Tag Archives: games

The Goodly Guide to: A Life Well Wasted.

A Life Well Wasted is subtitled “An Internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them”. You might be fooled into thinking that ‘Internet radio show’ was just marketing speak for ‘podcast’, and that the show was merely another general hour or so of light harmless banter by one or more personages who are excited enough about the subject to be bothered to record themselves talking about it and then publish their output on the Web.

You would be quite, quite wrong. A Life Well Wasted is utterly deserving of its subtitle, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s rather modest, and ‘Internet videogame documentary’ would be closer to the mark.

It’s not just the professional audio quality of the show, where speech is always clear and unmolested by external sound sources, it’s that host and producer Robert Ashley has an impeccable sense of timing, a fine taste in musical breaks and backgrounds, and an ear for the perfect sound bite. The production quality is absolutely first rate, the interviews and main narrative are interspersed with the perfect level of background audio, be it atmospheric music or just the general ambience of wherever he happens to be recording from. The interviews are, frankly, captivating. Whether you are interested in the particular gaming sub-genre under discussion or not, you can’t help but be drawn in to the conversation as Ashley asks insightful and searching questions that, although appearing simple, actually drive right to the heart of the subject, which is clearly evidenced by how passionately his interviewees respond. The interviews are cut, faded in and out, the audio output generally played with, and then interspersed with asides and general narrative from the host, whose soothing ‘surfer dude’ accent and laconic style bring an ambience to the show that both relaxes the listener while at the same time captivating them. Not only that, but Ashley isn’t afraid to just let people talk in the classic documentary style, without the need for the rigid structure of a question/response interview at all times; this can be a dangerous thing to do – giving people freedom to run with a topic that they enjoy – but again his expert editing cuts away the chaff and leaves behind only the pure whole grain of the point at hand.

The only downside to the show is that episodes are few and far between, but given the amount of effort that must go into researching and recording interviews, let alone putting the show together and then polishing it until it glistens, it is a disappointment that is easily forgiven. Each time a new show arrives in the iTunes feed it’s like a an unexpected gift has been sent your way.

If you don’t have this on your podcast subscription list, and you are in any way interested in gaming, then go and do so now. You’re missing out on one of the best audio gaming shows on the Internet.

Reviewlet: Gears of War 2.

After another splendid session with Jon Shute’s Console Club[TM] last night, I decided to write-up a quick reviewlet for our current game of the moment – Gears of War 2. There will be spoilers, however, so if you haven’t gotten around to playing this game, you think you may yet, and spoilers are the sort of thing that matter to you, then you may want to look away now. Have they looked away? Yes? Good. You know, I never liked them. And they smell of Fisherman’s Friend.

Gears of War 2 is a simple game concerning the plight of two He-Man impersonators charged with wiping out a race of alien creatures who have a muscle structure so improbably ripped that they can bench press 800lbs with their orbicularis muscles alone, and are thus a clear and present danger to the masculinity of all He-Man impersonators on the planet. Our two heroes are at times joined on their missions by other meatheads, who are presumably taking time off from their busy day down at the gym, where they flex at their oiled-up thong-wearing reflections in the mirror, then head into the locker room and whip each other’s naked bottoms with towels in a manly heroic fashion, before heading into the shower and engaging in some hot steamy guilty sex. As only heroic manly meatheads can do.

Where was I? Ah yes, homoerotic allegory in the post-modern apocalyptic war genre. I mean, World Wrestling Entertainment. Ah no, Gears of War 2. No wait, same difference.

