Inquisitor Martyr

A game where you play as a secret agent of the Imperium smiting everything in your path in the name of the God Emperor isn’t without its appeal, but as with so many other 40K games it seems it’s the execution that is somewhat lacking.

One of the curious things about Inquisitor Martyr is despite being a 40K game it spends very little time actually establishing the world and setting. There’s a brief intro explaining how the Inquisition are involved in a 10,000 year long war and that’s pretty much it. So it’s ideal as an introduction to the somewhat bewilderingly vast mythology of the setting.

Playing the part of an Inquisitor you are sent to investigate a signal in the remote Caligari Sector, the signal belongs to a vast cathedral fortress battleship named ‘Martyr’ that hasn’t been seen in several thousand years. Choosing from one of three classes, Psyker, Crusader and Assassin. Each class has three subclasses. Roughly speaking the Crusader class is the Barbarian of the classes whilst the other two are the Mage and the Rogue. The Crusader and Psyker are male whilst the Assassin is female.

The main campaign starts with going to investigate the mysterious signal but things soon branch out. Being able to take on missions in the various systems of the Caligari Sector breaks up the campaign on the Martyr itself. Priority Assignments which are in essence mini campaigns removed from the main campaign have pretty interesting ‘choose your own adventure’ elements , whilst there are further side quests from other inquisitors, stand alone missions on the various planets and additional Tarot missions which come into play later in the game. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of stuff for anyone wanting to engage with it.

The inquisitor’s ship soon becomes a hub from which you can find other planets and systems and with them other missions, the ship will also soon become host to variety of other characters. Inquisitor Martyr isn’t a particularly bad game (it’s arguably the best 40K on consoles but that speaks more to how poor most 40K games are) though it definitely doesn’t do itself any favours featuring a variety of elements that are poorly explained, a variety of bugs, sound occasionally cuts out randomly for example, and an overall lack of polish.

The approach to weapons and armour, the fundamental basic of any RPG or indeed an ARPG like this one is a bit odd. Different classes have access to a variety of weapons and armour but something which slowly becomes clear is the importance and hindrance of the power rating. Weapons grant four different attacks, or for duel wielding 2 each, with a variety of effects and damage. Weapons, armour and other equipment have a power rating. Missions also have a power rating. This determines a mission’s difficulty but it’s not that simple because without the right power rating players get negative modifiers, take more damage and do less damage. Where things get a little confusing is the power rating of a weapon doesn’t necessarily equate to being a better more powerful weapon. Sometimes a weapon with a higher power rating will actually be worse than one with a lower power rating. Which leads to a bizarre scenario where an inferior weapon may have a higher power rating and thereby increase your overall power rating. This means keeping a preferred loadout is problematic.

That a game that features the Inquisition rather than just the usual 40K default that is space marines is a welcome change. Although there’s definitely a sense that a 40K game about the Inquisition could have been so much more than this. Inquisitor Martyr at times feel like quantity over quality. As though Neocore has tried to jam so much into the game that it can at times seem rather messy. Your inquisitor will has attributes, a plethora of unlockable skill trees and a variety of unlockable perks. That’s besides character specific special abilites, for example the Crusader Heavy Gunner has a shoulder mounted miniature rocket launcher. There’s also a morality system too.  The game features a bewildering crafting system, and an associated unlockable tech tree, but none of this is really explained at all and the same can be said for the games innoculator system.

Despite its various faults though Inquisitor Martyr is not without its charm. This largely comes down to undoubtedly being the most accessable 40K game to date. The game isn’t bogged down in explaining the myriad different factions and races, it doesn’t even really explain who the chaos gods are and it all works rather well for it.  The story is rather well done,  there’s definite shades of Dan Abnett’s Gregor Eisenhorn, and the voice acting is for the most part pretty well done.

Although whoever opted to have NPC’s voices come through the controller speakers needs talking to.

Sex, Lies & Statistics

Sex, Lies & Statistics is the title of the American edition of the book The Sex Myth  originally published in 2012. The U.S edition published in 2017 couldn’t be more relevant in 2018 when FOSTA-SESTA is hurting the very people it’s supposed to help in the U.S, the British government wants to block internet porn to ‘protect children’ and just a few days ago British sex workers were protesting over numerous MPs in the British government apparently  inspired by Trump’s FOSTA-SESTA now want something similar for Britain and U.K

Scientist and former sex worker Dr Brooke Magnanti takes a look at the data and research behind the headlines of recurring media narratives around sex work. Broken down into 10 chapters which focus on a different aspect.  The results a combination of journalistic research and scientific analysis  demonstrate that as far as much of the media and various anti-sex work campaigners are concerned evidence and research is irrelevant if it points to something that goes against an ideological aim.

