Humble Book Review: From a Buick 8

On the outside, King’s From a Buick 8 might seem like a sequel or spiritual successor to Christine. But once you navigate through the chapters, you find that really there isn’t much in common at all, other than the picture of a car on the cover.

This novel follows the history of a collective secret kept by the troopers of Barracks D in Pennsylvania. Back in 1979, a man shrouded in mystery parked his Buick Roadmaster at a gas station, and was never seen again. The troopers impounded the car, but from the first moment they laid eyes on it, there was a deep sense of unfamiliarity – like this “thing” was a very poor imitation of a car at all, and not of this world. No sense of symmetry, made of materials never encountered, and with dashboard gauges that served no function.

Things only got more strange after it was left in a shed at the barracks, warranting the troopers to keep a watch over it, and to keep it hidden from the public. It had a tendency to produce inexplicable events, such as blinding light shows coming from inside the car, as well as spitting out otherworldly objects from it’s boot – and if things could come out, could others be drawn in to this other place?

It is told through a series of stories by the now older and wiser barracks, informing the son of one of the main troopers why his father was so invested in this secret. The boy can appear impatient and only wants answers, but often the troopers don’t have answers, only a weaving and mysterious narrative that brings them to the present day.

I did enjoy this novel, even though it’s one of his books that are so easily forgotten. The mystery of the Buick Roadmaster is grounded in reality – in the sense that the troopers could only react in fear and poor attempts at logic when these events took place. As it is written in a style of remembering the past, the action is few and far between, and perhaps doesn’t reach the heights like many of King’s other paranormal novels. But what it mainly does – recounting a collective secret of the unknown – it does well.

WOTH: Platinum #26 – The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Were you a fan of the early 70’s B-movie craze? The era when action and horror films were mostly showed in groups of three at the cinemas at super cheap prices?

Well I missed that boat (born too late), but I can experience a space opera B-movie in all it’s glory with The Deadly Tower of Monsters!

This is a very unique style of game – a top-down platform shooter, with vertical progression, all wrapped in the format of a DVD commentary from the director of the film – which is the game itself. In-game, you are controlling the main actor – Dick Starspeed (played by Jonathon Digby). You’ve crash landed on a foreign planet, ruled by a tyrannical emperor. Along the way, you will find allies whom you can also switch between as playable characters, allowing you to further climb the Deadly Tower of Monsters (insert dramatic booming voice here).

There is a great amount of satire and humour injected all throughout this game, poking fun at the antics on a typical B-movie set. The director commentating on the film/game will reveal trade secrets such as the horrible way the extras in monster suits were treated, or even how to save on the budget some “monsters” were simply dogs with vacuum cleaner attachments on their heads – and when said monsters are revealed to look exactly like that, it’s hilarious. Also, this film/game was set in the height of using stop-motion clay animation for those less anthropomorphic monsters, and watching the obvious stop motion dinosaurs lumber around is a brilliant touch. Even towards the end of the game, you can see birds bouncing around clearly tethered to strings to hold them up.

The controls are pretty standard for a twin-stick melee/shooter, with options to upgrade your weapons and character using collectibles scattered around the area. Again, there’s great satire in some of the weapons which are given fancy space-names, but are quite clearly just a car antenna or something mediocre. But hey, a tight budget is a tight budget!

Towards the end, when you find out more about the film, it takes an even greater turn, cranking up the meta-references to 11. It doesn’t just break the 4th wall, it blasts it with its space laser.

This was incredibly fun, and if you were lucky enough to grab it during it’s free month for Playstation Plus, it’s an added bonus! I would still pay $10 for it if it were on special, so keep an eye out for it.

Regarding platinum difficulty, it is actually pretty easy with a guide – but perhaps just cruise through and enjoy the ride for the first time. Even if you do that, you’ll find it only takes 6 hours to complete. Most of the trophies come from progressing through the game, and from the various collectibles on the map.

Definitely give this a go, even just for an amusing afternoon.

Humble Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years is a fascinated read for anyone interested in human history, in how we have developed and spread as a species, and just how certain civilisations conquered others to arrive in the states that they are now.

