Yes, we’re back, and yes, I know that Game Of Thrones has already had video game adaptations, though I should point out I haven’t played them yet. Telltale’s approach to the series is in my Steam wishlist, but I haven’t gotten round to buying it.

Anyway, last time we focused on what games would translate well to our TV screens. I voiced an opinion, everybody in the universe agreed with it, badabing badaboom. High scores all round, especially to me.

But this time we’re looking at what TV can bring to games, and whilst HBO’s softcore-porn-and-hardcore-violence series has been a huge success, it seems it hasn’t quite brought its A-game when it comes to the world of interactive media. The best translation is apparently the Telltale one, and even then it’s considered one of their weaker titles, at least in comparison to gems like The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderlands.

But it seems to me that they’re all going the wrong way about it, because the key to Game Of Thrones has always been the enormous scale of Westeros. The decisions of an elite few shape the destinies of many, so why not reflect that? Get that right, add in some nude shots and throat-slitting, and you’re golden.

The duo

Of course, some Kings you could let die, to gain morale instead of losing it.

The idea I’ve been tossing around is a sort of hybrid of Sid Meier’s Civilisation V, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Star Wars: Battlefront, with a bit of Shadow Of Mordor thrown into the mix. As you’ve probably guessed from this crazy cocktail, this might get a little complicated, so bear with me. Then again, if you’re a fan of the show, you can probably deal with complexity.

Firstly, you pick a house, and I don’t mean a nice two-bedroom semi-detached with a garden. No, you pick one of the seven houses to be a member of. Targaryen, Stark, Tyrell and so on. Each one will give you different perks accordingly, such as a bigger budget for the Lannisters or uglier soldiers for the Ironborn, that sort of thing. You could even pick the The Night’s Watch to fight against White Walkers, which would be fun.

Then you get your base somewhere in Westeros, like Winterfell or King’s Landing. You spend money and resources on certain aspects like technology or expanding your lands. Perhaps you fill your halls with food to prepare for an enemy siege or the threat of winter.

Then we have war! No, I don’t care why or who with. It could be one of the wars mentioned in the show, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember that George R.R. Martin’s massive world has some history behind it, so we could always play something from its past, or just take a little creative liberty.

So what then? Well, you play the game like a general for a bit, moving your armies around to prevent the enemy getting close to your base, protecting your resources and making tactical decisions. You spend money when you have to, take it back when you can, maybe run the risk of being indebted to Littlefinger, who will have demands in return.

And what happens when armies clash? Well, you drop down to join them. You take control of a commander in real time, fighting your way across the contested land and moving soldiers to strategic points, but still getting stuck in and slashing your way across the battlefield if you have to, which is where Battlefront and Shadow Of Mordor come into it. If you die, you take control of another commander, but your army loses morale. It might not even be a battle – you could demand the assassination of a target, only to play as the assassin. And if he fails, it’s permadeath, and your next attempt becomes that much harder when security is bolstered. Of course, you could always just bang the local red priestess and get things sorted that way.


Think about it. Talion’s already got the job of standing on a big wall to keep out all the uglies from proper society. Swap out the bear cloak for a big black feathery thing, and the boring elf ghost for Ghost the dire wolf, and we’re ready to roll.

I guess I want to make combat a living, breathing thing. It’s always annoyed me how in otherwise superb games like Civilisation 5 that a whole battle – its strategy, its ideals, its people, its equipment – are all just boiled down to a vague percentage and a yes/no option. It just seems a bit lazy, a bit unworthy of the concept. What if I win, but I’ve committed soul-destroying horrors to do so? What if I lose, but the death of my men motivates other powers to get involved in some way? I don’t want it reduced to just statistics. It would make it too distant, and of course, we want to see the fight itself. We’ve earned that much.

Speaking of other powers, I definitely think that contracts and secret deals should play a big part of this game. Game Of Thrones is nothing without its nasty political backstabbing and two-faced advisers. We touched on Littlefinger (ew) and the idea of going becoming financially indebted to him with some rather worrying consequences. That should be part of a major aspect to the game, in which you can talk to many influential figures across the land and try to make decisions that benefit you. Well, I’d like to borrow some livestock, so how about a payment of ten grand a month for a year? Oh, you want my armies, do you? Well, how attached are you to that daughter of yours? I’ve seen her giving me the eye, and I think we can come to some sort of arrangement.

Ahem. Moving on.


We may have to rethink the “child murder” policy, my Lord. It’s starting to affect your standing in the polls.

The endgame should of course be victory in war, but there should be multiple ways of doing that. Either a straight battle, in which you march to the enemy’s king and lop his head off; or perhaps a battle of the minds in which you destroy the morale of his kingdom. Cut him off, quarantine his lands, prevent any trading with the outside world and watch them starve. Then it’s only a matter of time before the civilians and soldiers surrender and bring the monarch to you. It’s evil, but when did that stop a Game Of Thrones ruler?

I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of this one. I like proper combat like in Shadow Of Mordor, and I like tactical stuff, but the two rarely work when they’re mixed into one. But what we’d have here is one influencing the other. Imagine that you move your army on the map to go against another military force, and the reports say that this should be an easy win. But when you get there you screw up on placing your soldiers, you have eight commanders killed and everybody gives up and goes home. The battle is lost, and suddenly you have to deal with the result.

Actions influencing decisions, decisions influencing actions. Round and round it goes. It would be complex, but intuitive, like Civ V. You can work it out as you go, because it all makes sense. Yes, stockpile food when you can afford to. Yes, put the archers on that high point. No, I don’t want to swap a dragon for that quilt your mother made.

And of course, never, ever go to any weddings. It’s just not worth the risk.


You know what I hate? When I pay the standard video game price and just get given the whole thing at once. God, it’s annoying. Just one payment, just one download, and bam. Suddenly I’m staring at a WHOLE GAME. What on earth is going on?

Yes, that was sarcasm, but lay off, I’m in a bad mood. You see, episode three for Tales From The Borderlands just got announced, and now I’m pissed off because a) it comes out on the same day as Arkham Knight, meaning I’m going to have to choose between them, and b) I’m going to have to play it all over to remember what happened, because episode one came out seven bloody months ago and episode two was was offered four months after that.

First world problems, am I right? I can barely remember where the cambozola cheese is, I’m so angry.

It’s a double-edged sword, because the only reason that I’m this annoyed is because episode one and two were both really good, probably some of the best material Telltale has done. A good story, lots of laughs, exciting action, interesting choices and some genuinely likeable characters. But after part three comes out, I feel I’m going to be lucky to see this story conclude by Christmas.


This is what Borderlands fans have to do to get their episodes on time, god bless ’em.

I do struggle to see the advantages of episodic gameplay. Alright, so you get to basically have five separate releases per game, boosting your profits because of how often it gets to ping up on the Steam homepage, like a money-powered jack-in-the-box, but what about benefits to the actual players? It’s just annoying for me, and looking at how much vitriol was in the comments on the news site for this announcement, I feel safe to say it’s not just me feeling like that.

The fact of the matter is that I’m also kicking myself for having bought the whole season when it first came out, rather than do what my friend is doing and just wait for it all to be finished before coughing up money. Because doing it this way feels like I’ve been watching an exciting movie, only for it to get to a climactic moment before some prankster pauses it and runs off with the remote.

It wouldn’t be as obnoxious if they had a schedule planned out from the beginning for us to know about, like what Resident Evil: Revelations 2 managed, i.e., releasing an episode every week for a month. I could deal with all this if they’d just told us straight up when it was all going to be ready, because then I DEFINITELY would have emulated my friend and waited the extra century.

But I guess when you’re a critically and commercially successful company working squarely within your comfort zone, it must be a bit hard to work out basic planning techniques. Oh snap! Seriously though, I’m not asking for a timetable that’s accurate down to the minute, but an idea of what month I can expect the rest of the game would be nice.

Here’s a thought, Telltale. What if instead of spending all that time working on that weird Minecraft adaptation, you could in fact NOT do that, and finish the games you already started half a year ago? Or what about releasing games one at a time, rather than having to divvy up your efforts on several games at once? Or even just release a whole game in a single go, like what human beings do?! How’s that for some fucking out-of-the-box thinking?!

Minecraft horror

No, it’s not a joke. We only wish it was.

It’s weird, because I wouldn’t care so much if the games were rubbish, but they’re really not. The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead Season 1, and what so far exists of Tales From The Borderlands have some of the best video game stories I’ve played, ranging from grim and despairing, to suspenseful and mysterious, to joyful and anarchic. But having given us a meaty bite of gameplay experience, Telltale then decide to whip the sandwich out of our mouths, and just sort of wave it in front of us until they feel like giving us another bite, and it’s hard not to feel like we’re being teased.

