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8:42 PM on 04.09.2012

Quality Assured; Motion Sickness

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11:15 PM on 01.19.2012

Top 5 Most Desired Adaptations

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9:04 PM on 01.12.2012

Top 5 Axed Games

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9:18 PM on 01.04.2012

Predictions, 2013 in Gaming!

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8:09 PM on 12.28.2011

Bulletstorm is as Smart as No More Heroes

A swaggering, arrogant, childish shooter produced by Epic came out this year, but it wasn’t Bulletstorm. Gears of War 3 certainly fulfilled that quota, yet it was People Can Fly’s first title under the Epic banner that truly caught my imagination this year. This stunningly original FPS was filled to the brim with characterisation, crass but clever humour and even a healthy dose of subtle philosophical undertones. Yes, like No More Heroes before it, Bulletstorm was what I like to call an “intellectual trap”, a game marketed and aimed at a collection of gamers who weren’t expecting something smart to appear, but got a boatload of clever allegorical scenarios and a genuinely enlightening plot. Bulletstorm is as clever as No More Heroes, only this time nobody else seemed to spot it.

Let’s get something sorted out right now: Bulletstorm is not stupid. Childish perhaps, crass certainly, but the writing and plot are both absolute works of genius, and i can easily shoot down any thought to the contrary. Firstly, Greyson is an idiot. He’s a beer chugging, authority loathing foul mouthed outlaw with as much education as the rifle he wields. He’s the archetypical idea of what we view the gears of War crew as, but exaggerated to the point of humour. We’re laughing at his terrible jokes, not with him, and the sooner the player stands back and realises that Greyson is exactly the kind of person you should hate rather than be they soon come to love the character. A great example of how the developers use Greyson’s juvenile humour to remind the player that he is an idiotic egotist is when he first meets Trishka. After proving herself a badass by dispatching a few enemies she loudly declares “You shitpiles pursue me I will kill your dicks!” Greyson response to this line summarises him entirely. At first he doesn’t understand the insult, it makes no sense. Then he realises his ego has been attacked, and so in a childish attempt to save face he declares “Oh yeah, I’ll kill your dick how about that!” It’s a futile, useless response, and shows his complete inability to deal with people.

But Bulletstorm does something utterly unheard of for a game of it’s genre and style: it tells a redemption story whereby the main character is not redeemed, and is in fact made considerably worse by his journey. At the start of the game Greyson has a ship, a crew, a fine selection of beer and a bounty on his head that gives him the perfect reason to never settle down. He’s living the ideal life for a man of his personality. Yet when confronted by his only unsettled debt he decides to risk it all to get one final chance at revenge. Instead of succeeding however he ends up killing all of his crew bar one, his loyal but hate filled partner Ishi. By the end of the game Greyson has even lost Ishi, and ends up drifting into space trapped in an escape pod with a woman who hates him and no chance of rescue. Even worse than that, he failed to succeed in the one thing he set out to do, and as a result has bet it all and lost. This is a game whereby if you finish it, the main character loses.

Aside from the overall message of how selfish revenge can destroy a man, there is also a strong undercurrent of morality and humanism lying beneath the surface. Greyson is accompanied by Ishi throughout the game, a partially mechanised friend of his who now despise him for allowing him to become part robot. As the game goes on Ishi loses more and more of himself to the robot side of his personality, and as a result becomes more and more ruthless and uncaring. This worries Greyson, partly because he wants to save Ishi, but also because it starts to show a side of Greyson he tries to ignore. Ishi ends up being heartlessly violent, killing without care and threatening and harming those in his way to get what he wants, and Greyson comes to realise over the course of the game the only thing separating him and Ishi’s robot side is a few dick jokes. Previously used as an assassin who unquestioningly took orders he starts to realise his pursuit of General Sarrano is equally uncaring and dangerous. This comes to a head during the final scenes of the game, when Sarrano is teasing Greyson about all the people he has killed on his quest to assassinate him. Greyson’s response is a blunt and angry “shut up”, which shows that Sarrano has clearly got to him. By the end of the game Greyson knows that everything he has done was wrong, and now he can’t change a damn thing.

To finish up I want to discuss a rather tenuous idea, one which I think may be me over stretching a little but I’ll type it out all the same. I think the planet that Greyson crashes on represents a society, and as Greyson charges through it, killing everyone uncaringly this displays his own anarchic views. Most of the wildlife was certainly happier without Greyson, and the green mutants seem to be perfectly content before Greyson turned up. It’s also not a coincidence the ship that Greyson takes down is called the Ulysses, the name of a Unionist general in the American Civil War. Greyson is, without a doubt, a Confederate kind of guy, and his opposition to society is fairly evident from his lifestyle choice.

