Archive for category Reviews

The Void Trilogy

The Evolutionary VoidThe Dreaming VoidThe Temporal Void

Where do you start when trying to describe Peter F. Hamilton’s science fiction?

His space operas are epic in scale, with many interlocking character stories, taking place across huge amounts of time and space, detailing lives lived with the benefits of high-technology and galaxy-destroying consequences for the protagonists.

The Void Trilogy is set over a thousand years on but within the same universe that hosted his previous ‘trilogy’; Misspent Youth, and the two books forming the Commonwealth Saga; Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. Humanity has reached a pinnacle of technological development, death is no longer the final hurdle as humans can be reset into younger bodies, and some factions within humanity are looking to the next step; becoming post-physical, evolving, transcending.

The Void is the name bestowed upon what humans suspected was a huge black hole at the centre of the galaxy, but turns out to be an artificial universe, gradually expanding and devouring the human galaxy. The true nature of the Void soon reveals itself as a human, Inigo, claims to have dreamed of the naturally psychic civilisation living within the Void and shares those dreams via the gaiafield that allows humans to share experiences and feelings. The Dreamer becomes the centre of a galaxy-spanning Living Dream movement devoted to reaching and entering the Void and becoming one with the Void dwellers. But then it becomes known that the mass exodus may well trigger a rapid expansion of the Void that will devour the galaxy.

Within this story is also the story of a Void dweller, Edeard, told through Inigo’s dreams. Edeard’s own struggle to bring order and compassion to his world offer a compelling counterpoint to the story of humanity outside the Void.

In typical Hamilton fashion the story builds and builds, new story threads are uncovered, others are closed off or twisted back on themselves, old (from the previous Saga) and new characters cross paths, we find out some more of the background of the Commonwealth and more of the races that inhabit it. The background is incredibly detailed, and as with his other novels, you are thrust into the ultra high-tech world of the future from the very outset.

Weighing in at just over 2,000 pages (exceeding the previous trilogy of 1,800 pages) Hamilton has built an incredible story, a must for any fans of the newer strains of epic space opera we’ve been treated to in the last decades. Its not necessary to read the Commonwealth Saga beforehand although you’d be missing out on another epic tale and some of the richest background material.

I can’t wait to see what Peter F. Hamilton writes next 🙂

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Yellow Blue Tibia / New Model Army

I recently finished two Adam Roberts novels back-to-back. I’ve been a fan of Adam Roberts since his 2000 debut, Salt, I have always felt that his novels were markedly different to traditional science fiction, and from first to latest have not disappointed.

Yellow Blue TibiaThe first book, Yellow Blue Tibia, is more ‘alternative history’ than ‘Science Fiction’, starting in the post-war Soviet Union and then moving to the end of the Cold War era and Chernobyl.

Mr Roberts must have been channeling Philip K. Dick when he came up with the idea behind this story and then injected a large dose of humour, to give us a tale of UFOs, conspiracy theory, Russian stoicism, the questioning of reality, misleading of the public by the government, murder and even Scientologists, narrated by a world-weary, cynical protagonist with a glib attitude to life and others.

The quirky dialogue and often times bizarre turn of events often had me chuckling to myself as the story unfolded. The twists and turns of the story leave you not quite knowing if the UFOs / aliens are real, or human-fabricated. The dark and cynical humour finally gives way to an ending that itself is not particularly surprising, but gives the meaning behind the title and other elements of the story.

Overall, an interesting premise, and a great level of humour throughout. Well worth a read.

New Model ArmyThe second book, New Model Army, is an exploration of the use of technology to enable a “people’s democracy”, and how this would give rise to the technologically-empowered, democratically-directed, paramilitaries required to stop the ‘old order’ from re-asserting control; the titular New Model Armies (NMA).

Opening with an account of the battle of Basingstoke, where an NMA contracted by a Scottish Parliament seeking independence, routs a larger force of British Army regulars, we get a different look at modern combat and the effects on the human mind.

The story is one of the realisation and power of a ‘true democracy’ over the pseudo-democracy, and rigid hierarchy, of today, a nod to the ‘power to the people’ ideals of our pasts, yet a far cry from the ‘disorganised’ rallies of recent years as the NMAs use modern technology to the full; group comms, geo-tagging, wikis, crowd-sourced decision making, etc. to form a flexible, competent, fighting force.

New Model Army feels a little hurried towards the end, and I’m not sure if this is a function of the sub-300 pages and the easy reading style, or if this is intended by the author to reflect the narrator’s state of mind. I suppose that another reading will be required to really understand that for myself.

There are some interesting ideas here, building to a truly new idea of the future. Another book worth taking a look at 🙂

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The Saboteur (Xbox 360)

I picked up The Saboteur back in June on an impulse purchase, it was on special and it looked like it could be fun. Then I checked a few reviews and saw that the developer had gone into liquidation, there had been major problems with multi-core systems and ATI graphics cards, and reviews criticised the ‘platform mechanics’ and animation.

So, with some trepidation I booted up the Xbox and got ready to liberate a Paris under Nazi occupation during the Second World War (1940).

