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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: Optimisation
Posted: January 17, 2009 (08:13 AM)
I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll say something like this, but:

It's very impressive that you can make a game that looks like this and features convincing physics and even thermodynamic effects. But when it chugs along at barely 30 frames per second on a quad-core machine, as it apparently does, it still means your engine is rubbish. It's not fit for purpose. Stop it. You're preventing people from playing your games.

Title: Exam stress.
Posted: January 15, 2009 (05:10 AM)
I've never been a victim of exam nerves. Yet today, for some reason, I'm more than a little edgy. This afternoon marks the start of an 8-day exam period for yours truly, and the first set of exams for my degree that actually count towards my final mark. Somehow, this seems decidedly bigger than anything I've tackled before.

First up: Introduction to Cinema - specifically, themes in the history of film between 1900 and the present day. It's the first time the course has run, meaning my usual revision tactic of "look through loads of past papers and work out which areas are most likely to come up" has pretty much gone to pot. Instead, I've found myself making notes on the entire bloody 11-week course, with the result of compacting a total of 66 hours of tuition into five pages of size-10.

Hmm.

No idea what to expect in this one. All I know is there will be two lists of questions (one on pre-War cinema, one on post-War), and we have to answer one from each list. We have two hours to do this in, so I assume they'll be fairly broad topics, though my tutor did tell me there'll be a mix of "questions about broad themes and questions relating to specific films and filmmakers". I really hope the former are more prominent or more up my street, as that's where I've placed the bulk of my revision.

This sort of exam still strikes me as a little stupid. My Sociolinguistics exam (so, for the focus of my degree, fortunately) is a semi-prepared paper, where we've been given a list of topics that the paper will cover so that we can thoroughly prepare for the areas that most interest us, then answer on that in the exam. This seems like an infinitely more sensible approach. With this film one, having revised a total of ten topics, that means a fifth of what I've prepared for won't even find its way into my work.

Anyway. 90 minutes until launch. I wish I could just get it over with now.
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Title: Thoughts: Tomb Raider Underworld
Posted: January 14, 2009 (03:18 PM)
The camera focuses tightly on her baps and arse during cut-scenes, and flails madly and uncontrollably elsewhere. Great game design, lads.
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Title: HELP! HEEEELP!
Posted: January 14, 2009 (02:58 AM)
I need a couple of opinion pieces, columns or editorials writing for Resolution this month. Deadline will be the 29th January. If anyone can help me out with this that'd be great. If you're interested, let us know, and I'll hit you back with more information.
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Title: Galatea
Posted: January 12, 2009 (09:48 AM)
Right. So here's what you're all going to do. You're going to click here, and you're going to talk to Galatea.

This is an old one. It's one I remember vividly from when it was released and won an IF award for Best NPC back in 2000. Tellingly, nothing - in IF or mainstream gaming - has done anything to approach this quality. Has anything even tried?

Emily Short is a staggeringly good writer. She knows how to craft real characters in fascinating situations. She's one of the most player-centric games writers I've ever come across, yet it's all text-based. I really don't understand why no one's matched this level of storytelling in a full 3D game.

Explore. A lot of verbs don't work, but try everything - you might be surprised. Let the story glide gently to one of its seventy endings, via more than a hundred different routes. Galatea is wonderful. I think you might like it too.
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Title: Attack of the Germs
Posted: January 10, 2009 (11:43 AM)
Oof. Today I have moved as far as getting out of bed and going to the sofa - and Mrs even brought the quilt for me.

I have the flu. I haven't had the flu since I was a kid. I'd forgotten how bloody horrible it is. Next time I get a cold, I'll probably barely notice it.

I feel dizzy every time I stand up, I have a coughing fit every few minutes, and my legs feel like they've just run a marathon.

UNPLEASANT. Off back to bed now x

Title: Hey!
Posted: January 09, 2009 (09:28 AM)
Hey! Do you know what was a really bloody good game that no one talks about any more?

TimeSplitters 2.



Doesn't it look old today? Still, I reckon Team Fortress 2 may looked up to this one a little...

Brilliant, brilliant game.

