be GMing Rob through an RPG based on the classic Stephen Thraves gamebook Suspects!. Brad is the DM, and Rob plays his character, Hercule Braggart.

Brad: You had originally gone to Innsbruck in Austria to do some skiing but you now find yourself being hurriedly driven to the railway station.

Police Inspector: I am sorry for interrupting your holiday here.

Brad: The Police Inspector tries to prevent himself from skidding on the icy roads.

Police Inspector: But...well...we've heard what a brilliant detective you are. We were wondering if you would help out with this baffling murder case.
Hercule Braggart: My dear sir, “Baffling” is my middle name...
Police Inspector: It happened a couple of hours ago - on the famous Olympic Express. We would be grateful if you would join the train for the rest of its journey to Paris to try and find out who committed the foul deed.

Brad: Ah, the Austrian police... "You solve it. We can't be bothered."

Hercule Braggart: Sounds like a plan, Stan.

Brad: By the time you reach Innsbruck railway station, the inspector has briefly given you all the details of the murder.
Rob: Briefly as in not much detail, or all the detail fast?
Brad: In pants. The victim was Larry Redshirt, the famous film director, and he was pushed from the train some fifty miles south of Innsbruck as it crossed a deep ravine in the Italian Alps.

Hercule Braggart: Pushed? So the evidence is in that ravine? Bollocks, I knew I should have asked more detail before I said yes.

Brad: Apart from the train staff, the only people on board were the rest of the film team: Tom Heydrich, Jacqui Max, Giles Grimace, Iris Cripps, Bob Clank and Nick McSpindle. The inspector hands you a group photograph (click to enlarge) of these six people, telling you that the murderer must be one of them! So, are you tempted by this intriguing case?
Rob: Logic dictates that saying "No" at this point would make the adventure particularly short. So "Yes."
Brad: Check that picture. Iris Cripps looks like a barrel of laughs.
Rob: She looks like she should be in a Roald Dahl book.
Brad: You had better hurry through to the platform because the Olympic Express is about to depart for the next stage of its long journey. A man in a black jacket greets you as you climb aboard one of the elegant maroon carriages.

Pierre: Welcome to the Olympic Express! My name is Pierre, I'm the chief steward. You must be this clever detective that they were trying to get hold of. Oh, this is a terrible business! To think there was a murder on this train just an hour ago - and that the murderer is still on board somewhere! I will of course do everything I can to help you in your investigation. But first, let me show you to your cabin.
Hercule Braggart: Sweet, this is already better than my house, but I need to crack on.
Pierre: Anything you say.

Brad: The train now starts to jerk...
Rob: Wa-hey!
Brad: ...out of Innsbruck station.

Pierre: Where can I take you first? Mr Redshirt's cabin, the door through which he was pushed, or where he was last seen?
Hercule Braggart: The door, please.
Pierre: Of course. Are you a fan of doors in general?
Hercule Braggart: I have their Best Of, probably my favourite track is Love Me Two Times.

Brad: Pierre leads the way along the narrow corridor.

Pierre: Mind how you go. These carriages are very elegant, but very old as well. A bit like Ian McKellen. They rock you about much more than a modern train does. A bit like...nah

Brad: You soon see what the chief steward means, for you suddenly have to grab hold of the brass handrail as the train throws you towards the window.

Pierre: This is it. You have arrived at the fateful door. This is the one through which Mr Redshirt was pushed.
Hercule Braggart: I see.

Brad: As you bend down to examine the door, a bell suddenly rings from the next carriage.

Pierre: Would you excuse me a moment? That bell is from one of the neighbouring cabins. It means that a passenger wants service!

Brad: While he's gone, you test the lock on the door to make sure that it isn't broken. If it is, then maybe the director's fatal tumble wasn't murder at all. Perhaps it was just an accident. But the lock proves perfectly secure. Eager to ask Pierre something about the lock, you decide to go looking for him.
Rob: Okay...
Brad: On the way there, it occurs to you that the murderer might have left some fingerprints on the window.

Hercule Braggart: That's quite logical, that I would think that...I'll check for prints...

Brad: In the struggle, the murderer's hand could have momentarily touched the glass. It's a possibility...

Hercule Braggart: A moment is all I need - just ask my string of ex-girlfriends!

