These are the (now enormously out of date) editorials created by myself and James Ellingworth during our tenure as editors of The Student, with the exception of the very first one because it was awful.
To put it crudely, there are roughly two types of author. On the one side there are your genre specialists, the high fantasists, romantic novelists, horror masters etc. Then, on the other, there are those whose work occupies no particular genre other than that which can be categorised as “mainstream”, or, if you’re feeling suitably pompous, “literary”.
However Scottish maverick Iain M. Banks has consistently defied such stringent categorisation by being one of few novelists to have successfully written in two entirely separate strands of fiction. And yet, he seems remarkably nonchalant when asked whether he finds it difficult to come up with new ideas for the two genres within which he writes. “Fairly, I guess. No shortage but no glut, either.”
Kane and Lynch 2 contains so many uses of the word fuck I almost mistook it for punctuation. Imagine the infamous crime-investigation scene from the first series of The Wire, only stretched out over a period of several hours. And rather than mumbled passively under Dominic West’s faux-Baltimore breath, the F-bomb is screamed in your face, with added spittle, audible above the sound of gunfire and actual bombs.
Now, I’m hardly what you would call prudish, but I like variety in my swearing. Kane and Lynch 2, however, has an agenda in it’s monochrome cursing. It wants you, desperately, to believe it’s a game for adults, for mature people, who drink alcohol and have boring jobs and stuff. Sadly, it’s plain to see that Dog Days is really a six-year old girl wearing it’s mother’s make-up, and wearing it poorly.
This isn’t to say Kane and Lynch 2 is a terrible game. Actually it’s a solid shooter with a unique visual styling and the occasional inspired moment. But the equating of maturity with the number of fucks you can cram into a sentence (other swear words get a cameo at best) is just one of many instances where Dog Days falls short of its ambitions.
If you like Mafia, you will like Mafia 2. Normally you would see this line at the end of a game review, but I figured I would spare you any tedious preamble and get straight to the root of the matter. After all, that’s pretty much how the rest of the gaming community has pigeon-holed 2K Czech’s latest creation.
In fairness, it is quite understandable that so many reviewers have resorted to this lowest-common-denominator of conclusions. There’s no escaping the fact that Mafia 2 is very, very similar to it’s seven-year-old prequel.Yet games like Starcraft 2 have seen nothing but praise for their similarities to the original, so it seems odd that Mafia 2 has been so harshly criticised for following the exact same development outline.
One reason for this is that many people expected Mafia 2 to be GTA IV in a sharper suit, and were disappointed when they discovered that, rather than being a free-roaming experience filled with wacky side missions and absurd challenges, the city of Empire Bay turned out to be little more than a backdrop for an intensely linear, plot-driven experience. 2K Czech want to tell a story, and they’re not going to let you get sidetracked by an irony achievement for running over a hundred people in an ambulance.
Carving out a successful acting career in the games industry is a bit like trying to build a fortress out of soggy cornflakes. Sure, you get the odd big-name actor doing voice work such as Patrick Stewart’s brief appearance as the doomed Emperor in Oblivion, or Lance Henriksen, whose gravely tones can be heard in Aliens vs Predator and Modern Warfare 2. But both were well-known actors well before they made forays into videogames.
Joe Kucan is different. In 1995 he took the dripping leftovers of his breakfast and constructed something really quite impressive, gaining a similar sort of cult status as Leonard Nimoy and that bloke who played Boba Fett in Star Wars. In fact, such is Kucan’s popularity he has become the main selling-point of the Command and Conquer series.
For the uninitiated, Joe Kucan plays Kane, the shiny-headed megalomaniac infamous for his unceasing strive for world domination and well and truly hamming-it-up in C&C’s now legendary cutscenes. Fifteen years on from the original game and the Tiberium saga is coming to an end. EALA promised an epic conclusion to the saga that would leave fans feeling satisfied. Sadly, what they have delivered is something of a damp squib that will probably enrage the majority of C&C fans.
This isn’t to say that C&C4 is a terrible game. It’s quite enjoyable once you’ve worked out what the hell is going on. The main problem is that C&C4 isn’t really a Command and Conquer game, and it’s not entirely sure what it is instead.
