Memory Motel

Well, before Monday I was going to do a blog all about how I’d seen The Rolling Stones over the weekend and about how Andy Murray had won Wimbledon and about how I’d gone to Rezzed at the NEC in Birmingham last month and about all the games I’d been playing. And then this happened.

Now, we are all citizens of the Internet, and like many of you I never had the chance to meet Ryan Davis in real life. Living precisely 5300 miles from San Francisco and only having been to SF once in my life, I accept the chances of meeting were slim unless I somehow got to go to E3 or PAX or something. But having started absorbing content from Ryan since approximately 2004 (before I even joined GameSpot for real), following his tribulations in the wake of Gerstmanngate through to establishing Giant Bomb and up to the present day, I have to admit that I have spent a good deal of my time on the Internet for the past decade either watching and listening to Ryan in some fashion or another. Add all those podcasts, quick looks and livestreams together and you end up with a gigantic amount of content, and a gigantic about of happiness. And when you watch and listen to a person long enough, you feel you know something about them and you feel connected. We all knew we felt what kind of person Ryan was, despite never meeting in the flesh. That is both the power of the Internet and the power of the personality Ryan was able to portray across it: One that was friendly, fiercely-opinionated and staggeringly hilarious. Ryan Davis made me laugh more times than I can count; less of a man, more of a force of nature with near limitless enthusiasm (especially for Wake-up Club).

I cannot hope to fathom what his family, friends, and colleagues are experiencing right now and all I can say is I am so sorry. All this just makes me remember how delicate and how important life is. We've got to hold on to everyone we've got while we're all still here and we’re all still kicking. Even if they're hundreds of miles away or you've never met face-to-face, you still count and you're still important. Happiness is only genuine when shared. Thanks again Ryan.

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Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream, Or: 2012 in Review

Disclaimer: My yearly awards include all games I actually played this year and not necessarily just games which were released this year.

Best Gameplay/gbrading’s Game of the Year

Dishonored: If you had asked me in January what Dishonored was, I wouldn’t have known. Before E3 this year, I’d never heard of the game before. Then E3 came along and it had an impressive showing. Finally, I read Giant Bomb’s review which drew similarities to Deus Ex, and I knew that I had to experience it for myself. Dishonored is beautiful, daring and primarily an absolute blast to play. It’s the first game where I feel that playing as a stealthy character is actually easier than playing as a gung-ho, all guns blazing one. The game rewards patience and stealth by allowing you to perform silent non-lethal takedowns on guards, or possess a fish and infiltrate the castle through a drain grating. The Blink power is also the most robust, allowing you to teleport short range up buildings or behind enemies. Add into this mix the fascinating setting of the decaying Neo-Victorian city of Dunwall, Dishonored is a marvellous game to both see and play.

Most Disappointing Game/Biggest Mixed Reaction

Mass Effect 3: We all knew going into Mass Effect 3 that it probably wasn’t going to live up to the inevitably huge expectations which the previous games in the series had built up. What we didn’t expect was that the ending of this spectacular series would be so thoroughly rushed, leaving gaping plot holes and a deus ex machina resolution which pleased nobody, because its appearance was never foreshadowed. This is not to say that Mass Effect 3 was a bad game: Indeed it actually plays very well and 90% of it is what you would hope to get from Shepard’s third adventure. In fact, ME3 probably contains my favourite moment in the series, which the culmination of Shepard and Garrus Vakarian’s friendship. But in the end, the way the finale lets the side down is difficult to look past, and so ME3 has to be this year’s biggest disappointment. Our trust in the series was heavily squandered.

Best Puzzle Game/Best Soundtrack

Splice: Splice is the epitome of style. Not a pixel is out of place in this downright gorgeous game, with an elegant piano soundtrack and some brilliantly interesting puzzles. Splice takes its name from gene splicing, and the whole game appears as though you’re looking through a microscope at individual strands of DNA, or are operating some super-advanced computer conducting genome research. The puzzles involve moving and altering splices so that they fit the corresponding shape. It’s a simple goal which is more difficult than it first appears, but because it has been designed so intuitively it is easy to rollback any action and start again if necessary. In a year of great game soundtracks it was difficult to pick one, but Splice wins it for its haunting use of piano. Sword & Sworcery is a close second.

Game I Wish I Could Stop Playing/Biggest Grind/Most Addictive Game

Star Trek Online: I really wish that the parts of Star Trek Online I like were worse, because then I could turn the game off. Sadly, Star Trek Online still has enough hooks in me that I continually go back to it, hoping that it will improve. Although the move to free-to-play earlier this year has made Star Trek Online a lot easier to get in to initially, the end game content is still very grindy. More grind inducing protocols have been introduced recently in the form of reputation systems with the Romulans, and the whole planet of New Romulus is just one big fetch quest. It’s all basic operant conditioning, Skinner box stuff. What I like about the game and makes me keep playing is that the core space combat has always been pretty good, but almost everything that surrounds it just feels like window dressing. It might be called Star Trek Online, but the most “Star Trek-esque” content you can find is in the Foundry missions which are player-created.

Best Writing/Best Narration

Thomas Was Alone: The amount of personality that seeps from every second of Thomas Was Alone is quite remarkable. For a game where every character is represented by plainly coloured rectangles, it has a deeply emotional story where every character has a unique personality, which merges into their special power. Thomas can jump, but can’t jump as high as John. Claire is a square and can float in water. Chris… can’t do much. Naturally, Chris is persistently grumpy because of this. These characters are ably brought to life through the charmingly whimsical narration of comedian Danny Wallace, who imbues these pixel rectangles with a sense of community spirit and friendship. Thomas Was Alone is a Romance of Many Quadrilaterals. Oh, and the puzzle-platforming is pretty good too.

Most Experimental Game

Dear Esther: Dear Esther can also be added as a runner-up to the Best Atmosphere category. It has no “gameplay” per se, in that all you do is walk through a series of 4 interconnected levels. While you walk, a narrator speaks of a terrible car crash, the history of the island and the early explorers who visited. The sense of place on this desolate Scottish island is palpable and no other game have I ever just stood still and stared at the scenery. Dear Esther is a beautiful game and is unlike anything else. Not everyone is going to enjoy this kind of experience, but for those who want something a little more abstract, it’s fascinating.

Most Pop Culture References/Best Retro-inspired Art Style

Retro City Rampage: Retro City Rampage is the gaming equivalent of the film Airplane! It’s got so many jokes, pop culture reference and homages to other games crammed in it’s very difficult to keep up with the flow or even notice them when they arrive. Nonetheless, the dedication to source material is admirable and from a gameplay point of view it is a perfect emulation of the original Grand Theft Auto. Retro City Rampage however has ten times the personality of GTA 1, and any game which you can play with a filter that makes everything look like it’s running on MS-DOS or the GameBoy is alright in my book.

Best Story/Best Characters/Best Adventure Game

The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead does things which no other game has ever done. More than that, it makes the player do things. Nasty, downright horrible things at times. It never cuts away, it never lets up, and it never pulls its punches. It tugs your heartstrings in all the right places. The Walking Dead is certainly the best game Telltale has ever done, and really exemplifies the very best episodic gaming can achieve. Add this to the fact that the characters and storyline are the best and most hard-hitting you’ll ever find and The Walking Dead is something very special. Lead character Lee Everett also wins my (Un)unofficial Character of the Year award.

Best DLC

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City: Although I bought Episodes from Liberty City as a standalone game, I’m still treating it as DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV since that’s what it was originally. The Episodes are certainly the longest and most in-depth DLC for any game, creating 2 new storylines which run concurrently to the main plot of GTA IV. Indeed, Niko even shows up at select points in both episodes. The better of the two is certainly The Ballad of Gay Tony, partly for the fact that Luis Lopez is a more interesting person than Johnny Klebitz, but also because the gameplay is better-rounded.

