The Loneliest Woman in the World

A silly little story for you, hope you enjoy it.

 

She sat alone in her living room, the loneliest woman in the world. Her name was Mary but that was barely important anymore, very few people knew her name and those who did had no desire to speak to her. She watched the television, her face devoid of emotion, her heart empty, waiting patiently until she was able to sleep and forget her misery for a few hours at least.

It was not long ago that she was happy, her life was full of joy and satisfaction. She had a loving husband, two children both ready to make their own way in the world, a job that she enjoyed. Her life was comfortable and she had little care in the world.

It is said that all good things must come to an end but Mary could never have predicted how suddenly and how dramatically her life would shatter. It is always a shock to hear that your husband of twenty seven years has realised that he is actually gay and that he has lived a lie his entire life.

To say Mary was shocked, though, is to do her feelings a great injustice. She was devastated, felt betrayed, felt angry and for a long the arguments went back and forth. Yet she still loved the man and wanted to support him as much as she could. Perhaps if things had stayed this way then Mary’s life might not have been irrepairably damaged.

Things are never simple, as was proved when her husband met his boyfriend. The new, and indeed first, boyfriend was a venemous lawyer with a sudden and instant prejudice towards Mary. He insinuated himself into their separation and began to create such a devastating campaign against her that even her own children began to grow distant. As time went by she became entitled to less and less and, in the eyes of her family, became a figure to be reviled.

Before her husband’s boyfriend had managed to convince friends, family, and the court that Mary was practically guilty of war crimes, she relented and all ties to her old life were severed. She was forced to leave her home and, with the memories becoming too painful, elected to leave the town in which she lived.

She moved to a small house in the countryside, barely adequate for her needs, all alone and with no one she knew nearby. She hoped that she might start a new life though she was not as young as she was. She found it very difficult to make new friends and, finding the commute to her job too difficult, was forced to find work elsewhere.

The office in which she now worked was humourless and filled with row after row of cubicles. It was almost impossible for Mary to chat with the people even in the adjacent cell. On her lunchbreak she sat by herself, after many failed attempts to join the various social groups that seemed to exist in the office.

Her home life was no better. With her husband and children refusing to speak to her she tried to make new friends. She tried to join a local dance club but they always seemed to forget about her and she became frustrated. She tried to join a book club but after her third time visiting she was sick of being interrupted and ignored and even, on one occasion, not told when the meeting was cancelled.

On the few occasions that she met the postman he always asked her the same question:

“So, have you just moved to the area?”

There was a local shop at which a young girl worked who prided herself on being a people person, always remembering a face and always having a kind word to say. She had introduced herself to Mary for the fourth time only yesterday and yet again Mary had introduced herself too.

So now Mary sat in her living room, watching the end of the latest drab viewer voting talent show, barely registering anything. All she waited for was the chance to go to sleep so that tomorrow could come and the same thing could happen. Then, in a cracked voice little more than a whisper, she said a word.

To truly gauge the complexity, the intricacy, and the true meaning of this word would take page after page of letters and annotation that would throttle in the throat of even the greatest linguist. To a casual listener it sounded something like “Phweal” but that does not do the word justice for this word can only be said by someone at the very depths of loneliness and despair.

As Mary uttered this word something very odd happened. Her television set exploded. Fire erupted from the screen and soared around the room. The cheap wallpaper began to blaze and Mary, with a cry of terror, leapt for the door. Before she was within ten feet of the frame fire leapt before her, barring the only exit to the room. Desperately she looked to the windows, prepared to leap for freedom, but there too the fire blazed.

In horror she saw the fire around her television screen soar up and become an arch of flame. There was a shimmer in the air and something stepped out of the fire towards her.

It stood almost seven feet tall and clad in scraps of black armour. Its skin was the deep red of blood and its eyes were of a lizard, if a lizard ever truly could look as malevolent as this being. Its fingers were long and ended in wicked claws as sharp as razors. It raised a hand now and pointed a claw at Mary.

“You, Mortal!” It intoned in a voice as deep and forbidding as the deepest depths of the ocean, “You have spoken one of the ancient words lost to the tongue of Men. It is a sign to me to find you. I require a mortal to join me in my campaign against the forces of light. You shall help lead the endless armies of the damned in glorious conquest. What say you?”

