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9:21 AM on 07.04.2011

Video game pitches for Willem Dafoe



Over the past two decades, Willem Dafoe has seemingly done it all in the world of film. So much so that recent episodes of Podtoid have resorted to dreaming up new, whimsical movie concepts for him to star in. However, with video games out-performing the movie industry for several years running, surely we can think of a few money spinning projects for him to take centre stage in a more polygonal environment.

So without further ado (and because I've just realized I haven't posted a blog in ages) I bring you video game pitches for everybody's favorite green goblin, Willem Dafoe.



As the video game industry desperately tries to squeeze money out of anything and everything they can, HD remakes of older games can still gain a surprising amount of popularity. Occasionally, the remake even threatens to surpass the success of the original. For that reason, my first video game pitch for Willem Dafoe is not a new game at all, rather, a remake of a long forgotten classic.

That's because, this holiday season, Willem Dafoe will star in Cybermorph HD, a high definition remake of the cult classic Atari Jaguar title. Taking the original 64-bit game from 1993 and dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, Willem Dafoe takes a prominent (and at times, dictatorial) role as holographic intelligence agent, Skylar.

Willem Dafoe's dynamic range will bring new depth to the much loved phrase "where did you learn to fly" as you command the Transmogriffon across countless barren landscapes. Move in full 360 degrees of motion as you soar aimlessly through the sky collecting pods for some reason.

Staying true to the original title is of paramount importance to the developers, with the original levels all being recreated in stunning HD 1080p graphics. Willem Dafoe lends his vocal and acting credentials to the character of Skylar, breathing new life into the bright green floating head at the corner of the screen.

Join forces with your semi-transparent friend to shoot, barrel roll, morph and cluelessly meander your way through five epic levels to save the entire galaxy from self-defecation.

Cybermorph HD comes to Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network this fall.



When games get stuck in development hell, they tend to go through numerous alterations and re-designs before production finally gets underway. Ultimately, the finished article normally ends up sucking tremendously large balls (of steel) and disappoints far more than it enthralls. The following game seems to be slowly approaching the same fate. However, with the help of international movie star, Willem Dafoe, it might just be able to turn the corner and become something great.

On 12/12/12, gamers the world over will return to a stark city metropolis inhabited by runners, shiny red objects and an oppressive police force in EA's newest AAA title, Mirror's Edge 2: Back in the Habit.

Starring Willem Dafoe as grizzled courier veteran, Kismet, Mirror's Edge 2: Back in the Habit will utilize a refined version of the Frostbite 2 engine to bring Dafoe's weathered features straight to your living room at a mind blowing 30fps. Guiding returning character Faith along her path for redemption following the events of the first game, Kismet acts as something of a level headed mentor whenever Faith's vengeance fueled rage bests her.

The Murtaugh to her Riggs, if you will.

Over the course of their lengthy first person scramble across various cityscapes, they eventually teach each other the value of their contrasting views. WIth Dafoe's character learning to become more daring and audacious than he starts off as, while Faith eventually starts to reign in her grand plans for out and out revolution. Eventually Faith learns that acceptance is considerably better than the 'persona non grata' she has become with the intensification of project icarus.

Then they have sex..…poorly animated, pixelated, awkward looking sex that would make the limp excuse for relations featured in Heavy Rain look like clips from videobox. And then the credits would roll and there will be much rejoicing, for our minds would be truly blown.



Shifting gears for a moment to talk about Japanese RPGs, which have long been derided for having terrible english voice actors once the games eventually make their way overseas. Listening to some of the "vocal talent" literally makes me want to go 'Van Gogh' and lop off an ear or three to stop the ongoing assault on my brain.

But that would be cutting the ears to spite the face, and that course of action is just stupid since we have the dulcet tones of Willem Dafoe to save us like Chris Jericho saved WWE back in 2007. Instead of trying to launch a brand new IP in such a crowded marketplace, what I propose is for Willem Dafoe to feature in an existing franchise in order to revitalize a stagnating genre.

For that reason (and that reason only) I humbly present to you Dafoena, or to use its proper full title, Shin Megami Tensei: Dafoena. Other recent SMT: Persona titles explored the possibilities of using summoned personae to fight great evil. Persona 3 had kids fighting monsters inside a twisted version of their own school while Persona 4 featured people sucked into an alternate reality via their television sets. In Dafoena, developer ATLUS sets the bar higher than ever before.

You play as the non-speaking protagonist who happens to be a student of a method acting college. Bored with his day to day life within the close knit community, the protagonist tries to branch out from traditional Japanese cinema by watching foreign films in his spare time.

During an overnight screening of Roadhouse 66, the protagonist is transported into the world of cinema, before awakening his power to summon…..Willem Dafoe. During the course of the game, more and more students develop this skill, enabling them to summon all manner of famous apparitions.

Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith, The Chuckle Brothers, Russell Crowe, Madonna, Keenan & Kel, the cast of Glee, Helen Mirren and Mel Gibson are just a handful of the a-list stars that are completely unassociated with this project.

To save on numerous exorbitant appearance fees, players will be able to summon different versions of Willem Dafoe based upon the characters he has played during his illustrious career. From Virgil Cole (Flight of the Intruder) to the rebellious Vance (The Loveless) and even including his portrayal of Jesus in the 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. Take that Final Fantasy. Aeons, shit-ons more like.



The final Willem Dafoe pitch is probably the most plausible. With Capcom dry humping our wallets into dust with hundreds of overpriced DLC add ons, I think one more won't seem too out of place. Introducing Dafoe vs Capcom for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

After dominating stage and screen since time began, Willem Dafoe charges into the fighting arena to gain valuable research for his next film role. There were plenty of organizations vying for Willem's signature, but in the end, he smartly decided to challenge every single Capcom character ever created.

Mini games include punching a car until it explodes, weight lifting, kicking an elderly gentleman until he explodes and the Michael Vick Invitational Dog Fight™ that totally didn't happen even though all evidence points to the contrary.

Post release, there will be a mountain of DLC available to our loyal fans. Alternative outfits, palette swaps and truck loads of accessories will all be downloadable for a ridiculous amount of your hard earned money. Given the nature of this title, Capcom will also see fit to design hundreds of brand new characters to provide even more resistance to the captivating force of Dafoe.

Be sure to look out for more information at the Tokyo Game Show later this year.

-----

Well there we have it. Proof that the undeniable acting prowess of WIllem Dafoe knows no bounds and translate very easily into the diverse world of video games. Whether or not developers will latch on to any of these ideas (unfortunately) remains to be seen.

Oh well, it's their loss......philistines.   read


8:33 AM on 04.25.2011

Aaamaazing: A Thousand Suns



One of the most hotly discussed topics in gaming is the touchy subject of quality, to the point where die-hard fans will vehemently defend a title. Regardless of whether or not the game is a runaway success or a quickly forgotten debacle, quality will always be debated for long after the release date.

It's also fair to say that the quality of any game is, by & large, very subjective. Review articles are the mere legible (or, at times, visual) representation of someone's opinion and experience with a title. Scores derived from such critique exist only to provide a general overview to the tone of a review.

Of course, the fallout that can occur when a 'good' game receives a 'bad' score is often the catalyst for the masses to set their sights on shooting the messenger. Complaints of bias or incompetence fill the air when, in fact, all that happened was a simple difference of opinion.

When writing about a game I felt was amazing (or should that be 'aaamaazing') I do so based on the quality of my experience. The praise I continue to heap upon this title is garnered from the joy I've had playing for countless hours with friends, family and by myself.

Is it the greatest game I've ever played? Not really, as Final Fantasy IX will always hold a special place in my heart for reasons I've already explained. Is it the best game in it's genre? Again, not really, as there have been plenty of games that have surpassed it in terms of gameplay.

What we have here is a game that doesn't so much push the envelope foreword as it does repackage existing gameplay elements to provide a solid, fun filled experience. Nestled in between all the current day 'AAA' titles lies a game that still manages to amaze and astound today as it did way back in 1993.



Streets of Rage II was a game that amazed (sorry, aaamaazed…) me from the moment I first laid eyes on it. After a chance purchase of a gaming magazine (the expensive, old school kind that came packaged with a VHS tape) I instantly knew I had to buy it. I would play the tape over and over again in constant awe of what I was seeing.

