Posts Tagged ‘Xbox’

On Those Special Games

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Musings
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What is it about Resident Evil 4? I only ask because I’m sitting here in front of the Xbox, watching the download bar slowly fill as I wait to play the game again. Problem is, this will be the fourth version of the game I’ve played.

Resident Evil 4 changed the gaming world, reinventing third-person gaming and giving players a masterpiece to enjoy again and again. It’s now seven years and has appeared on the GameCube, PS2, Wii, PC and now the 360. I bought the game on launch day for the Cube and played it for a solid week, loving every second of it. The set pieces. The characters. The tension provided by the ammo-enemies ratio. THe incredible action. All of it was brilliant.

When the game was ported to PS2, I travelled to Reading to help a friend play the Mercenaries bonus game and check out the additional content. While the game didn’t look or feel right on the PS2 (those analogue sticks were always wrong, somehow), the game was still good fun.

Then the game was ported to Wii. Once again, I bought it on launch day and spent a whole week reliving the masterpiece. The Wii version was the best one yet, providing the incredible graphics of the Cube version with all the added content of the PS2 release. The only downside was the fact that the pointer controls made it a hell of a lot easier to shoto enemies, thus reducing the fear factor.

Now it’s here again. I’ve purchased it on launch day (again), with money I don’t have (again) and will happily throw several more hours into the game (again). Why, I ask myself, why?

Because it’s worth it, that’s why. Every gamer has their favourite, a particular title they’d drop everything for in an instant and Resident Evil 4 is mine. The fact that the series is being rebooted just one game on from this masterpiece proves how flawless it is. While the gameplay may have aged, the characters, set pieces, heart-pounding fear and constant adrenaline have not and never will. Resident Evil 4 is back. All hail the king.

Just Cause 2 Review

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Review
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Just Cause 2 Review

With open world games getting bigger and bigger everyday, it would seem the very idea of an ‘upper limit’ is becoming a thing of the past. Just Cause 2 sets a new gold standard for scale and it’s perhaps the largest game in open world history because it doesn’t believe in limits.

The game world is utterly enormous, with over fifty square kilometres of the fictional tropical island of Panau stretched out to absurd levels of detail. There’s the usual tourist spots – casinos, unspoilt beaches, etc – more native locations, like jungle-covered temples, villages hidden in the trees and so on, and massive cities that are the size of some whole games. There’s even a space centre with a working launch. On top of this is the ‘no upper limit’ that the game’s box bleats on about, where you can take an aircraft as high as you want to go. Add to this fact that you are encouraged to do things however you like with the double feature of possibly two of videogaming’s greatest items – a grappling hook and a parachute – and you have a world that feels alive, unique and teeming with fun possibilities, but also one that seems exclusive to you.

The plot revolves around going to Panau and taking down a mad dictator, which is just about reason enough to get stuck into the game’s main offering – blowing shit up. The game encourages you to ‘cause chaos’ in order to destabilise the regime and unlock new missions, but it’s simply mindless chaos for the sake of making things go boom. The crazy part is that this simple objective is bloody good fun and only starts to get old towards the game’s end.

You can do absolutely anything in this world. Being chased by a car? Why not grapple hook onto your roof and shoot them? Better still, why not grapple hook onto their car, shoot them all and then steal their vehicle? The same rule applies with helicopters. Hours of fun can be had in the skies of Panau, chucking oppressors of the people out of their helicopters and then commandeering them for some more explodey fun.

While the story missions aren’t particularly long (there are only seven), the game’s running time is padded out by carrying out jobs for the three factions on the island. These missions are often quite similar to each other, with each leader asking you to go somewhere and blow something up, or occasionally help the footsoldiers storm a military compound to create a new fast travel point for yourself on the map.

You can call in help at any time from a mysterious individual who will drop weapons, ammo and vehicles for you (even in the middle of a gunfight) and fast travel you to another point on the map. Even then it’s all about the player’s fun, as you’re dropped out of the plane as it nears the destination. Just Cause 2 is a game that wants the player to have the biggest, most ridiculous Hollywood gaming experience available and it succeeds so easily on this point that it’s scary.