Now Mary has some moral qualms about accepting such an offer. She was not religious herself, though her mother had been a devout member of the Church of England all her days, but deep down she felt that it probably wasn’t on to accept an offer to join the forces of what she could only describe as a demon. Not only that but it led to some fundamental questions about the nature of the universe.

Mary was about to open her mouth to make a few choice enquiries but stopped herself. She did want to try new things and meet new people. It hadn’t worked so far in this world so perhaps it would be no bad thing to attempt to make some friends in the lower planes of existence. Besides, hadn’t she always told her children ‘Never judge a book by its cover’? The creature before her may look like an unstoppable juggernaut of evil but maybe he was nice when you got to know him. It was always worth giving someone a chance.

“Ok,” she said, “I’ll give it a go.”

The creature laughed a rich, booming laugh, and waved a hand. Before him a sword appeared in the air, the blade as black as midnight and wickedly curved. He grasped it and proffered the handle towards Mary who took it carefully, for she had never held a sword before. Then the creature snapped its fingers and both he and Mary vanished from the mortal plane and she was never seen again.

In the coming months Mary made quite a name for herself as one willing to throw herself into battle with little regard for her own safety. There was no rage so great as that of a repressed middle aged woman and her foes fled before her. At first she impressed the many denizens of the underworld, the goblins, the orcs, the demons, the hellhounds, and all of the dark host; but soon this turned into a deep respect and, finally, to love and adoration. She became known as the Night Mistress and her name was chanted from darkest cavern to deepest tomb. All below knew her and loved her and Mary, for the first time in a long while, felt this love.

And the moral of the story is that love, respect, and admiration may be found in the most unlikely of places.

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Top 5 Game Beginnings

A strong beginning can carry a game, it’s what will make someone excited for what to come while at the same time helping teach the player about the world, how to interact with it, and their role in it. For the purposes of this little article I’m being vague about my definition of the ‘beginning’ of a game. I’m mostly going for the opening sequences and that little tutorial section that exists in pretty much every modern game, where it teaches you what to do. So let’s go ahead with the top 5 beginnings:

 

Number 5

Fallout 3

Bethesda are pretty famous for the opening sequences to their games. They like to create a pretty dramatic starter and generally it does a good job of getting you into the story. Unfortunately they also have a tendency of creating some of the most boring tutorial sections ever. The opening to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, is excellent from a narrative view but oh my did I ever just download a mod to skip it as soon as I could.

Fallout 3, for me, is the exception to it. For those that don’t know the Fallout series is set in an alternate history post apocalyptic game where you’ll spend most of your time scavenging the wastelands of America shooting raiders, super mutants, and giant scorpions. Fallout 3 begins with your character being born, which is awesome! It the proceeds with your childhood growing up with your dad, played by Liam Neeson.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

I think this is what makes Fallout 3’s opening better than it’s sequel, Fallout: New Vegas. It gives you a much greater attachment to your character because you are there during their life. Yes the same thing will happen all the time with only minor changes, the robot will always mess up the cake and you’ll always get a BB gun from your dad. But it just gives this real impetus to continue the story. When stuff inevitably goes wrong it does feel important and exciting. It also gives a very good reason why an adult knows so little of the world around them. It makes sense that you constantly have to ask who Three-Dog or the Enclave are if you’ve spent your life in a vault.

Fallout 3 is probably my favourite beginning to a Bethesda game, better even than Morrowind, and is probably the only one that I don’t try and find a way to skip. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it sets a good tone, what more could you ask for?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

 

Number 4

Dark Souls

I have struggled with Dark Souls, and not just because it’s meant to be very hard. I keep going back to it but I find it difficult to get my head around all the mechanics and working out exactly how I want to play the game. Before I started playing it (and watching Vinny from Giant Bomb play it) all I really knew about Dark Souls was that it’s hard. What I didn’t know was that it has an awesome opening cinematic! I’m serious I haven’t been so impressed by an opening cinematic for a long while.

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

I think I was just impressed by the lore involved in everything. The opening cinematic really kicks you into this hostile world and gives you an idea of exactly what sort of fantasy scale you’re dealing with here. Beyond the opening cinematic the tutorial area is pretty good at teaching you about the game but did not impress me as much as this first scene. That’s why I put it lower on this list, if the tutorial built on how amazing the opening scene is then it would have been one of the best beginnings ever. But as it stands I found the whole Undead Asylum thing didn’t quite grab me as much as I’d hoped.