Brad: You put your face right up to the glass and breathe on it.
Rob: Is my character a bit of a perv then?
Brad: Oh, yeah. This is you we're talking about. You're just about to study the condensation that your breath has made when a gloved hand suddenly grabs you from behind.
Rob: True enough.
Brad: The next thing you know, the gloved hand has opened the door and is trying to push you out. It's the murderer! Hopefully. If it isn't...that's just odd.
Rob: “Sorry sir, I was trying to get drinks orders and my hand slipped."
Brad: You desperately hang on, though, and eventually, the murderer gives up. He or she hurries off into the next carriage before you have time to turn round and see who it is.
Rob: Typical.
Brad: It never occured to me as a kid, but that's a really cack-handed way of trying to kill someone. You are just about to go off in search of Pierre again when he reappears in your carriage. See, I would class that as "suspicious".
Rob: Yeah, same here.

Pierre: That's odd!

Brad: Pierre scratches his head.

Pierre: I visited every single cabin in the next carriage but they were all empty. Someone must have rung their cabin bell and immediately crept off somewhere else in the train. I wonder why?

Brad: You know exactly why, however. The person who rang the bell was obviously the murderer...wanting to lure Pierre away in order to check what you were up to. If only you had seen who it was.

Hercule Braggart: They were trying to push me out of the train, you motherfucker! Next person wanting drinks can fucking wait!

Brad: You decide you had better immediately meet all the suspects, asking Pierre where you can find them.

Pierre: They should all be in the dining car now.

Brad: Pierre leads you towards that carriage.

Pierre: Whose table would you like to visit first, sir?

Brad: Giles Grimace site with Tom Heydrich, Iris Cripps with Jacqui Max, and Bob Clank with Nick McSpindle.
Rob: Grimace and Heydrich
Brad: As you approach Giles Grimace and Tom Heydrich's table, you wonder if it was either of them who came up behind you while you were investigating the fatal door. That's really given you issues, hasn't it?
Rob: Yeah, understandably though I feel!
Brad: They both look perfectly innocent, though; Giles Grimace pouring himself a cup of tea and Tom Heydrich spreading a little mustard on his ham sandwich.
Rob: Yeah, mustard of death! And a cup of death!
Brad: After you have introduced yourself to the two men, you ask them how long they have been sitting there. I wonder how subtle that enquiry is supposed to be...

Hercule Braggart: Oh, say Grimace, how do you take that tea? Milk? Two sugars? Attempted Murder? How long have you been sitting here?
Giles Grimace: Well, I'm not certain how relevant that is to the murder inquiry!
Hercule Braggart: All right, all right...Don't get your gloved hand in a bunch across my throat, it was just a question!
Giles Grimace: But, if you must know, I've been here about five minutes, and Tom joined me about two minutes ago. Why do you ask?
Hercule Braggart: Two minutes ago, I was 'enjoying' a view of the mountains usually reserved for the train's wheels! Where are the rest of your lot?

Brad: When you have briefly introduced yourself to them all, you ask Pierre if he could show you to your cabin. As you make yourself comfortable in this lavish compartment, your thoughts go back to Tom Heydrich and Giles Grimace.

Hercule Braggart: Hmmmm....That Heydrich was definitely checking me out...

Brad: You're sure Tom raised an eyebrow when Giles said he had been there for five minutes. Did this mean that Giles was lying? You try to remember what their table looked like - whether it suggested that they had only just sat down.

Hercule Braggart: Maybe, or maybe he was admiring my impeccable six-pack, visible through my shirt.

Brad: Your thoughts are interruped by a faint knock on the cabin door.

Hercule Braggart: Enter...Stranger...

Brad: You assume this to be Pierre, returning to make sure that everything is to your satisfaction.

Hercule Braggart: Enter...Presumably Pierre...

Brad: The door remains closed, however, and so you call out again, rather louder this time.

Hercule Braggart: I said come in, cuntrag!

Brad: But still no-one enters!

Hercule Braggart: Ah, Noone, my trusty sidekick!

Brad: Wondering if Pierre is slightly deaf, you stand up and open the door yourself. You wander out into the corridor peering left and right. There is not a soul in sight.

Hercule Braggart: Oh that's right, I invented Noone to stop myself going stir crazy in Korea.