Specifically, Jared Diamond attempts to answer a very important question; why was it that Eurasian civilisations were able to survive and conquer other nations, instead of the other way around? Presumably, 13,000 years ago, each of our human ancestor settlements across the globe were in the same position with respect to technology, so why was Eurasia successful? While answering this question, Diamond also refutes the controversial idea that Eurasian rule is due to any form of inherent advantage in Eurasian intellect, morals, or genetic superiority.

Tackling the aforementioned refutation is particularly important, as unfortunately, many people in well off societies seem to believe it.

Diamond quite successfully argues that rather than inherent advantages, gaps in power and technology stem from several opportunistic advantages in geography and environmental standings, which caused some positive feedback loops, resulting in auto-catalytic growth.

What started it all, was the slow migration from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, roughly 13,000 years ago. From being able to domesticate various plants and animals, tribes could begin to stock surplus supplies, and provide for non-food producing members, such as chiefs, scribes, etc. Once you free up time to focus on non-food related activities, societies can begin to expand, giving rise to population booms.

With population booms come epidemics, which, over time, survivors develop a resistance to. When these disease-resistant members invade small tribes in other parts of the world who have never been exposed, the germs can decimate untouched bands and tribes, often well in advance of the invaders themselves.

Back to the question; why was Eurasia so fruitful and not another part of the world? This mainly rests on the abundance of domesticable plants and animals compared to other continents, and the fact that Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, as opposed to north-south like the Americas or Africa. With different latitudes, comes different suitability of crops. They could not expand north-south, due to snowy regions, unseasonable tropics, or harsh deserts. But they could expand east-west, which Eurasia could accommodate.

All of this is quite fascinating, and my modest summary simply cannot do it the proper justice. However, it seems that Diamond goes over some points laboriously, to really drive home a small point, or will revisit an answer several times. Either that, or it’s been a while since I’ve read such a long non-fiction book! But I guess it helps, I could sum up the book pretty well, as it was drilled into me.

This book was mentioned by the great Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, known for his book & online course Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I strongly advise you check out his work before this, as he sums up the agricultural section of humankind quite well – Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great knowledge addition to it.

WOTH: Platinum #25 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Oh my, what an absolutely stunning game.

Before, I would have adamantly answered to anyone asking (please ask, nobody ever does) that my favourite RPG of all time was Dark Souls. Now, after completing the base game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that position is threatened. It is an incredibly crafted experience on an ambitious scale, which gets oh-so-many of the main RPG elements right, where other games always seem to falter on one or two points.

Let me begin with the set-up, if you’re unfamiliar with the franchise. You are Geralt, a salty old Witcher. In this old world of swords, sorcery, and scandal, the Witcher trade is a rare one. You hunt down and slay monsters of all types while accepting coin for your services; however the townsfolk consider Witchers as either a curiosity, or not too far removed from the very monsters they kill.

Geralt is on the trail of Ciri, a long lost friend who is more like a daughter to him. Along the way, he meets old friends associated with old flames, new and old foes to coerce, all while uncovering the prophecy of the Wild Hunt, which brings with them a new and bleak age of white frost.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is just how amazing the game looks. After the dream-like tutorial, you drop into the story at a campsite, get attacked by a few ghouls, then ride off to the nearest town while a magnificent sunrise pierces through the swaying trees. That’s the first thing of beauty that smacks you in the face – the amazing lighting. At times, when you are in the forest just having a chat with a hunter or concerned citizen, the shadows of individual tree leaves dance across your face – something I’ve not seen done so well in other games. The draw distance is far reaching, so anything you see you can get to. And the locations are incredibly varied – the quests will take you across sunlit fields, jagged city streets, ominous caverns, and windswept mountain peaks, all swashed with vibrant colour. Through all of these locations, dynamic weather plays a big part as well. If you stop to converse with someone in pouring rain, you wont look as you always do, rather your clothes will have that drenched look, adding another layer to the immersion.