Everything about the game, from the fluid graphics to the sheer amount of things happening on-screen left me in stunned silence. Replaying the promotional video allowed me to spot all manner of oddities and intricacies, like throwing enemies into one another to effortlessly cause damage to both. Jumping at the perfect time in order to dodge an electrified whip sent your way by lithe ladies of the night. Or seeing that gigantic wrestler Max walked so slowly, it was actually far quicker to use his dash attack and slide along the floor when moving through non-combative parts of the level.

The gameplay was simple but the experience was euphoric, as I sat there watching all manner of thugs, goons, punks, wretches & kings get annihilated. Fueling the action is a classic tale of revenge. Adam (a character from the first game) has been kidnapped by the nefarious Mr X. As his criminal influence spreads across the city, four friends unite to work towards common goals. Rescuing their mate with a penchant for yellow vests and bringing Mr X one step closer to pixelated death.

As I counted down the days to the game's release, I began to hear faint whisperings of dissent from friends. "Oh, it's just copying Final Fight!" some would say, while others commented on other aspects like the fact it was on the SEGA Genesis (most people I knew at the time favored Nintendo systems) or that they were nowhere near as enthralled by footage of the game as I was. Once the cartridge was in my hands I was initially quite surprised, not by what the game contained, but what it was devoid of.



One of the cool things missing from Streets of Rage II is the ability to call for police backup, which was a prominent feature from the first game. SEGA replaced these limited use callouts with new special attacks you could use whenever you want. Though the sight of a bazooka wielding policeman making it rain fire with you, somehow, unscathed was pretty awesome, I think it worked out for the best.

Some of the enemies (particularly the bosses) just don't stay down when they hit the floor. Their powerful attacks and extended health bars made them formidable foes on all but the easiest of difficulty levels.

To remedy this a little, each character had access to two special attacks utilizing the 'A' button on the Genesis controller. The first had a small area of effect; hitting enemies both directly in front and behind to allow some degree of crowd control. The second tended to be a multi-hit attack that only struck those you were facing at the time.

There was also a modicum of strategy involved in proceedings, because using the special attacks actually drained your health slightly. Each time you used a combo attack your character would take some damage whereas the crowd control attacks only punished your health meter if you actually hit someone with it. A simple gameplay mechanic, but one which amplified the tension whenever you found yourself close to death. If the health penalty of using a special attack was enough to kill you, they were stripped from your repertoire until your demise.



While it was much easier to run through the game alone in about an hour or so, the greatest experience Streets of Rage II offers is the chance to team up with a friend. There are only a handful of changes made to the game when a second player enters the fray - there are a few more enemies and health pickups, for instance - but even this is fraught with intrigue.

Obviously you were both working to the same end, however, an intense level of rivalry and camaraderie remained. Never before or since has a game managed to marry these two elements so seamlessly. Playing a two player session always brought out the best (and worst) in people.

On the surface, you were allies and as such, constantly looking out for each other. Every few screens contained smidgins of micro-management. Do you take the health pickup or leave it for them? How many points does the other player have? Who deserves that extra life hidden behind the truck on stage 2? Does my partner need to step their game up, or am I the one not pulling their weight?

However, the allure of an impressive hi-score meant that, after just a few rounds of Streets of Rage II, even the greatest of real life tag teams could end up destroyed from the inside out. Banter and bickering amongst teammates sometimes threatened to upstage the on-screen action as players tried to stake their claim for illusive item pickups.



Nostalgia has the funny tendency of making you remember just the good parts and leave out all the rest. Things like glitches, untimely deaths and moments of such frustration that joypads spontaneously gained the capability of flight, will always pale in comparison to the good bits.

Perhaps that much is true, and due to this, a certain amount of tinting can be applied when casting an observing glance on yesteryear. The radiance and luster of a title may start to wane as time goes on, but what remains ever present and untainted, is the quality of the experience.

In the end, it doesn't even matter how 'good' or 'bad' a game is metacritic-wise. So long as the ratio of positive and negative experiences is skewed towards the former, surely its possible for people to enjoy any title. The reason I find Streets of Rage II so amazing has surprisingly little to do with the game itself and more to do with the influx of great times I've had and shared over the years.

While there were plenty of other games that featured multiplayer modes, Streets of Rage II was my first co-operative experience where both players were treated as equals. Prior to this, the second player never seemed to emerge from player one's all encompassing shadow. They were forever consigned to being the tail gunner. The Robin to P1's Batman, so to speak. The Rodney to player one's Del Boy or (perhaps more poignantly, given the era) the Miles Prower to their Sonic The Hedgehog.



For me, this was both liberating and empowering, all at the same time. Teaming up with others originally felt like I was breaking the habit of a lifetime but, truth be told, I eventually began to enjoy co-op play more than the single-player game. The overarching sense of teamwork Streets of Rage II can create remains unmatched, although recent games like The Warriors, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and even Borderlands definitely get close to it.

Nowadays, games (and to a lesser extent, gamers) have given up on their co-operative nature of the past, in favor of individual acts of valor and distinction. Even the biggest names in multiplayer gaming today are still crawling towards the advocacy of personal accolades like kill/death ratios and killstreaks, as opposed to rewarding the efforts of your team or chosen clan en-masse.

Teamwork, it seems, has become a lot more selfish than it used to be…

And I suppose that is the reason why I find Streets of Rage II so aaamaazing. Because, it is only when you strip away all that is superficial that you realize what endears. Much of my very early gaming experiences (as you may have already guessed) were spent as the afore mentioned tail gunner, so you can imagine how exciting it was to be considered 'part of the team' for once.

For me, this newfound sense of 'esprit de corps' helped form the foundation of my gaming sentience. It filled the empty spaces of my overtly egocentric mindset, replacing it with a much more selfless attitude.

Looking back at what I've done over the years, I find it impressive such a game could instill so much in such a short space of time. Gently pushing me away from solitude, into the arms of multiplayer.

For that, I remain truly amazed.   read


1:07 PM on 02.25.2011

Groundhog Day: The Dark Side of the Moon



When it comes to the ever expanding world of video games, the variety and intricacy of our experiences continues to unfurl over time. The more games I play, the more I notice how developers attempt to eclipse the efforts of all those who went before them. Captivating stories, great graphics and elaborate set-pieces are just a few of the things that raise precariously high hopes before any money has been spent.

Were you one of the few who shed a single tear at the end of Shadow of the Colossus? Did leaping from ridiculously tall buildings in Mirror's Edge bring with it a sense of fearlessness? Maybe earning a few killstreaks in Black Ops felt empowering as you laid waste to the opposing team, only to have one of those annoying RC cars shatter your illusions of grandeur a few moments later?

It's exactly these types of experiences that developers are keen to fill their games with; the emotions derived from them being an unavoidable (albeit, welcome) afterthought. We play video games because we like them, yet we play them repeatedly because of those evocative feelings they can provide.

So what game could possibly be deemed worthy of my 'Groundhog Day' selection? Such a title would need to accomplish much more than cause me to give birth to a smile every now and then. Not only would the game need to be of undeniable quality, it would also have to instill similar positive sentiments long after the initial novelty has worn thin. For me, there could be only one winner.

Allow me to present for your consideration, a game with two names, two main characters, a time-traveling douche-bag and an epic journey to save the world. I'm of course talking about Dark Chronicle, or as the Americans called it, Dark Cloud 2.



The main characters lives are, quite literally, poles apart. Upon witnessing the murder of her father mere seconds after the games opening, Monica utilizes an ancient pendant (a Moon Stone) to travel back in time like a T-1000. Her aim is to put a stop to the tyrannical reign of a man called Emperor Griffon, who has decided to forego the normal rules of engagement for something much more underhanded.

After gaining control of the immensely powerful Sun Stone, Griffon begins rewriting history to suit his will. By sending his minions back in time, Griffon is able to successfully kill off everyone capable of mounting any form of resistance against his regime.

Meanwhile, Maximilian eschews his noble upbringing, preferring to spend time with a wily inventor named Cedric. Max's days are largely uneventful and leaving the secluded town of Palm Brinks is something he constantly yearns for. His desire is compounded somewhat by the unexplained disappearance of his mother several years ago.