There are some irritations, however, that conspire to hamper enjoyment of the game, though. There are a number of audio bugs throughout the game as well as the occasional graphical glitch. Nothing as appalling as pop-up, thankfully, but it’s still pretty noticeable. Perhaps the worst glitch that occurred in the review playthrough was one that made one of the factions disappear from the map, effectively barring access to a third of the game’s content. Fortunately, such a thing is not common and nothing that bad ever happened again.

Just Cause 2 is probably the biggest, silliest, most fun open world game ever made. While it might get repetitive by the end, it’s still extremely enjoyable up until then. If you’re not daunted by the size of the world or by how much freedom you’re given, this just might become your new favourite game.

80%

Prototype Review

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Review
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Prototype Review

The superhero genre has always lent itself fairly well to mixing with other genres, but perhaps the most underused combination is that with sandbox games. The last great success was perhaps Activision’s game of Spider-Man 2 which featured the entirety of New York, a limitless range of ludicrously over-the-top superheroics to be performed and the voice of Bruce Campbell. Sadly the next two attempts were flawed, with both Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 lacking in the fun department, although playing as nemesis Venom in Ultimate was fairly good fun. Now it’s time to prove once and for all that superpowers and sandboxing go hand-in-hand, and the result is a stonking good experience.

You are Alex Mercer, a man whose day begins by waking up dead with a ludicrous amount of deadly new powers and a craving for blood. With no idea who he is or what happened to him, Alex must work with his sister Dana to piece together the puzzle of his past. Complicating things slightly is the fact that New York is currently experiencing a slight zombie outbreak.

To start with, the city of New York is utterly massive and teeming with things to find, see, do and complete. However, this being a game based around the concept of destruction, you’ll probably spend most of your time blowing the shit out of the city and sniggering to yourself. It’s not a criticism – hell, it’s always bloody good fun – but it does seem to lessen the overall experience that there is literally nothing else to do apart from mindlessly slaughter anything and everything.

Alex himself is a fantastic protagonist – emo hoodie aside – and the feeling of genuinely fluid movement allows the player to really become immersed in the game world with ease. Alex can leap, sprint, run up walls, backflip, roll, do up to two extra jumps in mid-air, transform his and, later on, hijack tanks and helicopters. You really get the feeling of actually being a force out of control, which is why aimless killing fits so well with the rest of the game.

There’s a pleasing variety of main missions and side quests thrown together. Side quests see you forced to push your control of Alex to the absolute fore, with objectives ranging from killing specific targets with specific weapons, running a race across rooftops, using the glide ability to sail down onto a target and a massive free-for-all brawl between the military and the infected. Main missions also see a wide range of things to do, from sneaking inside military installations to protecting convoys and just plain ol’ blowing the hell out of everything within a time limit. There’s a much larger scope of activity on offer here than in, say, GTAVI and you can always be guaranteed to have a good chuckle at leaping into a helicopter and using it to destroy your pursuers before flying away.

Adding an extra option onto the violence and carnage is the stealth ability. Alex can consume literally anyone take on their appearance, allowing him to calmly walk inside a secure building, select a target and stalk them before consuming them in total silence. It’s a small feature, but it adds a slight option onto the usual murderous spree and helps to shake things up a bit.

It’s a fairly lengthy game and if you want to complete everything, you’re looking at putting in over twenty hours at the very least. It’s also highly replayable, with three difficulty options and the ability to restart the story from the beginning with all the powers you gain by the end. There’s an impressive scope of things to keep you coming back for more long after you’ve finished the story.

The downsides are the same as they are for most sandbox games – there only seems to be a set way of doing anything and any action you choose will inevitably result in carnage and death. After a while it does get a bit tedious to constantly destroy everything – even after you finish, there’s no way to use Alex’s powers for good and battling the zombie-spawning hives doesn’t seem to actually abate the spread of the virus.

Still, if you want an open world game with a superpowered protagonist that manages to combine paranoid conspiracy thriller plotting with zombie apocalypse and simultaneously lets you watch a city slowly get overrun by an infection, you could do a lot worse than Prototype. For anyone who has a slight problem with nothing but merciless slaughter, however, you might want to stick to Imagine Babies.