The Command and Conquer strategy template is simple, you build a base, create an army of units, and then destroy the enemy’s base before he can do the same to you. After three games which all play this way, the mechanic has become rather tired. It’s therefore understandable that EALA would want to make some changes. So what they have done is taken every innovative strategy game over the past five years, put them in a pile, and then repeatedly stamped on them until everything has compressed into a vaguely workable strategic mush.
Aside from the live-action cutscenes and a few recognisable units, absolutely everything has been changed. Gone is the base-building, replaced with three slightly different “crawler” units which act as command centres, unit creators, and useless tanks on legs. Enemy bases are also a thing of the past; victory now requiring you to capture control points around the map. Tiberium – the crystalline fuel-source which is gradually consuming the Earth – is now collected for upgrade-points rather than harvested to build more units. Underpinning all this is a system of experience accumulation, unlockables and upgrades.
Strangely, all of these changes don’t seems to make the game anymore interesting. The best “strategy” is still to build as many units as possible and charge directly at the enemy – the only difference being that your base follows you around. Although, these changes don’t have anything to do with rebooting the franchise. The real reason behind these alterations is mind-bogglingly weird. Simply put, the game is built around its DRM.
Interestingly, EA claim the game has no DRM at all, but let me explain how this not-DRM works. Basically, C&C4 requires you to have a persistent Internet connection to play. If your connection drops, then you can no longer progress through the campaign. Rather than play Ubisoft’s card and simply ignore any protestation to this anti-piracy measure, EALA have tried to justify the constant-connection requirement by basing the game around online cooperative play. This is why you have three different types of crawler, why it takes you far longer to unlock all the units than it does to complete the main storyline, and why (when playing alone) the odds seem overwhelmingly stacked against you.
In a way, EALA have been very clever, because when you do play cooperatively, the game is considerably more entertaining. Yet paradoxically they have also been very stupid, because playing cooperatively also means you pay far less attention to the storyline, the conclusion to which was the original premise for the game.
Not that the storyline is particularly fantastic. Kane is as wonderfully malevolent as ever, and Joe Kucan clearly revels in bringing a little gravitas to his usually rather pantomime performance, but it also contains an embarrasingly weak plot twist. I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character’s incredibly irritating wife gets killed approximately four missions into the game. Trust me, this isn’t spoiling it for you.
C&C4 is a very bizarre game. EA’s desperation to protect their profits had led them to compromise almost everything that made C&C what it was, replacing it with a mishmash of recent strategy innovations which in combination only work inconsistently. When everything comes together, it can be quite exhilirating. Frankly though, Kane deserved a much better send off.
I know, I know, we’ve used this headline before. For once though, it’s not us who are well and truly extracting the Michael. For the past couple of weeks the games industry has been shooting itself in the foot (and the consumer in the face) with everyone’s favourite anti-piracy measure, Digital Rights Management, or DRM.
It all started in January, when Ubisoft announced that all their forthcoming PC releases would come packaged with a new DRM system which requires a constant Internet connection to play the game, regardless of whether the game was single- or multi-player. In short, should your Internet connection fail while playing games like Assassin’s Creed 2 or Silent Hunter V, you will immediately be booted from the game.
Naturally, the reaction from the PC community bordered on nuclear, but Ubisoft persisted with their draconian piracy-protection system, and a fortnight ago Silent Hunter V was released. Typically, just over a day later, the new DRM system was cracked.
The insanity doesn’t end there. On the day of Assassin’s Creed 2’s PC release, Ubisoft’s servers, which have to constantly monitor the new DRM in order for it to work, went down across the board, the result being that any legitimate purchaser of either Assassin’s Creed 2 or Silent Hunter V found themselves unable to play the games. In contrast, anybody with a pirated version of those games could play without any problems.
DRM has been a thorn in the side of gamers for years now, and it seems the situation is only set to get worse, as measures like Ubisoft’s only serve to create justifications for piracy. Which would you prefer: to pay for a game and then be forced to wait a week before you could play it, or to acquire a game for free and be able to play it immediately?
It has been shown time and time again that attempting to curb piracy by treating the consumer like a criminal and then beating them across the head with a stick of capitalist righteousness simply does not work. The pirates will inevitably crack the coding, and the consumer will feel even more justified in downloading a pirated copy regardless of legality.