The calls to ban or further restrict ‘sex work’, an  umbrella catch all term for myriad different things, isn’t really anything to do with ‘evidence’ as much as it is to do with moral outrage and a puritanical backlash against both sexuality and sex work in general. One of the latest manifestations of this is developments concerning Patreon, a platform which has apparently decided to arbitrarily suspend the accounts of creators it deems to be creating ‘inappropriate’ content. This seems to be the result of pressure from payment processors essentially engaging in redlining against anyone associated with sex work. This is in itself is nothing new porn stars were complaining about banks closing or freezing their accounts several years ago.  Elsewhere strip clubs that’ve been a city fixture for years with no problems are facing a backlash from irate activists insistent that strip clubs  ‘normalise the commodification of women’s bodies’.

One of the most pertinent aspects of this book is that Magnanti as a scientist points out that regardless of your personal perspective on things if you’re incapable of actually engaging with the evidence if it contradicts your perspective, then you’re not interested in the evidence but rather just furthering your own agenda.

A major part of this ‘debate’ is the way sex work is acknowledged by governments and the law and it breaks down into several different manifestations globally,

Decriminalisation – The removal of all legal impediments to sex work, where sex workers can work in regulated premises for others or in private premises for themselves. Decriminalisation, often shortened to ‘Decrim’, is approved by various sex worker led organisations and Amnesty International amongst others. ‘DECRIM NOW’ placards are often seen at sex worker protests

Legalisation – Sex work is only allowed with regulated workers in licensed premises. A good example being the Bunny Ranch in Nevada in the U.S. This approach generally isn’t approved by sex worker organisations because it creates a situation where some sex workers are penalised by the law whilst others aren’t.

Partial criminalisation – Where customers of sex workers are criminalised. This isn’t favoured by sex worker organisations because it indirectly criminalises sex workers and makes for a more dangerous scenario as customers will avoid reporting anything to police for fear of prosecution.

Full criminalisation – Both buying and selling sex is illegal. This results in shunning and stigmatising sex workers being common place.

As Magnanti explains sex workers being shunned, ignored, stigmatised and demonised is by no means anything new. One of England’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe aka the Yorkshire Ripper, evaded capture for several years in the 70’s partly due to his victims being prostitutes, which the media, the police and the public didn’t really care about. Both in the news and in film and TV the sex worker is often the victim that nobody cares about or serves as the basis for an underlying moral message about the ‘evils’ of sex work.

What’s alarming is when Magnanti does some digging tracking down the origins of the various sources of statistics often paraded by anti-sex worker figures. This reveals that some of the NGOs and charities,often championed by well meaning but clueless celebrities, have links to distinctly dubious organisations that have their own agendas. Despite raking in vast amounts of money for ‘research’ and their causes this money rarely, if ever, actually goes towards helping actual victims of the ‘sex trafficking’ that always comes up when there’s any discussion about sex workers. This revelation was so explosive that Magnanti was threatened with legal action from one of the anti-sex work figures mentioned.

Another thing that becomes clear is how when it comes to sex work ‘feminism’ is utterly splintered. ‘Feminists’ approach to sex work falls into several groups. There are those that support women who choose to be sex workers and fight for sex worker rights because of the improved safety they will provide. There are those that think that all sex work should be outright banned altogether if not heavily penalised because sex work is ‘predicated on violence towards and exploitation of women’ and there are those that believe that no woman would ever willingly choose to be  a sex worker in any circumstance and therefore they must be ‘brainwashed’ into thinking they’re acting independently by  ‘choosing to be sex slaves’.

As comedian Avery Edison put it on Twitter ‘You will never end demand for sex work, the same way anti-abortion activists will never end demand for abortion. All you will do is push it underground, where more people will be hurt. Not only do the facts bear this out, it also makes obvious logical sense!’

Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition

Space Hulk: Deathwing is something I mentioned a while back. Originally appearing on PC at the end of 2016 it just recently landed on PS4 in its new ‘Enhanced Edition’ (which is a free update for those that have the PC edition). Streum On Studio spent the last year or so working on the game for this new edition.

The game does a pretty good job of translating the board game into an FPS, clanking around claustrophobic tunnels as a space marine terminator wondering where a threat is going to appear from is undeniably appealing. The campaign has your squad from the Dark Angels Deathwing Company (lead by your terminator psyker librarian) charged with investigating a vast hulk that has appeared that dates back to the Age of Heresy.

