Friday 29 May 2015

Book Review - The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road

Inline image 1By Abbie Bernstein, Foreword by George Miller

Publisher: Titan Books Ltd

Review by Richard Williams

The art of Mad Max is almost a bad book. As an art book it is overshadowed by the photographs and film creator's comments about the making of the movie. And the art itself is of a very rough and unappealing quality that reminds me of early Judge Dredd comics. I have looked at enough so-called 'art of' books for movies to know that they are usually barely worthy of the name (World War Z being a particularly egregious example), and should in all honesty be called 'movie companions' or 'making of' or just about anything other than 'the art of'. Speaking as a collector of art books I've all but given up on getting a decent one related to a film (with the blessed exception of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit).

So why is this only almost a bad book? because as a movie companion (or whatever) it really is one of the better books around. The photographs are great and the commentary is genuinely interesting. And the artwork, for all is brutal roughness, suits the film perfectly and takes the time to show how ideas and the look of the film developed, rather than just showing finished pieces.

For fans of Mad Max I would have to say that this book is close to being an essential purchase. And I'm only saying close to essential because I'm the kind of person who questions the necessity of material goods. So if you're not that kind of person, and you're a fan, then you can go right ahead and call it essential. The references to the original films are great and really help ground Fury Road in the mythology of Max.

However if you're looking for a great art book then this might not be the book for you. Also, unless you're really interested in film set anecdotes and glimpses into the movie business, then you might not find the photos alone worth the money. All of that being said, all put together, it's a decent product and worth a read.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

There's been a lull in my group's gaming recently so we're starting afresh next Tuesday, and after we spent an evening really enjoying 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt', there was only one choice for our next campaign; Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I'll be GMing and I'll be using the First Edition rules as these are the rules I used for the better part of ten years. I created my greatest fantasy campaign with that softback book.

I'm really excited - this game was my favourite fantasy game twenty years ago and nothing has really changed since then. It's been the better part of ten years since I last played it and I always meant to delve back into it as it's the setting that does it for me, this bleak twisted world with Monty Python-esque black humour and really dark Cthulhu-inspired horrors lurking in the shadows, as well as some fun greenskin-bashing adventures.

I'm sticking with the grim feel that I remember so well from when I first bought the game back in the late 1980s, I have no idea what kind of fantasy the Warhammer world is now, I assume it's still bleak and miserable.

Playing a game with my mates in which they run the risk of getting shafted every session and roll around in the dirt with the scum of the Old World? This is gonna be great!

Wednesday 27 May 2015

News - Conan Cover Art revealed! Playtest Version 3 ready

Big News today! Firstly you can now download the v1.3 Conan RPG Playtest Pack which has several changes we think you'll like. Remember to tell friends to sign up to playtest at

We can now unveil the art of world famous Conan artist Sanjulian(Conan Ace Paperbacks, Vampirella, Eerie, Creepy) for the Conan Roleplaying Game. It's actually a wrap around cover and you'll see the full art soon. 


Sanjulian approached us and loved the fact we were bringing an authentic Conan roleplaying game to the tabletop. His passion for Howard's barbarian is unparalleled and it shows in this classic piece. We're honoured to have such incredible talent contributing to the series of covers. 

Jeff Shanks wrote the following brief for the cover (this is just the summary): 

"This painting would conflate and combine several different scenes and elements from "Red Nails." The basic composition would have CONAN and VALERIA inside a throne room in the ancient lost city of Xuchotl surrounded by and fighting enemy TLAZITLAN warriors. Behind them is a black ebony pillar with hundreds of reddish copper nails driven into it. Entering the scene in the background is the insane wizard TOLKEMEC with several zombies/mummies/undead behind him. Other elements would include THE CRAWLER, a serpentine monster, and TASCELA an evil but beautiful sorceress/witch who would be looking at the arrival of TOLKEMEC with fear and loathing."  

We think Sanjulian nailed it (though for design reasons Tascela didn't make it in to this image) and look forward to more of his work later on! We'll soon be unveiling the fantastic cover by British artist Carl Critchlow! We'll leave you with Howard's description of the scene!

