Tuesday 29 April 2008

Super Mario Galaxy

Let me begin with a little something called dedication. This week I'm up to my eyebrows in assignments for university, and GTA IV has finally been released just today. Rather than spending all my free time between doing work playing a game I've been waiting the painful side of 2 years for, I'm here to bring you your weekly review. Granted Mario Galaxy has been out a few months now, but I've never had chance to play it.

The first thing I'll say about Mario Galaxy, if you haven't played it, is that it messes with your mind. Seriously, while I was playing it my eyes kept pointing in different directions, while everyone else in the room had to go and enjoy some narcotics just to cope. Bright colours... little Italian plumber jumping several times his own height... changing gravity... it's all very weird. And of course, being a Mario game, all kinds of realism have been locked in a cupboard in the basement of an empty house on the top of a hill, while everyone else moved out. Then they called a napalm strike on the house just for good measure, so I can't judge it on the nerdy observation of gravity fields and orbit etc. etc. ...yet.

Oddly enough, this isn't all that different from the opening scene of Mario Galaxy... fire, explosions and the most useless element of the series is surgically removed with a lot more fire and explosions. What's more odd is the soundtrack. For some reason, Nintendo decided that twenty-odd years was a good time to introduce Mario to Final Fantasy's composer. I was expecting more of the same cutesy, synthesized crap from the past that sets the mood fine for once. But no, the bulk of the game is accompanied by an orchestra rivalling the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra.. only you know, not butchering all your favourite movie theme songs.

I'll get this out of the way right now, there is a multiplayer mode but by Jack Sparrow's braided hair, is it pointless. Basically, should you end up playing it in the same room as a stoner, you're given the option of giving them an extra Wii Remote so they can point at star bits and help you collect them. Seriously, that's it. Considering this is a stoner we're talking about, you might as well just give them the old VCR remote, take the batteries out and give it to them, because it's still going to be about as useful and involving, but you can save yourself £30.

There's clear evidence that it's another attempt at the recreating the success of Mario 64 - aside from the fact it's bleeding obvious - in that Mario can still pull off the triple jump... for no reason whatsoever. I mean yeah, if they took a move off him, we'd all feel a bit cheated while all the Nintendo fanboys met up for a good old suicide pact, but the only reason for it in the first place was so that you could fly while wearing the wing cap. And that hasn't made an appearance outside of Mario 64 (don't say a damned word about the DS version or I'll brain you for your short-sightedness).

Moving on...

While supposedly receiving the title "game of the year" by someone/thing not important enough to warrant a spot in my memory, it isn't without flaws. One of the things that made Mario 64 a huge success was the fact you had to work to get the stars - partly down to the weirdest shaped controller ever made - but in Mario Galaxy, I had the feeling the game just took pity on me and threw an obscene amount of stars in my lap without much provocation. After a day I'd racked up 45 stars, surprise, surprise, you're collecting stars again, and only felt like I'd earned about 10 of them at most. And the only reason for that was my wrist had cramped to the point where I thought it was strong enough to get run over by a few double decker buses. I'm not sure exactly how many, but apparently using double decker buses as references puts anything into perspective.

If I may bounce off on a tangent for a second, I'd like to talk about this whole double decker bus perspective thing. Everywhere I see a statistic, I always meet up with someone explaining it to me in double decker buses, because I'm British, I instinctively know every minor detail about double decker buses. I know vaguely how tall a double decker bus is, and how long it is too, but I can't say I've ever seen them piled on top of each other. I've seen them lined up behind each other a few times and that's the main reason I haven't caught a bus in over a year. So when you tell me someone's made a cinema screen the height of 60 double decker buses stacked on top of each other, all I'm going to think of it a pile of rust, scrap metal and fire because some dipshit tried piling 60 rather heavy metal boxes with wheels on top of each other. You've seen what happens when a double decker bus goes under - sorry, through - a low bridge... and saying something weighs as much as X double decker buses? Who's ever tried lifting a double decker bus? Yeah, they're quite heavy, but I'm pretty certain a Challenger Tank is a lot heavier.

Hmm? Oh right, Mario Galaxy. I'll be honest, I didn't finish it, but I did play the crap out of it for a day or so while I was waiting for GTA to come out because my boss wouldn't let me buy a copy before the release date despite being surrounded by 500+ copies of it. What I did establish, however, is that Bowser and Bowser Jr. have stormed the Mushroom Kingdom while everyone was happily giving each other piggybacks and used a perfectly reasonable amount of force to kidnap a petite girl in a pink dress whose only protection is a bunch of cowards with mushroom brains and a short Italian plumber who hasn't actually done any form of plumbing since 1993. Of course, the reasonable amount of force isn't some Tom Clancy-esque stealthy infiltration, minimising the ammo budget to a magazine each member; it's an armada of flying ships with cannons coming out of every orifice.

As you progress through the game you come across various "enemy bases", which are all called "plants" of varying descriptions, which strangely enough seem to look purpose built just to injure portly Italian plumbers. Ignoring the total lack of productivity on Bowser's part, he claims to be steaming ahead with some plan, and to be honest this is probably just a bluff because all the power stars he has been blamed for stealing all seem to be jammed up the arse of various twisted mutations creatures, rather than any kind of useful place like some sort of reactor. Having said that, Mario did choose to retrieve these and shove most of them up his own arse, so nevermind.

Jumping back onto a point I mentioned earlier but couldn't be arsed stretching out, I have to talk about the whole micro galaxy thing. Unless the science behind Family Guy is to be used as a guide, then everywhere in Mario Galaxy is total bollocks, frankly (I wanted to link Family Guy, but I couldn't find the video I was looking for... it was supposed to show the bit from "The Fat Guy Strangler" when Brain demonstrated how fat Peter by proving he generated a noticeable gravitation field). Normally I wouldn't bother mentioning the innate problems with Mario jumping on a floating platform only slightly bigger than himself, mostly because I'm crap at physics but still an absolute c*nt. But when you star using gravity as a USP in a game, I'm going to try taking the piss out of it. Maybe everything in Mario Galaxy is just incredibly dense, to the point were a toy robot has enough mass to create a gravitational pull as strong as Earth's. Either way, I figured out that on one level if I could land exactly between two platforms, I could leave Mario perpetually floating and confused while I left for a nap.

That's all that last paragraph was leading up to, and I make no apologies. I'd rather be playing GTA right now, thankyouverymuch. Come to think of it, that's just about all I can think of to say about Mario Galaxy that hasn't been said by everyone else in the world ever. So yeah, if you haven't done yet, buy it. It's as unique as Mario's going to get without straying into the world of animé porn - but I can guess without looking that deviantart has already tapped that twisted pool of inspiration - and it's also demanding enough on your brain while trying to cope with the weird changing gravity that it can keep you off drugs... but only if you're the one playing it.

Friday 25 April 2008

Internet Explorers

After being mocked by the entire population of the Internet, I reluctantly dropped Microsoft's Internet Explorer in favour of Mozilla Firefox. Actually, I lie, I switched to Firefox so I could steal music off MySpace. That was it, I didn't give a toss about the supposed "added security". I'm not a big target for hackers, because I'm smart enough to keep personal data on my computer to a minimum; and I always have a working firewall too.

Well, aside from being uglier than the Vista version of Internet Explorer, Firefox is pretty much the same - only with more add-ons than are necessary and the "new tab" button being buried somewhere in a sub-menu. Yeah, yeah, you can have a spellchecker on it, but if you can't spell competently, you shouldn't be on the Internet at all as far as I'm concerned. All that's really doing is opening the floodgates to an onslaught of arguments that look balanced because someone's using real words for a change, but on second look it's generally someone complaining that their Xbox died because it didn't like the taste of Fanta and no-one told him in advance. Aside from that, the spellchecker isn't all that competent itself either. Should you type in a complicated word being a bit sketchy on one or two letters, it'll get confused and offer you an array of completely different words.

I've had people telling me that Firefox is far more stable than Internet Explorer. Fantastic, I've always suffered extensively at Internet Explorer falling apart into it's basic coding every time I went on YouTube, maybe Firefox can remedy that... Actually, that's a lie, MS Explorer only crashed on me once, but that was my fault for dicking around. Firefox, on the other hand, has spent the last week coughing up blood every time I tried looking at an image or video. Then the tabs went a bit mental when I was trying to read comics while keeping an eye on my facebook.

