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Review: Space Invaders Infinity Gene

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Technically I could review this game in one line: it’s great, just go and buy it. Unfortunately we have to spin rhetoric over a certain minimum number of words so here are the beans:

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Space Invaders Infinity Gene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a 21st century remake of Taito Corporation’s true classic, Space Invaders. Those of us old enough to remember going into the pub and putting 10p in those top-down machines with old-school CRT monitors rounder than a well-lubricated sphere will no doubt have fond memories (I was -1 years old so what I just wrote is a lie).

Retro games on PSN and XBLA have made me nervous lately. I’m not a fan of most of them, and I suspect like most of us, each time I buy one I curse myself for not learning from previous mistakes. Infinity Gene is published by Square Enix, recently responsible for the epicly bad Thexder Neo. Fear not, however, because Infinity Gene is a modern remake of a cult classic at its very best.

Last year saw the rather good Space Invaders Extreme of which this is the sequel. Sadly it was only available on XBLA – PlayStation 3 owners can now rejoice as Infinity Gene is available on both platforms.

First, this game is huge on style: it’s almost entirely black and white with a mono-spaced font (yes you read that correctly, that is stylish), and old school music. However everything has been renovated; it is in one way completely faithful to the original, yet in another way it raises the bar massively and kicks it into 2010 with great success – which is a good thing, because if it was faithful to the original, it would be Capcom Classics, which was rubbish.

For example, the backgrounds are in cool 3D wireframe, sometimes quite deliberately aliased awfully with 2-frame animation just like in the 80s, other times they are smooth with many polygons and beautifully animated, throwing in tinges of colour. Some enemies are blocky 2D sprites, others are 3D masterpieces. Gameplay is usually in the traditional top-down view but you will sometimes find yourself flying into tunnels, other times there will be a mix of 2D and 3D baddies on screen simultaneously while your ship moves in 2D, which actually works really well. Only the power-ups are coloured, and while there is occasional confusion on what you can and can’t touch, this is a minor problem compared to other recent retro titles, with the shade of grey usually indicating quite clearly if something is in the foreground or background.

The effects are also oozing with style: collect a power-up and a simple rectangle expands to show you have collected it. Shoot an enemy and it disappears with a single-frame white circle explosion. The backgrounds are really trippy at times, and the sound effects match up too, with classic animation and explosion sounds mixed in with more modern effects.

Onto the meat of the game then, and be warned: if you play for only 5 minutes, you will be convinced it is awful. The first level is the classic wave of space invaders with a ship that fires slowly and only moves left and right. At this point alarm bells were ringing in my mind, but the scene cuts away after a few seconds to the real game, which rapidly becomes fast and frenetic with weapons of mass devestation, fast-moving ships and enemies, mini-bosses and full-on boss battles coming thick and fast. There is plenty of variety in the baddies and the bosses are for the most part well-designed.

The game is almost as well-balanced as Soldner X 2 for difficulty, and with your choice of starting weapon and difficulty level, you can make the game as easy or hard as you want. The difficulty curve increases gradually and starts to get really tricky around the early level 20s. Infinity Gene is also brimming with game modes: the main campaign consists of 31 levels, there is a bonus mode with numerous extra levels you unlock as you play through the campaign, a challenge mode with 99 randomly generated levels, and my personal favourite: music mode.

In music mode, you choose a song from your own collection and the game generates a level based upon it, somewhat synchronized to the music. The brilliance of this is that you always get exactly the same level for a particular song. Testing with trance, dance and even Lily Allen all worked flawlessly and the levels were interesting and varied.

Infinity Gene has the one-more-go factor in a two-pronged way: not only do you always want to see what comes next, but as you reach certain point threshold the game triggers ‘Evolution’, each time adding something to the game. Initially this is very basic stuff like being able to move up and down, collect power-ups or execute Nagoya attacks (a handy bullet-dodging technique which makes the game a little bit more forgiving), but as you progress you’ll unlock new weapons, levels, difficulty levels, music and game options such as number of starting lives. Multiple playthroughs are required to reach every stage of Evolution, but you’ll be fine with this because once you unlock the fearsome Field weapon you’ll definitely want to go back and rack up a huge high score – and you’ll need to in order to beat some of the rather difficult trophies on offer. Another nice touch which keeps you playing is that your online rank is shown in real-time as you play, and it’s satisfying to see this ticking down as you plaster the hordes of enemies.

What are the downsides? Well apart from the occasional confusion about what is in the foreground and the fact the campaign will only take you 3-5 hours to complete, there are a few bugs. After the first time I switched the game off and re-loaded it, none of my high scores registered on the stats screens or leaderboards. The leaderboards only have My Score and Global – no Friends option which really kills your ability to compete. There is also a potentially serious issue unique to this game: it may actually hurt your eyes. The game has many fast-moving backgrounds with extreme contrast and I did actually have to break because of eyestrain once or twice. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you have epilepsy (as I do) I would strongly advise against a purchase unless your medications are working.

Pros:

  • Massive style which is matched by substance
  • Tons of replayability for fans of unlockables
  • Lots of game modes, with music mode being particularly fun

Cons:

  • No friends leaderboard
  • No replayability if you’re not a fan of unlockables
  • May cause eyestrain in some players

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is not just the best re-creation of Space Invaders I have played, it is also one of my favourite PSN titles of 2010. This is an absolute no-brainer recommendation to anyone who played the game or its clones in the 80s, and for anyone who hasn’t played it, you will enjoy a very quirky and unusual top-down shooter.

9/10

Review: Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is the epitome of 2D scrolling shoot ’em up gaming, cloning the classic R-Type and improving on it in every respect. If you played Soldner-X: Himmelsturmer last year, you may be nervous about this purchase. I was too, but don’t be: Eastasiasoft have taken everything that was good about the first game and fixed everything that was bad. The result is a slick, polished and highly playable 2D shooter.

