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Punk Rock Jesus TP
Punk Rock Jesus TP
by Sean Murphy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant concept, somewhat fractured execution, 30 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Punk Rock Jesus TP (Paperback)
I loved this comic. It's great: the artwork is at once beautiful and gritty, the concept is brutal, challenging and original, and Murphy doesn't shy away from representing the grim extent of our society's dark sides. It's a brave and successful piece of work. I'd recommend it without hesitation to anyone.

However, I've rated it only four stars because there are places I feel let it down. On a very practical level, there were places where the continuity of the panels threw me. Most of Murphy's panels are very clear about when leaps forward in time take place, but there were a few very clunky segways where dialogue seemed to end abruptly and leap forward a few minutes (days?) at a time, and these places disrupted the flow of narrative.

I also found the culmination of the plot a little awkward, and this was for me what let it down. Not the end results, which weren't unexpected, but the execution. Chris's character is built up throughout the chapters but in the end it felt as if he didn't emerge as the man we'd been led to expect. In the end he seemed more headstrong reactionary teenager than a charismatic revolutionary whose decisions were informed by his experiences. Perhaps this was a more accurate portrayal of the product of his awful upbringing, but it lacked the 'larger than life' quality that brings about a really satisfying resolution. In the end he felt more like a sad, screwed up kid who hadn't been able to win against the system. Like I said, perhaps this is what Murphy had been aiming for all along, but it felt to me like just as it was all really going to get started the whole thing was over. Sometimes plots are described as mountains - there's an incline up to a high point and then a drop down the other side - PRJ felt like there was a plummet on the other side. A lot of action with not quite enough resolution.

However, don't let this out you off. Really. The story is brilliant, fast paced and inventive, and it's shortcomings don't detract from its power as a whole. It'll be a joy to see what else Murphy creates in the future.

The Harsh Cry of the Heron
The Harsh Cry of the Heron
by Lian Hearn
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but rushed, 30 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Like many others, I read the series when I was younger, and coming back to it at a later date to find two more books had been published was a joy. Tales of the Otori does what the best books do, and unfolds new angles and enjoyment every time it's reread.

However, the series also suffers from a feeling of too much trying to fit into too little space, and Harsh Cry of the Heron is a prime example of this. The book is considerably longer than the others, but somehow seems to lack the sense of tranquility and space that the trilogy always captured for me. No matter how tense or anxiety provoking the plot grew, there was always a calm and centred quality to the writing that took time to pause and look at the landscape that surrounded the main characters and made the story so rich and believable. Harsh Cry does this to some extent, but it is compromised by the number of main characters and various subplots.

I don't mean to detract from the book - it was a satisfying read with a plot line that made me both anxious of the outcome and excited to return to read another chapter. But it lacked the deep satisfaction and closure I'd expected from the last book in the series, and while it succeeded in wrapping the story up, it left me with the feeling that Lian Hearn should have left herself more space. Some characters' purposes and fates are left very unresolved. For instance, the character Madaren is introduced, given a very significant connection to Takeo, but ultimately serves no purpose at all to the plot. Her appearance doesn't trigger any great revelation or prompt subterfuge that was not already underway, and could quite easily have been changed to a faceless translator, leaving the space her chapters occupied for other more central characters. She seemed like an unintentional red herring.

It felt to me that the weight of the book was off - the attention that should have been paid to developing main characters such as Takeo's son was instead invested in other, less meaningful characters, and the culmination of the plot so close to the end of the book didn't leave quite enough time for everything to be satisfactorily resolved, leaving me clutching increasingly few pages and wondering how she could possibly wrap everything up in time. She did, just barely. But it left many questions unanswered. Is Shigeko happy? What became of Shizuka? How does Miki deal with what she has witnessed? What about what Yuki said about Hisao: that were he ever to realise his powers fully he would be irredeemable?

Overall, I'd recommend any fans of the series to read this book. It has many excellent qualities and gives closure to the series as a whole. However, be aware that it is not up to the same beautifully concise, spare plot and writing of the first three books, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't read the series, for it doesn't stand alone.

Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines Quartet)
Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines Quartet)
by Philip Reeve
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, dark and original, 29 Nov. 2011
I would happily class this series among the best of children's literature. It falls into the category of many other greats in that it carries on through the years with no diminished enjoyment, appealing to both adults and children alike. Comparisons have already been made to Pullman, and I think the same rule applies to both. There is enough in both series to bring them into the 'adult' sphere of interest, and that passes on its delight when readers return to it at a later age and discover new aspects to the plot that had been beyond them earlier. The series operates in that rare sliver of fiction which satisfies both children and adults without leaving either feeling like they've lost out on depth in the process. I read this book when it first came out, from a much younger perspective then, and wholeheartedly enjoyed it. I only recently rediscovered it and the subsequent sequels, and if anything I've been gripped even more than the first time.

The concept Reeve has come up with is both thrilling and original and, quite contrary to most 'children's' literature, really rather dark. I enjoyed that angle and they way Reeve transformed an otherwise depressive atmosphere of damage and brutality with his exceptional ability to inject both humour and feeling into the world he's made. His characters aren't perfect. They're not heroes, at least not in the conventional sense, and their inherent flaws and failures show themselves to great effect throughout the plot and onwards into the sequels - but that's part of what makes them appealing. There are flaws in the book, as there always are in literature, and it's plain to see that Reeve's writing deepened and evolved as the series went on, but in the end none of that detracts from the whole. There's so much I could say of the quirky humour that runs throughout, or the way the plot from this first book builds so subtly and cleverly into the final volume, but in the end all I'll say is this:

Buy it. You won't regret it.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
Offered by EVERGAME
Price: £17.61

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent game, 8 Sept. 2011
Like pretty much everyone else who bought the game, I've been a huge fan of the Zelda series for many years. I was absolutely delighted to learn that they were making a sequel of sorts to Ocarina of Time, one of my all time favourite games, and if I'd written this review after the first play through of Twilight Princess I'd have given it a full five stars, no problems.

Having played it through a few times now, I can see a few limitations that my initial excitement disguised. Don't get me wrong - this is an excellent game. It's classic Zelda, but better, longer, and more beautiful. I think that's what struck me the most in this game: for the first time in the series, the temples really do look like temples. The fire and water temples in particular are stunning. Midna is a massive plus too. Everyone who's ever played a Zelda game knows Navi, and she really does get infuriating after the first five minutes in OoT. Midna does none of this. She's witty, dangerous and manipulative, and it lends a great sense of immersion to have a character you actually sympathise with - one who isn't instantly in awe of Link from the get-go. The combat was more fully rounded than in previous games, and works nicely with the Wii-mote when doing archery. There are places where this really comes back to you in terms of the time and effort put into making the game enjoyable - such as the part of the fire dungeon where you're shooting moblins. The character designs, the environments, the sometimes epic battles, all of it combines to make an extremely immersive, immensely enjoyable game. And that's not even mentioning that you can now FIGHT FROM HORSEBACK.

That said, lets move on to the less good stuff. I was a little under-awed by the graphics when I first saw them to be honest. The stills and trailers had led me to believe they were better than they were in real play. They're good - great in places - but given some of the comparable graphics at the time I think they weren't pushed to their full potential. I understand that this was due to it being a Gamecube port, but perhaps a little more time spent on them would have delivered that extra punch. The initial scenes/tutorial play was charming, but I found the beginning of the plot a little stilted. Thinking back to OoT or Windwaker, there weren't nearly so many cut-scenes, and I feel they detracted from instant immersion into the game. The first thing I wanted to do was play, so to have three? four? cut-scenes right at the outset seemed a little excessive as they interrupted the action too often. This disappears almost immediately after Link leaves the Ordon and gameplay resumes as usual, so it wasn't a major gripe.