OK, Firefox does have the useful feature of opening tabs you may have closed by accident... although you wouldn't close them by accident if they fucking thing didn't freeze and go mental at it's leisure. The download helper is pretty cool, once you install it, you can download any streaming media by clicking on it. Thing is, you have to be the luckiest son of a bitch alive to figure out which randomly named file is the one you want. Don't even think about downloading stuff normally, you're not allowed anymore. You can't "save target as" anymore, the download helper has it covered... badly.

"Right click > Download Help > Link a/b/c/etc > Left Click > Download.... > ... > ... > ... > Are you downloading? > ... > ... > ...> No"

Why the hell don't I just use MS Explorer instead? Well, there's the fact that it'll arbitrarily forget saved passwords, and occasionally decided to keep you in the dark while it does... something. I don't know what it is that it keeps getting up to, and I'm afraid to ask should it turn out to be some kind of Frankenstein-esque hybrid of all my sins and Internet bullshit. At least it doesn't give up on loading pages when it pleases. Whenever I've tried posting on forums this week, I keep running into Firefox's wonderful error message saying the page timed out immediately.

Don't you dare blame it on firewall settings, the bloody thing's set up as loose as I can get it, and if an Internet Explorer built for Vista will let me shove things on the Internet without any arguments, Firefox has no excuses. Maybe you'll start recommending task bars and the like to me, to which I say "go burn in hell". Extra task bars are not useful, I know, on an older computer I got stuck with about 5 of the bastards and all they ever did was try sending me to transsexual porn sites. All I was doing was looking at webcomics! Fucking comics! How do you get ladyboys from comics?!

Aside from being totally useless and inappropriate, all task bars do is obscure your view of the Internet. This isn't a good thing as it stands, but considering that all modern internet explorers obscure your view with tabs, address bars, search bars, menus, updates, RSS feeds (whatever they are) and massive icons; anything extra can go stuff itself.

There's the Google search bar, which to me seems about as useful as telling a dead dog not to steal your car. It's just not going to happen. If you want to use Google, there's no shortage of tabs (or windows if you've got the balls to use a really old version of whatever internet explorer you're using) for you to open the Google page in. Speaking of which, when I'm on the page I want to be on, the only searching I'll need to do is the "find text" kind of searching - i.e, I wont need a Google Search or Live Search or Wikipedia of whatever the hell people keep shoving into my internet explorers, I just want to find certain words! Jesus wept...

If you need me, I'll be rummaging through my inbox trying to write a nasty email to Apple for trying to make me use Safari on my PC just because I have iTunes for my iPod...

Tuesday 22 April 2008

A Neanderthal Writes on Gamism

While the rest of the world is concerned with free love, via war, of course, and equality, again, through war and oppression, I find myself more entertained with webcomics and futile observations. Speaking of which, I treat you to something original (and hence, rare for this blog). Anyone who just Google'd "gamism" (like myself) will be presented with a load of bollocks regarding theories about Dungeons & Dragons, or something.

What I speak of is an overlooked prejudice! In a world where everything is politically corrected up the arse, I figured I could have a little fun and write an interesting feature about something that exists mostly in game shops. This prejudice is the prejudice between formats, made public through format wars, but this is always just seen as a battle between 3 electronics companies trying to steal as many sales as possible from each other.

In the past, all "format war" really meant was "do you like Sonic or Mario more?", but today, with the two burying the hatchet and every other console finding more reasons to hate each other more, we society has segmented itself once again. Typically when talking to a Wii owner you'll end up having to talk about trading card games and crayons, but my point is that when you talk to an Xbox 360 owner, he or she will periodically spit like a sick camel every time you mention the word Playstation. Similarly, your average PS3 owner will break one of your bones (usually one in your ear, by arguing you to death) every time you use the word Xbox.

There are also those who own a combination of these 3 consoles, and therefore don't give a crap, and those who have real lives and don't own any of them, and also don't give a crap. Then there are people who figured out they can play games on their PCs, and feel that all games consoles should be wiped off the face of the Earth along with those stupid enough to play them. These people also have MP3 players measured in terabytes, but never leave their homes.

This level of emotion over computer games started a little bell ringing inside my head, which typically went off during A-Level English Literature classes warning me to stop paying attention before I got dragged into a political argument. I found this intriguing, because the only times computer games get involved in political arguments are when someone pissed off Jack Thompson with some good old fashioned violence, gore and pornography; but there was nothing sexy or violent about this thought, for a change.

No, what I'm getting at is the prejudice level of hatred spawned by format wars, which I hereby dub "gamism" (think "racism", and you should be with me). I thought I'd jump on this before it got blown out of proportion and we end up with phrases like "obsessively-inclined" replacing "fanboys", or "vibration-challenged" replacing "dirty PS3 owner". Imagine if the FOX corporation got hold of this information. You'd be hearing stories of people forming gangs because of their chosen console and murdering people they claim "defected".

Format wars are friendly banter between big companies by comparison to the little people fuelling these companies and the war, by choosing one machine over the others and questioning the sexual orientation of anyone who opposes them. I found myself immediately estimating the IQ of people who bought a PS3 when it was launched (and it rarely broke into double figures), although truth be told, I was usually pretty accurate.

But while Microsoft is allowing more and more games flood over the 360, spreading their mediocre-at-best-ness all over the poor thing, Sony has been attracting more and more competitive titles... OK, I'll admit I really mean sod all has been coming out on the 360 recently and Gran Tourismo 5 Prologue just came out. What does this mean for you and me? It means that the hate between different console owners is becoming irrational, and I don't really hate the PS3 anymore (even though I'm still indifferent at best, seeing as I don't give a toss about Metal Gear or Final Fantasy).

As a console gamer myself, I vote we stop beating each other to death with our distinguishing control pads and draw our attention to the PC gamers metaphorically sat at the top of the hill, overlooking our futile struggle to wipe ourselves out. While we hurl insults and injuries at each other, they quietly play their games, occasionally fleshing out their wallets for some new hardware to sustain their disturbing erections. Sure, every once in a while you'll overhear them picking on the runt in the group for not having enough RAM to store the average family's music library, but other than that, they get on fine.

The relationship between different console owners, however, is similar to the relationship between homophobes and homosexuals. One fanboy will call the lifestyle of another fanboy sick and wrong, while the other fanboy will claim the first is ignorant and retarded, as such he'll shove his choice down the throat of anyone he comes across, pissing them off immensely because they didn't have any strong feelings about the argument until they got dragged into it. Then you have people like me, who think the pair of them should learn to play nice or just stay the hell away from each other. Then you get people fanboys who try converting and trust me, you don't want to see the mess that causes. It's a weird and expensive case of ambivalence, and contradiction that usually leads to them talking very fast and inevitably foaming at the mouth. Soon after, they go completely still for a while until a man in overalls picks them up and leaves you with a bill for the repairs.

Standing outside this scenario are people like myself who just want to enjoy or games, and can localise their hatred of crap games to crap games themselves other than just hurling insults blindly in the general direction of the place in whatever shop they bought it from, whitewashing everything else in the vicinity too. Joining me Col. Apathy who couldn't give a damn about games in the slightest, with PC Smug standing to his side giggling at this whole argument, because he made the smart move by choosing an entirely separate format with too many companies involved for there to actually be a format war.

There's no gamism in the PC world, but in a world of PC, gamism will ruin the games industry (see what I did there?). Rupert Murdoch and Jack Thompson will convince our families that we're killing each other in the streets, and some other bright spark will decide to replace our consoles which have been honed to perfection for the last quarter of a century with some crappy freeview box things that we play games on by streaming flash based crap off the internet.