Not only that, but why is it that the Game Of Thrones story, released a month after Tales From The Borderlands, is somehow two episodes ahead of it? Especially when just about everybody seems willing to agree that the Borderlands game is better? Exactly what kind of madman is running this system?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Telltale games, but this episodic stuff is surreal and more than a little frustrating. Especially in today’s age, when a whole culture has been built around not making people wait for their purchases. Netflix, iTunes, even Steam itself, their main selling point is not having to wait for your product to show up or fiddle about with it when it does. It’s more convenient, and it’s pretty sweet. But clearly Telltale don’t get it. I bet they cook meals with about a week between starters and main courses too.


I feel the need to do an article on a specific game here. Basically it’s a review, and whilst I don’t normally do those, I felt I should for Techland’s game “Dying Light,” which was released at the beginning of the year.

For those who don’t know, Dying Light is an open-world zombie game in which you parkour around in first person in a large city, avoiding the undead and doing all your missions and resource hunting during the day, because all the really nasty buggers come out after dark. I don’t know why, maybe they were obsessive clubbers in their previous life, but apparently that’s what they do now.

The problem was that when I first heard about all this, I got very excited. Zombies are nothing if not stale by this point, but I liked the idea of going up against strange night-time horrors. I also enjoy games with free-running, because I’m nowhere near that fit and it’s nice to live the dream. And of course I rather liked the idea of scrambling for ammo and bits of food in the day to bring back to my hut and chew on, whilst I hid under a table at two in the morning and something hungry padded around outside, sniffing the air. I like that idea of pure survival, of doing what you can to live and making tough decisions to do so, followed by adrenaline-pumping terror as you sprint across a rooftop chased by a screaming crowd of undead aberrations.

But of course, the things we imagine are always better than the things we end up with. Dying Light isn’t a bad game over all, I suppose, but it’s insultingly plagiarised from other titles and couldn’t even improve on all the stolen mechanics it had in its little swag bag. Let’s take a run-up at these, because we won’t get through them otherwise.

We’ve got the parkour taken straight from Mirror’s Edge, the combat lifted from Dead Island, the open sandbox style and constant first-person perspective AND the trio of skill trees from Far Cry 3, the Zombrex plot device from Dead Rising 2 and the sunlight-weakened zombies from the movie I am Legend, the horrible lockpicking mini-game from Skyrim and a bland set of crafting mechanics from Watch_Dogs and most triple-A games, not to mention the day/night split from Minecraft and Don’t Starve. But put all these powerhouses together and what do you get?

Uh, something that’s not quite as good as any of them actually, except maybe for Watch_Dogs and Dead Island because, well, Watch_Dogs and Dead Island are a bit shit. But I digress.

The problem with Dying Light is that it’s hard not to think that it tried to trick me, what with my having gotten the wrong impression about the game so quickly, and with so little done to contradict that image. And then, having played it for a while and generally thinking that it’s OK, it started doing the Man Of Steel thing, where having sat down and thought about it properly, I realise that I like it less and less the more I think about. And any game that holds up as long as it takes to remember that it exists isn’t going to do great.


You know, people said my method of dealing with the homeless was too harsh. I’m not convinced.

Take the survival element. In the trailers we see Crane, the rather bland protagonist, gathering up just about every item you can imagine and storing it in his Bag Of Holding for later. I figured that after dark he’d be hunkered down in some shack, boarding up the windows to keep out the clammy hands of the dead and using those power cords he found to either electrify certain areas or just hang himself out of despair.

Nope. You just strap these bits of junk to a crowbar, or a wiffle bat and hey presto! You can now deal electric damage on top of the regular wiffle damage! And if you get other items you can make weapons with fire, explosive or toxic damage as well.

Alright, it’s less interesting than interacting with the environment, but yeah, I can get down with an ice sword or a poisonous hammer. I’m not above that. But tell me, do any of these damage types have some sort of mechanical difference?

And suddenly Dying Light comes over all quiet and starts looking at its shoes with embarrassment. Ha! I caught you out, you huxter. No, no, protests the game back, scrabbling in its pockets for something else to show me. You can also make medkits and grenades and all the other “crafting 101” rubbish that could have been thought up by a man with a pigeon for a brain.

Yeah, nice try. And even then it cocks it all up, because finding the parts for powerful items is just too easy. Any diligent scavenger can find quite a few components in not much time, because on top of being a boring character Crane is also part truffle-hog, built with a “survivor instinct” that can cause useful gear to ping on your radar when you get close to it. Then you just add them to a weapon that isn’t going to break for a while, and suddenly you have a piece of kit that kills anything with ease and has the durability to last until you find the components for three more.

Did you hear that wooshing noise? That was any sense of challenge flying out of the window.

Actually, the combat in general can go jump in a lake. Regular zombies are the slow kind, and it’s pretty easy to push through a crowd of them whilst taking minimal damage, something that only gets easier when you get the power to vault over them. And all fighting basically comes down to mashing the melee button and occasionally dodging, with one or two additions as you gain powers, none of which do anything new. Hold down melee to do a more powerful charge attack? Gee, aren’t you striving ahead for new ideas, Techland?

No, of course they’re not. There are a bunch of special zombies that actually get dropped in, none of which are anything fresh in either sense of the word. There are quick ones, ones that spit goo, ones with AoE attacks and there’s also a shameless copy of the Left 4 Dead tank, right down to the ability to rip concrete out of the ground and chuck it at you whilst mysteriously leaving the road unharmed.

I’d also like to express my utter hatred for the suicide bomber zombies, which give you no time to escape, can kill you in a single blast and are always spawned by the game behind closed doors. Perhaps they enjoy watching you through the keyhole or something, but it got to the point where I couldn’t bear to unlock another door before hearing that wet explosion and watching the “Game Over” screen fade in. And then the red mist would descend and I’d say a word that isn’t repeatable in mixed company, and finally I’d wake up three days later on the far side of town covered in blood with what I hope is animal meat in my teeth.

I feel like I’m being very harsh on the game, so I’ll try to find something nice to say. Well, the exploding shuriken is cool, I guess? And I won’t deny that there’s something fun about the absurdly overpowered dropkick, but both of these gimmicks get old fast and the difficulty somehow manages to go down as you progress, which seems a little bit bonkers. When you start the game you’re wielding bits of wood and trying to hold off the zombie hordes with a bent nail, so fights are hard and you’re well-advised to take the rooftop express. However, by the end of the game you’ve accumulated blueprints for all sorts of insanely tough weapons, and the combination of a billion upgrades and a backpack filled with flaming swords means that even the toughest zombie gets knocked over like it’s made of origami. Dealing with them all just feels like a chore, and I lost interest fast.

Down and out

Even as I kicked and struggled, I knew it was no good. I’d been fighting them for years, but it could only come to this. As their clammy, lifeless hands pushed me down, I saw them all start to pull out leaflets, and one of them gave me a dead-eyed smile. “Sir, we’d like to talk to you about Jesus…”

Even going out at night wasn’t as spicy as I hoped. You can skip the dark hours by resting at a safe house, and even before you’ve unlocked them all you’re never more than five minutes from the nearest bed. Not to mention that the vast majority of zombies don’t change much. There are a higher number of the sprinting ones, and of course we see the big bouncy lads who pose the main threat, but they don’t spot you unless you wander three feet in front of them, and anybody who doesn’t want to be seen can get past without difficulty. Honestly, going out at night just became an annoyance in the later game, rather than the terrifying cat-and-mouse chase I’d been hoping for. I even found it easier just to kill all the threats rather than spend the time avoiding them, especially when I discovered that the major uglies seem to have been paid to be here and all have wads of money crammed into their pockets like they’re about to go to a strip club.

So combat is a pain. But what about the parkour, the bit that I was most looking forward to?

Eh. It’s alright, but Mirror’s Edge did it better in just about every respect, and even then it wasn’t perfect. To start off with, Crane is in almost as bad a shape as I am, and runs out of stamina every time he takes an alternate step. This can be changed with an upgrade, but it’s the last one you can get and you’ll have completed the game long before you’ve earned it, so never mind that then. Running out of stamina means you have to slow to an agonising crawl to regain it, which is horribly jarring and forces you to hang around in one place, so good luck getting into a nice sprinting groove. You’ll be stopping and starting more often than a bumper car.

Big monster

Don’t worry, I think Gandalf just showed up on top of the next hill.

