Stuff Suggests: your weekly entertainment fix (03/06/2020)

The essential books, films, games, music and podcasts to get you through the week

We’re beset by choice in media these days, and just picking out something to play, listen to, read or watch on any particular evening can turn into a Herculean task.

That’s why we’ve started Stuff Suggests, a new weekly article that aims to open your eyes to films, games, books, albums and more that you might have otherwise missed. With the current circumstances confining most of us to our homes for the foreseeable future, we’re all in need of ways to escape not only boredom but our immediate surroundings – and we think these suggestions will be just the ticket.

Remember to check back each week for a whole new raft of hidden gems, must-experience classics and more.

Words by Sam Kieldsen.

Game: XCOM: Chimera Squad

Turn-based strategy games are enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, with even testosterone-fuelled action franchises like Gears of War getting in on the tactical action. Much of this is down to Firaxis’ modern revival of the 30-year-old XCOM franchise, in which you control and manage an organisation of plucky humans battling against an alien invasion (XCOM: Enemy Unknown) and subsequent occupation (XCOM 2) of Earth.

With its tactical squad-based battles and overarching strategy layer giving players tons of variety and freedom in how they approach the fight, the XCOM series has managed to concoct a brain-taxing special sauce that feels brilliantly rewarding. And while you wait for XCOM 3 to break cover, do consider picking up Chimera Squad, a new ‘halfway house’ XCOM title that’s more narrowly focussed than the full games but still deep enough to tide you over.

Set after XCOM 2, it puts you in charge of an elite unit helping to rebuild the world in the aftermath of a revolution. All the characters are pre-determined rather than user-created, the strategy layer has been greatly pared back, the tactical battles take place in much smaller arenas and there’s a new ordered turn system, but ultimately the XCOM special sauce I mentioned earlier remains slathered everywhere. At such an affordable price, XCOM fans (or anyone looking for an accessible entry point to the series) should make a tactical choice to purchase. Sadly, it’s only currently available on Windows PCs.

Buy XCOM: Chimera Squad on Steam

Podcast: Wind of Change

Readers of a certain age will have whistled along to the Scorpions’ 1990 power ballad ‘Wind of Change’ countless times – but is there more to it than its earnest, simple (and heart-warming, in a cheesy Eurorock way), “isn’t it great that the Cold War is over?” message? There might be.

This investigative podcast dives headlong into the rumour that the song wasn’t actually penned by the German hard rock band but written by the CIA and released as part of a psy-op to hasten the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of communism. Sounds bonkers at first, but the more you think about it, the more plausible it seems…

The series’ eight episodes gives its presenter Patrick Radden Keefe space to dig into the US intelligence’s fascinating history of cultural manipulation, interview lots of interesting experts and jet across the globe in search of the truth. As with many such podcasts, the journey is as compelling as the destination.

Listen to Wind of Change

Book: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel never set out to write a trilogy when she started work on 2009’s Wolf Hall, but over a decade later here we are with The Mirror and the Light, the final novel in a series that has already netted its author two Man Booker Prizes. As Wolf Hall charted Thomas Cromwell’s rise and Bring Up the Bodies charted his consolidation of power at the expense of Anne Boleyn (and a bunch of other soon-to-be-headless rivals and patsies), The Mirror and the Light is the story of how, despite being the second most powerful man in England, he eventually came to find his own neck on the headsman’s block.

Even if we know how it ends, Mantel’s breadth of knowledge and effortless hand for dialogue, plot and description makes this book a gripping joy throughout its (extensive) length. Her characters leap off the page, often reminding us both how much and how little has changed in the past 500 years. A third Booker is surely in the offing.

Buy The Mirror and the Light

Album: Instrumental Relics by Clams Casino

New Jersey producer and DJ Clams Casino emerged a decade or so ago with a free-to-download mixtape filled with instrumentals that seemed to define a jarringly fresh approach to hip-hop: if Clams’ stuttering beats were reminiscent of trap music, the lush ambient soundscapes and mangled vocal samples that overlaid them felt entirely new. The combination fell into the loosely defined genre of ‘cloud rap’, flirted with briefly by a few hip-hop megastars before being consigned to the sidelines.

Clams’ latest album is a collection of old beats, including those from that original mixtape, finally released as a ‘proper’ LP – a way, I guess, to ensure that they don’t fall away into the internet ether in the coming years. Filled with textural, atmospheric and haunting rap-free tracks, I’ve found it a perfect record to listen to while writing – and the strange, timeless nature of this music means it hasn’t really aged at all.

Listen to Instrumental Relics on Spotify or buy it here