What can be done about it? Well, I don't know, personally I enjoy some good old fanboy baiting, as it makes up the more entertaining portion of my internet time. Maybe join forces with me, Col. Apathy and PC Smug and start hurling insults at all fanboys just for being fanboys so they have something to unite against before they attract too much attention from FOX. Well, maybe not Col. Apathy, he'll be busy painting all his earthly possessions beige. Or you could just walk around you local game shops listening out for fanboy arguments, slapping any of the offenders around the back of the head. This could prove to be a bad idea, as you'd have the police to talk to after not that much time. Better yet, get a big tin of beige paint and join Col. Apathy before you do something really stupid.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Mario Kart Wii

In the year 1992, the humble SNES was granted a racing game by the name of Mario Kart, and as the name suggests, it's a racing game featuring some of Nintendo's most famous characters. Since then, an executive somewhere around the upper rungs of the Nintendo ladder declared in their own blood that every Nintendo console made from this date would feature a Mario Kart game.*


That fateful day has partially resulted in Nintendo being pretty much franchise dependant, repeatedly remaking Mario, Zelda, Metroid and now Mario Kart games. Never mind that, though, it's a strategy that seems to be working for Nintendo, seeing as they're the oldest competitor in the console wars.

So, it's 2008 and Nintendo's current console line-up is the handheld DS (which has had a Mario Kart game since 2005) and the Wii. Now it's the motion sensitive device's turn at carrying on the Mario Kart torch, and if you've ever played a racing game on the Wii, you'll know this is tricky business. As far as sequels go, Mario Kart Wii has a lot of reasons to be pretty pissed off. Mario Kart: Double Dash has amazing graphics, beautiful levels, a solid control scheme and a really interesting mechanic of having two characters per kart that even reacted to turns properly.

Considering the Wii isn't that much more powerful than the Gamecube, any Gamecube sequels on the Wii will need some interesting features, possibly involving the player dancing around the room as if ablaze. You can imagine the scene already, Double Dash is talking to a crowd of fans while wearing a fancy cravat and generally looking very famous and successful. Then Mario Kart Wii comes storming in wearing the same cravat and punches Double Dash in the face, screaming "How can I be better than you?!" in frustration.

I'd love to be able to say that the problem has been solved with some good old imagination, but the only newish features I could find were the occasional boost-inducing half pipe (which is only really useful in one place), and a small segment of the Cape Kooper track, but is unfortunately a clean steal from a much cooler entire F-Zero GX track. We also get the exact same battle mode features as the DS version, and the same idea of 4 cups of new tracks and 4 cups of retro tracks. It's just a shame that they're the same retro tracks as on the DS version too.

If I were to compare the motion sensor control scheme to the Nunchuk/Wiimote scheme, I'd have to say that the former is quite drunk. There's also the fact that the Blue Spiny shell is still buzzing around, and yes, it still needs the arse nerfing off it. So it doesn't look too good for Mario Kart Wii then, it's a dodgy mash up of Double Dash and Mario Kart DS, and consequently suffers from the chronic "samey-ness" that cripples any new games in this modern, competitive world of interesting mutations. This is the point where I'd start thinking of rude things to say about a game suffering from this problem, but I wont. Read on...

Mario Kart, you see, is a game were everything is balanced precariously, and everyone towards the front of the pack is going to suffer like hell at the fortunate hands of the simpletons at the back. What this does is it keeps people playing together, no matter of how retarded some players may be, as is the whole point of the Wii itself, ewe si? This means that the game actually remains fun, no matter how much of an obnoxious, geeky obsessive you play against, because you'll always be able to ruin his life and laugh at it thanks to the game's seemingly ridiculously unfair weapons. (Actually, "ewe si" pretty much means "female sheep yes", not what I just said, but I'm making a point and playing with words OK?).

If you want to unlock all the levels and characters, and you do, then you should just ignore the free wheel you get with the game and play with the Wiimote and Nunchuk - but don't, by any means, go shove it up your arse or anything. In fact, go buy more for however many Wiimotes you have, because when you want to play Mario Kart Wii with other people, again you do, put the Nunchuk away and play with the drunk option. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it does actually work surprisingly well. I expected to pick up the Wiil (or whatever they call it), turn it and eventually go hurtling in the wrong direction; but no! It responds really well to turns, and although it will still send you careening off the edges of courses at embarrassing rates, it's just much more fun playing with your friends that way.

It's also fun watching people in general twitch and twist while holding pieces of white plastic, and that's exactly why I've made a sport of watching these people from the trees outside their houses.

In all fairness, you'll play much better with a Nunchuk, Classic Controller or Gamecube Pad, but by now everyone's already really good at playing Mario Kart, and it's much more fun getting used to steering with floating white wheels. What I'm trying to say is that Mario Kart Wii shines like, well not a diamond, more like amber because it assumes you only ever want to play in rounds of 4, but yeah, in multiplayer mode, Mario Kart Wii shines like amber, by bringing back the fun of Mario Kart.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Condemned 2

Those of you out there who are avid Zero Punctuation viewers will probably be taking this opportunity to call me an unimaginative prick (and other synonyms), but if you'd take a minute to read back through my last review, you'll see I've had this one in the pipeline for about a week already. All I can say is "damn you Yahtzee, why couldn't you have done Dark Sector this week?"

Now that's out of the way, I'll dive head first into my review. I never played the original Condemned, because ever since I realised nothing inside my TV was possible causing me any harm, with the exception of Kanye West and his sonic brain rape, I decided that any game with the intent of scaring me was personally asking me to pick it up, take it into a corner and take a big smelly dump on it for being so stupid. Condemned 2, on the other hand, attracted my attention because when I saw it, I knew it was probably my only chance of getting a brand new game really cheap. So, I picked it up, as you probably would, and took it home remembering a colleague's tales of removing enemy jaws with blunt objects.

When I got it home, I had to leave it alone for a few hours while the sun was still out. This partially to help the game have me soil myself, but mostly down to the fact that it's literally impossible to play with any other light source. With my nose touching my monitor, I could scarcely differentiate between one dark broody shape, and another dark broody shape. Some contrast would have been nice, but I had other things to keep me entertained during daytime, so I left it to it's own devices on the shelf while I realigned my spine.

When I was finally able to play the blasted game, I found myself intrigued by the idea of playing an angry drunk, who was also some kind of cop, but not really because... I don't know exactly why not, having not played the original. Maybe the local constabulary didn't need another Father Jack Hackett on the force? Either way I quickly found myself in the middle of a bum fight, with horrible things being shouted at me while I tried removing the bloodstains from my shirt, having just bludgeoned three people to death with a plank full of rusty nails. Remembering I was supposed to be playing some kind of cop, I was a little worried about the consequences of murdering 3 people who startled me while pissed out of my face, but even right up to the end of the game there was no mention of any of the innocent people I'd killed throughout my Condemned 2 experience.

Instead, the game introduced me to someone in the same clothing as, aside from what looked like a mask, only attached more competently than some plastic surgery, who politely introduced himself by introducing me to his pet brick. This was apparently no more than a hallucination, and I'd just passed out in an alley with a 5-star hangover. Seeing as this smug, masked bastard showed up every 20 or so minutes, I spent at least half the game convinced that he was the serial killer I was chasing (choosing to ignore Ethan's comments of "You're not real"), until I ran into the real serial killer, who everyone in the game knew I was really chasing, including Ethan, and there was a brief reiteration of the back story between these people. I guess that was just my fault for not playing the original, or generally being a bit too thick to follow the story properly until the second half of the game.

Everything started off well otherwise, with lots of fights against psychopaths and some eye-twistingly confusing hallucinations and occasionally blinding me which really gave me a sense of vulnerability, which is more important to any horror game than the blood and gore everyone else is always looking for. There's even a bit where you have to walk around a burning building with a knackered gas mask on which blinds you even more and doesn't give you the option of taking it off. At first I was just annoyed at the fact I could hardly see anything, but then I remembered that was the point, and so I was impressed with how creepy it made everything. Imagine swimming underwater in a canal or something and you get the idea.

Considering that I purposefully make myself unpopular with horror movie fanatics by laughing through someone's misguided attempt at scaring the pants off me, Condemned 2 was well on it's way to earning a respected place in my mind shared with Bioshock as the only games I remember that ever creeped me out in a good way. Unfortunately, after the aforementioned burning building mission, you stop fighting a load of nutjobs in favour of fighting people whose only excuse for attacking you is that they're a bunch of bastards. A betrayal story is fair enough, even though I'd seen it coming a few levels beforehand, but combat quickly shifts from the satisfying "crunch" only made by combining brick and flesh, to the distant and samey "pop" from a headshot.

