Let Me Tell You Why I’m Right: How Nintendo Won The War Without Picking Up A Gun

For the last couple of months, I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up a WiiU. People who’ve been following my bullshit for a long time will probably be aware of my unguarded hostility towards Nintendo and their dogged determination to milk every one of their historic franchises dry while simultaneously leading the entire mainstream industry into a motion-controlled fatal nosedive (luckily motion-controls are balls so you always pull up before hitting the ground no matter what.)

You might wanna put some of this on that WICKED BURN.

You might wanna put some of this on that WICKED BURN.

So why the sudden change of heart? I suppose it all started in autumn of last year, following the PS4 and Xbox One reveals, when it became painfully apparent that both Sony and Microsoft were more interested in having a pissing contest over hardware than they were in showing us what new games we’d be playing on their consoles (emphasis on the word new, there; Sony’s indie support is really cool, but I can already play Outlast on my PC, so why am I spunking £300 quid on a console for the privilege?)

Then E3 rolled around in June, and while it was kind of funny to watch Microsoft desperately scrambling around in the dirt trying to regain a shred of all the good faith they bid farewell to when they were turned their industry-leading console into a less functional TiVo box, it seemed like the best they could come up with to get us all back on-side was releasing all the old Halo games. (Again, if I give a shit about Halo, I already have all the old games and the consoles to play them on; why am I spunking £300+ on a new console to play old shit?)

This could be from literally any one of the Halo games. Don't know. Don't care.

This could be from literally any one of the Halo games. Don’t know. Don’t care.

Sony, meanwhile, were content to keep strumming that indie bow, while also hinting at introducing backwards compatibility into the PS4, through a streaming service, meaning you still have to pay to buy all the games you already own, again. Hey, it worked with HD collections, we’ve proved that we’re clearly idiots willing to pay over and over again for the same thing, so why not? At least they’re trying.

Not to be confused with Phil Spencer in a Limbo shirt, which is the wrong kind of trying.

Not to be confused with Phil Spencer in a Limbo shirt, which is the wrong kind of trying.

In amongst this, there was of course a lot of name-dropping going on regarding new titles, but they were new in the same sense that a bottle of Toilet Duck with a different label can be considered ‘new and improved’, since a more accurate description would be ‘the next iteration of all the games you played last gen, only massively stripped down for DLC-mining and because we need to make all these games look so good there’s no room left for actual content.’

I wasn’t impressed, is the point I’m trying to make.

Anyway, I’m four hundred words in and I’ve barely mentioned Nintendo, and what caused my about-turn. The reason for that is probably because Nintendo didn’t actually have much of a hand in affecting my change of heart; it was the actions of their competitors that drove me back to them. When I arrived at their doorstep, though, holy shit was I in for a surprise.

Look at me. Look how fucking surprised I am.

Look at me. Look how fucking surprised I am.

It turns out that while Sony and Microsoft were measuring dicks with pre-rendered cutscenes and utterly meaningless hardware diagnostics, Nintendo were actually making and releasing games in tandem with teasing at a modest stable of upcoming interesting titles from esteemed developers and Nintendo, themselves.

While, in my last overly long essay on the topic of the games industry, I lamented the fact that out of all the games announced for the PS4 and One, only a handful were new IP and the deluge of sequels mostly appeared to be watered down versions of their last-gen ancestor, Nintendo are mixing things up with a steady release schedule of the usual suspects (Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros.) while also throwing in new things like Splatoon and The Wonderful 101, and rounding that off nicely with sequels to franchises that literally no other platform wanted to touch, such as Bayonetta 2 (and if you ever want to see a justified use of the word ‘entitled’ to describe gamers, just look to the community reactions for Bayonetta 2 going Nintendo-exclusive.)

So, just to re-iterate: Nintendo’s strategy for the WiiU is to release a variety of different games –in terms of content and genre, not just title– from franchises, old and new? Well isn’t that a novel idea; Sony and Microsoft should try it, some time.

BURNing down the house!

BURNing down the house!

Of course, it would be massively hypocritical of me to ignore the fact that a lot of the games Nintendo have been announcing are technically sequels to existing properties. I can’t really argue against that, but if it please the court I’d like to add one caveat explaining the crucial difference: I actually want to play these ones.

Dismiss that as personal choice, if you wish, but I do have a more objective reason for suddenly giving Nintendo a free pass while continuing to shit all over companies like EA and Ubisoft and their preposterous levels of sequel-whoring, and actually let’s use one of Ubisoft’s flagship properties to illustrate: I have played all the Assassin’s Creed games from 1 through to 3, including all of the expansion packs that stuffed their bras to masquerade as a full-release game, and they are all fundamentally exactly the same.

I used a fancy font, so you know I mean business.

I used a fancy font, so you know I mean business.

Sure, one has a tower defense gimmick, (which I incidentally only ever got to play once in the tutorial, because you can apparently only trigger it if you’re shit at the game, so I’m clearly a fucking rockstar,) and ACIII seemed to be more of a property development and lumber mill simulator than an actual game, but at their core they remained almost exactly the same for five games. I’ve heard IV mixed things up a bit and is actually good, but unfortunately for Ubisoft they exploited my interest a few too many times and I no longer give a shit.

Luckily it seems their big thing for the next game is four-player co-op, and since I hate forced multiplayer gimmicks being shoe-horned into predominantly single-player experiences, it looks like I jumped ship at just the right time.

Haha, jumped ship. Because pirates. Ah, I'm really good at this.

Haha, jumped ship. Because pirates. Ahh, I’m really good at this.

Conversely, amongst the games I picked up with my WiiU were Super Mario 3D World and Sonic: Lost Worlds; new titles from two of the most sequel-ridden franchises in gaming history. It’s gonna take some astronomically sized balls to try and defend my liking of these games after that Assassin’s Creed tirade, then, right?

Well, no, and here’s why: I have never played a Sonic game like Lost Worlds, and I have never played a Mario game like 3D World. There are elements present in both games that I recognise, and they are undoubtedly representative of their respective series, but they are also totally unique experiences that I couldn’t replicate with any of the other games (and I have been flagellating myself with Sonic’s 3D efforts since the Dreamcast days, so believe me when I say I’ve done my research).

To me, this is the best of both worlds: using the strength of your brand to test new ideas while, at the same time, not forcing players too far out of their comfort zone with a completely foreign IP. It is exactly what good sequels do and, even though Lost Worlds has a lot of problems, it’s renewed my interest in the franchise much more than invading the increasingly questionable enemies of America in whatever Call of Duty we’re up to, by now.

What about Canada, next? They're too nice all the time, they're obviously hiding something. Time to break out the Freedom.

What about Canada, next? They’re too nice all the time, they’re obviously hiding something. Time to break out the Freedom.

Aside from sequels, that’s not to say there is no new IP getting made for the WiiU. I also picked up ZombiU which, despite being a commercial failure, has received strong critical support and been commended for being a survival horror game that is actually survival horror and not Gears of War with jump-scares, and plan to get the Wonderful101 in the near future, on the back of this delightful Let’s Play I’ve been watching.

One of the advantages of the WiiU having the lowest specs of the current generation is that even pimp-happy developers like Ubisoft were willing to float something relatively new on the market because it wasn’t as big an investment as releasing on either of the Triple-A powerhouses. Meanwhile, it’s apparently too costly to put a female assassin in Assassin’s Creed. Although, technically, that should read putting back in since there already have been lady-assassins in the series, before.

AC: Unity. United in a disdain for women and all non-whites.

AC: Unity. United in a disdain for women and all non-whites.

God, I really can’t get off Ubisoft’s case, today, can I? Right, back on topic: one of the things I really love so far about the WiiU is that the gamepad, which incidentally feels fantastic to use, is a gimmick that actually has a ton of practical uses. I dismissed the Wiimote and it’s stick waggle nonsense, not only because they were generally uncomfortable to do over extended periods of time and hardly every worked the way they were supposed to, but mainly because there were only a handful of applications you could effectively use it for (mainly swinging, aiming, or occasionally turning something.)

The addition of an extra screen, on the other hand, has an almost unlimited number of uses and, so far, I’ve found that actually using the touch screen functionality and other gamepad elements (such as blowing into the microphone to raise platforms) has a 100% success rate, and feels perfectly natural (if a tiny bit stupid-looking). All things considered, it’s a brilliant example a of hardware existing to compliment the games it runs, instead of creating games that exist purely as shallow tech demos to show off the hardware (See: every single Kinect game ever made.)

Fun fact: Until I watched the source video, I literally thought this was a joke.

Fun fact: Until I watched the source video, I literally thought this was a joke.

The end result of all of this is that, for the first time in probably a decade, I am genuinely excited to own a new console, and every time I see a new title announced for the WiiU I actually can’t wait for it to come out. I literally haven’t felt like this since I was 11 and used to read and re-read my dog-eared copies of Nintendo Official Magazine, desperate to get my hands on what was coming next for the N64.

We weren't talking about it, but I just wanted to mention I got a brand new copy of Xenoblade Chronicles this week. Whatever, no big d'.

We weren’t talking about it, but I just wanted to mention I got a brand new copy of Xenoblade Chronicles this week. Whatever, no big d’.

Even though I doubt the WiiU will ever be as successful as the Wii was, it is undoubtedly the better machine, and it also has a better library of games in the first year of release than it’s predecessor may have had in it’s entire lifetime (not that that matters, since the WiiU is 100% backwards compatible so I can always play my Wii games, or pick up some of the titles I missed out on during my five year Nintendo detox, while I’m waiting for new games to come out).

Do you want to know what my favourite thing about the WiiU is, though? It’s fun. Pure and simple, it’s just straight up god damn exciting to use, so much so that stupid shit I’d normally dismiss as pointless flim-flam -like the ability to turn my TV on using the gamepad- makes me feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

I couldn’t stop smiling while I was playing Mario, yesterday: the bright colours look absolutely gorgeous in HD, and the music is great and so god damn catchy and it has so much variety in each level; from scavenger hunts to time trials to downhill races to traditional sidescrolling mixed in with the more modern 3D platforming. It’s constantly changing but it all feels cohesive and makes me want to keep playing just to see what I’ll get to do next.

Believe the hype: Captain Toad is fucking legit.

Believe the hype: Captain Toad is fucking legit.

Conversely, I had to force myself to play through to the end of Wolfenstein: The New Order last month, even though I really enjoyed the game for the most part, because all the Nazi robot dogs in the world won’t change the fact that I’m still just running around shooting dudes in the face, over and over and over again. I don’t just mean in Wolfenstein: I shot dudes in their dude faces by the thousands in at least a hundred different locations over the last gen and eventually it gets to the point that, no matter how good the gameplay, or how engaging the plot, you just can’t make me care, anymore, when it’s all I ever do.

Here's a clue: those barrels on its arms don't dispense pudding.

I know it’s not exactly designed to pick fruit, but come on.

If there had been just one level where I got to race Nazis on the back of a Nazi Robot Dog then maybe it would have broken up the tedium, but the closest I got was getting into a giant Nazi mech, and what did I do with it?

Bullets. Faces.

I realise that this is beginning to rapidly descend into a fanboy love letter to Nintendo, but I really cannot stress how much I did not give a shit about them a couple of years ago, so I’m more surprised than anyone to now find myself fighting their corner. Even when the WiiU was first announced and I saw the gamepad being touted around, I rolled my eyes and wrote it off as yet more bells and whistles over actual progress in pushing the boundaries of game development. I got it wrong though, because this time Nintendo seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and I can’t help but suspect that it’s come as the direct result of seeing where they went wrong with the Wii and actually owning up to it.

One thing I’ve come to respect Nintendo for is their ability to admit when they get it wrong and learn, albeit slowly, from their mistakes. Sure, they still fuck up, but at least they’re trying to change, and it really shows. I still think the PS4 is a shitefest and despite being a loyal customer to Sony for the last two generations (and being one of the five people to own, and enjoy owning, a Vita) I have no interest in picking one up, at all, but I at least respect Sony for listening to their customers and at least trying to implement backwards compatibility (albeit hamhandedly) and for embracing indie developers, even though I can already get almost all of those games for cheaper on Steam.

Complete with the bonus of additional Gaben.

Complete with the bonus of additional Gaben.

I’ve never had a lot of love or loyalty to Microsoft and the goodship Xbox, in all honesty, but whatever interest I did have in their console franchise has been completely and utterly dissolved by the Xbox One. I cannot accept nor tolerate a company who think it’s acceptable to wall off basic services that are free on every single other device unless you pay for their subscription service, and I cannot forget nor forgive their attempts to break and tame their customers with the most aggressive DRM policies the industry has ever seen, or their abhorrent ‘deal with it’ arrogance in the face of legitimate criticism. The difference between Sony and Nintendo’s mistakes and Microsoft’s is that only Microsoft repeatedly and unabashedly show open contempt for the consumers who made them what they are.

In our defence, it's hard for sound to penetrate these fat stacks.

In our defence, it’s hard for sound to penetrate these fat stacks.

