Things you should see.


The Thumbs Ups of 2011

In a bid to cover off all those things I didn’t find the time to write about this last year (and to actually get a post in for the month of December) I present my inaugural ‘Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down’ lists for 2011. These are the things that either surprised me by being better than they deserved to be or against-all-odds-style fuck ups. Wouldn’t you know it, but both the best and the worst things to happen to me this year involve dragons and Skyrim isn’t even on this list.

Starting small and moving up, I have to say the first thumbs up of 2011 has to go to Breaking Bad. Why? For someone who doesn’t give a damn about any of the things the show is ostensibly about – drug dealing, family drama etc etc – to sit down and plough through 4 seasons in a week it means it’s got to be doing something right.

While Breaking Bad took about 3 years’ worth of nagging from everyone I’ve ever known to try the show, The Walking Dead only took about six months before I got the hint. Now I do like my zombies, despite how they’ve become the most ubiquitous thing under the sun this year, but TWD is something I can recommend to regular folk and be reasonably certain they’ll enjoy it as well.

Could say the same thing about Warhammer 40K: Space Marine too. Here I was thinking you’d need to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy it (which, incidentally, I am not) but it ended up being every bit the game Gears of War is, albeit a little more light-hearted, and despite a campaign that falters at the final act. It is with genuine sadness that I say the DLC took too long for this game – its latest Chaos-themed update and a teased Dreadnought mode in January will go mostly unnoticed due to the neglect it saw for a long time post launch. And that is not something I often say about DLC.

The guys at Relic have a strong pedigree however and it was never likely they’d release Space Marine as a complete dud. I was less sure the newly minted ‘Netherrealm Studios’ could deliver on their simply titled Mortal Kombat reboot however. As an MK fan from the early ’90s I feel perfectly justified in saying that everything the team has turned out post-John Tobias has been garbage. While MK 2010 doesn’t hit all the notes I felt it could have, it certainly hit a shitload more than I was expecting it to. And although I have no idea where they go from here, this solid release has done the unthinkable for myself and many others- returned the MK name to some semblance of respectability. If only Sega could turn the same trick with Sonic.

Saving the best for last, I give an extremely well deserved double-thumbs up to every nerd this side of Kentucky’s new favourite thing in the world, Game of Thrones. No I hadn’t read the books. Nor did I really read at all. That changed, though, and the show would deserve my props of that basis alone. That’s not the only thing it’s changed either. For example, I rarely buy BD-ROMs and have never pre-ordered them. Until now. And never have I anticipated a second season of a show anywhere near as much as I am longing for April 2012. Anything else I could say about the show I’ve already said so let’s just leave it as 2011’s overall highlight and leave it at that.

So this article ended up a bit tame. But coming up next is my Thumbs Down list, and man, some things have really pissed me off this year. Check that out when it goes up, hopefully before the clock strikes 12 if I get ’round to it. It’ll have sharper teeth, I’m sure.

And as one final thumbs up before I kiss this stinkin’ year goodbye I’d like to thank Yurik86 at Deviantart for the sweet wallpaper I used for the title image of this post.

Is Uncharted A Game For Gamers?

Here’s a loaded question that’s bound to piss off all of the 20 people who read this; is Uncharted a game for gamers? There’s been a lot of controversy I have little interest in revisiting here about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it’s merits, its failures and what sort of Metacritic average it deserves. Most of the commentary casually glosses over a point that I take a whole lot of issue with though. That is that Uncharted as a series tries to be some sort of cinematic homage taking influence from everyone from George Lucas to Michael Bay. Know what I think? Games have absolutely no business being movies.

Now as someone who played and loved at least the first 2 Metal Gear Solids maybe I should reign that in a bit. What we have here is a title that does everything to hit the notes of action cinema. There are big set pieces, formulaic writing and that would be all well and good if… it was actually any good. For my 2c the story is abominable, both in structure and sensitivity. It’s also pretty darn flat for a franchise with two prior installments-worth of narrative baggage and a longer-than-average campaign. Metal Gear Solid had a story worth telling. Uncharted 3 does not.

On that note, if I wanted to see big set piece action sequences I’d go and see the new Mission Impossible at IMAX sitting on my arse enjoying it. What I would not like to do is sit upright on full alert with a controller in hand nervously watching out for the next QTE cue lest something come out of nowhere and kill me, all under the pretentious guise of ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’. And while you’re at it you could consider the order of magnitude worse special effects. Not that I’m a guy all about visuals. Gameplay comes first and all that.

But if you (hopelessly) set out to crack the knot that is interactive cinema, what kind of game are you left with? And by ‘game’ I’m referring to the $70-or-so of value that separates your AAA+ new release video game from a cinema ticket or a DVD. I’m sure I’ve said this for the likes of Heavy Rain and Alan Wake (which I still mean to review at some point) but I’ll say it again here. There’s little ‘game’ at all. There’s a hodgepodge of different things the game gets you to do but none are any good and it would be a stretch to seriously call much of it ‘gameplay’ with a straight face. Shooting in third person and on a console… kill me now, there are few things I can stomach less. Hand to hand combat in games like this are usually also pretty bad and Uncharted doesn’t disappoint, nor does it miss the dubious opportunity to throw in a painfully broken cover system – the kind that is all the rage these days.

Would it be wrong of me to say that Uncharted 3 is just a vehicle for developers to prance around failing gallantly at achieving that mythical Holy Grail that is the merger between gaming and cinema? And to then expect to be patted on the back for it? Is the general audience for a game like this the new generation of mainstream gamers, weaned on jack-of-all-trades crap like GTA, who take whatever shit they’re given simply because they don’t know any better? In this day and age where 70 million consoles are out there being played by people who probably wouldn’t know a Dreamcast from their own backside, is what people like me think really relevant at all?

I don’t think Uncharted is a game for ‘gamers’. But then ‘gamer’ apparently means something completely different today.

Hard Reset Is Just What I Needed

It’s only in every other article that you see people go on and on about their malign for the conventions of the modern FPS and how much better things were in the good old days. On the one hand I agree, and miss the frenetic, dark and genuinely difficult games like Quake II and Unreal. On the other I quite liked Doom 3 and think titles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Gears of War have genuinely advanced the genre in ways people all to often dismiss.

Anyway, as if to answer those yearnings for the shooting madness of yore, along comes Hard Reset. The game is PC exclusive, has no limits on the number of guns you can carry and it looks good. How about that? A harkening back to the good old days with all the visual bells and whistles of the HD era.

A short demo was released a few days ago and I’ve included my playthrough below. Suffice to say I approve of both the look and feel of Hard Reset and from what I’ve seen it looks to warrant the asking price on Steam when it’s available later today. Right now looking forward to what the full game has to offer.

RIP, Andy Whitfield

I feel terrible, after just spending a post declaring how much better Game of Thrones was than Spartcus: Blood and Sand, to learn that Andy Whitfield, who played the Spartacus himself in the show, died yesterday here in Sydney.

After a resurgence of cancer last year, Whitfield was forced to pass the mantle of Spartacus onto Liam McIntyre, who will appear in the show’s second season next year.

I don’t have much to add except that I think Andy did a great job in Blood and Sand and the show won’t be the same without him going forward. Having only just rewatched the series, this is unpleasant and unexpected news.

