Internet Apocalypse 2014 Followup or: Why It’s Not Technically Lying if You Just Don’t Talk About It

Objective Motherfucker Do You Speak itAnd this is how they do it. This is how they start to spin it in their favour, and make it all about the bold, defiant gaming press standing up against the ‘pouting, obstinate children’ that dared to question them.

That’s a screengrab from a Polygon article that went up yesterday, I wasn’t going to link to the actual site because I was loathe to give them my own traffic, never mind encouraging others to do the same, but in the interests of giving access to both sides of the story, you can find it here.

I actually do recommend reading it, and cross-referencing it with the last article I wrote, as well as the links I provided at the end. You may notice some curious omissions.

Most curious is the fact that, following this statement:

“Good, positive and kind action happened this week, too. Progress, while not always as loud as repression, is being made in games culture.”

Absolutely no mention was made of The Fine Young Capitalists indiegogo campaign to get more women developing video games. You know, the campaign that Zoe Quinn sabotaged and got shut down; the one that we ‘obstinate children’ have been promoting and supporting, almost entirely on our own, because no one in the mainstream press seems willing to give them the time of day.

Why might that be? Well, one commenter on my last article suggested that TFYC might be a scam. They didn’t provide any evidence why this may be the case, but I suppose it’s something you should consider, as you should with literally every single other crowd-funding project.

No, I think the reason that TFYC didn’t get a mention is because of things like this:

KEEP THE CHANGE YA FILTHY ANIMAL

That was Samantha Allen, contributor for The Daily Beast, letting me know exactly how she feels about TFYC project, and those who are supporting it.

Back to the Polygon article, though, also curious by virtue of omission is the fact that, while giving a rundown of all the horrible things gamers have been saying to industry figures –and there have been horrible things said, I am absolutely not denying that– the article felt no need to point out that industry figures haven’t exactly been playing with kid gloves, either.

Let’s take a look at some of that ‘open-armed, love and compassion’ Polygon claims that the gaming press have been using this past week:

tumblr_nal0uu6FSi1ricadfo1_1280Sorry, Max, I hate to keep dragging you into this. Let’s see if I can find you some company…Oh wait, here we go:

c1DXd94That there’s Devin Faraci, a writer for Badass Digest, who prides himself on his ‘reputation as a loud, uncompromising and honest voice,’ which apparently extends to him comparing gamers –and he does say gamers, as in all of us; there’s no singling out of just the dickheads who are doing the harassment– as worse than ISIS. You know, the terrorist group who fucking execute people.

Now, I can write that one off at least as intentional rhetoric, being used by a man who is used to using exaggeration for effect. I can’t be too hard on Faraci for doing something I’ve been known to do myself in the past, not quite to the level of painting hundreds of thousands of people as terrorists, but you know I can get what he was going for.

This one, though, not so much:

1408593379329Adam Atomic, there, showing that he’s more than happy to game Youtube’s broken copyright system to fuck over TotalBiscuit, whom you may recall, from my last article, was completely diplomatic in his assessment of the situation.

Didn’t stop from people fucking with him, though, did it (no mention of that in the Polygon article, either); it didn’t stop any number of big-mouth developers, actually –hi, Phil Fish– from running their mouths, and going so far as telling a man who claimed he was sexually harassed by a female developer to fuck off.

Phil Fish Tact and GraceAll of that was curiously absent from the article. Throughout it all, there wasn’t a single mention or hint that the industry/press side of things had maybe acted in a less than professional manner, there was no mention of the female developer who spoke out anonymously about how easy it is to get blacklisted in the industry if you don’t chime with their agenda. No, it was all pretty one-sided, as far as Polygon are concerned: there is a clear enemy in all of this, and that’s what they want their readers to know.

Well, I like to think I’m a bit more even-handed in my approach to these things, so now that I’ve done a bit of name-and-shame on the press side of things, let me talk about the abuse of Anita Sarkeesian, and all that other stuff the Polygon article brings up.

The people who have threatened Sarkeesian, repeatedly, amongst others in the industry –men and women alike– the people who phone in fake bomb threats and hack peoples websites: Fuck them all.

I don’t care what side you are fighting for, you don’t win a war of ideals with threats and intimidation: you do it with facts, and by being reasonable. Resorting to the kind of vile shit that Anita puts up with doesn’t help anyone or anything that you might think it does, all it does is give the other side more ammunition to pile into articles like Polygon’s, but here’s the most crucial thing, the thing these articles always, ALWAYS omit: those people? The rape and death threat people? They don’t speak for all of us.

It’s funny how, when the media reports on any reasonable grievances the community may have, they’re dismissed as the bleats of a ‘particularly vocal minority,’ and yet when some fucking sociopath threatens to rape a woman with a knife, it is suddenly the work of the gamer hivemind collective. We’re all hanging out in one big warehouse, with hundreds of pinboards and loads of red string, all co-ordinating these attacks together so that, what? What do you think we want? To scare women?

If I wanted to scare a woman then I’d take my top off.

Now, the article admittedly doesn’t come right out and say that the people threatening Anita represent all gamers, but given how heavy the bias is throughout the entire article, given how they don’t concede even a single inch of ground in regard to the notion that maybe some members of the press have acted inappropriately, or with their own interests in mind, just like Anita’s attackers, and given their closing statement which paints a very clear ‘us versus them’ narrative in the mind of the reader, it’s extremely obvious to anyone who’s heard both sides of the stories what their plan really is.

They know fine well that they’ve fucked up, here, that all of their dirty little secrets that they’d tried to bury are bubbling up to the surface, and they know that it’s eventually going to bring an end to the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. No more developer parties, no more free shit, no more lining your pockets in exchange for your journalistic integrity: all of it is going to come to an end, eventually.

It might not happen this time, especially now that the narrative machine has spun itself into total overdrive and started pumping out shit like this at Polygon, but they’ve got a glimpse of the future, and they know what’s coming, and like any other dictator watching their empire fall around them, they’re going to do every last thing they can to cling onto it, even if it means painting their own community, the community they claim to care so much about, as a bunch of psychopathic rapists.

If I’m being totally realistic, I don’t expect anything to change, after this. There have been a few small victories, like Kotaku writers no longer being allowed to fund Patreons for their developer friends, but too many people have too much money invested in the narrative that they’ve already spun to quit on it now.

And that’s all it comes down to, really: money. The people at the top, who fund the sites…they don’t give a shit about social justice or being progressive, they just care about what gets them clicks; they’d probably promote fucking horses if they thought it would be more profitable than milking the SJW angle, but internet activism is what sells at the moment, and all the writers are more than happy to be paid for the opportunity to spin their tangled web of self-serving bullshit.

Really, if they cared at all about equality, then they’d report on sexual assault allegations against women just like they do about men (although, in an ideal world, they wouldn’t be reporting on either.) They would report on a forum of lonely, mentally unhinged men being harassed just like they reported on the woman who was, allegedly, harassed by them. Of course, in doing so, they’d have to admit it was their fault the forum got harassed in the first place.