Even then, the city of Harran is pretty poorly designed for the actual free-running. I’d keep finding dead ends and have to go back, or leap along a string of buildings only to be faced with a fatal drop and a lot of hungry faces looking up at me hopefully. Once or twice the game seems to remember that there’s somebody actually playing it and puts in an incredibly obvious ramp before a jump, or a gap in the fence to slide under, but it’s not enough. One of the perks of Mirror’s Edge was that the environment was well designed for the gameplay, an obstacle course hidden beneath a façade of pipes, walls and boxes. It was all pretty sweet and you could sprint through without breaking the flow, at least most of the time.

But Dying Light seemed to design Harran with none of this in mind and went about building the entire map without considering the parkour element. It then seemed to recall its mission brief and dusted it with a few zipwires and piles of rubbish before knocking off for a beer.

By the way, the bin bags are Dying Light’s answer to the equally dumb haystacks from Assassin’s Creed, in that you can fall like a comet and still not take damage if you land right on top of them. One day I hope Crane confidently plunges into the rubbish below, only to land on a TV antennae and get the metal prong straight up his arse. That’ll show him to be dependant on littering.

And then, out of nowhere, the game introduces the grappling hook and all bets are off. It’s a ranged weapon that will immediately take you to any location you aim at within a hundred feet, regardless of position, direction and whether you’re in the middle of free-fall. Even the super-zombies had no chance when I could just Spider-Man my way out of there in a heartbeat, and then the only part of the game with any challenge is thrown to the curb to die.

So let’s see – the crafting is dumb, the combat is boring, the parkour is derivative and has no flow whatsoever. The last chance for Dying Light is its story, so can it redeem itself there?

Well, the idea is that the (Turkish?) city of Harran has been savaged by zombies and promptly quarantined.

OK, nothing new so far.

You play as Kyle Crane, who is an undercover agent for some big company and is sent in to get some file from another agent, who apparently nicked it when nobody was looking and decided the safest place to hide would be the most lethal city on Earth. Oh, it definitely makes sense to go there. It’s why I go and hang out in an active volcano when I want a bit of “me time.”

Kyle shacks up with a group of survivors in order to start finding this document, using their network and resources to fuel his own hunt, but starts to feel his loyalties being divided between his employers and those with whom he lives and – Oh, for god’s sake. Does anybody really think he’s going to stick with the big corporation over the grungy free-runners who all like him and depend on him? How naive are you?

Speaking of, I could understand Crane better if he did want to abandon these people, because they all appear to be massive clichés. There’s a dynamic action girl, a confused old scientist who’s obsessed with his work, a hotheaded young runner who’s so unafraid of death that he might as well be gluing a steak to his face whilst flicking peas at the Grim Reaper, and the antagonist is so evil that the average James Bond villain would feel uncomfortable sitting next to him.

No, I really mean it. His evil goes right through to the point of absurdity and keeps going, to the point where I wondered if I had missed some important part of the plot that would explain his actions. At one moment Crane manages to punch him in the face whilst he’s being captured, and rather than do the sensible thing – have somebody gun Crane down and get a plaster for his nose – the guy decides to shoot two of his own men for no reason and throw his attacker into an easily-escapable pit of undead. That’s a score of eight for evilness, but only a two for intelligence, bad luck.

Perhaps this idiocy is why our foe decides to inflict on us the worst punishment of all – the quick-time event. Rather than actually duel him at the end, the game goes all Shadow Of Mordor and gives us a string of button prompts, rather than anything as engaging as fighting him ourself. Not only that, but the QTEs are incredibly quick and unpredictable, and there’s only one or two checkpoints in about fifteen presses. It’s a good thing I finally got through them all, because if I had to hear his opening monologue again I’d have pushed my thumbs into my ears so deep I’d have impaled my brain on my fingernails.


Harran looks kinda crap, to be honest. Couldn’t we just firebomb it and get on with our lives?

It’s frustrating, because every idea above could have been a good one if implemented properly, but nothing here is new and certainly not at its best. Every time I look at something this game has to offer, I can also point to another game that’s done it better.

Dying Light is a Frankenstein’s monster, a shambling patchwork of games that can just about give a semblance of life, but it’s fleeting and the decay sets in fast. The core idea was a good one, survival and free-running to keep you on your toes, but there’s too many places to stay safe and there’s nothing dangerous enough to challenge or frighten you by the end of the story.

Perhaps I’m just bitter because what I was hoping for was so far removed from what showed up, but I do feel that this is something we need to call more games out on. Taking inspiration? That’s fine. An improved form of an existing game mechanic? Fair enough. But doing the bare minimum on some disjointed ideas that you didn’t even think of? Sorry, that won’t do.

You know, even as I wrap this up I’m thinking of the tagline that was featured with this game. “Goodnight. Good luck.” I suspect it might be prophetic for some of the folks at Techland if they pull this trick again.



This gripe is an odd one, because the series has sometimes been guilty of it, yet sometimes not. Generation one didn’t really have a story, yet bashing my head against the tedium of Team Plasma in Pokemon White felt like I was being punished for a crime I couldn’t remember. Not surprising I couldn’t remember it though, what with that ponce with the green hair dragging me across yet another Ferris wheel ride to mumble animé angst at me for the third time in a row.

The annoying thing is that it is possible to write stories that can appeal to both children and adults. Movies tend to be the best example of this. Toy Story, The Jungle Book, The Princess Bride, all are examples of great narratives that can be appreciated by all ages. But games in general, and Pokemon in particular, often struggle with this.


I hope this thing remembers that this is a kiddy’s game, because otherwise I might be in serious trouble.

I know I said earlier that a gamer can ignore context, but I’d prefer not to. A game with fun mechanics is good. A game with fun mechanics AND a great story is a plus-sized bag of sweets with a prostitute on top. So aim for that, please. You did quite well with Platinum, almost getting a little Lovecraftian in tone (though almost certainly by accident) as we wandered through an absolute void, hunting for the horribly powerful creature of darkness that dwelt spitefully at the bottom. But when you fuck up and start writing for kiddies again, I’m uncomfortably reminded of my age, as random NPC townsfolk no.37 talks to me like I’m a particularly thick toddler, or tells me that “I love my Pokemon!” in a manner that would seem patronising to Barney the Dinosaur. Yes, I know how much you love shorts, idiot child. Can you get me an adult to talk to?

I know that this is probably Nintendo’s least pressing issue. Those who are on board the Pokemon bandwagon aren’t likely to be diverted by a crap narrative at this point, but it would be nice to see a good one, and like I said, you can write a plot that works for all ages without too much difficulty. Just a thought, because I’ve heard Pokemon has a bit of money floating around, and I know that a writer will do anything for a bit of cash, up to and including lick the employer’s testicles.


I know this one kind of ties into point number three, but it’s an important point, so I feel the need to reinforce it: Once we become champion, don’t let it end there. I know, some games didn’t stop at that point, but enough did that it’s worth mentioning. Make an effort to add new features, because it’s frustrating to go through all the effort and get nothing out of it. Winning the Elite Four always felt a bit anticlimactic to me. You smack down member number four, move onto the champion, who is always either your rival or that confident character who helps you out two thirds through the game, beat the hell out of him, and boom. You’re done. No really, we just have to upload your scores to Reddit on this overly large machine (don’t pay attention to how much it looks and sounds like the one in the pokemon centres) and we can all break for lunch.


The beauty of this place is that even if I lose the battle, I can just push a pile of books on top of her and say that I won.

The worst games have always let it end there. Oh, you can still explore, but it’s all places you’ve been before, and now you’ve levelled up to the point where it’s all too easy and without any reward. I kind of imagine this is how Superman would feel if there were no supervillians. He just breezes through, detached and disinterested, whilst all those he fights bounce off him like tumbleweed against a freight train.

But adding new regions with tougher threats helps with this problem, as do areas that were previously too high level with interesting plot stuff in there. Fire Red’s matrix of islands worked well, bouncing between various places to find a rock that was useful for some contrived reason. It was too short, and again, it was an anticlimactic ending to the game as everything just sort of resolved itself with no twist, but the intention and the spirit was right. Ideally, the Elite Four should not represent the end, but the midpoint of the game, as new stuff opens up that is worthy of such a kick-ass trainer. Perhaps an island full of former champions, or an escaped and dangerous legendary that needs taking down a peg? Perhaps a Team Rocket revival in which they are planning some new, stupid scheme? Whatever it is, make it thick and meaty and full of juicy content, not a few table scraps that got rejected from the main game by the QA department.


Alright, I’ll just say it – I liked the Pokemon contests in Gen III. They were flawed, and a bit too reliant on chance, but I liked the idea of developing some aspect of my team that wasn’t related to stamping on somebody else’s. It made them feel less like weapons in a fight and more like actual creatures, as other NPCs judged how pretty or cool they looked.