Unless you have a story that makes you feel like a complete bastard and someone else's bitch simultaneously (as in Bioshock), the best weapon in a horror game is a lack of weapons - vulnerability! Condemned 2 did this really well until some random point in the game when the design team thought it'd be cool if you suffered worse wounds tripping over ammo, guns and medkits than in enemy encounters. I could live with the stungun, but when you turn an horror game into an outright FPS without really increasing the number of enemies, you stop impressing me and start bringing yourself down to Blacksite's level of crappy firefights and general shittiness.

Introducing a superpower didn't help either, especially when I figured out the cool down was literally something in the region of 5 seconds. I don't want to hate Condemned 2, but things just went arse over tit when someone tried turning it into an FPS, only darker in the literal sense. To my amazement, Yahtzee didn't have anything to say about quick time events in Condemned 2. Well, he may have been able to ignore them, but I'll be damned if I will. I generally don't mind them that much, but when it starts fucking around with normal combat, you may as well print off sheets of various control pad buttons and hang them in a firing range as far as I'm concerned.

There are, however, only two types of quick time events in Condemned 2. One involves chaining together combat moves (which I'll get onto shortly), and the other is pressing the A button (probably X on the PS3) so Ethan remembers to say something. I'm sorry, but if I see a bunch of psychopaths made primarily of armour, you wont need to remind me to swear. And you're put in that situation about 5 times each mission. Now, onto the more annoying ones.

If you've ever played a first person perspective game of any kind with melee combat, you'll know that it's just instinct to keep mashing the attack button, especially when you're surrounded by little bastards. Condemned 2 has an interesting way of dealing with enemies of different strengths. For the wussies, you can punch them in the gut and laugh at them in their foetal position on the floor, finally understanding why people did it to you at school. For the big bastards, you can use a chain attack, pulling the appropriate trigger when told to. This is a good idea in theory, until you realise that you initiate one of these attacks by quickly pulling one of the triggers twice. Remember what I just said about mashing the attack button when surrounded? Well, if you do that, you start a quick time event to deliver the biggest amount of hurtin' you can to someone who needs help picking his trousers up in the morning. If you didn't have a meter that had to be filled before each of these attacks, if wouldn't matter, but you do, and as such, it does. Even when you actually perform these attacks, there's no immediate feedback saying whether it registered your frantic mashing or not, so more often than not, you end up releasing the big scary man you just pissed off.

Call me just another reviewer who hates everything sent my way, but I'd just like a game that doesn't soil itself before making it through to the end. I want to love new games, but someone, somewhere down the line makes a retarded mistake and leaves us with just what we need, more mediocrity! Maybe Dark Sector will be consistent... I heard a cockney shouting hate about it, but then again he was called Stacey...

Tuesday 15 April 2008

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Right now, I'd prefer to be working on a reputation as a decent games reviewer by finishing Condemned 2 and bringing you lovely people my findings. There are however two small problems with that. One, not that many people are reading this, and two, it's too bright right now - and I'll explain more in my Condemned 2 review.

Onto Phantom Hourglass then! I should say first of all that I'm a pretty big fan of the Zelda... well I'd like to say Zelda series, but as anyone who's ever played more than one Zelda game can tell you, they're all the same game with minor tweaks for whatever console they're on this year. So, I'm a fan of the Zelda game, and as I seem to have just mentioned, I have no bones whatsoever in agreeing that the story has slipped out of the realm of "tried and tested" to "tired, bored, demented and ready to be hunted down and shot". If the Halo universe is anything to go by, then Nintendo will be able to flog the same bastard story for another 800 years or so, because apparently, "tried and tested" diesel engines will still be around in another 800 years. Screw that, this is a Phantom Hourglass review, so I'll get back on track.

Phantom Hourglass, I'll admit, was my initial reason for buying a DS when it first came out, and it was scheduled for release that Christmas. Sod all happened that Christmas and I realised I'd spent £120 just to play Mario Kart with some mates. Remembering that I also had an Xbox, several controls, a couch and some real racing games, I decided I had no reason to keep my little blue DS, and swapped it for a 360. Then those cunning bastards at Nintendo announced that Phantom Hourglass would be out before Christmas that year.

This resulted in me getting a harsh word from my manager, having sworn profusely when the deliver of Phantom Hourglass arrived at work. I took this opportunity to pester everyone in my family to come together and buy me a new DS for Christmas, so I could finally play Phantom Hourglass. Again, sod all happened, but I did spend my Christmas break selling copies of a game I'd been waiting for for 2 years to the majority of my home town. Now it's April, and the foolish Government has paid me my student loan, so I gleefully went out and bought myself a DS with Phantom Hourglass, so here I am.

Should the case be that you've never heard of Phantom Hourglass, I'll take this opportunity to explain the story. Once upon a time, when Nintendo were still relatively sane, there was a little console called the Gamecube. On the Gamecube, Nintendo released a game called "The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker", along with every other Zelda game they'd ever made on a special disc, but that's not the point. The point is, they made a cell-shaded Zelda game with a hell of a lot of cell-shaded water for the now retarded looking Link to sail through, with a smartarse talking boat that could tell you not to go to certain places and turn around when you tried. It's the present day... or rather, November of last year, and Nintendo released Phantom Hourglass, a direct sequel from Windwaker, without the balls to outright admit to it, unlike the only ever true, big bollocked Zelda sequel, Majora's Mask (a game I respect for finally changing the Zelda story formula).

Now I've wasted a lot of time saying that Phantom Hourglass is a Sequel of Windwaker, I believe it's about time I got on with my actual review. Probably sick of every developer in the land using the DS' touch screen as nothing more than a decent menu screen, Nintendo have decided to fully utilise the only selling point of the DS (let's be honest here), by forcing the player to do everything with the touch screen. Actually, I'm lying... a bit. The map is the B button. And that's about it. You do everything with the touch screen, unless the game decides it'd rather humiliate you in public by making you yell at the top of your voice into the little fold away package I hope you play holding with your hands. Just imagine what would happen if you were sat on a bus and someone behind you randomly shouted "I REALLY FUCKING WANT IT! GIVE IT TO ME, YOU FUCKER!!" at his crotch.

I'm taking the piss a bit, using the touch screen for everything is better than using it for some things, as anyone who played Metroid Prime Hunters will know, because it gives you one nice, easy way to hold the console, rather than being admitted to the hospital, suffering from Scolex Syndrome. Not only does this not cripple you, it works quite well for the most part, allowing you to walk slowly or charge blindly off a cliff, even without the benefit of a joystick. And I respect that. What I don't respect is the times when it fucks up and leaves you shaking like a shitting dog when you try killing an enemy by tapping it. Or times when I want to do a roll and it decides it'd rather send me careening off a cliff atop some pointy boulders.

You could also criticise Phantom Hourglass for copying items from all the other Zelda games, only you'd look like an uninformed berk who doesn't know that the items have been pretty much the same for the last 20 or so years anyway. To avoid looking like a berk, you could rather notice the really quite limited number of items in Phantom Hourglass. I'll put this straight, should any Nintendoites be reading this. Ten years ago, you brought us Ocarina of Time, and a few years later, Majora's Mask, on the N64. Seeing as you've brought out games like Mario 64 for the DS, it's pretty evident that the DS is a more powerful little gadget than the N64. I know it's a handheld, but by the arse of J-Lo, why are you condensing the classic franchises? Metroid Prime basically let you shoot, or shoot another colour; while even Super Metroid was packed with random gadgets and crap like that. It's the same story with Phantom Hourglass. Off the top of my head, I count 8 items for link to use. Ocarina of Time had half as many items... for the bow.

