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Lewis Lewis Denby is a freelance videogames journalist and critic. As well as HonestGamers, he has written for PC Gamer, Eurogamer, The Escapist, Gamasutra and BeefJack.

Title: Awkward Reviews
Posted: November 29, 2008 (05:31 AM)
It's Games I Love Against My Better Judgement Week, kids. Keep your eyes on the Staff Reviews section over the coming days.

First up: Patholgic.
Coming soon: In Memoriam. The Nomad Soul.
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Title: Russian Oddities (updated)
Posted: November 27, 2008 (02:12 PM)
Has anyone played Pathologic?

EDIT: You probably haven't, so let's talk about it.

Pathologic is a 2005 Russian genre-breaker, developed by Ice-Pick Lodge (who?), presumably as a very intentional reaction to the next-generation empty stylisation of the Western videogame movement. Initially, it seems to sit somewhere in between Bethesda's big RPGs and a traditional adventure game, with the occasional shooty bits thrown in for good measure. Only there are no RPG elements, no puzzles, and barely any action. Interactive biological mystery fiction.

It's antagonistic, confusing, incredibly difficult and often horribly counter-intuitive. Its engine looks at least five years older than it is, and the version released a year later in the UK is a horribly-translated and bug-ridden mess. It's slow, frustrating and occasionally tedius.

It's also one of the most interesting, atmospheric, creative and thoroughly disturbing videogames I've ever played.

Telling the tale of an isolated Russian village overcome by a terrible plague, Pathologic places you in the life of one of three 'healers' called to the area for a twelve-day period to try to halt the epidemic. The village is under quarantine: no one may enter or leave. Yet you're told, right from the start, that you absolutely only have twelve days there. Curiously and deliberately, nobody will tell you why. That alone is intriguing beyond most set-ups.

My initial response to its clunkiness and amateurish feel was to think "wow - this would be incredible if it were made by one of the role-playing giants" - but actually, it probably wouldn't. It's distinctly eastern in its approach. It's enriched in Russian folklore and mythology, drenched with the undertones of Soviet bleakness. Aspects of the story make absolutely no sense on first play-through, requiring attempts as different characters for certain loose ends to be tied; but once you do unravel the game's mysteries, they're completely, unthinkably brilliant in their offbeat absurdity.

Every second spent in this village seems more horrifying than the last. Each day, more areas become infected, and more important characters succumb to this unfathomable death. The town becomes emptier. Frustration turns to desparation turns to absolute terror. There's something about Pathologic's chilling tragedy that taps beautifully into the human psyche of fear. In a way that nothing else I can think of even touches upon, Pathologic drills an unrelenting sensation of hopeless loneliness straight into the mind of the player. For that alone, it should be highly commended.

It also features an unthinkably terrifying character who wears a raven mask and effectively 'governs' the outer limits of the game - ie. what you're not allowed to do. I love this sort of thing: an acknowledgment that there will be linearity involved in any game, and a conscious decision to work this into the story. When attempting to stray too far away from the town centre, and finding the raven-man blocking your path, silently shaking his head, your reaction isn't to be disappointed by the relatively small scale; it's to turn round, and very quickly return the way you came.

It also does visual horror better than, well, probably anything other than Silent Hill. It's possibly better in its understated vision. The aforementioned raven-man, for example, looks like this:



The whole thing feels like a crazy dream, where not enough distinctly scary stuff happens for you to call it a nightmare, but one that feels totally uncomfortable for its entire duration.

The game itself sort of fails as a result of its own nature: the whole thing is played against this constant time limit, and any quest not completed in time results in a major character's death, which can be infuriating when you just want to explore a bit; and having to return home every now and then to eat and sleep strikes me as something that just isn't remotely necessary or enjoyable in this medium.

But desipte all this... I'm captivated. I really am. Even with the translation issues ("Now, oinon, what do you think they intended meaning by such accusation?"), and even if you don't speak Russian, you can tell the script is fiendishly well written. It just has that poetic quality shining through. I love it.

As a full-price title, I probably wouldn't be able to recommend it. But you can get it for a fiver second-hand on the internet now. Even if you hate it - which a great many will - it's worth such a small investment just to experience one of the most surreal things I've ever played.
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Title: I'm smiley really.
Posted: November 24, 2008 (04:42 PM)
All this high-quality game time lately has meant I've cooped up all my cynicism, readying it to be released in one massive rant.

Playing through Sacred 2 again, ready for a Resolution review, reminded me of just how bloody godawful the thing is. Trust me to agree to three separate sodding articles about it. With each one, I become more ANGRY!

What astounds me is how many people are lapping this shit up. Like, respectable people. Shocking statements from fools whose opinions matter. These insuffrable idiots actually like this dispicable mess of a game. It's mind-blowing.

Sacred 2 is a huge bundle of brilliant ideas with the shoddy execution of a team that simply don't know how to make a game that ambitious. It sets its sights on an unprecidented feature list, murders every single thing on there, crams it in anyway, and then makes you ignore it all for the most part because you're so busy left-clicking at enemies, even though you know you'll miss almost EVERY FUCKING TIME because your stats aren't high enough yet.

People don't mind, because there are hundreds of quests and the game's LONG and you can play through it TWICE DIFFERENTLY. Fuck, the wolves drop gold when you kill them and people don't give a shiny shite. What's wrong with them?

The Witcher got it right, even when it wasn't being all talky. Clearly the emphasis is different, but it even got the action bits spot-on. I just don't get it. I don't get the fucking point of releasing Sacred 2 in such a troublesome and badly designed state. Just can the thing and make something better.

Except, of course, people buy it because they're all dead inside.

A bit like me, then, apparently. Have a fucking rubbish Christmas.

x
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Title: What did you do today?
Posted: November 23, 2008 (03:43 PM)
Today, I nearly burned my house down. I forgot to prod my jacket potato with a fork before putting it in the microwave. The poor spud proceeded to set on fire and fill the house with smoke.

I wish I'd had the idea to take a photo of the shrivelled, burnt-up mess of the tiny former root vegetable before I threw it in the bin.
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Title: Crazy
Posted: November 18, 2008 (05:56 PM)
What's with all these incredible games at the moment? It doesn't feel right.
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Title: Today I have mostly been...
Posted: November 17, 2008 (04:17 AM)
...battling hoardes of the undead with a group of Americans I'm never likely to meet.

Good way to spend the morning, eh?

First impressions: Left 4 Dead is blisteringly good fun, certainly a contender for Game of the Year if the full version lives up to the demo. And yeah, I gave Fallout 3 a 'ten'. I think that sums up how much fun I'm having with this.

It'll be right up the street of anyone who mourns the progression of the FPS into the modern beast it tends to be today. As a reference point, I'd go with the original Doom as a co-op game. It's tense, spooky, linear level design, with moments of complete insanity as seemingly hundreds of monsters charge towards you.

The enemies feel perfectly balanced, each with its strengths and weaknesses. The standard zombies don't do a whole lot of damage on their own, but they travel in packs and are absolutely lightning quick. The second one spots you, the whole group is ripping at your flesh that instant. Bigger monsters are slower but with ranged attacks and more health points. The Witches are particularly fantastic - completely passive until disturbed by sound or light, but absolutely deadly (we're talking one hit kills here) when that happens.

It's weird. Single player mode, particularly on easier difficulty levels, feels 'merely' like an absolutely fantastic old-school shooter. But ramp up the difficulty and get a pack of mates together, and it becomes incredibly tactical despite the mayhem.

Each player is limited, generally, to one health pack per level, but they can be distributed between the group as players see fit. If someone's unharmed and still has their pack, they can pass it on to a mate who's already used his/hers and is in dire need of some more.

And it's all about working out some tactics. The AI system is absolutely superb, with enemies randomly positioned each time the map loads, meaning each race through a level will play out considerably differently. This is brilliant - it means no one can master a level and end up dominating the game; you have to rework your tactics on the fly each time, based on careful judgement of where the enemies may be.

My one gripe with the demo is that you can't actually select a server - I'm not sure whether this will be a feature in the full game or not. Entering online mode drops you into one at random, which is a shame because I can imagine this would be incredible fun with a group of people you regularly play with.

Actually, no, I have two gripes. The demo deactivates after two days, which is a bit annoying, but a very good marketing ploy. Shareware for a new era, perhaps?

***

Elsewhere, with certain scores in the new issue, Edge Magazine continue to imply that they don't actually enjoy games that much. Sigh.
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Title: Help please.
Posted: November 16, 2008 (05:29 AM)
Does anyone in Ingurlund have a copy of System Shock 2 I can borrow?
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Title: Commission
Posted: November 12, 2008 (03:20 AM)
I've just got the strangest commission ever.

There's a website launching that invites people to submit embarassing anecdotes from their lives, and encourages people to rate them and say whose fault the incident was.

It's my job to write "existing content" for the site, so it's full when it launches.

If anyone's done dead silly stuff, feel free to help me earn my money.

Title: PLUG!
Posted: November 10, 2008 (10:36 AM)
There's always been a link there on the right (->, for those of you who get confused) to my "musical outfit" Blue Sky Project. But I'm not sure I've actually actively promoted the thing. So now I'm going to.

We have an EP coming out at Some Point In The Future, and you can hear it at that there link, minus the little intro track, so it sounds a bit odd going straight into the first song on there.

Aaanyway, do have a listen and let us know if you like what you hear.

Anyone in Leeds (which I think, bizarrely, is at least one person here) should come to see us on 21st November at the Brudenell.
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Title: Love Triangle
Posted: November 10, 2008 (08:42 AM)
A few comrades create a spectacular spoof boy-band thing.

Featuring Micky P Kerr, who you may have heard on a couple of Jet 2 ads a while back. And Resolution writer Graham in a quick cameo on 4:31.

Brilliantly, all the music is written by the three of them.
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Title: Some Politics 'n' shit
Posted: November 08, 2008 (09:40 AM)
By the way, Americans: well done.



That sounded a bit patronising, and I didn't mean it to at all. I'm genuinely impressed that the United States has completely leapfrogged British Politics with this election, picking a genuinely inspirational leader with a selection of fabulous policies. Time will tell if he can implement them well, but he seems to have the best intentions.

And he's black - which, y'know, is a much bigger deal than it should be, but the symbolism is inescapable. I know we had Colin Powell and Condoleza Rice, which have kind of got the biggots used to the fact that black people exist, but only a Democratic party would put an African American man and a woman up for leadership in the first place. The Deomcrats proved themselves the party to choose long ago. America proved itself wonderful by electing them.

Anyway, hoorah. It makes me really sad that my country's leader is - as Frankie Boyle, who I'm off to see tonight, put it - a sad face drawn on a scrotum.

Title: Good heavens, what are you thinking?!
Posted: November 07, 2008 (03:15 AM)
Is it acceptable to link to the competition?

I guess it is if it's mine, and it's not directly competing anyway.

This is a little hobbyist project set up by myself and comrades in Leeds, a sort of 'why we love games' e-fan-zine effort, if you will. We're more focused around features and opinion pieces than reviews, which is why I reckon it's okay to tell you all about it here.

Issue 1 online first weekend of December. If anyone fancies scrawling anything for us at some point, do nag me until I reply.

HG will remain my primary freelance port of call, so you're not rid of me that easily.
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Title: Note to the Sacred 2 lot
Posted: November 06, 2008 (06:24 PM)
Yeah, your wolves probably shouldn't be carrying gold, you fuckwads.
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Title: Big Percentage
Posted: November 04, 2008 (11:42 AM)
Just managed to come across this by accident on YouTube. One of the funniest (and, to be fair, only) pastiches on sideways games journalism I've ever seen.

"I keep imagining Julian Rignall climbing through the window with a big percentage under his arm."

Ingenious.
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Title: Amazonian cult
Posted: November 02, 2008 (12:46 PM)
Amazon users piss me off.

There's a big cult of people going round Amazon UK, rating everything that uses SecuRom 1/5, in an attempt to convince developers that it's a bad idea.

And it is. Except they've just made a ridiculous mistake.

There's only about 20 reviews of Fallout up on Amazon yet, but about 5 of them fall into this bucket, dragging the score down to a somewhat nondescript 3/5. Only they got it wrong.

People are associating SecuRom with the evil install-limiting system of Spore, BioShock etc. In fact, SecuRom refers to a range of copy-protection codes for developers. Fallout 3 uses the code that simply recognises whether your disk is an original or a copy, and prevents the pirated versions from working. That seems perfectly fair to me, and yet people on Amazon are marking the game down for not letting you steal it.

Yeah. Clever dicks.

Over on Amazon USA, people seem more pre-occupied with the fact that it has a first-person camera and therefore cannot be a Fallout game.

And it's incredibly depressing, because if you removed the brand names of SecuRom and Fallout, I absolutely guarantee there'd have been barely a bad word spoken about it. Publishers read these average ratings, and take them seriously. It's worse than Metacritic.

This seriously worries me. Fallout 3 is a truly special game, the likes of which don't come round very often at all. If glancing at public review sites seems to suggest otherwise, people are going to stop making these games, when in actual fact the industry needs so many more of them.
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