The Evis Awards, 2011

2011 has not been a good year for me. But it has had its upsides! One of those has been the release of some pretty awesome games. So, today’s post is dedicated to my personal favourite games of 2011. Note that I say *my* personal favourites- I’m not claiming these to be the very best of the year in a complete sense, but they are the best that I played. If you feel a game deserves a mention then head to the comments section and by all means have your say- I’d love to hear what you think!

So, with flame proof wards in place, let us jump to the award ceremony of the Evi’s 2011! Only slightly less unprofessional the Spike VGA awards.


Best Graphics:


Runner up: Skyrim.
Skyrim is a bloody gorgeous game. I love the visual design, I love the almost authentic Nordic styling, the rolling plains, the craggy mountains, the weather effects and I especially love the design of the dragons. But I can’t help but feel that Bethesda didn’t quite get the game looking as good as they could. With a few beautification mods such as a graphics post processor though, it looks stunning. I’m relegating it to second place though because one other game really did take me by surprise with the quality of its visuals...

Winner: Battlefield 3.
Shame about Origin, but this title just looks stunning. Now, it’s sad that such immense quality is being used in a grey brown shooter, but the lightning effects, textures and particle behaviour are second to none. I’d love to see what people do with the engine in the future. It’s unfortunate that I’ve not had the time to play much of the game itself, but It is without a doubt the best looking game of 2011, its sheer quality making up for the drab ‘realistic’ styling.

Best soundtrack.

Runner up: Child of Eden.
A legitimate attempt to make a game specifically for the Kinect, Child of Eden is a fun, hyper stylized rail shooter from the creators of Rez. While in many regards it leaves a lot to be desired (it’s more of an experience than a game), the soundtrack is top notch. Sometimes this accolade is given for music that just sounds good, but Child of Eden’s soundtrack is not only of the highest quality, but also manages to complement the graphics and even the gameplay flawlessly. How do you even manage to make music ‘sound’ like a gameplay mechanic? I don’t know, but Child of Eden did it.

Winner: Bastion.
Darren Korb is a name to remember. He’s the man behind the soundtrack of Bastion, and is without a doubt the composer of the best soundtrack of 2011. He captures the scenes his music plays over beautifully, and the production values are top notch. Best of all, they even sound great outside of the game. You can buy the soundtrack on Steam and I would strongly recommend that you do so. Korb has a unique sound and style, and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Best Voice Acting

Runner up: Stephen Merchant as Wheatley (Portal 2)
Merchant narrowly beat out Danny Wallace as Shaun Hastings (Assassin’s Creed) for this spot. I think they are both about equal, delivering great off the cuff performances and providing some much needed comedy relief in both of their titles. However I can’t help but feel that Wheatley’s stronger presence in Portal 2 gave him an edge. His character was ‘more interactive’ and as such it’s easier to appreciate his performance. He nailed every line, and was an immensely fun addition to the franchise. I’d love to see Wheatley again, and I can’t wait to see what Merchant does next in the videogames industry.

Winner: Mark Hamill as Joker (Arkham City)
When people talk about the Joker these days they often refer to him as a different character depending on who is writing/playing him. In much the same way that people may talk of ‘X’s Mark Antony’ or ‘Y’s Mickey Johnstone’. It’s a testament to the depth, versatility and complexity of the character that people differentiate between the different portrayals far more than Batman. While Heath Ledger remains my favourite Joker, Mark Hamill’s portrayal in both Batman: The Animated Series, and the Arkham games is a close second. He’s got the perfect mix of menace, dark humour and sheer insanity that make the character so fantastic. It was easily the most memorable performance of 2011; creepy, compelling and creative. A well deserved win. A special mention also needs to go to Tara Strong who played Harley Quinn. She and Hamill worked exceptionally well off each other. Oh, and Spike? YOU DO NOT STICK LUKE FUCKING SKYWALKER IN THE BLEACHERS AT YOUR AWARD CEREMONY.

Best Storytelling

Runner Up: Gears of War 3...?
Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not being a jackass just to drum up controversy! I honestly really enjoy the Gears storyline. It’s extremely basic, but it’s well told with only a few plot holes (fewer than most games anyway) and it has some great moments. I can’t really give away too much without spoilers for people who haven’t played it, but there was one moment in GoW3 that honestly nearly had me in tears. Yeah I’m man enough to admit it. I love to lose myself in games and Gears makes it very easy to do that. It may not be challenging or deep, but it’s easy to get attached to the characters and the occasional dramatic moments are well done. Plus it was a breath of fresh air to see a male and female lead in a platonic relationship. It’s rare to see that in any media, let alone videogames. It may not be everyone’s choice for runner up, but it is mine.

Winner: Bastion.
The Kid takes home another trophy! Storytelling in videogames is often done in a very hamfisted way, typically through endless cut scenes or walls of text (I’m looking at you FFXIII). In some cases this works well. Hideo Kojima has elevated the endless cut scene to the status of a genre in and of itself. But for the most part when they want to tell a story most developers forget that they are making a game that is designed to be played. Enter Bastion. No cut scenes, no lengthy dialogue sequences, no walls of text. Bastion’s use of constant narration, while initially annoying until you get used to it, is a hugely innovative step in videogame story telling. It won’t work for every game, however as an experiment it was a fantastic way to maintain constant gameplay and combine it with a well told yarn. A sure spot for number one.

Best Gameplay


Runner up: Arkham City
Arkham Asylum is one of the best games ever made. I hold this truth to be self evident, and therefore do not need to justify myself to you philistines! It’s was even down in the Guinness book of world records as game with the highest number of perfect score reviews. Arkham City makes it even better, opening the game out a little, adding more content and even managing to improve the already fantastic combat system. It’s simple, intuitive and hugely rewarding. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was most people’s number one spot for this category.

Winner: Tropico 4.
Another controversial decision. Tropico 4, like Tropico 3, has a flawless complexity curve. It’s fairly simple to pick up the basics, and once you have that the entire island is your oyster. As you get better and better at the game you start to notice more and more ways to tweak the world and your city. After a few hours you’ll be knee deep in ‘socio-political engineering’ I.E, brainwashing everyone into loyalists. Through dozens of subtle methods you can achieve a massive array of results and very different styles of society. The best part is at no point do you feel you ‘need’ to learn more. You go from beginner to master without ever actually realising that your game is improving- all thanks to the way that new concepts and ideas are introduced at a pace you set, without even realising it.

Best Smartphone Game

Runner up: Zen Pinball.
Mainly for Teraga equipped tablets, Zen Pinball is a port of Pinball FX which most of you will know from the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. It uses some of the same tables and is every bit as good as its 360 counterpart. Zen has great, realistic physics, oodles of style and a compulsive element that borders on Civilization levels. The only drawback is that it won’t work well on all Android devices, so remember that if it doesn’t work you can claim a refund within 15 minutes of purchase. Try to beat my highscores! I’m Evis03!

Winner: Grand Prix Story
The ‘Story’ games are basically business management titles. Don’t let their simplistic graphics fool you though! These are very high quality, well thought out, deep and complex games with loads of replay value. Grand Prix story devoured hours of my life as I lay in bed fine tuning my vehicles, training my staff and researching new technology. A light version is available as a demo and well worth a look. It is available on both Apple and Android stores.

Wooden Spoon- Because some things are just S###

Runner up: Duke Nukem Forever.
Awful graphics, horrible presentation, crap gameplay, abysmal music and frankly far more fun as a running joke. It wasn’t the worst game I’ve ever played, but it was certainly one of the worst purchases I made in 2011. More thoughts here.

‘Winner’: The 3DS.
Here comes the stampede of Nintendo fanboys! I got a 3DS on release date (hell, I went to the midnight launch) and my thoughts on it have been made eminently clear elsewhere on this blog for those who care to read the drunken ramblings of a madman. The long story short though is that while the console itself is fine (I’m one of those strange people who don’t hate 3D on principle- but I do acknowledge that no one seems to use it properly at the moment), the launch line up and subsequent releases were atrocious. What wasn’t just outright crap was either meagre, or rereleases of old games. I already have Ocarina of time. I can play it any time I like on a 36” screen. I don’t give a shit about paying another £40 to play it in 3D.

To cap it off, all my mobile gaming these days is done on my phone or tablet anyway. Games on these platforms are far cheaper and far more suited for quick, pick up-play-put down, style gaming that is so important on a commute. Easily the biggest waste of money this year- and that’s saying a lot from someone who bought both DN:F and Dragon Age 2.

