Fidgety Cubes

I reviewed the Fidget Cube! This cool wee little box of buttons and switches reached a ridiculous number of donations in its Kickstarter campaign and has spawned a huge number of cheap knock offs and immiations. I found and pledged support to the cube back in November, and now I have my hands on the real McCoy! After I backed the project last year (backer number 82,832) I got to confirm my choice of cube style (Graphite and Retro styled) in December, and yesterday I got an email saying they had shipped and would arrived Thursday or Friday and what do you know- they arrived in the post today!

These wee cubes are really solidly built. The overall presentation is good, it has nice neat carrying bag to go with it and after a bit of stress testing, I can’t find any potential problem points with them (so far). In the video I mention how I’d prefer something a bit more tactile and interactive on the smooth side (pictured below), however, after using it I think it’s actually becoming one of my favourite features!


Anyway check out the video, and consider picking one up if it’s something you think you’d enjoy. It’s worth noting that while there is a tonne of imitations out there, this is a great project that is worth buying from the inventors. You can pre-order on the Antsy Labs website and I don’t think anywhere else, so accept no imitations!

Broadchurch- All Go in Final Minutes


One of my favourite series of the past few years has been Broadchurch, a captivating and incredibly well acted television drama which in the first season centered around the murder of an 11 year old boy, Danny Latimer, in the fictional Dorset town of Broadchurch and the efforts of David Tennant (Detective Alec Hardy) and Olivia Coleman’s (Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller) characters in catching the killer as well as the wider impact of the families involved and people of the community, each a suspect themselves. The second season has just finished up last night, this one focusing on the conviction of Danny’s murderer and the resolution of the infamous unsolved case that ruined Alec’s career and brough him to the town of Broadchurch in the first place and turned him into such the moody, destitute and pretty unwell person we met in the first ever episode (though how much of those traits can be attributed to him just being Scottish is unclear). It was a great ride, but did anyone feel it slightly rushed in that final episode?

(some spoilers ahead!)

Continue reading

Life is Strange, Its Mechanics Stranger

Life is Strange Episode 1 Spoilers Ahead.


A lot has been said about Life is Strange, the new point-and-click episodic adventure game by not Telltale Games, who currently run what is probably the largest game-genre monopoly in history, but rather by Dontnod Entertainment, makers of 2013’s Remember Me. As many have pointed out, some aspects of the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Many of the characters are walking clichés, there is some god awful “down with the kids” conversations that just do not work. It also has some very… odd lip-syncing issues. Despite this however, it does do a lot right: interfaces, presentation, a good value for money episode that doesn’t make you feel slightly cheated (cough cough The Wolf Among Us) or drags on too much. And I’ve enjoyed it too- I’m doing a Let’s Play of it on my channel, and as a big fan of both Point and click-style adventure games to more artistic works like Gone Home and Dear Esther, it’s a very welcome breath of fresh air in a market that was starting feeling slightly stale from an overload of Telltale products (I love you guys, really, but I’m beginning to feel a very definite air of derivativeness recently).


“If only there was some law enforcement agency I could inform! Drat!”

The problem I have with Life is Strange, however, is a pretty big one. A pretty big, glaring gameplay mechanic that I feel simply doesn’t fit within the context of the story or game: time travel. Yes, our main character Max discovers during a pretty out-of-place school shooting (seriously, our main character should have maybe put more thought or worry into the fact that someone in her school is carrying about a loaded gun other than just maybe giving the headteacher a quick tip-off), that she has the ability to turn back time. This is essentially the main mechanic of LiS. You explore the environment, interact with people and make decisions like any other point and click. The difference, however, is that you can immediately undo each option with a  quick rewind. It makes for some novel puzzles here and there, but it leaves me with two big gripes. Continue reading

EssRec-Bee and Puppycat

Welcome to Essential Recommendations! My occasional blog post in which I recommend you guys books, films, videos games or anything really that I find cool. Last time, I recommended the brilliant Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Linean essay detailing the nuances of a video game that challenges the current perception of military first person shooters, the depiction of violence in entertainment and even the portrayal of post traumatic Stress disorder. This time, it’s an online cartoon about Bee, an out-of-work twenty-something who has a life-changing collision with a mysterious creature she names PuppyCat. So yeah, not exactly keeping to a  theme.

