Holy Mackerel! It’s the Top 5 Games of 2014.

Good Morning games fans, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Farmville dabbler, a hardcore gamer, or a gamer gate kook, the end of the year is that special time when we look back and see what games managed to make it through the toxic grip of the industry’s incompetent publishers without completely falling apart. (Prayers for our fallen comrade, Assassin’s Creed Unity, grievously wounded in this year’s struggle.)

What follows is a list of the games that I found most satisfying this year, presented in no particular order. There were a few games I really wanted to include, but couldn’t. I had a great time with Unity, but I just couldn’t put a game so broken on my list. Much love also for Infamous Second Son, but it just got bumped by some titles that kept me coming back for more. Honourable Mention goes to Wolfenstein: The New Order, which was a great title but I didn’t finish it due to personal stuff and the second half could have sent killer bees flying out of my console or something. With that in mind, read on for my super special Top 5 this year:

Peggle 2

peggle2_update_ss4Yeah, I know, I left a space on my Top 5 for a casual Popcap game that your Mum likes to play. How could it be in the running, when so many games on my list cost a trillion dollars to make a were designed in a secret lab by secret government agents.

Fuck that.

Peggle 2 deserves all the praise it gets for being every bit as awesome as the first, and for not being Plants Vs. Zombies 2. (Thank God for that.)

I’m not going to pretend you haven’t played the first Peggle, and it’s fair to say that Peggle 2 just replicates the gameplay for a new set of levels and a few bits of DLC. It’s a testament to how good that core gameplay is that it’s still an immensely satisfying game. Peggle is great fun, and with Peggle 2 employing a new roster of Masters, complete with their own powers, musical cues and visuals, it does feel freshened. Clearly money has been spent bringing things up to date a little bit, and the whole thing has a more consistent, clearly focused look and feel to it than before. Add in that it has been so long since the first game hit the shelves, and you have a title that has been very welcome on my PS4.

Popcap haven’t skimped on the new levels, there are a lot of them and they’re all fairly well designed. As before, their are challenges and special objectives, but they have now been integrated into each level, giving you the option to complete them as you play through the game. As a result, you’ll probably clear a lot of the content in Peggle 2 faster than the original, but there’s still a hell of a lot here.

I really enjoyed this game the first time I played it, and I’m still heading back regularly for another blast. I’ll probably still be playing it five years from now, as I am the original. You can’t make games better than that.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

acrogue-gi-02_161295*Gasp!* Yes, Rogue made this list in place of Unity. It’s a controversial choice, but I’m sticking by it.

Ubisoft made the unusual decision to release two major Assassin’s Creed titles this year, with Unity heading to next gen consoles and Rogue providing those poverty stricken individuals with more sense than money something to play on their Ps3 and 360’s. However, it almost feels like Rogue is the game Ubisoft didn’t want you to play. It received barely any marketing, even to the PS3/360 audience, and pre-release copies weren’t sent to reviewers. All indications were that this was going to be terrible. How wrong we were.

Truth be told, comparing the two is like apples and oranges. Unity is a new engine, new storytelling style, new gameplay feel, new everything. Rogue is a refinement of everything Ubisoft have been working on since Assassin’s Creed 3. It’d be a toss up if Unity’s game breaking glitches didn’t almost overshadow every good decision it makes. I love Assassin’s Creed so much, one of them was always going to find their way on to this list, Unity’s failing left a pretty big space for Rogue.

Rogue isn’t a new experience, it is for the most part a reskin and expansion of last year’s Black Flag. You play the part of Shay Cormac, a young Assassin who gets caught up in one of the Brotherhood’s most ambitious schemes. After the Assassin’s plans lead to disaster, Shay defects to the Templar order, and embarks on a mission to save the world from the Assassins’ unintended consequences. It’s a great plot and while Unity chose to sever a lot if its ties with the series’ continuity, Rogue revels in them. There’s a lot of fan service, but it works.

On top of that, while gameplay is mostly carried over from Black Flag, there are some great innovations related to playing as a templar. Your opponents are Assassins, which means you’re often tasked with fighting an enemy as capable as yourself. Young recruits will jump out of haystacks, drop on your from above and wait around corners for you to appear. It’s challenging, but there’s a real sense of seeing things from the other side for a change. It’s fabulous. Better yet, Shay’s arsenal of weapons seem geared to making the player approach things less like an Assassin and more like a templar. The hidden blade is still with you, but you’re also equipped with a long distance air rifle and a primitive grenade launcher. Stealth is still your best tactic, but the game is happy letting you be a little more blunt in your approach.

Rogue never quite reaches the heights of Black Flag, and it’s a very different approach to Unity, but it’s a solid, refined experience that always feels confident and controlled in what it wants to achieve.

Super Smash Bros. 3DS

super_smash_bros_Nintendo_3ds_04-pc-gamesMost people have dropped Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS together this year. That makes sense, gameplay between the two is identical and they share most of the same fighters and stages. Nintendo haven’t really gone in for multi platform titles across their handhelds and consoles before, but this is the closest they’ve ever come. However, I’m sticking with the 3DS version for this list. Firstly, because while I have spent some time with the WiiU version, I’ve only had it in the house since Christmas and I can’t speak about it’s own quirks much. And secondly, because while the WiiU Smash Bros is a great game, Smash on 3DS is a bloody miracle.

I have been raving about this game since I first played the demo. The 3DS is a very find little handheld, and Smash Bros is a great series, this was never going to be a bad game, but it has been put together with the kind of love and attention that is surprising even for Nintendo. This is an amazingly well made little game. From a technical standpoint, it is flawless. Character models and stages look clean and appropriate for the game, Things are a little scaled back from the WiiU version obviously, but it looks absolutely fantastic. The visual style is typical Smash, with a clean, not too stylised approach that lets a range of characters from very different worlds inhabit the same levels comfortable. Cartoony characters like Mario settle in reasonably well with more realistic heroes like Link, and even odder figures like Pac-Man don’t look too out of place. Unique to the 3DS version is an adjustable black outline that gives the game a slight comic book look, and helps the fighters stand out on the small screen. It’s a beautifully well thought out decision that I’d like to see more handheld developed thinking about. Better yet, the game runs at 60fps even with the 3D enabled and includes anti-aliasing when the 3D is off. Every possible step has been taken to make the game look great, and it does.