One thing that’s definitely clear is this is aimed squarely at 40K fans, anyone not at least somewhat familiar with the source material will be pretty much lost and not understand any of the things that are casually mentioned in the story with no context.

There’s definitely a cathartic appeal to unleashing an onslaught of storm bolter fire on a swarm of genestealers (for the unitiated that’s four armed predatory aliens, two of those arms have vicious razor sharp claws that can carve through armour like a hot knife through butter).  Along with a variety of ranged weapons you also have a melee attack, with a variety of melee weapons available. Although melee is more of a last ditch desperation move. The maps, which mark out objectives and points of interest, could almost be straight out of the mission book for the board game.

One of the neat touches is being able to change weapons in the middle of a level by using a Psigate. Psigates are portals to your ship which not only allow you to change your weapons but also heal the squad, revive fallen comrades, and act as save points. They must be used sparingly though as there’s a limited amount per level.

The voice acting is pretty standard for a 40K game, it definitely has that unintentionally comical feel to it, a bit like RSC types are having a bit of fun inbetween shows.

For all it does a pretty good job of faithfully recreating the look and atmosphere of the source material this has numerous problems. One of them being that there seems to be a general lack of polish over all, especially for game that’s had an extra year or so of work on it. The  constant gloom whilst atmospheric essentially masks the lack of detailed character models for the enemy which becomes rather apparent in one of the rare well lit areas.

Others problems include the A.I of your squad. Which isn’t that great. Despite one of your squad members being the medic of the group they will never heal themselves or another squad member without being prompted. This means a squad member can be on death’s door and unless the  healer is prompted they’ll just die. Sometimes a squad member will just stand there whilst being attacked.

This A.I is compounded by the fiddly menu system used to issue orders to squad members.

There’s been much fanfare about the customisation of armour, weapons and character classes available but this is only available via the multiplayer.  Which really highlights a major problem with FPS games in general, those not interested in the multiplayer are basically missing out on the ability customise their character.  By trying to cater to both solo players and multiplayer fans developers are basically burning both due to the limitations this places on development time.

Combat is often chaotic, which is expected, but to the point that the game can start to chug a little when there are too many enemies in an area. Speaking of enemies there isn’t that much in the way of variety here. Given that there are potentially dozens of enemy types to choose from in the The Great Devourer’s bioforms, that’s with omitting things like traitor space marines,  it’s disappointing that the approach here is fairly  limited.

Being a space marine terminator librarian should feel empowering but Psyker powers, which should be awe inspiring,  have little actual impact in game and their graphical representation is underwhelming to say the least. There’s a general lack of area effect weapons, with the exception of the Heavy Flamer, which means it’s very easy to be overwhelmed. The omission of weapons like the Cyclone missile launcher and the powerfist with grenade launcher seems a bit odd really.

Another unavoidable aspect is how 3 missions in things start to get somewhat tedious due to the constant repetition and general lack of variety. Things soon become much more like an endless grind as you plod from one point of the map to another.  Load times can be tiresome whether it’s loading a game or starting a new level and the game has a strange screen ratio, which means option decriptions can often disappear from the edge of the screen and there doesn’t seem to be a way to change this.

40K isn’t exactly known for its nuance but it definitely seems like there could’ve been an attempt at a more engaging campaign here. Your squad are particularly lacking in personality. This means its hard to get engaged in the proceedings despite the rudimentary attempts at adding skill trees.

There are a lot of 40K games but the vast majority of them are distinctly average at best. There’s the idea of a good game here but it’s lost somewhere. I don’t think the problem lies in the concept but rather in the execution. Over 20 years have passed since Vengeance of the Blood Angels appeared on the Playstation and yet despite definitely being more visually impressive this suffers from many of the same problems.

Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken

‘Walk into any court in the land, speak to any lawyer, ask any judge and you will be treated to uniform complaints of court deadlines being repeatedly missed, cases arriving underprepared, evidence lost, disclosures of evidence not being made, victims made to feel marginalised and millions of pounds of public money wasted.’ – The Secret Barrister.

The above quote from The Secret Barrister’s first book really sums up the myriad problems plaguing the criminal justice system.

Starting off with a historical context for how the English and Welsh criminal justice system evolved slowly over history into the form it now takes, The Secret Barrister methodically explores the various facets, the myriad problems, their apparent causes and most alarmingly why it is that the vast majority of the public don’t seem to care about any of it.

