When it comes to gaming, it’s always been the story for me, right from the time of Myst and Riven almost 20 years ago. For the most part, give me a story and I’ll be hooked. Of course, the puzzle/discovery content is pretty important too, as is rolling about from cover to cover, sneaking up on or around the bad guys, and sometimes just taking a massive gun and shooting everything in sight.
There’s a lot of shooting everything in sight in Wolfenstein: The New Order (hereafter W:TNO), plus a decent amount of sneaking about if you so wish, but the overarching attraction of the game for me has been the premise its storyline is based on: What if the Nazis won World War II? Indeed, most of the action takes place in a 1960s world where the Nazis have been in power for a decade and a half, and things look very different. Hand in hand with the relentless pursuit of their master race propaganda, the Nazis have also had breakthrough technological advancements, including space travel. Famous cityscapes have changed in a way that you can identify them and yet see that something has gone wrong, very wrong. They also have at their disposal a variety of super-weapons. This means that during the gameplay you get to be chased down by gun-wielding robots the size of tanks, near-indestructible ubersoldaten and mechanical dogs that are anything but cuddly. Retro-scifi, someone called it. Hits the nail on its head.
Our beloved hero B.J. Blazcowicz returns as the main protagonist and the game’s only playable character. Back in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was the last game in the series I played, I seem to recall Blazcowicz as a bit of a brainless bullet-happy twit, but in W:TNO, we see a more fleshed-out character. Of course, he still a Nazi-killing machine, but he gets a few quips in, definitely gets to travel, including a trip to the moon, and also a couple of sex scenes.
The story begins in 1946, in the domain of General Wilhelm Strasse (also known as Deathshead). In the prologue, Blazcowicz and two of his colleagues are captured. During their escape attempt a decision has to be made as to which of the colleagues have to be saved, based on which the storyline splits (albeit only in terms of cutscenes). However, the survivors come to grief, and a serious head injury puts Blazcowicz in a coma from which he wakes up 14 years later, in 1960, when the world has changed. The game really gets under way from the time he escapes from the asylum—one of the things that reminds you that this is after all a story is that despite having spent the last decade and a half in a vegetative state, Blazcowicz remains a ripped, deadly, bullet-spewing machine, having lost none of his skills and reflexes—and joins up a flagging Resistance to attempt to take down the Nazis.
The gameplay mostly consists of disposing of various Nazi enemies, both human and robotic. But it isn’t all about breaking down doors and shooting everything in sight. As almost all reviewers and gamers have appreciated, W:TNO’s strength is its writing, not just the story, but the characters and dialogues as well. You fight your way through an asylum, explore underwater tunnels in a U-boat, sneak through a lunar colony (yes, you actually get to walk on the moon), inflitrate and escape a labour camp, sneak into a prison and more. There is not much of a learning curve to the gameplay—the usual FPS mechanics of figuring out how to move, hide, switch between weapons, reload, take cover, sneak, sprint and so on. There is a much-praised lean mechanism while shooting, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to work for me.
One thing I particularly love is that stealth is a major possibility in large parts of the game. It doesn’t seem possible to go an entire level only on stealth, but you can do quite a bit of damage, especially the ability to take out the “commanders” so they can’t call for reinforcements, thus reducing the amount of bloodshed you have to cause. The game’s perk system lets you unlock rewards depending on your play style, which is quite clever. The ability to change difficulty settings mid-level is also rather useful. I usually play on the “normal” setting to get the best of both the story and the challenge. W:TNO’s default “normal” is the third of its five difficulty settings, called “Bring ’em on”, and while it’s not terribly difficult, I have little patience, and have been known to turn it down to “Don’t hurt me” in order to either advance to a part of the story I’m much looking forward to or to get past a particularly tricky section I’m stuck in. Overall, the game runs really smoothly, with no lengthy waits between cutscenes and gameplay—in fact, the transitions seem almost seamless.
Oh, and I am delighted that this is a singleplayer-only game. No idiotic community messages to distract from your gaming pleasure (are you listening, Hitman?).
I still have two more chapters to go before I finish Wolfenstein: The New Order, but I know this is going down in my list of favourites. I mean, how many games let you sneak into a lunar space shuttle and walk on the moon?
Replay value? Definitely.
[NOTE: I feel a little bad roasting this book here, mainly because if you can’t find even one good thing to say, then should you say anything at all? But I’ve run out of patience ploughing through it, so here goes…]
That hypothetical fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous? There’s a reason one is advised to navigate it with caution. Because sometimes you step out on the wrong side.