Bee and PuppyCat

By Natasha Allegri and Frederator Studios

Available on YouTube, Kickstarter Page (funded)

This is pretty much required watching for anyone who is a fan of Adventure Time and the similarities are clear from the start: magical pets, crazy adventures and a childish psychedelic art style bordering on a drug trip. It’s no coincidence: series creator Natasha Allegri is a crew member on Adventure Time and it well-known within the community. However, as someone who is categorically not a fan of Adventure Time, I wanted to post this so encourage people who maybe wrote off Bee and Puppycat for its similar AT ‘vibe’.


You might write off B&P as a Adventure Time rip off, but you’d be oh-so wrong.

The series has a beautiful art style that’s almost impossible to describe (and probably why I keep referring to its closest relative, Adventure Time). Every frame has this beautiful fluid motion to it, and the characters are wonderful animated and expressive. What drew me in was the sound however- it’s crazy and over the top but so beautifully made and pitch perfect. The voice acting is also wonderfully crisp, simple and soft-spoken. It doesn’t feel jarring or out-of-place like I’ve found Adventure Time to sometimes suffer from. To someone studying sound design, it’s really inspiring to see something so detailed and unique sounding in a cartoon. Either way, keep an eye out for new episodes soon- a whole series was funded through a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign and I couldn’t be happier. You can find an Ask me Anything interview on Reddit by Natasha and the executive producer Fred Seibert here. Also check out Bravest Warriors by the same studio if you’d like something similar.

EssRec- Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

EssRec! My genius marketing term for Essential Recommendations in which I rattle off essential recommendations; be it books, films, games, trailers or whatever. This is my very first ‘EssRec’ so I thought I would start it off with a bang! An unconventional, wordy and incredibly niche bang! but a bang! nonetheless. Allow me to introduce you to:

Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

by Brendan Keogh

Information at Goodreads, Available from Amazon, Gumroad.


Art by Daniel Purvis

I’ve spoken before about how I believe Spec Ops: The Line to be one of the most important games in modern video game history. From its sweeping criticisms of modern game design, war, the effects violence and killing in both the real world and it’s portrayal in entertainment, a story line that deals with complex issues such as PTSD, war crimes and the current political climate and characters that are so real and developed you feel a definite, if at time strained and regrettable connection with, Spec Ops is bold, brash and unapologetic as it forces you to experience a spiral of escalation and ugly look at the true human condition. It’s a game I’d recommend everyone play and experience and please, please if you have not or do not know the story don’t read this book, and don’t spoil it for yourself! This game is meant to be played without any knowledge or expectation of what you’re going to experience. The ignorance and shock of going into this game fresh is its defining feature.

Anyway I’m not here to gush about the game, but rather this Brendan Keogh’s brilliant 177 page piece about it. He writes a book that is the perfect companion piece to the game and will keep you thinking about Spec Ops for years to come. He goes through the story chapter by chapter, missing nothing, questioning and analyzing everything. His criticisms, comparisons and references are spot on but also have a brilliant accessibility his writing isn’t pretentious or overly academic (which is, admittedly, what I thought I was going to be in for when I bought it)- Keogh writes like a true fan of the game, speaking honestly about his experiences with it- both good and bad. The best part is his charting of the characters journey- pointing out the flaws, mistakes and shifting intentions and mindset of the main character. Killing is harmless is a good remedy to a problem that plagues video games, especially ones as complex and detailed as Spec Ops– that of length. Games that run over dozens of hours and that potentially take you days to finish are hard to follow at times- understandably, how are you to remember the intricacies of a two-minute conversation after hours of gameplay and other scenes? There’s no ‘Previously on Knights of the Old Republic’ like you’d get on 24. Keogh’s piece bridged the gap nicely, and his in-depth look at the music and soundtrack was a particularly high point, as it was something I’ve been hoping to find discussed in depth for some time.

I don’t want to spoil anything else- either the game or the book, but I would recommend it highly. Well researched, fulled referenced and very well written, it’s great read if you’ve just played or enjoyed Spec Ops: the Line. The best way to enjoy it, I found, was to read a chapter of the book, then play that chapter in the game. You’ll see things you never noticed before, I swear.

Finally, If you enjoyed Spec Ops or Killing is Harmless, I can also recommend a brilliant two part Extra Credits video on it (Part 1 is spoiler free, part 2 is all spoilers all the time!) and the review on Zero Punctuation (hint: he likes it!) as well as a pretty good analysis by Errant Signal. If you’re in a reading mood, this piece by Tom Bissell is very good. Enjoy!


