Category Archives: Sinister Reviews

Reich of the Living Dead: Part Two

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Last week, I kicked off a delightful yuletide journey to separate the undead from the FUNdead of the current crop of Nazi Zombie movies with the opening statement: Reich of the Living Dead: Part One.

Naturally, there are more movies to cover in the future and (no doubt) more entries to spring forth in future but, to wrap up this festive miracle, I hereby lay forth the concluding, second part of this mini pop-culture quest.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

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Outpost [2008, Steve Barker]

Outpost DVD

My goodness, Outpost certainly makes you crave a bit of colour on your screen.

Predominantly painted in the dreary hues of bunker grey, mud brown and camouflage green, Outpost sets out to bring a little bit of grit to Nazi zombie genre; propelling a group of mercenaries – escorting a stoic and chiselled British spelunker – towards an abandoned East European bunker-like outpost in search of…something (to be determined). When the unsubtly-multinational team stumble across a whole host of paranormal hooley blowing around them, it soon appears that the site was once an SS military research facility attempting to bend space, time and immortality. Well, bugger.

This premise kicks off a rather military-flavoured action-horror crusade, pinning man vs. immortal in a way which manages to keep things deeply mystical and shrouded rather than explosive or, say, interesting. Whilst the cinematography, acting and dialogue is of a high quality, there is an undoubted vacuum of charismata in both pro- and antagonists: indeed, the biggest villain – the chilling Brigadeführer Götz – is woefully underutilised and painfully lifeless. But hey, maybe that’s the point.

Whilst, in the main, Outpost does manage to avoid treading on the same old Nazi zombie tropes, it falls over in its rather rigid adherence to the action-movie header without ever fully embracing the obvious paranormal parallels; culminating in a growingly tedious siege-style set-piece polished off with a hammy finale. Indeed, it goes to show that once you drain all of the colour out of an engaging concept and paint over it with camouflage gear, butch mercenaries and 9 mm rounds, what’s left is something just a bit dreary.

Something that not even Tyres (Michael Smiley) from Spaced can brighten up.

 

Frankenstein’s Army [2013, Richard Raaphorst]

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Frankenstein’s Army, on the other hand, is spectacular.

Emerging from the rubble of director Richard Raaphorst’s previous project, Worst Case Scenario, comes a full-blown 80-minute found-footage film which gives even Dead Snow a run for its money as my favourite film on this entire list. Taking the concept of Nazi occult experimentation to its natural conclusion, the premise sees a Soviet reconnaissance team going deep into the Eastern Front to discover an undead legion of previously-human robotic Nazi homunculi with a whole manner of afflictions: scythes for hands, iron maidens for heads and giant pincers for hands, it’s all here.Wow.

Naturally, this leads to a whole bunch of rip-roaring action as the Russian team lurch from one dangerous situation to the next; each time, ramping up the dread as the peril escalates. The film’s style and theme is a perfect fit for the “found-footage” genre, and the cinematography is superbly worked to bring out the best in the style: indeed, Frankenstein’s Army represents probably my favourite of the sub-genre; rivalling even [.REC] for vision and technique. The quality of acting and dialogue also matches the high-quality of visuals, and both creature- and set-design is absolutely top-notch.

There’s a super amount of ‘vision’ on display here, and a wonderful amount of joy in seeing a director left to build a fascinating and creative world without much in the way of creative restraint. Either way, and by a long shot, it’s the only movie I’ll watch this year that features a lumbering Nazi zombie with a rotating aeroplane propeller as a face. So that’s nice.

 

Zombie Lake [1981, Jean Rollin]

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And from the sublime, we go to the ridiculous.

A little like the cursed body of water which forms its main backdrop, Zombie Lake truly scrapes the bottom of the Nazi zombie barrel. Sure, you’ve got to expect that anything emerging from the soft-focus nightmare of European cinema in the late 70s/early 80s hardly going to have dated well, but it’s almost as if they were trying to make it ostensibly sleazy.

Zombie Lake (also: Le Lac des Morts Vivants; this one’s French, innit) circulates around a damned lake which harbours a legion of undead Wehrmacht with a penchant for kidnapping young girls who skinny-dip in the lake; in one case, even a whole female basketball team. Bizarrely, salvation lies in a 10-year old girl, a demonic ceremony, and a flamethrower; naturally. While it purports to be a horror film drawing on the Nazi zombie schtick, there are times when it’s hard to diagnose it from softcore pornography: it starts off immediately with full-frontal nudity and lapses into it with alarming regularity.

Out of all the movies that I have persevered through whilst on this quest so far, this has been by far the biggest struggle. The acting is contagiously hammy, the plot mind-bogglingly clunky, and there’s an unbelievable amount of lingering, padding shots that equally lurch from one scene to another as if the film-cutter was attacking the cutting-room floor with a handful of secateurs. It tries to straddle the diverse pillars arthouse and grindhouse, but manages to fall catastrophically into the chasm in between; make sure you bring your crampons, because it’ll be a slippery journey.