Title: Sense
Posted: January 08, 2009 (08:44 AM)
You often hear people say, "I don't play games." But do you ever hear somebody say, "I don't watch movies"? That statement would be absurd, exactly because there is such a great variety in movies that it is virtually impossible for somebody to dislike all of them. Games will be a mature medium when the phrase "I don't play games" sounds as absurd as "I don't watch movies."

- Michael Samyn, talking infinite sense at Gamespot, ages ago. Only just found this, so linking to it now.
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Title: CHEST!
Posted: January 08, 2009 (08:20 AM)
Tim Edwards with his chest out, talking about World of Warcraft on BBC breakfast.

I admire the presenters for trying their absolute hardest not to patronise the poor little gamers... unfortunately, they don't always succeed. Tut tut.

I particularly like how they've clearly encouraged Marijka to come dressed as a Night Elf, just for the purposes of making her look sad and crafting a joke out of it, which they use twice.

Not sure what I think of this, really. Nice that both sides have their say, but it doesn't really draw any conclusions other than "some people disagree with each other about whether playing the game is okay or not," and - frustratingly - neither 'expert' involved is allowed much air time to explain the argument properly.

Still worth a look.

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Title: Testing the water
Posted: January 08, 2009 (04:06 AM)
Would anyone still read and comment on my blog if it were hosted elsewhere?
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Title: Some short-form
Posted: January 07, 2009 (07:38 AM)
If there's one thing I've learned from my time as a games player, it's that I have an insufferably short attention span. Counting the number of game I've completed by choice rather than because I had to for purposes of reviewing the thing leads me to only a small handful of titles - most recently, though I reviewed them both, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect.

Of course, there's little correlation between an epic blockbuster of a mainstream game and some of the little art-house titles that pop up around the internet from time to time; but hell, it's a good segue, so shut up. While ploughing through the last couple of weeks with a virus (a real one, not a computer one, and one that seems to have resurficed in full force today. I come armed with Lemsip), I've had the chance to plough through a few short-form 'games' - and a bloody good riot it's been too.

This interest actually started when writing a feature on The Path, Tale of Tales' upcoming horror-adventure game. Browsing through their back-catalogue, I came across a rather interesting little gem of experimental design, which led me to scour the realms of the internet in search of more short-form releases. Anyway. Thus. All are playable, in some form or other, for free. And beware: spoilers are likely to follow. If this introduction has pricked up your ears, play them first, then come back to the analysis.


The Graveyard (Tale of Tales)
Link
This is the one we're not supposed to call a 'game'. It's an "explorable painting" and "an experiment in real-time poetry, with storytelling without words."

The description's perfect. First controlling this decrepit old lady feels clunky and infuriating. But as you make your slow progress up the path, you begin to realise: that's the point. This is portrayal of old age, presented in a way that every other medium would be incapable of. As Tale of Tales themselves put it: it could easily have been a short film; but then it would have lost its impact. This is all about your empathy with its silent protagonist: and as you make your way towards the chapel, at a painfully low tempo, you begin to understand.

So, at your life's new pace, you begin to observe. You look at the rays of the sun peaking through the clouds above, casting ghostly shadows onto the path where you walk. You see the leaves sway in the breeze, and hear their rustle overhead. You listen as the sound of the city moves aside out of respect for the tranquility of the graveyard. And, finally, you sit down, and you think.

This is the pivotal moment of The Graveyard. That song, and that scene, and that added poignance of the possibility of death if you've paid $5. It affects the game a surprising amount, though perhaps just knowing about it, or watching that version on YouTube, would carry with it the same impact. (That said, it seems a little sad not to cough up a mere $5 as recognition for the care Tale of Tales have taken here.) This is an interactive poem about the fragility of life in its peaceful finale. You have no control over whether you live to see another day. If it's your time, your head slumps over in front of you, and you stay sitting on that bench for the remainder of time. If you're lucky, you awkwardly stand, and begin to make your way back out into yet another unpredictable day.