Pokemon’s battle mechanics have always been fairly strong and are constantly being refined, but the games have forever struggled to think of things to do when you’re not fighting. The contests, the casino, those weird minigames it would throw at you at the end of Fire Red, nothing really sticks out. None of it has had the effort put into it that this sort of thing needs. Compared to the combat, any other mechanics or gameplay styles felt rushed, like they uploaded whatever the designers had been working on in their spare time at the end. What Pokemon needs is something fun, developed, and rewarding with regards to how you play it and what it gives you, and I think I have the idea – the player’s own safari park.

Seriously, I mean it. Manage the thing like a business, see what customers do and don’t like, research ideas, pay for new pokemon, build new features, and so on. The benefits? Regular cash income based on how well it’s performing, items found when excavating new land, and the occasional rare pokemon from the park itself. Simple.


Calm down or I’ll taser you with my Raichu again, don’t think I won’t. Now face the wall whilst Zigzagoon here sniffs for any narcotics on your person.

No? Alright then, how about the ability to act as some sort of peacekeeping force once you become champion? Randomly generated crimes are sent to you via text, you can respond to them and sort them out with your pokemon like some brightly coloured, under-age SWAT team, breaking into Team Rocket Headquarters and tackling them to the ground. Hell yes.

Not your kinda thing? Fair enough, how about a job at the Pokemon Day Care Center, where you have to deduce how to elevate the creature through a combination of loving care and drill-sergeant training, like an even more sickeningly cute version of Nintendogs?

These were just thought of from the top of my head. I’m not saying it needs to be any of these, though I do think the first idea has some potential. Just make sure that there is something else, something tangible. You can stop it feeling like a contrivance or a gimmick by making real and tangible rewards to bring into the main game, and have the main game influence the other mechanic in some way. Maybe you beat a gym leader using a fire-type pokemon, so suddenly there’s a demand for fire-types in the safari park and you can make some extra money by throwing charmanders in there. Or perhaps you catch a legendary ice-type, and this gets around, until everybody wants an ice-type pokemon, at which point you can capitalise on that and start getting snow machines in and painting all the creatures blue.


Basically, we’re getting there. We really are. Pokemon is like most other Nintendo properties, full of potential but unwilling to progress unless it’s guaranteed safety, but people know what’s needed and should tell Nintendo, because that will motivate them. Any of the above would help, all of them would help make a magnificent game. I’m not saying that would be all it would take, nor would I suggest that it should never go anywhere after this, but it’s a damn fine start.

Oh, and take out Vanillish. That thing is just weird.


Ah, it seems like only yesterday I was desperately trying to take down Brock’s bloody Onix with the starting Pikachu. Pokemon as a series has been around for almost two decades now, and has made enough money to buy its own country and have every living creature there forced into a small red and white ball.

I was playing Pokemon since the beginning, I remember owning both Blue and Yellow as a child and frowning my way through them, as my eyesight deteriorated in direct proportion to my social standing. I’ve owned at least one game from every generation, but as I picked up my copy of Alpha Sapphire last year, I realised it was it was more out of a sense of tradition than any desire to play the thing. In fact, looking back, I started to realise I haven’t really enjoyed the games since I played Platinum back on the first Nintendo DS.

Some might say that this due to me having finally grown up, and might be what little cultural urge I have, rapidly attempting to drag me into my twenties with everyone else, but I’m not so sure. You see, the thing about children’s games that doesn’t apply to children’s television, is that one can still appreciate the mechanics of a game whilst ignoring the context of it. Or, to give an example, chess is still chess, even if all the pieces have animé haircuts.

So with that in mind, here are my Six top tips for Game Freak, or Nintendo, or The Pokemon Company or The Illuminati or whoever the hell owns the franchise now. Your games were good, there’s no denying that, especially Platinum, Emerald, and the real shining star that was Crystal. Here’s how you bring them up to date and make them truly great.


OK, so the original Pokemon games were designed for snotty, idiot children, and you know what? I get that. Nobody really expected the franchise to explode the way it did and develop the adult following that it has now. But that audience existed for one reason – not to play against the NPCs in your game, but to play against the much greater challenge of each other.


You… You’re the one that had that muk! YOU BASTARD! I’LL KILL YOU!

See, Pokemon has always been fairly easy at best, and an absolute cakewalk at worst. As long as you had the type advantage, you could be five levels beneath your opponent and still wipe the floor with them. In fact, the older games had a few more teeth, sometimes throwing enemies with tricky tactics at you, forcing you to think on your feet. I’m thinking of that damn Muk and its minimize power, and I know you are too.

But Pokemon, bizarrely, has only gotten easier as it progresses. X and Y practically threw a whole kaleidoscope of variously powered pokemon at you from the get-go, meaning that within ten minutes you had every type you needed, and the game might as well bend over and ask for it gentle. I breezed through the whole thing whilst barely paying attention, and when the stupid gimmick that was “Mega-Evolution” reared its ugly head, I just became annoyed. It’s a mechanic where the most impressive pokemon in the game can get a sudden and cost-free power-up, like they’re auditioning to be a villain in Dragonball.

The game could’ve just played itself for the rest of the story, because whatever useless tactics I took to, I always ended up winning. And that’s not good enough. People sometimes approach the game with self-inflicted rules or handicaps, such as refusing to use the starter pokemon or releasing any that faint during the game, but it’s a failure of the games that the players have to impose these restrictions just to give it life again.

So you know what, Pokemon? Have your toothless, safe, babies-first turn-based strategy game. That’s cool. But have an option for those who want to play against a game with some actual challenge to it. Make enemies tougher, good pokemon rarer, make AI that know how to use a tactic more complex than “use potion when hurt.” Whatever it takes, I’m ready for it. Or, more appropriately, I hope I’m not.


Seven hundred of the little animé bastards? Piss off, Pokemon. No, seriously, why on earth would anybody without severe brain damage want to catch them all these days? In the first generation, OK, I could understand that. There’s a hundred and fifty-one, which is manageable, and they’ve all had a fair deal of thought go into them. The legendary pokemon number only five, making them special, and whilst hiding Mew away from those who don’t live in Japan or a Toys R’ Us is a dick move, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and attribute that to teething problems.

But over four times that many? It’s just not worth the effort, even for the most rabidly obsessive completionist. On top of which, none of the games ever hold more than half of them at once, meaning you have to fiddle about with other, older games to transfer them over. Ugh.

All of 'em.

Yeah, I think I might not, if it’s all the same to you, Nintendo.

But the real nail in the coffin is that collecting them just becomes boring, especially as it’s often hard to do until you’ve completed the main story. Everybody with any sense of fun loses patience before they’ve hit the mid-point, and because the only two things in the game with any value are pokemon themselves, and master balls which have no purpose but to catch the damn things, there’s nothing that the game can reward you with. It always seemed like an enormous anticlimax. You’ve caught them all! You’ve really done it! One hundred percent completion, hell yes! So here’s a primary school certificate and a juice box, now sit down and wait for the next batch of sprites to be released.

So being a collector is pretty much a wash. But not to worry, this is a problem with an answer, and it ties in to my next point.


As mentioned earlier, I still think of the second generation, Gold, Silver and Crystal, as being the apex of the series and a classic example of how to do a game sequel properly. Rather than just splash about in the remnants of the old game, Gen II brought in a new region with less linearity and an interesting mix of aesthetics, put in a rival who was less of an irritant and more of an actual adversary, added new mechanics to balance the game properly and even had an underlying narrative about the schism between tradition and modernity. It took the original concept and improved it on every level, just as a good sequel does.

But as I was dusting myself down after having beaten the Elite Four, and considering another playthrough, imagine my surprise! The old region of Kanto was back, fully available for exploration, and yet having changed dynamically since the last game over the canonical three-year gap. This was a delightful bonus that ended, of course, in the greatest challenge that the series has ever offered – the original protagonist, Red, waiting for the hero to show up and take the Sisyphean task of beating them and becoming a true master.

The series has occasionally indulged in variations on this idea, such as the island cluster at the end of the Gen I remakes, but they never had the same sort of stakes that the original had. Therefore, I invite you to imagine Pokemon Rainbow (or whatever the hell they’d call it), the game with every region featured, containing every pokemon from the series. Every single one, legendaries, the ones you had to download, all of them. Make one enormous saga of a story to keep them all interesting and relevant, raise the level cap to accommodate for a longer game, and let us really go at it with the combined nostalgia and lust for power that the game would bring. Some might say that it would be in Nintendo’s interest to stagger out this content like they do now, but I think this would make for the best final product, and let’s be honest – do you really think it wouldn’t sell eighty-billion copies? Pokemon makes more money than the Catholic church already, and a massive game like this would probably make so much cash that Japan would collapse under its weight.