In conclusion Bulletsotrm is exactly the kind of game I've come to adore. It covers itself in a sheen of juvenile humour to hide away it’s clever and involving storyline, one which I feel may have been overlooked and misunderstood. Far from “another shooter” Bulletstorm displayed that most sincerely adult quality that you rarely see, something childish for the purpose of something intellectual. People Can Fly is picking up the style moulded by Grasshopper Manufacture, here’s hoping they can deliver more.   read

6:41 PM on 12.22.2011


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11:48 PM on 11.28.2011

Arkham City Critique *Spoilers*

This is going to be a critique of Arkham City, not a review. If you want my opinion it’s a fantastic game which you need to play, 10/10 whatever, the following is supposed to be a proper look at the game. Spoilers abound, foresight into the 3rd instalment in spades and genuine criticisms imminent. Arkham City is the first game I’ve played in a long time that I want to break down and critique.

First of all, the setup. Arkham City is a concept that makes absolutely no sense until the finale and if you beat a side quest and then listen to the tapes from said side quest. Why would anyone want Arkham City to exist, why would anybody agree to let it happened and most importantly how can anyone possibly gain from it? This question is unanswered for so long after a while you take it for red that, well, I guess it did happen, I guess there must be something clever going on and I’m going to have to wait to find out. When the purpose behind Arkham City is revealed it is actually clever, and more importantly makes sense in Batman’s world. It does take a long time for the City to justify itself, however, and when you do the research it goes from insane to plausible.

It doesn’t seem to make sense for Hugo Strange to want Arkham City as much as Ra’s does though. Hugo Strange’s role in Arkham City seems extremely minor, especially when compared to the likes of The Joker or Ra’s. He seems to have been put into the game so that the introduction of arresting Bruce Wayne makes sense to the player. Strange immediately falls into the background of Arkham City, and his relationship with Batman in the narrative is incredibly minor. Heck, for about 80% of the game he is not the main villain, and in the 20% he is, he’s quickly replaced by a much more powerful one. Lacking any major charisma and more importantly not remaining in contact with Batman makes him immediately a far worse villain than Joker was in Asylum, but that is understandable, he has bigger fish to fry. That said some form of Strange being more present in the game would have made it a lot more intense and enjoyable for the player. Strange is a psychoanalyst, why not play off that? Have him deconstruct Batman right from the get go, constantly prodding him and attacking his vulnerabilities. Instead we see him at the start, hear him once or twice declare Protocol 10 is approaching and then hit him in the head at the conclusion. As villains go, he’s pretty poor.

Which brings me onto my next villain failure: why the hell is Two Face in this game at all? Harvey Two Face is in Arkham City right at the beginning for 3 minutes and then right at the end provided you got the Catwoman DLC (which is another disaster all on its own, but more of that later). His role is to have Batman clumsily stride into his courthouse, get beaten up and then hang over an acid tank for the rest of the game. What a total waste. Two Face has his defining characteristic of his coin, a 50/50 choice generator, which I assume made the developers panic. How can Harvey be in any way interesting outside of being a gang leader? So they threw him into the promotional materials, made these clunky levels (the second of which was diabolically awful) and said they were done. But they missed a trick. Why wasn’t Two Face a side quest? Make it so he tells Batman he has hostages at either location a or b and that batman has to decide which is the true location, not too dissimilar from the Dark Knight’s thrilling hostage chase. Pure chance if you succeed? Sure, but that’s all part of the fun of Two Face. Instead he’s a man with a gun. Boo!

Catwoman should also not be in this title. She’s extraneous to the plot, she isn’t that fun to play as and I only identified her sections as annoyances that interrupted the goddamn batman game I was playing. I know the idea was to make the plot tenser, I know she’s supposed to be a palette cleanser and I know she’s cut out off the second hand game, but I don’t care. Her chapters pop up at the most interesting points in the game and kill the pacing stone dead. If I had the choice, I would remove her sections in a flash, and gladly not have the post credits sequence with Two Face cluttering up the finale. He character serves no purpose, her attitude and “style” is completely out of character with the rest of the game and she simply didn’t need to be here. Far play to Rocksteady, she was in no way “half arsed” in her implementation, the fact she has her own Riddler trophies and can navigate the world is a testament to the design of the game’s flexibility, but maybe she should have been taken out of the main quest and put to one side. If she’d had a good 3 hour set of chapters, all tangential but insignificant to the plot of Arkham City (which was most of it anyway) and been released as an actual DLC pack later down the line it would have all been much nicer. Perhaps this was the plan and Rocksteady had to rush Catwoman out as an “online pass” character. If this was the case, bad move guys.

