Category Archives: Sinister Reviews

Sinister Reviews #14: Gabriel Knight – Sins of the Fathers

GKSotF

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Mac
Release Date: October 2014 remake
Developer: Pinkerton Road Studios
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios

I missed Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (GKSotF) the first time around. Y’see, I was always a LucasArts brand of adventure-hound rather than a Sierra one; craving the comedy adventures in the vein of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle (along with other, non-LucasArts games like Simon the Sorceror and Broken Sword) rather than more serious titles, like Gabriel Knight. However, since 2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of GKSotF’s release and saw release of an anniversary remake by Pinkerton Road Studios, the time seemed as good as any to leap into the world of Gabriel Knight and his roguish brand of amateur crime-solving.

GabrielKnight_1

Jane Jensen’s Gabriel Knight series still remains a heralded classic in the point-and-click canon, touching upon a tale of murder-mystery stuffed with conspiratorial happenings, secret voodoo cults and suspicious events. The titular Mr. Knight is a brash, book shop-owning novelist from New Orleans, who becomes increasingly involved in police investigation of a case known as the Voodoo Murders through his friend Detective Moseley, before getting in far over his head. Over the course of ten game-days, the player must manoeuvre Knight around various scenes and locales of New Orleans (and, later, Germany and Africa); examining objects, harassing the townsfolk and using objects with other objects in the time-honoured point-and-click fashion. However, what sets GKSotF aside from the average is Jensen’s superb narrative: where my childhood adventuring through the LucasArts catalogue mainly stroked the soft underbelly of light-hearted storylines and comedic set-pieces, GKSotF tackles far more dense subject matter; a true crime thriller, with its fair share of grisly crimes and decidedly ‘grown-up’ themes. It’s reminiscent of a page-turning detective novel, with some excellent story pacing and an array of suspicious characters all, inevitably, involved in a complex web of mystery that maintains a respectable level of tension throughout the experience.

A key part of maintaining this atmosphere lies in the engaging, well-balanced, puzzle design. While some puzzles will have you scratching head for a while, they rarely feel unsolvable; yet, never facile, either. Solutions are never made too obvious (nor is the player ever steered toward them using petty hand-holding), yet pose a median level of difficulty that don’t challenge either the player’s intelligence or stupidity. Furthermore, the puzzles all maintain relevance to the ongoing storyline and police/spiritual investigation, meaning that the game largely doesn’t feel padded out with extraneous hoop-jumping or completely bizarre, shoehorned puzzles. To my knowledge, there was only one occasion where I hit a puzzle that I would never, ever have solved without the hint system (spoilers: it was the exact wording for what I was supposed to write on the tomb wall in the voodoo code) and, of course, the ‘engage with the mime’ puzzle near the beginning of the game is possibly the most tedious puzzle that I’ve ever encountered in an adventure game, but we all make mistakes.

GabrielKnight_2

GKSotF should also be commended for not relying too much on the adventure games staple of constant back-and-forth between characters or scenes to progress the action; not that engagement with NPCs feels too much like a chore. Aside from the game’s abrasive voiced narration (which, thankfully, it is possible to mute), voice acting varies from ‘really good’ to merely just ‘acceptable’, and the initially-tedious dialogue animations certainly endear and lose their irritation. Dialogue trees are also well-constructed to avoid too much repetition and deliver the ongoing narrative in a focused, natural way. In this respect, the presence of a physical narrator of Gabriel’s actions feels like an alien concept (at least when compared to the LucasArts style of having the main character comment, narrate and break the fourth wall) since it disengages the player from Gabriel himself, but adds to the feeling of being involved in a detective serial or TV movie. Pretty much all of the dialogue, scenery and storyline are – I’m led to believe – faithfully recreated from the 1993 original version of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (except now rendered in prettier high-definition graphics and cut-scenes) and it’s satisfying to find that GKSotF has aged commendably in the intervening two decades.

In general, the updated character models are well-rendered; faithfully-recreated scenes are packed with prettiness to look at and it all represents a fairly solid modern take on Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. If there’s a weakness in the visual and atmospheric update, it’s in the game engine – the commitment to re-drawing scenes from the original leads to the limiting decision to use high-definition, 2D backgrounds with 3-D Unity-driven character models walking overtop, rather than fully-3D scenes. 99% of the time this raises no issues, but occasionally presents unfortunate graphical glitches and evidence that the gameworld is merely a 2D plane with characters pacing around atop a stationary texture. It’s not a game-breaker, but merely leads you to occasionally feel like you’re playing an adventure game version of The Sims.