85%

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

The Dark Knight has made some great comics, brilliant films (as well as some crap ones) and even some tasteful underwear, but he’s never made a truly excellent game. In fact, the last good Batman game was based on the film of Batman Returns during the SNES era. Since then, the Caped Crusader has had to make do with terrible games that involve beating up identikit goons and exploring boring grey areas. While Arkham Asylum almost does the exact same thing, it gets away with it simply by having a genuine love for Batman.

Bats has managed to thwart the Joker yet again and is bringing his arch-nemesis back to Arkham. But something feels wrong to the world’s greatest detective – Joker gave up way too easily for Batman’s liking and so the Dark Knight accompanies his prisoner deep into the Asylum itself. That’s when the Joker, aided by Harley Quinn, springs his trap – releasing all the inmates and imprisoning Batman inside the Asylum. Now Batman is forced to battle through his worst enemies, his most terrible nightmares and his darkest hour…

The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that the combat is utterly brilliant. It’s such a deceptively simple system – X to attack, Y to counter, B to stun, A to dodge – but all of Batman’s attacks are context sensitive depending on the position of the enemy. You might unleash a punch, kick, backhand or spinning heel kick, it all depends on where Bats is standing. You don’t have any control over what attacks Batman uses, but you’ll always feel like you’re accessing Bruce Wayne’s unlimited physical prowess.

The second thing that will strike you like a Batarang to the face is how well-written it all is. Arkham Asylum benefits from an excellent script by comic scribe Paul Dini, who gives Batman and Joker some truly cracking dialogue. Additional villains Quinn, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mr Zsasz and Scarecrow make up for their limited screen time with fantastic interview tapes that flesh out their backstory and characters. It allows the player to truly convince themselves that they are actually stepping into a rich tapestry formed by seventy-plus years of comics.

On top of the cracking script is the game’s marvellous voice acting. Head of the class is Mark Hamill as the Joker, a flawless performance that manages to capture everything memorable about the character all at once. Following closely behind is Kevin Conroy’s amazing Batman, who manages to make the character relatable, heroic, sympathetic and never resorts to using Christian Bale’s booming shout. It all adds up to probably the most absorbing and immersive superhero game ever made.

The variety of things that Batman can do is outstanding. You essentially have just two choices: you can fight, or you can sneak. The fun part is choosing exactly how to go about doing this. You could knock out one guy and hide in the shadows, dispatching of his friends as they come to investigate. Or you could drop down from a gargoyle statue, grab a goon and tie him up as a warning to the others. The choices might not be endless, but they’re damn good fun.

You’re also backed up by a sterling soundtrack and wonderful visuals. The gloomy appearance of the island meshes brilliantly with the moody music and the two always go hand in hand to make the experience intense and enjoyable. Batman also has a variety of great gadgets that can be upgraded and improved throughout the game and a fantastic ‘Detective Mode’ visor that enables the player to see hidden objects and the locations of enemies.

While the game isn’t that long (you can breeze through it in around six hours), the staggering amount of things to do and see will keep you coming back for more time and again. In addition to the main game are the special Riddler Challenges, tiny secrets that the Riddler uses to assert his intelligence over Batman. Finding all two hundred and forty of them will unlock additional challenge maps, eight based on combat and eight based on Batman’s stealth abilities. Attempting to beat them all will require an enormous amount of skill and provide a welcome challenge to an already challenging title.

The only real downside to the game is that – Scarecrow aside – the bosses are a bit crap. They all have the same weak point and most of them are identical, just fought in slightly different sized rooms. The three appearances of the Scarecrow are a huge step away, forcing the player to sneak through a hallucinogenic nightmare that is nothing short of amazing. If only the other bosses were a bit more imaginative and relied on more than just one gadget being used over and over.

But, amazingly, that’s the only downside. The rest of the game is fluid and flawless, just like Batman’s combat mechanics. It’s a title that will delight Batman fans as much as any other player and finally the caped crusader has made a truly excellent game. In one single moment, Arkham Asylum has effortlessly managed to become the greatest superhero game in history.

94%

And we’re back…

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Musings
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Yes, sorry, got busy again. Trying to write for a multitude of different websites while working overtime at my paying job and spending time with the girlfriend leaves me with very little time to do anything else.