In the single player campaign we are quickly introduced to our two steroidally overdosed heroes, shortly followed by Token Nod who is, coincidentally, related to a well known character from the first game in the series. Token Nod never takes off his face-covering helmet, however, and therefore might as well be wearing a red Star Trek ensign shirt. The game even tries to explain away the fact that Token Nod never takes off his helmet, while Muscle and Musclier never wear theirs, when Dom (you can recognise him because he’s the homogeneous pile of muscle that isn’t wearing a bandanna) explains that wearing a helmet severely restricts the experienced combat veteran’s ability to spot a sniper. I was going to suggest that they didn’t wear a helmet because they had no use for their head, what with all motor and cognitive functions being controlled by the master muscle in their underpants, but clearly the game’s developers had thought of something even funnier. Last and by no means least likely to be seen staring in a porn film in the near future, is Token Hotty, she with the supermodel looks and a military uniform cut so tight that it must have been applied with some form of hyper-advanced vacuforming technique.

After a brief optional tutorial, and then the customary introductory waffle “Now listen up you magnificent menageries of muscle. Aliens are trying to destroy life as we know it… blah, blah, blah… we must fight them in the trenches… blah, blah, blah… or life as we will know it will end forever… blah, blah, blah… no more hot steamy shower sex… etc.” you’re finally allowed to get on with the game, and it is actually a game that I enjoyed a great deal for the most part.

The game is broken up into acts and chapters, with each act being an overarching segment of the storyline, and the chapters being missions within that segment. In turn each chapter has various checkpoints strewn throughout it, as is the norm with such games, and there are often small sections of dialogue between the characters as you reach certain points. Generally these involve a lot of macho posturing, shoulder bumping, and I’m sure if there’d been hot steamy showers in the vicinity… oh, I think I’ve made my point. There was, however, a disappointing lack of fist-bumping between the characters; I do like a good bit of fist action between a couple of frenzied sweaty mounds of masculine muscle, but who doesn’t? Ok, ok, I’m done.

Having said all that, I do have to confess that I found the part where Dom finally finds his wife Maria, to be quite haunting. The acting is, perhaps appropriately, a bit Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Nnnnnoooooooooooooooooooooo”) but the transition from Dom’s reality into actual reality, where it jars us into a shocking comprehension of the horrors of what Maria must have been through at the hands of the Locust without spelling it out for us, is very well realised. This is achieved on two fronts, the first is that the Unreal graphics engine is powerful enough to present a detailed and harrowing character model, no words are required because a thousand are being painted to the screen, sixty times per second. The second is the use of Tai Kaliso. Tai is introduced early on in the game, and his character is quickly developed (as much as character development ever exists in shooter games) in the eyes of the player as the stalwart, indestructible and unswerving spiritual warrior. Marcus, the aforementioned bandanna wearing meatpile and lead character, describes Tai as “tough as a Brumak though, so if anyone could make it it’d be him” after Tai walks away unscathed as the sole survivor after his transport is destroyed by a Locust ambush. Later, when Tai is rescued by Marcus and Dom after having been captured by the Locust, he immediately commits suicide when given a weapon due to the nature of his time when incarcerated. Thus when we see the reality of Maria’s condition, a simple civilian exposed to such horrors that made a hardened combat veteran commit suicide, we understand that although the body is still alive, the mind is utterly broken, and how it must have suffered to reach that state. For anyone who has truly cared for another and ever worried about their safety, this is quite a heart-rending scene.

It is a shame, therefore, that this is quickly shrugged-off with a bit of bullheaded bravado. And possibly some shoulder bumping, I forget. It was the only part of the game where I felt any sort of emotional connection to the plight of the world and the denizens thereof, and it showed quite clearly that the developers could readily have achieved such emotional manipulation had they wanted to.

