Friday, 26 May 2017

Now Playing: Twilight Princess HD

I played the original GameCube version of Twilight Princess on release in 2006, but going into this HD remaster, I remembered very little about it. Which struck me as odd, because despite playing The Wind Waker three years before Twilight Princess, I recalled far more of that title. And after completing this remastered edition, I think I know why.

The Wind Waker has a very vibrant art style. Twilight Princess on the other hand, can be described as ‘graphically gloomy’. Visually, TP is rather bland to look at, featuring washed-out colours and murky environments. This is, I suppose, due to the nature of the game itself and its theme of light and dark – the ‘Twilight’ part of the title isn’t just to be fancy. I’m not saying Twilight Princess looks bad, just that it lacks the striking and memorable visuals of The Wind Waker, which is probably the main reason I didn’t remember much about it.

The Wind Waker also features an impressive open ocean ‘overworld’ to explore. In comparison, the overworld of Twilight Princess feels rather empty and dull. There’s nothing particularly interesting or memorable about it. But aside from these two issues, I do believe that Twilight Princess is, overall, a better game than The Wind Waker.

The weakest part of Twilight Princess is definitely the opening section. It’s a rather slow slog as the game walks you through the initial three dungeons and introduces your various key abilities, including the core ‘gimmick’ of TP which is that Link can now turn into a wolf.

You’re unable to switch between Link and wolf-Link at will during the first part of the game, and there’s some unfortunate padding prior to the early dungeons as you’re forced into rather tedious bug hunts. Fortunately, once you clear this early hurdle and can switch between human and wolf on the fly, the game opens up dramatically into an engaging and hugely enjoyable adventure.

The dungeons of TP are the real star, with a fantastic variety of uniquely themed dungeons each with their own style, puzzles, enemies, items and boss battles. And whilst none of them are particularly challenging, they’re all very cleverly designed and will force you to stop and think on occasion.

Outside of the dungeons and main quest, there is side content to be found, but not a great deal to get excited about. As I’ve already said, the overworld of TP feels rather empty and it’s not a world that encourages exploration. There are some neat things to be found if you care to look, but you’ll likely spend more time using the fast travel to bounce about.

This isn’t just because there’s not much to see in the overworld, but due to the irritating (though short) loading screens between the separated zones of the map. Oh, and your horse which handles like shit and is a real nightmare to control.

But honestly, though the world and side content may be a little lacking, Twilight Princess more than makes up for it with a fantastic story driven main quest. You’re introduced quite early to Midna, who becomes your permanent companion throughout the game. She’s a great character who adds a lot of charm and humour and provides an important emotional core to the story.

Which is nice, because Link in TP is so f**king bland. Compared to The Wind Waker, Link in TP seriously lacks personality. His only real expression is a rather moronic grin which led me to believe that this incarnation of Link was born a little ‘simple’. The guy is thick, which is why it’s lucky he’s got the smart little Midna to lead him around.

The whole story of the world of light and dark is a pretty cool tale which builds to a satisfying and heartfelt conclusion. But it’s really the relationship between Midna and Link that’s the star of the show, as the two work together to save both their worlds. And this is a game that’s not afraid to get dark. There’s one cut scene in particular that was so weird and disturbing it reminded me of Event Horizon.

The combat in Twilight Princess is improved compared to WW, with new special abilities and attacks that can be learned as you progress, as well as new enemy types requiring different tactics to defeat. As far as changes between this HD version and the GC original go, I don’t think there’s been any substantial alterations, more smaller ‘quality of life’ type improvements.

Overall, Twilight Princess is a great Zelda game and I’d actually say I enjoyed it nearly as much as Breath of the Wild. Whilst it certainly can’t match that game in terms of its world, exploration or side content, it easily surpasses it in terms of story and its main quest and dungeons. If only we could combine the two, eh? Then we’d really have something special.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Work in Progress: DOTJ

DOTJ is finally complete. I actually finished it a couple of weeks ago but I’m a little behind on updating the blog. I’m fairly pleased with it, I think. It’s always hard to judge your own work. It helps to step away for a few weeks and forget about it. It will probably need some more love, but I think it’s in pretty good shape as it is.

It was one of the most difficult novels to write that I’ve worked on, but that was more to do with how stop-start the process was. Although I began working on it back in July 2015, I didn’t really get stuck fully into writing it until towards the end of 2016/early 2017 because the project kept being put on hold.

DOTJ is technically a prequel to my other project QOTTS, but it’s only a very loose relation. But it does share a similar tone, style and theme. It’s something I’d like to expand and explore in the future. The same world, but with an entirely new character and setting.