And the quests – never before have I been so invested in all of the side quests! Usually, RPG side quests ask you to either fetch 20 flowers, or assassinate some big baddie in a cave while a slow but required companion follows you and gives away your position. Not here – the stories crafted in each and every mission feel unique, and the people feel like they actually existed before you arrived, and not just to wait for you alone to fetch them a teapot. Granted, there are a couple of quest tropes thrown in, but they are done a little tongue-in-cheek, aware of the cliche they are mimicking (looking at you, Princess the goat!).

The combat is actually quite refreshing, given the amount of content. Each of the different enemies you encounter will have some sort of weakness you can exploit with the Witcher signs, oils, and bombs at your disposal, along with your two standard swords – silver for monsters, steel for humans. Being able to dodge, counter, and fire crossbow bolts adds a great amount of variety, so you can craft a play style that suits you.

I also cannot forget to mention the brilliant game within a game; Gwent. This is a tabletop card game many people in Geralt’s world play, including himself. Although initially simple, there is quite a bit of strategy involved which only opens up further as you either buy cards from merchants, discover them as loot, or win them as prizes for challenging certain people. It’s so popular that it will soon be expanded and released as it’s own separate game outside of The Witcher, so look out for it!

Now, gushing aside, let’s talk platinum difficulty. It’s a massive game, and took me about 120+ hours to achieve the platinum trophy, across two playthroughs. I advise that you try to cover most of the trophies in your first playthrough on any difficulty,  being very conscious of collecting all the Gwent cards you come across. Having a guide for collecting them is paramount, as there are quite a few missable ones. Have a general guide handy for the remaining trophies, as there are other missable trophies. Many of them are just killing foes using x method, or completing Witcher contracts, so it shouldn’t be so bad. Then, after you’re mostly done, it’s best to have another playthrough on the toughest difficulty. The early stage of the game on this difficulty is quite frustrating, but there are guides to help you choose the most efficient character traits.

To wrap up, I had an incredible time, and the 120+ hours to obtain the platinum didn’t feel stretched out at all. I will certainly be investing in the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine in the near future.

WOTH: Platinum #24 – Goosebumps: The Game

In this installment of the Well Overdue Trophy Hunt, I stepped back in time to the glorious 90’s, and relived the amazing Goosebumps universe – much like I had done with the recent movie starring Jack Black, generic American boy and girl combo, and Screamy McPubertyface.

There are no live actors in Goosebumps: The Game, however, as it has gone for the classic painted 2D Point and Click Adventure approach. This feels like it gave the source material the best possible justice, as every scene you move through looks like it came straight from the cover of one of the many original books.

And because there is so much source material, there are so many references to discover, which is always the fun part of these sorts of games. Some of them are obvious, like Slappy being the main antagonist, while some other little gems will be just as fun to find, like the jar of Jellyjam found when you open a fridge.

Regarding the content and difficulty – I used a guide, so it inevitably was super easy. There are a few different endings you need to obtain the platinum trophy, but as long as you follow the guide well, and save when asked to, the platinum trophy shouldn’t take longer than 5 hours to get. If you go into it blind, you may find quite a few points where you become stuck, but just try to pick up every item you see – most of them are useful in some way.

It’s very young adult humour, but hey – what could you expect!

Humble Book Review: Hearts In Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is quite a unique Stephen King book. It’s not really a standard novel, and not really a collection of novellas or short stories. It’s his first take on something akin to an anthology – four stories of varying length, all loosely linked to the same group of people as they grew up and experienced an important historic moment in American history; Vietnam.

In the first tale called “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, we meet Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy growing up in 1960, living with his widowed and “tightwad” mother, and hanging out with his friends Carol and Sully-John. But an elderly newcomer, Ted Brautigan (if you’ve experienced the Dark Tower, that name may seem familiar) moves into the upstairs apartment. The scholarly gentleman is a bit odd – he seems to know more than he should, and he confesses to be in hiding from the titular Low Men. Just who these low men are, and what their purpose is, is something critical to the main Dark Tower narrative.

Hearts are broken, as they often are in King coming of age stories. This then gives a good segue into the next tale called “Hearts in Atlantis”. Set in 1966, tensions are building in Vietnam and at home, where college kids are afraid if they drop out they’ll be shipped overseas to contribute to the war. Peter Riley knows this, yet still lets his grades slip after becoming addicted to playing Hearts for money. During this time, one of his withdrawn classmates discovers a powerful symbol to aid protesting the war.