If they were really an objective news source, sites like Kotaku would have came out in condemnation of people like Adria Richards, who used her position of power to enforce her own extreme-feminist agenda and make an innocent man lose his job, before being fired herself after it turned out she was, in fact, just a nutbar. Instead, they gave her a soapbox; they made her into a martyr.

As for me, I don’t make any money off of this, (although I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t super exciting to watch my traffic bar spike the last couple of days,) I’m just a dumbass gamer who’d like to play video games.

So why do I care so much? About sites like Kotaku and their little circlejerk of other websites and writers? Can’t I just ignore them and go elsewhere?

Well, if I can highlight another part from that Polygon screenshot up there, it should serve as an ample diving board:

“The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, __________ as an organization.”

This, this right here is absolutely everything that I have a problem with. This is the only thing I really, truly have a problem with, in fact.

If it’s your personal opinion, go post it on your personal blog, like I do; no one should be getting paid just to have an opinion.

A news website is supposed to be objective, and they know that a little disclaimer isn’t going to stop most of their readerbase from taking what they say as gospel, but there they’ve got their little cop-out warning to absolve them of any liability when people who take the time to inform themselves on both sides of an argument quite rightly hit back, saying that all they’re doing is spewing their own bullshit agenda, and bringing harm to innocent parties in the process.

This leaves us –‘us’ in this case referring to those who don’t wish to partake in the regurgitation of disinformation– in a catch 22: we can’t go onto those sites to tell people in the comments precisely how much shit the author is full of, because that’ll drive up their traffic –and they’ll just delete any evidence that contradicts their agenda, anyway– but if we just let this go on, then they’ll continue spewing their biased rhetoric to a naive general public who will continue to believe that anyone who speaks out against Polygon or anyone else in this shit show is just a stubborn little brat that doesn’t want to share his toys.

Let me tell you something, as one of those stubborn little brats: I wish everyone in the world was a gamer. I really, genuinely, honest to based god, do.

I wish that I wasn’t just limited to talking about video games in real life with the people in G-Force when I buy shit from them. I would love to argue about video games in the pub the same way the rest of my friends do about football; I would love to have a conversation with an older person about video games that didn’t start with me explaining why they’re not all just murder simulators; I’d love to have a girlfriend who was super into Final Fantasy, and who I could argue with over the merits of a turn-based battle system versus the more Western hack-and-slash.

I want all of that, but it’s never going to happen as long as the outside world continues to perceive gamers as a bunch of over-sensitive manchildren, not because we are, but because the gaming press keeps telling everyone that we are, EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW IT’S NOT TRUE.

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

Let Me Tell You Why I’m Right: Conspiracy, Corruption and Canoodling

[Note: This article is beginning to gain some traction, and as such I feel compelled to make clear that I in no way profit from this blog, nor do I ever intend to; at least not from this article. The only reason I wrote and published this was to spread the information. Take note, game journalists, this is what you call 'Full Disclosure'.]

Greg Tito Statement 2I want you to read that statement, soak in every single word, and remember it throughout what I’m going to say.

It’s been a long week on the internet.

Anyone with a passing interest in video games might have noticed a bit of a hullabaloo going on over the last few days. Well, actually, depending on where you go to get your information, you might not know anything about it at all. Depending on where you go, you may have a wildly different idea about what has been going on, as opposed to the truth of the matter.

The truth is…well, the truth is we still can’t be sure about the truth. Not all of it, anyway. There is one thing we have learned with absolute certainty: Some people don’t care what the truth is, and some are actively against it ever coming out.

This is all starting to come across a bit ‘9/11 was an inside job’ so I should probably stop being so nebulous about the topic and just get down to it. Here we go…

Part I: Cloudy with a Chance of Shit Storms

Sometime last week, a story broke that Zoe Quinn, game developer, outspoken feminist campaigner and general industry personality, had allegedly cheated on her now ex boyfriend. This wouldn’t have been news in and of itself, were it not for the fact that the men she slept with happened to be prominent figures in the games journalism industry; at least one of whom had reported on Zoe’s work, and another who was on the committee for an award which Zoe won.

One of the initial issues with the story was the fact that it was broken by her ex-boyfriend, who many understandably reasoned would potentially have a vested interest in seeing Quinn taken down a peg or two. The thing is, he had screenshots of chat logs with Quinn to back up his claims, on top of a frankly astounding pile of other evidence, including the matching of dates when Quinn may have been involved with the other guilty parties and how this could have coincided with the alleged industry benefits she gained as a result.

Whatever the ex-boyfriend’s motivations were, the evidence was pretty hard to ignore.

Now, I’d been avoiding commenting on this straight away because, frankly, I’m a nobody, but also because I wanted to wait for more information to come to light, and to see how the accused would react, as well as the industry general.

So, at this point in time, here is all I was aware of:

-Zoe Quinn does not practice what she preaches.
-There is a level of corruption in gaming journalism.

Now, the latter I was aware of already, because there is corruption in all forms of mass media, that’s why we’re lucky we have access to so many different sources of information.

As for Zoe’s actions, they have done nothing to change how I feel about women, either in the games industry or in general. Just like if a black guy shoots someone I don’t immediately decide all black men are criminals, what Zoe did is on her and her alone; if the allegations are true then I find her to be a pretty reprehensible human being, but it doesn’t mean I will make any automatic assumptions about any other women.

That last point is of vital importance, because throughout this it has become far too easy for detractors to simply dismiss the outrage as the idle braying of a bunch of dudes who just wanna keep a woman down. Sexism absolutely does exist in the games industry, it’s just that it doesn’t quite exist the way the general media like to pretend it does.

As for me, and I realise I don’t speak for everyone (this is the closest I’ve ever got to getting to say ‘not all men,’ hooray!), I personally prefer to judge everyone on their own merits, rather than making blanket statements about half the population of Earth whose only common link is their genitalia.

To compound this point, when I was browsing through the Tumblr tag for Zoe Quinn, I was relieved and encouraged to discover that about 90% of the posts that I read from women were in condemnation of Zoe, saying that thanks to her actions it’s made the prospect of them going into the games industry, themselves, that much harder/more unappealing.

I’m glad to see that happening –not that women are abandoning a potential career, I mean that they’re pissed– because I did have fears when this all started that it was just going to dissolve into an us vs them mentality between men and women, where the real issue, as always, is the actions of a specific group, or groups, of people, who are in no way representative of the causes/principles they purport to champion, but have nonetheless damaged the reputations of those causes/principles through their actions.

Speaking of those causes and principles, it was around about this time that people started noticing some strange things going on around the internet, wherever this story was concerned. Mass bans on Reddit, a media blackout on virtually every gaming news website, forums like Neogaf threatening instant bans to anyone who brought up the topic of Quinn…even 4chan, the last bastion of free expression on the internet (for better or worse) was reported to have threads on the topic disappearing at an alarming rate.

Just to put that last part in perspective: 4chan has a section where it’s not uncommon to see genuine photos of people with their arms, legs and other appendages blown off, or scenes of an equally violent nature. That’s fine, and yet any discussion of Quinn bed-hopping with industry journos was out of the question?

