Wednesday 23 July 2008

The Bourne Conspiracy (and why I couldn’t be arsed with it)

When I decide to review a game, I either start off approaching it with an odd cocktail or cynicism and enthusiasm or the game sits on my desk mocking me while I’m forced into spending my evenings watching soaps. In the case of the latter, I find myself taking the first opportunity to take the game around out back and then beating it to within an inch of its life, then objectifying whatever’s left. At least that’s what I like to think I do.

In the case of The Bourne Conspiracy, I knew that if this game had a mouth, it’d be screaming all sorts of abuse and heckling me for ignoring to death for no apparent reason. Well, I guess the best logical reason I could fathom was that I’d rediscovered how much fun it is to launch Niko off the not-empire-state-building on GTA IV. Either way, Bourne had been sitting there untouched and unloved for almost a week when I realised I had to bring it back in two days and that you’re all expecting me to tell you about it.

Well, having done a few minutes of research I found that pretty much everyone had declared it exactly average; while a mate of mine loved the combat, but wouldn’t really talk about anything else. It’s about time I should point out that despite objections from, well, everyone, I haven’t seen a single Bourne movie, nor have I felt the need to spin my eyeballs out of their sockets by reading the books. I think I saw the tiniest bit of the car chase to the soundtwack of Jonathan Woss. Ignoring the fact that it’s a series of movies that provides (all together, kids!) Matt Damon with lots of cash, I will forever dismiss Bourne as a dangerously American take on Bond. I mean, come on, the name just showcases the lack of imagination.

“This is my spy thriller, the main character is Ja-uh” (with the entire room staring at him) “Ja-uh-son… yeah, Jason! Jason Bo-uh…. Uh, uh, Bour-ne? Yeah, Jason Bourne and not at all derived from James Bond. Shit.”

I know, I know, before you start bombarding me with man-love for the Bourne movies, they’re nothing like Bond movies. Bond is suave and English. Bourne is an American killing machine with amnesia. Frankly, the only American killing machines I have time for are Stan Smith and Chuck Norris. I digress, I’m supposed to be talking about the game, not why I feel such apathy for the movies.

I can’t think of all that much to say about the Bourne game, and I’m sure that playing it for more than 2 hours wouldn’t have blessed me with any stronger feelings or indeed any other lasting impressions. Honestly, I’ve had more memorably experiences waiting for a bus on a Sunday. I’ve had stronger feelings for Rivita, in fact, I’d rather partake in a Rivita campaign than play the Bourne game any more.

The problem is that it’s just so bland. Sure, the hand to hand combat is fast and vicious, but the brief blip of adrenalin it provides wears off as soon as you stop mashing buttons. While playing it, all I could think of was Jean-luc Picard saying “He just kept talking and talking in one long incredibly unbroken sentence moving from topic to topic so that no one had a chance to interrupt it was really quite hypnotic”. Oddly enough, that provided me with more entertainment than Bourne, but that said my concentration wouldn’t differentiate the game from the movie and refused to join me for longer than about 4 seconds. A small list of things that I got thinking about while playing Bourne were:
- Is it worth staying on a pre-pay mobile phone?
- Do I get broadband with Sky, which I’ll never really watch, or get it with a pay monthly phone?
- Can Steven Hawking get an erection?
- Do cartoon characters have feelings?
- Why does one of my cats have eyebrows and the other doesn’t?

Eventually this list spiralled uncontrollably into the world of time travel, mountain bikes, guitars and John Rambo. I even tidied my room to avoid playing Bourne. Then I changed the light in the bathroom.

The Bourne game isn’t remotely memorable, it is ridiculously linear, it’s stuffed with so many quick-time events that I’d guess if it had bollocks, they would have burst in a horrible explosion of testicles, blood and random button presses. That said, it got off on the right foot. Bourne gets up, answers a phone, then you walk through a “busy” street stalking some terrorist or spy (whatever, I told you it wasn’t memorable). Along the way you break the faces of a few goons, find your target then introduce him to a few railings and your fists – which in the interests of holding my attention I named Joe Stevens and Leonardo.