Set across seven luscious levels (of which only five are accessible at the start), the aim is of course simple: shoot everything, avoid bullets and collect power-ups. Each level takes about ten minutes to complete including the final boss, and if that was all there was to it, it would become quickly boring. Fortunately, Soldner-X 2 is a dream for those who like challenge stages and unlockables.

Let’s start with the gameplay first. Your ship has two weapons to start with, plus one extra which can be unlocked, or swapped out for weapons collected by power-ups. By taking out the baddies you collect chain rings which boost your chain bar. If you can manage to fill this within a certain time, a power-up is released in addition to those which spawn when you kill enemies. Conserving bullets and taking down opponents quickly extends the time you are allowed to fill this bar.

There are, as you might imagine, tons of different types of power-ups to collect. Chasers add mini-ships which follow you and shoot at the enemies; regular power-ups increase the firepower of your currently selected weapon, and to a lesser extent those of your other weapons. Shockwaves and so-called limit attacks can be acquired which do massive damage to everything on the screen, plus plenty of other goodies.

Dotted around the stages are various secret keys. Collect 4 out of 5 on each level to unlock additional stages. Collect all 35 for a silver trophy.

Difficulty-wise, Soldner-X 2 strikes gold. The game can be as easy or as difficult as you like, which is in stark contrast to the rather tricky affair that was the original game. Two difficulty levels are unlocked at first: Beginner is dead easy, you will be able to complete the whole game without losing a ship, and Normal is not that challenging either. Later difficulty levels up the ante considerably once you’ve unlocked them. The real masterstroke though is that the game features dynamic difficulty, relative to the base difficulty level you’ve selected. You have a rank, either S (the best) or A-G, which goes up and down and is indicated in the corner of the screen along with your trending as you play. The more efficient you are, the more enemies and bullets are thrown at you. Perform poorly and the difficulty will be cranked down.

This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is perfectly balanced – never making the game too easy or too hard, again, relative to the difficulty you originally selected. You can also start the game from any stage, and the game thoughtfully provides you with a bunch of power-ups at the start commensurate to how far into the stages you have selected. This also makes hunting down those secret keys less of a chore.

Allow your health to drop below a certain amount and Beserker Mode is activated; much like in the original game this reduces the damage you take but increases your damage output. Survive long enough to pick up some health and normal gameplay will resume.

A tutorial system has been added which is less intrusive than the original game – but a little too unintrusive in fact. The top-left of the screen blinks to tell you to press triangle when a new tutorial is available, but if you don’t press it within a few seconds you’ll miss it altogether. Some of the tutorials are somewhat important to understanding the finer points of the gameplay mechanics, required to get the most out of the game. Fortunately, they are all available for re-reading in the options menu, which is also accessible during the game’s pause screen.

Soldner-X 2 includes two-player offline co-op which works seamlessly, with all power-ups shared except chasers. This does however mean that if your buddy picks up a naff weapon, your tertiary weapon slot acquires it too at the expense of what you previously had equipped.

The graphics are crisp and smooth, with excellent use of colour making this the most beautiful-looking 2D shooter on the PS3 to date. Boss designs are adequate but not breathtaking, and the music is the typical kind of mellow background dance noise you’d expect from any self-respecting 2D shooter. There is plenty of variety in enemies, however many of the backgrounds are quite dark so some of the levels can feel slightly samey – though there are many differences between them.

Onto the unlockables then. Soldner-X 2 features a challenge mode with a large number of tasks to complete, ranging from collecting 999 chain rings on a stage, to maxing out a weapon’s power in a certain time, to finishing a level without missing more than 3 enemies, or without killing any enemies except the boss. Some of these challenges are fairly simple and can be attempted on any difficulty level; others are punishingly difficult. Trophies are awarded for some of the challenges and you will be able to rack up more than in the original game because they are better balanced. It is really in the challenge mode where most of the fun and replayability of this game lies.

Since many people looking for classic shooter action will have already purchased the first game, I’d like to touch on some of the differences. First of all, the ill-thought out gameplay mechanic which causes your chain bar to be reset when you switch weapon has been scrapped. Your health slowly regenerates if you perform certain tasks, which it doesn’t in the first game. Issues with the backgrounds being too bright and easy to confuse with enemies have been resolved, with a much better contrast between foreground and background in the new game. The cheesy cut scenes between levels have been removed, and the difficulty can now be made much more forgiving if you are just in it to see what comes next. I also like the radio chatter during boss fights where your ground controller lets you know which parts you’re supposed to be attacking. Finally, the vast amount of unlockables: ships, stages, weapons, ‘specials’, challenges and difficulty levels, plus trophy collecting, give Soldner-X 2 far more replayability than its predecessor.

Online leaderboards are present and correct, but a pain to scroll through; there is no online play.

Pros:

  • Addictive, massive replayability due to tons of unlockables
  • Difficulty can be made as hard or easy as you want
  • Good variety, good graphics
  • Seamless offline co-op

Cons:

  • Only 7 stages, so you’ll be replaying the same areas over and over

There are quite a few single-stick shooters on the PSN store now. In my opinion, this is the best of the bunch. It has been well-designed, balanced and tuned to perfection, and is a big improvement on the original. If you have been thinking of buying the bundle, I would recommend you save a few pounds and just go for this game as it will hold your attention much longer than Himmelsturmer.

8/10

Review: Prince of Persia Classic

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Nostalgic remakes of classic old games have got me a bit worried lately. We fondly remember these pivotal defining titles of our hobby, but gameplay mechanics have moved on a lot, and much like movie franchise tie-ins, I’ve discovered that replaying these titles in 2010 sadly often isn’t as fun as I remembered it to be.

Prince of Persia (1989 video game)

Prince of Persia (1989 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So after the mediocre Mega Man 10, the decent-not-great Digger HD, the antiquated Bomberman Ultra and the truly awful Thexder Neo and Frogger Returns plus whatever else I’ve forgotten, it was with some trepidation that I powered up new PSN title Prince of Persia Classic, one of my favourite classic games of all-time.