Game of the Year

Runner up: Skyrim
A game with the compulsive nature of crack and the eeked out rewards of the crack dealer. It strings you along and keeps you playing for just one more quest, one more item, one last cleared dungeon- then you can go to bed. You awake four hours later, your face plastered to the keyboard, drool gumming up the keys and the gentle smell of urine from your trousers.

This is Skyrim’s greatest asset and yet also why it isn’t my GOTY. I can’t stop playing the bloody thing. I honestly can’t. But the thing is I can’t figure out why. Everything about it is very well executed, the combat works, the skills are cool, and the world is nice and so on. The stories are a little lacklustre but that’s par for the course with Bethesda games. But that’s just it. Nothing individual is outstanding, but when you put everything together it metamorphoses into something that you just can’t put the fuck down.

Skyrim is a fantastic time sink. I’ve played it for nearly 70 hours, and you know what? I barely remember any of it. Most of the time I have the game turned down low and I’m also listening to an audio book. Yet despite the fact that it leaves so little impression, I keep finding myself throwing hour and hours and hours into it. That alone has to be worth massive kudos, so I offer it the runner up space.

And the Game of 2011 is....

Arkham City.

Arkham Asylum is- as I have previously intimated- one of the finest games ever made. Arkham City is even better. I’ve touched on the improvements made before, but much like Assassin’s Creed 2 to AC1, Arkham City builds on the strongest points and shuffles the weaker ones around or does away with them entirely. Everything about this game is fantastic. The graphics are of the highest quality and also wonderfully moody and atmospheric. The sound is well done, the story is well told if a little pat, the villains are wonderfully imagined and the entire thing has been completed to a level of polish and excellence that brings a manly tear to my eye. It does everything right. What more can I say except it’s my favourite game of 2011, and Rocksteady are the best thing to arrive in the gaming community since Felicia Day.

Noteworthy mentions


Deus Ex Human Revolution
What happened to this game? It hit the community with the force of a category five tornado wielding Thor’s hammer and then vanished. I know that there was some DLC, but for a title so hotly anticipated and so well received (even Yahtzee praised it) it passed in the blink of an eye. It’s a strange conundrum!

Sonic Generations
A shout out needs to go to everyone’s favourite woodland mammal. He’s had a hard time of it the last ten or so years, but Generations shows that Sonic can still be good. A return to the basic values of the franchise was just what the Dr Eggman ordered, and Generations delivered. A hugely enjoyable platformer, and a welcome return to excellence for the speedy hero with the blue dreads.

LA Noire
My review of this title is elsewhere on this blog. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a fairly poor game. I’ll praise Team Bondi (well I would if they still existed) for their willingness to take a risk and try something new, but much like Mirror’s Edge the end result was less than promising. Fair dues to you for trying people, but a lot of us were hyped for this release and ended up disappointed.

Dragon Age 2
I’ve ranted, raged, cried, sacrificed goats and called down the wrath of any God who will listen on/against this game. But I do need to make one point very, VERY clear as I breezed over it in my video review.

It isn’t a bad game.

It was a crushing disappointment, and a clear message from EA that it didn’t care about the Classic CRPG crowd that DA:O was aimed at. But it wasn’t a bad game. It worked, it had some nice characters and at the very least I played it through the (bitter) end. While I loathe and detest it with every fibre of my being, do not let it be said I declared it to be bad in ‘overall’ terms.

So that’s 2011 sorted. On to a new year, new games, maybe some new consoles and more potential than you can shake a wii-mote at! Love and peace y’all!

-Evis T.

No To SOPA

Did you know that there’s an argument for the United States Postal Service to be blamed for attempts to poison senators and media companies with Anthrax? It’s an argument that would place the deaths of five people, killed by a weaponized disease in the hands of the Post Office.

If you didn’t think something along the lines of ‘that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read’ when you looked over those sentences, you have a very twisted view of the world and should probably seek medication. But you know what? It’s true. It takes a very twisted, neigh corkscrew logic to see it- but it’s there. And you want to know what’s scary? The American senate is debating the future of the nation’s internet access based on that precise logic.

Confused yet? Good. Grab a drink and get comfortable. This won’t take long.

In 2001, Anthrax spores were mailed to several American media companies and two senators. I’ll spare you the details, but there’s more information on Wikipedia for those of you who were still a glint in the milkman’s eye back then. But suffice to say, who do we blame for those deaths? The nutter who sent the letters right? And probably whoever got him the Anthrax. Would it occur to you at any point to blame the Postal System for being the medium by which the attack took place?

Now, when a person buys a bootleg DVD from a dodgy market stand in Croydon, who do you blame? The person who made the copy? The person who bought it? The person who sold it? All of the above? That would be my answer too. But how about the company that made the blank DVD that was used in the copy? I mean, by creating such a device they effectively enabled the piracy to take place. No blank DVDs, no DVD copy, no piracy. This is what we call logic kiddies.

Need another example? How about a group of thieves ram-raid a shop (this means breaking in by driving a car through it). Who is to blame? The thieves, the shop owner? Mall Security? How about the car salesman for providing the thieves with the tools to commit their crime?

But Evis! You cry with indignance and self inflated importance- ‘That’s just stupid. It isn’t the fault of Samsung and Ford that someone is abusing their product!’ And you’d be right. People are punished for the CRIME, not for the means used to commit it- and the people who created the means certainly are not blamed unless they were involved in other illegal practices. But this is the batshit moon logic that the US House of Representatives now has to consider.

The Digital Millennium Copyright act grants certain websites such as YouTube exemption from responsibility if users upload illegal and/or copyrighted content. Provided of course that they remove said content when notified that it exists. It’s called the ‘safe harbor’ and it is vital to enable websites like YouTube, Digg, Reddit and so forth to operate. The amount of submissions that these sites get is astronomical- it is simply not possible to vet every last submission. Not without employing so many people you’d be bankrupt pretty much right away.

The system isn’t perfect. For one thing it means someone has to actually notice and report the content, and then the site has to take it down. By which time the content has spread to a dozen other places and been accessed by thousands of people. But can you think of anything better? The supporters of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) think so.

They want to do away with the ‘safe harbour’ part of the DMCA, forcing sites to vet every last submission or risk being sued into the ground. Oh, and on top of that they will censor any site that hosts, shows or links to pirated material or- and here is the kicker ‘counterfit gooods’. Censor as in- you will not be able to access this is you live in the US. At all.

So, basically this act, should it pass would trigger the following: YouTube as we know it would be killed. As would almost every social networking site (including Facebook and Twitter) unless every single post you make is checked, lest it contain a link to the latest shitty Hollywood blockbuster. And you thought privacy terms at the moment were bad?

In fact, any free and open platform from 4Chan to your blog could be targeted. Did your blog link to a 30 second clip from a movie? Well done- under the provisions of this act the US Government can now order that your blog be struck from the DNS system and made inaccessible to people within the US. It will be another nation to have a ‘Great Firewall’. The other often cited one being China. But hey, when China does it it’s because they have a totalitarian government with an abysmal human rights record and no freedom at all right? But when the US does it, it will be to protect you from… uhhh… accidentally watching a film you haven’t paid for? Thinking that you could buy a genuine new iPhone 4Gs for $50?

This act isn’t about you America. It was never about you. It’s about business and profit- just like it always is. The administration doesn’t give a fuck about you, your rights or your safety online. This isn’t even about tightening the law. This is all about gouging away at anything that eats into the profits of these companies- these companies who pay you minimum wage, offer no benefits, fire you if you form a union and con you out of any entitlement you might have. They don’t give a fuck about you, why should you give one about them? If these businesses looked after you than maybe I would encourage you to support them. They don’t though, so that’s that.

Look, Piracy is illegal. Piracy does costs jobs, and it does cost money. It may not be as terribly damaging as groups like the RIAA and MPAA want you to think, but it does damage the economy. We should combat it; we should try and stamp it out. But not like this. Businesses should be trying to coax people away from piracy with new practices- not encouraging the government to censor mass communication to take that opportunity away. The digital age has been here for over a decade (longer even) and these companies still don’t know how to react to it. Instead of embracing it they fight it. Instead of realizing that the rules of the game have changed they continue to below at us waving their out of date rulebook around like a bloodied sabre.

The internet can be your friend. Digital downloads have made services like iTunes a fortune and Video Rentals via Xbox Live are a nice earner for Microsoft. The internet is the future and you can’t sweep the future under the rug with legislation and lobbying. Maybe if people don’t feel that your products are worth paying for you should experiment with why- and then try something new. It says a lot that the companies opposing this are the ones who are most closely tied to the internet. They can see the damage it will do, whereas the RIAA and MPAA can’t see past the 0’s on their profit margin.

