Monday, September 27, 2010


When going for a walk becomes a trial of the soul.....

As the evenings draw in, and the those long, hot summers nights become nothing more than just a distant memory, we find that those merry jaunts amongst other upbeat evening strollers enjoying the balmy late sunshine, have been replaced by a whole new mysterious type of experience where each and every person you encounter is shrouded in mystery, and paranoia is at an all time high. Evening stroll etiquette at this time of year is something that we all have our ideas on but unfortunately some people do not adhere to it as strictly as others.

During the summer 'the rules of the path' aren't as in depth or circuitous as when the darker seasons creep their way unrelentingly into our lives, jovial walkers will greet each other with the same enthusiasm on their nineteenth way round as they did on their first, and will endeavour to fill those few seconds when they cross each other paths with any inane commment that may come to mind, such is the feel good factor during the heady seasons. They may start off with a cursory nod which will have progressed to a 'lovely evening now' by the third time round, and once the evenings walk has been completed they've managed to cram in enough conversation in those bite sized chats to consider each other walking buddies for life. Dogs will happily sniff each others nether regions without fear of reprisal, children will run wild and free, groups of baying youths will be dismissed as 'lovable scamps' and all in all there is an almost bohemian spirit to proceedings with the general consensus being, it doesn't get better than this. However once the darkness claims us, things change in an almost inexplicable manner.

To even motivate yourself to get up off the couch on a chilly wintry evening is an achievement in itself it has to be said, cosy living room, a piping hot plate of carb heavy dinner slowly digesting away, Champions League football back on the telly, why on earth would you want to leave this safe haven and venture out into a world of misery and danger where the only hope of salvation is the fruitless pursuit of one of those natural highs that you've been reading so much about. Staying indoors and protecting yourself from frostbite seems all the high that anyone could ever need, but yet you somehow find yourself getting your winter uniform and preparing yourself military style for the unseen threat that lurks at the other side of your front door. But once you've become attired in wooly garments from head to toe and braved the initial blast of the vindictive wind which permeates your entire body and actually stops your heart in it's tracks for a nanosecond, you begin to quite enjoy yourself as you head to the walkway of your choice determined to stock up on enough endorphins to see you through the night.

The first problem that you'll invariably encounter on a winters stroll is just how deserted things are, long gone are the scores of merry marchers and in their place are a few hardy souls interspersed with remarkably unbeat rotund types, who seem to have been walking these same paths for eternity and if anything have put on weight rather than lost it. A lone walker in this environment will always be quite conspicuous and regardless of how well mannered a person you are, you are essentially a menace to society and will be viewed and treated as such. Having found myself in this scenario on many an occasion, and considering myself a valuable addition to all society and certainly not a menacing presence in any shape or form, it's quite alarming how my own paranoia allows to me to begin to believe that I may indeed be someone to be feared and avoided at all costs. The lengths and measures that I will go to to ensure that I don't have to encounter other walkers and run the risk of being pepper sprayed for saying hello, are in retrospect quite bizarre but until you've run the gauntlet of an evening solo stroll then you can't really begin to understand the inner turmoil that goes with it.

The most annoying thing is when you get stuck walking behind someone who's going at a similar pace to yourself, the first option available is to continue at your normal walking speed and risk the person ahead you imagining themselves in a low budget horror film as you steadily keep pace with them, all the while fretting that you're scaring the shit out of them and that they're suddenly going to break into a sprint not stopping until they reach the nearest police station. Alternatively you can choose to slow right down allowing them to get a reasonable distance ahead before you resume walking at your normal speed, the problem with this though is it leaves you open to being overtaken by someone else and then you're right back to square one again. Another option, and the one I usually choose, is to put the pedal to the metal and attempt to overtake the person ahead. This can be difficult though as sometimes you can underestimate the pace of the walker ahead, you can find yourself running out of gas as you approach them resulting in you walking alongside your foe until you finally manage to forge ahead sweat pissing out of you and your heart ready to explode with the strain of it all.

This may seem like extreme and somewhat unnecessary behaviour, but how many times have you been out for a walk and suddenly become aware of some heavy footsteps trudging incessantly behind you? You're immediate thought is to think of all the bad things you've done in your life and quickly ask God for forgiveness, throwing in a helpless plea for salvation from this homicidal lunatic who any second now is going to enact an execution of unspeakable violence on your tortured soul. Then the rational part of your psyche kicks in and you laugh at yourself for being so foolish, dismissing your would be assailant as just another soldier out facing the harsh conditions to get his endorphin fix. To reassure yourself you chance a rapid glance backwards to see just what kind of monstrosity is now not only making as much noise with his feet as a herd of restless buffalo, but can now be heard breathing like an asthmatic pensioner at a swingers party. But instead of reassurance you're met with ever more blind panic as a dark, sullen figure that seemingly doesn't possess a face or any redeemable human features, is stalking you down with a bloodlust that can only be sated by the ritual mutilation of a 31 year old male weighing in at 12 ½ stone and a height of just over 6 foot. However salvation is afoot with the almost oasis like presence of a glowing orange neon light which for all intents and purposes could be the gates of heaven, with God willingly urging to come hither and take refuge in his kitchen. As you reach the radius of the light and bask in it's glow, you find the strength to turn to face your attacker only to find that he's no longer there. Chances are he realised that he was slowly but surely freaking out the demented idiot walking in front of him so took the safe option and turned for home at an earlier junction, chuckling to himself at the thoughts of telling his wife about the 'fuckin eejit' he saw out on his walk that evening.

So you see going for a walk at this time of year is fraught with danger, real or otherwise, and it takes great inner strength to emerge unscathed, both physically and psychologically, from an evenings carousel. I'd imagine most sane people can go out for a walk at night and not give a seconds thought to stuff like this but there's surely a few that share these same nightly neuroses as I. If you're ever misfortunate enough to encounter me on a night out walking please be aware that I mean you no harm and for God's sake if I try to pass you out just leave me fuckin do it will you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


A revoultionary way of presenting news that will most likely never happen...

