Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck.

So, I made a bad decision. I guess I used up all my pot luck when I got my kinect. This post will be short and bitter as I am still stewing.

I decided to buy StarCraft II. Several people have now told me that the single player mode isn't a pile of horse shit and actually has some effort behind it. So I decided to buy it. Big. Fucking. Mistake.

Every half hour or so the client pops up with this wonderful little error message that reads “Your Download could not be authenticated. Start a new download.” And requires me to go to the Blizzard website, download a new instance of the same client, and then carry on where I left off- if I'm lucky. One time It just removed all the extra stuff I'd downloaded from that batch.

For a 7 gig file, this is beyond a joke. Oh and to add insult to injury, it's not even a download, it's a torrent.

So basically I can't even leave my PC running overnight to download this shit storm as every so often it just decides a whole new instance of the client needs to be installed.

Fan fucking-tastic.

My advice is simple. You want this game? Bbuy a hard copy. Don't be a sucker like I did and hand over £50 when they can't even make the installer work.

Anyone else having these problems or is it just me?

Now had to redownload the installer client 5 times.

The Persecution of the Second Hand Consumer.

Okay, here is today’s source material.

For those of you who are too lazy (or just unwilling) to read it, the CEO of Codemasters is airing the idea of selling incomplete games and then forcing people to buy the rest of them via DLC.

The logic is simple, the goal two fold- to combat piracy and to ‘address the pre owned’.


The piracy argument is simply not worth getting into at this point. If you’re a gamer you’ll have heard every argument under the sun for and against piracy, in a debate that shows no sign of ending. I’m sick of it to be honest, so I’m just going to sum up whole view in a few sentences (something I loathe doing as some dipshit inevitably attacks a specific point you’ve already considered). Piracy will not go away. You can’t defeat piracy by technical means because for every person you have working on security, there are dozens of pirates working on reverse engineering your solution. Kinect was hacked within two days. The only way to stop piracy is to stop people turning to it- give them MORE for buying the original, instead of taking things away if it's pirated (or isn't a first hand copy for that matter). This may sound like a to-mah-to to-may-to thing, but there is a difference.

Sadly, publishers need to learn this lesson on their own. Like every other entertainment industry, videogame developers are not responding very well to the digital revolution. While they are embracing digital distribution with open arms, they are refusing to change the core elements of their business model that piracy has rendered invalid.

Pre owned games.

So that’s it for piracy. Onto the second issue- the pre owned. This is an argument that flared up a few months back, but has since been placed onto the back burner. The argument is simple enough to grasp- if you buy a pre owned game the devs and publishers don’t see a penny of your cash. It all goes to the shop you purchased the game in. Unlike other second hand goods like cars, clothes, even consoles themselves, videogames do not depreciate in quality with age (provided they are not openly abused). They may start to loose value by comparison with other, newer titles, but the actual quality of the product remains identical.

You buy a game second hand, and it will be just as good as first hand (bar maybe a scruffy case and manual). Because of that, there is absolutely no reason- apart from impatience- to buy a videogame first hand. Publishers know this and are addressing the issue in a variety of ways.

The problem is that many second hand owners are starting to feel that they are being treated like pirates. I buy most of my games first hand, but then again I work in a full time job, don’t have a family to support and don’t have any major expenses apart from rent. I can afford to be impatient and buy games on release day.

But what about gamers who just don’t have the disposable cash? If you’ve got children to support, a car to run and a mortgage to pay off, your available cash can dwindle very quickly. Does that mean you should be excluded from the hobby?

Well, yes and no. If you want to play golf, you need to buy a decent set of clubs, and have enough money to pay for time on a course. If you don’t have enough money, you can’t play golf- regardless of how much you want to (this does exclude using a nine iron to try and belt toddlers in the head at a range of 400 yards in the local park, from the comfort of your garden- however this is less golf and more assault). I would love to go on holiday to the Netherlands again, and spend the whole time either stoned or in the arms of an expert prostitute, but I can’t afford it (mainly because I spend so much on videogames).

But there is one important difference between the above examples and videogames. Holidays are expensive, as are a good set of golf clubs and membership of a course. There is no way to decrease those costs to make it more accessible- these are things that are just expensive.

What we’re seeing in videogames is essentially an attempt to artificially inflate the worth of the first hand product by going out of your way to make the second hand products worth less. This brings video gaming more into line with other markets where the value of an item does decrease after the first owner. But it’s artificial. You can’t stop a car from degrading with age, it doesn’t matter how well you look after it, parts will wear out, rust will attack it, the electronics will start to crap out and the technology will become obsolete. Older car = lower value. It's unavoidable. The reduction in the value of second hand videogames is artificial, and has been specifically engineered to drive people into buying first hand games.

So you can see the source of the outrage. But is this a bad thing? The world revolves around money. You cannot escape this fact. You can create idealised worlds and form scenarios, but in the here and now, money is one, hell, it’s THE most important aspect of a business. So ultimately, can you blame publishers for wanting to implement this sort of thing to keep the money flowing from videogames? After all, the more money they make, the more and better quality games they can produce. If the second hand market is very large (and judging by the state of local game shops, it is)- you can’t blame them for wanting a piece of that action.

The argument boils down to a conflict of two interests – the right of the publisher and devs to make money, versus the right of the consumer to expect a game purchased second hand to be just as good as one purchased first hand.

If a company is doing well, it can be argued that the former is just greed. But greed, like money, is one of the driving parts of business. Yeah, there are exceptions to this rule but any company making millions (or even billions) of pounds didn’t get there without a constant desire to want more. Greed may be bad, but like money it’s an integral part of businesses that you can’t just write off becuase it's immoral. No matter how much you may hate it, it's an important part of the industry's drives and methods- you just can't get away from it.

So, ultimately I come down on the side of the publishers. But, there is another angle to this argument. Piracy and the second hand market are closely linked in the eyes of the publishers, and what I do NOT approve of, is the fact that second hand buyers are breing treated more and more like pirates- this is just wrong.

Are pre owned games 'piracy'?

Many forms of DRM are designed as much to kill the second hand market as they are to prevent piracy. Look at the copy protection that was instigated on Spore for example- you can only install the game three times. That kills the second hand market (fortunately, this draconian DRM has fallen by the wayside following consumer outrage). Likewise, other games require you to register your CD to an account, and once registered that CD key cannot be transferred to another user. Another way that kills the second market, yet has been espoused as an anti piracy measure.

You see where I’m going with this. The emphasis doesn’t seem to be placed on preventing piracy- it’s forcing customers to buy the product first hand, with piracy being used as a thin veil of excuse.

It’s easy to see how a second hand buyer is comparable to a pirate in the eyes of the videogame industry. Just like pirates, second hand buyers contribute nothing to the developer and publisher, and yet still enjoy the final product. But at the end of the day, they're not doing anything illegal- they just want to enjoy a videogame and can't afford/don't want to, pay the full price for a game.

The answer I offer.

I don’t like to discuss a problem without being able to offer a solution (but I will do it anyway sometimes), so here’s mine. DRM should be able to differentiate between a second hand owner, and a pirate. This is vital, and is responsible for the virtual total destruction of the second hand PC market.

On consoles, the solution is simple- offer extra stuff with first hand games. These extras should be things which are not vital to the game, but still give the first hand buyer something worth the extra tenner they’ve spent. Make the first hand game more valuable than the second hand, rather than the second hand less valuable than the first. Basically, the second hand game should be the base line as to how the game is played.

Examples of this include codes for downloading free DLC (Alan Wake) extra characters and missions that only have a small impact, if any on the main game (Mass Effect 2), discounts on other games from the publisher (5% off your next Ubisoft title for example)- this would also help the publishers get more people buying their games. Sure you lose out a little on DLC sales e.t.c, but surely you'll more than recover that becuase people are more likely to buy your games first hand.

I suppose the TL;DR is this:
If you absolutely have to try and make people buy your games first hand, make it so that a second hand buyer feels less like they’re buying a stripped down version of the game, and more like they’ve decided to forgo a few optional extras.

So, until next time.

So... Kinect Part II

Fate moves in mysterious ways. Usually behind you, grinning like a large convict who's just asked you to pick up the soap. After my previous rant on Kinect, I went off to my Xbox 360 to fire up a DVD while I ate dinner. Much to my dismay, the drive refused to spin up. After several attempts I finally got the damn thing working again, but this 360 elite is a good few years old now, and I resigned myself to the fact I'd need to upgrade to one of those swanky new 360 slims with the built in wi-fi that I'd been coveting.

So I took my old elite down to the game shop and traded it in for £80 towards my new Xbox 250gig. That same morning I had just seen this awesome video, and it got me thinking what the future may hold now the Kinect was capable of running on Windows. So I dared the question “How much for a Kinect bundle?” The clerk's eyes lit up like Christmas. “That'll be an extra fifty quid. You don't get the game though.” Fifa or MoH? Two games I'll never play anyway. I thought about it for a moment and then decided to go for it. I'd been toying with the idea all day, so really my mind was already made up. What was an extra £50, when the only game being released in this pay period was AC: Brotherhood?

