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.


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.


Alright, kiddos, today we take a history lesson back to the forgotten times when food was neon, big hair was a big thing, and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, except they changed their names to Stallone and Schwarzenegger, so as to go unnoticed and sneak into positions of political and commercial power without anybody complaining.

Yes, it’s the eighties, that time we’d all rather forget about. Quite frankly, I never understood the appeal of that era. Alright, there were a few songs I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I like, but what about the thirties? Flappers, stylish suits and some great swing music, not to mention the Wizard Of Oz and the Empire State Building.

I guess I’m reluctant to think back to the eighties because I’m a gamer, and video games and the eighties go together like heavy drinking and an on-call heart surgeon. Except that whilst a botched operation only makes the patient’s nose buzz, at least according to what I’ve heard about it, gaming in the Reagan years was nothing short of lethal.

You see, in 1983 there came to be the infamous Video Game Crash, an absolute implosion of the industry that almost wiped gaming out of the public’s hands altogether. It hit Atari worst, probably rightly so, and there are certain games that we point at accusingly when the subject comes up (more on that later), but everybody who made consoles, or just made games for them, felt the noose around their necks.

But today it seems to be considered kind of cool to expect another imminent crash. I study games design at university, and everybody on my course always nods sagely like some cut-rate fortune-teller (so just a fortune-teller, then) when the subject of 1983 gaming comes up. Apparently history is due to repeat itself. Well, everybody seems to hope that it will, in the style of some biblical flood that sweeps away companies like EA and Ubisoft whilst leaving all the nice indie designers alone.

Are they mad? You’re all studying how to design games, you berks. If the coin comes up tails again we’re all out of a job, and besides, do you really think the big corporations will somehow die before the little ones do? The tiny companies are going to be the first to sink beneath the water, with their stumpy legs and low brand recognition. It’ll be worse this time round.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We need to know if this event is coming back round at any time soon, and to do that we have to look at the old problems of the market. Time for an eighties-style montage.


Back in the era when Return Of The Jedi was new, part of the problem for games designers was that their corporate masters, Atari in particular, basically considered them to be expendable lackeys. They weren’t credited for their games of course, why the hell would they credit the people that made the product? They also weren’t paid royalties for the games that they helped create, so we have the slightly surreal idea that they could make an amazing hit bought by everybody and their dog, and were still considered lucky to scrape a living salary for one. It would be like Leonardo DiCaprio being paid ten quid an hour whilst filming Titanic.

Of course, many designers decided that this wasn’t good enough, and started to split off from the major companies to form their own third-party studios, the first of which was Activision. After a while there were about a billion third-party developers, so all’s good, right? Lots of companies means lots of nice games being made, and those Atari meanies get what’s coming to them.


I feel like ominous music should be playing. Is that just me? It can’t just be me, right?

Well, no. There was never any shortage of developers for Atari and their ilk to scoop up, but the consequence of many more companies, all making games for consoles without needing their permission, was inexperienced developers producing terrible games. Without the guiding hand of the major publishers, staggering out releases and demanding a certain level of quality, dreadful games started being pumped out into the marketplace like sewage into a lake. Damn, we were so close. I guess people just don’t deserve freedom.



Do you see this?! Do you?! This is why nobody likes the eighties anymore!

Try going onto the Android app store. Then, when your head has finished spinning and you’ve played some of its very terrible releases, you might get an idea of what the problem was back then. With the glut of crappy games being spat out into the market, many of which were commissions from businesses who wanted a certain product sold (The Kool-Aid game, anyone?), suddenly the market was flooded with derivative, awful games that were indistinguishable from the very few good ones. People lost trust in the quality of the industry and only bought those games that they felt they could be sure about, badly wounding the marketplace and causing profits to plunge.

Of course, it wasn’t just games that were flooding the market. In an age where there are essentially three entities making consoles – Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo – it might seem strange to think that there were so many black rectangles on the shelves back then, that we might have been inside a shop for Monoliths, but there really were. At the time of the crash there were almost a dozen different consoles on the market. Some were updated versions of old ones, but they were all functionally different and none could play any of the same games as they others. This meant that when a game was released, even if you were interested in it, you only had a one-in-twelve chance of it being compatible for the ugly cuboid you happened to have. That said, there was a smarter choice, and before long people knew it.



… Well, I’m sure it seemed better back then.