Most Emotional Game/Most Surprising Game

To The Moon: My expectations were totally subverted by To The Moon. When I saw it, I expected it to be a turn-based JRPG: The Japanese art style immediately putting me in a certain mindset. Indeed, the game even makes fun of this preconception at one point. To The Moon isn’t an RPG at all but is much more of an interactive story, with light puzzle elements thrown in. The plot itself is quite simple but it is your investment in the characters, their shared lifetimes and their love for each other which really drives the game. To The Moon is the first game I’ve ever played that made me cry. I can offer it no higher praise.

Most Adorable Game

Botanicula: The previous game Amanita Design completed, Machinarium, was a masterclass in how to make a modern Point-and-Click. Botanicula is less Point-and-Click and more interactive storybook, but don’t let this fool you into thinking this game is just for kids. True, I would think that children would find all the weird bugs and insects which scramble, leap and lurch around Botanicula’s levels endearing, but what the game does best is instilling a sense of teamwork into every action. Your ragtag band of insects is on a mission to save the tree from the evil, life-sucking spider-things, and the journey is one of psychedelic sights and sounds not to be missed.

Best Modification

Black Mesa: Black Mesa was released. Black Mesa lived up to expectations. Black Mesa is awesome. For a long time I had joined the crowd who believed that Black Mesa would never be completed, consigning it to the dustbin of history. I’m pleased to say I was evidently mistaken. Black Mesa is still the original Half-Life, but it has a huge amount of new secrets, dialogue and features to enjoy. As of writing the game still isn’t really “finished” since the levels in the alien world Xen haven’t been completed, but since this was the weakest part of the game anyway, I think it’s fine to wait just a little bit longer before we see the final result.

Best Point-and-Click

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: Sword & Sworcery really is an Extended Play, and is neatly broken up into individual play sessions where the game encourages you to take a break. Indeed, if you play the game without cheating it will take you a whole lunar month to finish. Ably assisted by a glorious soundtrack, Sword & Sworcery has you playing The Scythian, who must complete a woeful errand. The writing is rather bizarre, featuring a mixture of sombre fantasy and modern Twitter lingo, which is either going to irritate you or make you laugh. With a lovely pixelated art style and some interesting gameplay, Sword & Sworcery is genuinely an old-school point-and-click masquerading as something brand new.

Best Licensed Game/Best Action-Adventure Game

Batman: Arkham City: Arkham Asylum is still an all-round better game than Arkham City, but City has a much better sense of scale. The freeflow fighting system has also been very finely tuned to make using Batman’s plethora of gadgets and gizmos even easier, so that even in very challenging situations you always feel like you have another trick up your sleeve. The plot of Arkham City features a rogue’s gallery of most every Batman villain from the series, whilst the side missions fill in even more of the backstory. Playing as Catwoman is interesting and fun for a while, but it isn’t the main draw. Once again, the highlight are those situations where you’re trapped in a room full of armed enemies, and get to silently take the down one by one.

Worst Texture Pop-in/Best Shooter

RAGE: RAGE is also a pretty big mixed reaction. It features a lot of really engaging and hard-hitting shooting, with some superior animation where characters move and express themselves in a very involving way. Because the shooting is satisfying and graphically the game is gorgeous, it is pretty easy to overlook the more challenging aspects of the game, such as the dull buggy racing and the lack of a tangible storyline or characters. RAGE’s worst crime though is its coma-inducing texture pop-in, which bleeds into and out of focus every time you twist around. It’s much improved on when the game originally launched, but it’s still downright terrible.

Best Independently Developed Game

Thirty Flights of Loving: Thirty Flights of Loving lasts at most, 10 minutes. After you’ve played it, there is little need to experience it again. And yet, Thirty Flights tells a better story in 10 minutes than many games tell in 10 hours. The game isn’t the prettiest and nor is it the most fun, but as a self-contained little bit of narrative there’s really nothing else like it. I’d like to see more ultra-short games in future, but I think pricing needs to be sub-99p in the same way Apps are.

Funniest Game

Saints Row: The Third: Saints Row 2 was a bit of a mixed bag: It had reasonably fun gameplay but a very poor storyline and an apocalyptically bad PC version (it won my Worst PC Port award in 2009). Saints Row: The Third suffers none of these problems and is the most accessible and downright fun Saints Row game to date. What’s more, with the third game Saints Row has finally thrown off the oppressive GTA clone moniker and becomes a series in its own right. Some parts of Saints Row: The Third is so downright ludicrous and hilarious you’ll stare in disbelief. Although the characters are still very 2D, everything has been thrown into overdrive to such a degree that somehow they all, even The Boss, come across as likeable.

Best Atmosphere/Most Unexpected PC Release

Alan Wake: For a game which was so long in coming to the PC, I was incredibly surprised when Remedy announced a PC version was finally arriving, financed off their own backs without any assistance from Microsoft (who had initially touted it as a 360/PC release and then quietly dropped the PC version so it could be advertised as an Xbox “exclusive”). There is a lot to like in Alan Wake, but there is also a fair bit to dislike, mainly about the repetitive gameplay and how weak Alan is at taking any damage. The non-resolution of the storyline was also rather disappointing for me. Nonetheless Alan Wake creates a palpable atmosphere akin to a Stephen King horror story, with believable characters and a great setting in the form of Bright Falls, which is almost an alter-ego of Twin Peaks.

Most Forgettable Game

Q.U.B.E.: Q.U.B.E. has a lot of great ideas, and certainly looks pretty cool whilst you’re playing it. All the levels have a very Portal-esque appearance to them, and the puzzle solving mainly involves getting and changing the colours of various balls into their respective receptacles. The problem is there is absolutely no plot and no characters in the game whatsoever. It’s like trying to play Portal without GLaDOS or Cave Johnson hurling insults at you: Most of the fun is drained out of it. Q.U.B.E. is a perfect example of why you should always conceive some justification for your gameplay, otherwise it feels unwarranted.

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On My Own I Built a Bridge, Or: 2011 in Review

Hey Giant Bomb! Hey blog! Long time no see! Seeing as I posted my roundup last year, I felt it only right to do the same this year. In 2011, I think I must have played easily double the number of games I played in 2010. This, despite the fact that I had left university in 2010 and this year obtained full-time employment and thus my time for playing games dropped significantly. Perhaps it was because I had less time I felt more compelled to play games. In any case, 2011 was another excellent year for games, with a serious glut of great games appearing in the last quarter. Here is my rundown of the best and worst games I have played this year. Usual disclaimer: These awards contain only the games I have actually played this year, not necessarily released this year. Anyway, onward to our first category…

Highlights

Most Important Game, Best Independent Game, Best Use of User-Generated Content

Minecraft: What is there to say about Minecraft which hasn’t been said already a hundred times before? This is a game so freeform it doesn’t have a proper ending if you don’t want it, and it doesn’t have any expressed objectives at all aside from simply building stuff. It is a game with three pillars of design: Creativity, open-endedness and simplicity. In the end, Minecraft is just a really simple game where you can build whatever you want in a cute, pixelated world whilst occasionally fighting off hordes of skeletons and creepers who want to blow your creations to smithereens. It wins the Most Important Game award because in the space of a year, it effectively created its own genre out of nowhere. Plus, I feel that user-driven created content is going to form the backbone of many games in the future.