My Games of 2013

So, 2014 is upon us and with it comes, exciting new releases, a changing front to PC gaming with the new Steam OS and Steam Machine and the start of the next-gen arms race as both consoles (and the WiiU, I guess, hoping into battle blindfolded and drunk) go to war. Because of this giant change looming on the horizon, I thought the game releases of 2013, especially towards the end of the year would dry up in anticipation for the PS4 and XBOXONE release, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This year has been a tidal wave of incredible games, and titles that have actually changed the genre- instant classics like The Last of Us, which I believe has one of the best story stories and two of the greatest characters in any game I’ve ever seen. The only other game that I feel affected me in the same way TLoU did is Spec Ops: The Line, and possibly The Stanley Parable (all three for different reason and in different ways).

On the topic of The Stanley Parable, I think 2013 has been the best showing for indie games so far. This year my playing time has been taken up by so many Independent games, many of which I’ll probably return to more often and have had more impact on me that many triple-A titles I’ve played not just in 2013, but in the past few years.

Either way, I thought I would run down my favourite experiences of the year. They aren’t in any particular order, really, just a run-down of my personal favourites.

Games released this year:

Papers, Please


This time last year, I was about to record one of my very first play-throughs of a game for my channel. My steam library wasn’t the horrendous 50/60 title monster it is now, so I had few games to choose from. I thus opted to try and play an online flash game that I had come to love. Since I’m a pretentious ass, it of course wasn’t something fun to watch like Happy Wheels, but instead an almost unheard of game called The Republica Times. In this game, you are a nameless bureaucrat who is assigned a job at the government-run Republica Times newspaper (sound familiar?). You are tasked with filling out the papers front pages with stories that can balance government newspeak propaganda with stories that can keep the public happy (turns out they love news about the weather. Clearly a game made my a Brit). The game takes a more complex turn as you try to instigate a  coup by creating discontent among the public. Although I never got the video to work (thanks a lot, FRAPS), it’s still a brilliant game and I regret not have pursued a video LP of it, just for more hipster “I played the original’ bragging rights.


Then came Papers Please, with its incredible music, beautiful aesthetics and a killer soundtrack and gameplay. There is nothing this year that tops the incredible achievement Lucas Pope, the games creator, has done in creating fascinatingly in-depth gameplay, story lines and moral choices within such a simple idea. I always describes the game as ‘analog’ to people when I tried to explain it. The process of playing the game is almost on a  digital tabletop- you move around paper and check for mistakes of discrepancies in forms, you consult manuals and rules, you issue questions and, often, make decisions on nothing more than your gut feeling. It creates the perfect system of giving you essentially a sandbox to operate in- there is no hand holding, or button pushes that can solve problems through some magical interface. It’s done with your eyes and your own mind. Add to that a perfect, subtle story that can be ignored or pursued at your own will, with endings that reflect both approaches with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play. Papers Please is my new game to show to people who have no idea how a game works. It’s the closest I’ve found to a game that melds the fun and interactivity of a tabletop board game or card game with the complexities and storyline that can be brought out through a video game platform. It’s the one game I’ll be playing over Christmas, not because it’s my favourite, but because I think it’s the best game I can use to show my parents and family what video games can really achieve.

Tomb Raider


Probably the biggest surprise for me this year was just how much I enjoyed the new Tomb Raider reboot. The only reason I bought it was because I thought it would be a fun game to let’s play on video (however a content ID quickly shut that down for me) and my history with the Tomb Raider franchise has been frayed at best. The first problem is that I suck at puzzle games, the second is that I get scared by the smallest, most minuscule of things (case in point: Gone Home) and third is that Tomb Raider games always felt like a one hit band that had achieved an incredibly successful first album before failing to live up to it in subsequent releases as it was outpaced by similar acts. Tomb Raider: Legend and Anniversary (which is a bit of a cheat, since it’s a remake of the original) were the only sparks of life in an otherwise dull series. However, the opening moments of Tomb Raider are both gripping and face-wincingly brutal.

Tomb Raider is the best reboot of a series I’ve ever played. For one, it’s learned from the current climate of games without simply copying more successful genres and pasting a familiar face on top. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is the elephant sized adventure game in the room when it comes to discussing or comparing these games, but as a huge fan of Uncharted, Tomb Raider in no way feels like a copy or rip off of the series. Sure, the combat & health system feels remarkably similar, however Tomb Raider takes Uncharted’s combat mechanics and builds on it with its frantic, brutal and terrifying scramble for ammunition and bloody melee system. While Uncharted feels like you’re playing as the happy-go-lucky, Indiana Jones-impersonator, cracking jokes and punching out stereotypical baddies like a perfect action film, Tomb Raider forces you into the underdog position and makes every battle terrifying, gory and a fight for survival like Lara is stranded in a  holiday camp for all the monsters from The Decent.

