Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Right, less of the writing gubbins, now it's time for a nice cathartic release.
I'm sick to death of the dole. I hate it and everything it represents. I hate being looked down by others for being on it. I hate having to rely on it going in regularly, praying I hear the motor whir at the ATM so I can empty my account in one meagre transaction. I hate not being able to afford anything. I hate all of the sacrifices I'm having to make week in, week out. I hate that despite being a graduate with a good degree I can't get menial office or shop work - I'm either overqualified or ill-experienced. I hate the companies that don't get back in touch with me. I hate how miserable it makes me. I hate having to pretend that everything's fine.
And now they have the gall to ask me to bring in proof I'm looking for work. Like I enjoy just scraping by instead of being able to afford things or going out or anything fun that I used to do?
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Ah, the light gun game. One of the last bastions of UK arcade gaming. If you’re out scoring some strikes at your local Megabowl you’ll inevitably see a small cabinet next to the pool and air hockey tables, conjuring memories of those old classics such as Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, et al. Why not have a play for nostalgia’s sake? But then it hits you: £2 to go on a game I’m blatantly not going to last more than 4 minutes on?! That’s 1.2p per every second spent playing! Are you having a laugh?!
1. Peripheral vision:
Okay, you’ve spotted a cabinet or picked up a game, but you’ll need to get accustomed to the controller. The most widely used home console gun is the G-Con series, created by Namco, and for the most part it’s pretty good - if a tad boring. For the real hardcore out there, you can find replica sniper rifles at all good online retailers (and some crap ones too). However, if that seems a bit too over the top for you, there are some other choices. The general consensus seems to suggest that the best way to play these games is with some wireless light guns (the Joytech Sharp Shooter series is pretty much gaming bliss in this field). If you’re feeling slightly frolicsome, you can purchase two of them and go through the two player co-op mode for some dual wielding fun. Sometimes, the gun you use to shoot with doesn’t represent the weapon you’re using in-game. It seems a common misconception that automatic handguns are capable of firing both grenades, flames and shotgun shells as well as your standard ammo. Some arcade cabinets will boast the holy grail of light guns: The recoiling assault rifle. This beaut’s got more kick than David Beckham had in the second round of the ’98 World Cup. Sometimes it’s worth the £2 just to feel the recoil against your shoulder.
2. The lead characters and the plot:
The lead characters are usually American CIA/SAS/FBI/random-abbreviation operatives who have been hired to save some kidnapped President’s daughter, fight off evil insurgents from neighbouring countries, or to kill the President’s daughter as she’s now working for the evil insurgents… or something along those lines. To be honest, you don’t play a light gun game for the stunning script, dialogue and cut scenes. Let’s be fair, the voice acting is usually a similar experience to hearing 5 year olds trying to read the long words from the Broadsheets and the characters have the charisma of a baked potato. The main protagonists are usually white males, mid to late 20s, and appear like they wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalk – certainly nothing like any special arms operatives I’ve ever seen.
3. Events in gameplay:
The scenery is pretty generic at best but when playing one of these games your attention is primarily on the enemies so you miss out on such stunning backdrops as forests, trains and the inevitable ship encounter (which predictably gets capsized making everything go awry), and your generic Hollywood-esque bridge explosion. The likelihood of fighting a boss in a helicopter or private jet (you never see a poor end of level boss, do you?) is very high and you can expect that once you dispose of them they’ll fall backwards (still shooting) and blow up their own vehicle. Silly sausages.
4. The enemies:
You’d think that a global enemy cartel would have stricter quality control when hiring goons, or that at least they’d give them a shooting range test - as they appear to be the worst shots in the world. They get less hits than Hanson's fansite, for God’s sake. For some baffling reason the ‘big boss’ decided somewhere along the line that they should colour code their thugs in order of how hard they are. A good - if slightly flawed - plan as it means you just bust a cap in the harder enemy’s head before moving on to the ones that camply leap out into the open in a ridiculously bright-coloured jumpsuit.
5. The unexpected…
As a rule of thumb in this genre, always expect the unexpected. Characters you thought you had killed have most likely been rebuilt (I’m looking at you Time Crisis 3) and some of the characters will show moments of unforeseen strength. For example, one enemy might tear off a gun turret and proceed to hurl it around like a baseball bat (again, I refer back to the Time Crisis series here).
Sometimes, the genre strays away from its traditional roots. Ninja Assault puts the player in control of a Ninja trying to rescue the kidnapped Princess from an evil Warlord (see, I told you the stories were all the same!). Now, you’d probably expect the light gun to be used to control a rudimentary crossbow or to throw shuriken or something like that. You’d be wrong. According to Capcom, Ninja wield pistols. Seriously. The less said about that the better, I feel.
It should be pointed out that Light Gun games provide a lot of fun and are a great source of fun in co-op so they are definitely worth a look. They’re like what the Bad Boys films are to the film industry; a trashy, unrelenting demonstration of explosions and headshots that does nothing to detract from the main action and for this they should perhaps be forgiven...
