Thursday, 30 May 2013

High Strangeness Released

UFOs, aliens, angels, poltergeists, animal mutilations & mysterious Men in Black. With the relentless summer sun came the High Strangeness to the sleepy English village of Aversham - ‘A paranormal party to which everything you never believed in is invited.’

But the Strangeness is more than a gathering of supernatural forces. Its presence foretells a coming disaster, as sixteen-year-old Beth Wells learns from the enigmatic Felix Clark. At odds with her family and struggling to accept the reality of what she has seen, Beth has six days to uncover the truth behind the Strangeness and to prevent the disaster before it can strike.

High Strangeness is a young-adult tale of horror and mystery as paranormal forces collide. Available now! UK / US

Friday, 24 May 2013

Now Playing: Tomb Raider

I don’t have much experience with the Tomb Raider series. I played the original game upon release in 1996, and I returned to the series with The Last Revelation (1999). There were several other titles which I missed, so I’m probably not the best person to judge if this new entry is a worthy addition to the franchise. However, I do recall a few of the titles not being very well received, and it seemed for a time that the series had run out of steam. So perhaps this reboot, overall, was a good thing.

Tomb Raider takes us back and serves as a prequel of sorts. Lara is younger and on her first real adventure, searching for the lost kingdom of Yamatai. It’s primarily a third person action game with platforming elements and some puzzles mixed in. It’s lovely to look at with some wonderful environments. The lack of any sort of HUD and the good use of lighting, sound and effects makes the game very atmospheric and immersive.

The story sees Lara shipwrecked on a mysterious island and tangling with a nasty cult. It’s interesting enough and fairly well paced. Lara’s evolution throughout the game is handled well, although it doesn’t quite gel with some of the actual gameplay segments which I’ll touch upon later. There are several side characters, some of whom are more interesting than others, but none of which particularly stand out. The primary antagonist is unfortunately pretty crappy and not very threatening which is a shame.

The game shifts smoothly into cut-scenes here and there, but it wasn’t as irritating as I found it in Max Payne 3. It relies a little too heavily on QTEs at times, but that didn’t bother me so much either. Like MP3 it’s a very ‘cinematic’ game, with the camera shifting to fancy angles showcasing plenty of entertaining action set pieces that offer little in the way of player interaction bar the odd QTE, and are more like visually spectacular roller-coaster rides.

The game is very polished and tightly designed. It took me about 15 hours to beat 100% with all collectibles and upgrades. There’s not much in the way of replay value, but it was certainly an enjoyable and entertaining experience while it lasted.

Okay, now onto some of the not so good stuff. First of all, I like how they’ve handled the development of Lara. She washes up on this island not entirely helpless, but certainly scared and thrust into a dangerous, violent situation she’s never had to deal with before. But over the course of the adventure, as she struggles to survive and overcome the odds stacked against her, we see her slowly begin to transform into the Lara Croft we know.

Which is all fine, but that transformation isn’t handled well against the actual gameplay, particularly the combat segments. The problem is, they simply get too over the top, as the game throws several waves of bad guys at Lara all at once and the player is required to mercilessly slaughter them all. It just doesn’t quite gel with the story or her character.

The human enemies Lara faces are okay. There are several variations with different weapon types and attacks, but they’re rather stupid and easy to take down. Combat is pretty much a cakewalk (I played through on Normal, but I doubt Hard makes much difference) and with a few upgrades Lara can QTE kill her way through a dozen armed thugs without taking so much as a scratch.

As a result, the large scale combat sequences almost feel out of place in Tomb Raider. The best combat moments are when Lara must take down a smaller number of guys using stealth and guile - utilising the environment, or different arrow types. It’s more tense, more engaging and more fitting to the story and character. When Lara suddenly turns into John Matrix and mows down a small army, it’s all a little jarring.