You Have To Burn The Rope (Kian Bashiri)
Link
"Games are too hard these days," reckons Kian Bashiri. About as far away from The Graveyard as it's possible to get, You Have To Burn The Rope arrives in the great tradition of It Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin marketing. It's a very self-aware pastiche of hand-holding in modern videogames, with the subtlety of your average screaming internet meme. The ludicrous manuals, game guides and walkthrouhgs, created in association with this project, ensure you understand its joke.

I'm not sure I'm fully comfortable with the very obvious Portal parody at the end. Firstly, that strikes me as exactly the sort of game that doesn't warrant such a take-off, being brilliant, clever and novel as it is; and secondly, because I wonder if it starts to push its luck a bit in the Look at me: I'm a JOKE stakes. Still, I love You Have To Burn The Rope. That it's so clear and directed in its approach, even sidestepping the fact that it adds to the comedy, is a commendable thing. That it gives you a weapon, but only as a pure, unnecessary cosmetic, adds a bit of subtle satire to the mix. That it's over in a matter of seconds is, most probably, one of the main aspects of this 'modern videogames commentary'. An immediately silly, but pragmatically very intelligent, little creation.


Gravity Bone (Blendogames)
Link
This is one that I really don't want to spoil for anyone that's going to play it. Its premise is that of a tactical espionage shoot-em-up with heavily stylised graphics. It's free. Go and download it, play it to its conclusion, then come back.

Seriously, you're going to spoil it for yourself...

Okay. Done? Right.

Wow. Wasn't that good? When was the last time a game ended with your death, just as it was about to get going? Before you even picked up much of the story? Before you even filled the empty space between item slots two and four...

Gravity Bone is clever because it establishes itself as the setup to a much larger experience, then totally defies all your expectations of it. But it lagely succeeds in this respect not because it merely challenges your expectations, but because it carries the confidence, panache and overriding quality of a far more developed title. The chase sequence, particularly the part where you 'drop in' at the posh dinner, is inspired. The flashbacks are brilliant. The little tutorial notes incorporated as part of the game world (and, indeed, the whole visual style) evokes memories of Team Fortress 2. And then it just laughs in your face. Superb.

Funnily enough, I'd like to see this tackled as the intro to the full game it pretends, for its majority, to be. Sure, you'd have to readress the very focus of what it's trying to achieve, but I can't help feeling that such a distinctive game, conceived with such polish and such love, would result in a mainstream game with all the charm and vibes of these little indie-experiments. Food for thought.


RaRa Racer (Increpare)
Link
Just a little one to finish with. It's not trying to 'say' anything in the way that the others are, but it's different, and very funny. I like this one a lot, even though there's not a right lot else to say about it.
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Title: 2008 in Review (and other such articles)
Posted: January 06, 2009 (05:50 AM)
Since it's all the rage, I'm going to jump rather swiftly onto the bandwagon and pimp a load of this year's work. I have the advantage/disadvantage of being a freelance rogue, so this will cover a few different sites for both videogames and music. As such, I fear I may miss a few out, but I'm in no rush, so I'll do my best to be thorough.

While I've done a fair bit of writing this year, the vast majority of it started in the summer. I spent much of the former half of 2008 focusing on my band, playing a lot of shows and generally doing the pseudo-rockstar thing. In June we set the live routine aside in order to focus on recording our new record, which spectacularly still isn't out in physical form, despite having been available to listen to online for ages. After that, our drummer left, and spending a while training up our loveable bequiffed replacement Tim left muchos time for writing reviews 'n' that. And, you know, ploughing every other spare minute into making Neptune. And writing a short film - but more on that in the future.

Recently, it's been all about videogames. I can't fully remember the last time I wrote anything about music - I think it was probably a Coldplay review back in whichever month that was released.

It's worth noting that, for all sorts of reasons - primarily because I did so much music work in print at the start of the year that I've lost track of it all, as well as losing most of the bloody magazines - this list is going to focus on my online work. To date, I have precisely no videogames stuff published on paper. Boo.

And finally, it's worth a mention that Honest Gamers has been my primary port of call through all this. I only joined the freelance pool in the summer but already I feel like a genuine part of the site's team and community. I've "met" a lot of great people, and am extraordinarily surprised at how brilliantly I've been welcomed through the door. So thank you. Sniff.