In the next two tales, “Blind Willie” and “Why We’re in Vietnam”, it follows two characters we met in 1960, and their troubles with life after their experiences in Vietnam, each with different methods of coping.

Finally, we revisit Bobby Garfield again in 1999 with “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling” in a brief epilogue.

I loved this book for two major reasons. Firstly, showing the inextricable fates of all those characters we met in 1960 and 1966 is an incredible storytelling method. The first tale could exist as it’s own novel, it’s that long. But to continue on with other tales years after these events is great in having this emotional investment – you truly want to know the fates of these people as you follow them. Really, the central character that ties each of these tales is Carol Gerber – the girl with the heart of a lion. To see how she had affected so many people from their own points of view was amazing.

Secondly, it’s hard to look past the very strong tie-in with The Dark Tower in “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. The vivid detail of these low men, the disgust and pure terror they induce in Bobby is something not as well detailed in the Dark Tower series itself, so it is a shame I hadn’t read this first. But knowing the history of a pivotal Dark Tower character made me only more eager to re-read the series.

I believe this book is greatly underrated – there is some terrifying horror aspects at the beginning, but mellows out into dealing with the human condition with respect to traumatic experiences. Also, there is a beautiful scene towards the end of “Why We’re in Vietnam” that I wont forget easily, with vivid imagery of a man coming to terms with his guilt.

A must-read for DT fans, and Stephen King fans in general. There is also a 2001 movie of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Anton Yelchin, focused on stories related to Bobby Garfield. Well worth the watch.

WOTH: Platinum #23 – Amnesia: Memories

At first glance, Amnesia: Memories appears like quite a departure from the well-known horror franchise sharing the Amnesia title.

I guess perhaps the horror in the third title comes from the boys' choices in hairstyle?

I guess perhaps the horror in the third title comes from the boys’ choices in hairstyle?

In reality, other than the title and perhaps a few horror themes (why the hell would a college guy have a cage in his room?), these games are nothing alike.

Amnesia: Memories is a genre of game I have never played, nor had I ever conceived of playing; Otome. Basically, it is marketed towards females, and involves the central character (you) developing relationships with a selection of potential guys.

… Yeah.

But, being the platinum trophy collector I am, knowing that this one would be rather easy to obtain, and that it was one of the monthly free games, I figured it would be a quick fix while slogging through 120+ hours in Witcher 3. I could have skipped all of the dialogue while following a guide… but in the end, I decided to give it a chance.

The basic premise in Amnesia: Memories is this; you’re a college girl, doing probably normal college girl stuff like complaining about Starbucks cups then BAM! A spirit collides with you somehow, pushing out all of your memories. Sucks to be you, the otherworldy spirit says in perfect Japanese, but it will assist you in regaining your memories so you return to normal, and so the spirit can go off and do spirit-things. You then choose what possible world you could have been knocked out of (since here, parallel worlds exist, I guess), each of which is centred around dating or getting to know one of four guys – each with very different personalities.

As you bumble through life, forgetting how to be a waitress, or how to talk to people you knew, you slowly uncover the nature of your relationship with this guy who seems to be hanging around. You’ll make many dialogue choices, and this will eventually determine what ending you get for that storyline – good, bad, neutral, or even stabby. Yes, there’s a mysterious other guy who is a bit of a madman.

I followed the “good” ending for each of the worlds, then skipped dialogue for all the other possible endings. A couple of the stories were actually pretty interesting; they were more than just figuring out the relationship, but uncovering some dark pasts. One storyline stands out as a compelling mystery plot, while another just went… weird (a cage? really?), which made it hard for me to accept the “good” ending as really morally good.

I wouldn’t say this game genre is for everyone, but you can detach yourself from the main character, seeing it as more of a passive “movie”, which makes it less intimidating if you’re weirded out by the dating premise.

If you do want a pretty quick (~5-8 hours) platinum, and have it in your list, then go for it.