At a time when suicide rates are on the increase and more and more people are succumbing to the stresses and strains of modern day life, it's surely about time that we looked at how we receive news from the various media forms available to us now.

Regardless of whether we keep up to date via newspapers, websites, radio or TV the headlines invariably consist of abject misery and despair, with a unhealthy mix of scandal and corruption thrown in for good measure. Why do we allow ourselves to be subjected to this trauma on a daily basis? We already know that unemployment levels are at an all time high, we're fully aware of the fact that babies are dying of starvation and illness in Third World countries, we've heard so many tales about the extra curricular activites of Catholic priests in this country that it's almost impossible to be outraged anymore, granted the latest natural disasters occurring throughout the world do offer a limited macabre shock value, and the sordid exploits of whomever has been caught with their hand in their own peculiar brand of cookie jar do titillate somewhat, but surely we deseve better from the people charged with informing us of events worldwide on an daily, nay hourly basis.

At the end of any hourly news bulletin, or sometimes shoehorned into the 24 hours stations, is what the newsreaders like to tell us is the 'feel good' story of the day. This righteous tale usually documents the plucky antics of a local hero who's come good against all odds, or perhaps a miracle birth from a species considered on it's last legs, with requisite shots of the miracle ball of fluff for extra aaahh factor, or even a humourous parable involving a botched crime replete with youtube video and sheepish perpetrator. But why should this all too brief nugget of joy be something that's only added as an afterthought, in an attempt to make us forgot about the 52 minutes of misery that came beforehand and leave us chuckling softly into our mug of tea, why can't we have that warm feeling resident in our bellies for the duration of the news? It's the same when you open a newspaper, with hard hitting headlines coming at you a dizzying pace until you reach the dark recesses of page 27, and there all of a sudden lies a story of a cat that weighs almost as much as it's owner, tee hee. The way internet users access their news is so diverse across all levels that it's almost unfair to criticise how it's presented to us on that particular outlet, but a quick scan of any of the major news corporation websites tells you that the trend continues unabated online.

Of course for some people, and maybe in fact most people, the way the news is delivered to us is pitch tone perfect and they quite frankly wouldn't have it any other way. These are the kind of people who talk exclusively about the aforementioned misery and despair, whether it's happening to poor Mrs Maguire down the road of thousands of helpless children in Pakistan, and have no interest in hearing about anything that may in any way lighten their mood, as that could lead to them being cheerful for a second ot two which would be anathema to their way of living. These people can be left to their own devices and are welcome to swim in a pit of negativity for the rest of their days so long as they keep it to themselves. But what about the rest of us, those of us who turn on the news, get thirty seconds in and think 'Ah fuck this, not more talk about the recession' and swiftly change over to The Simpsons, or those of us who open a newspaper and think ' I don't care who Rooney's rattling, for Christ sakes', what are we to do?

Already news is broken down into segments, I'll have the sports section please, with your Sunday newspaper resembling an intricate puzzle game where the challenge is to find something, anything which may be of interest, Business sections, Culture sections (are the film reviews in that? I dunno, sure check it and see), Media sections (surely the reviews will be in this bit then), World news sections, Property sections (who plans on buying a house on a Sunday?!?) and various other needless, superflous sections which are discarded within seconds of discovery. Woe betide anyone who turns on the news looking for details on a specific story, said story will appear in the headlines and you'll sit there patiently waiting to be informed by the nice lady whom you'd give anything to see away from her desk, as you suspect the posterior she sits upon to be pertness personified. Ten minutes in and still no sign of her attempting to enlighten you, but she's just promised you that as soon as you endure four minutes of adverts you've seen umpteen times she'll tell you all you need to know, we return from the break and it's not even her talking, it's her smarmy smug faced sidekick with his tie that matches her dress, telling you more about the story that they bored you with ten minutes ago! So if the newsgroups are willing to compartmentalise every titbit of info into the most tenuous of categories, why can't they do us a favour and break it down into two solitary types, the good news and the bad news?

How it would work is thus, you turn on the six o clock news and are faced with the customary stern faced newsreaders who announce with deathly intonations 'And here's todays bad news', at which point they inform all the bloodthirsty, doom mongers of the stories which will form the basis of all their conversations until whatever time they feel their despair lightening and come back for more. Once all the trauma and horror has been dished out in a manner similar to that of a public flogging, it's time for us more upbeat folk to tune in as it's time for the good news! The good news is immediately differentiated from it's morose predecessor, due to the funky intro music and the sight of it's two presenters casually draped over a couch, dressed in whatever clothes they found on the floor of their bedroom that morning. They announce the feel good stories of the day with an air of people who know they're amongst friends, and the symbiance between presenter and viewer is palpable throughout. This style of reporting could even be applied to staple sections like the sports news and the weather, if your team lost or your star striker has slapped in a transfer request then bah you don't need to hear about it, but if your parasitic owners have finally admitted defeat and are selling up then bring it on baby! Similarly for the weather, if it's due to rain all week then there will be a short announcement at the end of the good news, simply stating 'Unfortunately there will be no weather this week, have a nice day', ignorance would indeed be bliss. Even a trip to your local newsagents would be a different experience as you browse the newstands, guiltily tempted to read all about the escaped prisoner with a penchant for eating mutilated body parts, but instead plumping for the daily edition of your good newspaper of choice, swayed by the front cover consisting of a smiling baby and a remarkably cheerful looking orangutan.

We can all accept that there's terrible atrocities being commited all day long, every day of the year, as it's always been thus, but personally I don't feel the need to be forcefed pictures of terrified people enduring what is effectively hell on earth, and similarly I care not for tales of woe concerning some 'tortured soul' who's only sin was to be human, spare me the details I don't want to hear about it. How often in your daily routine do you hear something that genuinely lightens your mood and makes you marvel at the magnificence of man, a life affirming moment if you will, I'd wager that it's not half enough so just think how marvellous it would be if you could sit down to a solid half an hour of stories of that very nature on a daily basis. Scoff all you like, but personally I shan't be watching the news again until I'm guaranteed something that will lighten the load and restore my faith in humanity.

