The idea of a spy turning on the agency that created him is nothing new. It’s a staple of film, TV and video games that goes waaaay back. In the case of Splinter Cell it’s going to draw comparisons to Bourne, especially since the visceral close quarters combat of the movies is something that would translate so well to a video game if only someone could figure out a way to do it right. Fisher aping Bourne would be no bad thing, but it’s got to feel right in the hands of the player.
Splinter Cell Conviction also seems to have had a bit of an identity crisis. The uncharacteristically long development time might have hinted at the difficulties of updating a franchise for the HD generation, but it might also indicate the design team’s desire to keep the character relevant, while taking the gameplay in a different direction. Early screens of Sam Fisher sporting an emo-fringe centre parting had fanboys in hysterics, but I felt a little sad that Sam’s attempts at cultural subterfuge were discarded in preference of a greying buzz-cut.
Ubisoft had made damn sure that Sam’s three-piece night vision goggles were the game’s calling card, a signature of the character that would rival Master Chief’s golden visor, or Snake’s sweaty bandana, so I did wonder if this had been discarded in the wash. There are echoes of it on the title screen with the three red swirls, and the loading icon in the bottom left, but it encroaches on another intellectual property altogether (Predator, anyone?). The music that accompanies the title screen is reminiscent of the Bourne movies.
The demo starts proper with a neat little intro, telling the bad guys (previously the good guys) that Fisher has been spotted in Malta and that they need to bring him in, without him killing them first. This is less of a cutscene and more of a trailer, as it blips through all the new things that Fisher has added to his repertoire. Most notable is the inclusion of the Centre Axis Relock method of shooting, or as you might have called it, “that jiggy way he shoots sideways from his chest.” It doesn’t really do anything for gameplay mechanic, but it’s just one of those inclusions that reminds you that Fisher is better trained and more deadly than anybody in the game.
The demo starts with Fisher ‘interrogating’ a guy for leads in a bar’s bathroom. Both Bond and Bourne have hoofed bad guys in the john before, so here’s Fisher marking his own territory on the convention. Which he does by ramming the guy’s head through the urinal. Once or twice. There are a couple of nice touches here, first is that different parts of the bathroom are interactive. Drag the guy over to the wash basin, and watch Fisher put the guy’s face through the mirror. Second, move the guy over to a wall, and Fisher just jams it right against it. It may be a glorified cut scene, but it’s a nice touch, and flashbacks play out as a projection on the wall.
The demo proper introduces you to a couple of those neat tricks you saw in the intro. There’s an active cover system, where pointing out the spot you want to shimmy to next and hitting A will get you there double quick. You can leap out and take people down by hitting B and doing so allows you to utilise the biggest gameplay mechanic to be added to the series, marking targets for an instant takedown. Tag up to three bad guys Rainbow Six style and then hit Y to watch Sam snap shoot them in the head. Hey, it’s a neat trick, but if you really want to do it yourself, you and the right stick can be buddies.
Sam runs with a nice fluidity, but his crouch speed seems to have taken a hit (he is getting old, and crouching in hard on the knees), which doesn’t sit with just how quickly he can spring up pipes. It wasn’t until I went from a pipe to a ledge that the controls seemed a bit spongey, as Sam just bounces around without much attention to gravity or his sinewy arms. It also made it difficult to line up the insta-takedown of pulling a bad guy out of the window. Also, the soft A button-does-an-action thing appears at first glance to be well implemented - look at something, press A, do it – in reality if there are two things very close one another, you can find Sam accidentally doing the other thing. However, when this hiccup isn’t apparent, there is a lot of grace in Sam’s movements, which benefit from being a kind of military parkour.
The demo places action above stealth, and while it is possible to get from beginning to the end without being detected, it’s not possible to do so without at least alerting them to your presence (or maybe it is, I dunno). I found that I was able to get past every bad guy in the underground section with strategic use of the EMP to knock out the lights, but of course this sends them into a blind panic. It’s not quite as satisfying as leaving no trace, which is what I strived for in the previous games, but Sam is on a revenge trip here, so perhaps he wants to leave a trail of bodies, just to make a point.
I also like the black and white filter that comes in to effect when Fisher is in the shadows, with the bad guys remaining in colour. One of my peeves about the previous games was just how visible Fisher was, with all his glowing green gadgets, but now he’s not quite so luminescent in the shadows. His nightvision/infra red combo has been replaced by the Sonar Vision, which pings out a sonar wave that highlights the enemies, which must have surely been stolen from The Dark Knight (where does he get his marvellous toys?), and will no doubt annoy the SC die-hards.
