The Confidence Men

This is a hugely entertaining and well told account of an extraordinary escape (of sorts) from a prisoner of war camp during WW1. It dips into the world of seance, spiritualism and magic, as well as being a detailed and evocative description of the reality on the ground during the Ottoman campaign. In a way, it also highlights the fragility of humankind’s grasp on reality and rationalism and how its collective mind can so easily be manipulated for the gain of others; something that is as relevant now as it ever was. 

Alan Wake 2

I played the first Alan Wake when it came out many years ago and quickly gave up on it. Repetitive and weird were my take homes on that one. I also played Control (a game set within the same universe as Alan Wake) and managed to finish it albeit having found it to be equally weird and lacking in enjoyment. 

Having seen people going mad about the new Alan Wake and having seen the glossy new graphics, I wondered perhaps whether the developers had learnt from the lessons that caused on the draw backs with the original. To an extent, they have. The fighting and encounter rate is far more restrained meaning there are far fewer long monotonous sections to wade through mindlessly. 

In principle, I enjoy the frequency of readable items that can be encountered throughout the richly rendered and realised world. You sense a ‘but’ coming on. 

It’s a big one. Alan Wake 2 is an ever-shifting dreamlike trip of a game. For some that may appeal but certainly not to me. I personally find the mechanic of shifting perspectives and reality far to convenient a plot tool and it does not allow for any sense of connection to the landscape within which the game is played to develop. 

The plot is in there somewhere but the words and comments from the characters, whether spoken or written down are a garbled jumble of pretense and nonsense. Although on the face of it this is no doubt meant to sound mysterious and clever. Make no mistake, there is nothing clever about it. The solution to a Jonathan Creek episode is clever. The intricate relationships and interactions we see within the Last of Us games are clever. Alan Wake is not clever, no matter how much it likes to think it is. 

For me it got tedious very quickly. I simply didn’t become invested in any of the characters. It got bleak and weird almost immediately and never recovered. All the gloss in the world can’t take that away. The bits where one of the characters, Saga, profiles other characters in her mind seems to rely on the so called trendy stylism of the real footage of the actors swirling ethereally in the background (something that happened and annoyed me in Control as well) annoyed me no end. It’s a game in which the dialogue to substance ratio is uncommonly large. 

Before I completely tear into it to shreds, I suppose I have to give credit to the sequences where the song is playing in the background as Alan Wake runs around killing generic enemies which was kind of cool but also quite clunky and annoying. It was a lot better than the original. And… no that’s it. 

It seems to be an ever increasing theme in modern media at the moment – an overreliance on the lack of one reality, an obsession with multiverse and dimension shifting. To me this is lazy and misguided and the sooner everyone snaps out of it, the better. 

This game, particularly the dream-like Alan Wake sections, was a creepy ordeal of boredom and indifference that thinks it is far more intelligent that it actually is.

 

Ghost of Tsushima

Been holding off this one for a long time but after too many people gave it good reviews I finally succumbed. In some ways I wish I hadn’t. There is no doubt that this is a thoughtful, beautifully realised world that they have created. The combat in this game is a real strong point and is fun and satisfying. It quickly however, becomes quite repetitive. The world map is vast and there are long rides on a clunky horse to get from one place to the next with very little depth within that world to satisfy one’s curiosity. 

Red Dead redemption 2 has large areas to ride through but it works because you really feel part of the world and there is realism, variety and depth throughout, giving every patch of seemingly empty space through which one rides the potential to bring with it something new or useful. Ghost of Tsushima, for all its merits, is not remotely in the same league. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two games with RDR2 being, in my opinion right up there as a modern masterpiece. 

But I found myself quite early on resolving to just do what is necessary to move the story on so that I could finish the game and put if behind me. By any measure, that is not the sign of a game I would say I enjoyed. Many will disagree with me on this and I respect that. Like I said, it has many good features and its attempt to be different with the Haikus and meditations are to be commended but ultimately, it was not a game that worked for me. 

 

Resident Evil 4

Everyone seemed to have been going a bit mad over this game so I thought I would jump in. I never played the original so I was fresh to this remake. I enjoy resident evil games for their story exposition and puzzling features. The horror and suspense get me when the enemies are rationed and well utilised. 

I also like the mansion house type settings, full of documents and environmental story telling. 