However, pirating a game ‘out of principle’ is not the solution; it only serves to exacerbate the problem and lead to companies like Ubisoft creating even more intrusive DRM systems. For although they are quickly cracked, they do protect their immediate profit, which is all game publishers care about. If you want to make a stance against DRM, the most appropriate move is simply to not buy the game at all.
Being a Colonial Marine must be a contender for the worst job in fiction. As if it wasn’t bad enough fighting the squealing, acid-filled spawn of H.R. Giger’s twisted imagination, some bright corporate spark at Fox decided that the Xenomorph existed in the same universe as the dreadlocked race of interstellar hunters that believe the most honourable way to die is at the epicentre of a mushroom cloud.
It does however, make an excellent premise for a game, which is probably why Aliens versus Predator has occupied a prominent spot in gaming history for the past three decades.Developers Rebellion have played a significant role in the shaping of the series, to the extent that their two best games so far are Aliens versus Predator and Aliens versus Predator.
The latest of these was released way back in 1999. Unfortunately, since then Rebellion have occupied themselves with creating some of the worst games known to man. Their most recent technological cow pat was Rogue Warrior; a ludicrously gory corridor shooter that was shorter than a mayfly’s adolescence. So I sat down to play Rebellion’s third iteration of AvP with mixed emotions of hope and despair, and when I finished playing it the very next day, my feelings for the game remained mostly unchanged. Thankfully, AvP is not the abomination it so easily could have been, but neither is it a return to greatness for Rebellion, which it also so easily could have been.
AvP’s single player follows the format of the previous games, consisting of three campaigns where you play as the Alien, Predator, or Colonial Marine. Rebellion’s familiarity with the franchise shows from the start, as each race is superbly realised. This is most evident when playing as the Predator; watching the Marines patrol below you through your thermal vision mode, listening to their distorted voices as you sight one unfortunate soldier in the target of your shoulder cannon and unleash a bolt of bright blue death. The Alien plays in a similar manner, albeit devoid of all the gadgetry. Instead you have a body made of chitinous knives and the ability to climb all surfaces and lurk in the shadows.
The Marine’s campaign is a more standard shooter, although one which is solid in its execution and thrillingly tense for its majority. This is thanks primarily to the oft-misleading bleeps of your motion tracker, which highlights any movement, whether it’s a dangling wire or a Xenomorph tail. Your first encounter with an Alien is a terrifying one, as in those early stages you’re separated from your squad, armed with nought but a pistol and a very short supply of luck. That, and the cheeky bugger comes from behind you like you’re part of some grotesque pantomime.
Staying vigilant and keeping your distance is necessary for survival as the Marine. For the Alien and Predator, getting up close is where the fun is at. Combat is a simple yet effective mixture of speedy light attacks, stunning heavy blows, blocking and counter moves. It works well, learning how to anticipate an enemy’s attacks and respond appropriately being key to success.
Alongside this are the much-vaunted trophy kills; incredibly messy finishing moves which can be effected by either stunning an opponent or sneaking behind them. I find myself in two minds about them. They are authentic to the films, particularly the Predator’s penchant for ripping out spines and the Alien’s tendency to chew through people’s faces, but the fact that the game’s marketing has emphasised them so heavily is somewhat questionable, especially when you consider the possibility that these flashy killing animations may be an attempt to divert the player’s attention from the multiple problems the game has.
Most obvious of these is the game’s length, or rather, lack of it. The Alien campaign is barely two hours long, with perhaps three hours for the Predator and four for the Marine. Worse, all three campaigns are set in the same six or seven levels. Rebellion seem to have concluded that the ability to walk on the ceiling or view the world in infra-red compensates for playing the same pathetically short game three times over. It doesn’t.
This isn’t the only area where Rebellion have been lazy, the story for the campaigns is hardly something to shout about. I understand that creating a compelling narrative revolving around a giant insect which is more aggressive than Russell Crowe on Buckfast is no easy task, but annoyingly Rebellion were half way to succeeding.
The Alien you play as is known as Number Six, a quasi-sentient Xenomorph birthed in a laboratory as part of Weyland-Yutani’s ongoing attempts to harvest the Aliens as biological weapons. This sets up for a potentially intriguing exploration of a creature consciousness lurking between hive-minded instinct and budding self-awareness.
