George Takei goes mental

April 7, 2011

If you had asked me this morning, “Chris, do you reckon George Takei is insane?”, I would’ve said no, but things have changed since then.

This morning my mental image of George Takei was of the hardened Hikaru Sulu, captain of U.S.S. Excelsior in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (the best of the Star Trek films); now all I see is a deranged grin.  Check it out:

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Have you paid your fridge tax?

March 20, 2011

Well have you?

For more banter from Simon and Lewis, check out the Yogscast.


Infected

November 16, 2008

Left 4 Dead!  If you haven’t played it yet, get on Steam right now and download the demo, then come back … if you can!  That is, if you somehow manage to tear yourself away from what is almost certainly going to be one of the best shooters of the year, and probably the greatest coop experience in gaming history.

The full game arrives on Tuesday (18th Nov), and will consist of four campaigns, aptly referred to as ‘movies’.  The demo, now available to all Steam users, is of the opening chapters of the first movie ‘No Mercy’.  It’s the level we’ve all seen in preview footage already, but no amount of passive viewing can prepare you for the intense bombardment on your senses when a horde of fifteen or twenty infected turn the corner, charging blindly toward you in an unrelenting torrent.

Left 4 Dead screenshot

I’ll restrain myself from talking about the game any longer—I don’t want to take anything away from my review—but it suffices to say that, barring an unprecedented and staggering decline in gameplay quality from the demo to the game proper, I won’t be scoring it any lower than 90%.

Apart from L4D, my playlist is in a state of flux.  I completed another run-through of Call of Duty 4 this morning on regular difficulty, sacrificing the challenge of higher settings for a more enjoyable thrill ride, which was nice.  Another game of Civilization IV has just got underway, this time with MozzerV12 and PigMental.  We’re in a team of three against six computer players, split into two teams.  There’s nothing to report yet—I’ve only just booted-up my fourth city—but the cluttered archipelago map type ought to facilitate some exciting developments.

Civilization IV screenshot

In retrospect, our attempt to play Company of Heroes against other players online was rather premature.  Finding a stable game was trying enough, with an assortment of connectivity issues and a scarcity of willing players with suitably low pings resulting in arduous waiting periods.

What immediately hit home in our first game was that we weren’t always going to be able to select to play as the Allies.  With some games already set up and with the Allied slots taken, we were inevitably going to have to fill the significantly less comfortable shoes of the Axis.  And as Axis, we met with disaster—utterly out-classed and with no concept of how to command a German army.

We practiced against computer opponents for a couple of weeks, but both CoH and Dawn of War have been on ice for a while now, though they’re still on the cards for casual play.  Civ IV and L4D should provide plenty of multiplayer sustenance for the holiday period, and the late release of GTA IV will provide a backup in December, if we need one.

What I need is a good single player replacement, and the question I need to answer is whether I replay a reliable classic (either Bioshock or Deus Ex) or get myself something new and fancy in the form of Far Cry 2 or Fallout 3.  I want them on Steam, but this blasted ‘credit crunch’ is screwing with the exchange rates!  I’m looking at £35+ on Steam versus £25 for a hard copy on Amazon—another unfortunate no-brainer from my perspective.

The only other title I’m considering is Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One.  I was pleasantly surpised by the demo when I played it recently, impressed not only by the trademark Penny Arcade wit, but by the level of polish, and the delightfully simple turn-based combat mode.  With Episode Two now available, I’m very tempted to dive in.

Work on my Crysis Warhead review continues apace, and with oodles of time booked off from work in the coming weeks I’m aiming to have it finished soon.

Meanwhile, play L4D! But do be on the lookout for a boomer won’t you?


It’s war!

October 18, 2008

The past few weeks have seen me playing far more multiplayer than single player.  In the gaming vacuum that followed the end of my Vampire Bloodlines playthrough, I landed myself in the harsh but welcoming bosom of Dawn of War (with the Winter Assault and Dark Crusade expansions installed).  I played with buddy MozzerV12, skirmishing with AI opponents, honing our collective skill in preparation for a step up to the online scene.

When we eventually plucked up the courage to play matches against human opponents, we had surprisingly mixed success.  I say surprisingly in that I think we both expected repeated and uninterrupted dismal failures.  What actually came to pass was that we managed to pull off several victories, some won through daring blitz attacks I previously thought were beyond our combined strategic ability to orchestrate.  Often we risked the security of our bases or sacrificed outposts, throwing our Space Marine and Imperial Guard armies at the enemy in the hope that we would permanently break them while maintaining enough of our infastructure to survive.

Dark Crusade Screenshot

Prior to having just consulted my profile statistics, I would have estimated that my losses outnumbered my wins; as it turns out my win/loss ratio has levelled out at a perfect 50%—nothing to write home about (if I were away from home) but good enough to satisfy my meager pride.  Something tells me that if we played more games though, that ratio might slowly start to sink.  We suffered some horrific defeats it has to be said, mainly at the hands of the nigh-unstoppable Necrons, their most devastating tactic being to deep-strike (teleport) in squad after squad of Flayed Ones, terrifying cyborgs with the skins of their kills stitched to their exoskeletons—a real bummer for morale.  DoW can be a tough bitch.