It is a term that gets used far too much these days, but the levels of Microsofts bullshit with the Xbox One roll-out really was Orwellian: A console that the user has almost no control over, that can be shutdown at a moments notice if the company that built it so desires, that has a built-in camera that can’t be turned off and which can be used to retrieve data on the user and tailor advertising specifically to them (the topic of in-console advertising is yet another reason the Xbox can go fuck itself)…it’s all some flagrantly anti-consumer that it genuinely seems more like bad satire than a genuine idea Microsoft ever thought they could get away with. And make no mistake: Microsoft didn’t roll back on any of those ideas because they changed their minds. It was only the unprecedented public backlash, (or more accurately, the unprecedented drop in share prices,) that caused them to reconsider their course of action.

This is the beauty of living in the age we do: if the internet didn’t exist and allow the free exchange of information, Microsoft could have easily gotten away with this. They could have told us that all these features were necessary and we’d have had to believe them.

This, incidentally, is also the rock sensationalist tabloid journalism is now perishing on. Good. Fuck 'em.

This, incidentally, is also the rock sensationalist tabloid journalism is now perishing on. Good. Fuck ‘em.

And thank God that Microsoft still seem to believe that we believe them, because it was an utter joy to watch their web of lies get ripped apart on an almost daily basis. Every time they said the console couldn’t function without DRM, there was an engineer who could explain exactly that it could, and how; when they said the Xbox One couldn’t function without the Kinect, it took people with dev-kits all of five minutes to prove otherwise; and when Microsoft said that this is what gamers wanted, to be locked into an unrelentingly abusive master-slave relationship, and to pay for that privilege, hundreds of thousands of people turned around and told them to fuck right off.

Okay, now we’ve went too far in the opposite direction and stumbled upon my manifesto for the abolition of Microsoft. This wasn’t even supposed to be another article about the console wars – even I know when I’m flogging a dead horse- it was meant to be another dumb story about my boring life and how much bullshit I dealt with in trying to buy a WiiU. So there’s a spoiler for next week’s topic, at least. Something to look forward to!

Seriously though, if you only plan to get one console this generation, I’d strongly suggest looking into picking up a WiiU. A good PC is still your best bet for the most variety in gaming, today, but if you have to have a console in your life then the WiiU is the closest you will get to that. Actually, I’d argue it’s the only video game console on offer this generation: All Sony and Microsoft are offering is all the headaches (constant patches, intrusive DRM, artificial obsolescence) and drawbacks of a PC but without any of the benefits (mods, competitive pricing, backwards compatibility).

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Five of the Worst Films Ever Made (That You Need to See)

[This article was originally published over at Vulture Hound. Go check 'em out.]

Idiots will often tell you that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, usually as a way to excuse their saying or doing something incredibly stupid, but in matters of cinema it’s often not far from the truth.

Whenever an actor or actress is asked why they appeared in a particularly shitty film, you can almost always expect one of two responses:

A) “I needed the money.”

or

B) “I didn’t know it was going to be bad.”

The fact is that, unless they’re involved in some sort of Producers-esque scam where they are determined to lose money, no studio starts making a film that they think will fail. No matter what you are watching, no matter how bad it is, at some point, someone, somewhere believed that it would succeed.

But while hindsight is a wonderful thing, there are some rare cases where hind-hindsight reveals particular cinematic disasters to be untapped goldmines of unintentional awesome and/or comedy.

Films like…

The Wicker Man (2006)

imgthe-wicker-man21This will arguably be the best known film on the list, especially on the internet, because when it comes to the 2006 remake of British cult classic of the same name, you can generally split public opinion into four categories: People who didn’t know it existed; People who did and heard it was awful; People whose only knowledge of it is Nicolas Cage shouting ‘Not the bees!’ and the final, most blessed group of all: The people who have actually seen the entire film.

The Plot

Policeman, Nicolas Cage, travels to a small island commune to investigate stories of a missing little girl. He is summoned there by his estranged wife who hints that the child may, in fact, be his own daughter. Upon his arrival, he discovers the locals to be, at best, unwelcoming to outsiders and, at worst, just really, really god damn creepy.

Why It Sucks

Ignoring the plot holes big enough to drive a bus through –like how the islanders thought they were going to explain away the disappearance of a policeman when his entire department descended upon the island to investigate– the entire cast seemed to go into filming determined not to act under any circumstances.

Everyone delivers their lines like their scripts have all the full stops and commas swapped around, and it honestly feels like they were taking bets to see who could get fired first.

Why It’s Also Brilliant

I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say no one in this film can act, because I’ve seen several of them in othe things where they totally do. Like I said, they just deliver their lines in The Wicker Man in the strangest possible manner and, to their credit, it totally works. The film is a lot easier to watch and enjoy if you approach it in the same mindset as an episode of Garth Marengi’s Dark Place. I’m not giving the writers any credit that was their intention, I’m just telling you it helps a lot; especially when the bee lady turns up, later on.

Every thing in The Wicker Man that would be ridiculous in any other film only contributes to the over-arching theme of ‘these island people are fucked up’ and it’s all held together by the undisputed king of awesome shitty acting: Mr Nicolas Cage.

I don't remember this happening in the film; so I'll just assume it's him in day-to-day life.

I don’t remember this happening in the film, so I’ll just assume it’s him in day-to-day life.

I’ll be honest, this article was originally going to be about me watching every Nic Cage film on Netflix and seeing what effect the experience had on me, but the more I watched the more I realised that the man is just too damn loveable to make fun of. He isn’t even a bad actor –films like 8mm made it clear he is more than capable of doing serious work– but Cage truly shines when you can tell he’s just there to get paid and starts turning the Nicolas Cage Effect up to eleven.

This is never truer than in The Wicker Man.

I don’t like to assume, but I reckon Cage realised early on the precise flavour of shite he was dealing with in The Wicker Man, and so he decided to give a two-hour masterclass in hamming it up and doing that terrifying thing with his eyes. Everyone always bigs up the bees scene, or the part where he knocks out a woman, dressed as a bear, (I mean he’s dressed as a bear, not the woman. He got the bear suit from another woman that he knocked out,) but for my money, the absolute pinnacle of The Wicker Man comes when he asks his wife how his daughter’s doll got burned.

wickernicIt will be difficult to put this across in words, but let me try my best: I want you to say out loud, right now, the way you would ask someone how your daughter’s doll got burned. Now take a deep breath and shout that sentence four times without pausing between any of the words. For added effect, do not blink, ever.

Congratulations, you just took your first class in ‘Acting Drama the Nic Cage Way: A Beginner Course’!

Street Fighter: The Movie

215px-StreetFighterMoviePosterPicking on a film based on a video game is a lot like criticising someone struggling to unlock a door with their penis: They’re doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got, and they’re also probably dealing with at least one kind of mental illness.

Still, though, the 1994 Jean Claude Vanne Damme/Street Fighter vehicle took a very special kind of incompetence to mess up.

The Plot

Right off the bat, this is where things start to fall apart. Whereas they could have picked any one of the paper-thin backstories the Street Fighter II fighters used to justify beating the tar out of each other, the writers opted to focus on all-American army superstar, Colonel Guile; here played by all-Belgian enemy of unprotected groins and the English language, Jean Claude Vann Damme.

From what I can remember, Guile is searching for his army buddy, Charlie, who has been captured by terrorist leader M. Bison. And who, as a casting director, do you choose as the leader of an international crime syndicate/Nazi iconography enthusiast? Wait, before you answer, let me just remind you how M.Bison is generally depicted in most game artwork:

The chin, alone, would suggest Bruce Campbell.

The chin, alone, would suggest Bruce Campbell.

Well, have you guessed it, yet? That’s right, Gomez Addams, of course! A deathly ill one, at that, as this turned out to be Raul Julia’s last film. Now, I’m not saying that Street Fighter: The Movie was so bad that it literally killed one of its stars, but it certainly killed most of their careers! HEY OHHHHHHHHHHH no seriously Raul Julia was lovely, I’m sad he’s gone.

Anyway, a series of contrived events bring all of the Street Fighter cast together for one final climactic showdown at Bison’s secret terror base. Also, Kylie Minogue is there for some reason, because it was the 90’s and that was just the sort of thing that we did.

Why it Sucks

I cannot stress enough how much effort it took to fuck this up.

Some of those contrived events I mentioned include taking Dhalsim and Dee Jay –normally a fire-breathing monk and bad motherfucka, respectively– and turning them into lab assistants for M. Bison so they were on hand during the fight scenes to be completely god damn irrelevant.

Chun Li became a reporter, with a now decidedly Hawaiian-looking E.Honda as her camera man; Ryu and Ken spent all their screen time trying to french kiss when they thought no one was looking; Blanka looked like the lovechild of The Incredible Hulk and Mick Hucknall (and go to Hell, the producers of Street Fighter, for making me imagine that;) and Sagat, the eight-foot Muay Thai beast, got swapped out for a bad Kojak impersonator. Oh, and remember Kylie Minogue, the Australian pop starlet, who I mentioned earlier? Of course they got her to play British secret service agent, Cammy.

Broadly speaking, it’s one of the most flagrant disregards for an established franchise since George Lucas pulled the money funnel out of his arse, one day, and declared absolutely all of the Star Wars expanded universe to be non-canon.

At least they kept her bazooka special move, though.

At least they kept her bazooka special move, though.

All of that could have been okay, though, if they’d just had a god damn fight, once in a while. This is what I really, truly do not understand about Street Fighter: The Movie: none of the actors looked even remotely like their video game counterparts, but none of them could fight, either, with the exception of JCVD. The only thing Raul Julia ever fought were the advances of women, and everyone else throws a punch like they’re swatting away the overdue rent notices that forced them to take this job in the first place.

This is what really sets Street Fighter apart from other video game movies, because all the pieces were in place to have a balls-out ninety minute punchgasm. Tony Jaa’s entire career is proof-positive that you can make a coherent plot out of nothing but the anguished screams of stuntmen and snapped fibulas, so all the Street Fighter director had to do was get a room full of semi-pro MMA fighters, inject them with bull semen and offer the biggest paycheque to whoever was still standing when they ran out of film.

Instead, 90% of the film is devoted to Guile and Bison trading quips with one and other, like they’re in a rom-com waiting to go in for a kiss while the camera spins around them.

Why it’s still Awesome

Sometimes, you have to take a step back and judge a film, not by what you expected it to be, but by the merits of what it actually is. As a film about fighting in the streets, Street Fighter is utter horseshit. As a screen test for Raul Julia’s stand-up routine, Street Fighter is a masterpiece.

Only Raul Julia could wear a smoking jacket and a peaked cap without looking ridiculous.

Only Raul Julia could wear a smoking jacket and a peaked cap without looking ridiculous.

Every single line uttered by Raul Julia is pure comedy gold, in part due to the fact that he, again, acts like he knows precisely how awful the film is. I could spend the next five or six paragraphs crafting a thesis on his performance, but instead let me leave you with the greatest taunt ever uttered by a human tongue:

“For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.”

-M. Bison, in regards to wiping out Chun Li’s entire village.

Or something like that, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Street Fighter, because fuck this movie.

The Punisher – War Zone

MV5BMTM4OTQyODk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzQwNDQwMg@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_It’s hard to believe today, what with Joss Whedon’s Avengers film raking in more cash in a few months than most developing nations could in a year, but there was a time when movies based on comic books were every bit as laughable as their video game counterparts.

In 2004, Marvel decided to try and reboot the Punisher movie franchise they’d began in the 80’s with Dolph Lundgren at the helm, no doubt bouyed by the success of Spider-Man, and we were treated to a new Punisher film starring Thomas Jane as the titular Punisher and John Travolta as a man who hadn’t worked in a while.

There’s not much I can say about the first Punisher reboot, since it was a thoroughly solid revenge film that benefitted from the fact that the Punisher’s origin story reads like the climax of your average superhero story. The follow-up, also technically a reboot, is a different story.

The Plot

Warning: Cliches incoming, hard and fast.

Frank Castle is an undercover cop who retires after one last job so he can be with his family, only to have his dreams shattered after a mob boss he wronged murders literally everybody related to him. This spurs Castle to take up the mantle of The Punisher and show all those criminals who think they’re above the law that they’re wrong. Dead wrong.

/end cliche

That’s actually a more accurate synopsis of the first Punisher remake. War Zone, in a move I wish more superhero films would learn from, devotes about two minutes to the origin story portion of the plot; feeding us that backstory through efficient flashback scenes, presumably to make room for more shots of the Punisher punching faces off (absolutely not an exaggeration.)

Told you so.

Told you so.

There is actually sort of a plot revolving around Castle accidentally killing an undercover cop and trying to redeem himself by giving money to the dead cop’s family, because that is how you justice, but it really only serves as a framing device to let The Punisher spin around on chandeliers; propelled by machine gun fire (again, not an exaggeration.)

You spin me right round, baby, right round...