Alltern8:

Sherlock: A Study In Pink
Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier
Alpha Protocol
Sherlock: The Blind Banker
Sherlock: The Great Game
Resident Evil: Afterlife (the edited version)

Connected Consoles:

Lego Harry Potter Sells 2.7 Million Copies
Wii Sells 30 Million Units In US
Metroid: Other M Cutscenes Reduced Sakamoto to Tears
Why Did Red Steel 2 Fail?
Nintendo Release Overload
Just Dance 2 Track Listing
Metroid: Other M Reviews Are In
Conduit 2 Delayed Until 2011
Nintendo Already Know What The Next Console Is
Capcom’s 3DS Titles Not Available At Console’s Launch?
Hilarious ESRB Rating For Super Scribblenauts
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Out November 29th
Ace Attorney Investigations 2 In The Works

ThatGamingSite:

Is Resident Evil 6 Coming Soon?
LucasArts Sacks 80 Staff
Batman: Arkham City Nearly “4-5 times bigger than Arkham Asylum”
Ace Attorney Investigations 2 Announced
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero Review
Halo: Reach Becomes Best Selling Xbox Exclusive In UK
Pokemon Black & White Break Japanese Sale Records
Bobby Kotick Challenged By Insulted Indie Dev

Movie-Moron:

Will Ferrell Beats Off Christopher Nolan
Box Office: Expendables Slays All, Toy Story Shatters Records, Pilgrim Fails
The Expendables – Our Review
Karl Urban Cast As Judge Dredd
Box Office: Expendables Slays Five, Pilgrim Gone
New Live Action TMNT Gets Michael Bay & Iron Man’s Mouth
Toy Story 3 Becomes 7th Billion-Dollar Movie
Resident Evil: Afterlife – Review (the full version)

It’s worth looking at the Movie-Moron Resident Evil: Afterlife review if only to read the hysterical comments from people disagreeing with me.

Left 4 Dead 2: The Passing Review

‘The Passing’ is a downloadable expansion with a real emphasis on ‘expansion’. While the two new chapters on offer are fairly short, Valve have cleverly attached a fantastic new set of challenges, all of which are a part of the content.

‘The Passing’ is set between the survivors’ mall escape in ‘Dead Centre’ and their arrival at the fairground in ‘Dark Carnival’. In it the survivors are forced to abandon their car and head underneath a river to lower a drawbridge. The twist this time is the cameo appearances of two of the previous games heroes – Zoey and Francis.

This two-chapter campaign might be a fairly short ride, but there are plenty of great ideas stashed away, like a devastated wedding with a gown-wearing Witch and a phenomenal scramble through a water-logged sewer with alarm bells bringing the horde down with you.

There are no new enemies on offer, but there are a couple of ace new weapons – the slow but wide-swinging golf club and the non-reloadable belt-fed M60. Both of them are a welcome addition to the weaponry roster and bring a great slice of zombie-exterminating mayhem into the bargain. There are also new weapons stashes, metal lockers that carry an unlimited assortment of random goodies and a new Uncommon Infected – the freebie-carrying Fallen Survivor.

‘The Passing’ also has new maps for Scavenge and Survival modes, as well as ten new achievements. But all of this is nothing compared to what comes with the download: Mutation Mode.

The Mutations are brand new, weekly game modes with new rules created by the developers. Every Friday a new game mode is tested out and after four mutations, the players get to vote on which one is made permanent. This means, essentially, that the game gets bigger each and every week. Already players have installed the excellent ‘Realism Versus’ mode and tested out the likes of ‘Last Gnome on Earth’ (carry the gnome to the end), ‘Bleed Out’ (health depletes rapidly) and ‘Room For One (first player to get to the campaign’s exit wins). Each of these add a thrilling new layer onto what was already a phenomenal game.

If Left 4 Dead 2 is the definitive co-op game then ‘The Passing’ is the definitive add-on. New chapters, new weapons, new maps and a game that has the potential to expand endlessly, all for just 800 MS points. An absolute must have.

98%

With so many zombie horror games about these days, I thought it would be a good idea to take two of the biggest – both exclusives to the 360 – and pit them against each other in a vicious fight to the death. Zombie death. Brains!