I can’t imagine that the full game is going to be bad. The demo certainly hasn’t put me off getting the full thing. It's got some nice new ideas, and a snappy visual style. It’s has been on my wishlist now for well over 2 years, and now I’ve had a go on it, it has left me wanting more, but secretly hoping that the gameplay and level design is a bit more varied.
“Endure Any1?” reads the motto of my Xbox Live buddy Sabr3 as his avatar peers out from under the gold tint visor of the Recon helmet. You have got to be kidding me, right? I went out this evening to socialise, fuelled by the nagging suspicion that I might not meet the girl of my frickin’ dreams spending every Friday night with the curtains drawn playing Halo, and this is how I get paid? I did not spend time with real people of the flesh and blood variety so that my ragtag crew of ODST firefight achievement grubbers could steamroller ahead and obtain Endure in my absence. I’d been working on this all week.
You see, regardless of what the smug commentators of various Youtube guides will tell you, Endure is Not Easy. The achievement reads “In Firefight, on any mission, pass the 4th Set on 4-player Heroic LIVE co-op.” Sure, it sounds simple, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it even sounds easy, and I’m sure for all the dudes who eat, sleep, and ejaculate Halo, and have done since Halo 3 dropped over two years ago, it was mind numbingly, jaw-clenchingly teeth-grindingly easy.
Firefight in ODST is essentially survival mode. Wave after wave of Covenant spawn at regular intervals and you have to shoot them until they die. There’s five waves to a round, three rounds to a set, and each set is punctuated with a bonus round. You have to sail through four of these to get the Endure achievement. It takes about two hours if you and your three compadres spend every waking hour teabagging newbs in Team Slayer, and about two hours fifteen if you’re just a regular dude with a bunch of guys who completed the campaign on Heroic because Legendary would take all week, and you have other stuff to do.
There are three main obstacles to overcome in order to obtain the Endure achievement. These are: finding three other people with whom to attempt it, who do not suck, and have good (nay, reliable) internet connections. If you are lucky, the planets will align and all three conditions will be blessed upon you on your first attempt and Endure will simply be another achievement in the footnote of your Gamerscore and merely a pleasant way to pass one hundred and fifty minutes with some new friends. Chances are that one of these three criteria will be absent, but the only way to discover this is to first get deep into the firefight.
Finding people is fairly straightforward. A well-timed post on a forum, bathroom wall, or in the comments of a Youtube video will net you literally several responses. The difficulty comes in bringing all these disparate souls together in one lobby at the same point in time. This in itself can take an hour or more, with friends of friends popping in to say, “oh, you’re doing Endure? I just wanted a Firefight, I don’t have time for Endure,” before buggering off to meet whatever social or penal appointment they couldn’t shirk.
Finding people who are good is another matter entirely. You may not notice until you are forty minutes into the attempt that the guy who was quite chatty in the lobby hasn’t responded to a single instruction the whole time, and spent the entire time either dying, or firing a fuel-rod cannon up the adjacent player’s arse. The clue is that by the end of the first set, you have nearly a third of the score. If you have half of the current score, you are not doing well. Another clue is that you have only died once, but have less than ten lives remaining. The only real way to find out who is the weak link in your Xbox Live matchmaking exercise is to utterly fail and check the post-game stats. This is where you find out that one guy died over twenty times and contributed less than ten per cent of the final score. A regular Halo 3 buddy of mine put it like this, “there are two types of players going for Endure, people who are good at Halo who just got ODST cos it’s cheap, and people who suck at Halo.” I hoped that I was in the former category.
Having a good connection is vital. Lag is okay, and good players will compensate and it won’t slow them down too much, but if the connection drops out and one player’s machine doesn’t keep up, then the whole thing will crap out dumping you back in the lobby. There is nothing worse than rounding the second set with twenty lives remaining having just won an Invincible medal to have the whole thing freeze up while the sound loops for three minutes before returning to the lobby where the guiltless facades of your teammates stare back at you.
