Thursday, 30 April 2009

Mayday, mayday!

It's May tomorrow. Barring a few interesting films, it's a really dull month. Why? Look at the feckin' gaming releases, that's why. Those are the best games out this whole month. The Wolverine tie-in game man! Yeah! When the most exciting film of the month can't be bothered to release a game - this year Star Trek, last year Indiana Jones which only got Lego Indy, and that was in June - it's a sign that publishers really hate the month.

Let's look at some "big" games this month:

Velvet Assassin - potentially okay, a proper pure stealth game, but scuppered a bit by trivialising the real-life story of one of the bravest women in WW2 and the bizarre and exploitative idea that taking morphine removes all her clothes.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - It's by Raven who I normally would say are a good choice (they've done X-Men before and are a mediumly-good developer), but as they've got a lot on their plate already it can't possibly be any good.
Terminator Salvation - The makers of Wanted: Weapons of Fate create a game that plays identical to it in every way, just with robots. Given the mediocrity of that game (it managed to get boring even though it was only three hours long) I'm not expecting much. They didn't even hire Christian Bale to voice John Connor.
Damnation - This one's been a long time coming, and it could be interesting. I'll wait and see.
Coraline - Film looks great, game looks shite. A familiar pattern.
Fuel - Looks a lot like that Disney racing game that was released last year. Or indeed, every racing game ever.
Fable II DLC - Are you taking the piss?
inFamous - A direct copy of Prototype, rushed out the door so as to beat that game to the shops. And it's PS3-only, which instantly disqualifies it as a purchase for me.
Bionic Commando - Could be fun, if a little console-y.


Compare that to June, which seems to have every game out this Summer crammed into it. After that it's one big drought.


Still, it'll give me time to complete The Witcher at least.


And in other news:



In the words of the great Otto: "Man, that is flagrant false advertising!"

- Chris Capel

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Celebrity Spotting

I met Tim Schafer the other day. I resisted the urge to question him about all his old games, preferring to browbeat him mercilessly about why Brutal Legend isn't currently slated for a PC release. That is all I can actually say due to various embargo agreements etc etc.

But yes, here he is:


(That's Murray behind me, by the way.)



Dave B

Monday, 20 April 2009

Fly SWAT

On the advice of my erstwhile colleagues Dave and Nick (Plughead and Brax to their groupies), I recently purchased tactical FPS SWAT 4. This was partly because it's still a really great game that's fun to play in co-op, but mostly because it's one co-op game where Brax can't yell "Tank!" every few seconds and hack his game to make his character laugh every time he shoots someone.


(The graphics are still excellent)


I was a little wary at first, as I've never warmed to the tactical squad shooter genre. I don't mind stealth, I don't mind planning, I just don't like very very slowly crawling around a map with a bunch of useless bullet-magnets who take commands yet rarely obey them, while being unable to shoot straight yourself and having about fifty keys and a hundred items to keep track of.

And you know what? I was totally, utterly wrong, at least in SWAT 4's case. The teammates are, as I suspected, a little bit brainless (particularly from Dave and Nick's point-of-view), and tend to shoot first stun later. Still, at least they can throw better than Dave.

Apart from that quibble the game's excellent, and far exceeded my expectations. My squad, while a little trigger-happy mostly did what I told them to, even sensibly avoiding corners until they'd been scouted. The equipment was all kept quite sensible, the masses of commands were mostly all mapped to the right mouse button in a lovely simple menu, and it mostly just felt like one of my beloved (but rare) FPS stealth games - except with a squad.


(This is one of the first pictures I got after typing 'SWAT 4' into Yahoo's Image Search. There's not even four of them!)


I'm enjoying the single-player just as much as the co-op, and it reminded me what a great developer Irrational was before they sold their soul to 2K (as much as I like Bioshock, I suspect most of the problems the game, and indeed the franchise now, was down to publisher interference). I can only hope 2K won't stunt their creativity. Still, I'll never forgive them for "2K Boston".

Another Freedom Force, please. '70s-style.
- Chris Capel

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Remake It What It Is

If there's one thing across the board in the entertainment industry I cannot stand, it's remakes. It comes from my own personal desire for originality as a writer, and remakes are the absolute bane of originality (well, that and reality shows, which I also hate but are just a TV-based phenomena at least).