Friday, September 10, 2010





...................................You know it's a slow news week when you see headlines like this appear in some of the more kneejerk media outlets that we're misfortunate enough to be exposed to, is it really any wonder that parents are left wondering about the effects of modern day games on their children when it's reported on in such a manner. For some unknown reason there still appears to be a large proportion of the British media that seem intent on continually deriding the industry and no amount of balanced arguments and logical debates will sway them. As far as they're concerned any game with even a smidgen of violence is likely to turn the most mild mannered, pleasant child into a raging homicidal lunatic within minutes of playing it.

The worst thing about this outright hostility towards the gaming industry is that it's by no means a new thing, it seems that every couple of years the powers that be get together and decide to condemn whichever forthcoming title that they deem to be in bad taste and on more than one occasion this condemnation has resulted in games being banned in some countries most notably with the 'highly controversial' Manhunt in 2004. And yet countless films with some of the most jaw dropping, gory, gratuitous violence commited to celluloid have been released in this time frame with barely a whimper of complaint to be heard from anyone.

So why is it that games seem to bear the brunt of the media outrage time and time again? One obvious factor is that to the uninitiated, gaming is still seen as a child's hobby, so when games are released with objective content the outcry can be heard far and wide. What a lot of people don't realise is that these games are not intended for their eleven year old son and the 18 certificate on the corner of the box is supposed to be adhered to by responsible parents. But one foray into the mosh pit that is GTA IV online will tell you that the majority of people that reside there are anything but 18. Surely it is up to the parents of the children playing these games to monitor what their beloved is getting up to on a nightly basis rather than the developers being forced to tone down their content for fear of corrupting the minds of the little people expected to run things in the years to come.

It's almost like parenting by proxy as time and time again developers find themselves being stifled by regulations that in essence shouldn't really exist. For example when a film with an 18 certificate is released you'll never see a parent visiting their local cinema with two pre-pubescent children in tow, and even if they did there's no way they would be permitted to view said film. Yet the same parents will happily purchase a copy of the latest console release with barely a cursory glance at the rating certificate, somebody needs to be told a few home truths and it's certainly not the people making the games that's for sure.

Even if we take into account the slipshod parenting skills of these uneducated folk, is it not selling our children short by assuming that they don't possess the intelligence to decipher whether their actions in a video game would be most likely frowned upon were they to repeat them in a real life scenario? The kids of today are more street wise and worldly than any of the generations that came before them and are exposed to life's harsher elements at an age when most of us were still playing kiss chase round the school playground. You could argue that video games should be included in these harsher elements which I refer to but leaving that aside for a moment the sheer volume of questionable media sources that children have access to these days means that whether we like it or not they're growing up a helluva lot faster than their predecessors.

If you were to dig even further into the myriad of problematic issues facing children today it wouldn't be long before you were pondering the dual threats of drugs and underage sex with more and more cases of addicted youths and underage mums being reported on a daily basis, and yet despite all this damning evidence the media would still have us believe that gaming is responsible for all the worlds ails. It all begs the question, was Jack the Ripper a gamer? I think not. What I mean by that is that the world has always spawned maniacal killers from as far back as one would care to remember and even the most civilised societies will produce wrong uns' no matter how sanitised the world they inhabit is. The question of nature versus nurture is one for another day but there's a strong case for the argument that the likes of mass murderers, sadistic torturers and all those other charming folk are born, rather than created by the enviroment they reside in.

Moving away from the whole violence in video games debate another major concern amongst the patrons of the non gaming community is that by gaming all day our children are not only allowing their bodies to rot but also their minds. Now when it comes to the argument that sitting in all day gaming is detrimental to a childs physical health then I couldn't agree more. As I write this article the time is approximately 7.30pm on a fine summers evening and all I can hear coming through my window is the occasional burst of song from a bird and the steady hum of traffic from afar, but what I can't hear no matter how hard I strain my ears is the familiar thwack of a football or the excited screams of children engaging in one of the various games that involve running at full pelt in whatever direction they like. Obesity amongst children is increasing at an alarming rate and there can be no doubt that gaming, whilst not entirely to blame, has to shoulder some of the responsibilty. 

But once more I'm afraid that it has to come back to the parents, I appreciate that it's a lot easier for a concerned mother to have her pride and joy cooped up indoors where she knows he or she is safe from the all to real dangers that confront kids on a daily basis and I can also understand just how hard it must be to practically force an apathetic teen to 'go out and play' when all they want to do is continue their killstreak on Halo, but allowing a child to game for hours on end day in day out is in the long run going to have a serious impact on that childs health as any spell of inactivity is prone to do. Despite the fact that the Nintendo Wii is generally derided by any serious gamer the Japanese giant has to be commended for attempting to address this problem by introducing games where the focus is on staying active whilst still retaining the fun element of gaming, the fact that this is a marketing ploy that is manna from heaven is, in this case, beside the point.

When it comes to the issue of whether excessive gaming can have a detrimental effect on a childs mental wellbeing then the waters become slightly more muddied. As I've stated already marathon gaming sessions spent slumped in a chair will always greatly increase the chances of a child obtaining a physique far removed from the characters they usually contorl on the screen but what kind of effects does this prolonged exposure to gaming have on someones mind. It's been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that gaming greatly improves a persons hand eye coordination and that much can never be disputed but what effect does staring at a screen full of vivid colours and flashing lights for hours on end really have on the brain.