The question is – what now? DOTJ will eventually go out on submission to publishers, but that’s a lengthy process and I need new projects to keep me busy. I’ve got so much older work slowly rotting away that I really want to do something with. I’m looking at releasing some more e-books later in the year depending on how things go.

As for new stuff, I really don’t know. I’ve got odd ideas, but nothing fleshed out, so I guess I could try putting together some rough outlines and see if anything sticks.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Now Watching: Children of Men

Children of Men is a dystopian sci-fi thriller directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Clive Owen. Although a critical success upon release in 2006, it was also something of a commercial flop. So bad, apparently, that Cuarón fell into a seven year funk, not directing another film until Gravity in 2013.

(Unlike Children of Men, Gravity was both a critical and commercial success despite being absolutely terrible. Seriously – f**k that movie)

But Children of Men is f**king great! Set in 2027, the world has gone to shit. The human race has, for some unexplained reason, become infertile, and no children have been born for over 18 years. The human race is slowly dying out and it doesn’t seem like anything can be done to save it.

So it’s an ‘end of the world’ type movie, but not of the sudden, explosive bang variety. Instead, it’s a slow, gradual decline of human civilisation. It’s bleak, depressing and perhaps a little too realistically portrayed for comfort.

Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, once a political activist, now a jaded, cynical and emotionally hollow man living in a Britain which has survived the decline with some degree of law intact – but now transformed into a totalitarian state. The borders are closed, pro-state and anti-immigrant propaganda is rife, and order is maintained by the barrel of the gun.

Theo is contacted by his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) and asked to escort a young woman to the coast. Theo agrees – but is he doing it purely for the money, or because he still cares for Julian? Either way, he doesn’t quite know what he’s getting himself into.

The best thing about Children of Men is the world that it builds. The attention to detail is fantastic, and what’s particularly impressive is that the vast majority of the world building takes place in the background – there’s very little exposition.

Beginning in London, things seems fairly ‘normal’ at first, but as we follow Theo on his travels, we come to see just how f**ked up this society has become. And what’s great about it is Theo’s reaction – or lack of reaction – to the depressing world about him.

Theo passes through it, ignoring it, passive to it, accepting it for what it is. He doesn’t comment on it. He’s numb to it. It’s just the way his world is and he’s resigned to accept it – what else can he do? But the story, in many ways, is really about Theo believing in something again. Snapping out of his stupor and finding hope.

Because the world of Children of Men is a world without children and a world without children is a world without a future. And a world without a future is a world not of hope – but despair. Thankfully, the film is never overly preachy or heavy handed with its themes, which makes them all the more powerful.

Children of Men looks fantastic, it’s perfectly paced and features a couple of exceptional long takes that must have required a ridiculous level of preparation and timing. Performances are all solid, though appropriately subdued. And I liked the little character/world touches – such as the car that refuses to start, or Theo’s unfortunate shoe situation – humorous little touches, but ones that lend a degree of realism to proceedings.

Children of men is bleak and depressing, but also offers a message of hope. It may not have found the commercial success it deserves, but I’m sure it will be remembered fondly regardless. And with its message of compassion and hope, it’s a film we can all learn from. It’s one that sticks with you. Highly recommended.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Suburban Killbot Year 5

The mosaic returns! I skipped out on this last year because of how big it was getting, but I decided to fill it out this year and add in all the other titles I’ve rated highly since.

As you can see, I added Titanfall 1 to the image rather than Titanfall 2. If you’ve followed my various posts on the sequel, you’ll probably know why. Whereas TF1 only improved over time, TF2 hasn’t improved at all – if anything it’s actually worse now than at release.

As always, I’d hoped to use this post to share exciting book related news, but as always, I don’t have anything good to share. Do you know what the definition of insanity is? Yes, yes I do.

This year has been pretty good for games so far. It’s nice to actually have a few titles lined up that I want to play. I also want to play some of my old Wii library now I’ve got my Wii U set up. Maybe the No More Heroes games.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to expand the blog – maybe some film related posts. I’ve also been thinking about potential video content – maybe some gameplay montages or something. I’m not really interested in doing full Let’s Play type stuff. I don’t have any decent editing software though or a particularly good mic. I’ll try a few things, see how it goes.

As far as my writing goes, I’ll have an update later this month on my new book and I might finally be releasing some of my older work in e-book format depending on how things pan out. Yeah, not exactly the most exciting yearly update, but there’s always next year, right?