[FYI, if you want to get hold of the original version of GKSotF, then head over to GOG.com]

GabrielKnight_3

But, I’m nitpicking: the fact that you notice such mild gremlins and glitches is simply because the rest of GKSotF is so solid and enjoyable. Sure, the storyline drifts off a little in the last third – away from the more interesting ‘police’-type investigation and toward a more linear path of “do this, then do this, then do this”, which feels just a teeny bit padded out – but it’s because the majority of the game feels so well-paced and –balanced in terms of both narrative and gameplay.

In truth, I was expecting to be a little disappointed by Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. My curiosity had been piqued by Yahztee & Gabe’s playthrough of the first hour or so on Let’s Drown Out, and I’d expected to be mildly engaged by the storyline but to find fault with the game’s mechanics and object/NPC interaction. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to discover that it’s one of the best adventure games that I’ve played in recent years. Despite a few flaws, it’s still a masterclass in adventure game design and well worth a visit for the narrative exposition alone. Perhaps it’s testament to the forward-thinking innovation of the original, or the persistence of the point-and-click genre in being stuck in the mid-Nineties, but if ever there were a time to discover the world of Gabriel Knight (or perhaps just revisit it), then it’s now.

[Zinar7]

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Sinister Reviews #13: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – The Graphic Adventure

IndyTop

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Amiga, Atari ST, Mac
Release Date: July 1989
Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games

Way back at the beginning of January, I made a promise to ‘Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.‘ As such, I felt that it was appropriate for my first adventure game, er, adventure to delve into the depths of time and unearth a relic that’s almost as I am and, as such, has long-since been forgotten by all but adventure game connoisseurs. With that in mind, for January’s point-and-click odyssey, I decided to dust off LucasArts’ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tie-in adventure, plunder its nostalgic treasures, and see what comes out in the wash.

IndyLstCrsde_1

IJLCTGA finds LucasArts (then still known under ‘LucasFilm Games’) still very early in its adventure game career and it most certainly shows; not only graphically, but also in terms of writing, puzzle design and overall vision. That’s not to say that it’s a complete Neanderthal – indeed, IJLCTGA marked the introduction of the now-classic ‘Look’ and ‘Talk’ verbs to the LucasArts canon of adventure games – but, in comparison to the later SCUMM-engine classics of Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road, it’s almost neolithic. Individual scenes and areas are sparse with objects to interact with, little in the way of deep conversation with NPCs, and experimentation with items isn’t rewarded with witty asides or funny dialogue in the same way that later games took so much pleasure in delivering. Despite the fabulous basis provided by John Williams’ superb score for the Last Crusade movie, music isn’t the IJLCTGA‘s strong point either (you’ll go forever without hearing a note, then some scenes have sound) but at least the primitive pixellised graphics show some solidity; even if Indy tends to stand out from the pretty backgrounds kind of like the cartoon archaeologist that he is in the movies.

That being said, the skeleton of the classic adventure game system is alive and well, and the constant back-and-forth of trailing between areas, picking up items and hulking them around in Indy’s TARDIS-like pockets will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an adventure game. As such, it’s easy to get going straight away and plough right into the adventuring; which is good, because you’re thrown in pretty much immediately without an introduction or prologue, save for a brief ‘third wall’-breaking message from Indy: “Hi, I’m Indiana Jones. Welcome to my game.”

IndyLstCrsde_9

Not that you really need an introduction, given that the game accurately (if rather broadly) follows the major events of the third Indiana Jones movie. Although this breeds familiarity and instantly lets you dive into the main game, this seems to come at the expense of a proper, three-dimensional story and character development; neither of which can be found here. The story can be subjective, though, depending on certain actions: in some playthroughs (depending on what you do at various times) you’ll visit particular scenes and areas from the movie; in others, you might skip them entirely. There’s also a comedy of inconsistencies: for example, you’ll solve a Führer-based puzzle in Berlin by replicating the movie exactly; but in the Grail Temple, reaching for the obvious wooden cup isn’t necessarily the correct choice.