Ten minutes later I walked out of the shop, new Slim 360 in hand. I'd just like to talk about this machine for a brief moment before moving onto the Kinect as it bears mention. It's much smaller, much quieter and looks the biz. The piano black finish is going to attract grime though, so be warned. The touch sensitive buttons are a nice feature, but purely bling with no real function. Don't be in a huge rush to upgrade if you have an Elite, but the quieter running is very nice. One thing though, the fucker doesn't have a memory card socket on it. Which means unless I can somehow get the data off my memory card, I've lost ALL my hard earned saves. That, REALLY pissed me off. EDIT- I have since discovered that you can use any USB Flash drive as a memory card. Sorry, that one passed me by.

So, Kinect. Setting it up is a pain in the ARSE. It took me about an hour of updates, waving cards around and being forced into ludicrous positions before it was ready to rumble. The problems people have been reporting about space? No joke. I have a pretty sizeable living room, and I had to push my TV right back into the unit, jostling for every inch for that little bloody sensor to use. Do not buy this item unless you have at least seven foot of space in front of your TV. That is the bare minimum- six foot works, but you won't have room to step backwards (the backs of my knees where grinding the futon for the first half hour), so avoid that if you can.

I played around with the Kinect hub for a little while, but honestly it's useless. It's far slower than using a controller, except for the speech commands. These will only be useful to you though if you're using things like the Zune service on a frequent basis. Further compounding my irritation was that the Kinect hub didn't contain my most used feature- the marketplace. Plus the sensor was really starting to creep me out. There's something downright disconcerting about an oblong piece of black plastic with a luminous red eye, turning to look right at your face. You know what I mean.

So far, I was impressed by the technology, but the implementation was a joke. A £50 joke. There was nothing here that couldn't be done more quickly with a controller.

So I sighed and put in Kinect adventures.

What happened next can only be described as a mental regression to the state of a five year old, on a sugar high, in a playhouse. Fun doesn't even begin to describe it. I've become far more mature in recent years with my approach games, I appreciate them for their narrative, their game play mechanics, their characters, use of new ideas and so forth. I now realize I've missed the whole point of videogames- they are supposed to be fun. They exist to be enjoyed, be that through overcoming a challenge for a sense of achievement, tugging at emotional strings, or the satisfaction of just doing something totally stupid and getting away with it.

After sitting though a toe curlingly family friendly intro I jumped (no pun intended) into my first game, which is best described as 3D breakout. Your body is the paddle. After mere seconds I was hooked. I then realized that simply moving my body in the way of the ball wasn't enough- I could slap the ball with my hands to give it speed so it would break the blocks more easily. The fun increased as I started to punt the bloody thing with all my might. The five year old in the back of my head downed his last tube of sherbet and stirred, ready to take the back the body he had so long been barred from. Then came the moment of glory, the moment he broke out.

The ball hit me in the face, and bounced off. Up until this point I had just been using my arms and sometimes my legs. I wondered... I tried. The ball sailed towards my head again. I arched my back backwards and carefully lined up to give it an almighty Geordie kiss- a headbutt to you. With the force or an arcing whip I drove my face towards the screen and blam! The ball was sent hurtling back to the blocks and broke several of them, finishing the round.

Everything from that point on became a mess of grinning, laughing, smiling and occasionally shouting WTF. The laughter only got more raucous when I got my first living statue. Suffice to say, it was a fat hamster that mimicked my movements. So I did what any five year old would do in that situation- took a recording of it doing my whitest possible disco dance. It was very, very white.

Three hours passed, including some time on the multiplayer on Xbox live. Eventually I grew tired. I'd been plugging leaks in an underwater lab with my hands, jumping up and down on an inflatable dingy, and floating though zero G popping water bubbles. Even as I write this I am still grinning, the warm glow of being reduced to a five year old for a few hours still lingers behind my eyes.

I stand by many of my initial assertions about Kinect. It's still far too expensive to appeal to most casual gamers, but the 'bored spouse' crowd is now definitely a real target for this thing. I'd say Kinect is worth owning, but only if purchased cheap as part of a bundle, or second hand. Technically, the only real problems it has are the huge space it needs, and the fact there is a lag before your actions appear on screen. You eventually get used to this though, and it's not so bad it's game breaking. For Kinect to really shine though, this does need be resolved. Overall, it's not the wisest purchase I've made (yet at least), but it's certainly got hours of amusement potential.

I was wrong about a lot of my claims in my previous rant, but like I said- some things still stand. I wouldn't say I've become a Kinect supporter, but I certainly won't be speaking out against it again any time soon. I am still very worried just how many games can be made with this tech though- it could get old very fast.

Even hardcore gamers will enjoy Kinect, but only, and I mean only if you can suspend your maturity, stop taking yourself seriously and just have fun. Booze helps, as will other people. If you have your head up your arse though, and are unwilling (or unable) to pull it out, you will not have fun here. Which is a shame, because feeling like a little kid again is possibly the greatest feeling an adult can ever have. Outside of orgasm of course.

I'm not sure how long it will take for the novelty wear off, but until then I intend to enjoy every moment of Kinect, every jump, every stupid pose, every God awful photo, and of course; every round of breakout I win using my face.

The Kinect Was Predicted By Douglas Adams...

Shamelessly nicked from Dylan Fox over at www.dylanfox.net

The Kinect reminds me of this bit from Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wavebands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme.”
( http://hitch14.tripod.com/chapter_12.htm )

I don’t mind science imitating fiction--hey, I’m all for it!--but not when the final product turns out to a punchline...

So, Kinect...

Alright. I’ve put it off for long enough. Let’s talk about Kinect.

I don’t like doing exclusively negative pieces unless I have something to actually base my opinion on. Flame wars and baseless rants are a dime a dozen on the internet, but I will most likely never own, or even play on Kinect. Still, I can at least attempt to justify my attitude with explanations and predictions. The purpose of this post, therefore, is to explain why I have no interest in the Kinect, but also to elaborate on the scope of the idea as a money spinner, and how Kinect may still make Microsoft some moolah.

Motion sensitive gaming is a waste of my time. Why? Because I’m what the hive mind has taken to calling a ‘hardcore gamer’. I like levels, I like challenges, I like lots of items, I like mechanics with a learning curve, I like a storyline and most of all, I like control. I don’t like Spore or the Sims series as I regard both of these as ‘toy games’- things you play with, rather than play. Fable II also falls into this category. You have to put a lot into the game to get anything out of it, and that’s just not my style.

Motion games are, by their very nature, going to be ‘toy games’. How much can you actually do with motion sensitive controls? The answer is simple- very little. Think for a moment about all the buttons you press, all the combinations you use when you play a videogame. For example, lining up a shot in MW2: You’re holding down the left trigger to aim, using one thumbstick to point your gun, the other to strafe so you’re not a sitting duck, and then the other shoulder button to fire. That's 4 controls for one of the most simple actions in the game.

How would you do this in Kinect? You couldn’t. Something as simple as lining up a shot becomes impossible. Kinect has only one input, your body’s positioning. It can’t detect anything as subtle as a finger movement, or tiny corrections to line up that perfect headshot. How about platformers? Are you going to run on the spot, then jump on the spot to move in game? How do you make corrections if your line up isn’t exact?

So there’s reason one why I’m avoiding Kinect- No one will ever be able to create a game I actually want to play. They are all going to be simple, basic, casual toy games. Those of you who have tried playing anything 'hardcore' on the Wii can probably attest to how irksome the motion controls become after a while- and that’s with some traditional buttons and the analogue nunchuck to back you up.

Next up is the price tag. Suppose I decided I did want to get into casual gaming, or just have it around for when my friends and I are drunk and feel like doing something stupid. Why am I not going to get a Wii? At £130, Kinect is a f###ing expensive piece of hardware- almost half of what you paid for the Xbox in the first place! For that I can get a second hand Wii, some extra controllers and a few games if I play my cards right and shop around.

Advanced menu controls and voice commands? My controller works fine, and it doesn’t cost £130. Video conferencing? I barely use the chat function on XBL, why do I want to pay £130 for the privilege of being able to see people while I talk to them?

Oh and don’t get me started on the technical limitations. There’s barely, and I mean barely 6 foot between my TV and my futon- certainly not enough room to comfortably move back and forth in beyond that line. Seriously, how many people actually have a six foot square block, free of all furniture in front of their TV? Do you really want to move the coffee table every time you want to play a game?

Kinect is made for two markets- casual gamers (or gamers in denial as I like to call them), and kids. The former will already have a Wii, and if they don’t they will get one as they are far, FAR cheaper than Kinect and a 360. The only possible exception is if they live with someone who already has a 360, and as established you can still get a second hand Wii, plus assorted extras for the cost of the Kinect alone. Still, I reckon we’ll see a big uptake from this demographic leading up to Christmas and into the January sales. But after that I don’t foresee much spending as everyone who is going to get one, will have one.

Now kids. They’ll love the novelty value and parents will no doubt be happy their loinspawn are getting some exercise while playing what will undoubtedly be almost exclusively, wholesome family games. If there is a continuing market for the Kinect, this is where you will find it. However, when Microsoft proudly starts toting ‘We sold X many thousand Kinect units this quarter!’ , I will be asking one question- “How many of those where individual units, and how many where bundled with new 360s in package deals?” I’d bet that most Kinect units sold will be in bundle with new 360s within 6 months, and the only reason people will be buying them is because

a) The store won’t change the package deal
b) They’re so cheap in package you might as well, or
c) Parents buying the damn thing get hoodwinked by sales clerks.

