Too Good To Be True

March 5, 2010 by Richard Berry  
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Last week I decided to pre order Bad Company 2, so I jumped online to hit up the usual avenues to see who was going to sell me the game the cheapest. I was surprised to come across Tesco Entertainment offering the game at £24.99 with a price promise that if the pre-order price went up then I would be assured of the lower cost – as any bargain hunter would have done I thought “Woo hoo!” and pre ordered a single copy for myself.

Recently, Amazon offered up the pre order for £23, however as my order went through with Tesco and with no word from them otherwise, I figured my pre-order was golden. Now,  find 3 days before its release, I receive an email from Tesco stating  “your order has been cancelled”. I understand that errors do occur in the world of retail but telling me this just days before the game is due to be released is just unacceptable. Not only that but the email contained no word on why my order was cancelled.  So I am back to square one again and am left with trying to find a new website to order from (by now all the cheap pre-order prices have risen), or face get it on the high street and pay their ridiculously steep prices!

I have contacted Tesco via email to ask why the order was cancelled and complain about the situation that they have now placed me in. I received a reply on Thursday with the usual standard response, no suprises there. They actually had the nerve to simply referr me to their terms of service:

“If, by mistake, we have under priced a product, we will not be liable to supply that product to you at the stated price, provided that we notify you before we dispatch the product to you.”

The part about being “notified” suggests they informed me of what was wrong with my order, which was not the case, therefore this term they have quoted is completed false. Oh well!

Upon looking around on the web it appears Tesco Entertainment have done this before with Saints Row 2, Left for Dead 2 and I’m sure numerous other titles – There was of course the famous blunder by Tesco of offering a console bundle for £35!

I pre-ordered this game in good faith and Tesco have totally let me down. My advice, steer clear of these clowns and if you find yourself thinking it must be a case of “too good to be true”, than usually it is!

An Open Letter to Fanboys

January 12, 2010 by Alex Beech  
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There always seems to be huge furore over console exclusive titles. Games that platform holders either developed themselves, or heavily subsided. The presumed quality of these titles is based solely on the simple fanboy logic that if their manufacturer of choice feels a game is good enough to grant it the seal of ‘PS3 Exclusive’ or ‘Only on Xbox 360’ then some how it must be justifiably better than other titles on the market.

It is a theory flawed for so many reasons I cannot begin to fully articulate why it is wrong. Certainly manufacturers would ideally like to stock their machines only with the last and greatest exclusive games, but given the current environment this isn’t possible. It simply is not profitable for large third parties to promise their titles to a single platform without the kind of subsidies that would, eventually, bleed even Bill Gates’ pockets dry. This has lead to a generation filled with expressions like the ‘lead platform’, ‘exclusive DLC’ and ‘limited exclusivity’ in attempt to set games apart from their rival platform counterparts.

There are very few other aspects of life that elicits the kind of bile I see so often spewed at something as inconsequential as the console exclusive debate. I never hear a guy saying ‘My girlfriend has better [edit - bump mapping] and a far tighter [edit – graphics engine] than yours.’ If I did hear that I suspect I would also soon hear the individual getting hit by both the chap he was talking to and his girlfriend. In the real world it is extremely rare that we directly compare anything against that of another with the sole purpose of ingratiating our own stance and beating another’s down.

With so many early adopters no longer able to see reviews before the purchase the review process for the hardcore is fast becoming an act of affirmation rather than information. Reviews have stopped being the advice of trusted professionals they once were. Now they are simply used as bullet points during Internet flame wars to bolster arguments and the support of opinions for the vocal monitories.

Of course specialized, console exclusive, sites exist for these individuals. These are sites that unabashedly trumpet the merits of one platform over another, blind to any contradicting facts. But it is on the multiplatform sites where these fights are fought, by people with some misplaced belief that they need to convert other console users, or maybe just try and ruin their day. To go back to an earlier example we are talking about discussions with all the reasoning and consideration of ‘My girlfriends better than yours!’ or perhaps more fittingly, ‘My Dad’s Superman!

In response to this I have had an idea. Basically, sites write two standard, boiler plate reviews, that they simply insert game names into and then they write one ‘real’ review for normal, balanced people who at some point after the day of release may be looking for a game and really want advice on which to by. This third is pretty much akin to everything you see on this site, reviews which reflect the opinions of a real gamer just out to say what they think about a game. The other two fanatical reviews follow.

For a system’s fanatics wet dream of a game.

‘(Game A) for the (Platform X) is developed by (Studio) and is by far the greatest game of its genre. I eclipses the (Platform Y)’s (Game B) in every way. The graphics are superior with higher textures with more polygons and effects on screen than (Platform Y) could ever hope for.

Both the single player and multiplayer are perfectly balanced allowing for some epic battle that the amazing line up of weapons compliment in a way (Game B) could only one day hope to accomplish.

It is thanks to the (high storage capacity, better online components, faster writing of onscreen polygons, generating of textures, anti aliasing – delete as appropriate) that this game manages to achieve all it does. It could never be made of the (Platform Y) without numerous feature being removed/compromised.

The best game I have played in recent memory and a real game of the year contender.’

And lets give it a 97% so it’s believable.

For an enemy of the system.

‘(Game A)’s muddy graphics do little to hide the limited number of effects on screen at any time. It is a sad indictment that (Platform X) that it continues to lag so far behind (Platform Y) even after this game has been so long in development.

I don’t know what (Developer) thought they were doing when they designed the level layout. Wondering the dull, grey, low res, world feels like you are stuck in the movie Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray. Even the action quickly becomes repetitive thanks to the lack of innovation in weapons and enemy design.

Those who have been anticipating the release of this exclusive are set to be disappointed as all of the games praises have been blown out of all proportion by blind fans of the series who mistakenly believe it to be the second coming, and the saviour of the failing (Platform Y).’

Lets call it a 64%, totally mediocre, because lets face if it really sucked no one would try to defend it and that would be no fun.

If you are one of the people out there telling reviewers that their opinions are wrong then these are basically the kind of reviews you want and deserve. With that in mind in the future feel free to substitute all of the relevant words into which ever review you feel best supports your opinion. You can accredit it to me if you need to, no one will know any different, and just go about your day happy in the knowledge that I at least I agree with your stilted extremist view. Just so long as you don’t go around pestering hard working writers who are trying to inform those more open minded than you, I am happy to take one for the team.

Sex, Lies and Console Wars

January 12, 2010 by Alex Beech  
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Now I have to ask you bear with me through this comparison of why “console wars” are stupid. Some of what is said to many could be considered immoral, but I regret none of it and everyone involved was aware of my situation. It regards a time in my life when I was broken hearted and I went on what something of a binge before I left University. It was a week of fun and stress that made me realize it doesn’t matter what you have you should be happy with it, and more importantly, there is no need to try and denigrate other peoples fun for the sake of you own sense of self worth.

The week of which I speak was after I finished my Master course, and was working at my Alma Marta settling in new post grad students. My work consisted of carrying people bags to their rooms during the day and, at night, taking new initiates to bars, clubs and parties.

Having already left the university and having no accommodation my plan was to couch surf. What ended up happening was one night on a floor, one night in my Ford Escort… and numerous nights in various beds.

One of the girls in question enjoyed hanging out with our shared friends and me. There was a slight language barrier (she was Chinese) but it was never enough to stop us sitting by the river talking until the early hours of the morning. Given different, less heart broken state of mind on my part things could have been fantastic. One day she said she loved me, but in my heart broken state I didn’t feel I could commit and so ran away.

The next individual I met was from North America. Always wanting to socialize, drink, talk or dance it didn’t matter what we were doing as long as it was a party. Active fun, and always exciting every one liked her. But it all came at a cost, all of the socializing, clubs and drinking added up and pretty soon I was spending more money that I was making in my work. Thankfully it all only lasted a week so my overdraft absorbed the cost, but to stick with it would have been difficult. Despite the cost it was the relationship I could have seen the most future in, managing to be entertaining in every situation. For the record, she was white, from North America and larger than life.

The final lady in question I met at a club while waiting in line. We were talking and hitting it off pretty well, but then out of nowhere my friend came and grabbed me (a doorman at the club) before proceeding to throw me in to the club. I was happy drinking with my friends so forgot about her until two hours later when she found me. Apparently she had been looking for me and having found me proceeded to take me strait back to her apartment. We never went out together but did a lot of time in together.

If you have seen through my paper thin analogies you will probably be aware of the similarities between each of these girls and the three players in the console wars (if you haven’t it was Wii, 360, PS3 respectively). I will let you decide if my experiences are true or fabricated for the sake of this discussion, but it isn’t my possible social life that is the point here. The point is, if I had been in any position to start a relationship I would have pick one of these girls based on what she offered and contributed to me as an individual.

In the short term I know we are attracted to cute, sexy and hot. That is the nature of initial attraction. It is when we consider the long term that we measure merits of everything on offer carefully. We judge what we what, what we need and what is offered. If I wanted to sit at home and enjoy quiet times as a couple I would have dated a PS3… for example. My conclusion would be drawn from a criteria would I had created, and unless someone was a very close friend and was truly concerned I was making and grievous error. No one would say that their girlfriend was better mine for some arbitrary reason based on a check-list of things that they consider important.

So why is it that everyone on the Internet feels they know what is good for me, and believes my choices are wrong. If I chose a partner based on the fact we shared friends and it made socializing all the more fun no one would point out the yearly fee of going to bars to stay connected with her an my friends was a bad thing. Or if there were certain things that only my stay-at-home-together girlfriend would do with me… for example playing with my Solid Snake… then no one dating her would seem to be the perfect thing to do.

Everybody has a personal preference in what they want and what they like, in relationships and their consoles. For the most part the people who go out yelling about how their choice is better than anyone else’s are the ones who are most insecure about something and are attempting to overcompensate.

If you are yelling at the guy who likes Wii because he only plays when his friends are around then all you are doing is showing that you have no imagination to understand his position, and no real friends to play with on your coach. Similarly if you are reaming somebody out for choosing a PS3 because of poor online or fewer games then all you really archive is demonstrating that you don’t respect people personal preferences the games they want to experience. Finally of course if you feel the 360 needs a good hammering for all of its extra charges then remember they are paying, but receiving the better service and support for their money.

Me I have all three so I am set (consoles that is, I am a one woman man these days). Chances are that, given the choice and money, you would want all three too (again consoles) but failing that settle for the one you have and are with if it makes you happy (either) and don’t let anyone tell you they know what makes you happy better than you do.

Top 10 Greatest RPGs

October 7, 2009 by Jennifer Allen  
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There are a few ground rules to bear in mind before we get started. First of all, when dealing with a franchise of RPGs, the best game from the series has been chosen to represent the outstanding quality of the series. Simply put, it ensures variety. The other crucial point to note is that, without a shadow of a doubt, your favourite RPG will almost certainly be missed out. It isn’t personal; it’s simply that since the creation of the RPG genre back in the 1970s, there have been so very many phenomenal RPGs that these things happen. Having said that, if you’ve never played an RPG before then you really must play the following ten games at some point in your life. As you are about to find out they really are worth your time. And now, without further ado, the top 10 greatest RPGs in alphabetical order:

Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn

baldersgateTo put it simply, Baldur’s Gate 2 defined Western RPGs wonderfully. While so many people, including myself, were looking to the East for RPG inspiration, Bioware came seemingly out of nowhere in 1998 with Baldur’s Gate: a fantastic game that focused heavily on character development through its storytelling and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition ruleset. A mere two years later, Bioware surpassed themselves with the sequel Shadows of Amn. Again it was a triumph of storytelling and strong characterisation. The city of Athkatla, one of the main settings for the game, was supremely atmospheric and downright creepy at times, but also felt like the player was actually wandering around a bustling city, a hive of activity rather than simply a linear game setting. The dialogue choices and decisions that the main character had to undertake, that you had to decide for them, really set it apart from the crowd and made it captivating right until the end. An impressive feat for an RPG that could take 100 hours to complete! If you still haven’t played this, well all I can say to you is ‘Go for the eyes Boo, go for the eyes!’

Chrono Trigger

cronoWe in Europe were extremely unlucky when it came to the fate of Chrono Trigger. Despite being releases on the Super Nintendo in North America and Japan way back in 1995, Chrono Trigger didn’t see a PAL release until 2009! Utter madness really considering it is one of the true Japanese RPG greats. Chrono Trigger centres on the lives of a group of adventurers who must travel through time to essentially save the world in the end. However, that’s not doing true credit to the game; it has a much more complex story than that which encompasses travelling to medieval times as well as the future. Oh and befriending a talking sword wielding frog, conveniently called Frog! It was truly revolutionary at the time with its multiple endings and plot-related side quests that, although weren’t essential, revealed various facts about the main characters. Its graphics were wonderfully detailed for the time and its soundtrack distinctly memorable. To many Chrono Trigger is Square’s greatest game to date, even surpassing the likes of the Final Fantasy series, and it really is no surprise why some feel this way. An unmissable RPG that I implore those who haven’t played it yet, buy for their DS immediately!

Dragon Quest VIII

dragonquestPerhaps an odd choice to some who looked at the cutesy cel-shaded graphics and stepped away, but Dragon Quest VIII is yet another classic to come out of publishing behemoth Square. I’ll admit to being guilty of overlooking it too but it really is something special. It has some fantastic characters who don’t automatically match the typical RPG tales, such as Munchie the hero’s pet mouse and the loveable Yangus, a former thief. The antagonists are just as interesting with the sinister jester Dhoulmagus who makes a formidable foe. Be warned though: it’s surprisingly difficult even for RPG veterans but it is a rewarding experience that in many ways was before its time thanks to features such as the ability to make potions using alchemy, something that we take for granted now. Simply put, Dragon Quest VIII manages to do everything you would expect from a JRPG, but does it all so damned well.

Fallout 3

f3Stepping away from the dominance of the JRPG, we come to Fallout 3. It’s a much bleaker affair than others in this list with its post apocalyptic portrayal of Washington DC but it is especially compelling thanks to this change of scenery. Based upon the same game engine used by Oblivion, Bethesda built upon the success of the medieval title and used the Fallout license to create something that is truly memorable. The level of freedom offered to the player was nearly intimidating but managed to instead be hugely refreshing. One could quite easily spend hundreds of hours in the Fallout 3 world and not run out of things to do. Besides the freedom offered, the main storyline was compelling thanks to its strong characters (including a terrific turn by Liam Neeson as the main protagonist’s father) and the wealth of choices was overwhelming. So many thousands of words could be written about Fallout 3 but none would do it justice, go buy it. Now.

Final Fantasy VII

ffviiReturning to the Japanese world of RPGs after the harsh reality of Fallout 3 is Final Fantasy VII, which also had its harsh moments. Set in Midgar, an industrial metropolis whose people are oppressed by the might of the Shinra government; Final Fantasy VII tells the story of Cloud Strife, a moody former member of Shinra’s armed forces: SOLDIER. The world is under threat by the might of Sephiroth, another former member of SOLDIER who has gone a bit off the rails and is now ridiculously powerful. Much like Fallout 3, it is truly epic. At the time of its release it was a huge revelation and to many, the first RPG of a generation. Besides the intricate storyline covering so many emotional tales for Cloud’s comrades such as Tifa, Barrett and the incomparable Aeris, it also offered so very many minigames to hold the player’s attention even more so. It even offered a plotline that involved Cloud having to cross-dress to infiltrate a brothel, how many other games can offer such originality? Final Fantasy VII was truly one of a kind.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

zeldaA slightly different beast compared to previous entries here due to its action based roots, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the pinnacle of achievement in the Zelda series of games. It was the sort of game that made people, without a Nintendo 64, desperate to get hold of one, myself included. It provided a somewhat typical story of stop Ganondorf from obtaining the Triforce thus saving the world, but its beauty was in its gameplay. It introduced features such as the target lock system and context sensitive buttons which made things just so simple and smooth: the sort of thing we come to expect from adventure titles now. A lot of the time in game was spent exploring dungeons and solving puzzles. Some of these were frustrating but they always made perfect sense once solved, the same can be said of the boss encounters. That’s not forgetting the use of the Ocarina to solve music-based puzzles and the occasions where you could ride Epona, a horse that you quickly become attached to. Ocarina of Time is the sort of title that will never be forgotten.

Pokémon Red/Blue

pokemonredbluePerhaps a somewhat controversial one, we come to Pokémon. Yes that insane craze that hit us all in the late 1990s where the whole purpose was ‘gotta catch em all’. Sure it might not be the most high brow of RPG but it is deceptively brilliant if you’re willing to sacrifice a little pride to admit you play it. Pokémon as you would expect is all about collecting up all the Pokémon in the game world. To do this you have to capture many wild ones and also fight other Pokémon trainers to collect up theirs too. It’s a simple but fun concept that becomes incredibly addictive. Much of this is down to the simplicity of things as you wander from town to town fighting and collecting Pokémon to eventually defeat the Elite Four and win the game. All I can say is don’t turn your nose up without giving it a try; I have no doubt that you will be pleasantly surprised!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

starwarsRather humorously we go from a very lightweight RPG to something that can be downright nasty at times: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. Thanks to the wonder of Bioware (which we already saw earlier with Baldur’s Gate 2), the Star Wars license was used fantastically at last in the guise of an action based RPG. As some of you may have noticed, there is no sight of Mass Effect in this list and that’s because Knights of the Old Republic is superior to it. It truly captured the magic of George Lucas’s world with the rise of a seemingly ordinary character discovering that he/she is a Jedi. The voice acting was sublime and the story compelling. It was yet another great example of how being able to affect the game world through your actions can really make a game special. It was especially true in this game as you can turn to the dark side or stick with the Jedi way of doing things. It’s ridiculously cheap to pick up now, so you know what to do. Right?

Suikoden 2

suikoden-2-pal1The Suikoden series of games is a series that hasn’t had the praise or coverage that it deserves in recent years, but it truly is one to look out for. In the case of Suikoden 2, your main source is going to have to be eBay these days and only if you have a fair bit of spare cash as this is certainly a rare one. It is however worth every penny. It’s the typical story that you expect from any old RPG but that’s not what makes it so great. No, that comes from the fact that you can recruit 108 characters to accompany you on your epic journey. Yeah you read that right, 108! That’s not forgetting that you also have your own headquarters that they live in. Or the fact that besides fighting against enemies with six of your chosen fighters, you can also pit an armies against armies in massive battles, oh and one on one duels, and the cooking mini game. So yes, you may not have heard much about Suikoden 2 but it really is one that’s worth tracking down somehow. Take note Sony and Konami: we demand a re-release!

World of Warcraft

world-of-warcraft-logoFinally we come to the behemoth that is World of Warcraft. Sure it’s a MMORPG but it’s still an RPG and what a game. Its premise is one of the simplest on this list: kill monsters, collect loot and complete quests. Nonetheless, World of Warcraft has stolen many of our hearts, our money and in some cases, our soul. It represents the pinnacle of the MMORPG genre, and still does. The very fact that its base of subscribers continues to grow is testament to its quality more than any words here could be.

So what have we learnt from this list? A good RPG needs a compelling story and set of characters but that’s not to say that it has to be original. The world ending is always appealing regardless of how often it’s been used before. Being able to make dialogue choices throughout the game that go onto affect later scenes is always good and really can improve a game. Minigames are always welcome if well implemented. And finally creating a MMORPG that is both addictive yet simple, is always a winner in anyone’s books!