I don't really hate all remakes, just the ones that are unnecessary. For example, I embraced the remake of The Amityville Horror because the original was only "okay" to start with. Unfortunately that turned out to be even worse, but I accepted it as a valid basis for a remake. Friday the 13th is another that wasn't particularly good to start with. Then there are the ones that actually turned out very well, like The Fly or The Thing - although we haven't had any of them for decades. King Kong is the only recent one I can think of.

The likes of The Omen, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Psycho, and - eek - The Wicker Man, are unnecessary as the originals are still great.

(No America! Naughty America, put that down right now!)

I also don't like the fact that remakes invariably fit into two categories - the ones that stick too close to the superior originals and make the whole thing seem pointless (The Omen, Psycho) and the ones where they change so much you wonder why they kept the name in the first place (The Day The Earth Stood Still).

America is at the forefront of this practice. When they remake their own films I get cross and slap my head at the unoriginality of Hollywood, but it's when they remake other country's films and TV programs just to make them American that I get really angry. It's bad enough that foreign films, no matter how great, seem to scare Those People In Charge Of The USA. Quarantine was an almost identical remake of [REC], just without subtitles. What's the point? But when British stuff, which is already in English, starts getting remade, then I write angry blog posts.


(You don't know how close the world got to this)

Most of them get cancelled, thankfully. Red Dwarf, Coupling, Life On Mars, Spaced, even Doctor Who (see the Paul McGann movie for reasons why) were planned. The first three were pretty much identical apart from being 'Americanised', raising more questions about the point in doing it. Coupling I loved, because the reason it got cancelled was because they kept the scripts the same and the US press attacked it for having more discussions about sex than any US show. The Office is the only one I don't mind, as that was one of the simplest ideas ever made (even the title was unoriginal).

What makes it even more interesting is that when they leave these things alone, American audiences love them. Red Dwarf, Spaced, Coupling and Doctor Who are really, really popular in the US. Same goes for films - Shaun of the Dead for instance. They couldn't care less that the cast aren't American. Clearly the US public aren't as xenophobic as those in charge make it seem.

Which brings me on to game remakes. I don't really mind them as much, as most are older games that don't really have a story. Prince of Persia, Bionic Commando, Doom 3 etc are more making a new game. Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena is less remake, more 2-Disc Remastered Special Edition.

In fact, the only proper, straight gaming remake I can think of is Tomb Raider Anniversary. This one illustrates the dearth of ideas for Lara Croft right now, with the poor sales of Underworld showing how bored everyone is with the character. I did buy it, but only because it was £3 at Zaavi.

Gaming remakes don't bother me, in other words. On the other hand, if Eidos Montreal are remaking Thief: The Dark Project instead of making a new game in the series there'll be hell to pay.

- Chris Capel

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Inadequate Referencing

"Hey Sarge? Is this war...ethical?"
"Not a real country Joe. Kill'em all."


So, Konami are making a realistic CoD4-style shooter. Everyone's getting worked up over the subject matter...but me, I don't give a flying fuck about whether or not it's "right", whether or not it could be considered morally dubious to make it. For me, the issue is this;

Konami.

Console.

"Realism".

Anyone remember that Daikatana strip Penny Arcade did years back?

CVG article

Kotaku article


Anyway, on to the bulk of my rant for the day. I was reading this here article on New Scientist's website;

Teh New Scientist

"Many studies have suggested that violence in video games could be linked to aggression. To investigate further,"

Of course they're linked to aggression, you fuckwits. All competition generates aggression to varying degrees; it's human nature. Give a player of any game win/lose conditions, and watch the chemicals fly. It's the way our brains work; you give the brain the right stimulus, and it'll switch into chase/kill/flee mode, telling the body to pump you full of all the chemicals required to survive and process information quickly. There's no fucking mystery here, and quite frankly I'd be more concerned if someone played such games and showed an ice-cold state of emotional neutrality and calm...because it'd mean that they were a psychopath, and/or unhinged.

"Fuck! He saw me!"
"Are you feeling aggressive yet?"

But that "violent games ate my baby" verbal-excrement is old news, and an old rant. No, that's not what gets on my man-tits today. What gets on my man-tits today, is this bit:

"To investigate further"

To investigate further. I'msorrywhutnow? No, you can't talk about investigating further, when you're performing exactly the same sort of study as all the others, but with a *broader* range of games.

Let's bring this into some sort of context. Film Theory. Big thing, dontcha know? Entire libraries of people talking bollocks about films, making words up and generally being pseudo-intellectual. Nonetheless, they're respected pseudo-intellectuals, and their essays are required reading for anyone studying films. Not just required reading; such essays must be referenced in any subsequent analysis of films.