You spin me right round, baby, right round…

Why it Sucks

Well, for a kick off, the cop-killing kind of undermines the Punisher’s entire character, since he has essentially become what made him The Punisher in the first place. A more competent film might have showcased this internal conflict as the central theme of the film; examining how fine the line is between the vigilante and just plain being a criminal, but The Dark Knight had already came out by this point, so War Zone threw up the V’s and went back to grinding up McNulty from The Wire in a bottle factory (yep, that happened too).

Also, this film features possibly the most infuriatingly annoying villain ever, in the form of Jigsaw’s psychotic brother, who constantly chews the scenery and over-acts everything in a way that was presumably supposed to convey how mentally unbalanced he is but instead just makes him an unlikeable cock and a pain to watch. Again, Heath Ledger had already done The Joker by the time War Zone came out, so subtle, nuanced character acting was kind of taken.

Why it’s Still Awesome

The keen-eyed among you may have noticed the hints I’ve been dropping as to the level of violence present in this film. For those of you who weren’t paying attention, let me clarify: The Punisher: War Zone looks like one of the film reels Malcolm MacDowell is forced to watch in A Clockwork Orange, only set to Slipknot instead of Beethoven and totally counterproductive because it is ridiculously entertaining.

The film starts off with Castle breaking into a mansion and murdering every last person inside. I’m not being flippant, either: the film takes the time to show you him murdering every last person in the most ridiculously ostentatious way possible; including the chandelier scene I mentioned earlier.

From that moment on, the film never lets up for more than a couple of minutes and, while it does come at the expense of the narrative/any actual decent character development for The Punisher, sometimes it’s just a lot of fun to watch ninety minutes of live-action Looney Tunes violence.

I don't even feel like that's NSFW because it is so god damn dumb.

I don’t even feel like that’s NSFW because it is so god damn dumb.

The Thomas Jane Punisher film was already pretty brutal, so I applaud the War Zone team’s efforts to go above and beyond in creating one of the most cartoonishly violent films I’ve ever seen. In terms of gore, for those that worry about that sort of thing, it has for more in common with The Story of Ricky, which I’ve talked about several times before, and those old Peter Jackson films he used to make before devoting his life to visually recreating the works of Tolkien, page for page, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable the way you would watching one of Eli Roth’s love letters to a serial killer.

Also, for whatever other faults War Zone may have, Ray Stevenson is the perfect casting as The Punisher. I won’t pretend to have any knowledge about the comics or their canon, but he is exactly how I picture The Punisher looking, sounding and acting, so eat it, nerds.

Eurotrip

MV5BMTIxNjcxMDUxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjAxNTM3._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_There is an undeniable air of failure endemic to the straight-to-video sequel, and since I didn’t even know that this film existed until I happened across it on telly one night, I’m guessing that the makers didn’t have much faith in its success, either.

The Plot

A spiritual sequel to Road Trip, the film revolves around a young chap called Scotty, who is dumped by his girlfriend shortly after graudation –and shortly before discovering she’d been cheating on him with best-cameo-ever Matt Damon– and decides to travel to Europe to meet his pen pal after discovering he is a she and also super hot. It’s basically your classic love story set up, is what I’m saying.

Why it Sucks

It doesn’t. At all.

Why it’s Still Awesome

Eurotrip is so good that, until I found a copy on DVD, I was determined it was a dream that I’d had. The film has an astounding amount of great cameos, including David Hasslehoff as David Hasslehoff, Vinnie Jones as a skinhead football hooligan (a true stretch of his acting muscles), Lucy Lawless as a dominatrix, Joanna Lumley as a Dutch hostel owner and Boris the Blade from Snatch as a sitcom-quoting Bratislavan who drives the General Lee. Eurotrip has more creativity jammed into ninety minutes than American Pie mustered in four full cinema releases and several spin-offs.

Again, I couldn't find a shot of Vinnie Jones in Eurotrip, so here's one of the headshots from his resume.

Again, I couldn’t find a shot of Vinnie Jones in Eurotrip, so here’s one of the headshots from his resume.

I think everything that is so fantastic about Eurotrip is owed entirely to the fact that it was an unknown sequel: because they were assuming no one would ever watch it, the creators got away with as much crazy shit as they possibly could, and it resulted in one of the most ludicrously entertaining comedy films I have ever seen, while the original Road Trip is now at best mildly amusing and a reminder that in the early 2000’s Tom Green was paid large sums of money by MTV to put dead animals in his mouth.

I don’t have any jokes to make about this one, really, you should just go and watch it.

Clue

Clue_PosterSo far in this list we’ve had video game spin-offs, comic book spin-offs, ill-fated straigt-to-video sequels and the madness of Nicolas Cage; all the hallmarks of great awful films. One of the rarest, and arguably most perplexing types of predictably bad film, however, is the board game spin-off.

You may think this trend started when that Battleship film came out some time ago and inexplicably had more to do with alien robots fighting Liam Neeson and Rihanna’s beautiful arse than it did with two children fighting the urge to sneak a peek at their opponent’s flotilla when he wasn’t looking, but these bewildering cash-ins have been going on for a long time.

All the way back to the 80’s, at least, when we were gifted with Clue.

The Plot

As far as board games go, Clue (that’s Cluedo for those of us blessed with a British passport,) is probably one of the more apt choices for a cinema conversion. Although The Departed did make an admirable stab at a Guess Who? spin-off when they cast Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon in the same film.

The point is it would have been pretty easy for them to just whip up a feature-length episode of Jonathan Creek and be done with it. Instead, they opted to go for more of a slasher film approach; with each of the game’s famous characters being bumped off one after another, which you may recognise as absolutely not the way you play Cluedo.

Why it Sucks

It’s really difficult to understand why this film had to be related to Cluedo, at all. I wasn’t around in 1985, but I find it hard to believe that the Cluedo fanbase was such a lucrative market that it was considered a worthy investment to slap the brand on a film which bore resemblance to the game only in so far as the characters share the same names and are sometimes murdered using weapons found in the game.

Why it’s Still Awesome

"You rang?"

“You rang?”

Two words: Tim Curry.

To anyone who hasn’t seen the film, this will probably sound like an insult, but Clue might be Tim Curry’s greatest work. While the supporting cast do have their moments, Tim Curry absolutely carries the entire film as the butler/murder suspect with the kind of exuberant over-acting that anyone who is familiar with Dr Frank-N-Furter will know and love him for.

That’s not to say the rest of the cast don’t do a good job, they absolutely do, in particular the delightfully odd Mrs White, and the film actually does a decent job of building an air of mystery and suspense as bodies start to pile up.

At time of release, the film even had three different endings that were shown at random in different cinemas, which I always thought was a nice touch and the kind of thing you would absolutely never get nowadays, when every extra minute of filming means one more key grip being ground up and turned into luncheon meat for the catering, to cut costs.

If Clue was remade today you can guarantee it would be a gritty murder-porn number, aping the Saw franchise, so thank god we were still allowed to have a sense of humour in the 80’s and so we ended up with essentially a slapstick version of And Then There Were None, because it’s genuinely brilliant.

Again, I have no jokes; I just like Googling this film, I love it so much.

Again, I have no jokes; I just like googling this film, I love it so much.

That’s it for the list, if nothing else I hope it’s made you consider that sometimes it’s worth giving a film a chance even if, on the face of it, it looks like it will be absolutely terrible. You never know what you might find.

Well, unless it stars Shia LaBeouf. Then you can pretty much call it a write-off, sight unseen.

Note: I don’t usually bother crediting the images I use in these articles because it’s not like I make any money off any of this, but I wanted to link the site I got that Punisher gif off of, because it was exactly what I was looking for and it’s normally an utter shitemare finding gifs. Cheers.

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Boring Anecdotes About My Sad Life: The Day The Whole World Went Away

I don’t usually write about personal stuff on my blog because I worry it will create a jarring disconnect between all my half-baked social commentary and poor man’s Seanbaby jokes, but I remembered this story the other day and I thought it was worth telling.

When I was about nine I was super into Garfield. After my first trip to Florida in 1999, I brought back –no bullshit– an entire suitcase full of Garfield books; I couldn’t get enough of that little orange fucker. They were all just compilations of the various comic strips from the newspaper, but one book did have a series of connected strips that formed a relatively short story.

Here’s a section from that series:

garfieldaloneseriesIII

According to Google, Jim Davis decided one year to do a series of strips, just before Halloween, that had no humour in them, and were instead intended to scare the shit out of people.

Naturally, nothing can ever be simple where the internet is concerned, so many people have continued to speculate that Garfield has been dead ever since this story ran and everything since is just a hallucination, in spite of Davis literally laughing in their faces and basically telling them they were full of shit. Whatever way you choose to look at it, the strips were pretty creepy, and relatively heavy for a series that has never even bothered to address the fact that feeding a cat that much lasagne would fucking kill it.

How adorably tragic.

“Oh yeah? Bullshit.”

So yeah, apparently the whole Garfield Alone thing is pretty well known on the internet, these days, but back when I was nine and couldn’t google Creepypastas this terrified the fucking life out of me. I’m not really sure why, either, it’s just a cartoon cat after all, but for some reason the whole completely abandoned, dilapidated house angle really unsettled me.

Anyway, the whole thing gave me nightmares for a couple of days, but then I got on with my holiday, because there’s a whole lot of shit to keep a nine year old busy in Florida.

'Fuck off Mum, you can go to Universal Studios by yourself, if you want.'

‘Fuck off Mum, you can go to Universal Studios by yourself, if you want.’

Two weeks later, it was time to head back home, and after a ten-hour flight with nothing to amuse me but a shitty 99-games-in-1 toy I got on the plane, which was shaped like a mobile phone, constantly played a MIDI version of ‘Ode to Joy’ and actually turned out to just be 99-different-versions-of-Breakout-in-1, I was pretty jet-lagged and miserable by the time we got back to the house.

Since it was the middle of the day, and not wanting to ruin my sleeping pattern, my parents sent me upstairs and put on a tape of the astoundingly shitty Incredible Hulk cartoon for me to watch. Jet-lag is a motherfucker, though, and I fell asleep, anyway, after about ten minutes.

I woke up probably about an hour or two later. The video had stopped playing so there was just static on the telly, which is one of the most horrible sounds to have drilling your ears when you’re groggy and half-awake. I switched off the television and immediately noticed how unusually quiet the entire house was; that weird kind of silence where the complete absence of sound actually builds up a pressure in your brain. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

I looked outside my bedroom window and there wasn’t a single car or person on the street, which was weird because it was the middle of the afternoon on a really, really nice day –rare in Scotland, even during Summer– and I lived on a main road, that ran right through the entire town.

Pictured: My street on a regular day.

Pictured: My street on any given day.

This road was never quiet, even at three in the morning you’d still hear trucks passing outside, carrying stuff to the nightshift at various supermarkets around town. It was noisy as fuck, and growing up on it was probably the only reason I was able to sleep like a baby the entire year I lived on Glasgow’s equivalent of the Las Vegas strip.

At this point the Garfield story started to creep into the corners of my mind and, for a nine year old boy with what I would charitably describe as a slightly nervous disposition, I am proud to say I at least didn’t immediately completely start losing my shit. When you’re basically terrified of absolutely everything in the world, you learn to wield logic and reason like a weapon; in a dumb way I think that how you choose to cope with your irrational fears can help to make you an extremely rational human being.

For everything else, I generally find that a big fucking hammer goes a long way to providing peace of mind.

For everything else, I generally find that a big fucking hammer goes a long way toward providing peace of mind.

So, my logic in this situation was sound: My Mam and Dad’s house is pretty big, so it wasn’t entirely uncommon that you couldn’t hear someone if they were in a room far away from you. I also reasoned that they might have decided to have a snooze on account of their own jet-lag, but upon further inspection the bedroom was empty. I methodically went about checking every single room in the house, even ridiculous places they’d have no reason to be, but there was nobody home.

Every single room in the house was empty.

This might not strike everyone as immediately odd, but it’s important to understand my Mam wasn’t the type of woman to leave her nine year old son alone in the house. Hell, even once I moved out, at the age of twenty, she’d still occasionally phone me at night to make sure I’d locked all my doors. The woman was thorough when it came to security, is the point I am making.

Honest to God, this isn't far off what their back door looks like.

Honest to God, this isn’t far off what the back door of their house looks like.

At this point I was approaching full-on meltdown because, funnily enough, a heavily coddled nine year old boy doesn’t cope so well when faced with the sudden prospect of being literally all alone in the world. I ran down the stairs in a blind panic and flew out the back door…to find both my parents sitting in the back garden, taking advantage of the aforementioned rare Scottish sun; trying to maintain their Floridian tans.

That was it. End of the story.

…What? The feature’s called ‘Boring Anecdotes About My Sad Life,’ not, ‘Totally Awesome Birth of a Crimefighting Vigilante and Also He’s Really Good at the Sex, Ladies, if You’re Interested?’.