The game itself is a third person tactical shooter which relies heavily on cover mechanics to enhance the tension (useful when there haven’t been any steamy showers for a while), and to give a more realistic feel to the combat. Charging gung-ho into the midst of the enemy is a recipe for a quick death, and judicious use of the abundantly available cover provided by doorways, walls and crates that are conveniently placed in open areas at the perfect distance from one another to provide superb continuous cover for an advancing force, is advisable on the easiest difficulty setting, and pretty much mandatory at any level thereafter. The cover mechanic works well in the main, a simple press of the A button when near to anything that looks like cover will generally result in your character slamming up against it and, where feasible, ducking down behind it as you’d expect. From cover the character can choose to aim their weapon by holding the left trigger (which also works when not in cover), at which point they will pop out from cover and the game will temporarily switch into a first person shooting mode. Releasing the left trigger at any time ducks the character back into cover. As long as the cover is blocking line of sight between your character and the enemy it will significantly reduce any incoming damage, pretty much to zero, barring well placed grenades and such. The other option is to blind-fire, which simply requires the player to fire using the right trigger as usual, at which point the character will shoot without leaving cover but at a greatly reduced level of accuracy. The advantage to blind fire is obvious, you cannot really aim at an enemy, but you can lay down suppressing fire for yourself and your team mates without any risk. The only grating problem I have with cover is in its interaction with the Roadie Run. The Roadie Run is activated by holding down the A button when out of cover, at which point your character will enter a sort of crouched jog which allows you to cross open spaces quickly whilst reducing the target you present to the enemy. It’s awkward at first because the camera moves such that it’s almost level with the floor, which results in you looking up towards the third-person perspective of your character’s bottom, like one of those camera angles in porn films where they’re trying to get a better shot of the action. Despite the distraction of Bottom Cam the Roadie Run works well, and is useful for escaping ambushes, but the problem comes when you accidentally run into an object that can provide cover, at which point the game assumes that with the A button held down you want to take that cover. So what results is you being surprised by a bunch of rather meaty, bulgy-veined and angry alien lizard things, turning around and running away (Brave Sir Robin), only to clip a nearby crate and thus have your character slam into a crouch ‘behind it’. Only it’s not behind it, because the enemy were behind you in the first instance, so what you’re actually doing is cowering up against a crate while facing them. Not only this, but you can’t see the enemy chuckling to each other as they slowly walk up to you because the camera angle is designed to look beyond the cover to where the enemy should be, were you the correct side of it. Finally, it takes a bit of time to disengage from cover into open space and instigate Roadie Run again, at which point the camera then flicks around from Cover Cam to Bottom Cam, throwing you off just long enough that your character veers off and slaps into a nearby wall. And takes cover against it… at which point the following paragraph seems apposite.

In representing injury to your character Gears eschews the conventional health bar for what I can only describe as the Soreness Indicator. As your character takes damage a red image slowly fades onto the middle of the display, the more solid this image becomes the closer to death your character is. My only problem is that because it starts out so faint and gradually becomes more clear, my first impression of the image was that it was akin to the puckered posterior from that famous Internet image of a certain Mr Goa Tse, hence my reference to it as the Soreness Indicator. It turns out that it’s not, and that it is in fact the Gears of War logo, which seems more logical now that I think about it. But the Soreness Indicator is still relevant, because with one enemy pounding on your character the Soreness Indicator takes some time to fully develop, but as one would rightly imagine, with several enemies pounding away at once the Soreness Indicator quickly develops to the point where your character can take no more punishment and cries out in agony while collapsing to the floor. The Soreness Indicator is quite a clever take on the health bar though: due to the subtle nature of the graphic fading in, it’s quite hard to tell precisely how damaged your character is. You can tell that a character is ‘pretty healthy’ or ‘close to collapse’ or somewhere in between, but there’s no definitive readout as there is in many games where a health ‘fuel bar’ gives a fine level of precision as to just how close to empty one is running.

In general Gears is a very polished, graphically accomplished ‘follow the path and kill anything that moves’ shooter. The weapons are varied and sufficiently satisfying to use, with each one feeling different enough from the rest to make it a difficult tactical choice as to which ones you should carry with you – you have two heavy weapon slots, one pistol slot and a slot for grenades, of which you can carry only one type at a time. There is a decent variety of enemies, from snipers and close combat shock troops through to chain-gun wielding armoured hulks. The AI is acceptable, ranged types try to stay at range, certain other types will try to flank you, and yet others will try to pop a grenade underneath you in a way that makes your Soreness Indicator scream for mercy. I will say that it has one of the most horrible handling vehicles of all time, and I can only assume that the developers were in some sort of competition with the creators of Halo for the Most Infuriating Vehicle Control in a Meatheads vs Aliens Console Shooter category at the next Game Developer Choice Awards. Thankfully the vehicle segments are short enough not to draw down the full Controller Through TV Screen wrath of the frustrated gamer.