"The Tecuhltli, recovering from the first stunning shock of the surprise that had swept them back into the throne room and littered the floor with their corpses, fought back with an equally desperate fury, while the door-guards from the lower floors came racing to hurl themselves into the fray. It was the death-fight of rabid wolves, blind, panting, merciless. Back and forth it surged, from door to dais, blades whickering and striking into flesh, blood spurting, feet stamping the crimson floor where redder pools were forming. Ivory tables crashed over, seats were splintered, velvet hangings torn down were stained red. It was the bloody climax of a bloody half-century, and every man there sensed it." 

"These crashed into the fray with the devastating effect of a hurricane plowing through a grove of saplings. In sheer strength no three Tlazitlans were a match for Conan, and in spite of his weight he was quicker on his feet than any of them. He moved through the whirling, eddying mass with the surety and destructiveness of a gray wolf amidst a pack of alley curs, and he strode over a wake of crumpled figures." 

"Valeria fought beside him, her lips smiling and her eyes blazing. She was stronger than the average man, and far quicker and more ferocious. Her sword was like a living thing in her hand. Where Conan beat down opposition by the sheer weight and power of his blows, breaking spears, splitting skulls and cleaving bosoms to the breast-bone, Valeria brought into action a finesse of sword-play that dazzled and bewildered her antagonists before it slew them. Again and again a warrior, heaving high his heavy blade, found her point in his jugular before he could strike. Conan, towering above the field, strode through the welter smiting right and left, but Valeria moved like an illusive phantom, constantly shifting, and thrusting and slashing as she shifted. Swords missed her again and again as the wielders flailed the empty air and died with her point in their hearts or throats, and her mocking laughter in their ears." 


Chris, Modiphius

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Book Review - The Machine Awakes (The Spider Wars 2)

Inline image 1By Adam Christopher

Published by Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

The cover of this book carries the comment "SF you will want to read with the light on". Skipping the temptation to make a facetious remark about difficulties reading in the dark I think it's worth pointing out that this book isn't actually that creepy or scary. It does however deal quite deftly with the darker side of science fiction and I found this book to be quite an entertaining read.

It's possible that I have spoiled myself somewhat when it comes to science fiction. I typically prefer to read titles from the Masterworks collection and I don't think it's being unfair to say that this book doesn't meet that standard. It's not badly written but I found the style to veer towards the conversational and it didn't always, I felt, set the right tone. This carried through to the way characters spoke to one another and it struck me that it was often too casual or informal.

However the themes of this book, the concepts covered and the science fiction, are certainly worth a read and I thought that the pace of the book was well handled. I also enjoyed the strong elements of corruption and conspiracy. Despite the fact that the characters are a little two-dimensional they're a compelling bunch and you quickly develop favourites. I particularly liked the character of Mr Glass, which is funny considering how that works out.

As I read this book I couldn't help thinking that it's the kind of story, with the kind of characters and action, that would translate well into a film and found it sometimes easier to imagine it as a Hollywood blockbuster, especially in regards to the action. The fight scenes and tense moments roll along well and give the book plenty of juicy bits (if you'll forgive a technical term). Having said that the book did feel that it dragged a bit towards the end and could probably have done with being a few chapters shorter.

In conclusion I'd say that this is an interesting book, with great themes and plot points, let down slightly by the writing style and length but recommended for sci-fi enthusiasts.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter MMO

I've done quite a lot of online gaming over the years. I started out as did many others, with World of Warcraft (just as the Liche King expansion came out) and then played quite a few other games; Warhammer Online, Rifts, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Guild Wars and many others that have been installed/uninstalled/reinstalled over the years.

A few years ago D&D Online came out and, even though I did enjoy it, it didn't feel enough like a proper MMO for my tastes. I like the Eberron setting just fine, but never thought it was a good choice for the official D&D MMO and it never came close to the open-world fun of Warcraft; and, to be honest, I don't think any MMOs really do. I've begun to enjoy the Free-To-Play options in games lately as my time is limited and if I paid a subscription for a game I'd feel obliged to play it and end up sinking a lot of time into it. Even though a lot of the Free-To-Play games are a lot of fun, you hit a point where you can' really progress unless you spend money and you end up running around trying to find things to do.

The D&D Neverwinter game has really changed my perspective on that. I've built a level 60 character decked out in Epic gear across the board, and even though I'm sure that a few paid options would have got me to 60 faster and really made the character excellent, I've not yet spent a single penny on the game.