To be fair, Tomb Raider's homage to this scene was better than the film

To be fair, Tomb Raider’s homage to this scene was better than the film.

Lara, while we’re at it, feels like she just wandered off the set of the girl-centric horror The Decent, and you can see clear draws of inspiration from the film. The brutal treatment of Lara, the incredibly realistic animations and immersive voice acting connected me to her character in ways a lot of games usually fail to. Actual character development (which, to be fair, is very central to the story) and emotional changes within Lara humanize her and allow us to connect a character that was traditionally nothing more than a pair of tits and guns fighting dinosaurs.

Finally, the visuals need mentioning. Tomb Raider is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen on PC or console in the past few years. While everyone was fawning over Crysis 3 and it’s picture perfection of bland, boring and dull photo realistic depictions of  grass and buildings, Tomb Raider snuck in with an entire Smörgåsbord of set pieces and landscapes. The approach of having ‘zones’ of the island to explore and complete is both a  brilliant evolution to Tomb Raider’s traditional gameplay style and more modern approaches to an open world. Everything from terrifying caves full of weirdo rapists, cliff side’s with vistas over reefs with every type of shipwreck from the rafts made the moment man crawled on top of a piece of floating driftwood to high-tech Costa Concordia copycats (love, I love boats okay? This game filled that obsession nicely), WWII-era military bases or beautiful Japanese castles, were all exceptionally detailed and well made. Not to mention Lara’s Batman: Arkham-style model that carries all the horrendous bumps and scrapes she picks up over the game, and the  upgrades that actually appear on the guns, strapped and sellotaped on in a true survivalist manner.  Tomb raider had one of the most detailed and varied game worlds I’ve ever seen and much like I felt after played Uncharted 2: Drakes Fortune, I’m unbelievably excited to see what the come up with next. Hopefully I just wont be as disappointed as I was with what Naughty Dog came up with for Uncharted 3

Civilisation V: Brave New World


Civilisation V was released in 2010, and after 2012’s first expansion God’s and Kings, the game was finally completed with 2013’s Brave New World expansion. I say this because Civ 5 on release felt like an unfinished game. It was beautiful, addictive and expansive but when compared to the exceptionally deep Civilisation IV it felt lacking and shallow. It feels slightly akin to the shockingly disastrous launch of EA’s Simcity reboot which saw the game crushed under the boot heels of negative fan, critic and public reaction. One of the games numerous problems was it’s depth- Simcity had stripped out all the depth and scope that Simcity 4 (notice a trend here?) had implemented in place of flashy visuals and simplistic gameplay. Now, Civ 5 was nowhere near as bad as Simcity, however it followed a similar path- Civ 5 looks beautiful and plays wonderfully but at the cost of depth and replayability. After a few games of Civ 5, I had burnt out- late game was so familiar that after one or two games you felt like you were just running the numbers.

However, Brave New World changed all that. After being quite disheartened with the series, I picked up God & Kings and Brave New World on sale, expecting little but ending up blown away by the new game in front of me. Brave New World is a perfect fleshing out of the late game that the base game was lacking. The more in-depth diplomacy options give much more flexibility and strategy for players who prefer to pull the strings from the background, and the addition of some brilliant new Civilisations to play as add some of the most interesting and original gameplay I’ve seen yet.

Take, for example, my new favourite civilisation Venice; a civ that limits you to one playable city. It offers a completely different approach to gameplay. Instead of spreading out, you must micromanage and focus on your single city. Soon, you can purchase other city states (however only as puppets, you cannot control what they build or produce) but not settle your own. What you end up with is a civ born for the defence or ‘puppet master’ player, who wishes to work in the background while other civ battle it out. On top of that, the addition of trade routes allow you to trade and manage between your own cities and other Civs like never before. Maybe you wish to set up a city in a desert, deprived of food but rich in oil and uranium? Go for it, but only if you have the infrastructure to support it from other cities. Maybe you wish to become a pirate, building a navy and raiding trade routes between players, demanding a random? Or, avoid fighting more than ever- culture victories have been expanded massively with the tourism & archeology features. Now, creating works and opening borders creates tourism in your Civ, sending out musicians to tour and diplomats to other cities boosting it and spreading your influence over the globe. The new civ Brazil capitalises on this and much like Venice, plays so uniquely it feels like an expansion in itself. Archaeology allows you to send archeologists all over your world, digging up old battlesites and antiquity sites that can be placed in museums or made into attractions for culture and tourism boosts. Brave New world feels like a true expansion: it adds to an already expansive game without breaking it and adding hundreds of hours of new gameplay to it. It’s turned what was a brilliant multiplayer game into an even more immersive experience.