This is what eventually lead many to question…

Part II: Games Journalism; Facts Optional

This is the point where I really want you to start remembering that statement from Greg Tito at the start of the article.

Even if this entire thing turns out to be some hugely elaborate witch hunt, which seems frankly impossible at this point, Greg Tito, editor of The Escapist, literally said he doesn’t think fact-checking is always important. I can’t believe any journalist who believed in their profession could say that and be okay with it, and I don’t know how the Escapist can claim to have an ounce of credibility after this.

To be fair to Tito, and the Escapist, however, they are not the only ones who are happy to run with a potential non-story, when they think it stands to benefit them.

Enter: Max Temkin, creator of Cards Against Humanity and, probably more importantly to Max, not a rapist.

Around mid-July, an article went up on Rock Paper Shotgun detailing how Temkin had been accused of rape. Kotaku shortly followed suit, as did The Daily Beast. The content of pretty much all the articles revolved around Temkins response to the allegation, which had been made over Tumblr, and how he had discussed the ambiguity of consent.

Now, I have no interest in opening that particular tin of vipers nests, what I do want to talk about is this: Max Temkin is not a rapist. Or to put it another way, Max Temkin is not in jail for raping a woman. Why not? Well, because for one thing Tumblr isn’t a courtroom.

If the woman accusing Temkin seriously believed her accusations against Temkin, then she should have went straight to the police and had an investigation opened up. What she should not have done is taken to fucking Tumblr to publicly slander an, at this point, completely innocent man. Whatever you want to make of Temkin’s response I leave up to you, all I would say is this: once you’ve been accused of being a rapist, or any other kind of -ist, you pretty much have no choice to go on the defensive.

It doesn’t matter if you love all of Earth’s creatures, if you are accused of being a racist, I defy you to not crumble into a stuttering moron and start throwing in the usual ‘I have X number of black friends’ qualifiers, because what is the alternative? Saying, ‘yeah I am, it’s brilliant’?

That is all irrelevant to my point though, which is that you should never make a criminal allegation over the internet. What you should also, definitely not do, is report on that allegation which, at that point, is little more than hearsay. RPS, Kotaku and The Daily Beast apparently disagree.

Now, you can argue all you want that what they were really criticising was Temkin’s response and opinions on consent, but here’s the undeniable fact: They were constantly repeating a man’s name alongside the word ‘rape’. Over and over again.

Kotaku actually posted an updated version of their piece where editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo added this little caveat:

“This was never supposed to be a piece about whether accuser or accused was guilty—everyone is presumed innocent”

Well, it’s a bit fucking late for that, Stephen, me old mucker. As I said before, once you accuse someone of being an -ist, even after the claim is completely dismissed, you will always be remembered as that guy who might have been that thing, and no matter what you do for the rest of your life to distance yourself from it there will always be someone there, especially on the internet, to remind you of that time you might have been a rapist.

You’re a smart man, Stephen, probably a lot smarter than me, so if I know that I’m sure as shit going to believe you know it too.

So what does all this have to do with Zoe Quinn, you might ask? Well, mainly the fact that despite the articles above largely being opinion pieces of the nature of consent and society’s attitudes to rape in general, they were also very, very much about the personal matters of someone involved in the games industry.

If Kotaku wanted to run a piece on the nature of consent, then go nuts, it’d probably fit in with all the other shit they constantly bring up that has nothing to do with video games, but as soon as you bring a real person into the mix, who has had very serious but as yet unfounded allegations brought against them, you are making it a personal matter.

Let’s see what Greg Tito has to say on the topic of personal matters:

Greg Tito Statement 1Tito, there, is referring to the handling of the Zoe Quinn matter, and if you can’t be bothered reading the whole thing, let me just highlight one part for you:

“I will respect your rights to discuss it, but I ask all of you to respect people’s privacy and personal safety.”

Now, ask yourself: Do you think Max Temkin felt his privacy had been respected, when several prominent games journalism websites decided to paint him as a villain, while simultaneously distancing themselves from any actual bolstering of the accusations to keep clear of potential lawsuits?

Do you think he felt safe, knowing how society in general responds to rapists, accused or otherwise, and being aware of just how quick the internet is to decide on their version of the truth and form a hivemind and/or lynchmob?

I suppose if you wanted to, you could take the stance that Temkin made this public by responding to the allegations on his own blog, but as I already addressed he pretty much had to: if one party goes public with a serious allegation and the other goes silent then most people are going to take that as a clear-cut admission of guilt (keep that in mind for later, too).

Maybe that’s the difference though: Temkin did make his situation public of his own volition, but Zoe Quinn never did anything like that, right?

…Right?

Part III: When all You Want’s a Burning, Everyone Looks Like a Witch

This is the part of the story most relevant to the first Tito quote I posted, where you may have noticed he mentions taking Quinn at her word when running a story about her. What was the story in question?

Escapist Article DQ WC

That article ran just before Christmas last year, and you may notice now carries a small caveat at the beginning to state that ‘the claims were made by the accuser and have not been confirmed by another party’. In other words, the entire article was based on what Quinn said had happened, and no one at the Escapist thought it was worth looking into before running an article on the story.

What’s the problem with this? Well, aside from the fact that it makes for pretty shoddy fucking journalism -hell, even I try to source my claims with hyperlinks, when I can- it also meant that the accused party, who were named in the article as Wizardchan, a forum for socially maladjusted and, more seriously, mentally ill men to gather and just generally be sad and alone.

That’s not me being a dick, by the way, that is literally what the forum is for.

If you read the article, it purports that after a particularly vitriolic post was made on the Wizardchan board regarding Quinn and her game, Depression Quest, she started to receiving harassing phone calls and other abuse on her various social media accounts.

Here’s the thing, though: It was never directly linked to Wizardchan. Oh, the Escapist article absolutely was, has their name right there, plain as day, but the actual alleged attacks on Quinn were never, undeniably linked to the board.

In fact, after some people dug a little deeper and, you know, did some actual fucking investigative reporting, it came to the light that the original post on the Wizardchan board, which may or may not have been responsible for the alleged harassment, may not even have come from one of the users of the board, but a third party, CWCwiki, who make it their business to fuck with the people at Wizardchan, amongst other places, because, well, I guess everyone needs a hobby?

Here’s the post from CWCwiki, but you can read a full rundown of the debacle here:

CWCwikiNow, once again, it’s important to note that this is not an admission of guilt, but merely a piece of evidence which suggests reasonable doubt, regarding who it was that really harassed Quinn.

That is, of course, assuming the harassment occurred at all, since Quinn has never provided phone records or anything else to suggest what she claims happened actually happened. I don’t mean providing them to me, by the by, she doesn’t owe me owt, I mean providing them to the fucking police whose job it is to deal with people being harassed in real life because that is a real actual crime that people go to prison for.

Again, though, just like the Temkin case, Quinn for some reason felt that the internet was the best place to air her grievances, and of course a plethora of traffic-hungry gaming websites started falling over each other in a bid to oblige her.