Max's quaint and peaceful life is soon turned upside down with the arrival of the ever-so-slightly mental Flotsam and his circus troupe. Using the masquerade of an actual performance, Flotsam is overheard interrogating the town's mayor with regards to an artifact (the Earth Stone) he needs to find. As fate would have it, the stone has been in Max's possession all along; nonchalantly adorning his neck as part of a chain his father gave him several days prior.

Thus begins their adventure.



With Maximilian on the run from Flotsam's goons and Monica scouring the now desolate landscape for signs of life, the pair eventually meet outside the walls that encircle Max's home town. It is at this point that Dark Chronicle begins to open up, revealing a game far more intricate and detailed than first meets the eye.

Most RPGs focus on the core experience of killing a plethora of monsters using elaborate and somewhat oversized weaponry. You'll normally watch a cutscene or two, before letting loose the dogs of war yet again. However, Dark Chronicle was considerably better than most RPGs.

To say that Dark Chronicle provided a multifarious experience would be putting it mildly due to the fact that many of the "side quests" could almost be considered games in their own right. What Level-5 got right was their decision to interweave these disparate gameplay modes as much as possible.

For example, the process of inventing new weapons and items involves Max collating several ideas and creating something based upon them. With the use of a camera, it is possible to generate ideas by taking pictures of anything that exists in the game world. The camera even worked during the randomly generated dungeons, as specific monster attacks could also be used as the basis for an invention.

Speaking of dungeons, they too were the setting for more than just random acts of violence. Once the roars of monsters had been reduced to mere echoes, you could happily spend even more time there. Firstly, there's the delightful yet challenging golf-like mini game called 'Spheda' where one slip up ruined your chances of success more often than not.

The goal was rather simple, to clear numerous time distortions by launching a ball of energy at it. Additional challenge stemmed from the ball changing color whenever it hit a solid surface and completion requiring a ball and distortion of opposing color to attract one to the other.

In certain areas you could even cast your line and go fishing, leaving your hands comfortably numb as you lay in wait for a wide variety of aquatic creatures. When you're in luck, you can choose to keep fish in an aquarium. You can feed them, breed them and eventually enter fish into competitive race events.



All of these different ventures helped augment an interesting world already replete with places to go and things to do. Level-5 (as they always do, it seems) have done a fantastic job crafting a game that is as whimsical as it is believable. Just as outlandishly funny as it is gravely serious and every bit as straightforward as it is intricate.

For some intangible reason, I consider Level-5 games to have a certain special charm all of their own. There are other RPGs, there are better RPGs; but I find time spent playing a Level-5 game is always an experience to be savored long after the event.

On a technical level, Dark Chronicle featured cel-shaded graphics that were rarely used at the time. I thought that this very stylized look reinforced the sense of adventure and discovery. With the vast majority of games heading towards a more realistic approach, Dark Chronicle really stood out.

Not only can you spend time in awe of the world the developers have made, you can also try to eclipse their feats by using the Georama mode to build a small town or two. Dark Chronicle provides you with more than enough empty spaces to realize your dreams. In order to restore the cities of the future, Max and Monica must rebuild the crumbling land of the present.

Although you're given an increasing number of guidelines and restrictions, there's actually a surprising amount of breathing room to make whatever the hell you want. Plant some trees here, there and everywhere, or build a house and paint the roof any color you like. Once finished, you could then jump to the future to see what (if any) effect your creative streak had.



Over the years I've gone back to Dark Chronicle many times and even now I find it difficult to remember a day with the game that I haven't totally enjoyed. My paranoid eyes may continue to scan the internet for details of the much rumored third installment. But should it not materialize any time soon, I don't mind biding my time with the second game for a while longer.

Somewhat befitting of a game featuring countless jumps back and forth through the ages as part its plot, Dark Chronicle stands the test of time by continually punching above its weight. Occasionally, while playing, I'm genuinely lost for words; thoughts of developers not making games like they used to, being a reoccurring riposte to the 'AAA' blockbusters of today.

And in some ways I suppose that much is true, games aren't made as they were before. With gaming much more mainstream than it ever was, developer's continued pursuit of the 'casual' audience may start burning bridges to the 'core' who have been here all along. Gaming nowadays is big business and many have been accused of dumbing things down or creating a path of flimsy resistance in order to appeal to the broadest range of demographics.

In Dark Chronicles we have a game that remains steadfast in its status as an action RPG while still adding a lot of other gameplay elements that compliment - rather than dilute - the main experience. One of these days, someone will make a more complete RPG experience than this. Yet Dark Chronicle brings so much to the table and pulls it off so well that I think we will have a very long and arduous wait before that happens.   read


3:43 PM on 02.07.2011

Microsoft blamed for XBLA shopping spree...



Over the years I've come to expect poorly researched, sensationalist articles from the Daily Mail but a recently published story really takes the cake. As seen on their website earlier today, eleven year old Brendan has racked up debts of over £1,000 GBP (roughly $1,600 USD) in the space of six months buying all manner of content and services from Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace.

The boy's mother, Dawn Matthews, is understandably furious. It's just a shame then, that her angst is directed not towards her vacuous son, but towards the Redmond based technology giant.

Yep, it's apparently Microsoft's fault that he was allowed to spend that much money…



Now, far be it for me to be the voice of reason here but, isn't it impossible for child accounts to purchase content on XBL without first changing some parental settings somewhere? Furthermore, isn't it against the Xbox Live Terms & Conditions for someone under the age of 13 to use an Xbox Live account without the supervision of an adult?

I hate to sound like Michael Cole but here is a brief section of said Terms & Conditions…and I quote:

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5.  Your Service account, associated accounts and accounts from third parties.

If you allow or enable a minor to use your Service account or an associated account, then:

• You represent that you are the parent or legal guardian of each such minor;

• You acknowledge that you are aware that some features of the Service, and some content available through the Service may contain or expose users to material that is unsuitable for minors, and you agree to supervise usage by minors whom you permit to use the Service. The Service is not intended for use by children under 13, except together with a parent or other adult supervision;

You acknowledge that we offer “Family Settings” on the Service and the Xbox 360 console, and also offer “Parental Controls” for Windows Vista and Windows 7, that are intended to help you limit access to material that may be unsuitable for minors.  By applying Family Settings to an associated account at sign-up, you may, among other things, help to prevent any user of an associated account from making additional purchases and from having access to voice and video chat, which is intended to diminish the ability of such user to communicate with other users.  You may view or revise your Family Settings in the “My Xbox” area of your Xbox 360 console, or by logging into your account on www.xbox.com.  Additional information about Family Settings is available at www.xbox.com; and

• You are responsible for any material to which a user of your subscription either gains or is denied access (including as a result of your use or non-use of Family Settings or Parental Controls).   You acknowledge that use of Family Settings, Parental Controls, or both, is not a substitute for your personal supervision of your minor children or minors for whom you are the legal guardian.

-----

The Daily Mail article (as you've no doubt of guessed) almost disregards this completely, choosing instead, to focus on various soundbites from the aggrieved parent.

'It is ridiculous to allow someone of his age to make payments without any checks being done.' said Ms Matthews, adding 'It is impossible to monitor everything your children do. These companies should take some responsibility. They take advantage of vulnerable people.'

One of the biggest cases of buyers remorse actually started over a year ago when Dawn Matthews willingly entered her debit card details onto her son's account in order to extend his Xbox Live Gold subscription. As a result of childish cunning or sheer bone idleness, Dawn never bothered to remove them afterwards, allowing Brendan to spend his mother's money.

At the moment, the situation is in something of a stalemate, with her bank and Microsoft both blaming each other for the transactions. Even though the tone of this blog post seems very one sided, I do genuinely feel bad for Ms Matthews having to repay all that fabulous moolah. However, this is definitely a situation where even a little bit of common sense would have gone a very long way.

Hmm, at least Brendan learnt his lesson, isn't that right Dawn…

'I haven't punished him because he feels bad enough and I know he won't do it again.'

Oh, for f*cks sake...