---

1 February - DJ Scotch Egg
Leeds Music Scene
See what I mean about the rock 'n' roll thing? I seem to remember getting so utterly fucked at this gig that I didn't remember a right lot of Scotch Egg, other than dancing around like a complete numpty, looking like some tragedy of a 90s rave. And running into a couple of people from uni, including the department secretary. Afterwards, we went to some club - probably Wire - and, I assume, partied on until the next morning. Scotch Egg was predictably brilliant and utterly barmy, but until I re-read this review just now I wouldn't have been able to tell you who the supports were. Oops.

21 March - I Love West Yorkshire
Leeds Music Scene
A secret: I didn't actually watch much of The Terminals. A friend of mine, who moved away a few years ago, was back in Leeds for the night, and we ended up sitting in the bar catching up for all but two or three songs of their set. Months later, I met The Terminals' bass player, who was exceptionally cold towards me. Imagine how much worse it would have been if she'd have known the truth. Hopefully she won't chance upon this.

7 April - Forward Russia - Live Processes
Leeds Music Scene
One of the strictest deadlines I've ever worked to. I had to hyper-listen to this, playing it around five times in a single day before scrawling these words down. I'm not keen on this piece, particularly since their first record was reviewed for Leeds Music Scene by the fantastic Lauren Strain, who now - to my all-encompassing jealousy - works for Plan B. Funnily enough, I ended up working with Tom from Forward Russia at a music venue towards the end of last year, and I've since got to know Whiskas a bit too. At the time of writing, they were just a band all over MTV2 that happened to live in the same city as me.

EDIT: This, clearly, is album of the year. I can't believe I forgot about it for my list the other week.

11 June - Belief & Betrayal
Honest Gamers
My first review for Honest Gamers. I actually quite enjoyed this one once I got into it, mainly for the twisty narrative. It's distinctly a 4/10 game, though. I played and reviewed this in a single day, starting at about 9am, playing until it finished at about 5pm, then writing straight away. It was at this point that Gary asked me to write for the site regularly.

12 June - BioShock
Yet Another Reviews Site
Quick piece hastily knocked out for a site I'd never heard for. Not much to see here.

12 June - BioShock
Honest Gamers
Appeared on the same day as the last one, even though I wrote it a week later. Following this, I started to wish I'd given it a ten. Looking back, a nine was the correct appraisal.

20 June - Rhodan: Myth of the Illochim
Real Gamer
A thoroughly interesting world and storyline crammed into an utterly awful adventure game. Such a shame. Made by a more accomplished developer, this would have been magical. Instead, it's slow, sluggish and hateful.

8 July - Whole Sky Monitor - Bland Bland Bland
Leeds Music Scene
Seriously - I was so disappointed that this record was good. There were so many jokes running through my head...

18 July - Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
The Line of Best Fit
I awarded this one 80% initially. The editor asked if he could ammend it to 75 as the score apparently didn't reflect the text. I'd stand by my original rating, though - I did enjoy Coldplay's latest effort, and perhaps my disappointment with its predictability became too much of a focus in the body of the review. Worth noting that there aren't any seven-minute songs on the record at all, though on the press disk I received, some songs were attached into an individual track for some reason. Odd.

18 July - Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Honest Gamers
Nine is too high for this, even though I love it. It's a really magical game in places, but insufferably bad in others. I return to this again and again, but only after I've patched it up, and even then I stop about 3/4 of the way through, as it descends into utterly awful nonsense after that. Really, it should be a 7 or an 8 - but it's the best 7 or 8 in the world.

2 August - Racing Team Manager
Honest Gamers
I got into trouble for this review. Jason was annoyed that I'd only spend a few hours with the game, and that I'd let my feelings towards Formula One shine through. I argued that maybe I shouldn't have been assigned it. Either way, I can't even imagine F1 fans enjoying this. It's so completely awful that I couldn't stomach it for more than a few minutes at a time.