Okay, so what’s the problem with this one? Well, just as Temkin will now forever be remembered as ‘that rape guy’ –at least three of the results on the first page when Googling ‘max tempkin’ are about the rape allegations– the users of Wizardchan, whom I would remind you are largely comprised of vulnerable young men –there’s a link to the suicide hotline on just about every page of their forum– became a target for a veritable shit storm of abuse in the wake of the Escapist and other websites running articles on this and highlighting Wizardchan as the likely (read: completely unverified) culprit.

Now, as we’ve discussed already, it may not even have been a member of the board who made the post that may or may not have lead to the abuse of Quinn that may or may not have actually happened.

If it was an actual user on the chan who made the thread about her, then I still don’t think anyone should be giving them shit, as long as it doesn’t go beyond the site. I mean, no one complains that literally every messageboard for every actor on IMDb has at least one thread talking about how awful the actor or actress is. There will always be people who don’t like other people, that will never change, all that matters is how they choose to act on that dislike.

What I think is important to constantly re-state is that Wizardchan is a board largely, if not entirely, populated by depressed lonely men, many of whom have mental problems, (you know, the kind of people that Quinn’s Depression Quest claims to be trying to help).

To be perfectly frank, they are nobodies, and I don’t say that insultingly but only to point out that them allegedly going after Zoe had nowhere near as big a precedent for innocent people being hurt as all the big names in the industry who wasted no time in grabbing the broadest brush they could find to paint the entirety of Wizardchan as a den of monsters.

This is my problem with Tito’s whole ‘we’ll always side with the victim’ schtick: Zoe may not have been a victim, and without bothering to fact-check The Escapist and a lot of other big sites with a lot of influence and a huge following were suddenly made very aware of a small corner of the internet inhabited by vulnerable people who hadn’t, and still haven’t, been proven guilty of any direct attack against Quinn.

This is the danger of just taking someone at their word and not fact-checking. When you have a large audience who you know for a fact are always happy to act on impulse and nail someone to the wall at the slightest provocation, whether you want them to or not.

When you know this, you are duty-bound to make absolutely sure that you’ve got your stories straight.

This part of the story made me think back to the Ipswich murders which occurred in the UK, in 2006, where several prostitutes were murdered over a period of months. During the investigation, one man was arrested and taken in for questioning because he’d been seen the night before talking to local prostitutes who were friendly with, or at least knew of, the victims.

As it turns out, the man regularly paid for the services of these women, and was talking to them to try and gather information because he figured they’d be more comfortable talking with someone they knew than with the police.

In other words, he was not only innocent, he was actively trying to help with the case, but as soon as he was taken away by the police, his name was all over the news and his neighbours were interviewed, saying, ‘well it’s just unbelievable to think you could live next to someone like that all this time.’

Now, after the dust settled and he was cleared of all charges, do you ever think that man was able to go back to living a normal life in that street? Even though his name had been cleared, he was still marked as, the dirty old man who sleeps with prostitutes. The media potentially ruined his reputation based on nothing but speculation.

That is the real danger of reporting on a story when you’re not willing to check the facts, and that is what I find objectionable about this entire debacle.

Of course, for any of that to happen, first you need to actually report on a story.

Part IV: The Deafening Sound of Silence

The immediate fallout from this story picking up steam was as confusing as it was hilarious.

While most websites and forums were swinging the banhammer around with reckless abandon and pulling a classic Delete Fucking Everything, many prominent industry figures took to Twitter to carefully collect their thoughts and, after looking at both sides of the argument from a reasoned perspective, completely lose their fucking shit:

tumblr_nal0uu6FSi1ricadfo1_1280That’s Max Scoville, who works for Destructoid, and who I actually really like, responding in a totally rational manner to what was admittedly a snipey joke question. Still though, does it look like a measured response, to you?

Let’s see what Bob Chipman, AKA the Escapist’s Moviebob, had to say on the situation:

Bob Chipman Meltdown 1Jeez, Bob, don’t be afraid to say what you feel. Anything else you’d like to add?

Bob Chipman Meltdown 2Okay, joking aside, I 100% agree with Chipman’s statements in these tweets, although I get the feeling that we have different opinions on who those ‘entitled, spoiled, assholes’ are.

Psst, spoiler: Moviebob isn’t referring to the games journalists who have spent years pushing their own personal agenda [see the previously addressed topic of journos picking and choosing when it's okay to air a person's dirty laundry], who have benefitted from lavish developer parties where they’re given shit like free PS3’s, and who are so fucking corrupt that they don’t even bother to put up any real fight when one of their own is thrown to the vultures to satisfy their corporate masters who keep them well paid and in a position of great power and affluence.

Other internet celebrities have been more even-handed in their approach, to be fair. Not that it did them much good.

Youtube Let’s Player and general gaming personality, TotalBiscuit released a statement regarding the DMCA takedown of a video criticising Zoe Quinn and the others involved in the scandal, as well as passing comment on the event as a whole. If you read through the statement you will notice that he couldn’t have been more diplomatic in his response, that he constantly pleads with people to wait for the dust to settle, not to jump to conclusions and saying that if there are problems then they should be addressed.

Pretty reasonable, right? Presumably that’s why he caught a ton of flak for it on Twitter, then, and of course Zoe was right there on the front lines to dish a bit of the abuse out, herself. Say what you will about the lady, she isn’t afraid to get her own hands dirty, from time to time:

RNF8nm9One thing I would like to highlight from TB’s statement, though, was where he discussed the DMCA takedown on the MundaneMatt video which criticised Quinn. Now, he went to great pains to point out how Youtube’s broken copyright system is really easy to game and that it may not even have been Quinn who made the claim; plausible given that her supporters have proven more than willing to engage in such acts in the past.

Now, I don’t care if you are directly responsible or not, when you know that these things are being done in your name -and Zoe is all to aware, she’s been pretty cavalier about the whole thing on Twitter- then you have a duty to address that. If you really care about what’s right, and about doing things the right way, then you should come out against the people who are breaking the god damn law in your honour.

Funnily enough, do you know who else agrees with me on that? John Walker, editor-in-chief of Rock Paper Shotgun. Check it out:

John Walker on Responding to MisrepThat is a solid stance to me. I totally agree. So isn’t it funny that, in the wake of the Quinn scandal, Walker again came out on Twitter, saying:

John Walker on EthicsSo, anyone who’s been misrepresented is duty-bound to address that and not have content about them removed, but anyone who tries to talk about how journalists and developers have potentially been doing backroom deals will be instantly shut down? How exactly does that one fucking work, John?

Is it because the sex scandal thing is a personal matter? Because I can think of something else that’s a pretty personal matter: being accused of fucking rape.

RPS Temkin ArticleOkay, I’ve got a new question for you John: How do you fucking sleep at night?

He did also go on to boast of his pride regarding the work RPS do, though:

“It always makes me proud when I hear “Rock, Paper, Shotgun” listed by these MRA morons as an example of the dearth of games journalism. Hypocritical foul bigots who pretend it’s about “ethics””

John, mate, I don’t think you are in any position to talk about ethics. I’m not even sure you have a clue what the word means.

Sorry, I shouldn’t be making this personal, (what am I, a games journalist? Haha, ahh…no, I kid,) and maybe instead of just running my god damn mouth all the time I should say what it is I actually expect to be done about all of this.