My character Conran, a Great Weapon Fighter

It's probably the best free MMO I've played and now that I have the option of going beyond level 60 I'm looking at spending some money on it. It's not as open world as I'd like, and you travel from the central Neverwinter city to zones scattered about the world - there are still other players around so you're not placed in these zones alone - and there's an excellent thing called the Foundry, where players can fashion their own adventures for other players to have a go in. Yep - every gamer can spend time creating their own adventure, with characters, dialogue, maps and foes, for any other gamer to play through. The campaigns such as Tyranny of Dragons and the new Elemental Evil story, connect to the D&D 5th Edition tabletop roleplaying game, so the MMO is keeping up with new and improved edition. You don't need one to use the other - both mediums are doing their own thing.

I can recommend Neverwinter for casual gamers like me, and even for paying players who want to get the most out of their game. 

Tuesday 19 May 2015

RPG Review - Ancient Odysseys: More Treasure Awaits!

Ancient Odysseys: More Treasure Awaits!By Brett M. Bernstein

Published by Precis Intermedia

‘Unleash even more of your imagination... pious clerics and resourceful pathfinders join mighty warriors, powerful wizards, and crafty rogues. Their exploits are no longer limited to ancient dungeons and catacombs, as they venture through the wild landscapes of the surface, and face the crime and trade of towns. 

This supplement for Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! adds new options for play, from creating new types of adventurers and building landscapes to spending time in town and procuring goods to tackling new spells, traps, and creatures. Go beyond the basics, while maintaining the same fast-playing and flexible experience. 

This digest-sized book requires the Treasure Awaits! PDF, Boxed Set, or Pocket Edition. The optional printed softcover is designed to match the size of the Treasure Awaits! Pocket Softcover and fits in the Boxed Set.’

I’m going to be honest - the first thing I thought when I received this slim little book was ‘Great! It’s the same size as the books in my boxset!’ The layout, design and feel is exactly the same as the previous books, and I placed it into the box with glee, and it fitted as if destined to belong in there, and all was right with the world.

It’s strange, but it is true. It means that everything fits into the box and I can keep it together and safe, and it’s easy to transport around. That’s neat and really helpful. As with the original book the artwork is sparse but suited to the design, and the full-colour cover is well designed and atmospheric.

Looks and design aside, this book is a great addition to the original Treasure Awaits! I’m a great fan of that game, I love the simplicity and ease-of-use, but I also love the feeling that you can create a quite well-rounded character with little effort, either randomly or by design. The die mechanic is quick and easy, and we’ve gotten some good fun out of the dungeon bashes we played through. There was always that need to get out of the dungeon, of course, as all game must spread out and diversify as they grow in size and the players explore. We did try a couple of games outside in the wilderness, and used ancient England as our backdrop, but we knew we wanted to explore a much more exotic, unpredictable world.

More Treasure Awaits! gives us more creatures, whole new rules for wilderness and town adventures, newe spells, a new adventure, a world to explore and (most importantly to two of my players) two new adventurer options, the Cleric and the Pathfinder, and a new race, the Draconian. That’s not bad for a book about 94 pages long.

The two new adventurers, the Cleric and the Pathfinder (a kind of ranger) are a welcome addition and give the players more options and scope. I allow my players to choose their optins instead of rolling randomly, but the original book did a good job of random character creation. Instead of adding these on as options, the book includes the two new adventurers in the random tables, so instead of rolling in the original book you now roll in this book. That’s great, but I can’t help but wonder if adding new races and careers down the line might make the random tables redundant, especially in regards to the race and vocation tables. It’s not really an issue - these first few options are fine for beginning games but once players decide to start choosing the character options, with maybe a little randomness thrown in, anything new can be added as a choice.

There are new rules for the wilderness covering animal companions and traps, new actions, and landscape construction. Landscape construction is very much like dungeon construction, except you’re changing out rooms for areas of interest such as clearings and encounter points, with trails linking groves, marshes and the like. It’s designed very much with the dungeon designer in mind, so that the action is easy to navigate and you can funnel the players in certain directions to make sure that you can still control the environment, which is something dungeons are very good at, but there’s nothing stopping you from ignoring that and running open-world adventures as you see fit, or as you have always done. The landscape mapper is useful but certainly not essential, and would most likely suit newer gamers starting their first fledgling wilderness adventures; as Treasure Awaits! was designed with the beginning gamer in mind, it’s a handy tool.

More gear and a lot more spells really fill this book out and spellslingers will love the new options, and a whole plethora of new creatures boosts the bestiary by 52.

