Archive for December, 2010

It’s like the Oscars, only without anything of the glamour. Or the TV coverage. Or the stars. So, nothing like the Oscars, then.

Underappreciated Gem of the Year

Winner: Alpha Protocol

It’s buggy, occasionally clumsy and short. But where Alpha Protocol succeeds is its charm. Players are given control of a rogue spy and asked to choose how to interact with people and what order to play the missions in, but it all seems to have purpose. While Mass Effect might be a better, deeper and more meaningful RPG, Alpha Protocol clocks in at a meagre six hours and encourages its players to go back through and find out what happens when they do things a little differently. It’s not the best game, but by God is it deep once you discover the vast number of options at your disposal.

Runner-Up: Alan Wake

Once again a tight, well-written game is ignored. Seems that players want explosions and gunplay, not fantastic and memorable characters in an intriguing mystery with emotional depth. Tsk.

Highlight of the Year

Winner: GoldenEye 007

Why does this get the top spot? It’s simple. All the tension, the worry, the stomach-churning doubt that so many millions of gamers went through after it was announced at E3… it was all for nought. GoldenEye 007 is a fantastic remake of an undisputed masterpiece, far and away the best FPS title on the Wii and possibly one of the finest Wii games yet made. This award is given for the moment you realise, ‘Oh my God… it’s actually good!’

Runner-Up: The 3DS

If this was released in December as it should have been, it would be the winner in most of these catagories. Nope, we have to wait until next March to play games in 3D. Without glasses. On a handheld. With over one hundred games in development for it. Including TWO Resident Evil titles. *dribbles*

Disappointment of the Year

Winner: Red Dead Redemption

It’s good. It’s fun. The feeling of exploration and loneliness is second to none. But Marston’s a bastard and players aren’t given a single reason to care about his family. Even when you are reunited with them, they come across as total jerks. The best parts of this game are in the final third, when you visit the wonderous northern landscape, but that’s after around twenty hours of playing. Vastly overrated by the gaming press, this is definately not worth paying full price for.

Runner-Up: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1

Sixteen years is a long time to wait for the continuation of a very simple story. The reason for this game, as good as it was, getting nominated as a disappointment is simply that it was too familiar to the original Mega Drive titles and not enough of its own thing. Also, it’s bloody expensive.

Bastard of the Year

Winner: John Marston

He has a problem with killing… but he’ll do it anyway. He wants answer, now, dammit… but he’ll wait patiently and get jerked around in the meantime. He’s the baddest mother in the West… but he’ll work for grave robbers with no incentive. He’ll do anything to protect his family… but if he doesn’t like how you’re raising your kids, he’ll talk down at you. Bastard.

Runner-Up: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sixteen years? You made us wait sixteen years while you figured out that what we wanted is to run left to right really fast? And then you release the sequel we always wanted (Sonic 4 Episode 1) and your first great 3D game in the same goddamn year? You bastard!

DLC of the Year:

Winner: The Passing (Left 4 Dead 2)

Not only are The Passing’s three short maps fun, but the game comes complete with ‘The Mutations’, a special feature that changes the rules on a (current) bi-weekly basis. At the time of writing, developers Valve are encouraging users to create their own Mutations on the PC and these are now being incorporated into the updates. For the first time ever, user-created games are arriving on the 360, and it’s a hell of a good thing.

Runner- Up: Undead Nightmare (Red Dead Redemption)

The add-on is funnier, faster and far superior to the entire game.

Dick Punch of the Year

Winner: Alan Wake

You pay forty pounds for a game, you’d expect there to be an ending. Nope, you have to buy that separately. Twice. Oh, and if you didn’t get the first edition of the game in the week it came out, you have to pay for both add-ons, not just the second. Way to alienate your audience, Remedy.

Runner-Up: The 3DS

Nintendo have recently become the masters of revealing a product just a few scant months before they release it. The Wii’s major releases for the past two years have followed a similar trend: usually revealed in the summer, out by Christmas. When the 3DS was unveiled, everyone placed it at number on their Christmas lists. But then Nintendo did the maths and realised that, actually, they won’t be able to make enough. So now we wait. At least March isn’t that far away anymore.

Piece of Shit of the Year

Winner: Just Dance

Just… just vile.

Runner- Up: Iron Man 2 (DS)

Although the copy reviewed was on the DS, this covers all version of the game. A terrible, terrible title with literally nothing going for it, clumsy controls horrendous graphics and a storyline that had nothing to do with the film.

