Feeling Disconnected

So as some might know already, I’ve moved into a new house where, amongst other things, I’ve got my own TV/games room.

Very cool, but what’s doing my head in at the moment is being without Internet access – this is being typed on my phone. It’s coming on Friday when we’ll have a 20Mb connection – a fair step up from my old 1.5Mb/sec that I’ve suffered… well, since we got upgraded from 512k – but you don’t realise how much you rely on it until it’s not available.

I have an iPhone so I’m not completely cut off, which would be driving me nuts, but it hurts to have no Xbox Live or PSN, no new podcasts, no new TV shows, limited IMing capability… The list goes on.

I’m sure I’ll be congratulating myself over this little purgatory in a few days when my connection is faster than yours (probably), but for now I’m going to watch Blu-rays and moan that I’m collecting achievements without my score updating.

The hardships that we must endure…

Watching the Watchmen


I just got back from seeing Watchmen, which is a film I’ve been anticipating since I read the graphic novel a couple of years back, so I just wanted to put down some thoughts while it was still fresh in my mind.

I’d been generally avoiding reviews, but what I’d picked up from friends and Twitterers who had seen it in advance it had been suggested that it was maybe too close to the source for its own good. I’d pretty much agree with that. There were parts that could have done with trimming for the screen that were left identical to the book, but then Snyder was happy to alter the ultimate plot twist to make it work better on screen, which makes letting other parts suffer a bizarre decision.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the ending doesn’t make as much sense to me as the one in the book did, but at the same time I can see how that one wouldn’t have worked on film. Not only would it have looked silly, but it would also have required a lot of exposition and bloated it further with the setup interspersed throughout. The film was labyrinthine enough as it was.

Could it have benefited by having a different director who is perhaps more comfortable with gravitas and directing emotional scenes? Possibly, as there’s one scene in particular that I’m not sure was being deliberately and ironically cheesy or if Snyder thought it was actually going to bring tears to our eyes. It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that this is the guy who gave us 300 because a lot of the action is very similar, and despite being set in the 80s we have a lot of the modern music video school of direction tropes like slow motion. I might be being pretentious here, but I’d prefer it to have been directed less stylistically, because I think – or hope – that this kind of direction will date horribly in a few years when people grow out of it.

Don’t let me put you off it if I’m sounding negative, though. Overall I enjoyed it, and I mean it as a compliment to say that it didn’t feel like the 163 minutes that it was. Getting Watchmen into a single film was always going to be tough – I’d still like to see it as a miniseries one day – and they did a good job, thankfully without watering it down for a lower age rating like we might have expected. Hell, the sex and violence quotient is higher than I can remember being in the source, which doesn’t happen a lot these days. There’s an awesome jizz gag as well.

For anyone who hasn’t read Watchmen in a while and has seen the film, I recommend perusing this fairly comprehensive list of the changes. There are quite a few that I’d forgotten about or not noticed in there. It contains spoilers, obviously.

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned

I got pretty bold a couple of weeks ago when I predicted a bright future for DLC in 2009, as it was swiftly followed by a disappointing insubstantial downloadable outing for Fable II and the divisive Operation Anchorage for Fallout 3, which I happened to like but probably didn’t live up to most people’s expectations.

I can count on Rockstar to bail me out, though, because The Lost and Damned is fantastic.

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned

For a start, I must comment on pricing. 1,600 points (£13.60) for a good 10-12 hours of GTA IV, with production values at least as high as the main game – sterling voice work, impeccable cut-scene direction, new licensed music, new things to do, etc – and some improvements of its own, not least of all the much-requested mid-mission checkpoints. It’s so far made me remember why I loved this game so much, and frankly puts the usual quick and dirty 2-3 hours that we’ve come to expect from DLC to shame.

Credit is also due for giving it a unique feel of its own, rather than being beholden to what was set out in GTA IV. It turns Liberty City, which remains a brilliant place to explore, into a platform for future expansions like this, and gives you just enough crossover to give you a kick when Niko makes a cameo or you hear about something from his misadventures on the radio. The biker culture that it revels in is also far from the immigrant experience of Niko and feels strong enough to support a full game. I’d even go as far as to say that people who disliked Niko and his friends and couldn’t deal with his frequent Anakin Skywalker moments will like this better.

Plus I didn’t hear one utterance about “American tee-tees”, which is always a bonus.

I’m making this quite a short post because I’ve written at length about how good GTA IV is (impressions, post-mortem) and this is ultimately more of the same, but I’m in love with the game all over again. Fuck the haters because they’re quite simply wrong: GTA IV rocks and so does this DLC.

Killzone is the New Battlefield

Back before it got bogged down in such nonsense as story and trying to make us care about its characters – or even having characters, for that matter – the Battlefield series was about nothing more than being an absolutely brilliant multiplayer game, into which you’d happily sink dozens of hours.

Killzone 2 is slightly different in that it does have a proper campaign to play through, but in every other respect I think that it’s the heir apparent to what is still the peak of the Battlefield series: Battlefield 2. Hell, it even has the ham-fisted attempts to make us care about the paper-thin characters with crappy AI as we play through the engine tech demo that is its campaign – an approach borrowed from Battlefield: Bad Company for good measure.

Now before I bring down the wrath of the Killzone Defence Force, let me be clear that I mean this in the nicest possible way. Killzone 2’s campaign is passable and a great way to show off the home cinema but not something that I’ll play through more than once, but the multiplayer mode is one of the best that I’ve played in a long time, and certainly the best since Call of Duty 4 stole my life away for a few months over 2007 and 2008. I’ve already played a dozen hours while finding time to play The Lost and Damned and Street Fighter IV, and I don’t feel like I want to slow down yet.

Alas, the controls are still less than ideal. You can’t polish a turd, as they say, but for the multiplayer Guerrilla has mercifully put the turd next to some potpourri. There’s a touch more aim assistance to make firing from the hip less hit and miss – mostly miss – and the slightly clunky cover system has been done away with, and it generally feels less encumbered with the campaign’s affinity for making you feel the weight of your character.

It’s probably a decision based on the fact that human-controlled players are likely to be more wild and reckless, but perhaps it might have been a good idea to let us use these controls throughout the entire game? Just a suggestion…

But what I’ve found to be its most interesting feature is the way that it rotates game types in the same match, meaning that whereas my time in a game like Battlefield 2 would be spent flipping between team deathmatch and conquest-style games without exploring the offerings further, every match of Killzone will randomly flip between deathmatches, conquest, assassination, and other objective-based modes without returning to the menu or lobby. It’s a simple idea that I’ve never seen done before, and it adds a wonderfully unpredictable slant to how the game is going to play. And, of course, you can just choose to play a straight deathmatch, which the game is still very good at doing.

The Battlefield comparison goes further than the superiority of the game’s multiplayer experience, though. This just has a very similar feel, like the realistic imprecision of the guns that makes killing someone with an assault rifle from a distance at best blind luck, if not almost impossible. It’s annoying when faced with AI opponents who aren’t working with the same limitations as you, but against similarly encumbered humans it becomes more of a game of skill, seeing who’s best at carefully aiming and picking their shots before the other guy can, and it’s nearly impossible to win by jamming on the trigger because the recoil is likely to hit everything but your opponent.

Look me up if you’re online – PSN name: NekoFever (stats currently down) – because I’d be more than willing to have a game.