Then we hit The Known World, which gives us the bare bones of a world for the characters to explore. And it really is the bare bones - if you’re expecting a full-on gazetteer then you’ll be sorely disappointed as what we get is a simple beginning of a campaign world, with a simple map detailing such places as ‘Elven Dominion’, ‘Draconian Wildlands’ and ‘Goblin Keeps’, with a basic layout, a brief description of each of the major locations (no cities or towns are detailed) and a hint at the history of each location. This is a bit of a shame as once you break out into the wilderness you want a place to explore and experience, but sadly you don’t get that here. You certainly get the building blocks of a world - and you can go nuts with this and create all kinds of fancy places, people and locations - but as an introductory game it should have been a little more fleshed out with a little more atmosphere. Perhaps this would have worked better in a separate campaign book so that there could have been a lot more detail included.

Then we get an adventure, which is good fun and can be played solo or as a group. A few handy charts and tables end the book.

Is it any good? Absolutely - it's excellent. It’s a wonderful, if not essential, addition to the core rulebook and really fills out the gaming potential. I would have liked to have seen a little more of The Known World, and perhaps a little more flavour to boost the atmosphere, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, and that’s expand the options and scope of the Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! game. I’ve found it a great book that’s given me and my players plenty of new options to explore and routes to take, and we ‘re going to get a lot of use out of this.

Highly recommended.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Boardgame Review - Star Wars: Imperial Assault

By Fantasy Flight Games

This review has been a long time coming but I wanted to be sure about a couple of things; for one, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t simply surfing the wave of Star Wars excitement that’s washing over the beach of fandom at the moment, what with the most recent Star Wars Celebration now over and the wonderful Episode VII trailer still ringing in my ears. Secondly, I’m always wary of boardgames and their longevity, as some seem to run out of steam as you play them for any length of time and then end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to business.

Now, I would go into a lot of detail about the rules and how to play but there’s absolutely no need - you can download and read the rules for yourself right here.

I’d also go into detail about the components of the game, but you’ll find that in the downloadable rules, as well. Just so you know, what you get us the following:

A learn to play rulebook, a rules reference, a campaign guide, and a skirmish guide
34 detailed plastic figures
59 double-sided map tiles
Eleven custom dice
Over 250 cards
Over 150 assorted tokens
The Luke Skywalker Ally Pack and the Darth Vader Villain Pack

That’s a lot, right? And it shows - the box is solid, big and quite hefty so you know you’re getting a lot of blasters for your buck. The figures are solid and well made and the counters and interlocking boards are made of good quality stock and will last you a long time.

I originally played this game with composer James Semple and Jedi News boss Mark Newbold, and James, being the guy with the game and the man in the know, ran the games for us. We got three sessions in, and since then I’ve played the game on and off over the last few weeks.

Me, James Semple and Mark Newbold

Thanks to James the game was very easy to get into and it only took the first session to really get to grips with the rules and the layout. I’d say it took us the better part of an hour to set up and play through the first encounter, and James said that he’d only run some practice games, so I reckon that if you got this out of the box with no prior experience it’d take about ninety minutes to to a couple of hours to get the first game off the ground. That’s not bad going for a game this size.

I’m not a huge boardgamer - I’m more a tabletop RPG man myself - but there are elements to this that reminded me of an encounter-based RPG session. Both me and Mark knew our chosen character’s abilities and skills so we played to our strengths and covered each other’s weaknesses against James’ Imperial onslaught. And here have the core enjoyment of the game; Imperial Assault is a combat game, pure and simple, and there’s a degree of tactics required not just from a positional standpoint but through knowledge of the game mechanics, how far a character can move and what they are capable of etc. Out of the three encounters we played we won two of them; by the second one we realised that our chosen character’s abilities and the victory conditions were intertwined, and we started shouting orders, calling ideas and planning the next round’s actions, making sure that we were covering all the bases and not biting off more than we could chew. I still maintain that with one extra round we’d have nailed that last mission.

This is what you want from a game such as this. It’s a tactical combat game and it does just that - makes you think tactically. There’s an element of utilising the game rules to help manipulate the encounter slightly, but this is true of any boardgame, and this is what made it fun to play; I found that I was thinking two or three moves ahead, and planning carefully where I should go and what I should do.