Also, XCOM squads. This is why I love you, Firaxis.

Also, XCOM squads. This is why I love you, Firaxis.

Gone Home, Proteus & The Stanley Parable 

I know, I know- why are these games lumped together? They are in no way related in story or message, neither share any real similarities apart from a minor, tangential minimalist gameplay feature, and by putting these three together is simply fueling the flames of people who claim this kind of gameplay or story telling is not a true ‘video game’. Fine, I get all that. However, this year more than any before has been awash with debates over “What is a video game” and before I talk about these I feel I have to discuss the elephant in the room, the annoying argument that follow these experimental titles around. It’s actually quite funny seeing the shift to acceptance of videogames as an art form, before putting it to bed and going downstairs to argue whether said game is ‘actually a video game’. Flower sparked some of this debate, however Dear Esther I think created the biggest line in the sand, with total biscuit famous declaring it as “not being a video game”.  Look, I won’t go into this argument, as I don’t think anything I say will have not been said before and in better words, but why we seem to insist on taking an expanding experience such as games, that has so much scope and potential that we haven’t even yet considered, and then proceed to stick the definition in a box and say “No, this is a game. We’ve hit our limit of experimentation, please follow these guidelines” is beyond me. Christ, half of the flak every year about games like Call of Duty is originality (or the lack their of), yet any experimentation in the industry, be it games that strip back to explore the mechanics of gameplay, or level design or story, are stomped on by those who think games have to have a bloody win state or collectible items, leveling up or a gun to shoot or some shite.

Let’s stop with this debate. Because a game is on the market you wouldn’t consider a game in the traditional sense doesn’t have to affect you in any way. Let it be, let it be picked apart, played and learn from it. Don’t dismiss it because it doesn’t fall under your own criteria of what should and shouldn’t be played alongside the latest MMO or first person shooter. And no, I’m not going to start calling games such as Dear Esther a ‘Interactive experience’. There is a brilliant video on this topic by the Extra Credits guys, and while I agree whole heatedly with them, but their claim that “they barely use the term game anymore” and more of the time they say “Interactive Experiences” is just silly. Let me say game! It’s still a game in my eyes, dammit. And the onus is on you to get it put under its own tab in steam called ‘Interactive, gamplay-minimal narrative experiences’ or something. until then, I’m calling it a game like it bloody is!


My last point about this, is that not all games are a complete package. Take Gone Home for example. Gone Home isn’t a perfect example of how to make a fun game. It wasn’t meant to be. it’s not an exploration of how to effectively create a competitive game, or a perfectly structured shooter. Gone Home is a short story, an essay. A game that has been stripped back to two things- narrative and level design. It’s an exhibit, something you can point to and let someone experience as an example of those parts of a game. Gone Home isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a brilliant example of perfecting specific, important parts of gameplay, and it shows us how a perfected feature, such as narrative or level design, can stand on its own. Gone Home is brilliant in its simplicity- the premise of the game is familiar to everyone and the genius lies behind what you don’t see- the hours of testing level designs to see where people will go and what they will do, the patience and time taken into place and structuring the story and items around the house. It’s a love letter to game design and one that will be looked back on for years to come.


Proteus feels like a culmination of so many tropes and trends within the game industry from the past few years, particularly the indie scene. There is of course the looming presence of minecraft, the behemoth that hangs over every exploratory, environmental game like this.  At first, the similarities between the two seem very clear. The start in a very abstract world with little or nothing to go on, strange animals and an abstract, distinct and unique art style. But as you explore Proteus you realise that the similarities end there. You’re in many ways disconnected for the world; you cannot really interact with anything, or change the landscape in any way. The joy of Proteus comes from simply walking through the world and experiencing it. The changing music and vibrant animal & plant sounds are almost intoxicating, and you’ll soon find yourself lost in this beautifully weird and abstract land. Proteus I think has the least to say out of the three, it’s a game all about visuals and sound, but on that level I think it works brilliantly.