Then it all swiftly goes down the shitter when Jason needs prompting to hide from a bomb behind some form of bench. This started a long series of sighs. The next came when I was told to go somewhere with a timer in the corner. This is usually something I dislike, but especially so in this situation, because no one told me where “somewhere” was and I’d have to have a few fights on the way there. Ugh. Then I found myself in some harbour at night. Surrounded by very similar looking black soldiers with guns. Ugh. What I thought would be the last piss take was being attacked by a helicopter whether I was or wasn’t in cover, so I just had to leg it to my destination (again with no real indication as to where the fuck it was). When I got there I had to have a big fight with a big man, then run away and get shot at by a helicopter a few more times. After a very, very repetitive sequence of jumping over railings which gave me an idea of what a Hollywood movie based on the Olympic games would be like. I found myself on a small boat.

When I say small, I mean the deck was conveniently just big enough to have another fight in, while there didn’t really seem to be enough room for an engine or any form of crew, come to think of it. One very boring fight later I gave up and carried on exploding on GTA, with only one thing following me through this experience: these are the same people working on the Ghost Busters game, and I don’t want to hate Dan Aykroyd.

All I can really recommend about the Bourne game is the pen light thingy you get with the special edition, because it’s a damn sight more entertaining than the game itself.

I didn’t even want to review this game at all, I wanted to play Battlefield Bad Company but I wasn’t allowed to. There’s no point in reviewing Smash Bros. Brawl, because you’ll like it if you like Melee, and you wont if you didn’t. In theory I could decided to be a normal human being for a few months while nothing other than Too Human comes out, but I’ve been becoming increasingly aware of how much hate I have for my fellow man and his desire to either get in my way or annoy the living shit out of me in impressively short times. Some people say I’m becoming too antisocial, and I can’t judge those people too much because their twisted remains keep my slippers company under my bed.
(Footnote: After finishing this, I was about to go back over what I’d written and try spicing it up a bit more, but sweet zombie Jesus, I’ve been filled with so much apathy by this game I can’t even bring myself to torture it).

Thursday 10 July 2008

FPS Showdown

I’m not exactly sure at this point if this could classed as a triumphant return, but depending on how this plays out, I’ll probably just go back to writing stuff on a weekly basis. Thanks for being patient, the reason it’s taken me three times longer than normal to bring you a review is because this week isn’t a review. Read on this week as I try my hardest to avoid innuendos in this, um, three-way. Shit.

Anyone who’s spent any length of time rummaging around the internet will know that at some point, every forum ever turns into a childish argument over which is best, and more often than not it’s about games. More specifically the consoles, but if you must really judge the three current machines I guarantee that it’s best to talk directly about games in comparison, rather than picking your favourite, having sex with it, then deciding to only whip it out around the others in order to take a great big piss all over them.

That said, over the last three weeks I’ve being – well, I’ve been moving house actually, so if it wasn’t for that I could probably have got this out sooner, but never mind – anyway, over the last three weeks I’ve been putting my trio of consoles through their paces to come to what turned out to be a rather illogical judgement on which console does an FPS best. The easy option would have been to play COD4 on the 360 and PS3, genuinely injure myself trying to find any differences, or something involving Halo 3 and Resistance: Fall of Man. Unfortunately, I’ve played Resistance and quickly just wanted to punch everyone who said it was the be-all and end-all of shooters. After COD4, as is the way with these people.

The contenders, then, are:
Representing everyone’s favourite stick-waggling Christmas present is Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles.
Emerging at last from the pits of pure fanboyish hype on the PS3 is Haze.
And finally, picked almost at random from an uncomfortably large selection of mediocre FPS’s for the 360 is Turning Point: Fall of Liberty.