I don’t think Kinect will be a flop, at the very least- as I’ve driven home with all the finesse of a railway spike- bundle deals will keep them moving. But the question of how many people really want Microsoft’s new toy, compared to how many of them are pressured into buying it, remains in question.

As intimated, the Wii is the big problem. It’s already there, it’s a known quantity, it’s cheaper and thanks to brand identity, casual gamers are not going to think ‘I Want to buy a games console’, they’re going to think ‘I want to buy a Wii.’ Microsoft is wagering everything on convincing this target demographic that Kinect is better, or even getting them to acknowledge its existence. I don’t think they will be very successful as, fundamentally, how do you market something to non gamers? They don’t read gaming magazines, they don’t go into game shops or attend LAN parties, they most likely nod and smile when gamer friends tell them about game related stuff… It’s like solving the Epimenides Paradox. Still, at least Microsoft are trying. Many people talk about the eye toy when discussing Kinect, but remember that the eye toy had all the marketing of a back alley abortion clinic in a Redneck state. It was bound to fail if no one knew about it to buy it.

So there we have it. Kinect is a waste of (very large) space to anyone but the casual gamer, and the Wii already has them by the short and curlies. A small number of folk may buy it if they live with someone who already has a 360, and are too stupid to look for a Wii. Bundles will keep the thing moving though and make up sales numbers that will allow Microsoft to proudly hail the Kinect a success.

On a closing note I would like to say that I don’t hate Kinect. It’s got zero appeal to me, but at least it’s something new and interesting and that at least needs to be acknowledged- even a step backwards is better than no step at all when innovation is concerned. Especially given the lack of new ideas in the industry at the moment. Likewise I’m sure many of the people who do own it will have hours of fun with it, at least until the novelty wears off. Plus there’s the consideration of how many games you can really make using just the premise of a moving body as input…

Oh, and as for the Playstation move? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA‼‼‼‼ You really think ANY casual gamer is going to be interested in spending over £300? You’re out of your f####ing gourd! Especially when the friggin’ thing essentially IS a Wii-mote! At least the Kinect is different in that regard.

Fallout: New Vegas Review

Here you are peeps.

Long story short, excellent game, loving it to bits.

Videogame Journalism Is Fundementally Biased

So Bethesda has now joined the ranks of developers who are pressuring media outlets who don’t give good reviews of their games (Remember this? And let's not forget the Hydrophobia saga). This sort of behaviour is nothing new, but it’s sad that it seems to be happening more and more.

Publishers have always treated gaming media as a means to sell their products, and much of the media is happy to oblige- free video games, pre release copies and of course, money. Videogames are big business, and the media surrounding them is no exception. Sadly, gaming magazines are dependant on the publishers and developers for their games.

The only way to review a game before it’s released is to contact the publishers and request a review copy. Companies who get pre release copies have a big advantage over those who do not as their reviews are out before the game is, meaning if someone wants to know if the game is worth getting, they will purchase that magazine or go to that website.

Sadly, this gives publishers considerable leverage over reviewers. Give us a bad score? Fine, no more pre releases.

This puts a serious dent in the company’s bottom line, not to mention the assorted perks such as insider news, exclusive previews and so forth.

Long story short, the gaming media is dependant on the good will of the publishers in order to actually have any exclusive material to put them above the competition, or get pre releases to take advantage of launch day hype. Without that good will, these companies would be secondary players, getting scraps of news from second hand sources after the publisher’s pets have had the lion’s share.

The gaming media is fundamentally biased.

To be fair, most reviewers will call a bad game a bad game- especially if the publisher knows its been rushed and there’s no way of hiding the poor quality (Alpha Protocol anyone?) or unfinished nature of the game.

The problem comes from games that have been seriously hyped- games like Fallout: New Vegas. The publishers want these games to succeed more than any other, huge amounts of money have been invested into them so they need to succeed.

In these cases, the publishers regard the gaming media as nothing more than a tool to boost sales. I have experienced this attitude myself.

Way back when I was a fresh faced youth, me and a friend of mine ran a small gaming website as a way to get free videogames. I wrote most of the reviews and articles, he handled the web design and the technical aspects of the site. We did pretty well, and usually got new releases before they hit the shops, as well as free review copies of games to boot. Sadly, one fateful day we published a negative review of Gothic 3, mainly centred on the game’s serious bugs. Within a few days we had received an e-mail from the publishing group’s PR department expressing sorrow that the review “did not meet their expectations”, and that they where considering cutting us from their distribution list.

We checked over the review (this one had been written by my friend, not I), and found that from an English standpoint, it was fine. Grammar as good, punctuation was okay, it was a little lacking in artistic flair, but it got the facts across. We replied that we felt the review was fine, and asked how it ‘Did not meet expectations’.

The reply was something to the effect of the review not accurately portraying the game play and experience of the title, which we of course felt, was complete bull. We didn’t reply and never heard from them again.

On the plus side, not every person is subject to the whims of the publishers. The rise of blogs (Like this one) and YouTube has given many people the power to review games, and indeed folk such as Yahtzee have done very well reviewing games after their release- and doing so in an honest way. I rarely buy gaming magazines for the reviews any more as I know damn well that there is considerable pressure on them to give big titles the thumbs up. This isn’t journalism, this is marketing. Being a single adult, renting my home and not having any major life expenses (I don’t own a car, a pet e.t.c) I can afford to buy a bum game every now and then even on my modest salary. But many gamers out there can’t afford to buy three or four games per month, and it’s a shame that accurate information only surfaces after the fact.

That’s why I try to provide some quality reviews here. I try to separate fact from opinion, and review games as objectively as I can. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes not. Either way, I’m glad you’re reading this and hope you’ll keep abreast of this blog in future. If you already do, then thanks. It’s good to know that someone’s listening, even if they don’t agree.

A Critical Look At The Story And Characters Of Enslaved.

First of all, I want to say two things before getting into the meat and potatoes of this piece: One, there will be spoilers- lots of spoilers for pretty much the entire game. If you’re sensitive about them then stop reading now. Second, I like Enslaved. I don’t love it, but I certainly like it. My exact feelings are in this review, so please bear in mind that while this is critical analysis, and not favourable, it doesn’t reflect my feelings and experience of the game as a whole.

With that out of the way, here’s the crux- Enslaved’s story is pretty poor. It’s not the worst attempt at video gaming story telling I’ve ever seen, but it is certainly not worthy of the praise people keep heaping on it. Obviously, such a statement requires justification, and that’s the purpose of this post.

First of all, let’s take a look at the characters. The presentation of the characters is excellent, the voice work, the motion capture and the expressions are all top notch. The problem I have is with the character’s themselves- the ideas, the personalities and the experiences. The first issue I take umbridge with is that they never actually change. The characters never grow, they never evolve or learn.

For example, Trip returns home to find her village has been attacked and half of the population is missing, the other half are charred cinders on the ground.

The result? She spends a chapter of the game wondering around in a near catatonic state of grief, and then swears revenge. That’s it. It’s the sum total of all of Trip’s experiences in the entire game, and beyond the initial grief they don’t seem to effect her one iota.

She remains just as much of a wet behind the ears mouse as she did in the first half of the game. You’d think that she’d become more resolute, more forceful. Not necessarily more confident, or a badass, but at least more driven in her behaviour and actions now she has a strong motive- that being revenge. Sadly, this is not the case. Stuff happens to her, and she reacts- but she never grows. I feel very sorry for Lindsay Shaw as her acting talent was really wasted here.

On a final note, Trip doesn’t exactly strike me as a great female character. I don’t think that every female character needs to champion feminism, but honestly, she’s just a damsel in distress. I’ve got no problem with a character having that role, needing to save a person as opposed to an object or idea often provides far greater drive and emotion to a story, but given the lack of development and exploration, Trip just seems to lack any character- leaving nothing but another Princess Peach style DID. She is capable, and does serve other purposes, indeed her tech abilities saved my arse more than once during game play, but you spend far more time saving her than anything else. I wouldn't be so pissed off about this if it didn't highlight the fact that she never seems to grow or learn. Her first response to serious trouble is to run and hide, and let the big strong man deal with it. She's not a trained fighter and if she dies the slave headband kills Monkey, so it sort of makes sense, but it still seems to send the wrong messsage. As a counter to point to what I would consider a good take on this idea, look at Prince of Persia. Elika spends as much time saving your arse as you spend saving hers.

Monkey doesn’t do much better, but to be fair that’s a part of his character. It’s established very early on that Monkey is a pragmatic man- things are how they are and if he can’t help them, then he learns to live with them. This is shown very quickly after Trip puts the slave headband on him- Monkey rages, he threatens to kill her, but after a few minutes (and a few jolts) he calms down and realises that there’s nothing he can do, so he resigns himself to the idea of getting Trip home as being the only way he’ll ever be free.

It was refreshing to see a character who wasn’t emo raging about the situation, and for most of the game I was quite fond of Monkey. He didn’t develop, but he didn’t need to- he knew who he was, he knew what he could do- and more importantly what he couldn’t do, and accepted that. He was simply trying to do his best with the situation that was presented to him. His attitudes where explored through the situations, meaning he develops in your mind, even if he doesn't actually grow and change.

