Budget Review – Evil Genius

Written 03/08/2012.

Evil Genius

You’re evil, in possession of an abnormally high intellect, and you want everyone to recognise this and give you presents for it. Starting as little more than a humble dealer in human suffering, you gradually work your way up the ladder of crime until you find yourself squatting in your subterranean base, considering how deep inside the volcano to build your doomsday device.

Not an auspicious goal, admittedly – no one likes being told they share a life plan with Ming the Merciless – but one that’s easy to grasp. Like the world. Between your cruel, talon-nailed fingers.

Continue reading

The Thief 4 Demo Reel Makes Me Happy In My Pants

Written 30/07/2012. First posted here.

When the Thief 4 ‘trailer’ leaked last month, the internet went mildly enthusiastic. Intrigued individuals and 200-word articles as far as the eye can glance. Bit of forum activity, even.

Less a big splash than a skipping stone, but that was to be expected. It’s a 30-second clip for Thief goddamn 4; the next in a series which most people have never played, and which Eidos Montreal have released Sweet F.A about. Most of the attention it got consisted of ten words and a video link, or a sweet little teaspoon of rampant paranoia about The Creeping Inevitable Doom That Has Fallen Upon This Game.

Me? I was pretty psyched, because look at this motherfucker:

Continue reading

Wonderbook: The Little Preview That Could (But Didn’t)

Written 12/06/2012. First posted here.

In the spirit of innovation, Sony have bred a Living Books CD with a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Presumably kept together in a small, warm box; dosed with pheromones and Barry White tracks until they conceded to mate and bring forth a Harry Potter spell list.

Sorry, that’s an uncharitable way to describe the offspring. It is, in fact, ‘a new range of experiences that brings stories to life in your living room’. Imagine sailing the seven seas to explore an Atlas, walking with dinosaurs, travelling beyond the stars to discover astronomy. Imagine a presentation where they’d actually shown us any of that.

Continue reading

Eastercon 2012 – A Write-Up From the Hotel Bar

Written 18/04/2012. First posted here.

I have cocooned myself in a miasma of blankets and sweat, wheezing like an elderly basset hound. My muscles have seized up from chest to sternum. Each breath is an exercise in masochism.

Every two years I sell a kidney and pay for a weekend at Eastercon, and every two years it thanks me with this. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. But this…


Olympus 2012 has killed me, dear readers, more surely than if I tried to scale that mythical mountain from which it takes its name. I am a shell of what I once was, a slightly sticky shroud cradling sleep deprivation and obscene amounts of caffeine.

Was it worth it? Popular consensus says: fuck yeah.

Continue reading

Why Skyrim is a Stormcloak in a Teacup

Written 22/02/2012. First posted here.


Skyrim is not a particularly good game.

Not a terrible game, just a lazy one. It comfortably settles for mediocre with the occasional jaunt into pretty good or descent into god-awful. It’s not bad. It’s okay. It’s a horrendous brush to tar any creative property with: not so bad as to be entertaining, nor quite good enough for ‘decent’. The pity-prize of the praise world.

So why has Skyrim earned it? There is a lot about it to praise. Magic is fluid and extremely satisfying, Alchemy and Smithing both made for highly addictive little mini games, the Thieves Guild questline was coherent, and-

Continue reading

Skyrim Review – Its Problems Are Legion, For They Are Many

Written 21/02/2012. First posted here.

Hesitantly, I pushed open the door. Before me lay a tunnel heading deep into the earth. To my right, about five feet down the passageway, was a door. I tried the handle.

Barred from the other side.

“Oh,” I said, “This’ll be my shortcut out at the end of the dungeon.”

It’s no way to play a game. Catacomb or cave, ancient temple or mystic pilgrim’s path: Bethesda have a formula and they’re sticking to it. It consists of a long crawl through twisty tunnels, the occasional large room to spice things up, and a whole lot of cannon fodder. There will be trippable traps. Even if it’s a sewer.

Continue reading

Singleplayer Isn’t Dying

Written 06/02/2012. First posted here.

There is nothing gamers enjoy more than prophesising doom. And fair do’s, it’s a hobby we share with most of humanity, but it can get a little tiring. The same debates crop up over and over, year after year, as predictable as council tax but without the excitement. My personal nominee for ‘oh god, STFU’ is singleplayer’s inevitable demise.

The lyrics change, but the tune grates on the same as ever. First, story-driven singleplayer would be wiped out by shooters. Then story-driven singleplayer and shooters turned out to be amiable flatmates, so the new threat of multiplayer mode was introduced and charged with conspiracy to dilute singleplayer. MMOGs got touted as the Final Death Nell for a while there, but they fell out of vogue the moment they started falling flat on their faces. So what have gamers done? We found something else to twist our knickers over: social/app games and multiplayer-focused games.


Continue reading

Narrative Kinks: Surprisingly Safe For Work

Written 04/01/2012. First posted here.

What are Narrative Kinks? Well, for a start they’re not normally capitalised but I like them that way. You could almost say it’s a grammatical kink.

Narrative Kinks are story or world elements which push your buttons. While this includes genre to some degree, it’s a lot more precise and tightly focused – you don’t have a Narrative Kink for fantasy, you have a Narrative Kink for ‘rag-tag band forced together by destiny’ or ‘the clash between magic and emerging technology’. They range from being major plot elements to simple character types. For example: I really like non-combative male thief characters, to the point where I’m more likely to buy something if I know there’s one in it. A friend of mine loves settings where magic is treated as a science.

(Those being some of the less embarrassingly petty options, as anything from ‘the badass fighter needs rescuing’ to ‘meaningful conversations next to streams at night’ can count as Narrative Kinks.)

Continue reading

Tom of Gameland

Written 14/12/2011. First posted here.

Max Payne 3

If, like me, you’ve been gazing at that picture of Max Payne in faint bemusement (possibly wondering where his suit went and what asshole slipped him those steroids), you might’ve been too busy to notice similar imagery in other games. To sum it up: butch is big, and so are the male character designs.

Max’s transformation from a whiny angstbucket in cheap polyester to Interchangeable Gritty Mercenary 375 is disappointing, but hardly comes as a surprise. Games design has been heading down this track for a long time. If they’ve got muscles, put muscles on top of those and if they don’t, re-write the character until they do. Gamers are, apparently, incapable of enjoying a character who couldn’t moonlight as a bungalow.

This is bullshit.

Continue reading

Ubisoft Wouldn’t Hit You If You Didn’t Make Him Angry

Written 06/12/2011. First posted here.

Ubisoft’s latest fallout with PC gamers deserves a lot more attention than this fair website has given it. Sure, there was last weeks Is Ubisoft inherently anti-PC gaming?, but that was less an article than a stream of vitriol and cheap dick jokes. I should know – I wrote it. Spleen-venting soothes the savage hate-on, but it leaves a girl with a lot of unanswered questions.

For starters: why has Ubisoft clung to demonstrably-ineffective DRM for so long?

That’s the money-shot. Ubisoft’s DRM gets cracked, and it usually gets cracked fast. From Dust was cracked in under a day. To their credit, Assassin’s Creed II and Silent Hunter 5 held out a little longer but the wait wasn’t exactly nail-biting. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory takes Best in Show with over 400 days, but StarForce DRM pissed players off so badly Ubisoft dropped it.

Continue reading