Never let it be said that Destructoid is incapable of serious and informative content. After mere seconds spent deep in meditation, I believe I've come up with the perfect set of tips and tricks to prevent this tragedy from befalling another family. I will dispense this advice...now.

Tip One: Don't have kids...
Think about it. If Dawn was living alone, none of this would have happend. The entire situation would then have been akin to an overweight person suing McDonalds for making them fat...oh wait.

Tip Two: Remove your card details
Straight up common sense here. You don't want your kids spending your money on XBLA or PSN? Remove your card details from their account. You may have to call customer services, but the price of that phone call is going to be considerably less than £1,000.

Tip Three: Use pre-paid cards
Both XBLA and PSN utilise pre-paid cards with codes that can be entered in exchange for credit (or service membership like Xbox Live Gold or PSN+) in their respective stores. Thus, there's actually no need what-so-ever to enter any debit/credit card details in at all.

Tip Four: Discipline
The fact that Dawn refuses to attribute any blame towards her son speaks volumes in my book. Had she taken charge of Brendan's online misdemeanors and read him the riot act beforehand, surely he would have been less likely to spend £1,000 on DLC, avatar clothing, Justin Bieber songs, games on demand, porn on demand, Xbox Live Gold subscriptions and God knows what else?

Well, there you have it. A mildly amusing story and some information we knew already. Happy days.   read


1:42 PM on 01.14.2011

2010 Sucked: Money Money Money



In these difficult economic times, the importance of money has been brought to the attentions of all but the most wealthy of individuals. We're all feeling the pinch and starting to be a little more conservative in the way we go about our business. With less disposable income in our pockets, it's understandable that gamers are less likely to spend their cash at the drop of a hat and are more inclined to wait for the inevitable sale, discount or bargain bin relegation before picking up a game they were interested in.

However, without our money, more and more game developers will be forced to downsize their operations or close their doors like Realtime Worlds.

With the demands of a thousand shareholders hanging above their heads like a metaphorical noose, those developers who are still in business have stepped up their pursuit of the almighty dollar. If there was one reason 2010 sucked, it was how games nowadays seem to be structured very differently than before, in order to be able to sell you some DLC as quickly and easily as possible.

The name of the game is "monetization"



Our wallets and purses have been under attack for a long time now but never more so than last year. Developers slowly started to figure out new ways to either create new revenue streams or monetize features which were previously free.

No matter what game I purchased in 2010, it always felt like developers were holding something back. It was as though they intentionally withheld content from each game only to give themselves an opportunity to sell it back to me for a premium price.

It felt that way because that's exactly what they did...

Generally speaking, the class of 2010 were quite muted experiences to say the least. In the back of my mind I knew that, no sooner had I started a new game, the developers would emerge once again, attempting to sell me another level, another town, another train, mission or map pack. Of course, by this time, chances are I was already enthralled. The arrival of more content was seen as a blessing; shrouded ever so briefly as my bank card groaned under the strain of yet more non-refundable transactions.



Buying regular DLC releases for games I was already head over heels in love with, came at the cost of purchasing more actual games. Story centric titles like Mass Effect 2 had me playing for ages and I bought all the available DLC without a second thought; the exact same thing could be said about games like Skate 3, Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas and Enslaved.

The biggest issue for me is one of accomplishment. 2010 was filled with so many hollow victories due to developers arbitrarily extending their products well past the point of sale. Completing a game and viewing the end credits always brought with it feelings of disillusion, and in turn, the realization that my experiences with the game were never as complete as I'd hoped.

I could go on and on and on about how DLC is corrupting the industry but it isn't, not really. Companies trying to create new revenue streams is nothing new, I just wish developers weren't so brazen about continually fleecing their customers left, right and centre.

2010 sucked because the nickel and dimming started to get out of hand.



With project ten dollar in full effect, we now know that buying new tends to provide you with the code you need to play online or even have access to any future DLC. Those second hand games might look as good as new, but the marked prices are now quite deceptive. More and more games are adopting the 'online pass' ideology; restricting multiplayer and access to DLC for people who buy pre-owned.

Buying new is also a potential minefield at times, with certain publishers (mentioning no names…Activision) deciding to artificially inflate the price of popular games that are destined to make the cash registers ring ring with excitement.

Then there's the DLC which, more often than not, finishes (or at least expands upon) the plot from the game. When I've enjoyed playing a game, I almost feel compelled to purchase any sizable DLC that is made available for it. Not only do I get to play my favorite games for a little while longer, I also end up getting the full experience, possibly shedding new light on characters I thought I knew.

The issue comes when you like a lot of games, as I did last year. Were it only one or two high profile titles a year that charged for extra content, I probably wouldn't have much of an issue with it. But gaming is big business nowadays, and as part of that expansion, just about every game released has some type of ecosystem in place to monetize current and future endeavors.



When all is said and done, 2010 saw the fruition of mass market monetization within the video game industry. So long and constant was the barrage of micro-transactions in 2010 that the process of buying a game was barely recognizable to me anymore.

Nowadays, developers are starting to use the games they create as their own personal storefronts; bereft of tact, yet constantly awash with merchandise. The longer I played the games I love, the more opportunities developers had to sell me the missing 10-20% of the game I already bought. As money began slipping through my fingers all the time I kept playing, 2010 felt like a constant cash grab.

Sure, I was never forced to buy anything, and love isn't easy to maintain in an industry where allegiances can drastically change over time. But video games are fast garnering a well deserved reputation for delivering exciting, encapsulating and (at times) thought provoking content on a regular basis.

As developers seek to make their games as episodic (and therefore, profitable) as possible, the quality of the core experience may continue to dwindle to the point of stultification.

Because of this, 2010 can be singled out as the year when the experience of playing video games became considerably more partitioned than the storage media required to run them.   read


11:31 AM on 12.31.2010

Happy Holidays: The Small Print



One of my childhood gaming memories revolves around the simple act of buying games and the rigmarole I was destined to go through each time. Way back then, (pocket) money was an extremely powerful commodity. Going off to make a purchase became a glorious occasion that I savored long after the event, as I always experienced the thing that left me feeling good at the end of the day.

Allow me to briefly reach into the cave of long forgotten things and bring something, kicking and screaming, back to the forefront for a while. Because time is running out for the small print…



New Born

Almost every new release was met with the same routine. I would wake up early on Saturday morning, have something to eat and head into town. Occasionally, my childish hysteria got the better of me. Thoughts of video games were put on hold as I sought escape from the 'great' British weather.

Once the game was in my hands I would enter a self imposed recess as I would always read the entire instruction manual from cover to cover during the trip back home.

Perhaps it was due to the guiding light they shone upon my purchase that led me to make such an effort to read the manual thoroughly. Back when graphics were still measured in 'bits', the bundled instruction manual often played a dual role at times.

Obviously, it's primary function was to stop you from endlessly falling down dead at the first sign of any meaningful resistance. However, part of the fun I had also came from the story telling and artwork contained within the manual; all of which helped to immerse you in a world defined by pixels and silent protagonists with spiky hair.



Undisclosed Desires

Due (somewhat) to the technical limitations of the consoles from yesteryear, games never tended to feature a tutorial at the beginning; preferring to throw players in at the deep end instead. Reading through a manual felt like a prerequisite of the game itself. Partially due to the fact that doing so would turn imbeciles invincible in just a few short minutes and also because it stirred the imagination, leaving you much more accepting of the stylized world that lay before you.

Our TV screens were no longer filled with mere pixels or polygons. In their place were heroes rushing into battle to save a shrinking universe from total annihilation. Maybe there's a plumber trying to save a princess from (yet another) castle or even a man in a vest with a penchant for punching strangers in the face and eating entire turkeys without a knife and fork.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that reading through the instruction manual prepared me for the tasks ahead. Not only did I work out what I was meant to do; I also garnered a brief sense of scale, purpose and accountability for my upcoming actions.

Scenes within the game were often granted renewed gravitas due to tidbits of info the manual provided. Not only did you know who to cheer for (and who was long overdue for an ass kicking) but also why you were embarking on such misadventures.

However, as console hardware grew more powerful, manuals started to take a back seat to in-game tutorials and cutscenes. What might have began as an unintended side effect of the increased technical prowess these new machines brought eventually became the norm as the small print fades from view.