I don’t know what made me think about all this, fifteen years later, but I do think it’s funny how coincidences like that work; how at that exact time every single variable aligned to perfectly put me in the position of Garfield in the story that had frightened me so much. Nothing like that ever happened to me before or after, what were the chances the one and only time it would occur would be after I’d read a story describing that precise situation?

Haha, Mondays, am I right?

Haha, Mondays, am I right?

But it was just that: chance. Just a one-a-million converging of events that all fell into place at the right time. I don’t attribute it to a higher power, or fate or any of that bullshit. It was just a really odd coincidence.

I don’t really know how to end this, so enjoy this nice story by Tom Waits for the alternate ending:

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Thank You, MPAA; Stalwart Saviours of Purity and Moral Fibre

10262235_10152559848440695_5033236313145013944_n
Did you just look at that poster? You did? Well, congratulations: you’re fucked, now. According the the ever-vigilant eye of the Motion Picture Association of America, the above poster for Sin City 2 was deemed ‘too risque’ for having the audacity to highlight the fact that women apparently have breasts. It came as a pretty big shock to me: living in the real world and interacting with women on a daily basis, I had no idea.

Thankfully, the MPAA were quick to act and demand the poster be censored to cover up the boob silhouette, presumably because it was too late to get Eva Green to come back on set and do another shoot wearing a parka, zipped up to her chin. Here’s how the poster looks, now:

article-0-1E77D78E00000578-238_634x935

Disaster averted!

It’s probably not coming across in my tone, so I better just lay my cards out on the table: this is fucking ridiculous.

I could list a hundred reasons why this decision to censor what wasn’t even an explicit depiction of an inherently non-sexual part of the female anatomy is a dumb thing to do, but I’d rather let a picture do all the work for me, because I have a ham sandwich sitting here that’s not gonna eat itself.

I don't see where you're going with this...

I don’t see where you’re going with this…

Maybe I’ve not made my point. Here, let me try again:

300-poster

What, it’s too violent? I don’t get it.

Okay, I hear you. You’re all like, ‘Rob, why are you being so damn cryptic, just say what you feel.’ Ugh, I always have to spell it out, don’t I? Fine:

Wolverine_Inmortal_New_Poster_latino_e_Cine_1

So now you’re saying it’s racist for Australians to pretend they’re Canadian? What’s this got to do with tits?

Okay, I think I’ve milked that bit enough, but it does serve to highlight just how fucking stupid this apparent moral outrage over a covered boob really is.

The MPAA will claim that, by doing this, they are upholding the moral fibre of society and protecting our children from smut and erotica, (because they certainly couldn’t find that anywhere else,) but in reality all they are doing is re-enforcing archaic gender stereotypes and the idea that a woman should be ashamed of her body and cover it up while men are allowed to go taps aff without a moment’s notice or any fear of reprisal.

You can argue that I’m just mardy I don’t get to see a hot lady’s boobs and I guess you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but I would shoot back that if women/gay guys are allowed to look at hot man boobs –because you’re not telling me that all those topless men are on those posters to cater to a straight male audience– then why is the other way round somehow perverse or corrupted?

Seriously, tell me right now why it is acceptable to show male nipples but not female ones. (Protip: ‘They’re sexier,’ doesn’t count as an argument because there is nothing inherently more sexual about female nipples; any sexual characteristics applied are a societal construct or projected by the individual.)

This is the absurd moral double standard of modern society, still operating on the idea that a woman is a thing to be coveted or a prize to be won, and that only to the victor goes the spoils of seeing boobs, while men are free to preen and present for anyone and in any way they please, even the ones that you really, really wish would put a shirt on (I’m talking to you, overweight Glaswegian man with the glass bottle of Irn Bru hanging out your back pocket.)

I will concede that, if a woman did appear topless on a movie poster it would be shocking, of course it would, but only the first time it happened. Just like it was probably pretty shocking the first time someone was allowed to be openly gay in the public eye, or a black man could walk into a shop without having to worry he’d be refused service on account of the colour of his skin. It was never shocking because it was a bad thing, that shock is only the minds natural reaction to experiencing something new.

Just like Britain didn’t crumble and sink into the sea the day the first gay couple married, nor would it turn to ash if Eva Green was allowed to appear slightly more nude on a poster for a grindhouse film about ultraviolence and hyper-sexualisation.

That’s how progressiveness works, and that’s why every single one of these issues can always be traced back to a fear of change, and a fear of relinquishing even a modicum of the power held by those who champion the status quot only because it benefits them the most.

Covering a woman up, telling someone to keep their sexuality to themselves, these are far more dangerous and destructive actions than allowing freedom of expression, because they further promote the idea that we should be ashamed of ourselves and who we are if it even slightly deviates from what is perceived as the norm.

Since I can already hear the chants of ‘White Knight’ and ‘Social Justice Warrior’ echoing in the distance, I’ll just close by throwing up Jessica Alba’s Sin City 2 poster which, as far as I’m aware, the MPAA have felt no need to censor in anyway, so presumably there is nothing risque or sexually provocative about it, at all…

"What? This is just a comfortable, totally normal way to sit."

“What? This is just a comfortable, totally normal way to sit.”

Posted in Advice, Current Affairs, Films, The World at Large. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlights and Massive Shites: Gaming in 2013 (The Bad)

You know that thing where something is in fashion, then it goes out of fashion, then you wait a while for it to come back around and it’s in fashion again? That’s what I’m doing with being fashionably late. So, a whole six months after it ceased to be relevant, here is the other half of my noteworthy games of 2013.

If I really wanted to justify this, I’m fairly certain a few of these games might appear in the upcoming Steam Summer sale, so let’s pretend that’s why I’m doing it and crack on.

Remember Me
rmps3fob1Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: My putting Remember Me in the bottom pile has nothing to do with it having a female lead character. In truth, Nilin was about the only interesting part of this otherwise dreary trudge through mediocrity and half-baked ideas.

That’s actually a bit unfair, possibly: I get the feeling that Remember Me’s development and subsequent publishing limbo was frequently presided over by the spectre of compromise. There are definitely things to be enjoyed in the game, though, don’t get me wrong.

The world is beautifully realised, although the fact that it’s supposed to be set in ‘Neo-Paris’ never really came through in the design; there was little about the world to suggest it was the future and even less to imply a Parisienne setting. The characters all look interesting and varied, but they do have some awful names, (look forward to a brilliant scene involving a character named Bad Request, where Nilin constantly shouts his first name like she’s scolding a puppy that’s pissed all over the carpet).

The one other feature worth mentioning involves sending Nilin inside her enemy’s minds to re-arrange their memories and bend them to her will. It sounds interesting on paper, and essentially plays like a triple-A version of Braid -using time manipulation to create different effects- but the mechanic is only used a total of four times in the game, despite Nilin using her ability a lot more than that in cutscenes. Granted, in most of the cutscenes she’s only stealing memories, rather than re-arranging them, but that’s not to say there couldn’t have been a 2D runner-style mini-game where you have to dodge and destroy obstacles to get in and out of the target’s conscious with the memories.

This is my main issue with Remember Me, and the reason it was bad enough to make this list: there is so much potential in the world that has been created, so many different places the story could have went, and instead we just get an excruciatingly slow-paced faux-platformer (the climbing sections are even more diluted than Uncharted, since you can only jump at designated areas; rendering exploration largely moot,) and extremely clunky, ineffecient combat, that only lets you build a combo on one enemy at a time, despite having the same counter system as Batman; meaning you will constantly watch your combo getting reset through no fault of your own, because the game also doesn’t let you lock on and focus on a specific enemy. So many parts of the game seem to be at odds with each other like this.

For another example of how poorly thought out the combat is, there is an enemy you’ll encounter much later in the game whom you can’t attack without taking damage. The only way to take them out, damage-free, is with a special attack that you don’t actually have the first time you encounter said enemy, and that also comes with a three-minute cooldown between each use.

No problem, though, just equip some of the special ‘Pressens’ the game provides you with which allow your combos to grant various (read: four) status effects, such as increased damage and health recovery. That last one is important, because you’ll also need to equip healing Pressens so that you don’t die while hitting this enemy. Of course, you can only equip so many of each in a combo, so you can either alternate between doing one combo to reduce your cooldown time and then another to refill your health, or just wail on the enemy with the healing combo until he goes down; which will incidentally take about twice as long to do as it takes to stop being fun.

Later on in the game you’ll go up against these guys while surrounded by normal enemies so that makes it a lot easier to use your cooldown combos, then all you have to worry about is whether or not the games wacky targeting system will choose the right person when you decide to use your special attacks.

All of that might make it sound like combat can become quite frantic –challenging, even- but nope. The healing Pressens that I mentioned remove absolutely all sense of danger, the only times in the game when I came close to dying -even on the hardest difficulty- were during the infuriating gimmick fights with enemies who became invisible out of direct light; because they move so fast and Nilin’s targeting is so screwed that it was a pain to keep a combo going on one without constantly having to dodge out of the way of the rest.

Again, if that makes the game sound difficult, it isn’t: I beat the game on it’s hardest difficulty setting without breaking a sweat, and to put that in perspective I still frequently die outside Joker’s Funhouse in Arkham City on regular difficulty, even after having beaten the game.

I don’t want to be too hard on the developer here, though, because I genuinely think they set out with the best intentions and were forced to make cuts and compromises just to get the game published, and I feel sorry that a lot of the blame for the game doing so poorly is going to be laid at Nilin’s feet, as I do really like her as a character and wouldn’t mind seeing her in a sequel, but Remember Me is in no way worthy of a full-price release, when there are games that release for a quarter of the price that are far more polished and robust.

Play it if you get the chance, but don’t expect much beyond a pleasant, if infrequent, soundtrack and some really good art direction.

Dead Space 3

I was pretty bummed that I didn’t play Resident Evil 6 until after I’d written my worst DS3-PC_covergames of 2012 article, because that piece of shit would’ve blown every other awful game I played right out of the water. Lucky for me, Dead Space 3 came along in 2013 and made all the same mistakes, so consider this my first dual-wielding review.

I already wrote at length about all the problems Dead Space 3 has in another article, but something I don’t think I took the time to mention while I was waffling on was that I actually chose to play Dead Space 3 in tandem with Dead Space 2, because DS3 was so bad I was convinced I was just remembering the series wrongly and that it had always sucked.

I was pretty happy to be proven wrong.

Playing DS2 side-by-side with DS3, it is shocking just how badly they managed to fuck it up. Absolutely every component that made the series stand out and be an original sci-fi knockoff –and yes, that is an achievement in these bleak times- was either dumbed down or removed completely in the neutered final instalment of Isaac’s story.

The easiest way I can explain pretty much every problem though, is by detailing the differences with Stalker encounters in each game. Stalkers, if you’re not familiar with the name, are the token ‘fuck these guys’ fast-moving, hard-hitting dog enemies first introduced in Dead Space 2. You always know when they’re going to appear if you enter a room with a lot of pillars set out in neat rows, or anything else it would be convenient for a lot of them to hide behind. They will move from cover to cover, occasionally sticking their head out to size up Isaac, before making a mad screaming dash toward you; leaving you a split second to blast their legs off or go for a headshot and take them down instantly. Fail, and they’ll knock you to your arse and scarper back to the shadows.

Get used to that last part, if you’re fighting them in DS3. It happens a whole fucking lot.

See, this is why the Stalkers are perfect for demonstrating every single thing wrong with the design of DS3: in the previous game, because they were designed to be fast and powerful, the game compensated for this by also making them easy to take down so long as you can land a hit on them. In Dead Space 3, though, all of the guns are so watered down -either as a result of poor balancing for co-op or because the weapon construction system wasn’t properly thought through- that unless you empty a full clip into each Stalker, it will still hit you. Unless it dashes at you from far enough away, it will still hit you.

When I mentioned taking their legs off before, I wasn’t referring to some souped up Hand Cannon attack: I did the entirety of my first Dead Space 2 run with nothing but the Plasma Cutter (AKA starter pistol) because, so long as you upgrade it accordingly, there is nothing it isn’t capable of taking down. Fast-forward to Dead Space 3, and I once again thought I was remembering the game wrong, because it took most of a clip with the Plasma Cutter just to remove an enemy’s leg. The Line Gun in DS3 is closer to the power of the Plasma Cutter in DS2, which you may take as a sign that my problem is just that they’ve made the game too hard for me, but the game isn’t hard at all.

It’s just a fucking chore to play.

Again, this is most likely explained by the incompetent handling of the co-op system, which also broke the single player experience of Dead Island: even though I was playing the game solo, all of the battles were clearly designed for more than one person. Enemies swarm you unrelentingly, but even though they are the exact same enemies that did so in Dead Space 2, here they inexplicably take several more shots to put down. Presumably this is supposed to be balanced by having two players attacking simultaneously, but if you’re playing alone it just means turning what used to be a fun semi-tactical shooting experience into a painfully dull war of attrition; running to one corner of the room, dropping a few shots at the wave of enemies coming towards you, then running to another corner and repeating the process over and over.