The other villains, however, are extremely well done. Joker in this game was phenomenal, points to Paul Dini who gave him a worthy and fascinating finale. The main plot being subverted by Joker was a stroke of genius, as it highlights just how devious the clown prince can be. I had no idea that the main plot of Arkham City was going to be about Joker’s blood, and I fell for Joker’s death almost immediately. Joker manages to take over Arkham City’s narrative with a single stroke of genius, and his plan is so evil that he immediately removes the player’s interest from what Protocol 10 is and replaces it with a far more urgent, much more terrifying narrative structure. Infecting Batman and using him to get the cure could have worked in any format, but in Arkham City this means a whistle stop tour of some of Batman’s greatest enemies. Penguin gets a far appearance in a role that suits him as a mobster boss come arms dealer, but he seems like such a small fry in the overall scheme of the game. Freeze gets a role as an uneasy ally, although his motives seem bizarre at times as if he just agreed flat out to ally with Batman he’d have done far better. Oh, and he had the best boss fight by far. Ra’s does a devilishly clever bait and switch on the player by popping up early on and killing any ideas the player might have about why he is in Arkham City at all. His appearance at the end, while annoyingly vague about his relationship with Hugo Strange, was both a “no way” and an “of course” to the player, making him a worthy antagonist to the game as a whole. It’s also cool to see a final boss fight occur half way through the game.

Outside of this, I want to discuss Joker’s death. Firstly, it was clever; I love how he caused his own downfall with both the illness and the destruction of the cure. However it could’ve have been handled better directorially. Nothing is more effective than removing any form of comfort from the player, and music became a comfort. Having no music and a slow pan towards Joker’s eyes might have been a lot more effective, or at least tenser as the player waits for him to jump up. The idea of actually killing the Joker was both brave and admirable, even though it was a forced point on behalf of the developer; Mark Hamil has publically stated he won’t return to the role so removing him from the game’s continuity only makes sense. What happens now the ultimate villain is dead? Well several things.

Firstly, little old Harley appears to have been knocked up. If you examine her room in the steel foundry she is absent, has left her costume on a dummy and has a pregnancy test showing positive on the side, all clear signs that baby joker may be one the way. What does this mean? Well a lot of interesting things. Firstly, maybe we’ll see the son/daughter of the joker, which is in itself interesting if worrying. To make baby J in anyway a threat in the third instalment will require at least 20 years to pass, far too long for the player to leave Gotham alone. Even then, will he be a carbon copy of the Joker, will they even want to be a Joker? It all seems a bit strange. Harley as a pregnant villain or mother, however, is interesting. She may rise up to become far more dangerous a villain than before, with a true reason to now despise Batman and a son or daughter to train to hate him too. But what of the Titan poisoning? What if the baby has the illness, we all know Joker never got the cure and that’d be a fantastic hook for Harley trying to hunt you.

Otherwise we have yet more intrigue as to what the next game will bring, we get an apocalyptic vision from Azael, a set of secret messages from Scarecrow promising revenge and, perhaps most interesting of all, the final ending of Arkham Asylum, where a hand reaches out to take the titan floating in the water, being unresolved. Bane appears without it, as does Killer Croc, so we can only assume that Scarecrow has the last remaining batch. What will happen next? Who knows, but my god it sounds fun. My base prediction of setup is simply that the next title will be “Batman: Gotham City” and be a larger city with innocents and more at stake. Other than that, who the hell knows! I can’t wait though.   read

8:04 PM on 11.18.2011

Sonic Generations: Review

It’s been 20 years since Sonic rolled into the realm of games, and with him he’s brought us speed, clever level design and wonderfully imaginative set pieces. He has, however, also brought with him hideous 3d cameras, a host of annoying characters, piles and piles of buggy messes and a hedgehog who drives a jeep and carries a gun. Mixed legacy? You bet it is, and nowhere is the schizophrenic nature of the series better displayed than in the historically minded “Sonic Generations”. Is the blue blur back to his best, or is this simply another false start?

Sonic Generations begins optimistically, blasting through Green Hill Zone before being introduced to a charmingly “nod-nod wink-wink” opening cutscene that hints at a more light hearted Sonic adventure than other games have attempted. This reassuringly fun opening is cemented when, after finishing the first level with modern sonic, you think that you’re safe. Modern Sonic played fine, Classic Sonic was great, maybe we’re going to make the long haul here, maybe we can see the game through and not hit any major speed bumps. This goes on throughout the first third of the game, the level design is charming, the cutscenes are small and for the most part amusing, and the music is great. Then something happens, and a cold sweat sits in.

Challenges? There are challenges between the levels? The pulse quickens and blood drains from the face. Oh no. They surely didn’t mess this up, they were doing so well! Please don’t make me replay the same level to pad out gameplay please don’t... then the first genuine surprise happens. The challenges are not only really fun; they’re entirely different levels, for the most part! New power-ups are dished out in the form of Sonic’s friends and the level design shifts entirely. OK so these levels are much shorter, but they’re good, they’re fun, and best of all they take about 5 minutes at their most extravagant.

Then the first boss fight happens. It’s a mess, spotty controls, frustrating design and uninteresting music leads to the first true lull in the game. You can forgive it though, it wasn’t too bad and it ended quickly once you figured out how to hurt the boss. But then you open up the Dreamcast era, and like Sonic does when he needs to go quicker, it goes downhill from there.