I’ve hated every single Prince of Persia game since the original. Sands of Time, The Two Thrones and the recent Forgotten Sands were all a bit meh, for me this was one case where 3D spoiled a perfectly good concept. So how did this re-implementation of the original fare? Pretty well actually.

For those who never played the original back in 1989 it is a little difficult to describe because at the time it was unique. It is a straightforward pure platform game: explore a labyrinth of loose floors, switches, locked gates and annoying things that kill you, grab the obligatory health potions and make your way to the exit. What made it unique was the way it played: Prince of Persia was the first platform game to use a realistic avatar which climbed, jumped and rolled in a way that looked truly human, despite being a 2D game. Battling enemies takes the form of sword fights, and these too had realistic animations and required skill to win. You can think of it as early imitation mocap that was way ahead of its time.

The game also had a couple of interesting mechanics. There are spikes which shoot up from the ground to kill you, but if you walk slowly you can navigate your way through them. Each screen shows three levels of platforms, but off to the top you can just vaguely make out what is above you, allowing you to spot different routes and dislodge loose tiles to climb up. The other aspect is that while most platformers at the time were really grid/tile-based games where pressing left or right once moved you precisely one square (think Manic Miner), Prince of Persia has pixel-granularity free-roaming – something we now take for granted. Walking, running, jumping from stationary and jumping during movement all move your character very specific distances, so when you are confronted with a path full of spikes, switches you want to avoid and choppy choppy guillotine things, selecting the correct movement strategy is essential.

It’s all rather banal compared to modern gaming, but fans of the original will be thrilled to hear that Prince of Persia Classic is an extremely faithful reproduction, with exactly the same mechanics and levels, with everything slightly improved. Your character will edge forwards or backwards when you try to climb a ledge so that pinpoint precision isn’t required. The graphics are now parallax 3D and the perspective shifts ever-so-slightly as you walk, making everything feel more dynamic. The graphics themselves have been perfectly upgraded to modern standards while remaining completely faithful to the style of the original. And of course, there are the obligatory online leaderboards.

There are 14 levels to hack, slash and explore your way through – the goal being to finish within 60 minutes, although the chances of you managing that on your first playthrough are zero unless you have super-human dexterity. Most objects are deadly and kill you in one hit, but when fighting enemies you have a health bar which can be replenished by picking up health potions. Each level has one or two checkpoints; when you die, starting the level from scratch will reset the timer to the amount you had when the level started, but continuing from a checkpoint will continue the countdown from where you died. Don’t worry if the countdown reaches zero: the game won’t end, it just means you suck.

Is it any good? Well, yes and no. It certainly is one of the better budget remakes out there, but it can be infuriating to play. New parry and time-slowing mechanics have been added to swordplay to make it more interesting, but the outcomes can seem almost random. Sometimes you will take a guy down with 5 or 6 straight hits in a row; other times no matter how good your parry timing is, he will completely thrash you. When each enemy has 6 or 7 health points, you only have 5 or 6 and have to work through three enemies to reach the next checkpoint, this is a recipe for frustration and I threw my controller at the sofa at least twice before the game was over.

The sound is annoying too, especially the re-spawn sound – and you’re going to die a lot – plus there is no in-game music so it’s a rather quiet affair. The other sound effects are functional and unremarkable.

Perhaps the most shocking omission – and this is actually against Sony’s QA policy – is that there is no trophy support. Nothing. None. Nada. Very poor show.

Pros:

  • Extremely faithful re-production of the original Prince of Persia
  • Improvements to graphics and swordplay mechanics

Cons:

  • Not much replay value except for beating your time
  • Can become something of a grind
  • Fights can be infuriating
  • No trophy support

While I enjoyed Prince of Persia Classic, it’s hard to recommend to someone who has never played the original because they will see an old-school platformer and wonder what the fuss is about. If you have played the original, you can’t go wrong with this for 5 bucks, it’s a perfect yet slightly improved re-creation, although be warned that the repetitiveness of the levels may bring you to a point where you have to drag yourself to continue playing. Once you get into it though, you’ll want to finish it, if only just to get it over with.

The score I’ve given below is for those who have already played the original. If you haven’t, you should probably pass on this.

Score: 7/10

Review: Coconut Dodge

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

The classic genre of bucket collection will require no introduction to children of the 80’s. You move a bucket left and right at the bottom of the screen, collect the falling treasure objects while avoiding the falling enemies at the same time.

Coconut Dodge is the first foray into the PSP minis market from indie developers FuturLab, and presents a tricked out reboot of the genre.

Your bucket has been replaced by a money-hungry crab, the treasure has been replaced by gems and the baddies have been replaced by coconuts, but other than this re-skin, the premise is the same. To prevent the formula from getting quickly boring, Coconut Dodge has a few neat tricks up its sleeve. There are the obligatory power-ups (which drop in predetermined places so you can memorise when they will appear), falling beach balls which give score or power-up bonuses if you can keep them bouncing for long enough, and special high-value gems.

Coconut Dodge seems to be fairly intelligent about where the coconuts drop in that there is always an escape route – you never get bombarded in such a random way that you get stuck and die, which is one of the most annoying things in this kind of game for me. Handily, the coconuts also start to drop very slowly at the top and accelerate downwards so you can always see where the next wave is coming from.

To break up the standard levels there is the excellent addition of maze levels. This is almost like a 2D top-down racer where the coconuts and gems are arranged in pre-made formations and you have to dart around navigating the route to pick up the most gems. Here is where the strategy comes in: the crab can be moved at three speeds and some gems are worth several times more than others, so plotting a route really does become a game of on-the-wire memory skill and finger dexterity. Once you complete a maze level, it is unlocked in Maze Master mode where you get to play the same thing again and earn a crown if you reach the points target. These targets are very tough allowing only a tiny margin of error, so you’ll be bashing away at them for quite a while.

Other than that, the game graphics are unimpressive but irrelevant and the soundtrack is chilled out and completely unobtrusive. There are about 30 levels to hack through, each lasting a couple of minutes.