Brad: As you turn your head to the left again, however, a bullet hisses past your cheek from behind you.
Rob: I thought bullets got fired, not hissed. Wait, from behind me? So inside my room?
Brad: Uh...don't think so...that makes less sense than the rest of these books. That knock had obviously come from the murderer...to lure you into their trap!
Rob: Jesus, this murderer's thorough... I guess I've wandered into the corridor
Brad: How long you been on this train now?
Rob: About half an hour, I think, if that.
Brad: And someone's tried to kill you twice. This is worse than flying with you.
Rob: How would you know?
Brad: That time we flew to New York together? About nine years ago?
Rob: Oh right, yeah. I must remember to chase up my luggage...
Brad: Some while later, you notice that the train is slowing down.
Rob: Probably due to a high rate of attempted murders per hour!
Brad: Looking out of your cabin window, you see that it is because you are arriving at a station. You decide to keep watching at your window, just to make sure that none of the suspects furtively leaves the train during its stop.

Hercule Braggart: Oh, thank fuck. It'll be significantly harder to find free time to kill me there, meaning I can expect the number of attempted murders to drop to one every three hours.

Brad: Fortunately, although it's beginning to get dark, outside now, the thick snow everywhere means that it is still easy to see. Suddenly, one of the suspects does step from the train: Giles Grimace!

Hercule Braggart: That tea-drinking motherfucker!

Brad: You're just about to run down the corridor after him, when you notice all the other suspects stepping down onto the platform as well. They're obviously just stretching their legs.

Rob: Or their murder...
Brad: You intend to keep a close eye on them, though, just in case. The trouble is they're all moving to different parts of the platform.

Hercule Braggart: I'll show them, I've got four prosthetic eyes...Fuck. No, I haven't.

Brad: Jacqui Max is accompanying Giles Grimace to the left end, Bob Clank and Nick McSpindle are strolling to the right end, and Iris Cripps and Tom Heydrich have just sat down on a bench in the very middle of the platform. They got off the train to "stretch their legs"...then sat down.

Hercule Braggart: They're pairing off, interesting...Maybe they're dogging...

Brad: Which pair should you watch the most closely?
Rob: Cripps and Heydrich, totally.
Brad: What's your reasoning?
Rob: That thingy about sitting down, and all that noise.
Brad: As you fix your eyes on the bench where Iris and Tom are sitting, you notice Iris shiver.

Hercule Braggart: Maybe she's a homophobe and doesn't approve of mine and Tom's mutual lust...mutual!

Brad: Is this because Tom has just announced to her that he's worked out that it was she who pushed the director off the train? Is it because he's trying to blackmail her? But then you notice Tom shiver as well.
Rob: Is it minus 5 degrees?
Brad: There is snow on the ground. Of course, they're both shivering because of the inadequate way they are dressed!

Hercule Braggart: They will insist on wearing bondage gear.

Brad: Iris has only a thin jacket over her pullover and Tom doesn't have a jacket at all! Retards! It's the fucking alps! They'd be freezing on board the train!

Hercule Braggart: Oh, I brought my school rugger kit - I'll be fine.

Brad: The research on this book is minimal!
Rob: Can't say I'm totally shocked, dude.
Brad: I guess I should have mentioned that Stephen Thraves was the Roger Corman of gamebooks.
Rob: Probably.
Brad: Continuing to watch them converse on the platform bench, you wonder why neither of them thought to pack a coat before leaving the train. Was it because they had something else on their minds?

Hercule Braggart: Hmmm....Wonderwonderwonder...

Brad: Killing you, maybe?

Hercule Braggart: Better movie crews than them have tried.

Brad: But at least the light way they're dressed makes you confident that neither of them are intending to make a run for it. If that was the case, then they surely would have brought their coats. And, sure enough, as a whistle announces the train's imminent departure, they both step back on again. And so do all the other suspects.
Rob: Hmmm, I wonder if perhaps the book has led me on a Red Herring in that last exchange.
Brad: The express has travelled only a few miles from the station when you are suddenly alerted by a piercing scream! It seems to be coming from the end of your corridor. Fearing that the murderer is trying to push a second person off the train (perhaps someone who witnessed the first incident), you jump to the door.
Rob: I point my ears in the direction of the scream! That way I can get them pierced cheap!
Brad: But when you hurry out into the corridor you find that it is completely empty. Then the "scream" occurs again - it's just the train's whistle. A few seconds later, you realise the reason for it. The express is now entering a long tunnel.
Rob: Physx pwned!
Brad: Feeling rather shaken, you decide you had better rest for a few minutes in your cabin.
Rob: I ring the bell to summon Pierre.



Needing little in the way of an introduction, and with an all-star cast including Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage (Gone In 60 Seconds, Face/Off), Mark Strong (Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Role Models), Kick-Ass is a relentlessly funny, jaw dropping action film, available to own on Blu-ray and DVD on 6 September.