I’m sure I’ll keep going back as I’m still trying to find my playstyle for Dark Souls which requires making lots of different characters. I don’t know what sort I’ll end up with but I do know that I will watch that opening scene in full every time.

I did have someone laugh out loud at that line.

And a shout out for the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten!

 

Number 3

Alice: Madness Returns

So I’ve already reviewed Alice: Madness Returns so you may well know my opinion on it. Objectively it’s a pretty good game but has some glaring problems. Subjectively however I would consider it one of my favourite games of all time. Pretty much everything just works and I have so much fun with it. It’s also one of the few games that I am pretty determined to complete 100%. The beginning of the game gives you a very good idea of what to expect from it, it’s big, it’s confusing, it’s disturbing, and more than a little scary. It is a bit of a slow burning beginning, really letting you get into the setting and style before actually giving you any real gameplay.

For some people this may be a point against it but Alice pulls off the grimy setting of London, the bizarre nature of Wonderland, and the fear and unsettling images that Alice is suffering from. The very first scene is pretty disturbing and those not knowing what sort of game they’ve let themselves in for may be seriously unsettled but I think it fits the game perfectly.

Yeah it's only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing... I'm not joking.

Yeah it’s only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing… I’m not joking.

After this scene you get a fairly long sequence of Alice’s London which is gritty and dirty and full of grotesque character models. It’s pretty glorious and in a way reflects Alice’s disgust with the world around her. There are also a few very subtle clues to the game’s conclusion which, when looked at during a second playthrough, are pretty clever. When you get to the actual gameplay the game still does well at keeping a good tone and pace. People who didn’t play the original American McGee’s Alice may find references going over their heads and may well become confused by the references and character changes. But to these people I say that you should play the original game. Find some way to get it and play it because it is an excellent game as well and well worth it.

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin'

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin’

 

Number 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The very first thing I reviewed on this site and another of my favourite games. The opening scene of XCOM sets up the admittedly simple story beautifully. You have aliens, scared people, and the para-military organisation set up to the stop the invaders from space. The opening cutscene is good enough but the great thing about XCOM is that the tutorial mission really builds on what you’ve already seen.

What's that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? ... Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

What’s that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? … Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

Yeah you shouldn’t get attached to the soldiers on the tutorial mission because XCOM is almost as punishing as Dark Souls. The first mission shows you exactly how vulnerable your soldiers are and how likely they are to die: very and very. The only real problem with the tutorial is that it’s a great scene that I want to see again but it does last for such a long time and beyond the first mission I just want to get on with the game. There is an option to just start with a random mission and forget the tutorial entirely but I really love that scene with the first contact and the sectoids appearing, it’s brilliant.

To be honest there’s not much more to say than that. XCOM’s opening really gets you in the mood of the commander and prepares you for a lot of tense moments and, of course, vast quantities of death to come.

 

Hidin' behind this pillar, mind controllin' yo friends!

Hidin’ behind this pillar, mind controllin’ yo friends!

 

And Number 1

Bioshock

Oh my but the Bioshock series is excellent. Good gameplay, thought provoking themes, fantastic environments. The Bioshock franchise has always been viewed with excitement and interest. To my shame I still have not been able to acquire a copy of Bioshock Infintie but I have heard excellent things about it. But it is the first Bioshock game that I want to talk about here. I remember seeing Bioshock for the first time, it was amazing. Going into the lighthouse and heading down into Rapture, hearing Andrew Ryan talk about the ideals behind the underwater city, only to discover the place in chaos and filled with some pretty terrifying enemies.

The opening to Bioshock is wonderful and it is creepy. The first introduction to the Splicers made me not want to leave the safety of the Bathysphere and it is only because of the comfortingly sane voice of Atlas that you feel at least a little safe leaving in search of ‘a crowbar or something…’ What you might call the tutorial section doesn’t last particularly long because most of the gameplay is pretty easy to explain. What Bioshock does better than many other games is how it draws you into its world.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

The first view of Rapture is one of the most iconic parts of the series and this is a series with more than a few iconic moments. Then once you start playing you quickly learn that you’re pretty much alone here in Rapture and this is a very dangerous place. This doesn’t mean it’s as punishing as Dark Souls or XCOM. No, what Bioshock does well is that it keeps you tense but at the same time shows you exactly what to do to beat the game. There aren’t heaps of nuances to learn in order to master it. You don’t have to learn what Poise does or that not getting into cover is a death sentence. You learn that these are your plasmids, these are your weapons, those nasty looking people over there are the enemy, knock yourself, or preferably them, out.