Some caveats: Coconut Dodge is hard. You only get one life and no health bar, a single hit and it’s game over and you have to start at level 1 again. This is all about the challenge, so if you’re the type who prefers to just see what comes next but don’t have good hand-eye co-ordination, then this game is not for you. Secondly, the speed-altering mechanic for the crab is a bit awkward. To move faster you hold X, which is fine, but to move at the fastest speed you have to double-tap it. The good news is I had a word with FuturLab about this when the game is released and they are currently considering releasing a replacement version (downloadable free for existing owners) with 3 lives and the option of using square for the fastest speed.

The first time I played Coconut Dodge I was a bit ‘meh’ about it. A few hours later I came back and was like, ok, this isn’t bad, and got a few levels further. The next day I was determined to beat it, which already makes it a minis title I have come back to more than most. This game grows on you in a curious way and winds up with you in furious determination to get ‘just one level further this time’.

One of the more enjoyable minis I’ve played.

8/10

The Gaming Rant 8

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Contains strong language, sexual references and politically incorrect commentary that some readers may find offensive. This article is satire and does not reflect the views of TheSixthAxis or myself. This article has not been endorsed or approved by the Third Reich. This disclaimer may be false, but it probably isn’t.

Last week my best friend told me that my rant didn’t have enough anger in it. Well, trust me my little bunch of anti-social loser gaming imbeciles, this week has no such anger shortage, I am literally oozing visceral at the moment. I’m so adjective I’m verbing nouns right now, for 3 excellent reasons.

Hard disk upgrade

Sub-ordinate 1: *pointing at map of Germany on the table* “Game Data and PSN games have sprung up in several locations. We have tried to slow their progress but they are using too much of our resources. At the current rate, we estimate full disk space consumption within 2 weeks.”

Me: *waving finger in the air* “Not a problem, a hard disk upgrade will solve that.”

*long pause*

Sub-ordinate 1: *sweating* “Mein Führer… The restore utility…”

Sub-ordinate 2: “The restore utility does not work properly. You will have to re-download and re-install everything, and lose all your game saves.”

Me: *takes off glasses, my hand shaking* “All of you who have successfully upgraded your PS3 hard disks, please leave the room.”

Yes, the week got off to a good gaming start as I got stuck in to Lost Planet 2’s online co-op. Then a man appeared at the front door with a new hard disk. My 250GB PS3 is rammed with data to the point where I had deleted all my demos, videos, FirstPlay episodes (no real loss there though) and had to resort to deleting Game Data files, and still had no space left. So I whipped out my cheque book and splashed out on a 640GB drive.

Remember the Indonesian tsunami of 2004? The Indonesians were running around on TV saying “God will protect us”. Some of us might think, orly? Who do you think sent the tsunami in the first place, asshole? That loss of 250,000 lives, however, was nothing compared to the shit God pulled on me this week*. What part of his Grand F*cking Plan says that I have to piss around for three whole days trying to get my stupid PS3 to backup and restore properly. Is this a character building exercise? Are you trying to make me a stronger person? Or are you just bored and trying to piss me off, in which case it’s working admirably.

So the little divine gremlins in my PS3 decided to test me like Job. Backups not working. Restores not working. Firmware refusing to install. Freezes. Crashes. Copyright validation errors. Activation errors. I won’t bore you with all the sordid details suffice to say on day 3 I got bored of it being hung at 70% restored and rebooted. The hard disk was blank, I took it out, put the old one in, deleted all my Game Data as advised on the forums (apparently some Game Data makes the restore fail, God knows why – but conveniently, the little bastard isn’t telling *shakes fist in air*), backed up, put the new hard disk back in, booted up and lo and behold approximately 70% of my games and Game Data were present. What the…. IT WAS BLANK FIVE MINUTES AGO! How annoyed was I.

This presented a dilemma. Do I keep my botched restore and re-install the remaining 30% but lose 30% of my game saves, or do I restore again and have all my game saves intact but have to re-download all the DLC? These game saves represent thousands of hours of hard labour on my part. Needless to say I’d callously deleted the old backup thinking it was broken and was suitably annoyed. Again.

Well, to cut a long story short I eventually got everything sorted out with no loss of any data. But, seriously, what the f*ck?! HOW HARD IS IT to make a simple backup utility:

  1. Compress and encrypt the files
  2. Copy to storage device

Restore:

  1. Copy to PS3
  2. Decrypt and decompress

So why does it freeze for 2 hours at a time at arbitrary percentages on the restore progress bar? Why does an estimate of 4 hours to restore suddenly turn into 12? And why is it so biblically slow (ah – God again, that explains everything, he just loves to screw with a winning formula). It is so slow that if I was Hitler, I could take over Europe in less time; and while I’d be pleased with my impressive victory in England, I’d be very unhappy when I got back and found the rest of the Gestapo was still screwing around waiting for the PS3. I’d be so unhappy I’d probably have to post a rant on YouTube about it, same as when I got banned from Xbox Live and when the iPad came out. And tell that Sony employee bitch in the corridor to stop crying.

The restore utility is an absolute sham. I had to delete and re-install / re-download 66GB of Game Data. My patience was tested to the limit, I had missed my Lost Planet 2 meets, the SingStar Beta night and the week’s PSN update. I have no TV except via my PS3 either, this was a recipe for absolute boredom.

Screw you Sony. And screw you God as well. Go Hitler, er I mean, Go Me!

Modern Warfare 2

Lost Planet 2: no idiots.

Battlefield Bad Company 2: no idiots.

MAG: no idiots (I’m lying I have no idea, never played it since the beta, but I was running out of options)

Modern Warfare 2: Penile-Challenged Knob-Face Monkey Twat Central.

I’m seriously considering trading in Modern Warfare 2 after my experience a couple of nights ago, where I realised I can no longer get any fun out of the online play on this tepid excuse for a shooter. I’ve completed the campaign twice so that leaves little left to enjoy.

