Review | The Importance of Being Interested – Robin Ince

The Importance of Being Interested went on my book wishlist as soon as I saw its back cover description and its promises of exploration and wonder. It aims to be a book of science communication rather than a book of science facts, where author Robin Ince tries to convey why he finds science wonderful and inspiring rather than clinical and cynical. Spoiler alert: he does this really well.

Each chapter focuses on a topic – including time, the universe, conspiracy theories, and religion – and features answers and discussions from scientists who work in areas related to that topic as well as people from other fields who have interesting perspectives to offer, from astronauts to authors to paranormal investigators. These chapters and their discussions will probably introduce you to areas of science that you didn’t know existed. For me, this book was my first introduction to the idea of space archaeology, and Ince’s brief explanation of the field demonstrated both the sheer coolness of that title and the meaningful value of the field. (He also gets bonus points for not following up any of the odder-sounding aspects of the book with the usual tired jokes about research funding!).

The input from the experts also feels “just right”:  Ince gives each expert space to explore ideas rather than being forced into simplified soundbite answers, but without just parroting their words. Some experts reappear across multiple topics and chapters in a way that feels natural and contributes to the book feeling like a larger conversation rather than a linear list of topics.

“Black holes are the reason spaghetti needed to be transformed into a verb”

Continue reading “Review | The Importance of Being Interested – Robin Ince”

Mini-Review Collection – Demo Edition

During the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to get out of my “only playing Destiny 2” rut. Exploring the demos section of the Xbox store seemed like a good place to start, as I knew I would be likely to find something that I wouldn’t have thought of searching for.

I tried a mixture of games; these four games are the ones I played and thought about enough to write a fair review for.

  • Ghostunner – 3.8 GB
  • Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series – 3.5 GB
  • Button City – 840 MB
  • Dead Pets Unleashed – 2.5 GB


During the opening cutscene, your character is betrayed and brutally attacked. Then you awaken, having been repaired by an AI who then tells you that you need to release them from prison. So far, so cyberpunk. However, while the story presented in the first level seems a little generic, the gameplay is the star of this show.

The Ghostrunner demo contains the first two levels of the game, which show off three main gameplay types. One type is pure traversal; using your Ghostrunner abilities of sliding, grappling, jumping, wall-running and air-dashing to fluidly travel across the city. The second type is combat sections, which are closer to being puzzles than typical fights. Enemies die in one hit, but so do you. So the combat sections are about using your parkour skills to zip to each enemy in turn before they can see and lock on to you, deliver the killing blow, then zip over to the next enemy, in as seamless a chain of movement as possible. The best comparison I can make is that it’s like a hybrid of Mirror’s Edge and Superhot, without being a copy of either game.

During the combat sections, you will die a lot. However, the game is designed with that quick trial-and-error loop in mind – checkpoints are frequent, death has no obvious consequences, and you respawn very quickly – so combat doesn’t get too frustrating. (There is also an upgrade system, and an assist mode, in the full game, but neither of these were present in the demo, which I think was a misstep).

Continue reading “Mini-Review Collection – Demo Edition”

Review | Beasts of Maravilla Island

After completing the first level, I felt that Beasts of Maravilla Island was fairly good yet not particularly memorable. But then I saw the second level. Its celestial blue-and-purple colour scheme, dotted with glowing plants and vibrant creatures, absolutely delivered on the feeling of awe and wonder that Maravilla aimed to create. For me, that environment took the game straight from ok to good, and guaranteed my interest in both finishing the game and writing a review of it.

Beasts of Maravilla Island is a third-person snapshooter where you control Marina, a wildlife photographer. Marina has grown up listening to her grandfather’s stories of Maravilla Island, a magical-seeming place where he was once shipwrecked. Now, armed with his camera and his detailed journal, she is visiting the area to see if her grandfather’s stories are true, and to share them with the world if they are true.

During the introductory custscene, Marina is on a ship to the island, and at the start of the game she mentions that she will be picked up the next day. This makes clear to players that the adventure will be fairly short, but more importantly, it sets the tone for the rest of the game by making clear upfront that Marina is not lost, abandoned, or in danger.

After landing on the shore, the first main area, the jungle, is just a short walk away. The Singing Jungle is a vibrant and tropical area filled with colourful birds, gemstone-themed beetles, and climbable vines. This area introduces the player to all of the necessary mechanics; moving, taking photos, picking up objects to solve puzzles, checking the book of stored photos, and checking the journal for clues about the creatures.

The second area, which really caught my attention, is the Glimmering River, a night-time zone with waterfalls, glowing rivers and crystal caves. Here, there is a little more interaction with the focal creature, including a charming game of fetch, plus puzzles that gently build on the ones players solved in the first level.

