It’s just come in – it’s true. Our Awful Overlord; the Prince of Darkness, and the wielder of absolute power within our cursed realm has vacated the throne in mysterious circumstances. Quite where he has gone is beyond the knowledge of even his most inner circle. (more…)
Archive for November, 2009
What’s your favourite Castro moment? Mine’s Castro the weatherman. When a hurricane hits Cuba, Cubans can rest assured that Fiddy will hit the airwaves to guide them to safety, energetically waving his arms around and informing them when and where it’s going to hit. (more…)
DiRT 2 has been out on the consoles since September, since then the developers have been busy working on the PC version of the title which will be released in December. I had the chance to catch up with the DiRT 2 producer Adam Askew to find out how things were going. (more…)
There’s something rather special about a shotgun that fires rockets. Sure, a normal shotgun is all well and good for dealing with close range foes and packs a mighty punch that can knock lesser enemies off their feet, but it does not match the sheer awesomeness of a shotgun that fires rockets for one very good reason: it doesn’t shoot fucking rockets.
Borderlands is a Role Playing Shooter that puts you into the role of one of four mercenaries with different skills arriving on the planet Pandora in order to search for a promised source of great riches called The Vault. Each of these mercenaries has a different set of skills roughly equating to four typical RPG character archetypes. Each one of these in theory requires the game to be played in four subtly different ways; There’s Lillth, who resembles the ‘Mage’ of the group with an ability to move quickly away from (or toward) danger with her Phasewalk ability encouraging a hit and run style of play. Roland the Soldier with his trusty Turret gun able to be deployed to dispatch enemies or provide shielding and healing as a support class, while Mordecai fufills the long range Hunter role being especially proficient with Sniper Rifles and being the owner of a trusty pet Eagle. Finally there’s Brick, the tough guy rounding out the foursome with his role as a Tank, able to absorb a lot of damage and his berserk skill making his fists as deadly as any weapon found in the game. The four characters can then be further customised in the RPG tradition of skill points, able to be spent on your character to go down certain paths and customize them to your needs like many MMORPGS. This provides some more welcome individuality to your character, and meaning you can really play to your strengths with your character. For example you could upgrade Roland’s turret in order for it’s friendly fire to actually heal your teammates.
So like an RPG, you accept quests from the locals to gain experience and level up your character while killing many bad guys along the way. However like an FPS you’re using shotguns, rifles, pistols and many more weapons to shoot your enemies. These enemies include Pandora’s native dog like creatures known as skags, angry bandits and a hybrid of spiders and ants known helpfully as Spiderants. These are then backed up by the rather tougher versions known as Badass enemies – more resilient emeies which can be tougher to take down and may more than once cause you to rethink your strategy of running and gunning. Luckily, despite these toughies, shooting Midgets in the face as they run towards you with axes in their hand never gets old. Bosses too make regular appearances throughout the campaign, although aside from getting a glitzy intro don’t often offer much in the way of variation. That comes from the weapons. Every container or gun in the game is randomly generated, throwing up awesome combinations such as the aforementioned rocket firing shotgun, or the spectacular lightning gun that makes skulls explode. Elemental effects and bendy bullets are possible and it really makes for some compelling gameplay. For those not used to the RPG staples of looking for guns with bigger numbers, Borderlands will certainly convert you as you face the dilemma of swapping out the gun that fires faster for the one that does more damage, or dissolves foes in a spurt of acid and critical hit notifcations.
Much was made about Borderlands new visual style when it was revealed late into production, many accusing Gearbox of trying to chase on the back of success of Valve’s TF2. Of course these accusations were unfounded. The look fits extremely well with the whole deep south feel and atmosphere to the game. The characters you meet are for the most part certainly kooky in their own backwater way, even if you yourself are never really explored much beyond being an interplanetary mercenary. But special mention has to go to the Claptrap robots, who will certainly provoke Marmite like reactions, especially after being exposed to them for a while. Pandora nails the feel of a harsh desert world, although after a while a slight complaint may be levelled at the fact some later areas feel rather similar with only really certain landmarks providing points of differentiation.
The other double edged sword with Borderlands comes in it’s other much touted feature of co-op play. The game can be enjoyed single player – or if you choose – you may fight alongside up to three other people. It’s rather interesting to note mind, that the game can be played with any combination of the four characters it also makes the game feel as if the characters don’t really have a need to compliment each other that well. While it makes sense on a practical level for this to be the case, it does feel like it’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t quite have that sort of reliability on your team mates that a game like Left 4 Dead has, and makes co-op feel more than an optional extra than a truly integral part of gameplay. Of course, your co-op experience is going to crucially depend on the people you play with, which also makes it a bit of a crying shame that, at the time of writing, the technical side of getting a co-op game running on PC can be a major headache. With people reporting having to mess with port forwarding, the inability to turn your microphone off without having to tweak system files and even things as simple using a mouse wheel in the mission descriptions it really makes one wonder what exactly Gearbox/2K were doing with the extra week delay reportedly for ‘optimising’ the PC version. It’s especially frustrating when the core game is essentially so much fun once you’re in there.
Like many games that try to be a Jack of All Trades, Borderlands also falls into the trap of being a master of none. The game simply does not have the storytelling punch to match the best RPGs, and nor is the FPS combat quite epic enough to stand among the best of that genre. It’s certainly better than most hybrids of other genres though, and it’s a very enjoyable game. Obviously the mileage you get from the game is largely dependant on how much you generally enjoy the style of game of killing a lot of things in order to gain a more powerful weapon. If not, one playthrough might be all you really get through. But despite it’s faults, Borderlands is a genuinely enjoyable game with a hint of spark that deserves to be recognised as one of the better games this year. There’s just a few minor flaws in the game’s schizophrenic nature that prevent it from becoming a classic.
Religion has provided the inspiration and subject matter for countless books, films and plays for many years, and continues to do so to this day. It makes fundamental claims about philosophy and ethics that have attracted fervent criticism and praise in almost every form and from almost every possible direction in recent years. So with all this in mind, why have we not seen more games that deal directly with the issues surrounding faith and religious belief? Well aside from the fact that, for reasons beyond my comprehension, it is somewhat of a taboo to openly criticise religion intellectually or artistically (an immunity that all other forms of discourse are completely free from), the last ten or so years have shown that mainstream developers will invariably get bombarded with complaints and criticism that is mostly generated by an extremely vocal and hostile minority claiming to represent the views of people of faith worldwide, should they attempt to do so. The ensuing controversy results in developers being forced to tip-toe their way around issues surrounding faith or even avoid engagement with them at all, out of a needless fear of causing ‘offence’.
The makers of Hitman 2, for instance, were forced to rerelease an altered version of the game after the original sparked controversy over a level in which Sikh guards were being killed within a depiction of the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh holy site. More recently, Resistance: Fall of Man was protested by the Church of England for including a gun battle in Manchester Cathedral. Legal threats were levelled at Sony by the Church, who demanded a formal apology, a substantial donation and complete withdrawal of the game purely because they considered the depiction of the Cathedral to be ‘desecration’. Thankfully, Sony did not capitulate. The attitude of the media at the time, however, in paying too much in the way of lip service to the ludicrous accusations and demands of the Church has somewhat neutered the industry and helped to discourage many other developers from using explicit religious imagery in their titles. If major producers are getting their wrists slapped for merely depicting religious symbols or using ‘holy sites’ as the setting for certain scenes, then the industry has no hope of engaging with religious faith on a sophisticated level in the same way as cinema or literature.
Of course these kinds of themes and materials must be dealt with appropriately, and abominations like Ethnic Cleansing and Muslim Massacre only end up contributing to the stigma that games can’t deal with them seriously and objectively. Equally damaging, however, are the ‘religious-games developers’ who attempt to force gratuitous religious messages into their games and essentially proselytise their audience, which merely serves to attract ridicule and ultimately deter other developers from even trying to engage critically with faith. TwoGuysSoftware’s (now known as XcrucifiX) Eternal War: Shadows of Light, for example, is just a poorly disguised recruitment drive that has a deviously brainwashy feel to it. The attempt to involve religion more directly does deserve some credit, but when implemented with such an overtly Christian agenda it not only detracts from the level of enjoyment possible but serves to alienate the mass audience, who are largely unconcerned with the bogus moral values of religion being snuck into their gaming experience.
Where is the middle ground then? On the one hand you have some peripheral developers placing religion at the centre of the experience and essentially creating interactive propaganda, and on the other there are the mainstream developers who are terribly afraid of overtly trespassing on religious subject matter out of fear of incurring a lawsuit. Clearly there is not a market for the former, but there is a serious deficiency in the mainstream industry of genuinely creative, objective and dispassionate exploration of religious issues and the problems they have caused and still cause in today’s world.
Assassin’s Creed is a case in point. Although most would argue that the Crusades were considerably political or territorial in nature, I found it frustrating how the extraordinarily fundamental role of religion in the conflict and its pervasive presence in medieval society was forcibly pushed into the background as to be almost indiscernible. This was particularly damaging for a game which was specifically criticised for its lack of depth and the unconvincing nature of the world it created. Had the developers reflected in the game how religiously charged society was in the 12th century and not treated the issue so sensitively it would have gone some way to alleviating this and adding a certain level of believability to their depictions of Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem, which were, at the time, religious centres of the world.
With the political, ethical and metaphysical issues surrounding religion becoming more salient since the 9/11 bombings and the rise of ‘New Atheism’, developers are going to find themselves increasingly constrained in the kinds of contemporary issues they are able to engage with creatively if such a hugely significant subject remains untouchable. We have come a long way from the early 90s, where a game with even the slightest religious reference was heavily censored, but until religion is placed back on the table of rational discourse and criticism, video games as a creative medium will continue to be taken less seriously than other forms of entertainment. Authors and filmmakers seem to have a lot more courage when it comes to critically and objectively examining religion and if games developers can follow the example set by people like Salman Rushdie, Geert Wilders or Kevin Smith, it will just be a matter of time before the gaming medium will grow to a similar level of maturity and sophistication, which it undoubtedly has the potential for.
It’s probably not to Shattered Horizon‘s advantage that us fleshy meat bags need a large space-time bending rock to get on with life. Because I guarantee your first hours will mostly be characterized by long, silent “noooooo”‘s as you spin off starfish style into space, whether thanks to more skill endowed astro-bastards, or your own sheer incompetence. (more…)
Friend of The Reticule Glenn Lawrence was down at Eurogamer London this past weekend, he had the chance to meet up with Valve’s Chet Faliszek to talk about all manner of Left 4 Dead topics. Here we go!