I think the most important downside to me, and one that's been mentioned by many others here, was that the combat was too easy. I'm not one to want to die 10 times before you defeat a boss, but it felt as if the difficulty level was set a little too low. After the first boss in the forest temple died I really did think there'd be a sudden resurrection and second battle. The forest temple battle is a good example for this, because I can think of no previous Zelda game where all you had to do to win was stand out of range of the boss's attacks. The puzzles too, only stymied me once or twice: funnily enough the first was using the hawk to knock down the beehive - the second was the rotating stairs in the water temple. I thought perhaps it was a consequence of growing up, so I returned to play OoT, and no, that was /still/ hard. This wasn't a major stumbling point, but it meant that progression through the game became quite fast. Thankfully, it's a pretty large game, so they do counteract each other some.

The only point in the game that I really genuinely disliked was the segment where you go to the temple in the sky. The Ooca just seemed a completely unnecessary and unbelievable (yes, I know, it /is/ a fantasy game) addition. To me it felt a bit like they were scraping the barrel for another temple to insert at this point. Perhaps it's just irrational dislike, but unlike the Gorons or Zoras they weren't a likable addition to the game, and in fact can be severely irritating when you find them in temples and have to listen through their dialogue. I would much rather have seen the Gerudos or Shiekah return than the introduction of an entirely new race, but perhaps that's just me. After the announcement of their latest title, Skyward Sword, it makes a little more sense, but I've yet to see any Ooca featured in the new game, so I'm wondering whether they were simply using that segment of Twilight as a sandbox to test out some upcoming ideas.

All in all I'd recommend this game to anyone (I've actually just bought a copy for a friend!). The stumbling points are small, and the overall enjoyment to be gained is great. It's not as dark or as challenging as OoT, but in some ways that game's become such a cult classic that they'd be hard pressed to live up to it without taking a drastic step in a new direction, and Twilight Princess comes pleasingly close. For Midna at least, it's worth playing. Order, and enjoy.

The Kin
The Kin
by Peter Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, original work, 31 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Kin (Hardcover)
I first read this book when I was seven, and in the many intervening years since the enjoyment I get from it still hasn't diminished. The Kin is led by a deceptively simple writing style that some may find off-putting, but it's worth overcoming any initial reservations because, though simple, this is by no means a poorly written book. In fact, a large portion of the beauty of the writing and scenes described comes from this basic foundation. You're not plunged instantly into heavy action or twisted plot - it's a story about people's lives, set in Africa during the early ages of man when language had only just been developed, and the trials these people face are matched to the setting. Overall, it's a gentle read. But the gentle nature of the book belies depths that are hidden in plain sight, and insights into the ways in which human minds work that are both instructive and cautionary.

The main characters, Suth, Noli, Ko, Mana and Tinu face a series of trials they must overcome that progress and become steadily more complex as they themselves grow. Initially, as children separated from their kin and struggling to look after one another in Suth's story, they face the trial of a natural disaster. In Noli and Ko's story, they must overcome ferocious predators. And in the final arc, Mana's story, they face a more sinister enemy - other people, ones who murder men and steal women as sport. The book deals with complex issues such as violence, manipulation, murder and death in a way that doesn't dismiss them as so many other children's books do, but neither is it as darkly disturbing as an adult book of that nature would be. It makes no attempt to hide the unpleasant nature of these themes, and it doesn't talk down to the reader through it either. It's for this reason that it has remained both engaging and enjoyable to reread for so many years. As a child, I was fascinated with the perceived simplicity of the characters' lives; their limited technology, their morals, their traditions and the sense that they weren't the only creatures at the top of the food chain. As an adult, it's easier to see the understated wisdom in the lessons the characters learn about their world, and how easily they can still be applied to our own. Though the plot focuses on their daily trials of finding food, clean water, and avoiding apex predators, the secondary focus is on people and the way they operate - particularly after the protagonists encounter an earlier species of human with a less developed capacity for language.