I have suffered all of these pitfalls. Last Monday I was the witless newb holding everyone back. Tuesday I found some good players and started to find a rhythm, but no real plan had emerged and we still struggled to make it through the first set. Things gelled on Wednesday, but we crapped out in the ultimate wave of the fourth set. Reconvening on Thursday, a new player in the fourth spot brought connection problems resulting in a good run going bad at the beginning of the fourth set.
So Friday is when I eschewed Endure for socialising that didn’t involve a plastic headset, only to come back at 4am and find out that my Halo teammates with whom I’d spent a week developing and honing my skills had big fat done it without me. Which kind of made me feel like the weak link that was just holding everyone back. “Yeah mate, we just sort of breezed through it. Had about twenty lives by the end of it, simple” they said as I scrabbled around trying to find some people who were good, with good connections, who would let me piggyback their achievement. No such luck, as I found myself back at square one, but this time being the good player in a team of swill, watching the lives count circle the drain attempt after attempt.
I finally found some good players, and got deep into the fourth set, but the lives count was always precariously a single figure, and after each round someone would say, “oh we’re not gonna make it” having spent the round charging everything down with sticky grenades and a grav hammer, chewing through lives like a second stringer quarterback chews gum. Unhelpfully, one of the dudes had his mic set to ‘friends only’ (“too much Modern Warfare 2” apparently) so I didn’t hear a word he said and vice versa. The post game carnage report highlighted why we had failed so miserably. My eight deaths and fifty-to-one kill/death ratio was seriously undermined by their having 60 deaths between them. The Modern Warfare dude had an impressive 35,000 points and 23 deaths, to my 115,000 and 8.
Previously, with the guys who then went on to complete Endure without me, I had reached the final wave of the fourth set, only to watch our eight lives evaporate like dog-piss on a hot pavement. Checking the leaderboards told a similar story for some of the other guys I’d played with previously. Team scores of 600k, but no cigar. People who said, “oh yeah, I got that on my second try” got struck from my friend list. Most telling was the time I joined a party just as the four players had completed Endure (to ask them if they wanted to do Endure, great timing as ever), and amongst the self-congratulatory whoops and hollers, one of the players said, “guys, I gotta go, I should call my girlfriend. I think we broke up…” to which his Xbox Live buddies consoled, “why do you care, man? You just got Endure!”
It became something of a daily ritual, same bat-time same bat-channel, trying to grind out Endure with the same couple of faces. Give it the best attempt, and if lag or lack of skill did us in quickly, take another stab at it before calling it quits for the night. I did finally get Endure, but it wasn’t without incident. Firstly, it took a good hour to assemble a team in the lobby. Ahead of time, a friend binged me a message to say that he was ready, willing and able, only to disappear for 40 minutes into Team Fortress 2. Just as he finally joined, my router decided to throw a wobbly, and boot me out of Live. Rather than risk this happening during our Endure run, I hunted around for a long enough patch cable to run from my box right into the router. This took about 10 minutes, and of course to my buddies, it looked as though I’d just upped and left. So it was no surprise to find that one of my team had logged off for the night, so we had to wait another 15 minutes for a fourth guy to appear. An unknown element, who could very possibly suck and drag us all down.
To make matters worse, the party-chat that was hunky-dory in the lobby, but went to shit as soon as the game started. I only had one guy in my ear, and had to assume he was the only one who could hear me since the other two guys didn’t respond to any of my instructions, startling wit, or cracks at their expense. This continued until the end of Set 1 where I could no longer converse with anyone at all. It took me until the beginning of the final round to pull out my headset and realise that I could then hear everyone talking to each over through my speakers. I plugged my headset back in when we quit out of the fifth set in anticipation of the post-game lobby debrief, only to find that it worked and I could hear everyone again. One guy said, “I have a friend who wants me to help him get Endure, but now I’ve actually got it, there’s no way I want to go through all that again.”
I know how he feels. It explains perfectly why all the guys who forged on without me and offered to help me get it later on all ducked the invites when I sent them out. It’s the same reason that when someone who has been reading the bathroom walls in the service stations off the M4 bings me a message that says, presumptuously, “Endure?” that they get a swift reply of, “Never Again.” So if you got it first time, second time, or thereabouts and in your eyes anyone who took a little longer to reach those dizzying heights is a grotty no0b suckling at the taet of your milky greatness, good for you. Seriously, I mean it, you’re awesome. Don’t take any time off! If you’re still slugging away at it, or will take a stab when you finally get round to playing ODST, good luck – you have my very best wishes. And no, I will not help you…
There is a school of thought, and one to which I subscribe, that states: do not name your video game after something that can mean something else. Be it a double entendre, a backhanded compliment, or an unwitting acronym, this is the same school of thought which states that if your surname is Head you do not name your first son Richard. Likewise, if you are making a first person shooter based on the trials and tribulations of the Eleventh Airborne in the Pacific theatre, you don’t call it Airborne Rifle Squad Eleven. Indeed, if you are compiling a CD of the greatest hits of the greatest hits of all time, you don’t call it, HITSHITS.