Piracy will never be stamped out entirely. No crime ever will. All that SOPA will achieve is marking the US as taking its second step on the road to totalitarianism. The first was the ham-fisted attempted to censor wikileaks. Don’t forget America, it will only be a matter of time before this act, if it passes, will be broadened to include ‘matters of national security’. Such as photos of police pepper spraying an 80 year old woman. Such as reports of how the latest war is *really* going.

Always remember, the means are not the crime.

A quick update.

There have been a few games out recently now that we’re out of the Summer fallow, but to be honest I’ve not been doing much gaming. Between work and well… just work to be honest.

Anyway, I’ve re written this intro five times now and I can’t make it sound right. So bugger that, and let’s talk about some of the games I have been playing.

Gears of War 3

If you want a good time it’s hard to go wrong with Gears. Oh it typifies pretty much everything I loathe in the current crop of action games, but there’s something compulsive in the Gears of War series. Maybe it’s the fact is knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to it. Maybe it’s the fact that while it doesn’t break new ground any more, it does tread its turf with extreme competence and authority.

It’s just a really well put together game, and provides a few hours of mindless fun. There isn’t much more of a point in talking about it- you probably already know if you want to grab it or not, and if you don’t know then I suggest you grab Gears of War one or two first as the changes between them are relatively minor. I will say this though; Gears 3 is certainly the best of the series.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Anyone who’s dug back in my old posts will know I don’t like Deus Ex. It grew on me slightly when I tried to play it again a few months after making that post, but I still think that it is hugely overrated when considered in today’s market. It has aged very badly.

That put to one side Human Revolution is an excellent game, providing a variety of challenges and rewards all wrapped up in a very neat, extremely pretty package. The graphics quality is high, but for some reason everything is tinted orange. Fallout New Vegas did the same thing and wouldn’t you know- when you mod the marmalade off the camera the game looks fucking gorgeous. Human Revolution has a similar mod, and the effect is the same. Why do developers keep doing this? It’s like painting a beautiful landscape and then covering it in Roses wrappers.

One aspect of the game that really hammers its score though are the boss fights. Aside from being totally unnecessary, they are also phoned in- big time. There are four in total, and not to give away too many spoilers all of them are crap.

First off, if you didn’t pick up any combat augmentations (like me- I play stealth and non lethal), these fights offer very little mercy. There is often nothing to actually complement the upgrades that you do have, which means you essentially need to use some really cheap tactics to get ahead. Also, if you travel light and don’t have much in the way of grenades e.t.c, the fight gets even worse. To the developers credit though, the boss arenas as least have a good spread of weapons and ammo.

My biggest gripe out these boss fights though is that they are totally, utterly inconsequential to the story. You don’t even know their names until the cutscene before the fight, and one boss’ name is never even revealed. There is such a broken, ragged disconnection between the narrative flow of the bulk of the game and the boss fights that it’s truly unnerving.

Eidos Montreal actually outsourced the boss fights to Grip, but even then I would have expected the writers to make use of them as characters. A boss fight should represent an apex of the story, a climax or convergence of plot points. These are just tripwires in the narrative. If you want an example of a boss fight done well as a narrative tool, look at anything by Hideo Kojima. Bosses are established (in some cases recurring) characters with names, histories and personalities. Sometimes one or more of these aspects are terrible, but they are always present. The fights are always interesting, requiring you to think up new tactics and adapt to unique situations. Again, sometimes they are not good, but they are usually memorable little stories in and of themselves. Best of all, when they die they are not shoved back into nowhere and never mentioned again. They are characters and their deaths are as key to the story as their lives were. Hell, Psyco Mantis pops up in MGS4 after being killed in MGS1. And Ocelot? Christ- he’s the axle on which the plot of the entire bloody series turns. He’s as much a main character as Snake.

And who are these nameless goons in Human Revolution? No one. They are totally unimportant. I’m not joking when I say that if you cut them from the game all together, practically nothing needs to be changed. Jensen can get shot by a random mook, or caught in a grenade blast or something. The only contribution to the plot is when the first boss, for some totally insane reason tells Jensen where to go next. Why does he do this? No idea. It’s not like he’s had a change of heart and is trying to atone for his sins or something- he tries to kill you moments later. Okay, maybe he’s trying to coax Jensen closer, but wouldn’t he just lie?

Aside from that though, the rest of the game is exceptionally good and a lot of fun to play. Well recommended.

Tropico 4:

Very little has changed from Tropico 3. There is now a more structured campaign a mode, a few more buildings and some minor changes to the way edicts and policies are handled. The graphics have had a minor update too.

If you enjoyed Tropico 3, you’ll enjoy Tropico 4. But you may feel cheated by the price tag for what really amounts to an expansion pack. Give the demo a try though; it’s better than Tropico 3- just not by much.

Dead Island:
This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted a good, serious, narrative driven zombie survival RPG. What I got was Borderlands with zombies in it. I can’t really say Dead Island is bad, but as I’ve said before in this blog many times, I loathe games that are reliant on multiplayer. It’s just an excuse for the developers to put less effort in, and I believe that Dead Island really makes my point for me. Playing alone, it is nothing more than a sequence of fetch quests. Even when I tried playing it with Betamax I was bored shitless. It isn’t a bad game, and it has many good points (the graphics are nothing short of spectacular) but it totally and utterly failed to engage me on any level. So little effort was put into the way the story was told and the quests to complete that it was almost painful. It was obvious the devs thought ‘parties are going to skip these sequences anyway, so why have them?’ A complete waste of £30 for me, but if you dig the multiplayer co op element on games then you’ll probably have a good time with it.

Love and peace y’all.

Space Marine Demo

Okay so, Space Marine demo. This is only the second non RTS title Relic have ever made, and it shows. The demo is competently executed, but I'm not hugely impressed. It certainly wasn't bad though. The melee combat works, but it begs for a block option, or defensive stance of some sort. It's nice to see the 40k world up close in something that isn't Fire Warrior, but as is usual for this generation of games it's brown. Really fucking brown. In a universe where everyone dresses like an LGBT pride march, I'd expect some bright vibrant colours, but sadly Relic has opted for the usual 'Brown is real' approach. The voice acting on the marines is nice, but it did take me several minutes to differentiate between them and the orks.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but it also needs a cover system. Here it comes, 'waaah waaah you're not playing it properly'-can it. Charging a gun line in this game will get you cut down faster than public spending. Nothing wrong with that, but it means you're in an awkward sort of shimmy left and right while you soften the enemy line before charging. A cover system would make this far less fiddly and more enjoyable.

Healing by executing enemies is a very nice idea conceptually and shows how a game’s mechanics can complement its artistic and thematic direction. And here’s the inevitable however- when enemies can keep wailing on you while you’re healing, it doesn’t really help matters. If you’re low on health, odds are you’ll die while executing the enemy- especially if there’s an ork nob in the area. I can see this working better in co op where agro control can be more easily managed, but from my experience with the demo the ability to fight in a defensive posture would be hugely beneficial.

I had far more fun with the jump pack mission, but at that point the game was so easy it was laughable. Fly up, smash down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I think the spectacle of the game will win many people over. Hint, if you’re been thinking things like ‘but you get to cut off an ork’s balls with a chainsword’ while reading this, that means you. Spectacle though, is a pretty weak thing to hinge your entire experience on. Still, if all you want is to run around with the most over the top, impractical weapon ever devised while screaming reverence for the Emperor, then Space Marine will probably suffice.

And to be honest the spectacle does help paper over some of the cracks in the gameplay. It’s a lot easier to ignore the fact healing often means losing more health than you get back when it’s done via the medium of, well... belting an orc in the nads with a chainsword so it lifts him up of the ground and then bifurcates him.

Still, I need a little more. Spectacle gets old. Seeing the same kill moves over and over again means that no matter how cool they may be, they're going to get old. Likewise graphics give way to the next generation of technology and become dated. Good gameplay though lasts for a very long time. There's a reason Counter Strike and Star Craft are still so popular.

I’ll probably get the full game, but if I do it will be when it’s on sale.

The Witcher

Alright, so for the last 10 hours or so I’ve been playing The Witcher. This game has come more highly recommended from the gaming community as a whole than Jesus from a Jehovah’s witness.