As it is today, so it shall forever be. Yes, the PC was the preferable alternative to a console. The home computer was the up and coming thing back in the eighties, and because those interested in gaming tend to have an interest in modern technology, it meant that the people who were buying games didn’t always need a console, not when they had a PC at home.

Not to mention that the computers at the time were more powerful and had more memory than any of the leading consoles, meaning that all of the more sophisticated games ended up in your study, and not in your living room. And of course, your console only plays games. Your computer could do ANYTHING. Well, anything that could fit on a floppy disk, but people thought it was the best thing ever. It just didn’t make sense for the public to buy something less practical, less powerful, and less useful. It didn’t take long before they’d all worked this out, and the consequences were nasty for those caught in the flak.

The console manufacturers just couldn’t keep up. For a while they had an edge, being the cheaper option, but when computers started dropping in price to outsell each other, the real casualty was the Atari line-up and its band of brothers.


It’s a business plan that still exists with consoles today. Make a product, and hope the thing can make its money back from related merchandise, i.e. the games it plays. Loss leaders, eh? I don’t see anything that could go wrong here.

Atari were doing the same thing back in the day, making consoles that they knew wouldn’t profit and planning to make their real money through the games that they released on them. Maybe the Atari 2600 won’t do great, but if we sell enough copies of Combat, we can make our way out of the red and finally all get paid. Sound good?

Sounds idiotic, actually. Without restricting third-party support, not to mention the issue of games being for other consoles, the flood of derivative titles meant that somebody could pinch your idea and do it better. Not only that, but they could be cheeky enough to do it on your own platform. Atari were forced to witness other developers making games for their own consoles, undermining their profits and stopping any chance of this strategy coming up as rosy as they’d hoped. And with the public unable to tell any of these similar games apart, none of them made much money in the end, what with a roughly equal distribution of success that satisfied nobody.

Of course, some games didn’t deserve even that much success.


Aagh! It’s come back! Kill it! Kill it!


What, you thought I’d get through the whole article without mentioning these two scoundrels? No such luck, I’m afraid. Yes, it’s E.T. and Pac-Man, the two that couldn’t live up. We’ll deal with these one at a time, so I don’t feel like mashing a spike into my brain, and we’ll start with the slightly less offensive of the two.

To my mind Pac-Man is a greatly overrated game, even at the best of times. Yes, it’s an integral part of gaming history, but there are older games that have aged better. Tetris, for example. So I was slightly gleeful when I found out that the stupid yellow circle had let the public down with its movement to the Atari 2600 in 1982.

I don’t know what they thought would happen. The game was visibly worse than the arcade version which it was based on, but this was pretty much to be expected. The development was done by a single man, pressured by both the public and Atari for a really good port, and of course he could never deliver on his own. Whilst the game sold well, it was mostly from pre-orders and the first few day of sales, before anybody knew what they were paying hard-earned cash for.

And it worked as well then as it does now. When they saw the mess they had put into their consoles, excitement turned to disgust, and people were understandably upset. See, this is the danger of pre-ordering. You’ve essentially paid money for a product that doesn’t exist yet and is under no obligation to be good now that it’s made the cash already. How did you think this was going to go?

Pac-Man made its money, but the impact on the public was bad. The scales started to fall from their eyes and they began to see the quality of games for what they really were. They only needed one more push…

… And in Christmas, 1982, it came. E.T. The Video Game, for the Atari 2600. Order now and get your own statue of Icarus thrown in, screaming as he plummets towards the Earth.

E.T. has achieved some weird cult status just by its sheer, dribbling awfulness, and yes, I’ve tried it. You can find it online without too much difficulty, and I wanted to know more about the game that is commonly referred to by those who remember this catastrophe as “The Worst Game Ever.”


No jokes here. Seriously, nothing. I don’t want to make jokes after playing this fucking game for twenty minutes.

Well, after playing it for a while, I can safely say that if E.T. isn’t the worst game ever, it’s making a pretty good try for it. Watching an ugly crooked sprite bleep his way from frame to frame, falling in every pit just because it looked at him funny, and watching a timer count down to your death with no way to speed it up enough, the whole thing is just staggeringly awful, even for its time. By the even harsher standards of today, it comes somewhere between Malaria and Michael Bay movies.