I can safely say that on behalf of the entire Zelda-playing community, we'd rather have lots of items and puzzles for them, than a big, expansive and mostly empty ocean. Please remember that in future. After you've rubbed and shouted your way through the 8 temples, and returned to the starting temple each fucking time, you get a pretty decent final boss battle. At least it would be if it was a bit more challenging. I've suffered worse injuries picking my nose than Link did while fighting the final boss. I know Zelda games are capable of good boss battles, because I played Twilight Princess and remember psyching the rest of the world out while I duelled with Ganon at the end. Yeah, the last boss in Twilight Princess is Ganon, if you didn't see it coming you deserve a firm kick in the teeth.

Nintendo seem to be very proud of that battle, and rightly so, but they also seemed to really like the semi-final boss in Windwaker, again, quite rightly so, they both cracked the right balance of difficulty that made you sweat while fighting them, and cheer when you pulled it off without suffering the embarrassment of a Game Over screen. In Phantom Hourglass, they've tried mashing these two together, and also glueing on more touch screen compatibility. What you end up with is a pleasant collage, with a striking resemblance to that of a collage put together by a child at nursery. The art critic inside you knows it's shit, but the human side of you thinks it's pleasant. And that's the kind of "decent" I spoke of before. It doesn't quite work and it's not actually challenging. But compared to the more hectic battles you've had up to that point, it's nice.

And oh yeah, the ending's a ball-ache. After all that work, Nintendo pulls the oldest and most hated story telling technique in the book. Yeah, it was all a dream, apparently. Only you still have the Phantom Hourglass. That's it. Link and Tetra wake up, despite not being asleep, and they're right at the start of the game with some pirates asking what the screaming was about. Luckily my DS is insured against accidental damage, which should pay to have the stylus removed.

Sunday 13 April 2008


I'd like to take a minute of you time, if at all possible, to come back to the reason I started this blog - face first as always - and talk to you about Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS. Yes, shock horror, I'm reviewing a game that isn't on the Xbox 360, well get used to it, I'm expanding my horizons.

To be honest, I had a DS long before I could ever scrounge together the money for a 360 and thought it was great for playing Mario Kart... and little else. So I accidentally traded it momentarily before Nintendo decided to release any other decent games for the blasted thing, and for about a year, I've been left with a DS-shaped hole in my pockets. I'd like you to take note, something very very similar happened with my Wii, with literally a week later, every good idea Nintendo will ever have were announced.

But enough of that and back to reviewing games! Or close enough... I'll explain soon. I believe I'm correct in saying that Electroplankton was a launch title for the DS and as such is now one of the hardest fucking games to get hold of, next to Conker's Bad Fur Day on the N64. After being sat idle in my room, having being banned by doctors and everyone I knew from stepping foot outside for fear of spreading chicken pox to everyone in the known world, I remembered Electroplankton, and set out to find it as soon as I was allowed in public again.

I remember it looking like the weirdest and most intriguing game I'd ever seen, and I was filled with glee when I eventually found it. Although a bit gloomy about the price tag, in comparison to other games that are about 3 years old, but forked out my hard earned student loan to get hold of it. I got home and prepared myself for hours of simple joy, tapping away to the soothing music made by these odd little creatures. I quickly realised it wasn't actually a game at all, but a toy; screw it, we'll roll with it, it's cute.

It's packed - actually, maybe not actually packed - with cool features. By which I mean 2 features. I guess I didn't quite think that through, but shut up they're cool, OK?! First is the simple "audience" mode, which is probably best to see first, i.e., before you buy it, in which the game goes a bit mental, showing you what you can do on Electroplankton. Ignore the Goliath instruction book, it's very simple, and not as much fun as you might think. The other cool feature is how it uses the microphone. Rather than making any random sound to invoke a reaction (like on Phantom Hourglass), it can actually record sounds and play them back with lots of funny and weird effects. The only problem is, you can't really sing into a DS, so I spent a while just swearing into it, which I assure you did not make for funky sounding music.

There are different types of plankton, which I assumed would be mixed together, letting you come up with some sort of super-symphony, but no. You play with each one separately, and as such, most of them actually suck balls. The best ones are the ones that sound like a piano, only not really that great because it's like playing a piano whilst very very drunk. And you can get that for free if you go down to your local during an open mic night. You wont be that popular after you hijack someone's keyboard, but likewise, you wont be that popular playing a DS with the volume up in a pub either.

I guess that leaves Electroplankton with one decent mode, and that's the one where you keep poking the plankton that have spines. By doing so you can easily get some very cool music, despite using an orchestra compiled by the NES. And as such, I'm suffering from buyer's remorse a little, with the biggest comfort being I now have a genuinely cool game/gadget in my collection of crap now. I can't say I recommend you buy it, sadly, you should still give it a go. I'd also like to say, for legal reasons mostly, that I do not condone nor support theft. Especially from your friends who have Electroplankton.

Just because you shouldn't buy it, it doesn't mean you should steal it. Unless you really wanted to, but I can't stop you.


No, I'm not at the level of plagiarising Zero Punctuation just yet. The video in question is a video I've just made for Youtube. Scratch that, a video I've just hastily thrown together for Youtube, because I was told to. This may break the tone of the rest of my blog, but I thought I'd share the fruits of my labour with you. After all, my back hurts a bit from taking all the pictures for it.


Saturday 12 April 2008

Fan art?

In a previous post, I may have mentioned that my reviews are inspired by the stylings of one Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame. In the forums for his website, I stumbled across a couple of pictures of what people think would happen if Yahtzee ever met some of his fans, and this is what I came up with. (Then someone shouted at me and told me to change one of the fans to a woman).

I'd also like to take this time to make a few observations into the gaming world. Actually, I want to talk about the Weighted Companion Cube and I was hoping some more coherent stuff would come to me, but ideas have decided to become about as illusive as a decent pair of shoes in this day and age (in the UK, pretty much every shape of male shoe has been banned, aside from something called a plimsoll, that looks like something you'd find on a beach that hasn't been used since 1950). I don't know much about those shoes either, so go look at Topman or something, I still disagree with them.

So, the companion cube then? Yes. It seems that after all the work Peter Molyneux put into the dog in Fable 2, then proudly announced that he guarantees it will make you feel love for the first time when playing a game (and you can probably see where I'm going with this), you can imagine he felt really quite silly after Valve created a cult, emotional following with a grey cube with a love heart on the side. And all they had to do was have a computer assure you it wouldn't talk, then tell you to kill it anyway. And personally, I wish Portal had come out about a year earlier, so Peter Molyneux wouldn't bother working so hard on a dog in Fable 2 and therefore we'd probably be playing it already and well on our way towards complaining that it hasn't brought us to a new promised land.

I wouldn't call myself a PC gamer, and most PC gamers I know would shout at me if I did, because the only PC game I own is SimCity 4 - and even that's been sitting on my shelf long enough to learn a language. But, even I want a solid model of a companion cube, and I don't know why. Yeah, I played Portal on my 360 (and loved it), but collecting stuff from games is usually restricted to PCs and crap like Warhammer (watch my readership plummet for that remark). How the hell did Valve get such a cult following from a frigging cube?!

What? Why don't I game on a PC? Well, aside from the fact it typically involves building a PC from scratch in order to do so - which is bad news for me, if any of my Lego "masterpieces" were anything to go by, poor things - there's the controls. When it comes to typing stuff and using the internet, I don't think there's any substitution for a good old keyboard and mouse. Thing is, that's what they're made to do, that's why keyboards are covered in letters. They're bit designed to work for games, and as such, there is no PC game I can realistically keep up with controls-wise.

RTSs; I spend all my time using the mouse, occasionally using the keyboard to move the screen around a little and then for grouping troops together. Then all my carefully thought out battalions of troops are wiped out before my eyes, leaving me with a crater in my soul that can only be filled with the comedy stylings of a good Red Dwarf marathon. And being sparse on Red Dwarf dvds, I've given up on all RTS games. I also have a problem with shooters on PCs too.

It's all very well and all being incredibly accurate with the help of a mouse, but I have two bones to pick with that. First, when you think about it, you've spent £400+ on a gaming PC and another £30+ for a modern shooter for it, only to have it reduced to the same level as any point and click game, typically used in flash adverts and for that I laugh at you mockingly, ha ha ha (whimper). Feel free to throw that out the window as bile (but remember not to throw your entire computer, or even monitor, otherwise you may be very cross with me), but I do have a better point. Shooting by dragging a mouse around for pinpoint accuracy may give you appearance of some sort of demi-god of shooters, but I prefer a more honest kind of aiming. Like in reality, while aiming with any form of real gun, you're let down by the lovely mechanics of your own arms and the 3D world, and so in a game, you could do with being let down by something else, say a pair of analogue sticks.

