Game Reviews: ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ & ‘Gone Home’

I’m an unashamed fan of first person action shooters, the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games remain on my all time favourite games list. The recent additions to the CoD & MoH franchises have left me cold as the single player experience has been very lacking (I completed the new MoH in 24hrs over 2weeks) so I’ve been quite wary of recent shooters.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game which has been on my radar for some time, the original teaser trailer quickly got my interest and soon the reviews were praising the storyline. I played the demo and was sufficiently impressed with the game play so added it to my Steam wishlist and waited for it to be in a sale. Once there, I bought it and as I was still in the middle of my latest bout of serious Sims 3 addiction I left the game unplayed for some time.

Some reviews were critical of the graphics but not having a super-powered gaming laptop this has never particularly bothered me. I found the sand covered almost post-apocalyptic landscapes of Dubai and the beautifully designed hotel interiors very evocative and contributed greatly to the atmospheric corruption and decay. The environment was nicely destructive as well: cover is destroyed, you can shoot out the glass windows and drown your enemies in sand, grenades will kick up a sand cloud momentarily blinding everyone…

At times the battles are relentless and the two assistants didn’t seem to offer that much help but once you got the hang of the controls and learnt to use the environment to your advantage it soon got not quite as relentless. For some reason sprint & use cover are mapped to the same key and there’s no way of separating them so there were several moments when I wanted to get into cover but ended up sprinting into the heart of the battle.

On the surface there is nothing really separating this from any other shooter but what makes it stand out is the story. You’ve been sent to find out what happened to the 33rd, a company of soldiers who were sent to aid in the evacuation of Dubai, and continue the evacuation if possible. Upon arrival you’re attacked by local insurgents who seem locked in a battle with the remaining members of the 33rd. As you progress you find out more and more unsettling things to the point where you’re no longer sure whose side you are actually on. You see and take part in many, many terrible things and as you do so you find your character becoming more unhinged – his comments during battle become bizarre and his executions more extreme. The conclusion of the game shocked me greatly (in a good way).

For what could have been just an above average entry into the FPS canon, Spec Ops: The Line rises above with a truly engrossing and clever story.

At the complete opposite end of gaming is Gone Home a beautifully designed and construction interactive story. There are no monsters to kill or murderers to uncover but there is a lovely interactive environment where you can open cupboards, switch on/off lights and put on cassette tapes. You arrive home to find your house empty with a mysterious note from your sister telling you not to worry about her or look for her. As you walk around the house you find letters, notes and hints which reveal slowly reveal the story of the family. At times I was unnerved by the game and started to imagine I was going to discover something horrific around each corner. There are some reveals in the story which the game could have made more of as there was a lot going on but it all seemed shoved aside, there is a particular discovery about the original owner of the house which I feel could have had more of an impact but the story isn’t about him. Once you’ve discovered the story I don’t think the game has much replay value but it makes for a very engrossing hour or so and the mechanics themselves are very simple.

 

Stuck with Britain’s Worst Train Company

I am an unfortunate customer of Southeastern trains. I say ‘customer’ but I don’t actually have a choice in my rail service provider so I suppose I am a subject of Southeastern trains.

This year Southeastern have been crowned Britain’s Worst Train Company with only a 40% customer satisfaction rate. Southeastern hit back and said we’re only unhappy because we’re on the way to work. I’m usually unhappy I have to go to work using Southeastern trains, it’s only Wednesday and so far my train to work has been late every single day! It’s a surprise when things are actually running on time.

The biggest problem Southeastern trains have is their lack of communication. You don’t know if the train is delayed because the train is delayed or if all trains are delayed because of a bigger problem. Arriving at the platform to see ‘delayed’ on a much earlier train makes your heart sink as you now have to play the guessing game – is it just that one or is everything screwed? Should I start seeking an alternative route or is the next train going to be here? Do I risk waiting to see about the next train? If the next train does arrive do I still have enough time to get to where I need to be?

75% of Southeastern customers don’t bother to complain and of the 11% who do complain 55% of them are unhappy with how it was handled. I complained once about a journey which caused me to be very late for work (I only just made the start of the show) in response Southeastern gave me a voucher offering me £2 off a ticket for a future journey. At the time I was paying Southeastern £55 per week and a travelcard costs £7. I complained about this and only got a sorry you are unhappy letter.