I would recommend this to anyone, child or adult. This edition in particular is excellent, with good quality paper (hardly any yellowing over the years), well printed type, ribbon bookmark and a solid hardcover. I was actually surprised to learn that the smaller volumes within had been released separately - this is by far the better option. The tale itself may not be to some people's tastes, but it's definitely a book worth reading. Approach with an open mind and enjoy.

Fable II (Xbox 360)
Fable II (Xbox 360)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing sequel, 31 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Fable II (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
I loved Fable. I picked up a copy of the Lost Chapters when it came out, delighted to see that there was finally a game willing to poke a little fun at itself alongside a compelling (if not wholly original or unpredictable) storyline. So, hearing that there was a Fable II I was pretty excited. I'd learnt by this point to take everything Lionhead published pre-release on their games with a pinch of salt, so I was expecting a generally decent game lacking a few of the features they'd spent so long touting at various conventions and in interviews.

I suppose, if you're looking for a game that's suitable for the 7-12 age, then it fits the bill. To an adult, it just doesn't fulfil what it proposes to do. From the beginning, the game lacks the complexity hinted at in the blurb. The premise is almost the same as the first game, as are the quest structures, and the moral decisions fall even flatter. I'd have thought by this point that someone at Lionhead might have taken a peek at one of Bethesda's games, but apparently not. Compare this to Fallout 3, where you have the freedom to kill anyone, to enslave anyone, and get given quests where even in picking the good, moral choice you sometimes end up helping baddies because you /can't always predict their motives/. I think Lionhead's first 'moral dilemma' game Black & White describes it pretty accurately. You get to play as black, or white. You basically get a 'good' option and a 'bad' option. Do you kill some bugs in this guy's warehouse, or smash up his stock? With no meaningful consequences for either action, there's little incentive to do either and no room to improvise. The humour that was so good in the first game (like the guys wacked out on magic mushrooms and the ridiculous hero names) is not improved upon. It's either a rehash of the same bloody jokes, or it's a kind of self-conscious humour coming from people who know they've made something successful in the past but have no idea how to keep the material fresh.

I won't go in to the dreary combat or the vast disappointment of your dog's capabilities (it can't even knock someone over? Really?) because they've been done to death in many better reviews. But I'll mention the plot. There isn't one.

You're an orphan, whose sister is killed by Lucien, your soon to be arch nemesis. He's plotting to gain vast power so that he can bring his family back to him - but wait! He doesn't want to do that anymore! He's gone a little batty and decided just to destroy everything. Hmm. So, you'd better stop him then huh? And you do (without having to deal with that pesky final boss battle too!). The end.

I think I could have dealt with the awful combat, irritating side-characters and other ridiculous stuff, if they'd bothered to make a compelling plot. But they couldn't even be arsed to do that. It's cleverly disguised in a miasma of petty quests and roundabout story twists, but when you stop to think about it and realise you have absolutely no idea why you're doing what you're doing in the game, the last bit of excitement kind of disappears.

My recommendation? Buy Fable. It's flawed, it's older, it looks a bit less pretty, but you'll enjoy it a hell of a lot more.

The Land of Painted Caves (Earths Children 6)
The Land of Painted Caves (Earths Children 6)
by Jean M. Auel
Edition: Hardcover

190 of 193 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sad and disappointing, 18 April 2011
Like most other fans I discovered this series many years ago, and it has been a constant companion and well-loved read ever since. When it was finally announced that she would be releasing the sixth book, I immediately began rereading them from the beginning to refresh the story in my mind and re-familiarise myself with the characters. Perhaps that was a bad idea.

Throughout the books she builds up a steady stream of foreshadowing and allusions to future, pivotal plot points, for instance: the vision of the falling stone above the Ninth Cave, the vision of Ayla's two sons fighting, and better relations with the Clan. But none - absolutely none - of the build up is completely satisfied. Allusions are made to some points, but others are ignored entirely. Despite her intimate relations with the Clan throughout Ayla's life, including her meeting with the the pair of Clan members being attacked by a band of men in Plains of Passage, nothing is extended down this avenue. All the talk of overcoming the prejudice of Jondalar's people, assuaging the mounting difficulties with them over the caves in the region and perhaps even establishing trade with the Clan amounts to nothing - there isn't even contact made. To top that off with Ayla abandoning her heritage, along with her amulet, was just distressing.