In fact, the movie’s pivotal point is warped beyond recognition, such that is literally random as to which is ‘true’ Holy Grail; unless you happened to stumbled on the entirely missable clues from way earlier in the game and unintuitively piece them together to work out the solution. If not, then you’ll have to keep re-playing the whole of the Grail Temple until you magically stumble across the correct Grail; which, as you can imagine, is a whole barrel of laughs if you choose poorly and have to replay the same three puzzles through up to ten times). It’s just another inconsistency in a game that often feels like a patchwork of ideas, crudely glued-together and shoved out of the door without the addition of any sort of depth or bolstering of either the gameplay itself, the overarching story or the playability of certain sections. A victim of its obligation to coincide with the release of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie? Perhaps.
Yes, because that's the rational thing to do when you've just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Yes, because that’s the rational solution when you’ve just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Naturally for a movie blockbuster, the original source material piles action on thick-and-fast and, so, it’s not surprising that this bleeds into the tie-in game. Where later LucasArts games held a strict rule that death was unattainable, the final third of the IJLCTGA descends into a mess of mandatory arcade sequences and scruffy 2D melee and aerial combat where you’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: take a wrong step, and you’ll be sent back to the title screen to re-load your latest game save. I’m led to believe that the combat sequences around Castle Brunwald and the escape from Germany can be avoided (with suitable dialogue choices within some of the sprawling conversation trees that develop when you cross a Nazi guard), but I rarely had such luck even when re-loading and repeating interactions to find each guard’s weak spot. Each time, you’re thrown out of the immersion and into a deep pond of frustration; the onset of each combat sequence inevitably leading to the ‘Game Over’ screen  and the loss of yet more patience.

The primary problem (aside from often-ridiculous difficulty spikes and sometimes-incomprehensible juxtaposition in context of the rest of the game) with mandatory arcade sequences in adventure games is that they tend to detract from the main thrust of the game; story-based point-and-click adventuring. I have to admit that I was forced to resort to the (lifesaving) Universal Hint System on more than a handful of occasions in order to circumnavigate the game’s second half of crippling, frustrating action segments. Whilst I relied on a complex web of savegames around Castle Brunwald and only sparingly leant on FAQs, the soul-crushing escape from Germany – and string of unskippable guard interactions – was enough to force me to throw trial-and-error out of the window and rely on a helpful walkthrough merely to save me (or my PC) from violent injury. The end result is that you end up feeling somewhat ‘robbed’ of an adventure game; so forceful is the game’s abandonment of traditional point-and-click action halfway through in exchange for sub-par arcade-style progression.

You'll see your fair share of these

You’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Of course, it’s easy to criticise IJLCTGA with the benefit of twenty years of progress in video game design. I guess the problem is you can’t judge a twenty-four year-old game by today’s standards; no matter how you look at it, it just won’t add up. Considering IJLCTGA in the context of PC gaming (and, in parallel, the entire point-and-click genre) largely still in its infancy, it’s easy to see the influence it’s had in setting some of the key themes for the entire genre and, those pesky arcade sequences aside, there’s a solid adventure game buried amongst the archaelogical rubble.

As I hinted at in my opening sentences, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has somewhat been eroded by the ravages of time and, much like Dr. Jones in his most recent movie outing, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade defiantly shows it age. However, like any archaeological artefact, look hard enough and you’ll find some gold beneath the grime, and there’s a sprinkling of (albeit somewhat primitive) charm to be found among the frustrations. The arcade sequences will always feel like a punch to the stomach, but there’s some fun to be had when you’re let loose to point-and-click to your heart’s content. Remember: it’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , ,

Sinister Reviews: Best of 2013

2013

As the new year approaches and 2013 draws to a close, it’s just about time for my annual review of the good, bad and ugly things from the past year (for reference, here’s my one from last year).

It’s been an eventful year: from finally finishing The Thesis and handing in the beast to partying hard at the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Knife Party; from jetting all around Europe on various work-related shenanigans, to gallivanting up and down the country to visit family, friends and loved ones; from finding gainful employment in academic research, to presenting that research at various important conferences and meetings including the UK Space Conference and the European Conference on Space Debris; from all of the good times with spent with the ones I love, to the lessons learned and the personal growth. 2013 has been spectacular, like a bright star in the night’s sky.

