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You want me to fetch WHAT!?!

Canis Canem Edit (or Bully to our non-EU chums) has got to be the biggest waste of time ever. "Woah" I hear the fans bleat, "get with the program dog, that game is the sh!z. nit" Well hold on to your horses Westwood because I didn't mean to say it was poop, I meant that more than any other game I have played recently it is a real time sink. There is just so much to do and hardly any of it has got anything to do with the main story. Last night I was mowing lawns, taking tests, giving wedgies and (in a sinister twist) robbing panties from a girls dorm! Despite the apparent lack of direction though, it oozes more charm than a young Leslie Phillips and for a PS2 game the graphics are almost too good (the game froze on me once just like GTA: Vice City used to do occasionally).

I have decided to put FFXII to bed for now as I got to a point where I needed to put in a bit of grinding to get my characters to a comfortable level. I did a few hunts and actually now have about the level I was after but it all seemed to be a bit of a toil. Had CCE not been waiting in the sidelines I would probably have carried on but I think that FFXII will join my list of games that were just that little bit too long. It's ironic that one of the things I look for in a games purchase is good game length but that is exactly what has turned me off titles like Fable and FFXII in the end.

Well, I am heading home for Christmas so won't be Gamespotting for a week or so. I hope all that read this (especially after that terrible gangsta-speak) have a good Christmas and get all the things they wish for. I am keeping my fingers crossed for God of War II. Come on Santa!

Lee

Tribute

Many people ably complete games all the time and personally I know that there are very few games I won't be able to get all the way through on the default difficulty (unlike Devil May Cry - damn you giant bird monster!). However, there are a number of occasions when a person who would normally consider themselves a "non-gamer" decides to pick up a game only to find that they can't stop and ends up flirting with hardcore status. This post is a tribute to those that have surprised me over the years with an innate gaming ability that appeared from nowhere.

Arkanoid

The Commodore 64 was great. You may disagree but I have a lot of love for it. Sure the loading times were agonising and the games often terrible but it had one saving grace. It was cheap. Games were so affordable that my dad had an entire drawer full of them. In amongst the shoddy platformers and joyless racers was a Breakout clone called Arkanoid that my dad actually completed. This may not seem amazing by today's standards but fifteen years ago virtually nobody completed games. Arkanoid had no save or password system and there was not even a way to pause the game! Despite all this, my dad managed to destroy the coin-spitting floating head final boss and should have the respect of even the most hard-core of gamers.

Tetris

Imagine a handheld the size and weight of a modest housebrick with just two buttons and a 2.6 inch monochrome screen. Sounds pretty crappy doesn't it but in your minds eye is the original Gameboy. The appeal of the best selling games machine in the world wasn't lost on my mum who was a Tetris legend. After unsuccessfully trying to introducing her to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, she picked up the Gameboy and that was it. She occupied all the top scores and nobody could beat them. Somewhere there is a dusty Tetris cartridge with an undefeated top score that is testament to my mum's lightning quick block-building skills. If you find it, reset the cartridge because you aren't gonna beat it.

Resident Evil 4

Aside from forays into cutesy platformers like Ape Escape 2 or Spyro the Dragon, my girlfriend has never been hugely interested in video games. I think she feels that a lot of the shooters I play are all pretty samey and she has a good point. Generic locations, character types and bad guys mean that a lot of games are boring to watch and so there is no incentive to give it a go. The exception to this rule was the truly awesome Resident Evil 4. Whether it was the atmosphere, the monsters or just seeing the big grin on my face as I put the last bullet in El Gigante's ugly mug, my girlfriend not only decided to give it a go but took it to it's blood-splattered jetski-fuelled end. Admittedly I helped with the odd direction (my girlfriends knack of making 180 turns and not noticing needed the odd correction) but the fact remains that she saw it to the end and loved it.

So there you go, this may not be the best blog-entry the world, no, no. This is a tribute.

Christmas Lovers, Look Away Now!

It's official, 24 October was the date that Christmas 2007 started to annoy me. I am not a big fan of the annual celebration that sees hordes of slavering retail-a-holics, dashing mindlessly around their local shopping centre (Dawn of the Dead had it right) but this year it seems to be angering me more than usual. Here are the things that irk me most about the birthday of Jeebus.