Dead Rising

Going to the mall can be hell. A zombie apocalypse can be hell. Combine the two and you have… fantastically fun survival-horror comedy gold.

The objective of the game is simple: you are photojournalist Frank West – he’s covered wars, you know – with three days (six real-time hours) to kill in the mall before your helicopter comes and picks you up. What this leads to is a furiously over-the-top race against time as you rush across the huge arena trying to get all the missions, side quests and fun things done before the game ends.

It’s an incredibly intricate game that rewards multiple playthroughs. Adding to the replayability is the excellent RPG-type stat boosting that allows you to go back into the mall with a much tougher Frank. At the beginning, Frank will be lucky to run from one end of a plaza to another without suffering nigh-mortal wounds. By the time he’s completely maxed out, zombies are little more than an annoyance – heads are kicked off, guts torn out, faces stomped, bodies thrown and zombies generally wiped out before they can groan at you. The major problem with this is that by the time you’re good enough to earn huge amounts of EXP (or ‘PP’ as it’s known here), you don’t need it. Maybe a few more levels above fifty would have been a good idea?

The game’s excellent running time makes it perfect for both casual bursts and long stints, with the game falling neatly into both categories, while only really allowing the truly dedicated to uncover the mystery and escape the mall with all the survivors. The genius of this is that the game can be played in any number of ways – missions, survivors or both – it’s totally your choice.

Throughout the three days, Frank is kept on a pretty tight leash thanks to a fairly irritating character who constantly rings him up to inform him of other survivors that have been spotted across the mall. From that moment on, it’s another race against the clock to find them and bring them back to safety before the zombies eat them. It’s a great idea that works in theory, but is fatally flawed in execution because of one simple fact: the AI in this game is atrocious.

All the NPC survivors (you can escort up to eight at once) have a unique personality, from running on ahead to trying to murder everything to – annoyingly – crawling on hands and knees, but they all share the same problems. The pathfinding in Dead Rising is among the worst in videogame history. Any item of any height – be it an ankle-high plant pot or a wall – becomes a serious obstacle for the NPCs and instead of trying to find another route, they will instead keep blindly running straight into it, unable to figure out what is stopping them from getting to where they need to go.

Another problem is that the final hours of the game (one hour in real-time) is incredibly boring. Whether or not you’ve completed the main missions, there is absolutely nothing to do – it’s even worse if you have because all the obstacles in the game are literally removed for the last fifteen minutes, leading to a really pointless spot of clock-watching. A further point of contention is the terrible handling of all the game’s vehicles. All six of them have the feel of being completely bolted on in the final hours of development, with little thought being done to implement them in a clever way.

However, when Dead Rising is good, it’s very good. One minute you’re dodging zombies and carrying a limping woman across a huge park whilst armed convicts drive past and try to kill you, the next you’re shooting at a deranged chainsaw-juggling clown for the right to switch off a children’s ride.

All in all, this is a truly excellent game with an incredible amount of thought gone into the development, and it shows. With perhaps a few more tweaks, this could have beaten the mighty Resident Evil to the King of the Zombies crown. Worthy of carrying a franchise on its own, this is one shopping trip from hell not to be missed.

90%

Dead Space Review

Posted: April 5, 2009 in Review
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Dead Space

You’re trapped on an old ship stranded in space. There’s no way off. The power is down across the ship. You know that there are over one thousand corpses on board. There’s a vicious alien life form stalking you. And you have no gun.

That’s the intro in-game cinematic to Dead Space, a master class in isolation, both virtual and psychological. Within ten minutes you know the situation, the enemy, the problems you face and the challenges that lay ahead. If the opening proves anything, it’s that EA Redwood is one of the few Western developers that totally understand horror.

The game’s strength lies in its ability to constantly deceive the player. The Necromorph enemies are smarter and far more mobile that you; if you see one across the room, it’ll dive into the nearest air vent and attack you from behind. Corpses tip-toed past several times in empty corridors can suddenly become a major hazard if they aren’t immediately stomped into pieces first time through. Necromorphs will shrug off direct hits to the chest or head. Make no mistake, this is a game truly designed to terrify from the off. In fact, it feels like an even darker version of Resident Evil 4 in space – high praise indeed.