Best Racing Game, Most Homicidal Police Force

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: In the Need for Speed things are always rather ridiculous, but Hot Pursuit takes this to another level by giving everyone involved an unlimited budget. The illegal street racers speeding through the mountains and canyons are driving $100,000 cars, and the police force is likewise incredibly well-financed and easily able to equal the horsepower of the racers, if not outdo it. The Seacrest County Police Department think nothing of barrelling into a car at over 100mph, spinning him off the road, over the crash barrier and off the side of a sheer cliff. With a super-smooth framerate and crisp graphics, Hot Pursuit brings the thrill of the chase to life very well.

Best Zombie Shooter

Left 4 Dead 1 + 2: Let me say right off that I played both Left 4 Dead’s entirely single player with AI controlled team mates, so make of that what you will. In Left 4 Dead, there are many, many zombies whom stand in the way of the survivors’ objectives, and it is your job to prevent them from messing up your plans. Left 4 Dead 2 is the more polished co-operative experience where you must rely heavily on teamwork to get through levels effectively, but the original game is no slouch either. With friends and online I’m sure that Left 4 Dead feels entirely different, but it is clear to see that both games are well made and interestingly designed. Playing them though, I’m still not entirely sure they’re my cup of tea.

Best Zombie Game

Dead Rising 2: Off the Record: I have played over 12 hours of Off the Record, and as of now I still haven’t played a single second of the actual storyline. That’s because unlike every Dead Rising game before it, Off the Record comes with a sandbox mode where there is no time limit or overall objective other than to go nuts and roam around Fortune City killing a load of zombies. There are challenges scattered around the place to pepper the experience, but they are entirely optional. Whilst the joy of slaying literally thousands of zombies does wear thin after a while, the journey getting to that point is gruesomely amusing, which is why Dead Rising 2: Off the Record wins this category for its sheer ridiculousness.

Best Multiplayer

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: The Battlefield series to me has meant one thing: 5 minutes of running to wherever the action is, and then immediately getting sniped by someone I can’t see sitting in a building 500 metres away. I’m pleased to say that Bad Company 2 can still give me this joy, but it does give newcomers a few more ways to get into the action quickly. There are still vehicles including helicopters and tanks, but unlike Battlefield 2 a lot of the cover on the field is destructible, meaning that you could think you’re safe sitting in a building before it is destroyed by incoming mortars. Bad Company 2: Vietnam is also an interesting diversion which is similar to the main game, but has more Creedence Clearwater Revival which can only be a good thing.

Best Shooter

Borderlands: Borderlands is a shooter with loot. Maybe it’s a Looter? A lot was said about how this game has an infinite number of guns, and while that is technically true most of them are variations on a theme. Nonetheless, almost every gun feels great in its own unique way; so that when you get a really great weapon it’s a simple joy to just pull the trigger. The game has almost no plot at all and no characters to speak of (aside from maybe General Knoxx, who I saw as a William Shatner type guy), but despite this failing it’s still a very enjoyable game to play. In a similar way to the likes of Oblivion or Skyrim it has the feel of a single player MMO because you are constantly improving your character and gaining better loot. The final boss is a disappointment though because you expect to receive some awesome gun from beating it, but you don’t really get anything.

Best Action-Adventure Game (In Absentia), Best Licensed Game (In Absentia)

Batman: Arkham City: As of writing this roundup my copy of Arkham City is still sadly sitting shrink-wrapped on my shelf, untouched. I will presume that it would win these categories if I had played it, but it looks like it will have to be an early entrant in the 2012 edition.

Best Puzzle Game, Best Lighting (Technical)

Portal 2: Creating a follow-up to Portal was always going to be tough, not least when Portal is now seen as almost a perfect diamond in the rough, with not an ounce of padding or weak content in it. Thankfully Valve didn’t disappoint, and Portal 2 is a larger, more epic story than the first game, but still feels true to the series roots. There are more characters, more environment s and set pieces and the story veers into utter ridiculousness at the end, but the experience throughout is excellent. The puzzles are more complex but mainly very intuitive, and because the game is much longer there are three “acts” which break up the flow and segment the action. Also, Portal 2 has the best lighting I have ever seen in a video game. This is a game where the shadows look real, and that is frankly incredible. Minor point overall, but it really stood out for me.

Best Use of Gravity, Best Retro-inspired Style (Artistic)

VVVVVV: I got VVVVVV in 2010 and played it in early January 2011, but the game has stuck with me through the year. It is a singular game with a singular style, perfectly emulating the Commodore 64 with its beautiful blocky, retro-graphical art style. For a small indie game it has an art style which is completely second to none. Captain Viridian who’s the main character you play cannot jump but instead inverses his personal gravity by falling upwards to the ceiling and downwards to the floor whenever he wants. The puzzles are very punishing throughout but for the cowardly such as me there is a built-in God Mode which can be activated so you can dance through the levels just enjoying the incredible music.

Best Use of Time Manipulation, Best Puzzle-Platformer

Braid: Braid is a puzzle game where you must manipulate the flow of time. This one facet forms the basis for what makes this game feel special. The time-manipulation devices change from level to level as to how time might alter, so that even if you mess up and die you can actually rewind time to prevent your death. Couple this with an incredibly haunting soundtrack and a very neat finale plot twist you definitely don’t see coming, Braid will continue to stick in your mind long after you’ve finished playing it.

Best Prequel/Sequel, Best Use of a Cyberpunk Setting

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: I felt very nervous about Human Revolution before it came out, but upon actually playing it most of my fears were allayed. Although there were the egregious boss fights, the vast majority of the game feels very true to the source material of Deus Ex. Adam Jensen fits into the cyberpunk world of 2027 very smoothly and he has a nice variety of weapons and melee moves which he can break out when in a tight corner. But along with this there are many characters to converse with and dozens of computers to hack. The Deus Ex series means a lot to me so it is nice to know that we will hopefully be seeing even more grand conspiracy theories in the future.

Best Point-and-Click, Funniest Game

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse: I wish I had seen the light with Sam & Max earlier. I remember that a few years ago I looked at the Sam & Max series and thought “Why is this supposed to be funny?” How wrong I was. Sam & Max are hilarious and The Devil’s Playhouse, which is their third series from Telltale Games, is the pinnacle of the story arc. Sam & Max may be the best double act in video gaming. Sam is normally the straight man but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get plenty of his own laughs, whilst Max is totally crazy and off-the-wall and is the perfect foil for Sam’s more grounded, sensible reasoning. As a point-and-click Sam & Max was previously by the numbers, but the Devil’s Playhouse shakes things up a little by giving Max a variety of psychic powers which allow him to do a number of even more crazy things.

Best Adventure Game, Best Characters, Best Acting/Voice Acting

L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition: Put aside the troubles of Team Bondi, the bad working conditions and controversy of the end credits and the fact that they went into administration shortly after this game came out. If you are able to look at just the game itself, then what you see is something extraordinary: Something which has never been done before. This is essentially, a big-budget adventure game. Yes, there is occasional shooting and driving as well as on foot chases, but these are not the backbone of the action and if you fail them enough times you can actually skip past them. In L.A. Noire the story is right at the forefront driving the action and your methodical police investigation and interrogation is the crux of the game. If you care about video game stories, you have to play this game.

gbrading’s Game of the Year, Most Addictive Game

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dear Dragonborn, you don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t played Skyrim. Did you think Oblivion was huge? Did you think Fallout 3 was good? Wait ‘till you see what Skyrim has got in store. Skyrim is a gigantic game. In fact, gigantic doesn’t really cover it: Skyrim is epic. I have invested now over 70 hours in that game and there are still entire quadrants of the map I have never visited festooned with Dwarven ruins and quaint little sawmills. The backstory to the Elder Scrolls series has gotten even more complicated and there are still hundreds of in-game books to read, people to talk to, quests to complete, houses to buy, dungeons to delve and enemies to slay. Skyrim doesn’t do a whole lot different to what Oblivion did, but it adds an extra level of polish and finesse to everything which makes even a minor quest feel special. Few game worlds have felt as alive and dynamic as this. I now can’t wait to imagine what Fallout 4 might be like because if it is anything like this it’s going to be a hell of a game.