The final level – the Painted Plateau – contrasts with the previous two, as areas of withered grass and barren rocks suggest that trouble has come to the peaceful world. Desert-based plants and creatures like cacti, lizards, and birds of prey prevail here. Bonus points for Maravilla here for being possibly the only game I’ve ever played with spiders that aren’t scary at all.

Continue reading “Review | Beasts of Maravilla Island”

Insomnia 69 Gaming Festival

Last weekend, I was finally able to return to the Insomnia Gaming Festival, which I last attended in 2019. Given just how much had happened in the interim, I was curious about whether the festival would be how I remembered it, or whether it would have been forced to take a new form.

My friend Danny has also written about the weekend. We bounced a lot of ideas off each other while we were there, so in many cases we’ve come to similar conclusions, but I’d recommend reading his post as its much funnier than mine!


The first thing I noticed was about Insomnia was that the event seemed smaller this year. We arrived at the entrance hall only a few minutes before the 10:30am start time yet were still near the front of the line. Similarly, while we had previously queued in front of a large stage, this time we were presented with a corridor made of barriers and a single screen that played the same 2-minute intro video for the entire weekend. While the usual staples of playable games, tabletop games, merch stands and exhibitors were all present, there were less of them than in 2019. In fact, Friday was much quieter than I expected.

Initially, some of our group were disappointed by the smaller scale and lack of upcoming games or AAA games, given that at previous shows we had been able to play games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Division 2 before they were released. I wasn’t particularly annoyed, as the main reason why I go to Insomnia is to spend time with friends who I only physically see at Insomnia, but I definitely hadn’t found the festival as impressive as I had found it in 2018 or 2019. Fortunately, the Pub Quiz later provided some context that assuaged my worries and changed my view of the weekend.

Continue reading “Insomnia 69 Gaming Festival”

Review | Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

I can often take months (or years…) to complete game campaigns, so finishing a campaign just 10 days after a game’s launch may actually be a speed record for me!

While I have played most of the Borderlands series, I’ve never played the Assault on Dragon’s Keep DLC for Borderlands 2 that inspired Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. So I had limited knowledge of what I was in for, beyond that the usual staples of humour, loot, and eccentric randomly-generated-guns would receive a tabletop twist.

This guess was correct, but I found that Wonderlands was a larger, denser, and even funnier game than I was expecting. Unfortuately, it was also a buggier game than I was expecting. But let’s talk about what Wonderlands is aiming for first, before going into specifics.

The context of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is that people inside the Borderlands universe play a tabletop game named ‘Bunkers & Badasses’. After travellers Valentine, Frette, and the Newbie crash their spaceship into a mountain, Tina lets the stragglers rest in her house until they’re rescued… but only if they play ‘Bunkers & Badasses’ with her.

The gameplay of Wonderlands takes place inside that round of ‘Bunkers & Badasses’. You play as the Newbie, who is controlling the main character of the ‘Bunkers & Badasses’ match, while Tina is the bunker master in control of the story, and Valentine and Frette act as the Newbie’s advisors. This structure gives the game chance to experiment with the usual Borderlands style and gameplay, while also leaving lots of room for messing with the fourth wall and packing the game with an even wider range of references and shout-outs than usual. So far I’ve found side-quests that reference media as far apart as The Secret of Monkey Island, The Smurfs, and Don Quixote.

Continue reading “Review | Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands”

Mini-Review Collection – ‘Wholesome’ Edition

Today I’m doing something a little bit different, and posting a group of mini-reviews rather than one more detailed review.

These games are linked by a common theme; they are all indie games with an accessible nature and a generally light-hearted and innocent tone. They are all what the internet generally calls ‘wholesome’.

So if you’re interested in skateboarding birds, fashionable dogs, or a bouncy Peggle-styled dungeon-crawler, please read on.

Continue reading “Mini-Review Collection – ‘Wholesome’ Edition”

Review | Call Of Duty Black Ops: Cold War (Campaign)

My first ever FPS was Call of Duty: Black Ops, and my favourite FPS is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. So as soon as I learned that Black Ops: Cold War was a direct sequel to Black Ops that returned to the tone and focus of the start of the series, I really hoped to enjoy it. 

The majority of Cold War is business as usual for the “boots on the ground” type of COD games, and gameplay is mostly the familiar COD blend of corridor-shooter sections, setpiece spectacles, and vehicle segments. However, Cold War had more stealth elements than I remember previous games having, such as a mission where you must sneak into someone’s house to plant an item and so need to listen to the environment and family chatter to successfully avoid the target and his family. The stealth peaks with a mission that involves inflitrating KGB headquarters, which requires consistent caution – both in where you go and in how you talk to NPCs – for 90% of the mission, but then pays off with an explosive final 10%.