But then, in retrospect it almost seemed like this game’s destiny. Right from the beginning it was going to have huge difficulty getting anywhere near profit. Atari spent about twenty million just to get the film rights, and were desperate to have it out for Christmas, whilst the film’s popularity was still high and the market would be just right.

But in order to make enough copies, the programming had to be done by September, and they’d only gotten the green light to start designing in the last week of July. With just over a month to make a bestseller, a small team got to work and diligently went about screwing everything up, including rejecting ideas by Spielberg himself, who saw the hideous monstrosity they’d made and suggested that they make something very different instead. Sorry, Steve. You might be thought of as clever, with your celebrated understanding of pop culture and having made the very inspiration for the game we’re working on, but we think we’re onto something with this repeated pit-falling lark.

The true irony is that Atari weren’t just walking towards failure – they were throwing coal in the engine and going as fast as they could. They advertised E.T. more than Catholicism advertises misery, and the result was that the public were chomping at the bit to get this exciting game when the Holiday season rolled around.

Only when they finally did chomp, they immediately spat it back out, and Atari was horrified to realise that having made four million copies of this freak show, three and half million had been unsold or sent back. These unwanted copies were promptly buried in a New Mexico dump, with a few Atari consoles added for good measure, in a manner that is staggeringly reminiscent of a sacrificial offering.

The end result of all this was to help finish what Pac-Man and other failures had started: The realisation that most games being sold on the market were embarrassingly awful. The crash wasn’t the sole fault of E.T., but it certainly was one of the worst offenders.

The financial fallout hit Atari hardest and came close to finishing it off, and the dying star that was the industry became a black hole that started to suck everybody into it. Damn, I guess I can no longer consider the Xenomorph to be the scariest alien lifeform. E.T. is the only one who ever actually helped destroyed an industry, the long-necked little bastard.


So what does this mean today? Are we due a second crash? Can a stable games market only be a fleeting dream?

Well, I don’t think we’ve got problems, at least not within the next five years. The market isn’t saturated on consoles for certain, so that isn’t an issue by any means. There are major games that disappoint, yes, but the wider spread and variation in the industry, not to mention how easy it is to find specific kinds of games with the help of the internet (you’re welcome) means that people can find something that suits them without too much difficulty.

Not to mention that the big companies are now nothing short of suspicious when it comes to third-party support. You don’t do anything without their permission, bucko. They’re the Godfathers of gaming. Previously it was the fault of the unrestricted, unsupervised production of games and the disinterest in the wider market. They were the major causes of the last crash, the ones that ruined everything and the big corporations have put a lid on it now, for better or worse.

There’s other factors that are different. A great deal of the old crash was due to the failure of arcade machines, and gaming on the computer never died at all. So the PC master race can relax, because history shows us that their babies can endure anything.

Anyway, time to go throw a brick through Atari’s window. I feel they’ve earned it.


Oh dear, this isn’t Bethesda’s week, is it? Fallout 4, perhaps one of the most anticipated titles since Skyrim, is announced to the world at large with a big, flashy trailer. Except that whilst it was big, it wasn’t that flashy. The public, it seems, aren’t too enthused about the graphics.

And yes, I’ll admit it. Games these days can and do look better in terms of aesthetic realism. The dog that bounces around the trailer as a focal point is probably the most noticeable flaw. It moves well, mostly, and has the right kind of behavioural animation, but it looks kind of flat. The fur that doesn’t look like fur, the slightly angular body shape, the way its feet don’t quite seem to touch the ground with any impact, it all makes it look a bit like a robot – a really well-made robot, mind you – that had an Alsatian painted over the top of its chassis.

What else? Well, the humans have Lego hair, we see a couple of people with an identical running animation (one that looks a little floaty, like in the previous game), the ghouls in the supermarket somehow push against big metal trolleys with no resistance, and people’s faces seem to have that slightly glassy, mannequin look that’s almost a Bethesda trademark at this point. No, it’s not the best graphics I’ve seen in a major video game, not by a long shot.

And yet, I don’t really care. Because it looked gorgeous.


The outside world’s not in HD? Guess we’re staying underground, then.

This is probably what I was most excited about from the trailer, because the series really seems to have gotten some colour back into its cheeks. Everything, from the contrasting blue cot in the faded bedroom, to the bright, toybox spectrum of the pre-war streets, to the beautiful cinematic shot of the neo-noir city, it all shone with visual personality.

