Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Friday, September 07, 2007

The House of the Wolf by Basil Copper

Sometime in the early 80s, I read a novel about an expedition to a lost city of bizzare elder beings in the mountains. The novel really stuck in my mind. About 7-8 years later I discovered H.P. Lovecraft. At first I thought the novel I had read was HPL's At the Mountains of Madness, as the plot was somewhat similar. But when I finally read At the Mounts of Madness, it was nothing like the novel I had remembered.

Years went by, and I began reading as much mythos fiction as I could. Still, I couldn't find the novel I was after. Then finally a year or so ago, I decided to ask on the internet. At first, no one knew, as my descriptions were a bit poor, but finally someone recognized enough to say it was "The Great White Space" by Basil Copper. I managed to track down a copy, and sure enough, it was the novel I was after. And it was memorable as ever.

Anyway, turns out Basil Copper wrote a lot of books. Some of them were horror, but The Great White Space was seemingly his only "Mythos" one (and even that is slighly different, more inspired, than). Still, it was such a great novel, I tried to track down his other stuff via the library. But unfortunately, as authors get older and their worlds fall out of popularity, libraries literally throw their books out. And so I could only find one other horror novel of his. "The House of the Wolf", published by Arkham House.

Apparently he liked to write gothic horror novels. This is a take on the werewolf tale, as you might surmise from the title. It's set in Hungary, in an undisclosed time, in a crumbly old castle. It seems almost quaint, a werewolf novel, because they are pretty trite these days. And even when it was published, 1981. But the novel works because he does a great job of capturing the atmosphere, and he uses some of the reader's knowledge about werewolves as sort of red herrings. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Fast and the Furious (PSP)

The Fast and the Furious was a decent, if rushed, street racing game for the PS2. Now it's shown up on the PSP. It's pretty much identical to the PS2 version, except the addition of upgrading the car's oil. Which unfortunately, makes the game a bit hard to play, as it has a complicated control system, at least for drifting, which doesn't work very well on the PSP's limited inputs.


Like a lot of these games, you start off doing a race in a borrowed car. If you win the race, you get extra cash to buy a car with. If you lose, well, you'd be hard pressed to lose.

There's a pretty decent selection of cars to begin with at start. Almost 20 cars, I think, ranging from the '86 Truneos and Focuses to one end, to Eclipses and Silvias on the high end, with RX-7s, Integras, 180SXs and more in the middle.

Basically once you have a car, you can free roam around Tokyo's highways. You can either engage in rollup races, where you come across another car, then flash your lights and then race until one car is ahead by 200m, or find a hot spot.

Hot spots are places where teams of racers hang out, and you can race them in fixed races. These races are generally either destination battles (where the winner must cross the finish line first), top speed battles (where the car with the highest speed wins) or drift battles, which are only in mountain hotspots, where the winner is the car with the highest drifting point total. If you win, you get cash.

For the first half of the game, these are really really easy. And in many cases, you can do them again and again. So cash really isn't a problem.

As you win, you unlock more opponents, including bosses, and more cars to buy, and new types of stickers and drift charms in the tuneup shops. And more and more hot spots will open up. There is are 80 different hotspot races to win in all. Each opponent has a bio and car, and many of these are based on real world people from the world of drifting, while some are from the Fast and the Furious movies.

The PS2 version featured terrible load times for the hot spots and then for the races once a hot spot loaded. So it's not surprisingly that this is a problem in the PSP version as well, though honestly, it doesn't seem any worse than the PS2 version. The post race loading is actually a bit quicker, because it saves the results to the memory card automatically, and on the PS2, it was glacially slow.

There is basically no loading while in free roam mode, but it's hampered by the small size of the city, and the small number (and ease) of the opponents. Only about 40 opposing racers, and if the real Tokyo was this small, Godzilla could destroy it just by sitting down. (Okay, not that small, but pretty close).

Race variety is also a bit lacking. It's always just you and one other car, and there's only 3 types of races. I would liked to have seen drag races, and perhaps some circuit races on a racetrack or something. Most race are also fairly short 1-3 minutes, except for one "Grand Tour" race which lasts 10 minutes or so and goes across most of the map (and is a lot of fun, since you can really go fast on some spots).

The driving model is not overly realistic, but is more realistic than arcade-like. You do need to slow down for turns (unless you have mastered drifting), but cars do seem somewhat more agile in the game than real life. There's no damage in the game to the cars. The PS2 version featured somewhat sticky walls, which would keep you from simply riding along the walls. But this seems to have been removed in the PSP version, I guess because the controls of the PSP make it almost impossible not to hit the walls at higher speeds.