OK, so this is a series we’re going to be doing every now and then, in which we consider games we’d like to see converted to other media or vice versa. Adaptations aren’t always good, and they’re often cynically motivated by corporations trying to squeeze money out of some brand recognition, but they can be done well. They HAVE been done well.

Think of it like this. A good adaptation takes the original material and tries to elevate the concept, not just wallowing within it out of a sense of obligation. For example, Alien: Isolation is a good adaptation of the Alien franchise. It came to us with a new plot and stayed loyal to the canon, but didn’t feel restricted to anything directly tied to the movies. It understood the tone of the original, a sense of predator and prey, and even managed a perfect recreation of the dirty 80’s sci-fi imagery, that showed the kind of future where the best computer screens in the galaxy have about eight pixels each.

Alien Isolation

I just wet myself out of sheer terror. Good, this game knows what it’s doing, then.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is the bad kind of adaptation. Even if it hadn’t been explicitly dishonest in its advertising campaign, even if it hadn’t been so riddled with bugs you’d think you were looking at a digital version of a wasp’s nest, it was still doomed. Splashing about in the remnants of the second film, not really knowing what it wants to be and stealing from the big book of clichés – they’re just three crimes for which it deserves death. It even missed the point of the Marines entirely. Anybody who saw that film knew from the beginning that most of them were useless chumps, all bluff and bluster and brainless swagger at the start, whereupon it got replaced by brainless terror when the Aliens actually show up.

Well, at least the game took one aspect of the film to heart. It’s so brainless that it could have been shot in the head without noticing.

So there we have it. A good adaptation shows progress and deeper understanding of the source material. A bad adaptation goes in circles and misses every point going. Thus the lines are drawn, for what is and what is not a good adaptation. So what’s our first move?


Perhaps one of my greatest sorrows was that Rockstar’s gorgeous western world never made it to PC. I loved it with every fibre of my being, but now that yet another Xbox 360 has broken, and backwards compatibility is apparently so toxic that no console can go near it, I guess I have to resign myself to the fact that this is a game that’s going to be lost to the ages. I suspect that this is something that’s going to happen more and more as the industry progresses.


It’s a pretty nice view, but that horse is just wishing that there was some grass around that didn’t taste like dirt and unwashed hair.

It’s a crying shame, because I loved RDR more than any of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto games. It had real character, it felt like a true western in everything it did. Charging across the dusty desert landscape upon my noble stallion, glaring down some villain in the tense seconds before a duel, or throwing lit dynamite at the feet of some shrieking bandits before gunning down the survivors with a six-shooter – great stuff. It really got the tone right, and the Mexican/Californian border upon which this saga was set, it felt like a glorious backdrop to a classic gunslinger’s tale.

But what about the gunslinger himself? You play as John Marston, a reformed bank robber who ran with a gang of criminals years ago. When John’s family is imprisoned by the United States government, John is tasked to kill his former gangmates, who are causing no small amount of trouble for Uncle Sam. When he does finish them off he’ll get his family back, but as John hunts his way across the country he realises that things are never as simple as they seem, and old loyalties stir within him as he confronts the men whom he once saw as brothers.

Pretty cool, right? It’s a simple basis for a story. Kill baddies, get wife and son back, but Rockstar added layers of complexity on top of these simple foundations, until it was some grand Scooby-Doo sandwich of a tale. Remember that this doesn’t take place in the glory days of the Wild West, it takes place at its ending, the year of 1911. One of the major themes is the relentless passage of time and how John and his ilk are almost antiquated already. There is no room for wild men anymore, and during a cinematic that I now rank as one of my favourites in gaming, one of the government spooks puts it very simply. “Sure, civilisation may be dull, but the alternative, Mr. Marston, is hell.”


“Wallace, will you please stop singing the theme to Rawhide? It’s been six hours now, we get it!”

And the annoying thing is that he’s right. Things aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be. In fact, a great part of Red Dead Redemption is the disturbing amount of moral complexity. Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s close to it. Even John is an aggressive killer with a short temper and not much imagination or schooling, but that barely matters. The true issue here is the spiritual war between order and chaos. You are not on the side of good, just on the side of law and order. Your enemy is not evil, he wants true freedom and chaos. It’s not so simple any more. Do you want to be safe, or free? And are you going to change your mind when there’s a gun pointed at your head?

But all that complexity was good. It added the detail that made this place tangible, gave it a sense of spice. We even meet one of the old western legends later on, now aged and alone with nothing to his name but history. And of course, he’s not perfect either. All you can do for him is what you do for everybody else you meet – hope he’s good enough.

So how would we adapt this epic tale? A film, of course. A great big romp of a movie that took the classic spaghetti western style to heart, layered with the subtle messages of the original story. It could potentially be three films, as John’s story is kind of divided into thirds by its narrative, but this would probably be too long. Stick with just one, I think.

Casting? Hmm… Tricky. I won’t do all of the characters, but let’s get a few out of the way. Marston isn’t really handsome, but he has a calm and focused presence. He’s also middle-aged, probably in his late forties. A lot of people think Hugh Jackman would be good for the role, which I can agree with. I happen to think Liam Neeson would be a good match, though. He’s the right age, or at least he looks the right age. He’s a provably good actor with a sense of on-screen charisma, just what the role needs. I’ve also heard some talk about Karl Urban, who played Judge Dredd and Eomer. He seems like he could fit, if he’s aged a little with make-up.

Bonnie MacFarlane should be Natalie Portman. Dutch would be Tom Hanks, because all films improve with Tom Hanks. Nigel West Dickens would suit the attitudes of Stephen Fry, though the image would change a little, and Seth would translate into Mackenzie Crook easily, though no offence to the man. And of course, Landon Ricketts would be played by the aged cowboy himself, Clint Eastwood.

By the way, don’t think you shouldn’t hire Ennio Morricone for music. The man’s a genius when it comes to soundtracks, but especially the western soundtrack. He wrote the classic theme to “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly,” for god’s sake, and the even better: “The Ecstasy Of Gold.” You’d be mad not to do everything you can to get him.

I think it could happen. I think it should happen. Red Dead Redemption took a lot from the classic westerns, but it became something on its own, by meshing all the traditional threads and ideas into something more contemporary, yet thrumming with affection for the classics.

Westerns are now seen as something old and pointless, something we don’t do any more. Not properly, not really. The age of the gunslinger is over. But it doesn’t have to be. Video games remember those times. And maybe if we glare from beneath the brims of our hats, and knock up the sand with the spurs on our boots, then maybe the movie industry could remember too.


Time taken to complete a playthrough of the Stanley Parable? About five minutes. Time taken to complete Alien: Isolation? About thirteen hours. Time taken to beat Bravely Default on the 3DS? I’m fifty-five hours in, and there’s no end in sight.

The bloody thing moves like a snail on valium, and it keeps doing that thing from the third Lord Of The Rings film where you think it’s over – and surprise! We’re going to keep this crap rolling like we’ve locked it in a hamster ball.

Except that The Return Of The King started doing that stop-start nonsense in the last twenty minutes of the film. Bravely Default started doing it about a third of the way through the game. At least, a third of the way through MY game. For all I know, there’s another fifty-five hours left in it to torment me with. And that, I won’t allow. Those whinging, stereotypical anime brats have taken up too much of my lifetime already. I don’t want my pre-death flashback to be mainly of kids with stupid haircuts in turn-based combat.

You can’t say I didn’t try, and I’ll give it this, I had high hopes at the start. There were some bits of intrigue, some good turn-based mechanics, and I found myself growing slightly fond of one of the protagonists, a suave lady’s man who annoyed everybody else constantly. I wonder why I found him so relatable?

But then the whole thing started to wilt. Without the life energy of new mechanics added in, the game became dull. The story tried to stretch like a pair of tights, but only overreached itself and started laddering badly. Not to mention I found a combat set-up that was basically as good as it got, dealing huge amounts of damage whilst keeping my party at full health, so battling just became a chore.

The berks

Here’s to you, Bravely Default protagonists. By which I mean, here’s a grenade that I am going to forcibly feed to you.

Even the character who’d I’d come to think of as “the manga musketeer” just became repetitive and disengaging, joining his friends and world in the part of my brain marked “Not worth my time,” where they can now all join modern music, League Of Legends and regular exercise.

It was the story aspect that truly killed it for me. I knew I’d seen this game before when I bought it from Amazon last year, only I couldn’t place it. Now I know where it was. It was on trail for breaking the rules of the Geneva convention.

