Tuesday 9 September 2008


By this point, both of my regular readers will be aware of how I feel about PC gaming, and that as far as I’m concerned all you PC gamers need to be sent somewhere labelled as “E3”, but instead replace all the shininess and half naked women (who must surely be upsetting their parents) is replaced by someone better than Paul McKenna, who can then hypnotise you into the normal way of thinking that is “coding does not equal fun; thus patches, installation keys, reboots and constant upgrading and anything else that requires that much work just to play the fucking thing is not fun”. A key example of this is when I recently installed the complete original Sims game, which took me literally an hour and 18 motherfucking disc swaps. Seriously, I changed the discs 18 times, and this was without any hiccups.

One of you two will be thinking it serves me right for wanting to play the Sims, but shut up, it proves my point exactly. In general, PC gaming is about as much fun as PC work, and usually there’s just a spreadsheet splitting the two. Anyway, some time ago, I was told about Spore and promised that one of the selling points of it was it was being designed to run on pretty much any PC. After I spoke to someone more interesting, I was told the really interesting thing about Spore was that it lets you make an alien race, starting from the very beginning as a microbe, then working your way up the evolutionary chain, then the food chain until eventually your alien race ends up with a galactic empire.

Now that I’ve written that down, it’s basically an extended version of the Sims & SimCity; but fuck it, it’s all customisable and shit. Having decided that I’d be more mature and make a race of interesting aliens that don’t look like they’re from Star Trek (or just a race of giant penises), I decided to fuck around with the creature creation tools as much as possible, I wound up with something resembling an understandably pissed off, fat platypus gorilla; then accidentally ended the species’ evolution with something that wouldn’t look out of place in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

At first this filled me with woe for making a creature whose head actually touched its arse if it tried looking up, then I decided to be proud of this monstrosity, partially because I was stuck with it, but mostly because this six-limbed, ugly bastard was pretty much the point of Spore. However, it was at this point I nearly died. I realised that my microscopic, style-over-function, energy saving midget of a PC was running Spore very smoothly, albeit with the settings on low, but frankly, it’s a hell of an achievement for something bought as a complete package with an on-board graphics card. I was seriously expecting it to install, then get a message off EA saying they’d successfully stolen £25 of my money and there was no way for me to enjoy it or get it back.

But never mind my hideous monster, or his space ship which resembles a green USS Stargazer (because it wouldn’t let me make an Enterprise). I’m here to tell you what I thought of Spore before I get far too curious and read up what everyone else thinks about it. I was initially sceptical about Spore, partly because it’s been delayed at least two years, but mostly because it was originally SimEverything; which to me said it was going to be the Sims, but with weird monstrosities.

Luckily I was treated to something a lot more interactive, and a pair of stages that had me rediscovering the word “nomnomnom”. The thing I like about Spore overall, is its simplicity. Even though it was on easy mode (fuck you, I’m getting to grips with something different than I’ve ever played), the controls were kept simple, as was, well, everything else. Click on something to eat it/use it/fuck it, depending on if you’re set to nice or dickhead mode. And that’s pretty much how the whole game plays out, even when you evolve to the tribal, civilisation and space stages.

Having said all that, and the admiration of the simplicity of Spore, I do think that called Spore very flat is perfectly reasonable. While I personally believe that all the needs and desires of Sims is a perfect way to introduce OCD to any given nation; the lack of pretty much everything other than a health meter at any given stage seems like a let down best described by remembering the first time you got Sky TV, then looking through a year later and realising there isn’t really that much on offer. Sure it’s fantastic to start with, and you can never imagine getting tired of it… but sooner or later you’ll realise all you’re doing with your time is neglecting the few friends you have in order to watch repeats of shit 80’s sitcoms and wondering why none of the few hundred channels you pay for shows Star Trek anymore.

Hindsight has once again proven itself to be a cynic’s most powerful weapon, but until I actually reach that level of boredom, repetition and general melancholy, I’m pretty determined to enjoy Spore and the trouser-tightening feeling I get from being given the power to condemn not only a single person, family or even city to hell and damnation; but instead given the power to make a whole alien race’s entire existence incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient (such as locating said alien’s arse directly about it’s head).

I may at one point try the extreme lifestyle choices – pussyfied vs. the borg – but I’d rather delay it because I seriously doubt these choices work nearly as well as Fable, which for me still has massive replay value even today. Much in the same way that I still love DS9.

Should your short term memory be functional, you’ll have no doubt noticed a recurring Star Trek theme, but what can you expect from a game that gives me the option of making an alien race, then eventually letting me make a galactic empire with the option of designing their space ships? Yeah, I thought so. I’d like to see anyone who made it to the space stage of Spore and still hasn’t made anything the resembles something from a Sci-Fi series/movie. When I find this person, I can bring him to the Manchester University’s science department and have them disembowelled, studied and used as proof of life on other planets.

I’m really just waiting for the Event Horizon piloted by Care Bears.