None of that really features in RE4 which is probably why I hadn’t played it until now. Don’t get me wrong, it was ok but it was essentially still a shooter which I waded through dutifully, feeling the odd fleeting moments of satisfaction after killing certain bosses but ultimately with it all feeling a bit hollow. 

Clearly loads of people enjoyed this. I do wonder how many people actually enjoyed this as opposed to those who maybe enjoyed it because psychologically they felt they should enjoy it given the hype. Give me a more atmospheric, measured and plausible horror game any day; one with depth and intelligence and that doesn’t rely on the fantastical and the bizarre.

Madison

This is a hell of a scary game. I mean some actual jump and screaming out loud moments. Your character finds himself in a sort of haunted house setting but soon, reality starts shifting around him and it becomes clear there is an evil entity against which he must resist. 

The setting and atmosphere is spot on and, while I’m not keen generally on things that alter and shift reality (I think it’s a bit of a lazy and simple technique that suspends disbelieve) it kind of really works here. There are some genuinely sinister moments. Plus there are puzzles which I love in this sort of game. 

If you fancy solving some puzzles and getting underwear soilingly scared, this is worth a play.

The Enigma of Room 622

 

I enjoyed The Harry Quebert Affair so the prospect of a mystery room in a hotel complete with intrigue and murder from the same author appealed to me. It takes the form of an author (supposedly Joel Dicker himself) staying at the aformentioned hotel where he stumbles upon a murder mystery which must be solved.

However, this aspect for me didn’t ever quite work. It seemed to me as if he never quite worked out how to juggle his sections with the retrospective telling of the actual story and in the end, it almost gave the impression of him almost adding in superfluous half-chapters at various stages at the end of the writing process having forgotten how he had set it all up. 

The book could have been redeemed if only for this but unfortunately it misfires for other reasons too. For a start, it is far too long. The build up to the murder, the victim of which we discover about four fifths of the way through, is painfully slow. Much of the detail is unnecessary and mundane. Which is a shame as the last fifth is genuinely clever and full of twists. That said the whole thing could have been far slicker and more concise and it would have lost nothing. Indeed it would have gained from the streamlining process. 

Finally, and most crucially, the writing just wasn’t very good. Now I am aware that the book is a translation from its original French. Impossible to know whether this is the problem or not but it really does read like a summary. The whole way through. The language is so simple and there is next to no description. As such it just got quite boring. 

Had this been shorter, it might have worked but ultimately, there are better books out there to spend your time reading. 

The Murder Game

This is a murder mystery set over new years which I somehow managed to read inadvertently over new years! I enjoyed Hindle’s first book – A Fatal Crossing – so was keen to see what this one was like. Perhaps not quite as good this one but still an enjoyable traditional murder mystery with all the twists and turns one expect with a group of suspects stuck in an old hotel together. It didn’t try anything particularly new but if you like a good old fashioned Agatha Christie style whodunnit, you will probably enjoy this. 

The Romantic

This one I had been saving up and it did not disappoint. While it didn’t have quite as great an impact as Any Human Heart had on me, it was nevertheless a masterclass in writing. Every word counts with William Boyd. The story is as exciting and imaginative as it is enthralling. The fact that the events through which the main character lives and the situations in which he finds himself throughout his long life seem almost far fetched only heighten the entertainment value. Still, Boyd always manages to haul it back from being totally unbelievable. Perhaps this is because of the very real frailties and tragedies of a long life that he sows into the narrative along the way making this a hugely wise and thought provoking novel. 

The Shortest History of England

Fresh from reading Powers and Thrones, my thirst for history had not yet been quenched. And so I thought a quick recap on some aspects of history would be useful. This book is short and perhaps not quite as good as I had hoped. This really is a whistle-stop tour of English history and one that, I think, could have been executed a bit better. At times, threads didn’t tie together as well as they might have, leaving the text a bit all over the place. Condensing such a vast body of information into such a short book is no easy feat but I still felt a little let down with this one. 

Powers and Thrones

 

This is a big old book and had sat on my bookshelf for quite some time before I decided to tackle it. I’m glad I did. For a subject with the potential to overwhelm itself, Dan Jones writes with a flow and clarity that really brings the period to life and carries you along with ease. At no point did I get a bit bored. It was a fascinating journey that filled in more than a few gaps in my knowledge of the time.