For the uninitiated The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law. They have amassed a not insubstantial following on Twitter, follow them @BarristerSecret, write a blog on various cases that appear in the media amongst other things (like the reasons for opting for anonymity). They also contribute to various media websites on matters of the law in high profile cases, like this explainer on the rather complicated hot potato case of John Worboys.

One of the really interesting things here is despite how fundamentally important the criminal justice system is to a democratic state, and how it can potentially impact on anyone in that state, it’s really rather surprising how little people really know about it. How many people not working within the system can honestly say they know the difference between a Magistrate, a Barrister, a QC and a Solicitor? How many people think that judges in English courts use gavels? How many think that a Barrister spends his days shouting “OBJECTION!” as a judge with a large ornately curled wig oversees things?

One of the first things that sets off an alarm is the revelation that magistrates that sit on Magistrates Courts, where they have the power to sentence people to a maximum of twelve months in prison, need no actual qualifications. If someone told me that six months ago I would’ve assumed they were making it up. To make matters worse there’s more and more pressure to push more and more cases through Magistrates Courts to save money. Saving money is a recurring theme throughout this expose of how the criminal justice system is, at best, running on fumes.

Whilst the revelations about magistrates courts, a ‘replica of an inner-city A&E department on Saturday night’ which deals with an eye watering 94% of criminal cases might cause alarm or surprise that’s just the starter on the menu here.

Other choice highlights being, lawyers dealing with cases they learn about upon arriving at court relying upon often incomplete files, evidence that goes missing somewhere between the CPS and the police if it was ever found to begin with, complainants that give up rather than waiting for their trial that’s been adjourned several times over several years to be rescheduled, shiny new court rooms (built with tax payer money) that remain locked and unused despite the backlog of cases due to cost cutting, predatory private legal firms that poach clients but then abandon them, private firms that fail to provide interpreters, or worse provide interpreters that aren’t fit for purpose,  and possibly the most surprising of all that on some cases a legal aid barrister will in fact be paying to work so low is their hourly rate.

That’s just the tip of the sorry iceberg though and just some of the inevitable consequences when Justice is at the mercy of the state being fixated on doing things on the cheap.

There’s three things I’ve heard people talk about in a disgusted manner as they peruse the newspaper seeing an article related to the latest  case that’s made the news, one is disbelief and outrage at some rapist, for example, ‘getting thousands of pounds in legal aid’, another is ‘soft touch’ judges ‘letting people get away with anything’ and the third is prisons ‘being glorified holiday resorts’.

The average person’s seething contempt for legal aid is seemingly built on a heady mix of misinformation from the media reporting things shorn of context to serve a political stance and the idea that they, or their loved ones, will never find themselves in court having to defend themselves because that only happens to other people. This is compounded by governments also playing their part in misinformation to curry favour with an electorate that increasingly thinks Something Must Be Done.

The seemingly abstract nature of the criminal justice system is why it’s not treated in the same way in the media as say the NHS, or Education, or any of a dozen other things that impact people’s lives.

Then there’s the absurdity of the ‘innocence tax’, whereby somebody can be accused of a crime, be aquitted, then find themselves having to sell their home to pay legal fees. How can that be right? You might ask, it’s because thanks to government mandated policy changes the state not only doesn’t have to refund all their costs but increasingly people will not qualify for legal aid as a direct result of policy changes. This means an exponential increase in the number of people representing themselves, which unsurprisingly means longer more drawn out trials because they don’t know what they’re doing, which cost the tax payer more, and also unsurprisingly doesn’t tend to go well for the self representing party.

But it get worse.

Legislation for sentencing for crimes is such a complex and labyrinthine affair that even judges sometimes struggle to understand things. With Mr Justice Mitting, on commenting on a High Court case in 2010, stating, ‘It is simply unacceptable in a society governed by the rule of law for it to be well-nigh impossible to discern from statutory provisions what a sentence means in practice’.

So it’s not really that surprising that crime reporting tends to cut away what’s considered the extraneous details around a sentencing. This speaks to a fundamental problem in the way crime is reported though. Shorn of context, detail, and importantly explanation, the public is lead to believe that criminals are indeed ‘getting away with it’.

As for prisons The Secret Barrister has this to say,

‘Stepping inside a prison will immediately quell any agreement you may have with red-top caricatures of holiday camps. Prisoners are locked up for up to twenty-three hours a day in filthy, dilapidated cells, in which they eat all their meals and use an unscreened lavatory in front of their cellmate. Cockroaches crunch underfoot, surrounded by broken glass, peeling ceilings, broken fittings, graffiti and damaged floors. Giant rats’ nests add infestation to the population. Drugs have flooded in as prison staff struggle to maintain order’.