Now you see my point, or at least that I will forever suck at PC games. This is exactly why I think the Wii is a great little thing for shooter games, the motion sensor means you can actually let yourself down and consequently suck ass! The problem I had last time I played a shooter on the Wii was touching the edges of the screens, leading me to spin around uncontrollably. There's also the fact that I was playing Red Steel, which as you may know, was a piece of complete ass.

I'm sure at some point I had an idea of how to link back to the PC gaming and weighted companion cube thing, but screw it, it's gone forever. Enjoy my first ever attempt at fan art, though.

Friday 11 April 2008

Favourite Game

I figure that at some point in the future I may have people coming up to me and asking me what my favourite game is, or at least what I really think makes a great game. The problem is whenever someone asks me that in the real world I end up going cross-eyed for a few minutes then saying that my favourite movie is Transformers (2007). So, here I go with a list of games I respect, or at least a list of things I like about them, and who knows, maybe I'll see this through to a conclusion.

Ok, firstly, the thing I always look forward to in a game is the point where it feels new and makes whatever I'm playing on feel new. You must know that odd combination of bewilderment and amazement brought on by something really good, but really unique at the same time. Think back to when you played GTA 3 for the first time, and how being able to roam around Liberty City in 3D for the first time made you feel. It may not sound like much now, but considering that until that point everyone had just been playing Croc and Spyro on the original Playstation, it was pretty immense. And that's what I'm always looking for in a game, something that makes it immense, compared to the relative crap that proceeded it.

The problem is though, publishers seem to have stopped taking any decent risks, so what we're left with is an achingly slow advancement in gameplay, something so slow we don't notice until we look back a year or two (like the seek bar on your MP3 player, yeah, it is getting further along, but you can't really see it happening until you ignore it for a long enough time).

Somehow I recently reminded myself of the Oddworld games. I remember being obsessed with the original, but too young to actually play it because when you're 8 years old, you're attention span is measured in seconds, or more accurately, the length of time it takes for the opening credits of any TV program to roll by. Yes, I miss being a normal, active child sometimes. I always had enormous respect for Oddworld games, because they were quirky, cool and really weird. But I personally think they lost the plot a little with Munch's Oddysee, I liked it, and I think it was one I was actually able to finish, but something wasn't quite right. You're supposed to be trying to free a bunch of broken slaves using... more slightly less broken slaves. Abe seemed to be bit too much of a real hero for my taste, and rarely gave me the impression he was absolutely shitting himself whenever there was a loud noise - as was the tradition. Everything got a bit too heroic.

Don't get me wrong, the Fuzzles are fantastic. I could talk about Munch for a bit, but he struck me as a (and I never really use this word) complete retard, so I only used him when I had to. Then there was Stranger's Wrath, which as far as tangents go is remarkably weird. Maybe dragging you somewhere where the Glukkon meat-obsessed empire, and their uber technology plants to the weird wild west was their way of saying planet Oddworld is really quite fucking big?

While Stranger's Wrath had about as much to do with the original games as a chicken sandwich, it was added to my collection of games I've always respected it for being, well, really big and weird. I wasn't best pleased when some of the boss battles left me with a few injuries myself, but as we know, any games with piss easy boss battles are about as rewarding as the merit badges you got in Primary School, so that's one thing. But enough about Oddworld, this is supposed to be me talking about my favourite game.

I generally want to keep racing games out of this, because I only really play them to be able to beat my friends and brothers, so they have to be good to be playable at all, otherwise they can just go suck somewhere else, preferably the same corner people use to deny the conspiracy behind health meters. That said, special mention goes to Test Drive Unlimited, and I admit, that it quickly put a sour taste in my mouth when I first played it. Everything just looked odd, and not quirky odd, just, I don't know, but something wasn't right. Graphically speaking, it was a masterpiece, but it's not exactly fucking hard to get a racing game to look good. The idea of being able to drive around the Hawaiian equivalent of the Isle of Man was pretty intoxicating, and I quickly came to love it for no other reason than to take a drive from my living room... ok, bedroom.

By this point it just sounds like I love free roaming and action, but I played Oblivion and thought that level of freedom was just ridiculous, and I spent hours just wondering around wondering what the game wanted me to do. In fact, I'll admit it. I hated Oblivion. Other games can get away with making you feel lost, but when an RPG does it you just feel abandoned. And I don't hate all RPGs, I racked up a silly amount of time on KoTOR 2 and until further notice, my favourite Mario game is Mario RPG: Search for the Seven Stars. Now that's odd for me, because I prefer games full of lovely action and violence, and consequently have about as much patient for turn based combat as the average person does for chess.

What I really want to be able to do is to say that a modern game is one of my favourites, rather than being yet another reviewer who wants to live in a time when portable music was only found in cars by saying the best game ever looks and sounds like it was drawn using a BBC computer. While suffering from hay fever. Mass Effect is very promising, but there's something about it that stops me from having an active desire to play it. I can't think of anything wrong with it, in fact I think it's a brilliant game, I just can never be arsed to play it.

Fable is a game I've always loved, despite not having a hope in hell of living up to the hype it generated, I always thought it was a good RPG, because there was no faffing about. Just buy a weapon, find someone you don't like, and hit them with it until they stop moving. Add in the ability to laugh in the face of their distressed widow, then swear at the guards while they close down on you with large swords, and you're onto a winner.

Assassin's Creed had a handful of really interesting features. Free-running. Awesome. Using crowds to hide. Cool. Jumping off a building and landing on a tiny bale of hay to convince people you just died. Very nice. Stabbing people in the throat. Hell yeah. The problem that made me get very bored and not be arsed to see it through to the end was that it was just a collection of some cool elements, and some not so cool that would get really dull if you had to do them too much - which is the next problem, the balance of the fun stuff and the not so fun stuff was misjudged about as poorly as a blind pole vaulter running determinedly towards a volcano's crater. Just like those Olympic officials writing letters of apology to that man's family, Ubisoft should be still scratching their heads until they expose their brains, wondering how the hell they managed to cock up such a good game. Assassin's Creed had everything going for it until I realised it was something like the 8th hour of gameplay, and I'd been doing the exact same thing over and over to the point where the game itself got confused and bugged the living shit out of my horse, sending Altair... somewhere into the distance while I walked around as a lonely horse being harassed by guards.

At that point I thought, fuck that, and went in search of something with guns. Which is a pity, because I really liked Assassin's Creed, and thought it was really impressive, but after a while it suddenly becomes about as interesting and linear as those clear rulers you get in stationery packs. Even though no one knows where anyone actually gets them from in the first place. My current favourite game would probably be Super Smash Bros. Melee, because it's a simple, pick up and play beat the living shit out of each other fighting game with a pace rivalling a startled gazelle.

If you want me to pick a more modern game to pick as my favourite, wait until I get hold of Fable 2, or maybe even GTA IV. Maybe something else interesting will crop up this year? Maybe Too Human will warrant my attention? Maybe Duke Nukem Forever will be finished? Or maybe the games industry will be destroyed by Microsoft cramming everything that makes the Wii special into the 360, leaving us with just an arbitrary trickle of really shit games? Maybe Yahtzee will see someone about his obsession with Branston Pickle? Who knows?

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Lost Odyssey - First Impressions

Due to the beige trickle of variation in new games for the 360 recently, I've been left reviewing a constant stream of samey shooters, while trying to avoid Turok. As a result I've been driven to trying out the latest JRPG for the 360. Blame it on laziness or my embarrassing bout of chicken pox that I'm currently suffering from, but this week's review is just going to be first impressions. If you read my Circle of Doom or Kane and Lynch reviews, you'll find it rather odd for me to bother mentioning that this is a first impressions, but in my defence any game with four discs is going to be long for the time it comes out. Enough talking about the size of Lost Odyssey (and therefore no longer contradicting my recent post on the size of modern games), and let's get down to the good stuff.