There’s a lot to wrap up so, without further ado, let’s boogie:

Mov

Best Movie ~ RUSH. Ron Howard, you did F1 proud.
Runners-Up ~ Wreck-It Ralph,  Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The World’s End.
‘Didn’t Think Would be Good but was Actually Brilliant’ of the Year ~ Robot and Frank.
Movie Performance of the Year ~ Daniel Brühl getting Niki Lauda’s mannerisms down to a tea. Well played, Brühl.
Runner-Up ~ Tim Key as the flawless Sidekick Simon in Alpha Papa. “I think I handled it pretty well.”
Most Disappointing Movie of 2013 ~ I don’t think I went to see any bad movies in 2013. Sure, The Great Gatsby could’ve done with a few more car chases and buildings blowing up, but it was still pretty damned good.
Unnecessary Movie Sequel of the Year ~ A Good Day to Die Hard.
Debatable Physics of the Year ~ Gravity. Great film, but even the most die-hard fan must admit that the science is a little, well, shaky.
Best TV Show ~  Game of Thrones season three. That show just keeps getting better and better
Runners-Up ~ Top GearWeekly Wipe, The Ambassadors, QI.
TV Moment of the Year ~ Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding. Nothing can ever compare. So many feels.

Review_Games

‘Didn’t Get To Play But Really Want To’ of 2013 ~ Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Tales of Xillia, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Stanley Parable, Broken Sword: the Serpent’s Curse, Gone Home, The Cave, Puppeteer.

Best Mainstream Game ~ Grand  Theft Auto V. So ambitious, so entertaining, so perfect.
Runners-Up ~ Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Bioshock Infinite.

Best Downloadable Game ~ Papers, Please.
Runners-Up ~  Organ Trail: Director’s Cut, DLC Quest, Lilly Looking Through, Anodyne.

Disappointment of 2013DuckTales: Remastered. It promised so much, but couldn’t deliver.

Video Game Character of 2013 ~ Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V). Unhinged, uncompromising, unbelievable.
Runner-Up – Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite).
The 2013 ‘Development Hell’ Award ~ Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. Perhaps the rise of the PlayStation 4 will finally give us a release date to get excited about.
The 2013 ‘Hidden Gem’ Award ~  Lilly Looking Through: a delightful (but short) point-and-click adventure game, funded through Kickstarter and brought to life by Geeta Games.

Review_Music

Best Gig ~ Iron Maiden (London O2 Arena).
Runners-Up ~ Karnivool (Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms), The Ataris (Southampton Joiners), [spunge] (Southampton Cellar), Knife Party [Haunted House] (London Brixton Academy), Black Sabbath (London O2 Arena).
Best (Rock/Metal) Album ~ Turisas – Turisas2013.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – Burials, Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork, Biffy Clyro – Opposites, Karnivool – Asymmetry.
Best (Electronic/Dance) Album ~ Daft Punk – Random Access Memories.
Runners-Up ~ Kavinsky – OutRun, How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion, Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy, Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks, Chipzel – Spectra.
Disappointment of 2013 ~ Alkaline Trio – My Shame is True. Not bad, just disappointing.
Mash-Up of the Year ~ Isosine – ‘Little Sickness’ [Disturbed & Of Monsters and Men] (video link).
Song of the Year ~ Daft Punk – ‘Get Lucky’, VERY CLOSELY beating Turisas’ equally superb ‘For Your Own Good’.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – ’17 Crimes’, Sound City Players – ‘Mantra’, Nine Inch Nails – ‘Copy of A’.
Best Cover Art of 2013 ~ Kavinsky – OutRun (link).
Comeback of 2013 ~ Black Sabbath. The heavy metal Gods return, and what a return it is; a superb album (13) and an even more superb live show, the Sabbath once again prove why they’re not only the inventors of heavy metal, but also it’s saviours.
Steampunk Anthem of the Year ~ The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – ‘The Gin Song’ (link)
‘Why Won’t it Go Away?’ of 2013 ~ Bloody Robin bloody Thicke’s bloody ‘Blurred Lines’.
Music Video of 2013 ~ Peter Serafinowicz’s glorious version of ‘Get Lucky’ (video link).

Review_Motosport

F1 Driver of the Year ~ How can it not be Sebastian Vettel? The man was flawless from lights to flag, and fully deserved to take his fourth consecutive title.
F1 Best Race ~ Monaco. It’s not often  that Monte-Carlo offers excitement and the spectacle, but this year it really nailed it.