 

 Werewolves of the Third Reich [2017, Andrew Jones]

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Ok, so I’ve bent the rules a little. But hey, werewolves are pretty much just hairier zombies, right?

Werewolves of the Third Reich (WotTR) emerged out of the fog during a visit to a local brick ‘n’ mortar entertainment store, and I took a punt. The premise is this: Josef Mengele – the notorious ‘Angel of Death’ who conducted a series of human experiments at Auschwitz – has, by some nefarious means (comprising an overlong and extremely over-acted interrogation scene between a German scientist and a couple of highly-camp SS officers), acquired a serum allowing the fusion of genetic material to create monstrous beasts. Thus, at a generic Nazi scientific facility called “Camp 7”, the plan, naturally, is to construct an invulnerable Nazi-Chimera supervillain from wolf and man (supernaturally).

Yet, bizarrely, WotTR reaches to reach almost two-thirds of its run-time before anything materialises: in which time we’ve stampeded through three chapters of padded-out exposition, an Adolf Hitler with Parkinson’s Disease and the least convincing swastika flag that I’ve ever seen on screen. When the aforementioned werewolves werewolf does turn up (to imply ‘plural’ would be gross misrepresentation), there’s literally no momentum behind the film; a vacuum of plot, punchlines and peril. It’s low-budget, but fails to live up to even the lowest expectations and provides little in the way of hook to draw the viewer in.

Still, there is some entertainment to be had from the top-quality German dialogue that appears that it was translated word-by-word using Google Translate; I guess one has to enjoy the kleine dinge, eh?

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So, that brings things (as well as 2018) to something of a close. Sure, I’ve managed to pack in two, bumper posts just as the curtain falls on the year, but I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the genre; there’s still plenty of ground to cover.

With that in mind, you have my word that this journey will continue into 2019; until then, Happy New Year!

[Zinar7]

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Reich of the Living Dead: Part One

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Friends of mine will know that I’ve long harboured a passion for a certain sub-genre of horror movie: the Nazi zombie movie.

Quite where this guilty pleasure arose from, I have no idea; I’m certainly no fascist or hold any love for the Nazi Party or their political views. Maybe it’s just that mashing “zombies” and “Nazis” together is like evil x evil (evil squared) and makes for a right treat for those insatiable gorehounds like me for whom regular zombies are just a little…tame.

Anyway, the last decade has seen a meteoric rise in the number of movies hoping to capitalise on the bandwagon, so it seemed like as good a time as any to give them all a run for their money and see how they hold up. Hence, over two parts, I will review the main players in the franchise and give you my low-down of what’s undead and what’s FUNdead.

Hey, it’s Christmas, right?

 

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Dead Snow [2009, Tommy Wirkola]

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This is it. The undisputed king.

Dead Snow sets the gold standard for all Nazi zombie movies everywhere and, arguably (alongside Outpost, which will be covered in Part II next week), ushered in the recent slew of movies that is the focus of this pop-culture study. It’s everything that all others aspire to be, and the benchmark against which all are rated.

But it’s with good reason, because it achieves a level of cinematic quality both equalled by the calibre of both script and special effects. What first appears to be just another generic “bunch of friends go to a cabin in the mountains and spooky shit starts happening” soon emerges into an innovative action-zomedy that’s propelled by a solid setup: during World War II, a group of Einsatzgruppen (SS) found themselves hounded into the Norwegian mountains by local resistance townsfolk, where they were expected to perish. However, perish they didn’t; instead, straddling both life and death deep beneath the snow until awoken from their apparent slumber by Martin and friends, who semi-accidentally disturb a horde of Nazi treasure located under the floorboards of their rented cabin. Cue awakening of Standartenführer Herzog and his death squad in an undead limbo state à la Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, until all of the Nazi gold can be returned to its restful state.

The action is also superbly-choreographed, and balances action, comedy and tension to perfection whilst the blissful-white snow presents the perfect backdrop for buckets of blood to be sprayed across the mountain. Rarely is it the case that a silly, low-budget B-movie hits all the right notes at all the right times but, in the case of Død Snø, the stars align majestically.

What a film.

 

Nazi Zombie Death Tales [2012, Eaves/Higgins/Ronald]

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Where Dead Snow was blessed with an actual film crew and a suitable budget to boot, not all horror movies are quite so fortunate. Naturally, though, the Nazi zombie myth is one which attracts all comers to the B-movie bandwagon; hence, even low-budget independent film-makers seek to plunder its gory depths. In that spirit Nazi Zombie Death Tales (also known as Angry Nazi Zombies; also known as Battlefield Death Tales) presents three separate half-hour stories, glued together with a bit of sticky tape and a heck of a lot of goodwill:

Medal of Horror is the pick of the bunch, with some genuinely impressive cinematic vision clearly crunched into a miniscule budget and available cast. It also features the best writing and direction of the trio, along with both the most convincing storyline as well as the most entertaining (and featuring the lion’s share of the Nazi zombies indicated by the film’s title) in a light-hearted B-movie action brawler. If you’re a Nazi zombie nut, fill ‘yer boots here; ‘cause it only heads downhill.