Honestly? I’m disappointed. Very few games can ever really live up to the hype that surrounds them, but by and large I’ve managed to find gaming communities that are mostly aligned with my own views on the hobby, and as such when they get excited about something it’s usually something I’d enjoy. In these cases, over hyped games usually come out as ‘good, but not excellent’.

The Witcher doesn’t even really make it into the realms of ‘good’. Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination- the graphics are pretty good, the world is well realised, the music is top notch and the gameplay has a few really good ideas under the bonnet. Where it fails is the fact that the really good ideas at the core of the game are packed around with mounds of sloppy voice acting, utterly atrocious quest design and (thus far at least) piss poor characterization and a no brainer plot.

First off though, let’s be positive and take a look at the things that The Witcher does right.

The combat is pretty fun. The fact that The Witcher is played with only one character instead of a party like most RPGs opens up new options and styles I haven’t previously seen in a videogame. You can chain attacks together with careful timing, and spells can also be used to turn the tide of a battle in a meaningful way. Your spell casting is limited just enough that you don’t fire off spells willy nilly, but free enough that you’re never too worried about ‘waiting until you really need it’.

You can also adopt a variety of stances in combat, but to be honest I don’t really regard this as anything other than busy work made to make the game feel more tactical than it really is. Reason being that each enemy is essentially ‘weak’ to one stance. Using the wrong one will either result in you doing piss all damage, or the enemy dodging entirely. It’s no more tactical than ‘use fire on the ice monster’.

The alchemy and potions mechanics are very well balanced and allow for a variety of options. Unlike most RPGs, potions in The Witcher are not simple ‘fire and forget’ consumables that you occasionally use to heal when your mage has hit the dirt- they are a core element of your combat strategy. Potions have wide ranging, noticeable effects, and they last for hours. If you pop a healing potion then for quite a while you are going to be very hard to kill as your health regenerates so quickly that most enemies can’t even hurt you. Likewise, pop a Tawny Owl potion and your endurance will regen so quickly that you can fire off spells left right and centre.

There is a price though- every time you consume a potion, it adds to your toxicity level and as that climbs various effects kick in. They start with little graphical effects, but then quickly climb to health penalties, and eventually if you max the gauge out- death. There are of course many ways to lower toxicity, but if you’re in a dungeon then you’ll want to be careful which potions you are taking. The more powerful potions such as Blizzard can add quite a bit to your toxicity level and don’t last anywhere near as long as other potions. Keep popping them and you’ll be seeing stars.

The setting is very atmospheric and dark, with a grim overtone to everything. It manages to achieve dark fantasy in a very real way, yet also manages to maintain an air of authentic medievalism at the same time.

So then you might ask what the problem is. First off this game has masses- and I mean absolutely masses- of dead time. Out of the 10 hours I’ve spent with the game, I’d say about 50-60% of that (at least) was spent simply running from one place to another. Eventually I got so utterly bored I started travelling at night just so I could at least get some fights. Sadly this just meant that I was spending even longer completing quests, and I was essentially just driving my wheels deeper into the mud. The game begs for a fast travel system. It’s not even like there’s any reward for exploration, the game is just wasting your time, padding itself out.

The quest design is terrible. Irredeemably terrible. Most quests are just ‘go here, kill X, come back’ or even the oft abused ‘Collect X many monster bits and come back’. Seriously? This crap is played out and dead in World of Warcraft and these clowns think they can get away with it? I know when you get down to it there are only so many quests in RPGs, but the difference is in how you dress them up and make them interesting again. Literally no effort has gone into doing this with The Witcher.

Combine that with the amount of dead time and you can see why I’m getting frustrated with this game. That’s not even including the bloody research. I like the idea of research in principle, it adds a level of immersion. However when you need to do this research just to be able to harvest parts from the monsters it gets a mite frustrating. Why can’t we do extra damage or stuff like that? Even Alpha Protocol managed to get that right. Factor in that even figuring out how you’re supposed to do this research can take an age (typically one NPC in the area will have a book on the monster), and the amount of dead time in the game is further increased.

Let me put it this way, it took me over eight hours to get out of the first area after the tutorial section. A level not much larger than the New Vegas strip- and with far less content.

The voice acting is terrible. Doug Cockle as Geralt gives a totally bland, level, unemotional and utterly boring performance. He finds not one trace of emotion or soul in the character, delivering every line in the same coma inducing monotone. I’m not kidding, every line from flirtation to rage is like listening to... well... This. In fact one could argue this performance is at least varied.

Not that Cockle is alone in giving a terrible performance- pretty much everyone has a hard time finding so much as an inflection in their speech.

I hate to rag on the plot, but there’s no excuse for a game to develop at this utterly tortuous pace. Think of everything that happened in the first 10 hours of Final Fantasy Seven. Think of everything that happened in the first 10 hours of Dragon Age: Origins. What happens in the first 10 hours of the Witcher? You’re order of monster slayers has their stash nicked, and you kill a demon dog. I’ve got no problem with a slow burning plot, but this isn’t even smouldering.

Oh, and you’ve visited a grand total of TWO locations. And that’s including the tutorial area.

If anything is going to stop me playing (and believe me I’m considering it), it will be this. I know many people feel that it’s wrong to write off a game’s plot without actually seeing the whole thing, and for the most part you’d be right. But when the way the plot is developing (or rather not developing) is the main thing that’s driven you away- I’d say that’s damning criticism in and of itself. To put in a parallel, if a movie is so bad you walk out of the theatre people don’t say “well you can’t judge the movie, you didn’t see it all”, they ask “was it really that bad?”

Geralt as a lead character is painful. I complain about Cockle’s performance, but really the writing sucks too. It takes a skilled writer to use the amnesia plot device well, and whoever adapted this game just can’t cut the mustard. Geralt has no personality, no motivation (beyond fucking anything that moves) and is just... well... boring. Amnesia doesn’t mean your character doesn’t have any sense of self- it just means they can’t remember anything. It’s also worth noting that this ‘total amnesia’ is complete balls. The complete loss of every single life experience simply does not happen. I can forgive it if it’s used well or built up (E.G Namelss One, Planescape:Torment), but here it just comes across as an excuse to avoid giving the character any actual character.

So ultimately I need to come down hard on The Witcher. It has some really nice ideas, and if the sequel sorted out the problems I’ve outlined above, I think it would be one hell of a good RPG. As it stands though, The Witcher is a few shining nuggets of gold floating in an ocean of filth. I can’t be too hard on it though, as at least it’s trying to innovate within the genre, and that is always worth kudos. As a score, I’d call it a 6/10. There’s some great potential here, but it’s buried under mounds of problems that stop it ever really shining.

###############


I’d like to make one final note. It’s not really related to the game, but more an observation. The people who are singing the praises of The Witcher, are the same people who have been lampooning Dragon Age 2. And I know people are going to crucify me for saying this, but honestly? They’re very, very similar games. Both are action RPGs with crappy plots and an emphasis on action and killing things over any alternative style of play. Both have underdeveloped, poorly defined leads, both have an oversimplified inventory management system and both force you to keep running back and forth over the same tiny areas.

To be honest, speaking totally objectively- I think Dragon Age 2 is the superior game. I honestly can’t believe I’m saying it myself, but the design remit was to create a no brainer action RPG, and they delivered. The only thing that The Witcher does better is the alchemy system, but DA2 counters that by using powers, stances and companions. Plus the combat is at least more entertaining to watch. I feel dirty admitting it, but Dragon Age 2 was more of a bitter disappointment than an actual really bad game, and I honestly think that if it had been released as a totally new franchise, people would rate it over The Witcher.

DA:O Still wipes the floor with both of them though.

I Am Drunk, And I Am Angry.

I am seriously considering getting rid of my 3DS. What's the fucking point? Its entire library consists of games I played and finished over ten fucking years ago. And all the new releases are also rehashes of the same tired games. I've had enough. I'm making a statement. With no ambiguity I cry; NINTENDO HAVE BECOME SHIT. They are out of ideas. Out of the game. How can any human being play the same tired crap over and over again, knowing all the secrets, knowing how it ends, and every little turn along the way? I can get replaying a good game (hell I've played New Vegas through three times), but these are games with multiple paths and ways to play. Ocarina of time has exactly ONE fucking story. ONE set of characters. ONE way of playing- ONE game.

I can get the argument of re playing your favourite games- I do it all the time (Metal Gear Solid in particular), but I’m not paying £30 every three years for the fucking privilege.