It’s incredible how Sonic Generations manages to pinpoint the exact moment Sonic jumped the shark but the history lesson is well taught. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure is a city level. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure 2 is a city level. The level they choose for Sonic 2006 is a city level. Suddenly it becomes very apparent that Sonic stopped existing in a sort of fantasy realm and started becoming an urbanite. All of the charm starts to drain, the level design gets, not exactly harder but more finicky, there’s more awkward jumps and bad precision platforming, even worse are the glitches which suddenly pop up in Modern Sonic, blasting through walls, clipping on the edge of a platform and falling your death, more unexpected and unfair traps, it all gets a bit frustrating. Classic Sonic seems lost and bewildered in these later levels, outside his 3 games he has to wade through 6 modern titles and in almost every single one of them he is chased by something. I know Sonic being chased is a fun idea, but my god the poor bastard must be magnetic or something.

This is Sonic Generations biggest problem, while it’s great to celebrate Sonic’s past, it’s his present that is the true villain of the piece. What’s baffling is how the designers missed a trick in doing as little of the bad Sonic games as possible. They chose to include Sonic Heroes and Sonic 2006, and both of the “new levels” for those games are horrible. Why on earth recognise these infamously bad titles when you could have had a proper Sonic 3 level (the one in the PC version is Sky Sanctuary, a fine level but from Sonic and Knuckles) and brought in Sonic CD for a real nostalgia trip. Instead we get a bad beach level and a third (third!) city level. A terrible decision was made in development, but it could have been worse, we at least didn’t get a Shadow the Hedgehog level.

Towards the end the game feels like it might be getting a little stale, so it stops. With only 9 levels, and only 2 Sonics to play them with, Sonic Generations is short, but rightly so. The challenges become a little more cumbersome and tricky towards the end, and the final bosses are a teeth gnashing nightmare, but they are at least beatable. With 90 challenges to play and time trial modes to master some players will get tons out of the end game, but most users will be satisfied to put down the game after the final foe is foiled. I certainly am, and it’s an amicable separation, for £20 I felt I got what I paid for, and the game seems to breathe a sigh of relief that I’m asking no more of it.

As Sonic games go, Generations is a fun tribute. It remixes its ancestry but adds little to the series other than a recognition of when to bow out. Classic Sonic was fun to see again, but I doubt he’ll be back and it’s perhaps better that way, he’s had his day and now it’s his older, more jaded self that has to prove his worth. Modern Sonic is not redeemed by this title, and the later levels remind you that he still has his fair share of issues. But maybe he can move on, maybe someday we’ll get that 9/10 Sonic game that blows us away. This, though, is not that game, but it seems it was never meant to be. Short, silly and satisfying, Sonic Generations is a snacky game, not an epic event, and it’s nice to see something that knows its limitations. No melodrama, no over the top score, a fun run through the past of one of gaming’s most contentious icons and then off home with a smile on your face. It’s a better tribute than it ought to be.

7/10   read

8:14 PM on 09.26.2011

Obscurity: Living in a Neverhood

Some games deserve obscurity; titles of poor quality, of bad ideas and of low production values are rightly thrown onto the scrap heap of worthy ignorance. The Neverhood was never one of those games. It's quite upsetting, then, that I’m writing about one of my favourite games of all time under the banner of “Obscurity”, how wonderful it is to try and tell you how good the game is, and how scary I find it that I may fail to express just exactly why it is that this is one of my favourite games of all time. Terrible sadness, beautiful joy and paralysing fear, a fantastic way of explaining why The Neverhood means so much to me, and why I feel the need to share it.

The Neverhood is a game of such brilliant imagination and fantastically bizarre personalities that it truly feels like nothing else I have ever played. It’s a game with a long, detailed lore that you can completely ignore, a world that consists of only five characters yet has plenty of personality to each and graphics made from clay. That’s right, The Neverhood was not restricted by processing power or rendering software, it was bound by how much clay was around at the time. In an utterly inspired move the game’s creator Doug TenNapel (the mind behind Earthworm Jim) decided to simply create the entire world out of clay and animate it as if it were a film with lots of options. This move in no way inhibits the game either, you never feel like you are playing an interactive video or that you are bound by restrictions, by making the game a point and click adventure the developer manages to make the game feel like it is delivering every option possible without resorting to cheapening the graphics. This decision was utterly commendable and extremely original. Unfortunately it was a gambit that only sold 46,000 copies and as a result the game has never been truly re-released or remade. Like I said, beautiful joy, terrible sadness…

The look of The Neverhood is only one aspect of the game that pours originality into the lap of the player. The game has the most unique and engrossingly unnerving atmosphere I’ve ever encountered. It’s difficult to explain directly, so I’m going to pull up some screenshots and annotate them in a way I feel helps sell why this game is so fantastically funny and uncompromisingly scary.