First is the demands on my time. Taking a day off for Christmas shopping is inconceivable to me as my days off are too precious to fritter away, not to mention the wrapping and worrying involved. I am lucky enough to get over a week off for Christmas but I know I will be running up and down the country seeing friends and relatives that simply must see me "because it's Christmas".

This neatly leads onto my second miserly gripe. The phrase "because it's Christmas" is symptomatic of people that have a set of rules that they must dogmatically follow lest Christmas be ruined and lead to some kind of awful depression. I am talking about those people that make themselves sick by chasing an enormous roast dinner with a giant lump of rich Christmas pudding that they don't even like "because it's Christmas." All fun is drained away for fear of missing anything off the essential Christmas checklist.

The third is the needless amounts that people spend. Not only do people spend exorbitant amounts of money on buying cheap tat with which to festoon their normally immaculate and tasteful homes, they bankrupt themselves buying presents for their friends and family. Many "because it's Christmas" simpletons have a number in their head for each person they know and that number is what they feel that they should spend. All notions of good will are knocked aside as competitive gift givers try and get presents they can boast about to their friends ("Well, I got hubby a new stereo, PS3, IPod and a hat made of dodo tusks") and social sheep worry that they have not spent enough ("Bob from next door gave the kids a fiver last year, maybe we should put some money in an envelope for his niece we have never met and never will").

I want a simple life and to me Christmas is like a thousand voices telling me what to do, which I hate. People telling me where to go and what to buy. Tradition telling me that I am getting there at the wrong time and brought the wrong thing. Lastly there is social pressure telling my wallet it's not spent enough when my wallet is pretty sure it's spent too much and is getting tired of all the red and gold.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Lee

Yes Man Kablaam

God Hand. It's crazy. Drawn to the insane quirkiness of Japanese games, I managed to scoop it up for a bargain price and it is baddy-punching-demon-scrapping-lady-spanking-mungous. The combat is fairly tricky but always satisfying and landing that charged up uppercut on some punk and then booting him 500 yards makes me feel pretty good. It shouldn't. But it does. Weirdly, it's the in-game casino that had me staying up past bedtime (on a school night no less) and after losing a load on the slots and blackjack, I made it all back and more on the video poker and a particularly inspired flutter on the chihuahua racing. Also, the trailer for the game is particularly excellent.

Lee

"You don't get to actually play much, do you?"

These were the words that my girlfriend used to critically appraise one of the most well received games on the PS2. I have just started playing Final Fantasy XII and I had forgotten how lengthy cut scenes can be. It's not just the cut scenes either, the Gambit system means that once you have set up your team then they pretty much take care of themselves in the normal stages of play and all you have to do is push them in the right direction. I can imagine that becoming much more complex as I obtain more gambits though.

However, I can feel the mild pangs of addiction needling at my brain. Much in the same way Armoured Core 3 sapped hours of my life in buying equipment and assembling the mightiest robot; tinkering with gambits, weapons and licences could prove equally compelling. At the moment the gamer clock is around the 12 hour mark (plus a few deaths along the way) but I know that I have barely scratched the surface. One thing you can be sure of when you buy a Final Fantasy game is value for money.

Sadly all this could lead to a little bit of gamer guilt. I played a good five hours last night and felt terrible about having wasted my evening. I know this is completely crazy, spending time on your hobby should be a simple pleasure, but I still felt like a bad person and that I frittered away my time. It was made worse by the fact I forgot to call my Grandma on her birthday (I called her this morning though - she was chuffed). I don't know if anybody else has this bizarre mental block but I hope I am not the only sufferer.

To add a further twist to this mental contradiction, one of my all time favourite gaming moments was completing Final Fantasy VII. Being involved in the epic and moving tale of Cloud and co. brings back fantastic (and possibly rose-tinted) memories. Maybe throwing myself into the struggle against the Archadian Empire will be a kind of therapy. If not, a newly acquired copy of Canis Canem Edit will give me some scope for schoolboy hi-jinks.

Lee

Wish I Was There....

Another year, another Tokyo Game Show that I have no hope of attending. Although the bloated E3 toad was told to hop on a treadmill, slim down and lay off the pasties, it seems that the Tokyo Game Show is doing the opposite. I am not sure what they are hoping to gain from adding another day but I am sure it won't do it any harm.