It’s clear the developers really wanted the player to feel something towards Lara as a character and what she’s going through. But once again they push it too far - initially it was rather horrible to see the knocks and bruises she was picking up as she was tossed from one nasty situation to another, but by the end it just grows a little comical. She ends up practically indestructible as she walks away from falls that would have certainly smashed nearly every bone in her body. Hey, that’s fine as long as you’re being consistent, but in Tomb Raider, in an effort to make us continue to care about Lara’s ordeal, it just keeps upping the life threatening situations to a point where it gets pretty ridiculous and you simply can’t take it seriously anymore.

One of the best moments in the game was when Lara had to venture into a cave to retrieve an item. It was tense, dark and you knew a wolf was prowling in the shadows. Despite relying on a QTE for the actual attack, it was still far more engaging than a dozen of the large scale fire fights.

What else? Well, I didn’t really get the need for XP and having it pop up regularly was rather irritating. The skills system was fine and I really liked the visual upgrade system for your weapons. There’s also a nice sense of progression to Lara as her clothes are torn and she acquires cuts and bruises throughout. I also liked the pace of acquiring new gear which allows access to new areas. It reminded me a little of Arkham Asylum in that regard.

Your route through the game is fairly linear, but some areas are large enough to allow for a little exploration. There are plenty of collectibles to keep you busy, along with bonus tombs to raid. I was pretty disappointed to discover, however, that these ‘tombs’ amount to a single puzzle and a chest containing a rather lame reward of weapon upgrade parts (wait, what?) or a map of local collectibles (huh?). Where’s my ancient relics? Oh, you do still find some but not in the tombs. Whatever.

The puzzles are basic and not very challenging, and the lack of any real tomb raiding is really my biggest gripe. It would have been nice to have to navigate a series of tricky, challenging tombs at points in the game but that never really happens. I would have also liked more emphasis on the survival elements and Lara vs the island itself. But instead we get a more generic, combat heavy TPS. Oh well.

I guess I was looking for more of a spirit of adventure, a sense of mystery and discovery with survival mixed in. I get some of that, here and there, but it’s badly balanced against a series of unnecessarily pointless, drawn out and over the top shoot outs.

In addition to the single player there’s a multiplayer mode which I didn’t bother with and I have no idea why it exists. I mean, was there anyone who really wanted a multiplayer mode in a Tomb Raider game? Anyone? Did it need one? Nope! You can also unlock concept art and character models in SP as a nice little added bonus.

If it sounds like I’ve been a little hard on Tomb Raider that’s because it’s another one of those games where it feels like it had a lot more potential to be better than what we got. But despite my issues with it, the new Tomb Raider is still a highly entertaining, very enjoyable, exciting experience. It’s a fun, sometimes exhilarating adventure and a fine start to what is hopefully a fresh beginning for the franchise.

I just hope the next game has more, you know, tomb raiding in it.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

High Strangeness Cover

This may undergo a few more minor tweaks before release, but it's pretty much done. I have to check through the latest text upload to check everything is as near perfect as I can get it, and then we'll be ready to publish! My thanks to Chris, my cover designer -

Monday, 13 May 2013

Now Playing: Global Offensive

I’ve spoken a little before about CS:GO. I never played the original Counter-Strike much and when CS:Source was released I bought it as part of the Half-Life 2 package, but I only ever sank about 40 hours into it over about six years.

CS:GO feels different but also very familiar. Including my time from the Beta, I’ve sunk about 130 hours into the game now. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but it’s definitely grown on me. Pretty much every weapon feels viable, and I find myself mixing up a lot during and between rounds, which helps stop things getting a little repetitive.

It’s a very simple game at its core, but it does take time to master, memorizing the maps and learning how each weapon handles. But it’s also a very situational game, and while fast reflexes help a lot, outwitting your opponent is all the more satisfying. Knowing when to move, when to shoot, when to reload or switch weapons - all variables to weigh that can result in a victory or defeat.