It seems like every time I put this bloody game in I have to report someone. This latest episode was no exception as a “your shit” email appeared in my PSN mailbox. Really? Well f*cking done Einstein, I know I’m shit, I’m actually just here to socialise with my friends and have a laugh. Would you like a medal? Not a grammar medal obviously, though I did resist the urge to use the classic “it’s spelled you’re” response. Instead I took the mature approach: “FYI I work for Sony, keeping your mouth shut is advised”. It’s a good job he wasn’t messaging Hitler, you don’t want to rub that guy up the wrong way. Trust me, I was on the receiving end of his briefing on YouTube about the Gran Turismo 5 release date. That was some nasty shit.

The response was “haha fuk u gimp”. Good job I wasn’t a real Sony employee eh? Ps3reporting.com was quickly engaged. If you’d like to share your opinion feel free to drop a pm to crazycracked, I’m sure it will be met with a suitably whimsical grammatically incorrect response.

I wondered if the child would say that to my face in a bar, where he would promptly get his faced smashed in by my fist. Evidently his parents don’t mind him playing an 18-rated game – seems to be a running theme this – so he should obviously be able to go get drunk in bars as well and see how his Class A1 Wanker comments go down in a room full of burly drunk adults. Die in a fire crazycracked.

Anyway, I get this kind of abuse every single time I play MW2. It was the first time I’d played online for a while and it reminded me why I never go online with it. It is truly saddening, but, I also realised that the rest of us actually need MW2 because it’s a nice honeypot that attracts all the adolescent low-life scum and sort of keeps them segregated in one place so that the proper gaming community doesn’t have to concern themselves with being bothered by them. It’s like, we’re the superior race and MW2 is like Auschwitz. The only problem is, the gamers on MW2 don’t die from gas poisoning afterwards. There’s safety in numbers it seems; but as Jimmy Carr once said, try telling that to 6 million Jews.

Have you noticed the nicks of the people who play MW2? I proclaimed on my headset that “the list of nicks in the lobby really speaks volumes about the kind of people who play Call of Duty”. A slight sweeping stereotype I admit, but you’ve got to concede: SuperKilla87, Megal33t, Ikillj00_pwned354783. There’s a pattern there, no? If you missed it: they are all nicknames made by toss-pots.

Screw Modern Warfare 2. Long live World At War – although I don’t like the way the Germans are portrayed. They were just doing what I told them.

Chatting up girls

Oh my God.

Oh my F*CKING God.

A couple of weeks ago my gaydar went off in GameStop as a clearly geek gamer girl bought a ton of PS3 games and was asking astute questions to the staff – clearly she knew as much about release dates and gaming as any member of the TSA staff. Man I’m digging sweeping generalizations today! She’s a girl, she wins by default, shut up.

I was too shy to talk to her of course and kicked myself on the way home for it.

Today I was in a different game store (Platekompaniet), and as I perused the PS3 section looking for ModNation Racers I noticed two rather beautiful girls next to me discussing the merits of Oblivion. I was somewhat impressed they would be into long, drawn-out, slow, complex RPGs, but far be it from me to stifle the enthusiasm of newly-formed girl gamers.

After I’d paid there was one customer in the queue behind me before the girls. So I took the plunge and braced for impact.

“Are you gonna buy Oblivion?”

“Yeah”

I tried to be as helpful and non-patronising as possible, fearful they may not be happy with their purchase:

“You know it’s a really complicated, slow, old-style RPG game right?”

“Yeah”

The conversation shifted from Norwegian to English and they obviously loved my classic British accent.

“Have you played Fallout 3?”

“Yep, I heard this is the same but with less shooting”

“That’s exactly right.”

“Hm ok – well then you know what you’re getting into. Have fun!”

The reason I remember the conversation line by line so vividly is because, much like Gregory House who I aspire to be like, actual human contact with females is sort of a once-in-a-year occurrence, so any sort of interaction gets immediately committed to memory and over-analyzed for months.

I left the store feeling absolutely devastated and grumbled all the way home and for some time afterwards. We all know how awkward it is to strike up a conversation with a random stranger in a store, and I’m sure we’ve all had those moments where we see a nice-looking boy or girl and wish we had the stomach to approach them.

I was pleased I had the guts to even say anything, it took me a few minutes of silent procrastination next to them before I managed it, but why oh why oh why did I not just say “Listen I don’t mean to be rude but do you wanna play sometime?” Games, obviously. I got the feeling they would definitely have agreed and yet I still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Is it part of God’s plan to make me a pussy, rather than give me pussy? What’s your point God?

All I had to lose was two minutes of dignity, tops. *bangs head on desk*

So I thought to myself, What Would Hitler Do? I video conferenced with him on YouTube, and it turns out he would’ve first asked the bitch out, then forced her if she didn’t comply. So I think I’m gonna do that next time.

Screw dignity. Long live German efficiency.

Conclusions

Never upgrade your PS3 unless you want a burst blood vessel. Delete Modern Warfare 2, put the disk in the microwave, then shred it up with a chainsaw and frisbee it out of your window – sharp end first – at any passer-by who looks like they might be a MW2 player. Always sacrifice your dignity when the opportunity of a potential shag arises. I have learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. Also, on reflection, I should probably stop watching so many Downfall parody videos.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just picked up a copy of my secret new project. I can’t tell you what it is, but, let’s just say it rhymes with Castration Razors.

Tschüss!

* I made a substantial donation to the Indonesia relief effort.

Review: Groovin’ Blocks

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

PlayStation Network is awash with puzzle games these days, and it’s getting harder and harder for us puzzle fans to find versions of our favourite block-sliding games that stand out and offer something different.

Groovin' Blocks

Groovin’ Blocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Groovin’ Blocks has a very simple gameplay mechanic that would become quickly boring if it wasn’t for one unique twist: to get the big scores, you have to play in time with the music.