Lowlights

Most Generic Experience (Single player)

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: The single player of Bad Company 2 is the epitome of a dull experience. There are some generic 2-dimension characters thrown in to try and make it meaningful and there is something to do with a super weapon the Japanese developed during the Second World War, but never does anything meaningful happen at all. Perfect example is that at one point you and your team decide to defy official orders to rescue their helicopter pilot. This should be a moment which feels emotionally significant, but in the game it feels like the most clichéd piece of stupidity ever. It doesn’t help matters that the helicopter pilot is a stereotypical 60’s hippie anyway.

Biggest Mixed Reaction

Back to the Future: The Game: The things which Back to the Future: The Game does right do outweigh the things it does poorly, but only by a narrow margin. The voice acting is very good throughout and the general plot of the game is pretty good, but the actual part of playing the game isn’t really fun at all. The problem is that Telltale’s kind of Point-and-Click has become a bit stale in recent years because it has been done ad-infinitum in Tales of Monkey Island, Sam & Max, etc. The puzzles are mainly easy and the rest are just boring, and the hint system, although designed to make the gameplay more intuitive just actually makes it feel unchallenging. I’m glad that Back to the Future didn’t get the butchering that Jurassic Park got a few months later, but Telltale have got to get more inventive if they make more of this kind of game.

Worst Voice Acting

Just Cause 2: Just Cause 2 has an absolutely mind-bogglingly big country to explore, zip around and sooner or later blow up, but its population is completely comprised of second-rate British actors pretending to sound like they’re from Malaysia or Singapore. There are many, many examples of this “so bad it’s good” voice acting in Just Cause 2, but occasionally it gets so bad it’s actually kind of offensive. I recommend going to YouTube and having a watch of some of the videos of the ridiculousness, but who can forget “My name is Bolo Santosi” and “I want you to help me transport this very sensitive cargo!” Just Cause 2 is a very fun game to play, but that’s certainly no thanks to its voice acting.

Worst Save System

Magicka: The first 40 minutes of Magicka are great. You get to try out a great deal of spells and experiment with what the different mixtures can do, whilst walking around a fantasy world where everyone talks a weird blend of Simlish and Swedish. I got to what I thought was a natural break: I’d gotten out of the starting castle and had helped defend a farm from goblins. This seemed like a good place to take a break so I looked for a Save Game button in the menu but there was none. I pressed Quit, and the game warned me that “All progress in this level will be lost!” Well that’s ok, I said to myself: I’ll just have to fight off the goblins at the farm again, because the last fade to black was south of the farm. But no: When Magicka says all progress in the level will be lost, it means all progress in the chapter, i.e. from the beginning of the game. I had played easily 40 minutes of the game and although I had been through half a dozen fade to black transitions and also encountered a checkpoint, these are only usable if you die while you’re playing. If you quit, you are dumped back to the beginning of the last chapter you completed. This is moronic. It gives the player zero control over how much of the game they want to play. I have no way of knowing if I am close to the end of a level and whether I will have the time to finish it. In my opinion the save system of Magicka is utterly broken, and that ruins the game for me.

Most Actively Evil Game

BIT.TRIP RUNNER: Until the last month Super Meat Boy was the most Actively Evil Game of 2011 due to its soul-crushing difficulty, but BIT.TRIP pipped it to the post at the last hurdle. BIT.TRIP RUNNER isn’t just an infuriating game: It’s a goddamn nightmare. Each level you must complete without any mistakes whatsoever. A single toe out of line and you are thrown back to the beginning and made to do the whole thing again. Because Commander Video runs at a constant speed you can’t pause to reflect on anything like you occasionally could do in Super Meat Boy: Here everything is done on instinct. Trouble is that instinct in this game often leads to failure, which leads to frustration which leads to self-hatred which leads to me wanting to put a foot through my computer monitor. So well done BIT.TRIP RUNNER for doing what Super Meat Boy had been trying to do for so long: For being such an evil game I don’t want to play it anymore.

Worst Flow-Breaking Moment

Crysis: There is this moment about two thirds of the way through Crysis where things have gone from bad to worse on the island where the game is set and the temperature has plummeted to dangerously cold. You regroup with a member of your squad, but his nanosuit isn’t working correctly which means he isn’t properly shielded from the bitter cold. It’s your task to protect him and keep him close to sources of heat, so his blood vessels won’t freeze solid. I have tried to protect this guy easily over 20 times, sticking close by him, protecting him from attacking enemies and trying to make him walk towards sources of heat. Each and every time, he has died. Main issue is the AI isn’t smart about protecting itself, which means that when he is close to death he won’t try and make a bee-line for a fire: He’ll just stand around until you lead him over to one. I found the entire situation ridiculous and it prevented me from continuing with the story, so I will now probably never finish Crysis.

Worst DLC

Borderlands: Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot: Underdome Riot is the definition of a pointless DLC. For a start, it’s an arena-based, round-based, wave-based deathmatch, which is already a hard sell. The second stupid thing about it is that you don’t earn any XP for killing enemies in it, which goes against everything Borderlands is about. Finally, it is utterly repetitive in the extreme. I played almost all of one challenge in one arena, but close to the end when there was a low gravity round, a Skag somehow managed to jump out of the playable area into the skybox, meaning it was unkillable and I was forced to quit the whole thing, losing all of my progress. Save to say I felt zero desire to ever touch Underdome Riot again.

And that’s your lot for 2011! Here’s to the winners and commiserations to the losers. With games such as BioShock Infinite and Mass Effect 3 to look forward to in 2012, I think we could be in for a pretty good year.

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No Expectations (Or: 2010 in Review)

Hey Giant Bomb! Been a while since I've posted a blog, so he's the end of year roundup: The customary selection of the very finest (and the very worst) 2010 had to offer for me when it came to playing games. As a reminder, this is my roundup of the games which I actually purchased and played during this year, and does not necessarily include games which were actually released this year. Nevertheless, I did actually play some games which were released this year and I'm pleased to say that for the first time, my Game of the Year is actually a game from 2010. 2010 was a great year for games, and more than that, a great year for PC games. Both StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Sid Meier's Civilization V showed that PC gaming still matters, if anyone was thinking that it was continuing to "die". However, I also saw a number of games ( Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain) which made me lament not having a console, but I am still very disinclined to stump up the cash to actually buy one. Anyway, let's have a look at our first category.

Highlights

Best Role-Playing Game
Mass Effect: This was the year I was introduced to the Mass Effect series. When I first looked at GameSpot's video review of the original game, I thought what I saw looked interesting, but didn't consider it my cup of tea. How wrong I was. Mass Effect is space opera writ large. It naturally takes a lot of inspiration from Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, but it invents its own unique narrative and a universe which feels distinctly separate from all others. For one thing, there is a conscious effort to ground the fiction within reality, such as the entire principle upon which the "Mass Effect" of Eezo is derived. Then there are the characters that inhabit this world, each of whom is interesting and multi-faceted. And the glue holding all this together is Commander Shepard, who is the catalyst for change across the galaxy. A truly wonderful experience.

Best Racing Game
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box: The thrill is very much in the chase within Burnout Paradise. What it does best is simply capture the exhilaration behind the act of driving at an outrageous speed, with no regard for other traffic or the laws of physics. The racing in Burnout Paradise is fun: Nothing more, nothing less. The good variety of modes, unlockable cars and the sheer size of Paradise City mean that you'll be ruling roads in no time. There is also great online integration, which compares your race times against other people also playing around the world. Motorcycles are also fun, but their inclusion is a bonus alongside the more substantial car career. The best racing game I have had the pleasure to play since Midtown Madness 2.