And if that somehow sounds fun to you, you’re in luck: the game literally copy-pastes optional scavenging missions from different parts of the game and makes you do them all over again, right down to the interminable battles while waiting for a slow-ass elevator to descend from on high, full of largely useless loot that you more than likely will be unable to carry anyway. (If I hadn’t already prattled on enough, I could expand on how fucking dumb it is to implement a loot system into a series without revising it’s fairly rigid inventory management system, but time’s time.)

All in all, Dead Space 3 is a pretty broken mess of an experience. It would possibly be better with a co-op partner, but I’ve always maintained that if your game only gets good with someone else then don’t give me the option to go it alone. But that’s EA for you: cowards to the last. I can’t even recommend this if you’re a fan of the series, because you’d genuinely just be better replaying the first two games. I can’t stress enough just how much better Dead Space 2 is in every respect than Dead Space 3.

I actually think, at this point, floating in the cold, dead void of space would be preferable to playing this shit-heap again.

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2

KensRage2_coverI wasn’t sure whether or not to include this since I don’t imagine many people even know it exists, but since it’s one of the most egregious examples of my most hated gaming sin I figured it was worth mentioning for that, if nothing else.

Just to bring you up to speed: FotNS:KR 2 is a palette-swap of Dynasty Warriors with all the characters replaced with ones from the somewhat infamous manga starring a lot of men in leather hugging in the desert. Also there was another game before this one, so that covers the 2, part.

I absolutely loved the first instalment because the Dynasty Warriors engine is pretty much custom-made for a Fist of the North Star game, what with both having a propensity towards genocide-level bodycounts. That being said, there were some teething issues, such as unnecessary/flat-out shitty platforming sections and a couple of really unforgiving boss battles early on, but overall the game was a blast to play.

The sequel, on the other hand, somehow can’t even just be dismissed as more of the same, as we’ve come to expect from Koei sequels. As I said, Ken’s Rage 2 is guilty of one of my most reviled design transgressions: making a sequel with less features than the original.

It’s generally a well established premise in almost every form of media that you use the first instalment of a series to set-up the world and it’s parameters, get everyone used to what’s going on, and then use that success to ramp it up for the sequel. Not so with Ken’s Rage 2: everything has been dialed back. The character movesets are smaller –even though they’re recycling all the same character models from the first game- presumably to get out of having to create full movesets for the admittedly staggering number of new characters introduced.

That’s hardly an excuse though: would you rather play a Street Fighter game with thirty new characters that only have one move apiece, or play the original SFII with it’s small roster of fully fleshed out fighters?

So aside from making the characters less fun to use, what else has changed? Well, as opposed to the trademark sprawling levels characteristic of the Dynasty Warriors brand, every level now takes place in a series of corridors with arbitrary block-off points every so often. I’m not exaggerating for the sake of emphasis, here: you literally just move forward until you reach the boss and end the level. No more hidden items or secret fights, no more reasons to explore; just barrel forward until you get to the next overlong cutscene.

Wait, did I say cutscene? I meant series of static images.

Yep, whereas the original Ken’s Rage had fully animated cutscenes, 90% of the ones in Ken’s Rage 2 only feature the character models posed inside of comic book panels while the dialogue is read over them. Again, you could argue that the sheer amount of story content the game packs in –given that the previous game only covered a small part of the original manga, whereas Ken’s Rage 2 covers the entirety– would have made it realistically impossible to animate absolutely everything, but I say why bother at all then.

Again it’s worth pointing out that the first half of Ken’s Rage 2 just retreads the story covered in the first game -which includes re-using some of the exact same animated cutscenes from the Ken’s Rage, whole-cloth- presumably for the sake of being thorough, but that, coupled with the reduced movesets, would imply to me that this game isn’t actually a sequel at all.

If anything, it’s a reboot.

This is the thing that annoys me the most: if the game had been marketed as the definitive Fist of the North Star experience, then I might have been more forgiving. I still wouldn’t have liked the game, because it’s pretty much awful in every sense, apart from getting to enjoy the Fist of the North Star story, but since most of the cutscenes aren’t animated I may as well have just read the manga.

That’s not what happened, though. The game was marketed as a sequel to the first game, and it quite simply isn’t. Sequels don’t spend the first two hours of the campaign making you replay the the first game. I was looking forward to continuing my adventure with the same engine, and new parts of the story/world to explore, not playing a dumbed down version of a game I already owned with a bunch of half-arsed shit tacked on to the side.

If Koei had been honest and told me Ken’s Rage 2 wasn’t going to be a proper sequel, then I’d have been pissed, but at least I would have known not to waste thirty quid on a glorified interactive comic.

In short, Ken’s Rage is less the disappointment of Spiderman 3, and more the bewildering confusion of expecting to see Spiderman 2, and getting Turkish Spiderman instead.

Tomb Raider

1Tomb-raider-cover-e3-2011Okay, I’m going to cheat with this one and pretty much just copy-paste what I wrote in my ‘I Hate the Games Industry’ thesis, because I don’t have many new points to bring up, but I don’t want this crock of shit to escape the list.

Once again, I feel the need to stress, because of the times we live in, that none of my issues with Tomb Raider have anything to do with the protagonist being a woman. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true, I do take some issue with the frankly psychotic level of glee the game seems to take in injuring Lara in brutally graphic ways, but none of my issues with Tomb Raider have anything to do with me playing as a lady.

Given that this game comes from Square-Enix, it should be no surprise that 2013’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise is pretty much the epitome of style over substance. Absolutely everything in the game exists for its own sake, and little to none of it feels cohesive. Unlike other games with themes of exploration, where you learn as you go along how you can apply your new abilities to previously discovered obstacles, urging you to go back and experiment, Tomb Raider signposts everything with the uniformity of fucking Metroid doors, to the point where you can write off entire areas under the banner of ‘I’ll just come back after I’ve got all the upgrades’.

So now that the exploration part of the game about an explorer has been thoroughly euthanised, how do the combat and platforming elements shape up; i.e. the pillars of the classic Tomb Raider formula?

You start off Tomb Raider shooting dudes and climbing on walls, and then that’s it. Enemy variety, for the most part, never advances beyond regular footsoldiers and slightly more armoured regular footsoldiers, and the platforming all has that Uncharted-esque my-way-is-the-right-way linearity, albeit with slightly more freedom to fall to your death than Remember Me.

As for the story, it’s actually reasonably interesting and fairly well written. Of particular note are the surprisingly engrossing audio logs that flesh out the islands history, and the character motivations –though at times unbelievable- at least make them more engaging than the usual gaggle of mercenary fucknuts we have to suffer through. My only issue was that, for all the promo material made a big deal of Lara’s coming-of-age awakening angle, none of that every really translates into the game. She is a bit weepy the first time she kills someone, but after that she goes into full wave of mutilation mode; gunning down enemy and animal indiscriminately as she carves a path towards the full-on xenophobic sociopath we know and love he for.

This is the real problem with Tomb Raider: the story paints a picture of a young, starry-eyed Lara forced to go through the whole innocence lost ordeal and become the woman she needed to be, but the gameplay skips the whole first bit and jumps straight to the end of the story. I would have liked to play the game the story was telling, where Lara is forced to hunt for survival and use stealth and cunning to defeat a better-trained, better-equipped army. I would have enjoyed clearing out enemy camps and gaining territory, using my crew to perform various tasks to bolster our defences and help me build new weapons and train with them.

That would have been a game I’d put in my best games list, because that game would have been Far Cry 3, AKA one of my favourite games of all time. I do feel like Square-Enix would have done well to study Far Cry 3 (beyond just nicking the Glaswegian crew member idea) and see how you can effectively weave good narrative in with amazing gameplay, but that would have taken time and effort and money and it’s not as if Tomb Raider didn’t do well as it was. Oh wait.

I suppose I should at least mention the graphics, because some parts of the island really are astounding to look at, (at least when they aren’t brutally murdering Lara in creepily graphic ways,) but if I wanted to see exotic locations or buildings of historical significance I’d watch the Discovery Channel, and if I wanted to watch a screaming woman gored to death on a propeller blade then I’d download the official Eli Roth screensaver pack.

In terms of gameplay, though, there is literally nothing to bring you back after you have completed the campaign, which in and of itself is incredibly short, (I think my time wasn’t far over ten or twelve hours with a 100% completion rate).

Oh, and it’s also kind of dumb to call your game Tomb Raider and then make the raiding of said tombs both optionally and really, really easy. I mean, I thought that part would have been a no-brainer, at least.

———————————————————

Okay, that should do it for this. I really just wanted to post something because it’s been a while and I don’t like my blog growing stagnant. Plus a bit of precision-targeted rage always gets my Sunday off to a good start.
Peach out, bitches.

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Let Me Tell You Why I’m Right: My Thoughts on the Whole No Make-Up Selfie Thing

I recently noticed that my Facebook feed was inundated with photos of my lady friends with no make-up on. Actually, that’s not quite true: first I noticed an abundance of people moaning about their Facebook feed being inundated with photos of lady friends with no make-up on.

Ever the intrepid journalist, I dug deeper and discovered that the whole thing was apparently part of a new campaign (read: internet fad) to raise awareness for breast cancer. You know, in case you’d never heard of it, before.

This initially struck me as odd, because I couldn’t for the life of me work out a correlation between breast cancer –or cancer of any variety– and putting up a photo of yourself with no make-up on. Then I noticed people saying how proud they were of all the brave women doing it.

Fuck. Off.

There is nothing brave about not wearing make-up, and the fact that anyone would think it is is indicative of what a poisonous fucking society we live in. I’m not point-scoring here, but about 90% of the women I know look just as lovely with no make-up on as they do with a bit of slap. Now, maybe that’s just because I carefully cultivate a circle of extremely attractive friends, or maybe it’s because I don’t buy into that bullshit that you have to look like a celebrity on the cover of a magazine to feel good about yourself, (ignoring the fact that even the celebrities on those magazine covers don’t actually like that, make-up or no make-up.)

Aside from that incredibly superficial aspect, though, I mainly took issue with the whole ‘raising awareness’ part. Here’s why I get a bee in my bonnet about this particular fad, and ‘awareness’ campaigns in general: 90% of the posts I see regarding them never tell me what they’re actually about. Usually it’s just a post containing whatever the gimmick is and then a hashtag to ensure you get maximum exposure/attention. In other words, the only thing it’s raising awareness of is the profile of the person doing it.

I should point out that I’ve since seen several people post their photos along with a link to a donation page, or a number to text your donations to; as well as pointing out that they, themselves, were donating and, while I normally fucking detest people boasting about giving to charity, in this case I think it’s extremely important to note. Fair play to them, anyway, because, like I said, a huge number of the no make-up posts I have seen just say ‘#raisingawareness for breast cancer’ and then that’s it.

Okay, I’m aware, thanks. Now what?

This is where the line begins to blur, for me, between raising awareness for a cause and just joining in on a self-aggrandising ego parade where you can feel like you’re making a change while, at the same time, putting in the least possible amount of effort. Taking a selfie and putting it on the internet takes seconds to do. Watch, I’ll do it right now.

A thing of beauty is a, joy forever.

A thing of beauty is a joy, forever.

Okay, done. Do you feel more aware yet? More importantly have you given any money to charity? Probably not, and that’s the problem. If you don’t donate then you are contributing nothing, you’re just jumping on a bandwagon so you can congratulate yourself and pretend you’re making a difference. Just being aware of something is meaningless if you don’t act on it, and too many people are content to talk a big game and then refuse to answer the call to action.

I know that charities have come out and said that they’ve received an influx of donations in the wake of this campaign, but here’s the thing: I’d bet my balls to a barn dance that the majority of those donations would have been made at one point or another anyway; this was just as good a time as any. And here’s something else I know: the people who did donate didn’t donate because they saw your face with no make-up on, they donated because cancer is a shitty thing and a cure would be a nice thing to have.

There is a definite conflict between message and motive when, as I mentioned, a good deal of people I see taking part in the campaign make absolutely no effort to expand upon the actual campaign itself; they just put a photo up and wait for the ‘you still look beautiful’ comments to pour in. What exactly do they think that will achieve? Other than stoking their own ego, I mean.

All the women who put their photos up along with the donation links/numbers and donated themselves? Good on them. All the people running marathons and climbing mountains and shit to raise money for their chosen cause? Maximum respect. The wonderful men and women who run and participate in things like Awesome Games Done Quick and Child’s Play? Some of my favourite people.

I love those guys, and that’s not even mentioning all the people actually working  every day to find cures for the many dreadful things currently killing us on a daily basis, (and I’m including the many LGBT and other equal rights charities in that group, since ignorance is probably the most destructive disease in the world,) but do you know what all those things require that just posting a photo of your dumb face doesn’t? Sacrifice.

Whether it be your time, money or the physical stress you put your body under, (no, not the mountain climbing, I’m talking about the guy I watched playing Super Mario 64 with one god damn hand,) actually putting yourself out there and working to make a difference is worth so much more than the hollow gesture of doing something you do anyway, at no personal cost, and then like-baiting the shit out of it on Facebook so you can convince yourself you’re part of the solution.