David James famously blamed gaming for his inept performances in Liverpool's goal during the 90's but given the fact that he's continued to make goalkeeping howlers throughout his career I think we can safely say that his regular cock ups have little or nothing to do with his extra curricular activities. We're forever being forewarned about the dangers of photosensitive epilepsy and due to the amount of cases of this condition being linked to videogames all developers are now legally bound to include a warning of the dangers of PSE in every release. But PSE apart I don't think there is any great risk of long term damage from partaking in epic nights of gaming from time to time, in fact I'd say that the difference between staring at a PC screen and a console game is negligible. Yet if you complained about your child being subjected to hours of staring at a PC in their school you'd be quickly dismissed with the retort 'Yes but that's educational'!! Which brings me to my next point.

For so long games have been dismissed as the most shallow of the arts with little or nothing to be gleaned from them. However as major advances have been made in the industry so the subject matter has strayed from the usual derivative type of game and onto more dare I say it educational topics. Games like Assassin's Creed 2 give the player a chance to immerse themselves in 15th century Italy and whether they realise it or not learn all about the buildings and architecture of that time not to mention getting the chance to befriend Leonardo de Vinci (wherein you discover his 'tendencies' which I for one was hitherto unaware of). Then of course there is the spate of games which focus on brain training and increasing your mental agility in one way or another, as things stand these type of games have limited appeal given their quite basic structure and despite tentative efforts to incorporate this type of element into more visceral titles it still in my opinion remains an untapped market. 

The ideal scenario would be to somehow make a game which enables you to merge the physical and mental stimulation hinted at by some current gen titles and produce a title which in essence gave the player ample opportunity to exercise their body and mind whilst somehow retaining a level of complexity and depth which would assuage the hardcore gamer. When you consider this almost impossible balancing act faced by games developers these days is it really too much to ask for that they not be blamed for turning children into bloodthirsty savages aswell.


You know the feeling, we all get it. You've had a particularly stressful day at work, your head is absolutely pounding, your feet are aching and all you want to do is tune in, turn on and drop out. So you order a takeaway crack open the first beer of the night and flop down in your favourite chair. But as a dedicated gamer how do you amuse yourself when in this vegatative state of mind, something mentally taxing is clearly out of the question and and anything that involves hair trigger reflexes and uber competitiveness is only gonna add to that headache of yours. So what's the solution? Ideally you want a game that's easily accessible and low on complexity whilst still retaining a modicum of fun and addictive gameplay. Well the solution is here ladies and gentlemen and it goes by the name of Crackdown 2.

Ruffiansp to one of the surprise hits of the first wave of 360 games begins with the most perfunctory of tutorials before you're plunged straight into the sprawling metropolis that is Pacific City. Your mission there is almost secondary as the plotline in Crackdown 2 is shallow to say the least, as a member of the Agency you're tasked with stopping the dual threats of The Cell and the Freaks. The Cell are a rebel group of civilians who's main purpose in life seems to be making your life as difficult as possible at every available opportunity, the Freaks on the other hand seem to have an aversion to sunlight and a blatant disregard for their curfew as they only come out after midnight and generally make a nuisance of themselves by roaming the streets and wailing incoherently at anyone stupid enough to make nice with them. The main thrust of the plot is to get the Agency generators, which power Project Suburst, back online. Project Sunburst is a huge solar powered bomb which the Agency have concocted in an attempt to elimate the Freaks who while away their days in their underground lairs completely oblivious to the heinous fate which awaits them. Unfortunately these generators are defended by members of The Cell and before getting them back online you must eliminate these most stubborn of foes, for each three generators that you revive there is an underground beacon which must also be reactivated and doing this involves holding off an ever increasing volume of Freaks as the beacon fully charges before detonating and destroying everything in its path, yourself excluded obviously. Aside from the increasingly annoying Agent guardian who insists on commentating on your every move,and the occasional audio log which fills in parts of the ten years between this title and it's predecessor,there is little involvement in what you're doing and like I said previously the plot is in many ways secondary when it comes to Crackdown 2.

Once you have landed in Pacific City you are free to do as you wish and in much the manner of a child let loose in Disneyland the results are predictably chaotic. There's no such thing as gradually allowing the player to familiarise themelves with their environment as from the off you are bombarded by all in sundry and find yourself running for cover just to catch your breath. But catching your breath is,I'm afraid,not really an option as the pace of the game is unrelenting and after a while you get used to being in a state of perpetual motion. Whether it be malicious Cell members unnecessarily making your day a misery,or ambling Freaks throwing haymakers at you,there's never even a momentary respite and for those with borderline attention deficit disorder this will make for the gaming experience which you've always dreamed of. Aside from getting the aformentioned Agency generators back online there is a variety of other tasks and travails for you to get your teeth into, both The Cell and the Freaks have strongholds dotted around the city and if you so wish you can make it your business to reclaim these strongholds by calling in an aerial assault and holding off the irked incumbents whilst you wait for support. These missions are rather basic and seeing as they have no real effect on the outcome of the main storyline it's entirely optional as to whether you pursue them. There is also races of either the four wheeled or the two footed type available which can be entered by simply waiting at the start line and going on the b of the bang.

Of course one of the main selling points of the Crackdown series is that the character you control is no ordinary man, in a world where carnage is king it would be grossly unfair to go in outgunned as well as being outnumbered so thankfully you have a few extra abilities to help you on your way. In the beginning, as with most things in life, you are in essence a puny weakling and you can expect to have the bitter taste of defeat in your mouth quite often during the earlier stage of your time in Pacific City. But,as I'm sure most of you are aware, your time as the schoolyard victim doesn't last all that long due to the fact that during each and every second of your existence your Agent is gradually becoming more powerful and proficient in each of the key elements needed to survive in Crackdown 2, these being Agility, Driving, Firearms, Strength and Explosives. You can level up these abilites either by engaging in the relevant activities or by the collecting the many, many, many, many orbs dotted around the city. There is so many orbs and collectibles of all shapes and sizes that it will mean that only the most die hard of gamers will manage to accrue them all, new to Crackdown 2 are the Renegade Orbs which, like true renegades, will attempt to escape your clutches at every opportunity and need to be chased down whether by foot or in a vehicle. As you progress through the game you also unlock more vehicles and weaponry allowing you to create more and more elaborate scenes of mayhem and destruction if you so wish. In a funny way Ruffian have created a game where at first sight it seems like the world is your oyster and you can as you wish,when in reality the true depths and excellence of Pacific City can only be fully experienced with an Agent who has served his time and is ready to hand out some serious payback.

