Jeanne d’Arc (PSP)

Jeanne d'Arc

Could this turn out to be Viva Piñata’s successor for the title of best game nobody played this year?

It’s not often that a game is a genuine surprise, least of all when it’s a strategy RPG – a subgenre which combines a genre that I dislike and one for which I’m largely ambivalent. Being that I’d read nothing about this game, I had visions of a grim, serious SRPG based on the real life heroine, probably drab and with lots of horses and archers, and maybe even some light immolation towards the end.

I’m only a few hours in and so can’t speak for the outcome (surely Joan of Arc without fiery death is like Titanic without an iceberg?), but nonetheless I implore you not to write this one off. It’s from Level-5 – those of Dragon Quest VIII and Rogue Galaxy – and while it still takes place against the backdrop of war between France and the invading English, Henry VI is now a possessed child in cahoots with the forces of darkness. While the full extent (and source) of Jeanne’s supernatural abilities are yet to be revealed at the point that I’ve reached, it’s safe to say that there’s more to it than voices in her head.

The presentation here is stunning. Many of the significant cut scenes are told through anime, fully voiced and with excellent production values, and the main game is no slouch either. It maintains the look of DQVIII, and while it gets the most out of the PSP by limiting the scope of each location (one of the necessities of the genre), the characters and environments stand up well to being zoomed it for story scenes. Even on the small screen the towns have personality, and the characters remain as charming as any of Level-5’s creations as they trade quips and words of encouragement during battle.

Coming at the same time as BioShock and certain other games due in the next month, even at its budget price ($30 in the US) I can’t see Jeanne d’Arc being a hit. It’s unfortunate when it’s been out in Japan since last year and we’ve just had our usual summer with nothing to play but alas, this is the industry that we rely on to give us what we need. Don’t miss out on Halo 3 to play this, but if you have a flight (see? Another boat plane they missed with a late release) or just want something portable it seems worth a go. If you like SRPGs you should have no hesitation.

An Unfortunate Use of the Term ‘Red Alert’

I found this advert for Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 in an old FHM, circa 2000, when I was in the barber a couple of years back, and only now that it’s started to fall apart after I liberated it (I did ask first) have I got around to scanning it for posterity. I thought it might be of some interest as a curiosity:

I’m a bit surprised that I’ve never seen it online before or since as those vitriolic ‘EA is teh evil’ posts always get hits. Quite alarming in retrospect and I can only assume that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Isn’t coincidence a strange thing?

That BioShock Demo

The City of Rapture


It’s not often that you sit waiting for something to happen because you’re not sure whether or not you’re watching a CG cutscene, but this exactly what happened to me when I played this demo. Water and fire are both the supposed stuff of nightmares for computer graphics and the opening scene of the demo (and, I assume, the final game) manages both to spectacular effect. In real time.

It had me enRAPTUREd from the start, you might say if you liked bad puns. Sorry…

My main concern with BioShock was and still is that I’m a massive pussy when it comes to any game that’s remotely unsettling. I have the Silent Hill Collection on my shelf which remains largely unplayed, and despite buying two copies of the Resident Evil remake (Japanese and US) I’ve never made it past the first boss. It’s a secret shame of mine that I’m exorcising by outing myself on here.

For all the beauty in this game there is a constant and deliberate ominous atmosphere permeating everywhere. You can hear enemies talking and scraping their blades (!), you can hear heavy footsteps of Big Daddies that may or may not be about to cross your path, and even when there aren’t enemies you have giant bronze statues watching you and the groaning of the failing structure as the sea comes to reclaim Rapture. Creepy is an understatement, but it’s beautifully so.

I’m going to work through my little complex when it comes out, though, both because it tries to do something different with the most overdone genre since the 2D platformer and because the buzz and current review scores seem to peg this as one of the games to beat for game of the year. With Halo 3 and Mass Effect to come, I’d be shocked if the GOTY isn’t on the 360.

But still, while the demo didn’t knock my socks off like some will profess (opening sequence aside), I still want to give it a proper go and really try to play it my own way. Even in the demo there are clearly plenty of options on how to approach encounters that it must be quite overwhelming once you’ve done more than scratch the surface of the available Plasmids and weapons.

Just a quick addendum: BioShock needs a photosensitivity warning. I’ve had a couple of game-related seizures (not for nearly ten years now) and the fact that there were two scenes of extreme strobing in the space of a short demo makes me fear for the final game more than all the diving suited giants in Rapture. It won’t be the oppressive atmosphere that forces me to play with the lights on. Well…mainly.

A Day with Sega Rally

Sega Europe HQ

I spent today up at Sega’s headquarters in London at a bloggers’ event to check out the new Sega Rally (aka Sega Rally Revo) which is due next month. Free stuff and the opportunity to play a new game is the only thing that will get me up in time to catch the 6:56am train.

However, when the last time that Sega attempted to bring a classic series into the next generation with its original title we got that Sonic abomination, so you could be forgiven for approaching this one with trepidation. Particularly so when Sega Rally had already had its equivalent of Sonic Adventure 2 – the warning that all was not well, if you will – but now that I’ve stretched that metaphor as far as it will go I can safely say that this won’t be another disaster. Far from it, in my opinion.

Since graphics are often the most salient feature in this generation, I’ll touch on those first. Sega Rally looks good, if only verging on great. The framerate could have done with some tweaking (bear in mind that the build wasn’t final and it was running on the PS3) and overall I didn’t feel like it had all the graphical bells and whistles of DiRT, the most obvious comparison to make. Even so, it certainly didn’t look unimpressive and importantly looked like Sega Rally, complete with the vivid primary colours and flamboyant touches that typified the old Sega arcade racers. Speedboats in the trackside water, gliders and helicopters popping up as you pass, etc. Alas no suicidal spectators like in Sega Rally 2, but you can’t have everything.