After mentioning that HMP Leeds aka Armley Jail, The North’s own Colditz if you will, had been reported as being severely overcrowded and rife with drugs, violence and mental health issues, a friend commented “Good. They deserve it”. Which speaks to the seemingly commonly held belief that the only punishment for a crime must be incarceration and that empathy or compassion for the incarcerated is a rarity.  The letters page of the Metro  after a particularly awful high profile case, for example, will be full of lamentations about how much of a ‘soft touch’ the country is for not having the death penalty anymore.

But there’s more still as The Secret Barrister relates in horrifying detail how upon finding yourself wrongly incarcerated for several years if you’re lucky enough to actually be released via the Court of Appeal, which in itself is a rarity, you won’t get so much as a ‘sorry about that old bean’ from the state, nevermind any kind of financial compensation so you can attempt to piece the shattered remnants of your life back together.

The understanding and representation of the law and crime isn’t just a problem in the media, especially in newspapers given that local news reporting has all but gone the way of the Dodo, but this distorted perception is amplified even more when elected representatives demonstrate how they too clearly don’t understand matters of law, Harriet Harmon MP’s proclamations on the hot potato case of Ched Evans being a pertinent example.

The Secret Barrister has no love for MP’s who care not for the nuances of the law,

”Sometimes, our elected representatives will not even bother to lay the groundwork; they will simply run straight to the Commons with a private members bill drafted on a crisp packet seeking to vanquish whatever chimera excites them today’.

Given how genuinely dire things are it’s no surprise that 90% of the The Criminal Bar’s members agreed to effectively go on strike over the myriad cuts to legal aid amongst other things.

The other aspect bubbling away in the background of this sorry state of affairs is none of this makes being a criminal barrister, or any other role, in anyway appealing for people entering the maddening world of the criminal justice system after landing themselves in massive debt for the privelege .

Arkham Horror The Card Game



Set in the  Lovecraft Mythos  the core game is aimed at 1 or 2 players (you can have more players with an additional core set or with the deluxe expansions) and has them take on the role of an investigator in 1930’s Arkham, Massachusetts, investigating strange happenings.

Players choose from a selection of different investigators (the core game features five, with each deluxe expansion featuring another five)  who all have different backstories, abilities and ratings for willpower, intellect, combat and agility. Investigators come under several different classes, Guardian, Mystic, Rogue, Seeker and Survivor. The class of an investigator determines the majority of the cards a player can choose from to make up their deck.

A player has a deck of 30 cards, with two or three additional cards depending on the investigator. Players use resources to put cards into play. Cards are generally broken down into Asset, Event and Skill. Assets are items, allies or spells, events are pretty self explanatory and skill cards have an impact on a skill test in a given context. The amount of assets an investigator can have in play is limited by slots broken down into Accessory, Ally, Arcane, Body and Hand.

Investigators also have weaknesses, which are either basic (which any investigator can have) or character specific. Drawing a weakness can seriously throw a spanner in the works.

Having a deck limited to 30(ish) cards with a maximum of two of any card makes things more streamlined, improving the chances of getting ‘that card’, which matters because Arkham Horror The Card Game is brutal.

The difficulty, even on ‘standard’, fits the themes of its inspiration, the Lovecraft mythos is all about how powerless and insignificant humanity is in the face of mind shattering eldritch horror. This game being in any way easy would be a massive disservice to thematic ideas of the setting even if it does become somewhat comically absurd in places.

Contrary to what you might think extra players make things harder rather than easier despite the game being a cooperative one. Some enemies have health determined by the amount of players, which at first seems game breakingly absurd, but in context works. Characters in a Lovecraftian world should be facing overwhelming odds and be on the verge of insanity due to the horrors they’ve seen.

The game basically breaks down into a race against time as players navigate locations and hunt for clues to advance the story before the ‘eldritch forces’ advance their own story. This is done via a two seperate sets of cards, the Act deck and the Agenda deck.

The right amount of clues moves the Act deck forward, whilst Doom moves the Agenda deck forward. The tension comes from Doom being generated automatically every turn whilst clues have to be found by investigators.

The eldritch forces are represented by the Encounter deck for that scenario. Each investigator draws an encounter card per turn.  Arkham Horror The Card Game is a surprisingly deep game. Investigators have both health and sanity and losing too much of either is bad news, especially as the Agenda proceeds. The narrative element plays out a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Players actions in a given scenario impact how that scenario will end which can have a major impact on a campaign. The games story driven nature makes it ideal for solo play but equally it also means that the first time playing any scenario will always have the biggest impact.