Then comes the moment onboard the mega mech when Trip finally deactivates the slave head band. To paraphrase:
“What I did to you was wrong Monkey, nothing gave me that right. I’ve turned it off.”
“You mean I’m free? I can do whatever I want? Just leave?”
“Turn it back on.”

What. The. Fuck. I suppose this was supposed to be some sort of touching moment about how he doesn’t want to leave her, but it’s totally at odds with the character we’ve seen so far. He’s a wild card, he likes to live free. So even if he has fallen for Trip- which is never really shown, why doesn’t he just stay of his own accord? That would have made the moment far more touching and far less WTF:
“What I did to you was wrong Monkey, nothing gave me that right. I’ve turned it off.”
“You mean I’m free? I can do whatever I want? Just leave?”
*Pause while the gears turn in Monkey's head*
"Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

Huge dramatic shifts in a character’s attitude can work, but they need to either be explored in retrospect, or foreshadowed. For example, Darth Vader killing the Emperor in Star Wars VI. It’s foreshadowed by the fact we learn he was once a Jedi, and even more so by Luke saying he can still sense good in him. As Luke and the Emperor fight, we see building tension and frustration through his body language until finally he snaps. That’s a well done character heel turn (I.E Not a heel turn at all).

Watchmen went the other way with Ozymandias. The character’s betrayal comes as a heel turn, and is then explored in the remainder of the story so it makes sense.

Monkey’s refusal to stop being Trip’s slave is just a snap decision. Imagine either of the above examples if no indication that the character’s oncoming change, or exploration of the reasons for the change, was ever present? There’s a fine line between sudden character change and bad Deus Ex Machina. When this is the one thing your character does in the whole game that shows some growth, you want to make sure it’s done right. I don’t think it was.

Maybe I missed the signals that Monkey was falling for Trip. Supposedly I do miss the signals when people flirt with me so God only know how bad I must be when two other people are dancing the romance tango- so I guess it's possible. Some people may point to him comforting her after the destruction of her village but I didn’t see any romantic undertones in that sequence. He was just trying to be a shoulder to lean on for someone who had just lost everything. A woman crying on a man’s shoulder does not necessarily equal romantic interest and Monkey certainly just seemed to be trying to be help her deal with this matter. After all, if she dies, he dies and he needs to make sure she stays in a healthy state of mind- especially given how she spent the previous chapter nearly getting killed as she was catatonic with grief. That's the closest they ever come to a moment, and as outlined, I saw nothing romantic in it. I remember thinking afterwards how refreshing it was to see a purely platonic relationship between a male and female lead in a videogame. Guess I was wrong.

Finally, Pigsy. Crammed in at the middle point of the game, he’s the only one who I don’t really have a problem with. The whole rivalry between him and Monkey is built up fairly well (including some nice interactive competative elements), and while the moment where he tries to get Monkey killed by the Rhino is stupid as all hell (seriously Trip can see he’s sent Monkey into a dangerous situation without warning, she’s a wuss, not an idiot), jealousy does make people do some very silly things.

Beyond that, there’s not much to say about Pigsy. He joins the story so late that apart from putting Monkey in mortal danger because he thinks Trip’s fallen for him, he doesn’t really do much. It feels like he’s there because the writer got himself into a hole and needed someone with a flying machine to get out of it. He was also probably in the source novel too and so a pig character needed to be shoe horned in there somehow. With all the subtelty of a hippo on PCP. At the end of the day, he’s mostly harmless in terms of the quality of the story and characters, and provides some (un-needed) comedy relief. But at the same time he doesn’t really contribute much either. Like Lindsaw Shaw, Richard Ridings delivers an excellent perfromance, but sadly poor writing and directing stop him from bringing the character to its best.

Now for the story itself. For the most part, like Pigsy it’s harmless. What surprises me is the amount of critical praise such a bland story has received. Very little happens and there’s no real subtext. You’d think the idea of Trip enslaving Monkey would make for a good platform to explore subjective morality, but no it's never even looked at beyond then the headband goes on, up until Trip turns it off. We could have had a gripping story exploring how people will do things they know are wrong when desperate, and how the live with those options, along with being the victim of such an act having to realise the person who did this to you holds no malice, but is just terrified and making bad decisions becuase of it. Instead, Enslaved is just two (and later three) people on a road trip, and at one point there’s some friction between two of the characters over Trip’s supposed romantic preference. Trip herself doesn’t seem to show much romantic interest in Monkey either, unless the signs where so subtle that I missed them. There’s no drama, no exploration, no message, no point.

There are two plot holes that really grind my gears. One of these is pretty standard fare- When the crew go to hijack the mega mech to attack Pyramid (the big baddies), it is of course fully operational. Which begs the question why the hell are Pyramid not using the damn thing? We can see it’s fully fuelled, operational and ready to go. Why are they not using this ultimate weapon!?

The second is the ending where we learn that Pyramid is not actually a group of slavers, but a single man from before the Great War that destroyed the world, ‘rescuing’ people from the wasteland to plug them into the matrix.

No joke, it’s the matrix. He kidnaps people from around the world to plug them into a virtual world that’s a simulation of before the war.

Obvious criticism aside, two plot points are raised. At the start of the game the Pyramid ship Monkey and Trip escape from refers to the occupants as slaves. It even classifies them calling them grade A and grade B slaves, like livestock- and then it kills one of those slaves for helping Monkey. The only way I can see thing working is if this ship was actually a group of Slavers not associated with Pyramid... Except the Slaves wear exactly the same uniform we see people plugged into the matrix wearing. This doesn't strike me as the behaviour of someone in a benevolent attempt to bring everyone together into a utopia. Just like with Monkey's 'Turn it back on' moment (I'm sorry I just can't let that go), it needs to be developed before it's revelaed. The best plot twists are the ones that, in retrospect, you should have seen comming. Now there is a gameplay mechanic whereby collecting mask icons make Monkey see snapshots of the world before the war (which I'm certain are Andy Serkis' holiday snaps), but what does that establish? Nothing. Later it's establisehd he may see these images becasue of the headband, but there need to be a few more pieces in place that could help. Maybe the mask symbol appearing on Pyramid mechs? That way there's a link between the images and Pyrmaid, instead of just a link between the headband, the mask and the images.

The second is even more mind bending. If they’re trying to save people, why the hell did Pyramid kill everyone in Trip’s village? There’s something about Pyramid being some sort of ark, preserving… something. History maybe? So perhaps they keep force people into the Pyramid thinking it’s for the greater good, but then kill anyone who resists. Except as we established in The Matrix, there are plenty of people willing to do this sort of thing anyway. A life in a utopia where I never need to worry about money, food, disease or crime? And I can't tell the difference between that and reality? Sign me the fuck up! These people need a leaflet drop, not a God damn mech army.

The problem is that I need to grasp for explanations here, and often any explanation offered has more holes than my boxer shorts. If Enslaved was as well written as people claim, we’d have the facts, or at least enough information to put together the facts. If you’re trying to discuss morality and make the reader/gamer question the ethics of something, then you present them with a morally ambiguous situation (I.E Pyramid) and then leave them to ponder it. The ending of Enslaved is not a moral ambiguity issue; it’s just a self contradicting mess. And having Trip's last lines being "Did we do the right thing?" doesn't invalidate that fact.

So there we go. My thoughts on this ‘brilliant story’ that everyone’s going on about. I really don’t see it. Enslaved is a pretty good game, the mechanics are fun and the story isn’t awful (by videogame standards) but its narrative certainly leaves more to be desired than most reviewers claim. I think people are getting confused about the difference between great characters, and great character presentation, the latter of which Enslaved has in levels to put any other game I’ve played to shame. Or, as I stated in my review, maybe I just don’t ‘get’ Alex Garland’s writing as I felt the same way about another famous piece of his- 28 days later.

Still, practise makes perfect and if we get some better writing to go with the technology and acting talent that can be found in Enslaved, we may be able to get a Final Fantasy VII for this generation.

-Evis T

EVE Online- Smoking $15,000 In Assets, In A Few Moments.

So, I saw a news post concerning an attack in 0.0 on EVE online. The attacks destroyed over 300 billion isk (isk being EVE’s in game currency) in hardware, materials and capital ships under construction. The interesting part of the news post though, was that the isk lost was valued at $15,000. Basically, if they’d sold those materials for the isk value and then sold the isk for dollars, someone would be $15k richer.

That’s a sobering thought. A potential $15,000 up in smoke. That got me thinking, how much ‘real money’ is lost in EVE by people playing? I mean this was a huge chunk but there are wars raging in EVE all the time.

To date, I’ve taken out 1,922,994,235 isk of hardware. That’s a really small figure, but I’ve only flirted with PvP, so it’s not expected to be that high. Still, using the above figure as a rough guide:

15 000 / 300 000 000 000 = 5X10^-08.

(Anyone know if that 300 billion is metric or imperial? I’m assuming metric but may be wrong.)

This means that, assuming one isk = 0.00000005 dollars, I’ve destroyed a hair over $96 of hardware. That’s pretty pathetic, especially when the head of my corp is responsible for about $5,000 – personally.