Which makes me wonder why this game is called Dark Void. A couple of things spring to mind, and the first is that the obvious meaning of void is ‘empty space’, a black hole, or an abyss. If something is truly comprised of nothing, then that includes light, which makes the prefix of ‘Dark’ completely superfluous. It’s like saying ATM Machine or sweet honey, or high mountain. Unfortunately, void has other meanings, which mostly revolve around lack of content, being vacant, useless, ineffectual and in vain. Problematically for the creators of this game, void also means to evacuate, as in, void one’s bowels. This voids (if I may) the above-mentioned school of thought that states, that one should not name one’s prized intellectual property upon which one will stake their very reputation, after the act of taking a shit.
The splash screen doesn’t give much of the game away. It’s reminiscent of Aliens, insofar that it has a glowing slit of light in the centre, which is hardly reflective of the ‘dark’ part of the title. The first words uttered in the opening cutscene, “aw, crap,” echo the alternative meaning of the word ‘void’, and the main character, who looks like a downed WWII bomber tinkers with something with a large wrench. The game gets going, and without much explanation the main dude is running along with a BFG and a jetpack. A voice in his ear explains how to use the jetpack, implying that he’s never used it before, and as you leap from a waterfall halfway up a cliff, you do wonder how he got up there to begin with if he hadn’t used the ‘pack.
I spent the first few seconds of flight bumping aimlessly down the face of the cliff, and no amount of input on the left or right stick would point me in any other direction than jagged rock. I finally managed to right myself and still have no idea what I’m supposed to me doing. Voice in ear says something like, take out a communication tower? I bounce into a glowing dome with some important looking stuff underneath it. Obviously, I’m not supposed to go that way yet.
I find out that by pressing A I am able to hover in one place and fire my normal weapon instead of the guns attached to the jetpack whilst in flight mode. The only problem with this is that the recoil on the BFG I’m hucking about is much that a perfectly aimed shot will not find its target on account of the gun bucking so far up, and the tracers illustrate this lack of accuracy by zipping over the top of the comms tower.
Flying is a bitch to control. The left stick controls the pitch and yaw (up down, left right), like an aeroplane, up is down and down is up, and the right stick controls the roll (spinning on the forward axis) with left and right. This is a monumental clustercuss for me to get to grips with. Not only that, but something in my house smells reminiscent of an exes’ perfume, and I’m pretty sure she’s not hiding anywhere. It’s distracting to say the least.
I somehow manage to destroy all the communication towers without flying into their mangled wreckage and I await further instructions. Unfortunately for me further instructions require pulling off ‘manoeuvres’ with the ‘pack and this involves pressing the right stick down and then pulling the left and the right stick in some combination and my guy does something. It doesn’t give you much more to go on than that, but I guess this is an Important Part of The Game, because I’m getting a mini tutorial on it.
Without much feedback on how I did, a cutscene arrives telling me that I have to take out an anti-aircraft gun. My understanding of AA guns is that they shoot down planes, so with that thought in mind, I fly my fleshy bag of blood and bones directly towards Instant Death with the rocketpack guns blazing. Clearly this Rocketeer wannabe is made of sterner stuff than the WWII plane he looks like he was shot out of, because he sucks up the high calibre rounds like they’re tapioca pudding.
I land on the platform where the AA once stood, and some UAVs turn up to shoot at me. Now clearly, standing upright and shooting them down is not what I’m supposed to do, because the unforgiving recoil of the ridiculous gun I’m carrying ineffectually pisses ammo into the air with a 100% miss-rate. I take to the skies to take these bastards out. Or at least, bounce off the cliffs for a bit. Even then it takes me a while to find the things to shoot at, because while the radar is helpful enough to tell you where these things are in relation to me on a 2D plane, it doesn’t give any indication of their third axis, i.e. their height, so I still have no idea where they are until they shoot at me, and even then it’s touch and go.