Finally I’d just like to address a complaint that I heard on a recent podcast about the colour palette. “It’s drab, and dreary. Brown. Washed-out” they complained. Well, just in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a gritty ‘realistic’ fighting game, set in a world that is, for the most part, in utter ruin due to a massive globe-spanning war, and a huge portion of time is spent running around ruins and tunnels underground. What the flying ferret did you expect? Super Mario Brothers? “Oh, I like the game well enough, but it could have done with more cornflower blue in the scenery, and those aliens are so drab dahrlingk, couldn’t we spruce them up with a slinky little Dolce&Gabbana number?”. I think the graphics in Gears of War 2 are splendid, character animation is also superb, as is the bulk of the voice acting, mainly thanks to the inestimable talent of John DiMaggio as lead character Marcus Fenix.

I’ve only dabbled briefly in the competitive online play, so I won’t be commenting on that. The co-operative multiplayer, especially the Horde mode, is outstanding fun however. I’ve mentioned it before, and I really do like some of the ways that it enforces group cooperation without it actually feeling like you’re being arm-twisted into it, I guess a better word would be ‘encourages’. Either way, I think I’ll save that discussion for another post, although I will state for the record that it has nothing to do with steamy hot showers. Honest.

In the news.

Slashdot reports on Nissan’s All-Electric LEAF vehicle:

“In Japan, Nissan unveiled their all-electric LEAF (press release, and Flash site). Slated to launch in late 2010 in Japan, the US, and Europe, this car will have a 100-mile range, seats 5, has an advanced computer system with remote control by iPhone, and promises to be competitively priced. While this car’s range won’t work for everyone, it could be a game changer as a commuter car.”

Yes, one presumes that it would indeed be a game changer, in the fact that now when you start playing Grand Theft Auto on your iPhone, you run over people in real life.

They shall also strip thee out of thy clothes, and take away thy fair jewels.

Whilst browsing through the Battlefield Heroes FAQ I came across this gem instead of any useful information:

I took off all my Hero’s clothes. But when I enter the game, I’m fully clothed again. What’s the deal?

Even if you strip off all of your Hero’s clothing, your character will, by default, have the items applied to his empty slots when he enters the game.

If you want to play the game without a shirt, or in your underwear, you will need to purchase the Naked Chest and/or Naked Legs items from the Store and equip them in the appropriate slot.

Yes, they’re going to make you pay to take off your pants, it’s like a kind of strange inverse stripping where you pay to take off your clothes and horrify others with your fleshy extremities.

Welcome to the wonderful world of micro transactions.

Honestly, I put half a Mars bar in the glove box once and he chased me around the garden with a bit of wood.

In a move which can only be seen as a deliberate affront to a small collection of individuals who come together on a Tuesday evening to play console games, Microsoft have decided to update their XBox Live service today, taking it offline to apply the first of what I imagine to be a number of patches which will update the system with the shiny new features announced at their conference at this year’s E3, thus ushering in a new world order, global peace and hence delivering the catalyst to mankind’s colonisation of the stars. Or some streaming HD video and a new dashboard skin, depending on who you speak to.

This is doubly treacherous as the Console Club… No. Sorry, no. No, I just can’t do it any more. It’s that name – Console Club – it just does not do our little group of gaming geeks justice. It needs more power, more marketability. It needs to project the noble nature of our little band of beings. We need a name that other gamers will come to recognise with a mixture of awe and fear. Now, I’ve had a look around at the gaming industry and observed how their naming conventions work, and clearly the trend is to associate a brand name with the game’s title to give it more impact. I look at games like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland or American McGee’s Alice and I see imposing, impactful names that strike a chord deep within the gamer psyche.