Instead, the Alien Queen orders you to kill everything that doesn’t bleed acid, and you comply like all your fellow drones, the end. The Predator’s tale is no better, using their vague honour system as a shallow excuse for killing stuff instead of trying to expand and explore the concept. As for the Marine, well, your characters name is “Rookie” and your Hispanic commander’s monicker is the horrendously stereotypical “Tequila”, which pretty accurately represents the plot in it’s entirety.
While you can complete the singleplayer in a day, the multiplayer could last you much longer. Game modes range from three-way team deathmatch to Predator and Alien tag, where one player assumes the role of your preferred extra-terrestrial, with everyone else tasked with hunting them down as Marines. There is also Survival mode, where players team up against endless waves of Aliens, yet with a pitiful two maps on offer for Survival, it’s unlikely to keep you occupied for long.
Overall the multiplayer is fast, frenetic fun, provided you can actually get onto a game. Sadly, AvP drags behind itself the most awkward matchmaking system I have ever encountered.
To begin with, you can’t start a game without a full lobby, so large chunks of time are spent listening to the ear-splitting crackle of the agonisingly sensitive voice-chat system which all but allows you to hear the heartbeats of other players. You can’t join a game that has already started, and sometimes you can’t leave a game which has already started, which is frankly absurd.
All of which brings me to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that AvP is a ludicrously gory corridor shooter that is shorter than a mayfly’s adolescence. Worse, it reeks of being rushed out for a quick cash-injection to keep SEGA’s conglomerate heart beating. It’s only Rebellion’s extensive experience with the franchise that saves them from resting so heavily on their laurels.
AvP is little more than a graphical update for a decade-old game, and that it stands up at all shows just how good Rebellion’s 1999 release actually was. But considering how much progress has been made since then, this should have been something special.
As if there weren’t enough ludicrous rumours about video games turning children into obese zombies with the attention span of a mackeral/genocidal maniacs who take guns into school and scream “MULTI-KILL!” while they blast everyone in sight, apparently games are now “sexualising children,” according to a recent report produced for the home office.
That’s right: all that time staring at the back of Princess Peach’s head in Mario Kart Wii is turning little Timmy into a ball of red hot lust. The report, which was compiled by Big Brother psychologist Linda Papadopoulos, criticised games containing “highly sexual content,” alongside pornography and sexualised advertising slogans.
One of these games, Miss Bimbo, includes challenges such as obtaining breast augmentations in order to marry a wealthy man.
Before we consider why an important governmental report is being conducted by a celebrity instead of a real psychologist, we would like to point out that Miss Bimbo isn’t a game at all. It’s actually a social networking site with a few woeful minigames tacked onto it, which goes to show just how much Dr Papadopoulos knows about the industry that her report condemns.
If a game like Bayonetta was easily obtainable by children then we would understand where this report was coming from, but it isn’t, and we don’t.
Returning to the point that this report was compiled by someone whose job is to assess the mentality of people who don’t have a mentality, the government’s attitude towards one of its biggest potential sources of revenue is becoming increasingly bizarre. Already we’ve had bloody Supernanny collaborate with Parliament to assess whether or not games are corrupting the youth in one form or another, the result being nothing other than a superfluous alteration of the way games are rated.
Additionally, the government continually fails to recognise British game development as a legitimate industry, despite worldwide acclaim for developers such as Edinburgh’s own Rockstar North, most recently creators of Grand Theft Auto IV.
Of course, all sorts of controversy surrounded GTA IV, but only because the government stubbornly refuses to let go of the belief that video games start with Mario and end with Sonic.
Next week we’ll be assessing Mumsnet’s review of Aliens vs Predator. It’s going to be a corker.
So far I’ve just about managed to avoid using this column as a soapbox to stand on while I bitch and whine about my own personal issues with the games industry. Therefore, as I’m about to blow enough hot air to make myself a viable option for NASA’s next spacecraft prototype – I thought it only fair to give you a little bit of warning.
I am, always have and always will be, a dedicated PC gamer. The type that scoffs at playing a first-person-shooter with an x360 pad, and is well aware that compared to Deus Ex, Mass Effect is light years away from being the greatest RPG ever made.
I’m not blind to the advantages of consoles. It’s pretty diffcult to gather your friends around a PC for a game of Pro Evo or Mario Kart, and when it comes to Street Fighter IV a mouse and keyboard just doesn’t cut the mustard. I do however, have an uneasy relationship with consoles simply because since they entered the mainstream all I’ve heard about PC gaming is that it is either A) dying, or B) already dead.