Game of the Year

Winner: Deadly Premonition

Not everybody likes Deadly Premonition, but the reason it’s taken home the gold prize here is for one very simple reason: it’s different. It’s essentially a murder mystery, but it’s what it’s not that effortlessly turns Deadly Premonition into one of the most unforgettable games of all time. It is not very good. Badly animated, poorly voiced, appallingly written and just plain shit throughout and yet it’s so goddamn compelling. You’ll constantly stop and call your friends over to witness this game with you because it’s hilarious. A unique title and certainly one that deserves more recognition that it’s gotten. If that doesn’t convince you, this will:

Runner-Up: GoldenEye 007

Almost winning the title, GoldenEye 007 is an outstanding remake of one of the greatest games ever made. The fact that it manages to redo almost every aspect of the peerless original, in a brand new way, and throws in the modern gaming extras including stealth, online multiplayer deathmatches and local split-screen chaos add up to one of the most essential purchases of the year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, one and all. We’ll return in 2011 for more sporadic updates and bitter humour.

Jack asked me to post up some more quotes from the atrocity that is ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ I have nothing better to do, so why not? Probably violating some kind of copyright laws here, but, in my defence, the book is so bad it simply must be shared. I’m not saying that I’m by any means a better writer, but I hope I never bring readers joy by how shit my words are. This coming from a man who has still not finished an absurd and ludicrous horror story about Pokemon.

A transcript of a Mexican radio station’s final broadcast:

ERNESTO NERUDA:
Carlos, what’s that sound? Can you see any zombies tied up by the Tepitenos?

CARLOS VILLA:
Doesn’t look like it. Wait! I’ve been spotted. This looks bad.
[sound of scuffling and chairs being overturned and Villa’s voice rises to a terrifying crescendo]
They’re all dead, they’re all dead, they’re all dead! Not a single person alive! All dead, all dead, all dead, dead, dead, dead…
[Villa screams repeatedly]

ERNESTO NERUDA:
Get out of there, Carlos! Can you hear me? Get out of there!

CARLOS VILLA:
La Flaca! La Flaca! Oh Thin Lady, have mercy! Have mercy!

An Australian flying doctor who has been force-fed cooked zombie flesh and spent the past eight pages whinging about the experience, on not wanting to eat an apple:

-Oh god. I hate to admit this. But what I feel like, what I crave deep down in my belly, is meat. Zombie flesh. I guess I’ll have to go out and hunt.

A text message conversation between a woman and her ex:

Mike: Jane.

Jane: Mike!! You’re alive! That firestorm, like the end of the world, I thought you must be dead!

Mike: thort so 2

Jane: I’m trapped, don’t know what to do. Soldiers gone from street. Just zombies out there now – must have crossed river

Jane: I’ve got to stop crying, they’ll hear me. There was one… a fucking clown, can you believe that?

Jane: That fire, that explosion. All for nothing. They crossed [the river]. What now? Same for us?

Jane: And the fleas. Millions of fleas, everywhere.

Mike: they don’t itch

Jane: ?

Mike: U look tastee

The final entry in a parlimentary meeting between two people, written and recorded by ‘Millie’:

Sir Kenneth: Millie, what are you doing? Don’t eat that. It’s disturbing. Millie? You’re still writing, so… no, Millie, don’t eat those. Millie…

A serious newspaper item, before the outbreak really kicks off:

‘CRAZED MOURNERS have dug up the body of Princess Diana from its final resting place in her ancestral home and reburied her in the New Festival of Britain site in South London – in a bid to re-animate her decades-dead corpse.’

The above bit is written by a character who, in the chronology of events, was killed at least a day or two before it went to print. Ummm… What a great novel that was. Good old ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’

There are so many ‘classic’ moments in here, but some of them are far too long. There’s the elderly lady who, dispite writing in a prim and proper style with hintings of upper class education and all the trimmings, constantly uses the word ‘fuck’ in her letters. Or the doctor who is bitten on the arm, passes out for two days, wakes up feeling fine and then chooses to finish his report on his dead patient. Or the blogger who gets a cut on his chin from shattered glass and then becomes a zombie and leaves a final post wher he states his intention to eat everyone else left alive.

We’ll close on probably my favourite quotes, all from the second chapter. They’re my favourites because it was here, just twenty pages into the book, that I realised I’d been ripped off and that I could find better fiction online. Written by infants. With no concept of language. Living on a different planet.

A transcript of a female journalist talking to herself in her PDA, while she knowingly breaks into a secure government digging site:

‘I was kind odf hoping he’d stick around because it’s bloody dark and I’m wearing heels. Not high ones, but the ground is really rough.’

‘I can see mechanical diggers lined in a long row like huge yellow beetles.’