So where was I? Oh yes, so this update to XBox Live is doubly treacherous to Jon Shute’s Console Club[TM] because, since the time of our last gathering, that stalwart enabler of our eight-player tenuously co-operative pleasure, Burnout Paradise, has been updated with the new Big Surf Island downloadable content expansion. Therefore we have all individually been driving around, grabbing the time when we can to ‘burn’, and indeed ‘out’, around the new zone. We’ve all been twitterating about our enjoyment of the ludicrously large and improbably placed jumps that are dotted all over the island, but have yet to arrange a gathering of the eight regular players in order to experience that exquisite sense of enjoyment that only occurs when one leaps at one hundred and fifty miles an hour from the roof of a multi-story car park, only to realise too late that seven other people have had the same idea, but from an adjacent building and in the opposite direction. Paradise City doesn’t need traffic lights, it needs air traffic control.

So Burnout has been on my mind today, and in considering the joys of the game my mind wandered off the general path, got lost in the forest of ponderings, tripped on the roots of curiosity and fell into the thorny bush of idiosyncrasy. Eventually it made it back home long after dark, cut, bruised and exhausted but with a new outlook on the game, struck by the light of revelation as it struggled its way out of that dark place, and like a messiah it preached its new insights to me, to whit:

Where the blazing arse are all the pedestrians in Burnout Paradise?

The city of Paradise is indeed a meticulously crafted adventure playground for cars, but there are simply no people to be found. Not a one. This might not seem so curious until one considers that there is plenty of other road traffic. Oh yes, road traffic abounds, specifically it is to be found in precisely all the wrong places: on the apex of that corner you’re trying to negotiate at eighty miles an hour, sideways, whilst trying to fend off two other racers and looking in your rear view mirror for others. When you’re trying to take that intersection flat out in order to hit the jump beyond it at maximum velocity, why of course there’s a sudden surge of traffic all desperately needing to cross at a tangent to your path at the same time. And it often seems as though there’s always a city-wide emergency radio broadcast that all traffic must exit the highway at the exact same junction that you’re currently approaching at two hundred miles an hour, with your tail pipes on fire, and the entire offside of your car missing.

So here we have this detailed city, clearly heavily populated as evidenced by all the idiots in cars who just don’t seem to comprehend that you’re trying to get up enough speed to do a triple barrel roll over the railway and you don’t have time to mess about with petty contrivances such as driving on the correct side of the road, or even on the road. So where are all the pedestrians? One might think that they may not approve of these highly skilled street racing drivers who yes, admittedly, occasionally make the odd error in judgement and end up driving along the pavement. At one hundred and eighty miles an hour. On their roof. On fire. But there’s plenty of pavement in Paradise, surely we can all share? Perhaps it’s due to this slightly fiery cross traffic that the pedestrians are hiding in the buildings and making mad dashes from place to place when there are no Mad-Max-like V8-powered death machines within a ten mile radius. This most certainly isn’t the case, however, and I should know: I’ve checked out the interiors of many a building as I’ve shot through the front entrance in a flaming ball of gasoline and nitrous oxide, and there wasn’t a charred corpse to be found amongst the wreckage, no siree bob. There’s simply nobody around.

My theory? Zombie apocalypse.