Now if such comments were the misguided outbursts of the odd prepubescent forumite they wouldn’t bother me so much. Unfortunately, it isn’t merely ignorant teenagers who hold this opinion. Ever since Halo betrayed its originally intended platform ten years ago, game after game has either suffered a delayed PC release or been denied one entirely. This very week Dead Space 2 and Alan Wake became the latest casualties of the PC gaming cull.
Frankly, Alan Wake can go boil his pretentious head. The only reason Microsoft have made it a 360 exclusive is to shift more consoles – a preposterous decision for a company who have just released Windows 7. However, Dead Space 2 has been denied a PC release due to alleged lack of sales of the original. It is in this where the real issue lies.
Dead Space was an excellent game, but like GTA IV and many others it was disastrously optimised for PC controls – simply turning Isaac Clarke around was like trying to drag a rhino through a swimming pool filled with treacle.As a result of mistakes made by the developer, sales were lost. But instead of fixing them for the sequel, EA decided to pull the game from the PC altogether.
EA are one of many companies who use lack of sales as a reason not to release games on PC alongside the age-old excuse of piracy. Yet the sales figures they refer to do not include those made via digital distribution services like Steam, which are estimated to make up 47 percent of all PC game sales, and with ten million users on Steam alone, that’s an awful lot unaccounted sales.
If PC gaming does die, it will be because corporations like Microsoft and EA kill it, and it will undoubtedly be a mistake they regret.
If you happen to be a regular reader of Tech (or this blog if you don’t read the Student), you may have noticed we have been keepign a close eye on the Constellation Project; NASA’s construction of a new fleet of rockets to replace the ageing space shuttles, with the eventual prospect of maybe, perhaps, if you’re really good and eat all your vegetables and go to bed when you’re supposed to, returning to the moon. However, should Barrack Obama’s 2011 budget request pass through Congress without any hitches, the entire program will be cancelled.
Obama’s reasoning for scrapping the program is that it is massively over budget and massively behind schedule, now posited for completion in 2013 with the space shuttles due for retirement at the end of this year. His decision has brought considerable criticism, one Republican Senator claiming “NASA will no longer be an agency of innovation and hard science, it will be the agency of pipe dreams and fairy tales.”
Frankly though, Constellation was a dubious concept from the start, especially in terms of innovation.The program began back in 2004 under the supervision of George W. Bush, which is hardly the most auspicious of starts for anything more technologically advanced than a paper aeroplane. Of course, such a statement would be misplaced if the Ares I was going to change the face of space travel. It wasn’t. The design of Ares I was based (read: almost identical to) the Saturn V rocket which shot Neil Armstrong & co into orbit in 1969. So this sparkling new interstellar technology was forty years old before it had even been built.
This design decision may appear odd, but it doesn’t seem so strange when you look at events prior to the announcement. In 2003 the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The Constellation program was a knee-jerk reaction to this unfortunate event, a quick fix to replace the shuttles and prevent any further disasters. Six years on with the program nowhere near complete and the fix no longer seems so quick.
Obama’s proposed alternative to the Constellation program involves a $500 million incentive for the private sector to create a more efficient means of space travel than strapping seven men and women to an enormous and highly temperamental bomb. Concepts include placing fuel depots in space ahead of the rocket and so reduce the size of rockets on lift off, or putting further research into ion engines, which eject positive ions to gradually propel a spacecraft forward. Additionally, significant sums will be put into creating robotic probes, which are the most effective (if least exciting) method of exploring the solar system at present.
However, in terms of actual objectives Obama’s budget request is rather vague, and while I agree that a rerun of the sixties’ Moon landings is not the best way forward, a more permanent residence on the moon is the next sensible step towards humans traversing the solar system. Furthermore, after so long, a return to the Moon in any form will almost certainly provide a huge boost in popular interest for NASA.
Perhaps though, the future of human space explorations lies not with the US. China put their first human into space in 2003, and India plan to do the same in 2016. While both are a long way off overtaking NASA as the dominant space exploration agency, they could well be on their way by the time NASA have another coherent program of events. On the other hand, Obama’s decision could well be the kick up the backside that NASA needed, and we’ll be zipping around the Moon on space-skis in no time.