There are two deluxe expansions available to date, The Dunwich Legacy   has players investigating the disappearance of a trio of Miskatonic University professors and The Path to Carcosa has players investigating The King in Yellow a strange and notorious production put on by the Ward Theatre.

Both campaigns feature several additional seperate scenarios that play out the narrative of the campaign.

Arkham Horror The Card Game is marketed to be played in campaigns, and campaigns can add a lot to the appeal of a game but when investigators are either insane or on death’s door by the end of a single scenario in a campaign with several scenarios it makes me wonder how this plays out. If an investigator loses all their health or sanity in a scenario then they suffer physical or mental ‘trauma’ meaning they start the next scenario with one less health/sanity. Victory points earned by defeating powerful enemies during a scenario translate into experience. Experience  allows players to get new or improved cards for their investigators deck for use in the next scenario of a campaign.

One of the impressive aspects of the game is how it removes the need for dice by using ‘chaos tokens’ which are drawn at random whenever a player has to make a skill test to look for clues, run away from a monster, etc. Chaos tokens determine whether a test has succeeded or not and can also have scenario specific effects. The difficulty can be increased or decreased by adding or removing counters.

There’s a few not so good things that stood out though besides the feasibility of campaigns.

A pretty big problem is you tend to spend a lot of time looking things up in the rules reference book and sometimes things are rather poorly explained or not explained at all, meaning you end up trying to find answers online.

This completely derails your game whilst someone tries to find out how something functions in the context of the game.

Another problem is that the set up of the game can become rather time consuming as investigator decks are assembled and scenarios are set up, this is drawn out even more if one of the players doesn’t have their own copy of the game and cards and isn’t familiar with the set up process . A bit like playing Magic The Gathering if one player doesn’t actually have any cards and has to assemble their deck using someone else’s cards.

Another thing is the core game (and subsequent expansions) only come with one campaign sheet in the box. Campaign sheets are used to record the status of investigators as a campaign progresses. This seems like Fantasy Flight Games is implying you’re only going to play this campaign, or any other campaign, once. Adding an additional, say, 5 campaign sheets would surely not have been a cripplingly expensive addition to the production cost of the game and definitely promoted a sense of replayability.

Know Your Place

It’s a strange thing when you actually become aware of how class works in Britain. A dawning realisation that can shift your perception of everything, like your eyes focussing after you’ve just woken up.

Whether it’s realising that your friend’s idea of going on holiday doesn’t mean going to a caravan park somewhere near the coast for a week ( that’s if you even go on holiday), or the way that girl at school gleefully tells anyone who’ll listen that your Mum cleans her house as though it makes you and your family somehow intrinsically lesser people.

The lived experience of being working class in 21st century Britain isn’t a universal one but Know Your Place from Dead Ink, edited by Nathan Connolly, does a good job of conveying life experiences on a variety of subjects filtered through the prism of growing up working class in 21st century Britain.

Simply put Know Your Place is The Good Immigrant for the working class, being inspired by a tweet from the editor of that book, Nikesh Shukla.

As Connolly points out,

‘There is a vision of the working class we like to cling to: a romanticised, fetishised idea that is still rooted somewhere around the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937, an account of working class life written by a man educated at Eton.’

The essays collected here cover a broad spectrum of life experiences and observations about being working class in Britain in 2017. Rural poverty and the myriad obstacles writers from working class backgrounds face, how class and race intersect, how ‘working class’ accents and backgrounds can still cause major problems for people (a good example of this being MP Laura Pidcock’s comments on her experience of Parliament) and many more.

This book is important and timely given the way that the ‘working class’ have become a convenient scapegoat for a lot of things in recent political developments. Now it’s hard to think of the working class without thinking of Jeremy Kyle’s eponymous TV show, in the space of a little over a decade it’s become firmly rooted in the media landscape presenting a parade of troubled families for the nation’s entertainment.

Know Your Place shatters misconceptions and stereotypes embedded within the barrage of press and media coverage by presenting real stories and perspectives from real working class people.

Buy Know Your Place here.

Forgotten Film Club


Forgotten Film Club is the latest book from Jon Spira, the writer of Videosyncratic which is one of my top books published recently, I explain at length why here.

The idea behind this new book is definitely an interesting one, a look at a film that has it seems been completely and utterly forgotten by, well, pretty much everyone. A film that barely even gets a mention on the internet outside of IMDB and Wikipedia. I expect this book may possibly change that.