The Saboteur is a third-person sneaker/climber/shooter in an open world environment which gives the feel of a large area well populated with Parisien civilians, the French Resistance and the ever watchful Nazi/SS occupiers. You play a devil-may-care Irishman, Sean Devlin, working as a racing car mechanic for a French father-son team, who get on the wrong side of a Nazi colonel precipitating the key motivator for the storyline, Sean’s revenge on the Nazis.

After the introduction to the game, driving, brawling, travelling around, etc, you enter Paris where the rooftops become your avenues, affording a quick and mostly invisible path to perform your acts of sabotage on the Nazi infrastructure. Sean can climb on pretty much any building, reaching some wonderful vantage points, even the top of the Eiffel Tower itself! Sean can also disguise himself to sneak into close proximity with his targets, and when spotted a very GTA-style chase circle pops up that you have to escape from (by clearing the area, or using a hiding spot).  Perks are granted for particular acts which unlock various abilities or weapons.

Proceeding through the interesting story missions unlocks new areas (you can travel anywhere on the map before unlocking them, unlocking them gives you travel papers to enter without sneaking/running, and opens up Resistance bases to re-arm/store vehicles), and new weapons/vehicles.

One of the most interesting mechanics of the game is that the visuals start in black-and-white signifying the Nazi occupation, and as you complete story and side missions occupied areas are ‘inspired’ and become filled in with colour. You will also notice the car radios (which have a great soundtrack) play a more muted tone in occupeid areas, and the weather is usually dark/rainy, all helping provide the atmosphere, the feeling of oppression and subsequent release as you inspire more areas.

I found this game great fun, I spent a lot of time just tooling around the rooves of Paris to see how far I could climb or knocking off random Nazi’s or hitting free-play targets. With 50 story/side missions and over 1,300 ‘free-play’ targets there is a lot to do. Well worth the price that you can pick it up for now although probably better on the consoles than PC.

9 out of 10!

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So, I’ve pretty much completed my first play through of Borderlands, solo.

Borderlands is playable as a solo First Person Shooter, but is really intended to be played co-operatively with up to 4 players.

Graphically Borderlands has a distinct style, slightly cartoon-y, and with an intriguing focusing system that sharpens up the detail when needed and leaves it a little fuzzy when you’re looking around or moving quickly. The detail in the level designs is amazing, with lots of clutter/junk to give a sense of life to the alien world that you are travelling through.

Sound is equally good, a well-balanced score, with some good up tempo combat/event music. Weapon and creature sound effects are well done, and the great voice acting is one of the first cues to the humour that runs throughout the game.

AI is ok, most enemies tend to charge straight at you, even the humans, although they will use cover and grenades at higher skill levels.

Gameplay-wise, the game structure is similar to an MMORPG, but without any real ‘grinding’ issues and minimal traditional RPG elements. If you play through all of the story missions and the side missions you should never have an issue with being too low level to tackle the next available missions.

The primary RPG elements are in each character’s ‘action skill’ broken into 3 paths of 21 skills (each skill has 5 levels), plus the bonuses that weapons/items give you in both ‘normal’ and ‘elemental’ bonuses.

All in all a good game with currently 3 DLC updates adding new zones and a 4th expected. I wish that I’d been able to go through this in co-op with a few friends, I expect that that makes it an even more fun experience.

Overall: 8 out of 10 🙂

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Gears of War 2

I’ve just finished playing Gears Of War 2 on the XBox 360.

I usually avoid FPS games on the console because I am a Keyboard/Mouse player and cannot get used to the controller but someone who recently got a 360 wanted to lend it to me, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Like similar games I’ve seen on consoles and some PC games recently, Gears 2 uses a recovery system for injuries, so if you are injured (indicated by a blood red cog symbol fading in on your screen) you duck back into cover and the cog gradually fades out to indicate that you are recovering. If you don’t take cover eventually you are incapacitated and can only crawl slowly in an attempt to reach a comrade who can revive you. If you fail to do that in a brief period you will die, game over, reload from last checkpoint. So, I had a chance at survival with my poor controller skills 🙂

The visual style is great; from gritty, city streets under siege, to deep underground tunnels, and hidden complexes, as well as outside scenes in mountains and forests.

Audio is exceptional; well voiced characters, well placed atmospheric sound effects, and some booming weapon sounds, help to get you in the mood.

The AI is good; whilst most grunt enemies use cover, and pop out to fire at you, they occasionally ‘displace’ so you can’t wait for them to pop up again at the same point and fire. Some heavier enemies just walk straight at you, but this fits the style of the semi-mindless ‘tanks’.

Gameplay is pretty good; the variety of action really helps to change this game from what could have been a ‘shooter on rails’ to a fun challenge. You operate on foot on your own, with a partner, or with a small group, at different points. There are several vehicle sections, with some quite unique ‘vehicles’ later on 🙂 The choice of weapons allows for a range of tactical choices, from up close and personal to sniper range, with the ability to pick up dropped weapons so you can chop and change as required.

All in all, I had about 20 hours of fun running through this on normal mode. I’m strongly considering buying this and the first game to go back through it at a harder level.

Overall: Gears 2 gets an 8 out of 10 from me.

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