More importantly, it plays great too. It feels like Smash Bros. through and through, and with a wide range of fighters, stages, moves, sound effects, extra modes, it’s just unbelievable. Lumping this together with the WiiU version is selling Smash Bros. for 3DS short, on a home console this amount of content is expected, and handheld it is enormous. Nobody but Nintendo puts this amount of effort into a handheld game, and it’s a reminder of why the company survives in the modern gaming world.

And speaking of Nintendo…

Mario Kart 8

Thwomp_RuinsOh come on, you knew this was going to be on here. Who doesn’t love Mario Kart? Only Nintendo could release the 8th game in a series, on a console comparable to eight year old hardware and have it feel as fresh and beautiful as Mario Kart 8.

The old Mario Kart tropes are all here. Mario and a range of characters from his loosely associated games are go-kart racing through a series of Mario inspired tracks. Along the way they will throw shells at each other, drop banana peels and destroy friendships because of they stupid lightning bolt that nobody enjoys. However, this time they’re doing it in HD and there’s some DLC in which Mario drives a Mercedes. Sold!

It feels weird putting games like Mario Kart and Smash on best of lists. Not because they’re bad games, but because so often there’s a sense that they don’t really qualify as new games. It’s sad that in a world of annualised titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, Nintendo’s restraint with their titles isn’t more respected, but it’s understandable. These are, after all, first party exclusives that usually lack a unique single player campaign. However, they are always exceptionally fell made and enormously popular multiplayer games. Mario Kart is a game that keeps me coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 maintains that. I don’t have a lot else to say except this game also has Thwomp Ruins, and if that isn’t the best Mario Kart track ever, then I don’t know what is.

Alien Isolation

1390105674-7So this is it. My favourite game of 2014. The title seems unfair, Alien Isolation is my favourite game in years. And I don’t even play horror games. This is just such a good game.

Cards on the table. I’m a big fan of Alien. I know, I know, everybody loves the Aliens franchise, isn’t James Cameron great, Ripley is awesome. Shame about Resurrection. I can get behind all that, but what I really love is that original, creepy horror masterpiece, Alien. I love that it’s equal parts hard sci-fi and monster movie. I love that it takes so much influence from Star Wars in its set design and visual style and yet feels completely different. I love that it puts a guy in a rubber suit and never looks like it. I love the acting, the music, I love everything.

Alien Isolation is a perfect tribute to that film. It is, in my opinion, not only the best Alien game ever made, but probably a better sequel to Alien than any of the films that followed. It is groundbreaking in its game design and its visual style, and it is as close to perfect as any big budget video game I have ever played. I love this game.

We follow Amanda Ripley, a young engineer working jobs in deep space. Her mother, lost during the events of the first film, is a constant presence in her life despite her absence. She works in the same part of space where her mother disappeared, hoping for news. When a representative of the company comes to her and tells her they have found the black box from her mother’s ship, she joins the retrieval crew as they travel to Sevastapol station. Once they arrive, they find a station that is practically derelict. The inhabitants were in the process of dismantling the station to be decommissioned, logs scattered around tell the story of a hopeful population trying to make a life on the station before economic facts brought it down. Something has gone wrong, however. The authorities are locked down in one part of the ship, roaming bands of armed survivors control other sections, and something is working its way through the vents hunting them down. Ripley has to work her way through the station, repairing systems as she goes to find her way to the answers she seeks and get off the station alive.

The whole thing has a real Bioshock vibe to it, while being true to the universe of the film. It’s a gripping experience from the start, and when the Alien does appear, the game knocks it out of the park. Using a combination of scripted moments and very well developed, unscripted AI, we are introduced to the Alien as every bit the perfect hunter we knew from the films. The game’s Alien is a single, intelligent, learning animal that is always stalking you through the corridors of the station. Work too loudly, double back the wrong way or even spend too long lurking in the vents and you’re likely to bump into the Alien. And if you do, you’re dead. The one bright side, of course, is that if anyone else bumps into the Alien, they’re dead too. You can use that to your advantage, but if you toy with the creature too much it’ll start to figure you out and trust me, you don’t want that.

Alien Isolation is my game of the year. It’s a lot of other people’s game of the year too, and it’s so well deserved. AAA Gaming is a hit and miss affair, publishers are often cowardly and prone to play it safe, but after the disaster that was Colonial Marines, Sega needed to restore credibility in the franchise. Alien Isolation is both back to basics and very forward thinking. It is a largely linear story which tells the story of Amanda Ripley’s quest for closure, but within that it presents wonderful unplanned moments, and genuinely frightening gameplay. It looks and feels like it was taken straight from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, but always remembers to be a great game rather that just imitating a great film. I will remember my time on Sevastapol forever, even if I daren’t go back.

Woo! the 2014 WordPress Vanity Report is here!

I don’t usually post my Vanity Report, but I get a kick out of it every year. I’m sharing it this time because it has been a hell of a year for the blog, and I think it’s hilarious that my Man of Steel post just keeps rolling on, crushing fans of boring Superman movies as it goes. Check it out. 

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Ego Booster – 2014

Lego minifig series 8 father christmas santa claus saint nicholas costume present - doubleHello!

It’s Christmas Time again, and aren’t you all excited? Not too excited, I’m sure, because it does happen every year. But moderately excited, the sort of excitement you reserve for mundane, annual events in which we are all encourage to be excited about it by watching films of other people having a better time with it than we are.

Sorry. Where was I?

Life is busy at the moment, I won’t have time to update the blog until we’re into 2015, so I’m signing off this year by letting you know what I have going on and what’s coming up in the new year.

New Projects

Probably the biggest new development is Those Aren’t Biscuits, a weekly podcast hosted with my buddy Jonathan Cadotte. The show is only four weeks in, but has been a lot of fun so far. Give it a listen here.

I also put a new book out this year, a successor to the short story collection I released last year. Octopus Returns is on the kindle store right now.

Old Habits

The blog has been busy this year with a lot more updates than in years gone by. This includes more regular flash fiction stories, which you can read right here.

I’ve also been wasting my time reviewing very goofy PC games and letting you know why Daniel Craig has no shame.

Looking Forward

I want to make 2015 this year in which I finally quit my crummy weekend job, and make a living doing what I love. To that end, I already have two books in the works for early that year. More info coming on that soon. Those Aren’t Biscuits will be continuing on its regular schedule in the New Year, and Jon and I are hoping to get it into more people’s hands. I’m also going to start submitting my writing to sites and magazines that might be interested in my stuff, I’ve been too cautious about submitting in the past and it’s something I’ve never really tried.