I’m still not a fan of the dice that FFG use in their games but it wasn’t too much of a distraction, but even though we got used to the rules it felt we had to spend the most amount of time figuring out what the symbols meant. The encounters were quick and fun but games like this do concern me as far as longevity is concerned, but to be fair the missions can be accomplished in many different ways and this is what I found playing it since this first session in February. I’ve got some good games out of this over the last three months and it feels like there’s still some use I can wring out of it. FFG will no doubt be supporting the game with new figures and expansions, so there’ll be other missions to run. There’s nothing stopping you from creating your own missions, as well.

Am I excited about this game because of the heightened exposure of Star Wars at the moment? Yes and no. It’s a great game and great fun, and between the three of us we had a great day shouting orders and blowing up Imperials. As Star Wars and game fans this was right up our alley and I’m looking forward to more sessions. Yes, the recent trailer release had me getting the game out, but for an everyday gamer and maybe casual or non-Star Wars fans it’s still a great game; however, in their case I can see the game being played ferociously for a while but then only being pulled out every now and then. The game doesn’t break any new ground and veteran gamers might not find anything new in here to ‘wow' them, but it is a solid game and deserves to be in any serious gamer’s collection.

We really enjoyed it and we’re looking forward to more, and even though I’m not playing it as often as I did I can see myself getting Star Wars: Imperial Assault out for a blast on a regular basis with a group of like-minded friends.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Comic Review - Elric Volume 2: Stormbringer

[Cover Art Image]Writers
Jean-Luc Cano, Julien Blondel

Didier Poli, Jean Bastide, Julien Telo, Robin Recht, Scarlett Smulkowski

Published by Titan Comics

‘Yyrkoon fled Melniboné with Elric’s beloved Cymoril. Left behind, heartbroken and humiliated, the albino emperor pursues them with the help of Straasha, King of the Sea Elementals. Finding that Yyrkoon is hiding in the ruins of Dhoz Kham, in the heart of the Young Kingdoms, Elric prepares to challenge his treacherous cousin and rescue Cymoril. But little does he know that this quest will forever change his destiny, as he finds the legendary cursed sword Stormbringer…

Continuing the stunning new comic adaptation of the classic Elric of Melniboné novels by Michael Moorcock!’

Sequels are always a difficult thing in most formats and this isn’t so much a sequel as a continuation of the first graphic novel, and after the Alan Moore introduction we get straight into the story. The opening panel doesn’t have the grandeur of the first book, but it does get into the action with aplomb. The artwork is still of excellent quality and the design continues to be amazing, although it is missing a little of the sweeping grandeur of the first book.

If I had to make a single complaint about the art then it would be one thing - that sword.

Stormbringer is the soul-sucking black blade of the anti-hero, and it's gone from a slim longsword to an oversized anime-esque broad-bladed monstrosity. The design works in that it really shows the strangeness and otherworldly qualities of the black blade, but it didn't work for me. It simply felt like an improbable weapon to wield in a fight and even though I fully appreciate that this is a fantasy and that there's probably a thousand different reasons why a magic blade with a will of it's own could be wielded in an amazing fashion, it visually fell flat. 'A wizard did it' simply doesn't cut it for me this time.

By page three the imagery of the cruelty of The Dreaming City then topples over the edge. The fact that the Melniboneans are cruel was well established in the first book, so to go even further with their disregard for any life of any age is somewhat distasteful and over-the-top, and there's a sense of 'Okay, they can be bastards - we get it!'. Then, a few pages later, we’re shown Elric surrounded by corpses, and any kind of sympathy we may have had for the man starts to slip away. Later on we witness him savagely execute a small family and from then on I lost any kind of interest in the fate of the character, a character who I originally thought was doomed to tragedy but was starting to feel that he now deserves the cruel destiny that awaited him. If this series ended with Vol 2 then that would do me fine, and I would appreciate it as a story about the doom of a cruel and vicious man. If this continues on in this vein then I’ll no doubt treat it the same way, but any kind of attachment I had to the main character won’t be there and I’ll enjoy it for what it is; a version of Moorcock’s original book.

Perhaps, as with Vol 1, seeing the actions of the people of Melnibone and reading about them are two different things. You can edit your imagination, not so when the images are stark and plain in front of your eyes.