Batman takes no prisoners.

Best Action-Adventure Game

Best Licensed Game


Batman: Arkham Asylum: Batman Batman Batman. Arkham Asylum is a bloody great game. Indeed, I fully see why it was awarded the BAFTA Game of the Year for 2009. No other licensed game has been this well designed, or simply been so fun to play. Licensed games are normally an area most people try to avoid because the general standing for these games has remained relatively low. Arkham Asylum doesn't just move the goalposts: It redraws the entire playing field. It's gorgeous to look at, the gameplay is really tight and exciting, and the fighting in exciting in both stealth and action elements, which mix together excellently. All in all, it makes you feel like you are Batman, and this is the biggest praise I can give it. I eagerly await Arkham City, because if it is anywhere near as good as Arkham Asylum was, it will still be an excellent game.

Best Original Soundtrack

Best Point-and-Click


Machinarium: Machinarium is a perfect encapsulation of all that is good in indie game development. It takes the old-fashioned medium of a point-and-click adventure and makes it charming, accessible, fun and rewarding for new players to experience anew. Couple into that a cute but minimalistic storyline and a soundtrack which is utterly screaming out for awards, and you really do have something special. The sound design itself is absolutely superb, each sound effect and musical theme blending perfectly to create a very unique atmosphere. Alongside this there are also the beautiful hand-animated thought bubbles which convey most of the plotline, which is a great touch. I certainly hope Amanita Design make many more games in the future.
Guybrush & Elaine hang around.

Best Use of Nostalgia

Best Use of Cheese Squigglies


Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Special Edition: Monkey Island 2 was the first game I ever played, and I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered the original floppy disks for it in the attic. But what pleased me even more than finding the original game was the great love and care that went into making Monkey Island 2 Special Edition. The soundtrack has been gloriously re-mastered and sounds wonderfully lush, whilst the pitch-perfect voice-acting revitalises the cIassic jokes once again. This Special Edition is definitely better than that of the original Secret of Monkey Island from last year, partly because the new animations are smoother and the art-styIe has improved, but also because Monkey Island 2 is simply a better game at heart. In essence, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition is the greatest thing LucasArts have done since Grim Fandango in 1998.

Most Addictive Game

Best Use of a Post-Apocalyptic Setting


Fallout: New Vegas: The call of the wasteland is instilled into the grain of my bones by this point, and it was inevitable that I would play Fallout: New Vegas very soon after launch. My love for Fallout 3 was only really hampered by the various bugs and errors, and it is disappointing to note that New Vegas is not lacking in this deficiency either. Nevertheless, I would tentatively say that New Vegas is a better game than Fallout 3, but not by a massive margin. Fallout 3 definitely has a better sense of scope and grandeur, especially given you're walking around a ruined Washington D.C. Whilst New Vegas does many things better than Fallout 3, such as the storyline, the characters and the voice-acting, it doesn't really have the same sense of scale its predecessor had. That aside, the Mojave Wasteland has a lot of interesting characters, places to explore and things to do. It also in many ways feels more true to the Fallout vibe established in the first and second games, and so I don't feel uncomfortable with dubbing New Vegas "The Real Fallout 3".
Shepard, Commander.

gbrading's Game of the Year

Best Storyline


Best Sequel


Best Character Design


Best Downloadable Content


Mass Effect 2: If I though Mass Effect original was great, the sequel definitely upped the ante. Mass Effect 2 takes almost everything that was great about the original game, and then either polishes it or improves it in some other noticeable way. Aside from the very tedious planet scanning and the fact that almost every level now feels very linear, the game has advanced in several major places. The plot is stronger, the voice-acting still fantastic, the gameplay and gunplay are far more satisfying and the entire thing is still almost painfully beautiful to look at. Plus, the immersion level is simply superb. You really do feel very much attached to this universe, because the characters within it are so expressive and detailed. Everything about the game just feels right, from the beautiful interior of the revamped Normandy to the varied landscapes of every alien world you visit. The game has also been supported by some great DLC, from the interesting Lair of the Shadow Broker which expanded on Liara's story, to Project Overlord, which was its own self-contained set of missions. Mass Effect 3 will have a lot of expectations heaped upon it, so I will be fascinated to see if it can stand alongside its predecessors.

Lowlights

Biggest Mixed Reaction

Worst PR Fiasco


BioShock 2: Oh, BioShock 2 you damn rascal. I don't hate you, I don't love you, and I don't know what to think about you anymore. It is difficult to even talk about the game anymore. To save myself from further injury, I can only suggest you read my BioShock 2 review, in which I get as close as I can to summing up what I feel about this game. My love of the original BioShock significantly coloured my feelings towards this sequel, but nevertheless from a gaming perspective alone, BioShock 2 is still a pretty good game. It's just a disappointment when it is compared to its predecessor. However, in terms of a PR fiasco, the cancellation of the BioShock 2 DLC Minerva's Den for PC and a major patch to correct issues, followed by the sudden un-cancellation of it were definitely a PR disaster for 2K Games. As of yet the DLC and patch still haven't been released, but they schedule it for early 2011. Let's hope they stick to their promises this time.
Reborn of the Ocean.

Most Generic Experience
Just Cause: Just Cause original is a huge game, to be sure. The islands of San Esperito are sprawling and very tropical, but sadly are very much devoid of interesting activities in which to entertain yourself. All you have to do is the same very small variety of derivative missions over and over again, ad infinitum, until you have eventually liberated the entire archipelago from the clutches of despotic President Salvador Mendoza. It's a cIassic example of wash, rinse, repeat taken to the extreme, and the end result is that the most fun you can have in Just Cause is when you are mucking around on your own, rather than doing any of the activities the game provides for you. The sequel Just Cause 2 however, understands this and takes steps to rectify it. More about JC2 at a later date.

Biggest Waste of Potential
Mirror's Edge: I really wanted to like Mirror's Edge more. For one thing, it is a staggeringly beautiful game. For another, it plays with some fascinating ideas, and when it comes to the first-person platforming it pulls it off rather well. There is a real flow to your movements and when pulling everything off right, it feels fantastic. However, it was majorly let down by several critical design flaws. First, forcing the player into very bad gunfights in several points and second, by not allowing the player to simply run, dodge or avoid confrontation with enemies. There are multiple points where you are in a room with a dozen heavily armed soldiers and the only way to progress is to take them down. If you try to run, you will fall in a hailstorm of bullets. This completely breaks the flow of the game, making it stupidly difficult and is a giant hurdle which definitely needs addressing.

Rooftops of the World.

Biggest Grindfest
Star Trek Online (Beta): 2010 marks the year I first played a MMO (aside from Second Life which I must admit I toured around once several years ago. It was confusing as hell and didn't seem in any way fun, except that I got to name my character Dostoevsky Huldschinsky). The beta of Star Trek Online for a while gathered quite a mystique thanks to it being featured in a couple of Giant Bomb videos. Since it was free, and since I do like Star Trek, I thought it was worth a look in. What I found was very formulaic; Missions which normally didn't have much variety and would have to be repeated time and time again in order to advance in rank. Still, although the game itself doesn't amount to much, it did allow me to achieve my first few seconds of semi internet stardom. I am featured in the final Giant Bomb video (as Heywood Floyd), helping to revive Jeff Gerstmann in several places, as well as dancing the Running Man alongside him. So I do appreciate the game for giving me that, at least.