Plug In Baby

I'm almost ashamed to say that I don't really read instruction manuals anymore. Even though I used to in the past, I barely see the point of them anymore. Virtually every game nowadays has an arbitrary hand holding section at the beginning, during which the controls of the game along with the mythos behind your adventure are no longer ruled by secrecy after an hour or five.

It's a real shame that a few micro cuts over the years have slowly reduced the instruction manual to a mere pamphlet. What was once an epitome of adventure, mystique and lore is now just a compulsory pack-in; robbed of its former luster and importance.

Reading about video games is something I still enjoy today, albeit a little differently than before. Obviously there's this wonderful place, filled with all manner of news and community hijinks. I also like reading through guide books for the supermassive amount of assistance they provide, as well as the occasional glimpse into how the game was put together via artwork or developer commentaries and interviews.

There are also a number of novels based on video games out there, which seem to be gaining popularity in recent years. Perhaps the small print is here to stay afterall; just in another, much more relevant guise. As 2011 draws ever closer (and as a resolution of sorts) I'm going to go out of my way to find a few good books to read.

Because reading is bliss...am I right?   read


3:27 PM on 12.07.2010

Review: Enslaved - Pigsy's Perfect 10 DLC



"How do you make a friend?" asks a curious Pigsy at the beginning of his adventure. After a few seconds of deliberation, he continues "Well, you don't just start hammering...it's all about the planning...long careful planning"

If only Ninja Theory listened to such pearls of wisdom. Had they done so, Pigsy's Perfect 10 would be an excellent companion to Enslaved: Odyssey of the West; after all, you can't rush quality.



Enslaved: Pigsy's Perfect 10 DLC
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Format: Xbox 360 (Reviewed) & PS3
Release Date: November 23rd, 2010
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00 USD / £6.30 GBP / €9.60 EUR)

The DLC starts off as the porcine vagabond loiters around his scrapyard along with a small robot named Truffles. Running low on things to do (and following an encounter with some elaborately placed junk) Pigsy decides to build himself a friend to break up the monotony of living alone.

With Truffles in tow, Pigsy earmarks three vital components for his new BFF and immediately ventures deep into mech filled territory in order to make his dream a reality. While Perfect 10 has all the hallmarks of another boring fetch quest, the humorous cutscenes and overarching storyline contained within are actually entertaining enough to see through to its conclusion. The lessons Pigsy eventually learns throughout the course of this two hour prequel mission serve him in good stead and go a long way to explaining the motives behind his actions during Enslaved.



Solitary voice actor Richard Ridings does a tremendous job adding some depth to the character, who many (myself included) saw as quite underutilized originally. The script also manages to reach the lofty heights of the main game as Pigsy continually shifts between funny quips and a solemn interior monologue as he strives for companionship.

It's a real shame then, that actually playing Perfect 10 is a lot less enjoyable than just watching the scenes unfold. If Enslaved was a charming game marred by a few technical issues, Perfect 10 somehow manages to exemplify everything that was annoying about Enslaved to the point whereby you'll question how it all went so horribly wrong.



As Monkey and Trip are nowhere to be found, their athleticism and technological prowess respectively has gone out the window too; replaced with the rotund Pigsy, a handful of gadgets and a fistful of bullets.

Pigsy comes equipped with the loudest sniper rifle ever made, the grappling hook he uses in the main game and also an assortment of throwable/droppable devices designed to prevent foes getting close enough to kill you.

Mechs can be distracted with decoys, temporarily stunned with an EMP, blown to smithereens with an explosive mine or even forced to fight by your side for a brief period. As a last resort, you can stun an enemy with a cattle prod-like item when you inevitably get cornered. However, this (and the afore mentioned grenades and mines) have a short recharge time to stop you from spamming them endlessly.

One final trick up Pigsy's sleeve comes in the form of trouble vision. Holding the RB/R1 button covers the once colorful screen with a bright green overlay. The practicality of such a feature doesn't make itself known until you stumble across some enemies and notice they are tagged as red blips, making it painfully obvious where they are.

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Stealth is (obviously) reliant on you staying out of a foe's line of sight and not making too much noise. With mobile robots this generally means giving them a wide berth, skulking behind the cover of a thousand conveniently placed walls. Turrets on the other hand sweep the entire area with a laser, shooting anything that crosses their path.

The problem is that the stealth mechanic on offer here is of the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune variety. Alert just one of the mechs and you'll find yourself immediately set upon by everyone in the area rather than the one/s that actually saw you pass by.

Progress through the nineteen or so mini-chapters is very linear and boils down to basic trial & error gameplay, especially so during the stealth/combat segments. While the difficulty of the early levels is spot on for the most part, some of the later chapters feel very 'cheap' as Pigsy faces off against several waves of enemies before being able to reach the exit.

Replaying a section over and over again is commonplace to the point of genuine frustration at times. It's one thing to die because you did something wrong, but throughout Perfect 10 you'll repeatedly figure out the correct 'modus operandi', only to be quickly overwhelmed by enemies and killed anyway.



I really liked the recharging aspect for all of your gadgets as it really ramps up the tension when traversing the environment. The time it takes each of them to recharge is far slower than the speed at which Pigsy can be discovered and (ultimately) killed, forcing you to raise your game and really think carefully about which gadgets to use and when.

Gadgets work well for the most part, though they suffer from a slightly inconsistent nature. Over the course of two full playthroughs of Perfect 10 (never let it be said chaotical isn't thorough) I've seen distracted enemies continue to shoot me and I've also had befriended enemies forget their newfound allegiance and attack Pigsy instead.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the last of the glitches I witnessed. Following a particularly tense, dramatic and downright enjoyable chase sequence the game proceeded to kill Pigsy mere seconds after a cutscene showing me an overview of the next area. I was totally blindsided and had no chance to react. At least the smart checkpoint system negates the need to replay large swathes of the level over and over again. Checkpoints are plentiful in number and tend to be placed fairly near to the location of your untimely demise.



If anything, the opening chapters of the DLC are the best part as they really showcase everything that's good about it. Solid platforming mixed with a light amount of combat and stealth makes the early going a nice change of pace from the more combat centric Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Pigsy's Perfect 10's biggest failing is that it throws you to the wolves too early and too often, giving you large open areas with little cover and multiple enemies that must be despatched before the next checkpoint is reached. I'd attribute a 'loins' share of the roughly two hour completion time to me going through a section, dying and then having to try it again.



I guess its fair to say the Pigsy's Perfect 10 is a mixed bag, with 3D support for both the DLC and the main game an added bonus. As far as the gameplay is concerned, there are moments of sheer brilliance followed by gripes, annoyances and very cheap deaths. Perhaps the worst part of the experience is that, despite a bunch of tools at your disposal, you never truly gain a sense of confidence in what you're doing.

Playing stealth focused titles like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell or Sly Cooper brought with them a sense of confidence and satisfaction. The consistency of their gameplay mechanics generated a feeling of bravado that carried you through the game. Once you learnt how each of your abilities worked you would often takedown numerous foes rather effortlessly and feel all the better having done so.

Yet, after playing through Perfect 10, it feels as though I've stumbled and meandered my way to it's conclusion. The storyline, cutscenes and voice work are all great, however the gameplay airs on the side of vagary a little too often, resulting in DLC where you feel as though you're fighting against the game itself rather than the enemies it portrays.

7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)   read


11:12 AM on 10.03.2010

10/03 - This week I've been mostly...



Hello everyone and welcome to the thing that inevitably happens every week as I go over a few things I've done, the games I've played and various other thoughts.

Perhaps the most talked about news story of the week was EA doing a complete u-turn; annexing any and all reference to the Taliban from their upcoming game Medal of Honor and calling them the 'Opposing Force' instead. Now, is it just me or does this whole scenario not make much sense? I mean EA aren't changing the character designs or anything, so the 'Opposing Force' are still the Taliban in all but name. They still look like them, they still sound like them and parts of the game are still based in middle-eastern areas like Afghanistan.

Sure, it gets the tabloids off their backs for a few months until the next controversy rears its ugly and misinformed head, but I fear what this means for the relative freedom game developers used to enjoy. Of course, some developers took things a little too far, but the day when a game's content is decided by a mob of people outraged by something they will (probably) never understand will be a sad one indeed.