Shatter Me hooked me with its glowing ratings (4-star-plus in Goodreads), but had I cared to read the actual reviews, I’d certainly have given Tahereh Mafi’s trilogy opener a miss. To be fair, it has an interesting premise—a girl whose touch is lethal escapes her confinement at the hands of people who want to use her as a torture device. The storyline, though, follows a predictable path, and every single YA dystopia stereotype and plot device that you could think of is ticked off here.
I’m not going to tax my brain writing about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:
I have a curse
I have a gift
I am a monster
I’m more than human
My touch is lethal
My touch is power
I am their weapon
I will fight back
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war—and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
I would argue that there’s hardly any original plot in fantasy and the only thing distinguishing the good YA dystopias from the bad ones is the quality of writing. Which is where Shatter Me trips up. The style of writing can best be summed up as “purple prose”, where every second sentence is a metaphor. In fact, the narrative in many parts comprises run-on, punctuation-less, inane analogies that makes you wonder if Harper is suddenly short of editors. Some of the metaphors don’t even make sense and the narrator’s habit of crossing out (sanitizing?) her thoughts gets old very fast. Samples:
Every organ in my body falls to the floor.
He’s a hot bath, a short breath, 5 days of summer pressed into 5 fingers writing stories on my body.
His eyes are tight and his forehead pinched, his lips
his lips his lipsare 2 pieces of frustration forged together. I step backward and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us.
I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.
As one Goodreads reviewer aptly summed up, “Shatter Me, otherwise known as: When Creative Writing Class Goes Wrong.” Truly, it does seem like attempted artistic writing gone
terribly horribly wrong.
It also includes some YA tropes that I find incredibly off-putting, such as the instant attraction between Juliette and Adam, so much so, that despite having been in solitary confinement for almost a year, the only thoughts Juliette can have when Adam comes close to her are about how hot he is and how she wants to melt like hot butter against his body (yes, really, though I couldn’t find the page for the actual quote). And how, when they’re running for their lives, they must stop for a make-out session.
Adam on his part has also secretly
lusted after been in love with Juliette for yonks. That’s not all—Juliette, of course, thinks she’s hideous herself, but in reality she’s “beautiful”, as she’s told by one of the boys. But what is perhaps worst is not even the perfectly predictable story line and flimsy world building, but the fact that Juliette is also a perfect little Mary Sue. Somewhere, it’s clear that she’s imagined as a “good” person with a “terrible” power, but she’ll never harm anyone and she’ll bend but not break. However, what comes across is a damsel in distress who goes weak-kneed in the presence of her “beloved”.
It isn’t really fair to write about a book before you finish reading it, but I couldn’t help myself in this case. I admit that taste is subjective, and one woman’s tripe is another’s artistic wizardy. So I continue to read, and remain in hope of a shattering (pun accidental) twist that will make it all worth it.
Here we go again, time to get excited about turning yet another year older. I’ll be honest: my favourite part about birthdays is cake (chocolate) and presents (many), not necessarily in that order. But because I don’t want to appear shallow, it helps to also make it about reflecting on the year gone by and think about what to expect in the next 365 days.
Here’s what I’d hoped to fill 2016 with:
- Implement the new design for Writeside.net. (It got a bit complicated. Long story.)
Finish writing a book.(DONE, DONE and DONE! Yep, got two coming out this year, one an MG novel and the other a collaborative effort with another author. The US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is also out this year.)
- Stay healthier than I managed in 2015. (Oops, that one might have come undone a bit.)
Travel somewhere fun.(Done. Spent two weeks in the UK) Work on the workshops.(Done! Devika Rangachari and I started Royal Blue. We did three independent workshops, and have just wrapped up a 15-session creative writing programme in Amity International School, Saket, New Delhi.) Play more games.(Done! Would have been nice to get a bit more time for gaming, but shouldn’t complain.)
So, all in all, not as bad as it could have been.
But it’s that day again, so time for a brand new list, with new resolutions and aims. Here goes:
- Write (and/or finish) a fantasy novel: At the moment I don’t care if it’s one of my unfinished projects or series, or a new standalone novel. I just want to get back into fantasy.
- Start running again: Okay, I know realistically there isn’t a chance in hell of this happening if I continue to live in Delhi and if my knees don’t magically regenerate, so let’s downgrade this to “get fit enough so I can theoretically start running again”.
- Redo Writeside.net: Not just a new design, but maybe rethink what I’m doing with the site.
- Blog regularly: Plan in place.
- Keep playing games: My huge gaming backlog is getting huger as I keep buying games but not playing quite so much. But I’m going to do my best.
- Try self-publishing: Stay tuned for more on this.
- Travel somewhere interesting: As usual.
That’s all folks. Let’s see where we are 365 days from now.