The premise is a doddle: groups of coloured blocks drop from the top of the classic bucket layout, and making rows of three of the same colour makes them disappear. There are three difficulty levels: in casual the falling blocks are always vertical columns of 3; in normal they can be vertical columns of 3 or squares of 4, and expert is the same as normal only faster. So, hardly original then. The interesting part comes from the fact that a Virtual DJ-style rhythm bar which flows in time with the music is scrolling along the centre of the screen, and dropping blocks on the beats increases your multiplier. There are also key beats which double your multiplier for a short while.

There are a few power-ups, you can drop these whenever you like but to activate them, the row of 3 you make with the same colour of the power-up must be completed on a beat.

That’s basically it. There are online leaderboards but no online play; there is however local split screen. Online play is a bit of a core omission from this I feel, and the leaderboards unfortunately can’t be filtered to show only your friends, as much of the motivation to play comes from beating the high scores.

The music is a mixture of old-school electro, techno and psytrance with songs such as I Love My C64 and Black Solition. If you’re looking for dance and trance you’ll be disappointed, but nevertheless the songs are quite head-bopping if you like electronica in general, and the levels end when the song is completed (or you fill the bucket and fail as in Tetris).

I’ve made the game sound quite dull, but actually it’s rather entertaining. Best played as a quick diversion in short bursts, I strained my neck at least twice bopping my head trying to keep my controller movements in time with the music; timing is everything in this game, and striving for the highest multiplier can be quite addicting.

Pros:

  • Simple, accessible gameplay – not too taxing on the brain
  • Timing mechanic is excellent and well-executed
  • Electronica fans who like puzzle games will love it

Cons:

  • No online play
  • Gets quickly repetitive – best played in short sessions
  • A bit on the expensive side

Groovin’ Blocks has 17 music tracks for the sum of $9.99. If you prefer, you can instead grab yourself the iPhone version of which the PSN release is a (good) port. For the money, there are plenty of games on the store with a longer shelf life; $5.99 or $6.99 would have perhaps been a more appropriate price point. The game has basically one trick up its sleeve, but a trick that it executes very smoothly. If you like Tetris, Bejeweled or Lumines Supernova – the latter of which most resembles Groovin’ Blocks but has far more features for the same price – and you are a fan of electronica, you’ll likely enjoy this.

6/10


PSN Cards and MMOGA: A Warning (Previously Unpublished)

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Regional PSN cards: an unnecessary evil of the PS3 gaming world.

A good friend of mine tried to purchase a US PSN card yesterday with an Electron card from code trading site mmoga.com. As is sometimes the case these days with first time purchase of instant downloads from abroad, she was asked to photograph her face with her ID in her hand. Unfortunately with neither a driving license nor passport – and no national ID scheme in the UK – she wasn’t able to provide the information required.

Here is where the trouble started. In order to refund the $20 purchase, MMOGA wants to charge a processing fee of €10. Clearly a rip off that people should be aware of, but there are deeper issues:

  1. A contract for sale is only binding once both parties have agreed on the terms under which the transaction will occur. MMOGA did not state anywhere during the purchase process that ID would be required – therefore the visible contract prior to purchase is misleading.
  1. Since the terms of the contract could not be fulfilled by either party, no exchange of goods or funds can take place. The buyer is entitled under EU law to a full and complete refund with no administration fee.

MMOGA is apparently cheap, but the company’s credentials are dodgy to say the least. They are registered at a Hong Kong address but appear to operate out of Germany. There is no telephone number on their site and they refused to call the buyer for voice verification as can be done with reputable sites such as Gamecards.eu.

I located a phone number for them elsewhere on the web, it was either constantly engaged or an answering machine. It was not possible to get through.

The only recourse if you have a problem with MMOGA is to use the Live Support, which, when it doesn’t make you wait for ages only to be told the service is now unavailable, greets you with staff of this skill level (re-printed with permission from the customer):

Emily – MMOGA: identity card
<name omitted>: with a photo ?
Emily – MMOGA: yeah
<name omitted>: sorry but I don`t have any photographic id
<name omitted>: passport, driving liscence etc
<name omitted>: how else can we procede with verification ?
Emily – MMOGA: we just can process your order after we get your verification
<name omitted>: I have no identification with a photo
Emily – MMOGA: you can use a camera to take a pic
<name omitted>: yes but that pic won`t be of me holding a photo of myself as you suggested I need
<name omitted>: I have no identity card
Emily – MMOGA: you can ask your friend to help you to take the pic
<name omitted>: Just a picture of me – not holding any identification ?
Emily – MMOGA: no , you have to hold
<name omitted>: I repeat again – I have NO identification
<name omitted>: are there any other ways that you can verify that I am who I say I am
Emily – MMOGA: sorry no
<name omitted>: then how do we procede ?
<name omitted>: will my money be refunded ?
Emily – MMOGA: but refund the money to your moneybookers has to charge 10 euro fee.
<name omitted>: Unnaceptable
<name omitted>: if I had been told this in the first place I would never have tried to place an order
<name omitted>: your company has misled me into a purchase that I could now possibly loose out on
Emily – MMOGA: we do the verification just for the security reasons
<name omitted>: you already have my money – moneybookers have confirmed who I am – why must you now take it a step further
<name omitted>: I understand that however I do not believe that there is no other method of verification
<name omitted>: not everyone on the planet has identification cards
Emily – MMOGA: okay what kind of id do you have ?
Emily – MMOGA: passport ?
<name omitted>: bank card, utility bills
<name omitted>: no passport
<name omitted>: Nothing photographic
<name omitted>: do you have any suggestions ?
Emily – MMOGA: sorry this is the only way to do the verification 😦
<name omitted>: then how do I take this matter further
Emily – MMOGA: send us the pic or transfer the 10 charge to us , we will give you the full refund

This went on for several hours at which point Emily stopped replying altogether after letting my friend know that she also had to fill in a PDF form that was never sent to her.

I asked to speak with Emily’s supervisor and was told that she had no supervisor. She also said that only the verification team and not herself could access photos sent by email and that the verification team was currently “off work”.