A big factor in any modern day game is it's online play and in particular the co-op modes available to players, co-op is becoming more and more important when deciding what games to purchase and Ruffian have come up trumps with Crackdown 2. Four player co-op mode allows you to play through the campaign mode as normal although only the host player will see his mission progress, but the inclusion of Online Orbs means that there's still motivation to play cooperatively even if you're not furthering your own cause.

This titlethout it's flaws and one issue that began to grate on an all too regular basis was the difficulty in negotiating your way through some of the enviroments late at night, when basked in the midday sun Pacific City is a joy to behold but once the stars come out it becomes a place full of mysterious stubborn walls and confusing layouts, this can also be said of the Freaks lairs and woe betide anyone who falls to the bottom of one of these lairs as getting back to the top requires the patience and navigating skills of General Patton! The repetitive nature of the missions is something which can't go unmentioned also and you can't help thinking that with a bit more creativity and thought the world which Ruffian have created could have been utitilised to much greater effect.

Crackdown 2 is one of those games that it's impossible to dislike but at the same one you could never truly love with all your heart, a bit like the ever willing girl down at your local it's a lot of fun to be with but once you're away from it it rarely occupies your mind. There's an inordinate amount of enjoyment to be had in just visiting Pacific City and I lost count of the amount of occasions whereby I sat down 'just for a half an hour' and found myself still there two hours later having totally deviated from, and nigh on completely forgotten about, my original intentions. But as I progressed through the game I found myself becoming less and less interested in what was unfolding before and I fear that the absence of any real storyline and character development may make this a soulless experience for some, like someone once said 'it's not what's happening that's important but who it's happening to'. It's one real saving grace is the cooperative mode and that alone makes this a title worth purchasing if you can convince three friends to do the same, the level of pure unadulterated fun to be had in co-op is such that I can virtually every sandbox game including it in future releases for fear of being shunned by gamers eager to tear things up with their mates. I think many of us are going to be left feeling slightly disappointed by Crackdown 2 as, for a sequel, it hasn't really pushed the boat out that far and seems to be a risk free venture, but thoughts of that nature were the last thing on my mind as I unashamedly rampaged from one end of Pacific City to the other all the while cackling like a manical loon. The perfect way to forget about the misery of your 9 to 5 I'm sure you'd all agree.  7/10

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Endless hours of frustration broken up only by screaming fits, trips to the local church to offer up a prayer to the gods and fruitless phone calls to friends suffering the same problems. The only chance of salvation coming in the hope that the geeky kid from the year below you at school had all the answers and would be willing to offer them up in that smug manner of his. Failing all that the latest editions of the scant array of gaming magazines would be pored over the minute they entered the newsagents in the vain hope of something, anything to help you past the bit that you were 'stuck' on in your current game of choice.

Does anyone remember what it was like to be stuck on a game? And I mean properly stuck, as in tears of rage and anguish rolling down your face with no hope of a quick fix in the guise of countless cheats sites or walkthroughs via youtube. So stuck that three weeks later you still haven't negotiated your way past whatever it is that's in effect ruining your life and giving you sleepness nights not to mention the bruised knuckles attained from punching walls in frustration. This, for me anyway, was the gaming world that I grew up in where to be a gamer was still seen as slightly nerdy and something to be sneered upon. However on the plus side because we were seen as a niche audience we were treated as such by games developers eager to test and strain our young, fertile little minds with ever more complex and maddeningly difficult games in each and every genre. Leading to symptoms akin to a crack addict being experienced every day as we shuffled our way through school with sunken, hollow eyes which reflected the horrors of the night before and scared all the but the hardiest of classmates.

The latest generation of gaming consoles has finally seen the explosion in popularity of gaming that many have been predicted for years. With these new consoles the steps taken in terms of sensual pleasures has been staggering with our eyes and ears left reeling by the wondrous delights unfolding before us, how long will it be before we can taste, smell and maybe even touch the games that we play?!? That may seem a little far fetched but the levels of interaction available in this most personal of media pastimes far outstrips that of film, music or any of the other arts. But with this increase in technology and by proxy, costs, has come an added pressure to sell these shiny consoles to a wider audience so that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo can recoup the massive outlay required to manufacture these high end machines. So as a CEO at a huge congolomorate company how do you go about increasing your sales? By targetting an untapped market of course, and we have seen Nintendo do this to devastating effect with the Wii. Unfortunately the knock on effect of this has seen Microsoft and Sony prick up their ears inquisitvely and quickly follow suit eager not to miss out on providing this new uninitiated type of gamer with the kind of fare which they seem to delight in, leaving them whiling the day away with the likes of Ant and Dec and other such luminaries.