As much as I’ve ranted and raved about Final Fantasy XIII, at least it showed some new ideas. They may have been terrible but they were new. Nintendo does not have a shred of dignity or creativity left. Develop a new intellectual property. Or at least do something different with the ones you have.

I used to love Nintendo. The only reason I didn’t buy a Wii was because they were out of stock when I went to get one, and I wanted a new console there and then. I got a 360.

Best fucking compromise of my life.

And Konami- half of their E3 line up was HD rehashes of classic games. This I can sort of get behind, many of these are long running series and high quality versions would help people who are unfamiliar with the series origin and may be put off by the low graphics (Kids these days), to get acquainted with them. Fine- I’ve bought a few myself. But when airing the same wank encrusted underwear that’s been festering in your wardrobe for a decade is a large part of what should be the biggest presentation of the year? You’ve lost it.

You know what this is? This is the fucking Star Wars trilogy. This is twenty different version and cuts of the same product, none of the edits make any overall difference (Not even Han Shot First. It’s old. It wasn’t important. Get the fuck over it). I love Star Wars. I love Ocarina of Time. But both of these products have had their shelf life. Give me something new (preferably not the Phantom Menace)- put as much effort into innovating your games as you are your hardware Nintendo, and maybe we can get somewhere.

This has helped me clear my head. I’m getting rid of my 3DS. It serves no purpose that could not be fulfilled by any other means- including an emulator and a stack of ROMs, which, by the way, are free.

Evis T Reviews Duke Nukem Forever. Clue- It's Crap.

When people ask me about FPS titles I usually say that I don’t like them. This is something of an oversimplification. I used to enjoy FPS games, but over the last six years or so the genre has become more and more unappealing. I think the FPS hit its peak with Perfect Dark on the N64 and after that it all started to go downhill. The idea of ‘realism’ was introduced and while that is not a bad thing in and of itself, devs suddenly seemed to think that the only way to get their games taken seriously was to adhere to this doctrine.

Realism can be fun. Operation Flashpoint for example offered a very different take on the genre and presented the player with a new set of challenges and obstacles to overcome- simply surviving a battle was hard enough- kicking ass required something more than running around and killing anything that twitched.

Sadly realism also tends to lean into other trends which make a game far less fun. For example, in Perfect Dark even crappy guns usually had an alternative fire mode which meant they were still useful up against opponents with better gear. The Laptop gun could deploy into a sentry and the Dragon could become an impromptu landmine. Most of all, weapons had character.

Call me crazy, but up against this sort of variety some assault rifles, a couple of shotguns and a pistol is just a joke.

Put simply, I was looking forward to the return of Duke. I’ve kept this longing under my hat though as- let’s face it- Duke Nukem has always been more known for its puerile, chauvinistic power trip presentation than its gameplay.

Why is all this relevant? Because everything I want is everything that Duke Nukem Forever is not.

The graphics are dire. Seriously dire. Modern ideas as to what constitutes good graphics have polluted the game (there is no colour that is not a shade of brown or black) and half of the game is played in the dark; meaning you need to use the crappy night vision which somehow makes the game look even worse- as well as giving you a headache. The draw distance and distance blur is extremely short, so much so that it is often shorter than the range of some fire fights. Even set to 'Ultra' this game looks like Doom III.

But hey- you can forgive poor graphics if the gameplay is fun right? It isn’t. It’s a horrible mishmash of ideas from the past and the present, and few of them play off well against each other. For some insane reason you can only carry two guns. Seriously Gearbox? You’ve got a game where aliens invade earth to steal our women, where Duke is bigger than Jesus, where one man is more potent than the entire army, where beer makes you invincible and you get a stat boost by admiring yourself in the mirror- yet carrying more than two guns was the point where the silliness went too far?

You have a health bar, but it regenerates and you can expand your maximum life by boosting Duke’s ego. It’s utterly redundant though as most enemies will cause enough damage to send you into recovery right away- that’s right, when you run out of health you just need to find some cover and wait a few seconds and all your health comes back. In short it’s the shield from Halo, and the game even describes it that way on the loading screen hints.

You fight about two different types of enemy with another two occasionally making an appearance as mini bosses. Towards the end of the game a third type is introduced, but it does little to mix up the combat or provide any variety. The AI is terrible. Enemies will try to shoot you through walls in entirely different rooms and regularly throw grenades at you when you’ve three times further than their maximum throwing range. Most of the time all they do is stand there and shoot, making no attempt at using cover or tactical movements.

The level design is a joke. Mediocre action sequences are separated by large tracts of first person platforming which is handled with all the grace and precision of a hippo making love to a ferret. Physics puzzles abound including such brilliant, fresh new ideas as ‘roll a battery into a door to advance’ or ‘pile shit up on one side of a see-saw until you can reach the higher platform’.

Oh yeah, and the devs sometimes make you play through the same level again backwards. This has to be the ultimate cheapshot in videogame design.

Now to be fair, there are some interesting sections which play with the idea of the shrink pads as puzzle elements. However this idea is never really expanded on, basically just resulting in a different type of mediocre platforming experience where a bookshelf becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle.

Button mashing quick time events abound. Can someone explain to me what the point of these is? Beyond fucking over those gamers among us who have problems with the joints in our hands?

It gets worse- much worse. The controls in general stink, and I mean totally reek of console port. I have nothing against porting in general, provided that it’s done well.

Do an experiment for me. Imagine you’re strafing diagonally back and to the left (A and S keys), and if you stop moving in this direction, you get fragged. Now try to press 2 (trip mine). Awkward isn’t it? You can sort of manage it with your little finger, but why, why not just select the pipe bombs with the mouse wheel? Most likely because this sort of setup works well on a controller and Gearbox couldn’t be bothered to change it.

By this point fans of the original will no doubt be asking how the humour and presentation holds up, desperately hoping that there is something that can be salvaged from this train wreck. Sadly this isn’t the case. Jokes are few and far between and the running gag is that Duke is everywhere, and everyone loves him. And this is funny... how? Seriously, the set up could have been funny but there are never any punch lines. It doesn’t even really work as farce- it’s just there. There are many pop/geek/internet culture references in the game, but they are just that- references without any jokes attached to them. Many of the lines are just toe curlingly embarrassing, hamfisted attempts to capitalize on internet memes that died months, sometimes years ago. Hell, my pop culture references are more in date than this.

Maybe it was intentional- a nod to the extreme development time. Given the rest of the incompetence on display here though I doubt it’s anything so deep or clever.

The only thing half decent aspect of the game is the boss fights. Even then half of Duke Nukem Forever’s boss fights are just shameless (and terrible) rip offs off the lighthouse fight with the gunship from Half Life 2.

As a final note I find the timing of the release unfortunate. At a point when gamers are starting to be taken seriously by mainstream culture, something like this (especially given the hype around it) does not help us to avoid appearing as a bunch of sad, sexually starved, trigger happy borderline psychopaths. The fact that it’s a poor game is bad enough. The fact it’s one many of us have been looking forward to only adds fuel to conservative elements who’d rather see videogames banned. In the case of Duke Nukem Forever, it’s hard to argue against that idea when the blatant exploitation in most cases doesn’t even manage to raise a grin. Exploitation is bad enough when it’s intentionally done for laughs, it’s even worse when it’s intentional AND unfunny.

I’m not a particularly politically correct person. I admit I make jokes about race, gender, disability and so on, but even I found Duke Nukem Forever’s attempts at humour to be extremely disquieting. Subjects such as rape and abortion exist beyond the bounds of taste, and are areas even I rarely go near for a cheap laugh. Duke Nukem Forever revels in them. You’re worse than one toke over the line Gearbox, you’re about to see goddamn bats.

At the end of the Day Duke Nukem Forever is just a poor game in virtually every regard. It isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly a subpar, uninspired mess. It wants to try and capture some of the old ideas, but is too terrified to let go of the modern perception of how a shooter should be made. The end result is a mass of half arsed ideas and lack of development in any direction. Instead it relies on horrible, uncomfortable jokes and references to try and save it, which only drive it further into the abyss. Do not waste your money on this game.

Evis T Reviews LA Noire On The Xbox 360.

LA Noire is a strange beast. I’m really not sure what to make of it. On the one hand I love most of what it tries to do, but on the other hand it gets stale quite quickly thanks to a few glaring issues.