There’s a few different game modes for variety, but no sense of progression, levelling up or unlocks as so many other shooters are fond of these days. Take that as a negative or a positive depending on your preference.

I can’t say I generally enjoy online first-person shooters, at least not for any extended period of time, but CS:GO seems perfect as the kind of shooter I can drop in and out of whenever I get the urge to play one. Overall, it’s a solid enough package, and with a few more content updates to flesh it out, certainly one worth checking out.


Friday, 10 May 2013

Work in Progress: High Strangeness

So I’ve finished my edit and I’ve even done my initial formatting sweep. Now all I need to do is upload the book and test it to see how everything came out. Hopefully the formatting will be fine and won’t require anything more than a few tweaks here and there. And once that’s done I’ll have one final read just to polish up and correct any remaining errors.

I’ll probably wait a few days before getting stuck into that though. I’ve got some decorating to take care of this weekend which will probably take up all my time. I’m also waiting to hear back from my cover designer who’s putting the final few touches to the image. If all goes well, I may even have it uploaded and ready to publish within the next couple of weeks which is far sooner than I expected.

I’m also waiting to hear back from a couple of publishers with two other books, and I really need to look into the marketing angle more. My first e-book release went quite well. I had over 180 downloads during its free promotion. Hopefully that will generate a few more reviews once people have had the chance to read it.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Now Playing: Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is an open world first person shooter set on a chain of tropical islands. You play as Jason Brody (a bit of a prat, truth be told) who is kidnapped along with his friends by some nasty pirates to be held for ransom. Brody escapes and sets out to free his friends, along the way aiding the local rebels and discovering his true self...or something like that. The game is a stand-alone, so you can jump right into this one without playing the others in the series.

Prior to release, I saw Far Cry 3 described as ‘Skyrim with guns’. It’s a nice, marketable tag-line, but it’s also quite spot on - unfortunately, not in a good way. Because like Skyrim, FC3 is undeniably entertaining at times, but it’s also a rather shallow and superficial experience.

There was a lot I liked about Far Cry 2, yet it was a game plagued by some rather awful design choices. FC3 is undoubtedly a stronger game overall, as it fixes many of the issues which spoilt my enjoyment of its predecessor. But it also sadly casts aside many of the small, entertaining features of FC2, and I really can’t figure out why.

FC2 featured a range of wonderful (and sickeningly brutal) DIY surgery healing animations. These have been removed in favour of a generic ‘health syringe’. Why replace a cool, unique feature with something so incredibly bland? FC2 also featured a great in-game map which could be used at any time, even when driving. This has been replaced with a standard in-menu map. Not only is it ugly and irritating to use (having to keep exiting through the menu every time you use it) but it’s also rather buggy - often marking collectibles you’ve already picked up, or sometimes simply refusing to scroll and zoom.

FC2 had quite an interesting ‘buddy’ system for companion characters. This has been ripped out entirely. Why? It also handled the UI and target marking far better - the UI in FC3 is kind of chunky and distracting. FC3 also removes the weapon jamming/backfiring from FC2 which was always a nice little risk to using old, discarded weapons. So yeah, FC2 was far from a perfect game, but it did a lot of small things right which gave it a unique feel and flavour. Yet in FC3, pretty much all of these small, unique features have either been removed entirely or replaced with bland, generic versions instead.

Okay, so let’s look now at what FC3 has improved upon. First of all, it has a much better system for fast travel. Not everyone on the islands hates you. There are three factions at play - pirates/privateers who attack on sight, the rebels - who you can help and may help you in return, and civilians who just try to stay out of the line of fire. You can now secure and hold outposts for the rebels, unlocking new fast travel points and bonus missions. Enemies no longer re-spawn every time you turn your back.