Initially this new brand of game seemed to be only manifesting itself in throwaway titles the likes of which serious gamers wouldn't waste their time with but in the last couple of years a worrying trend has emerged with hitherto untouched genres bearing all the hallmarks of a serious dumbing down. At first it was barely noticeable with an odd Real Time Event or an occasional hint appearing when you'd lost your way but gradually it's begun to spread like a cancer and now it seems that almost every game released will gently hold your hand as you negotitiate your way through proceedings. The obvious retort to a complaint of this nature is 'well why not just play it on a harder difficulty then?' and in some cases this is a pertinent response. In FPS titles and games where the main obstacle to finishing the game is enemy AI then yes cranking up the difficulty will obviously make things much harder and result in a more wholesome gaming experience. But what of other genre's? When was the last time an action/adventure title presented a puzzle to you that was actually puzzling? The newer iterations in the Tomb Raider series are a far cry from the original trilogy and the simplicity and ease of the so called puzzles made for a tame experience despite the so called 'return to form' of Lara Croft. And what of one of the biggest hits of last year, Arkham Asylum? True it was quite an enjoyable game and is arguably the finest superhero title ever released, but did anyone else feel slightly mollycoddled whilst playing it? When I die at the hands of an end of level boss I don't expect to be told how to defeat it on the loading screen whilst I prepare for my next go but the creators of Arkham Asylum deemed this a necessary feature, again you can point to the upping of the difficulty level as a case for the defence but how many people actually buy a new game and proceed to play it on the hardest difficulty from the off? It's something I personally have never done but there may come a time when this will be the normal course of action for anyone who considers themselves a time served gamer regardless of their skill level.

Perhaps the thorniest issue in the continual dumbing down of games has been the dreaded rewind function in racing titles. I first encountered this feature in Codemasters GRID and while I found the novelty factor of it quite pleasing I never imagined that it would find itself incorporated in any of the serious racing titles. Lo and behold Forza Motorsport 3 comes out and there it is hidden beneath the multitude of official licensed cars and countless customisable options peering sneakily out from each and every apex, the bloody rewind function!! Again the argument will go something like 'well if you don't like it then just don't use it' but that's akin to offering a dying man a cure for his ails and him refusing it, if it there's you're going to use it because we gamers as a species are inherently lazy and any quick fix will always be pounced upon. I just worry about where the rewind function will end up next, it's already been seen in Prince of Persia titles and made fleeting appearances in some FPS's but what if EA decide they like the look of it and include it in their yearly sports updates. Just imagine lining up a penalty in the last minute of the league decider in FIFA 11, you misjudge your shot and it ends up crashing against the bar....not to worry just press the rewind function and go again! You need never lose a game again, oh the joy! There may be a touch of sarcasm going on here but would anybody really be that shocked if something like that did become reality, I know I wouldn't.

It's funny really when you think about how far gaming has travelled in the last twenty years and in a way people like us have almost come full circle. From being a minority group when we began gaming when it wasn't fashionable, to now finding ourselves as an impoverished class once more with developers focussing on providing Mr & Mrs Smith and their 2.4 children with something to entertain them and less and less releases pandering to gamers seeking a real challenge. Every now and again however a title will come out that reaffirms your faith in one of your favourite pastimes and we can only hope and pray that salvation will come from the few developers out there who are interested in creating a fulfilling experience rather than just filling their pockets.

We are on the cusp of yet another new era in gaming with the imminent arrival of Project Natal and Sony's Motion Sensing Controller and whilst some of us are sceptical towards ideas like this we will invariably find ourselves purchasing said products out of a morbid curiosity. Whether these or any of the other various ideas to take gaming to the next level prove to be successful remains to be seen but what can't be denied is that with each and every passing year games will be continued to be dumbed down with developers focussing on providing bite sized amiable single player modes for casual gamers and placating the young up and coming hardcore gamers with immense online modes. Where that leaves the rest of us remains to be seen.

20 of gaming's biggest cliches

20 Gaming Cliches

Oil Barrels

Surely the most obvious gaming cliche of them all, but with good reason as even in this day and age developers resort to the old tried and trusted explodable oil barrels to help the gamer negotiate their way through a particularly enemy laden area. What's in these barrels is anybodies guess but I can only assume it's oil, and given the price of that these days it really is setting a bad example to any future entrepeneur by treating such a valuable commodity with this level of disdain.

Air Vents

I can honestly say that I don't know one person that has ever attempted something as downright reckless as travelling through a building via it's air ventilation system, and I know some fairly shady characters by the way. Surely if it's such an easy way to get to your destination undetected and unhindered then companies should be looking at making them narrower so that humans can no longer fit in them and thus render the likes of Solid Snake, and various others, useless.

JRPG casts

Moody lead with a dark secret, check. Wisecracking sidekick with a penchant for the ladies, check. Wistful female lead with a heart of gold, check. Sassy female with heaving bosoms and tattoos aplenty, check. Gentle giant more loyal than a labrador, check. Whiny, annoying, nauseating, teeth clenchingly irritating kid that you hope and pray gets killed off but never does, check.

Short term memory loss

You've commited a crime, quick run for the hills, steal a car, hide behind a bush...just do whatever it takes to get the law enforcement officers off your back and do it fast. Phew, panic over I seem to have lost them, oh no there's one over there! But wait, despite the fact that I just ran over a granny and toppled a school bus over a bridge killing all in sundry, this friendly policeman doesn't seem to be paying me any attention whatsoever, sure I may aswell steal this car from the parking lot and go on another rampage.

Buxom Babes

Let's face it lads, we all like to leer at the awesome cleavage and ever so tight buns of the female forms represented in games today and we've always been that way. Anyway that says otherwise is a liar simple as that. Yes we all know they're not real, and that we're incredibly sad for even admiring what is essentially a few pixallated images, but nontheless when Lara Croft is shimmying her way across a dangerous ravine, or Chun Li is pulling off yet another perfect Lightning Kick, we can't help but sit and stare and wish real women were like this.

He's dead.......oh wait

So you've battled your way through score of enemies and traversed terrain in various inclement weathers to face the big bad boss and the pinnacle of the game. But just two minutes later he's face down on the floor and you're left thinking 'Is this it? Surely this ca....' Don't be so stupid!!! Now the real battle commences and the slight tinge of disappointment you felt in ending the game so easily is replaced by sheer terror as you realise just how unprepared you are for the terror about to be reigned upon you. This style of ending works well first time around but when you're attempting it for the umpteenth time the effect tends to be lessened somewhat.