Well, shit, okay.

Part V: How Do We Save Games Journalism

Honestly, I don’t think it needs saving. It needs euthanised.

Personally, whatever the outcome of this is I don’t think it will affect me, I literally get almost all of my information about games from people I follow on Youtube –people, not websites– and the Escapists forums. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the front page of the Escapist, I have the ZP page bookmarked and I get to the forums from there.

I know a LP’er can be biased, but they can’t totally mask a games general content from the footage, so by watching them I can get a good feel for how the game will handle and if that’s something I’d enjoy.

I put a lot more stock in videos like that, rather than the meticulously planned, editor-approved ‘official’ reviews that go up on major websites -even if I generally like the website as a whole- because when you just have someone doing a general stream-of-conscious over a video it’s much easier to get a feel for sincerity.

As for forums, I know that they are still ultimately controlled by the websites that host them, but the mods of the Escapist have always been pretty even-handed in my experience –as evidenced by the fact that it’s just about the only forum still allowing it’s users to discuss all of this– and the userbase is generally open to a good discussion. I’ve learned a lot about critical analysis and source-checking from having my opinions challenged by other members, and that’s came in very handy while compiling  and trying to make sense of all of this.

Basically, I feel that journalist-driven news is pretty dead in an online age where information can be shared out and dissected by everyone; it’s no longer just a privileged few with their ear to the ground telling us how it is and then we dissect that: now we can watch tradeshows like E3 in real-time and make our own conclusions.

We’re our own journalists now, and I think the more we learn to use critical analysis the better we’ll become at informing ourselves. At that point, who needs a ‘professional’ to give us their opinion? What makes them anymore valid than any one of the users on these forums?

I know I’m not representative of everyone, and I wouldn’t assume to speak for anyone but myself on matters like this, but I honestly don’t feel that getting my information this way is anymore time-consuming or challenging than when I used to buy Nintendo Official Magazine and read that, cover to cover, every month.

Say you don’t wanna go down that road, though. Say you want to keep the system we have in place, just now, but just toss the bad apples out of the bushel.

There’s a small problem, there…

Part VI: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Ben Kuchera was one of the many big names getting tossed around while the war was raging on Twitter. Apparently, he’s now writing for Polygon, which surprised me, because last time I checked he was over at Penny Arcade. Now he’s at another site? Then I thought about all the other names coming up in this story. ALL of them have moved around three or four of the sites that keep getting brought up.

Now, this is no big secret, it’s not like any of the people I’m referring to tried to cover up that they were taking their talents elsewhere and, honestly, prior to this I never thought anything of it, because I like Max Scoville; I was glad to here he was going over to Destructoid. I like Jim Sterling, I was glad The Escapist snapped him up as reviews editor from Destructoid. Generally speaking, I’m happy to see the people I like succeed in their chosen profession.

But in light of all this, as more and more nepotism is uncovered in the industry, it’s getting very hard to ignore the fact that all of these sites are really just passing old blood from one position to the next.

It’s ALWAYS the same names, and if it’s all the same people, then what is the point in having all these different sites? Are they anything more than just clubhouses for a group of writer friends, all doing an ‘I’ll scratch your back’ routine? If the entire point of different sites is to allow the consumer to inform themselves with different opinions, how can we be expected to do that when they keep giving each other the same writers on lease and lend?

No, what we really need is some new blood in the industry, correct? Well, I guess, but the problem with that is that history is pretty cyclical when it comes to the media, and really any kind of industry where your name carries more weight than your words.

A lot of today’s indie devs who we champion will inevitably go on to become millionaire AAA publishers because, for some people, the climb to the top is all that matters. Others will just continue to make the games they want to make, because that’s why they’re in the business.

Likewise, if all these corrupt bullshit sites fade away, as they should, we will get new sites in their place. They’ll be good at first, eager to please, and some of them will do genuinely good reporting, based on facts and not wild speculation, but over time standards will inevitably start to slip as they become more desperate for traffic and again this whole process will start over.

As I said, I genuinely think the mistake we are making is in assuming that we need one constant, unanimous, unimpeachable source for our information. Instead we should all get our information from where we choose and then bring it to forums like this one to discuss it with each other.

Obviously, I’m not trying to paint the entire industry in that light, I just mean that generally, you can tell when someone is in it for the fame rather than the games (oh shit, put that on a t-shirt).

It’s fairly easy to spot which people in the industry are in it for the love of writing about their favoured hobby and who just want to be adored. Generally, I would say it’s the people who refuse to be proven wrong or hear any dissenting opinions that don’t actually care, and we’ve certainly seen a lot of them pop up in the wake of the Quinn scandal.

It’s this cult of personality that we need to tear down, on both sides (because I’m sure people like the InternetAristocrat will have fans who refuse to hear a word against him just as Anita Sarkeesian does) and in part I think sites like Twitter helps with that.

In other ways it hinders, and creates problems, because it humanises these people and puts them on our level, but also leaves them a lot more exposed to harassment and unfounded criticism. Phil Fish should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who doesn’t believe there are dangers to taking someone with absolutely no media training and then giving them a platform to voice their opinions.

The thing is, though, whatever happens as a result of this: social media isn’t going away. Twitter is excellent for quickly communicating a message to a huge amount of people and anyone in the media who refuses to use it is essentially lopping off an entire marketing limb, but if they want to use it then they can’t go fucking apeshit at the general public and start slinging insults because it’s unprofessional as fuck.

We need to find a balance, but that can’t possibly happen when 90% of these people instantly go on the defensive and either put up the shutters or start slinging massively generalised accusations at anyone who asks they maybe stop to look at some new evidence.

I feel like all of this is getting away from the original purpose of this discussion though, the meat and potatoes of the matter: Zoe Quinn, her alleged affairs, and the conflicts of interest they may have created.

Maybe I’m struggling to focus on that part because it’s so insignificant, in the grander scheme of things? I mean, really, why is Zoe so important, at all? Why do we all have to throw so much on her?

Part VII: You Can’t Put the Genie Back in the Bottle

I’ve been following Jim Sterling’s work for quite some time now, and thank god for him. What I’ve noticed, when reading his reviews, watching his Jimquisitions or just about every time he posts something controversial on Twitter, is that there’s at least one person on0hand to call him a fat dick or in other ways insults him. Literally it’s as predictable as the god damn sun setting in the evening.

As far as I’m aware, Jim doesn’t really care about it, or at least has made it clear it’s just something he has to deal with so he does, but I have never seen people come out in support for him or try to protect him the way people do with ZQ.

Now my question is this: what makes her so special that she needs protecting? Because she’s a woman? Because that, to me, flies directly in the face of supporting equality, by implying that a woman is not capable of protecting herself. I’ve seen the stuff she says on Twitter, she is more than willing to engage these people on their own level. The ‘protect the wimmenz’ angle also doesn’t really stack up when you consider that seemingly no major news sources are willing to address what’s happened to TFYC over the weekend (more on that, shortly).