I was lucky enough to attend the show a few years ago (2001 and 2002) and it was amazing. I got to play Metal Gear Solid 2 and the XBox before most people in the world and, sad as it may sound, it actually felt pretty special. Having lived in Japan for two years the country and it's people are pretty close to my heart and I love the way they get into such an event. Behaviour which us Westerners see as plain weird is celebrated within the walls of Makuhari Messe in Chiba. Some of those costumes have a frightening amount of work put into them and seedy looking salarymen having their picture taken with their favourite promotions dolly-bird are de rigeur. Chiiiiiizu!

For me, the day flew by and before I knew it, my feet were aching from standing up for 5 hours, my throat was dry and my belly was hungry for tonkatsu and Kirin. On top of that I was laden with a ton of flyers and goodies that never seemed to make it into an optimistically-planned scrapbook but became dusty bin-fodder on moving out of my flat. I did keep my Silent Hill 3 snap-on wristband though, it was one of those that were banned when I was at school because the material that made it wrap around your wrist was a piece of dangerously sharp sheet metal. To this day I wear it with pride, well, not really, those things are lethal.

I hope all that go have a great time and the rest start saving for a holiday in Japan, possibly this time next year. It's a wonderful country and I love it.

Lee

Synchronicity: or Saving the World in Time for Nigella Express

It was a tough old Monday evening that's for sure but one that was well worth it. 8 hours after adding Black Arrow to the Now Playing section of my Gamespot account I packed it away so I could start on another game. That's right, the world is safe from international nuclear-launching terrorists once again and yes, I am well aware of the irony of that comment on the anniversary of 9/11. I stopped the countdown a mere 5 seconds from launch and boy am I proud of myself. I will admit that I did activate God Mode for a few minutes during Mission 7 but I am not ashamed.

The sad news is that there is only one console-sized slot under the front-room-big-telly so the XBox will have to go back in it's bag and put under the sofa (along with the SNES and N64) so that the PS2 can take it's place and I can start on the behemoth that is Final Fantasy XII. I always feel a completely irrational pang of guilt when one console is packed away in preference for another. I feel the need to apologise to a slab of plastic and silicon just as I occasionally have the bizarre urge to thank the ATM. I am sure that after a few goes on Bark at the Moon on Guitar Hero I will forget all about it.

Completing the game with only 5 seconds on the clock wasn't the only piece of gnats-chuff timekeeping. Clocking it as I did at 8:29 meant that my girlfriend could watch one of her favourite cookery based programmes on the aforementioned front-room-big-telly (it's at a premium). I was not 100% happy however as I find Nigella Lawson's sanctimonious preaching and rictus smile a bit irritating. I swear if she'd have said "It couldn't be easier" one more time I would have thrown the cat through the TV.

Tonight there will be no saving the world or shooting bad guys, just Jamie Oliver's mockney swagger and everyday domesticity. I am happy though as even Ding Chavez has to put the bin out sometimes.

Lee

Last Generation Fun

That's it, Black Arrow is officially driving me crazy. I played the same level for 2 and a half hours the other day and just couldn't finish it. Every time I peek my head around a corner it gets shot off. I bought the game as it was highly recommended by my gaming magazine of choice (gamesTM) but it turns out that it is the multiplayer which everyone raved about. Oh well. I am enjoying the single player but it is pretty tough as I have never played a tactical shooter like that before.

The main problem I have about the game is the fact that it's difficulty is determined by the number of saves you can make through the level. This seems like a lazy way to set the level of challenge the player has to face. If I use my saves too early in the game then I scupper myself for later in the level which means a lot of restarts. Also, the saves that I do make seem to be deleted whenever I come to start again. Very frustrating.

On the flipside, I am making swift progress through Halo 2 where the difficulty level is much more sophisticated and seems to rely on things like AI, enemy strength or player weakness. On top of that, the rather excellent recharging shield / checkpoint system means that you approach every skirmish in the same condition irrespective of anything that has gone before. This completely takes the grind out of a) having to redo parts that you know you can do and b) making the game extra difficult by penalising you irreversibly for small mistakes.

I still love playing Black Arrow though and nailing that last terrorist in a mission feels unnaturally good. Maybe I should go against my better judgement and sign up to XBox Live although I would probably fare a lot worse as most players still clinging onto an old XBox game might be pretty hardcore. Last to note is the fact that the good old Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A code activates God mode. Sooooo tempting ....... watch this space.

Lee

I've started...