No really, zombie apocalypse, it explains everything. Bear with me here. So at some point in the recent past there was a viral outbreak in Paradise City, now this makes sense from a dramatic point of view: where else would a zombie virus first make its way into the world than in a place called Paradise? It’s the sort of unoriginal irony that Hollywood bigwigs love to roll around and rub themselves in, like a small dog in horse manure. And in the grand tradition of all ‘great’ movies, I can then continue my exposition with “We’re not sure what happened next, how we came to be this way (because it would probably rip a horrid great hole in the plot of this film, and we’re condescending enough to think that you won’t see it if we don’t spell it out for you explicitly)”. So we’ve now established that there was a viral outbreak and that people were all turned into zombies. Except… for those in their cars! See? It’s brilliant! Ok, ok, so basically everyone lives in their cars now and all the zombies are dead because they all got run over by a car at some point or other. Nobody is brave enough to leave their car in case the virus is still out there, so everyone is content to just carry on their lives from within their car. Admittedly everyone being in cars all the time does make it more awkward for some: traffic cops are swamped with work, and this probably explains why the eight current regulars of Jon Shute’s Console Club[TM] get away with such highway hijinks without punishment. Pulling at a nightclub just isn’t the same, especially if you were hoping to stick your fuel nozzle in their petrol tank, as it were. Not to mention that when the recent preliminaries for the Olympic Games were held in Paradise City certain events had to be cut, including all swimming events after the first race ended in eight drownings. On a brighter note though, world records were smashed in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 800 meters, and the long jump finalist has yet to actually land. You’ve got to love those Burnout Paradise Super Jumps.

So there we have it, the reason for no pedestrians in Burnout Paradise is all due to a zombie apocalypse.

And the reason you had to suffer through this drivelling insanity is all due to Microsoft taking XBox Live offline on the day that Jon Shute’s Console Club[TM] convene for their high speed sideways shenanigans. If you catch my drift.

Such men are apt to think of the true male feminists as utterly chauvinistic.

There’s been some discussion in the blogosphere recently about MMOs being targeted primarily at a male audience. People seem to be under the crazy impression that MMOs are targeted at the more testosterone-laden members of society. This is heresy deserving of a poking with the softest of pillows whilst being seated in the most appallingly comfy chair! Why only today I was directed to the free to play online multiplayer RPG Nodiatis via a banner advert, and here’s what greeted me when the site eventually loaded:

Don't get many of those to the pound.

Now to conform fully to standard scientific rigour it should be noted that the woman in the screenshot was panting somewhat, forcing her chest to rise and fall in a vaguely hypnotic rhythm. Or so I was told by my team of highly trained laboratory technicians.

It seems immediately and abundantly clear that what this introductory screen is saying is thus:

“Women of Planet Earth welcome to our game and take heart! For in this otherworldly place of fantasy that we gift to you, we give you evidence that all the bimbos have been rounded up and chained to rocks with their arms above their heads until they either suffocate under the weight of their improbably large breasts or choke to death on the bleach fumes coming from their hair.”

I honestly don’t see what the problem is.

Reviewlet: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

It would appear that the graphics card in my gaming PC has decided that it is bored with the day to day drudgery of producing modest DirectX 9 compatible graphics, and has left to go and live in a commune in the forest with my old printer and that really stupid Linksys router I had that would always drop the Internet connection whenever a download reached ninety eight percent complete. Indeed, my graphics cards has decided to stick it to The Man, has abandoned the rat race life of 3D graphics, and now spends its days printing small tie-dyed Space Invader icons all across my screen. “No maaaan, Direct X is, like, bad juju. OpenGL is baaaad karma. Here, check out these totally rad icons I made in all the colours of the rainbow. They came to me in a dream, man! You wanna toke on this? All right, man, but I’m telling you, it’s good shit.”

So while I wait for a replacement to arrive I thought I’d take stock of what I’ve been playing recently that is not PC related. In this first instalment: Burnout Paradise, Castle Crashers and Braid.