To begin with I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The cases were interesting and the game’s interview mechanics were very rewarding and something I had not seen done so intricately in gaming before. Needing to read your subject’s expressions is a good idea, and the technology used to create the digitized acting is impressive- if a little unnerving. The technology isn’t quite there yet and you can’t get away from the fact that people look like film footage stretched out and stapled over a mould. It certainly isn’t Xbox Live Vision levels of bad, and when the effect works well it looks stunning. However all too often you can see the proverbial strings, usually in the form of a nose or ear not having a hole in it but rather a black coloured patch.

LA Noire’s investigation mechanics can be broadly divided into two sections- evidence collecting and interview. In this way it plays a lot like the Phoenix Wright games on the DS. At first both of these ideas work well- you pick apart a crime scene for evidence, and then question suspects using the evidence to prove they are lying when you feel their story is inconsistent.

I say these only work at first because after you’ve been playing for about four hours, it’s nigh on impossible to fuck this up. When you’ve cleared a crime scene of evidence, the music stops, meaning that provided you are not deaf (and this is a big kick in the nuts to those of you who are), you simply CANNOT miss any evidence.

I get that the actors need to exaggerate the facial expressions to indicate when they are lying. After all most of us are not experts in reading people- so subtle expressions will be lost on us. Sadly though this means that once you get used to identifying the cues, telling if a suspect is being truthful, lying, or withholding information becomes almost automatic. Sadly this leaves you with very little in the way of a challenge.

Consequently LA Noire is very much a one trick pony and once you’ve figured out how the trick is done, it just becomes one long cut scene that occasionally requires you to press a button. The only other curve ball the game can throw at you is visiting locations in the wrong order. But of course, anyone with half a brain cell should be able to figure that out once they realise it’s actually important. While the illusion of interactivity lasts though, it’s a very involving and entertaining experience.

Sadly, LA Noire has nothing else to do beyond these cases. Unlike most Rockstar games which are usually chock to the brim with interesting things to do around the map; random encounters, challenges and well crafted distractions (the comedy club in GTAIV anyone?) LA Noire’s ‘side quests’ are distinctly lack lustre.

Virtually all, in fact literally all of them are Pointless Fucking Collectables (PFCs). If you feel like taking some time off the cases, you can collect cars, film reels, newspapers (which to Rockstar’s credit actually serve a point as they reveal cut scenes giving some back story to the main game), discovering landmarks, or solving street crime- none of which bar the newspapers actually serve any purpose.

By solving street crime I mean you respond to radio call outs which result in a firefight with a handful of gunmen and then getting back to your day. These are just boring by the numbers firefights we’re familiar with from previous Rockstar games, but without any background to give them a sense of urgency, motivation or accomplishment. Well done Rockstar, you’ve found a way to turn what should be an adrenaline fuelled gun fight into another thankless collectable.

I just don’t understand it- LA Noire features probably the most detailed and intricate map Rockstar has yet produced, and they don’t do a damn thing with it.

To add insult to injury, one of the cases pretty much requires you to have behaved like an obsessive compulsive as if you have not found one specific land mark, you can’t proceed. The worst part of this is that the prior to that landmark, others you need to find are revealed to you if you take too long finding them. This last one serves the sole purpose of forcing you to drive around for hours looking for the damn place, killing time. Unless you do what I did and just check the internet for the advice of people insane enough to kill every pigeon in Liberty City...

Beyond the gameplay I also question just how Noire LA Noire actually is. I’m not a huge movie buff- in fact I rarely watch films. However I am familiar with Noir through a friend of mine who has a passion for it, and as such I’m familiar with many of the tropes and trappings of the genre. Therefore I’d question how closely LA Noire actually follows them. Outside of the first hour, there isn’t much in the ways of voice over, femme fatale or anything else I’d associate with Noir, beyond maybe the themes of drugs, sex and general vice. To be honest though it felt closer to 70’s cop shows and Dirty Harry movies (Minus Harry Callaghan if that makes sense) than anything else. Still, I’m by no means an authority here so you’ll need to take that with a pinch of salt.

From a technical standpoint (and this may not be true for the PS3 version; I’m playing it on the 360) LA Noire does have a few issues with loading textures and jittery cut scenes. It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen often enough to make it worthy of note. Installing the game does seem to make a difference though and the occurrence of these errors is heavily reduced if you do so.

Overall, I can’t really speak against LA Noire in a big way. While its execution has some big holes in it, the ideas presented are interesting and also demonstrate great strides towards truly engaging non combat centric gameplay. The problem is that these concepts age very quickly, even within the lifetime of the game itself.

My final word on the matter would be simple: LA Noire is certainly worth playing, but you’ll want to pick it up cheap second hand and I doubt that DLC will extend your enjoyment of the game. It lacks the entertainment value of games like Red Dead Redemption or the GTA series, but shows some interesting ideas that deserve exploration. If you’re after a murder mystery though, I think you’ll find more mileage with Heavy Rain on the PS3.It isn’t as long or as complex, but it remains challenging and entertaining all the way through.

Why I Won't Be Reviewing Brink, And A Plea To Devs On The Subject Of Multiplayer

So, the highly anticipated Brink has just been released, and the standard flood of complaints have begun. People are attacking it left right and centre for a stream of bugs, errors, poor gameplay balancing and various other gripes. I’ve not played the game, I have no intention of playing it, so I can’t really comment on that. The reason though is something else which many people have also been raging against- Brink’s single player mode.

Looking at the press releases, it was no surprises then to see Brink was going to be a heavily multiplayer affair. My interest was piqued momentarily when they stated they would be trying to incorporate a single player mode too, but I gave up when I realised that they planned on making it merge with multiplayer.

This could mean one of three options- a single player campaign with co op, a single player campaign with counter op (Remember Perfect Dark?), or a multiplayer game you could play by yourself with bots.

Now the game has been released, the word is that it’s the third option. To be honest though, even if it had been one of the other two, it still wouldn’t have worked as Splash would have needed to tailor the game to make viable for people to drop in and out- meaning it would still play like a multiplayer game with bots, even in single player mode.

So, where is the point in all this? Well, what I’m trying to say here is that Brink is indicative of a trend I’ve noticed in gaming, in which games seem to be passing over the single player experience in favour of a pure multiplayer game. I first touched on it here, and I’d like to expand on that now.

Command and Conquer Red Alert 3, Resident Evil 5, Command And Conquer 4, StarCraft II, Borderlands, Halo 3, Medal Of Honour, these are all games I’ve played in the last few years solely on the basis of a single player experience, and all of them have left me disappointed on that front. The reason is common to them all- they were designed with multiplayer in mind first, with little to no concession to the idea someone might want to play them alone. And these are just the ones I played; I’ve heard stories of other games with similar issues.

I won’t go into all of them, but I would like to offer a few examples. CnC:RA3 featured 2v2 as the standard mission format, and required you to have an ally to the play campaign. If you didn’t want to, you were assigned a bot.

Bots are usually stupid, especially in RTS titles, and this one was no exception. To this day I have not been able to complete the Japanese campaign thanks to the fact one level pretty much requires a coordinated attack, which is impossible to achieve with a dumbass bot.

StarCraft II earns less heat as the single player mode does clearly have a lot of effort in it, however the price tag associated with it for a single player experience, lacking two of the bloody races (bar a Protoss mini campaign), is utterly obscene.

Without friends to laugh at it with you, Borderlands is soulless husk of mediocrity and level grinding. Imagine WoW without any other people.

Now, this is not a big trend. I’m not for one moment suggesting that solo gamers are being shafted, but this ‘problem’ does seem to be on the rise. I think it’s often linked to the allegations that games are becoming shorter and dumber too- why bother creating an in depth, complex and rewarding set of game mechanics when you can just bolt something flashy, with no depth (like Brink’s SMART system) together and let people provide the entertainment for themselves? As I said in the piece I linked above, most activities are more fun when you share them with someone- we’re a gregarious species, and we also like to compete. This is where the fun is coming form in these games. This is fine for multiplayer games; fun is fun regardless of the source, however it leaves us solo gamers with a distinctly dull product.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is that I’d like to ensure devs don’t forget about us forever alone types, and to avoid thinking they’ve made a good game just because the multiplayer element is popular. What happens in a year when everyone suddenly moves on to the next big thing? Suddenly your opus has gone from the penthouse to cold and naked in the street as its servers empty. Your game wasn’t good; the people who were playing it were the fun part- and now they’re gone.

I do however make an exception to this, in the case of games which are clearly multiplayer only and are not even trying to pretend they should be played alone. Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead (although that has its own set of problems), to name but a pair. It’s good marketing for me as I know damn well that I’m not going to enjoy these titles. I steer clear of them and I don’t put black marks against the publisher and developer for making me waste my money with false advertising.