So, is it the fact that the harassment of Zoe Quinn is worse than what Jim receives? I’m not so sure, when Jim did the podcast with Retsupurae he talked about threats being made against his family. That seems pretty fucking serious to me. I’m sure he’s mentioned it on the other podcasts he’s been involved in as well; that the abuse is not just an occasional thing.

So, what’s the difference, then? Well, Jim made clear in a JQ about Zoe that a persons harassment being dragged into the limelight should be their own choice, (I can’t remember what article he was referring to specifically, I don’t even think it was the one about her harassment, but perhaps the article that lead to her allegedly being harassed.)

From this we can conclude the reason that Jim never brings up the constant harassment he receives is because he doesn’t want it in the limelight.

Conversely, Zoe never fucking shuts up about it, to the point where she is known more for being harassed than she is for being a game developer, which is probably just as well since a little research by other people has shown she has hardly done a damn thing to contribute to video games, outside of inciting drama about the industry.

She constantly talks about how she’s being harassed by all these mysterious anons –about whom evidence is always conveniently thin; doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but does give pause for thought– and she goes to sites like the Escapist to get that harassment into the public eye, seemingly under the pretense of making people more aware of the rampant misogyny in the games industry (because it’s impossible that maybe people just don’t like her, as a person,) yet as soon as it comes to light that she might not be perfect, herself, (no one is, I know,) then suddenly none of us are allowed to talk about absolutely anything relating to her or her personal life because, ‘that’s not news.’

No, you’re quite right, it wasn’t news…until Zoe made it news. Sorry, but you don’t get to pick and choose when your plight is newsworthy, once you put yourself out there, once you ask for your story to be headline news, you accept that you are open to scrutiny and you should accept that when people scratch away at the surface and find things aren’t what they seem, causing your entire carefully assembled house of cards to start tumbling down around you, people aren’t going to stop asking for answers just because you suddenly decide that now it’s none of their business.

I get the feeling some of you may still think this is all about sexism, though. That this is just another case of the hateful patriarchy hating on an innocent woman who had the gall to try and break into a male-dominated industry.

Damn us men, why must we constantly sabotage these poor women, and stop them from entering the world of video games?

…Wait, what?

Part IX: Feminist Top Trumps

Have you heard of The Fine Young Capitalists? Probably not, but they are a charity movement, currently raising funds on Indiegogo for a project to get more women developing video games.

Did you know that, on Sunday the 24th of August, their campaign was hacked and shut down, with the following message left up on the page:

TFYC Hack

Did you also know that absolutely no websites reported on this? Not until much, much later, anyway, and only after mounting pressure from the Escapist forum-users and 4channers and Tumblrites who’d all been doing their fucking job for them.

What, this didn’t seem like news to them? Cause I think it’s pretty damn newsworthy.

Back to the actual story, though: If you can’t make it out, the message addresses /V/ [sic], the video game section of the aforementioned 4chan, also commonly referred to as ‘the asshole of the internet’, who are also usually blamed for the harassment of pretty much anyone the internet, the hacking and shutting down of websites and just about any unsavoury act you can think of. You name it, 4chan’s been accused of it.

Now, I know exactly what you are thinking of at this point: Why would anyone hack a charity drive to help women in the games industry to attack a website that is infamous for (allegedly) attacking women in the games industry, amongst others?

Well, it just so happens that 4chan had been a major contributor to the campaign, as part of a massive PR drive to try and show people that, maybe, all those allegations made against an entire website may not have been quite accurate, or at the very least have applied only to a select few troublemakers, and not, you know, every single person who ever visited the site.

TFYC 4chanMore recently, TFYC released information highlighting who the top contributors had been to their donation pool, which currently sits at just over thirty-two thousand dollars; almost exactly half of their $65,000 goal. Would you like to take a guess as to how the demographics shaped up?TFYC Stats Well, how do you like that?

Now, there are a few points about all of this that it is important to clear up: it’s still not known for certain who is responsible for the original Indiegogo campaign being hacked and shut down. Although they claimed to represent Quinn and her people, it hasn’t been confirmed, and people have speculated that there may be a third part responsible who just wants to stir up trouble, similar to CWCwiki in the Wizardchan incident.

Before all that, though, it’s important to ask: Why this campaign? Why did 4chan decide to throw their weight behind this specific campaign to improve their image, when there are numerous other outlets they could have chosen to show their support for women in the industry and general equality?

Well, it might have had something to do with the fact that Quinn previously did get the campaign shut down, by openly attacking it on Twitter, because she decided she didn’t like how TFYC classified who could and couldn’t be considered female, with regards to transgendered applicants.

Again, how you feel about the trans issue and how TFYC handled it is open for debate, but that doesn’t change the fact that Quinn mocked them in a public space where she KNEW that the more rabid members of her fanbase would be likely to pick up the story and act on it.

She then lied about how far she’d taken it when one of her supporters called her out on her bullshit; claiming she’d only made 4 tweets about it when, in actual fact, the real number was closer to about 44.

Quinn Lies Lies EverywhereJust for clarity, here she is laughing with one of her friends on Twitter about how the managed to [accidentally] DDos the TFYC campaign by directing an influx of her supporters towards it:

During the whole shit storm, she even found time to plug her own Patreon account, which essentially gives her money for doing, well, nothing at all, really. Also interesting to note that many of her contributors are the same journalists and industry figures who have been shutting down or otherwise sabotaging any discussion about her.

Again, I am not accusing anyone of anything, just stating facts.

Now, in light of all the evidence that has surfaced since the incident, surely Quinn’s supporters must be more open to rational discourse, right? RIGHT?

I can't with this anymore I just can'tCome on, they’ve gotta have something to back up their stance…

No shitting wayI give up.

So where am I going with all this? Well, I guess I am taking it kind of personally, at least on this point. Let me be honest: I’m tired of the implication that because I don’t like what a person does, and that person happens to have a vagina, that I must just hate women.

The people around the internet, currently campaigning for change as a result of the Quinn scandal aren’t against women, they are against anyone who would twist the truth to suit their own agenda.

And that’s the funniest thing about this whole three-ring circus, to me: all these sites had to do to quell the massive wave of shite heading towards them was put up an objective post about what was going on. No mud-slinging, no accusations or speculation, literally just a statement of facts about what was happening.

Hell, they didn’t even have to use any names or even mention the genders of the parties involved, just ‘developer’s intimate relationship with journalists raises concerns,’ then go on to document the ensuing fallout (most of which wouldn’t exist, probably, if they had addressed the problem in the first place.)

Of course it wouldn’t have quelled the outrage, in its entirety, we all know that the internet thrives on drama, but by refusing to address the topic at all, by actively stifling and silencing anyone who did want to discuss it, they made themselves out to be the guilty party; they made themselves out to be an enemy of journalism. And those aren’t my words, those are the words of John fucking Walker, editor-in-chief of RPS.

John Walker on Responding to MisrepI know I already posted that, but it bears repeating.

Jim Sterling hasn’t been afraid in the past of highlighting the potential conflict of ethics in the industry, and we know that these sites have no qualms about ruining a man’s career before he has been convicted of a single thing, and yet you’re telling me that a story with piles and piles of evidence to substantiate claims isn’t even remotely newsworthy?