Now, it may seem like I didn’t like Vol 2 but I did – it’s well written, the artwork is exceptional and I can still recommend it. It didn't gel with the memories I have of the book or how I felt about Elric, but it was good to read about the emperor from a wholly new angle.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Comic Review - Elric Volume 1: The Ruby Throne

[Cover Art Image]Writer
Julien Blondel

Didier Poli, Jean Bastide, Robin Recht

Published by Titan Comics

'The ancient island of Melniboné has been ruled by Elric, the albino emperor, for millennia. Reliant on magic and herbs for his strength and prolonged life, Elric’s grip on Melniboné is crumbling, as his people slide into decadence. Now his envious cousin Yyrkoon, Prince of Melniboné, plots to overthrow him and claim the Ruby Throne for himself!

Lavishly illustrated, this new comic adaptation has been produced with the full and enthusiastic endorsement of Moorcock himself, who has written an original introduction for this edition.’

This hardback graphic novel seems a little slim at first, but once you open the pages to reveal the stunning maps on the inside covers and the touching introduction by the creator himself Michael Moorcock, you’re then plunged into the world of Melnibone and all it entails.

The artwork from page one is somewhat amazing – the first full-page image alone pretty much punches you in the face with the sheer awesome imagery of the gates of Melnibone, and the design and atmosphere – glory touched by decay – is evident in that very first image alone. We’re then treated to a quick introduction, and then we see the man himself, a well-realised and gaunt Elric, upon the amazing Ruby Throne… and it’s here that I’m going to have to stop talking about the artwork. Every page is a glorious delve into the darkness and rich decadence of The Dreaming City of Imrryr. There’s no pulling back with the imagery here – the denizens of this once-great island are cruel and revel in the base things in life and it’s here in all it’s black glory. It teeters on the brink of overwhelming but never quite topples over the edge, moving from artistic to gratuitous, and seems to be much more dark than the book I remember reading; but then, reading it and seeing it are two different things.

The writing is sharp and well done, with the narrative being enough to accompany the images without telling the story for the artwork, and the dialogue is excellent. The characters are well captured and Elric himself is exceptional, but I always felt, in the books, there was a side to Elric I could find sympathy for, giving him the chance to prove his worth in my eyes before falling foul to another tragedy. I didn’t get that feeling as much in this as he does take part in some questionable acts. This isn’t much of a problem as this is an interpretation of Moorcocks novel and hits home with the alienness of the Dragon Isle.

And an interpretation it is, as it does deviate from the original. From the new opening scenes to the change of design of the Melnibonean warships, you will find differences in this to the original book, but that’s a good thing as you get to explore different aspects and takes on the setting and story.

Elric Vol. 1 is stunning to look and a great read. It lavishly brings the world of Elric to life and the details at the back of the book explaining how the graphic novel was conceived, with some concept sketches, only makes me highly recommended this book even more.

Monday 4 May 2015

Movie Review - HALO: Nightfall

Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Run Time: 94 minutes

Review by Richard Williams

I'm sad to report that this film is terrible. I'm going to open with that bold statement because it's inescapable and I don't feel any need to dance around the issue as though I owe the film anything. If anything it owes me 94 minutes of my life back. I think part of this opinion stems from the fact that this is a Halo product and therefore my expectations were high. After the triumph that was Forward Unto Dawn I couldn't wait for the next slice of live action Halo goodness. Had this film had been advertised as a run-of-the-mill low budget sci-fi film, without any of the Halo branding, then... well, I probably wouldn't have sat through it but at least it wouldn't have been a Halo movie.

So what exactly is wrong with it? Firstly it looks like a cheap sci-fi film, the kind you expect to see on the Syfy channel at 1am. Very basic sets and outfits with fairly dodgy CG effects. When you think of the effort that was made for the Forward Unto Dawn mini-series it's shameful that 343 Industries let Nightfall be released looking the way it does. Considering so much noise was made about Ridley Scott producing Nightfall, I'm doubly disappointed. Although, having said that, I've thought for a while that Ridley Scott's work came off the boil some time ago.

The script it also incredibly dodgy and basically boils down to a simple tale of soldiers enduring hardship. You have the ones that make it, the ones that don't and the ones that crack. There are precisely zero interesting characters in this film and that's a real shame because it's supposed to be an introduction to the character of Spartan Locke, a major character in the next Halo game. This lack of interest stems from the fact that the dialogue is too formulaic, the action (such as it is) is too uninspiring, and the characters are so two-dimensional that you'd have to be a saint to give a damn about any of them. It doesn't even set up Locke's transition into the upcoming game, which is what I was hoping for.