I couldn’t believe the gall of this damn game. I went through the story to save this little pixelly world, which took about twenty-five hours. OK, Bravely Default, I’m done. A vaguely decent game with a more than suitable story length. “Oh, you’re not done,” chortles Bravely Default back at me. “You’ve been sent back in time to before you saved the world! Now it needs saving ALL over again!”

Bloody hell. Alright, after another whole day of gameplay, I’ve rescued this rather tiresome little kingdom from damnation twice. Can I go now? “Nuh-uh,” squeals the game, slapping itself on the thighs with glee. “You’ve now been teleported to a parallel universe where the identical kingdom is also in need of saving! In the exact same way, with the exact same characters! So why don’t you settle down and we’ll start mmpph mmmph mmph mmmph.”

Oh sorry, Bravely Default. I seem to have closed the 3DS on you. And then dropped it into a hole a mile deep, before also throwing in two dozen lions and a nuclear bomb that’s on fire.

I think I can safely say this – Bravely Default is TOO LONG. Like a guest at your house at three in the morning after a dinner party, the fucker refuses to leave, raiding your fridge for snacks and asking you if you want to play Scrabble. And you just wish he’d call a taxi and go, so you can finally head upstairs and start apologising to your wife for having invited the idiot round.

But it’s a little strange to think this. Surely a long story is a good thing? Value for money, right? We all remember those embarrassingly short games that came a little late to the party, had a disinterested sniff at the wine and played on their phones for twenty minutes before sneaking out. That’s worse, isn’t it?

Well, no. They’re both equally suicidal in their own way. Bravely Default had just enough interesting ideas for a ten hour game, maybe fifteen at a push, yet it was lobbying to be a game that could be played for a straight week. And if it had been ten hours long, I might have been impressed at how condensed and well-paced it was.

But it wasn’t ten hours, or fifteen. I’ve just looked at a poll online, and it states that anybody who wants to do the main game and side missions (which all have utterly essential plot info within them, so I don’t know why they’re made optional) will be tapping at their tiny little screens for about seventy-five hours, possibly as long as a hundred. One person stated that it had taken him one hundred and seventy hours to get the whole game over and done with.

No, no, no, no, NO. That is too much. I know Square Enix games have a history of dragging their feet like they’re trying to make their shoes catch fire, but this is absurd. And remember, there’s only a single set of combat mechanics in this game, aside from some dopey village-building gimmick that’s over and done with before you’re done saving the world for the first time.

But is there such a thing as a story mode that is too long? Well, I don’t think so, at least in principle. That said, I do become very suspicious of games that sell themselves on having a story that never ends, because there’s two ways it can go. Either it’s a complex epic with a diverse narrative and crammed so full of interesting ideas that they had to make it last a week to fit them all in, or it’s just padded and drawn out to try to fill space.

I’ll be honest, anything that claims to last more than forty hours starts ringing alarm bells. Does anybody believe that there’s truly enough in those games? Don’t get me wrong, titles like Skyrim can last a lot longer within the same save file, but the core story, the one about dragons, do you really want it lasting for that much time? Aside from anything else, you’re going to be struggling to recall the beginning by the half-way point.

It’s hard to think of exact formulas for this sort of thing. Different games pace themselves at varying speeds, dynamic characters can alleviate a slow story and if gameplay is fun enough then I might let a dreary plot slip under the radar.

Maybe. If it’s lucky. And I’m feeling kind.

But my personal philosophy is this – if the narrative I’m playing has not changed in some intrinsic way by the end of each hour, it’s moving too slow. Whether it be a new angle on a character, the death of another, a wildcard element throwing us off balance, or somebody inevitably betraying us, it should be a key development that should help the story move at a decent pace.

Ds 2

I know how he must feel, trapped in a terrible limbo between life and death. His game made me feel the same way.

One of the more recent offenders in this regard was Darksiders II. I’ll be frank, this game was making an uphill struggle from the start with its story, partly because it just seemed to throw in vaguely-Christian mythology whenever it didn’t know what to do next, but also because this story had one idea that never, ever changed. You have to go and resurrect the population of Earth, killed in the last game when somebody with a bad dress sense got over-excited and started Armageddon before everybody was ready. Alright, who am I playing as in part two? Somebody who doesn’t look like a a rejected Warhammer character design? No, you’re playing as Death, actually.

Well, disregarding how strange it is that I can be killed in combat whilst playing as the Grim Reaper, don’t you have anything else to bring to the table? Within five hours of starting, I’d forgotten the central goal that I was meant to be fulfilling, though bizarrely it hadn’t changed a single iota. You want to resurrect Earth? Well, you need to get to the Keeper Of Secrets (no, I have no idea who that is) to find out how to do that. He tells you to go to the Tree Of Life (don’t ask). However, the Tree is in the land of The Makers (nope) and is being sealed off by Corruption (because of course it is), and also some berk keeps trying to stop you because he is one of the slaughtered Nephilim (fast-forward) and sends you to the Land of the Dead (not sure how) to find the Well Of Souls (Jesus Christ).

All this rigmarole took five hours, and by the end I was slumped horizontally in my chair, wondering if the thirty-foot drop out the window would kill me.

I think I was about a quarter of the way through the game.

What’s that line from Macbeth? “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” God, it could’ve been written about Darksiders II. AND Bravely Default.

The sad thing is, it’s the well-paced stories that we wish could keep going, because they’re so addictive. But all the longer tales keep going because only the writer doesn’t want it to end. Everybody else is glaring at him and wondering if they could pull the plug on his PC without him noticing that they did it. Remember, a cut-throat editor is just as important as a good writer.

I’m particularly suspicious of fantasy games in this regard. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two offenders named above are of that genre, and there’s others I could point the finger at. If you wrote down all the dialogue (not the plot itself, just the spoken stuff) in Dragon Age: Origins, it would apparently come down to about nine books. The Witcher, a game that I’m trying to work up the energy to try again, is rumoured to have eighty hours under its big renaissance belt. Tell me, you two, are you that long because you have a story that couldn’t be crammed into the standard fifteen hour length? Or are you just drawn out beyond belief? If The Witcher is as long as it says, then according to my theory it needs to have, at minimum, eighty separate events that shake the plot to its core and engage the interest of the player.

I’m not saying it doesn’t have that. But somehow I doubt it.

Hand J

What do you mean, you’re getting tired of shooting at bandits for the fiftieth time that day? Jeez, aren’t you fussy?

Or what about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? Don’t get me wrong, I like the Borderlands series. I like the anarchic, punky, nonsensical style, touched lightly by the influence of classic westerns and the Mad Max films. I like the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously, how the characters push right through their own archetypes to become self-parodies who are, at the same time, pretty cool and likeable. With the exception of the kid Pickle, naturally. That loathsome little sprout can go fall into a thresher’s nest.

But The Pre-Sequel was just annoying at times, because it had the same problem as Darksiders II. The issue was that the plot had found a nice, comfortable place to sit, and it wasn’t going anywhere without a winch, a mile of rope and fifty strong men. Right from the beginning, your goal is to take back a space station from an invading military force, but for about three-quarters of the game all you do is make dull preparations for that task. Go here to talk to a contact, then here to shut down a signal jammer, go there and steal an AI and then, when you’re done, we’ll go and clear out a disused robot factory. Even the missions themselves seemed a little dull for a Borderlands game, which always prided itself on lunacy and surrealism. What happened to the quests where I had to play through a Dungeons and Dragons game, or raise an ugly, little alien dog from infancy to adulthood?

I remember saying to a friend, whilst playing The Pre-Sequel for the first time, that I didn’t think that this campaign was going to be as long as the previous game. There just didn’t seem to be enough meat in the story to make it that length. And it turns out that I was right! Only Borderlands didn’t want to admit it, and diluted itself so much that a lot of the flavour was lost. Even the rather uninspired missions above are spread too wide, jammed full of monsters and one-note bandits to pad them out.

Look at games like Portal, or Bioshock, or the Walking Dead. Games that were just as long as they needed to be. And they all take vastly different amounts of times to complete, but they’re all fine, because they have just enough substance to be well-distributed amongst their relative lengths. I have much greater respect for any short, good narrative than I do for anything that drags its heels like the lethargic creations mentioned in this article. Or, as they would put it:

“Surely it’s conceivably better, certainly within the boundaries of human imagination, or at the very least a more admirable ideal, at least to the extent where our wider cultural integrity might be thought of as the judge, to consider the possibility that when a particular plot, or character arc, or perhaps just more generally a narrative, of the interactive medium that we widely refer to as video games, might be thought of as especially well-crafted when due consideration is paid to the relevant factors of pacing within the anticipated timeline of the aforementioned narrative, so that the two aspects might not be contrarily opposed and inherently be damaging to the structure of the contextual plot that the hypothetical game might contain.”