The moral is therefore very simple. Avoid MMOGA like the plague, and use a company like shopto.net, gamecards.eu or hdmoviesource.com instead.

The Gaming Rant 7

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Contains strong language and sexual references. This article is satire and does not reflect the views of TheSixthAxis or myself. It actually represents the views of Infinity Ward’s lawyers.

Strangely, I didn’t really feel like ranting this week. I think I’m all ranted out, but I’ll give it a go, just to humour you, like. I think I got burned out from all the iPad, DRM, OtherOS, consumer rights, abusive DLC, FirstPlay and ModNation Racers ranting I did the last few days. My nurse did warn me I should only skip my pills on Thursdays to make sure I could rant effectively ready for Friday, but did I listen?

April was supposed to be quiet

I had assured my girlfriend whore that things would calm down after God of War 3 and Just Cause 2, that there were only two compelling releases for me in April (Nier and FIFA 2010 World Cup) and that I would have more time to waste on MSN giving her meaningless and unfulfilling cybersex.

Yeah, right.

It all started one day when I logged into my bank account to see if I had enough money to pay for both food and my web server this month, only to find a 4-figure medical refund had been deposited from the lovely Norwegian government. That same day I opened my mail and found my first sick pay cheque – a sum of money so ridiculously large that you could buy a small Pacific island with it. I already have my own island though, so clearly a trip to GameStop was in order instead. I bolted to town immediately.

I picked up a few pre-owned games (it was so much money I couldn’t afford to buy them new): GTA IV, Saints Row 2, DiRT 2, Sacred 2, X-Men: Wolverine, Lord of The Rings Conquest and Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena. Then I thought out of the goodness of my heart I better write a review of Dead To Rights: Retribution for TSA, along the lines of “well, someone’s got to do it”, so I picked that up. I may have inadvertently pre-ordered Red Dead Redemption at the same time.

As I perused the store I was checking reviews on my normalPhone (who would’ve imagined that you didn’t need an iPhone to get a quality mobile web browsing experience eh?) and thinking, God what a cock I would look like if I was doing this on an iPantyliner right now. James May-style. I thanked the gods that iPads cost more than the £100,000 welfare subsidy I’d been given so that I couldn’t cave into the purchase. I will, of course, because I’m hopeless.

I rushed home and didn’t play any of them because FIFA obviously took priority (I epic failed to qualify Norway, of course, because I suck). But, before that, a top-up of my 3 regional PSN wallets was a necessity, naturally. I won’t bother listing all the purchases as it may make you want to stab me repeatedly in the face over the internets, suffice to say that I probably don’t ever need to buy a video game ever again. I will, of course, because I’m hopeless.

I’m trying really hard to find a way to rant about having acquired a lot of great games at no personal expense, but I’m failing. IT’S ANNOYING! There, I said it. Still, at least I didn’t buy the Stimulus Pack – I’m not made of money, sheesh! I will, of course, because I’m hopeless.

Which brings us conveniently to the first of several conundrums.

Conundrum 1: eBay PSN codes

Those motherf… When I moved to Norway I sold pretty much the entire contents of my house on eBay, however I still consider myself to be an eBay n00b. It continually amazes me that some people can buy stuff on eBay and they actually managed to get it delivered, that it matches the product description and actually works and isn’t damaged. How do you guys do that?!

I’m naturally suspicious of eBay. It is like a combination of Poundland prices and Iceland quality. I love how sellers are rated “A++++++++”. Why only 8 plusses? Why not 9? Or 15? The number of plusses is key to my purchasing decision you know. When a buyer rates with too many plusses, I think, it’s an insider deal. They’re banging each other, it must be a hoax.

ShopTo.net decided that my Norwegian credit card had to be registered for 30 days before they would deliver instant UK PSN codes to me, and the other online stores seemed overpriced, so with great reticence I resorted to trying to find a code on eBay.

Don’t do this. Ever.

I was lucky. It only cost me a pound. Though saying that I could’ve bought 1/30th of a pizza with that money in Norway. Damn those bastards.

So I get my code. Which is actually not a PSN code, it’s a promo code for some web site that you enter to get a discount to buy some other code that you enter into another web site to get a PSN code. Or something like that. However you cut it, it was bollocks. Ultimately, not only did the store in question only send codes in the postal mail, but they would also only send them to the UK, and the eBay promo code didn’t work anyway without a minimum purchase of £60. I felt betrayed by mankind.

Just as a final kick in the teeth to my misguided use of a full one hundred British pennies, the very next day somebody sent me the very same code in a PSN mail. Cheers for that.

Conundrum 2: Disk space

I have an original 40GB PS3 which I promptly upgraded to 250GB shortly after purchase when I realised that 40GB really means 36GB minus firmware updates minus game installs minus downloaded trailers minus downloaded demos minus patches. Minus 10GB for Linux – but, let’s not talk about that *crushes her ceramic coffee cup in her hand* Whoops, where was I.

When I upgraded, I had one PSN game: Echochrome. I backed up, restored, and lo and behold the game crashed with an error and I had to re-download it. It still gives a weird error but it loads and plays ok now. Today I have, oh I don’t know, a billion PSN downloads, say, just as an approximation. It has reached a point where I deleted all trailers, music, demos, Qore and FirstPlay episodes, game data for games I traded in and now can’t install anything unless I delete game data for games I’m still actually playing. This is bad. The fact the SingStar beta uses 23GB doesn’t help.

I’ll admit, I was naïve. When I got the machine I thought, what on Earth does anyone need 40GB in a console for? And sure, 2 USB ports? Well who needs 4 anyway? Glory days my friends. Little did I know that PS3 games load like old ZX Spectrum tape games the first time you run them. Who knew that in the days of 50GB Bluray disks that you would for some bizarre reason have to install the game? Why did I stop playing PC games again? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s because I didn’t want to faff around setting them up.