Battlefield Bad Company

Before you start sending me unsavoury messages regarding the punctuality of this review, might I remind you that first and foremost, I don’t get paid to do this. I get paid to stand around a shop all day selling expensive things to people who don’t earn a penny they spend – and with a lack of windows, I’ve actually forgot what the sun looks like. I should also inform you at this point that I wrote a charming piece regarding nightclubs about a month ago, because I couldn’t be arsed writing this review earlier. Incidentally, fuck me, I’ve been really lazy…

Over the course of the last twelve months, I’ve played some decent (note: “decent” as in “nothing special but not actually bad”) FPS’s, some really good FPS’s, and some FPS’s that disappointed me to say the least. Actually, that’s a lie; Halo 3 and Frontlines: Fuel of War were decent, COD 4 was brilliant but I don’t dare play it online from the sheer volume of dickheads I encounter who play it, and pretty much everything else constitutes a big steaming dump on the latrine that is the current games industry.

I’ve also seen some good ideas in FPS’s this year, and more importantly, I’ve watched them fall apart on screen, jump out of the screen and slap me in the bollocks with a great big battered haddock; see Turning Point that FAILED to combine FPS action with some limited 3rd person exploration, and was pretty determined to look like a burnt arse, overshadowing the “what if” scenario which became my favourite after watching that episode of Enterprise. There was also Haze that decided it wanted me to be the whiny hero, when I’d personally rather be the biggest drug-fuelled badass known to man.

My theory of games is that they are supposed to let you do things you’re too much of a wuss to do in real life, for example using GTA 4 to climb to the top of the not-empire-state building with full health, firing a rocket the wall and watching Niko plummet to his fiery and infinitely painful fate, all in the knowledge that even if you don’t crush someone with your charred corpse, you’ll at least give someone a hell of a show. Another would be repeatedly shooting your team mate in the face whenever he (because you don’t know any girls) does anything stupid. As a gamer, in reality, when someone throws a brick at you head you’re more likely to run off home rather than start hurling insults.

Now then, the interesting thing about Battlefield that made me bother to actually remember it’s name can be outlined in the tried and tested phrase “blow shit up”. If you show me any FPS that will let me level the world around me with grenades and tanks, then I probably wont even notice if it looks like a burnt arse; I’ll be too busy landscaping. If you then prove to me that it looks very good while doing so and that I can eventually go to war in a golf cart, there’s little you can do to fuck the whole thing up.

As such, Battlefield: Bad Company has landed me in an awkward spot, chiefly because it’s bloody hard to be funny when talking about a game I’ve genuinely enjoyed. Sure, at first the aiming sensitivity feels far too high, but after a few minutes it’s perfect. I remember playing Battlefield on the original Xbox, and being wooed by the interesting and diverse environments (I’ve still not had a good fire fight in the snow since), and there was also of course the awesome flying camera whenever you switched character.

Upon reflection, my critical eye has come into play… for some reason, in Bad Company, you are one soldier in a group of four, and there’s no switching classes or awesome flying cameras. There’s also no denying that you’re in a battlefield, as the name suggests. Hang on, no you’re fucking not, you’re in a massive (but very pretty) field, with a few enemies dotted around in buildings which make up about 1% of the whole map and you spend an entirely unnecessary charging up and down said field finding these few berks dumb enough to hang around in pairs. But at least when you get there you can just blow the living shit out of anything you see, and watch rubble rain down all over your triumphant erection.

There’s also one confusing little factor I still can’t get my head around… in Bad Company, America is fighting Russia, which is fair enough, America usually fights Russia in games and movies. BUT! What the hell are they fighting over in Bad Company? It seems to be set in the present day, so no one’s trying to say it’s the Cold War, but there’s absolutely no indication as to why the FUCK you’ve been caught up in this quibble that I assure you will cost you your life on multiple occasions. Which brings me to another issue. There is absolutely no punishment for dying. Someone turns you into a lead sculpture of your former self, then you and your team immediately respawn about 20 feet away with everything exactly as it was when you died a few seconds ago. Even if you drop a grenade while surrounded, you’ll immediately respawn, but every enemy caught in the blast will be suspiciously absent.

Maybe someone’s just trying to say US health care kicks ass?

There are also collectables… which seem to do nothing other than exacerbate any OCD tendencies you already have, although I could be wrong, maybe you unlock them in multiplayer. Unfortunately as you may be aware already, I only get hold of most of these games for about a week, so I was busy ploughing (hehe) through the single player campaign. I have one final line of praise to sing of Bad Company, and that is that the vehicles are actually fun to drive – which is a bit sad, seeing as having fun driving sections seems to be about as easy as pissing out boulders.

Now that’s out of the way I’ve got one more bone to pick. The story of Bad Company quickly deviates from Russia vs. USA, which is just as well seeing as it wasn’t explained anyway; then you and your squad accidentally piss off the US army, go rogue and start stealing gold off mercenaries. There’s nothing wrong with this story, but there is that fact that you can quite easily finish the game without collecting a single bar of gold yourself, seeing as one is stolen in a cutscene which triggers the plot. Considering this is quite an important part of the story, I have to ask why the bloody Moses isn’t there something in place to encourage you to collect it yourself, other than the twang of an electric guitar?