That's the real problem with the PSP version. Especially with the drifting aspect of the game, the F&F is a very complicated game to control, because not only do have to steer the car, you need to manage the engine revolutions via the gas and clutch. It was hard to do it properly on the PS2, it's almost impossible on the PSP because you no longer have an analog stick for gas, and the clutch kick button is now one of the face buttons.

However, they seem to have made the drifting part even easier to win. You can pretty much just ram your car into the railing and hit the throttle and rack up drift points.

Cars and Car Modding:

Since it's set in Japan, the car list is very Japan-centric. And since it's largely a drifting game, it's also drifting-centric, with most of the cars being rear wheel driven. But there are some AWD and a few front wheel drives (like the Integra).

That said, you do some some good American cars are well. An old Mustang and a new one, plus some Mustang variants from Shelby and Saleen. Also some newer Corvettes, a Viper, and an old Chevelle. You don't find Hondas in most street racing games because they are very protective of their image, but this has a good range of them, including the NSX.

Car modding is pretty good. Basically in terms of performance, there are 5 different stages for various parts like engine, super/turbocharger, intercooler, brakes, etc. Usually a higher number is better, but not always the case, in terms of transmissions, where some are good for acceleration, others are good for top speed. And somewhat disappointingly, there is no tweaking of gear ratios. Also no replacement transmissions with more gears for old muscle cars (most of which only have 4 gears, and so have a low top speed). You also can't do anything like lower a car, or tweak the downforce, or set brake bias.

They added one more modding feature - changing the car's oil. When I first read about it, I thought you had to change the oil every so often, but the oil is actually handled like a part you can upgrade. Which is somewhat true, some oils are better than others, but I think taken to an extreme - the most expensive oils cost $1000s and add 50 or more hp to your car. That's a bit silly.

Visual modding is both good and bad. The good part is that all the parts are pretty much real parts, licensed from real world manufacturers. The bad part is, there aren't all that many of them.

Pretty much all the usual stuff is there. Neons, venting colored gas, etc (no spinners, as far as I can tell, thankfully). Two new additions to the genre are drift charms and valve stem lights. Drift charms are basically little dangly figurines that are attached to the rear bumper. These seem to be pretty much all of Namco properties, like Pacman and from their various fighting games and Katamari. Stem lights are basically just little leds that go in the valve stem of the tire. These are illegal in the US for street use, I dunno about Japan, but they look quite cool in action. Makes it look like the wheel is lighted.

In terms of paint jobs, it's not great. You only get to choose from a selection of premade colors, about 30. You can pick between metallic, matte, and glossy. They look better in the PSP version than the PS2 version, oddly, in the PS2 version they were all badly dithered. Usually that is a problem in PSP games, but I can't notice it as much.

On the other hand, the game comes with a very nice vinyl system. Pretty much like from Forza, but with some improvements. The premade made ones aren't much, but you can do a bunch of layers (I think 32 per area), and there are options for letters and numbers and shapes and you can really re-size them. So if you have patience, you can do some really nice stuff.


This actually looks quite good for a PSP game. While I wouldn't say it's the best looking PSP racer, this is actually one of the few PS2 ports that seems to look better than the PS2 counterpart. The visuals on the PS2 were somewhat blurry and pixelated, with a lot of dithered textures. Here things look quite sharp. There doesn't seem to be as much lighting though, indeed, I think car headlights are actually transparent sprites. They did manage to keep the hood view, which I think is a first for a PSP racer. Even has real time reflections on it. Quite cool.

Car models are also quite detailed. No driver though. It actually has a replay mode, so you can watch how you did in your races. Not many PSP racers have them. You can't save your replays, sadly.


There are two important things in a racing game when it comes to sound: Engine noise and music.

The engine noise in this is pretty good, I think. Most importantly, V8s sound like V8s, or at least, big engines. The other engines sound wimpier, but they are supposed to. Turbos also sound right, with the valves going off.

The soundtrack is actually pretty decent. It's a mix of Japanese music (pop and some hip-hop, I think), American hip-hop/rap, MTV/Emo rock, and generic guitar solos. The Japanese stuff works pretty well. I have no idea what they are singing, but it's catchy, even the hip hop, which I don't usually like. The rest I originally found annoying in the PS2 version, but have grown to like. One downside though is that it doesn't tell you what you are listening to, so you have no idea which songs to track down.

Final Thoughts:

It's a fairly enjoyable game. The PS2 has a lot of good racers, so it suffered in comparison, but the PSP does not have as many, so in that regard, it might be worth a look. You do have to be patient with loading times (though that was true of the PS2 version as well) and the controls take much of the fun out of the drifting part of the game. And it's not the longest game in the world, either. C- or 6/10 here

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