It’s a game that’s very easy to pick up and that’s why the beginning is so streamlined, you’re not spending hours being taught exactly how to play the game because the mechanics are very easy to learn. The game teaches you as you go along by letting you experiment with plasmids and weapons and combinations of the two, it doesn’t lead you by the hand and it doesn’t leave you completely alone. You know enough to enjoy it. Add this to an absolutely beautiful art style and atmospheric introduction and you have, in my opinion, the best opening to a game.

If Big Daddy is watching you then it's probably best to just cut your losses and leave... until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

If Big Daddy is watching you then it’s probably best to just cut your losses and leave… until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

The Lonely Man

I’ve published another short horror story so if you enjoyed The Quiet House then why not have a look at this one. It’s available both on Smashwords and Amazon (so it’s easier to get to) and costs about a dollar or regional equivalent (Links below). There are samples available on both sites so why not check it out?

I think it’s creepier and scarier than the last one, I’m quite proud of how it turned out. I’ve got ideas for many more so if you enjoy it there’ll be plenty to come as well. Thank you.

The Lonely Man

Amazon Link (UK)

Amazon Link (US)

Smashwords Link

The Night of the Rabbit

Come with me for an adventure of such whimsy! Yes the whimsy is strong with this one! Magic! Adventure! Animal People! Vague environmentalist messages! …. WHIMSY!!!

Daedalic Entertainment are an interesting company that produces interesting games. It doesn’t always work but they’re always interesting one way or another. I’ve already reviewed A New Beginning which is, as far as I’m concerned, a complete disaster. I started Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes but for reasons totally unconnected to the game I haven’t been able to do much of it. What I’ve seen, however, I’ve enjoyed. Daedalic have this very weird blend of excellent games paired with some pretty terrible ones. It’s always clear that a lot of work has gone into their world building but in A New Beginning this came at a serious price.

The Night of the Rabbit is a point and click adventure starring Jeremiah Hazelnut, a boy with a dream of one day becoming a magician. He seems to live this idyllic life in a little cottage with his mother just on the edge of a city and is quite obsessed with adventuring in the countryside. One day he receives a mysterious letter and, after performing a magical ritual, summons the Marquis de Hoto, an anthropomorphic rabbit with big red eyes, who says that he is a magician/wizard/treewalker who would like to take young Jerry on as an apprentice. Of course Jeremiah accepts and is taken to a world of other anthropomorphic animals. Jeremiah begins his training to become a magician but along the way discovers that the world is in danger and he must use his newfound magic to save it.

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Now normally I have very little to say about the gameplay of point and click games because it’s always the same, it just depends on how well the puzzles are crafted. Daedalic seemed to decide that they wanted to do things a little differently and as such introduced quite a few mechanics to the game to break up traditional puzzle solving, they’ve also really streamlined how you interact with everything. There’s a day/night cycle for one thing that you can switch between in order to find new items and speak to people in different situations. There are also magic spells you can use to further the backstory as well as tools to solve puzzles. The unfortunate thing is that as the game goes on these mechanics become less and less useful to some of the later spells have one or two uses in the entire game. You would think that a spell that can create illusions would be fun and useful but it has about two uses in the whole game. The puzzles themselves are well crafted, with a few real headscratchers put in there for good measure.

The story is well told and there is a ton of backstory to find. The joke I made at the beginning about the amount of whimsy in it is quite apt. This game is absolutely full of whimsy. This is a game where the line “On a day in Summer Vacation anything is possible!” is said multiple times and is said seriously. But you know what? It really works, it’s not embarrassing, it’s just funny. Whether or not this is intentional is hard to know but if it works then why question it? The story itself is pretty well told and does build to a really epic conclusion. It’s a shame then that a lot of the ending is taken up with a massive, and I do mean massive, exposition dump. This is probably what the game does least well in terms of storytelling, there are some great long sections of explanation and exposition which could have been told in a more natural way.