At only 37, Whitfield set down the foundations for a long and successful career, and sincerely hope he is at peace now. He will not soon be forgotten.

Game of Thrones Changes Everything

When Camelot came and went I was generally pissed off. After the disgrace that was Merlin why did producers see fit to not only revisit Arthurian myth on TV, but to butcher it again with that last effort so fresh in our collective memories? Camelot was bad, to be sure, and deserved the axe moreso than a lot of other short-lived series with more than an iota of merit. But I wonder if a certain other period fantasy launching at the same time didn’t have more to do with it’s demise than poor writing or sickeningly indulgent over-acting (Joseph Fiennes, I’m looking at you).

Game of Thrones rose the bar so high as to shame every costume drama to come after it. There was an order of magnitude difference in quality, plain to see for critic and average joe alike, between it and King Arthur’s latest escapade. Singing its praises is not my intention – hopefully the Emmys will make that case later this week – but I will say that I think it has ruined me for other shows.

Last week my blu-ray of Spartacus: Blood and Sand arrived. It’s been a good while since I last viewed the series and, as one of my favourites at the time, I was looking forward to revisiting the gore and melodrama in anticipation of next year’s long-overdue second season. The rewatch has left me disappointed. Maybe it’s just not the same going through the motions a third time. Maybe it being in glorious 1080p highlights some of the cinematographic inconsistencies I had glossed over before.

But no. A week later I feel confident placing the blame squarely on Game of Thrones. It trumps Spartacus at every turn. Dialogue which once seemed tongue in cheek and potentially historically plausible is now just bad. Green screen effects and all that overdone layering was cheesily melodramatic before now seem just cheesy. And, recalling the sheer variety of sets across HBO’s Westeros, Starz setting up shop almost exclusively in John Hannah’s backyard appears pitifully limited in scope compared.

Where does that leave me now? At the very least my excitement for January’s Spartacus: Vengeance has been dampened. Replacing lead Andy Whitfield, after watching the new season’s trailer, was always going to be an unavoidable stumbling block for the show but by all appearances it looks to be more of the same. A flimsy premise will keep the show at Batiatus’ ludus despite Batiatus’ death in S1, which screams budget constraints, and none of the action shots or lines of dialogue did much to stir my interest.

On the other hand, Game of Thrones season 2 hasn’t had any trailers released or footage leaked but still manages to generate more anticipation than the former. And this worries me for one reason; if GoT has so thoroughly spoilt me that a show that was a favourite 18 months ago is now no longer a blip on my radar, what happens when HBO decides it has grown tired of its $60-million-a-season dabbling in fantasy?

The Right To Say Who’s Wrong

Against all better judgement I’m choosing to venture into the bleak world of politics again today after a long hiatus. Heaven help me.

Everywhere I’ve looked over the last little while there has been someone claiming such and such caused the London riots and another someone claiming they’re wrong because no one knows what caused the London riots. It’s unknowable, apparently. At least for the moment. Except, they’re over-intellectualising it.

A lack of individual discipline caused the London riots, nothing more and nothing less. Teenagers from whatever background committed cowardly crimes because they didn’t know, or didn’t care, that what they were doing was wrong. When causation is discussed I think this part is taken for granted, smoothed over and a greater societal reasoning is sought out instead.

But why is anyone doing that? Hold these individuals accountable for their own actions, and throw the book at them. Most of the punks involved probably thought they were safe from consequence, insulated by their numbers. Prove that assumption false by not handling them with kid gloves. If they choose to re-offend in the future after a brief stint in jail or juvey or whatever, lock them up again.

General commentary seems like it is finding someone else to blame for what were individuals’ actions. Or wants to find someone else to blame for it. This writ large lawlessness is currently being scapegoated to support all-and-sundry of causes from the break down of traditional families, the failures of multiculturalism to the perils of the welfare state. Let people champion whatever they like if they see merit in the argument. I’ll abstain from those debates, but hey, live and let live, right? But there is something that upsets me about it all.

Despite the fact that we don’t know, or cannot know, what caused this wave of looting and violence, some people are condemning views as flat out wrong. To take the first cause I mentioned, the degeneration of the traditional family, as an example (since race and class discussions are only going to be worse flamebait) , people seem bent on the idea suggesting fatherlessness is bad amounts to heresy.  Miranda Devine at the Daily Telegraph and Kevin Andrews at The Punch have both touched on connections between a fatherly influence, family stability, disenfranchisement, detachment from society and thus a lack of consideration for said society. And they’ve been savaged for their opinions.

How can people simultaneously argue that something is wrong when they don’t know what’s right? Specifically how can someone claim a presented hypothesis is not responsible for the unrest if they cannot say what is? Admittedly Devine was courting trouble linking lesbian couple child adoption with modern family issues, but did that warrant such barbarism in the comments on her article, most of which were personal slurs lacking any coherent rebutalls? Since when is it ok to so cruelly and so self-righteously attack someone, especially if you have no valid counterpoint to the debate?

It seems to me that a lot of the zeal those on the PC-side of discussion consider their ideas somehow more legitimate than others, as though the proof of their views is self-evident. I find it more than little ironic that words like ‘bigot’ are constantly bandied by this group who seem, moreso than any other, ignorant and dismissive of opposing opinion. Especially on issues of race and gender, the views of the left are elevated above others and dignified with words like ‘progressiveness’ while others are demonised as being ‘outdated’. And why? Because of the perception that everyone or most everyone feels the same way? That has got to be a contentious claim if ever I heard one.

This is a case of vocal minorities causing a fuss and ad populum nonsense at its worst. The constant vilification of those on the right by those on the left only serves to stymie productive discussion. If someone is too fearful of hate-filled condemnation and social ostracism to say what they really feel, then how is anything that happens in society properly representative of the population? It’s a destructive sensibility being perpetuated at the moment by smug people more hateful than those accuse of as much. People who, so high on their own sense of moral superiority, grant themselves the right to say who’s wrong.

So it’s ok to have an equal society, so long as some views are more equal than others? I have to disagree with that one.

The King of Fighters i Impressions… wait, what?

Maybe it was only my radar that this curveball flew under but either way the late SNK Playmore has graced us with an unexpected but totally appreciated version of its famed fighting franchise in The King of Fighters i. That’s i for iPhone and it’s up on the App Store today.

The fact that it’s for iOS isn’t the only odd thing about this KOFXIII port- it includes Billy Kane, who will be a console exclusive character come the game’s October release. Currently, he isn’t in the arcade version or anywhere else for that matter. The game is also strangely-fully-featured. It has wireless multiplayer, unlockable galleries and social network integration all for less than $10. Oh and it beat Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition to the punch with on-screen mini challenges (perform 3 3-hit combos, etc.). Granted they were in the arcade version of The King of Fighters XIII first, but who here has actually had a chance to play that?

As for the game itself, it’s better than Street Fighter IV Volt, its only real iOS competition. I’m an SF4-devout so I think that says it all. The controls are better, the graphics are better and the framerate is smoother. This is the only iPhone fighter you need to play. If I had to find something odd about it it would be that Iori Yagami isn’t part of the game’s 14-character lineup. But if I had to guess, I’d say that he, along with Vice and Mature, and Kyo, Robert and Takuma will likely be the 6 free DLC characters promised us between now and October.