I think that a final mention should go to indie developers, many of whom cater solely to the single player market, and consequently are currently churning out fantastic, innovative games with a lot of scope and replay value. Keep it up guys and gals; it’s nice to know that at least someone is still interested in making games that can stand up on their own.

So anyway, that’s my spiel and it’s also why you won’t see me reviewing Brink, or any other multiplayer game any time soon. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, feel free to pop them on the comments below.

-Evis T.

In Love of Metal Gear Solid, Part 3. MGS3 Snake Eater

No, this is not a porno. It is however probably my favourite out of all the Metal Gear Solid games. Plot wise, it’s a prequel set during the Cold War, which establishes the roots of a lot of the characters and plot elements of the later games. MGS and MGS2 often referenced events in the past which were quite important, but never really expanded on. MGS3 ties up some loose ends, as well as establishing many other elements for use in MGS4.

Gameplay wise, Snake Eater is friggin’ brilliant. It is however, a huge departure from the other games. Thanks to a far lower tech level, staying hidden is much harder as you don’t have radars and the like to help you. You do have gadgets such as the motion detector (which picks up animals and does not pick up stationary guards) and the sonar (which alerts nearby enemies and still picks up local wildlife), but thanks to their drawbacks, they will still only get you so far.

Snake Eater is brutal. You need to check where you are going carefully, and move forward slowly to avoid surprises. Keep a detection tool handy as well- just in case. There is very little hand holding here, you’re dropped into the jungle with only a few basic gadgets to get you started, and from there, you’re expected to avert World War Three.

Unlike in MGS2 however, you are given a potent new tool to use in your fight against the Russians (who strangely enough have better eyesight and co-ordination than the genome army)- camouflage. Snake Eater allows you to change your clothes and face paint to better blend with your surroundings. A very helpful meter in the top of the screen keeps track of how well camouflaged you are in your current terrain, and with the correct camo, your enemy will need to walk over you before they actually see you.

It’s not a perfect system though. Changing your camo requires you to pause the game, go into the menu, select camo, select your clothes, select your face paint and then shift back through the menus to get to the game again. On some terrain you’ll want to do this every ten seconds or so if you are paranoid. When you factor in loading times, this can get downright annoying. Still, technical problems aside, as a gameplay mechanic it’s excellent.

Beyond that, the gameplay is largely unchanged bar the lack of advanced tech necessitating extremely cautious play. Oh, there is one other exception- stamina.

Betamax hates this. I love it. Essentially, it adds a survival element to the game. Over time (influenced by your activities and injuries), Snake looses stamina. As your stamina drops, your health regeneration slows down, your hands tremble so you can’t shoot straight, and you can’t hold your breath as long underwater. You can replenish your stamina by hunting wild animals and raiding the food stores on enemy bases.

In many ways it’s the precursor to hardcore mode on Fallout New Vegas. Your stamina degrades slowly enough that you don’t need to constantly hunt for food, but fast enough that you’re still aware of the fact you need eat. Oh, and taking damage can sometimes result in an injury which decreases your maximum health (as with Dragon Age 2. Sort of), and requires special equipment to heal.

All this helps to really emphasise the stealth element of the gameplay, and even sections where you are expected to fight the enemy (including a great piece against an elite Spetsnaz unit), simply running and gunning is liable to get you killed on all but the easiest difficulty settings.

Story wise, I think Snake Eater is probably the best of the series. For one thing, it’s much easier to follow, bar a sudden jolt in a totally new direction halfway through. It’s concise, it’s to the point, and Kojima doesn’t throw new things in so suddenly I get metal whiplash. The ending too, is something special which still brings me to tears. The only scene I’ve found more emotive in a videogame is the death of Aeries. Like most of the series, the message is simple and to the point- politicians are shits, nationalism is bad and of course- war is evil. Of course I don’t agree with Kojima on every point he’s making, but it is refreshing to see an actual message being put across in an artistic medium which is more often than not nothing more than popcorn.

The sound is great too- solid voice acting and a great musical score, including a James Bond style theme song, which makes no sense at all, but is still fun to listen to. It is a little strange though that all the actors are American when the game takes place in Russia, but despite an odd casting choice they still deliver their lines well.

There are some elements of Snake Eater though which are a bit annoying. Wild animals for example, can be used against your enemies if you capture them alive, which is cool. However the best ones are poisonous, and having sneaked past hordes of GRU soldiers only to be laid low by a tarantula you never even saw is pretty annoying. The boss fight against The End is also a major irritation as it takes the form of a somewhat realistic sniper battle (but for some reason he uses tranq rounds), which means it takes FOREVER (although you can save the game, set your Playstation’s clock forward a week and load- he will then die of old age).

Then there are the parts of the game which are just weird. Raiden makes a sort of cameo, and while it’s nice to see Kojima acknowledging him as the annoying watery twat that he is, ridiculing him in his own setting, it is a strange spark of humour against the mainly dark story.

Ultimately, Snake Eater is my favourite of the series. For me it has the best gameplay elements, featuring a very tough challenge, but offering you the tools to overcome them, along with a well told story and an interesting cast of characters. I found it easier to get my head around than MGS2, and once I did it was very rewarding. It’s far from perfect with a few technical problems and a generally very high difficulty (going for zero detections and zero kills in this game WILL screw with your mind), but at the end of the day it’s a great game, and one I always enjoy playing through.

In Love of Metal Gear Solid, Part 2. MGS2, Sons Of Liberty.

Easily the weakest game of the series in my opinion, but still by no means bad. The biggest problem in this title is the fact that your enemies have improved dramatically, but you’ve not really been given much to counteract their newfound skills. It’s irritating to say the least, and while I wouldn’t dream of calling it false difficulty, getting spotted at long range when you have nothing to hide behind by an enemy you couldn’t have known was there, can get tedious. It’s confounded by the fact you need to get to a certain point in each section before you can use your radar. I love the way guards are now a real threat, but it’s annoying that you don’t have anything to counteract them with.

I suppose the best way to explain it is that I think good difficulty comes from having a wide range of challenges to overcome, and a wide range of tools and methods to overcome them. The challenge comes from using the right tools for the job, in the right way. I just feel that first person attack isn’t enough to deal with the threats now placed against you. Still, as I said it just makes the game more brutal, and it certainly isn’t false difficulty.

The other complaint about this game of course is Raiden. A character created solely for the purpose of appealing to the Kawai-Bishi crowd, he’s one of the most irritating characters in gaming history. People hate this guy, or at least seriously dislike him. He’s a whiney, white bred pansy who complains about everything and has a temper tantrum at the drop of the hat. I hate this character. I hate his baby smooth PS2 graphics face, his girly white blonde mullet that flutters so carelessly in the breeze. I hate his deep, piercing eyes, I hate his ultra skin tight suit and I hate his huge throbbing man bulge. Yes, we get it; your package occupies a space roughly equivalent to a small grapefruit. Put it away. Well at least it makes up for the gratuitous cleavage shots in MGS3 and 4...

Raiden’s woes though are nothing compared to his fiancé Rose. She will call you up, in the middle of an operation to save the president, and stop a nuclear launch- to talk about the first time the two of you met. Seriously. This happens. I mean I know some people can be neurotic but honestly, do you call up your loved one in the middle of a fire fight to remind them about your anniversary? And use their real name no less?

These problems aside, once you manage to get inside the way Metal Gear Solid 2 works, it’s a very rewarding game. Playing stealthy is now actually challenging, and response teams called in when you’re spotted are now a serious threat, as opposed to a minor irritation. Standing your ground and just gunning down the response team is still an option- but it’s not a wise one. Add to that that enemies will now also use their radios to spread the alert, as well as checking in with command, and suddenly even deciding to knock someone out becomes a tough decision.

Technically, Metal Gear Solid 2 still holds up well. The graphics give a fine demonstration of the PS2’s (still frankly impressive) power, the gameplay, while much harder is solid and provides you with more options and the sound is as good as ever.

The supporting cast are also excellent, Dead Cell in particular make for some interesting villains, especially Vamp, voiced by Phil LaMarr (better known as Hermes Conrad) doing his best ‘fuck me’ voice. Still turns my knees to jelly.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is where the plot really starts to get weird. Penny Arcade said it best back in the day. In all seriousness though, it does start to fall into place if you ponder it for a while, and if you play through the game again, it does start to make a lot more sense, especially once you adapt to the way that Kojima tells his stories (I.E badly- hey the man has great ideas, but isn’t exactly great at articulating them).