There are moments in Black where you can’t help but think of ‘Team America’. Just as in that film, Black exists in a world where the destruction of property and buildings - no matter how valuable, or impressive the architecture - is all fair game, so long as it’s done by crack US combat teams in the fight against terrorism. In the first level of Black alone, you’ll find yourself storming a museum, firing rocket-propelled-grenades at city towers, and generally instigating more explosions than Steven Seagal’s entire cinematic output can muster. Take the very first task in the game: Opening a door. In this game, your key is a 12 gauge.
You play Jack Keller, a ‘black-ops’ soldier, with a reputation of being something of a maverick, a rogue, a lone-wolf – you know the type; prone to disobeying direct orders if it means getting the job done (admittedly not the most original videogame character of all time.). The game’s background is introduced by way of flashing newspaper headlines and fuzzy footage from newsreels, whilst the characters and main story slowly reveal themselves through the ‘interrogation room’ cut-scenes that precede each mission; Keller puffing on a cigarette and gruffly recalling his recent exploits. It’s a somewhat minimalist approach, which works, and works brilliantly setting the atmosphere and scene for each mission.
The visuals alone are startlingly good, even by today’s standards and certainly rank up there as some of the best the PS2 ever achieved. The game world is wonderfully moody and atmospheric; some of its darker environments conveying a sense of dread, and the quality of the graphics - combined with the suitably orchestral score, and meaty sound effects - serve to pull you into the game far more than most comparable console FPSs of last generation. In the cities, you can almost feel the crunch of glass beneath your steel capped boots, and you can sense the eerie chill in the air when wandering through the haunting forest.
The game has other ingenious tricks for involving the player too. Most engaging of these is perhaps the effects that kick in when Jack is critically injured; you can feel your heartbeat pulsing through the game-pad, and the visuals blur and slow-down, the sound becoming muffled and it stays this way until you either manage to locate a first-aid kit, or, more likely, die. This is a First Person shooter that well and truly puts you, the player, in the ‘first-person’; doing its best to make you feel what the character feels, and to make you value his survival, and seek to protect him from harm. Sure more modern games do this, some do it better than in Black, but it’s nice to know where your roots are.
The levels are big, and less linear than many FPSs, meaning that there is some scope to explore, and ‘find your own path’, and the missions are relatively varied (although most equate, ultimately, to killing lots of people and blowing up lots of stuff as per genre convention). There are a range of primary and secondary objectives within each mission, though the amount of these you’re obliged to fulfil depends on which of the four difficultly settings you’ve settled for. Normal mode, for example, requires you to fulfil all primary objectives, and just a few secondary ones. And of course, as is the game’s selling point just about everything you’ll come across is destructible in some way; from buildings, to vehicles, to road-blocks, to tree-stumps - the world is yours to destroy at will (or cower behind). The weapons with which you get to wreak havoc with are really just standard, bland, typical FPS-fare; pistols, shotguns, machine-guns, rocket-launchers, etc, all of them subject to the usual advantages and limitations. No big surprises there then, although considering its ‘real-world’ setting, there wasn’t a huge amount of scope for letting imagination run wild in this area. Besides, they’re all very, very satisfying to use; the shotgun is just as powerful and reliable as you’d hope (always my weapon of choice), and there’s little so satisfying as perching atop a ledge and sending a rocket into an enemy base, then sitting back and watching the chain reaction of explosions.
Once you peel back the spot-on presentation, well-judged sense of involvement and decent level design, however, Black does have some shortcomings. Enemy AI isn’t awful, but it’s not nearly as well balanced as we’ve come to expect from the cream of contemporary shooters. I also feel some personal frustration with the cut-scenes that you CANNOT SKIP; each time you start a mission, you have no choice but to sit through them, which seems strange, considering how simple this would have been to resolve. It’s not an especially long game either; the seasoned gun-porn fanatic should have it wrapped up fairly swiftly and whilst the new objectives presented by higher difficulty settings offer some reason to replay, it’s unlikely that even the most devoted fan will trawl through the whole game more than two or three times. Which brings the biggest omission to the forefront: there’s no multiplayer mode. No frags or capturing flags. Considering how standard the multiplayer mode has become to the genre, it seems a shame that Black misses out, and whilst it’s sad that multiplayer doesn’t make an appearance, I feel that, overall, the game is better for it as the single player mode is so well made as a result of all the attention being placed on it.
Black offers one of the best FPS experiences available on a console; certainly the best on PS2. The visuals and audio are stunning, and the gameplay is pitched perfectly between strategic thinking and all-out, no-brains, balls to the wall action, providing an immensely satisfying all round experience, with no short supply of jaw-dropping moments. However, its modest length and absence of multiplayer options seriously compromise its longevity, and prevent it from reaching the status of classic.