I’m scratching my head as to why The King of Fighters i wasn’t better publicised. Sure a game so adept deserved more press pre-release. Or, if treated solely as a marketing experiment, why wasn’t it released closer to the console release of KOFXIII later this year? I’m not complaining, however. If nothing else, this will be most folks’ foray into the world of KOFXIII, failing a nearby arcade with it or less reputable means. And before you mention that The King of Fighters XII has been widely available for a couple of years already, don’t go there. You don’t want to make me cry over how that game turned out all over again, do you?

To close, go and get The King of Fighters i- I couldn’t recommend it more.

The Corpse-grinder that is Team Bondi

Here’s a funny story: when I was fresh out of university wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life oh, maybe 5 years ago, I happened upon a game developer in Sydney. It was Team Bondi and they were making, as they described it, ‘GTA set in the middle of last century’. I can’t remember who I saw or even exactly what the role was (no doubt ‘Junior-[insert alternative for shitkicker]‘) but the fact is I didn’t get the job. Thank heavens I didn’t.

Now that L.A. Noire has shipped, and is in fact nothing at all like GTA, IGN Australia has published a riveting expose on what is quit possibly the most exploitative studio in the world. If they’re to be believed, the man above is not only a collosally poor manager, but also a colosal prick. To summarise the article, 100 hour weeks were common throughout the troubled 7-year cycle, the boss was dictatorial despite lacking a clear vision or good management at any level and now 100s of people who worked on the game have not been credited anywhere for the project.

Brendan McNamara takes the cake though when he comments that his only regret is doing it in Sydney. I find it funny that some cocky Brit with one hit under his belt can relocate here, act an atrocious boss, devoid of any talent if the accounts are true, and then claim that the real problem is the Sydneysider work ethic. Fuck him. He rode Sony’s cock to success with The Getaway and even they dumped him for failing to deliver with L.A. Noire. No surprise- between platform shifts, rapid technology changes and the gall for someone in HR to tell me the game was effectively a GTA out of time it’s apparent that vision was clearly lacking throughout.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: L.A. Noire is a bloated, overstuffed monstrosity that wouldn’t have received half its notice had it not coasted on Rockstar’s coattails. Despite that I feel sympathy for the 100s of artists, coders and designers who were mercilessly burnt through by the travesty of management at Team Bondi. According to IGN, many of them will never work in games again solely because of how they badly were ill-treated on this project. McNamara thinks he’d have had it easier had he opened up shop in Canada or the US. Go ahead and do so you talentless tyrant and leave what’s left of Australia’s already-struggling game industry alone.

Duke Nukem Forever Demo Impressions

It turns out that, despite all the bombast and PR that went into the Duke Nukem Forever ‘First Access Club’, it only delivered an underwhelming demo a mere 7 days out from retail release. I guess I’ve already summed up the tone of my impressions right there.

My understanding is that this game uses a version of the ‘Doom 3′ engine Unreal Engine 3 (so disregard my next few comments), retconned to be id Tech 4. The tech is old but none of the games using it, from Quake 4 to the more recent  Brink have been ugly. My thoughts, sitting here in mid-2011 playing a AAA FPS release is that Duke Nukem Forever is plain ugly. Textures even on ‘ultra’ are muddy and nothing from animations to shaders had me very impressed either. In fact the running and strafing animations are so bad, especially on the gun you’re holding, that this looks like it was mo-capped on a shoestring budget 10 years ago. And even while I can hit 100s of frames it still chugged to mid-40s ever little while.

None of the guns had any impact either, really, even though you can still shrink pigs and put the boot in. Everything is hip fired, like the good old days, but even the shotgun lacked a punch. Bluntly, I didn’t get the fun vibe from the shooting and wasn’t amused by the ‘execution’ animations the second time I saw them, let alone the 100th or the 1000th time.

If I were to anticipate the general feelings amongst reviewers next week, I think the common line would be something like ‘who needs Duke in 2011?’ or ‘Duke should have stayed dead’. A game premised solely by bravado and one-liners isn’t enough today and honestly, given how much I adore Gearboxs, I expected more than an antiquated shooter released solely as if to prove something to everyone who said it would never go gold. Duke Nukem Forever seems like a bad joke that’s taken a decade to play out and I ultimately wish it hadn’t bothered.

GTA and my silly, casual gamer friend

L.A. Noire that protracted, overstuffed and meandering game (I’m predicting what the reviewers will say about it) from the guys up the street at Team Bondi is due to come out on the 20th of May after, oh, 5 years in development? 6? I wonder at how a studio – Rockstar is behind Team Bondi and, marketing would have you believe, made the game themselves – so bereft of talent or focus has the seemingly endless coffers to payroll such a long and fraught dev cycle. But I have that friend and he had something to say about it.

You know that friend? The one who will always chime in with popular opinion – the politically correct one – no matter what the topic is and no matter how ill-educated to the task they are? Well I have that friend and he thinks he knows a thing or two about games. What games? Just GTA. Wow, that’s quite a breadth of experience right there but it gets even better. I get a lecture about ‘interactive storytelling’. And then he used the word ‘sandbox’. At this point I had to put on the breaks and get a few things straight.

To get it out of the road, I hate Grand Theft Auto. Absolutely hate it. Can’t think of a single thing about any of the games, except for maybe some of the snappy writing, that is redeemable. And yet without fail each instalment has sold hundreds of thousands and its all because of ride-the-wave fuckers like the guy across the counter from me.

Answering the charge of ‘interactive storytelling’, a term so pretentiously vague it makes me want to burn down an arts faculty somewhere, I say what is interactive storytelling? And more importantly how to you qualify good ‘interactive storytelling’? Let me tell you how don’t: 1) Have a million plots that go nowhere. 2) Populate the story with stereotypes. 3) Forget to introduce any meaningful character connections or conflict at any point. GTA, and we’re talking Vice City and afterward here, is guilty of all these things. And why does everyone think moving closer to a cinematic experience is good thing, for that matter, either? The fact that a game has fully-voiced people talking doesn’t by virtue make the story any good, and I’d like to stamp that onto the forehead of everyone who says Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had ‘a mad story’. I’d dump them into the trash heap of morons who confuse convoluted with complicated and add points for their lack of comprehension – The Dark Knight school of hivemind thinking and opinion, I’d call it. Not that I’m coining that phrase or anything.

With that out of the way we have gameplay of Grand Theft Auto that tries to be everything to everyone. And none of its good. That’s the real crime. In a world where there are AAA+ shooters and AAA+ driving games coming out the wazoo, why would you stoop to doing any of these things in the half-arsed manner presented by GTA? Because the dickhead singing its praises hasn’t played much else to know that. I’m not advocating people devote every second of free time to their Xbox but if your diet consists solely of Big Macs you can’t call yourself a food critic, can you?

If I really wanted to be dismissive – and believe me, I do – I would say that the market for Rockstar’s games has the equivalent gaming illiteracy of the cinema-goer that thinks Michael Bay’s latest is the best thing ever. Not that I’d put myself in the snotty film snob elite camp (been there, didn’t like it), but there is something to be said for the appreciation of more mature forms of media. Sure I’m irked that the big GTA budgets go to titles pandering to the lowest common denominator, but what really pisses me off is when the legions of those low-brow know-nothings call such games the second coming and think their opinion means anything.