This film also doesn't feel like a Halo product. I've already commented on the lack of polish you would hope/expect to find but, aside from the few cosmetic elements like ships and guns, there is almost nothing about this film that screams Halo at me. There's even an alien, at the start, that is right out of the Star Trek 'alien of the week' closet. I've read most of the Halo comics, read most of the books (including the visual guides), own all of the concept art books, watched all previous live-action and animated videos, bought the Halo: Risk board game and, wouldn't you know it, played all of the games. I consider myself something of a fan. So I'm fairly confident that the alien I'm talking about has never appeared in a Halo product before. Maybe they're going to feature them in the new game but I'm more inclined to think that a producer somewhere thought that any old alien would do and the budget was limited to what they could grab out of a drawer. There's none of the depth, intricacy or drama of a usual Halo product. In these, and other ways, this film doesn't feel like it fits with the Halo universe.

As you can tell, I didn't enjoy this film and can find nothing here that would make me recommend it to a Halo fan. Maybe a Sharknado fan, but not otherwise.

Friday 1 May 2015

Book Review - Clash of Eagles (The Hesperian Trilogy #1)

Inline image 1Author: Alan Smale

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

In the interest of full disclosure I should probably point out that I'm quite the fan of alternative history. And while there are more than a fair share based around great moments and wars in history (the second world war seemingly accounting for most of them) this is the first time that I've come across a 'Romans in America' story. And the results are so-so. It's not a bad book, the writing style is easy and perfectly accessible, but it's also not exactly wowed me into thinking 'I can't wait for the next book'.

Clash of Eagles is the first instalment of a new trilogy by author Alan Smale based around the premise of the Roman empire not collapsing under the barbarian hordes and instead trying to conquer the Americas (or Nova Hesperia, as it is called in the book) in the year 1218. The book takes great care to be as historically accurate as possible regarding names, equipment and practices, both in regard to the Romans and to the Native American tribes they encounter. There is even a set of appendices at the back of the book in case you wish to get a firmer grasp of the things being discussed and described. However those are names, equipment and practices that are accurate up until the time of the Roman collapse and therefore some of it seems dated by the time in which the book is set. In truth, who can say what the Romans would have devised with an extra eight centuries of imperial domination? The book sticks to a relatively undeveloped version of Rome (in terms of progress beyond 400CE), something that might well be expected in the world that was left after Rome's borders shrank following it's demise but which almost certainly wouldn't have existed had Rome prospered. As great thinkers have said in the past; what if Romans had discovered steam power? I'd like to think that, by the time of the book, this is not at all unlikely to imagine given the Roman propensity for innovation. Perhaps the book would have worked better if, instead of setting it in an alternate timeline, the author had simply sent a legion to the Americas. Why set it in the early twelve hundreds? Possibly to better fit with Native American cultures of the time but even so, the point remains that the Romans should have had some new tricks up their sleeves by 1218.

The main character is a Roman Praetor called Gaius Marcellinus and, without giving anything away (because it's on the back cover) his mission to find gold in Nova Hesperia takes a dramatic turn for the worse when his legion is annihilated by the native Cahokiani. What follows is a fairly run of the mill 'dancing with wolves' style story about a man trapped in another culture who comes to call it home. He is kept alive for his knowledge of warfare and the advancements in weapons that the Cahokiani could gain. I only have one slight problem with this and it is simply the fact that I'm not sure anyone would keep someone alive, for the sake of advice and training, from an army they had just wiped out. Crushingly. Decisively. But, if you can look past this seemingly unlikely situation (perhaps it's actually happened in the past), what unfolds is a richly detailed and decently written piece of fiction. Book one takes place across three years but Gaius seems to become one of the tribe within the first couple of months and develops a strong bond of loyalty to the Cahokiani long before what I would deem realistic.

Overall I would say that this book definitely falls into the category of light fiction and is to be taken with a pinch of salt and a good cup of tea in a cozy chair. There are no particularly challenging characters and I wouldn't say that this book addresses any of the great questions of mankind, as some speculative fiction is wont to do, but rather revels in action scenes and telling a fairly straightforward story (despite interesting developments towards the end).

I'd rate this as good holiday reading material and one for people who like warhammer/40K tie-in fiction.