F1 Overtake of the Year ~
Fernando Alonso’s stunning start in the Spanish GP. Shows what “home advantage” can do.
“Should’ve  Gone to Specsavers” of the Year ~ Hamilton stopping at the wrong (McLaren) pit box in Malaysia. LOLOLOLOLOL.
Most Improved of the Year – Romain Grosjean. The boy’s come of age, finally.
Team Orders of the Year ~ Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia. “Multi-21, Seb. Multi-21!”
Crash of the Year ~ Kamui Kobayashi on an empty circuit in Moscow :S (video link).
EverythingElse

Best Purchase ~ It’s a toss-up between my LEGO Sopwith Camel and my GeekyJerseys ‘Rogue Squadron’ hockey shirt. I love them both 😀

Best Book ~ Kaja & Phil Foglio – Agatha H and the Airship City // Davey Havok – Pop Kids // Toby Frost – Space Captain Smith: A Game of Battleships

Best Internet Video ~ BirgirPall’s superb I Broke Star Trek (video link). SPAK LET ME IN. HLEP ME KIRK.

Best Photo of 2013 ~ Bill Murray from ‘Reasons my Son is Crying’ (link).

Most Apt Phrase to Sum Up 2013 ~ “Pope Francis and the Chelyabinsk meteor totally came in like a wrecking ball but then the badgers moved the goalposts in one of their drunken stupors.”

Person of 2013 ~ Andrew W.K. The man is a complete god. He tweeted to me for my birthday, for crying out loud.

Looking Forward to in 2014 ~ Season four of Game of Thrones. Less Than Jake & Reel Big Fish at Portsmouth Pyramids. Turisas at Southampton Talking Heads. The Hobbit: There and Back Again.  (Hopefully) passing my PhD viva and becoming a proper Doctor of Philosophy and shit. Final Fantasy XV. Formula One getting shaken up to its core. Watch Dogs. The LEGO Movie. Porsche’s return to Le Mans and endurance racing. The Grand Budapest Hotel.

BEST MOMENTS (no order)

New Year’s fun and frolics in Southampton; The SUMMER Party; BTCC action at Thruxton; WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone; LEGOland wizardry for Ben’s stag do; Jorge Cham (PhD Comics)’s seminar at Southampton University on the ‘Power of Procrastination’; birthdaying in London and the QI Christmas special; #Ockfest frolics; weddings for Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; #IronSunday and #BlackTuesday with Maiden and Sabbath at The O2; adventures in London for Knife Party’s ‘Haunted House’ and the game of #GetTheHeckOutOfBrixton at 4am; Andrew O’Neill is Easily Distracted at The Art House; not-crashing the weddings of Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; emitting Eurovision-based LOLz at Shez’s place; THE SUMMER PARTY in sunny Lugwardine; work trips to Darmstadt, Friedrichshafen, Glasgow, Toulouse; gigs for [spunge], The Ataris and Karnivool; Many #TabletopNight meeple action with the usual crowd; and plenty more besides.

Everyone, you’ve been awesome.
Divider

And, to finalise, here’s a delightful electronic/punk rock playlist to celebrate December and calibrate 2014. It’s called 013/12 – The Long Road to Redemption.

Playlist_01312

2013 is dead. Long live 2014. 

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sinister Reviews #12: Books N’ Stuff (Feb ’13)

Books1

In a staggering move, in the last couple of days I’ve managed to finish two whole books. Granted, the first is one I’ve been reading very slowly since the beginning of October and only just got round to polishing off, and the other I’ve been dipping into for a month but isn’t really that long; but knowing me, and the fantastically slow pace I get through books, getting to the end of anything is something remarkable.

I used to read every day, and lots: when I first came to uni, I’d read 30-40 pages a night, and rapidly got through a lot of Discworld and Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff. Since I’ve been doing my PhD and living with Bryony and such, I just don’t devote much time to reading anymore; so it usually ends up being a quick few pages in the five minutes before I go to sleep, and maybe a few chapters in a coffee shop on my single day off on the weekend. However, I kind of made it my unofficial New Year’s resolution to do more reading (unrelated to, but kind of similar to Andy’s and Dan’s ’52 Books in 52 Weeks’ efforts; click here to find Andy’s blog on the matter), particularly the sort of steampunky adventure tales I’m into at the moment.