I realise I’m skirting dangerously close to a much larger debate about casual gaming and the mainstream-ifying influence of Wiis, iPhones and 99c games. So I’ll close by saying that if you cut your gaming teeth pulling people out of cars in Liberty City, maybe keep your shortsighted and uninformed opinons about what makes good gaming, and what doesn’t, to yourself. You just come off sounding like a twat otherwise.

But don’t worry, I don’t blame you ignorant hipsters for not knowing any better… oh who am I kidding? Of course I do. And not only that; I’d lay the simplifying of design, skyrocketing prices, and the consolification of the market at your feet as well. And after all that don’t be surprised if I spit on you on the street, or fail to break at the zebra crossing you smarmy self-righteous fucks.

Oh and as for the friend I was writing about, I promptly slapped him with the back of my glove and bid him good day.

What to make of Prey 2

There was a lot on the internets recently about Dragon Age 2 being rubbish. I wrote some of it. The point most conceded to, however, was that it would not have copped the flak had it not been the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins and that point opens up a messy debate. Do game makers and content creators at large owe us anything? More specifically, can players / viewers / end users rightly expect something specific from a brand or a franchise if it puts out a direct sequel? Should new ideas and new ‘innovations’ relegated to side-stories and new IPs altogether?

Bioware doesn’t think so. To hell with epic storytelling, hours of gameplay and actual narrative choice says Mr. David Gaider. I would like to tell a greatly concatenated ‘frame-story’ and quickly shuttle players through time (certainly not though space- the whole game takes place in one fucking city) to a contrived and meaningless conclusion. Oh we were pressured by those lovely chaps at EA, and this approach was both foolhardly and blatantly indulgent from the beginning, but fuck it. Dragon Age is ours and we can do what we want with it. Right?

It’s no secret that id Software and Bethesda are close to my heart. I recall circa 2003, in the lead-up to the hotly anticipated release of Doom 3, id’s Todd Hollenshead appearing on Icons to discuss how the IP was close to their hearts too and how players have some level of ownership over the new product. Given they’d been the ones sinking hundreds of thousands of hours into it.That comment earned a bunch of my respect. Of course Doom 3 turned out to be different from its predecessor in every way imagineable, but at least they acknowledged they had a duty to the fans. And I loved Doom 3 so who knows.

It’s funny then that my main beef of the day is with a franchise that has more in common with Doom than Dragon Age. Prey, that title in dev hell for the best part of a decade at 3D Realms, and that can be summed up as ‘red indians vs. aliens’, is now getting a sequel that openly flaunts its departure from what made the first so great. Namely, portals, puzzles involving portals and geometry / gravity tricks of all kinds. It was otherwise a pretty bland shooter but those things made it unique, if not great.

Prey 2 basically shits all over Prey. No portals? No gravity tricks? And what are these stupid looking aliens? Did they even watch this trailer? There’d been rumblings about this sequel for a few years now but nothing concrete until recently. Having seen what I’ve seen written about it so far I’m left wondering what’s the point. Does this world really need another mediocre run ‘n gun with tacked on multiplayer, ageing technology under the hood and one-dimensional gimmick? What’s that? Prey 2 doesn’t even have a gimmick? Oh.. well in that case..

So who’s at fault here? The developers, Human Head, for stripping out the more ‘puzzly’ aspects and making a straight up shooter? Or the players for having expectations that set them up to be disappointed? Given the ‘Prey franchise’ (I never thought I’d come to that, honestly) is built on a single trick, if you’re going to throw out the gimmick then you might as well ditch the name too. Because players are naturally going to expect things from a brand and this approach is tantamount to outright deception. People reading the interviews and keeping on top of the news will know this but the vast majority of gamerdom will not.

In a world where reviews below 80% break games, and, if anything, Dragon Age 2 has taught us this kind of bait and switch whips the Metacritic hordes into a frenzy, I’d say they’re making a losing bet doing this with Prey 2. But hey, what do I know.

The Office without Steve Carell

When it was announced some time back that Steve Carell would be finishing up his 7-year contract and leaving The Office, cynics predicted that the studio would renew the show without him for a season, it would tank, and finally it would be cancelled after that. I preferred to hold out hope that The Office would be accorded a Seinfeld-like exit, ending on a high note before, as is always the case, it descends into mediocrity followed by cringeworthy unbearableness.

Seems that was too much to hope for. Those classy fellows at NBC have decided to order up Season 8 sans-Michael Scott, although I really can’t imagine why. No offence to the brilliant ensemble cast, but Steve was the cornerstone of The Office. At best, it will be a very different show with Will Ferrell or whoever else sliding abruptly into Carell’s very big shoes but at worst it will be disgraceful display so sickeningly business-motivated that it just might sour my memory of what are now 7 genuinely good, and often legitimately great seasons.

Nothing to do now but wait and see what happens. But since the first part of the cynics’ prophecy has come to pass, I can’t help but think the rest will only follow in due course.

Credit for the caricature goes to Leonieves- check him out.

Mortal Kombat’s missing Motaro

The new Mortal Kombat game, now unambiguously banned in Australia, could have been forgiven in Goro were the only superhuman boss character included. Shao Kahn is integral to the story and playable (?) so there was really no way to excise him. Shang Tsung is presumably in and in his youthful, toned-down form. This leaves Goro as the sole four-armed boss character who the player can’t pick up and use. It’s what all PR to date would have had us believe and that would have been cool, if not ideal.

But I don’t think the rumoured final roster, ripped from the recent PSN demo, has escaped anyone’s notice. Assuming that the text files contained therein were not an elaborate hoax – and the MK Team doesn’t have the combined IQ to pull something like that off, I’m pretty sure – it seems like Kahn has been bumped up to proper final boss and Goro demoted. Seeing as the Shokan prince has a bio and an ending while Kahn only the former. Surprising me though was the inclusion of Kintaro.

History lesson; Kintaro was the savage lower-class, tiger-striped Kuatan fiend and successor to Goro who served as the second last challenge (mini-boss although not quite apt) in Mortal Kombat II. That was by far my favourite MK game and Kintaro my favourite MK boss. However the years have neglected him a bit. He hasn’t made a subsequent series appearance outside Shaolin Monks and Armageddon, but those games included everyone. All key characters, before and after MKII, have been seen a lot more frequently. I guess not many people apart from me actually liked the guy.

But now it seems that, like Goro, Kintaro has a bio and an ending in ‘Mortal Kombat (2011)’ which would seem to strongly suggest he’s a playable character. I’m of course tickled pink but there are two design oversights, I think, in this inclusion. First off, he was a badass in MKII. He was more of a badass than Kahn. I’d even go to the length of saying he was the most difficult fighting game boss ever. No, seriously. But now if he’s a playable character, and if Mortal Kombat: Armageddon has taught us anything, he will be a pale shadow of his former self in the name of ‘balance’, a concept which Mortal Kombat has none of to begin with.

However it also shines a very bright light on the only remaining significant roster omission in next month’s MK reboot: Motaro. If we’re assuming this game is a retelling of sorts of the original MK trilogy, why, or more pressingly how, can you go and include the boss of MK2 but exclude the boss of MK3? Goro was an iconic feature of the first MK game and is well known across gaming at large. His spot on the list was assured. Kintaro’s was not, but they’ve gone and included him anyway. As much as I’d hate to admit it, Motaro, a centaur of all things, probably has a bigger role in the MK mythos, and is so more deserved of a spot than the tiger-man. And yet he’s apparently ruled out. If it was just Goro then the list would have seemed less than ideal, but palatable. With only Motaro out it now seems like it has a single curious and bizarre omission.