From the above annotations I’m sure you can see why the game is so effective at being both chuckle worthy and utterly terrifying. Those were also the first three screens of the game, all of which can be seen in less than 2 minutes. In that short time The Neverhood was etched into my mind, and I found myself inexplicably drawn to it. When I first played The Neverhood it was at a young age on a demo disc that came with my first Windows computer. The bloodcurdling evil laugh that opens the game dived deep into my subconscious and actually became the subject of a few recurring nightmares. Yet that laugh may be the whole reason I hunted this game down years later and finally got to play through what turned out to be a brilliant title.

That title, it turns out, came with one of the most astonishing soundtracks ever committed to PC. Some games define themselves through careful sound design, every bar and note is carefully examined and timing is given great consideration. Anybody who has played a Halo game can assure you that the sound is perfectly handled to match every moment. The Neverhood’s soundtrack is absolute chaos. From frantic, bouncy guitar pieces to jazzy, slow trumpet tracks, no songs in The Neverhood remain consistent with each other, yet the “feel” of each of the songs hold with the games visuals and atmosphere. The lyrics are mumbled and slurred, the songs often “break” halfway through with the band descending into chaos. Even timing is occasionally completely off, with mistakes left in to show us how raw the feeling in each song is. Below is a link to The Neverhood theme, give it a listen.

Click to listen

It’s amazing isn’t it? The band constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself, the singer getting more frantic and desperate with each nonsensical verse, the final saxophone solo that comes from nowhere and has no relevance, even the moment where the singer comes in too early feels part of the whole chaotic mess of the track. It truly reflects how I feel about the game; it’s chaotic, stupid, extremely funny, a bit messy and also quite scary. It sounds like nothing else and despite it almost definitely being horrible in some places it manages to pull through and even make those dreadful moments more fun and even more memorable. This track is almost like a measure of what the game is; a beautiful mess.

This brings me to the unfortunate truth. The Neverhood is hilarious, it’s unnerving, it’s beautiful but it’s also pretty obtuse in it's puzzle design. That’s not to say it is a bad game, but it isn’t exactly helpful at explaining what to do next. As part of the tail end of that period of 90s adventure games The Neverhood displays some of the most self indulgent and unfair puzzles ever devised, including a matching pairs game of an 8x6 grid that if you mess up on just once it resets itself entirely, leading to a grumbling resentful drawing of the grid on a nearby notepad in the real world. The constant too and frowing around the world to write down symbols, the fetch quest of the tapes, the 38 screen long hall of records you have to walk through to get one sodding tape, it all adds up to a game with good intentions but sadistic design. Some of these puzzles are great, one puzzle involving making a dynamite version of yourself in is a great little brain teaser, and the opening puzzles stick with me to this day. But when a game almost requires a walkthrough guide you know there are problems with difficulty. It’s not something I like admitting, but outside the clay, the atmosphere and the music, The Neverhood really doesn’t like the player too much.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it. What it means is you should get a walkthrough, get the game and just plough through it. If you get stuck, go to the guide, and then carry on. The Neverhood is an unfortunate case of designers getting ideas and not really explaining them to you. Yet any break in the game’s atmosphere to explain something would have been a horrible mistake. The Neverhood isn’t “fun” at times, but it doesn’t need to be. It knows what it is doing, and you need to get it otherwise it will leave you behind. It’s cruel, it’s unfair, but it’s worth it.

The Neverhood is a game that deserves a second chance. There is currently a movement going to get the game on iOS and Android, and the game really needs to make it there. The interface feels like it would already be perfect for touch controls and the introduction of this game to new players can only be a good thing. It’s a fantastic title which encapsulates unnerving joy like nothing else, and manages to be equal parts Earthworm Jim and Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a light hearted romp through a world that doesn’t seem entirely finished, but might be the only thing that exists. And that’s just wonderful.

P.S. Oh, yes, and the game has a hidden ending that I think may be the most petrifying end to any game ever: Enjoy.   read

9:17 AM on 09.26.2011

Eurogamer Expo 2011 Report: Professor Dancing Bat's Skyward HD Collection XIII-2

Gamer conventions are tiring. Lots of fun, but tiring. Eurogamer's expo in London's Earl's Court is no exception, and with a decent amount of titles on offer to play there was an overwhelming sense of "too much to try and not enough time". I'd gone down to see some friends from a forum I visit, in truth the expo was nothing more than an elaborate but devious ploy to lure us all to a common location. It was very peculiar meeting people I'd argued with on the internet for nearly 5 years in person, but despite a somewhat awkward start we eventually ended up having a great time together. I could write about that great time we had in a terrible comedy or getting so freakin' excited in the Science Museum, but what you guys are probably here for is for me to talk about games you haven't played. So let's do that.