Back of the grid

Maybe more of a bug bear than a cliche but why must we always start at the back of the grid in every racing title ever?!? Are we to automatically assume that because the AI of the other drivers is so poor we'll have no problem charging through the field anyway and therefore that will be the only enjoyment we will garner from the race? As far as I'm concerned pre race qualifying should be introduced for all but the most arcadey of racers so that I don't have to suffer the indignity of viewing nothing but other car's exhaust pipes at the start of every race.

Main characters with crap names

If the world was ending today and someone told you that a fellow by the name of Gordon Freeman was coming to save the day would you be sufficiently placated? Obviously seeing as we're gamers we would rest easy as we know that Gordon Freeman is amazing and would get us out of any pickle but what of the rest of humanity? It's hardly a name that conjures up images of an alpha male riding in on horseback with an army of tanks behind him is it, the same goes for Marcus Fenix or Isaac Clarke or even Chris Redfield for that matter. Now Sam Fisher on the other hand, that's a president's name in my opinion.

Unquestioning grunts

In a world where freedom of choice is everything and the anti war machine is in full swing on a constant basis is it not odd that there hasn't been at least one occasion during a big budger shooter where some of the enemy soldiers have just paused for a second and thought 'Y'know what lads, what are we actually doing here? I ain't got no quarrel with no US of A', and with that just down tools, leaving you with a free and easy route to the next level. This needs to happen to maintain a level of authenticity in gaming.

Guns never weigh you down

Now I'm no military expert, but I do know enough about weaponry to know that's it not light and that coupled with extensive armour, not to mention rations and ammo, it's gonna be quite heavy and weigh down even the most war hardened soldier. These rules don't apply in the gaming world however as guns are exchanged and equipped without a care in the world and even rocket launchers have been known to pop out of pockets, decimating a enemy stronghold before being placed carefully into a lunchbox for later use.

Weak points in boss fights

When you've finally gotten over the shock of the boss reviving from the dead and becoming more powerful than you could ever have imagined it's time to figure out how to take him down. Hmmm perhaps I should aim for that shiny yellow part which is protuding from his undercarriage, ah yes that seems to be doing the job, how nice of him to earmark it in such a fashion for me. If real people were to be built like this then we'd all have our genitalia permanently on display with a big red marker proclaiming 'Hit Me' daubed across that general area.


I have never, ever, ever........ever pulled a lever in my whole life. And if I did do so I doubt very much that a drawbridge would lower itself down when I did so.

Everyone can swim/drive/pilot

Before being considered for a role as the lead character in an action adventure type game do all potential candidates go on a crash course wherby they learn how to drive cars, lorries, tanks, speedboats and fire engines and then how to pilot helicopters and aeroplanes before being tasked with swimming the Hudson River in approximately 20 minutes? Some of they may claim to have a background in the Navy/Army/Marines or whatever but what of the average Joe Smoke who becomes thrust into the role of unlikely hero? They must all be ex Krypten Factor Champions or something.


Okay so I've worked in a few factories in my time and I have seen crates in various store rooms, but I've never attempted to try and manouevre one around the room with my bare hands because that'd be just silly. Sure there's a pallet truck right over there isn't there.

Friendly npc's are never ever anything other than a hindrance

After you. Ok I'll go first. I'll just squeeze through here. Sorry don't mind me. Now I'm starting to get a teeny bit annoyed. Get out of my way......Get out of my f**kin way. What is your problem you stupid w****r can you not understand that when I hold RT and press B it means that you go on ahead, are you f**kin retarded? Ok now I'm just gonna shoot ya............Grrrr I can't even kill you..........My name is Simon Bourke and I hate friendly NPC's.

God's animals have just been put on this earth as target practice for you

Aw will you look at the deer isn't he lovely. BANG. Nice bit of deer meat that'll come in handy later. Whether it's rats in sewers or strangely aggressive birds it appears that each and everyone of God's creatures is fair game in the gaming world, this maybe isn't so much of a cliche given man's total lack of regard for the animal kingdom but just once in my life I'd like to play a game where I get to befriend a bear and no, Kung Fu Panda doesn't count.

Fumbling keepers

One of the first things any aspiring goalkeeper will be taught is to make sure that when parrying the ball, he gets it as far away from his goal area as possible to prevent any onrushing strikers from capatilising on his error. This is not applicable to football simulators however as even the most solid and experienced keepers will happily shovel the most tame of shots right into the path of the greedy strikers allowing them to gobble up the chance and you to cry bitter tears of frustration.

*Please note that this observation is one obtained from playing PES and only PES as I refuse to countenance the possibility of ever playing a FIFA game.*

Well behaved football audiences

I know in the sanitised age of Premier League football that football hooliganism has almost become obselete but you'd still expect the odd chant of 'Does she take it up the a**e' or failing that a drunken interloper bravely venturing onto the pitch to tell Ashley Cole exactly what he thinks about him. But no, they all just file quietly into their seats perhaps stopping to buy a hot dog, before singing a few tired old songs completely out of tune and cheering at the most inopportune of times.

Movie tie ins are dreadful

They just are and they probably always will be. The developers can't be completely blamed when they're usually not given nearly enough time to create these abhorrent monstrosities so all we can do is try and warn children about the dangers of these games. The fact that your child may start to cause a scene in your local games store because he wants the new Toy Story game and not Mass Effect 2 which you've been heartily recommending to him for the last half an hour is besides the point, the kids are just gonna have to learn and we've got to be the ones to teach them.

Everyone speaks English but in a foreign accent

Wouldn't it be great if you went on your holidays to Russia or France or Egypt or Mexico or anywhere for that matter and everyone spoke fluent English. But not only that, they all spoke it in the most generic local accent possible, you'd point and laugh at them as they struggled with words such as insouciant or salubrious before politely tapping them on the shoulder and asking them where the nearest bar was. Ahh bliss.