I remember not-so-fondly the day I carried my bloody heavy as f*ck PS3 home from the post office. A 10 minute walk took me 45 minutes and a hernia that day. It was the GT5 Prologue bundle. I slammed that sucker into the Bluray drive and proceeded to wait over an hour as it installed 6GB of data then downloaded a series of patches so enormous that it made a Windows Vista install feel as fast and satisfying as a teenage boy jerking off. Satisfying for the boy I mean, not me. Jesus you people, control yourselves.

So, what’s a geek girl to do? The obvious answer lay in the form of a 640GB drive on Amazon. Unfortunately, I have nothing large enough to back up on that also has a USB cable coming out of it, and well, do I really want to download 250GB of games, patches, add-ons, themes, demos, 400 SingStar songs and all the other gunk on 3 accounts all over again? Do I? Really? Thought not.

So I’m struggling on, regularly beating down unnecessarily used disk space like a Turkish wife-beater. Except for that 10GB I used for Linux of course, which can’t be recovered without reformatting – but, let’s not talk about that *stubs her cigarette out in the eye of a random passer by*

Conundrum 3: What is the iPad actually for?

I alluded earlier to the imaginary twat-like appearance that would arise were I found sitting on the floor in GameStop using an iPad. In reality, I have purple and orange hair so I look like a twat anyway, but this is besides the point. A silver iPad wouldn’t help, I’m pretty sure of that. Especially if I put it in my underwear (as I have become accustomed to doing with pads) and waddled around like Donald Duck with a severe case of constipation going “Quaaack!”.

The iPad hype is really getting on my tits. Not literally, fortunately, or I’d have to burn them off without anesthetic as part of a soul-cleansing ritual. Partly it’s getting on my tits because like all gadget freaks, I want one. Moreso, it’s getting on my tits because the world now thinks Apple is God’s gift to tablet PCs. Next they’ll tell us their company is named after the fact that it was actually Steve Jobs who discovered gravity, then improved it to make it more convenient and a better user experience (the iFall).

Do you feel tired in the mornings? Don’t worry – there’s an app for that.

Do you have problems getting laid? Well, there’s an app for that too. I always thought it was the bogs behind the train station, but apparently I was mistaken.

I have some questions though. Is there an app that lets me run Flash applets? I believe there was, it was called Adobe Creative Suite 5, and Apple banned it due to fear of sub-standard applications. Well, if you want to talk about sub-standard Steve-o, let’s talk about an $800 slate that doesn’t multi-task, can’t take photos and has no USB ports. There’s really only one reason to own an iPad: compensation for having an exceedingly small nob. I’m excluding nofi of course, his nob is huge obviously – trust me, I of all people should know – and just has one to be smug. You could do with cleaning it a bit more often though nofi or it gets nasty flecks on it. The iPad I mean. Obviously.

“But it looks so cool!” – yeah, so does clamydia, on paper. It has no symptoms except making me infertile. A win-win situation surely. Still don’t think I’d want to acquire it though.

Also, the tablet PC I have now has this futuristic thing called buttons. Which turn out to be pretty important.

Overall, I think The Sun summed it up best (perhaps the first time they have ever summed up anything accurately) in this classic commercial:

FirstPlay: Epilogue

After receiving an almost unanimous bashing from the readers of this esteemed organ for my derisory 5/10 rating of FirstPlay, I did as promised give it a fair chance. I’ve now seen 7 episodes. What do I think of it?

*Yawn*

Yes, it’s good for casual gamers who won’t spend 99p on something they know nothing about anyway and probably don’t check the store often. Yes, it’s good to sit and watch it on the sofa as you wait an hour for it to download and wonder why you’re using 2.5% of your disk space for the pleasure when it would have been much more plausible as a streaming service. Yes, it’s wonderful to pay for ads. I certainly have had a huge amount of enjoyment watching ads for Final Fantasy XIII, Just Cause 2 and Sky for 7 weeks in a row. Final Fantasy XIII is coming in March by the way, just in case you missed it – not long to wait now!

So, everything is peachy for casual gamers then. But what about the more hobbyist-oriented souls among us?

Well, I’m pleased to report that as of now the content is bang up-to date. There is tons of exclusive footage, no repetition and the featured downloads are updated regularly. Luckily the issues with the FIFA goals only using up 25% of the screen so you can’t actually see the ball, and similar problems with PSP reviews have been fixed, and the presenter has been changed to one without an annoying voice. Also the script-writing has improved dramatically. So as we can see, Future has taken all the user feedback on-board and made sweeping changes where needed.

Sorry, wait. Scratch that last paragraph, I was thinking of GameSpot. FirstPlay is still a space-guzzling abyss of mediocrity. Which at least makes it marginally better than Edge – although to be fair Edge does have an excellent pen touch interface built-in. I’m looking forward to FirstPlay’s relaunch as FirstPr0n, because let’s face it, only porn can save it now. Hence, Lucy Porter should be visible on-screen at all times.

Marc Whitten – Natal Supports Your (Football) Team

Whichever one that is. Well thank goodness for that, the world is saved.

For those of you who missed it, Microsoft VP of Genius Unfounded Speculation – Marc Whitten – announced that Natal can now sit on your sofa, analyse your t-shirt and know from that which football team you support.

Awesomesauce. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s talking bollocks. As you know I do love a good session of mocking the PlayStation Move, but I will have even less compunction in slamming down baseless claims about a piece of vapourware coming out for an unfinished product. So I’m sitting watching porn from my amazing lesbian porn server, wearing my customary white nurse’s uniform. In the voice of Stephen Hawking, Natal informs me that I’m watching a Plymouth Argyle away match and that the pitch condition is poor, with a lot of sand cover and mud in patches. I try to turn it off but it has become a sentient being hooked up to SkyNet. It jeers at me knowing full well that if I had bought a Move I could’ve used it as an integral part of my educational viewing.

Yes, Natal team support: just what I always wanted.

Enjoy your weekend my chickens; if you don’t hear from me again, it’s because by the time you read this the Conservatives have won and I’ve hung myself with piano wire.

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