With that out of the way, lets get started shall we?

So…how have I managed to completely miss several cutscenes? Why have I tried to multi-task in a sports game? Where have I gone that feels remarkably familiar and why is Kit Ballard so damn stupid? Lets go back over the week and relive the best bits from the last seven days.

Because this week I've been mostly…



…assisting the Noble Team

Some of you may remember my seemingly unnatural aversion to first person shooters. Due to this, many great games have passed me by over the years as I shied away from critically acclaimed FPS titles. My shooting 'skills' are nowhere near good enough to pay any 'bills' that might come my way.

However, this week I took the plunge and played the highly rated Halo: Reach. I was quite surprised with the gameplay, as I assumed games like this require the timing and reflexes only a thousand cups of coffee can provide. While people who can headshot opponents from two miles away will likely have a wonderful time, us novices can still meander through the game without too much trouble.

Another aspect of the game that surprised me was the plot. Normally these types of games are not known for their engaging story lines but Halo: Reach had me hooked from the get go. Watching the fate of Noble Team and the colony of Reach provided many memorable moments and I can't wait to complete the final mission.

One thing I haven't tried yet are the various online modes, as I am so not ready for that.



…laughing in the face of stupidity

Kit Ballard has a lot to answer for. Not only is she the star of the decidedly average Blade Kitten, she's also one of the most dense video game characters I've ever come across. After playing through the campaign several times I've finally got a grasp on what's going on.

The game begins with Kit being the victim of a crime. Lara Croft sound-a-like woman steals her 'Breaker Key' and destroys her airship, leaving Kit stranded on a weird planet with nothing but a floating sword for company. What follows is an occasionally enjoyable romp through various levels as you attack endless waves of enemies and collect hidden items that exist for no purpose other than to make you go out of your way and find them.

Attempts at humor tend to fall flat on their face due to the terrible cutscenes. What they lack in cohesion they certainly make up for with a general disregard for common sense. It's rare that you watch a cutscene in the game and know where the plot is going, assuming you actually see them.

I noticed that a few cutscenes can fail to trigger as you can sometimes climb over an area and miss them entirely, not that the dialogue is meaningful or memorable. Kit continually tries to crack wise with sound logic giving way to smart-ass comments, to the detriment of the plot.

On the whole, the game is okay. A very average title with more than a few flaws.



…multi-tasking

Apparently, if there's one thing that men can't do it's multi-tasking. While I can't confess to being too great at juggling scissors while cooking a Sunday roast, I can play football (sorry, "soccer") while barking out orders like a rabid zombified dog-manager bloke.

EA Sports' newest FIFA game FIFA 11 gives you the opportunity to live out your feral dog-manager fantasies with the career mode. At the start, you are given the choice of whether to play the games, manage the team or do both.

Me being me, I decided to be a player-manager; giving me control of the team and allowing me to play an active role in the matches themselves. Gameplay wise, the alterations made to the action force you to alter how you play.

Thanks to the changes, you can't really pass the ball without first thinking about where the receiver is. Applying the correct amount of power is paramount to getting up the pitch, though it can become frustrating once you realize your teammates are completely useless at times. Occasionally, they run into each other; other times they deliberately run into offside positions so you can't pass to them. It gets annoying (so annoying I broke the R1 button on one of my PS3 controllers) but it's manageable if given time.

In terms of progress, my mighty red devils are riding high at the business end of the Premier League in second place. I lost the season opening Community Shield contest on penalties but went on to go unbeaten in seven Premiership games and progressed to the next round of the League Cup.

All without an escort or prostitute in sight…not yet anyway.



…lubricating the gears of change

One of the big surprises from last year was Gearbox Software's RPG/FPS hybrid Borderlands. Promising 'bazillions' of guns, Borderlands delivered hours of madcap shooting mayhem mixed with some light RPG elements that added depth to proceedings.

Since the launch of the game, Gearbox have continued to shower the community with downloadable content. Unfortunately, the newest (and indeed, final) piece of content called New Robot Revolution isn't very good. That said, I'll take any excuse to get me some more Borderlands action.

The areas contained within aren't particularly inspired. Once you've seen one giant trash heap or overtly elaborate military installation, you've seen them all. But the gameplay is the same straightforward fun that filled the main game. I started the first few missions and had a blast.

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Well, that's it from me this week. What on Earth have you been mostly doing?   read


4:00 PM on 09.26.2010

09/26 - This week I've been mostly...



Hello, ladies and gents. Welcome to the thing that I do each week to talk about things I've done and the games I've played. Amongst the various news stories I've read this week, the biggest surprise came with the delay of LittleBigPlanet 2. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm actually part of the ongoing beta (I'm hoping to write an article about it soon) and while there were one or two problems, it didn't seem as though there was anything drastically wrong with the game at this early stage.

LittleBigPlanet 2 was one of several titles I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately, we'll all have to wait a while longer for the full game. Anyway, onto the main event.

So...what game has left me wanting more? How have I changed my computer's performance? Why has an eleven month journey come to an end and what is the gaming equivalent of beige? It's time once again to begin my look back at the week that was.

Because this week I've been mostly...



...attending a boot camp

After the immense clusterfuck known as Windows Vista, I've been a Macintosh user almost exclusively for the last few years. I grew tired of the various glitches, faults, errors and compatibility issues; eventually purchasing a Macbook to get to grips with Apple's OS X. The experience has been pretty damn fantastic, with Snow Leopard only improving things further.

Newer Apple computers have an undeniably awesome feature known as Boot Camp, allowing them to install Windows onto a partition on their hard drives. Since Microsoft has sought to fix some the problems, I figured I'd give Windows 7 a go and see what all the fuss was about.

Given that my laptop would soon have two operating systems, I decided to increase the size of the hard drive before partitioning it and going through with the installation. I lost a few files in the process, but on the whole the process went well. Another added benefit to using Windows is that I'm reunited with software I used to use for video editing. As you may well know already, I occasionally upload videos to YouTube. Due to switching from Windows to Macintosh, I had to change the programs I used for editing. This made the process very long winded, unnecessarily so in my opinion.

Thanks to Sony Vegas (and its ability to understand .M2TS files) it takes much less work to make a video for something like YouTube, and the results look a bit better too. It will take a few more days for me to get used to Windows again, but so far there have been no problems...apart from a file on my Desktop that I can't delete for some reason...but apart from that it's been great.



...managing floating swords

Downloadable games are a dime a dozen nowadays, with numerous releases every week on XBLA and PSN. This week saw me play a game called Blade Kitten and I have no clue what's supposed to be going on. The game stars Kit Ballard as she...does things...in space...or not...with "breakers", a small dog-like animal and a blond woman who tries her hardest to sound like Lara Croft.

You can forgive me for not paying attention to the (rather paper-thin) plot, given the sheer amount of color the game bombards you with from start to finish. Seriously, it feels as though the developers have invented new colors for their game, in order to make it look as gaudy and bright as humanly possible.

Despite the vast amount of colors making a mockery of your senses, when I started playing I realized that Blade Kitten is actually the videogaming equivalent of beige. That is to say that it's not terrible or great, it's just "meh" for lack of a better word.

For a (supposedly) agile cat-person-thing, it took me by surprise to learn just how loose the controls are. It takes a second or two to get up to running speed and changing direction is greeted by Kit sliding all over the place. Combat is relatively weak, with just a handful of enemies and few tactics to call their own. If you're far away, they'll shoot you in the arse; if you get close, they punch you in the face instead.

So what's an agile cat-person-thing to do?

Jump over the gunshots, get in close and lay the smackdown on them before they deliver a swift punch to the sideboob? Well, yes that's exactly what you'll do, for the first couple of levels at least. I haven't gotten too far into the game and I'm unlikely to proceed much further, as I just don't care for the character or her so-called revenge against the Lara Croft sound-a-like woman. Color me uninterested, for now anyway.



...conquering the crossover

For many months, Cross Edge has tormented me. The convoluted gameplay mechanics are enough to make people chuck their controllers at the nearest farmyard animal or slap themselves for purchasing the game in the first place.