Burnout Paradise: If you don’t know about Burnout Paradise, then you haven’t been a regular listener to the Van Hemlock and Jon podcast. Shame on you! I’d played an earlier incarnation of Burnout on the GameCube and had enjoyed it enough that, combined with the constant media praise for the ‘Next Gen’ edition of the driving series, and perhaps slightly more to do with the fact that I found a copy for sale at a disgustingly cheap price in a local electrical store, I decided to grab the Xbox 360 version and give it a try. So what is Burnout Paradise? One could say that it is a driving game, but that would be a lie. It would be more accurate to say that the primary single player experience is actually a very detailed, very gruelling, hardcore orienteering simulator. Orienteering at one hundred and seventy five miles per hour in super-charged V8s. The subtitle for the game should be Vin Diesel’s Extreme Orienteering Simulator. There are various events within Burnout Paradise, but I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of them are a point-to-point race of some sort; some of these events are straight races, where others require you to avoid being taken down (run off the road so that you crash) too many times by a set of pursuers who are wolf-like in their relentless harrying. The problem is that unless you know the roads off by heart you have to rely on your map and compass to get you from start to destination; I don’t know about you, but I have enough trouble reading a map when I’m stationary at the side of the road and not in a hurry, let alone trying to decide whether I need to exit at the next turnpike whilst driving twice the posted speed limit, on the wrong side of the road, airborne halfway through an advertising hoarding, and trying to land such that I avoid the other racers who are determined to run me into the oncoming traffic. Essentially then, you’re expected to learn the layout of the city, to find the shortcuts and the crazy ways to literally cut corners, and commit them all to memory so that you need never experience that sinking feeling in your gut when you suddenly realise that you haven’t looked at the road for a good five to ten seconds, and you peer out from behind your map only to see nothing but sky. And then ground. Sky. Ground. Sky, ground, sky, ground… ‘the captain has illuminated the safety belt sign, please place your seat backs in the upright position and stow your tray in the seat in front of you in preparation for landing. Thank you.’.

I take it back, Burnout Paradise is an orienteering simulator only so long as it takes you to memorise the layout of the not inconsiderably sized city. For example, the stunt events require you to know where all the decent ramps and drifting places are with respect to your starting spot, so again it’s all about learning the area and knowing the optimal routes to take. Perhaps a better subtitle for the game would be Vin Diesel’s Extreme London Taxi Driver Knowledge Simulator, or Vin Diesel’s Bastard Hard Brain Training.

The game looks gorgeous and the physics simulation is excellent such that there is genuinely great pleasure to be had in just ‘free burning’ around the city, trying to learn the roads and find all the hidden jumps and shortcuts; it’s like a giant adventure playground for the Mad Max generation, and never does this become more clear than in the multiplayer achievement mode. Having tagged along with Jon’s Tuesday Console Club for a session of multiplayer achievement mayhem, where the game mode is a cooperative effort to try to complete various tasks set by the game – drift for a cumulative distance contributed to by all players, all players must achieve a barrel roll in a specific zone of the city, any one player must achieve a set amount of airtime from a jump, to name but a few – I have seen the level of effort that has gone into creating something that is more than just a simple arcade driving game. With Burnout Paradise, Criterion have created a driving sandbox game, it’s Elder Scrolls in American Muscle cars, and as such would have been worth its full retail price for the amount of time I will undoubtedly invest in it before I get bored. At the current clearance price it’s ridiculous value for money.

Castle Crashers: Ren & Stimpy meets Golden Axe. Need I say anything more? Expect lots of subtle yet childish humour and old-school arcade game-play with the respective rapid ramp-up of difficulty that coin-op machines would employ to keep you feeding them regular snacks of cupro-nickel. There’s a hat-tip RPG element in the form of points gained per level that you can invest in various stats in order to customise your character towards your preferred style of fighting. There are upgradable weapons; spells; potions and there are enemies. Lots and lots of enemies. There is one excellent tactic granted to you in order to deal with the vast relentless tide of foes that you face, and that is the fact that you can bring three of your friends along for the fight. The graphics are crisp, the animations traditional but fun, and the audio is that perfect blend of catchy tunes that bleed into the game without taking over from the arcade-homage sound effects. A very enjoyable, easily accessible, side scrolling hack’n’slash arcade game of the old school. It’s available on the XBox Arcade, and for me the only thing it lacks is a backing ambience of Penny-Go-Round coin pushers, an oppressively dark and smoky atmosphere, and a strange emo kid called Danny who stands slightly too close while looking over your shoulder as you try to play.