That’s from an overall design perspective. It’s pretty obvious that if Motaro’s not in, it’s that there was a technical issue with him having four legs. But really come on? Is that any kind of excuse? They peddled it for Armageddon, and it didn’t make any more sense back then. Now, using Unreal Engine 3, there shouldn’t be any physics and or collision problems with a poorly-coded engine written in-house as there were in 2007. Still once it becomes known to the masses that the centaur general is sitting the game out, I bet that’s the line Netherrealm PR will trot out.

This is all assuming that those leaked factoids were genuine, of course. The demo build was supposedly quite old but I never believe that. Why would you wait till a month out from release and publish demo code that’s a year old? I think devs consider it carte blanche for framerate hiccups, muddy textures as well as anything more serious – they can just say it’s all fixed in the final shipped version. In any case there won’t be long to ponder this. I really just hope that if a game dev claims, in 2011, that they cannot manage a character with the lower body of a horse the community hangs them out to dry. Because they’d deserve it.

Closing off the demo looks fine – definitely not a solid game but that will be a different rant. I think I’ll have fun with this game either way, pending incidents with customs, but it doesn’t hold a competitive candle to Super Street Fighter IV. Between all the infinite combos and arbitrary nature of what’s safe and what isn’t I don’t get why more people haven’t declared it’s broken-ness already. *sigh* See you in April, boys.

My Return to Xbox Live

Things were simpler a year ago. My original launch 360, bless its soul, had RROD’d on me, I had a decently powerful C2D GTX 260 combo in good working order and I’d recently picked up a cheap Slim PS3 from Japan. My PC had become my primarily platform, thanks mostly to Steam, and the PS3 served as backup for those pesky console-only titles. I thought I had the best possible setup. I was wrong.

I’d tried to live without it for the longest time but now I realise that this last year or so I’ve really been missing Xbox Live. Missing my friends, one button invites, achievements with APIs that can follow me around the net. There was a measure of substitute with Steamworks, although only some games used it, and barely anything cohesive on PSN. In fact my year of Super Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation was one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Getting people into a game and accepting invitations from others… could it have been any more convoluted? Even though the PS3 version of the now-banned Mortal Kombat is getting fighting games favourite cameo with the inclusion of Kratos, my gut would feel yucky buying a multiplayer fighter for Sony’s mess of a machine.

And on a completely unrelated note, Forza Motorsport 3 is absolutely a better game than Gran Turismo 5 although I fear that argument warrents its own article.

So starting to think that the Xbox 360, as a platform, offers a better overall experience is an interesting conclusion. I’d previously considered PC to hold that accolade, and comparing Dead Space 2 on console to PC there really is no discussion about technical proficiency. Textures and resolution are paltry by comparison. However if you take matchmaking and DLC into consideration, I wonder how much weight that extra visual fidelity actually caries?

Against the sheer fragmentation of platforms and standards on PC – EA friends list, I’m looking at you – I’m beginning to see the graphics as less and less of a consideration. Not that its mode was worthwhile to begin with, I never once played DS2 online on the PC. And, by pure arrogance on the publisher’s part, I’ll never play the ‘Severed’ DLC. Thanks a lot guys. Even Steam seems to now show contempt for its customers – again most likely by publishers’ edict – by charging ludicrous prices for games. can now match day-and-date better prices for 360 versions of new releases than Steam can despite being exempt from printing and licensing overheads.

Half the fact that the cohesive nature of the Xbox platform feels so good is undoubtedly that the situation on the PC is so broken. Nevertheless I’m switching over to the 360 as my primary, despite it costing me a new console, some visual bells & whistles and despite costing me a yearly subscription to boot. Certainly wouldn’t have anticipated declaring this a year ago, but for the bunch of reasons I’ve mentioned – and no doubt a bunch more – I’m not regretting a thing.

So come on friends, add my Gamertag Ichorid4.

Sony’s Broken Promises

I was thinking today about how little I actually feel I can trust Sony. Although their marketing pales in comparison to another consumer electronics giant’s (*cough* Apple), Sony actually puts on a good show when announcing new products. Thing is, I can’t remember a single thing they’ve announced in the last 10 years that lived up to their vaunted promises. Don’t believe me? Let’s work backwards.

The PSN, I suppose, would be the most recent full-fledged thing we’ve had from Sony (I’m not even touching Move here). As it stands, we here in PAL land and our fellows in the US are utterly buggered regarding releases online. The problems are plenty. If we’re talking PSP Go, what a discgrace that is. The system is going for budget prices here. Problem no.1 is its unshakable tether to PSN. Games don’t come out, or are overpriced. You’d think that games would at least be released day and date with UMD version – it’s easy enough for pirates to do it – but that’s never the case either. There was even a big fracas about Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep being brought to the troubled portable by hackers before Sony or Square. Further to that price gouging is so rife you’d think the PSN admins have an active and deliberate contempt for their customers.

Worst though is the availability of titles. As our friends at Destructoid pointed out this week the downloadable game count in the ‘Game Archive’ section numbers 6 times in Japan what it does over here. Licensing issues with publishers is obviously biting Sony in the ass, but not only did they fail to acknowledge these issues with the PSP Go, they went and courted the idea of a UMD redemption program. Hmmm. Realistically there was no intention to ever deliver a plan so asinine, and yet they did it anyway. If ever a legal department held its tongue and let marketing go crazy, it was certainly the one at SCEJ.

Speaking of overselling a system, let’s count the number of things cut from the PS3 from concept to release, shall we? PS2 backwards compatibility hardware was cut after the initial NTSC region runs which meant that nowhere in the world could I get a first edition PS3 to play my extensive PAL PS2 library of games. Well done, guys. This was followed by the missing bunch of ports including a second HDMI, and the 7/8 SPU die yield nonsense started about this time too. All while the price remained stable as far as I recall. Next to go was the card reader, I think? And then most recently the Other OS. Cast your mind back to the ‘you will work more hours to buy one’ rhetoric that Ken Kutaragi was throwing out at every press conference 5 or so years ago and you’ll start to feel how I feel about all this.

The PS2 was possibly my favourite console of all time and objectively one of the bestselling, but let’s point out its shortfalls too. Network connectivity and social networking? One overstuffed title; Final Fantasy XI. Not released in PAL, mind you. Connectivity with phones, cameras et al? Nonexistant. At least the thing played games, but it certainly wasn’t all Sony promised- those things I mentioned, I mean.

And predictions of things to come- the NGP. If the development cycles of the PSP and PS3 are anything to go buy, I think we’ll see libraries heavily fragmented by region and language. We may or may not have multiple SKUs tipping different featuresets (the exact thing Sony railroaded Microsoft about regarding the 360’s optional HDD), but we will likely have a bias toward this new propriety flash media (did they learn nothing from the UMD?) over PSN access and a skew toward ports of some kind for the first few years of the machine’s life. Certainly, the easy code path from PS3 to NGP has been held up as a bonus while I and several others are not so sure.