I really liked Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I did tire of greys, greens and browns. I know that this world is meant to look scarred and sickly, but there’s a difference between faded colours and no colours at all. So Fallout 4 splattering itself with all the best members of the rainbow is a plus in my book.

Not to mention the visual design, something that stays with us long after we’ve forgotten about the graphics. The sweeping shot of the huge pirate ship, the mighty doom-Zeppelin floating in the thunderstorm, the prowling deathclaw in the radioactive mist, they all point to ideas that aren’t just realistic, they look good. Old concepts like the Protectrons have gotten some life into them visually, with the glint of a red LED eye shining within their circuitry, or the hanging suit of DIY power armour, a massive network of hydraulics and gears solemnly draped from its supports. Even the blue Vault-tec jumpsuits look more blue. The whole thing seems delighted to see you, and that’s pretty cool.

I know, the images could be better, could be clearer. They still might be – remember, this is a trailer, not a finished product – but yes, it would be nice if they were as svelte as other games, Perhaps it’s a little disappointing that a game with this kind of pedigree and expectation behind it couldn’t manage graphically what titles with smaller budgets can do, but I still can’t bring myself to be all hot and bothered over it. You could record an orchestra doing Beethoven on your phone, and yeah, it might be little grainier than intended. But it’s still Beethoven. It’s still excellent at its core.


Here I am, brain the size of a planet…

Perhaps I’m just bitter because an excellent game series has just been announced to have a fresh new game incoming, and all anybody can talk about is the aspect to games that engages me the least. Nobody’s talking about what might be contained in Vault 111, or whether we get to use vehicles for the first time, or if we might see a user interface that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out. I can’t help but notice the ugly cube of a Pip-Boy lashed to the protagonist’s arm. If he has any sense at all, he’ll drop it for an iPhone the first chance he gets.


So Fallout 4 got announced today after a “mysterious” online countdown, and everybody on the internet either cried, fainted, or stained their underwear en masse.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve been super-hyped about games before, most people have. Not to mention that the Fallout Series has a proud lineage of some genuinely excellent games, as well as one of the most charismatic interpretations of a nuclear wasteland I’ve ever seen, a sentence I never thought I’d say. Bethesda are pretty good at delivering high quality games, and sandbox has always been their bread and butter, so yeah – this one’s probably worth getting a little excited over.

Fallout 4 trenchcoat

Tex Murphy? What are you doing here?

No, what I want to talk about is the way it was announced and the events leading up to it. I realise that this is the second article this week about ad campaigns, but I felt rather startled by the relative clarity of Fallout 4’s announcement. It was all very smooth, very clear, it all just made sense, whilst keeping us in the dark just enough to make us curious. It wasn’t only me who thought this – a friend of mine, the biggest Fallout fan I know, agreed with this too. The whole thing just ran like watery clockwork.

That said, I guess they didn’t want to make people too suspicious or to act too coy about it all, because there’s some rather raw history there. There was a rather famous hoax a couple of years ago, when somebody made a false site themed with nuclear imagery, also utilising a countdown, but this one went for two weeks before the lie was revealed. Everybody got really excited about it then, too, and of course got very, very angry when they found out the truth. Meanwhile, I had my fist in my mouth and was trying desperately not to laugh.

I know, people got upset by it, but a buddy of mine got upset when he was hit in the head by a Frisbee, and I laughed at that too.

Fallout 4 explosion

H- Honey? Did… Did you happen to leave the gas on?

But I rather admire Bethesda’s methodology here. They start with the mysterious countdown, except everybody knows it’s not THAT mysterious, so no chance of people’s imagination running away with them. On top of which, it only went for 24 hours, so that should stop any of the more extreme conspiracy theories about it being Nuclear Skyrim or Half-Life 3 getting any traction in the short time period. Of course, the countdown, though brief, did last long enough to get everybody who was on the lookout for such an event aware of it. Gold star there.

The trailer? Well, it’s pretty good. It shows the pre-war aspect of the Fallout universe, something we’ve never seen in much detail. It shows epic pirate ships, an updated version of the old deathclaws, and what looks like the killer Zeppelin from the end of Alan Moore’s “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Enough to remind us of the stuff we love, mixed in with enough mystery to awake our curiosity, the most powerful urge we have. Now I WANT to know more, it’s the same as the XCOM 2 trailer we saw on Monday. There’s a lot of footage that looks like it’s from the game, though no gameplay itself, sadly. Except that at the same moment it was released Bethesda chirped that we get to see gameplay at E3 later on. Fair enough, now I know where to go for that info if I want it. Gold star again.