Hang on, hang on! I think I've got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Hang on, hang on! I think I’ve got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Some of the earlier parts of the game don’t feel like they measure up to the epic nature of the ending. Particularly, I think, the relationship between Jerry and the Marquis. The Marquis is incredibly important to the plot but he and Jerry actually interact surprisingly little. You can talk to him through most of the game but he pretty much says the exact same thing each time and can remind you of your objectives. It feels like he and Jerry should have had more screen time and developed a relationship. For one thing I think it would have added deeper levels to the finale.

To be honest I think this is a criticism I have with many modern adventure games. They don’t tend to build up character relationships enough. The reason that The Walking Dead worked so well was that you actually cared about Clementine, she and Lee have a really deep relationship that the player is invested in. I think that many games want to create this sort of relationship but aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to actually pull it off.

This is probably the biggest complaint I have in the story, Jerry and the Marquis should have developed their relationship to a much deeper level in the story.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

The art of the game is pretty brilliant, the sets are excellent and the characters look really interesting. It’s something that does make an adventure game that much more fun, actually enjoying what you’re looking at. I don’t think there was a single set that wasn’t interesting for one reason or another.

For those who enjoy collectibles there are a ton of them in this game, many of which have a bit of an impact on the story. Some of them are more frustrating than others and I did give up on some. Some of them tie directly into the story, giving hints and clues, while others are just collectibles. One such collectible are a series of playing cards which you can use to challenge pretty much everyone to a game of Quartets (basically Go Fish!). This does get boring very, very quickly, and has little to impact the plot. It’s just a little side thing that some people might find enjoyable but I thought fell flat.

Now I can’t finish my review without talking about the game’s environmentalist message. Yes, it has one. Don’t ignore it because of that, it’s not like A New Beginning. For the most part the game is pretty subtle about it and does a good job of critiquing many things about modern life, such as instant gratification and false spiritualism, and the environmentalist message plays into it. There are a couple of moments, however, when it becomes quite heavy handed and annoying. Some giant moths start talking about a terrible flood of stick grey fluid that is evil and destructive… yes, cement. They also talk about this foul smelling mountain that caused some creatures to start acting crazy… a landfill. It’s not bad but it gets a bit heavy handed at those points to an eye-rolling level. I think they could have left those bits out and kept the environmentalism stuff subtle.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

The game is, in my opinion, a bit pricey for what it is, it’s $20 or £16.99. For an adventure game like this I would say that’s a bit much, it’s really a game to get when it’s on sale and I don’t doubt it will be sooner or later.

I enjoyed Night of the Rabbit, it’s fun and interesting and is taking point and click games into interesting directions mechanically. I really like the world that has been created and while I don’t know if a direct sequel would work I would really enjoy seeing more games in the same universe. The ending does turn into this spiral of awesomeness that I would like to see expanded upon but I doubt that we’ll see this sort of thing again. Daedalic like to create universes and then leave them unless there’s a direct sequel. So I would like to see more but I’m not holding my breath. Still, the game is good, if pricey, and I am glad I played it.

image011

Also is Churchmouse Jr. real or is Churchmouse Senior just insane? I just can’t tell!

 

I’m Published Again!

Hello to my blog readers. Things have been up and down since moving halfway across the country which is why I’m still not in the habit of posting here. But I can tell you that I have been working on a new project which I hope you’ll be interested in.

For a long time I’ve enjoyed the works of M.R. James. For those of you who don’t know M.R. James then you should know he was one of the most prolific Victorian writers of ghost stories. In fact the popular image of a ghost as a sheet actually comes from his works. I really enjoy Victorian ghost stories and since playing The Last Door I have taken it upon myself to start writing my own.

They’ll be published fairly regularly and I will be posting on here when they are published. At the moment there is one available on Smashwords for free! Yes at no cost at all you can have a read of some of my work right on this fancy hyperlink here or at the one below.

You can download it in a number of formats best to suit you or just have a read on the site. 

My first story is The Quiet House and is set in modern day London. Joe, a recent graduate, has moved into a new house that is unnaturally silent. Soon strange things start to happen and he begins to suspect that he is not the only one in the flat. 

If you’re into horror then have a read, there’ll be plenty more in the coming weeks.

 

The Quiet House

the-quiet-house-cover_edited-1

Film Rant Time: Kick-Ass 2

Despite the name I’m not always going to use this feature to talk about things I don’t like. There are a lot of ‘review’ shows and blogs about that mostly talk about how rubbish a particular thing is with maybe a last few words suddenly saying “I actually liked this.” It becomes less of a review and more a ‘how comically angry can I get about this?’ game. I already talk about many games that I like so I would like to extend this to films as well. I like the feature name but this will be less ranty and more… critiquey?