In an academic environment, you try stating an opinion or putting forth an analysis without a veritable sea of references and quotes, and your words will be dismissed.

You know what I see in every report surrounding such computer game studies, and the comments from the general public that soon follow?
A complete lack of what I would consider required reading. We see terms such as "driving games" and "violent games" bandied about as if they actually mean something. They mean absolutely fuck-all. What the fuck is a driving game? Are they talking about racing games? Because a racing game and a driving game could be considered to be two different things, and capable of triggering very different emotional responses. You know what would help clarify this? References. Give me names. Tell me that you sat people down in front of the following games, and that you have a carefully thought-out reason for selecting them based on setting, control system, target audience, gameplay, graphics, sound, music and all those other little details that any discerning gamer would be isolating and considering without even thinking about it.
Violent games. What the shit is a violent game? In the Thief series, it's entirely possible to complete each game (on the easier difficulty settings at least) by killing every living thing. Does that make it a violent game? Should it be dumped in the same category as Soldier of Fortune?

If someone would like to investigate further, then please feel free. But until I see such studies discussing the impact of player perspective, character design, narrative structure, basic gameplay mechanics and fucking anti-aliasing, their results are completely and utterly meaningless, and "investigating further" isn't really a term they can use.

It's about time we had something of a revolution. I want to see Game Theorists talking bollocks and making up words with as much authority as Film Theorists. When computer games are discussed, I want those who have never played games to be ridiculed and dismissed, should they decide to wax lyrical about the effects such games have on the player.

And most of all? I want Colonial Marines to be fantastic, and Bioware to realise that Dragon Age is a heap of clich├ęd shit, stop pissing about, and remake the Baldur's Gate series in a new beautifully-drawn Myst-4-esque version of the Infinity engine.

If I can't change the world, I can at least escape from it.

- Nick Brakespear

Friday, 10 April 2009

Seasickness

So, the first Bioshock 2 footage is up on GameTrailers now. (Can I embed it? Let's see...)




(Apparently I can)

Now, me and Dave differ in our opinions on the first Bioshock. I love it but can accept that it has several faults, he thinks it didn't live up to any of the promises the developer made of it (both of those really downplay our feelings on the matter, but that's a comment for another day).

This video is the first ever in-game footage of the sequel, and so it has to be spectacular. The first half is pretty good, introducing the lithe and devastating Big Sister well, the problems lies in the second half of the very short video.

One of the biggest annoyances in Bioshock was the Little Sister escort mission near the end of the game. It was dull, frustrating, and felt tacked on to pad out the ending. So what would you not expect the first ever gameplay video of Bioshock 2 to focus on during its very short run time? That.

The final words of the Little Sister were better though. Creepy and ominous, that's what I'd like the trailer to be like. Showing story, elements of the sinister, new well-designed areas, hinting at bigger things... not a kill-a-thon bringing back the most tedious part of the original game.

Oh, and the Drill was shit too. Who in their right mind would design a massive killer drill as a weapon and then make the attack of that weapon a slam to the face with the handle of the drill?

- Chris C

Friday, 3 April 2009

Those Good Ol' Games

I've been hearing about website Good Old Games for a long time now, but for some reason I've always held off from joining. I'm loving their goal, to make excellent older games XP/Vista compatible and easily downloadable, but I've just been waiting for the right games to come along. Most of the ones on there I already own and (the last time I checked) they worked fine.
But now I've taken the plunge. What game tempted me?

Perhaps Kingpin or SHOGO, both excellent FPSs I've always wanted to play but didn't?

Maybe a quirky, original title I've also never played, like Shiny's Messiah and Sacrifice?

Even a game I've already played but want to play again, like Unreal II or Redneck Rampage? Or my first-ever FPS game, the one that started my life-long love affair with the genre, Rise of the Triad?

None of them, although I'll probably buy them at some point. It's a game I've searched for on the PC for over a decade but have never been able to find. My favourite game on the Amiga, and possibly of all time.


I utterly love this game. If I chose the best game of all time, it would be Deus Ex. If I chose my favourite however, it might well be Cannon Fodder. The forerunner to the RTS genre (came out the same year as Westwood's Dune II), a more fun and almost as difficult version of Commandos, simple and yet devastatingly frustrating sometimes, if it weren't for Cannon Fodder I doubt I would be as into games as I am now.
Cannon Fodder 2 was the first game sequel I ever looked forward to as well.
- Chris C