It may sound like all this is fairly normal or self-explanatory, but games are so often the subject of bizarre or damaging ad campaigns. Whether it’s Aliens: Colonial Marines lying to the public outright, or Ubisoft refusing to contextualize the cover of Far Cry 4 in order to stop it from looking racist (which it wasn’t in the end, but I wish we knew that), a lot of publishers will do weird things to advertise their games. It’s simply not true that all publicity is good publicity, at least not for games. So why do publishers indulge bizarre methods when it comes to getting the brand out there?

They get especially odd when it comes to leaked information. If a bit of gameplay info gets out onto the internet without clearance, the first thing everybody does is look to the developers, one eyebrow raised. Yes or no? True or false? And remember that if they say nothing, we’ll probably believe it anyway.

Fallout 4 Dog

Let’s not get too affectionate, Gromit. I may have to eat you before this adventure is over.

But they always go quiet, always go still. Like a crocodile lying at the bottom of a river, they’re waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Except that whilst they’re waiting, a lion has already killed the prey by the riverbank, and is starting to drag it off to eat. But still that crocodile just lies there, determined to come out when he’s ready, regardless of how badly he’s ballsed up his strategy or how much the world has altered in ways not to his advantage.

You see, I suspect that the publishers always have a Plan. A big, proper Plan. The kind with charts and folders and the like. You know the kind I mean, it would probably go something like this:

  • Month one: make suggestive noises in an interview, but don’t commit to anything.
  • Month two: surprise everybody at a convention with gameplay.
  • Month three: Lie through your teeth, because anything will fly with enough hot air beneath it.
  • Month four: Rent forklift truck to carry our pre-order money back to the office.

And whether out of pride, terror, stubborness, or just plain idiocy, they can never deviate from that Plan. Even when it’s in their best interests to give it up and just do something much more sensible, they never do. Too much investment, perhaps, or they just can’t work out how to react to events that fast. That’s why a rough plan, or one that is very simple, is much more beneficial. It’s less of a house of cards, less dependant on everything else. That’s why Fallout knows what it’s doing in this regard. Keep it simple, keep it memorable, keep it short. A+.

Now to remind myself of the series properly. Except for Little Lamplight, of course. That sequence can go suck on the business end of a MIRV.


OK, so full disclosure: I haven’t played the Witcher 3. I don’t want to play the Witcher 3. I tried playing the first game in that series, and the combination of a slow story, aggressive interface, and what I can only think of as startlingly boring combat drove me away within hours. Perhaps the second and third games are better, but everybody who recommends them to me has also been a fan of the snooze-fest that was Witcher uno, so I don’t quite trust them enough yet.

But what caught my eye was a bit of news going around – World War Witcher 3 has been given a massive patch to sort out what apparently is a huge amount of bugs, glitches, and general fuck-ups in its code, the kind not seen outside of the genetic structure of the Lannister family.

Witcher Bird


But that can’t be right. Last time I saw Metacritic, “Glitcher 3” (snarf, snarf) was getting nines and tens across the board, people were getting in line just to kiss its feet like it was some disinterested saint. Surely a game as hostile to being played as this one can’t be doing so well?

Alright, let’s consider a game I DO know, and can refer to with confidence: Batman: Arkham Origins. I bought that game on release, I loved its predecessors, I was really excited to start punching badly-dressed villains again. I dragged it into Steam like a fisherman dragging some humongous trout onto the riverbank, only to cut it open and realise that this trout had quite a few parasites going.

Let’s be frank, the game was absolutely toxic. It faulted and crashed with clockwork regularity, the frame rate dropped like a cartoon anvil, one bug stopped me completing a side mission altogether, and of course there were clipping issues and all of the other things you can expect from a game that has hasn’t so much been crafted, as it has been coughed up.

In actual fact, that game itself was alright. Not amazing, just vaguely OK. But I don’t remember thinking that at the time. I only remember shouting with rage at a game that had just conned me out of forty pounds. Another reason never to pre-order anything ever, I thought, and don’t think I’m not going to write an article on pre-orders at some point too.