This is supposed to be an age of communication, it’s even easier for companies to interact with their customer base and respond to concerns…unfortunately Southeastern are still trying to grasp smoke signals.  

Reminiscing

When I was young, I wanted to be a hedgehog.

I didn’t understand that the mantra “you can be whatever you want to be” had limits.

I don’t remember going through a phase where I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman. I don’t ever remember wanting to be something. Once, I wrote down that I wanted to be a cricket umpire as I was fed up of the teachers asking me! I wanted to shout “I’m only fourteen! I don’t know what I want to be!” and I think a lot of people have felt the same.

I’d been involved with youth theatre for many years but I definitely didn’t want to be a performer. I hadn’t really given much thought to how productions are put on and my experience with theatre was simply the annual pantomime at the Liverpool Everyman (it was a rock n’roll Liverpool themed panto – Rockin’ Robin and the Babes of Hale Wood will forever be cemented into my brain). I’d seen Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat but it hadn’t made a huge impression on me.

When I was fourteen, my school announced it was doing a trip to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I decided to go along and the moment the chandelier rose from the stage I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that - not the performing, I wanted to make the ‘magic’ happen. I briefly became a Phantom ‘Phan’ and scoured message boards for information about how it all happened and how you could do that for a living.

Eventually I found out about stage managers, lighting technicians and all sorts of wonderful technical positions.

At sixteen, I went to Preston College to study technical theatre. I’d been stage managing at the youth theatre for a good two years by then and hadn’t really explored the other aspects of theatre. I thought I wanted to be a stage manager and focused my first year on those roles. That first year was also the year I saw my first West End productions – We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre and Bombay Dreams at Apollo Victoria. The following year I was picked to light the big outside directed production, after a brief moment of panic and frustration because I’d never lit anything before I soon realised that I not only really enjoyed it but I was quite good. Going to see two more iconic West End productions (Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre and the Lion King at Lyceum Theatre) cemented my feelings about lighting.

I made the wrong choice in choosing to study stage management at drama school, I probably should have chosen lighting design or lighting production but if I had, I wouldn’t have met the person who got me my first West End job so I think I’ve been very lucky to have spent the last ten years working on several large scale West End productions.

I am still disappointed about the hedgehog thing though.

The Game We Play

480x608x72567_10152303195248117_972834758_n.jpg.pagespeed.ic.2CpEk4E_bDWell. It’s that time again. Time to dust off the ol’ CV and walk around the West End handing CVs to stage door keepers, hoping that you’ve got the timing just right so your CV is the first one the Chief sees.

The first show I worked on to get its notice was Dirty Dancing and I decided not to stay until the end. I took a job on a new musical called Lend Me a Tenor which unfortunately got its notice four months into the run – so far the only show I’ve opened and closed. The next show was The Wizard of Oz. We found out it was closing via the posters – no one ever actually came and told us that we were closing!

It’s a strange feeling when you do finally get confirmation that you’re going to be out of work. During the lead up to the actual meeting there are rumours flying around the theatre, the West End and annoyingly on message boards like Broadwayworld and WhatsonStage. When the announcement is made or the poster is put up at stage door letting you know there is a full company meeting you know what’s coming – now it’s really just a question of when.

Dirty Dancing got five months notice. Lend Me a Tenor got two weeks. I’m not sure what The Wizard of Oz was, I think the date went up on the posters maybe six months before. We Will Rock You has three months, which has been the biggest surprise. I always thought that WWRY would be the type of show to go out with a huge advertising campaign but things have changed a lot in the West End.

WWRY has been a fixture in the West End my entire professional working life and was the first West End production I ever saw (in 2002, not long after it opened)I never really thought that I’d end up not only working it but seeing it out at the end.

It’s going to be very strange going past the Dominion Theatre and not seeing Freddie.

Review: ‘Young Sherlock Holmes: Red Leech’ by Andrew Lane

Red Leech, Andrew Lane’s follow up to his first Young Sherlock Holmes novel pits Sherlock, Virginia and Matty once again against a man with an insane plan and a bizarre medical problem. This time the action takes place across the pond and we have no end to action scenes from young Sherlock battling away hand to hand in the engine room of a stream ship to escaping from a tank of monitor lizards. It’s all very preposterous and not quite as entertaining as the first. There’s some lovely little moments between Mycroft & Sherlock, and I do like young Matty but Virginia feels very redundant tagging along for no discernible reason.