In all honesty, I was really intending this to be a blow-by-blow and occasional kick in the bollocks tearing up of these three games and declaring the survivor the winner, but I may have approached it a bit wrong. You see, I’m proud to say I managed to stay completely uninterested during any Resident Evil game ever; being completely unable to comprehend why anyone could enjoy dodgy camera angles, running away from anything that moves when it eventually moves and forever backtracking in a ratio I estimate as five steps forward, four steps back, pick up some…thing then run back to where you eventually got to. My word, just even thinking about it is making me feel knackered. Anyway, as I understand it, Umbrella Chronicles is a way of catching up on the Resident Evil story in time for Resident Evil 5, without having to sit through any of the bloody backtracking and also a brilliant way to cut out most of the bullshit dialogue and cutscenes which never really helped my distain of this base of all Playstation fanboyism.

Forgive me, it’s probably not that clear why I feel Umbrella Chronicles was a bad choice for the Wii in this org-ahem, organised face-off we see too often in forums. My point it this, I approached Umbrella Chronicles with the thought in the back of my head, “if I have to sit through anything involving a 20-somethng girl who looks about 12, walks like a 12-year old, has the intelligence of a rotten turnip and somehow has been trusted to clean up some form of disaster, I WILL snap my Wiimote”. Sure enough, this was the first FUCKING thing I was presented with. Then it went on to leap out of this race, over the barriers and flung itself into the articulated lorry of my abuse and illogical hatred. All I wanted was Time Crisis with zombies, but no, apparently when facing the international organisation of smallpox carriers, the smart thing to do is stand perfectly fucking still until everything around you has died or killed you. As if not being able to take cover AT ALL didn’t piss me off enough, each checkpoint feels like a calendar month.

What I discovered while doing this was that Umbrella Chronicles can’t really be compared to any even half-arsed shooter, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to carry on mercilessly beating the shit out of it in my comfort zone. My biggest problem with every Resident Evil game ever is the dialogue, which is as staggered and annoying as climbing a huge flight of stairs made of bourbon biscuits. It’ll frequently fall through, there can’t possibly be anything worth the trouble at the end and you would have much preferred to eat it instead. But the key reason I only played it for a few hours before trying to smother myself was a similar reason I never finished the original Rainbow Six Vegas, but at least I could respect that. You see, Vegas was a hard game even though you cold take cover and hide like a little girl before someone inevitably decided to paint the level with your tender brains. Vegas may have kicked my arse, but it did so fairly and expertly; making me rethink my priorities and dashing any hopes I ever had about appearing in some sort of games tournament. Umbrella Chronicles, however, decided to glue my feet to the floor and shove half a zoo of zombie animals up my arse. Just being able to take cover behind frankly anything would have seen Umbrella Chronicles going down smooth.

Once a game decides it doesn’t want my to finish it or even progress at all, I decide it’s about time that game is prescribed a lethal dose of humility. With the Wii let down and flicked out of this competition like a gnat with premium bonds, let’s get cracking on some real FPS’s. Well, a pair of half-arsed FPS’s, seeing as COD4 is fast approaching its birthday and talking about Halo 3 at all on the internet is a sure-fire way to get your house burned down.

So, firstly, what attracted my to Haze and Turning Point? Generally when I pick a game to write about, it’s something I’ve been waiting for, something I can think of something really rude to say about it or I’ve read the box as it’s been delivered and thought “hmm, that looks interesting”. Battlefield Bad Company is one of the latter, so expect that to show up pretty soon. When Haze was launched, I had the privilege of working virtually full time at a games shop over about two weeks and I was the only person to sell any copies of it – two, in fact – and I also got to personally bring back these two copies almost immediately. I found this interesting because for a game hyped to buggery by every Playstation fanboy, it sold actually impressively badly. Naturally I had to investigate the single most powerful tool in shutting up fanboys. Turning Point, on the other hand, was another one of those games that managed to get released without many people noticing; and for a game that didn’t involve the words “xtreme”, “trains” or “hot wheels”, I found this intriguing too.

Every shooter I bother playing has to have some sort of USP (the key word in that is unique, so that’s all you have to worry about), and I honestly doubt Haze was certain about what it was. In Turning Point, it’s quite simple: it’s WWII time(ish) Winston Churchill is dead and the Nazis are taking over the world. OK, not exactly unique, but it’s stuff like that I get attracted to like a fly to a bug zapper. And sure enough, I usually get zapped in the face; with the possible exception of when they went off on a tangent on Enterprise and decided to make a two-part episode set in Star Trek’s famed “alternate universe” – which I fucking loved.