Harriet’s War escalates to full-on ghost story; featuring a spunky paranormal investigator sleuthing some ponderous swastika-related brutalities in a sleepy country village in middle England. Despite a drop in cinematic vision compared to the first instalment, it rips along at a pace and with some well-written dialogue and creepy narrative; delivering a Nazi-demon tale that’s reasonably fulfilling and (almost) well-rounded despite some flaws.

After the first two acts, Devils of the Blitz is, alas, the weak child. For starters, it misses the Nazi zombie mark by eine landmeile; managing only a poorly-realised devil-monster that neither feels convincing nor a valid threat. The background story is disappointingly one-dimensional and the cast and script are, alas, decidedly amateur; yielding a final tale that both drags incessantly but also barely makes up the numbers. Furthermore, if it weren’t for its WWII blitz setting, there’s no way that it would sit alongside the other tales; as it is, it simply provides a disappointing dessert to an otherwise satisfying three-course Nazi zombie supper.

As a result, Nazi Zombie Death Tales remains something of a mixed bag. Certainly not the runt of the litter, but merely a footnote in the annals of the Nazizomnicon.

 

Devils of War [2013, Eli Dorsey]

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On the whole, the current crop of Nazi zombie movies take place in the modern day, with the WW2 undead reanimated 60 years after their original demise. Devils of War, however, bucks the trend to adopt a period 1944 setting to play background to a tale of SS experimentation into the occult and transformation of German soldiers into berserking, red-eyed demons. But, while there’s a solid premise behind the B-movie schtick, the result is a little underwhelming.

A rogue SS unit (named the Hande der Mammons and led by a female officer who was clearly cast based on her rank on the “buxomness” scale rather than the one describing “acting talent”), are holed up in a bunker behind the lines, stealing young girls from the Polish countryside and reading Latin scripture in terrible accents. Four US soldiers meeting the ISO-standard A-Team Formula (the “Old” one, the “Black” one, the “Suave” one and the “Mad” one) are sent in to investigate and report back; in the process stumbling from one action montage to the next, glued together with the thinnest coating of narrative imaginable.

Said action sequences are somewhat slow and elongated but, for what it’s worth, are fairly high in tension and nicely-choreographed, framed & directed. However, what these ultimately manage to mask is the absolutely atrocious story and dialogue which comes to the fore during the breaks and is so utterly devoid of any actual drama, tension or humour that it’s an ongoing battle to remain alert. Devils of War’s biggest enemy, then is pacing. With a little more care applied to the lulls, the bangs could be even more spectacular; but, as it is, they’re simply brief flashes of excitement in an otherwise dreary campaign. Yawn.

 

War of the Dead [2011, Marko Mäkilaakso]

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Following the shambled efforts of Devils of War in pasting a supernatural zombie-horror onto a WW2 action movie, War of the Dead shows you how you do it properly. Although the narrative premise is kept to a subtle minimum (there is one there; you just need to dig for it a bit), it doesn’t rely on the over-used trope of Nazi occult experimentation to propel the movie through; merely hinting at it whilst maintaining a strong focus on the well-delivered dialogue, action sequences and photography.

A company of Finnish soldiers, led by Captain Stone of the US Army, embark on a black ops mission toward a bunker behind Russian enemy lines, only to soon find themselves overrun by fast-running zombies and oppressive enemy forces. Following a swift escape by small, but dwindling group, the film focuses on their allegiance with a Russian enemy-cum-ally and their efforts to escape the terror which, alas, only bring them closer to the source of the hordes.

What takes over a tight 76 minutes is a relatively well-storied horror action thriller, with a bold and well-paced script matched by high-quality photography that certainly asymptotes toward the meteoric production values of much bigger-budget productions. What keeps it on the rails is a level of restraint to avoid overambitious; constraining the action and pace to manageable levels, and resisting the urge to to drift into cringeworthy, ill-advised comedy. War of the Dead does well to avoid the near-constant lean of WW2 movies to retain an unsubtle Nazi “baddie” as the prime antagonist; in the process, maintaining a focus on the monstrous without resorting to cartoonish Nazi tropes. It’s not quite up there to topple Dead Snow, but it makes a damned good stab at it.

(damned, get it?)

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Anyway, with that, I shall leave things for now. But watch this space; for, next week, shall come to conclusion to this mini-adventure with Part Two of this Nazi zombie fun-quest.

See you next week!

[Zinar7]

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

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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]

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

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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.

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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.”

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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]

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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:

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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.
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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]

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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]

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