Imagine what we could do with that money of it was actually sold? How long can you feed a family for on that money?

Of course, the reality is that selling isk is illegal under the games ToS. A legal alternative for people looking to buy isk was introduced a while back, the plex system whereby people can sell subscriptions for in game money, thus allowing people who can’t afford to play the game to play the game, and giving people who want a quick pile of cash a means to indirectly buy isk in a way that CCP (the company who built and run EVE) can monitor. Directly selling isk for money though, is still forbidden.

Still, it’s something to think about.

Enslaved Review

Here it is. A damn good game. Not a classic, but a well put together piece that sets a new benchmark in character presentation.

Thoughts On Civilization 5.

I really don't know what to make of Civilization 5. There's so much of it that I enjoy, the hex based system, the fact the stack has been removed, the addition of ranged attacks, the way cities can defend themselves, the simplified happiness and economy system, the new way strategic resources work, the way units can cross water on their own... it's all really good. But you know what? I think I actually prefer Civilization 4.

Before reporting to the comment section and flaming me for 'hating on the new' please allow me to explain. I've been playing Civilization since Civ 2. I loved it. I played civ 3, I loved it. I played civ 4 and I ADORED it. For me, Civilization 4 has everything that makes the Civ games so good. It had very well thought out diplomacy, the culture mechanic was excellent, the religion mechanic was difficult to learn but very powerful, and culture flipping meant it was possible to capture cities without ever needing to fire a single shot.

Civilization 5 has stripped most of that down and put all it's extra effort into one particular theatre- war.

Warfare in Civilization 5 is excellent, it can compete with the best of turn based strategy games in that regard. War has always been a central element to the Civ series, pick up any Civ game and you'll notice how most of the units are combat units. But I just feel that Civilization 5 takes this too far. You can still get culture, diplomatic and scientific victories too, but many of the diplomatic options have been stripped down, and many of the features of culture (such as flipping) have also been removed. Espionage is also strangely absent. Nothing has been put in to replace them either.

It's quite sad really. So many brilliant new features have been packed into Civilization 5, and yet the removal of just a few little bits from Civ 4 totally changes the feel of the game.

I think if you're looking for a turn based wargame, Civ 5 is certainly a worthy purchase. But if you're actually looking for a true Civilization game, I'd wait until these features are added in the inevitable expansion packs or fan mods. I've completed a game, and to be honest I just don't feel like going back and playing another one. At all. When there's something I can do with/to other civs besides blowing their heads off, I'll come back to it. Until then though Civ 5 will be collecting dust on my hard drive.

Incidentally, if anyone knows of a good mod that adds all this stuff I'm whining about back in, please let me know. Civ 4's features + the changes listed above would equal total, unequivocal, win.

Dead Rising 2

(Low level spoilers)
I've been playing Dead Rising 2 since it's UK release, and I've now almost finished the game (Just need to complete overtime mode), so I feel I've played enough to pass some judgements on Capcom's latest title.

On the whole, it's defiantly an enjoyable experience. It's much in the same vein as it's predecessor- certainly not a world class game, but an entertaining title and very fun to play. But sadly it still shares many of Dead Rising's flaws, and if you haven't purchased it yet, I would like to warn you about a few things in Dead Rising 2, and then tell you about some of the awesome stuff that is in it. Seriously, it's worth your time and I strongly recommend it, even if you wait a while for it to pop up pre owned or for the retail price to drop. That disclaimer aside, let's get the bad aspects out of the way first.

1.Save system.
This has to go. I'm sorry, but it does. It's awful- easily the worst element of Dead Rising 2. I've had my rant on save points in the past, but to give you the TL;DR version- Save points suck and the only purpose they serve is in survival horror games to instil a fear of death, in that you need to play though a section of the game again. Dead Rising 2, is not a survival horror game, and neither was Dead Rising 1. Yes, there are zombies everywhere, yes you have limited capacity for items, yes you're alone in a hostile world, but really... it's not horror when you're scything down legions of zombies using a set of bowie knives duct taped to some boxing gloves is it? Even more so if you do it while wearing women's clothing. Calling this survival horror is like trying to call Army of Darkness a horror movie.

Don't get me wrong, as I said Dead Rising is a great game (I love Army Of Darkness also), but it's not a horror game. Not by a long shot. Because of that I get pissed off when I die and realise I forgot to save for the last half hour and I need to do everything all over again. It's not tense when I know my life is on the line- it's a precursor to ragequit. It's also f###ing annoying when I run into a psychopath for the first time and I've not saved, as I know they will probably kill me while I learn their moves. And yes, you can save before initiating any encounter, but that involves taking a long journey to the nearest save point, and in a game where you are constantly against the clock, this is not a good idea, especially when there are so many 'quests' to do- any one of which could result in a psychopath if you don't know what to expect.

Bottom line, normal save system please. This isn't a horror game and the save system detracts from Dead Rising 2's biggest asset- the fun factor. A possible alternative though would be retries, or at least a quicksave system.

2.The Psychopaths.
In all fairness, Dead Rising 2's psychopaths are a big step up from the original Dead Rising. They are not quite as hideously overpowered, and thanks to Dead Rising 2's far superior control the fights don't feel quite as cheap as they used to. If you loose, it's probably because you screwed up or just didn't learn the boss' patterns quickly enough. Sadly however, some psychopaths remain insanely difficult. For some of them it's an asset. One guy on a motorbike for example requires you to have perfect timing and good reflexes to take him head on. However, if you can get creative there are other ways to deal him that are easier. I'm all for the encouragement of lateral thinking.

Sadly however, there remain two or three psychopaths who are a lesson in frustration. One of them called Randy is extremely fast, packs a massive punch and the arena you fight him in is very small and very packed. Often the only way to stand a chance against these psychopaths is using tactics that are so meta they boarder on exploits.

The last boss of the main game mode is easily one of the cheapest boss fights since Crackdown's later Shai Gen bosses with their tightly picked infinite re spawn points. Not to spoiler you, but this person is almost unkillable in hand to hand, shooting them prompts them to roll (which makes them invincible) and their ranged attack hits very hard and stuns you. Oh and they also have some off map support with an AoE the size of the Yucatan peninsula. Oh and you have to fight them on pretty much open ground. Oh and they have no superpowers- none of thier apparent invulnerability is ever explained.

It seems the philosophy has leaned heavily on what could be done to make it hard for the player, with no thought given to how the player might actual beat the boss. Basically, you need to meta game the designers.

These guys kill the end game. Once they appear the fun factor takes a nose dive as if you fight them head on, you'll be there forever as more and more pop up. If you run away from them, they're fast enough that you end up with a train, meaning if anything snags you or stops you, they dog pile you under a mountain of festering necrotic flesh. Your only hope- only hope- is to keep running and stop for nothing- not for maintenance rooms, not for save points, not for Jesus himself. Don't even open the damn map once you have a train of these things. Oh, and I'm not certain, but I'm quite sure that queens only stun them. All this basically means that once these guys appear, Dead Rising 2 devolves into simply getting from point A to B for the next mission, stopping only at your peril. Factor in the save point fiasco with how often these things can drag you down (and the timer stopping you visiting safe save points), and the closing chapters of Dead Rising 2 really don't live up to the first few hours of gameplay. Oh, and to cap it all of they have a ranged attack too.

Well, with that unpleasantness out of the way, let's take a look at some of the better aspects of the game.

1.Combo weapons.
I always get suspicious when game developers make a big deal out of one feature of a game (usually, for good reason), but I have to say the combo weapon system in Dead Rising 2 is very well executed and very entertaining. My personal favourite weapons are the claw gloves, made by combining a set of boxing gloves with a bowie knife. With all that yellow on, Chuck stars to kind of remind me of a certain superhero...

You can also power up your combo weapons and gain extra bonuses from them by acquiring combo cards. These items are given to you for levelling up, and a few of the best ones are rewards for completing certain in game challenges.

Some of these combo weapons are logical and quite well grounded in reality, such as attaching a machete to the end of a pole. Others are downright insane such as a robot head mask with a lawn mower engine and blade stuck on the top. And yes, you do run around head butting zombies with it while it's turned on. See, not a horror game- just a fun one!

Nearly all survivors can now look after themselves pretty well. Give them a decent weapon and you don't really need to worry about them (just avoid catching them when you attack). Give them a good weapon and they are actually helpful. Indeed, without giving away too much, there's one bit of the game where saving lots of survivors really pays off...

Only a few survivors actually need to be carried or otherwise assisted, either through injury or circumstance. Even better, if a survivor is grappled by a zombie, they can break free by themselves in fairly short order. Basically, so long as you're not using them as your private army (and believe me, you can), or leading them into hordes of zombies, you shouldn't loose a survivors through their own idiocy.

3.Chuck Greene

He's just a better character than Frank West. He's more likeable, more competent, and self assured without being cocky. He's also doesn't take pictures of everything every two minutes. The character still certainly isn't Oscar material, but he's better rounded that Frank.

4.Control and gameplay.

Yes, yes, yes! The control is without a doubt far superior to Dead Rising 1. Everything feels better, everything is more smooth and more responsive, the camera is slick and the character physics work well. Dead Rising one was plagued by poor control which made many of the psychopath fights almost intolerable. I can honestly say that not once did I feel like I'd been cheated into death by the controls while playing Dead Rising 2.