Worst PC Port
Grand Theft Auto IV (+ Episodes from Liberty City): Although featuring as a last minute runner-up in this category last year, having fully played my way to 100% completion in GTA IV over the past year I feel perfectly fine as including it as the winner of the category this year. Although the game is excellent, GTA IV is not a good port by any definition of the word. For a start, you'll need a powerhouse of a PC to run it in the first place. If you do get it running, you will need to turn off many features, such dynamic shadows or higher quality textures. Indeed, I have never seen the "High" settings of GTA IV since my computer stops me from selecting them. Even with these things turned down, the framerate still has a tendency to slow in several places, and texture pop-in rears its head. Since a big patch earlier this year the game now looks even worse because anything you're not looking at is unloaded to make things run faster, similar to GTA: Vice City. Although this might have sped up the framerate in several spots, it overall contributes to worsening the look of the game significantly.

Looks like rain, Mr. Bellic.

Any Other Business

Games on the Wii: Wii Sports Resort/ Wii Fit Plus
This year was a relatively quiet year for the family Wii. Last year we got Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus, and this Christmas we have just gotten Mario Kart Wii, which we have been playing quite addictively. Wii Sports Resort is a great collection of games, and the use of Wii Motion Plus makes the actions feel more delicate and precise. Archery is very entertaining, as is table tennis, sword-fighting and bowling. Air sports are fun for a while, but are not as fully-fledged as the more realistic sports. Wii Fit Plus is still Wii Fit, but with more customisable features and a better selection of activities. It's still good at improving your balance though. In 2011 I'm going to resolve to try and play some of the really great Wii games such as Super Mario Galaxy and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, because since the Wii is there, I feel I should make use of it.

Christmas Games: An Indie January
Coming into 2011 I will be playing through quite a deluge of indie games, including Super Meat Boy, Braid, Osmos, Penumbra: Overture, Lugaru HD, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, Gish and Aquaria. Most of these I got as part of the Humble Indie Bundle #2, which operates a pay-what-you-want strategy, with a percentage of the money also going to charity. Also, if you paid above the average, you were given all the games from the original Indie Bundle for free, which was incredibly generous. The games were also available to be redeemed on Steam, which was an added bonus. In total, the Humble Indie Bundle #2 managed to raise $1.8 million. I also bought Super Meat Boy myself, and I think that I'm going to have to buy a Windows 360 controller if I want to play more of it (which I do), because they make quite a point of saying that keyboard controls aren't very good, which is true. Nonetheless, something is compelling me to want to play more. It would also be very useful for piloting helicopters and planes in Just Cause 2 and Episodes from Liberty City.

Thanks for reading! I wish you all a very Happy, Safe and Brave New Year.

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An Email to 2K Games

Reborn of the Ocean

To: Christoph Hartmann, Managing Director, 2K Games.
Complaint concerning bad business practice; BioShock 2 PC 

Dear Mr Hartmann, 

I have been a player, and I must confess a fan of your company's video games for quite some time. Indeed, I have very fond memories of the games from your now consolidated developer PopTop Software, such as Railroad Tycoon and Tropico. Since the release of BioShock original in 2007, I have been most encouraged to see your company helping to publish and develop intriguing, entertaining and thoughtful video games, which help to stimulate and engage the player in different ways. 

However, it is with a deep sense of regret and disappointment that I must inform you that over the past year my positive feelings towards your company have waned and have alas been extinguished by the shambolic standard of customer service which has been provided to users of the PC version of BioShock 2. I am unfortunate enough that my copy of BioShock 2 does not function correctly on my PC, and frequently crashes to desktop after playing for approximately half an hour. Despite this major flaw, I very much enjoyed the game, although still prefer the original. Following lengthy investigation, through both contacting your support department via email and by my own diagnostic tests, I have been forced to conclude that it is your game which is causing the crashes, rather than an issue with my computer. Despite my numerous support emails to your company and despite promises of patches which might correct these issues, it has recently been announced that there will be no further updates to the PC version of BioShock 2, and therefore, no way for me to play the game I bought as intended. 

Furthermore, it has also not escaped my attention that the downloadable content for BioShock 2, "Protector Trials" and "Minerva's Den" previously slated for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, has only been released on two of these platforms. It appears to be the case that these will no longer be released on PC whatsoever; a retraction of the statement previously issued. Naturally my disappointment is tempered heavily with a sense of resentment, in the fact that your company made a commitment to bring content to the PC, and then have manifestly failed to deliver on this commitment. 

As far as I can see, such decisions as to no longer patch the PC version or to support it with DLC were made from a business standpoint: No doubt your accountants calculated that it would not be very profitable to continue to support the PC further. However, from a ethical standpoint, your company's decisions are almost the definition of bad business practice. Companies that fail to deliver on their commitments, or do not support their products fully are not acting in an ethical manner, and are not going to forge good relationships with their customers. I consider the relationship of trust which exists between company and consumer as an important one, from which brand loyalty and optimism bias can be obtained. Nonetheless, I'm sorry to say that in this instance, I feel like my trust has been broken. 

I regret to say that this fiasco has severely damaged my opinion of your company and affiliated developers, and I will likely be refraining from giving you my custom in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

Gareth Brading. 
 
Giant Bomb Addendum 
I wanted to leave a copy of my email here as well, since I am currently seething with a righteous sense of purpose, and wish for it to be seen. Other than that, I don't have much else to add here, except for Rock On Giant Bomb! :)

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Please Excuse My Face


 

Feel the Payne!

Character faces have always been one of the hardest things to accurately portray in games. A good, realistic face can involve you in the storyline and make you care about the character, whilst looking at someone whose lips look like bricks and with eyes like a dead fish can totally distance you from the plot. Much has already been said on the subject of the proposed theory of the ; where like-human androids and automatons are considered attractive and likeable to humans up until a critical point, where they suddenly become repulsive. After emerging from this dip, they then appear essentially indistinguishable from humans, like Philip K. Dick’s android replicants. The main aspect of this theory concerns what marks out something real from what isn’t. Non-humanoid robots seem endearing and/or likeable precisely because they are not like humans. However, when something is designed to look and act human, we instinctively focus on those few aspects which reveal the truth within. In recent years, we’ve had great leaps forward in facial animation which have given us some of the most detailed and lifelike looking characters on screen, with character like Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2 and Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. However, it wasn’t always like this. I’d like to share with you some of my most favourite examples of faces that are less than to be desired. Feel free to laugh joyously at the hilarity. Feel free to share your own choices in comments.

Star Trek: Bridge Commander

Flat-Faced Picard, and Larsen.
A great game certainly, but whilst time was certainly invested in ship combat and the orchestral soundtrack, lip syncing and facial details seem to have been rushed quite a bit. Although you may not be able to tell, in the picture above are Captain Picard (still voiced by Patrick Stewart) and Commander Saffi Larsen, high on my list of most annoying characters ever. Most of the time Picard doesn’t face the player, as to avoid watching his hideous lips move completely out of time with his voice. The worse example of this has to be a Ferengi character, whose face literally is completely static aside from infrequent use of his bottom lip.

Deus Ex

Bless the marvel that is the game Deus Ex, but pity its character models (and, to be honest, graphics generally). The beautiful monstrosity pictured is UNATCO Agent Gunther Hermann; a Laputan machine who was blessed with incredible textured-teeth like a solid block of marble. He had only one movement in his face, his jaw, which could only open a set amount whenever he said anything. He never blinked, possibly because he lacked eyelids and regular eyes, but probably because it would be too complicated to animate. Other, more normal looking people didn’t fare much better.

Gunther's primary emotion.