I, on the other hand, persevered. Now, almost a year after I started, I can finally say that I have completed Cross Edge 100 percent. I have every last trophy, I've killed every single boss the game has thrown at me and managed to complete every title and acquire every costume for the thirty (yes, 30) playable characters.

Obviously, there are many people who have done all this much quicker than I have, though there was a time where I effectively "gave up" on ever completing the game. The only reason I held onto the disc was due to the catastrophically bad trade-in value; if anything, I probably would have had to pay the store some money to take the game off my hands.

The guides and forums of GameFAQs were a great help. I can honestly say that I would not have finished the game at all were it not for the assistance they provided. I almost can't believe that I never have to play Cross Edge ever again, unless I feel like it, which means I'll be playing Cross Edge again for no other reason than to get my money's worth out of it. Good times.



...spiraling out of control

Another iPhone game has left me addicted and craving more. It goes by the name of Flight Control and it's an amazingly fun little title. Just like a lot of the iPhone library, Flight Control contains a simple premise that keeps you coming back for more. The game is centered around an airport and it's your job to make sure things run smoothly.

Various types of aircraft approach the airport from all sides. By touching one of the planes you can direct the flight path it takes. More and more aircraft (from planes to helicopters) fill the screen the longer the game goes on and it becomes increasingly important to micro-manage each aircraft as you move them to their designated landing areas. One collision is all it takes to end the game.

At the moment, I can barely get to 25 before the little planes get too tricky to keep out of trouble, thus ending the game. I really like Flight Control; not only is it great fun, it's also remarkably cheap too.

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Well, that's more than enough from me this week. What have you been doing mostly?   read


1:22 PM on 09.19.2010

09/19 - This week I've been mostly...



Sunday. What a great day to relax and reflect on the week gone by. Various bits of exciting news coming from the Tokyo Game Show including many new games being announced. Probably the most interesting for me was the announcement for The Last Guardian and it's release date has been vaguely set for late next year. I never got to play ICO but I thoroughly enjoyed playing Shadow of the Colossus and look forward to the new title.

But what game has provided me with nothing but disappointment? Why have I spent hours upon hours making items? How easy was it to win a contest and what game left me impressed and wanting more? Lets get started with a look back at the week that was.

Because this week I've been mostly...



…sampling future delights

With the summer drought well and truly over, developers are gearing up for their releases in the coming months by offering some demos for us to sample. I played a few of them this week and I will discuss them in order of palatability. First was the demo for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Ninja Theory's vision of a classic Chinese story. The graphics were amazing and really set the tone for the imprisonment of Monkey and his eventual escape from his oppressive captors. Gameplay felt solid, if a little rudimentary. Guiding Monkey from shiny pole to shiny ledge (and so on) left me with no doubt what to do or where to go. To be honest, I didn't really care much for this game to begin with, but the demo left me impressed and eager for it's release.

Next is the yearly battle for football (sorry, "soccer") supremacy between FIFA 11 and PES 2011, both of which had demos released this week. Given that football (sorry, "soccer") is the national sport over here, I find myself inevitably buying one of these games for the sole purpose of playing along with the season in progress.

Last year I went with FIFA 10, which was disappointing if only due to the numerous glitches and bugs that still exist to this day. EA couldn't be bothered to fix the issues, blaming it on restrictions to the number of patches they could upload. Once bitten, twice as shy, as they say and I approached both games with an open mind.

FIFA 11 feels a lot like a refinement over last year's game. Passing has been made more difficult with the strength of each pass having a greater effect on the ball. Too strong and the receiver has trouble controlling the ball, too weak and the ball might not reach the target. Then there was PES 2011 which was an enjoyable experience but a slightly harder sell due to the lack of full official licensing. Gameplay was a little bit more realistic; attacking and creating space felt more natural. I'm still torn between these two titles, I guess I'll wait for some reviews before making a decision on either one of them.

Lastly, we come to Quantum Theory, which was one of the worst experiences I've had this year so far. The game is a Japanese third-person shooter like Gears of War but it doesn't seem to bring anything worthwhile to the table. Gunplay is a slow and turgid affair, enemies are bullet sponges on the 'normal' difficulty while the raspy voiced protagonist is weaker than sheet of wet paper.

Rather than take elements from other games and improve upon them, Quantum Theory looks to have just copied them and done a piss poor job at doing so. I couldn't even bring myself to finish the demo, as my lithe sidekick kept dying as soon as the large hulking enemies showed up, leaving me a sitting duck with no way to continue. Suffice to say, I'm steering well clear of this one.



…shooting everything in sight

Played some more Darksiders this week as War continues his quest for vengeance. Fresh from destroying Tiamat, War turns his attentions elsewhere. I'm really starting to get into the game now; finding hidden areas and collecting upgrades provides a welcome distraction from the primary gameplay element of killing things.

I've progressed a little further into the game and reached the confrontation with Ulthane, who challenges War to a contest of sorts. The pair are attacked, and the game keeps a score of how many enemies you both kill. Win and you get bragging rights, as well as an achievement to sweeten the deal. At first I found it difficult to keep up with him, but about halfway through you get your hands on the equalizer.

War can use an overly elaborate gun known as the Redemption to dispatch foes with ease. Seriously, as long as you keep shooting it's almost impossible not to go 10-20 kills ahead in the space of a few minutes. One slight worry was the sluggish movement when carrying the thing. However, the sheer power you wield is more than worth the hindrance. In the end, I won comfortably and earned another achievement.



…crafting useless armaments

Many games have some kind of creation feature, where you can combine items to make something new and exciting. Cross Edge is one such game with a creation element, unfortunately, it's far from an enjoyable experience. As I've said before, Cross Edge is not a good game, in fact it's the worst game I currently own.

Yet, I keep playing it. At the time, I was looking for a new RPG and decided to take the plunge due to similarities to the Disgaea series. The games are similar…in the fact that they are both strategy RPGs…and that's about it. While Disgaea games feature concepts that are explained in detail to the player, Cross Edge smothers everything in a layer of convolution, making things far more difficult than they need to be.

It's taken about a year to get to this point. I've completed the game several times (new game plus FTW) and every character on the roster (roughly 30 of them) are on my side. You would think I've completed the majority of the game by now, but my trophy score remains a disappointing 55%. Why? Because there are numerous (gold) trophies on offer for completing the item encyclopaedia, a gigantic list of everything within the game. My task would be to fill the encyclopaedia by owning every item in the game, something which requires an immense amount of time and effort using the "synthesis" feature.

All of this would be relatively simple if it just relied on finding ingredients and making the items, but Cross Edge somehow manages to mess this process up. Every so often your synthesis will fail, through no fault of your own and you (normally) end up with a totally useless item instead of the one you were trying to make.

To prevent controllers being thrown at my TV I had to save the game regularly, making a lengthy series of events even longer. I'll be spending many more hours synthesizing items but at least I've started the ball rolling.

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That's it from me this week, I guess I'll get back to the synthesis. What have you been mostly doing?   read


11:59 AM on 09.12.2010

09/12 - This week I've been mostly...



Hello everyone and welcome once again to the regular thing that I do to talk about the things I've done. This week has been quite eventful, with Microsoft banning someone from XBL for living in West Virginia and the hype slowly building as Halo Reach nears release. I've never played a Halo game in my life, but all of these good reviews surely can't be wrong? It's a shame I'm so crap at FPSs otherwise I might have been first in line come Tuesday.

Anyway, I digress.

So what have I been prevented from talking about? Why have I tried to figure out various puzzles? What have I been taking rather seriously recently and what information have I taken notice of? Lets begin my look back at the week that was and find out.

Because this week I've been mostly…



…breaking on through

It's time to officially consider me late to the party when it comes to Darksiders. Released way back in January, the game was received fairly well by critics, who likened it to the Legend of Zelda series. After playing for a while, it's certainly a fair comparison. While videos and screenshots tend to focus on the combat (drawing comparisons to Devil May Cry) the actual gameplay features a mix of fighting, exploration and puzzle solving.