Lastly, I usually have some sort of book sale on at Christmas. I’ve nothing planned just yet, but I’m hoping to organise something before the year is out. It will probably be New Year now before that happens, but keep watching this space.

Thanks!

Right, that’s all for now. I’ve talked about myself for long enough, I’d just like to end 2014 by thanking you guys for reading. You’re the best.

The 5 Best Christmas Movies

It has been a while since I’ve done a best of list, but Christmas is upon us and it’s time to pile up the DVDs for Christmas those peaceful moments between eating too much chocolate and arguing over who took the last roast potato. A good Christmas film is like a peace accord between warring factions, in which we all stop and ask ourselves “who is that guy? Has he been in anything else?” With that in mind, here are my five favourite Christmas flicks. 

5) Gremlins

fullwidth.aa60d4b7Joe Dante’s classic makes the perfect antidote to a lot of the over sentimentality that seems to fall upon people during the season of good will. The ultimate tale of a Christmas present gone wrong, Gremlins takes us to a small little town right out a Capra movie (more on him later), but chaos soon erupts after the town is invaded by hideous monsters. A perfect match of comedy and mild horror, Gremlins is a masterpiece family film that revels in the kind of uninhibited mayhem ten year olds love without ever being seriously frightening. Couple that with a sharp sense of humour and some pretty good special effects work and you have a winner.

This has been one of my favourite films for such a long time, I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and watched it and yet I still know it by heart.

4) Scrooged

scrooged-ghost-of-christmas-present-carol-cane-bill-murrayI feel like I’m cheating a bit by sticking two of these niché “anti-christmas” flicks on my list, but I really do like Scrooged. On its surface, this is essentially a modern re-telling of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, starring Bill Murray as a misanthropic TV exec, but what really makes this film great is the level of self awareness. In the story, Murray’s character is working on a twee adaptation of A Christmas Carol for his network while being forced to live out a far more horrific version of the tale in reality. There’s a lot of laughs in it, but what’s remarkable is just how unsettling the film can be. The Ghost of Christmas Future is usually a pretty sinister affair, but the film takes on a haunting, almost surrealistic vibe during these sequences that really works well. It’s not perfect, it ends on a very weird sing along that I’ve always hated, but there are a lot of highs along the way.

3) The Muppets Christmas Carol

Movie-MCC-Promo03-CrachitsAnd now I’ve gone and included two version of A Christmas Carol too. I feel no shame, I also don’t care that I’m sticking by The Muppet’s version too. For me, this is the ultimate adaptation of Dickens’ classic story. This is partly because The Muppets are hilarious throughout, but also because when The Muppets aren’t the story’s focal point, the film plays everything so straight and so true to the book, it’s hard not to admire just how excellent a production it actually is. The joining of the two is weird and a little silly at first, but by the end of the story it’s hard not to be totally invested in the whole thing. Some Dickens fans will probably tell me this is heresy, but I could watch this a hundred times before I’d sit through that god-awful Jim Carrey CGI vomit again.

2) The Snowman

the-snowman-cartoon-by-raymond-briggs-868685548This seems to be totally unknown outside the UK. That seems sort of fitting for this little animated piece, which has always felt like a quiet respite in the middle of the chaos of Christmas. A short animated film based on the book by Raymond Briggs, the Snowman tells the story of a young boy who builds a snowman at Christmas that comes to life. Told silently, we see the boy and the Snowman explore the house and ride a motorbike through the forest before the Snowman lifts the boy into the air, and the fly to a distant land where Snowmen have gathered for a festival. The tone is perfect and it’s hard not to get captivated by its beautiful hand drawn animation. If you’re from the UK you probably know it intimately, but for those of you in the rest of the world, I really recommend you give it a look.

1) It’s a Wonderful Life

itsawonderfullife-emailAh, what can I day about It’s a Wonderful Life that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? Originally made in 1946 by Frank Capra, it was a failure in its time. In fact, it was so much of a failure that nobody was really paying any attention when its copyright lapsed. This turned out to be the best thing that ever happened for the film as it was picked up by small cable channels like PBS, who aired it as an alternative to more commercial, excessive Christmas scheduling. The film’s anti-capitalist message resounded with people and decades after its release, this gem had a second wind.

The film follows the life of George Bailey, who wants to travel and see the world, but due to circumstances beyond his control, spends most of his life working for the same Savings and Loan his Father did. As time moves on, George feels more and more like life is passing him by, until his despair becomes so great he wants to end his life. Only then is he allowed to see the true impact he has had on his small community. It sounds hokey, and at times it is, but the film is also philosophically so at odds with the direction the world has moved in since its production, it’s hard not to love its commitment to its ideals. This is a film that explores where we drive our self worth, what makes life worth living, and why the consequences of our actions are of more value than our advancement. There’s no other way of saying it, it is required viewing.

Special Mention: Batman Returns

ocd-batman-returns-terrifying-clown-1-20090303115212405-000Batman Returns doesn’t really belong on a list of Christmas films, but I just couldn’t move on without mentioning. Especially since I already left off Nightmare Before Christmas because everybody puts that on their list. However, I do love Batman Returns’ bizarre philosophy of taking Tim Burton’s interpretation of Batman from the 1989 film and setting it in a surrealist urban Christmas that seems very much at home with Burton’s Edward Scissorhands universe. It might not be a Christmas movie, but it’s not really a Superhero movie either. It’s some sort of bizarre hybrid in which Batman’s villains are a bird-man who lives in a snow covered amusement park, Catwoman, and a man who looks like a sort of industrialist Jack Frost runs a Christmassy department store. It’s a movie in which circus performers live under the snowy streets in an arctic themed lair, and creep out at night to steal children in a festive steam train. A gang of circus thugs emerges from a giant Christmas present, and a beauty queen is killed after being thrown into the city’s tree.

If you’re feeling like a very bizarre Christmas film this year and you’re bored of Nightmare, try out Batman Returns. It’ll be an experience.

Lift – A Short Story

It has been a long time since I wrote a ghost story, but the idea came to me this morning and wouldn’t go away until I’d written it. Let me know what you think.

Owen.