If coherence isn’t the best thing about this article, let’s sum it up with some impact. Sony was once an innovator in consumer electronics and portable devices and while it has always had its finger in too many things, it’s only over the last decade or so that its left hand doesn’t seem to know what its right is doing. It’s playing catchup and that fact is nowhere more evident than in the Xperia Play, a desperate confusing move in a seeming attempt to fight off both Nintendo and Apple with one stroke. And despite this mammoth task its taken on, Sony still can’t integrate internal business units well enough to let your existing PSN purchases carry over – you need to buy them again. Way to go leveraging your own properties and not alienating the consumer like that.

Heated vitriol this is, but off the mark? I think not. Sony had better lift it’s game else see this coming generation turn out to be their last in the console business.

Ace Attorney Investigations Impressions

Feeling like I have to get my thoughts on Ace Attorney Investigations out before I settle down with Marvel vs Capcom 3 tonight, I know how it must look. I’m a year behind the curve with this one but as much as I love Miles Edgeworth, the proposition of playing a prosecutor who doesn’t enter the courtroom wasn’t immediately appealing. They may as well have subtitled it Dick Gumshoe instead because that’s all Miles really is here- a detective. And that is not the character at all. Certainly not what I signed up for with a game bearing his name.

To be fair, I really love the Ace Attorney series, and if anything, Investigations has served to reinforce that. I had worried that this pseudo-spinoff would lose some of its validity given that core stars of the main series are largely absent and the narrative exists mostly in a bubble. At the same time I was excited that we would finally occupy the opposite bench and take the role of a predatory prosecutor for a change and go on the offensive. No more putting up with inane witness shenanigans!

Turns out I was wrong on both counts. First off, the story is exceptional. As a standalone entry the writing and characterisation – not to mention the clever intertextuality – are every bit as strong as in any of Phoenix’s outings. Actually taken aback by the twists the story takes and how everything comes together in the final case, I got more out of this one than I thought I would. That said, I still miss my old friends and have been hanging out to see what happened in the aftermath of Trials and Tribulations and with Investigations, I’m left wanting yet again. How many years will it take to shed light on those mysterious in-between years? 5? 6? The bigger problem is Edgeworth himself though.

Miles Edgeworth was introduced in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney as the ‘demon prosecutor’. He was ruthless, unconscionable and forged evidence just to get a guilty verdict. The version of Miles on display in AAI is the palest shadow of this; he’s weak, obsessed with truth and hardly as sharp of charismatic as I remember him. In fact he’s a callous bastardisation of Phoenix Wright who was, at one point, his polar opposite.

Despite the game’s new features and halfway-decent core narrative I can’t forgive it’s blatant trespasses against Ace Attorney lore or cavalier disregard for the many, many opportunities it misses in making what could have been a ‘Perfect Prosecutor’ game. The end result is a malaise of confusion and a profound longing for a true Gyakuten Saiban 5 – what ever it ends up being called in English.


Gratitude to rogueymu for the great pic.

Warzard the Fallen

This is my very brief retrospective on Warzard, perhaps the most under-appreciated 2D fighter of all time. A few years back Capcom’s legendary CPS-3 arcade system was finally cracked and opened to emulation by everyone with a 2Ghz Pentium or better. Unlike NAOMI, Atomiswave or some of the other emulation holy grails, the Capcom Play System 3, despite its popularity, only had six games. Three of these were versions of Street Fighter III and two of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. All of them were ported to the Sega Dreamcast in one form or another but were still pretty rare, due both to small print runs and also the relatively short shelf life of that console. The last CPS3 title, Warzard, or Red Earth as it was known (or unknown) in the West is nevertheless the rarest of them all. It was never ported to anything and, given the suicidal nature of CPS3 boards, is one title you’re unlikely to legitimately find in a playable state anywhere. Pity that, since Warzard was also one of the most unique titles Capcom ever made.

First off the game only has 4 playable characters and this alone was enough to cross it off tournament calendars and nix any longevity it might have otherwise enjoyed. The campaign plays like an RPG with exp, levelling up and learning new moves and so clearly there was a single-player focus in development. Although who exactly Capcom thought it was targeting with a one man progression-based 2d fighter – an extremely crowded category (and by this point mostly a 3d genre anyway) – I have no clue. Although I’ve always liked the idea of a game built solely out of over-the-top boss fights and so I’m happy enough with the design. Thing is, it would have been infinitely better suited to consoles and yet ironically was the one CPS3 game to get shafted with ports. Shame that half the campaign map is unvisited- clearly there was some intent to revisit Warzard with Super / Turbo style upgrades with the obvious proviso that it did well at the arcades. And it didn’t.

Technically, Warzard was to Street Fighter III what Darkstalkers was to Street Fighter Alpha. It was Capcom’s first experiment with the CPS3 and there’s no mistaking that. I suppose that’s why they were willing to let it die out so readily. The zooming in and out that was relatively smooth in SFIII is blocky in Warzard and there are texture artifacts all over the place. Framerates are inconsistent and while animation is generally pretty decent I haven’t seen slowdown this bad since Street Fighter II or half of the original NeoGeo library. Then again the game boasts the largest sprites in any Capcom game and I suppose moving them around was a taxing affair for hardware in the late 90’s. It’s pretty, and there’s definitely some retro charm in seeing 2d graphics chug.

Since this didn’t turn out to be much of a retrospective, I’ll considerately pass you on to Hardcore Gaming 101’s great rundown on the title, its mechanics and a bit more of the background info than I care to recite right now.

In the end it’s with a heavy heart that I have to commit Warzard to the anals of things with potential that went unnoticed due to poor timing, marketing or something else utterly inane in hindsight. Bah. Let’s just watch this full playthrough of Leo’s story mode that I’ve prepared below and be done with it. It’s almost time for Marvel Vs Capcom 3 anyway which essentially invalidates (or justifies, depending how you’re swinging) everything I’ve complained about here. Oh well.

Where are the big bosses in Dead Space 2?

Variety is the big improvement Dead Space 2 brings with it and that’s pretty much exactly what it needed. There’s more of everything this time with one exception- bosses. Sure there are scripted sequences and a final encounter of sorts, and I feel bad nailing the game for this, but there are no big bosses in DS2. And the omission is a glaring one.

I’m flagging spoilers now. If you remember, Dead Space originally had large necromorph lifeforms that set up some of the set piece encounters and plot points. There weren’t many- the Leviathan, the Slug and ultimately the Hive Mind all showed up later on in the story – and they didn’t make the game either. But they were still some of the most memorable parts. Blasting the Slug (above) with the Asteroid Defense System was a personal favourite. However there aren’t huge creatures or comparable experiences on The Sprawl in the sequel.

If you believe Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis in the video below, this was a conscious choice. But since he implies the Aegis VII Marker wasn’t man-made (it was), and puts that forward as the reason for the lack of large format necros, I wonder if he even knows or cares what was happening. I like to think there was some deliberate rationale amongst the design team though, and that the ‘Ubermorph‘ was a Hive Mind lookalike on purpose, and not just a cheap recycling of The Hunter’s modelling.

And just for fun, here are the original DS bosses. They’re all spoilers, the last one moreso than the others.

Evil Ryu & Oni: Capcom’s PR Fail

Anyone who gives half a damn about Street Fighter will probably have heard of the revelations this last week. Evil Ryu and Oni were confirmed in the arcade version of Super Street Fighter IV after a code got out that enabled them for play. The news made the rounds and even found itself on the front page of Destructoid. Then Capcom stepped in.