‘He thinks this is where they took the bodies, although if they did they cleaned up afterwards as the floor here looks like it was recently washed down, and I can smell disinfectant. Yes, there are puddles of the stuff all over the floor. I’m wearing Marc Jacobs shoes because I was out at dinner earlier. What an idiot.’

‘Just so you don;t worry, I’ve put on an anti-bacterial facemask, like Japanese girls wear. I got it from someone on the travel desk. Not that I think there’s anything down here to worry about.’

‘Christ. There’s something in here – it moved really fast, just across the back of the camera frame. Okay, I’ll just fire off the flash.’

And probably the greatest line in the whole book:

‘Just for the record, if anyone gets to hear this, my friend Margaret is is coming towards me, and I think she intends to drain me of blood in order to feed her parasites. She’s cold and dead, but the fleas are keeping her alive so that she can feast on others.’

Of course, any of the writers who I’ve quoted here are perfectly at liberty to simply reply back ‘Well, where’s YOUR name in a book, you little bastard?’ Touche, writer. Touche.

Like many, I purchased Red Dead Redemption back in May, soon after it came out (my real priority was Alan Wake). Unlike many, I just can’t find the energy to finish it.

The problem isn’t the lush visuals, fantastic Western setting or even the wonderful exploration. The reason that I just can’t get together is because of its protagonist, John Marston.

Marston is a former outlaw, now settled down with a wife and child on a farm. However, the DAMN EVIL GOVERNMENT intrude in his life and threaten his family unless he goes out west and tracks down his former partners for them. It’s a simple enough motivation and it’s enough to convince me that Marston is a good man.

It’s soon after the opening couple of missions with the lovely Bonnie MacFarlane that things begin to go mammaries skyward, as Marston continually sides with a collection of absolute bastards in exchange for their help. Will they repay his kindness? Will they fuck. Everyone with eyes can see the plot ‘twists’ coming a mile off, making Marston a galloping retard in a rather fetching duster coat.

In order to gain access to the fort that Marston’s target Williamson is holed up in, you have to assist no less than three complete cock-ends. One is a grave robber/ corpse fucker who asks you to help him steal coffins before he’ll start aiding you. Another is a drunk Irish stereotype who attempts to GET YOU KILLED the first time you do something for him. The final dickhead is a roving conman, fleecing unsuspecting people of their monies in exchange for potions that don’t do anything for them. The best part is when he tells you to murder hundreds of pissed off customers while he makes his getaway.

What really made me want to punch Marston’s face off the planet is how he constantly moans about the fact that he doesn’t like killing, and the reason he left Williamson’s gang in the first place is because they started ‘unfairly killing people’. Yet he displays no such thoughts when asked to commit around a thousand murders in order to get inside the fort. If he just killed the conman, shot the Irish bloke in the arm after he was set up and completely ignored the grave robber, he could have been inside the fort in a couple of days. But, no, because he’s a ‘good guy’ and doesn’t kill people who don’t ‘deserve it.’

But it gets worse from there, as the story shifts to Mexico and Marston ends up working fo both the government and the revolutionaries in a civil war. This, naturally, has no consequences and the only decent part of this are the few short missions you complete with aging gunslinger Landon Ricketts, who is a fantastic character. After that’s done, however, he disappears and you end up slaughtering roughly half of Mexico.

Again proving that Marston is a massive twat, he somehow doesn’t realise that the corrupt, merciless, murderous, hateful Mexican government is going to set him up and try and kill him. It’s mind-boggling how this man has survived up until this point, given how many times he wanders into obvious traps and ambushes without thinking about it. Topping it all off is his sarcastic and condescending attitude towards anybody who he doesn’t feel lives up to his standards of proper parenting. It’s cheating to call it ‘morally grey’ because it just isn’t. It’s morally nothing – you aren’t forced to make a decision, you are told to go and slaughter and so you do, like a good little puppet, with absolutely no consequences.

It’s almost worth sitting through for the fantastic Northern landscape, with its lush forests, snow-covered vistas and truly epic bear fights (kill one and another turns up!), but you have to put up with Marston being, well, himself.

Maybe I’ll get around to finishing Red Dead Redemption one day. I’d like to play the Undead Nightmare add-on for it, but I dread to think what hypocritical bullshit Marston will wax about in that version.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

With the first Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo evolved the idea of platform gaming to its highest possible state, turning the humble block into a 3D sphere rammed with possibilities. Now the inevitable sequel is here and it has to demonstrate even more creative ideas than the first game. The pressure’s really on for Nintendo’s twenty five year old mascot. Luckily, Mario has never been one to buckle under pressure and the result is an enjoyable experience.