Without going full ‘this is the problem with society today,’ this really is the problem with society today: everyone is more than happy to join in and play at making the world a better place, but not nearly enough people are willing to pony up the cash or in other ways inconvenience themselves in a manner that would actually benefit their cause. We’ve all seen that fuckwit in the pub, pounding on the bar and doing his ‘the things I could do if I were in charge’ speech and we all know that, after one day under his leadership, the whole country would go to ruin, because it’s easy to run your mouth when you don’t actually have anything on the line.

I don’t do nearly enough for charity, and I haven’t given blood recently because for about four years you’d have had more success sticking an optic in my vein and pouring a nice gin and tonic than you would getting any blood worth putting in another human, but I am a registered organ donor, and I have done things in the past to raise money for causes other than myself. I won’t list them here because this isn’t a charitability dick-measuring contest, but I just wanted to make it clear that I do practice what I preach, since I’m fully aware that the only thing the internet fosters more than pointless fads is blatant hypocrisy.

In truth, I don’t really know why I’m posting this, I just felt like I needed to vent on the subject, so let me close by saying this:

I don’t think donating to charity is dumb. I don’t think raising money is dumb. However, here’s what I don’t just think, I know: a good deal of people who take part in ‘awareness’ campaigns don’t donate money. Ever. Just like signing a petition, it’s easier to stick a picture up on Facebook or Twitter and wait for the likes to roll in than it is to actually get off your arse and make a change in the world.

If you really want to inspire people to act, next time say ‘I just donated £10 to Cancer Research/Folk with Shite Hearts/Whatever, now you do it’ so people know you can put your balls in the cooking pot when you have to; instead of just saying ‘lol no makeup girlies’ and giving them an easy, no-effort way to pretend they’re affecting change.

Change comes from action, not awareness, and not getting thirty likes on your Facebook status for doing something inconsequential.

Oh, and while I’ve got you here, go and donate to my friend who is running a marathon in aid of Cancer Research UK, or any of the other awesome charities I linked to above.

Posted in Current Affairs, My Weird Life, The World at Large. | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Highlights and Massive Shites: Gaming in 2013 (The Good)

I think we’re well past the point of fashionably late, but since my hard drive decided to die on its arse just before Christmas I’ve been slightly delayed in putting out all of the stuff I had planned.

Anyhoo, I don’t think I need much more of a pre-amble for this: here are the four games I enjoyed most last year. The four worst will be dropping in tomorrow, or whenever I can bring myself to write about Dead Space 3 again without having a rage blackout.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
metal-gear-rising-revengeance-screenshots-oxcgn-10First of all, let me just get this out of the way: a lot of people in the ‘games are art’ crowd get raging hard-ons for good artistic direction and aesthetic design. Me? I go wild for a good soundtrack, and MGR has one of the most appropriately awesome soundtracks in recent memory. Actually, just in memory, since almost every other game I have played this generation didn’t possess a single memorable tune, (with the exception of that one song from The Darkness II).

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s do the review, proper.

There are a lot of people who extol the virtues of a game that doesn’t babysit or handhold, and having spent the last five or six years being forced to prove I know how to look up and down in every other fucking console shooter I play, I can certainly see the merit in this argument. That being said, MGR goes a long way toward showing why proper tutorials can be so crucial in a game where a well-timed parry can be the difference between ripping a room full of soldiers to nothing and getting half your health bar lopped off by a giant gorilla robot.

When the game was first released I was initially put off after hearing a number of people talk about how broken the combat system was. In actual fact, the combat system, while perhaps not refined to the same level as Bayonetta or Devil May Cry 4, is extremely satisfying and the Blade Mode gimmick, which allows Raiden to fine-tune each of his sword swings or just go absolutely mental while the enemy is suspended in mid-air, never loses its satisfaction while also making for a lot of tactical diversity.

The big problem with MGR is that the games parry system is never properly explained, despite pretty much being the core of the fighting system that everything else hinges upon. If you can’t get to grips with the parry system, then you will be lucky to make it past the first few levels, and it will actually make progression impossible at certain points in the game. Why, then, Platinum decided to only explain parrying with one poorly diagrammed tutorial is utterly beyond me, but the odd design choices don’t end there.

Throughout the game you are able to upgrade Raiden’s stats as well as buy him new combat moves, but all of their descriptions range from incredibly vague to just a little obtuse (the quickstep move is called Offensive Dodge, for example). This issue is further hampered by the fact that the move description in the upgrade screen doesn’t include the buttons to execute the move; they are instead found in the moves list which is perplexingly hidden in the help menu, rather than being placed on the pause screen as one might expect.

I realise I’ve just spent several paragraphs trashing this game, but it’s in my top four for a reason, and that’s because the game itself is absolutely solid and a ridiculous amount of fun to play –even if the camera does occasionally blindside you, leaving you exposed to more robot gorilla beatdowns– it just does absolutely nothing to educate the player or let them in on what actually makes the game fun.

I played through the entire game without using a single one of the moves I had purchased because I assumed they just got added into Raiden’s admittedly impressive constant attack loops. It was only after watching videos on Youtube and reading up on the subject, that I realised how much more fun I could have been having.

My advice, if you are interested in getting into MGR or perhaps re-visiting it, would be to watch Chip Cheezum’s thoroughly excellent Let’s Play of the game first or, if you’d rather save the campaign content for yourself, check out the handy combat primer he made to explain all the mechanics the game doesn’t bother to.

Final Verdict: MGR is a game that thoroughly deserves more praise and recognition, it just harpoons its own chances by being about as penetrable as a marble statue of a nun.

Saints Row IV
Saints-Row-IVI was in two minds over whether or not this should be in the best or worst games of 2013, not because it’s not a good game –it’s a brilliant game– but because, while I sympathise with the fact that Volition’s slapdash approach to design is most likely attributed to it’s original publisher THQ going under and their acquisition by Deep Silver, Saints Row IV rehashes a lot of things from previous titles in the series; including a world map we’ve already seen before.

The benefit to this, though, is that it presumably gave Volition the chance to put more time into the new features, even if they are just baudily nicked from other games like Crackdown or Prototype. As I’ve said before, in regards to Darksiders, though, how harshly you should be judged for blatantly ripping off other games is dependent entirely on what you do with those ideas.

In that respect, Saints Row IV blows every other game right out the fucking water.

Everything that has been borrowed from other games is only implemented better here –which I would argue is a testament to how talented the Volition team truly are– so it feels less like shameless copycatting and more like Slash taking the guitar off that dick at the party who won’t stop playing Wonderwall over and over and then busting out the November Rain solo on top of your dining room table.

What I’m saying is Saints Row IV plays like a masterclass in how to make your gimmicks fun rather than just gimmicks.

Also present is the series’ trademark irreverent humour –my personal favourite in-joke being the ability to select Nolan North as a voice option. I don’t mean he was one of the actors that supplied Voice 1, 2 or 3; I mean the option is literally called ‘Nolan North’– and even though some of the jokes are worn a bit thin at this point and come across as trying too hard, (like once again using cheesy 80’s power ballads during pivotal moments in the story,) it’s all done with such a deliberate sense of piss-taking that, at it’s worst, it only ever feels like one of the slightly less good Naked Gun sequels, and never strays into god-awful Scary Movie territory.

The new ridiculous plot of a game within a game also gave the developers a lot of lee-way to expand on the slightly more fantastical elements we saw in Saints Row the Third, like the virtual reality cyber-demon battles, so this time around there are Tron-style bike races and giant mech destruction challenges alongside the more traditional mayhem challenges that are also improved upon by the addition of guns that create black holes and the ability to smash the ground and send out tremors to blow everything up.

My only real complaints about the game, from a design point of view, will only become evident if you’re planning to get 100% –like the challenges that require you to drive cars a certain distance in a game where you never use cars because you can jump a hundred feet in the air and fly– but, to be honest, if you actually want to fully complete the game then that kind of suggests you’re already sold on the experience, and there is plenty to distract yourself with while you put off going back to finish that one particularly annoying activity.

Also, Protip: Reducing the games difficulty markedly increases the time limits on all activities, which you may find helpful after you fail that final fucking jumping puzzle for the thirtieth time.

Final Verdict: If you’re new to the series, then Saints Row IV is a perfect diving board, acting both as a culmination of the over-arching plot but also a retrospective for the previous three games, and if you’ve been following the series from the beginning there is definitely enough new stuff crammed in to warrant a playthrough, but I would argue that it’s perhaps not worth the full £40 RRP when half the content is stuff you’ve already done before.

Rogue Legacy
RogueLegacyLast year marked my inaugaration into the world of Steam and PC gaming in general, since prior to that I was working with a laptop that literally struggled to run Flash. I arrived just in time for the famous Steam Christmas Sale and, over the course of a month, I picked up enough games to mean that I’ll probably not need to buy anymore until the Steam Summer Sale rolls around; maybe even until 2015.

The game I’ve spent the most time with, currently, is Rogue Legacy, a roguelike action-platformer made unique by the fact that, every time you die, you re-roll your starting character and pick from one of three ‘heirs’, all of whom possess different traits; ranging from the profoundly useless baldness trait to the rather handy OCD trait which restores your MP as you clear each room of furniture.

As well as genetic perks, the game boasts a moderately robust skill tree which you upgrade with the money you gather from killing enemies and finding chests throughout the castle, as well as relics, armour and swords which grant stat boosts and stackable abilities like double-jumping or leeching HP from slain enemies.

Your overall goal in the game is to defeat the boss monster in each of the castles four sections, so you can open a door to defeat the ruler of the castle and save your King, but if you’re anything like me then you’ll probably find that you spend more time just running into the castle, over and over again, to kill as many enemies as you can and amass huge sums of gold to turn your character into a war machine. The plot isn’t particularly relevant, anyway, since once you finally do achieve your goal you just get thrown into new game plus mode to run the castle again with considerably stronger enemies/better rewards.

So far this may all sound pretty bog-standard for a game of this genre, but the two things that make Rogue Legacy stand out for me are it’s charming/unique design, both aesthetic and in terms of gameplay, and the fact that the game is initially hard as balls. Maybe it’s just my years as a console gamer that have softened me, and this is standard for for the Glorious PC Master Race, but on my first few runs of the castle I was lucky to survive more than three or four rooms before I got burnt to a crisp or a ghost knight’s halberd jammed through my faceplate.

This is where the games roguelike features become hugely beneficial because, rather than abandoning the game after finding it too hard to progress, every time you re-enter the castle all the rooms change and you suddenly find you can exploit enemy weaknesses that you couldn’t before, by hiding behind walls or standing under the platforms they are on and jumping up to hit them when they leave an opening.

In terms of actual combat it’s all pretty standard stuff, common to the likes of post-SotN Castlevania, but the variety provided by the random castle generation and enemy layouts give the game that sickeningly addictive nature normally only associated with Facebook games, while marrying it to solid platforming, hacky-slashy fun.

Final Verdict: In the end, it took me about ten hours to complete my first run of the castle, but I’ve since beaten it twice again and am currently sitting at just under 30 hours playtime which, for a game I paid less than a fiver for, I think speaks pretty highly of how fun it is.

Lost Planet 3
Lost_Planet_3Lost Planet 3 does a lot of things wrong. Capcom continue to prove themselves the king of shitty optimisation by having excruciatingly long load times between absolutely everything –despite a 3 or 4GB hard drive install– which is only exasperated by some truly shitty level design that constantly forces you to run between far-away locations to advance the game.

Quick question: if you were in charge of designing an interstellar mining colony, where would you put the garage for the mechanic who works on all the giant mining robots? Right next to all the robots? Hell no, you put it two floors down and four or five loading screens away. Do, however, make sure to point out in cutscenes that your rig is capable of traveling straight down to the garage, just to make the long trips the player has to make, on foot, all the more frustrating.

Question time, again: say you were designing an on-going side mission wherein you task the player with going out into the wilderness to gather the DNA of a specific monster and then bring it back to a scientist in the colony; where would you put that scientist? That’s right, you put him three elevator rides and two overlong airlock sequences away, then you force the player to go through that ten times in a row because you neglect to mention that you have to keep going back to the scientist to get the next mission despite it being made abundantly clear the scientist in question is capable of contacting you through your comms channel because that’s how you get the first mission in the first fucking place.

Ugh.

Lost Planet 3 is littered with bewilderingly awful design choices like this, so you might be wondering why I put it in my top five. The simple reason is that, unlike so many other Triple-A titles I played this year, the game managed to create a surprising sense of immersion that even the avalanche of load times wasn’t able to dispell. Things like the charmingly odd juxtaposition of listening to country-rock on your rig’s radio while you trudge around a frozen wasteland punching giant ice beetles in the face with a giant drill went a long way to creating a genuinely believable world, and almost all of the characters manage to be likeable or at the very least relatable; even if their characterisation never went beyond the most basic Disney movie tropes.