The film in question? Morons From Outer Space which starred amongst others Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones.

Smith and Jones, as they were generally referred to, became one of the biggest comedy duos in Britain at the time. I can definitely remember seeing them on TV but I think I was a little too young, or just not interested, in why or how two men sat opposite each other talking about things was supposed to be funny.

An early point that really stands out is that every film, regardless of whether it’s the latest record breaking box office smash hit or something loitering in the lower regions of Tesco’s DVD chart, is the result of the hard work, blood, sweat and most likely tears of dozens if not hundreds of people.

This is something that’s often overlooked, the outrage over Suicide Squad winning an Oscar for Best Makeup comes to mind.

Whilst this is a relatively brief affair at just over 130 pages, it definitely proves one thing, Spira can evidently write an interesting and engaging book about film, any film it seems, because it’s not just about an obscure British film featuring a comedy duo best known for their work on TV, Forgotten Film Club takes a look at how society engages with film and looks at elements of this film, from the science, or lack of it, to the writing, direction, casting and why it failed so spectacularly despite featuring well known stars.

One of the most interesting aspects of Forgotten Film Club though is how Spira crowdfunded the book via Kickstarter without actually telling anyone what film the book is about, that in itself is pretty impressive.

You can get Forgotten Film Club: Book One from Amazon or maybe ask your local book shop to order it for you.

Lust For Darkness

Despite the works of H.P Lovecraft, especially his Cthulhu mythos, being completely absorbed into the pop culture landscape for years there’s been little success of translating the Lovecraft ‘vibe’ into the world of gaming, despite numerous attempts.

Primarily because the vast majority of games feature the player taking on the role of a protagonist character in a world full of antagonists which the player has to fight to progress through the game. Which isn’t really what any of Lovecraft’s numerous stories were about.  When a game is described as being ‘Lovecraftian’ it’s often just short hand for a game that features large tentacled monsters that look like Cthulhu. This video from Extra Credits explains why games in general fundamentally misunderstand the concept of Cthulhu. Even Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which is based on ‘Shadow over Innsmouth’, and is one of the better Lovecraft inspired games, is still a first person shooter set in a ‘Lovecraftian’ world.

A major problem being that gaming in general is massively reliant on games with combat mechanics, as high lighted rather brilliantly by Pop Culture Detective in this video essay.  For any Lovecraftian game to really live up to that aim it should be focussing more on a mounting sense of helplessness, unease, creeping dread and the questioning of reality rather than fighting tentacled beasts.  Cyanide Studio’s upcoming Call of Cthulhu shows a lot of promise in this regard.

Something else that’s looking promising whilst not directly based on any of Lovecraft’s stories is Lust For Darkness from Lunar Cult Studios.

Lust For Darkness has the player taking on the role of Jonathan Moon, a man who has received a letter from his wife who has been missing for a year. The letter gives him the location of a secluded Victorian mansion. Players must navigate the mansion and  find clues to determine what happened to Moon’s missing wife.

Taking inspiration from H.P Lovecraft and artists Zdzisław Beksiński and H.R Giger Lust For Darkness puts the emphasis on atmosphere, mystery and a creeping sense of otherworldly dread. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ mixed with Lovecraft’s eldritch weirdness and ominous atmosphere. This is aimed squarely at adult gamers too.

What really makes Lust For Darkness stand out though is the way it presents itself as more of an interactive film, where the player is like one of the character’s from Lovecraft’s stories who is stumbling on a secret that threatens to completely drive them insane, rather than a generic survival horror game.  There’s some really interesting ideas too, like players being able to put on masks that grant different abilites, like reading an ancient language at the risk of losing your sanity if you wear the mask for too long.

Lust For Darkness is currently on Kickstarter having raised over 400% of its initial funding goal.

Never Hike Alone – A Friday The 13th Fan Film

Friday The 13th is one of the biggest franchises in horror film history.  Hockey mask wearing killer Jason Vorhees is a well known pop culture figure. After 12 films of varying quality, a rather abysmal attempt at rebooting the franchise in 2009, a proposed but dropped TV series, an announcement that there’s no new film on the horizon and the surprise development of Friday The 13th The Game, which despite the involvement of various people associated with the franchise, turned out to be rather underwhelming,  things weren’t exactly looking good for fans of the franchise.

Then fan film Never Hike Alone appeared.