***

Alfie was not sleeping. It didn’t matter, not really. If his Mum came in and saw that he wasn’t sleeping, she’d be cross, but that wouldn’t happen. She was sleeping. It didn’t matter because it was only a few minutes before Alfie would be woken up by the lift anyway. It was impossible, it could not happen, and yet Alfie had been woken up by the lift every night since they’d moved there. He wasn’t even surprised anymore. Startled, maybe. If he managed to drop off a little before, if he forgot the time and thought the night had passed without it happening… Well he was shaken awake anyway. By the grinding noise and the vibrations in the walls as it climbed the three floors of the house. Then it clanged to a stop and the gate opened. That was impossible too.

“It’s just your imagination,” his Mum said. She had said that nearly two months ago when they first moved in. He had been captivated by the old lift from the minute he saw it. He had found it on the first day, locked away on the third floor. It was old, like the lifts you saw on old films. Teenagers in red suits pulled levers and rode them up and down all day. The lever was in there, Alfie could see it through the cage, it looked like it was made of gold. And old red carpet lined the floor. “This used to be a dancehall,” said Mum as they stood on the ground floor. “Up above was a fancy club.”

“What is it now?” asked Alfie.

“Just a couple of houses, old rooms split down the middle.” And that was true, mostly it was just like their old house except all the rooms were somewhere else, and on the top floor there was the lift. And it was locked away.

It felt colder in his bedroom, just thinking about it. He hadn’t drawn his curtains, he let the moonlight keep him awake so he was ready for it. It was locked up for safety, they had said. If it wasn’t, anyone could climb in. The lift didn’t work anymore, which meant nobody came to fix it anymore, and if nobody came to fix it then you couldn’t be sure it was safe. So you couldn’t ride it. Alfie didn’t mind, the first day he just looked at it, taking in all the details.

The first night, he heard it. A little after midnight according to his little clock, the screeching and groaning of the lift came from down the corridor. It was unmistakable, and he went out to see it. By the time he got there, it was like nothing had happened. He wanted to go tell his Mum and Dad, but he wasn’t supposed to be out of bed. He waited until morning to ask them who was in the lift.

Alfie pulled the covers in around his neck. He knew the lift was coming soon, and it always felt colder when it did. They told him it was just his imagination, that he didn’t even know what an old lift like that sounded like. For the first few days he insisted, but they didn’t like to hear it. They started fighting among themselves, said things were no better here, and so Alfie stopped telling them. He felt like he’d been waiting all night, and it couldn’t be long now, but Alfie still wondered if perhaps he had imagined it all. Nothing really felt real at that time of night, perhaps he had never heard it. But he was wrong, because he could hear the lift again now.

The noise started two floors down, even though the lift was on the third floor when he had gone to bed. It started quietly at first, if he hadn’t been awake, he might not had heard it. Like someone rattling in the kitchen. Then the squeal started, and Alfie wanted to retreat under the blankets. He shouldn’t be scared, he told himself, after all the lift had done the same thing every night and he always been safe. He had stayed up for a reason, he knew that, he needed to be brave. And so, through the din of the lift, Alfie stuck a bare foot out of the bed. His other foot followed, and before he knew what he was doing he had left his room.

He paced slowly along the corridor, he daren’t wake his parents up. They were in the room next to his, he could see a sliver of light escaping from their door. As he got closer he could hear voices, they must have fallen asleep with the TV on again. They were always doing that, or maybe they were awake, but that was impossible because the sound of the old lift was so loud now that it even hurt Alfie’s ears a little bit.

He missed that first day when the lift was exciting and fun. He had sat in the corridor outside for the whole day, and when they’d brought out the first of his boxes to unpack, he’d done it right there by the gate. The box had all his most important things. His comics, his Star Wars guys and the best toy cars. He took out one of the cars, the little Ferrari with the yellow spoiler and raced it across the bars of the gate. A sudden crash meant disaster for the driver, however, when he lost control of the car and it flew into the lift. The gate was not to be opened, Dad didn’t even think he had a key, and so the little Ferrari had sat in there ever since.  Each night he was sure the screeching, moaning lift was gloating about it.

He was passed the big bedroom door now. The lift was only a floor beneath them. It worked its way up slowly, the screeching and grinding of machinery was worse than ever and he had to cover both his ears to keep moving forward. He hated the lift. He hadn’t slept in weeks because of it. He would do anything. He’d feed it a thousand cars if he thought it would just shut up for one night. It would be over soon, but he had to see it. All he wanted to do was scream, to take his hands from his ears and run back to bed. To hide under the covers. But that wouldn’t achieve anything.

Just a few steps until he turned the corner. His heart was thumping a mile a minute, he could feel it in his chest and hear it through the palms of his hands. It was loud, but not as loud as the noise. He thought he would never hear anything again, worse still the sound didn’t seem to be in his ears anymore, but bouncing around inside his head. He was forgetting things, it was so loud he couldn’t he remember why he was walking towards it anymore. And then he was at the corner. The lift was about to reach him, then he would hear the gate rattle open and see the occupant. He didn’t know what he would do then. But it was better than carrying on like this, better than pretending everything would be ok for another day.

He put the last of his strength to his legs, dropped his hands so the noise bombarded his ears and he lunged around the corner. The noise was gone, the pain was gone, all sensation of the lift was gone so completely he couldn’t be sure it had ever been there. And he made a noise of his own. Not the scream he had been holding back, but the first strained sob of a real cry. It was over as soon as it began but he felt like he’d cried all night. He stared at the locked cage of the old lift on the top floor.

It was there just as it had always been, illuminated by the moonlight through the slats of the blind. He went over to the landing window and pulled the cord, nightime lights flooded in and brought out all the fine metal details of the lift’s workings. The fittings that seemed so warm and golden in the day looked a hard, cold green at night. He couldn’t bare to look at it. He closed his eyes and tried to hear the noise again, but it was gone so far  he couldn’t even remember it. Still, he knew it would be back at the same time tomorrow night, and the night after that, and on and on forever.

And he couldn’t do anything about it except go back to bed. He turned his back on the lift, and the cold feeling fell on him like the noise knew it had defeated him. He tiptoed back along the carpet, and stood on something. He held his mouth closed and clutched his foot, and felt the car. The little red Ferrari with the yellow spoiler, no more than three feet from the cage. He picked it up, held it in his hands. The die cast metal was warm, like someone had been playing with it.