Sega Rally in action

The USP here is terrain deformation which, as they took great pains to point out to us, is the real thing here. Motorstorm’s wasn’t persistent, apparently, and other games don’t have it modelled in such intricate detail and with such great impact on the gameplay. It was definitely striking to watch cars carving grooves and divots into the track which were still there on the final lap, affecting racing lines and sending vehicles bouncing around as they negotiated turns and in turn affecting the lines taken by the AI, which in this relatively unbalanced build was monstrously hard. We played with the seriously impressive (and equally expensive) Logitech G25 wheel which went a long way towards completing the effect.

Most importantly, though, it still plays like Sega Rally. Despite the effort poured into the realistic track physics, it has no pretensions of being a sim which I find highly appealing. Racing against other cars rather than the clock, arcadey handling that realises that sliding around in the mud is fun and not something to be punished if you can’t do it perfectly, and proper online multiplayer (I’m looking at you, DiRT). Incidentally we were playing network games over the Internet with no discernible lag.

So for me Sega Rally has gone from a game that was barely on the radar – there’s some other 360 game out in late September, remember? – to a very probable purchase. I feel like I need something different in a Q4 that’s overflowing with shooters and a blast from the past like this could be just the thing.

Oh, and I can’t let this go without bringing up the little competition that they put on for us to compete for a huge trophy and a Sega racing jacket. They say a picture speaks a thousand words; this one speaks six. Out of a possible six :D

And they also may or may not have accidentally let slip what everyone knows but Sony won’t confirm: that a Sixaxis with force feedback is on the way. Someone mentioned supporting it in the PS3 version, at least.

Joytech HDMI TriLink Switcher

One of my bugbears with many HDTVs is that although they have several SCART sockets which will (hopefully) be all but obsolete in a few years, most of them around the lower end only have a single HDMI port. Not ideal when you have an upscaling DVD player, 360 Elite, PS3, HD set-top box, and the rest.

Joytech TriLink HDMI Switcher

Enter Joytech. I was wary of their HDMI switch after the serious performance problems with their component switchbox (the first version had problems with HD sources, making it all but useless), but for £30 (minus HDMI cables) I thought it was worth the risk.

What a fantastic little box! I’m going to have to gush a bit here because, aside from the lack of even one included HDMI and the fact that the blue indicator light is too bright in a dark room (I stuck tape over it to take the edge off), I have no complaints. It does exactly what you want it to – that is, it switches between HDMI sources quickly and is HDCP-compliant – and has a couple of handy touches that make it especially easy to recommend.

The first is that in addition to the normal plug, it comes with the option to power it over USB. With so many consoles and modern STBs having USB on the back it can save a valuable slot on the mains. The PS3 doesn’t send power to its USB slots when it’s turned off but the 360 (and HD DVD drive) and Wii both do, as does the Sky HD box, I’m reliably informed. This is an option that more low powered items should have, and in future I want all phones and portable devices to support charging over USB as standard, please.

Secondly it comes with an infra-red extension attached to a small box that can be taped to the TV or somewhere discreet. No need to have the box on display in order to change it remotely so it can be safely chucked into the jungle back there where you never have to notice it again. Unless you’re in a dark room, in which case you’ll notice the aforementioned blue glow all the time. The day that electronics companies realise that as cool as blue LEDs look, they’re usually far too bright will be a happy one.

Considering that only a year ago you’d be looking at well over £100 for a half-decent HDMI switch this is an absolute steal. Just don’t get suckered into buying overpriced leads (95p through Amazon Marketplace) to go with it.

Racialist Evil

It was inevitable, and I’m sure when most of us saw that stunning Resident Evil 5 trailer we knew it would be coming. Barely a week later and the race card has been played (also see The Village Voice, amongst others). I dread to think what it’ll be like when (please don’t let it be ‘if’) the game comes out.

Besides the obvious point that there were no complaints over several games of largely white zombies – with few exceptions like the police chief in RE2 there were no black zombies, which is surely more racist? – but this is a game set in Africa where, shockingly, most people are black. Are we supposed to pretend Africa doesn’t exist like Bob Geldof keeps telling us we do? Or do we populate in-game Africa with white people? Or even Asians, since this is a Japanese game?

Ultimately, whichever way it goes we’re going to have complaints because this is such touchy subject matter. I just wish there weren’t so many reactionary idiots, and it’s telling that the first blog post about it complains that:

“…this video game is marketed to children and young adults.”

Ignorance is bliss, right? It should also be noted that the trailer is age-gated on gaming sites, as per new rules, meaning that visitors need to give their age in order to view it. While that won’t stop kids seeing it (at least not the ones with enough intelligence to realise that it’s only a game), it makes it easier to parents to moderate the content.

Nonetheless the more enlightened commentators on this have raised some interesting points. Could the virus and transmission thereof be an allegory for the AIDS crisis in Africa? And does the fact that the game is coming from an ethnically homogenous country like Japan where racism is perhaps not such a delicate issue, explain why the villagers look so threatening prior to infection?

I hope Capcom try their best to take the high ground by refusing to censor the game but ensuring that things are handled as sensitively as possible. That means, whatever they do, if they’re adding an overall (RE4 spoiler) Saddler figure to control the ‘zombies’ DO NOT make it a white guy. The way the story is going it could end up being Wesker, and I can’t begin to describe how unwise it would be to make a white man in military uniform kill black people who are being controlled by another white guy who happens to be tall, blond-haired, and blue red-eyed. I wouldn’t even touch that one.