All in all, it’s still well worth playing. The plot doesn’t leave as much of an impact as Metal Gear Solid One, and the increased difficulty takes some getting used to, but once you grok it, it’s still a fun game and a classic well worth every penny.

Dedicated To Metal Gear Solid

For the last week I’ve been doing a play through of the Metal Gear Solid series (all the ones that were released on the Playstation platforms anyway, I’m not including the original Metal Gears and the PSP stuff). This is a series that I am an unashamed fanboy of. It has many flaws, but for the most part I can ignore them because there’s something in these games which just resonates with me, something I can’t quite articulate that blinds me to the flaws of the franchise and just leaves me lapping up every self indulgent moment of them. So this post is dedicated to the Metal Gear Solid series, to Solid, Liquid and Solidus Snake, Big Boss and their supporting cast. Grudgingly, it’s also dedicated to Raiden.

For the uninitiated, Metal Gear Solid is a series that spun out of the Metal Games on the NES and MSX2. The Solid suffix refers to all the games that were released after these two, all of them exclusive on Sony platforms. For the sake of simplicity though, I’m going to be referring to the Metal Gear Solid series as Metal Gear from here on out, just to avoid confusion. The first was simply titled ‘Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action’, and was released on the PS1 many years ago in 1998. It’s a scary thought to think that I was still in primary school when this game came out. I lapped up every moment of it back then, and I drove my parents up the wall because I never shut up about it (More on that later).

To be fair though, it was unlike anything I’d played before. The degree of freedom and interactive gameplay was astounding, I used to spend ages on the codec, listening to what everyone had to say about anything and everything. I was absorbed into the game’s world, plot and characters and along with Command and Conquer: Red Alert and Tiberian Sun, it’s easily one of the games that defined my childhood, as well as my love of videogames in general.

Every Metal Gear game has had that effect on me, and while (as we will get to soon enough) they are far from perfect, there’s a passion and flare to them that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other videogame. It’s that previously mentioned intangible something that just hits keys I didn’t know I had.

The plot of the series is hopelessly complicated. Explaining it is, to say the least, time consuming- so I’m not going to do it here. Besides it’s got such a weaving narrative that any explanation invariably ends up needing spoilers, as the series references, retcons and rebuilds on itself so much as it progresses it’s almost unreal. Characters are usually working with at least two sides, and one character in particular (Revolver Ocelot) is probably best described as a quadruple agent.

The themes of the series though are far more direct- often the point of being rammed down your throat with all the subtlety of Bill Clinton’s dick- it’s anti war, anti nuclear weapons, and (sort of) anti genetic engineering. There’s also a healthy dose of cynicism in there with regard to nationalism, especially in the later games. When I say it’s anti war, I don’t mean it’s got a couple of people going “OMFG WAR IS BAD!” at the end, there’s some real emotional weight to the messages it conveys, and the ideas run deep in the characters and narrative.

The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3 in particular has me almost in tears each time I watch it- without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, one of the characters is basically abused, stitched up, stabbed in the back and in the front, and hung out to dry with their memory forever tainted as a traitor and murderer, all for things this character was essentially ordered to do, and all in the name of a political pro quo. The worst part? The character knew what was going on, but did it anyway out of loyalty. It’s that personal touch which makes the game so emotive. Themes of loyalty and betrayal, and specifically the abuse of loyalty are very personal to me, and so this scene and this character’s fate, always chime with me.

If Metal Gear is infamous for one thing, it’s the cutscenes. Hideo Kojima (the daddy and developer of the series) loves his cut scenes. They go on FOREVER. A friend of mine once suggested that no one will ever make a movie out of Metal Gear because they’d need to make a video game first. He has a point- some of these cut scenes last for over half an hour. You can watch a complete episode of the Simpsons in the time it takes you to sit through some of these. The worst part is though that the editing on them is just horrible. And this brings me to my first criticism of Metal Gear- the writing is often horrible. It’s common for characters to repeat the same thing several times in a conversation, and frequently, Snake and Raiden’s reply to a statement by another character is to repeat a word or two back at them, requesting clarification. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a perfectly natural way to speak, but it happens ALL. THE. TIME. It really irks me, especially when the cut scenes can start to get annoying after a while and you just want to get back into the game. Yes! I know how the guns work! You’ve told me twice already! I know how they work! Let me go and use them on someone!

The Metal Gear series also brought about revolutions in gameplay. The original NES and MSX2 games pioneered the idea of stealth gameplay (Even if by all accounts MG1 on the NES did it very, VERY badly), and Metal Gear Solid One enshrined it, setting up many of the principles and mechanics that created the stealth genre. The idea was a simple one- rather than trying to kill everything between you and the goal, try sneaking past undetected. A simple notion that resulted in an (at the time) unique gameplay experience. Oh there had been stealth segments in other games, but they were typically simple things like ‘walk past the palace guard when he’s facing the other way’- little mini segments. Metal Gear of course carries this idea at its core, but in order to make a whole game out of it new elements and ideas were added, such as the noise you make while moving, dealing with security cameras, distracting guards and using the terrain to your advantage. Later games expanded on the idea even further, introducing concepts such as camouflage, and enemies who worked in groups. Throw in some action set pieces, and a big collection of guns to fight your way out of trouble if you’re spotted, and it’s a powerful, unique mixture that rewards intelligent gameplay more than twitch reflexes or brute force practise. Games like Splinter Cell and Tenchu owe a huge amount gratitude to the Metal Gear series- without it they may never have existed.

I’d like to round off this little love letter with a look at the four core games now that I’ve just played them all in turn. I’m going to talk about them in release order, as it’s interesting to see how the games evolved and changed over time, even though I played them in cannon chronological order. If I post all of these at once though, this post will be huge, so the other four will be uploaded over the next few days.

Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action (Playstation one):
Ten years is a long time. It had been ten, long years since I played this game. I finished secondary school, I joined university, dropped out, got a job, re joined and lost my job in that time. I moved out of my parent’s house. I’ve lived in four different places since I last played this game. Popping this toy into my PS3 was like revisiting my childhood all over again. Three hours (and four bottles of booze) in, I was sitting on my beanbag, back in my folk’s house on a Saturday morning, ploughing my way through the game so I could talk about it with my friends on Monday.

Halfway through my playthough, I met my folks for lunch (I still live in the area), and mentioned I was playing through it again, the game having particular importance in my memory as I begged my mother to buy it for me after seeing a demo in the videogame shop (even that short piece, and at that age resonated with me). Sure enough, she remembered my begging, and remembered hearing about nothing from me but Metal Gear for six months. She even remembered the name of the game (a feat I don’t think she has ever accomplished with another title).

Why share this story? Because for one thing it shows the power that videogames, and the media in general have. Some people revisit their childhood by watching old cartoons. Some walk around the place they grew up. For me, Metal Gear is a game I shall always treasure as that sort of link to a simpler time in my past, and why I shall always defend it, despite its flaws.

Plus, it carries less chance of getting arrested than hanging around my old schools.

But even I have to admit that Metal Gear Solid One is showing its age. Badly. The graphics look like utter shit, but to be fair, for the PSOne they were stellar- full 3D environments, and cut scenes made using the in game engine- the first game I played to do so in a realistic way. The gameplay is still pretty solid, but compared with stealth games today, it’s insultingly basic. The genome army can’t see more than about twelve feet in front of their faces, their VR training means that they get confused and wonder off if you rush past and throw them, and their aim? Well, it’s got a lot in common with some other faceless grunts with a penchant for white.

If I had to pick a real problem with Metal Gear Solid though, it would be the fact that the hardware was not yet good enough to meet Kojima’s vision. Again, at the time, the cinematic techniques, the various shots he used and so forth were impressive, but these days a dramatic close up of man’s deformed, scarred face just looks like a set of lines on a spheroid of flesh coloured pixels- not really that different from any other character in the game. However, I fondly remember recoiling at the sight of psycho mantis’ ugly mug as the camera dramatically panned towards it.

You can grab Metal Gear Solid One on the PSN Store (although at the time of writing I can’t recommend giving them your credit card information), and if you want to be a part of this special series, then I strongly recommend you start here.

For its time, Metal Gear Solid One was a fantastic title in every respect, and the only element that really fails today are the graphics. The sound, plot and to be fair to it, even the gameplay still holds up well. Like I said, it’s showing its age, but it’s still in the competition. Take that with a pinch of salt though, after all these are the words of a Fanboy ;)
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