I’m very happy to say that my many years of evil deeds, malevolent decisions and shooting at orphans has paid off. Yes, after years of sowing more evil than a farmer possessed by Satan, yesterday it all came to fruition when I woke up, looked down at my clawed hands and realised I could now shoot hellfire out of my palms at will. Hooray for the forces of darkness!

But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want to do all those evil things because I wanted to. I never would’ve been motivated to do any of it, if not for that fiery superpower as a reward. And all a lifetime of good deeds would do is give me the ability to heal people with soft-scented lullabies. No thanks, I’m specked into ranged damage, not a white mage build.

Play video games long enough, and you’ll get this sort of thing coming up, usually in Role-Playing Games. Imagine a villager wants you to persuade a merchant to lower his prices. You’re most likely to get three options regarding how you want to do this. The good choice would be to give him some of your own money to supplement his lost earnings, and respectfully decline any fee from the villager. The neutral would be to diplomatically convince him and to claim your agreed-upon cash prize afterwards. And the evil would be to intimidate the merchant, steal his stock to drive him out of town, before going back to the villager and claiming both his yearly salary and his daughter for a reward.

The more I play games, the more I find this kind of thing aggravating me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no problem with putting the player in ethically complex situations. I love games like Telltale’s: The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line for viewing morality as something more than a binary switch. These games put you in various situations where there were no easy outs, and that in itself was interesting. The one that always sticks with me is the choice in The Walking Dead where you come across a man with his leg stuck in a bear trap, and enough zombies to occupy a Romero-themed marathon making straight for him. You could leave him, and make an easy escape, or try to bring him with you. Of course, there’s only one way to get him out of the trap, and it involves that fire axe you’re holding. How brave are the two of you feeling?

On the third swing I heard his tibia snap, and to this day I can’t eat a breadstick without feeling slightly ill at the noise. But at least this game understood that there was a choice to be made here, because the kind of choice we saw above, re. villager and merchant, makes no sense, and yet it’s so often allowed to go uncriticised.


Above we see a Hobbe. This is about as complex as a Fable character gets.

I first noticed this when playing the old Fable games. I’ll be honest, if any series could get away with binary, black and white morality, it’s Fable. The campy heightened reality, mixed with an Arthurian knight aesthetic seen through the filter of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – well, it did seem tonally consistent when enough angelic decisions caused your character to sprout a halo, or enough wicked actions caused him to start growing a fine pair of horns. Classic fantasy and “Ye Olde Tales Of Knighthood” rarely have any moral complexity to them, they’re simple, unapologetic “Hero and Villain” stories. Alright, fair enough, but it still made the experience worse, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, I never felt any affection for my character, or any of the other dopey-looking mannequins that wandered around Albion (with the exception of Reaver, because Stephen Fry improves everything he touches, like a Cambridge-educated Midas). First of all, the black and white nature of the world made everyone seem pretty bland and uninteresting. This person is good. This person is bad. This person is neutral.

This was at its worst for the hero you play as, for whom I cared nothing for at all. Even with a good/evil choice, so few of the options made sense at all, and you can’t relate to something you don’t understand. Do I want to kill my companion for a few measly coppers that ultimately don’t do much? Not really, no. Do I want to donate all my time and effort to an evil or good religion, when I know nothing about either and know it’s just an easy way to tweak my alignment? Sounds kinda dull, truth be told. Do I want to slaughter my sister for a legendary sword, even though I’ve just defeated the final boss and I don’t need it for anything now? I think I’ll pass, thanks.

Some of this is down to the impressive lack of impact that any of Fable’s characters had on me, but the other problem is down to the fact that your morality effects gameplay and statistics, and that is ALL wrong.

For this example we need to go back to an almost equally old game, the rightly-celebrated Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. KOTOR was famous for writing a story with a morally-grey cast and plot. Characters have conflicting motivations and are often doubtful about their actions, making them well developed. They have engaging arcs that change with the story, partly dependent on your actions, which is always a plus.

Even the Jedi/Sith clash is presented a little murkier, with the former being shown sometimes to be antiquated and overly pious, and the latter getting a more nuanced view regarding their desire for perfection and a Darwinian approach to their hierarchy. We even crash one of their Universities at one point, under the guise of a student. The duality of the whole thing is an idea that makes sense to me. After all, the Star Wars movies always blathered on about “the balance of the force,” but it was a little hard to take seriously when it would then immediately turn around and give two fingers to every Sith in the vicinity, all of whom are shown to be so evil that they couldn’t go to a PTA meeting without first disintegrating Mrs. Mulberry two seats down.


Darth Malak wasn’t actually evil. He just wanted to max out his force lightning, and thought this was the most efficient way to do it.

But the constant irritation throughout the entire experience was this – KOTOR has a binary moral choice system, and it made me want to tear my hair out. Not only that, but as you do good or bad actions, you gain “light side points” and “dark side points” respectively, and you get some pretty major upgrades when you get to the highest of each. Sure, you get all the powers regardless of alignment, but without the light points or dark points backing them up, they’re embarrassingly ineffective.

God, it made it annoying. Hearing a character speak with consideration, with detail and complexity, before looking at me and asking my opinion was a fascinating thing to go through. You really do have the power to change their lives dramatically, and you don’t always know if it’s for the better, which makes it all the more interesting. The high point of this was when a Jedi turned to me, torn between her loyalty to the Force and her unbearable passion for another. Should she give up love for honour, or were the Jedi asking too much from a woman who’d already endured so much in their name?

I bristled immediately, wanting to tell her to pursue this feeling in her heart. The combination of a romantic nature and a deep-seated dislike of organised religion awoke in me, and I was about to tell her to throw her arms around her beloved and live happily ever after, when suddenly, a thought occurred.

Do you want to risk those light side points by arguing against the Jedi order? You’re so very close to that healing power maximum you’ve been trying for…

Damn it!

This was not right, not OK. Games like this emphasise choice within the story, are focused on your actions depending on what you want, but this mechanic was being an absolute pig and getting in the way. Suddenly I came over all mercenary, and had to fight an urge to tell her to go and say seven “Hail Jabbas,” or whatever the Jedi equivalent of confession is.

Perhaps this was the intention – after all, one of the principle themes of KOTOR is temptation and the dangers of being weak-willed, but I doubt it. You still get rewards for becoming completely evil as well, powers that are just as effective as the angelic ones, and whilst being a bastard does effect the story, it doesn’t make it shorter or penalise you for it. Hell, you might as well go for all of one or the other, because there’s no reward for being in the middle. When you’re neutral to both sides, the powers that are specific to both are suddenly useless in an equal degree! Hooray! Who needs chocolate or strawberry when you have nice, safe vanilla? Bleagh.

Of course, the final nail in the coffin for moral choice systems is how it can essentially hold the story hostage. For this we need to leap forward a bit in time to 2012, and to Dishonored, a reasonably good stealth game made by Arkane Studios. It’s a kind of gothicky, steampunkey, dark and grim affair in which you sneak around with a set of magic powers and a sword, slicing people up and teleporting away afterwards. Ok, that’s an apple I’m happy to eat, but I think you have some rather large worms in there too.


I am Corvo Attano, the greatest assassin in Dunwall. How do I manage to be so light on my feet? Well, I’m not weighed down by anything heavy, like a personality or interesting character traits.

Dishonored did its best to hide its moral choice system, but what it basically came down to was how many people you had to kill as you went through the game. The state of the city, as well as the ending, changed as you either went around slaughtering people like the offspring of Jack The Ripper and Freddy Krueger, or cuddled them to sleep with soothing song and the occasional neck-squeeze. And the second I knew this was the case, I tried to avoid killing people, because I knew that every time a guard got a crossbow bolt in the eye,the game would be tutting and making a little note on its clipboard. Come on, I didn’t want the thing to give me the fail grade at the end.

See, I happen to know that myself and quite a few other people dislike being given the “evil ending” in a video game. It always feels like a non-standard game over, you know what I mean? Being told that your entire experience with a game added up only to darkness and misery within the little digital world, it all feels a bit cheap, a bit anticlimactic, a bit – well, like failure. But killing people, the very thing that Dishonored sold itself on, is suddenly frowned upon when you start playing. The additional survival mode it had (cheekily released as DLC) showed how fun it was to take the restraints off, and without consequences too. But the main game wouldn’t tolerate it, much to the audience’s disappointment.