Never Hike Alone is an upcoming Friday The 13th fan film partially funded via Kickstarter. Produced, written and directed by Vincente DiSanti. Drew Leighty stars as Kyle a hiker and video blogger who unwittingly stumbles upon the long abandoned site of Camp Crystal Lake and finds out that those stories about Jason aren’t just camp fire tales for scaring kids. It’s no exaggeration to say that Never Hike Alone is the best thing to happen to Friday The 13th in years. Why? Because it does something that the franchise desperately needs to do if it has any future, it makes it relevant for a modern audience. As much as watching dim witted teenagers getting slowly picked off one by one is part of the franchise’s charm at this point it’s not enough to just do the same thing over and over.

There have been attempts to do something a bit different before. Jason X, the 10th film in the franchise, was essentially ‘Jason in space’ and did a good job of splicing Friday The 13th with a sci-fi B-movie and it looks like it had a far higher budget than it actually did. Another example being Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood which features Jason (played by Kane Hodder for the first time who would go on to play the character is several other entries in the franchise) , now trapped at the bottom of Crystal Lake chained to a rock, being accidentally freed by a girl who is struggling to control her newly discovered telekinetic powers.

These entries in the franchise show that even long running franchises can still do interesting things if the creative team behind them have the will to create something a bit different rather than just ticking the boxes, Never Hike Alone is very much another manifestation of this. There’s a genius to the simplicity of Never Hike Alone’s approach, repurposing Jason, a relentless, seemingly unstoppable, spirit of vengeance as a force of nature in a tense man vs nature scenario.  Never Hike Alone ,like Predator Dark Ages, is another example of fans making a fan film that has better ideas than official films of the same franchise.

Watch the trailer below.

The Gifted

In the wake of Inhumans it seems like there’s a new contender for worst looking Marvel associated TV show with the release of the latest trailer for the upcoming show The Gifted.

The Gifted is according to executive producer Matt Nix set in an alternate timeline to everything else from Fox that’s been X-Men related, fully embracing the inherently confusing Marvel comics narrative device of alternate Earths and time lines.

The series centres around Lauren and Andy Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) two teenagers who discover they’re mutants in a rather dramatic fashion. Which is problematic because their father Reed (Stephen Moyer) works for a faction of the U.S Government that hunts mutants. Meanwhile Lorna Dane aka Polaris (Emma Dumont), John Proudstar aka Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Blink (Jamie Chung) and Eclipse (Sean Teale) are a group of mutants trying to survive in a world where mutants are hunted and feared and the X-Men no longer exist.

The group of mutants here are alternate versions of the same mutants seen in the dark future of Days of Future Past, with the exception of Polaris. There’s nothing wrong with this as Blink is one of the best characters in Marvel’s vast X-Men universe, Blink was heading up the Exiles after escaping from the Age of Apocalypse reality, so it’s disappointing that the character will undoubtedly be underserved by the series for reasons that will become clear.

There’s definitely a lot of potential in the ideas of The Gifted, especially given the very pertinent real world parallels of bigotry, prejudice and hatred towards certain people just because of who they are. That potential is going to be hobbled by several things though one being The Gifted is on Fox rather than Netflix or HBO where writers would be able to actually engage some of the political issues the show is clearly bringing up, another is the same problem that threatens to hobble Inhumans, a TV show about a group of people with powers is very hard to pull off for budgetary reasons.

From what’s been shown so far The Gifted is like a slightly less cheesey Mutant X, which itself was essentially an X-Men show in everything but name, in fact it was so similar that Fox sued Marvel and the production companies before they filed a counter suit and then came to a settlement later.

So whilst it’d be great to see a TV show that features multi-layered fleshed out characters with engrossing character arcs and a narrative that deals with important themes that have very real parallels and features characters with powers, that’s something that the X-Men films have majorly struggled with or not even attempted and they’ve been mega budget productions. The fundamental problem with any TV show that features characters with powers is the writers are generally bound by budgetary restrictions into using those powers sparingly because showing them being used is an expensive and timely endeavour from a production perspective.

Marvel’s Netflix shows have managed to get around this by featuring characters that have powers that are easier to portray on screen because they are much more grounded and generally require more fight choreography than extensive and expensive digital effects work. There’s a big difference between Luke Cage throwing people around and shrugging off bullets and a character like Blink creating portals and teleporting or Polaris using her powers of magnetism to throw vehicles around. There’s no doubt that they could be done, and done impressively, but there’s a definite sense this show doesn’t have the budget to do it and when a show that features powers doesn’t have the budget to do them properly it becomes unintentionally comedic or it has to not take itself seriously and have a more comedic campy tone like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

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