The game also does a fantastic job of building atmosphere around about the time you start exploring abandoned facilities and uncovering evidence suggesting you weren’t the first people to set foot on the planet and, in a rare moment of creative design taking precedence over committee, not all of the planet’s backstory is forced down your throat, whether you want it or not.

Your character is initially brought to the (lost) planet to replace another miner who went a bit loopy and disappeared, but the only way you discover her fate is by actively exploring the world yourself; it’s completely possible to complete the game without ever finding out what happened to her.

I know it might seem weird to praise a game for not showing you content, but in an industry that is rapidly beginning to resemble a hyperactive child –where every dev team is so terrified you’ll miss the collapsing building they spent six months rendering that the camera twists your character’s neck right around and forces you to watch it– it’s refreshing to play a game that lets you go at your own pace and discover things for yourself.

Going back to the atmosphere, it’s all enchanced by a spot-on soundtrack that, while largely forgettable where melodies are concerned– hits the mark perfectly by incorporating Brian Eno style ambient tracks and displaying an understanding that subtlety has the power to make things all the more intense when shit does inevitably hit the fan; as opposed to the standard industry practice of throwing up violin shrieks every time a shadow moves past a wall.

Speaking of shit hitting the fan, though, combat does occasionally suffer from some pretty awful enemy balance. Your character moves about as fast as you’d expect a man strapped in enough layers to survive constant sub-zero temperatures to move, but the game constantly pits you against tiny fast moving enemies that swarm you, en masse, and are difficult to effectively draw a bead on and take out before they’ve laid at least a couple of hits into you. This is made more annoying, still, as the smaller enemies inexplicably pack the biggest punch; every death I had in the game was at the hands of the tiny facehugger rip-offs or the scutterfuck arseholes that constantly take cover and only ever expose themselves to fire several perfectly aimed barbs right into your slow-moving arse.

Fighting the larger enemies, on the other hand, is a true joy just as it was in the earlier Lost Planet games; dodging their attacks to shoot at their glowing, orange weak spots is as fun as ever and becomes even more enjoyable the first time you get to fight a giant crab bastard inside your rig and parry its attacks to jam a drill up its arse (although these sections are occasionally plagued, again, by sluggish or unresponsive controls).

Robot punch-ups aside, the game truly comes alive in the optional missions, particularly the one that tasks you with tracking down some lost colonists and discovering their fate, it’s just a shame that they are let down by forcing you to slog through more poorly designed creature battles to get to the really compelling story aspects. That isn’t something you should ever have to say about a video game.

Final Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised by Lost Planet 3 and, despite its faults I think it deserves a lot more attention than it got upon release. I also thoroughly applaud Capcom’s surprisingly clear-headed decision to streamline the series and take it back to an atmospheric story-driven campaign, rather than whatever the fuck that convoluted Lost Planet 2 mess was supposed to be.

My advice to Capcom, now, would be to take whoever was artistic director for this game and put him or her in charge of the inevitable Resident Evil reboot, and sack whatever braindead chimp they let turn RE6 into a game of soggy-biscuit between David Cage and Michael Bay.

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Search Term Serial Killers II: This Time it’s Custodial

Many moons ago I published a list of all the terrifying, confusing and occasionally sexy things people typed into Google to arrive at my humble internet abode. As well as sowing seeds for the start of a beautiful friendship, it taught me that the quickest way to rake in traffic for your blog is to mention CHUN LI MASSIVE VAGINA.

I am seriously going to retire on this shit, one day.

I am seriously going to retire on this shit, one day.

I have been planning a sequel to that article for a while, and actually finished one before my HDD crashed and I lost it, along with all my RYU FUCKS CHUN LI fan fiction. Okay, I’m done with that joke, now.

Anyway, I thought after bombarding you all with my self-important agenda-pushing in regards to the world of video games last week, it might be nice to take a break and collectively enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: laughing at the criminally insane. Below, you’ll find twenty of my favourite search terms, but to be honest I could have easily made an entire list out of variations on ‘man fucking a deer’.

While CHUN LI watches.

While CHUN LI watches.

[Note: All of the following search terms appear exactly as they were typed into Google; spelling errors and unnecessary punctuation included.]

“chaka demus and pliers concert performance tease me with woman dressed in see thru cat suit”
Implied female nudity AND 90’s reggae juggernaut Chaka Demus and Pliers? Shit, I want to find this video, too.

“dragon fucks furry against her will”
police seize hard-drive as part of investigation

“intestine sexy”
I’ve made fun of sex-pests before, and to be honest I can kind of understand the appeal of wearing a giant nappy –albeit more for functions sake than for erotic purposes– but I can’t even begin to fathom approaching a stage in my life where the long, internal tube of flesh responsible for pushing shit through your body could be considered arousing.

“tony mccarroll”
I know this was you, Tony.

“worlds best mullet”
Let me save you some time: there is no such thing as a bad mullet.

Part business; part leisure. All sexual typhoon.

Part business; part leisure. All sexual typhoon.

“gifts for fuckwit dads”
I just really like the passive anger in this search. It wasn’t enough to just search some novelty gifts for Father’s Day; Google had to know that the father in question was also a fuckwit.

“scare people into beliving”
I always thought my blog exclusively catered to dangerous perverts, but apparently I’ve now secured the lucrative terrorist market, too. So that’s nice.

“venom gay”
I know this person was probably trying to find information about whether or not Eddie Brock likes it rough with lads, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope it was really a bigot trying to find research to prop up his theory that the bite of a gay man is poisonous.

"Just five more years of research, and I will prove the correlative relation between Erasure and a flair for interior design!"

“Just five more years of research, and I will prove the correlative relation between Erasure and a flair for interior design!”

“you hindu, i don’t give a fuck where you are from 15 shots in your face i’m heavy handed i dig your grandma up and rape her like a bitch and if you’re not happy i rape your father ready for the shower? i piss on you and break your ass, little son of a bitch, i fist your ass, don’t tense”
This could just be the lyrics to a specifically racist rap song, but it still doesn’t explain how it brought someone to my blog.

Also, I like that tiny, non-violent, bit of advice at the end to help make the process of having a person wear you like a puppet marginally less uncomfortable.

“how does 9 miles down end”
Why not watch it and find out?

The answer is 'who fucking cares because seriously fuck this fucking movie.'

The answer is ‘who fucking cares because seriously fuck this movie.’

“christmas is shite”
I would put good money on this being the same guy as above, with the fuckwit dad, who at this point appears to be using Google as a therapist.

“does cliff still roller skate”
This one genuinely made me laugh out loud. There are many things to wonder about Cliff Richard –like if you can still get life insurance when you’re medically considered to be a walking cadaver– but I will be first to admit that whether or not he still slowly roller skates away from the advances of nubile young women has honestly never crossed my mind.

If official merchandise is anything to go buy, he's too busy jet-skiing while also being dead behind the eyes.

If official merchandise is anything to go buy, he’s too busy jet-skiing while also being dead behind the eyes.

“i swear i left her by the river”
Sure you did, now get in the back of the van.

“man fuck deer”
Like I said, I could have filled the list, entirely, with the various different ways people arrived at my blog on the back of this concept, but I still thought it was worth pointing out that three, separate people searched for this exact phrase.

Well, either that or one very determined pervert.

“robocop fucking”
Alright, I’ll admit it, now I’m curious. Also, if there is a porn version of Robocop and it isn’t called Robocock then there is officially no justice in this world.

Although you could be forgiven for thinking the reboot was just that; the way they made him look like a giant fucking vibrator. That being said, the marketing for Robocop-brand vibrators pretty much writes itself…

Not to be confused with the Robocop reboot, which only hate-fucked our precious, childhood memories.

“Dead or alive, you’re cumming with me.”

“i hate to say such a thing but america would be so much better if obama was dead”
I just want to make abundantly clear before Interpol black bags me that I did not write that. I do, however, still find it as funny as ever that people think Google is a person they are having a conversation with.

So, just to re-iterate: I think Obama is a lovely man, and I hope he lives many more years in a completely not dead fashion. Go, USA!

“being chased by giant purple dildo”
Shit, I’ve had this nightmare. It’s okay, you’re in a safe place, here.

Amazingly, it's harder than you'd think to find a good photo of a giant purple dildo, so have Stay Puft, instead.

Amazingly, it’s harder than you’d think to find a good photo of a giant purple dildo on the internet, so have Stay Puft, instead.

“greek mythology pliers of chaka demus”
I refuse to research this further and discover Pliers went back to university to get a degree in Greek history, because the alternative of living in a world where people believe he is a beast of Greek legend is so much more appealing. Well, either that or Sony have some really weird new weapon DLC planned for the next God of War.

"TEASE ME BABY, 'TIL I LOSE CONTROL!"

“TEASE ME BABY, ‘TIL I LOSE CONTROL!”

“gifts for wine wankers”
You know, I was joking when I wrote all those Christmas articles, but it seems like someone genuinely is buying gifts exclusively for people that they hate. Takes many to make a world, I suppose.

“only quadriplegic stories and pictures of quadriplegic men of how they have sex with their white girl friends and fucks their pussys deep and hard”
The girlfriends in question, do they have to be white? They do? Oh…sorry man, I can’t help you.

Nope, not even googling that one for a joke.

Nope, not even googling that one for a joke.

————————————————————————————

Okay, that should do it for now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go bathe my soul in a bath of bleach.

Namaste, bitches.

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Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Four)

This is it. End of the road. For those that stuck with it, I thank you; for those that didn’t, I don’t blame you. For all of us, though, it’s been one hell of a ride.

Let’s do this thing.

[Part One] [Part Two] [Part Three]

Reason Four: Gaming Can Be About Games, Again
When I was still a bright-eyed, optimistic young chap, I used to get the official Nintendo magazine every month and read that shit cover to cover. I waited six months for the release of Yoshi’s Story and played it enough times to convince myself that I didn’t completely waste my time and that hope wasn’t a barren wasteland of broken dreams.

I’m not entirely sure where I was going with that, but the point is that there was a time when I used to get genuinely hyped for the release of new games. More recently, the only thing I get truly excited for is seeing what’s going to go wrong first, and for a long time I assumed that was just the result of my growing jaded with age.

Then I discovered Steam.

Feel free to add your own celebration music.

Feel free to add your own celebration music.

In December, I acquired a comfortably specced laptop for less than an Xbone would have cost me. Since then, I have picked up over 25 games on Steam, and I have spent less than £50. Try and do that on a console. Any console. I fucking defy you to try. Even removing the price issue, because I’m aware it’s not the same bone of contention for everyone that it is for me, I did discover the strangest phenomenon while gaming on Steam…I started having fun. I didn’t realise just how bored I was with gaming and the interminable, linear cover-based corridor shootouts and set-piece explosions I’d resigned myself to until I started using Steam and suddenly it was like I was five years old again; letting the timer run out on Starlight Zone just so I could listen to the music one more time.

And now that theme is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You're welcome.

And now that theme is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.

Suddenly, instead of a procession of ruggedly handsome, predicatably flawed caucasian skinheads with troubled pasts and ‘fuck you”s to spare, I could be a lumberjack who fights werewolves, or a samurai cat person, or a flatulent midget knight, or Ryan Gosling from the movie Drive. I used to think that it was variety if the generic protagonist I was piloting down a corridor happened to also be a ghost, but after taking the role of a teenage girl just dossing about her house in a thunderstorm and getting genuinely more engaged in the endeavour than any of the countless alien wars I’ve fought in, I realised what variety actually is.

It isn’t just who you’re controlling, but what you’re doing with them, and for the longest time I’d convinced myself that ‘shoot everything until dead’ was the only acceptable answer.

Turns out, 'shoot everything until dead while dressed like a horse' is the real answer.

Turns out, ‘shoot everything until dead while dressed like a horse’ is the real answer.

Don’t misunderstand, though, I am fully aware that there are drawbacks to this freedom. The ability for literally anyone to self-publish a game means that there is a lot of shit that gets through that otherwise wouldn’t have with more stringent quality controls –Newgrounds, alone, is testament to that– but, you know what? If that’s the price I have to pay, then I am fine with that. I’d rather pan a river of mediocrity to find the odd gold nugget than just live in a sewer where I see the same shit every single day.

The beauty of living in the age that we do is that it is almost impossible for developers to pull the same cloak and dagger bullshit they got away with when print media, store employees and word of mouth was all we had to inform our purchasing decisions. Nowadays, the only way a mainstream developer can slip that shit past us is if they flat-out lie about it, and even then the only people to get hurt are that race of peculiar mutants who still buy into the pre-order business model.

Because when you blindly buy into shit for the benefit of a few gaudy trinkets, you deserve everything that you get.

Because when you blindly buy into shit for the benefit of a few gaudy trinkets, you deserve everything that you get.

For the rest of us, it took less than an hour for the story of Aliens: Colonial Marines to spread like wildfire over the internet about what a heaping pile of shit the game was and, as a result, thousands of people who would have bought it if they hadn’t known better saved themselves forty bucks.