Anyway, Haze’s problem with its USP is that it thinks that having a plot twist is a USP. When you remember that it’s wise to advertise a USP, you see that Haze looks completely retarded without even having to play it. Unfortunately, so many games have double-crossing plot twists that any game without a twisty plot is much more interesting. Before I ramble on about how Haze could have been more interesting than some old carpet, I need to explain something.

In Haze, you are a Mantel soldier – i.e., a mercenary. But more importantly, you’re given Nectar, which in my head is a mixture between steroids and crystal meth; and when a faceless military organisation starts pumping its soldiers with crystal meth, it’s no surprise they may be lying about their motives. After playing for about 20 minutes, Captain Brainstorm – aka Sergeant Carpenter – picks up on this and defects, just as the box explains. Then it’s up to you to work with the most irritating people in world to take Mantel down, although from the way they scream abuse you can’t blame anyone for thinking they were actually terrorists.

Anyway, Haze would be greatly improved if Ubisoft hadn’t decided to stick to the pussy idea of being a hero, and instead decided that Carpenter finds out what Mantel is up to and decides to go along with it. I mean, come on, it’s a game! It’s supposed to be fantasy! I’m sick of playing some chiselled American soldier out to save the world from evil. Why can’t I choose to just be the biggest bastard who ever bastarded a bastard in the face? This is why I loved Fable (and why I’m sure I’m going to be let down when Fable 2 is eventually released), you could choose to be good or evil with no real consequences, you just did as you pleased. On top of everything else, it’d really piss off Jack Thompson.

Now that I’ve thought of another brilliant idea surely no developer will ever gaze upon, I can get on with repeatedly mashing together Haze and Turning Point in some twisted game of virtual conkers. In my mind, the most important part of any FPS is to balance speed and weight in the aiming, and it you can’t get it right by default, then it can’t be that hard to shove sensitivity adjustment things into the options. You know, “adjust x axis”, “adjust y axis”, nothing fancy but quite adequate for finding your sweet spot. With Haze, I didn’t really find it to be much of a problem even with Sony’s pleasant looking, but in practise useless, analogue sticks. Turning Point, on the other hand. Gave me the option of default, slow and fast. By default up and down is absolutely fine, but turning around takes a fortnight, so when you want to leg it like the civilian you are (and naturally you are just a civilian with massive balls and a gun, I mean heaven forbid you get to play as a soldier in a war game), all you really get is a face full of the bullets you were trying to hide from. The smart choice is to turn the horizontal sensitivity up… ah. You see, the pair are tied up in “look sensitivity”, which means that by the time you’ve managed to turn around comfortably, the slightest nudge up or down will fuck up your world more than being stabbed in the face with a talking hamster.

That annoyed me, because I really wanted to like Turning Point, so I pressed on. You see, I stopped playing WWII games after Medal of Honour 2, and wondered why no one else did – once you’ve spent enough time with a 60-year old rifle, you realise that Tom Clancy has a much better idea on how to make a shooter.

Another thing about shooters as of late is that you quickly find a favourite weapon and it sees you through to the end, aside from once or twice when you needed a rocket launched – which has also become the FPS bitch, and will kill you if you hit anything less than a mile away but somehow has the splash damage as dropping an elephant in the battlefield. Suspiciously, most rocket launchers take about as long to reload as hoisting said elephant up on a crane, ready to be dropped again. And hang on a minute, any homing rockets also seem to follow their target about as well as an elephant that’s been dropped on its face from 80 feet… what the hell are developers doing to elephants?!

What was I getting at before I turned into Ross Noble? Oh yeah, favourite weapons! Far too many shooters these days leave you picking what inevitably turns out to be some sort of rifle as you best friend in the whole game, and makes you feel silly whenever you try straying off to another weapon. COD4 got around it by dropping you in a variety of obscure situations, which left you needing either a bullet hose, a sniper rifle, anti-air/tank weapons and of course SMGs. Haze, on the other hand decided that the Mantel rifle is more than capable of dealing with pretty much every situation and everything else has the accuracy and poise of a fat kid at McDonald’s. Turning Point got around this by letting you use the gun you’d prefer to use until the end of time only once – by only giving you ammo for it at the start of one level, the rest of time you only really had ammo to use some shitty German SMG. Fucking woo.

If we can briefly stick to methods of dishing out pain, Turning Point and Haze both used some interesting ideas, rather than holding down the melee button until everything in front of you breaks. This is still Condemned territory, but it’s worth a mention with these two. With Turning Point, you walk up to your target, press B when prompted and the quickly press down on the d-pad to your victim hostage or you can press up to twat the shit out of that bastard. Should you choose the latter (as I did all but once, in the interests of science), you’re treated to a third person animation of… whatever his name is… beating the shit out your dear Nazi friend. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t play a single hand in the actual fighty bit, but it is still strangely satisfying in a world of lame FPS melee attacks. It’s a bit like the bit in Casino Royale when Daniel Craig got tied up and hit in the bollocks with the knotted rope – well, not quite on the basis that you can actually watch the beatings in Turning Point, rather than turning away and holding onto your bollocks for dear life.

As this is a comparison, and because I’ve already said it’s interesting, I guess I should get talking about why the melee attacks in Haze are worth mentioning. Well, in the past when you melee an enemy in a shooter, the melee you straight back and this generally carries on until someone dies or someone else gets bored and realises they actually have a shell in their shotgun. In Haze though, some clever arse realised that there aren’t many people who can react immediately to being cracked across the face with a big lump of iron or fist, and as a result, when you give someone a smack, they take a moment to recover and twat you back; and it works both ways. What’s more interesting is how this system works when you play as a rebel. This may be a personal thing, but I’ve always wanted to play a game where I can steal my enemy’s weapon, shove it up their nose and scream at the top of my lungs “HOW DO YOU LIKE IT MOTHERFUCKER!!”. It’s possible that I just don’t react well to campers. Either way, as a rebel, once you’ve given your ex-comrade an Oltronion vasectomy (watch My Hero with that bloke off Father Ted, it involves bricks), you can then pinch the gun out of their hands and then shoot them in the face with it. And when the little bastard’s been hiding behind a rock taking pot shots at you for the last 5 minutes while you’ve had something bigger to deal with, nothing is more satisfying than making him eat on of his own bullets. Nothing.

But not all is well with these two games; you couldn’t really pass either off as a commercial success and there are reasons why. Haze, for instance, starts off with you spending quite a lot of time with some of your squad, and I pray on my knees until I’m up to my arse in my own blood and cartilage that I was supposed to laugh and these two idiots are a bold-faced satiristic statement about Republicans. If, on the other hand, they were a serious attempt at showing casual/realistic banter between human beings, then I’m afraid I’ll have to hold my head below the aforementioned pool of blood and cartilage until my brain stops making impulses, for I’d have given up all hope for the world. I wish I was being melodramatic. Turning Point also suffers from a criminally half-arsed art department and for the first few levels of the game I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t fighting Nazis, but instead I was fighting a legion of Adrian Edmondsons. And seeing as I love Adrian Edmondson, I was upset that I had to repeatedly kill him, especially with something as dull as a German SMG.

Both of these games got off to good starts, with Haze I was presented with lots of mercenary action and a lovely drug to make the annoying little bastards not so much glow, but look like they were rather on fire a bit. There was the little fact that Haze uses first person cutscenes which it tries to pass off as interactive by letting you look around a teeny tiny bit, but at least it makes up for them by having moments when the Nectar starts wearing off and you realise Mantel soldiers only see what they’re supposed to – and it’s genuinely chilling when you and your squad walk through an empty room and your vision screws up showing blood all over the walls and your armour along with a big pile of rebel corpses, then they disappear with no reaction from your squad. Turning Point gave me a good feeling at the start thanks to a cuts scene showing a 1940’s New York being blown to pieces by Germans. And frankly, if America couldn’t see the massive fleet of Nazi bombers and such charging across the Atlantic, it deserves to be turned into a smouldering crater.