Inevitably my guy dies, and I wish I’d chosen to play this on casual setting so that the game plays itself and I might stand a chance. This is when I realise that pressing LB locks onto a target and then I get the difficult task of lining my guns up with it. Thanks for telling me I could do that, where was the tutorial for that one? I die again because even though I can now see the badguy, I can’t actually kill it cos I have no concept of how to control my guy in relation to it. If I get close enough, a large red B appears over the flying saucer, which if pressed launches my character into a quicktime event, presumably so I can take it out without shooting it down.
And that’s where I have to leave this demo. It would be unkind to call this an unplayable mess just because I can't get to grips with it, but a lack of intuitive control and little exposition or guidance as to how to do anything makes for a particularly jarring experience. I’ve said before that demos either allow you play a game that you’re giddy with hype about before you buy it, or to confirm that games you’ve never heard of aren’t worth your time or money, and this demo definitely falls into the latter category. My interest in this game is void, as in null and.
Foreword: I wrote this piece back in November last year to accompany a job application I made to a well known video game magazine and I'm posting it now verbatim, which is why it's a little out of date. I was going to expand on it, but it gave me an idea for another post altogether, so will work on that instead.
The headline “Peter Molyneux Hates Demos” exploded across gaming blogs last month after the new creative director of Microsoft Game Studios in Europe sat down with Edge to discuss Lionhead’s decision to release Fable II on Xbox Live in five episodes. As comment boards across the blogosphere rushed to the defence of game demos with adolescent sarcasm, I couldn’t help but feel that they had largely missed the point.
Molyneux described demos as “the death knell of experiences” and I agree that sometimes demos don’t properly represent a game’s core mechanics well enough to offer the gamer a unified experience. Consequently they don’t enjoy it and so they don’t buy it. Molyneux’s bold experiment is to take a game which is already wholly developed and offer it to consumers in episodes, allowing the consumer to purchase additional content as they progress into the game. Lionhead need only break the game into chunks and work out the finer details of delivery.
Despite the simplicity of the idea, episodic gaming has a poor track record, where the promise of smaller, more frequent updates gave way to the reality of infrequent larger updates. As much as I loved Half Life 2 back in 2004, it’s been a clear two years since Episode 2 and details of Episode 3 are still thin on the ground. With even less success, SiN Episodes had the admirable intention of releasing an episode that comprised of six hours of gameplay every six months, but since the release of the first episode in May 2006 all development on future episodes has ceased. In the meantime, the core concept has morphed into the far more successful guise of downloadable content, with Fallout 3 and GTAIV being notable titles to carry quality episodic expansions.
So Molyneux’s hatred of demos is reasonable when you consider that they perform an unreliable promotional role. They fill the gap left between previews, reviews and actually buying the physical product and playing it yourself. I can’t think of a demo that I’ve played which has made me want to buy the whole game, but I’ve played plenty of demos for games I already knew I wanted to get, and in some cases the demo was enough to convince me otherwise. So while they can be counter-productive, demos remain enduringly popular because they give eager fanboys who are drunk on hype the chance to taste a game ahead of the release date. Savvy developers then attach these blockbuster demos and betas to otherwise anonymous games, giving such titles a hefty sales boost on the back of a ‘free’ demo.
Molyneux’s new vision for demos in a modern content delivery service is reliant on the flexibility and scalability of online services like Steam and Xbox Live. I can imagine turning on my machine, choosing to play any game on the market and at a certain point in proceedings, paying to unlock further sections of the game. When a game like Fable II is offered in this way, it’s not so much episodic as incremental. Its merit is that I pay only for the content of the game I actually consume, and should I lose interest in it, I haven’t paid full whack to play half a game.
As a concept, it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary - being a conceptual mash-up of shareware, retro coin-ops, episodic gaming and downloadable content. The convenience comes from having that fatband, always-on, datapipe pumping gigabytes into your living room, like the technological soothsayers always predicted. Infinium Labs attempted to provide just that back in 2002 with their appropriately named Phantom game system, before disappearing six years later having failed to bring the product to market. It was always going to be the heavyweights who finally created the infrastructure to provide content in this manner, as it serves their interests to short-circuit piracy, and strip games of their resale value.