Lost Odyssey Review XBOX360

In recent times the boundaries of the RPG genre have begun to shift somewhat, with new themes and ideas constantly being implemented its almost impossible to define what a real RPG is nowadays. Where once the staple diet was a mixture of turn based combat, swords and spells we now live in an era where developers attempt to create sci-fi space opera's and post apocalyptic FPS' whilst all the time attempting to stay true to the roots of the RPG. I for one have enjoyed seeing the genre mature and blossom to incorporate new ideas but like all fans of RPG's I'm a stickler for tradition and occasionally yearn for the good ole days.

Similarly to most gamers of my generation the first dalliance I had with the RPG genre came in the form of the now rightly revered Final Fantasy VII, unquestionably one of the all time great games it heralded a new era for the RPG and some may argue that it has yet to bettered by any of its predecessor's. The man responsible for the creation of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, has since moved on to pastures new with the creation of his own development studio Mistwalker. Since Mistwalker is backed by Microsoft Game Studio's it was only a matter of time before we 360 owners got the chance to once again delve into a world created by the master of the RPG genre, and in 2008 we were rewarded for our patience with the wondrous Lost Odyssey.

Lost Odyssey was billed as a return to the traditional roots of the JRPG and in that aspect it didn't disappoint. With turn based combat, random battles, a world map and an eclectic bunch of main characters it fastidiously copies the blueprint so carefully formulated by its forerunners all those years ago. Some may criticise it for its lack of innovation but when a game is this good such matters can be overlooked, a throwback it may be but harking back to the golden age of RPG's can only be a good thing.

Story wise Lost Odyssey achieves something which very few titles in this day and age manage to do. It not only incorporates the story to a degree that it affects the way the game is actually played, but also gradually draws the gamer in to its narrative with an intriguing tale that truly captures the imagination. The central character in said tale is Kaim Argonar who is an immortal and has lived for a thousand years, Kaim spends his time travelling from place to place working as a mercenary and taking part in the numerous battles and wars that arise in the game universe. Kaim's main cohorts are Seth, a fellow immortal who despite the manly name is actually a woman, and Jansen, who offers some light hearted relief from the musings of Kaim and is arguably one of the most hilarious game characters ever created. Unlike many RPG's, which tend to define an evil force right from the off, the storyline in Lost Odyssey is a far more complex affair with the posts continually being moved and your true enemy only revealing themselves towards the latter end of proceedings. The basic thrust of the plot is the battle for control between rival nations for a source of magic called The Grand Staff with your the affiliations of your merry band of characters changing as the story unfolds. Aside from the main story which is constantly evolving throughout there are plenty of side quests and sub plots to maintain your interest and add to the weighty feel of the game.

As with all games of this type the group of characters in your command increases as you progress along your journey, each new addition brings something new to the table and quite remarkably for an RPG not one of these characters grates on the nerves in the slightest. As mentioned earlier some of the members in your group are immortal, and although they can still be rendered inactive how you utilise them in battle will determine how successful you are. The battles in Lost Odyssey are randomised ( cue collective groans ) but rarely feel irritating or overbearing to the gamer, this is mainly down to the graphical flair allayed to each battle sequence not to mention the enjoyment garnered from destroying even the most miniscule of opposition. Once the battles begin its strictly a turn based affair with plenty of time given to plot the decimation of your foe, combining the relative merits of each character whether they be an expert in swordplay, black magic or white magic is paramount to your success and tactical acumen is required in spades. One unique aspect of the battle system is The Aim Ring, a timed accuracy challenge which when done correctly can utilise some of your equipped items and inflicts various forms of malaise on your enemies. The way your characters level up is also refreshingly different with the immortal ones learning skills from the mortals and then assigning these skills to a limited amount of skill slots, how you manage these slots is pivotal as failure to prepare will have you preparing to fail. When you factor in the mage classes that can only specialise in one type of magic but still use other types in battle it all adds up to an incredibly deep and immersive battle system, it may seem daunting at first but it is easily grasped and will become second nature quite quickly.

Visually Lost Odyssey is a sight to behold with each fantastical setting outdoing the previous one in a world full of lush, colourful environments. There's many moments littered throughout this game that will have your jaw dropping at the sheer beauty of it all, some of them cut scenes admittedly but even the in game material is a cut above the majority of 360 titles. Speaking of the cut scenes there is many dream sequences in Lost Odyssey which can be triggered by the discovery of remnants of the past by the immortal characters, some of these dream sequences are genuinely engrossing and are complete stories within themselves. The main narrative is never intrusive with each cut scene pushing the story along without ever becoming tiresome or dull and the quality of the voice acting makes them entertaining to the last. As stated earlier Jansen is undoubtedly the star turn and even had this most cynical of gamers chortling away to himself on many an occasion, even the pint sized, mandatory kids in your party are relatively endearing with Mack resembling a modern day human version of Scrappy Doo!! The charm and attention to detail of the cut scenes benefit the game as a whole and tie you emotionally to your characters before you know it.

Completing Lost Odyssey is going to take you 40 hours minimum, the action is spread over a mammoth four discs and there's no doubt that this game is quite a life sucker of epic proportions. Once you factor in all the side quests and undiscovered areas your gametime could rise to over 60 hours, but really isn't that what RPG's are all about? A minor criticism I found with Lost Odyssey was the world map, rather than having the freedom to roam about this map as you wish you can only ever hop from town to town therefore negating true exploration of the area. This made it quite difficult to locate some of the hidden places in the world, but then again maybe that was the intention, they wouldn't be much use as hidden areas if they could be easily located now would they? The use of save points was something else that caused occasional annoyance, rather than having the ability to save whenever you wanted you can only do so at the save orbs which needlessly makes an already quite difficult game that much harder.

For me Lost Odyssey is the best RPG currently available on the 360 and I include Mass Effect and Fallout 3 in that estimation. Its shamelessly old school in some ways but at the same time manages to carve out a unique place for itself in gaming lore by being such a well crafted, downright lovable gaming experience. This is one title that I'll always look fondly upon in years to come as I fear RPG's of this type and style are becoming a dying breed in the modern day gaming industry.  9/10