The first game we decided to play was none other than Dance Central 2, Harmonix's new dancing based £130 peripheral seller. It was good fun too, the game seemed to recognise my inability to dance remarkably well, and even managed to point out I was "off beat" almost all the time! However getting into this insult generator proved, shall we say, difficult. My good friend Danny decided to dance off against me in an attempt to make my humiliation at least 20% more bearable, but the Kinect sensor was reasonably convinced he didn't exist. After nearly 5 minutes of fruitless flailing his girlfriend Lisa took his place during the menu segments and just managed to make the Kinect acknowledge a second player long enough to allow dnny to dance against me. A video of both the humilating dance off and the kinect's inability to.. well work shall be uploaded soon, and then this blog shall be edited accordingly.

Click the picture above to see a video of Dance Central 2 not working followed by a hilariously terrible dance off.

After that fun little dive in social awkwardness we then went around the convention for a while before settling in front of Final Fantasy XIII-2, a game I found inexplicably hilarious due to it's thoroughly unfriendly title. The game itself was... well horribly confusing but achingly pretty. There seemed to be a puzzle section half way through that resembled a sort of Tron meets Q*Bert thing, but not only was it mind numbingly easy it only lasted all of 2 minutes until we were back walking down a corridor past things that want to kill you. I imagne Final Fantasy fans will love it, because for some reason you all tolerate games that are as boring as navigating an excel spreadsheet on the average time it takes for paint to dry relative to the growth of grass. Oh and there is a boss at the end of the demo that the rest of my party decided to dedicate up to half an hour beating. At least we could sit down.

This is a screenshot of FFXIII-2. Well, technically it is anyway...

After that a fellow colleague ran over to the Sonic generations Booth and we all had a good sit and play of it. Sonic generations is a lot like old sonic games, but now without any of the original level designs and the addition of QTE's as opposed to it just hoping you know there are spikes there. The modern Sonic sections were curiously designed, as they may as well have been 2d levels for all the breathing space you got in them. Having beat Sonic 3 before I went to the convention I found Generations to be a completely misguided attempt to hone in on fan's adoration for the older sonic games while fundamentally missing the fact that their redesigned levels were infinitely worse. It did look quite pretty though.

We then had a bit of a go on Skyward Sword, which was interesting if a little disappointing. The MotionPlus stuff seemed to work quite well, though navigating the beetle through tricky mazes was perhaps a little too frustrating and not responsive enough at times. The sword fighting was good fun though, and the game looked quite pretty in general. I didn't get a huge amount of time with the game so I don't rally have much more to add. I like the new villain, he was pretty cool.

This bird guarded the Zelda booth. He didn't do a very good job...

After Zelda we ended up in a retro booth, which was awesome. We played Goldeneye, some weird generic Japanese fighting game on the Neo Geo, Micro Machines 2 (a hilarious if utterly flawed game) and even Pac-Man on Atari! Definitely a highlight as we all got to play against each other and managed to get some old school joy from a good Goldeneye deathmatch.

Back to new games, I played Dark Souls for 30 seconds on 360. I died twice.

After Dark Souls our party split as I decided to queue up for Arkham city, with my new friend Daniel joining me, while the others went off to find something without an hours queue. After a 50 minute wait we finally got to play the latest Batman game and it was marvellous. Arkham City is a considerable upgrade from Asylum, the skyline of the walled off open air prison is a beautiful and expansive with on overwhelming sense of both freedom but also oppression. If Arkahm City suffers from anything it is a sense of being overwhelmed, there was far too much to do inside of 10 minutes, so much that I got distracted by a Riddler Puzzle and failed to even finish the demo's storyline. The demo opened with a Catwoman section, and while cool as it was to play and the feline femme fatal it didn't feel terribly different from playing the dark knight himself. I think this was more to do with a limitation on the part of the demo, all I got was a beat 'em up against a band of non too smart thugs. After that it was over to Batman, now talking to Alfred instead of Oracle, and onto the task of finding Catwoman and confronting two face. Having seen the demo play out online in full before I opted to instead roam the city a bit. After finding a riddle trophy I couldn't obtain due to my cryptograph not being able to crack open the electric fence, I went and beat up some random thugs, one of whom was an informant for the Riddler. After bullying him into giving up the location of some of Riddler's secrets I wet over to the courthouse and tried to solve a puzzle with a now improved remote control batteraunge. This newly improved gadget had a boot, a brake and the ability to do a 180 degree flip. Despite my best efforts I couldn't solve the puzzle adn then time was up. The game in general feels much darker and much heavier than Arkham Asylum did, even the HUD comes across as more dank and depressing. If Arkham City suffers from anything it will most likely be how the scale of the City makes it too easy to get distracted, and how the new atmosphere can be too oppressive. Overall though I was hugely impressed, and this game remains my most wanted.

Picture of the hero Gotham deserves and Batman

After Batman we headed into the 18+ area and caught up with the guys playing an abandoned Resistance 3 booth. The game looked fantastic on the big HD screens they'd brought and it actually played much better than I anticipated. I'll be renting it this week for sure.