Darksiders chronicles the tale of War, one of the four horsemen who has been called to bring about the apocalypse. Things aren't quite as they first seem, especially since his fellow horsemen are noticeable in their absence. Due to his apparent treachery in acting alone, War is stripped of all his power but manages to barter an arrangement. He is sent back to Earth to find out who tried to bring the world to a premature end.

To be honest, I'm enjoying Darksiders a lot more than God Of War and Devil May Cry games I've played over the years. The combat isn't too difficult, though there is a degree of strategy to it due to the variety of enemies. The exploration and puzzle solving is surprisingly complex at times and there are a load of secrets to uncover. In terms of completion, I'm a few hours in, heading towards the Tiamat boss fight.



…obeying the rules

The LittleBigPlanet 2 Beta is currently a thing that is happening and also a thing that I have been testing this week..and that's pretty much all I'm allowed to say about it. Non disclosure agreements are agreements…of non disclosure…of information and things.

Of course, that hasn't stopped other people from posting all sorts of videos and pictures on the Internet, however I've actually been taking the role rather seriously, or slightly more seriously than I first thought.

Initially, I was unsure whether or not I could even confirm or deny my participation in the Beta, although I soon realized anyone with eyeballs and a PS3 could see what I'm playing by just looking at my profile when I'm online. I'd love to do a more detailed overview of what I've played, but I'm sure the V.P. of Sharp & Pointy Things is not someone you want to get on the wrong side of.



…finding information

Played through the recent DLC for Mass Effect 2 several times and even went so far as to review it, just like my previous posts about Overlord and Stolen Memory. What I found in the Lair of the Shadow Broker was ultimately more of the same, but a thoroughly enjoyable experience all the same.

Which was strange, considering I was hoping for a much more expansive adventure. I guess Bioware will continue to offer various bits of DLC until the inevitable release of Mass Effect 3.

As I mentioned during the review, the information you gain during Lair of the Shadow Broker really adds another dimension to certain characters. It's very debatable whether or not the DLC is worth $10 when prior releases have provided missions of similar length for a cheaper price. I hope Bioware do make at least one lengthy DLC mission before moving onto other projects. As good as their current Mass Effect 2 DLC has been so far, I think other developers (like Bethesda with Fallout 3 and Rockstar with GTAIV) have given their fans a lot more bang for their buck, so to speak.

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Well, that's it from me this week. What have you been mostly doing?   read


9:51 AM on 09.10.2010

Review: Mass Effect 2 - Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC



Another month, another piece of DLC has been unveiled for Bioware's evergreen space drama. In a game full to the brim with missions and a plethora of other DLC already available, will their latest quest be enough to bring people back into the world of Mass Effect 2 once again.

I ventured forth into the familiar and unknown as Commander Shepard and his crew attempt to discover the true identity of the most influential person in the galaxy. Is the Lair of the Shadow Broker worth all the effort it takes to get there? Find out in my review.



Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC (Xbox 360 / PC)
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Released: September 7th 2010
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00 / £6.85 / €9.60)

As most ME2 players will have no doubt guessed by now, this mission (like so many others throughout the game) starts with a simple message from the Illusive Man, who has an errand for you. It seems that he has unearthed some vital clues relating to the whereabouts of everybody's favorite data trading recluse and wants you to take said information to Liara T'Soni, who has been searching for him.

If the name Liara T'Soni rings a bell, that's because it should, given that she has starred in both Mass Effect titles. In the first game, Liara was one of several people recruited by Shepard to aid him in defeating Saren, the main antagonist. During Mass Effect 2 she plays almost a cameo role, sticking around just long enough to hand you a mission or two before withdrawing to her office forevermore.

Until now, that is.

Just like Katsumi Goto and Zaeed did in Stolen Memory and The Price of Revenge respectively, Liara very much takes center stage as you play Lair of the Shadow Broker.



The actual mission proper begins with a quick trip to Illium to see Liara. Untrusting of Cerberus' extended olive branch, she soon comes round to the idea and accepts the information leading to Shadow Broker. Shepard tags along for the sake of helping an old friend and they decide to reconvene at Liara's house later on.

Without spoiling too much, what follows this initial meeting is probably one of the most varied and all around impressive missions in the game. Bioware have done well to ensure the player is never doing anything for too long, with a range of locations to traverse and situations to shoot your way out of.

The mission comprises of several distinct sections, each featuring similar elements to prior DLC but Lair of the Shadow Broker manages to handle them much more concisely. For instance, early on you must search a room for clues and information (like Stolen Memory) but picking up nuggets of intel is now interspersed with cutscenes instead of simple radio transmissions. It all helps to bring you closer to the story.



Then there's the fighting, which retains the same feeling of urgency as the main game. Bioware have tried to improve on this as well, by not only varying the enemy types but also forcing you to adjust to ever changing conditions. One such battle takes place in a hotel forecourt, with dozens of enemies out to tear you limb from limb. Instead of placing you at one end and telling you to go from A to B, you are placed right in the center while enemies approach incrementally from all sides.

Of course, there are also times where you must roam through more linear areas and it was here where the enemy variation tended to shine. I noticed a lot more adversaries with armor, shields and barriers this time around, preventing you from blitzing everything in sight.

Many people complained about the vehicular combat sections using the Hammerhead and they should be pleased to hear that there are no such sections here. There is, however, a thrilling 'car chase' sequence which is nowhere near as challenging as trying to maneuver the Hammerhead.

Boss fights (of which there are two) really stand out for their creativity. The first is an interesting encounter against an elusive vanguard character, who regularly uses the charge ability to great effect. The second I wouldn't dare spoil, but it does provide a very different challenge from what we're used to.



Story wise, Lair of the Shadow Broker manages to impress as well as disappoint. On the one hand, there are many more cutscenes here than in previous DLCs and the voice acting (as per usual) is top notch. Objectives are explained well during scenes and are normally of a straightforward nature.

I liked how Bioware have tried to expand on Liara's character. In the time between the first and second games, Liara underwent a drastic change in personality. Gone was the rather meek and mild mannered scientist of old, replaced with a much more confident and resourceful individual.

While her original appearance in Mass Effect 2 was quite one dimensional, watching the scenes in Lair of the Shadow Broker adds some depth to her character, especially so if you have played through the first game as well. I also enjoyed the banter between Shepard and Liara during combat, their lines were quite funny and provided a few choice references to their first adventure.

On the other hand, despite all the cutscenes, Lair of the Shadow Broker still feels like a missed opportunity to me. Bioware has crafted a very tight and self contained story but fails to really convey the enormity of the task at hand. Even though going after the biggest information dealer in the galaxy is sure to have far reaching consequences, they are never touched upon.

For example, the importance of intel provided by the Broker and people's overwhelming dependence on it is only briefly alluded to at the very end of the mission, while a subplot involving Liara's long lost friend Feron is frequently picked up and dropped with reckless abandon.

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Finally, we come to the touchy subject of value. At $10, Lair of the Shadow Broker is the most expensive piece of DLC currently available for Mass Effect 2. Weighing in at around 1.5GBs, you might be expecting some of that space to be reserved for extra weapons, armor, characters or something of that nature.

Unfortunately, such extras are thin on the ground. Shepard does gain access to the stasis ability, which locks enemies in a frozen state for a short amount of time. It prevents them from taking any action whilst making them immune to damage; which could prove to be useful in a pinch.

Liara may join you for the majority of the mission, but she cannot be recruited as a permanent member of your team. Likewise, there are no new weapons or suits of armor to be found. However, if you are expecting all of these superfluous items, you may be missing the point of the DLC entirely. Because Lair of the Shadow Broker is home to the most important commodity known to man.

A little thing called information.



Suffice to say, you will have a lot of information at your disposal once you finish the DLC. Some of it is useless. Some of it can be helpful. Some of it is funny while other bits are heartbreaking. Yet, despite the scattershot nature of the intel, it reveals hidden facets to characters you thought you knew.

With Lair of the Shadow Broker, Bioware haven't re-invented the wheel as so many people (my self included) were hoping for. What we have here is, in essence, more of the same. In the grand scheme of things, we are still moving from cover to cover, shooting nameless enemies in the face for about two hours. What Bioware have done, is given the player a daunting glimpse at the inner workings of the wheel. They explain how it came to be, why it does what it does and where it could go if given time.

Score: 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)   read





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