From the off, the focus of Galaxy 2 is, like its predecessor, firmly on ‘play’. You learn by doing, see by exploring and experiment by acting. Once the game proper begins, there are very few sections that slow you down. Cinematics, a coherent narrative, dialogue scenes and other useless antiquities are discarded almost as soon as the game begins. After all, you have a controller in your hand and you want to have fun – what’s the point in stopping to have character motivation? You knew all this twenty five years ago: plumber stomps big dinosaur to save princess.

You’re immediately presented with a wealth of possibilities. Nintendo have wisely opted to change the format for opening levels, so this time, instead of crawling around the ship looking for the entrance to a new set of galaxies, you simply pilot a spaceship that looks like Mario’s head around a Super Mario World-style selection screen. It’s a much better idea and one that keeps you constantly in the game and always having fun.

And ‘Fun’ is the key word with Galaxy 2. Everything you do, see and experience is built around the simple prospect of putting a smile on your face. The wealth of new power-ups, level designs and even new uses for old items are staggering – somehow Nintendo, in one game, have become more imaginative than entire nations. Mario can now use a huge drill, roll around like a boulder and turn himself into a ghostly Boo. The best part is that, once again, every major action is controlled by a simple flick of the Wii Remote.

Visually, this is possibly the best looking Wii title ever released. Huge, incredibly intricate, landscapes are offered up to you, none of which have a hint of slowdown or pop-up. If there is a secret to how this is done, then perhaps Nintendo should teach it to other developers? On a similar note, the game’s soundtrack is equally stunning, featuring a variety of tunes both old and new, played with zest and love by a full orchestra. It’s like having pure love poured into your ears.

As with all of Nintendo’s latest games, the object of Galaxy 2 is to get families to gather around and play together. Like last time, a second person can grab a Wii Remote for themselves and join in the action, firing Star Bits at the various enemies and generally helping player one to complete the level free of distractions. It’s a nice device, though most over the age of roughly fifteen will be able to manage the tasks required of them without any help.

As if to help players of any age to get through the game, the disc comes with a free instructional DVD that teaches you how to play it. Couple this with a severely lowered difficulty level and optional instruction videos that crop up at any point in the game that may pose a challenge and you have a game that literally anyone of any age can play. In trying to create the fairest game of all time, Nintendo have succeeded with flying colours.

While Galaxy 2 is an undoubted triumph of spirited fun over obnoxious storytelling, it does lack that certain bit of magic that saw the first game succeed. The first two entire worlds feel too familiar, without anything really distinct in them. For the first couple of hours’ play time, you’ll have a gnawing sense of deja-vu. Luckily, this vanishes soon after and is replaced by some wonderful levels that manage to provoke a sense of joy and wonder. The other slight flaw is that, throughout the game, you’ll never really have that same sense of endless wonder as you did the first time you realised that you could run across every square inch of a planet’s surface. This time there’s more joy to be found in some more traditional levels – Flip Switch Galaxy and Throwback Galaxy being two particular favourites.

So it might not be quite as glorious an achievement as the first Galaxy title, but this sequel still manages to hit all the right buttons. Always fair, always fun and always astounding, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is as ludicrously entertaining as could be expected of a mascot who has survived for twenty five years.

92%

I’m a bit of a reader in my spare time (read: on lunch breaks at work) and I love zombies. Imagine my joy on walking into Waterstones a few weeks ago and seeing this looking down at me:

That is one hell of an amazing image. Zombies, chaos, a devasted London shrouded in the fog of war, a genuine sense of panic. What really sealed the deal for me is the survivors gathered on top of St Paul’s Catherdral. I’m not sure why, it just jumped out at me that it must be a great book based on that single part of the image alone.

You know the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’? Well, I wasn’t about to fall for it that easily, so I read the blurb on the back as well. The idea seemed to be a brilliant one; a series of text messages, emails, transcripts and so on that are all written by different people, all of which interweave and tell a larger story in little ways. Based on that alone, I was sold.

The saying about judging books really needs an addendum: ‘never judge a book by its cover, or the blurb on the back. If really in doubt, scan the first few pages quickly in the bookshop, else you’ll be ripped off.’

This book is awful. Words cannot stress this enough. ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ is single-handedly the worst piece of crap that has ever been shat across the pages of a book. I’m actually angry that trees were felled to mass-produce this godawful pile of wank.

Where to begin? Well, due to the fact that it’s written by lots of different people, there are massively inconsistent shifts in tone throughout. Ninety-nine percent of the stories here are appalling. The other one percent is usually saved by some convincing writing (shout outs here to Lisa Morton’s ‘They’re Coming to Get You!’ and Kim Newman’s ‘Minutes of Meeting’, both of which are engaging and entertaining, though are let down by shoddy endings.)