Pre-order yourself a copy


Packed full of awesome action showdowns, Kick-Ass is undoubtedly one of the smartest and most anarchic comic book adaptations ever and to celebrate the release we’re giving away a copy of Mark Miller’s Kick-Ass The Graphic Novel, available to buy on Titan’s shiny new website - www.titanbooks.com - pay them a visit for up-to-the-minute news on much-loved fan-boy and fan-girl brands like Kick-Ass.

To be in with a chance of winning simply answer the following question…

What is then name of crime Mafioso ring-leader in Kick-Ass…?

a. Talk To Frank
b. Frank D’Amico
c. Frank Butcher

Send in your answer and postal address to kickassgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Friday 3rd September to be in with a chance of winning!

Film(c) 2009 KA Films LP. All Rights Reserved. Packaging Design (c) 2010 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Gaming Reviews

The Terror of the Darklords
Lone Wolf Multiplayer Game Book Campaign
Mongoose Publishing

Available Now - £9.00 (PDF) & £10.00 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The first major campaign for the Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook, Terror of the Darklords is an epic adventure that takes the players from their serene little Kai Monastery, through conspiracies spreading across Sommerlund, and into the very heart of the Darklord’s territory. Facing the greatest enemies the Darklords can array against them, the players find themselves at the heart of great events, stalling an invasion that threatens all of Magnamund.

Back when I reviewed the core rulebook for the Lone Wolf Multiplayer Gamebook, I said that “With strong support...there may be hope for this”. If the support they provide for this game is as good as is with Terror of the Darklords, then this system has nothing to fear (and more books are already announced).

The book opens up with some tweaks to the combat and character generation system, as well as some good advice that are so simple I kicked myself for not thinking of them myself. It also heavily advises using a d10 over the stupid random number chart in the back – something I’d always been doing with the gamebooks anyway.

The adventure starts out innocently enough, with a story set fifty years before the events of the gamebooks, allowing players free reign in a Star Wars: The Old Republic type way. As a fan of Lone Wolf, I loved this, but I can imagine this may be wasted on casual fans.

The adventure itself is amazing, and could almost be a text book on how to write pre-generated campaigns/scenarios, with the perfect mix of storyline and potential to let your players roam.

If you’ve got the core rulebook, then this is essential. You’ll have a blast. If you haven’t...then think of this as another reason to keep an eye on the system. 10/10


Revenge in the face of bloodlust is seldom sweet.

There's one sound a woman doesn't want to hear when she's lost and alone in the Arctic wilderness: a howl. For Cheyenne Clark, there's a bad moon on the rise. When a strange wolf's teeth slash her ankle to the bone, her old life ends, and she becomes the very monster that has haunted her nightmares for years. Worse, the only one who can understand what Chey has become is the man - and wolf - who's doomed her to this fate. He also wants her dead.

Yet, as the line between human and beast blurs, so too does the distinction between hunter and hunted...for Chey is more than just the victim she appears to be. But once she's within killing range, she may find that - even for a werewolf - it's not always easy to go for the jugular.

We've got five copies of Cursed: A Werewolf's Tale to give away! For your chance of winning, send your answer to cursedgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 2nd September (UK time). The first five names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

Wednesday 25 August 2010

The Vampire Diaries Giveaway

Get your teeth into this year’s television phenomenon with the chance to win a copy of The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season, out on Blu-ray and DVD this week.

Based on the best-selling book series by L.J. Smith, The Vampire Diaries is a new drama from Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Dawson's Creek), in which two vampire brothers Paul Wesley (Everwood) and Ian Somerhalder (Lost) are at war for the soul of a high school girl Nina Dobrev (Degrassi: The Next Generation) and those of her friends and family.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer the following question:

Which of the following is not a typical character trait of a vampire:
a) They do not have a reflection
b) They like to drink blood
c) They must have permission to enter a stranger’s house
d) They like garlic

We've got two copies of The Vampire Diaries: The Complete First Season to give away! For your chance of winning, send your answer to vampirediariesgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk with your name and postal address before midday on Wednesday 1st September (UK time). The first two names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

The Complete First Season is also available to download from http://www.apple.com/itunes and http://www.blinkbox.com
©2010 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.