The Stanley Parable is the most accessible of the tree with the most to say and plenty of targets. Thankfully, a game as broad reaching and satrical as The Stanley Parable may get caught up simply looking smug, but that isn’t the case here. The Stanley Parable has escaped a lot of criticism from the ‘This isn’t a video game’ crowd, I think because at the end of the day it is accessible and repeatable to everyone who’s ever played a game. It’s ridiculous and biting criticism of games, storytelling and the fallibility of choice in videogames is perfectly written, acted and executed. It also avoids being a hypocrite; it isn’t the Duke Nukem Forever satire of throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, making fun of game tropes while using them to a worse degree itself. No, The Stanley Parable, from its trailers to its demo to it’s hilarious Steam achievements, is perfectly positioned to be funny and informative to all while revealing and biting to people who make and study games as an art form. It’s a brilliant game that ranks among my top 10 games of all time.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. I may turn this all into a video at some point after I’m less busy at uni. until then, peace!

The Post-Apocalyptic (literary) Survival Guide

The combination of a recent buzz around the (now confirmed fake) ‘Survivor 2299’ website that was purported to be a teaser for Fallout 4, as well as my own new Fallout: New Vegas video series has made me realise my love for post apocalyptic fiction and settings all over again. If it came to nailing down a favourite literary genre, post-apocalypse rules the roost for me. The gritty survivalist and the under current of real fear for an end to society as we know it fascinates me and combined with the 50’s and 60’s technological optimism and concurrent, constant threat of nuclear inhalation is what drew me into the Fallout series of game so much. Apocalypse fiction often gets criticised as cliched, but I think that’s coming more out of the over saturation of ‘Zombie Culture’ that has been exponentially growing for the past few years (on a related note, I’ve left out World War Z from this as I think ‘zombies’ are pretty much a genre of their own at this point). The kind of apocalyptic setting I like the most usually harks back to the 1950’s- from things like the cosy catastrophes of Day of the Triffids to darker, bleaker works like The Road, A Boy and His Dog or The Earth Abides. The Zeitgeist of Nuclear war and global annihilation of the Cold War has always been a big draw for me creatively, and also fascinates me on a historical level.

Because of this, I thought I’d write up a list of what I think it some essential reading, watching and playing when it comes to post-apocalyptic literature. I’ll touch on my favorites as well as some that are essentially cornerstones at the foundation post apocalyptic fiction, and I’ll hopefully cover movies and finally video games later (and possibly in more detail). Either way, here we go!

1- There Will come soft Rains (1950)- Ray Bradbury

You MAY recognise this if you played Fallout 3...

A short story that is based on one of my favourite poems of all time, There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Tisdale. A very short story originally published in a magazine, it tells the story of a robot still carrying out its duties in a house that has been almost destroyed by nuclear way, to a family long since dead. Really thoughtful and touching book, and the reading of the poem is particularly fantastic. Must read if you have 15 minutes to yourself.

2- Earth Abides (1949) – George R. Stewart


A true cornerstone of apocalyptic fiction (man, get used to reading those words!) that tells the story of a world almost wiped out by plague. The story covers an epic timeline and charts the rise of new cultures in a devastated world and is heart breaking in a personal level. Fallowing the main character and watching a new society rise up around him is told so incredibly, it’ll leave you wanting more. Brilliant book and very ahead of its time.

3- The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy


Brutal, terrifying and not for the faint of heart, The Road is an incredible story of survival in a world and humanity during its dying breaths but it’s heavy, bleak and very depressing. This however, only makes the small uplifting moments that much more wonderful. It was faithfully adapted into a movie 2009 and is a recommended watch, however the book is still leagues ahead. Also contains what is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying passages in any book ever (spoilers! Don’t read that article until you read The Road!).

4- A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) – Walter M. Millar

Miller 1959 - A Canticle for Leibowitz

Remember how I said Earth Abides was epic in scale? Yeah, compared to A Canticle for Leibowitz, Abides takes place in the blink of an eye. Taking place over the course of thousands of years, it charts the story of a group of monks protecting what knowledge remains of a world devastated by nuclear war and watching as the new civilisations begin to repeat the same mistakes again. I fully admit right now, I have never read Canticle– I have always had it on my list but never fully gotten around to it. That said, it is safe to say it is an essential read to anyone wanting to immerse themselves in both apocalyptic and science fiction literature.