So, armed with a Christmas haul of Waterstone’s vouchers and book tokens, I picked up a few new books, the first of which was this:

Lavie Tidhar – Camera Obscura:

CO

I chose this on a complete whim, largely because I was won over by the stunning cover and spine artwork, but also because I was drawn in by the synopsis with such phrases as ‘murder most foul’, ‘whirlwind adventure’ and ‘reptilian royalty’. I was largely unperturbed by the fact that this is technically the second in the series (the ‘Bookman Chronicles’), given that there didn’t seem to be any real key plot points that require reading them in order, so ploughed straight on in.

On the whole, the story is a solid, rip-roaring gaslamp-era romp: set (initially) in a steampunky, alternate Paris, focus is largely drawn on Lady De Winter, an agent working for the underground, governmental organisation of the Quiet Council, pursuing the perpetrator of a string of grizzly murders on the Seine; but also on the hunt for an alien artefact arising from China that’s drawing major attention from the city’s factions. The initial set-up is mouth-watering, but the fast-pacing of the story quickly diverges from those promising beginnings to vault into a heady tale of villain-chasing and mystical powers, and the promise begins to deteriorate. There’s enough excitement to be had, though, but it’s at the expense of exposition, and leaves one wishing that the story would focus and flesh out one area of the tale before moving to the next. Indeed, chapters rarely exceed five pages, and it ends up feeling too much like a slew of set-pieces strung together than an opportunity to augment any emotional connection with the characters.

That, however, remains the major criticism, since the text itself reveals enough of the historical (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec! The Moulin Rouge! Nicola Tesla!) and the fantastical (Mechanical prosthetics! Gateways to other universes! A reptilian Queen Victoria!) to maintain a constant interest, and the tale contains abundant levels of dialogue and thought-process; even if a lot of the discourse is the sort of cliched conversation you’d find in any low-budget action movie. In that sense, both the story and the medium through which it is presented act merely as architects for the imagination: on their own, both remain ultimately underdeveloped and leave the reader wanting, but adding a sprinkle of mental imagery to fill in the gaps goes a long way to fleshing out the under-developed plot with something of more substance. Of course, that may not appeal to those readers who want the text to develop itself and communicate its own tale, but this is a book more akin to a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’; providing the bare bones of the universe, but leaving it to the mind to solidify the full experience.

Yahtzee Croshaw – Jam:

Jam

Best known for his consistently superb video game reviews over at The Escapist’s Zero Punctuation, it’s sometimes overlooked that Yahtzee is also a fantastic full-blown novelist. Jam, his second book, is a sheer delight and deftly combines his dark playfulness with accomplished storytelling to create an engaging, humour-filled tale.

The plot is essentially one of a standard zombie-horror premise, except one in which the zombie flood is actually, er, jam. Imagine an undead apocalypse set in Brisbane, except with a tidal wave of carnivorous jam; throw in secret government agencies; a MacGuffin of a software build stored on an ever-changing-hands hard drive; and a rag-tag collection computer nerds, coffee baristas and Goliath Birdeater spider. Turns out, Australia has succumbed to a flood of man-eating Jam that assimilates organic matter, chomping through the majority of the populace during a busy rush hour, leaving roommates Travis and Tim to awake to a scene of Brisbane covered in a sea of preserve with only a few pockets of civilisation remaining. What follows is a 400-page romp as the gang traverse the Jam; meeting other survivors along the way and attempting to escape the red menace, but not before they figure out what’s happened, and why. Often encompassing events which traverse the silly and end up in the downright bizarre, the story is amusing and page-turning: the concept, posing a stereotypical zombie apocalypse à la 28 Days Later, except with a jam-based twist, is a virtuoso move, and one which opens up a wealth of opportunities for entertaining set-pieces and inventive goings-on.

The tale bounds along at quite a pace, maintaining a constant level of tension balanced perfectly with comedy, levering an effortlessly engaging narrative that scarcely has a problem preserving (pun most definitely intended) the reader’s attention and interest throughout. It’s delivered in an easily accessible style; delicately paced to avoid plot dead-zones and balanced to ensure that the tale neither becomes too heavy, nor too trivial. Unlike Camera Obscura, this is a world which is fully constructed, with complex inter-personal relationships which are integral to the ongoing tension of the adventure. And far from being predictable, the book regularly throws up unexpected events to maintain the pace and scenes which keep just on the right side of the silly/serious boundary to retain the novel’s graceful vision of a farcical, jam-based version of Dawn of the Dead. A unique, entertaining piece of work, it’s most definitely a valuable read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough: I command you to seek it out, spoon it up and get stuck in.

[Zinar7]

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: