The Doctor Who Cliffhanger

The current series of Doctor Who has been pretty variable in quality, often thanks to the very presence of Catherine Tate, who has had moments but, as a rule, I can’t stand – the announcement that she was a permanent fixture was almost enough to make me bail out completely – but last night’s penultimate episode of the series was something else. As if it wasn’t already apparent, there will be spoilers here after the break. Those who haven’t seen it and want to know what happens, there’s a good synopsis here.

The big crossover between the three previous series’ of Who and its two spin-offs, as well as the now-annual return of [insert major Who villain from the past here] (an awesome incarnation of Davros, in this case) was well-known and the major talking point beforehand, but OH MY GOD at that ending. Continue reading The Doctor Who Cliffhanger

PSN Slow? Switch to Ethernet

It’s a frequent argument that I see between the “PSN is free!” and “But Xbox Live is better!” crowds, and I’ve been firmly in the latter camp. The rubbish download speeds, sub-Xbox (that’s the original Xbox) feature set, poor or complete lack of integration in games, optional features that should be mandatory, bloated download sizes (over 150MB for a Super Stardust HD patch), unreliable connection, etc. Most of the complaints still stand and I’d rather pay for a good service than get an adequate one, but I’ve at least I’ve found the cause of the first and last ones.

I’ve seen a few complaints about the quality of the PS3’s built-in wi-fi, and indeed mine can only manage a 40% signal strength through a single wall that leaves my laptop with almost 80%. Downloading a firmware update through PSN takes over an hour compared with 20 minutes or so to download through my computer and a USB drive. The final straw came when I tried four times to download the patch for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which took well over an hour to download a third of the way, only to fail completely.

With the aforementioned issues in mind, I splashed out £13.99 for an ethernet switch, the Netgear FS605. (Any should work; I just went with Netgear because I like its stuff.) The ethernet cable that went directly into my 360 now goes into that, and it supplies Internet goodness to both systems, with two free ports for anything else that might turn up in future.

The improvement was immediate. The GT5 patch downloaded first time within about 15 minutes, and I was able to download the 720p Resident Evil 5 trailer fast enough to stream a good chunk of it. Much more satisfactory, and closer to the speeds that I’ve always been getting from Live.

Completely unscientific and anecdotal without any evidence or statistical basis it may be, but I’ve proven (to myself, at least) that the PS3’s wireless is rubbish and furthered my pro-wired networking agenda. A stable, secure 100Mbps network is just better than a wireless 54Mbps (theoretical) one with signal strength and passwords to worry about. Mine’s now quite happy to stream 1080p video from my computer, which just wasn’t happening with both on wireless connections.

Race Driver: GRID

Sandwiched between two little morsels known as Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4, Codemasters is either extremely bullish or extremely naive about Race Driver: GRID, a kind of spiritual successor to the good old TOCA series. Based purely on its critical reception – including a 9 from Edge in the same issue that MGS4 received an 8 – it has every reason to be the former, but we all know that things don’t always work that way.

Race Driver: GRID

Despite these reviews, I have to admit that I wasn’t blown away with GRID’s demo a couple of weeks ago. On the positive side it ran like butter and was good fun online, but on the negative side I likened the handling to a slot car race, the muted colours and bloom lighting was like every next-gen graphical cliché in one place, and it wasn’t particularly fun to get wiped out on the first bend so that you have to sit out the entire race. Oh, and EBAY the EBAY product EBAY placement EBAY was EBAY a EBAY bit EBAY prominent.

Now that I’ve played with the full game, though, I have to admit that the game’s better than I gave it credit for. This is what you’d get if Michael Bay made a racing game – a fast, fun, loud, slick, very pretty pure racing game. With the product placement down, it might even be made under a pseudonym. Continue reading Race Driver: GRID

Metal Gear!?

The wait is over, then. What has been heralded as one of the truly genre-defining games of the generation is out, and now we have nothing left to look forward to or something.

I love Metal Gear Solid 4. Yes, it’s indulgent (I made it 75 minutes for the ending); yes, Kojima needs someone to rein him in occasionally. But I enjoyed the hell out of MGS3 despite the same flaws and the few annoyances I’ve had over the gameplay, which hasn’t aged particularly well in all honesty. MGS4 overhauls the controls rather than trying to retrofit yet more features onto the setup, and as a result it’s a lot more accessible than previous games, no longer requiring great feats of polydactylism to perform simple tasks.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Take the CQC system, for example. A good idea introduced in MGS3, which turned Snake – who, until then, was supposed to be a martial arts expert despite only being able to throw and do a punch-punch-kick combo – into a suitably versatile fighter. It was clunky, though, and far too easy when halfway through a non-lethal playthrough to grab an enemy and slit his throat. Here, with CQC moved from circle to R1 and fatal attacks requiring an entirely separate button press, it’s much more manageable.

The gunplay has received a similar reboot. Kojima has been taking notes when he played the recent over-the-shoulder shooters like Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, because it’s just about possible to play the game’s battlefield scenarios entirely from this perspective. Even if you don’t want to run around like that, which you don’t, mapping this function to L1 and separating the draw and fire functions – admit it: having both holstering and firing the weapon on the same button was the worst idea ever – has turned the shooting into far less of a crapshoot.

That’s two of my biggest problems with Metal Gear down in one fell swoop. Continue reading Metal Gear!?

Ninja Gaiden II Impressions

Just over a year ago, I finished Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox and wrote about how great it was, even a few years on. I loved the combat system and the challenge, and I still feel that the fact that it can still be well received as a PS3 game a couple of years after its original release shows how rock solid those foundations were.

With Ninja Gaiden II gracing the 360 at the moment, though, and the graphical mantle having been surrendered to Devil May Cry 4 and, it’s safe to assume, the next God of War, the game is more reliant than even on the underlying mechanics to carry it. While it looks a lot better in motion than it does in screenshots, the first thing on Team Ninja’s shopping list should be an art director, lest it descend further into the id Software back-of-an-emo-kid’s-exercise-book, “what’s more awesome than a demon? A demon with a chainsaw and rocket launcher for arms!” school of monster design.

Ninja Gaiden II

A writer should be high up that list, too. The story here is laughable, rambling on and raising questions of exactly how many artefacts with the ability to bring about armageddon the Hayabusa clan is entrusted with (since they keep getting stolen, shouldn’t someone else take over?) to whether or not CIA agents really dress like this. The man behind this and the DOA series was sued for sexual harassment? Surely not!

But does it play as well? Frankly, I’ve been disappointed so far. While certainly difficult and still mechanically strong, it’s much cheaper than the original (ignoring the zombie fish), frequently making fiends jump out from around the corner and immediately relieve you of anywhere up to half your life bar. And if you found the first game’s ninjas with exploding shurikens annoying, witness the frequency with which this game pits you against multiple archers with flaming arrows. While you have your own ranged weapons, between dodging shots you won’t have time to power them up and so must either waste whole quivers full of your own stock or charge them with jumps and wall-runs until you’re close enough to hit an attack, having to cope with being knocked back when one manages to tag you. Argh. Continue reading Ninja Gaiden II Impressions

Feature-Length Cut-Scenes?

OK, so the Metal Gear Solid series is hardly known for its subtlety and brevity in storytelling, what with several 20-minute scenes in MGS3 and… well… the whole of MGS2, but the reviews of MGS4 are blowing my mind. Some of the reviews, notably Edge, are claiming that the game has two extremely long cut-scenes.

That’s a bit like saying that Metal Gear has a big robot in it, of course, but word is that these sequences are pushing the 90-minute mark. And Konami doesn’t want reviewers to mention it.

In the interest of fairness, GamePro is saying that it’s an exaggeration. We’ll find out for ourselves in less than a fortnight anyway, but I’ve always had respect for Edge and can’t imagine that such a prestigious magazine – possibly the only gaming publication that I’d use that word to describe – would make a claim like this about such an important game without there being some truth to it. And would Konami really care if reviews mentioned that the cinemas were no different to the other multimillion-selling games in the series?

True or not, it brings up an interesting question about storytelling in games. Would having 90-minute cut-scenes actually help games as a storytelling medium, or does it undermine it and defer the job to the conventions of film? Half-Life tells a story within a game and BioShock does it even better, and the irony is that the part of BioShock’s story that attracted the most criticism was the least game-like part: the ending. Continue reading Feature-Length Cut-Scenes?