It’s the same reason that a game like Ride to Hell: Retribution can become a community-wide joke, whereas there was a time, not so long ago, when releasing games like that was standard practice for companies whose entire business strategy comprised scamming people who didn’t know any better.  Really, in this day and age, you have nobody to blame but yourself when you end up buying a shitty game because there are an innumerable number of sources where you can gleam largely unbiased feedback.

That doesn’t necessarily mean your honest opinion will be welcome, mind you.

Even though it may require a bit more research than you’re used to, in the end the result will be your becoming a more informed buyer and, if you can’t be bothered with that, then you can always just stop playing games. Try to remember that that is always an option, by the way; there will always be other people to take your place.

So, as I was saying, while using Steam does mean having to dodge the occasional shit sandwich, meanwhile the most I have to look forward to on consoles is a procession of procedural, paint-by-numbers, pop-up shooting galleries; not including the games that are just straight-up sequels, (seriously, I thumbed through a release catalogue in GAME, the other day, and I can only recall two games that weren’t direct sequels or mash-ups, like the upcoming and utterly bewildering Professor Layton Versus Phoenix Wright game.)

Meanwhile, every time I think I’ve seen it all, on the PC side of things, a game will pop up where you play as a sheriff who is also a werewolf, or a lonely woman who kills herself and travels to Hell only to be told she has to go back and kill other people if she wants to die.

Yeah...I'm starting to think I might have problems.

Yeah…I’m starting to think I might have problems.

This stuff would never get a full-price console release, because it almost certainly wouldn’t sell as well as the procession of shooty sweary fuckers that pollute the landscape. And there is nothing wrong with those shooty sweary fuckers, in moderation, (I still hold The Darkness II in high esteem as one of my top ten games of all time,) but the entire point of a creative medium is supposed to be variety. The world of video games should be limited only by a developers imagination, not budgets and marketing figures, but instead publishers and a disinterested buying public have placed shackles on this creativity by only allowing the creation of something that looks like the last big thing.

Pictured: Fuck, I don't know; probably Call of Duty, or something.

Pictured: Fuck, I don’t know; probably Call of Duty, or something.

The world of PC gaming has opened up a world of possibilities for me, and, cliched as it sounds, my only problem now is having too much choice: I literally don’t know where to start. I know I’ve been wanking off Steam a lot in this article but that’s only because so far I’ve got so much on my plate with all the games I got in the sale that I haven’t even had a chance to check out GoG or anything else. For the first time in over ten years, I am legitimately excited about the future of games.

And the best part? None of this will go away if the mainstream industry crashes.

This is the point many people fail to grasp about a video game crash, and why it could never happen the way it did in the 80’s. When the Atari flopped it was pretty much the major shareholder in terms of gaming demographics. I won’t repeat myself, but you can read my other article to see why this is no longer the case.

If publishers like EA closed their doors, tomorrow, all it would do is free up a huge number of creative people to work on whatever they wanted. Would the money be as good? Maybe not, but success stories like Super Meat Boy –a game that was made by two people and has sold more than two million copies (a number you might recognise as almost double the number of copies that the multi-million-dollar-budget Devil May Cry sold)– make it abundantly clear that it can happen if you are genuinely passionate about what you’re doing.

Obviously, it’s a bit of a dick move to hope for the unemployment of thousands of people, but what I’ve been trying to put across in these articles is that what I’m speaking about isn’t a hypothetical situation: I’m not saying ‘oh wouldn’t it be great if you all lost your jobs,’ I’m saying that, like it or not, the way the industry is going is in no way sustainable. Studios are constantly shutting down or reporting losses, almost all new releases are failing to meet sales targets because they are based on impossible moon figures, and the people pulling the strings and holding all the power are acting like there isn’t a problem. It is not a question of if there will be a crash but simply when, and how best to prepare for it.

It’s easy to just ride the wave while the getting is still good, but eventually that wave is going to come crashing down to earth, and I’m merely suggesting that it may be in the best interests of more talented developers who are in it for the games and not solely the money to start considering a move toward more independent ventures.

And toward giving us the Sparkster successor we've all been waiting for.

And toward giving us the Sparkster successor we’ve all been waiting for.

Moreover, a big shake-up like this would send a message to the triple-A industry about how toxic their presence has become, and that their corporate strategy of stamping out originality and forcing all games to march in a dull, predictable line is a vile and acidic process; actively rotting away the foundations of the community that they’ve so consistently been leeching off of for the past twenty-odd years.

Any big transition is a frightening and uncertain time, and the collapse of the mainstream gaming industry as we know it would send shockwaves through the community that would be felt for years to come, no doubt about it, but –ham-fisted analogy incoming– even though World War II was one of the biggest, most bloody battles in human history, wasn’t it worth it just to remove some evil from the world?

So, yeah, what I’m basically saying is that EA is Hitler.

Okay, that's not really fair. Hitler was actually pretty good at PR.

Okay, that’s not really fair. Hitler was actually pretty good at PR.

[Disclaimer: I am fully aware that some of the games I championed in this article have had console releases, and I believe one was even funded by Microsoft, but given how awkward and restrictive console digital marketplaces remain, I kind of think my point still stands.]

Posted in Gaming | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why a Second Crash Would be Good for the Games Industry (Part Three)

Alright, no need for foreplay, at this point: Part One here; Part Two here. Let’s do this.

Reason Three: End the Console Wars, Once and For All
Quick question: how many times, growing up, do you remember arguing over who made the better TV’s, Toshiba or Panasonic?

There was a time when console exclusives were a necessary evil, because they provided a quick and easy way to build brand loyalty –especially in a market that was, at the time, predominantly marketed towards children– and ensure a healthy competition could be fostered between different console manufacturers. Not to mention that a giant portion of games for the original Nintendo were either developed and/or published by Nintendo, themselves, so putting them on an opposing company’s consoles would have been kind of ludicrous.

Nowadays though, with the exception of Nintendo, in-house developers are almost unheard of, and any game that gets a console release practically needs to be released across every platform if it wants any chance of making it’s money back.

This shotgun approach to multi-platform releases, along with the constant sequel-whoring I talked about before, is endemic to a dying industry. The publishers are so desperate to make back their money that they A) won’t take a risk on anything they aren’t certain is guaranteed to sell (see: how Resident Evil 6 became an embarassing mish-mash of everything wrong with modern gaming) or B) will release their game on absolutely every device that can run it. The latter may not sound like a problem, given that console exclusives are now as redundant as a lives system or laws against gay marriage, but the problem with spreading your title as thinly across as many platforms as possible is that the teams responsible for optimising the game to fifty different consoles could be using their time to tweak the gameplay or pack in some additional content to one, unique release.

That last part, by the way, is not an argument in favour of only releasing a game to one console, but entirely the opposite. If consoles were just a universal device for running games on the TV then that would mean studios wouldn’t be forced into dedicating huge patches of development time to tweaking the game and ensuring it ran in a stable condition on everything it gets released for. It would also mean we would be less likely to end up with horrendous ports like the PS3 edition of Bayonetta which was virtually unplayable until they released a patch to let players install the game on the HDD (prior to the update, even pausing the game prompted a loading screen.)

This is yet another benefit held by PC gaming, as the only pre-requisite to play a game is that your rig is powerful enough to run it (well, that and crossing your fingers that the latest incarnation of Windows doesn’t shit the bed and refuse to do anything for no reason). You’d never get a game that can only run on Dell PC’s, so why should a developer be forced to hitch their wagon only to either Sony or Microsoft? Because money, is generally the answer. Both Rareware and Bungie were acquired by Microsoft and as a result only saw their games released on Xbox consoles, and occasionally PC in the case of Halo.

But this is a tired old practice from the days when a mascot could still sell a console and fights would still break out in the playground over Mario versus Sonic; nowadays it makes no sense because there is absolutely nothing unique about either Sony or Microsoft’s consoles, in terms of their target demographics or their output. Whereas Sega were always generally about style over substance and characters dripping with rad 90’s attitude, Nintendo saw fit to maintain their family friendly image, right down to colouring all the blood green in Mortal Kombat so as not to offend the doting mothers who apparently didn’t mind as much that all that green blood was squirting out of a freshly excavated spine stump.

Fast-forward twenty years, and literally the only reason I favour the Playstation over the Xbox is because the controller feels better in my hands. I do prefer the exclusive games that are available for the console, but I would never have bought it just for that reason, and if I could plug my PS3 controller into my 360 then maybe I’d turn it on more than once a year to play Shadow Complex. As it stands the 360 in my house just sits there, gathering dust because outside of the five or six exclusive titles I own for it, I have no other use for it.

My real point with this post isn’t just to denounce console exclusives, but the completely outdated concept of exclusive consoles. Imagine if, instead of having to pledge allegiance to the flag of Playstation or Xbox, you could just go out and buy a games console that would play any game, just like you would with a DVD player. An attempt has already been made to do this with the release of the Ouya and, even though it has received middling to piss-poor reviews, the spirit of such an endeavour is definitely something I can support.

Gaming should always be about the games and never the hardware that runs them. The playground fights about Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario were always about whose game was more fun to play, not about how much RAM it took to run them, but as the Xbone reveal made abundantly clear, console manufacturers now seem to think a console should be sold on the merit of everything you can do with it that isn’t playing video games, whether it’s watching television or using Skype or Facebook to let friends know you’re a moron with more money than common sense. Again, all of this is the result of pathetic bandwagon chasing, this time with Microsoft and Sony jealously eyeing up the Android/iPhone market.

The point they’ve completely failed to grasp is that the reason Android devices and iPhones market themselves as an all-in-one media device is because they are designed to be used on the go. I have a finite number of pockets and an extremely paranoid brain, so the less things I have to carry/check are still there every five minutes, the better. When I am sitting on the couch, playing my PS3, though, I don’t give a shit. I can easily keep my laptop at my side to watch stuff on Youtube, or my phone in my pocket to ignore people trying to spend time with me.

I don’t need to have it integrated into my console to constantly interrupt me when I’m playing video games, and I don’t need any of the other countless features Microsoft proudly touted, because I already own devices that can do them better, and I have done for years.

Don’t get me wrong, one day I would like to own a dedicated device that could do all the things I use my television for, but at the moment all of this is coming at the expense of the games themselves and, with both Microsoft and Sony deigning fit to pay little more than lip service to the games they were going to be offering on their new consoles at their respective E3 events, they have made it abundantly clear that they stopped caring about the games a long time ago.

This is the heart of the problem with console exclusivity: because we can only play Xbox games on an Xbox and Playstation games on a Playstation, we are at the mercy of whatever insane bullshit Sony or Microsoft throw at us. If the consumer had alternative options, then Microsoft would never have tried even half of the anti-consumer DRM bullshit that they did with the Xbone reveal, and it’s only by the grace of god that for once people actually fought back and they changed their position.

But here’s the thing: once they have an installed user base, once everyone has bought an Xbone, there would be absolutely nothing to stop them rolling out the patch that bricks your console if you don’t check in online every 24 hours; nothing to stop them patching your console to not run used games. Because, bear in mind, there was no hardware recall to roll back on all the horrible things Microsoft tried to force on it’s users: they just changed some code and put it to sleep, for the time being.

If it happened tomorrow, if you suddenly found your console didn’t work because you, like millions of other people in the world, can’t get a stable internet connection; if you found out half of your games didn’t work anymore because you bought them second-hand, what would you do? Sell your console? Fair enough, but Microsoft already got your money, they don’t care. And now you can’t sell your games anymore because they’re all useless, unless packaged with the console you’re also selling, that’s assuming that stores would even entertain the risk of letting you trade in devices and software so fiercely opposed to the spirit of used goods.

My point is, if Toshiba announced tomorrow that they were placing a lock on all their new DVD players that meant you could only watch two hours of DVD content before the player locked up, unless you were willing to pay for the premium subscription viewing package, do you think anyone would give a shit? Would they bollocks, they’d just go and buy a different DVD player.

This is the luxury that almost every other market has, and it’s a peculiar strangelhold that is unique only to the games industry. If you don’t like how Apple do business, get an Android phone. If you don’t like how Nike exploits third-world labour, by from an ethical clothing brand. But if you don’t like how your Sony Playstation plays your Playstation games? Sorry, you’re shit out of luck.

Console exclusive games are just a tiny part of the much bigger problem that could be eradicated with the extinction of exclusive consoles, which currently make true console market competition an illusion. If the barriers to trade were broken down and several other manufacturers were allowed into the market –including ones that could make a budget range of consoles for people who didn’t have a months rent to throw away on a hobby– then it would mean an end to this frankly embarrassing tech-dick measuring contest, the chance to expand the market and increase software sales and, just maybe, a return to what gaming is supposed to be all about…

Okay, that’s it for today. Final part coming tomorrow, and gold star for you if you’ve even made it this far.

Posted in Advice, Current Affairs, Gaming, Reviews, Shopping, The World at Large. | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment