The rise of “PC” gaming

I never used to relish the prospect of buying new underpants.    It’s not that I have either a phobia of underpant shopping or a fetish for going commando, I just harbour very little interest in shopping for pants.  It was just another one of lifes somewhat arbitrary tasks that had to be done.  These days though, the thought of shopping for underpants isn’t such a dull proposal.  See the place where I go to replace my burnt out tighty whities, is now also the place where I can go to checkout the latest game releases.  Computer games are no longer restricted to dedicated home computer shops or specialist magazines.  The rise in popularity of the computer game has seen it pushed right to the forefront of the entertainment market.

Pants…made better by gaming

Having grown up with and been involved with gaming all my life, its become one of my greatest passions.  Watching it transcend from its arcade roots and spearhead its way into the heart of home entertainment fills me with a strange sense of pride.  I still remember the excitement I felt the very first time I saw a TV advert for a computer game and now these days you can’t help but see game advertising at every turn.  Its like the mainstream world is finally starting to understand what I have been banging on about all these years.  Like I can finally stand up and say “I told you so!”

However – with gaming being pushed into the limelight, it seems its also being put under the microscope.  With the popularity and revenue growths have come the media coverage and journalism.  Games and their content are now reviewed, analysed and dissected more than they ever have been in the past.  Some of which, and usually the most disturbing for me, is from outside of the industry.  Individuals with political correctness agendas have started to take an increased interest in the medium.  Recently, feminist issues around both the portrayal and equality of female characters within games have been a point of contention.

Stupid bint has been captured again….

I don’t have an issue with people standing up for what they believe in.  If anything, I respect it.  But when you start trying to apply real life ethical issues, such as feminism, to the virtual reality of gaming, you fall off your high horse at the first hurdle.  In being virtual reality, video games  by their very nature don’t have to adhere to the rules applied to real life.  In fact this simple, fundamental element of video games is probably their biggest draw and something that all gamers are acutely aware of.  We play games to break free of the constraints of real life and propel ourselves into a reality that is different, one that exists on a completely separate plateau to that of actual reality.  To put it another way, they aren’t a real representation of life or are they trying to be. Feminist complaints hold little to no value in this virtual reality.  In this reality I just spent five minutes doing doughnuts over a policeman’s corpse.  I only stopped so I could get out and teabag the bloody remains.  I certainly didn’t stop to weight up the political implications of why it was a policeman and not a policewoman or should that be police person?

Should something soo wrong, feel soo right?

Even if I do stop to give these complaints pause for thought, the outcome is far from sympathetic.  If anything, I find myself becoming hostile.  I don’t have a problem with the issues themselves.  My annoyance around these real life issues being aimed at the games industry is that they don’t even stem from any desire to improve gaming.  They are simply using gaming as a easy stepping-stone to further their own agendas, which is neither big nor clever.  Far from improving gaming, binding game development to political correctness can only serve to restrict creativity and diversity within the industry.

If you’re going to make any changes to games that involve females, don’t do it for the sake of equality, do it for the sake of gaming.  Do it for reasons like “Not having female characters in an Aliens game is stupid, the entire series is based around a female lead character” and not for reasons like “I’ve put a man in this game so I must now put a woman in it as well”.  Gaming has always been about extremes and unfortunately this doesn’t always leave much room for ideals like equality.

There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza

Once upon a time, in a bedroom far far away, a child placed a game cartridge into a console, pressed the power button and started playing the game….

“What!?”, I hear you cry, “No dashboard update?  No game update?  Preposterous!!!  Stop this nonsense at once!”

However the story I speak of is no fairy tale, its narrative is rooted firmly in reality.  There was a time where you could simply take a game out of its case, whack it in  the console and start playing.  The duration between not playing and playing could be measured in mere seconds!  I may have neglected to mention the bit where the game froze up completely, the child had to remove the cartridge, give it a decent blow and restart the game – but hey, nothing’s perfect!

It had “Mega” in its name for a reason

Ok, so I may be a tad guilty of viewing the gaming world through rose tinted retro glasses.  A forgotten golden age of gaming where everything was perfect and soo much better than the monstrosity we’re faced with today.  The reason its a forgotten age though, is because it didn’t really happen like that.  Despite patching being a bit of a pain in the rear, especially on those unfortunate occasions where a sizeable update coincides with a quick half an hour gaming session, the benefits do out-weight the drawbacks.  The ability to patch games post release means that not only can bugs be fixed, but enhancements can also be made.  Its a win win (bi-winning baby) situation….well that’s the theory anyway.

Patching is handled differently, with varying degrees of effectiveness,  platform to platform and even game to game.  Lets start with the worst offender, the Playstation 3.  For some unknown reason, PS3 game patches are massive,  frequent and it would appear they can only be installed consecutively.  This nasty combination is loathsome at the best of times, but apply it to an older game that has been subject to heavy patching and the situation becomes absurd.  Little Big Planet requires no less than 27 updates, each of which has to run in sequence and some being over 100mb.  Or to put it another way;  the night you decide to play the game for the first time, is not actually the same as the night you get to play the game for the first time.  There is no on screen option to opt out of doing the update, but pressing the circle button actually works as a stealth bypass option.  Don’t get too excited though as the game will keep interrupting you in the middle of gameplay to remind you it needs to be updated.

Sonys Patchstation 3

Online games rarely offer you any escape at all.  If you want to continue playing them, you have to download the latest updates.  BF3 likes to label its larger updates as “optional” but its unclear as to why.  BF3 updates are optional in the same way that breathing is optional.  Yeah, you can opt out of the latest massive 2gb update, but good luck finding a game – there aren’t any!  Given that BF3 currently requires over 9GB of “optional” updates, I can only assume Dice decided to use this labelling so they have an excuse for the disgruntled 4GB xbox 360 slim users that have been patched out of the game!  “Hey, don’t blame us!  Those updates were optional”

See this is one of the biggest problems with patching, you get very little say in the matter.  Some games on PC still make you hunt down the patch and manually install it.  Although its more time consuming, the auto update alternative that most games today employ is negated by the fact they don’t give you any information on what they are actually changing.  At least when you hunt down a patch for yourself you generally find out whats included in it and if you actually want it. However, due to the blind, often compulsory  auto-updating of games, you tend to only notice patched content when its something you find detrimental.  “Why can’t I find a normal game in BF3?” They patched it?  “Why doesn’t my shotgun kill people anymore?”  They patched it.  “Why is smithing levelling soo slow now?”  They patched it!!!  MAG released a nice big 2.0 game update packed full of changes intended to enhance the game.  Admittedly it was done with the best of intentions, but the upshot was it caused random game crashes that didn’t occur before the patch.  Given the choice, I am sure that most gamers would have preferred if it was reverted back to its pre-patch (working) form.

Added Waggle support…but at what cost?

Despite the issues, most are more an annoyance than actually being terminal.  The same cannot be said however, for the time that Forza 3, undeterred by not actually being connected to the internet, demanded I update my game via the internet and wouldn’t allow me to access my game save until I did so.  I wasn’t even trying to play online, I was simply trying to continue my offline career!  In all my years of gaming, its stands as one of the most ridiculous issues I’ve been subjected to.  Not being able to access my offline game because I wasn’t able to get online.

Patching doesn’t need to be bad, it doesn’t need to be broken and we shouldn’t really need to live in fear of it. Developers simply need to learn the simple rule of;  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.   Test your games a bit more before you release them and stop abusing the patch system.  Heed your mothers advice.  If you keep playing with that thing, its going to fall off!

The DLC Debacle

Downloadable content (DLC) used to be an exciting proposition.  Aging online multiplayer games would be given a fresh breath of life by some new, often free, downloadable maps and sometimes game modes.  Single player campaigns that were long beaten would be revitalised with expansive new content offerings.  DLC, as a concept, was a good thing.  It offered value for money additional gameplay to titles that had run their course in their vanilla, out of the box form.

DLC doesn’t have to be bad

But that was then.  DLC has since lost its way.  Although “lost its way” doesn’t really do it justice.  Saying DLC has lost its way is akin to saying that the nice kid from down the street that grew up to become a rapist “Lost his way”.  DLC has become evil – So evil in fact, that in some of the worst cases, I’ve started to reconsider my feelings about piracy.

See its been a slippery slope for DLC.  It started with subtle changes.  Map packs stopped being free.   They started getting released with increased frequency.  They pushed up the price.  They left less time between a product launching and downloadable content becoming available.  At first you just thought it was a bit odd – you were surprised to see they’d expanded on a game that hadn’t even been out long.  Why didn’t they just hold off a little and release it as part of the game?  Then the penny begins to drop and you realise its not weird,  its been done by design.

See its not new additional content at all.  Its held back content that they are choosing to release as DLC in order to give them a second bite of the cherry.  Its a cheap and dirty tactic but rather than show any guilt or try to mask their underhanded profiteering, they embrace it.  Day one DLC…..and just when you think it can’t get any worse, you discover that they can’t even be arsed to release it as a separate entity.  Content locked “DLC” on the disc.  Content that could of been on the disc, now is on the disc, but they want you to pay again to access it.  Its at around this point that my dim view of piracy gets a little skewed.

I don’t agree with piracy.  I think that if you want a game, you should pay for it.  However I also feel that when you purchased that game, you paid for the case, the manual and disc with everything that is on it.  That’s now your game disc to do with as you please.  If you want to use it as a fancy beverage coaster, than so be it.  If you want to use it as a mini frisbee, than so be it.  If you decide to inspect the data, locate some locked content and find a way to get at it, THEN SO BE IT.  Its your fucking disc now.  If they didn’t want you to have that content, they shouldn’t have put it on the disc they are selling to you.  If piracy is theft, how can you steal something that you own?

I also think you have the right to sell it, so it grinds my gears that certain publishers think they have the right to use downloadable online passes to discourage second hand sales.  It reduces a games resale value and if you reduce a games resale value, you’ve reduced products overall value.  Take into account all the content that was never put on the disc on the first place so they can sell it to you later as DLC and well, you’re getting into a pretty ludicrous situation.  Especially when you expect people to buy the game new and at full price.  The move to free to play content models highlight this point well.  The actual “game” they give you isn’t worth shit.  Its not much more than a fucking DLC hub –  a portal to content you need to pay for. But hey, it’s free to play.  Its very hard to moan about value for money when something is free.  Its another thing altogether when they are asking, no wait, expecting you to pay full price for games employing free to play ethics.  In the words of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, these publishers want to fuck you in the arse without the common courtesy of a reach around.

“What is your major malfunction numb nut?”

Despite this rant though, it’s hardly surprising given the consumer base, populated by what can only be described as well….you tell me.  Given what I’ve just said, you might think that people would have negative feelings towards DLC.  Infact, its quite the opposite.  People are now willing to pay for POTENTIAL DLC.  Virtual fucking DLC.  Pay now for future DLC!  They have become soo accepting of their own stupidity and resigned themselves to the fact that “well I’m gonna buy it anyway” they actually think they are getting a bargain out of the deal.  In short, its kinda hard to be mad at the publishers for their behaviour when you have a market made up of soo many people with their trousers round their ankles, begging for a hard anal fucking.

MX vs ATV Reflex Review

At a glance

Some worth while control improvements finally adds some innovation to a stagnated series.

Good points

A great new control system – well designed tracks – a decent level of customisation

Bad points

Flat progression – Erratic difficulty due to unforgiving handling physics

If you played mx vs atv untamed , you’ll know that its very much the same game as unleashed was before it. However, reflex is here, and this time it actually feels like a new game. You still have the same selection of off road vehicles that you race on a variety of off road courses, but there is a change to the tried and tested formula in the form of a new control system. That may not sound like much, but the dual stick  control system really changes the gameplay for the better.

The key to getting good at previous MX games, was to learn the lines and jumps of the courses, maintaining a decent average speed. This is still true of the latest game, but this time bike and rider are not simply one entity – you now have the power to manipulate both.  So how does this work?

The left stick controls the bike and the right stick controls the rider, allowing you to shift your weight.  Its used for fine tuned cornering, control over bumps and pre-loading for jumps.  It sounds complicated, and at first it can be, but once you start getting the hang of it, it becomes very rewarding and pretty much second nature.  You feel much more involved, as you have to simultaneously focus on the bike, track and rider, shifting your weight to meet the demands of the track. Part of this new “reflex” control system also includes a much needed stack avoidance feature.  Landing a jump badly won’t automatically throw you from your bike as it did in previous games. This time around, an on screen prompt comes up telling you to move the rider control stick in a set direction. Nail this fast enough and your rider will regain control. Take too long and they’ll fall from their bike.  The result is that you should find yourself eating dirt less than in previous games.

Fast reflexes can give you a second chance this time around

Unfortunately the new control system isn’t enough to totally overcome the brutal and somewhat inconsistent physics employed by the game.  Despite feeling overly light and floaty, larger vehicles fair better, but MX bikes are often erratically thrown off course by the slightest of unseen bumps.  The issue is less evident in the free flowing outdoor nationals events, but the tight, technical courses found in supercross only serve to compound the issue.  The results can lead to extremely frustrating gameplay as you’re helplessly thrown about and struggle for control.  One saving grace is that the AI fairs just as badly in these events.  Comical value aside, it does somewhat detract from the feeling of professional motocross as you witness the chaos of bikes flying off the course in all directions.

The graphics have had an overhaul since the previous game. It still might not be the best looking game from a technical perspective, but the environments are rich and the outside tracks stretch for miles.  As for the sound, its of a fair standard.  It never really does anything to impress, but all the expected sound effects are present and the hardcore rock soundtrack is fitting to general attitude of the gameplay.  You’re given the option to balance sound effects and music levels to your own tastes, should you find either to be overpowering.  Its worth making note of the new destructible track feature. As you ride a track, it will realistically get torn up under your bike, atv or buggy.  Although It doesn’t make a massive difference to gameplay, it looks great and slightly alters the track as you race on it.  Each subsequent lap will have you looking out for particularly rutted area’s as they are dynamically created by you and your fellow racers.

Rutting;  Reflex style

As with all MX games, you’re given a variety of tracks and vehicles, however the overall number seems to be a little reduced from previous entries.  You have various classes of MX bikes, quad bikes, buggies and trucks, each of which handles differently and can also be customised.  Various parts of the vehicles can be swapped out, giving performance and cosmetic enhancements.  You also have the option to customise your riders gear.

The main single player career is a mix of off road event types.  Some of which are restricted to a certain vehicle class and some of which are mixed class events, letting bikes, quads, buggies and trucks all face off together.  Nationals is circuit MX racing, taking place on impressive, well designed outside courses with varied settings and terrain types.  Supercross is the same but takes place on tight, technical indoor arena tracks.  Free style trick events make a come back and benefit from the games improved control system. Its an entertaining diversion from the race events, however the scoring system seems a little broken.  I was able to breeze through every one of the trick events even on the occasions where I barely landed any tricks successfully.  Omnicross and waypoint are mixed class events.  Onmicross takes place on sprawling cross country circuits, where as waypoint has you racing between markers with no defined route. The biggest issue with these event types is that they can be very unbalanced, with mx and quad bikes being at a clear disadvantage to trucks and buggies, that don’t face the possibility of being knocked off.  The trucks and buggies also have their own dedicated events.  These are outdoors closed circuit events on courses that are generally flatter and faster than the other courses in the game.

Fast n Furious and … oddly floaty

Multiplayer comes in the form of either local splitscreen or online for 2-12 players.  Along with all the above race types, you have two extra mini games, tag and snake.  Tag is, well…vehicle based tag – but to win you need to be “it” for longer than your opponents.  Snake is a tron like game that has you trying to wipe out opponents with a glowing tail that follows your rider, whilst simultaneously trying to avoid their tails.  Both are fairly simple concepts that are actually great fun to play.

Overall MX vs ATV Reflex is an improvement to the series and still one of the most faithful representations of the sport.  The issues found within the game are forgiveable and can generally be overcome with a little patience.  For fans of motocross the game is well worth a look, but gamers simply looking for off road racing in general may want to weight up their options first.

7.5 GOOD

The explaining of Doom 3 craving

Let me start by saying that my use of analogies is famously bad.

So now with that out of the way (or should I say, in mind), I am going to try and explain my illogical craving for Doom 3 BFG edition….using an analogy.

Picture me if you will, as a teenage boy.  A sexually confused teenage boy, coming of age in a predominately straight world. Laid out before me is a beautiful woman, mine for the taking.  Her mind could be described as little on the brain dead side, but she has the body of Lucy Pinder and the sexual experience of a veteran MILF pornstar.

I’ve convinced myself this is what I want.  I mean how can it not be?  In truth this is not even my first time.  I’d had sex before.  Ok I hadn’t really enjoyed it, but that must have just been because I was too young to understand it.  It will be different this time.  This time its with the best looking, most experienced woman to date.  Finally I’ll understand and appreciate what everyone has been telling me all my life; how great it is to have sex with a woman.  I mean this is fundamental stuff right?

So I unwrap her, stick the disc firmly in the drive and get down to giving her a good seeing to.  She truly is beautiful and really does know what she’s doing.  On the surface I understand why people would enjoy this.  I understand why people tell me that I should enjoy this.  All the elements are there, conducive of an enjoyable experience.  However something isn’t quite right.  Under the surface something is nagging at me.  Although I accept why people enjoy this, something just feels wrong for me.  A little voice that is trying to tell me something.  This is a lie.  This is forced.  Its then that the realisation hits me!

I WANT COCK!!!

No matter what I do or how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, I cannot change who I am.  It doesn’t matter what popular opinion or the majority vote is.  I can’t force myself to like something, even if peer pressure makes me feel wrong about my decision.

That is why I won’t like Doom 3 BFG Edition

Playing Doom 3 is like making love to a beautiful woman

Doom 3 BFG Edition, why do I crave you?

When Doom was released in 1993 it was kinda a big thing.  It was a big thing to everyone except me.  I thought it was shit.  Sure I gave it a go like everyone did.  For the first hour or so it was actually fairly decent.  As time went on though, I found myself running down the same looking corridors, looking for keys to open doors into other identical looking corridors, getting hopelessly lost and actually getting depressed by it all.  Doom 2?  Not even on my radar.

Then Quake was released a few years later and it was kind of a big thing.  It was a big thing for everyone except me.  I thought it was shit. Apparently its a different game, but to me it was just more doom.

Between the big two, my hatred of FPS was pretty much cemented and the ice didn’t really thaw until Goldeneye came along.  My love of Goldeneye forced me to start accepting the FPS genre and it went on to become one of my favourites.  My new love of FPS had me buying all kinds of shooters and years later when Doom 3 came out, I thought I’d give it a chance.  It looked impressive, it was getting decent reviews and I was quite up for some mindless demon killing.  I fired it up, got about an hour or so in…… and I thought it was shit.

So this all leads me to a question that I’m fairly perplexed about.  Why the fuck am I hyped for the Doom 3 BFG Edition.  A new edition of a game that I think is shit.  I’m an asthma sufferer.  I wake up in the early hours in the morning struggling to breathe.  I think its shit.  If my doctor phoned me up to say there is a new version of Asthma coming out, I wouldn’t be on the pre-order list. SO WHY THE FUCK AM I HYPED FOR DOOM 3 BFG EDITION?

At this point you’re probably thinking I’m about to drop the bomb.  Some profound angle simultaneously explaining and validating my seemingly misplaced hype.  Alas, I am not….

Probably best that we put it down to me being a total bellend and leave it at that.

Doom 3 BFG Edition is due for release on PC, PS3 and XBOX 360 on 19th October 2012

Dirt 3 Review

At a glance

Twitchy controls and floating car handling slightly detract from what is otherwise an outstanding driving game.

Good points
Rich detailed graphics – slick presentation – A wealth of content

Bad points
Some handling issues – VIP pass – DLC pimping

Veterans of Codemasters rally games may be a little surprised with what they find under the bonnet of this latest entry.  Along with dropping the Colin McRae prefix, the series has also decided to move away from the classic rally season setup, in favour of the Dirt 3 tour. This tour is essentially a series of short events based around each of the games various driving disciplines  These still include your standard point to point timed rally stages, but also include a whole host of other event types.  For starters you have “trailblazer”, which is standard rally but in faster cars, going at breakneck speeds. You have drift events, that score you on your ability to power-slide down a rally section, around a cone and then back again. You’ve got your Rally X events which have you circuit racing against a pack of rivals.  However the biggest new addition is the inclusion of Gym Khana events. For those of you that have never heard of Gym Khana, it can be best described as professional joyriding. Events take place in closed off arena’s and points are awarded for pulling off tricks like drifts, spins and doughnuts. It adds a dynamic rarely seen in driving games and its freestyle trick nature is actually more in-line with what you find in a Tony Hawks game.

Gym Khana:  Drive it like you stole it

Winning events awards you both points and reputation XP.  Points are used to unlock new events to progress you in the tour and gained reputation unlocks new teams to race for.  The unlocked teams come with additional xp boosts, encouraging you to race with them.  Its a system that promotes change and experimentation of the cars and teams on offer, but it also leads to you picking teams based on XP rewards rather than the teams you want to race for.  Not so cool are the events and teams listed in game that need to be purchased via the market place.  In fact I’ve yet to see a game that pushes additional content as actively as Dirt 3.  The game features a VIP pass system for online play and some additional cars.  Every single time you start up the game you’ll be reminded to enter you code or buy one from the market place. The latest DLC packs are advertised at the title screen via not only text prompts but even audio commentary from the games narrators.  This constant in your face up-selling is a shame because the game actually does boast an impressive number and variety of tracks and cars, out of the box.  The game features over 50 different vehicles which you’ll find yourself racing on beautifully recreated rally stages from across Europe, Africa and the US.  These stages blend a great mix of gravel, tarmac, dirt and snow to test your metal.  They also feature a mix of weather effects and day/night circles.  Not only do these create an added challenge but also help bolster track variety as racing on the exact same stage at night feels very different from racing in the day.

Carpe noctem

Graphically the game is amongst the finest seen in the racing genre.  Tracks and cars are richly detailed and well modelled.  Plumes of dust are thrown up as you thunder across the desert stages of Kenya and on wet stages,  mud splats stick to your car as satisfyingly as jizz on a hookers tits.  By the end of an intense rally stage, your pristine ride will be caked in a layer of dust, dirt or snow and will no doubt have all manner of dents and missing parts.  Whether you pick realistic or purely cosmetic damage is no matter, a mistimed turn into a tree will have you wincing as you take in the authentic damage modelling and hear the bone jarring crunch.  Panels dent, crumple and come off completely.  Doors get wrenched open and glass smashes.  All of which are accompanied by audio scrapes, crashes, crunches and smashes.  In fact the audio in general does a respectable job of reproducing all the sounds you’d expect to hear in off road racing.  From red lining engines, to wheels spinning on gravel as they struggle to retain purchase, its all there, it all sounds authentic and further enhances the overall feel to the game.  If anything negative is to be said about the audio, its the in game narrators.  They help to guide you though the different events, keeping you informed with what is going on, but their lines are overly cheesy and in some cases highly repetitive.

Jaw dropping visuals

The gameplay is largely a fast and frantic affair, leaning more towards arcade than simulation.  Breaking, for example, although still required, is by no means the delicate balance of the earlier Codemasters rally games.  Vehicles also tend to feel a little floaty as you powerslide around the twists and turns, and the controls are a little over sensitive and twitchy.  Its by no means broken, but it does take a little getting used to and could of been easily avoided by a simple stick sensitivity slider in the control options.  Difficulty on the default setting is a little too easy, but thanks to an array of gameplay options and assists, can be customised to your individual skill level.  Once on the track, should you have a high speed encounter with a tree, you can take advantage of the games flashback system.  Hitting the flashback button lets you rewind time to before the accident and carry on racing but with added hindsight.  These flashbacks are limited use though and also reduce your over all rep bonus at the end of a race.  It helps make it a balanced system.

Overall Dirt 3 is a game that anyone interested in off road racing can’t afford to miss out on.  Its lengthy tour mode may have sacrificed some of its depth in favour for shorter sharper action packed events, but the trade off was a fair one and the added variety is a welcome addition.

8.5 Great