Tuesday 19 August 2008

Music and Nightclubs

I like to consider myself a connoisseur of music, and as such I have about as much patience for music manufactured for the sole purpose of making drunk people dance as the average person has patience for a bed of knives being delivered second class. That said, if you stole my iPod while I was busy pissing off the side of a metrolink platform (and thus leave me in no real position to complain to the police), you'd find it stuffed with mostly rock music and a couple of 90's dance compilations. I can, however justify this by reminding you all that even Green Day covering The Ramones for an MTV award ceremony, and 90's dance music, has far more artistic merit and sustenance than anything you'll hear in a typical English nightclub. Then again recording someone farting on a jam sandwich hard enough to follow through generally has more artistic merit than anything you'll hear in a typical English nightclub.

Which neatly leads me onto something else that's been bugging me. Nightclub owners. Now, to run a nightclub, it helps if you're a bit of a dick, but it's not completely necessary. To own a nightclub though, the requisite immediately following "being loaded" is "be a total dickhole", which admittedly comes hand in hand with being rich. As all of us without money know, everyone with money is a complete bastard. Aside from Patrick Stewart, of course, who I imagine has more money than God thanks to a career spanning over 20 years, and recently advertising everything Nintendo has to offer. And Domestos. And Curry's.

So yeah, bastards own nightclubs. Now then, anyone who cares about being labelled a bastard is naturally going to try shaking this label. Unfortunately, as a nightclub owner it's impossible. You see, a nightclub owner makes money by basically poisoning and deafening people. And also charging obscene amounts to do so. Seeing as lots of people will have already decided that you sir, Mr Nightclub owner, are a complete twat, the only to truly shake the label is to do something ridiculously noble, but also make it as public and obvious as possible. Call me a cynic, but surely anyone partaking in a publicity stunt (without of course trying to ruin it by using a laser pointer with a penis lens) cares so much about what other people think about them, that they completely and utterly deserve to be publicly humiliated by having a penis drawn on their forehead while campaigning against homophobia.

As such, Mr Nightclub owner, the only way you can prove to everyone you are not the be all and end all of complete bastardry is to do something incredibly noble and keep it a secret from everyone, who'll assume you're just another nightclub owner who spends his weekends clubbing seals using frozen aborted babies.

I know that had nothing to do with games, but God dammit, it's about time someone said it.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

Before I get started, I feel I should let you all know that this week I was planning on reviewing Lair on the PS3. For some reason I only managed to play the first level and then it completely slipped my mind for what turned out to be over a week. Normally anything with dragons that makes me dive around my room with a joypad goes down a storm, or at least leaves some sort of lasting impression. So much for PS3 exclusives then?

Anyway, while C&C 3 has admittedly been out for quite a while, I always thought that the only people who bothered playing it were massive fans of the series. And by “massive fans of the series”, I don’t mean fanboys. What I mean of course is socially inept future serial killers. If you can find me any other kind of person who gets their jollies from pretending to be sitting in a big chair sending legions of soldiers to their death while simultaneously collecting various minerals in a manner that borders on obsessively compulsive.

Being one of these socially inept future serial killers, I don’t quite understand why I have such a poor relationship with RTS games. Watching little people stab, shoot and bugger other little people while stockpiling huge piles of shiny things from the comfort of my lovely chair should, in theory, be more fun for me than the average psychopath gets from shouting at people on buses.

I accept that I’ve taken a massive break from all RTS games, following an oddly obsessive bureaucratic phase during which I locked myself in my room playing Sim City 4, so I decided to don my “commander” costume (consisting entirely of my pants and a big bag of crisps), fired up C&C 3 and tried to rediscover why it was I’d abandoned all hope of RTS games. And more importantly, why I’ll be upset when Tom Clancy’s End War is released.

As I understand it, Command & Conquer has always been one of (if not the most) popular RTS franchise EVARRRR. Especially when you consider that Age of Empires is mostly played by students during college time and Supreme Commander is exclusively played by people who don’t lose sleep over how much RAM their computer has – but only because they’re worrying about a staggeringly long and complicated list of things the average human being doesn’t even know exists. Granted, a number of these could be imaginary; concocted to make the rest of us feel small and silly, but who can really understand what goes on in the head of someone who’ll defend to the death a machine they have to gut and upgrade every time a half decent new game comes out.