Thoughts on the Holmes brothers

WS Barring-Gould created a third brother to explain why Mycroft was working in London and not home minding the country estate. Barring-Gould assumes two positions regarding this mysterious third brother:

1) The Holmes family are upperclass
2) there is a country estate

Sherlock refers to his ancestors as being country squires who lived much as country squires did. It’s entirely possible this is suggesting like a lot of the upperclass landowners there were mis-investments, money being squandered and a family line being beset with all sorts of financial and interpersonal issues. Anyone who watches Downton Abbey will be familiar with the story of a family where there were no immediate male heirs. There could have once been a country estate, but not one Mycroft inherited.

Additionally, Barring-Gould is keen on the idea of the Holmes brothers being upperclass. It’s possible they were not. Mycroft would have joined the civil service following the results of the 1854 Northcote-Trevelyan report. This report criticised the civil service for being a dumping ground of the sons of the upperclass who did not demonstrate the kind of pioneering attitude Britian needed to oversee its colonial interests, the report recommended an end to nepotism and suggested the Chinese method of recruitment where potential candidates took an exam to secure their appointment. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the recommendations of the report were being put into place, by this time Mycroft would have been done with university and very likely would have found himself taking further exams to secure his employment as Ronald Knox* suggests as clerk in an unmentioned branched of government, before rising to his position as the British Government by the time Holmes and Watson meet. Oxbridge would not have been a barrier to the middle class Holmes brothers who could have benefited from patronage, something the Anglican church often did. Sherlock is quite enthusiastic about the board schools, “Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.” As he’s a man who sees education for all as the future perhaps because this suggests own education was paid for by charitable or philanthropic means. Fittingly, this quote comes from ‘The Naval Treaty‘ which could be read as Conan Doyle’s commentary on the civil service – Percy Phelps, through his uncle Lord Holdhurst secured a position in the foreign office, looses an important document and has an epic breakdown as a result.

Of course, there’s also nothing to say Mycroft was managing the country estate and spent his weekends there checking up on things.

(*’The Mystery of Mycroft’ by Ronald A Knox, possibly published in 1934 – not sure but it’s definitely in HW Bell’s 1934 collection of essays ‘Baker Street Studies‘)

In response to comments on my previous post

I wanted to respond with a blog post rather than individually because there are points I want to address.

Supernatural has been mentioned to me a lot and I don’t watch Supernatural, so can’t comment on what’s going on there re: queerbaiting, the second is I did a quick straw pole of the people I work with (4, two straight girls, a gay man and a straight man) and they saw queerbaiting as something that happens when straight men go out looking for gays to bash, or when a young attractive straight ‘twink’ flirts with gay men for attention. The second is closer to what I believe people are calling ‘queerbaiting’.

Sherlock is not and never has been marketed as a gay show. Shows which have and do use homosexuality to promote or improve their audience ratings should be rightly criticised, but Sherlock is not one of these shows. Sherlock and John were never going to be a gay couple, the writers have acknowledged a long held wink-wink-nudge-nudge belief by many people, not just Holmes fans, that they were a couple and they’ve done it in a way that does not feel homophobic or insulting (or at least, to me it doesn’t.)

People project their own interpretation on to the shows they watch and the books they read, Sherlock Holmes being a perfect example of this. On my bookcase I have many books analysing the canon, including one which argues that Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman (Mrs Holmes of Baker Street by Alan C. Bradley, which I’ve talked about here). People have read the character of Sherlock as asexual, as gay, as aromatic and many other things my spell check keeps underlining in red. In this instance, I see Sherlock as straight and his relationship with John echoes the relationship between Denny & Alan from Boston Legal – they are two very close men and Sherlock is in a way a celebration of male friendship. A comparable relationship would be the one between Meredith Grey and Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy.

I don’t seek out shows with gay content and having a gay character is not a good reason to watch a show (for me). I’m not defined by my sexuality and I don’t want to be, I don’t want people telling me to watch something because it has a lesbian in it, I want them to tell me to watch something because it’s good or entertaining. This preoccupation with finding queerness in shows concerns me as it ends up ignoring or missing the existence of many wonderful shows which are about gay people or feature gay characters, two recent examples being ‘Last Tango in Halifax‘ (written by Sally Wainwright) and the Swedish series ‘Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves‘.

Finally, I addressed my thoughts on Irene Adler in a previous post.