5- The Stand (1978) (1990 complete & uncut edition) – Stephen King


Everyone should read at least one Stephen King book, and if you do, let it be… 11/22/63 but if you read TWO then definitely read The Stand, one of King’s most famous (and longest) works. The Stand charts the odyssey of several characters as they survive in a world devoid of all but 0.1% of all human beings. In true King fashion though, dark powers are at work and a battle of good an evil soon begins to surface. An epic book in size and depth, King’s story is beautifully written and contains some of the best written characters in any of his work. While I think the story past a certain point leaves a lot to be desired, the initial depictions of the plague and helpless downfall of society is honestly terrifying. While it’s always been true that King is a better writer of characters than plots,  The Stand will still have you hooked by page five and leave an incredible impact on you.

6- A Boy and His Dog (1969)-  Harlan Ellison


Funny, dark, twisted and bizarre, A Boy and His Dog is one of my favourite books in the genre as it inspired so much after it (more on that when we get to Games). The story of a Boy, Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood, it charts his story across a brutal wasteland as they struggle to survive and, in the boys case, have sex by any means necessary. The books are controversial to say the least, but the brutal nature of the characters and their horrible, savage qualities make for some of the most believable characters in a post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read.

Well, that’s my essentials. I know I missed out a tonne, but I want to keep is just slightly concise. Have you got an favourites? Have I missed an out? Tell me in the comments or send me some recommendations! Next time- movies!



MINOR SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW. I do not spoil anything directly or intentionally but I do talk about various parts of the film in depth.

I’ve gone on record in the past before as being a huge fan of post apocalyptic fiction, be it nuclear Armageddon, devastating war or just society falling around us for no other reason than to tell a story. One of my favourite films within this genre is Children of Men, an incredible film that is one of the most stand out pieces of cinema in the past ten years. One of the best parts of Children of Men was its approach to single shot takes: car chases, fight scenes and conversations often happen in long, unbroken shots that create both a striking documentary-like realism and a terrifying sense of tension when it calls for it (here is a brilliant cut up of every scene that is 45 seconds or longer in Children of Men. I warn you- it’ll make you want to watch the film from start to finish all over again). In my opinion, it is one of the best directed films ever made. Now, that same director Alfonso Cuaron (also responsible for my favourite Harry Potter adaption The Prisoner of Azkaban) is back with Gravity and, once again, his incredible eye for detail, camera work and editing has pushed the boundaries of cinematic experiences and has created one of the best films I’ve had the pleasure to see in the cinema since Jurassic Park.

Her look on her face says all: "Oh my god I left my keys at home"

Some of the best posters I’ve seen for quite some time, too.

Gravity tells the story of Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock), an inexperienced  astronaut on her first mission into space to install a technical maguffin to the Hubble Telescope. The only other real character in the film is Matt Kowalski (Clooney), an experienced and relaxed (almost to a point of cliché) mission commander on his last mission. From there, as you could have guessed by the trailer, everything goes unbelievably, catastrophically and breathtakingly wrong. I want to note, this isn’t me being light on the plot or avoiding spoilers something thing I adore about Gravity is that it’s a film that doesn’t labour itself with any kind of complicated story or plotlines and with its relatively short running time of 90 minutes, it certainly doesn’t hang around. Gravity knows it’s story and knows to not get hung up on details or drag out the audiences experience. Films are getting longer, there’s no mistaking it; and while I’m fine with taking your time to flesh out characters and story, I don’t understand why every thriller, comedy or action flick must now insist on dragging usually flimsy plots out over a hastily constructed 120/130 minute framework (Looking at you Man of Steel and the bloody Transformers nightmare marathon).

It actually feels like space

Gravity is gorgeously detailed in every aspect. You could get lost in every frame.