Actually, for no apparent reason I feel like teasing a bit more, in a similar manner to a hired stripper getting caught in traffic - although not exactly the same because I'll be really concerned should you imagine me in a latex police uniform. What the hell, it's something we have to get out of the way early as to not break flow later, and to bulk up my word count, but I'll start by outlining the story for you all, in my best understanding.

God knows what year it is, but Lost Odyssey is set in a parallel universe where instead of discovering fire, the human race is descended from David Blaine, and therefore had no industrial revolution, but instead a - seriously, this is the exact term - magical revolution. Rather than causing a civilisation of sharply-dressed men with interesting facial hair and top hats, using magic as a form of fuel seems to work a lot like nuclear power. Which, come to think of it, begs the question, why didn't they do that instead? That way attacking enemies with magic would be more interesting. The magic works like nuclear power in the way that it creates lots of power, some people are opposed to it and when something goes wrong at one of the power stations, a lot of very weird looking things show up and start attacking people without warning; only because it's magic, they're completely invisible until they start attacking you. The story starts with a lot of promise, with an awesome opening cutscene with lots of lovely violence and action. Enter Kaim, your ugly, broody character, who kills lots of soldiers very quickly, then hands the reigns over to you till kill a tank thing with just a sword.

Kaim's story is that he's supposedly immortal (supported by the fact he survives a meteor to the face) and has lost all his memory (probably something to do with surviving a meteor to the face too) aside from his name and awesome fighting technique. After you've wondered around enough, you're ordered to go to the council named by the space marines from the Alien movies (Urah... Hoo-rah... really? Nothing?) and told to investigate a power station with an equally silly name, because the local Greenpeace blame the meteor crash on it.

Finally, we get onto the gameplay itself! Some of you will be happy to know it's "from the creator of Final Fantasy", and had I noticed that on the cover beforehand, I wouldn't have bothered to pick it up. You see, there are only 3 games I believe turn based combat ever worked on and they are Worms games, Risk and Super Mario RPG - because it was simple and more interactive than anything else I've seen to date. The thing is, turn based combat became very redundant when games consoles started growing extra control ports and that's why I always have, and always will, have a problem with turn based combat.

Official Xbox Magazine describes it as having "one of the deepest stories we've seen on the Xbox 360", which is probably true, if it could keep on track of the damned thing with some form of consistency. Every 5 or so seconds of running around in the field causes you to trip over a group of angry, and previously invisible enemies, with no way to avoid them or even leg it like the true coward you are, this gets annoying very quickly. So, even though you get dragged as far away from the story as possible every few seconds, the effort to compensate is downright dull. You see, Kaim gradually recovers his memories in dreams, but not the fun kind of dreams where you jump off a cliff, take to the air and land in a lap dancing college. No, Kaim dreams in very, very long passages of very dull text. After reading the first five pages of the first dream, I realised there was no need to do so, and after skipping through the next 20 I was allowed to carry on with the game again. And the unavoidable fights every few seconds.

I'm pretty sure that if they'd decided to just display the message saying "Kaim recovered some more of his memory", rather than going into every last detail of how he made toast with David Cameron for the entire conservative party before their weekly game of polo, they could have quite easily cut the game down to one disc rather than four. Maybe Mr Final Fantasy really likes silly numbers of discs? Who knows? All I know on that matter is I don't much care.

Anyway, the Greenpeace council decided to send you on your merry way with another supposed immortal person and the worst attempt at a comic relief since soaps tried developing a sense of humour. And that neatly brings me down to my next issue with the game. By playing as an immortal, surely there is no need for a health meter, and as such running teeth first into a very large, very pissed off Griffin would bear even fewer consequences than running around Rapture on Bioshock blindfolded occasionally firing your shotgun. With the story being broken up the way it is, this would cause Lost Odyssey to be completely uninteresting, and briefly tempted me to go out and buy a pack of Ryvitas in protest. Instead, Mr Final Fantasy decided that your character is immortal and can never die, only he isn't and he can. But only if it's your mistake. While being able to survive a meteor dental, a few slaps by a big blue worm will leave Kaim twitching in a pool of his own blood before leaving this world for something with bigger guns, presumably.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to let a character take damage until the point when he DIES, then don't bother saying he's IMMORTAL. Make up something better, like he has the potential to live forever, as long as he doesn't push his look, otherwise God will get pissed and exact painful revenge in the form of death.

To Lost Odyssey's credit, everything generally looks rather good, with clever transitions between FMVs and the game engine which confuse you enough to think everything looks better than it does for a few seconds at least. There's also the interesting fact that rather than using the conventional "search" action when looting something like a pot on the floor, someone down the line decided to shove in the word "probe", which gave me a giggle every time writing came up saying "probe" and was followed by Kaim getting shoulder deep in the thing being searched. You can call me immature, but it's always funny watching someone who's pissed you off artificially inseminating a cow because you know just by looking that it's unpleasant. Yeah, that's what I got from "probe".

What else can I say about Lost Odyssey? It's a JRPG, so it's going to be really long, ramble on for a long time while frequently soiling itself with annoying turn based fights every few seconds. I could mention the fact that the level up / experience system makes about as much sense as wanting to jump off a giant waterfall in a barrel, but people enjoy that little mystery too.

Monday 7 April 2008

Back in the Day...

Since starting my weekly reviews, I've noticed something quite worrying. All the games I've reviewed are games I've finished within a week, even though I have lectures during the week and work at the weekend. I remember a time when a game would keep me entertained for weeks, if not months. I remember even just a few years ago buying Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and taking about two or three months to finish it, and last March I got hold of Saint's Row and finished it in a week. And that's while working weekends and being at college for six hours a day, five days a week.

Looking back, it seems that the older the game, the longer it would take to complete. Take Super Mario World for instance. Although only about 5 or 6 when it was released, I remember taking a ridiculous length of time to finish it. Even my older brothers took a good few months to finish it. That was during the 16-bit era. Modern console today are capable of teaching small nations how to juggle while simultaneously playing games from that time without breaking a sweat. So what the hell happened?

Nintendo seems to be staying true to this idea of making single player games nice and long, with the likes of Zelda, Mario and Metroid games. The problem, however, is that they've been reusing these three franchises for about 20 years - if not more. It is for this reason that I think Majora's Mask was the best Zelda game. That's down to the fact that it plays like a smoother version of Ocarina of Time, but there's absolutely no mention of Ganon of the mother fucking Triforce. Playing it was odd, I was expecting at any minute that Ganon would show up with the Triforce and reveal his latest diabolical plan to kidnap Princess Zelda and destroy Hyrule using the moon. I finished the game and felt a combination of pride and surprise, because for once, Nintendo had made an original Zelda game! And there was scarcely any mention of Zelda herself, but I don't think "The Legend of Clock Town: Featuring The Annoying Kid From The Zelda Games" had the same ring to it. Don't get me wrong, I love Zelda games and think that Twilight Princess was fantastic. But I bought it on Christmas Eve 2006, and had it finished shortly after the new year.

The Xbox 360, for example, reads 4.7Gb DVDs, and yet the average single player campaign can be finished inside a week. It's nothing to do with being rushed, these games spend years in development, and people get paid quite handsomely to make them. I do, however have one theory.

Being amazed by Metroid Prime on the Gamecube, I was delighted when Metroid Prime 2 came out, albeit a bit worried about the idea of having to stay inside bubbles to avoid a mild case of the deadsies. To this day, I have never finished that game, and I have no intention to, for the same reason I've never been tempted to pick up Metroid Prime 3. Anyone who played Metroid Prime will know that it is a long game, with about 30 hours of gameplay for mere mortals, such as myself, although I believe I clocked it at about 43 hours. My point here is that Metroid Prime 2 was more of the same, if not longer. With less blasted back tracking. If memory serves, the last time I played it I had found the screw attack and finished a good few puzzles with it. I figured this was about 3/4 of the way through, because I had a lot of items and I'd spent a lot of time without seeing my friends. Then, for no reason whatsoever, my memory card formatted itself and took all my hard earned work and shoved it up the arse of cyberspace, never to be seen again.