So let’s get down to business (to defeat…) and talk about Kick-Ass 2. 

The idea of superheroes in the real world is not really an original concept. It’s been done a number or times, most notably with Alan Moore’s excellent series Watchmen. Kick-Ass, created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is this idea of realistic superheroes taken to gritty, dark, and depressing extremes. I say this mostly about the comic, for those who have only seen the film trust me when I say they lighten it up so much. 

Kick-Ass is about American high-school student Dave Lizewski, played in the films by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who one day decides that he wants to try and be a superhero despite no skills or real motivation. As is to be expected he is mostly a complete failure, getting beaten nearly to death a number of times while mostly only managing to help a small number of people on a very superficial level. But that’s okay because it’s more about the fantasy of the new persona for Dave, since in his normal life he is nerdy, unpopular, and has a hopeless crush on the token ‘hottest-girl-in-school’ (Yes it’s clichéd). Unbeknownst to Dave, however, there is in fact already a real superhero duo and they do have the skills, the equipment, and the training: Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.

If you haven’t already seen the first film and you think you might enjoy it then I do recommend it. It’s not even nearly as depressing as the comic and has this interesting mix of horrific scenes, ironic humour, and straight up goofiness. It’s fun and it’s odd. I’m now going to talk about the sequel which takes place a little after the end of the first film and is, in part, about Hit-Girl attempting to regain her childhood and reintegrate into society. As with Elysium I will keep the spoilers to a minimum until I mark the spoilers section. Oh and if you’re offended by bad language then you may not want to read on as I will not be censoring any of the names.

They're here to fight crime and get beat up... at least one of them is.

They’re here to fight crime and get beat up… at least one of them is.

Visuals

Like the original the film has this blend of bright and dark in its visual style. The costumes of the many (and I do mean many) supporting heroes are bright, campy, and ridiculous. In normal Kick-Ass style this is set against more gloomy and dull images of the city and makes more a nice, if sometimes cringe-worthy, contrast. It’s meant to look realistic and as we all know realistic means gritty so that’s what most of the real world parts look like. 

The fight scenes (of which there are many) are well choreographed and interesting to watch, with the usual high intensity of blood that anyone who has seen the first film or read any of the comics should have come to expect. There’s also a surprising amount of bodily fluid scenes. Kick-Ass 2 definitely takes a leaf out of the adolescent and gross out humour which the first film lacked. There are numerous instances of vomiting and one of electrically induced diarrhoea, I’m not kidding. It’s a little bit cheap and it’s a shame. It’s one of the main differences between the humour of  first and second film, the first had a little bit of cringey humour but mostly derived it from the really odd circumstances being portrayed. The second goes much more for poop jokes, masturbation jokes, penis jokes, and impotence jokes too. It does certainly feel a lot cheaper than the first which was by no means high brow already.

One thing that I kept noticing throughout the film was how careful the film team had been in concealing Dave Lizewski’s body. Considering in part the film is about Kick-Ass actually training and becoming, you know, a superhero I was just waiting for the Captain America ‘Suddenly MUSCLES EVERYWHERE’ moment and it most certainly arrives.

But you'll have to wait and see it! Or... I don't know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with 'Shirtless' as a possible refined search.

But you’ll have to wait and see it! Or… I don’t know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with ‘Shirtless’ as a possible refined search.

Characters

Most of the characters in the sequel have been set up in the first film. Dave Lizewski is still a high-school loser to a degree (they play it up a bit more at random points) and Mindy Macready is still the Rorschach of this drama. Perhaps a bit more of an emotional one. Some of the characters from the first film get a bit more of a starring role, most notably Dave’s nerdy high school friends who get their own little character arcs. Some others drop off the map completely, in this case Dave’s girlfriend Katie who has one scene where she breaks up with Dave over a misunderstanding, makes a penis size joke and then promptly disappears from the plot.