FC3 also offers a greater variety of bonus missions and objectives. It also has a great first person ‘cover system’ whereby you automatically adjust your stance around objects to peek out and fire when you aim. It also, overall, has a more interesting and engaging main story and characters. The game also reminds me, funnily enough, of Assassins Creed, at least in the way you approach new areas of the map. You must find and climb a ‘high point’ (radio towers) which results in a sweeping vista of locations and unlocks the local map, revealing collectibles, outposts and missions.

Although there are a ton of bonus missions, these do grow repetitive over time. I can’t help but recall Skyrim once again when I said that sometimes ‘less is more’. There is a large quantity of content on offer here, but as a result, the high quality stuff is spread rather thin. For example, one side mission had me talk to a woman in a village who thought her husband was cheating on her. I then had to listen in on his conversation with another guy in a hut right across the street, and finally choose to talk to her again or to him. It took less than 2 minutes and I was done, leaving me wondering what the hell was the point of it all.

There are a lot of single missions like this that serve practically zero purpose. It leaves the entire game feeling rather watered down with a large quantity of shallow and largely meaningless content.

In addition to these single missions there are also hunting and bounty jobs. The bounty jobs are pretty much all the same aside from location. The hunting is a little more interesting because it ties into the gear upgrade system. On top of that, there are a ton of collectibles to find if you like that sort of thing, along with more bonus stuff like racing, poker and other mini-games. So there’s plenty to see and do, but there does become a point when it grows rather repetitive and tedious because there’s very little depth, quality or variety.

There’s an upgrade and skills system in the game, which is okay and does the job, although it’s relatively easy to max everything out, and once you do, hunting becomes totally pointless as does doing bonus missions for XP. And why is there an upgradable wallet? What is this, Zelda? I guess it was put in as a restriction to stop...actually I have no idea why. Weapons unlock for free as you take outposts, but you still have more money than you’d ever need just by picking up collectibles as you explore or from looting bodies. The weapon customisation is a nice feature, not just for attachments - I liked the cosmetic options too.

Enemy AI, like FC2, is decent enough. They take cover (usually), call for reinforcements, try to flank etc. Combat is fluid, fast and largely satisfying, particularly the bow. Although stealth has been made way too easy, as enemies can’t seem to spot you three feet away crouching in a patch of short grass. There’s a variety of stealth auto-kills, which with skills can be chained together to take down entire groups. It’s a little overpowered, but certainly fun.

I liked all the animals in the world. The first time a crocodile surprises you is a lot of fun, and sharks are always a concern when you’re swimming. Exploring the world is quite enjoyable and there’s lots to see - ancient ruins, shipwrecks etc. It really made me want a more in-depth survival / exploration game.

In terms of the story, the primary missions are mostly entertaining, some more than others - it’s a bit of a mixed bag. One of the primary antagonists - Vaas, is excellent. Probably one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a game for a while, thanks to an excellent performance by the actor portraying him. It’s shame he doesn’t feature more, and it’s no surprise that a little over half way through the game, when he, shall we say, ceases to feature, that I began to lose patience and interest in the story.

I should also talk about the world itself because there’s something about it I just found a little ‘off’. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it always felt rather ‘unnatural’ in a way the environment of FC2 didn’t. I’m not sure what it is, but it just wasn’t as immersive as the world of FC2. Being open world, the random nature of the AI and animals can also lead to some unintentionally hilarious situations. Watching people trying to escape an animal and running off a cliff, or watching a civilian couple get baffled by me parking in the road, only to stop, and then suddenly accelerate and drive straight into a lake to drown!

I sunk about 25 hours into FC3 and I didn’t see or do absolutely everything outside of the main story. By the time I reached the second large island, I’d largely lost interest and just raced through the remaining story missions to the end. I really don’t think the entire second island was really necessary, and maybe the game would have benefited by building a more focused / high quality campaign on the first island alone.

Despite all these gripes, however, Far Cry 3 was frequently entertaining, it made me laugh and it even made me jump at times. But it could also be very irritating and it ultimately became a bit of a chore to play. On top of that, it discarded so many of the small things which made FC2 unique, that there’s ultimately very little that is special about it.