I digress, my point is that as far as RTS games go, Command & Conquer is probably the best. In all honesty, I very nearly approached this review with the intelligence of a psychopath who gets his jollies from shouting at people on buses. Should you be a normal human being, I should probably inform you that technically you are going to get bored rigid reading this, and in C&C 3 there are two basic factions locked in battle of some sort – there’s GDI, which is basically the United States with a few tins of Dulux, and there’s the brotherhood of NOD, who are basically religious communists – which is clearly more than meets the criteria for being on GDI’s bad list. It’s also worth taking note of the cutscenes in the C&C series, which are usually in place to make the story more dramatic, but really just exacerbate the situation by looking like out-takes from Babylon 5.

Anyway, my almost psychopathic mistake was to play through the GDI campaign until I reach what I like to call the RTF (Real-time Fuckery); which is that point in any RTS game when the difficulty curve you’ve been casually strolling along suddenly decides to spike up into a wall, impaling you through the arse leaving you crying and wondering why you bothered trying to play an RTS game again. I spent days trying to free myself from this anus spike; which in this particular instalment was to leave me in the middle of a heavily populated enemy area with but a handful of soldiers (most of which had fought their way to this place and had a very real risk of suffering a massive heart attack from breathing too quickly), very little resources and a miniscule but still very much blown up base – and then I was told to survive for five minutes until reinforcements arrived to let me build a real base, then ordered to rescue them and bring back to what was left of my base; and what was left was a smoking crater and half of NOD’s populous.

Speaking of spontaneous coronary issues, I forgot how hard you have to concentrate when playing an RTS. In fact, at one point I was concentrating so hard I didn’t even know I’d lost all of my paranoid-ninja-self-defence senses. Somehow I didn’t notice someone walk past a window directly adjacent to my face, and nor did it register when they opened the unlocked door directly behind me. As such I shat myself rotten, far worse than anything even Condemned 2 could have thrown at me, when said person said the terrifying word “hi”. It’s times like these that I really fall out with games.

When I decided this wasn’t actually possible, I set off to bitch and moan about being royally buggered time and time again, but then remembered that I could play through as the other side if I so choose. Now I’m sorry, but if you offer me a choice of being a noble, almost demigod gallant knight, or the choice of being a complete bastard whose only motivation in life is to give those self-righteous wankers whatfor; well, in that situation I’d have already killed your dog and stole all your food leaving behind only a tin of tomatoes in my wake.

I then proceeded to enjoy killing and tea-bagging GDI for a few hours, while trying worryingly hard avoiding getting, uh, you get the picture. The RTF moment in the NOD campaign was when I was told to command a literal one man army, then to take out a quite heavily protected GDI base. Granted, I did eventually get some reinforcements, but they consisted entirely of a couple of scout helicopters, and a disturbing group of lemmings who detonated whenever someone coughed on them. I spent a couple of days on this mission, suffering a number of RSI and stress-related injuries, before dubbing it pretty much impossible and giving up.

It was at this point I remembered why I should never be allowed near an RTS ever again. I remember a number of times when I’ve been playing The Settlers or Age of Empires, and I just sat there whimpering into my monitor and crying myself to sleep, having just watch some unstoppable force waltz onto my screen, murder all my people and pillage my whole society while occasionally stopping to insult my mother and choice of trousers. You’d be surprised at what happens to you when you watch hours of work and planning get wiped off the screen as if it were but a shit on the wall of a toilet bowl.

So here I am, wearing more than my pants and finishing off the last of my crisps trying to come to a conclusion on a game no one bothered playing over a year ago when it was released. I’m just so, so proud of me. In all fairness, the onslaught of console-friendly RTS games is set to begin soon and after a whole, painstaking 20 seconds of research, I realised there are a whole four RTS games over the current generation of consoles. One of them is on the Wii, so you can bet your arse that the strategy bit is gone, two of them are C&C 3 and the other looks like it’s been aimed at six year-olds. Considering that I’ll be damned if I’ll be flummoxed by a game aimed at people who can’t tie their own shoelaces, there’s technically only one RTS game on the current generation of consoles and that’s Command & Conquer 3.

If you need me to recommend an RTS game you can play with a joypad because, like me, you find keyboards bewildering and lacking in feel when it comes to gaming, then it’d have to be C&C 3 (either Tiberium Wars or Kane’s Wrath, seeing as I’d struggle to differentiate between the two). If on the other hand, one decent console RTS isn’t enough for you, I recommend you start travelling on buses more often and find people to shout at for no apparent reason.