5.The psychopaths.
Despite the few exceptions noted above, most of the psychopath fights are actually very well done, classic 'remember the pattern and spot the opening' style boss battles. I enjoyed most of them, and the smoother controls really paid off during them. Certainly a step up.

6.It's just fun damnit!
It's nice to see a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. So many games these days try to tell deep, complex stories or focus on a finely balanced multiplayer experience. This is all laudable, but really very few developers have the skill to pull of a truly artistic piece of gaming, something that just comes together and engages the mind and the soul in the way a good book or movie can. That's not to say developers should give up trying, but it's nice to play a game that knew where it was going, and worked to that goal. There are no morals, no subtext, just goodguys, badguys and a shit tonne of zombies to dismember in a variety of interesting ways.

Now, if you'll excuse me there's a lead pipe and a rocket firework here and... HOLY SHIT!

No More Fallow!

The fallow draws to a close. Two titles are released in the UK today, Civilization 5 and Dead Rising 2. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty psyched about both of them, especially after months of sweet bugger all being released.

Speaking of which, has anyone heard from South Korea in the last few months? They seem to have gone really quiet…

I’ve always had a soft spot for the civ games. Civilization 2 was one of the first PC games I ever played, and I played it to death. I missed 3, enjoyed 4 and the changes I’ve read about in 5 look very promising. The simple act of removing the ability to stack units, is alone a major difference. Now choke points will be worth holding. I also like the idea of the hex system too- anyone who plays strategy board games can attest to the fact they tend to become much more interesting when hexed based. I’ve heard bad things about the AI but let’s face it- there will be a third party mod out in a few months offering a much better AI.

More than Civilization 5 though, I am looking forwards to Dead Rising 2, especially having completed the Case 0 demo (look, it’s a God damn demo. It’s a piece of gameplay designed to get you to the buy the full game. It’s a unique take of the idea of a demo, and one I support, but it’s still a demo. Demo- demonstration, QED).

Let’s face it; Dead Rising was far from the greatest game ever made. It had some nasty control problems, the set up didn’t lend itself well to fighting the psychopaths and the story/characters where very much hit and miss. What it was though, was fun. Once you got past the icky controls and general fiddly nature of the game, Dead Rising offered a lot of amusing ways to hack, chop, dismember and destroy zombies, from death by shotgun, to death by katana, to death by lawnmower… the list goes on.

Dead Rising 2 looks to be promising even more of the same, and judging from Case 0, many of the control issues have been fixed. The final fight against the psychopath was also a little more fluid, and while by no means easy, was a fair challenge of skill that was a good fun fight. I just hope the bloody baby sitting element in Case 0 is left by the wayside, I’m all for the idea of the father/daughter bond as a plot device, but if I have to make sure that Katie gets her shot every 12 hours, I am going to be seriously, seriously pissed off. Man, it might actually be more annoying than Otis in the first game… that doesn’t even bare thinking about.

Well, Dead Rising 2 will be here shortly, and I guess I’ll know one way or the other.

Ruse Review

In a nut shell- go and buy World in Conflict instead.


Halo is the Most Overrated Game In History.

Halo 1. The characters are bland, the plot is predictable, the flood are made of nothing but clichés from science fiction established during the last 25 years (as are the covenant), there's no drama, no conflict, no artistic merit, no addition to the genre and no memorable moments that stick with you.

Halo is, and always will be only one thing- safe. Bungie just take whatever works on other games and cobble them together to create something that takes no risks, pushes no boundaries and challenges no preconceptions- and that's just the gameplay. The story is so simple, so straight forwards, so damn linear and predictable that it's impossible to salvage. It's junk food, pure junk food. If it was a book it would be a bad Stephen King novel.

For my fix of mindless shooters, I prefer Gears of War. While the plot and characters are one long testosterone soaked macho fantasy (which means unlike Halo, it at least has an identifiable style, as opposed to a vanilla presentation). The gameplay is (well... was) innovative, tactical and fresh. Take cover, shoot, relocate if cover is compromised, time your advance to get a better position... as opposed to Halo's way of doing things- Walk around and shoot. Walk around and shoot. Walk around and shoot. Lost shields? Find a large rock. Then walk around and shoot. Halo has never, and will never do anything new.

GoW II is an example of a well done sequel, building on the positive aspects of the first game and bringing in many technical improvements, as well as more fluid control. Halo II was... an expansion pack. It brought nothing- NOTHING new to the table. And don't talk to me about dual wielding weapons. We had that as far back as the N64 with Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. It was exactly the same game with a couple of bolt ons, nothing more.

Halo III? A little better- in fact I nearly enjoyed it. The plot had certainly moved on, but the story telling was left with ways to go (seriously those flashes of Cortana really pissed me off). Gameplay and graphics wise there where also slight improvements, but again the problem is that there was nothing new. Halo III did exactly what Halo did- cobble together the good parts from other popular titles at the time and chuck out some bastard Frankenstein's creature that you can't really criticize in any way other than it's sheer banality. Still, at least it was a new game. The banality thing though, that's the rub. Halo is so average, so bland, and yet it's so popular. How many people say vanilla is their favourite ice cream? A few, but not many. This by the numbers FPS though, with no innovation is somehow bigger than Jesus. In fact, here's an experiment you can try. Look up the number of people who play Halo online, in your country/state if you can, and then compare it to the number of church/temple/mosque/synagogue/grove/whatever goers. Post link and sources below.

Okay, Halo isn't a terrible game, but by God it's not worth paying £35 for. It never was, it never will be. Did you know that ODST was originally supposed to be an expansion pack? My guess is that Bungie never actually added anything to it, and just charged the full whack for the game because they know Halo fans are drooling Pavlovian canines. You ring the little Halo bell and out they come, braying like wild animals, begging for scraps of meat from the creative table. Meanwhile the rest of us are enjoying gourmet cuisine, making polite conversation and trying not to mention Bobby Kotick.

I think this brings up the other serious problem with the Halo franchise- it's fans. No game, with the possible exception of the Final Fantasy series has ever produced such a die in the wool, fundamentalist militant group of gamers. When Halo 2 came out I was still in school and two kids actually followed me around for three fucking weeks, laying into me because they overheard me saying how much of a disappointment Halo 2 was. Now okay, it was school and we were kids, but God dammit if that's not the attitude that so many Halo fans share.

I have never played in an online community that actually insulted you just for killing someone in the damn game. Don't get me wrong, every game has its share of cockmongers who always have a reason why they died apart from sucking, or how you killed them in a cheap way or with an exploit, but in Halo these twats are everywhere! There are a far greater proportion of wankers playing Halo than Horny Tit Vixens Interactive.

I'm sure there are a few Halo players out there who are insulted by this generalization, and to them I apologise- but you're probably the intelligent minority who see Halo for what it actually is: An alright game, good to waste a few hours and few bucks on, but certainly not this fucking messianic title that everyone seems to make it out as.

How did a game that deserves no more place in history than a footnote, get this sort of crazed cult following? Someone once told me it as because Halo was, for a generation of gamers, their first step into the world of online play. Well, that's as maybe (must be a generation after mine, and that is a really scary thought- I played StarCraft, MechWarrior 3 and Half Life on a 12.2K modem), and explains one of the titles, but after Halo 2 we had all sorts of great online games. How the hell did this series maintain such rampant popularity, while brilliant, creative games fell by the wayside? Why do Bungie sit on beanbags filled with money while other more creative developers go bust seemingly every day?

I have only one answer. Halo is a religion. You are indoctrinated into Halo, and are told time and time again how great it is until you believe it. You will throw money at it, and gain a huge sense of satisfaction from it because you're a part of it and that's how it works- or else. You give up all reason in exchange for knowing that you are right because loads of people around you say you are. Anyone who insults Halo is a heretic, and must be beaten and abused with full force, lest they use logic to show that Master Chief is not a God. Like any religion, once it starts to gain a following it suckers more and more people in, fed by the numbers within it, and the mutual constant self assurance that Halo is good, Halo is great, those who disagree must be burned, just as soon as we buy the next Halo. Maybe this explains the abusive nature of Halo fans playing online? They're fiercely competitive and insulting as they are trying to prove they are further up the parochial pecking order. Fortunately, there are a few lax Haloites who don't take it quite so seriously, to them I raise my hat. You enjoy Halo, and appreciate it for what it is. You've pulled yourself out of the quagmire that is the rest of the series fan base. I may even play a few games with you.

Still, credit where credit is due. Well done Bungie, L Ron Hubbard would be proud of you.

I wonder if I can get the leaders of the world to jump like puppets on a string if I threaten to burn a Legendary edition of Halo...

Just For Giggles...




Betamax also provided something simillar:


Liam Fox, UK Minister Of Defence Wants To Ban New Medal Of Honour Game.

More stupidity from a government regarding videogames today. Sadly, it’s not the Australian government this time (who are usually behind most national level attempts to screw up games), it’s a figure within my own British overlords, namely the Minster of Defence, Liam Fox.

He’s urging a ban on the new Medal of Honour game because it’s possible to play as the Taliban attacking British troops*.