Then I had a spin on Saints Row 3, and came away very disappointed. Despite all the hype around the game I can happily say it still feels like a 2nd class title. The graphics are dated, the mechanics felt old and antiquated and the weapons, while childish fun and imaginative, are little more than cool window dressing to an otherwise thoroughly vanilla title. Also, it's 2011, and if you make a game with a big open world city and you don't let me climb all over it you better have a damn good reason. Saints Row 3 failed to offer that reason, and as a result it frustrated and bored me. Do not be fooled by the cool weapons, watching youtube clips of them is just as fun as using them, it is not a good enough excuse for old design and subpar visuals.Go buy Just Cause 2, you'll have a better time, just less dildos.

As we left the convention we got given some free Doritos from some Dorito elves. How many Doritos I hear you cry?

That many.   read

11:30 AM on 09.19.2011

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Buy Halo Anniversary

Remakes and rereleases are in season, and it’s great to see best hits of the last generation get another chance to bedazzle new players and rekindle old flames with veteran ones. From Metal Gear Solid to Zone of the Enders, Ico to Shadow of the Colossus, even to God of War and Sly Cooper, HD collections are the new black, but there is one remake which is frankly diabolical. I’m talking about the £30 Halo Anniversary remake; a game so stupidly conceived and terribly executed it should be by no means supported. Why have I made such a brash statement so early? Because this is a top 5 list, and it makes it easier to sell the concept. Here’s why you shouldn’t go near the Halo remake.

1. It’s one game.

All the other collections I mentioned were just that, collections. At least two games slotted together to make a package that represents the value attributed to it. These collections are brilliant ideas as they often sell whole storylines, the recent Prince of Persia collection springs to mind as a fantastic package that sells the trilogy as a cohesive set. Halo isn’t doing that. Halo is taking the first game and telling you that is enough value. It’s not. What passed for retail in 2000 does not pass now, and the cheek not to also put the second game in is frankly insulting. As an 8 hour game Halo is short, especially when compared to getting a collection of 3 other titles for less, all of which individually are longer than Halo.

2. New but pointless features.

Did you know you can switch between the graphics in the remake? From slick, HD remastering to old, dated graphics from 10 years ago. Did you also know you can activate this feature by using a voice command on your Kinect? Innovation my friends. You can also run a 10 year old game in 3d. Because… 3d. Oh, and we’ve scattered a load of collectables into the game, they reveal some plot. Well, not game changing plot, that would change the game, but useless titbits you don’t need to know and will most likely confuse you. Greta huh?! Oh and we’ve put in the Halo Reach multiplayer mode, because you don’t also own that game. Hm? You do? Oh. Well have it anyway; it’s easier than designing new modes. Oh and we’ve put in online multiplayer for a 10 year old game.

3. You can already get Halo on your 360. For less.

One of the major advantages to the HD remakes of late is their inability for the originals to be played on the newer consoles. They allow you access to classic titles you may have missed or really want to get back without having to haul out the old box, dust it down and hunt for cables. Halo is on XBLA, and has been for a while. It’s 1200 points. That’s a little steep, but it’s at least in the realm of reasonable. If you want to play Halo, there you go, Halo. All of it in its original glory. If you buy the remake you are actively flouting this version, which is everything the new version is, but without the HD graphics, online multiplayer and the other useless shit you don’t care about. So unless you really want those features, why do you want this?

4. It’s way too expensive.

£30. You could buy a brand new game for £10 more. Heck, a 3DS game is £30. You are valuing a 10 year old game at £30. If we look at the price of that downloadable version it puts all those great new (read: entirely unnecessary and pointless) features at a value of £20. You are willing to pay £20 to add HD graphics and some pointless 3D TV effects as well as an online multiplayer you then have to pay a monthly subscription for. £20. You could buy the God of War Collection for that. That’s at least two games.

5. It should be downloadable.

The fact this game is on a disc should be a source of embarrassment to Microsoft. Their XBLA service is fantastic, it delivers “not-quite-retail” experiences like no other, and presents its userbase with classic HD remakes and remasters on a semi regular basis. So why are Microsoft flouting the perfect outlet for their latest title to instead print discs? It’s not going to hurt sales, everyone who plays Halo will be online, and if they aren’t this remake is truly lost on them. There’s no collector’s edition of the title, and the boxed version is just that, a disc in a box. XBLA would be perfect for this game, it would be an above average release by default, and would be great value at 1200 points, heck, at 1600 points if needs be. But instead of pimping out this release as a triumph of their internet initiative, they choose to go to brick and mortar stores and charge you for distributing the title despite having a pipeline into your house. If Resident Evil 4, Beyond Good and Evil, Strangers Wrath and Monkey Island can be put on the XBLA there is no reason Halo Anniversary can’t.   read

8:07 PM on 09.08.2011

Labor Day: How I Said Goodbye to a Dragon

The Playstation 1 era was tough. I was 11 years old, I only got a little pocket money a week, and I still don’t quite get what this “saving your money” is all about. Games were hard to come by, and if I wanted to buy them they needed to last me a good long while. I churned through a lot of trash, London Racer was no hidden gem let me assure you, but that isn’t to say the PS1 wasn’t without its gems. Well, if I recall correctly, one game in particular had thousands of them. And I beat that game, no matter how many it had. Which game was that I hear you cry (though obviously not because this has already been written)? That, my friend, is the story of how I said goodbye to a dragon.