Gravity’s strongest point, however, comes in its visuals, sound and its lead actor Bullock. Since release, much ado has been made of the 3D and many people who openly disliked and disregarded it have gone on record that Gravity is the premiere example of how 3D can in fact enhance the experience of watching the film. While I was skeptical, after watching I agree completely. Before Gravity, I would have pointed to Life of Pi as the only example of 3D being used to a point that isn’t simply gimmick (and I’m sure Hugo would also fit in this but I unfortunately never saw it in 3D), however even in Life of Pi, I could only point to certain scenes that really stand out and not the entirety of the film when viewed as a whole. Gravity’s use of 3D is honestly revolutionary: it’s beautifully subtle when a scene calls for it and expressive and engrossing in others. Personally, I think much of this is to with the setting. Space creates such a strange and abstract background to everything that it in itself distracts from frequent ‘cut out’ or ‘pop up book’ effects you see in a lot of other 3D films (Avengers is what springs to mind the most). Space is, from a photographic or visual standpoint, flat. It’s almost impossible to gauge depth of field and distances in a void of stationary objects. This I think is the main reason the 3D succeeded in the way that it did. This isn’t taking away from Cuaron’s camerawork or editing however, or the CGI, just an observation of why this 3D experience seems to have changed so many minds. If anything, Cuaron’s unique style is another strong reason this film swayed so much opinion on 3D. There are so many countless moments in the film, for example a beautiful shot closing in on Bullock before getting close to her helmet and actually passing unnoticeable inside her own spacesuit, that keep you engaged with whats happening on-screen. Cuaron portrays this terrifying feeling of helplessness: so often Bullocks character scratches and scrambles along the outside of  stations and capsules with gut-wrenching fragility. The entire film feels strangely like a nightmare; you try to run, to jump or climb but are struck lame or unable to move, and each second you get closer and closer to an edge that threatens to throw you into oblivion. When Bullock is floating helplessly against the backdrop of an empty, infinite space pock-marked with stars you feel helpless. For the first time in my life, Gravity made me feel the terrifying emptiness of space and it’s deathly, lifeless soundlessness. On top of this, Gravity certainly has a religious undertone; it’s references to The Ganges, shots of various religious symbolism, the shot of Bullock in the fetal position and various images of baptism and rebirth all lend themselves to the idea that Bullocks journey is a religious one. Gravity seems to go two ways with its views of technology. On one hand, a celebration of it and the adaptability and resilience of man- Bullock’s initiative and ingenuity within the film are amazing and epic celebrations of training and improvisation in face of what is the worst case of Murphy’s Law in history. However, on the other hand the film’s religious undertone seems to say that technology will never be our savior and that there is something else, something more metaphysical that cannot be accessed by our technological feats (an appearance of Clooney’s character later in the film cements this the most I feel). It’s a nice coincidence that both Life or Pi and Gravity have such a brilliant philosophical debate at their centre (not to mention Gravity’s underlying ‘shipwreck’ theme: as strange as it sounds, Gravity feels like the best portrayal of shipwrecks and being stranded at sea than anything I’ve previously seen) and makes my point of Gravity’s plot being relatively uncomplicated maybe just a bit shallow.

No, legit. I dream about this scene.

This scene honestly gave me nightmares

I should probably try to wrap up as I could talk pages about this film but I would like to mention the sound design and Bullock’s performance as a particularly standout. Bullock has always been a  bit hit and miss for me, however Gravity has really changed by view on her as an actor and I don’t think I’ve felt so emotionally invested in a character since Denzel Washington’s character in Flight. Dr Ryan Stone might no be the example of a perfect character and to be honest, some of her back story and set up was slightly cliché, however Bullock plays it so convincingly and honestly you fall for this character who is in so far over her head in the most insane situation ever. Her teary surrender when the soyuz capsule fails is heart wrenching after watching her fight through so much and makes her invigoration and new-found resolve to survive afterwards so much more impactful. Her character is an example of one saved by the actor’s performance- it could have so easily have been ruined by poor acting or even a misunderstanding of the character but Bullock pulls it off brilliantly.

Clooney just asked her if she wants to see his Spaceballs.

While Clooney is on top form as always, Sandra Bullock is the biggest surprise and best performance of the film by a country mile

Finally, the sound. Oh boy, the sound. 2001: A Space Odyssey was always famous for its use of total silence in its depictions of the vacuum of space and Gravity is the film to finally perfect it. The transitions between the space suits, station and space itself have a brilliant continuity and uniqueness to each location be it the gentle hissing and clanking in the space station to the beautifully muted sounds of outer space. The contrast of an entire space station being ripped to pieces is on of the most incredibly jarring and strangely beautiful experiences I’ve ever seen. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a cinema so quiet.

RIP Hubble Telescope :(

I could look at these stills for hours

Anyway! I’ve gone on waaaaay too much and I could go on much, much more- I didn’t even mention the amazing WALL-E reference and nods to other science fiction films (keep an ear on who plays Huston). Thank you of sticking it out to the end and please, please go see Gravity while you can in 3D. I’ll certainly be getting it on Blu-Ray.