The Capcoms had Youtube accounts – all of them – laden with copyright strikes. Those strikes are permanent and in cases where multiple videos were posted, each was counted as a separate infringment. According to Youtube’s 3-strikes policy, many accounts with months and months of legit videos were taken down with little chance of appeal. Then, adding insult to this grievous community blow, Capcom started requesting that arcades involved disabled use of these two characters.

You can see why they might be pissed off about this. These two characters are not really that fresh – although I maintain Oni may as well be a new character – but they do resonate with fans. When, not if, the long rumoured console DLC for SSF4: Arcade Edition comes along, two overpowered semi-bosses will be a big draw with marketing. And I’m pretty sure marketing was the department most upset.

However the fact remains that everyone knows about this. Hell, everyone knew when those achievements shots leaked out months ago and had their suspicions solidified by an official trailer a few weeks after that. Capcom’s attempts to silence the news, entitled as they are to do so, are misguided. You can’t put a lid on this now and essentially all the strong-arm tactics are doing is dirtying the brand. Capcom itself is coming off as a bit of a jerk and the reaction to these two characters hasn’t even been universally positive. They’d be better off scrapping their roadmap now and just releasing the DLC. As much as I’d like to think so, I don’t think they have anything left up their sleeve after E.Ryu and Oni. Bring on MvC3.

The New Vegas sun has set

You know, I, as a Fallout 3 fan think I feel about Fallout: New Vegas something like fans of Twilight must have felt when that film adaption came out a few years back. At first you feel a bit euphoric and generally forgiving; happy since new life is being forcefully injected into a property you love. But then as time passes and cruel reality sets in you start to wonder ‘wait, wasn’t that actually pretty bad?’. In the case of New Vegas, it was good, not great. The Twilight movie was actually pretty bad, but then the original novel wasn’t actually that great to begin with so I think my comparison holds. In both cases though I think the honeymoon period has ended and it’s time the record was set straight on this disappointing release.

In the first few weeks I was willing to let New Vegas coast along in my good graces. Bugs aside, because, hell, if I were to pull the game on its game-breaking issues and generally poor performance it’d be a much longer rant. Most of that got patched out anyway so we can forget about those painful first couple of months for now. I’d name the third Fallout on any ‘top 10′ list I’d ever compile, along with Oblivion, both of which share the annoying tendency toward bugginess with this game but its an order of magnitude difference. Anyway I slogged through the game, initially buddying up with Mr. House, and when it was done left it alone for a while. As is customary with me, at least.

Now it’s January and I have no inclination to return to the post-apocalyptic Vegas strip. In fact I’d more readily return to the Capital Wasteland or even the Shivering Isles, and have done in the time since. The fact is those bugs have left a bad impression in the back of my mind. I can confidently fire up my M11x and HDMI out 720P at 60fps for those games, while I’m left with a lingering question mark over New Vegas. More importantly though I have no reason to go back. Replayability was a major draw in those other Bethesda RPGs – both in exploring everywhere there is to explore and doing everything there is to do but also in revisiting the main narrative to make other decisions and explore other trees of consequences. NV has no DLC released to date and despite what I might have said late last year, the story wasn’t even that great. It wasn’t compelling, no NPC (or faction for that matter) was very interesting and it seemed like at every turn the game was undermining my choices. Killed all those Caesar’s Legion Legates earlier? Taken Boone to town on their camps and generally pissed on them whenever possible? Who cares. Later in the game Caesar is willing to forgive you. Did anything I do in my playthrough actually matter?

While New Vegas was more than happy to stand on the shoulders of its extraordinary predecessor, it made very little effort to stand up straight. In fact, I can’t think of a single merit to attribute to this pseudo-sequel except that Fallout 3 was good, and this doesn’t deviate too far from that game’s formula. But as time passes that little achievement seems less and less worth defending. And as this happens the little inconsistencies in narrative, the minor texture bugs and overall lack of polish seem to carry more and more weight. Those factional problems are highlighted by the fact that NV was meant to introduce more thorough reputation systems. My ass they did.

Speaking of systems either raped or squandered, what happened to VATS? Did it suddenly get relegated to uselessness for a particular reason? Between the amount of points things cost and the loss of some very useful perks, I never used the damned thing. Which is a shame since headshotting raiders with a plasma rifle and getting all my AP back for chain plasma carnage was one of the most memorable things about Fallout 3.

I feel a tad guilty about saying all this seeing as New Vegas was developed by the geniuses behind Fallout and Fallout 2. It brought back the NCR and introduced the Legion, but were they meant to be so boring? Neither was a fitting substitute for the Brotherhood on the other side of the US. And did you guys think about weapons or balancing or anything like that? And, hell, did you Q&A the thing?

There’s that cinema parlance that sequels are never good. Wisdom is that game sequels should always be better than the originals. Technically speaking, it’s like a craft. And why shouldn’t you do something better the second time? Sure it’s hard to write a great followup story but Fallout is about open-ended, free flowing and non-linear narrative. It’s about a world and populating it with meaning and fun gameplay. And in that sense it’s like a craft too. However you slice it, Fallout: New Vegas was not better than Fallout 3 and despite the expectations heaped on it, does not even stand equal to its forebear.

As the malaise wears off, the stream of DLC trickles out, and the graphics age with time, people will likely remember Fallout: New Vegas for what it was; an expansion billed as a full game that coasted on the name and the success of the game before it. You know what it really feels like? One of those hackneyed farmed-out expansion packs from the 90’s like Hellfire for Diablo. They lack polish, are buggy and categorically inferior. But they fill a void until a true sequel comes out. Blizzard released Diablo II a year and a half after Hellfire and put that Siera-developed title to shame, relegating it to the anals of history where few whisper about it and no one counts it as canon. Let’s see how long it takes for Bethesda to take the reigns again and show how a sequel to the now-legendary Fallout 3 should be done. I think when that time comes, New Vegas will slink off into the background where it belongs.

The Garbage on

I have finally had enough of T3. I’m used to tech blogs having a playful relationship with the news they report. The difference is that T3 states everything with an absolute journalistic fervour and yet still manages to publish sensationalist garbage like their current string of articles stating ‘iPad 2 SD Slot confirmed’ – most recently in their News@8PM. The scoop is that the iPad 2 has an SD card slot, something that is not only decidedly un-Apple, but would also disrupt the careful price tiering ecosystem of iPad models. Further, this whole rumour is being built on cases at CES from 3rd parties that, by T3’s own admission, are most likely based on those vendors’ best guesses as to what the next gen tablet does or doesn’t have. I know that Apple rumours are red hot for page views and the like, but come on.

This isn’t the only instance where T3 has outrightly stated things that are controversial, speculative or just plain rumours and presented them as fact in a headline and they aren’t the only ones guilty of doing so. This instance is really just the final straw. Far be it for me to ‘un-subscribe’ to an internet source of news but the outrageous writing at a place that purports to be more authoritative than most has pissed me off one too many times. And heaven knows there a million other feeds to take its place.