Fate – A Short Story

Plastic-cup-with-coffee-008“Fuck.” She kicked the machine. “Don’t do that you fucking stupid thing.” She kicked the coffee machine again, it didn’t deliver the coffee then either. John watched her taking out her rage on it and couldn’t help smiling. Others around them weren’t so forgiving, a nurse glared at her from her desk and if she wasn’t embroiled in a phone call with some other equally underfunded department, she would probably be heading over to kick the woman out.

“Eaten your money?” He asked. The woman turned, her face was bright red but she was drained from fighting.

“Right.” She leaned back against it. “I left my purse back on the ward, just brought enough change down for a drink.” She kicked it again with her heel. “I think it wants a tip.”

John fished in his pocket for some change. “Let me.”

“Oh no, please. There’s no need.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He dropped the coins in and stood back while she hammered at the buttons. “You’re clearly having a bad day.”

“Aren’t you?” She peered at him over the plastic cup and then wrapped her hands around it. She looked cold.

“Nobody loves a hospital, I suppose.” He walked back to the seats in the waiting area. “But everything’s routine for me. A scan, a trip to the pharmacy and then home. Nothing serious.”

She smiled and it was the first smile John had seen on her. It didn’t suit her, but he supposed it was a good sign. He dropped into one of the chairs and she dropped down beside him.

“Not heading back to the ward?”

“I don’t have the energy, and I won’t be needed for a while.”

“Oh,” he asked. “Mind if I ask why you’re here?” And he saw her face pull together ever so slightly, he had asked the wrong question. “I’m sorry, it’s not important.”

“It is to me,” she brushed the hair out of her eyes. “I got a call saying my daughter had been in an accident, by the time I got her she was already in surgery. Nobody wants to tell me anything, so…” She froze, John could see tears welling up in her eyes. He placed a hand gently on her shoulder and could feel her shaking right up to his shoulder.

“I’m sure they’re doing the best they can for her.”

She sat back, tried to wipe the fear from her eyes. “Right. What else would they be doing.”

“I’m sorry, I…”

“I know what you meant,” she smiled again. “I guess I don’t want to talk about it until there’s something to talk about.”

That drew a line under it, he half thought about leaving, but she was a mess. She shouldn’t be left alone.

“So what shall we talk about?”

She laughed.

“I don’t know, tell me where you’re from.”

“Well, I was born in France but I haven’t been there since. English parents, raised nearby.” Boring topic really, but it would pass the time. “And yourself?”

“Oh I’m a local girl.” She smiled. “Never left the country.”

They talked like that for a while before a nurse arrived down from A&E, she stepped into the waiting room and peered around as if she was going to find who she was looking for by intuition alone. Eventually she cleared her throat and spoke up. “Mrs Clary?” His new friend started to gather up her things and waved to the nurse, but she started to approach. “Follow me, Mrs Clary.”

“How’s she doing?”

The nurse was noncommittal. John knew it was bad news, you couldn’t hand around hospitals as long as he had without picking up on the bad news face. She was oblivious, he almost felt glad she was. “If you’d like to come with me, the doctor will speak to you about your daughter’s condition.”

She nodded and smiled, and then she gathered up her things. She held her coffee and her coat in one hand and extended the other to John. He took it and did his best to look hopeful. Then he watched the pair of them walk off down the corridor until they turned off towards the lifts. And he felt sorry for her. It wasn’t hard, under the circumstances, but it caught him off guard. He’d only known her a few minutes.

It was probably time to leave. He grabbed the coat from the chair and slipped it off his shoulders. It had been a mistake coming here really, but he’d got what he wanted in the end. He’d recognised her immediately. Same hair, same eyes. He thought he might not, he’d only got a quick look at the daughter through the side window and when you’re travelling at that speed there really isn’t time to stop and take in the details. But when her car had started to wobble and he’d tugged on the wheel, well her face was so perfect. He’d taken in every detail, and he wouldn’t be forgetting it any time soon. He should feel something for her, he supposed, but he didn’t. He didn’t do it because of anything she did, or was, but because she had been there just as the impulse had taken him. He hadn’t even seen the driver before he’d started grinding the metal of his jeep against the side door. By the time she’d spun off into the river, the fun was gone.

Outside the hospital, it was snowing. Maybe a White Christmas, that would be nice. Still, he should just have stayed in. He’d driven slowly the rest of the way home after the crash and parked up in the lockup. Then he’d walked round to the front and taken out the little hatchback. Then he drove straight to the nearest hospital and waited. He thought maybe he shouldn’t be doing that, maybe it was a risky thing and what were the chances anyway, but then he’d seen her fighting the coffee machine and it was so perfect. Well, it had to be fate. He found his way back to his little car, sat quietly underneath the streetlight. He would miss the Jeep on the drive home.

Why I don’t like Fighting Games, and Why I Love Injustice.

The cover art really sets the tone, as Superman and Batman duke it out beneath the world's worst pop-group.
The cover art really sets the tone, as Superman and Batman duke it out beneath the world’s worst pop-group.

It’s dark outside. I don’t know what time it is. I am Green Arrow, and I’m fighting Solomon Grundy who is trying to prevent me from staging a daring raid on the Batcave. I suddenly become aware that I am experiencing one of the most engrossing video game narratives in ages from a game I had all but written off a year ago. These are the sort of moments that keep me playing games.

I would never have bought Injustice. Oh it tempted me, with its siren song of a strong license, cool artwork and a plot that borrows heavily from my favourite Justice League episode. It was the game made just for me in so many ways, except it wasn’t. I don’t play fighting games. I try to be open minded, really I do, but fighters and I just don’t get along. We should, I suppose. Mine is the generation of Street Fighter II, passionate debates about Mortal Kombat’s green blood on Sega and the golden age of Arcade fighters. I’m terrible at all of them. The last fighter I bought was Super Street Fighter IV on the 3DS. It came bundled with the console and I was terrible at that too.

Now, before you start imagining me as some hideous five thumbed mutant with the dexterity of a tricycle, I’m fairly sure this is mostly about patience. Fighting games are about timing, memorising button sequences and going face to face against a skilled opponent. I can pick up a controller, blast against the CPU or a friend and have some fun, but I just don’t enjoy the games enough to really take time on any kind of mastery. I like my games, I like ’em a lot, but learning combos bores me to tears. I’m the guy who plays Spider-Man games by loading all my upgrade points into health and mashing the punch button. (Yes, that applies to pretty much every Spider-Man game since 2000.) There’s a place for intricacy in game design, but if it were up to me, button sequences isn’t where you’d find it.