Tuesday 24 August 2010

Book Reviews

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jeff Kinney

Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Greg Heffley – the eponymous Wimpy Kid - finds himself thrust into a new year and a new school where undersize weaklings share the corridors with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving. Desperate to prove his new found maturity, which only going up a grade can bring, Greg is happy to have his not-quite-so-cool sidekick, Rowley, along for the ride.

But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend's popularity to his own advantage. Recorded in his diary with comic pictures and his very own words, this test of Greg and Rowley's friendship unfolds.

Comparisons between this and Adrian Mole are almost inevitable, so let’s get them out of the way first. ...Wimpy Kid is much more cartoonish than Sue Townsend’s books, which are intended to be more realistic, and (dare I say it?) literary. ...Wimpy Kid by comparison is lighter, but the vibe of Adrian Mole remains, in a good way. From where I’m standing, it has to be said that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has probably got the edge over Adrian Mole in the plain-ole' “being funny” stakes. Adrian Mole is clever, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid actually made me laugh out loud. On the train.

Like all good books of this kind it makes you remember your own adolescence, including “meh” Christmases, petty rivalries and how important your best friend really was to you. Kids will (and do) love it, but it’s definitely worth a peek for adults too.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some playground scuffling and pranking.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A cartoonish Adrian Mole, brought up to date, with plenty of funny moments. Well worth checking out. 8/10

The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary
Jeff Kinney

Available Now - £9.99 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary goes behind the scenes to tell the story of Greg Heffley from cartoon character to a real live person on the big screen. This is a full-colour diary complete with photographs, script pages, storyboard sketches, costume designs, and more Wimpy Kid drawings by Kinney.

Sometimes, you need to not stretch too hard. What we have here is a relatively by-the-numbers, cash-in, making-of book. Unfortunately, all the attempts to make it not be that cliched and simple backfire and make it even more obvious that that's what it is. It’s the literary equivalent of pointing out how accurate your historical wargame is by highlighting the giant robot crab.

Some of the details – like highlighting how much work was put in by the prop department, and the preparation the cast put into making their roles – are informative and interesting. The rest of it though is pretty formulaic, and it all boils down into a collection of photos by the last few pages. Kids will probably find it interesting, but adults will probably know it all anyway.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: As an educational book for kids on the movie-making process it’s really good. There’s nothing here for adults, really, but fans of the series will no doubt find it cute. 6/10

Rumble Road
Jon Robinson
WWE Books

Available Now - £8.99 (Paperback)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

Rumble Road is the follow up to Are We There Yet?, and is made up of a collection of road stories from various WWE Superstars. Having read Are We There Yet? a few years ago, I thought that Rumble Road would be a list of “runner up” stories.

I was incredibly wrong, and quite stupid for thinking that.

WWE wrestlers spend roughly two hundred days a year on the road or in planes. I know from experience that the travel can be mind-numbing. I also know from experience that wrestlers are masters at finding and making entertainment. And driving each other insane.

The book is split into several different sections, concentrating on things such as practical jokes (ribs), car crashes and dodgy hotel rooms. The stories are penned by the superstars themselves and are not written in character, which is a wonderfully refreshing change of pace from the usual kayfabe that the WWE throws at us.

Stars such as Randy Orton, Big Show and Rey Mysterio all share stories from their travels and some of them are truly priceless. It’s nice to see the humility of some of the newer talent such as Jack Swagger and Santino as they travel alongside the bigger stars of the roster, learning from them as they go.

The stories range from the hilarious to the quite touching, as the wrestlers really communicate how much of a family they are together.

The only things the collection could need are stories from the major stars of the WWE, such as Triple H, Undertaker and the like. Sure, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho, amongst others, are headliners, but it feels like more and more mid-carders are contributing, and the big boys didn’t want to play.

As a note, watch out for any stories by Hornswaggle, The Miz or Kofi Kingston. The three usually travel together and their constant rivalry is the highlight of the book.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Car crashes, blood stained hotel walls and more car crashes.
Sex/Nudity: A nude Cody Rhodes is said to be “at attention”, and one superstar starts “hanging out” with a girl in his hotel room before Hornswaggle pops out from under the bed.
Swearing: Its all f#*king censored.
Summary: A very good behind the scenes look at the world of wrestling. Recommended for fans, and double recommended for fellow wrestlers. 10/10

The King’s Bastard: Book One of the Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin
Rowena Cory Daniells

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Kelly Prior

Byren has never wanted to be king and is quite happy to allow his twin brother Lence the privilege. Having grown up together and always been close, Byren is appalled when a crazy old seer tells him he will kill his brother. Now, he also has to deal with the shocking revelation that his best friend and most trusted companion Orrade is a lover of men, and in love with him, while Byren loves Orrade’s sister Elina. As if Byren is not under enough pressure, he finds himself in the middle of a twisted plot to overthrow his father, the king. With untamed magic called “Affinity” taking over all the creatures of the forests and controlling the minds of men, Orrade and Byren don’t know who to trust.