If a small memory card can die for no apparent reason, then it's probably best to not make games incredibly long, should the gaming public feel their beloved games have betrayed them by forgetting they ever existed after a ludicrous amount of effort had been pumped into it. This can happen to a puny amount of storage space, so the monster 120Gb of space on the 360 Elite has the potential to cause more suffering than Bono when he starts talking about the environment. I love Metroid Prime, but I was so hurt by my betrayal that I will probably never play Metroid Prime ever again. I felt bad enough playing Metroid Prime Hunters on my DS, and had to sell it to ease the pain. Then I waited eagerly for Halo 3 and realised there are even better games out there, such as Crackdown or Bioshock.

I only hope that GTA IV can keep me entertained for longer than 10 minutes.

Sunday 6 April 2008

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2

In the gaming world, it is generally accepted that by strapping the name "Tom Clancy" to a game, it's a licence for unparallelled, realistic gun combat. This is, however, completely untrue. The licence granted by strapping the name "Tom Clancy" to a game is the licence to punish gamers with face-bendingly difficult fire fights. No human being can ever be "good" at a Tom Clancy game, just occasionally lucky enough to finish a mission, or win an online scuffle.

I know this, because in the past I've dabbled with GRAW, Rainbow Six 3, the original Vegas and consequently, anger management. It would appear this that this time, Ubisoft has finally noticed the extensive bill from people made mentally ill by being completely unable to get past the third level of any Tom Clancy game. As a result, Ubisoft's CEO has decided to have a meeting with Tom Clancy only to kick him in the testicles and say "non!" (French for "no", apparently). This would seem to be the case, seeing as how I seriously doubt I've become a lot better at shooting games in general - mostly down to my aforementioned statement regarding possibility.

While on the original Vegas and Rainbow Six 3 I spent months getting no further than the third level - including a particularly embarrassing bout of repeatedly killed while entering the first room. I'd like to say I respected the vigorous challenge and realism of the games too much for me to get angry at them, but that wouldn't be true because I discovered how many different shades of purple the human face can turn while playing them.

When I played Vegas 2 for the first time, I felt that special chill down my spine that you only ever feel when you find out you have a stalker when it welcomed me back and rewarded me with a new helmet. Then I got all sensible and remembered I'd played Vegas 1, so the save game was on my hard drive, but also got embarrassed by the fact I only ever got up to third mission.

I'm happy to report that for a change it's possible to get used to entering a room full of angry men with guns and balaclavas, and therefore being able to shoot them before they turn your liver into a munitions crate. It's by no means easy, just more intuitive than ever before. While playing it late one night, I'd actually begun playing the game how Mr Clancy would want me to, by stalking around a room before entering, rather than running in, shooting my way into a hole and sitting there killing anyone who came near me. I mostly made this change to figure out the best way to enter a room and kill everyone silently after listening to them discuss their latest visit to the urologist. It's also partially down to the fact that the latter idea only ever works on games like Halo.

Graphically speaking, I think I'm right in saying Vegas 1 is a little better than Vegas 2, but I spent far too long shooting blood out of my eyes on Vegas 1 to give a fair comparison. But considering there was about a fortnight between announcement and launch, you'll surely agree it's impressive. That said, a lot people seem to get more joy from waiting for a game to come out rather than actually playing it, or at least that's the impression I get from most of the gamers I meet.

In fact, who cares about development times? That's one of the many facts that's about as interesting as golfing, along with the advertisement saying they used the Unreal engine. Just like everyone other FPS since August aside from COD4 and Halo 3.

Towards the end of the game, I figured out how Ubisoft managed to make Vegas 2 easier than the original. The truth is, occasionally the terrorists are about as aware of their surroundings as a dead pigeon. I lost count how many times I've tried shooting someone in the head with a silenced rifle, only to miss because they had to sneeze, then trying a few more times resulting in a wall covered in mysterious bullet holes in the wall behind my target with his friend claiming it was just him "breathing". Almost as frequently, I've managed to go into a room, stare an enemy in the face expecting him to have already pulled the trigger (as was the punishment for such stupidity in the past), but instead he was oblivious to the three heavily armed strangers in bright orange camouflage. So he died, I made damn sure of that.

It's hard to think of things to write about Vegas 2, other than it's more of the same Tom Clancy stuff, only re branded for human use, seeing as how the box pretty much agrees he Clancy and Ubisoft have been flogging the same basic principle for 10 years making minor tweaks to scam you out of another £40 every year or so. The only tweaks I noticed while playing the single player campaign, because I'm having trouble getting on Xbox Live with my Internet, was the addition of a "sprint" button and the radar being removed in favour of a "tactical scan" or "thermal scan" depending on the game's mood.

And I have a bone to pick with that. Rainbow Six games are supposed to be close combat, tactical, stealthy shooters, which has always separated them from others. Rather than being allowed to explore everywhere (and inevitably get lost), the game plays in a way that encourages you to finish the mission by filling you with a sense of pride an accomplishment. Considering you'll always be indoors and trying to make a little noise as possible, why the hell do we need a sprint button? For pretty much all of the game, the only use for it was to run away in a vein attempt to correct a stupid mistake and this never actually worked because Lord Clancy doesn't like cowards. The one time it's useful is right at the end of the game, when you have to dive in and out of cover around a tennis court while being shot at by a helicopter. And you also have to take it down with whatever rifle you happen to be holding.

No, seriously, that's exactly what happens. Considering you've just spent (if the story is anything to go by) the last day creeping around corridors and dark train stations, a one on one fight with a helicopter, a lá Die Hard 4, is about as practical and sensible as keeping a pet elephant as a secretary. I assure you, you will die a lot should you play this part, because not only do you have a helicopter and its Gatling gun hovering just in front of you, with an over-enthusiastic gunner, but you also have quite a constant stream of terrorists on foot shooting you from all sides too. This wouldn't be quite so bad if you could stay put behind a wall and keep popping out and killing terrorists as you please, but no. Once you piss everyone off adequately by refusing to die, the chopper starts firing missiles that only hurt you, due to the "friendly fire" rule. So, good luck with that part. That's the only way I got through it.

I mentioned the radar/tactical thermal scan thing and I'd quite like to have a word about that. Bollocks. Now I believe I need a few more to explain. I'm sure the idea of this is to add even more realism to the game, but as long as you can recover from a handful of bullets in the chest by curling up in a ball for a few seconds, realism will never magically come around. The tactical scan works, or rather doesn't work, by showing you an overhead scan, featuring you and your team as triangles, and terrorists as thermal dots. Or something, that's what it looked like to me. The reason this doesn't work is because it will only show the terrorists in the room with you... and they're usually the ones you already know about. The display lasts about 30 seconds, and you wont be allowed another one for about 10 minutes. That's the bit I don't understand. Why would someone equip an elite squad of... people... I don't know what their job title is other than "rainbow"... anyway, why would someone equip these people with a scanning device like this and only let them use it once every 10 minutes for thirty seconds? Who thought that was a good idea? Who?! There's also the small issue that you can't use it during missions without your team mates - not that I chose to do the mission alone, the game forced me - and the problem with this is that, as everyone who's played a Rainbow Six game (or any tactical shooter), is that the main use of team mates is to send them into a room and let you figure out where terrorists are by judging the trajectory of the bullets now embedded in your loyal friends' skulls. Without them, you need something extra, instead you loose the next best thing.

I wont say much about the abundance of Dodge cars in Vegas 2, because the advertising was more subtle than in the last game I played which seemed to be in partnership with Dodge. What I will say is that there seems to be an almost frightening amount of new options when playing online, but as I've said before, I didn't get a chance to try them out.

Aside from the ending, which seems to have been bolted on in a Scrapheap Challenge manner, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a very solid shooter and taught me to think before running into rooms and hoping for the best in the future when playing other shooters. I guess I could also carry this over into general life and stop blindly walking out in front of buses or into locked rooms, as this will probably benefit my health in a similar manner. The problem is that Vegas 2 is let down by an almost complete lack of new single player features, so they could have quite easily have just updated Vegas 1 with a downloadable patch with the new multiplayer content; like the extra content for Crackdown.