Braid: You remember that girl you knew at school? You do. The stunningly pretty one who all the boys fancied and half the girls did too, and they all waxed lyrical about how fantastic she was. Remember your disappointment when it turned out that no matter how much you or anyone else loved her, they would never be able to love her more than she already loved herself? Braid is what would happen if that girl was sucked into the Tron machine and transferred into the digital realm.

Braid is pretty. Braid is clever. Braid loves itself utterly, and no clearer is this in evidence than in its supposedly deep and meaningful story. Braid wants to be seen as high art, and Braid thinks it is too good for the likes of you.

What Braid actually appears to be is a delightful little Marioesque platformer combined with puzzle elements generated using the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time time mechanic. The puzzles are devious and clever in their implementation, and this is the one thing that I think Braid brings to the table that makes it special and perhaps more than just another amalgamation of game-play elements slapped together from existing games. Braid is an accomplished game, it presents a coherent, attractive, and innately comprehensible game world. It’s just such a shame that it clearly thinks that it is far more of a revelation than it actually is.

Sweet childish days, that were as long as twenty days are now.

Hello! How have you all been? For me it has been the case that mini-Melmoth has been most unwell over the past five days or so, and hence I’ve been a little preoccupied and unable to visit unseemly ramblings upon you at any length, but with a little backup healing from Mrs Melmoth and myself the blessed little nooblet is now tanking viruses like a professional. Alas, neither Mrs Melmoth nor myself managed to spot the random virus patrol that appeared from out of nowhere, as viruses are wont to do, and therefore we were both clobbered with the lurgi before you could say “Crap! Aggro!” Still, we’re all starting to feel a lot better, therefore I can return to you now with the voluble verbiage and puerile persiflage that you have come to expect.

And what better way than with poo? As my old granny used to say, before the nurses came along and took her off for a bath and change of clothes.

Mitch Benn’s tweet “All you do is insert the word ‘Poo’ into film titles. Reduced several of Britain’s finest satirists to sniggering eight year olds.” intrigued both Zoso and myself. I say intrigued, but I actually mean ‘reduced us to sniggering eight year olds’. And no I’m not saying we’re part of Britain’s finest satirists, it just had the same effect; good grief, I’m gone for five seconds and you’ve all gone all ‘Internet forum’ on me.

Anyway, we decided to go for game titles, the simple rule: swap one word in the title with the word ‘poo’. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments. It turns out that games are slightly more tricky than films, what with so many games having titles of only one word, but what follows are a few of our favourites:

Alone in the Poo – A game about you, a creek and your quest for a paddle.

Need for Speed: Poo Unleashed – Time to make a run for the toilet.

Jet Poo Willy – What men fear will happen on the day they have to ‘hold on’ for slightly too long.

Oh No! More Poo – Just when you thought your Jet Poo Willy was over.

Sensible Poo Spotting – Uh…

Poo Fantasy Tactics – Probably already an adult website.

Little Big Poo – You know, the rabbit dropping that took an hour of fist-clenching, teeth-baring agony to pass.

Mega Poo Star Force – That’s no rabbit dropping, that’s a space station.

Heavenly Poo – At the other end of the pain/pleasure spectrum…

Sid Meier’s Alpha Poo – Leader of the poo pack.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Poo – I guess it’s either very painful or a neat party trick.

The Way of the Exploding Poo – Is a good strong curry in a foreign country.

Poo of Conan – The mightiest poo in all of Hyboria.

Poo Tycoon – Work your way up to becoming the biggest effluent processor in the whole country!

I Have No Mouth And I Must Poo – This just scares me. Moving swiftly on.

Microsoft Combat Poo Simulator – The loser to America’s Army in the competition to provide the United States a realistic simulator of battlefield scenarios.