4 August - Portal
Honest Gamers
There's no use crying over every mistake / You just keep on trying 'til you run out of cake / So the science gets done, and we make a neat gun for the people who are still alive. (Should have been a nine.)

5 August - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Honest Gamers
I wonder if it's nostalgia clouding my vision, but every time I return to Morrowind I absolutely love it. There's something about its world that really clicks with me on a subconscious level. It reminds me more of Star Wars than Lord of the Rings, strangely: Vvardenfell as a beautifully alien quality to it that Oblivion completely lacks. Its atmosphere is unparalleled, though perhaps the clunkiness of some of its mechanics should have knocked the score down a point. It's still one of my favourites ever.

21 August - Turok
Honest Gamers
The most 'meh' game I've played in ages. Vaguely fun in short bursts, but so generic it's untrue. I'm surprised I managed to write for so long about it. I argued with Jason about this one as well, if I remember rightly, but only because we disagreed so heavily over the game's quality. To this day, I can't understand why he loves it so much.

24 August - Deus Ex: Invisible War
Honest Gamers
The first time I reviewed this was for Video Games Life a few months before its official release. All the review code got sent round in accordance with the US street date, meaning I wrote about this in the November before the March everyone else got it in. I awarded it 91%, and the backlash flew in a few months later. Returning for this retrospective, I was really gutted by the abysmal voice acting and occasionally dodgy pacing, but I still enjoyed it for what it does wonderfully well.

29 August - FEAR: Convoulted Acronym
Honest Gamers
This was a ten out of ten for the first three or four hours. Then it didn't do anything else to impress me for the rest of the game. It's worth it for the ridiculously overblown action, though, and the one or two genuinely frightening set pieces.

1 September - Birth of America 2: Obtusely Long Subtitle
Honest Gamers
Totally out of my comfort zone, but I still really enjoyed playing this one. It's thorough and addictive. Probably the only strategy game I've genuinely enjoyed outside the Total War series.

10 September - Jack Keane
Real Gamer
Good game ruined by utterly awful translation and laughable voice acting. It's nowhere near deserving of the nine it got here, and frankly a seven is a little high. Curse that nonsensical Real Gamer score-averaging system.

19 September - Ess-Tee-Ay-Ell-Kay-Ee-Arr: Clear Sky
Real Gamer
Equally, 8.2 is far beyond what this one deserves. Brilliant, brilliant game hidden by sloppy design and frequent crashing. It's a seven, really.

20 September - Ess-Tee-Ay-Ell-Kay-Ee-Arr: Clear Sky
Honest Gamers
Oh, would you look at that?

22 September - Two Worlds: Complete Edition
Honest Gamers
Vaguely enjoyed this one, despite its ridiculous problems. The awful script and voice acting are the big nasties here, along with the shocking engine. Was really pleased with this review, though I don't think anyone commented on it. Fuck you all.

29 September - Mass Effect
Honest Gamers
One of my surprises of the year. Mass Effect on the 360 didn't register on my radar at all, being the sort of sci-fi nonsense I usually detest. Turns out, it's absolutely brilliant, and aside from a few nagging problems it's about as close to being a perfect mainstream game as it's possible to get. The MAKO's shit, though, isn't it?

5 October - Thief: Deadly Shadows
Honest Gamers
File alongside Planescape: Torment in the 'Clearly brilliant games I don't quite get' category. Maybe a seven is a little harsh, but this bored me to pieces until Robbing The Cradle. That mission, however, is level design genius. I'm not sure whether I like the focus of this review or not, looking back. The art-bullshit seems a little out of place. I think I was trying to cram that argument into as many pieces as possible at the time.

16 October - The Witcher
Honest Gamers
Hey look - another surprise! I genuinely, genuinely enjoyed The Witcher. It's been a good year for RPGs. Quite chuffed with this review, particularly the beginning.

20 October - Agon 4
Real Gamer
This is so completely putrid that I'm not even going to say any more about it.

24 October - World of Goo
Honest Gamers
I love World of Goo, though I wish I could swap the scores for this and Portal. This is an adorably charming game, though, and its indie roots shine through in the best possible way. This is a game that caused me and my girlfriend to argue vehemently over computer rights, just so we could both play more of it. And she's usually only fussed about playing games that are more than a decade old.

31 October - Space Siege
Real Gamer
Really dull, and a huge disappointment given the quality of GPG's Dungeon Siege franchise. Maybe I focus on the slightly awkward Shock 2 comparison too much, but there are so many parallels to be drawn between the two, even though this is a completely different - and vastly inferior - type of game.

2 November - Fallout 3
Honest Gamers
Someone on the forums recently got in a huff with me because I disagreed with him about Fallout 3's quality, and called this review "one of the worst things" he'd "ever read." Yikes. While I don't think it's one of my worst, I do think it could have done with some trimming, and I do think David's appraisal of the 360 version was a much stronger article. This is one of only two occasions when I've ever awarded 10/10 to a new release (the last being Metroid Prime, years ago), and the highest score I've awarded a new game since my 94% critique of Max Payne 2 for Video Games Life.

6 November - Fallout 3
Real Gamer
An occasion where I can't really fault the maths that Real Gamer's scoring system did for me. 9.4 is pretty much spot on. A cross-platform review, so was asked to include a bit about the PS3 version's instability here, even though I've never played it on that system.

6 November - Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Honest Gamers
Settled for a five because everyone else seemed to love it. If I'd have been braver, I'd have gone for a 4. At the time of writing, I couldn't find a single other review knocking about the planet that gave it less than 7/10 or equivalent. Richard Cobbett of PC Gamer UK, thankfully, went on to award it 57%, making me feel far more justified. I believe this is still the lowest score awarded by any established games publication.

13 November - Alphabetolympics: Half-Life 2
Honest Gamers
Yeah, that piece that split the judges down the middle. I really like this, though I've never use it as a 'proper' review.

19 November - Left 4 Dead
Honest Gamers
I haven't played Left 4 Dead in ages now. I just don't have the time at the moment to be so engrossed in its online shootery. I know, the minute I load it up again, I'll be stuck to my chair all day. And not just because of the glue I covered it in. I battled with myself over awarding another 10/10 so quickly after Fallout 3. In the end, I decided that the fact I had to battle with myself meant it probably didn't deserve one.

23 November - FIFA 09
Honest Gamers
Not a lot to say. Same as always: quite good footy game.

24 November - Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Real Gamer
It's still rubbish, and the RG scoring system still makes it sound better than it is.

29 November - Pathologic
Honest Gamers
The game that captured my imagination more than anything else this year. Shame it was released in 2006, so I'm not really justified in harping on about it so much. Pathologic is such a broken game, such a sinfully crafted piece of technology, that it's incredible that the creativity and magic of it shine through regardless. It's a six out of ten, absolutely, but it's also one of my favourite games of all time. Was mildly disappointed that not many people read or discussed this, as it's a game I want everyone to experience.

7 December - Moaning about Eidos
Resolution
Loads of people inexplicably didn't think this was particularly newsworthy. I think it's utterly abominable of Eidos to put Barrington Harvey - not to mention countless publications - in such an awkward position.

7 December - Keeping Up Appearances
Resolution
Look - a badly photoshopped picture of me with spots and glasses!

7 December - Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Resolution
It's still rubbish.

7 December - Cryostasis preview
Resolution
I'm really excited about this one, and cripplingly sad that my PC probably won't be up to the task of playing it. Bugger.

7 December - Mafia 2 preview
Resolution
Vaguely excited about this, too. Hastily threw this one together on deadline day to pad the mag out. Ahem.

7 December - Fallout 3
Resolution
93% is the correct score, even though I'd like to award it higher. Yet I'd still stand by my 10/10 for Honest Gamers. Funny how rating systems don't equate, isn't it? Final proof that all the idiots should READ THE BLOODY REVIEW.

7 December - FIFA 09
Resolution
zzzz.

7 December - Left 4 Dead
Resolution
Still great.

16 December - March-exclamation-mark-Offworld Recon
Honest Gamers
I remember being so astonished when I first played this game that I wasn't quite sure what to say. I awarded it 1/10 for Resolution back when it was released, and I'd stick by it today, going even lower if I could. It plays, looks and sounds like a shooting game designed by small children.

19 December - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Honest Gamers
I really like Oblivion, and I worry that maybe I'd been watching too many Yahtzee reviews when I wrote this. But going back to this at Gary's request really did highlight just how much of an improvement Fallout 3 was over Bethesda's previous effort. Oblivion is big, brave and beautiful, but some of its 'special moments' are unforgiveably bad. I really enjoyed writing this, and think it's probably one of the strongets reviews I've done for Honest Gamers.

31 December - STALKER: Still don't know what it stands for
Honest Gamers
A New Year special. STALKER's one of those games that I love despite its problems, though the fact that its 'novice' difficulty level is still fiendishly hard counts hugely against it. Atmosphere in abundance, though.

---

That's all folks. Happy new year. Have a good 'un.
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Title: Stunning moments in Grand Theft Auto 4, #419
Posted: January 05, 2009 (05:47 PM)
Taking my girlfriend bowling, while the sweet, nostalgic melancholy of The Smashing Pumpkins - 1979 reverberates through the alley. We play two games - I win the first, but let her win the second. She compliments my game, and I thank her. Then I drive her home, and we part as the sun sets behind the spectacular skyline.
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Title: Resolution Issue 2!
Posted: January 05, 2009 (12:43 PM)
I've just spent all evening frantically editing this so it'd go live on time. So now I'm too tired to actually tell you what's in this month's issue. A copy & paste of the contents page, and the assurance that Zippdementia makes an appearance, will have to suffice.

Here you go.

--

Games of the Year
We take a look back at the finest games of 2008...

A Fallout Retrospective
Don't let the fabulous new addition to the series cause you to forget about its roots...

The Broken Beauties
Sometimes, the most carefully crafted videogames aren't the most deliciously memorable...

Return to Black Mesa
We talk to project leader Carlos Montero about the upcoming Half-Life remake...

Stick to The Path
A look at an ambitious upcoming horror title from Belgium...

Reviews (alphabetically)
A Vampyre Story (PC)
Far Cry 2 (XBox360 / PS3 / PC)
Feyruna 2 (PC)
Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades (DS)
LotR Online: Complete Edition* (PC)
Mirror's Edge (PS3 / XBox360 / PC)
MySims (PC / Wii)
Professor Heinz Wolff's Gravity (DS / Wii / PC)
Resistance 2 (PS3)
Sonic Unleashed (PS3 / XBox360 / Wii)

* Game of the Month
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Title: Not a review: Far Cry 2
Posted: January 02, 2009 (01:56 PM)
So I picked up Far Cry 2 today, along with my shiny new 360. I've played pretty much constantly all day, much to my girlfriend's disgust, but I'm by no means far enough through to give a decisive verdict. This is all about first impressions, from the first five or six hours, before I dive headfirst back into it tomorrow morning before Mrs wakes up. Incidentally, I said I'd buy a game for our new console that we both can enjoy. So far, we only have Gears of War 1 and 2, and Far Cry 2. Her favourite game of late is World of Goo. See the problem? Ideas appreciated.

So then.

If there's one thing that cements the Far Cry 2 experience, it's the admirably modernist approach to the whole concept. This is a first-person shooter that defies almost all the expected conventions of the genre. It's the perfect antithesis of Half-Life, the polar opposite of Quake and the complete peer of the modern RPG genre, which has been brave enough to completely overtake its trigger-happy cousin of late. Indeed, it's the sort of game that, although presenting me with a vast number of problems even this early on, I'm inclined to look kindly on simply because of how courageous it is.

Which is weird - 'cause Far Cry 2 has all the gloss and friendliness of a mainstream console game to go with it. It's like what STALKER would have been if it was made by Electronic Arts, or something. It's an oddly unsettling idea, but it proves utterly wonderful.

The premise: after a fabulously subtle intro sequence and a quick tutorial, give the player an overriding mission, drop him/her into a position on the map determined by an unconscious choice a couple of minutes previous, and say "Go."

What, you mean... just... go?

"Yep."

This is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most absurdly brilliant opening to a game I've ever played. After the initial hand-holding, there's literally nothing restricting your play. It's the sort of freeform concept that's usually reserved for Bethesda's RPGs - only this is a straight-up FPS, and it doesn't really have anything amounting to a 'main quest' early on. Far Cry 2 introduces you to a few different people you might like to talk to, and then leaves you to it. "Go. Find the Jackal. I'm not helping you..."

After a while it becomes apparent that Far Cry is a bit more linear than it makes out. Different characters generally just brief you on alternative ways to complete the same mission, and ultimately there are tasks you're going to have to carry out regardless. But it keeps it all very much behind the curtain for the most part. If you want - as I've spent much of today doing - you can ignore everyone completely and just go for a drive around the ludicrously enormous map. (And it is 'around' it, as well, since Far Cry 2 fluffs its enormity-feathers up by putting a bloody enormous, impassible mountain range in the centre of its world.) To start with, I found the African setting to be a bit bland and lifeless, but when you really explore, you're rewarded for it. Usually by some heavy gunplay in a wonderous new location, or in the desert surrounded by hardy wildlife.

I'm not one to ramble on about the graphics in a game, but Far Cry 2 utilises its incredible engine in the best way possible: to ramp up the atmosphere and immersion factors tenfold. This isn't just the best looking game in the world. It's the most credible, genuine, real-feeling virtual environment I've ever seen. It's practically animated-movie-level. It might even surpass it.

When the wind blows, the sunlight peeks through the moving branches, casting waving and shifting shadows onto the surface below. Bush fires spread and wooden structures burst into flames as the heat flows through them. Leaves rustle. Shrubs stir. If it looks like rain, animals move away. As the sun sets, the plumes of smoke from distant campfires rise over the horizon.

You can practically feel it.

I'm usually one for appreciating creative and artistic aesthetics rather than overtly realistic ones. But Far Cry 2 is so genuine, so all-encompassingly real, that I may be inclined to change my views. In this case, at least, it creates the most living, breathing videogame world I've ever seen in my life.

This is what Far Cry 2 is all about. Living the game. Some of its mechanics are a little ropey: the respawning enemies at outposts are somewhat suspect; the controls are a little under-sensitive at times; and it's often difficult to interact with the world unless you're standing in exactly the place the game wants you to stand in. Combat is visceral, brutal and satisfying, but enemies have a terrifying long-range accuracy, frequently gunning you to the floor before you've even spotted them as a speck in the distance. I got stuck in some scenery a couple of times. And sometimes, like STALKER, it's impossible to work out what the hell is going on without reading your journal.

But, again like STALKER, the sense that this confusion and frustrating sometimes manages to add something to the atmosphere is quite astounding. This is a wonderful, wonderful setup for a first-person shooter. It's so good that its problems are all the more infuriating: it's so close to perfection, but it makes schoolboy errors. File it next to Metroid Prime, on this front.

Anyway, according to my XBox, I'm currently 10% of the way through the game. But I'll assume this clocks optional side-quests as well, since I'm told the SP campaign lasts for around 20 hours. When I'm done, I'll play through again, and probably have a completely different experience. I'll pick a different character. I'll go left instead of right when I escape the town, and end up in a different safehouse with a different buddy. I'll choose to align myself with the opposite side of the conflict. I'll explore new areas. I'll live in Africa until another shooter so forward-thinking and so brilliantly inventive comes along, and hopefully irons out the creases that this otherwise godly game undoubtedly sports.

Updates: A few more hours in, and you know what's a huge negative in this game? Oddly, for an FPS, the sheer number of baddies. The vast landscape encourages exploration, and there are loads of places I fancy visiting - but it's not worth it. I'll waste so much ammo and health just trying to get there in the first place that I may as well just crack on with the story. Even then, there are armed checkpoints for every two or three minutes of driving, so you'll encounter four or five just to get from one side of the map to the other. Less checkpoints, more militia guarding specific places of interest, and this would have worked a treat. As it stands, it somewhat undermines the sandbox gameplay.
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