From the front cover you would imagine that this book is going to be your run of the mill, generic fantasy epic. True to form, it does give us some incredible hunting and fighting scenes. However, The King’s Bastard also gives us a great deal more. It delves deep into the politics of war and the Royal court in a very imaginative way. It intertwines concepts of war, religion and monarchy into the precarious world of magic. Magic is outlawed and misunderstood but, most of all, it is feared.

Although the narration mostly tends to follow Byren, we are also given opportunities to follow the other characters and get to know them, presumably to prepare us for future installments, (this is the first book of The Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin). The writing style is quite laid back. Rowena Cory Daniells does not waste time with boring and pretentious paragraphs of incredible length. Instead, we rely on dialogue to give us key facts and to help us form opinions of the characters we meet.

Each character has their own unique personality and is struggling with their own issues alongside Byren’s. Brothers Orrade and Garzik are particularly enjoyable and entertaining characters, Garzik for his boyish immaturity and Orrade for his impeccable goodness and intriguing predicament. The story lacks conventional romance but still delivers some very convincing love stories. The female characters are just as impressive as the male characters, and in some cases are quit heroic and powerful. If this first book is anything to go by, The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin looks set to be a pretty good fantasy trilogy.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of fighting with both men and fantasy creatures.
Sex/Nudity: Some nakedness, making out etc, suggestion of more.
Swearing: None, except, y’know, “Bastard”.
Summary: Girls will enjoy this book more than boys, but it is good fun and very touching at times. It’s a bit too long, but it’s certainly not slow paced. 7/10

Carrion Comfort
Dan Simmons
Quercus Publishing

Available Now - £8.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

In the past, caught behind the lines of Hitler's Final Solution, Saul Laski was one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. But he soon soon fell into the clutches of an evil far older and greater than the Nazis themselves.

In the present, a rare few individuals have The Ability (the psychic power to influence the minds of others). Each year they meet to discuss their ongoing campaign of debauchery and slaughter. But this year things are not going according to plan.

The story that follows spans decades and continents and penetrates the darkest recesses of the 20th century, as one man seeks to justify his belief that a secret society of powerful beings is behind many of the world's most horrific catastrophes.

A horror story that is genuinely chilling – rather than just containing some serial killer or monster to make you jump – is a very rare thing indeed. Carrion Comfort is one of those rare things. The main fear comes from how those who possess the ability use it, and often to sanity damaging effect.

The tense, psychological horror is tempered by several scenes of balls-out explosions, punching and gunfire – but this never feels wrong. The story flows naturally along, and you’re in for the ride from start to finish. And believe me: it’s a hell of a ride.

Central characters can die without a moment’s warning. One minute you can be reading what seems like Dennis Wheatley, and the next it’s Ed McBain. If you’re looking for one of the truly great horror stories out there, then you owe it to yourself to check out Carrion Comfort.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent and strong. Graphic depictions of blood, gore, punching, scuffling, shooting, large explosions, murder, infanticide. Contains several scenes in Nazi Concentration Camps.
Sex/Nudity: Some explicit nudity and sex scenes.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: A fanastic horror novel, full of genuinely horrifying moments and some great, explodey action sequences. 10/10

Main Battle Tank
Niall Edworthy
Michael Joseph

Available Now - £25.00 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The British Army’s Challenger II Main Battle Tank is one of the most awesome war machines ever built. In March 2003, three Squadrons of Challenger 2s from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, part of Britain’s 7th Armoured Brigade, the fabled Desert Rats, gathered in Southern Iraq to prepare for battle.

The Army’s newest Big Guns were going to war for the first time. But Operation TELIC was a war which the Challenger 2, designed to operate in the fog and mud of the Central European Plain, had never been expected to fight..and one that would quickly break every rule of tank warfare including the golden maxim: never take a tank into a town.

I was expecting (and maybe you are, too) for Main Battle Tank to be another heavy handed and hard-going slog through the details of modern warfare, bogged down by its own pedantry and jargon. However, let me assure that its not. If you’re looking for an “entry level” military book (especially one dealing with tanks), then I think you’ve found it. It’s presented as a collection of anecdotes, frequently genuinely funny, and this makes it very easy to get into.