Annoyingly, I wanted to give Haze a damned good kicking and run it in the face of everyone who was looking forward to it (much in the same way I enjoy laughing at everyone who’s been waiting for Splinter Cell Conviction), but Turning Point doesn’t had anything that can match it, all it has is the question “what if…?”, which is what games should be like in my opinion, but they still need more. What they also need is to run smoothly. I mean, both of these games are disappointing when it comes to graphics, and neither of them do anything to justify being so fuck ugly. Haze has loading times best described as simply painful, and Turning Point… well, remember when Halo 2 came out and people were complaining about how the “popping” in the cut scenes was molesting their children and slapping about their mothers? Well, Turning Point just, in fact I don’t know… I think it just keeps forgetting to load up the whole level before you get to it, and to top it off, most of the textures are so ugly, you can’t really tell when it’s done.

If you’re keeping score, Haze is ahead right now, because although the backdrops in Haze actually look like cardboard cut-outs, Turning Point is generally pretty damn ugly and pop-tastic. In the interest of being fair, I can still slap these two about a bit for making the same mistakes. And so I shall. The splash damage is absolutely ridiculous in the pair of these games, and what terrifies me more is that it’s starting to make me believe that I’d be find if I stood at one side of my room and rolled a live grenade to the other side. And having that thought floating around in your head when prone to bouts of biblical boredom is a dangerous combination. That said, mini-nuke grenades still wouldn’t do much with the main characters in these games, and the pair of them seem quite capable of surviving anything right up to a grenade hanging out of their arse exploding. Then it takes little more than a sneeze to recover.

The last excuse I’m going to use to crack these two games’ heads together is that they have the least likeable characters ever. In Turning Point, the main character is a builder of some sort, and the only reason he isn’t a soldier is because he can’t be arsed. Now that demolition is a bigger business in America, he decides he might as well join the resistance, with his only real motive being to get his job back, I imagine. Somehow he’s arguably the best soldier in the 1940’s, but just can’t be arsed doing it until a bunch of Germans land on his face.

And Carpenter in Haze? Don’t you dare think I’m letting him get out of this in one piece. He’s a whiny little bitch with commitment issues and I much preferred him when he was drugged up to his eyeballs on steroids, at least he didn’t talk as much then. On more than one occasion, I actually tried reaching into my TV in order to slap the little bastard around a bit. Having finally put my hatred of Carpenter down in words, it makes sense why I found myself deliberately stepping on grenades, landmines and anything else explosive I could find. He also has no friends. Well, I doubt he did when I was done with Haze, having shot his schoolmates in the face and then realised that friendly fire is turned off once you’re a rebel – which really annoyed me on the last level when I got lost while being followed by a big group of very loud, very hostile Mexican freedom fighters. It’s one of those things I wish I’d noticed earlier. I could have saved about 200 bullets.

I should make a judgement now, seeing as I seem to have more than made up for my recent silence on the internet. The thing is, do I deal the final blow to the bloodied Turning Point, or the now toothless Haze? Well, Turning Point tried incorporating 3rd person action in a 1st person shooter, which as you can imagine, doesn’t fit and doesn’t work; then there’s the fact that I actually had high hopes for it, whereas I was just trying to find out how bad Haze actually was.

This is a bit of a mess then, somewhere outside splattered across the road of prejudice is Umbrella Chronicles, which was adamant to fuck itself over as quickly as possible; in one corner I’ve beaten Turning Point to a pulp then kicked it in the bollocks for not living up to my expectations, and I’m left with the judgement that Haze is a shit game with good ideas. And that’s a shame, because if Ubisoft had decided to let someone vaguely intelligent to take control of Haze, it could have been really quite good.

(I'd apologise for the lack of pictures, but all I could think of was porn... and I think you've got enough writing out of me to make up for it).