Max Payne

Max Payne 2 had great, if minimally used character faces. Not the same for the original game. In fact, Max’s notoriously angry, scowling, constipated-looking face has almost achieved as much fame as his signature Hawaiian shirt and leather jacket. The faces in Max Payne had no animation at all; given most of the plot exposition is given within the beautiful storyboard cutscenes. Frankly, given what Max goes through during the game, it’s no wonder he looks so angry. The rest of the characters look similarly stoic, even when falling down under a hailstorm of bullets.

 

Special Prize for Most Disturbing Smile

This award goes to a character in a game I haven’t actually played, but if you have visited the site in the past week and began watching a few videos, you will have seen quite a bit of him.

You listening Zach?

Featured as the protagonist in the budget horror game Deadly Premonition, FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (please, call him York, it’s what everyone calls him) looks reasonably sharp when he’s smoking or not opening his mouth. His smile though is a diabolical grimace which transforms him utterly into a grotesque abomination, and is a classic example of animation gone wrong. Avert your eyes from the horror!

 

Giant Bomb Addendum: Quests and Endurance Runs 
Why, hello again! After two years, a new blog. The new questing system is a lovely idea, that seems to have slowly evolved as an idea which was trialled elsewhere to a lesser extent. I think it will encourage repeated returns to the site, and of course extra involvement across the whole community. It's partly of course the reason I decided to start up again with copying in Giant Bomb to my various game-related blog posts. Everyone loves levelling up, because it's nice to feel like advancement is being made on things. Further, my choice of Agent York in this blog wouldn't have happened if not for the beginning of the new Endurance Runs, playing through the aforementioned Deadly Premonition. Although very different to Persona 4, the weirdness of the story is just great. The worst aspects so far have got to be the shooting segments, but the awesomely dreadful plotline and voice-acting make up for it. I'm interested to see where it goes next.

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Hong Kong Central

The Peak Tower Bird Dish.
At least I was there for a bit. Not anymore sadly, as the summer months draw to a quick, sudden and ultimately wet ending. Anyway, back to the point of this posting. When I was in Hong Kong during my holiday, a city of massive skyscrapers, very little litter and, whilst I was there, the Beijing Olympic Equestrian Events (there were no suitable parks in Beijing itself, along with the worry that the smog would upset the horses), I visited Victoria Peak. This is the relatively famous mountain situated behind the Central financial district and Admiralty (where the Headquarters of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) apparently have such good 'feng shui' that just standing in the Atrium is supposed to bring good luck), and getting to the top involves either a long car journey up through the posh suburban Mid-Levels, or a quick journey on an extremely steep tram service. Upon arriving at the top of the mountain, you are greeted by a large building which kind of looks like a giant bird dish: the Peak Tower (see left).
The EA Experience, within the bird dish.

Now, inside this giant bird dish is an excellent viewing platform of Downtown Hong Kong, but also what is probably the highest (in terms of elevation) EA Experience shop and arcade I have ever seen (see right). It just seemed surreal that at the top of this mountain, there would be a giant tower with a shopping centre and an EA Experience at the centre of it. In terms of games, there was Battlefield Bad Company (where things really do like to explode often), The Sims 2 (which was a bit dull considering it has been out for many years now) and Need for Speed ProStreet (again boring as it is already out). Actually, the best thing I saw there was simple a sign for Environmental Audio Extensions (EAX) sound from Creative, which was introducing our of their new speaker systems, and underneath was a pun to make Hendrix fans groan; "Are You EAXperienced?"

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak.
Turning to games, I've been playing some more Team Fortress 2, continuing with Tropico, and attempting to solve sound cache problems with Battlefield 1942, where the sound just freaks out and everything starts looping (though thankfully the game itself continues to run without problem. Even though I've asked EA support, they haven't been particularly helpful (considering their answers have all the personality of a depressed photocopier), and none of their suggestions have ultimately solved the problem. And ending on two important things happening in the world utterly unrelated to games; John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his VP candidate, and Hurricane Gustav is barrelling once again to Louisiana and the New Orleans/Lake Charles area. On Palin, she's new, she's a woman, and she has almost no experience beyond being Governor of Alaska for 20 months. However, it is a really clever tactic, because whichever way the Presidential election swings, the US is either going to get its first black President, or its first woman Vice President. Hurricane Gustav on the other hand has caused a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans (fearful of another Katrina) and much of the Louisiana coastline, and because it is heading over the Gulf of Mexico, the winds continue to strengthen until it reaches landfall sometime tomorrow. Anyway, here is a picture of the spectacular view from the Peak Tower in Hong Kong to round off (see above, left).

Giant Bomb Addendum
Not much in this addendum. Since this was post written a little while ago (several days) it's thankful to note that Hurricane Gustav hasn't made the impact many had feared it would, as it was downgraded to Category 1 when it made landfall midway along the Louisiana coast. There has still been flooding, but not to the severity or destruction which Hurricane Katrina produced. Oh, and I've grown addicted to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report". Most people over here in Britain will never have heard of them, but they are extremely well known in America as great political satire. Luckily you can watch full episodes online (when Comedy Central get around to uploading them), so I've partially become an addict for both shows. That is all for now folks!
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Standard Procedure

Playing the Medic on Team Fortress 2 is a singular experience. One of the main background support roles along with the Engineer, the Medic is tasked with healing teammates and deploying Ubercharges to make characters invincible for a short period. The Medic isn't particularly good at killing the enemy himself: his syringe gun isn't particularly powerful except at close range, and it's rather difficult to get near enough to an enemy to hack at him with the bone saw. However, an upshot of the Medic is that for whatever player you are healing at the time, if they kill an enemy, then you earn a kill-assist and are rewarded with points. Deploying an Ubercharge also garners a reward. This is why if you plunge into any game of TF2 half way through, you will often find at least one Medic near the top of the leaderboard.

The Doctor will see you now...

The downside of the Medic is that often, nearly everyone is competing for your attention. The constant shouts of "Medic!" from every direction or people on voice-chat urging you to heal them even when they are at full health can become irritating. And furthermore, hardly ever does the humble Medic get any credit for helping to capture points, or teaming up with the Heavy and Ubercharging him all the way to glory. Another point is that of all the classes, the Medic is probably the most repetitive, since your main objective is just to heal people by holding down the left mouse. As you may have gathered from the opening paragraphs, I have been playing quite a bit of TF2 recently. If I had to pick my least favourite class, they would either be the Spy or the Sniper. The problem with the Sniper is that you can never find a good shooting spot (where you might be safe for a minute or two) and if you do, I personally can never seem to shoot with the rifle accurately. I also dislike the way the camera zooms out after each shot, instead of when the clip is empty. The Spy has no particular problem; I'm just not very good at playing it.
I'm the Doctor here!

Favourite classes? I really don't think I have one, although I like the Scout's speed, the Demoman's explosives, and the Engineer's building abilities. Really, it is quite amazing that Valve managed to balance the game so well, because rarely does a game go by where one of the class is totally neglected. In terms of multiplayer experience, it might be lacking in the grandeur of something like Call of Duty or Gears of War, but it more than makes up for it in hilarity and singular comic book style. It has the feel of the indispensible guide I keep with me at all times, "How to be a Villain" by Neil Zawacki (Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans and More!). And with the big updates that are continuing to be released, such as a plethora of achievements and unlockable equipment, it looks like the appeal of the game is not going to waver for quite a time to come. Also, I just love all of the Machinima advertisements from "Meet the..." series. The latest "Sandvich" version is just classic.