Because most of the chapters in the book are recordings of interviews or transcripts of discussions, most of the characters within the book talk in a way that no human would do, ever. My favourite example of this is near the start, in a transcript of a female journalist’s dicataphone recording as she breaks into a secure government digging project (smart move, that). In order to set the scene, she narrates the dimensions and the appearance of the rooms she moves through, everything she can see.

‘Shit, I just bashed my head on the ceiling, which is really low.’

It’s like reading a Garth Marenghi horror novel. The best part is the ending, where she bumps into a real zombie – the first in the entire novel – and realises that it’s actually her friend, who arroused her suspicions about the site to begin with. What does she do? She stands there, telling her clearly dead friend all of the damage that she has on her face! Seriously-

‘Something has half-eaten your eyes and there’s something reddish-brown inside your mouth and you’re still moving, what happened-?’

Imagine that this sort of dialogue took place across the entire novel. Oh yes, it really does. It starts off funny and then becomes painful. Then I realised I’d spent what little money I had on this book.

Naturally, the need to have everything be bleak and to have the zombies destory everything wins out over the need to tell an enjoyable narrative. This usually means, then, that each chapter ends with the narrator dying, becoming infected or doing something completely stupid. The only thing this does is break down all th realism that had been built up. One of the worst offenders is a diary written by a thirteen year old girl. It’s fairly interesting, but far too long – it’s broken down into three different chapters – but really suffers from having a stupid ending. She gets a scratch on her hand – not deep enough to break the skin – by a boy she knows, who himself is not infected. Somehow she then becomes infected and, we’re left to imagine, kills everyone she’s hiding out with.

Perhaps the book’s biggest offence is the fact that the zombies have no story-to-story consistency. While Max Brooks’ outstanding zombie epic ‘World War Z’ not only took the established zombie conventions but improved on them, ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ has the zombies doing whatever the writer wants them to do.

In one chapter a zombie:

-Lurches forward so fast the man chasing loses sight of her
-Recognises the danger of an oncoming SWAT van
-Veers out of the way of said van
-Climbs over an industrial fence
-Escapes from sight
-Grabs a police dog
-Impales said dog on a fence
-Overpowers the staff of an ambulance while the vehicle is moving
-Drives the ambulance by herself
-Continues driving even with one tire shot out

That’s ludicrous. The zombies veer wildly between being the shuffling dead of film lore and being the fast moving zombies of recent years. There’s no continuity to any of it. One chapter states that the dead float in water – it’s a plot point that prevents a character from crossing a river. Two chapters later, the dead not only sink in the water, but there are enough of them to pull down a plane that has crash-landed in there with them. Zombies are eithe rdesperate to get in and attack survivors, or, in one case, will calmy wait outside, smiling up at the person inside who is infected and wait for them to take the people out. Zombies can also write letters, diary entries and text messages. The best part is when a several hundred year old zombie a) spots car keys on the floor, b) picks them up, c) opens the car door, d) starts the car, e) drives the car down the road, f) crashes the car and g) climbs back out and continues stumbling around.

The human characters are even worse. One man even posts on Twitter while he’s being attacked, another goes mad and decides to go and hunt down any survivors, one is force-fed cooked zombie meat (which has the strange ability to make her immune from attack) and then decides to go and eat other humans as well and all of them go on and fucking on about their personal histories and and their loves and hates. It doesn’t add depth or backstory, it’s simply another thing that nobody would ever talk about in real life.

Adding to this the fact that everybody knows where the zombie came from and you’ve got a horror without anything horrifying. ‘World War Z’ gave one tiny hint as to their origin, but never pushed it. ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ rams it down yours throat for the entire first half of the book. Apparently the specific church that the government are tearing down was a) a burial site for religious devouts who believed in a certain type of reincarnation and b) was also a plague pit in the 1600s. The plague idea gets dropped and picked up again every few chapters (someone usually mentions fleas) and everybody in the world seems to know the names of the two diabolical men who built the church. Nothing that gets explained ever seems to make sense. Most of the time, the writers just repeat what other chapters have already laid down and act like it was their idea.

To call ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ the worst book I’ve ever read would be an understatment. ‘Zombie Apocalypse!’ is the only book in my entire life I’ve ever taken back and gotten a refund for. And I’ve read Tom Cain’s ‘The Accident Man’ (shudder).

So this really a warning – don’t judge books by their cover, their title or even their blurb. Until someone invents a device that can detect books that you’ll like simply by pointing at them, we’ll just have to keep using handheld consoles for entertainment.