The cinematic influences are felt throughout the game. Obvious nods to Alien and its sequel are the most obvious, with traces of The Thing, Night of the Living Dead and even Event Horizon getting a nod. The game plays as though the greatest, scariest parts of the best horror films have been ripped out, boiled down to the basics and shoved into a pitch-black ship with no exit. Yes, there are scares and set pieces designed purely to make the player jump, but these are lovingly crafted, rarely repeated (the ace tentacle-dragging moment is worth playing the three times it occurs) and never feel out of place, hinged on the shock of sudden action lunging out of the ever-present dread.

The atmosphere that Dead Space seems to bathe in leaks out of every pore – it delights in forcing you to walk down a long, dark passage, armed only with a measly pistol, passing dozens of air vents that could crash open and reveal a Necromorph at any moment. Adding to the atmosphere is a series of top-notch design choices by EA Redwood – Isaac, the protagonist, is armed with a torch throughout. However, by choosing to spread light in the gloom, you sacrifice the option to run. Also, in a potentially disastrous move, there is no quick-turn option, turning every battle into an outstandingly gory intense run-and-stop-to-shoot brawl.

And this is a violent game, make no mistake. Enemies’ limbs are their weakest points, forcing you to cripple arms, legs, necks, leaving a writhing torso dripping with gore, waiting to be stomped into the ship’s deck.
Another brilliant design decision is the addition of zero gravity areas, where both you and the Necromorphs have the ability to jump to almost every surface accessible – walls, ceilings, the sides of pillars – creating a wonderful feeling of paranoia to offset the dread.

The story is totally engrossing and deftly handled. While it is almost exactly like Aliens, it is riveting and engaging enough to keep dragging you back. The two side characters, Kendra and Hammond, are very well written, with not a single stereotype between them. Borrowing from Valve, EA Redwood have made the wise decision to not allow Isaac to have a single line of dialogue in the game. This simple idea instantly makes Isaac a standout protagonist who doesn’t become irritating at any point.

However, there are problems with the game. Whilst the atmosphere forces breathless intensity, the various puzzles often pull you back out of the lovingly-crafted world. Each of the twelve chapters features one major set piece puzzle that get harder to solve as the game progresses. Unfortunately, the penalty for failure seems to be fixed on ‘instant kill’. Fail to time a jump onto a meteor correctly and you’ll be sliced in two, or sent drifting out into space. The excellent navigation system (a small line pointing to your objective, available at the touch of a button) sometimes appears to have logic issues, wanting you to walk back two feet, turn around, and continue where you were headed. Also, the camera has a habit of getting confused in zero gravity, which leads to enemies attacking you from off-screen. It can also become very repetitive – after just a few chapters, you’ll become familiar with the way the game works. Every button pressed plunges the room into total darkness and sends a swarm of horrors towards you. By the end of the game, you’ll be prepared for them before they happen, the exact opposite of the spirit of fear. Similarly, there’s very little variation in the enemies. The monsters met at the game’s opening simply become faster and tougher by the closing.

Upsetting all the great design decisions lovingly placed in Dead Space is the use of text. Like all good horror games, backstory and extra information can be gleamed from finding and reading various text logs scattered around. Unfortunately, the text used is so small, only a 52-inch plasma screen will be able to see it clearly, meaning anyone playing on a normal TV will have to choose between squinting or ignoring text logs completely.

The game’s biggest problem, however, is in the weapon selection. By choosing to upgrade from a mere pistol to one of several other sci-fi inspired weapons, ranging from flame-throwers to saw blade launchers, you unwittingly make the game easier. Enemies can be killed almost as soon as they appear in one hit with no thought, while ammo can be purchased with little fuss.

Problems aside, it’s an engrossing, incredibly well designed horror game with enough scares and suspense to last it at least a handful of replays. Play it in a darkened room and pray for daylight: Dead Space is the new king of this generation’s horror.

87%

jack-15-three-parts4

I guess I should answer the question that everybody is going to want to know after this…

Yes. It’s true. We are getting a 360 for the house.

EDIT: I don’t know what the fuck is going on with this new WordPress, but I hope they sort it the fuck out soon!

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