I’m tired of thinking of double entendres and puns on the phrase “Bolt Thrower”. You're probably tired of reading them. It’s here, it’s by me, please read it.
You’ll recall I’ve resurrected this column to link back to my pieces for the lovely crew at Shut Up & Sit Down, where my last review was Combat Commander: Europe. It’s a game I avoided for a long time due to lacking tanks, but I was wrong to do so. It’s a brilliant game which creates incomparably detailed narratives of small-scale World War 2 firefights.
Occasionally the strategy elements fall flat with unlucky card draws or obvious map bottlenecks but it’s one of those rare titles where the other elements - the story in this case - are so rich that you stop caring and just enjoy the ride. It’s my game of choice at the moment, and I’m actually annoyed that I have other games to review and so can’t play it enough, let alone justify splashing on expansions.
Films and TV
Been watching an unusually large amount lately.
Finished Walking Dead season three. It was a huge let-down as far as I’m concerned, with the last episode being more feeble than finale. Very telling that the best episodes in the series, 12 and 13, went back to the series roots by focussing on the relationships between a subset of the cast. But they were lights in a mediocre grayness. Really hope season 4 either improves substantially or is the last.
I believed that Star Trek Into Darkness was probably worth a rare cinema trip. It was. I’m an old-school Trek fan, who thinks the original series was the best and I understand the feeling of loss engendered by the removal of intelligent sci-fi. But for me, what made Star Trek great wasn’t the clever bits, but its humanity and character interplay. That has survived the reboot wholly intact and carried on into this film, with the added bonus of vast entertainment value.
Enjoying the latest season of Doctor Who so far. I felt Matt Smith had lived in his predecessor’s shadow for too long, more the fault of Tennant’s brilliance than any serious shortcomings on Smith’s part. But enough time has passed now for that shadow to fade, and allow Smith his time in the limelight. It’s helped enormously by some meaty, imaginative stories and Jenna-Louise Coleman who does a sterling job of using the limited resources allowed to the part of Doctor’s assistant to fashion a crude facsimile of an interesting character. So it's a bit of a shame he's just announced he's stepping down from the role. Ah well. Let the speculation begin! I'd say Benedict Cumberbatch if he wasn't now a megastar. Or perhaps it's time for a female Doctor Whp?
Finished Moby Dick. Shows its age, but if you can get past ye turgid olde fashioned Englishe, it’s an incredible book.
Next on the reading table is that classic of tenth century Icelandic literature Njal’s Saga. The Vikings unquestionably had the best medieval writers, helped enormously by a culture underpinned by brutal inter-family violence. Fascinating both on a historical level and as an insight into the questionable fruits of jealousy and resentment. Someone should make a game about this.
My second original Xbox 360 died the death. Fortunately I’d bought it from a shop that offered guarantees on second hand model and got to take it back for a new slim model, just paying the price difference. The man behind the counter related the tale of one regular customer who’d been through thirteen of the core models before the slims came out. Shame on you, Microsoft.
I don’t see any reason in the Xbox One launch to bother upgrading until I’ve done playing all the games I wanted to on the current model. And there’s plenty of those left. So it seemed reasonable to chip in now, despite the expense. Why they added a loud ping to the turn-on and disc-draw buttons, other than to infuriate the parents of sleeping children, is beyond me. I really, really, really wish you could turn it off.
The only thing of value that I lost was a save of Arkham Asylum about three-quarters complete, so I’ll never get to see the end now. But it’s a good game, not a great one, that perhaps tries to cram too many different play styles into one package and was a little on the easy side. Besides I got Arkham City as part of the package, so I can pick up not all that long after I left off.
Anyway, as a result, I got stuck with my PC. So after staring at the unscalable height’s of moss_icon’s pinball scores I decided to give up and went back to XCOM instead in Ironman mode, the way it should be played. It’s much more intense and weaves a richer narrative that way. Wish I’d done it the first time round.
I mostly get tuned into music music through suggestions on social media. Even here. But occasionally I dip my toe cautiously into the pop-shark infested waves of other outlets. So it was, while trudging tiresomely through the sludge being served up by last.fm radio, I was completely blown away when I came across Eros by Mary Hampton. Striking, sombre, rich and deep it felt comprehensively different
Right away I turned off last.fm and spooled the whole of her first album, My Mother’s Children, on Spotify. I found it to be equally astonishing. Gliding effortlessly from incredibly delicate acoustic flights to sudden dark and aggressive whimsy, it’s sort of like a musical version of Alice in Wonderland. There are relatively few albums that have no filler on them, that make you want to listen to every track one after the other every time. But this is one of mine.
So, of course, I went and got the rest of her catalogue. Her first EP, Six Songs of Refusal, is a lovely collection of traditional folk but only Eros really gives a taste of what’s to come. The second EP, Six Songs of Hunger, is less interesting. Her second album, Folly, is uneven. At it’s best, songs like Honey in the Rock, it’s arguably better than her first. But it’s too willfully obscure at times.
In spite of the ups and downs, I remain totally enchanted by her work. By far the best new thing I’ve found so far this year. Hoping I might get to see her play live one day.