Spyro used to be awesome. No really, he was the best. The podgy purple protagonist of Insomniacs three Playstation 1 hits was without a doubt one of my favourite video game characters, and his games were a delightful mish mash of exploration, puzzle solving and the odd gimmick. Spyro was a class act, no two levels acted the same way, whether you were soaring around the cloud spires or dashing frantically through one of the games many speedways Spyro Year of the Dragon hit that pitch perfect level of keeping gameplay fresh with innovative new ideas being constantly sprinkled throughout. It also had thousands of gems. Thousands. I loved Spyro, I loved the graphics, I loved the soundtrack, I loved the multiple characters and the hidden bosses. I didn’t love the thousands of gems. The thousands of hidden gems. In every level. That I had to find.

Now don’t turn round and say “Hey, you didn’t need to find them, you chose to.” No. That’s not fair. Because if you found all 18500 gems you could fight the REAL final boss! At the end of the last cutscene in Spyro 3 you could see the Sorceress, the evil scheming antagonist of the game, pull herself from the lava. The 11 year old me couldn’t bear the thought of her living to steal the dragon eggs once more. I had to guarantee her end. So off I went on my quest, gathering all of the gems to unlock a final bonus area where I could eventually take down the infernal witch and bring to an end her vile plans!

It took me the best part of 3 months. I played no other game, I went into every level, seeking out every one of the glittering gorgeous gems, from the pitiful reds worth only 1 a piece to the invaluable purples, worth 25 a go! I scoured the land with not only Spyro but the assistance of Shelia the Kangaroo, Sgt. Bird the Penguin, Bently the Yeti and of course Agent 9, a monkey with a laser gun (perhaps a template for future games...) Sometimes I had great fun, discovering new challenges and quirky characters who’d been hidden away behind the designer’s cunning. Other times I wouldn’t have any fun at all, replaying those same said challenges over and over and listening to those quirky characters repeat the same lines of dialogue with each failed attempt. One especially sadistic piece of design involved Spyro charging nonstop down a suction tube filled with mines, any death sending me back to the start with no gems. When completed without failure the tube lasted 5 minutes. With repeated failure, well over 2 hours. I did not enjoy it at all, but when the eggs need protection, I must take up the mantle and do my duty.

Eventually, I did it. I gathered every gem, even after restarting due to losing one of the gems to a glitch. I unlocked the final boss. It took some doing too, after a rather tricky snowboard showdown and a little exploration I was finally taking the Sorceress down. In a UFO. With no voice acting. And no final cutscene. I was devastated. Not only was the final fight as lame as hell, it wasn’t even that hard, especially when compared to the task that led to the encounter. I cursed my foolishness to pursue such a pointless end, defeating the hidden boss achieved nothing, and the “Well Done” message delivered by Bianca served only as a bittersweet slice of patronisation. What kind of end to a game was this, a pitiful piece of piss poor peril followed by a half hearted hardly heard harassment? I was upset to say the least. I expected fireworks, I expected treasures and gold, I expected another level! Another level? After 3 months of striving away at the goal I wanted more? It was then I realised the true reason of my upset.

Despite the hardship, despite the irritating design in areas and the long winded nature of the goal, the truth was I loved Spyro 3. I loved it more than any other video that has ever been released. It was beautiful, charming, funny and fun. It let me run around fictional worlds as a dragon, as a penguin and even as a Yeti. It had filled my life for 3 months with unashamed adventure and a noble quest to strive for. So when the very final boss sank into the acid I realised that no ending could satisfy me. Any end to Spyro 3 was an ending I would be unhappy with, because it was just that, an end. If only one more level, if only one more egg to rescue, if only 10 more gems... but no. It was over. My months of work had ended and I had to return to my life elsewhere. But I knew deep down this wasn’t really the end, there’d be a Spyro 4, I’d seen it in magazines, Spyro was going to be on the PS2, he’d be bigger, better, with larger worlds and prettier graphics and... and...

When Spyro died I knew it wasn’t his fault. He was fine, it was Insomniac who had moved on. They were doing another game series, something about wrenches and clunking. Spyro just wasn’t theirs anymore, and as a result he wasn’t mine either. I couldn’t finish Enter the Dragonfly, who could? It was clunky, broken, ugly and just not Spyro. I missed Spyro. I still do. But then again I would because he had come to an end, and no end would be good enough. Because it’d be just that, an end.   read

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