Final Fantasy XIII-2? Square-Enix is a bunch of morons

Their heyday long past, you can see barely anything of the once venerable Squaresoft in today’s overstuffed, overindulgent mess of a company that is Square-Enix. Not content to simply make and release good games, they made the egocentric play of announcing three separate and oddly titled games in 2006; Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII under the unnecessary banner of ‘Fabula Nova Chrystallis’. While not the start of the company’s decline, this bold announcement did mark the studio’s pretentious obsession with Latin, and, in any case time has proved it was a dick move.

Final Fantasy XIII, the only one released to date, was met with critical and popular malign. It was shit. Technically, artistically and from a game design perspective. Most importantly for an RPG though, it’s storytelling was apalling. And I hated it. Versus XIII still has no direction, no released gameplay footage and no release window, despite being announced way back in 2006, and this being 2011. At least we know it’s still a PS3 exclusive.

Agito XIII, on the other hand, has been refocused and is set to release this year. Thank fuck for that. Only now instead of being part of one silly series, it’s part of another. The number ‘XIII’ has been dropped and the game is now called Final Fantasy Type-0, part of the Type-X series. Hooray. If this doesn’t confirm what we already knew – that the games in the ‘Latin series’ have nothing to do with eachother – it says that the new Square is still preoccupied with over-promising more titles than it can deliver, let alone deliver well.

Perhaps the most gobsmacking news of the day is that FFXIII, the game every PS3 owner probably wishes didn’t exist, is getting a sequel. I don’t think you could even ask for Final Fantasy XIII-2 at a K-mart counter without sounding like a moron, but that aside, who thought this would be a good idea? The game, not the title, that is. I’m sure we’re all in agreement on the latter. So who’s signing up for another romp though I-can’t-remember-where with that bunch of whiny pricks for hours and hours on end with nothing interesting happening? I didn’t think so. As blatant a cash grab as this is, I gotta hand it to the guys from the quadrilateral company; they sure know how to take fans for a ride.

One would hope that this whole experience would instill some humility in Square. First off, if I were them, it’d teach me that I can’t make a good game while juggling a million projects at once. That’s even if I can make a good game at all- they need to realise these aren’t the glory days of FFVII and VIII. Secondly, it’d tell me to lay off the pretentious foreign namedropping and loosely connected titles. Who do they really think they are? When I heard that, on top of these travesties, there’s one called Final Fantasy: Dissidia – Duodecim, I felt like killing someone.

Franchises get run into the ground and developers get cocky off the back of a single success all the time. But none have been as lucky or ridden out a bad streak of releases as long as Square-Enix has. I think that if the company cannot turn around a few back to back blockbusters soon, and I don’t think they have a prayer, then their time might just be up. Those years-in-development projects don’t pay for themselves.

Then again, who am I kidding. For any of that to happen we’d have to assume being good had anything to do with how games from Square end up selling.

Gran Turismo 5: The PlayStation 3 Tradition of Silliness Continues

A big part of the console wars that used to be all the rage 3 or 4 years ago was the issue of the PS3’s Blu-ray drive versus the 360’s boring old DL-DVD. I think that if hindsight has shown us anything it’s that Microsoft was right in including DVD-9 in their current Xbox as Blu-ray has 3 serious problems. 1) It’s more expensive- drives, discs, everything. 2) It takes longggeeerrrr to load. And 3) Developers seem maniacally obsessed with filling it up. Flagship PlayStation franchises – quite a few, actually – have taken a bizarre quantity over quality approach to development lately and I dare say supporting BD’s as a format has had something to do with it.

This generation of games don’t need 50GB’s of Blu-ray. There, I said it. Between development costs, hardware processing restrictions and the fact that the drive in a PS3 only reads at 1x, Blu-rays are not necessary. So I found it curious when the first claims came out from Kojima Productions in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Apparently their game was not only so big that it needed a BD-ROM, but there was not even enough space left over to include a Japanese voice dub. Not to open a debate about how bad MGS4 is or isn’t compared to the previous games in the series, it definitely was shorter. And by that I mean there was less actual gameplay. A lot less. It was also disjointed and the level of difficulty was inconsistent to say the least. But who cares. By sticking uncompressed 5.1 audio and an overwritten script on a disc, they managed to eat up a lot of space. A lot of pre-rendered video helped hit that as well. I’d summarise this by saying MGS4 was filled with media but not real gaming content. The ill-received Final Fantasy XIII took a similar approach. Lots of repetitive fights, lot’s of inane chatter, and passable gameplay stretched lengthwise outward to the point where it was, well, no longer passable. Of concern is that both Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid had been praised and innovative franchises in PlayStation’s past- to see them both stumble on the same point is more than a coincidence in my books.

Gran Turismo 5, which I have had the questionable pleasure of getting to know lately, seems to suffer the same curse as the other PlayStation mainstays. Here we have a game with a great deal of content. However none of it seems thoughtfully put together and the experience itself seems rough, to be kind. Marketing highlights the game’s 1000+ cars, however 800 of them are just lifted straight from Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2- low polycounts and lack of interiors left in tact. Now, if we cast our mind back to Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, the last time GT had a generational shift in technology, the devs chose to cut the car count significantly. They could have borrowed outdated PSX assets from Gran Turismo 2 and had a massively inflated car count, but they chose not to. Why then in 2010, after the game has been in development for years and years, is the a shift in tact such that we should include more stuff on the disc, whether or not it’s up to scratch? I think this has a lot to do with simply filling the disc, or at least giving the impression that you get more with a PS3 game on a Blu-ray.

To be frank, I blame Sony for this practice. SCEJ in particular. No doubt someone up the chain felt the need to boast that the excessive 50GB were actually useful for games and that filtered down to developers. In the process we have seen sub-par games bloated with media, not content, and although BD-ROM’s aren’t wholly to blame for that, Sony’s need to push them certainly played its part.

Secret Diary Needs Longer Entries

What makes me most upset about British TV is the penchant for five-episode seasons. Hardly enough screentime to get anywhere with anything, if you ask me. It doesn’t help when episodes are only 22 minutes long either. Or when, even into its third season, a show feels the need to devote a segment in each already-painfully-short episode to maintaining the series’ gimmick.

I’m talking about Secret Diary of a Call Girl which has the potential to really become something more than it is. I can’t speak for everyone else, but didn’t the whole ‘one sexual deviant per episode’ thing become unnecessary some time back? We get it- the show’s about a hooker. What dyslexic, sex-crazed audience hasn’t got that message by now? These garish segments eat into what little time there is to develop the real storylines that unfortunately have come off a bit wafer-thin so far and made the watching the show harder to justify. This season, we had a sleazy editor who found his way into the main character’s bed in the guise of a proper suitor who didn’t care for her sordid past when really, in a whirlwind exposition, learn he was actually just a hooker-crazed maniac. However it was rushed and seemed all too convenient. I bet the writers could have done more with it given time. In the end she ends up in the arms of her always-there go-to BFF with the implication that they’ll hook up at some point and what is that if not convenient too? I can’t count how many seasons have ended on that note. Oh wait, I can; all three of them.

Without drifting onto a tangent I like this show and wish it had a chance to bloom a little. It’s coming upto it’s fourth and final season in 2011 and I just think that if something isn’t done to change up the formula slightly we’re going to be treated to a parade of kinky sex fetishes, a little romantic innuendo and little else. It’s come and go and be utterly forgotten once the inevitable DVD box sets disappear from store shelves. Which would be a tremendous shame given the high hopes I had for it a couple of years ago, when it was outrating Dexter.


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