Overall, Far Cry 3 is a solid, decent enough title, but I’d find it hard to really recommend it. For every step it took forward from FC2, it seems to take another two back.


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Coming Soon: High Strangeness

I’m pleased to announce that work on my next e-book release is progressing more quickly than I anticipated. I’m in the final stages of editing, at which point I will turn my attention to formatting and presentation, before conducting a final few editing tweaks. But here’s a sneak peek at the blurb (still a work in progress) -


UFOs, aliens, angels, poltergeists, animal mutilations & mysterious Men in Black. With the relentless summer sun came the High Strangeness to the sleepy English village of Aversham - ‘A paranormal party to which everything you never believed in is invited.’

But the Strangeness is more than a gathering of supernatural forces. Its presence foretells a coming disaster, as sixteen-year-old Beth Wells learns from the enigmatic Felix Clark. At odds with her family and struggling to accept the reality of what she has seen, Beth has six days to uncover the truth and to try to prevent the disaster before it can strike.

High Strangeness is a young-adult tale of horror and mystery as paranormal forces collide.


If all goes well I hope to have High Strangeness available for sale before the end of the month. Keep an eye out for it.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Suburban Killbot Year 1

So it’s been a whole year since I started this blog. It was mostly supposed to be about my writing, but out of the 90 odd posts during that time, only about 20 or so were directly about my work. Oh. About 60 others were videogame related. It’s okay - my videogame/work balance isn’t quite so lopsided in reality. I must admit however that I’ve not been able to do as much writing recently as I planned. I wasn’t slumped in front of my PC though, mostly I’ve been outside doing a lot of garden work. As procrastination goes, at least it's productive.

But despite that, I finally put out my first e-book - The Great Journey! Hurrah! (Currently available for free on Amazon) It was a test in a way, to learn the process of formatting and uploading a book to the Kindle service which turned out to be a fairly painless affair. I’m very happy with the result. I guess now it’s time to focus on marketing the book and also preparing my next release. To that end, I also joined Twitter and GoodReads (still setting that up). Hopefully, over time, I’ll gather a few people who want to read my stuff, but I know it’s going to be a long, hard road ahead.

I’m hoping to have a new e-book - a full length YA novel out by the end of this month if all goes well. Look out for it. I also submitted another completed novel to a publisher the other day, so fingers crossed for that. As much as I enjoyed the e-publishing experience, having the backing of a major publisher would still be the ideal scenario.

Now, let’s break down those videogame stats shall we? My Now Playing posts were never really intended to be ‘reviews’ as such, but over the course of the year they became increasingly more in depth than I originally intended. Of the 37 titles I scored only 3 emerged fairly unscathed with a 9. 10 others scored a worthy 8. The vast majority scored between 6-7. There were a couple of duds, but thankfully on the whole, everything I played this year I enjoyed to an extent.

So I decided to pick out a game for every month. 12 games that stood out this year and I’d heartily recommend. I’ve compiled them in an image below -

In terms of games I’m looking forward to this year, Rome 2 is obviously top of the list, but I’m also keeping a close eye on Watch_Dogs. I’m pleased that I was able to shave down my backlog quite a bit, although it didn’t help that I added to it several times. Hopefully I’ll be able to clear it by this time next year.

Yeah...probably not.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Great Journey Released

For countless generations the Ship has sailed the dark void between the stars, venturing towards a new world and a new home for those within. Phoebe and Jacob are to be among the last of the Ship generations. To Jacob, the Ship is a cage, an illusion of a world. A choice he never made.

To Phoebe, the Ship represents everything she has ever known. It is her connection to her history, to those who came before her and the world they left behind. Now the Great Journey approaches its end, and Phoebe and Jacob set out upon a journey of their own choosing – to the very heart of the Ship.

To the Core.

The Great Journey is a speculative science-fiction novella for readers of all ages. Available now!