Where Cold War tries something new is in its campaign, which steps away from the linear A>B path of most COD games. The first and final missions are locked in place, but the rest can be done in any order, and can be replayed to complete side objectives that unlock once you’ve collected and decrypted evidence from other missions. (You can attempt the side missions without collecting enough evidence, or without solving the decryption puzzles, but this is very unlikely to succeed). Cold War is structured around using an evidence board to decide your team’s next moves and identify where the villain, near-mythical Soviet spy Perseus, is, and I found that this approach worked surprisingly well. 

Continue reading “Review | Call Of Duty Black Ops: Cold War (Campaign)”

Review | Rainbow Six Extraction

Much to my surprise, Rainbow Six Extraction has been my most-played game this week. Given my woeful track record with games that require stealth, including Rainbow Six: Siege, I wasn’t expecting to play Extraction far beyond an initial curiosity-check. However, after a rough first few attempts, I learned more about how to approach Extraction and then began to really enjoy it.

Although Extraction was released in January 2022, it actually started life in 2018, as a limited-time event inside Rainbow Six: Siege. “Operation Chimera”, as the event was known, replaced Siege‘s usual realism with a mysterious alien invasion; this experiment recieved enough positive attention that Ubisoft developed it into a standalone game. As a full game, Extraction is a co-op PvE experience that applies the methodical and tactical nature of the Rainbow Six series to a horde mode similar to Back 4 Blood or the Zombies modes in Call Of Duty games.

Because Extraction is a spin-off from Siege, most of its components are familiar. Its graphical style and quality, its movement and feel, and its operators (characters) and weapons, are all from its parent game. Its missions are where its differences become clear.

One obvious change is that the contents of each mission (incursion, in Rainbow-Six-speak) are semi-randomised. While the map layout is constant, everything else is variable; from the type and location of objectives, to the squad’s starting point, to the mutations that add new risks or hazards. (I think its semi-randomised rather than fully procedurally-generated, because the enemy and objective placements have never felt illogical or broken.)

Continue reading “Review | Rainbow Six Extraction”

Review | Maneater

It’s a Ubisoft style open-world icon-hunting game, but you’re an armoured mega-shark with lightning teeth. Maneater certainly has an appealing premise, but does it have the substance to match? In my opinion, yes – once you put a couple of hours into levelling up and letting the weirder and more comedic sides of the game come out.

The core of Maneater‘s story is its framing device, which presents everything you see as the contents of a reality show called Maneater. (If you’ve ever seen a “dangerous jobs” show, you know what to expect here). The game’s story takes place over an eight-episode season of the show, which follows shark hunters in Port Clovis, a city containing everything from resorts to bayous to sunken nuclear power stations. Cajun shark hunter “Scaly Pete”, who is searching for a shark that belonged to his father, becomes the central character of the show during the first episode when he attacks a pregnant shark and loses his hand in return. While the show Maneater focuses on Pete’s quest for revenge against the shark, the game Maneater focuses on your revenge against Pete.

Continue reading “Review | Maneater”

Impressions | Call Of Duty: Vanguard (Open Beta)

I don’t normally review betas of game, which is mostly because during the last couple of years betas have moved to being pre-order bonuses rather than actual open beta tests. However, the Call of Duty: Vanguard Open Beta surprised me, and not in a good way.

Firstly, I’ll give credit where its due. Vanguard does actually innovate beyond the typical COD gameplay thanks to its adjustable lobby size system (known as “Combat Pacing”). Instead of having specific small maps (or cut-down versions of maps) for 6v6 gameplay and large maps for big-team gameplay, each of the main maps can be played at different lobby sizes. Choosing the “Tactical” pacing creates a familiar 12-player (6v6) match, and the “Assault” pacing creates a 20-28 player match, while the “Blitz” pacing creates a match of between 28-48 players depending on the map. Players can choose to search just by mode, just by pace, or by mode and pace combined.

I think this idea is clever: firstly, it allows players to control how intense an experience they want in each individual gameplay session without fundamentally overhauling the entire game’s style and pace. Secondly, most COD games contain specific maps that are overplayed due to their chaotic and often-mindless nature (such as Shipment or any version of Nuketown) and other maps that are ignored or rejected by the playerbase due to being more open or only supporting slower-paced modes. In theory, allowing these larger maps to exist in a busier form, and these smaller maps to exist in a slower form, could be a great solution to this issue.

Continue reading “Impressions | Call Of Duty: Vanguard (Open Beta)”