The fighter I got with my 3DS! (Not Pictured: The Ridge Racer port that spent a lot more time in the console.)
The fighter I got with my 3DS! (Not Pictured: The Ridge Racer port that spent a lot more time in the console.)

This is a subjective thing, of course. I’m the guy who mashes buttons in Spider-Man but I’m also the guy who spends hours mastering the perfect swinging technique. I’m the guy who liked the sailing in Zelda. I’m the guy who keeps playing a park in Rollercoaster Tycoon after the level has been won. I’m the guy who plays Halo for the story. (C’mon, you knew we existed. Why else would they keep putting it in there.) Fighting games lose me because for all the attention to detail they put in character design and traits, the gameplay strips all that back to mechanics. Narrative is limited to opening and closing cutscenes, character motivation and behaviour is largely irrelevant, setting is little more than an excuse to include something better than a blank screen. They offer an experience that is about learning the game’s functions and exploiting them in the most efficient sequence. It is challenging, it is a great platform for competition, and I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, but it’s not an experience that I’m interested in.

Which is why Injustice has been such a surprise. Arriving as one of this month’s Playstation Plus games on PS4, I finally got a chance to try it out without risking £40 on a game I might only play for five minutes. Going in, I had some expectations. I knew I would see a wide roster of well designed DC characters, I knew I’d see familiar settings reproduced as detailed stages. I got all that, but there’s a lot more too. This is a fighter that is every bit as challenging and intricate at its core but it comes in a package that transcends its mechanics. It’s clear the developers have spent a lot of time making the game competitive to other modern fighters, but they also understand that the DC license gives them an opportunity to bring in a wider audience. Injustice’s story mode plays a big part in that.

I guarantee you this screenshot is more exciting than the Man of Steel sequel will be.
I guarantee you this screenshot is more exciting than the Man of Steel sequel will be.

Unlike other fighters, the core single player experience places a big emphasis on story in this game. After a quick tutorial, the game begins on an intricate story that plays out like one of DC’s own straight-to-DVD animated features. The plot involves a small group of heroes from the Justice League transported to a parallel dimension in which Superman has declared himself ruler of Earth. Joining up with Batman’s resistance, they fight to free this alternate earth from the Man of Steel’s iron grip. The story plays out through some exceptionally well voiced cutscenes, that feel deliberately paced to absorb you into the plot, not just carry you to the next battle. When a fight does break out, you take control and duke it out. It’s a compelling format that transformed the experience for me. I enjoyed watching the cutscenes as much as I enjoyed actually fighting, and it succeeded in removing that sense of detachment fighters usually create in me. It was everything I needed to keep me invested, keep me playing to the end, and I can safely say that I am now more adept at this game than any other fighter I have played. I actually beat someone online; that was a big moment for me! It took me right back to being nine years old and being the only kid who could use a special power in Mortal Kombat II. (It was Baraka’s knifey arm slash thing. Lame, I know.)

There’s more to this than just the story though, so much of Injustice seems to be tweaked towards drawing new players in. The S.T.A.R Labs missions, for example, are a sequence of smaller, objective based battles for each character that push you to learn a lot more about each of the fighters in order to accomplish specific tasks, while the Battle Mode includes options like Classic Battle which is a more traditional campaign through a sequence of more difficult opponents.

Go Baraka! You flea-market Wolverine!
Go Baraka! You flea-market Wolverine!

Injustice is still a fighter, of course. It will never be my favourite genre, and Injustice will never be my favourite game, but this is one of those very rare games that has real cross market appeal. It uses the DC license as an inspiration for its mechanics, but it respects that audience by making sure fans of the comics are all welcome regardless of their experience with the gameplay. Why do I love Injustice? Because it was a game I should have hated, but it went to such great lengths to make me feel included. At every step of the way, Injustice reminded me that this was a game for me too. And it didn’t do it by simplifying the gameplay or by changing the format, it did it by reinforcing strong core gameplay with a presentation that kept me wanting to play. I think I would play any fighter that offered me the same.

Daniel Craig and the Great James Bond Deception – Why you should be wary of pre-release hype.

Would you buy a used card from this man?
Would you buy a used car from this man?

A new 007 movie is coming, and the hype train has started already. We know it will see the return of Daniel Craig to the role, and it will be called Spectre. I’m making an educated guess here, but I’d say it will be a modern-ish action movie in which Daniel Craig beats the crap out of a lot of people and some familiar Connery Era tropes make an appearance to remind you this is still part of Cinema’s most cliché spy franchise. Oh, and Skyfall was a big hit, so it will probably be a bit like that. If I sound like I’m down on it, please forgive me. I like Bond movies. I don’t know why, most of them are terrible, but it’s true that you usually know what you’re getting yourself in for when the lights go down. I liked Skyfall, I loved Casino Royale. Still, I wouldn’t describe myself as excited. I refuse to get caught up in any hype for big franchise movies anymore, and it’s sort of Daniel Craig’s fault. Let me start at the beginning…

Casino Royale is the Bond film the series needed since the 80s. (Don’t get me wrong, Pierce Brosnan was a great bond, even if he only managed one great Bond film.) In many ways it was the antithesis to everything wrong with cinema of the late 90s, it was dramatic and excessive, but in its approach to the franchise, Casino Royale was almost entirely reductive. The philosophy was entirely about returning to the core elements of the character. Who was Bond, and if you separate him from the clichés, what would a man like that be? What would a high-tech British secret service really look like in today’s world, and what would their enemies be. At the same time, it drew authentically from the source material, with the second act of the film a very pure adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original novel. Casino Royale is probably the best Bond movie ever made. The sequel is where things start to fall apart.

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Lies: The Movie

I don’t have a lot to say on Quantum of Solace as a film. Its flaws are obvious. It is confused, it lacks a clear focus and it positions itself as a direct sequel to Casino Royale, despite that film tying up all its loose ends pretty well. But I don’t hate that film, at the time I ascribed its failings to that same reduction that had made Craig’s debut so satisfying. It seemed likely that in their effort to rethink the series, they had also rethought its approach to sequels and made a misstep. There are worse Bond films in the canon, and the series is successful enough that a better film is rarely more than five years away. Life, and the movie industry trundled on, and the great 007 hype machine started to talk about Skyfall.