Now, I can sort of see where he’s coming from with this, Afghanistan is an ongoing conflict, there’s still a lot of raw memories and grieving families, and this may well be “too soon”, as they say. But still, urging a ban? Come on.

If he doesn’t like it, Liam Fox has every right to speak out against Medal of Honour, but this guy is the Minister of Defence. He has no right, no basis on which he can call for a ban on any product, unless maybe it somehow compromises national security.

Even if it is “too soon” to be making entertainment material out of the Afghanistan conflict, that’s a matter of poor taste. Since when was poor taste worth banning something? Roy Chubby Brown has made a career out of bad taste. Do we ban him? How about Bernard Manning? Well known for racial and cultural abuse and slurs, and yet again he has a career.

This is another example of the double standards present when people look at videogames in comparison to other forms of entertainment. Okay, they’re an interactive medium, but at the end of the day, it’s a game. It’s cops and robbers, and someone needs to play the robbers.

Perhaps Mr Fox would prefer it if Medal of Honour’s multiplayer mode featured British soldiers shooting other British soldiers? Or perhaps American troops versus British troops? Would that be any more acceptable?

And on a serious note, let’s not forget that every conflict has two sides. Mr Fox shows no distaste at the idea of glorifying British troops killing the Taliban. At the end of the day, war is shit: It’s two groups of people killing each other. The Taliban are still people, and it’s important we don’t let the government dehumanise them. By all means, we should support our troops (even if you oppose the war, they don’t get a say in where they’re sent), but that doesn’t mean we should gloss over the fact that they are killing people. It’s not just British families who are suffering due to this conflict.

I wonder if Mr Fox’s Taliban counterpart feels the same way? :D

Further Reading:


* EA also say that there are no British troops in the game- they're all American.

Some troops share their thoughts on the matter

Online Gaming? Nah.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been working on my novel and also moving house, so time has been short! Still, I’m more or less back now, so let’s take a look at today’s topic- MMO’s and online gaming.

I never really got into MMO’s in a big way. Like everyone out there I’ve played WoW. I’ve also had a few spins on Guildwars, played several browser based MMO’s such as Planetarion, Astronest and Star Sphere. I’ve also got a character in EvE online.

Still, despite all of this I’ve never really enjoyed them. For me, gaming is a personal experience. I enjoy the story and narrative of games, and it’s much easier to appreciate these things when you play alone. There are exceptions however, but even with games like Gears of War or Perfect Dark (which are best played with other people), I prefer to play with a small group of friends- preferably in the same building with a pile of junkfood and beers.

I think I had enough of the anonymity of the internet when I was younger. I used to play online with games like StarCraft and Half life, and I just didn’t enjoy them. I’ve also gone online with most of the Command and Conquer games and while I love these games in single player mode, multiplayer is a totally different animal.

When I play games with other people it’s a social event. We chat, we drink, we pontificate and argue, we insult each other and then add injury by means of a virtual bullet in the back. When playing a game online with someone you don’t know, you don’t get that sort of interaction. We’re taught (quite rightly) from an early age to never give out any personal information over the internet. This means having a chat with someone is pretty much impossible. You can talk about the game, maybe some other games as well, but by and large most discussions are taboo.

The problem isn't just a social one, the gameplay changes hugely when you go online too.

RTS games are some of my favourite titles, and playing those online is pointless. Simply put, the strategy part of these games goes out the window. All RTS games when played human V human revolve around one principle- there is a correct way to win depending on the level you're playing and your starting location. The player who completes that set build queue and gives those orders the fastest wins, assuming neither of them makes a screw up. How is that entertaining? That’s not pitting minds or reflexes- it’s about who has the macro keyboard or the fastest fingers. This rigidity is a problem common to almost every game I’ve played online, even to a degree in FPS games (use this specific gun for this level).

That's a rant for another time though.

Many people claim that MMOs offer a more social aspect to game play, as you often need to work in teams to achieve your goals. In my experience, this has amounted to being forced into a packed elevator with a bunch of strangers. Or taking the London underground during rush hour. There’s a big difference between social interaction, and simply being at the same time and place as another person. Working with people in MMO’s was often a painful experience, due in part to the fact 90% of the people you meet online are pricks, and also because just like in RTS games there was a set method to complete these tasks with very little leeway offered. Everyone just stood there and did what was needed- there was no planning, no interaction or anything like that- the other characters with me may as well have been NPCs.

The best MMO I’ve played for the social aspect, and for gameplay, is EvE online. Working as part of a fleet in that game was very fun, and the fact that players are responsible for everything leads to a feeling that what you are doing really matters. You work with people because there are tangible benefits for all of you. Because there are no fixed ‘arenas’, you can never be sure how combat will go- what will the enemy bring? Can you handle it? Where do you try to engage? There are options- no set, unchanging right way to win. The victors are the group who did the best prep, got the best intel, picked the best target and gave the best fight. This beats reading a strat guide and following it to the letter any day.

This praise aside though, EvE still doesn’t hold lasting appeal to me because as I have said, at the end of the day, gaming is a personal thing for me, or something to enjoy with a few friends. I don’t like the type of interaction you get when playing online with strangers. Even playing online with friends just isn't the same as having them in the same room as you. Obviously I’m in a minority here, but hey, it offers something to think about.

I remember getting involved in a Mechwarrior clan back in the days of Mechwarrior 3. I’d impressed one of their recruiters by using the shutdown on my mech to hide myself and (try to) ambush them. We had a few goods games and some good laughs, but I drifted away from them after a couple of months. Even though I was enjoying it, for some reason it fell into the trap I always have playing games online- I just got bored with it.

I’m rambling a lot now, so I'll close by summarizing the points I’m trying to make about why I don’t like MMOs, or playing online in general:

1. The social aspect is no substitute for an ‘IRL’ social gaming event.
2. A lot of the people you meet online are dicks.
3. Games change a lot when online, usually becoming far more rigid.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts on the matter, make of them what you will. Just don't expect me to be gaming on live anytime soon.

Resonance of Fate

Well, I'm moving house soon and money is tight. It's getting harder and harder not to cave in and buy Star Craft II, but I'm a rock. If I can accidentally quit smoking, I'm sure I can consciously not buy Star Craft II. I've played through Dragon Age: Origins and I'm done with that now. Fight Night Round 4 is also starting to get stale, but I look forwards to picking it up again in a few months and it being fresh and entertaining again. It's a game that recycles well.

Nothing else on my shelf has any appeal at the moment, I'm not really in the mood to replay most of them, and the ones I haven't completed (Just Cause 2, Tom Clancey's Endwar, Mirror's Edge and Resonance of Fate) 'aint calling me. It's a shame about Resonance of Fate because I was really enjoying that one. Sadly, while the battle mechanics are new, interesting and hugely entertaining, they wear out pretty fast. And the writing is just... Well, the setting is really good, and I'm sure there's a subtle attack on our increasing dependence on technology, and a very, VERY clever metaphor for environmentalism too, but it seems one member of the writing staff just can't stop making tit jokes. It's a horrible, hideous tumor on what could have been one of the best written, most engaging and deep stories since FFVII- an accolade I do not offer lightly. Instead we get half an hour of intense atmospheric build up, very well executed metaphor and fantastic world crafting (even if the characters are very bland)... followed by a string of puerile boob jokes that a fifteen year old wouldn't find funny. And yes, there are some Dead Or Alive jiggle physics thrown in too.

I'm not a prude, I have no problem with these jokes in and of themselves, but they just clash so horribly with what is otherwise a very mature script. Betamax claims that I get too hung up on the little problems with games, things that “Other people learn to accept”. I'd argue against it, but for the most part he has a point. Still, I maintain that when a problem keeps coming at you over and over and over again, it can be classified as a big issue. Resonance of Fate's writing is one such thing. It's not just the boob jokes, they're an example of the problem. The real issue just lies in the classic anime comedic swing, the tactic of generating laughs by creating ludicrous situations and throwing out comedy stereotypes.

I've always hated comedy anime for that reason- I just don't find Japanese humour funny (Ed is a stain on Cowboy Bebop, without her the whole thing would have been so much better). But the fact they're attempting such regular comedy relief while at the same time having such a layered and engaging story and setting (a wonderful steampunk world) is in and of itself jarring, regardless of how such humour is attempted. Simply put, this is not a world or story that requires comic relief of any variety. The fact these comedy relief scenes are shoe horned into the narrative in such a ham-fisted manner doesn't help. Remember in FFVII when Cloud has to dress up in drag to infiltrate Don Coreno's place? It was a well done bit of comedy relief, it had a logical build up, a funny execution and most importantly even though it was a classic farce, it didn't actually jar with the story. It was worked into it.

In Resonance of Fate, characters sit around talking about the human race and the apocalypse and the reliance on the machine Basel to survive.... fade to black... oh look Zephyr got caught trying to peek at Leanne in the bath! And now he's defending himself by saying she's flat chested. And oh how funny she slaps him across the face. And he has a big hand shaped bruise. I'm sorry, but were you not just running an allegory to global warming? Eh? Now you're cutting to someone who I can only assume is our antagonist and... Dear God I have mental whiplash. This happens about every half hour.