The fact that most outlets have flat-out refused to do so leaves me to draw two conclusions:
1. It doesn’t fit their agenda, and they know there’s no way they could spin it to, (although Forbes gave it a damn good try.)
2. They seriously thought that their combined weight of influence was enough to stamp out the dissenters, even though that group comprised just about every single other person in the gaming community. In other words, it was an act of arrogance. (This theory is supported by the frankly childish Tweets of people like MovieBob and Max Scoville.)

This is going to get worse before it gets better, but all they have to do –all they ever had to do– to make it stop is admit they were wrong and open a dialogue so we can work together to make it right. At this point, silence absolutely is an admission of guilt about something, and I don’t see anyone on our side of things shutting up any time soon.

So really, I guess the only thing left to do is say what it is we actually want?

Part X: The Kotaku Ultimatum

In closing, I’d just like to bring things into perspective by applying a simple analysis to both sides of the argument, to try and show why we care (spoiler: It’s got nothing to do with hating women).

Basically, what does each side stand to win or lose, at the end of this?

The side against Quinn and the websites supporting her.

What we stand to gain:
-Transparency from the people who are PAID to report information to us.
-That’s it. That is literally it. We aren’t getting any money out of this. We aren’t getting famous. All we gain from this is a more professional, informative games press. Who can be against that?

What we stand to lose by letting this go:
-The nepotistic industry hivemind that has been proven to exist, where all the major gaming websites pass around the same writers from one post to another, continues unabated.
-They continue to post potentially biased or otherwise compromised media (from lack of fact-checking etc) which impedes the ability of every single person accessing their content to make informed, accurate decisions.
-Good writers, and other innocent people continue to be blacklisted from the industry, painted as scapegoats or in other ways punished if they dare to go against the party line (see previously: Dan Hsu, Jeff Gertsmann, Robert Florence.)

Quinn and the sites supporting her:

What they stand to gain if we give up:
-A shit ton of free press and as such profit from increased ad revenue.
-The ability to carry on spreading their slanted narrative.
-No reform to their extremely questionable ethics (not fact-checking stories which have the potential to greatly damage the lives of those involved).

What they stand to lose:
-Their jobs.
-Their position of influence.
-All the free shit that companies and developer friends have given them over the years, potentially for a bit of positive press.
-The moral high ground they’ve used for years to dismiss anyone who spoke out against them, no matter how reasonable or how impartial the attempted dissent may be.

That’s basically it, as far as this section goes. Could have saved myself a whole heap of hassle and just put this up, really.

…God dammit.

Conclusion: Closing Statement & Suggested Further Reading/Viewing

I’m tired. I’m really, truly exhausted by all of this.

I miss when we just called video games a hobby, before we had to quantify it and justify why we liked some games but not others and what label that meant we had to wear.

Honestly, video games have turned into fucking high school.

So, in closing, let me just say, for the record: I’ll play a game about a black, trans amputee with rocket thrusters strapped to their stumps if it’s a fun game. (Now just waiting to see what demographic I excluded in that concept, and who I have oppressed as a result.)

Oh, and if you only take one thing away from this rambling mess of an essay, then please, please let it be this:

War on Women 1War on Women 2

Suggested Further Info on the Topic, because honestly I’ve already written 7,500 words here, but there is SO much more to this, I couldn’t possibly cover it all:

The Fine Young Capitalist Links:

Youtube:

Other:

There will be more to come, I just need to get sorted out with the links, watch this space.

 

Posted in Advice, Current Affairs, Gaming, The World at Large. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Let Me Tell You Why I Like: Batman & Robin (1997)

[Originally published over at Vulture Hound.]

Growing up with a face like mine, you learn to get used to things other people instinctively find repulsive, and for that reason I consider myself better equipped than most to objectively re-appraise films callously discarded to the bargain bin of history and see if they really deserve the scorn that’s been piled upon them, since.

Batman_&_Robin_-_PosterToday’s film is 1997’s Batman & Robin, the follow-up to Batman Forever and a film apparently so universally reviled that both the director and leading man have since gone out of their way to apologise for it.

Right off the bat, I could tell why people were upset about this film. I’m not saying that I agree with them, but I understand. The film makes it clear from the outset that it has absolutely zero intention of taking itself seriously, and following Jim Carrey’s over the top performance in Forever it took a true thespian to out-do him in B&R. That role was aptly filled by Arnold Schwarzeneger as Mr Freeze, who can’t go five minutes without mentioning ice, even when it makes absolutely no sense for him to do so.

 

"Can you guess who my favourite rapper is? That's right: 2Pac."

“Can you guess who my favourite rapper is? That’s right: 2Pac.”

I’ve always loved Mr Freeze as a character because, like almost every other Batman villain, he has layers and layers of depth and a motivation beyond just being a bad bastard and, while the film does pay lip service to his dying wife back story, it’s mostly used as a plot device to make him angry and shout about ice some more, so I can understand fans being disappointed and feeling a sense of betrayal.

As with Bane and Poison Ivy, I understand why Batman fans would be angry about another great character being boiled down to a shallow stock-character, but the thing is Arnold Schwarzeneger is so god damn adorable as Freeze that he kind of makes the role his own and turns it into something completely different.

Not bad, just different; remember that, because it will be a running theme throughout this critique.

The biggest difference between B&R and almost every other iteration of Batman, is that the film is genuinely funny; probably something else that worked against it on the back of Tim Burton’s particular brand of gloomy lamenting, but if you let yourself fall into the B&R mindset instead of constantly comparing it to other things, you may find it far more enjoyable.

Between the puns and generally sardonic attitude of ever character every time they’re placed in life-threatening peril, the film made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Maybe that’s not what you want from a Batman film but I, personally, find it refreshing to see the Dark Knight not taking himself so damn seriously, for once.

Here’s a quick rundown of my favourite comic relief moments, off the top of my head:

  • Watching Batman and Robin wakeboard through the air to catch Arnold Schwarzeneger while he’s dressed up like the goddamn Songbird.
  • George Clooney carrying a frozen Chris O’Donnel around like an ostentatious Lady Gaga handbag. I am so happy that I can say that sentence and know that it wasn’t a fever dream.
  • Batman’s American Express card with the Batsymbol on it, showing that even the product placement managed to have a sense of humour.
  • Poison Ivy saying “There’s something about an anatomically correct rubber suit that puts fire in a woman’s lips,” showing that even the film knew how ridiculous the suit was, and played off it.
  • What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!” – That’s not a pun; that’s just factually accurate.
  • Bane skulking around in a perverts raincoat and trilby, which is more stealth than TDKR Bane ever exhibited, even with all his fancy-pants League of Shadows training.

Even if you can’t have a sense of humour about it, though, there are some other positive points about the film that I feel deserve more credit.

The fact that the film manages to simultaneously juggle so many different plot points competently –something even Nolan struggled to do with TDKR- is worthy of merit. B&R packs an entire TV series of content into one film and, even though some aspects aren’t properly fleshed out, it’s a laudably ambitious project that hits the mark far more than most sequels do, (I’m looking at you, Spiderman 3).