Well, I did it. I completed Thief: Deadly Shadows and at times it felt like work. Don't get me wrong the game was good. The atmosphere was tense, the heists were challenging and there were some genuine nail-biting moments along the way. The thing is that it had some moments of sheer frustration that had me (uncharacteristically) reaching for a walkthrough on several occasions. Missions with an objective like "gather information" lacked signposting and resulted in unnecessary backtracking. Also, making your way through the city inbetween main missions was a bit of a chore and took far too long. Bottom line - I put in the hours to get the job done.

However, in a rather cliched "it's not you , it's me" sense the problem really is mine. Sadly, I am marked with a curse that cannot heal, the curse of the completist. In a completely irrational manner, I slogged through Thief just so that I could get stuck into Halo 2 or Rainbow Six. What I should have done is just set it aside and started gleefully blasting Covenant bad guys like a kiddie at the fair. I am sure there are others out there that suffer the same mark as I. It is a kind of madness that compels me to get my moneys worth from every game I purchase (ironically, I borrowed Thief from a friend so it didn't cost me a penny). There are guilty secrets lurking around my house like an unfinished Fable save here and a half completed Devil May Cry there.

However, if the first step is confession then the next must be acceptance. Although parts of it annoyed me, I am glad I completed Thief and the final cutscene felt like an achievement. If it wasn't for my ridiculous gaming dogma, I would have left games half-done and gone on to buy another. I suppose every game will have some part that will irritate (like the very first boss in Ninja Gaiden, the sirens in the desert in God of War or Vamp in Metal Gear Solid 2, I really didn't enjoy any part of that preposterous character) but the point is that obstacles are there to be overcome and for me, that's all part of the joy of gaming.

I am not one of those hardcore gamers that would harvest virtual turnips for hours on end for a go on a two-handed bastard sword but I do enjoy the challenge. Despite of all this however, I bought FFXII on the weekend. This means my post-Christmas XBox 360 plan might be post-Christmas 2008. It might be even longer if I repeat the mistakes on Rainbow Six that I made yesterday like leaping head first down a sewer ... Oh right, the ladder. Oops

Lee

Gaming/Art - What's the point?

I am so bored at the moment. The forums have lit up again with the muted synaptic explosions from the old "Evolution is a lie" thing and quite frankly it gets me down. I bit the inside of my own mouth today and it really hurt. Is that sure proof that we were not designed by an infallible being or was it another mystery laid upon us by the divine to test our faith? Who knows? Personally, I haven't found God but that is mainly because I am not looking.

Is there room for this philosophising in the world of video games, did I learn the true meaning of Greek irony from Kratos, the bitter price of self-sacrifice from Shadow of the Colossus or that giant apes can throw burning crates at plumbers and still have time for a bit of go-karting? The answer for me is definitely no. Video games haven't taught me a bit about life from the day that I put tuppence in Operation Wolf.

How about physical benefits? Well, aside from the fact that the majority of games require only marginally more movement than the average coma patient can provide, it seems that is out of the question. Having said that, I did come up with an exercise regime involving playing the EyeToy for 30 minutes a day. Unfortunately, I gave this up as I got an X-Box and a copy of Ninja Gaiden: Black for my birthday and the PS2 was put back in it's natty blue box. I did learn the best way to kill a giant bone dragon though, although only if I was a superhuman ninja which I am definitely not. Especially now the EyeToy has been packed away. There's your irony...not very Greek though.

Come on, there must be some good points. There are social aspects surely. I can get my mates round and we can have a blast on FarCry or Mario Kart. A bit of jolly banter and friendly competition never hurt anyone. Well, when I say banter I mean "I won, another game anyone?" and when I say competition I mean "I lost, another game anyone?" Not really sparkling conversation is it?

OK, so what are the benefits of gaming. Basically none, but isn't that the whole point? If I were to sit down and read a book for a couple of hours (currently reading the excelllent The Book of Chameleons - Jose Eduardo Agualusa) or watch a good film nobody would ask what the point of that was. It would just be the same as fighting my way through Athens to uncover Kratos' past. I envy the old boys that play chess in the park, sitting quietly in each other's company enjoying the game for it's own sake but isn't a bit of multiplayer Halo then off to the pub the same but with more hoverbikes? Some go to art galleries and marvel at the detail on a Constable and others play Gears of War and marvel at the cinematic use of an in-game camera.

This can only mean one thing. Gaming and enjoying the arts are the same thing. On the surface fairly fruitless but delve deep and they can be life-enriching, sociable and above all else fun.