It makes sense, I suppose, that the cast and crew would want to distance themselves from Quantum of Solace. The film had a bad rep, their new offering was about to hit the screens and you could tell they were trying to pitch this one as something special. Daniel Craig in particular was probably aware that his future as Bond was resting on the success of Sykfall. One Win, One Loss is ok. One Win, Two Losses and he probably wouldn’t have made it to his fourth Bond film. And that’s when Daniel Craig made his exclusive interview to Time Out that I would love to link you to, but for some reason, no longer exists on Time Out’s website. Don’t panic, people were so thrilled to discover that Skyfall wasn’t going to be the mess Solace was, they quoted the relevant bits everywhere!

Take this section, where Craig informs us that a lot of the writing was actually done by Marc Forster and himself, after the writers’ strike landed on them. How badly affect were they? “We were fucked” are his exact words.

Time Out: It seems that the script is sometimes an after-thought on huge productions.

Craig: ‘Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’

Time Out: You had to rewrite scenes yourself?

Craig: ‘Me and the director [Marc Forster] were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just. It was never meant to be as much of a sequel as it was, but it ended up being a sequel, starting where the last one finished.’

It’s a shame, but hey, these things happen. A lot of people were affected by the Writers’ Strike then. (Check out Season 7 of Smallville for the most distressing examples.) Still, compare and contrast with Daniel Craig just before the release of Quantum of Solace. 

For those who find press junkets cringe worthy, here Daniel Craig describes Quantum of Solace‘s approach as “Just making sense.” Just one of many glowing interviews he did before the release of the film.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth.
You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.

I know there are people who will tell me that this is an unreasonable criticism. Daniel Craig is an actor, 007 is a big franchise, and a press junket is there to promote the film. Of course the man would say glowing things about the film he is in, it can be hard to judge a film from inside the production, a lot of money is riding on its success, etc. etc. etc. But, allow me to play Casino Royale and be the reductionist, because I think the situation is really quite simple.

Quantum of Solace was a mess of a film, it was being produced at a difficult time and the studio weren’t prepared to delay production until the writers’ strike was over, partly because they wanted their profits to arrive good and on time and partly because they didn’t want to strengthen the arguments of those striking. Because of this, most of the in production writing for Quantum of Solace was done by the director and the star, at least one of which has freely admitted to having no talent for the job. He has gone on to admit that the results were not as intended, nor were they really satisfactory. Argue ambiguity all you like but the phrase “We got away with it, but only just” doesn’t exactly scream confidence in one’s work. Then, this man travelled the world as the face of the film, trying to convince you all to part with your money to see it.

It’s not the worst Little White Fraud in the world, of course. PR companies and advertisers lie to us every day, and we know it. It is a bargain we have struck with the world, we accept that every day someone is trying to find more subtle and invasive ways to part us from our money, we become a little bit more cynical and in return? Well we get movies like Quantum of Solace. I never said it was a good bargain. Our only defense, as I see it, is to not give in to the hype. The world will not change any time soon, and people will still lie to you, but when you see Daniel Craig on TV telling you exactly why you should get excited about seeing Spectre. Just remember, four years later you might be hearing him explain exactly how much of an idiot you were.

The Patreon Question.

Patreon Logo

EDIT: Since writing this, I am now on Patreon, for my Youtube work. Check it out! www.patreon.com/owenadams

“Why aren’t you on Patreon?”

I am hearing the question a lot these days.

“I am on Patreon.”

“Oh great, send me your page.”

“No, not like that.”

I like Patreon a lot. I like crowd funding a lot. I have kickstarter accounts, indiegogo, patreon. You can find me at all these places, but as a donors not a recipient. That’s not really a surprise. Crowd funding is so big right now that whoever you are, chances are at least one of your childhood heroes is trying to fund a revival. You never know, as we speak the guy who originally played Grimace in the McDonalds ads might be seeking funds to create a replica of the original suit or something. It’s a wide world out there. But there are others on there, new artists and some of them are pretty good, and they want you to support then so they can keep making great art. Bloggers, YouTubers, Podcasters; the children of the new media are all there seeking your support. So, why aren’t I?

Of course, the immediate answer is the hardest to come to terms with. I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything to justify asking for people’s money. I do ask for people’s money anyway. I wrote books, I like those books, and I sell them through Amazon. You can go there right now and give me some money, but that is a very different sort of transaction. It is done through an intermediary, with terms clearly understood by both parties. I have written a book, pay Amazon and they will provide you with a copy, they will then pay me a share. I take some additional pleasure from the knowledge that some people will tell me they paid for the book and read it. Some will even tell me they enjoyed it. (Some will tell me they hated it, but it’s best not to dwell on those.) The book might not be to everyone’s taste, but people always get what they pay for. But to go further than that, to open myself up, as some of my peers have, to funding of my art solely on the basis that my art is of value as an endeavour and not only as a final product. Well, that’s a statement that takes some guts to make, and I’m not sure I’d ever get there.

I’m proud of my work. That’s a statement that takes no effort to make. I like what I do and I think I do it well, sometimes the work is slow because I don’t have as much time to devote to it as I’d like, but it has become the main focus of my life. The little stories I post, the blog posts I write, they might just get sent out there into the ether, they might never pay the bills, but they represent more than just a way to fill my spare time. Whatever my day job might be, this is the person I want to be. A person who creates, a person who tells stories and discusses the stories of others. I am a ravenous consumer of fiction in all its forms, I need stories and games and films, and I need to talk about them, and if I’m paid millions or doing it for free between working hours, I’ll be here doing it with whatever time I have.

So why can’t I talk to you about it as if it has value? I’m not the first person to try and make a living this way. There are few people whose work I respect more than the late Roger Ebert, a man who made his fortune writing short pieces about popular films. It’s not an easy line of work to fall into, lots of people would like to write for a living, but there’s hardly enough money to pay them all. I’m not so naive as to think my drive in any way influences my ability to actually turn my work into a healthy looking bank statement, but it’s also worth remembering that the success of our work is not necessarily contingent on its value.

I have spoken in the past of my discomfort for self promotion. As a child of the internet, it is hard not to look cynically on self promoters, whose general lack of restraint has turned the online world from a free and open melting pot of ideas to a gated, patrolled world always on the lookout for the cyber equivalent of door-to-door salesmen, armed with megaphones. I understand it’s necessity, but the discomfort is always there, lingering. Always ready to whisper in my ear that every tweet updating people as to my progress is turning me closer and closer into one of those indie authors that tweets the link to their book every ten minutes, seven days a week.