Another disappointment was her daughter. Jonayla receives little to no mention or development in the book further than a few brief descriptions of her beauty. Given Ayla's large focus and almost desperation throughout most of the fore-running books, when she finally has the child it's mentioned even less than the Wolf. For an unaccountably long time Jonayla isn't even given a description, and could quite as easily have been substituted for a small bag that Ayla carried around. I can't really understand this, and it seems deeply out of character. Given that the author herself has five(?) children, I'd have thought she'd have easily included some bonding scenes between the family and a gradually emerging new character. But it wasn't to be.

The final blow really came in the last third of the book, where it seems that all the action has been packed. Unfortunately most of this 'action' involves a complete 180 in Jondalar's character, without any of the run up or hints that might have made it less out of the blue. This, coupled with a strange change in Ayla's character and values, is what really saddens me, because it seems as if all of the careful building and establishment of Ayla and Jondalar's relationship has been dashed against the wall for the sake of a little excitement.

All in all, the main thing it seems to get across is that something in the author's life has changed, and it's affected the story because of it. Where once there was a delight in detailing the lush, in-depth (sometimes slightly /too/ long) descriptions of the changing landscapes and daily life of these people, now it seems as if that passion has diminished. The time leaps through the years and even the strangely chopped up chapters make it a difficult read in places, and the overall flow and 'weight' of the book in terms of action don't compare with the much tighter, more structured earlier novels. For the most part, I think a lot of these problems can be laid at the feet of the editor. A good editor would have picked her up on this, found ways to make the time jumps smoother, and also given her some constructively critical advice on the advancement and pacing of the plot. Unfortunately, either the editor didn't spot these or wasn't capable of doing what needed to be done and the book suffers for it.

After all of the build up to this climatic last book it seems a great disservice to the series to have ended it like this. I can only hope she regains her passion and writes one last book that goes some way to tying up the loose ends. To leave it like this would be heartbreaking.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2014 9:09 PM BST

Fallout 3 - Game Of The Year Edition (PC DVD)
Fallout 3 - Game Of The Year Edition (PC DVD)
Offered by Centrasales
Price: £22.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Game, 5 May 2010
Like I said, this is an exceptional game. It's immersive, beautifully crafted and a pleasure to play. Following in the road already paved by the Elder Scrolls series, it allows you to come the closest to 'free play' as any game can. The model of using a multitude of quests that provide no constraint on the player allows you to wander and explore the landscape at will. The fact that it also allows for many different actions to be taken in quests is particularly refreshing. Kill whoever you want, help whoever you want, there are almost no constraints. Illustrating this is a choice you face early in the game of either blowing up one of the major settlements or saving it from annihilation. That alone cuts off roads and paths you could have taken and moves the story in a different direction from what could have occurred if you'd saved it.

The level of care that's gone into crafting this game is exceptional, and in many ways it becomes as rewarding as any well written novel. The sheer variety of objects, characters, places and settlements is phenomenal. The world you play in is /enormous/. You really get a sense of vastness when you wander the map, and the encounters and settlements you can find are seemingly inexhaustable. Everywhere you go there is evidence of the civilisation that has been ruined not so long before, and it's really a remarkable feat.

What really made it for me however, is the way events continue without your presence. People live, and die, independently of your influence. Roving caravans make tours, scavengers fight bandits, super mutants fight the Talon Company. More often than not you can enter a building to find a fully fledged fight between two factions going on, or the remnants of one spelt out in corpses. This adds an element of play found pretty much nowhere else. Just when you're running low on health you can encounter an unintended ally and join forces. There are even several radio stations whose broadcasts change as you effect the world.

All of this, along with the great fighting, brutal storyline, and quirky sense of humour that lends itself to much of it, contributes to a living breathing world you can walk through and explore at your leisure.

It is of course, not without its downpoints - namely the eventual recognition of the diverting patterns used to create quests and their outcomes, which can lead to being able to guess at the end result, but even then you can still be blindsided occasionally. The game is known to be buggy at points but personally I've encountered no problems, and there are plenty of patches, both made by the company and by third parties. Other small things occasionally bothered me - it's possible for NPCs to be killed in random encounters only when sharing a (very large) map square with you, so it becomes relatively easy to 'trick' them into either living or dying without direct interference - but these are small gripes that come only from beginning to realise the that there /are/ limitations to the game.

Very highly recommended

Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)
Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)
Offered by * The Game Monkey *
Price: £11.97

5 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something of a disappointment, 5 May 2010
Like many people, this was the game that brought my attention to the Monster Hunter series. The descriptions provided by eager reviewers of the challenging battles, intense RPG storyline and immersive item gathering experiences drew me in. I was expecting a game that challenged the preset models for gaming, and wondered how I could have missed a series like this before.

Perhaps it is because of this hype that I was disappointed. The first thing that struck me were the graphics. I know that the graphics can sometimes be expected to be more primitive on the Wii, but the level of effort put into the rendering was something I'd have expected five or six years ago. The textures are poor and repetitive, the design of speech boxes and inventory is poor - making it difficult to read the text and quickly discern between various items. The promotional videos showed a brilliant depth of graphics and forethought where the creatures were concerned, but the game proves to be disappointing. I'd assumed their 'in-game' promo vids were simply poor quality, not that the actual game looked like that! I actually checked the connection cables to my screen after opening the game, wondering if that was why it looked washed out, but it was just the way the game was.

It was the RPG element I found most disappointing. Perhaps it's because I've grown used to intense and innovative games such as The Elder Scrolls series or Fallout, but to me Monster Hunter doesn't hold a candle. You can indeed mine, forage, harvest honey and catch insects. But harvesting from the source is a tedious endeavour. You stand beside it, repeatedly hitting the gather button, to harvest a variety of different plants/ores/insects. I'd expected to at least have a little more floral variety than 'herb' or 'antidote plant' - or at the very least have them vary the pretty 2D-looking graphics for each of these plants. Given the effort they put into the fauna in the world I'd been assuming they'd have applied themselves in the same ay to the flora. But no, they all come from the same source, one anonymous plant. This immediately takes the challenge out of the 'gathering' aspect, because despite the sometimes varying locations of mining spots, mushroom logs and herb plants, they're pretty much always guaranteed to spawn in the same area, and you'll recognise them immediately. Compared to the breadth of monsters, this seems like a paltry and half-hearted effort.

And the maps - it's been a long time since I've expected tedious loading sequences between each area. The map they give you of Moga Woods comprises of several areas, ostensibly linked by passes or gorges. You expect from the mini-map to be able to take advantage and roam freely between each area, but to pass to each area requires a long, boring loading sequence that really, really shouldn't be necessary in this day and age. Instead of providing you with the sense of freedom and expansive wilderness at your fingertips, you end up feeling constrained by each area, which are reasonably small for such an extensive loading time.

The controls were something I'd also come to expect better of, although they can be adjusted to after awhile. They are however initially quite stilting, and it takes awhile to get used to your character fundamentally only really wanting to face in four directions. This makes turning when battling against monsters somewhat trying, but perhaps this is a shortcoming of the Wii controller. It is recommended to get the Classic Controller after all. The camera angling is somewhat awkward for anyone used to the more traditional camera that follows behind your character, providing the easist viewpoint, but is acceptable if a bit annoying.

All in all, negative points aside, this is a playable game. If I'd picked it up off a shelf in a game store in a couple of months as a whim, I'd have probably enjoyed it a lot more. But after the hype and lauding from many experienced gamers I'd expected something richer and fuller in terms of gaming experience, especially after paying through the nose for it as a new release. I give it three stars for a rather average game that doesn't seem to truly realise its full potential.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 11, 2012 6:12 PM GMT

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