Giant Bomb Addendum: Some Famous Last Words
"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..."
General John Sedgewick, Union Commander killed by a bullet in the eye during the Battle of Spotslyvania on 9th May 1864.
"No."
Alexander Graham Bell, died 1922. When asked by his wife "Don't leave me!", Bell simply replied "No", and promptly died.
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The Slogan War

The holiday season is ushered in once again, and is marked as usual by sweltering humidity and temperatures, heavy storm showers, and enough assorted insects buzzing around to keep a biologist excited for years. And of course that means that many people are jet-setting off to parts unknown and known, or rushing down in their cars and caravans to the South Coast (if you live in Britain), utterly destroying our planet for future generations, and of course I am no exception. In fact, I am going on holiday to Malaysia, specifically the province of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Two weeks of Sun, Sand and Jungle. In fact, there might be slightly more jungle than sand, because the holiday includes a section of hiking through the rainforest, which should be exciting. I'm flying out via Hong Kong, with a stopover there for two days, and thenceforth onward to Kota Kinabalu. I will be absent for a fortnight, not that it would affect or concern anyone or anything. So that's that part over and done with, now onto the real business.

Warning, this is living...

The other half of this blog is to do with weighing up slogans, specifically those for Sony's PS3, Microsoft's Xbox 360, and Nintendo's Wii in Europe (and maybe North America as well, I'm not sure). The PS3's slogan is the seductive and reasonably incomprehensible This is Living. It's normally written in the stlye you might find on the front of one of those expensive surfing T-shirts by Quicksilver or Rip Curl, all friendly and inviting. I for one don't understand this slogan particularly much. Are they trying to claim that the PS3 is alive, or maybe that you can on feel alive if you own a PS3? Possibly 'this' refers to the feeling you get from playing on a PS3, or that you are 'living' the dream of owning the product. We may never know. All we do know is that for whatever purpose, marketing at Sony believed that advertising that their console had consciousness would sell greater numbers. Still, it would look good on a T-shirt.
Kojima is encouraged to jump.

Next is the Xbox 360, who went for the solid, no nonsense but still incredibly cryptic and unfathomable Jump in. The font mimics that of the Xbox 360 ordinary title, bold and sleek. Naturally, they are offering you the possibility to jump right in to playing the game of your choice, and that the Xbox is the perfect device to do it. However, again there could easily be other meanings. 'Jump' into the swimming pool, 'jump' for joy because you own an Xbox, 'jump' out of the window. Maybe we should be jumping into the Xbox physically, by a matter transference beam. To conclude, Microsoft are just anxious that you jump for whatever reason. The above picture is the only one I could find on the internet where the slogan is easily visible, and isn't a particularly good example, but there we go. Wouldn't look good on a T-shirt.
Wii is the loneliest number...

Nintendo Wii seems to have had a crisis of faith with their slogan. It began in 2006 as Wii Move You, but today it seems to have changed to We promise to keep the world smiling... In the slogan war, I think Nintendo easily fail. First, their original slogan is reasonably entertaining, as the Wii is the only console which actually makes you get up and move around. However, there have to be a mountain of better puns out there (Wii Will Rock You?), and they really should have put more thought into it. The new 'slogan' (which seems more like a mission statement really, but it was the only thing close to a slogan to be found in the Nintendo Press Conference at E3) abandons all norms that a proper marketing phrase should follow. It doesn't roll off the tongue. It isn't short. Yes, it's inspirational, but in the same way that every Miss World entrant always says they dream for World Peace. I am made to grimace with suppressed rage at all the happy, smiling (and irritating) people. Wouldn't be seen dead on a T-shirt.

The winner of 'The Slogan War'? In terms of solely T-shirt design appeal, Sony. In terms of inspirationality and sales value, it's going to be a toss between Sony and Microsoft. And now, I must fly.

Giant Bomb Addendum
There is no Giant Bomb addendum, apart from these song lyrics:

I'm walking by the sea, and the shingle sings for me,
Crabs are swimming down amongst the starfish.
The rocks all clatter down, and the seagulls fly around,
But the whole trip rubs it in that time is passing.

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Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike E3

I was sitting here, absent-mindedly drinking my tea and feeling slightly morose that I am just getting over flu (and in the summer to boot when the weather is just starting to improve), when I realised that I hadn't written a blog in over a month (apologies, I just forget sometimes) and I might as well write about something topical. So, with this big event called the Electronic Entertainment Exposition just around about finished for this year, it seemed the perfect opportunity. It felt slightly more like E3 this year than it did last year (despite, of course, the absence of various people who are now off doing other things), mainly because the show was held inside the LA Convention Center, which is just a building with the scale and grandeur necessary to lend weight to the event.

The Big Three

All of them claimed (as usual) that they were the most innovative, original and had gained the biggest profits. Microsoft decided that they would blatantly copy the Mii system on the Wii with their new Xbox Avatar system, down to the way the little people look, and having the Avatars star in various games. They also slightly took inspiration from PlayStation 3's Home, by having people chat to each other and play together, etc. Microsoft also had a bevy of games to showcase, from Fallout 3 to Fable 2 and Gears of War 2. My personal favourite was Fallout 3, which I am loving the retro-futuristic 1950's style (as though envisaging the future as was predicted in the 50's). They also had a variety of Live Arcade games, such as Portal: Still Alive, which I am guessing is a half-sequel with extra test chambers and challenges. Overall, a good conference.

Nintendo was rather lacklustre in several ways. They announced a remarkably large selection of new games and expansions and already known titles, such as a new Animal Crossing, GTA: Chinatown on the DS, Shawn White Snowboarding and Wii Music. However, although it is impossible to dent Nintendo's incredibly impressive financial record (which showed year upon year sales increases), all of their games have become extremely casual, pick-up-and-play titles. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, and it is bound to rake in huge amounts of cash, many of the games didn't look like they would have long-lasting appeal. Focusing on the casual market is financially profitable, but it won't get people ever really excited.

Sony also had a large selection of game announcements and showcases, such as Resistance 2 (which had a 500ft monster smashing about), Killzone 2, LittleBigPlanet and MAG (Massive Action Game, which apparently will support over 200 players in the same FPS). They showed off their sales figures though the medium of a LittleBigPlanet level, which was infinitely fun and nifty way of putting across both the game and the often dull numbers and financial results. They talked about how great the PS3 as a Blu-Ray player was, and how amazing the PSP was generally because of the things you could do with it (although I'm not sure what they were specifically). An interesting conference again. If there had to be a winner (and there always does), then I would say Micro/Sony.

Any Other Business

The actual keynote address by the governor of Texas attracted a very meagre crowd (since he was incredibly obsessed with the Texan game development industry specifically), as did the speech by the ESA's president (which had a good rhetoric, but did really address some of the problems facing E3, such as dwindling attendance). Considering that Actiblizzard (I am going to constantly refer to them as that from now on) decided to coincidentally hold their own press junket just down the road from E3 at exactly the same time, many journalists hot-footed their way over to find out about a new Wolfenstein, Guitar Hero: World Tour and much else besides, leaving the ESA to cruise along in the slow lane the following morning. Business never changes.

So, on the one hand it was nothing like E3, and on the other, it remained true to form, or at least, the form which has been developing since 2007. Will E3 return next year? I think so, but the ESA will really have to think up some changes to the layout and style of the convention if it is going to survive into the next decade. With other events such as the Tokyo Game Show, the Consumer Electronics Show and E for All (which sounds to me like an advertisement offering drugs to people of all ages), E3 will have to work hard to show that it is still the best in the business.

Giant Bomb Addendum

“This is Tranquillity Base , The Bomb has landed.” Greetings! The site is moving slowly at the moment, but that is understandable given the level of traffic and sorting out the various bugs and issues that inevitably remain after launching. Overall, I am very impressed by the design and layout (although the forums could do with an overhaul), and think that the site should hopefully prosper into a useful and informative resource. Does this mean a complete abandonment of GameSpot? I would think not (in any significant sense), though The Bomb will hopefully be sharing some surfing time from now on.

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