I’ll say this much, though, it was bloody convenient that the Batcave carried a female batsuit that perfectly fit Alicia Silverstone’s measurements…is a joke I would have made if the film didn’t totally cover that plothole…Take that, Christian Bale making it halfway around the world with absolutely zero funds, and still having time to make an elaborate stencil out of fire on a bridge!

Visually, the film has some pretty incredible moments, in particular the Turkish Bath fight with Bane and the neon gang, though I am willing to concede that my enjoyment of that scene largely hinges on the 90’s fostering an unconditional love of neon in my brain.

Actually, speaking of Bane, despite fans bemoaning his canon being ruined, visually

Moan about canon all you want; that Bane scared the shit out of me as a child.

Moan about canon all you want; that Bane scared the shit out of me as a child.

speaking, this is probably the closest a Batman film has ever been to reproducing his look; and it’s probably the closest they ever will get without employing awful Hulk-like CGI.

Between Ivy’s lair, her outfits, Bane’s ludicrous luchador mask and hilariously exaggerated physique, the bad writing and relentless barrage of ice-based puns…B&R is a true comic book film, in the most literal sense.

It just goes to show that when it comes to pleasing the fans you will never, ever win, but I can’t honestly sit here with a straight face and pretend the film doesn’t also have it’s share of problems. I can, however, defend those problems.

People criticise Clooney’s stoic, bordering on cardboard, performance but honestly, what else do you expect? Batman is a boring bastard, always grumping around the place like a five year old that’s been told it’s time for bed. Even Christian Bale’s only meaningful addition was to talk like he’d just swallowed a twenty-deck of Marlboro, followed by a lit match, and when the man who willingly turned himself into a living skeleton is out of ideas, that’s maybe a sign that the character has reached its limits.

On the whole, people seem to have a problem with the performances in B&R, but here’s the thing: I know for a fact that Uma Thurman can act. I know for a fact that George Clooney can act. They make no attempt to do so in Batman & Robin, and I take this as proof that they were deliberately hamming it up.

Maybe it was because they were only there to get paid, or maybe it was because they figured comic book films were dumb and decided to just have fun with the project, but either way it works for me.

It’s almost as if they were trying to distance themselves from the previous super-moody films, so that Schumacher could put his own stamp on the series, and isn’t it funny how people applauded Nolan for doing the same thing, with fans rabidly tearing apart any critic who dared to point out that maybe TDKR wasn’t quite the perfect film everyone was making it out to be; similar to how fans cry about Bane in B&R yet never bring up how Burton completely massacred Batman’s canon by making the Joker kill his parents, completely changing arguably the most pivotal point in Bruce Wayne’s character arc.

The difference was, of course, early 90’s Burton was infallible, and Nolan made Batman all true-to-life and gritty, whereas Schumacher gave us bat-nipples and cartoon sound effects, but if we were being properly realistic then Alfred would have had Master Wayne committed to Arkham years ago because he is fucking mentally ill.

This is a point I frequently return to when defending B&R, or just talking about Batman in general: make fun of the bat-nipples all you want, but it’s kind of missing the forest for the trees when you consider that we’re talking about a grown man running around dressed as a giant bat. Practically speaking, there’s absolutely no reason for him to have the daft little spikes on his cowl, and prior to Nolan giving the cape an actual purpose, Watchmen was pretty much the authority on why superheroes wearing capes was a really, really dumb idea.

I defy you to tell me that Chris O'Donnell is the only person in a dumb-looking outfit, here.

I defy you to tell me that Chris O’Donnell is the only person in a dumb-looking outfit, here.

What I’m saying is, if you boil it down to its core, every single thing about Batman is stupid and makes no sense, but that’s a part of what makes the universe so fascinating and why he has endured as a character while the cavalcade of Dick Tracy gumshoe detective stories with one stupid gimmick faded into obscurity. (Remember the Crimson Clown, everyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

As a Tim Burton Batman film, B&R is terrible; as a Christopher Nolan Batman film, B&R is terrible. I accept that, but let me put it in a different and totally not exaggerated way: Star Wars is a really shitty period drama, compared to Pride and Prejudice. Schindler’s List is a much more accurate WWII film than Ghostbusters. Tom Hardy is absolutely rubbish at playing one-dimensional jackasses in every single film; Adam Sandler is much better at that.

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, I just...ah, I forgot where I was going with this.

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, I just…ah shit, what was I talking about?

I’m being partially facetious, but my point is you can make absolutely anything look bad if you judge it by the right (i.e. wrong) standards, sort of like when David Beckham donated his entire salary to charity, last year, and people said he was just doing it so he wouldn’t have to pay any tax. You know, on all that money he was fucking giving to a charity.

In a previous article, I suggested that sometimes when viewing a film, it’s important to take a step back and judge it by what it is; not what you expected it to be. If you went into B&R at the time expecting Burton, you’d be disappointed, and if you watched it now expecting Nolan, you’ll be disappointed.

In broad terms, though, that’s like getting upset that every single film you watch isn’t your favourite. I don’t go into every single film expecting to see Withnail & I, because if I did I’d be constantly disappointed by every film that wasn’t Withnail & I. Although it might explain why I enjoy Hudson Hawk so much.

To be honest, I'd probably watch Richard E. Grant eat breakfast and give it 10/10.

To be honest, I’d probably watch Richard E. Grant eat breakfast and give it 10/10.

In retrospect, maybe the film would have fared better as a TV series, separating it from its film counterparts and putting it more in league with the Adam West TV show it spiritually borrows from. That’s probably the the best advice I can offer, for everyone still convinced Batman & Robin is our generation’s Plan 9 from Outer Space: re-watch the film with no preconceptions, or at the very least in the same way you would a classic episode of the Adam West TV series.

Some of you will probably still hate it, but that’s kind of how art works: everything isn’t for everyone, all of the time.

No one goes to see the Mona Lisa expecting a Page 3 Girl.

Pfft, booooring. Wap 'em out, love.

Pfft, booooring. Wap ‘em out, love.

Posted in Films, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 bollocks so you always pull up before hitting the ground regardless of what you wanted to do.)

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 three-hundred 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 pissing away £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'; 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.

Meanwhile, 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 I 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 seems to be 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 honestly 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 Microsoft’s bullshit with the Xbox One roll-out really was Orwellian: A console that the user has almost no control over, that can be shut down 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 so 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 precisely how much they were full of shit; 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 collectively 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 a 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 and drawbacks of a PC (constant patches, intrusive DRM, artificial obsolescence) without any of the benefits (mods, competitive pricing, backwards compatibility).

It’s like buying a car where you’re not allowed to change the tyres, ever; you just have to keep running them until they wear out and the car can’t drive on them anymore, then you go to the showroom and buy the company’s new model of car, only you’re not allowed to take any of your CD’s and shit out of the old car, because the new car only plays MP3’s now. So deal with it.

Posted in Advice, Current Affairs, Gaming, Reviews, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

Posted in My Weird Life, Story Time, The World at Large. | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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