If I were cynical, I would say that Lionhead’s decision to give away the first episode of the game is a demo by any other name, but despite Molyneux’s propensity for aggrandised assertions, it might just work. As an experiment in selling games incrementally to the end user, it’s the kind of ambition I’ve come to expect from Molyneux, and provides a genuine glimpse of the future of digital distribution. I will have to sit this one out however, because I’ve already bought Fable II, played it, and flipped it on eBay, all without once playing a demo.
There are two kinds of demos that I review: those for games I have never heard of and are invariably rubbish, and those for games that I want to play so badly that I’m prepared to partway spoil my future enjoyment of them by sneaking a glimpse of them in demo form.
Bayonetta is somewhere in between, as it’s a game I know very little about, and didn’t have much interest in playing, that is until Edge Magazine gave it a clear 10 and made it the most important game on my horizon and must be sampled at any cost. This, in the same month that they also reviewed Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II and Left 4 Dead 2, the only game to push past a 9 into the near legendary Edge 10 score was the one game in the line up I hadn’t heard of.
Having not played Devil May Cry since the first outing on PS2 back in 2001, or any game like it since, I have no genuine idea what to expect with Bayonetta. The intro movie does nothing to clue me in. Something about evil and never being allowed to run amok and so on. It’s probably a fair assumption that all this gets largely overlooked in order to let Dante’s female equivalent kick vampire equivalent ass all over the shop. For this is light and dark, heaven and hell, ying and yang, marmite and jam.
The short tutorial introduces you to the combat concepts required to navigate the game. Simple punches, kicks and gunplay meld seamlessly into impressive combos that you can easily break out of at any time. Add to the mix a nifty little evade/counter move that if timed correctly will a trigger a ‘witch’ (read ‘bullet’) time slowdown for you to exact maximum return damage on your hapless foes.
Then take all that and chuck it out of the window, because as soon as the game starts you will have no idea what the fuck is going on. Bayonetta, you see, is riding the face of a giant crumbling clocktower as it tumbles into the abyss, and winged angels flock to her with bladed sceptres.The camera swoops down to where she stands, not unlike a sexy librarian with her sensible glasses, which act as a foil to her leathery garb and gun barrels for high heeled stilettos. She elegantly sashays into a fighting stance and the epileptic explosion of phantasmagoria that peals out in all directions like an electric storm, dazzles and confuses. You, the player, exist merely at the event horizon of this particular blackhole of wanton and inventive destruction, but still retain unparalelled control over the proceedings.
The sheer depth of visual detail is staggering, and it’s almost a shame that the camera is set so far back from the witch, because it feels like you only snatch glimpses of her grace and beauty from afar in those rare moments between doling out chunks of the old ultraviolence to dogooder angels. Slinking towards enemies with a catwalk strut, one hand on her hip and the other at full stretch strewing bullet cases in all directions, Bayonetta is the personification of sex and death. A grim reaper with designer glasses and a skintight leather catsuit.
The Bullet Climax is exactly that, a vivid orgasm of flying shells and gunwank carnage. As the camera whips around Bayonetta’s lithe forms, it’s hard not to feel to feel that this is sexualised violence at its most penetrating. She looks as though she is cast in vinyl. Dispatching angels turns them into the fine mist of claret we’ve all come to enjoy in such games, and they spew forth gold rings that Bayonetta gobbles up like an S&M Sonic the Hedgehog. The so called Torture attacks allow her to heel enemies into conjured traps such as the Iron Maiden, or grind their fair features onto nearby furniture. Angels drop weapons which you can happily wield, even those which seem too cumbersome or oversized for your slender frame, magically morph into more manageable items.
The scene is as busy as a street in New York, and there is so much going on in the background that you will only pay it proper attention when it encroaches your personal space. Floating behemoths slam down onto the arena, and catapult the witch to new surfaces, linked only by a graceful cutscene which mercifully doesn’t require any quicktime input from you, the player, so you can simply take a breather and marvel.
This is merely the prologue it seems, a teaser for the main event. The story starts proper with Bayonetta seated in a Victorianesque train into an art deco station. This would appear to be Heaven, where most of the fetishistic bloodshed is to take place. She kicks her heels, shoots her cuffs, and smirks, “and they call this paradise?”