The terrible glitches weren’t even at their worst for me. A friend of mine got three-quarters of the way through the game, at which point it had some sort of panicky stroke and corrupted all his save data, forcing him to begin anew. Then it set his Xbox on fire and attacked his granny with a knife, just to hammer the point home.


You might think that you’re evil, Joker, but have you seen the quality that this game was released in? That’s much worse than murder and theft.

But it didn’t hammer the point home. Nobody remembers the glitches anymore, not really. Nobody brings them up when you talk about Arkham Origins, not unless you remind them. But this seems bizarre to me – how on earth did they truly get away with this? Sending out something of this meagre quality, not to mention a title from such a prestigious series as the Arkham games, it’s inexcusable. It should have clung to their reputation like a permanent bloody stain, not a slight bit of dust for them to brush off at their convenience. It took about a month for Origins to finally get patched to the quality where it could be played, and quite a lot longer after that for it to be properly clean.

And Witcher 3 is apparently just as bad. The site I saw the news of the patch on was followed by a comment section longer than À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, all of which was messages from players, rightly complaining about the problems they’d been having, some of which sounded pretty game-breaking.

But something tells me that in the long term, nobody will remember these glitches. The Witcher 3 will just deal with them when it feels like it, and the gaming public will just smile and thank CD Projekt Red for being so nice as to sort out its broken title that we paid money for. How generous of them, how thoughtful, when what actually should be happening is that they should get on their hands and knees and apologise, hoping and praying that the public is generous enough to buy whatever DLC and later titles they make.

The surreal thing is that this attitude is limited to games. Imagine if a film was released where the scenes were in the wrong order, or a book was sold that had a dozen pages where the ink had run and made it illegible. Neither would sell a single copy, the people responsible would be fired in a heartbeat. At the very least there would have to be some sort of show of apology. Because that ISN’T acceptable, not at that level. Releasing a broken or ineffectual product is a cheat, it’s a lie. It shouldn’t happen and there is no excuse, bar corporate sabotage by a rival company. They’re not doing you a favour by patching it, they’re trying to pull their career and reputation out of a nose dive.

At least, that would be the case in other media. But there’s something unhealthily submissive about gaming culture. We sit plaintively, hoping for any scraps that the big businesses might throw us, forgetting that we aren’t dependant on them. They’re dependant on us, and it’s about time we reminded them of it, because when they sell you something that malfunctions like Apollo 13 in the hands of a technophobe, they deserve to be called out on it. They don’t respect you enough to give you a working form of the product. And don’t kid yourself, they didn’t miss the fact that it’s filled with glitches. They built the thing, they knew what was coming out.


I prefer the using the road, myself. Or are you scared you’re going to clip straight through it?

So the next time a game is released that’s buggy and sickly and doesn’t want to be played, show it the same feeling – don’t play it. If it’s buggy, don’t buy it. Wait until it’s been patched, wait until it actually works, because that will make the publishers sweat like nothing else in the world. First-week sales mean everything to them, so if you hear that it’s faulty, just wait seven days. If everybody did that, there wouldn’t be any more of this shameful behaviour.

Look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity. That game might have been dreadful, but I kind of like it now, just because it brought us all together against a common enemy. It showed what happens when the industry tries to push too far – it gets pushed right back, by something far stronger than it could ever hope to be. Ubisoft gave in when it realised it couldn’t get away with the unbelievably bad quality of Unity, and had to jump through about fifty hoops just to placate the audience. And even then, the game will be remembered as “the broken one in the series.”

So that’s my advice. Do now what you did then if you see some bug-ridden game. Ignore it. And if you bought it without knowing what it was like, don’t let the developers forget it. Demand your money back, get on their case, threaten to boycott later titles. Because if you wait for bugs to leave, they’ll just start multiplying. But if you stamp on them now, and stamp hard, they’ll think twice before they come back.


Oh my god oh my god oh my god! A trailer was just released for XCOM 2! I’m so excited! I feel like a little girl about to meet some handsome boy band! Oh, I must be sure to sniff its hair and steal its sweatband.

But hold on, something is strange. Something feels… Different. I haven’t felt like this about a trailer for a while, but why is that? Let’s reverse-engineer this delight and compare it to something else I saw a trailer for recently: Star Wars: Battlefront.