So that was frustrating. But the other casualty of the game’s moral choice system was the protagonist’s personality, probably one of the most common fatalities we see from these mechanics. The story has to stretch – there’s no other word for it – to accommodate both potential concepts of hero/villain Corvo Attano. It has to allow for the sweet and saintly Corvo, who never hurt a fly as he went through the game, but it also has to compensate for the version in which he drew his sword in one hand, a pistol in the other, rammed a grenade up his arse, and ran screaming into battle cutting down everything he saw. The end result of this is that the protagonist ended up having no character whatsoever, because any inclination either way runs the risk of contradicting one of these two possibilities.

Some say that the silent protagonist, the voiceless man with no obvious traits is a good thing, something that allows us to project ourselves onto the character. And I can see that it’s true with examples like Link, or the real classic, Gordon Freeman. But it’s different this time. Freeman had no option but to do the actions necessary for survival in Half-Life, allowing us to still put our opinions upon him. Yes, he’s killing aliens every time, but maybe he gets a wonderful rush from the fighting, or maybe he’s terrified and wants only to escape. It’s all down to our perception of him. Perhaps when he’s done stamping on headcrabs for the day, he goes and brags about it at the nearest bar and tries to pick up chicks with his crowbar-waving skills. It’s all up to us.

But it doesn’t apply in the case of Dishonored, which had a strong focus on a linear plot pushed by the implied desires of Corvo himself. He might not say what he wants, but the fact that he always willingly goes along with the instructions means that he must want this to happen, otherwise we’d be getting a variety of choices. Not to mention the fact that he has an established history and relationship with characters, just to finish off any point there would have been to making him a silent protagonist. So he IS a character, but has been essentially hobbled by this choice given to us.

Basically, the point is this: Morality in games is a good thing. Even a simplistic “forces of good against the wicked rise of evil” legend is fair enough. Many great stories and classic myths have had such an angle, and we love them for it. That said, I still think there’s a need for a more complex view of ethics within games – we still coo over titles that focus on both sides of an argument a little more than they deserve, simply for being more detailed than a bloody chessboard – but it’s OK, we can still keep the heroes and villains ideal, as long as we COMPLETELY purge this sort of thing from any and all mechanics.

Bigby punch!

Ah, now here’s a game about Fables that understands morality. You could learn something here, Mister Molyneux.

Choice is fine, but it’s no choice when we already know the answer before we’re asked the question. Right at the beginning of KOTOR, I knew that I was going to pick all the heroic options, because that’s how you get the cool powers. As I was let loose in Dishonored, I understood that to be a killer was to be a failure, regardless of how I wanted to play it. And in Fable, it dawned on me immediately that nearly everyone I met was going to be less interesting than a piece of dry bread in a lecture on mathematics.

Well, that’s about all I have to say on that – Oh, bugger. I just made a huge mistake and put some money in a charity pot, so there goes my hellfire ability. Guess I need to make a baby cry before I can get it back, so I’ll be gone for a while.



Alright, so this one is probably one of few articles where I might actually know what I’m talking about. You see, I’ve always been a comic book geek. I don’t own back catalogues of every issue of Bacon Man, or Mr. Asbestos, or even, god forbid, Squirrel Girl, but I do know a fair bit more than the average punter and have an interest to match. Admittedly, I don’t have a very wide perspective on the industry – my usual tactic is to find one series that suddenly means absolutely everything to me, and read it until my I can no longer think, at least not without a white cloud filled with text appearing above my head.

For this reason, I never really understood Batman in the depth that I’d like to. The absurd amount of history I’d have to catch up with, as well as the prohibitive cost of such an experiment – well, it was generally all enough to keep me too intimidated to approach the series. Kind of appropriate, really.

But I have read a few examples of this ancient franchise, and the one that always sticks with me is the Killing Joke. I won’t spoil much for those who haven’t read it (who really, really, REALLY, should, by the way), but it’s basically about the Joker, and what sticks with me is what Batman tells him at the very beginning, the statement from which the whole story stems – the fact that one day, one of them is going to kill the other. They can both see it coming, in the same way that people falling off cliffs can see the ground coming towards them. Big, lethal, unavoidable. Only a matter of time.

And I think Batman was right. Whilst I don’t believe that the comics industry would ever let the Clown Prince Of Crime die (it’s been tried, and they keep fighting it), we could all see that no matter how this went, it would end in blood.

And in the 2012 game: Batman: Arkham City, it did end that way. The Joker died. THE Joker. Not a copy, not a clone, not a disguise or another character or a parallel universe version, or any of that other nonsense that the comics industry likes to pull. He was killed outright, poisoning himself through a combination of foolishness, ambition and failing to trust Batman to do the right thing. You can’t say it wasn’t fitting.


RIP, Joker. You’re killing angels in Heaven, now.

People were rightly sceptical, usually because games that are adapting or drawing from some larger franchise are always scared of upsetting the status quo. Theories went around, speculating on how “Mister J” pulled off his greatest practical joke ever, faking his own death right before Batman’s eyes. But months went by, DLC was released, and he didn’t come back. In the end, Rocksteady Studios confirmed it – he’s gone. He’s not coming back, he’s not going to be in Arkham Knight.

Perhaps this is all smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that he WILL return triumphant in the final game, which is coming out in less than a month. Maybe it will all come full circle, but it doesn’t have to. The game looks good, it can survive without him in it, if they do it right, but that’s the point. I have a nasty suspicion that my feelings about the Joker’s death at the end of this series aren’t going to be “What a bold direction,” or “Such fascinating implications.” I suspect I’m going to be thinking one thing only.

“…Was that it?”

Killing the Joker is not forbidden ground, but it is at the very least sacred, so show it some bloody respect. Remember that this is not just some villain who happened to be in the first game. This is a figure who has become so infamous in our culture that he has risen to the level of minor deity. And what was he in his own fictitious world? Insanity given form. If the Grim Reaper is the manifestation of death, then the Joker has ascended to become the manifestation of madness, the true embodiment of it.

It’s a hell of an achievement. Removing such an icon from the world should have consequences, it should feel important, you know what I mean? This wasn’t just a man that died, it was The Joker.

But Arkham City ended too fast to really appreciate that. We don’t see the impact that such a loss has except for a brief bit of DLC about Harley going nuts, and Arkham Origins was just footling around until this next game, the important one, was finished.

But Rocksteady have been so vigorous in their denial that he’s returning, not to mention the fact that he’s gone unmentioned in the advertising campaign for so long, that I can’t help but feel uneasy. Have they forgotten about him? Are there only going to be token references to him before he’s swept under the rug to be replaced by less interesting characters like the Mad Hatter and Catwoman?

Mad Hatter


I’m starting to feel that this is the case, and it feels wrong. Joker is a fascinating figure, the strangely intimate relationship he has with Batman is worth exploring on its own. His death? Well, that’s worthy of its own franchise, but it’s not going to get that much space. It’s got to share now. And the other villains don’t seem very willing to make much room for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some mournful fanboy whining for my favourite characters to come back. I wouldn’t have been bothered if the Joker had just been put back in the Asylum for Arkham Knight, in order to give the other villains time to shine. But they KILLED him. The writer in me feels the need to rebel at how ignored such a fascinating concept is appearing to be. Maybe the final game will do the event justice, but I’m not feeling confident about it.

Demolishing a beautiful building can be acceptable, if you plan to build something better where it stood. It’s risky, but admirable when it comes to intentions. But don’t kick down a palace in order to build a block of tenement flats. And more importantly, just to keep this rather endless metaphor going, don’t forget the foundations you’ve built on.

Preg test

I’m still annoyed that nothing happened, but it’s probably in the hypothetical child’s favour. Who’s his godfather going to be, Killer Croc?

It won’t be the first time Rocksteady have pulled this rubbish. The worst example was what I can only think of as “the pregnancy scare” in the second game. It might’ve been an even more interesting plot device than the Joker’s death itself. It was simple, subtle, clever. As we walk through the hideout shared by the Joker and Harley Quinn, in the corner of one room is a used pregnancy test.

It’s reading positive.

My mind boggled at that. It was such a simple idea, brimming with promise. The Joker, a father? What would he be like in those circumstances? What would the child be like? If Harley Quinn had to choose between them, what would she do? Could Batman ever trust the child when it grew up?

I can almost hear somebody yelling “spoilers,” so let me stop you right there – it’s not a spoiler. At some point after the game, I can only assume that the writers panicked, decided they had bitten off more than they could chew, and hastily tried to fill in the hole they had dug for themselves. In the DLC that takes place several months later, we see the room again, and this time it’s full of pregnancy tests, all reading negative, and the box they come in now has a footnote we hadn’t seen before, stating that you might get the occasional false result and it’s best to be sure.

That sounds smart to me. You know, being certain before you commit to anything. You wouldn’t want to feel really excited and hopeful about something that wasn’t really happening, would you? Because that would be rubbish.