And this is probably why I’m not on Patreon. It would be easy to start. I could go right now, I could be spending the time writing this post on a glowing pitch about me, about the work I do and about why I deserve your support, but at the heart of this is that little festering nugget of doubt that holds me back. I’ve written four short books I think are worth the money I sell them for, but the truth is I don’t really believe that I do deserve your support. The impostor syndrome lurks at all times, reminding me that I’m not the same as those other writers, I’m not the same as those famous people, I’m not the same as those big companies, the work I do here isn’t real work like their’s is.

Of course, this is nonsense. Like all creators, bloggers, writers, the quality of my work is variable and is open for the judgement and criticism of anyone who encounters it, but the value of the work and the time spent on it is every bit as valuable as anyone else working to create, and to discuss, it’s just a little hard to see that from the inside. It can be a little too easy to forget that the creators we admire rarely do their own promotion, they work with agencies and large companies, separated from the artist’s doubts and fears, whose job is to sell indiscriminately for their client regardless of the quality of the product. I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t want to. It’s a world I neither understand nor respect, and yet it is tied to the work I do so intricately. The need to create and the need to sell.

I won’t have a patreon account any time soon, you won’t be seeing my books sitting in the middle of some fancy google ad. I don’t have the stomach for it, but it’s time I became a little more forthright when it comes to promoting my work. I have on desire to be a shill, I can’t stand there on the internet’s street corner and shout “BUY MY BOOKS!”, but what I can do is value myself, and value to work I do for the enjoyment of others. And when I finally get the hang of communicating that value to the rest of the world? Well, maybe you’ll see me on Patreon then.

Review – Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Typing Of The Dead CoverTyping of the Dead was probably the stupidest Dreamcast game ever made (and that is from the console that gave us Seaman).   It remains the standout title in the Zombie Shooter / Typing Tutor genre solely because nobody else would be stupid enough to replicate it, and since the dizzy heights of the Dreamcast era, very few consoles come with their own full QWERTY keyboard and Sega Arcade hardware. Still, it was the sort of game that felt designed for Sega’s doomed console. Quirky hardware, a corny Japanese import, and a gameplay concept that was borderline office work. A cult take on what was already a cult arcade conversion, Typing of the Dead should have been the House of the Dead 2 port nobody in their right mind would ever want to play. God, did I love it. Combining the campiness of the original title with the 90s “Edutainment” feel and the bizarre non-sequiturs the game asked you to type up created an experience that had to be played to be believed. Typing of the Dead has been gone for a long time now, but it has returned to a PC near you, with a conversion of the Wii’s excellent House of the Dead: Overkill.

Overkill was a remarkable game in its own right. The first title in the series to head straight to consoles, it was a game that really felt at home on the Wii. It took the series’ trademark violence and gore and partnered it with a well written parody of Grindhouse cinema to create a game that really feels like it knows its audience. Where House of the Dead in arcades was often unintentionally hilarious, badly translated and goofy, Overkill deliberately tries to cultivate the same feeling that you’re indulging in a low budget piece of crap. I was thrilled to see that this all carries over to its keyboard equipped cousin.

The Typing of the Dead Overkill PhrasesTyping of the Dead: Overkill is a very complete port of the original game, built around a different central mechanic. Instead of shooting zombies, you must crack out your secretarial skills and type a series of phrases to achieve total zombie explodification. This is better than it sounds, you don’t just type line by line, but instead are attacked by zombies in waves identically to the original game. Each zombie comes with its own hovering phrase, start typing to start shooting, complete the phrase to kill. Backspace to cancel and attack a different zombie. There are, of course, different types of zombies with different attacks; the difficulty of the opponent is changed by altering the complexity of the phrase. Early on you’ll encounter simple, ravenous foes that can be dispatched simply by typing “Nom.” Later you’ll be asked to tackle more complex phrases and sentences that are often hilarious in their construction. Some of the best moments come when the phrases you type reinforce the story, such as boss battles, where character motivations and feelings are often thrown up on the screen.

The change in mechanics comes with a few necessary drawbacks. The game is an On-Rails shooter anyway, when your central mechanic is typing, there are times when it feels like the game isn’t that interactive. It’s a lot more exciting that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, but it’s hard to deny that most of the time you have no control over events. Type well, things move forward, type badly and the game stops. Hitting TAB in time will collect your power ups, but the rest of the time this is just about your skills hitting the keys. It’s to the game’s strength that it disguises how limited this experience actually is. In wears a bit in long sessions, becoming obvious that this is less of a interactive experience than the original game, but in short blasts I never lost the fun. It also necessitates a toning back of the game’s opponents. Maybe I’m misremembering the Wii original (it has been a while) but I never really felt like the enemies attacked me the variety or ferocity that they did in the original. I’m sure this is partly because your methods of response are limited, but there seems to be a lack of imagination in it too. Zombies rarely throw things, or charge the player, there are less trials of accuracy (for obvious reasons) but these could all be replicated on keyboard pretty well.

Typing of the Dead OverkillThe only other criticism probably isn’t going to bother most people. Typing of the Dead: Overkill is a great game, but not a very good typing tutor. I know it’s marketed more as a kitsch take on the series, and I feel silly picking on the game for something it never really claims to be, but if you’re going into this expecting to be given some tutorials on touch typing first then you’ll probably be disappointed. This game will help your typing skills, I’m sure, just through the addictive gameplay and practice typing unusual words and phrases, but it will only build on the typing abilities you already have, not teach you any new ones. One nice feature, however, is the ability to add custom dictionaries so you can type themed phrases or foreign languages or just different regional dialects.

Typing of the Dead: Overkill is available on PC via Steam and probably some other retailers too but who uses them? It retails at around £15, but is on sale pretty often. This is an odd game to recommend, because I had a great time with it, but it’s not for everyone. I can’t say it’s the best way to play Overkill, but if you’re a fan of Grindhouse movies and zombie flicks, but not a big shooter fan, this might be a better way to enjoy it. All the content is still here, and the game plays as well as it ever did. If you’ve played Overkill before though, this is an easy recommend. It’s cheap and cheerful, a goofy way of experiencing the game again without the hassle of setting up a lightgun or playing with mouse. Better still, the typing mechanics and weird phrases actually make replaying a very different, entertaining way of replaying.

Typing of the Dead: Overkill might be a weird, cheap title, but it’s also a solid game that makes the most of the franchise’s history and the strangeness of its gimmick. It is what it is, and it’s hard to find fault with that.