Quite frankly, I didn’t feel fussed at all when I watched that one. Just kind of unimpressed, and a little bit annoyed. But that doesn’t seem right, surely? I have great nostalgia and love for both the Battlefront and XCOM games, I’ve sunk many hours into both, probably more into Battlefront, actually. So why now do I feel the need to stand on one side so firmly? And no, it’s not because Battlefront is made by EA. The game hasn’t been released yet, and if it’s good then people should buy it, because that’s what promotes good things and keeps people making them. If it’s a micro-payment littered pile of garbage, then I’m not interested, and yes, people should leave it on the shelf.

But I digress.

I think one of the reasons that SWB left me so limp (metaphorically speaking) was that there actually wasn’t anything new in there. No new angle on Star Wars as a concept, nothing to suggest any progression.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-54-00-57

“Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t kiss on the first date.”

It really is the same old thing. Rebels fight in bulky green outfits and all speak in broad American accents. The Empire is English-exclusive, and uses strangely-designed vehicles built by the lowest bidder. I’ll be honest, I’ve seen it all before, and then, just to give you no credit, Darth Vader and Boba Fett pop out of nowhere and for no reason, except to make all the fanboys swoon like women from a nineteenth-century romance novel. But where’s the twist? Where’s the movement forward? For a series based around travel across the galaxy, Star Wars really doesn’t want to go anywhere.

XCOM, on the other hand, gives us nothing but questions. The whole world appears to have changed since the last game, which was essentially the world we live in now, albeit subjected to the occasional alien invasion. But now we seem to be living with the bug-eyed monsters from Mars. In fact, the little sods seem to be in charge! I spent a lot of time trying to beat them back, I’m rather miffed about how easily they got in. Honestly, you leave for ten minutes and everybody just gives up.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-47-19-177

What you can’t see is the bumper sticker on the back that says “My other car is also a Porsche.”

I like the tone of the trailer as well. There’s a touch of Blade Runner and 1984 to the whole thing, with aliens stopping humans in the street for random tests, and massive TV screens smilingly telling us to do what our new overlords ask, with no pause to think for ourselves. THAT’S intriguing. That makes me want to play, to find out what happened. They’ve sparked my curiosity now. Not only that, but there’s new sorts of aliens to feast our eyes on. We see the Ethereals from the first game, making some strange messiah-pose on a billboard, but we also see a snakey-looking thing that wasn’t around before, power-armour soldiers who are unnervingly faceless, and what appears to be a big brother to the classic sectoid enemies. In fact, let’s be honest, that thing is absolutely terrifying. I think I’d rather be trapped in a room with a rampant muton beserker than left for a minute with one of those.

Scared isn’t bored, though. And I’m not bored, I’m fascinated. This world is one I want to explore, to find out about. I want to leap on board the giant XCOM helicarrier they showed us at the end, I want to pilot that angry little taser drone that zapped one of the bad guys, and most of all I want to give those aliens another good hiding. This has all made me ready for round 2.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-54-21-701

What do we think? Good news or bad news?

But Star Wars? Well, there’s a saying that fits. Been there, done that. The game might still be good, but the trailer didn’t get me excited for anything, I’ve done it all before. EA aren’t offering any new ideas, they’ve just put the old ones in a different game. And be honest with yourself, even though the trailer was made with the game’s engine, do you really think you’re looking at what the game is actually going to be like? I doubt it, because if the gameplay was that amazing… Well, they’d have shown us gameplay, not a movie wearing the skin of a video game.

Remember, neither of these evaluations are evaluations of the final product. Battlefront might be awesome, XCOM might be a load of old arse. But it doesn’t look like that here. XCOM is intriguing me, being rather coquettish and winking from behind its paper fan. Star Wars, on the other hand, has basically walked into the middle of the room and thrown off its dress, showing me everything it has, warts and all. And I don’t want warts. Yes, XCOM might have warts in the end, but it’s done a masterful job of hiding them, and I don’t think it only wants to do the missionary position, Star Wars. You could learn a thing or two here.

(Joel Franey would like to make it very clear that he has never paid for physical affection, except in the strictest sense of karmatic justice. He’d also like to make it very clear that women with warts aren’t necessarily doomed to loneliness and may still find love with another. Just not with him.)

I intended to release a longer piece on Dark Souls today, but this trailer came out a couple of hours ago and I thought was worth writing about whilst we remembered it. Expect Dark Souls soon.