It might just be, for the visual flair is astounding. The way butterflies splash from her heels as she lands, tassels and sleeves snaking her every movement. Ethereal forms haunt the quiet paths and Bayonetta is free to walk through their very spirits, and they shimmer into a less discernable form to accommodate her. When the angels descend and the action kicks off, a mere nod and her twin pistols are unholstered, brandished with a flourish of confetti whilst she stands ankle deep in daisies. A double jump produces a set of butterfly wings that keep Bayonetta juggling gravity for just a moment longer and when you are low on health, demon hands claw the edge of the screen. This really is like no paradise I have ever seen in a video game.
Bayonetta is a rare demo indeed. On the basis of the Edge review alone, I was prepared to pre-order this game without a second glance, and rather than convince me otherwise, the demo has confirmed that the full game is going to be nothing short of batshit insane. It has convinced me, I am sold, sign me up, I’ll eat a slice.
I am in the grip of some kind of zombipocalypse fervour. This all came about when I read on savygamer.co.uk that Tesco Entertainment, which is the media mail order arm of Britain’s largest supermarket, were offering Left 4 Dead 2 on Xbox for a mere £15 ($25) with free delivery. This was then followed up by Steam’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday extravaganza during which the original Left 4 Dead cost a mere £6.50 ($10), so I snapped that up too. As if this tasty brainathon couldn’t get any more exciting, Threadless had their Black Friday sale, where all tees were £5.50 ($9), which meant I could pick up this gem among a few others.
So for less than £30 spent a whole host of zombie butchering mayhem awaited. However, it didn’t exactly pan out that way as you could probably imagine, as Tesco realised that selling a brand new game for £15 was a wild and scurrilous mistake. In days gone by a witless online retailer may have simply honoured the deal rather than upset those concerned, but with the advent of twitter and blogs such as savygamer, they must have had thousands of orders at this price.
So I got an email saying that my order had been cancelled and here was a £2 voucher for my inconvenience. I’d already been playing L4D on the PC for 24 hours by this point, such is the convenience of digital distribution. Steam didn’t clock me after the fact to say, “oooh, £6.50, what were we thinking? The boy who enters the prices is going to get quite the whipping… it should have read £25! £2 off instead sound good?” and then delete my rights to play it (grrr, DRM).
It’s a bit of a no brainer (no pun intended) for Tesco to pull the plug on all those orders. Contrary to popular myth, a retailer in England and Wales is not obliged to sell mispriced goods at the price advertised. Making a mistake on the price of an item does not amount to misrepresentation, and any retailer worth his highstreet salt would argue that prices are not an offer of sale, which you accept when you use the checkout, thereby creating a contract , but rather it is an ‘invitation to treat’.
Very simply, a contract exists only when there is offer and acceptance. Someone may offer to sell you something, and you accept by agreeing to buy it. Conversely, if you offer to buy something, the contract is formed when the seller accepts your offer. An invitation to treat is simply fancy legal speak for a seller making his product and price known to the buyer so that the buyer can be the one to make an offer.
The other thing to bear in mind is that online retailers are wholly automated, so even if the price is wrong, simply checking out will result in a conformation of the order, which would be an acceptance in any other circumstances and a contract would then exist. However, retailers are wise to this and know full well that while a contract almost certainly exists at this point, they can add terms to that contract that favour their rights over yours at the point of confirmation. When you first checkout for the first time, many retailers will have you check a box that says that you agree to the terms and conditions of the sale, and this means that once you complete the purchase those terms and conditions are incorporated into the contract and are binding on both parties.
So where does that leave me and L4D2? Tesco were kind enough to have a clear and concise terms and conditions displayed on their website: “If, by mistake, we have under priced a product, we will not be liable to supply that product to you at the stated price, provided that we notify you before we despatch the product to you. In those circumstances, we will notify the correct price to you so you can decide whether or not you wish to order the product at that price.”
Yes, it’s annoying, yes it would have been nice for Tesco to automatically dispatch my copy before they realised the error, but I can understand why they backtracked very quickly. I won’t be utilizing my £2 voucher, thus saving the Big-T even more money on their damage limitation, mainly because £35 for the full-price game isn’t much of a bargain. I’ll just keep an eye out on savygamer.com and pick it up when it hits the far more reasonable £20-£25 mark. I’ve got plenty to be getting on with in the meantime, not least my £6.50 copy of L4D and a suitable tshirt to wear whilst playing it…
Postscript. Checking the twitterstream, it appears that some people did indeed get the £15 price honoured. Lucky them.