This is not to say that it is not without gravitas, however. The harder side of warfare is fairly represented, and there are plenty of down moments, but the character of the troops is what carries it on.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent, bloody and realistic warfare, including detailed descriptions of injuries and one memorable evisceration.
Sex/Nudity: Some full male nudity.
Swearing: Relatively frequent.
Summary: A very easily accessible – and sometimes even light-hearted – study of modern tank warfare. Perfect for beginners or those with a casual interest, but it will probably be a little too light for true tread-heads. 8/10



The first feature film from Sandy Collora, director of the awesome-tastic Batman: Dead End.

A group of intergalactic commandos crash-land on a desolate and hostile planet while transporting a deadly alien prisoner who escapes and goes on the run. The commandos report in to their home base to seek assistance but are told they must track down and recapture their alien alive, at all costs.

The surviving commandos play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with their former prisoner who is smart and not easily outwitted. But as the commandos are picked off one-by-one and the odds begin to turn, who is the real hunter and who is the real prey?

Thanks to our friends at Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, we've got three copies of Hunter Prey to give away! For your chance of winning, send us an e-mail to hunterpreygiveaway@yahoo.co.uk with your name and postal address before midday on Tuesday 31st August (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

Monday 23 August 2010

Dungeon Siege 3 Preview

On August 16th 2010, yours truly went to Square Enix HQ in Wimbledon, like the good little intrepid reporter I am. The objective was to meet Nathan Davis of Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of such games as Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and Knights of the Old Republic 2. Nathan was showing their upcoming RPG release, Dungeon Siege 3, currently scheduled for a 2011 release, to myself and Gary of TheKoalition. The game is significant in that it is the first 'western-style' RPG being published by Square Enix, but according to Nathan "Square has a lot of trust in the developer: they give input, good input which makes the game better, but one of the reasons it's been good is that they feel that a lot of the creativity should lie with the developer of the product".

Dungeon Siege 3 is a third-person RPG which places you in the shoes of a descendant of the 10th Legion, the guardians of the kingdom of Ehb. It's up to you to bring everyone back together in the legion, in order to restore order to an otherwise chaotic kingdom. The game is being developed by Obsidian in collaboration with Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games, famous for the original two games as well as Supreme Commander. Of Taylor, Nathan said:
"We've made sure that he's involved. As we're setting milestone builds, he gets a chance to take a look at it and gives us feedback; we've found what he's had to say to be quite valuable."

It's worth noting, incidentally, that the build that we saw was a PC build specifically designed to be able to show off the full level. Thus, character abilities were vastly upgraded and damage was minimalised to characters as well. On the plus side, the build also tweaked the distance that enemies travelled when hit hard enough, so we got to see plenty of enemies being flung halfway across the map in the far distance behind the character. Awesome.

Basic gameplay was mapped to a controller for the purposes of the demo, with movement mapped sensibly to the analogue stick. The game allows players to shake up their combat style in order to better suit the type and number of enemies, using different combat stances. If you need an example, think of the lightsaber styles in Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, where players could vary between offensive and defensive stances which came with plus and minus points. Similarly in this game, players can choose a one-handed weapon stance, which allows use of a shield and comes with a shorter attack radius, or a two handed stance allowing players to attack multiple enemies at once at the cost of a defensive position. It's a nicely executed gameplay mechanic which allows gameplay to be both fresh and fast-paced.

From seeing the game, the impetus is definitely on the gameplay experience being paramount, as well as the story. The game plays a little like a cross between Fable II and Diablo 2, although the viewpoints in the game share more in common with the former for the most part. The game even utilises a similar system to Lionhead's epic in that the player can choose to turn on a 'breadcrumb trail' that directs the player in the right direction. This looks particularly useful during the town-based sections, as in traditional RPG fashion the game allows you liberal use of a base town before venturing forth into the dungeon.

About five minutes into the demo, the story placed a female character into the game, and the two-player elements were visible for the first time. Co-op play allows players to drop in and out of gameplay at any time, allowing for the kind of piss breaks where you can just relax and enjoy the relief. Of course, an AI assistant is never any match for having real people in your team, and we can confirm that the game does support 4 player co-operative play.

Of course, the main appeal of this sort of game for many players of Diablo and any MMORPG is the appeal of kitting out your character in the best swag available, and Dungeon Siege 3 is no slouch when it comes to allowing players to do this, including a camera angle Nathan jokingly referred to as the 'vanity cam' for when you want to just look at yourself from a distance. As someone who thinks that this feature should be a part of real life, it's a welcome addition to the game.

The game looks superb in motion, and the gameplay looks sufficiently fast-paced and action-packed to interest fans of Diablo 2 and games of that genre. Obsidian are developing the game using their own proprietary Onyx engine, which allows for dynamic lighting from different sources in the game, as well as allowing players to go through the level without loading screens. The main thing that seems to be a possible issue is simply how the developers will keep the game fresh, as the style is fairly well-trodden with Diablo, Blizzard's online offerings with WOW and Fable. Looking at the game in motion, though, it certainly seems like Obsidian are well on their way to making another solid entry in their already extensive RPG repertoire.

As an added bonus, we actually got to pose questions to Nathan about Dungeon Siege 3. Here are his responses to the key questions we asked. Enjoy!

TheKoalition: So that was the PC version, and it looked great. With Dragon Age, although the PC version looked great, but on the consoles it suffered a bit and that seemed to discourage people from playing it. With Dungeon Siege 3, will it suffer a lot, or will it look as good as the PC version?
Nathan: When you write something on a PC, you can take advantage of the optimised graphics cards; there's something to be said for that. Also, we've been working with certain other manufacturers to make sure that we can support different play modes that are specific to PC. That's as far as I can go on that, but that's something that PC players do get more out of. There is very little discrepancy between how this looks on an Xbox compared to a PS3 and a PC.

We're running it on a PC right now so that we can show it off in the best quality. We develop on all three simultaneously, and from what I can understand from Dragon Age, it was developed a little differently. We get asked a lot what our lead platform is, and we make sure that developers test all our stuff on PS3, in order to make use of the benefits and limitations to make a game that works on all three. We try and keep our baseline to hit the lowest common denominator on everything, and then we see what we can do to get a little more out of each version.

E14: Bearing in mind that Obsidian has worked within other universes, such as Fallout and Star Wars, as well as working within your own universes, is there one that's more fun to work within than the other?

Nathan: For example, when we did Alpha Protocol, which was a universe that we developed, there are benefits and challenges that come with that. In a Star Wars game, there are a lot of things that people expect from that, which are very clearly defined. Some might say there are limitations there, whereas with Alpha Protocol it was a situation where we had to do a lot of work to define what it was, but there was more freedom there. With Dungeon Siege 3, there's an established world, and there are things that we understand about it how it works.

With that, we get the best of both worlds. There's a lot that's open about this game world, and there's a lot that we can make our own. Being able to bring that kind of thing into our game has been great, and maybe that's not unique to this game but it's certainly a situation where we get the best of both worlds.

TheKoalition: As far as the story goes, does it carry anything from the first two games?

Nathan: We used that as the backdrop for the game, as the first two games kind of had their own unique storylines, and even their RPG systems were pretty distinct from each other, which is a tradition we're trying to keep to. We saw in the demo that particular statue that they mentioned, and in the game you'll actually be able to visit the memorial associated with that statue and explore.

E14: In order to develop games with real passion, presumably you guys are gamers. What are you currently playing that stands out for you?

Nathan: Because we're fans of the style of games that we make, when another team is working on something like Fallout: New Vegas, those not so closely associated with the game are asked to come in and play through it to test it out and make sure it's working ok, and that's actually what I've been playing recently - I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas. I know their PR guys are pretty strict on it, so I can only say that it's what I've been playing, and it's nice to be able to be in that position!

Dungeon Siege 3 is scheduled for a 2011 release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. Keep it tuned to E14 for more news on the game as it becomes available, and check out TheKoalition as well!


If love transcends all boundaries, paranormal romance is its natural conclusion.

This title features over twenty tales from some of the hottest names in romantic fiction to transport you to fantastical worlds in which mythical beasts, magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, heart-stoppingly handsome ghosts, angels and mortals with extra-sensory powers live out extraordinary desires. It includes stories from Lara Adrian, Ava Gray, Sharon Shinn, Robin D. Owens, Karen Chance and many more.

Thanks to our friends at Robinson Publishing, we've got five copies of The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2 to give away! For your chance of winning, send us an e-mail to paranormalromancegiveaway@yahoo.co.uk with your name and postal address before midday on Monday 30th August (UK time). The first five names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!