Into the Forest

(Not to be confused with “Into the Woods” which is a very different sort of movie.)

This is a movie that really makes you think.  But not in a good way…

This review is going to contain a lot of spoilers but it’s okay because if you’re watching this movie, it’s for the acting and emotional impacts. Not the plot.

I picked this one up because I was in the mood for a post-apoc tale (preferably about a virus since we’re dealing with household illnesses right now and it would be thematic) but, alas, it would appear that I have seen literally every post-apocalyptic movie ever made.  Even the bad ones.  But then “Into the Forest” scrolled past and I went “close enough.”

“Into the Forest” is a post-apocalyptic (sort of) tale about two sisters who are staying at a remote forest cabin with their father when a severe power outage strikes the world. Instead of a chilling tale of virus contagion, I got a tale of two teenage girls whining about the internet not working. Which, honestly, was still pretty entertaining, simply because it was so god damn realistic.

We really did enjoy it—for the most part—but it suffers mightily from “stupid decision syndrome”.  Not quite to the degree where you are yelling at the TV like “NO YOU IDIOT DON’T GO IN THERE YOU WILL DIE.  SEE I FUCKING TOLD YOU YOU WOULD DIE YOU FUCKING DESERVE TO DIE YOU FUCKHEAD” but more along the lines of “ALL of these problems could have been solved if you had taken a tiny little precautionary action eight months ago you dipshits >:(“.  Again: it’s pretty realistic!

Except it’s not.  Stupid character decisions aside… it suffers from a fair amount of bad writing.  More specifically, the movie really suffers from scaling issues.  Supposedly the movie is set in Canada, and the girls spend a lot of time talking about surviving the winter.  The movie spans at least 15 months of time, and not one single snowflake is to be seen, and the greenery never goes away.  Instead there are lots of idyllic berry picking scenes.  The cedars and rain suggest it was located on the west coast, where sure there’s less winter than some places in Canada, but you’d definitely have a few more hardships and a lot more issues with cold than were depicted here.  Worse, they’re living in a modern upscale cabin (with all kinds of electronic gadgets that don’t work anymore!) with a few initial shots of a tarp on the roof to establish that there is some patching that needs to be done, and it goes from that to mold infested and literal beams rotting and collapsing in less than a year.  And it didn’t even have to deal with the weight of snow at all! Apparently it was built with paper mache, which was a bad decision for the west coast of Canada. (Meanwhile, they are still driving a 1995 Jeep Cherokee which is as bombproof as ever.  Oh but for the glory days of Jeep to return…)  If the movie had scaled the timeline up a bit this could have been a bit more believable, but it’s even more annoying that the girls take the time to research topics like in-depth nutrition and “DIY abortion” but not flip a few pages over to look under “Carpentry”.  It’s not like they didn’t have enough fucking wood, and even cedar for shingles!

And then there’s the ending.  So the house rots and collapses around them and they decide “let’s waste the last of our gas to burn it down” for… reasons.  Their logic is explained in the movie but I was still kind of like “…what?”  I mean sure don’t live in the mold infested pile of rot but the gas has a lot of value and you could still store the goddamn books and supplies and shit in… nevermind.  Then they move into a hollow tree stump with a shard of plastic for a roof annnnnnd fin.
I think the intent is to suggest they go back to their ancestral roots and live happily ever after, foraging off the land and enjoying each other’s company as they live out the rest of their lives in symbiosis with nature (hence: ‘into the forest’ see?  Get it??).  In reality, there probably should be a footnote after the credits saying “And then they died.”  Because, yeah.  You don’t just burn down your shelter then wander off into the forest and live in a stump at the onset of winter.  Not even the winter that exists in this world where it just rains and then you go pick some blueberries.  I don’t care how fucking resourceful you are.  If you can’t even be bothered to patch your goddamn roof, you’re not going to make it through a winter in a stump with a newborn baby.

Bitching aside, the REST of the movie was pretty decent.  The acting was great, and the two girls really hit off each other for some high emotional notes.  There aren’t many tense moments or suspense like might expect from most post-apoc stuff, and the worldbuilding is pathetic at best (nothing is explained, and seriously, if the entire world can be fucked for over a year if not permanently by a single power grid failure then the future is pretty dumb), but the emotional moments are A+.  So it’s kind of a girly post-apoc film, I guess.  If that appeals to you, by all means check it out, as long as you are wary of stepping in pits of dumb decisions, bad worldbuilding, and lengthy interpretive dance scenes.

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Eidolon

I should really play Eidolon more before I try to review it but I bought the Hexcells pack in the Steam sale and every time I start playing that it magically becomes 2AM… so I should probably bang out some semblance of a review before I get distracted and forget everything about it.

An eidolon is an apparition, a ghost, a remnant of something that used to exist but now does not.  The game Eidolon has you exploring a “post-human Western Washington”, uncovering all the ghosts of what used to be Seattle.

The game has a sort of “walking simulator” feel to it, where you wander around (mostly aimlessly) trying to uncover the threads of the stories to figure out everything that happened.  This part of the game is actually pretty interesting, I felt.  You have a journal where you collect all your little scraps and you can choose which thread of the story to pursue next, or just see what crops up.

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way:  The graphics are not good.  You are not playing this game for graphics.  It’s actually a bit unfortunate because I’m usually in it for gameplay so I’m pretty tolerant of low graphics (especially in games that cost 5 bucks or so)… but these graphics often left me wondering if I was having some sort of rendering problem that was preventing textures from loading.

This is a wall, I think?  A green wall?

I think this is supposed to be a crumbled wall, but why is it green?  Moss?  Let’s say moss.

That wasn’t even so bad until I wandered back and forth around a “rock” only to discover it was supposed to be a car.  I think.

This is a car, right?

This is a car, right?  Or a rock with a windshield?

Yeah… low poly trees are one thing but that car, man.  But the graphics are not without their own sort of “paper cut-out” kind of charm, either.

But anyway.  Gameplay!  As I said, you wander aimlessly trying to uncover the stories of the past, which largely include the individual stories of people who existed around the time the city was destroyed.  How was the city destroyed?  What happened to the people?  Well, that’s the game!

The game does not hold your hand at all.  You’re quite literally dropped into a forest with no explanation whatsoever.  Your journal says something about being too far from the beacon so you’ll die if you get injured or starve, but it doesn’t do much to explain to you what any of that means.  Where’s the beacon?  Are you visiting the planet from a space ship?  Time travel?  A different part of Earth?  Do you need to find that beacon?? Things do get explained to you (and there are lots of really weird and interesting things to dig up) but you have to work for them.  It’s refreshing, really.  It’s nice to just sort of pop into a world and get your bearings the old fashioned way instead of having a tutorial spoon-fed to you for the first 20 minutes.  My biggest complaint in the beginning was that it was a bit TOO aimless… the world is huge and there you are wandering in circles in a forest with no idea what to do or where to go.  I finally tripped over a story chunk and it gave me some direction, but I felt like the game should have started me with something to follow at first since the map is pretty much literally the size of western Washington.  Then I discovered there’s apparently a bird showing you the way to the first bits of story, and also I am an idiot.

What you’re looking for are little blinky cubes scattered around the world.  White cubes represent new tools, and green ones represent story chunks to add to your journal.  Once you’ve got a story chunk there’s a selection of related terms listed below it, and clicking one will give you a light to follow in the general direction of the next story chunk related to that story thread.  Or, you can follow birds.  Apparently.  The blinkies can be really easy to miss, as I discovered while I was attempting to warm up to make an attempt to swim across a channel to one in the distance, only to turn around and discover one right beside me /facepalm.  I did notice that sometimes they’re easier to spot at night, because they pulse.  But then it’s night and also really dark…

There's a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.

There’s a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.  Also it is coastal Washington so it’s raining ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this game.  Realism!

One of the first things I discovered was a fishing pole, which I promptly used to catch some fish, which I cooked on a fire.  Which leads us to the next part of the gameplay: survival.  Eidolon joins the ranks of the open world “don’t die” simulators, where you must feed and warm yourself or suffer the consequences.  These are some of my favourite types of games, and the addition of a super creepy post-apocalyptic world with stories to uncover just makes it better.  But I find the survival gameplay in Eidolon is somewhat lacking.  Food is everywhere, and you’re really in no danger of starving at any point (at least so far as I’ve gotten in the game.)  The only thing that has killed me so far is attempting to swim across a freezing ocean just to see how far I could make it.  (The answer was: really far).  Fortunately (?) dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever in this game, so after dying in the ocean I merely popped up somewhere else at 100% and carried on my merry way.  I climbed a mountain (possibly Mt. Rainier??) and fell off a cliff and broke a leg (I assume.  It just said ‘wounded’) which later became infected and made me sick.  Being sick meant I would vomit periodically, which would drop my hunger levels, but I couldn’t eat to stop starving because I would immediately vomit and waste the food.  Because I was wounded and exhausted I moved very slowly, which was really pretty annoying because it’s not like you’re particularly zippy in the first place and those blinkies are really far apart, man.  I couldn’t seem to heal my infection, which meant I couldn’t stop vomiting, and I couldn’t heal my leg to move faster again.  I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to just fucking die and start fresh (and move at a normal speed again), but dying turned out to be really god damn hard to do.  I needed to find another cold body of water to freeze to death in again because I was just too stubborn to starve to death, apparently.

So let’s see.  This game has really interesting stories to hunt down and creepy/fascinating sights to see, but you’re constantly hounded by a largely pointless survival system that will force you to abandon your story hunting to pick mushrooms (and discard them if you’ve had them for too long.  And may I just say I GREATLY DISAGREE that blackberries become “old” after one day, and furthermore that “old” blackberries are no longer safe to eat.  *shake fist*  Now, had you said mouldy I could perhaps see your point.), and periodically you will be arbitrarily slowed down with some sort of infection or wound that will prevent you from reaching your goal of finding more stories or interesting sights to see.  At which point the best solution is probably to just kill yourself and start fresh because there is no penalty for doing so.  This does not sound like a well implemented survival system… it sounds like a nuisance system that was included because they felt the game would get too much of a bad rep for “lack of gameplay” if all you did was collect story bits.  But on the other hand, it’s nice that it’s not such a strict survival simulator that you’re constantly losing any progress you made toward finding story bits because you starved to death or were eaten by wolves like in Long Dark (grr, fucking wolves).  May I suggest a toggle for “story only” vs “survival” mode?

Eidolon is certainly not without its flaws, but the world is interesting to explore and presents a unique setting that I’m glad to see they did some intriguing things with.  The map is apparently accurate enough that you can recognize landscape features, and there are lots of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic story surprises waiting to be discovered.  I recommend checking it out if you’ve been interested enough to reach the end of this review…

The Long Dark

I’m a sucker for survival games, especially if they don’t classify “survival” as “shoot enemies in the face”.  The Long Dark is a new (currently Early Access) game which is exactly that – you’re alone in snowy Canadian wilderness and you need to not die.

The game contains a number of systems to help enhance the survival aspects.  It tracks your calorie expenditure, cold, fatigue, hunger and thirst, in addition to general health and wounds.  There’s randomized weather, including windchill elements.  Carrying a lot of weight or running up a snowy hill will fatigue you faster and burn more calories.  There’s also a bit of a skill system, in that each time you do something like build a fire you’ll gain some skill and reduce the chance of failure (wasting precious matches :( ).  There’s also wildlife, including wolves which happily try to gut you if you go near them (which is not at all what a non-rabid lone wolf would likely do, but they have a disclaimer when you boot up the game saying they took liberties with the animal behaviour, so…)

Here’s how my first game went: Read more of this post

The Battery

We chose a movie pretty much completely at random and ended up with The Battery.  I sort of glanced at it and thought “It may as well be titled “Yet Another Zombie Movie”, except IMDB says this one won a whole whack of awards, so let’s see what’s up.”

This is a tough one to review.  I simultaneously like it and dislike it.  It is simultaneously cliche and unique.  It is Schrodinger’s movie.

I went into the movie not sure what to expect.  I like post-apocalyptic movies, which zombies fall into, but there are a lot of really bad zombie movies out there and a majority of them tend to lean in that direction lately.  The whole genre is getting a little played out, too, so even if you come across a good one it tends to be a bit ho-hum.  But then the first half of 28 Days Later, where he’s wandering around a desolate landscape trying to piece together what happened, is probably my favourite movie sequence of all time.  I’m usually willing to take a risk if it might mean experiencing something like that again.

The movie started with a notice about all the bands that are featured within the film.  My immediate reaction was “Oh no.”  It wasn’t too bad because they at least tried to weave it into the story with the headphones being a part of the plot, but there were way too many sequences where they did nothing but showcase music for 5 minutes (with wistful cuts to zoomed-in shots of insects on flowers), and it started getting tedious.

The actual story started off fairly well with lots of scavenging through empty neighborhoods for supplies, but I was having a lot of trouble getting a sense of timescale from the movie.  All of the houses were empty, but pristine.  There were no real signs of panic or struggle.  One protagonist had a bushy and unkempt beard like he hadn’t shaved in over a year, but the other didn’t have a hint of stubble around his sculpted facial hair.  Lawns and road-sides were freshly manicured.  I had the idea that the apocalypse had literally just happened, but then the characters started talking about how they’d been moving around for months.

I was disappointed with the lack of worldbuilding.  It’s usually my favourite part of disaster movies – what happened, and why?  There’s absolutely no explanation, not even a glossed-over one.  I guess zombies are just so familiar now that it seems like a waste of time to try to explain them, and I don’t necessarily fault them for just skimming over it, but I still missed it.

Then we had a three minute scene where they enjoyed brushing their teeth after looting toothbrushes and toothpaste from a house.  It started out pretty great and you could feel how awesome it was for them to experience clean teeth again after an extended period of neglect, and it was a powerful scene with good silent acting going on.  But then it kept going.  Okay, we get it, it feels good, and they miss the comforts of their old life.  No, seriously.  Move along now.  Jesus christ they’re still brushing.  …  Oh my god, really?

There were a lot of little moments like that, where there was a good idea behind a scene, and interesting themes to explore behind a scene, but then it was dragged out until all the power behind it was lost.  Even during the dragged out scenes, though, the acting remained good – which becomes very impressive when you discover that the movie had a budget of $6000.  Suddenly the manicured lawns and lack of mess make sense (as does, to some degree, the unnecessary scene padding…).  The movie didn’t remain confined to a single room or cut budget by having wooden actors or a 20 dollar camera that shakes all over the place, and the result is quite watchable and doesn’t even really feel low budget.  It’s really only the writing to blame, which has little to do with budget.

There are decisions like displaying Mickey’s loneliness and longing for female companionship through having him sniff and then pocket some panties.  It’s pretty creepy but it could be a way to display how desperate he is for human contact.  Then he decides the best course of action is to masturbate to a female zombie that is attempting to break into the car to kill him.  What the fuck.   It’s one thing to have him be a whiny twat who constantly puts the group in danger because he wants to pretend everything is the way it used to be.  Masturbating to a female zombie… that’s just a mind boggling character development decision.  It would be one thing if it actually factored into the plot a bit more but nope, it happens, it’s not really considered exceptional (they have a good laugh over it…), and it’s never mentioned again.  Then his reaction to being told to fuck off by the only living female they encounter is to whine about it for the rest of the movie and put them into even more danger by trying to deny it.  This is great character development for a character we’re supposed to hate, but not really all that great for a character we’re supposed to feel sympathy for.  I felt a lot more sympathy for his companion, who had to put up with all the whining as well as deal with all the dangerous situations the whining thrust them into, all for the sake of having any companion at all.  Maybe that was the point and he was the only character we were supposed to root for…

It does have some good moments though and, despite the bizarre character choices, I did enjoy watching it.  I’d like to say that the good moments outweigh the bad… but honestly, it’s probably more accurate to say the good moments outnumber the bad.  The bad moments are so bad that, unfortunately, they end up colouring the whole thing, resulting in the conflicted rating I’m giving it.  I’m just going to give up and give it every single tag, instead of trying to decide on just one… but I decided not to give it the “Kind of shitty” tag, which suggests it wasn’t all that bad!  I like that the zombies were not the main focus of the film, and yet it wasn’t the same old plot of “Humans are the real threat” (well, for the most part).  The focus was on the character development and the progression of relationships under duress.  I’m not even sure I would classify it as “horror”, but I guess there is no category for “Mildly unsettling and thought-provoking disaster movie, with some tension”.  I do think the movie hit on the themes it was attempting to hit, and it did a decent job of it too.

Would I watch it again?  Probably not… but is it worth watching once?  It’s not on the top of my list of recommendations from the zombie genre, but it’s worth checking out if you happen to spot it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So difficult to rate. I really really enjoyed this book, but there were some flaws that marred the experience. If partial marks were allowed I’d probably end up dipping into 1/2s and maybe 3/4s, but as it is I will just start at 5 stars for being amazing, and drop it to 4 for having unfortunate flaws.

The language was not one of those flaws, although it could have been. The book uses “cleetus speak” to show that the characters are uneducated. The dialects aren’t slathered all over everything and, unlike the Dust Lands books, characters had unique “accents” as the characters moved from place to place. I could actually tell characters apart as they spoke. I enjoyed it, even. (And they use quotation marks! How novel!) It did still annoy me when words were misspelled when it made no sense to do so. e.g. words ending in -tion would be spelled “-shun”. Why. It is pronounced the same, so it doesn’t even contribute to an accent. It’s a minor annoyance and I got over it, though.

It’s such an interesting premise. Todd was born on this planet, but he’s actually part of a colony who landed here and soon discovered that something on the planet is causing them to hear each other’s thoughts. The plot is a bit sparse to begin with – Todd is going about his life, and then shit goes down and he needs to flee his hometown. He’s just as confused about it as we are, and the readers learn about the story while he figures it out. It’s like a blend of old time farmland settings and sci-fi genres, and it works. The worldbuilding is good and keeps you wanting to know more.

I have some issues with the second part of that, though. It relies heavily on a “hook” that I dislike – not telling the reader anything, even if the protagonist learns something. It’s mostly handled well, but then there are parts of the book where it cuts to Todd’s reaction as someone explains something really really important to him. No one explains any of it to us, the readers, and it’s such a transparent hook to make you keep reading. It works, mind you, but I resent every moment of it. You can handle it more gracefully than that guys, come on. It’s jarring and transparent. ESPECIALLY when you’re trying to pull off first person present tense. It was shockingly sloppy compared to a lot of the rest of the writing.

There’s a bit of really obvious telling instead of showing, too, which was also really odd given how well most of the book was constructed. In pretty much the first chapter Todd is thinking about how the year has 13 months in it, and I was all “aha, these are not typical Earth years.” Many many many chapters later Viola painstakingly lays out how the years are a different length here. Seriously? Did you forget that shit was in chapter one or did you think “omg the years are a different length why” would be a mystery for the whole book and it better be cleared up?

The characters were fantastic. They were real. They had human thoughts and made human mistakes. They reacted to each other in human ways. Each character was distinct. Even the dog had an appropriately dog-styled personality. Most of the writing was sort of stream-of-consciousness choppy style, which made a lot of sense in the context of all thoughts being audible, and it was used effectively to bring the character’s reactions to life. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit overdone in areas.

I loved almost every interaction between characters in this book, except for the villains. All this effort was poured into the main characters to make them believable and human, and then it came time to write the villains and they slapped some comically evil paint onto some cardboard and propped it up. Their motivations are weak and cliche (“I will ruulllleee the wooorrrlllddd” yeah yeah we’ve heard it before). The protagonists “kill” the main antagonist like 4 or 5 times and oops he just keeps popping back up! No explanation as to how he didn’t die, just vivid descriptions of the visible damage from the wounds they inflicted last time (and a conspicuous lack of descriptions of a terminator-style endoskeleton, because I was getting pretty certain that’s the only way to survive all this shit by the end).  And then the reveal of how Todd is supposed to transition to manhood.

I just don’t buy it. It’s too flimsy. Enjoyable I suppose, but flimsy.

A bit of an aside, I suppose… one thing I noticed in this book is that it used the word “effing” copiously. It was amusing in a number of ways, mirroring a teenager trying to toe the line and test their boundaries. But then it would say something like “(but I don’t say “effing” I say the real word this time)”. Just fucking say fucking. I thought it was so the book could be properly marketed to a younger audience without having to worry about any scary words being included that would make parents angry or saddle it with a profanity warning, but then Viola lets a proper “fucking” slip and Todd reacts to it. … we have no need to self-censor then, do we? So why so much self-censorship? Baffling.

Bitching completed. I really liked this book. Flaws aside, the writing was powerful and well crafted, the characters were fantastic and believable, and the world is interesting and unique. The villains kinda suck but maybe it will come into its own later on and flesh out the plot a bit. I can kinda relate even if it doesn’t… I often come up with characters I really like and then have no ideas for good situations to get them into.

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All is Lost

I don’t know if it’s because we watched Captain Philips recently, or if I just really like sea survival stories.  I didn’t know anything about All is Lost and yet I immediately wanted to see it when I saw “shipwreck” as a theme.  It is the story of a solo yacht owner who gets into distress out in the Indian ocean, and must rely on wits and resourcefulness to survive.

There is almost no dialogue in this film.  There are probably 20 words spoken throughout the whole thing – less if you only count “help” once.  I felt like it was really effective at enhancing the sense of isolation, and it really served to emphasize the despair when he uttered the inevitable “fffffuuuuuuUUUUCCCKKKK”.

My husband’s only critique was “In the beginning he was moving around like an old man and it was really starting to annoy me.”  You know what… I probably agree with that.  The movie starts off with him waking up to realize the yacht drifted into the corner of a lost shipping container (apparently filled with very unhelpful shoes.  Which is better than losing a crate full of illegal immigrants, I guess…). It punches a big hole in the hull.  He tries a few things and finally manages to unstick himself, but then he dodders around doing this and that, and every fifth scene it cuts back and gives us a shot of the gaping hole in the boat.  Over and over again.  Then he finally pulls out his patch kit and does a bit of patching, and then dodders around doing some other stuff like fiddling with completely soaked electronics and setting up the manual pumping mechanism to get the water out of the hull.  Cut to the hole in the boat again!  Yup, still there!  Oh now he’s patching it again!  …and now he’s doddering around again.
I don’t know, maybe he needed the fiberglass to set before we could continue patching?  It really wasn’t clear why fixing the giant hole in the hull seemed to be a lower priority than cracking open the busted radio.  Yes the radio is important because we need to call for help, I agree, but not having a giant hole in the hull seems like it should come first.  He spends a lot of time pumping out water, presumably to keep the boat from sinking too low and putting the hole under the water line… but shouldn’t you patch the hole and solve it that way?  Maybe this is why I do not own a yacht.

All of this patching, and then I’m not really sure what the purpose of that whole sequence was.  Ultimately, it seemed to me that the shipping container wasn’t even what led to his downfall.  He got himself out of that situation quite handily and then it was the storm that did the damage.  Was it that the container let in water which killed his electronics? (and for that matter, why isn’t all this very important shit in waterproof containers?  It is a boat.)  Well, the storm let in water too so they’d be fried anyway wouldn’t they?  Was it that the container used up all his patching supplies so there was nothing left to repair after the storm?  Okay, I’ll buy that.  But I also doubt you can fibreglass together a god damn mast, so it really doesn’t seem like that was the dealbreaker.  I dunno, it just seems like the movie is all focused on SHIPPING CONTAINER KILLS MAN, but then it wasn’t even the villain!  Poor misunderstood shipping container…

Aside from that, it was a pretty good movie.  Quite enjoyable, lots of tension to keep you awake and wondering what will happen next.  If you’re thinking of buying a yacht, this movie might be a good way to talk yourself out of it.

Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands, #1)Blood Red Road by Moira Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this book four stars. It does not deserve four stars, but I still gave it four stars. That might be confusing to you because I am going to spend most of this review bitching about it.

Blood Red Road is yet another dystopian fiction that popped up in the wake of Hunger Games, with yet another female protagonist wielding ranged weapons and going head to head with others to survive. Saba’s tiny little family is torn apart when a group of men show up, murder her father, and kidnap her twin brother. She sets out on an action-packed quest to brave harsh elements and rescue him, all while saddled with her 9 year old little sister.
I actually really enjoyed it and didn’t feel like it was trying too hard to cash in on “genre of the week”, although there was one kind of “plunked” section that felt an awful lot like it was trying to force Saba to mimic Katniss’s PTSD character arc (especially since it conveniently never really seems to crop up again for the rest of the book, where it ends up being a huge part of Katniss’s character development throughout the entire trilogy. Hrmmm…)

The first thing you will notice, even if all you do is read reviews about the book, is that it’s written in a “dialect” to reflect the idea that the characters are uneducated (ie: they say things like “ezzackly” instead of “exactly”).
I hated it. Hate hate hate hate.
I actually had no problem with the dialect itself – it’s perfectly acceptable to have a sort of grammar-less drawl be the ‘voice’ of your character if that’s how you want it. Why are the god damn descriptions written in it too? It’s a description of the character’s actions from the author of the book not a written description by the uneducated characters, so it makes no sense to mangle it. It just adds difficulty to reading without adding any depth to the book.

There are no quotation marks throughout the entire book. They don’t know what quotation marks are, because they are uneducated and don’t know how to write, you see. Which makes no sense because they are speaking to each other. This is not someone’s uneducatedly-written account of who was speaking. What’s more, every single character has the exact same ‘dialect’ which just made them all sound like they had the same voice, to me. Even characters who seemed to be quite well educated would speak in exactly the same grammatical patterns, and it was just bizarre. I had to keep stopping and going to back to weed out who said something vs who thought something vs who described something, and it was tedious and stupid. I actually think I would recommend waiting for the inevitable movie to be made, just to avoid wading through this bullshit.

I felt like the story was simultaneously strong and unique, and also shallow and cliche. Figure that one out. I don’t even know if I can adequately describe it… it felt unique enough that I really enjoyed it, but there were a lot of really obvious cliches at work and I rolled my eyes at each and every one.

One of the biggest flaws that kept jumping out at me was the complete lack of a grasp of scale. Time jumps were very hard to get a hold on. Things would progress at a rate that seemed like it must have been a year, and yet it’s like “one month later”. And then at other times it would be all “she got a tiny scratch that was nowhere near as bad as some of the other shit she’s gone through, but despite that she was knocked out and unconscious for two days, but despite it being two whole days we’re just going to get around to stitching it up now…”. It felt like “seat of the pants” convenience writing which probably reflects a lack of experience more than anything.

The most glaring example is the whole sequence with the cage fighting. She’s captured, they spend a few days travelling (though the way it’s described certainly seems like longer), she’s sold to the fighting ring, and in less than a month she’s got her own private cell and special treatment and has never lost a match, and is even asked by one of the other characters to lead the way because “You know this place better than anyone.” This needed so much more setup. Did she do a lot of fighting in her tiny isolated farm that had no livestock to wrestle or anything? Was she secretly a blacksmith to build up all this strength? If the story had spent a little more time developing her at the rink it would have been best, but you couldn’t do that because of the three-losses rule. And of course, the whole pressing overall time limit for the rescue of Lugh. It’s quite a dilemma – too long and it’s unrealistic for her to still be alive, but too short and it’s unrealistic for her to be the champion, so instead it has to skip out into Mary Sue territory to get through it. A bit more planning (and maybe a bit more hanging on by the skin of her teeth instead of winning everything effortlessly) and it would have been much smoother.

Not to mention how, later, miss “undefeated angel of death” screams at the sight of a skeleton. /facepalm.
Oh I’m sorry. It was a “skelenton”. Ugh.

Having said that and done all this bitching, I’ve seen a lot of bitching about the character and how she does not develop and she’s all mean to her little sister all the time so she’s unsympathetic and people hate her. You know what, the flaws of the character are the part I actually enjoyed the most, and I think those people completely missed the awesome character development that did happen with regards to her relationship with Emmi. No, the book does not end with everything being all rainbows and butterflies between them, and thank god because they’re on an actually believable arc that I’m hoping will continue to develop with the series. Yes, you want to smack her at times. That’s who her character is, and it makes sense.

I enjoy dystopias for the worldbuilding, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Blood Red Road… which, again, might be pretty confusing because there wasn’t actually a whole lot of worldbuilding. What was there was very subtle, and (this is the important part) it made SENSE for it to be subtle, because this is Saba’s world. She does not need things explained. That’s just how things are for her. She takes note of things, and occasionally wonders about things, and in that way the world is revealed to the reader. I enjoyed it, but I also hope the series goes on to meet a literate historian and reveal a bit more backstory about how things got to be this way.

I also hope they spend a little time explaining the “magic” that seems to exist in the world. Pa’s seeming divination skills, the strange properties of the “heartstone”, Nero having a unique amount of intelligence (to the degree that it’s even commented on in-book… Chekov’s gun?), the king’s immortality? Are there scientific explanations for some of these things, are there magical explanations for these things, or are we just going to smile and nod? There was a vague attempt at explaining the giant worms (though the hind leg reveal was pretty eye-roll inducing…), so there might be some ideas behind things, but then it becomes a question of whether saying more will help, or if it will just make us go “… well that’s just fucking stupid“.

There were plenty of things that already made me raise an eyebrow. They’re constantly travelling somewhere and going “Oh no we can’t stop we have to make it before dark!!!” while also bitching about the heat and their water supplies. It. is. a. desert. Travel at night, dummies! At least the worm explanation made some sense for the one part, but every single other desert-travel section? And speaking of the worms… they let their horses go because they hope the horses will make it to the other side before dark. Why weren’t you riding the god damn horses to go faster in the first place.

And there were just some weird decisions in the plot, too. Rooster showed some interesting character potential playing the part of the abused husband, and then, well… so much for that I guess? Massive armies using stealth when they quite clearly overwhelm the other side? Except… I guess they didn’t because when the dust clears only two people are injured? … More seat of the pants writing. But I really only noticed these things as oddities, rather than being annoyed by them.

Even the inevitable romance bits were tolerable, primarily because they were part of the story and not constantly tromping all over the plot just to be seen. I am worried about the next books though. Naturally the only not-ugly bad guy is going to turn out to be actually a good guy and spark a love triangle, isn’t he. Ugh. Ugh.

So there it is. That is my review. I enjoyed this book despite its massive flaws and I hope they don’t do a cheap cash-in for the movie, because I think it will make for a decent action adventure where lack of quotation marks won’t make me fly into a rage.

View all my reviews

The Last of Us

I’ve been trying to decide how to review The Last of Us.  It’s difficult to talk about without talking about the story, but I don’t want to talk about the story because I feel that you should see it for yourself.

TL;DR you should buy it.  At full price, even!  The Last of Us is absolutely worth it.  It’s somewhat short… it has about 6 to 6.5 hours of story in it, but the time you spend exploring and picking up collectibles with backstory will pad that out a bit without making it feel like it’s been padded.  It took my husband 12 – 13 hours to finish it, I think.  It was a marathon over two days so maybe more.  NORMALLY I would say that is too short for 60 dollars, but the thing is it’s really good.

In case you’ve been under a rock and have not heard of it, The Last of Us is yet another post apocalyptic “zombie-like” apocalypse game.  In this one, a fungus (based on a real one!  Cordyceps.  Which, incidentally, helps to thin out populations of ants when they become too numerous.  HMMMMmmmm) starts infecting people’s brains, which causes them to lose control of their actions and… start attacking everything (as opposed to climbing up a blade of grass and freezing to death like the real Cordyceps does, but y’know).  Infection spread through bites, yadda yadda, fungal spores mixed in for flavour… the military tries to take control and welcome to the zombie apocalypse.  When my husband was playing through it I wasn’t paying full attention, and I thought it was a pretty generic setting.  I was wrong.  So if at first glance it seems generic to you, take a deeper look.  There are definitely some cliches at play, but the writing and worldbuilding more than compensate for them.  The writing.  I cannot say enough about the writing.  Yes, the base plot has nothing terribly original going on in it, but the characters and the world they’re in.  Everything is lovingly crafted with high levels of detail.  I wouldn’t call it “scary”, but if you like atmospheric post-apocalyptic games, you must get this game.  Right now.

They did a masterful job with the characters – you relate to them immediately and they feel genuine, and at no point did I feel that they were shoehorning character traits in my face to emphasize them.  The character’s motivations are natural and understandable, even if you don’t agree with them, which makes every character strong and believable.  Ellie is one of the best crafted teenage characters I think I have ever seen in a game.  She’s vulnerable and terrified, desperate for someone with some permanence to latch onto, but at the same time teenage defiance keeps flashing out as she struggles to find some independence.  The voice actors do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, too.  It’s one thing to have incredible writing but a wooden performance will sink it just as quickly.  I am so happy with the voice actors in this game – thanks for doing a good job, guys.  And the graphics don’t hurt, either – cutscenes are incredible, but I did notice a bit of stiffness in the animations when the characters were speaking while moving around the world.  One day we will be unable to distinguish CGI from live action, but it is not this day.  That’s an incredibly petty thing to nitpick on, but I just don’t have anything else to bitch about, dammit.

Speaking of bitching… I hate bringing it up because I feel like a feminist when I do, but the female characters in this game are also fantastic and believable.  I really appreciate it when games go out of their way to flesh out female characters (and also clothe them…) so I feel I must give them another gold star for that.  I don’t usually put a lot of stock into the “Bechdel test” (in order to pass, the media must show two females speaking to each other about something other than a man), but I do find it interesting sometimes to see if whatever I am entertaining myself with at the time does pass it.  Not only do Ellie and Tess talk to each other, but Ellie and Marlene talk, and Marlene and Tess talk, and I don’t think any of them talk about men (unless discussing how to slay male zombies counts, I guess), so it passes multiple times.  Tess is just awesome and badass and I kind of want them to do a “prequel” DLC where we can watch her set up her smuggling ring or something.  Because I want more time with her :(

The only bad thing about this game is that it’s a playstation exclusive.  Not because I don’t like playstation, but more because it limits the audience.  Everyone should be able to play this game.  Everyone should be able to buy this game and encourage the creation of incredible games like this.  It should be on PC so that it can be on Steam and be in the summer sale that is about to start and then millions of people will buy it (and then never play it because that’s how Steam works) and then they can go create more awesome games with that revenue.  Also it should be on PC because fuck shooting things with a controller, grr.

I don’t think I’m even going to say anything more.  I don’t even care if you don’t have a PS3, go buy this game :P

 

The Legacy of Nakuthcatten

After my entry on Gnomoria, I realized that, even though I was enjoying the game, there was literally nothing it did that Dwarf Fortress didn’t do (and usually better).  My gnomes met a horrible fate that was likely precipitated by expanding the value of my fortress (attracting ne’er-do-wells) before figuring out how the military system really works, so I decided to start up a proper Dwarf Fortress and compare the two.

What follows is the telling of the fortress of Nakuthcatten, legendary Dwarf Fortress in the world of Udon Tamun. Read more of this post

Don’t Starve

I have not once starved in Don’t Starve.  I have died in countless of other ways, but not ONCE did I starve!  Therefore I have mastered this game.

Then again, I haven’t actually made it to winter yet.  So…

Don’t Starve is a title that is so new that it’s not even out of beta yet!  It’s exactly the kind of game I like to mess around with, so I bought it awhile back.  The amount of updates to it since then have been incredible, and I feel like it’s time to start talking about it.  If you buy it right now you get the beta version (release date is apparently April 23rd!), with all the potential bugs that come along with that, along with the caveat that your save file might be rendered obsolete by major updates.  Buying early gets you a discount AND a second copy to gift to someone though (or at least you do on Steam…), so if it sounds interesting to you it might be the right time to jump on the bandwagon.  There’s plenty of game right now, with more coming.

Don’t Starve is probably best described as a survival simulator/roguelike.  You are a dude who gets dropped in the woods and you must survive by gathering resources, securing food sources (don’t starve!), and defending yourself through the night.  You fashion axes from twigs and flint, chop down trees, collect berries, weave grass into rope, smash rocks to search for gold, build science machines to research new inventions… if you played Minecraft for the “oh god monsters are coming at night what can I combine to make myself more likely to survive” aspect more than the “I can build ANYTHING I FUCKING WANT!” aspect, you will love this game.  I played the shit out of an old game called “Stranded II” which was almost literally this game but with less to do (and 3D, although the polygon count made that a dubious decision) so I knew instantly that I would enjoy it.  There are plenty of things to work up to and build, and you find yourself thinking “I absolutely do not need to build that thing and I should spend the day collecting wood so I don’t die tonight… but I can totally build that if I go smash the shit out of those spiders.  How hard can they be, right?”

It currently doesn’t have much in the way of plot (the objective is literally “survive as many days as you can”), but a story mode seems to be in the works which will shed light on why you’re chucked into the woods in the first place, with potential for revenge and/or escape.  There is also a bit of a “carrot” hook in that you gain experience based on how well you do, which unlocks different characters with different attributes that can change things up on subsequent playthroughs.

As I alluded to, the game is not 3D.  It’s a sort of isometric view with a somewhat charming “Burton-esque” cartoony style.  The stylistic choices really shine when you accidentally eat a bad mushroom and start hallucinating hideous shadow beasts all around you.  I started the game to get a screenshot of the graphics to illustrate this entry, but a couple of hours later I was eaten by a tree monster that was angry about my wanton murdering of its brethren.  As I went back to the menu screen I said “Oh shit, screenshot.”  I may update this later with a proper screenshot, but the game will have to stop being so damn interesting first…

Life of Pi

I read this book ages ago when it first came out (oh my god, 12 years???) and really enjoyed it.  We just watched the movie and I think I enjoy it even more, now.  The movie doesn’t change things too significantly from the book, so this entry can apply to both.

The story is framed as a novelist (Yann Martel himself, I believe) interviewing Piscine, as he prepares to write a biography about him.  It follows a bit of a flashback format, recounting factoids like how Pi was named after a swimming pool, how he went through school with the nickname “pissing”, and how he tried to change that by changing his nickname to “pi”, after the mathematical symbol.
As amusing as it is, absolutely none of that really matters for the rest of the story.  For the amount of time he spends conversing with other humans in this book, he could have been left completely nameless and no one would notice.  I suspect there might be some sort of theme around the meaning of names, considering the name of the tiger, but it was buried deeply enough that I didn’t bother to dig for it.

The story further describes his father’s zoo and the animals within.  Falling on hard times, his family decides to ship all the animals to Canada and start a new life there with the profits from selling them.  Unfortunately, their ship sinks during a storm, and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat in the middle of nowhere.  With a bengal tiger on board.

I’m not even going to describe the rest.  It’s really something that should be experienced.

The first third or so of the book, before the voyage, spends a lot of time talking about various religions and Pi’s attempts to become a believer in all of them at once.  The movie discusses it as well, but spends less time with it.  The book spends a lot of time discussing how people react to that idea and attempt to force him to choose, while the movie really only throws one line at it when his father tells him he can’t worship all of the religions at once.
I fully admit to skimming this part of the book. When I finished the book, I felt that I had thoroughly enjoyed it and did not regret skimming the religious stuff, but I had always sort of assumed I missed some greater themes that would have popped out at the end.  When we sat down to watch the movie I thought to myself “Aha, maybe now I will see what I missed.”  After watching the movie, I still don’t feel like I missed anything at all, but the beauty of this story is that it is so dependent on the reader’s background.  What seems pointless to me will be the crux of the story to someone else, but things that seemed important to me will seem pointless to them.

Religious themes are important to the book, but a large part of the story is about personal interpretation.  I found wandering around the internet looking at different interpretations almost as entertaining as the story itself.  There are so many different – yet plausible – interpretations of the same story, and so obviously coloured by personal beliefs.  An agnostic will get a completely different ending from this story than someone with a strong faith, and yet all interpretations are “correct”.  There is no one true ending, and seeing people squabble over that is pretty interesting as well.  “What does it mean?!” they cry, and the answer is that it means what you think it means.  Literally.  Life of Pi is ambiguity done correctly.

The Grey

This is the worst fucking movie.  Not even Liam Neeson could save this movie.

When I saw the trailer for it I was mildly interested… who doesn’t love a good “oops plane crashed in the snow and now we’re fucked unless we can figure shit out!” story.  Then it was revealed the “enemy” was a wolf pack.  Uuggghhhh…

Okay, okay… I can suspend disbelief well enough if they come up with a good plot point for it.  Maybe they are diseased wolves.  Irradiated wolves from a nuclear test in the arctic!  Mutant wolves.  Or alien wolves!  Maybe they’ve been trained by humans to kill humans and then they broke free and formed a pack!  SOMETHING is making these wolves behave in a manner unlike any wolf behaviour we have recorded.  Something is making these wolves behave like the wolves from fairy tales that we wrote 200 years ago, before we understood a god damn thing about animal behaviour.  That’s what they’ll do with this plot to explain it, right?

Nope.  Wolves are just vindictive assholes and that’s all there is to it, in this movie.  The best explanation we get is some vague references to how he’s been hunting them for years, so naturally he’s familiar with their behaviour and they’re all just a bunch of dicks.
(Maybe they all died in the plane crash and the angry wolves are his punishment for killing all those wolves in life… which still doesn’t explain why non-rabid wolves were “threatening” an oil rig one by one, but at least it would make a bit of sense…)

Sigh.  Okay, well, at least it should be an interesting “aliens” style suspense/horror where they flee through a forest being stalked by a mythical giant wolf pack full of strangely intelligent wolves who are holding a grudge.

OR… the entire movie could be them sitting around a campfire whining about their lives and being picked off one by one!  Yeah, let’s do that instead.

My god, you couldn’t have fucked up this movie more if you tried.  They managed to make it fucking boring to watch a group of men be picked off by wolves.  I wanted them all to die and they took too damn long to do it.

Should I spoil the ending for you?  On one hand, you kind of have to see it to believe it.  On the other hand, you have to sit through the movie to see it… so… conundrum.

Are you ready for this?  Here’s the ending:

He ditches his gear, tapes a knife to one hand and little airline alcohol bottles to the other, smashes the bottles so there’s broken glass taped to his knuckles, then goes and wrestles the pack leader.  We don’t see who wins.
(apparently if you wait through the credits – I didn’t – you see the wolf die but it’s not clear if they’re both dead.)

I just don’t know.  I guess the whining is supposed to be the point of this movie but ugh.  It was too god damn annoying for me to take any sort of enlightenment away from.

Miasmata

I’ve always been a big fan of the survival genre, and it’s always so disappointing to me when a game decides “survival” means “hack/shoot apart thousands of monsters and scrounge for health potions”.  I was quite intrigued when I saw Miasmata on Steam, but initial reports weren’t very favourable so I waited for a sale.  I really wanted to try it though, so it was awesome when it popped up as a gift on Christmas (yay thank you!).

The basic premise is that you are stranded on an island, and everyone else appears to be dead, possibly of a plague which you also have contracted.  You, fortunately, are a scientist, so you set about exploring the island and trying to synthesize a plague cure from the local plants.  The backstory of the game is revealed through tattered journals in abandoned huts.

Exploration consists of triangulating positions to fill in your map.  The vast majority of the game is this, actually, but fortunately the island is pretty interesting to explore.  There are statues and ruins and stuff so it’s not like “oh good, another rock.”  At least, not all the time.  Triangulation itself is pretty accurate, really.  You need to have two known landmarks (ones marked on your map), and then you figure out where you are standing from cross referencing them.  Once you do that, any landmarks near you become available to be used as reference points.  So if you dash off into the woods, your map will be blank, nothing known will be visible, and you’ll have to navigate by compass.  Oh yeah, and at night time you can’t see shit.  We are talking inky blackness of midnight, here.  Twilight does not seem to exist in this world (or maybe he needs to eat more beta carotene…), nor do full moons. You have a dinky lighter and can make a torch out of branches, but they really won’t help you, so keep an eye on your watch and stick near a known shelter when night comes around.

As you explore the island, you discover you are not exactly alone.  A large, green, horned cat beast is stalking you. And when it spots you, you discover that it also runs much faster than you do…

The game was not terribly well received for a few reasons.

First: It’s optimized like ass.  I reduced the resolution to make it run smoothly because it was not playing nicely.  If your computer already struggles with recent software, you might be unable to actually play it at a decent framerate.  The minimum specs really don’t seem adequate for anything other than sputtering around, and even a powerful machine will probably run into snags.

UPDATE: Since writing this, the game has been patched and I can now run around at full settings and pick flowers with glee.

Second: The gameplay consists almost entirely of wandering around the woods, triangulating positions to uncover the map, and collecting flowers to run back to the lab and analyze.  I, personally, really enjoy this gameplay, and I want more games to implement it.  But I can see how many people will get bored and find it tedious in a hurry.  The stalking cat adds some flavor, but interactions with it are kept fairly rare to ramp up the tension (thankfully!  It would get pretty annoying to have it on your ass every five minutes…) and there’s not a whole lot to do with those encounters except run the fuck away, since there’s no combat.  You have a few tricks to distract it (if you throw a torch at it, it will turn and look and give you a moment to haul ass), and you can use stealth to hide or lose it, but it’s not exactly a big part of the game other than adding to the atmosphere of exploration. (Here’s a big tip, and possibly a bit of a spoiler: The cat is modelled very realistically on real mountain lion behaviour. So if you want to deal with it effectively, go read up on what to do if you encounter a cougar who wants to chew on your skull. It’s actually an impressive feat of programming, I’d say.)  I haven’t uncovered a whole lot of the backstory as of yet, but I’m guessing it doesn’t do much to make up the gameplay gap.  So if you enjoy exploring and picking flowers, oh man do we ever have a game for you!  But if that sounds boring to you, eeehh…

Third: The graphics.  Despite running like ass, it’s not exactly the prettiest game sometimes.  I don’t usually let indie graphics bother me.  I played the shit out of a free game called Stranded II which was literally wandering around on an island and trying to build stuff, and it had some really terribly modelled creatures in it.  Compared to that, Miasmata is fucking beautiful.  I feel like the environments are pretty, and the sunrays at sunrise are wonderful to wander through, but if you glance down at your hands you kind of go “oh.”  Similarly there is a bit of jankiness when trying to pick stuff up off the ground sometimes which might pull you out of it.

But man when you watch a storm roll in over the ocean?  Look at this shit:

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

The rain itself is maybe not quite as impressive as the build-up to rain… but it messes with your visibility enough that it can make you either think twice about wandering off, or go “oh shit” and scramble for shelter if you’ve already wandered off the edge of your known map.

The game from that point is really what you make of it.  I am really enjoying losing myself in the atmosphere, trying to uncover my map, getting excited when I crest a hill and see some old ruins that look creepy, or finding a new flower I haven’t examined yet.  And then, just when you’re happily collecting some flowers a good 15 minutes from safety, you hear *Thump thump.  Thump thump.* The heartbeat indicates the creature has spotted you and is stalking nearby.

The movement in the game has been criticized too, but opinions are mixed.  The protagonist has a bit of a momentum based movement, so when you get going at a good clip, it takes him a moment to settle down.  So if you’re plowing through the forest and reach the edge of the cliff, letting go of the W key isn’t going to save your ass.  You’re going over, man.  Similarly, when he falls, he falls.  Ass over teakettle, camera flailing wildly, black out at the bottom depending on how hard and far you fell.  Some people have criticized it by saying the protagonist falls a bit too easily on every little dip in the terrain, but he is also dying of a plague! So that didn’t bother me. Falling hard also means whatever is in your hands will be let go and go flying, possibly being destroyed in the process.  I climbed a big ass mountain to reach some flowers and let me tell you, I’ve done a lot of hiking, and picking my way back down that slope felt just like picking my way down some loose scree.  I’d creep forward and the guy would slip a bit and pick up speed as he skidded, so I’d mash S with my heart in my throat, terrified of tumbling down and losing my hard won petals.

And then when I got to the bottom and was all “Whew, now I can book it back to the lab!”, I heard *thump thump.  thump thump.*

“Oh fuck, the cat.  If it attacks me I’ll have to climb that god damn mountain to get these flowers again!  Okay, the tent isn’t far in that direction so I’m just going to dash for it.”

So I started dashing, and THERE IT WAS.  Apparently I chose exactly the wrong direction to dash in…

A panicked about-face later (with the guy lurching and skidding all over, trying to turn at high speed… it’s really quite effective once you’re used to it) I dashed in the opposite direction.  The creature roared behind me and the heart beat sped up.  Up ahead, a tent I hadn’t uncovered yet!  Yes!  Safety!

*whack* it hit me from behind and he tumbled, ears ringing.  I didn’t drop the flowers!  KEEP DASHING GOD DAMMIT.

When you go uphill he slows down to make the climb too, so climbing the last slope to the tent was fairly intense.  But once inside the creature loses interest and wanders off, and I was able to take some medicine to calm the fever that being mauled by a giant horned green cat had made worse, then sleep until morning.

I found the above exchange very exciting, and I am looking forward to synthesizing medicine to make me stronger, and allow me to do things like swim and access more areas of the island.  If you find it appealing to get lost on an island that decidedly does not want you to pick its flowers, then you should definitely check this game out.  If exploration is boring to you, move along.

Anna

Anna is a “survival horror” game where you attempt to discover what is going on in a creepy abandoned sawmill.  The basic background of the story – and believe me, if you didn’t look for it you might miss it because it’s in a PDF in the game folder – is that you are a professor who is troubled by nightmares and fainting spells.  After passing out and being put on medical leave, the discovery of some old pictures leads you to this sawmill, where you attempt to figure out what is going on.

I bought this game for 3 dollars while drunk on New Year’s.  The extremely short review is: It is worth 3 dollars, but I’m not sure it’s worth 10.  I enjoyed it but it only took me 2 hours to get all three endings.  It will take you longer if you don’t cheat your ass off through the “puzzles”, but the sense of reward you get from that really isn’t going to be worth it.  Trust me.

Here’s the bad news:  The game essentially emulates old nostalgic point and click adventure games, complete with fuzzy “adventure game logic”.  Not only that, but it suffers very much from pixel hunt syndrome… in 3D.  I attempted to play it “legit” for the first couple of sections, only looking at a walkthrough when I was stumped, but it quickly devolved to the point where there would be no way to figure things out without painstakingly going through your inventory and clicking everything onto everything else.  Now, I have done that for games before!  But the inventory system is clunky and slow and I just didn’t have the patience for it.  I played an old game called Scratches which had some pretty bad adventure game logic, with the worst of it probably being when I had to use the phone X number of times and check a certain location X number of times between calls before the plot would advance.  I didn’t come across anything quite that obtuse in Anna but it was pretty close.  There were two turning points – one was when I had to use the ritual knife to start an event.  First you have to do something to “activate” the knife for rituals, and then you click it on the thing.  Except I did that and it didn’t work so I wandered around for a bit trying to figure out what to do with this damn knife, until I looked it up and it turned out I had clicked two pixels to the right of where I actually needed to click.  The second turning point was during the leaves puzzle, which seemed super obvious until you had to place a leaf on the picture indicating death, and they pretty much all look like they’re displaying death.  Trial and error revealed that the one that properly displayed death didn’t really look anything like death at all.  The walkthrough explained why it was supposed to depict death, as opposed to, say, the one with corpses and gravestones, and it made a bit of sense, but it annoyed me.  At that point I stopped wasting my time trying to figure things out on my own, and I feel better for it, because some of the later ones… yeah.

Adding to the annoyance of the puzzles and interface, is the completely superfluous items.  You start with a cell phone and a diary, neither of which can be used.  The cell phone, as far as I know, never becomes a factor in anything aside from making you scroll around it to get to the other shit in your inventory.  The jotter is just there for ~~immersion~~ as far as I can tell, because it corresponds to the PDF file in the game directory.  Except nothing really points you to that… I discovered it later while trying to figure out what the jotter was actually doing in the game.  It could have been implemented much better.  Then, there are a numerous points in the game where you can pick stuff up out of a pile.  You can pick ALL of them up, if you want to.  But you only need one.  Ever.  And then you have the rest of them in your inventory going “ha ha you used the crappy interaction dialogs and picked us up for no reason, loser”.  I think extraneous items get cleared when you move to a new area, but still.  I picked up some rocks outside (the description said “useful for scaring small animals” so I totally decided I should defend myself against the rabid squirrels I was undoubtedly going to encounter) but there was literally no use for them.  You can’t even pick them back up from your inventory to try to use them on things, it simply says you can’t do that.  Yet they sit there in the inventory.  I suppose it’s some sort of red herring to make you feel like there is more depth than there is… but really it just makes the player resent the poor planning.

Once you get past all of that, the game is entertaining.  I put “survival horror” in quotes because you quickly realize there isn’t much survival involved.  It’s not like Amnesia where there are things that are going to fuck you up and you are completely defenseless against them, so you spend the whole game cowering in a cupboard while slowly going insane.  There is no danger in Anna, but somehow the atmosphere of the game still gets to you.  I even had a genuine scare at one point, where I solved a puzzle and smugly turned around and went “AGHCK”. (And if you have played the game, it is probably NOT the one you are thinking of.  For that one, I obliviously stared at the opposite wall/other objects for the whole event and then turned around while it was fading away, then said “Hunh.  Well, that probably would have been really creepy.”) I felt silly afterward, but it shows that the game was effective in what it was attempting to do.  There are some super creepy moments too, like the mask on the chair.  It was such a simple effect but I really enjoyed it.  Each of the “supernatural events” were fun to stumble across and really added to the atmosphere.  I kind of want to go back and just try to trigger the events to experience them.

The story… well, I would play the game for the atmosphere rather than the story.  Let’s leave it at that.  There are three endings, each with a bit of a different perspective of the events.  Essentially the endings correspond to how deeply the protagonist goes down the rabbit hole.  You can bail out of the game fairly early if you do things “right”, and the ending is essentially just “Hey I’m not dead!  Well this place is creepy, I’m out of here” and you really learn nothing about the story.  But you also didn’t die so is it a “good” ending or not!?  In contrast, the most extensive ending includes a whole extra area of the game (complete with shitty illogical puzzles…) with a lot more dialogue and story reveals, as the professor gets his memory back.  I searched for some discussion about the endings, but it looks like the game simply wasn’t that popular.  There’s not a whole lot to discuss, I suppose, but they are ambiguous enough that something interesting might have come of them.

I don’t feel like I wasted 3 dollars OR 2 hours, which is more than I can say of some games I have bought, so if you can look past the flaws I feel that Anna has enough interesting elements to make it worth a look.  Wait for a sale, though…

Earth Abides

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Final Word: A resounding “meh”. The first part was boring, the second part was stocked with characters I hated, or characters with no personality (which I hated), who all made dumbass, arrogant decisions that made me hate them… and the third part was just fine, but not quite enough to redeem everything else. The third part is *almost* the book that I WANTED to read, showing humanity solving problems and adapting to the changes in the world. Instead, the entire book focuses on a bunch of ungrateful whiners who refuse to get off their ass and do anything, and somehow succeed anyway thanks to amazing engineering. Seriously, I think my city has more technical problems with things that *are* maintained than these guys have over the course of 50 years with things that are completely and utterly forgotten about. It would have been nice if they were at least shown trying to maintain things. Then they would have at least been problem solving something… instead, things break over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to do stuff fuck this.[the entire reservoir leaks dry over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened to the water!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to pack buckets fuck this. (hide spoiler)]

I wish I could give it 1.5. Starring it “I didn’t like it” would be accurate, but I think it deserves a bit more than 1 star, if only because it’s interesting to see a precursor to the more modern day post-apocalyptic stories.

The rest of my review follows, which was pieced together as I went.

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I’m half way through now but I’m going to start writing my review anyway.

I was pretty excited to read this book. I love post apocalyptic stuff, I love survival stuff, and I even like “The World Without Us” stuff. This fits the bill perfectly!

The disaster happens and Ish wanders around until he realizes that serious shit went down, and then he has a moment where he’s like “Well, I like to observe things. I’m going to observe this!”

And that is pretty much the first half of the book. It plods along as he drives from place to place and observes what happens when things aren’t maintained. Some of it is interesting, but we now have books that do a much better job of it (like, “The World Without Us”…). There is literally no other plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but the most interesting thing was the discovery of Princess, and even that was described in an outsider-style “Hmm this dog’s behaviour suggests…” sort of way.

There was never a point where he was really in any sort of danger, or anything tense happened. He panicked about driving through a desert and starts stockpiling backup plans, lest something go wrong… and then just as he gets started doing that he goes “Well fuck it, I should be dead anyway” and so much for that.

And then he goes home. End the first half of the book.

The second half has some interactions with actual characters, but perhaps that is a generous description of them because there hasn’t been any building of personality. I just finished “The Quick Years” and they certainly were quick. It was practically a bullet point list of 15 years worth of happenings which read like “This happened. Then this person showed up. Then babies were born. Then this person died. Then this happened.”
There were some opportunities for interesting things in those years, like the plagues of rats and grasshoppers, the various illnesses they dealt with, what to do if someone was injured… but instead it was more stand-offish observation narration which completely fails to get the reader involved emotionally. I was more emotionally invested in the grasshopper plague described in Little House on the Prairie than I was in this book’s description of the decimation of possibly the only garden on the entire planet.

The characters are continually spared of anything interesting. The rest of the city crumbles around them but oh hey, they found someone who’s a carpenter so their houses weren’t touched, even by earthquakes. They just observe everything else happening, never really getting involved themselves. There is no survival in this post apocalyptic world (They even have a never ending supply of canned food and medicine, thanks to being in a city), other than the occasional offhanded mentions of “This character that was introduced a sentence or two ago and never had an opportunity to gain a personality has died. Gosh look how dangerous things are!” (Hmm I wonder if they were wearing red shirts…)

Perhaps it is to this book’s credit that I am still interested despite that, but I feel like it could be so much more.

Starting in on the second half now. This review may be updated if things change!
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In the second half, things start to break down and everyone spends their time whining about it, refusing to do anything about it, or whining about how everyone refuses to do anything about it. (While also refusing to actually do anything about it because, well, no one else is so why should I!)

I really dislike arrogance, and that is one of the best words to describe the majority of these characters. Ish is arrogant about how much smarter he is than everyone else and laments how there will be no smart people left when he dies. Yet he doesn’t particularly want to encourage anyone else to use his precious libraries, either. “His ego was not above being pleased with the belief that he was a demi-god. Was this a way to treat a demi-god?” fuuuccck you. Whenever he starts ranting about how no one will think of the future, everyone interrupts him with ironic clapping. Arrogance. Splashes of good old fashioned misogyny and prejudice (appropriate for the time I suppose) mixed in for flavour too, whenever they declare how inferior women are or how the dim witted shouldn’t be breeding.

Maybe it’s a deliberate anti-humanity statement, in which case it’s effective because none of the characters are likable and I am rooting for them all to hurry up and die so the Earth can cover their corpses in Kudzu or something.


Annnd done. Whew! Part three was better, mostly because everyone I disliked was dead, and Ish was too senile to be an arrogant ass. He still managed a bit, though. The outcomes were more believable and it was nice to see some of humanity not portrayed as dipshit elitists. It’s unfortunate I had to wade through the rest of it to get here, though.

The final part of the book, after the next generation takes over and becomes a hunter gatherer society, is the book I would have WANTED to read. Unfortunately it’s a footnote tacked onto the end of the story of the group of whiny assholes who sat around eating canned food and bitching that they have to dig outhouse pits and take care of the girl who has a mental deficiency. Disappointing, although I do have to admit I am impressed that Stewart portrayed the subtle changes in mannerisms and tribal behaviours in a realistic manner, given when the book was written.

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