How would you feel if you where watching the Dark Knight and every ten minutes Batman started giggling and doing a funny little jig? Then he went back to normal as if nothing had ever happened. It wouldn't be funny would it? It would be out of place, annoying and detract from the whole movie in a BIG way. That is how Resonance of Fate's story plays out.

I really should listen to Betamax and just try to get past it, but it isn't just the writing that keeps putting me off. Like I said the mechanics, while unlike any other game I have ever played (Innovation? From a JRPG? The horror) just start to wear thin after a few hours. Maybe they'll be something to freshen the formula up if I keep playing though? I don't know, and I just don't feel inclined to risk my time finding out.

I'll probably write a review on Resonance of Fate sometime, or maybe make a video. I can at least talk about the graphics, gameplay and premise a bit. For all it's flaws, it's still a game I think people should try, at the very least just to remind them that there is some real innovation still left in the industry. That and of course you- being the discerning type- will want to know more about this allegedly deep and layered back plot. We shall see.

Wow, this post was supposed to about Crackdown. Sorry. I'll make a proper post on that in a day or two. Suffice to say I just got Crackdown (the original, not the sequel), and I'm having a pretty good time with it! I'd even say as sandbox style blow shit up shooters go, it's actually superior Just Cause 2. Still, I will talk more on this soon.

Until next time.

Just A Little Something.

Found this comic strip and it gave me a chuckle.


Grand Theft Auto: Rothbury

I love tabloids. I find them so very, very entertaining. Much in the same way that one would find a clown funny, as opposed to say Bill Hicks' style of entertainment.

The Daily Star is the epitome of such guilty pleasures, a shitty little snot rag that does not deserve to be called a paper. The Sun has more journalistic integrity that farce. However, it’s still worth picking it up every so often (don’t ever pay for it though, dear God they don’t need encouraging) and leafing through it.

You will not find such a magnificent collection of human stupidity outside of the Darwin Awards. Everything that’s wrong with the country is the fault of Islam. Nick Clegg is a 20 foot tall fire breathing lizard who will destroy what Islam leaves behind. Your taxes are being used… TO PAY FOR THINGS! Non white people are living in Britain and raping our women! WOMEN HAVE THE VOTE!

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here, but not by much. I suppose you’re wondering what this is doing on a videogames blog, and the answer to that is simple. The Daily Star recently published an ‘article’ concerning videogaming designed to inflame the slack jawed yobs that take this crap seriously.

If you live in Britain, you’ve probably heard of Raoul Moat. He recently led the police and army on a manhunt that lasted several days after shooting several people including his former partner and her current lover. You can read the exact details over on the BBC. Now, given that this has only just started to blow over (at least on a national level), what would your first assumption be on seeing this image while browsing the internet?

Whatever you assumed, I’m guessing you didn’t think it was actually real. For one Daily Star journalist though, this was the first thought to cross his mind. Jerry Lawton, I salute you. You’ve managed to take a poor taste joke and turn it into a national phenomenon. He actually took this seriously and wrote a piece on it, even going so far as to interview the grandmother of Moat’s former partner about this non existent game, adding extra grief and stress to what must already be one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through. Smooth Jerry. Real smooth.

What amazes me is no one at the Daily Star, not even the editor looked at this for a moment and thought “Seriously… what professional multi million company would be sick enough to create something like that?” It would be business suicide. Rockstar are not that stupid, and while they create violent- adult games, they are not going to cash in on such a specific case. Yes they’ve made some very… risqué content, and some very violent games, but they have never targeted a specific incident or individual.

Too bad the Daily Star lacks their dignity.

To add to the farcical nature of this story, Jerry Lawton remains unrepentant about the whole affair, even after the Daily Star issued an official apology and retracted the story. From his Facebook page:

"Baffled by the fury of adult gamers, these are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who've today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto! You would think I'd denied the Holocaust!!! Think I'll challenge them to a virtual reality duel....stab....I win!!!"

Wow. What a twat. What a brain dead, out of touch twat. I think the quality of this tosser’s journalism speaks for itself in that he didn’t even bother to get a response from Rockstar about this ‘game’- something which could have saved him and his paper considerable embarrassment.

Still, at least he had the decency to refer to his horseshit as a ‘story’ rather than ‘news piece’ or ‘article’.

I’d be angry if this had occurred in anything other than the Daily Star. As it stand the fact this it did just compounds what I already know and what I opened this post with: The Daily Star is a total and utter pile of crap as a news paper. However, as a source of entertainment (and often left discarded in public cafés, especially supermarket ones), it’s tough to beat. So well done Mr Lawton, you’ve proven you have the journalistic ability of a chimp, degraded and embarrassed your paper even further and given me a bloody good laugh at just how incompetent you are.

On a serious note though, it does scare me how many people may have actually believed this. Would they have been as quick to accept if someone said they where making a big budget movie about Moat? Or a West End play? I doubt people would believe it right off the bat. There remains a lot of prejudice and simple ignorance regarding the role of videogames in society, and the type of people adult gamers are. This sort of crap only cements that, and that is something we should be worried about. I’ll leave you with that, and also Destructoid’s response to Lawton’s Facebook post:

Nice to see that Lawton conveniently left out the bit where he used a poorly doctored image that any idiot could have ascertained was fake, the bit where he used a 69-year-old grieving grandmother for his own ends, and the bit where he cobbled together a shitty little article full of lies that got taken down because it was a load of crap. Hilarious that he references the "real world" when his article was based in total fantasy to begin with. Maybe Lawton's the one who needs to step away from his computer and face reality.


Finished Dragon Age: Origins

There's something very sad about finishing a game you have really enjoyed. This is especially true of RPGs, the effort that goes into creating characters and story, and the length of time you're playing mean you can get quite involved with everything that's going on. Once that comes to an end, you're left wanting more, but you can't get it. Sometimes you can get expansion packs or there may even be direct sequels, but even they will eventually be exhausted.

I think loathing the fact a game has finished is one of the highest compliments you can give a developer.

I just finished Dragon Age: Origins, and I am not a happy bunny. While I do have a few qualms about the writing towards the end (some of the side quests just seemed lazy), on the whole it was very well executed and I enjoyed the entire experience immensely. The last few battles in Denerim where very frustrating though, and I didn't care for the whole army mechanic, especially as the Dalish where about as useful as a mercury tea cup. Plus the last fight against the arch demon was a little anticlimactic. He's been built up and up over the course of the game and I walked all over him. Mind you, I did save the mage support for that battle and they seemed to do most of the work.

These are just nit picking though. Honestly it was a great experience and I'm sad I didn't complete the game sooner. I've already ordered Awakening on Steam and I'm planning on spending the next few days of my life playing it religiously, as I have done with Dragon Age: Origins over the past couple of weeks.

In case you're wondering I had Alistair kill the arch demon (he wanted to do it so why not), I put Anora on the throne, and Morrigan left because there was no way in hell I was letting her raise a child with the potential to be as powerful as a God. The epilogue was mostly positive, but I forgot to kill the dragon at Haven which caused a few people some hassle, and Orzimmar has apparently seen better days after Harrowmont took over.

Kudos to you Bioware, I look forwards to Awakening.

Oh Maker...

Fell me like the darkspawn... and make inroads in the south...

Bioware, you've done it. You've created sex dialogue that's even worse than mine. And most of my girlfriends have complained about me being too quiet.

Video Review Of Fight Night Round 4

Best viewed in HD on YouTube itself:

My Most Hated Videogame Design Flaws

I spend a lot of my time when I write about videogames picking apart the really negative aspects of even great games. My review of Nier being a fine example of cynical nature, although in all fairness, it is a dire game. While I don't consider myself a critic, I do complain a lot, and I've noticed there are certain issues that keep cropping up with videogames time and time again.So I've created this list of 6 of my biggest annoyances with videogames.If you're looking at designing a videogame, then take these on board.I don't have any professional qualifications to support these opinions, but at the end of the day I've been playing videogames since shortly after I started walking and reading.So, in no particular order:

1.Quick time events.

People who've watched the video review of me and Betamax (drunkenly) reviewing Bayonetta, will know that I hate quick time events with a passion.I've also railed on these in Dante's inferno too.The problem I have with them is that they are, quite simply pointless.There's no skill involved in a quick time event, you just need to either mash a button as fast as you can, or press it quickly when it appears on screen.This is all about an arbitrary test of reflexes, or how quickly you can push a button.

Quick time events can work in videogames, for example the last remnant does them pretty well.One of the Naruto games on the 360 also makes creative use of quick time events as a sort of versus event between two players.The problem is that they often crop up totally out of the blue (resident evil 4 and 5) and the only function they serve is to make you reload your game because you were not expecting them, often interrupting entertaining 'catch a breather' cut scenes when they do.The other problem is the fact that they are often put into situations where they have no purpose at all.Look at the doors in Dante's inferno, something that prompted a big rant in my video review of that game.Why?Why do you need a QTE to open a door?What's the point?What does it add to the game?

There's also the fact that after a motorcycle crash a few years back, my hands are f###ed.It's really hard for me to do those mashing button sequences, and I'm not the only person out there with joint problems.

In summary, if you want to use quick time events, make them a part of the gameplay itself, and always ask two important questions; do I need player interaction at this point, and why is a quick time event best suited to this situation?

Read The Whole Piece Here.
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