The character of Red Mist/Chris D’Amico also returns, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprising his role. He gets promoted to the role of primary antagonist after an incident involving a tanning bed, a set of bondage toys, a couple of guns, and his mother, which leads him to become the world’s first supervillain, dubbing himself The Motherfucker… don’t ask. He recruits a number of henchman into his group known as the Toxic Mega Cunts, and he proceeds to generally give racially insensitive villain names to all of them. They are really enjoyable to watch and I can’t help but feel the actors protraying them were trying to have a lot of fun. Similarly the supporting hero cast also have a chance to shine with some bizarre and entertaining names and origins. Notable names include Donald Faison as the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity and Jim Carrey as the ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes.

The acting is pretty spectacular and remains entertaining throughout. It really does feel like people were having fun with their roles even during some of the more intense moments. I should also mention a little cameo appearance of Iain Glen who plays Chris D’Amico’s uncle and, technically, the leader of the D’Amico family now. For anyone not familiar with the name Iain Glen then you might remember him as Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones. I kept waiting for his accent to slip and for him to say “Khaleesi”.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

Plot

You know what, I was really surprised by the plot here. The trailers made me think that the plot was going to be Hit-Girl struggling to adapt to life in high-school while Dave Lizewski tries to turn her away from her past as Hit-Girl. Maybe that’s just me but that trailers certainly made me think that. Turns out I was wrong, it’s the reverse. Dave is bored with his life again and wants to go back to being Kick-Ass and is encouraging Mindy to stay as Hit-Girl. Most of the plot is about the consequences of trying to be superheroes in the real world, just like the first, but with the added danger of the creation of The Motherfucker, the world’s first supervillain.

It sounds, when written down, that it’s just a re-hash of the first plot but there’s enough variety and twists and new character development (and bodily fluid jokes) to feel like a very different beast from the original. The moments where Mindy manages to ingratiate her way into high-school life are very entertaining, mostly due to her reactions to the various situations.

Down this road leads only to spoilers, that and Castle Vampire

The main motivation of Chris D’Amico, aka The Motherfucker, is his hatred of Kick-Ass. After the events of the first film he wants revenge over the death of his father and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Kick-Ass himself has been training with Hit-Girl but she is forced to give up that life once again as her adoptive father does not want her to continue life as Hit-Girl but rather to try and grow up normal. Kick-Ass is despondent at losing his partner and thus starts teaming up with likewise “superheroes” many of whom are even more pathetic than he. As the film progresses we see Mindy try and live a Hollywood high-school life and, ultimately, pay the price. These bits are quite entertaining, particularly a brilliant scene with a One Direction rip off that is weirdly hilarious. But the main thing we want to see a Kick-Ass film is for are the superheroes. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint here as Kick-Ass’ team quickly grows to a huge number, 

But The Motherfucker has also been creating an army and beings to wipe out police and costumed heroes alike, just to get back at Kick-Ass. As a result costumed vigilantes are all arrested in a very Keene Act way and Dave Lizewski’s dad admits to being Kick-Ass in order to protect his son. The Motherfucker, continuing his revenge plot, arranges to have Dave’s dad murdered while in custody. As a result Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the remaining superheroes team up once more to fight The Motherfucker and his henchmen.

It’s quite a standard superhero plot with the realism touches that really make it interesting. There are a few duff scenes, mostly the ones with the cheap jokes, and, bizarrely, the most unrealistic scene is the “revenge” scene of the popular high-school girls. It’s odd considering the subject matter that this is the most unrealistic scene.

You’ve survived the spoilers, well done.

The Motherfucker's costume... it's not subtle

The Motherfucker’s costume… it’s not subtle

Themes

Themes of a Kick-Ass film… well I know I’ve gone on about it so far but the main theme of the film is the realistic depiction of superheroes. Many characters start talking about how this sort of thing doesn’t work in “real life” and that people like Dave and Mindy should just try to lead normal lives. But ultimately the film is at odds with its own ideas as its portrayal of real life is pretty unrealistic. The high-school life is a complete Hollywood idea of high-school with all its fun archetypes. I’m not American so I don’t know how realistic these ideas are but I can’t imagine they’re particularly close to reality.

But Kick-Ass has always excelled when it comes to the reality of superheroism and the consequences of leading such a life. So the film does a very good job of showing that while it is cool, which is undoubtedly is, it has unique problems to do with how to merge your life with and without the mask, the dangers you face yourself, and ultimately how it affects your relationships with other people. Kick-Ass 2 does a good job of exploring these themes further, it just falls short when it comes to portraying normal life. Maybe that’s a bit strange but I think the film just does the bizarre better than the mundane.

This is Mother Russia, she's basically the Bane of the film

This is Mother Russia, she’s basically the Bane of the film

Final Impressions

If you really enjoyed Kick-Ass then you will probably enjoy the sequel but might find there are some real disappointments in store. It’s still entertaining and the fight scenes are brilliant but it’s a more heavily flawed gem than its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it bad, not at all, because I enjoyed it immensely but I think that for the potential third film they should stick mostly with the heroes and villains and stay away from the issues of ‘real-life’. Oh and they should move away from the vulgar humour. The only reason that I enjoyed those scenes was that someone in the front row of the cinema seemed to really enjoy them and had a very distinctive laugh. 

So it’s a good film that maybe needed a bit more polish before being sent out. Still enjoyable even for its flaws.

Oh all right, here you go.

Oh all right, here you go.

SolForge

Well it’s happened, I’m all moved in to my new place in a completely different part of the country and I have internet back. So now I think it’s time for me to tell you about a free to play game that I’ve been having a lot of fun with.

I’m a big fan of board and card games (if only I could find more people to play with) and I like being able to build a good deck. SolForge is a Collectible Card Game Video Game. For those who don’t know the difference between a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and a Living Card Game (LCG) a very rough guide to the differences between the two: Living card games are generally bought in large packs and with regularly released expansions. They contain the full set of cards required to play the game. Collectible Card Games normally release starter packs and then require you to buy booster packs and get lucky to get some of the cards you want. LCGs are more expensive as a rule but you have that certainty of knowing you’ll get all the cards you want while CCGs are cheaper but can work out quite pricey with bad luck.

Stone Blade Entertainment’s SolForge, however, is a free-to-play CCG and so is quite interesting. An overview of how it works: In SolForge the players have to play cards in order to defeat enemy cards and bring the opponent’s health from 100 down to 0. As you play the game your cards start out quite weak but every time you play one it levels up and the next time it appears in your hand to play it will be much stronger. These cards fall into two categories, creatures can be played in your lanes and act as your units, attacking the opponent and their cards whilst defending you. Secondly you have spells that you play to provide bonuses to yourself or weaken the enemy.

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

You can customize the decks you use quite freely, being able to choose thirty cards and two out of the four races available in the game. They each suit a different play style and can be combined to create some very interesting combinations. Some races can flood the battlefield with units, others can be levelled to become practically unkillable, some utilise spells more. It’s a game where you can really adjust your style. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with the races to try and work out what’s best for you.

Each race is pretty unique from the abilities to the art and let me tell you that the art in this game is pretty amazing. Each card has a little image that changes and advances as the creature levels. The design is impressive making it a lot of fun to look through the cards and their various forms.

The game is far from perfect, the wording on some of the cards can require a second or third reading before you actually understand what it means. It just makes it a little clunky which is unfortunate. There is also quite a heavy reliance on luck. Not only in getting the cards you want for your decks (which I’ll explain about later) but in having them show up at the right time. There is a skill in knowing how to level your deck but there are many times when the difference between winning and losing is just down to getting lucky with cards.

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

So how to get cards in a free-to-play? Well the free to play mechanic here is that you can spend real money to buy in-game gold which you use to purchase the various forms of booster packs. The more expensive the booster pack the more (and better) cards are inside. But you don’t have to fork over money if you want to get better cards. For those playing a purely free-to-play style then the game offers daily rewards for logging in, winning your first and third matches. You are rewarded for this in silver and in random cards or booster packs. Using silver you can only buy the basic booster packs and the skins for your game but the game is pretty generous with giving you the slightly upgraded booster pack too.

So the game can become more of a chore if you’re just trying to get some better cards. It’s like punching a time-card and waiting for the chance to get better things. If you’re looking for constant variety in your gameplay then you’ll either have to keep spending money or look elsewhere as the variety available without paying in SolForge may not be enough to keep you interested.

However the game is still in Beta with plans for a campaign and a tournament mode in the works. I look forward to the campaign because the lore that Stone Blade has created is very intricate but at the moment only available on their website. As it stands in current Beta you have the option of battling against the computer in three difficulties or against human opponents both off and online.

It’s free to play so there’s not much to lose by checking it out. If you’re a fan of deckbuilding games then you’ll probably have a fun time at least for a while. I look forward to seeing how the game develops and will keep trying to farm those booster packs.

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!