After a week or so of hardcore strategy I was very much in the mood for a meat and potatoes first person shooter.  Bioshock and Call of Duty 4 were the only two contenders for my spare time, and given that I see Bioshock as more of a light, delicate cheesecake than a fine steak, I opted for a spot of modern warfare.  I’d not been enjoying COD 4 for more than a couple of days when Crysis Warhead—a title that up until that point had not been on my wish list—was released on Steam.

My interest in buying Warhead was piqued not just by its being on Steam, which by itself is reason enough to consider a game in a more favourable light, but because MozzerV12 (who had bought the game himself a day or so beforehand) was warbling on about a fresh, fast paced and generally spiffy multiplayer component, dubbed Crysis Wars and bundled with any purchase of Warhead.  I advanced swiftly to the checkout process.

What ensued the following evening, with Warhead successfully downloaded and installed, was one hell of thrill ride of a multiplayer experience.  I gave the Power Struggle game mode, which I had a bad time with in Crysis’ multiplayer, another go, but was once again disappointed.  It was only when I dived into Team Instant Action (a fairly naff label for Crysis Wars’ team deathmatch) that I got the real buzz.

I hadn’t had as much intoxicating fun in a multiplayer game since the Team Fortress 2 beta.  With one or two exceptions the maps are compact treasures, designed with frantic close-to-medium range gunfights in mind.  There’s almost no room at all for complex thought; tactical instinct is the name of the game, with moments of teamwork arising spontaneously, at intervals, and lasting for a few minutes at most.  It won’t be for everyone, but for me it hits the spot, much like spaghetti bolognese hits the spot when I’m famished.  Kudos also to Crytek for the work they’ve done on optimisation: on low ‘mainstream’ settings, it looks as good as Crysis if not better, and runs quite significantly more smoothly on my now-ageing GeForce 8800 machine.

Just as I was getting comfortable with DoW and Crysis Wars, fellow gamer Pigmental—resident scumbag and Gladiator/Russell Crowe hater (if those traits aren’t one and the same)—persuaded me to return to World War II RTS Company of Heroes—DoW’s successor in all but name.  Having bought a copy of the expansion Opposing Fronts many months ago, and not having had anyone to play it with, the transition was a welcome one.  Though I’m a big fan of DoW’s classic Warhammer 40k setting, CoH exists on a higher level in terms of the gameplay mechanics it has on offer.  The importance of cover and flanking maneuvers, the bread and butter of modern warfare, is incredibly well realised, and the authentic WWII environments are brought vividly to life by the stunning physics engine.  Where DoW can tend to feel a bit toyish, CoH feels like a real war, and that’s why it excels above the rest of the competition as well.

Company of Heroes screenshot

With a week or so of matches against AI under our belt—some of which having been more difficult to win than others, some of which we tragically lost—we’re now on the verge of another ascent to human vs human play.  Besides my flagrant cowardice and lingering pessimism, our main concern is how much lag we’re going to get in a 3v3 game.  I’ll report on my experience at a later date.

In other news, I’m beginning to get in the right mood to write a review, and I’ve little doubt now that it will be of Warhead.  The review of Sins of a Solar Empire, which I promised long ago, is henceforth postponed until the release of the third and final expansion, on track for a release sometime next year.  I’m looking forward to the first, Entrenchment, due before Christmas.

For now, bon chance!


Screw this for a game of vampires!

September 21, 2008

I will get on to my multiplayer exploits soon, but first I must relay a sudden turn for the worse in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.  Last week I reported that I had reached Chinatown, and that despite the constant glitches, I was having a good time.  That was the status quo up until a couple of days ago.  I was being assigned some highly original quests (one involving me fetching an eye from the corpse of an enemy of a deranged chinese shop owner) and taking part in the usual engrossing dialogue—the highlight being a fascinating conversation with Beckett, a vampire scholar (and also my favourite character in the game), in which he divulges his private thoughts on Gehenna (vampire armageddon) and a little of his own history.

The tragedy occurred when I returned to the main plot quest (there’s always one), first infiltrating a family gathering of the Giovanni for Lacroix, the vampire prince of Los Angeles.  The mission started very well, with a number of options available to the player as to how to gain entry to the Giovanni mansion, and thence to the inner sanctum in search of the mission objective (which I won’t describe here for fear of a spoiler overdose).

Naturally your clan (class) choice has a confining influence on those options, so for me (a Toreador) the straight-up assault approach was out of the question.  I got in by tricking a drunk couple (well I say drunk couple—it was in fact just the wife who had had one too many vodkas) out of their tickets to the gathering.  Once inside the mansion I once again went to work with my supernatural charm on the guests, currying favour, experience points, and, most importantly, access to the basement.

All superb RPG fare so far, but all good things must come to an end, and this good thing came to an end very quickly, at the mission’s conclusion.  Having gained access to the mansion depths entirely through subterfuge, I was forced to fight through a limitless reserve of zombies, and then engage in a dull and repetitive boss battle of the kind you’d expect to find in an old genre progenitor like Duke Nukem.  And that was only the beginning of my woes.

Next up was a mission impossible scenario—rescue an archaeologist from a fortress of the Society of Leopold (vampire hunters).  My well honed skills were useless.  Faced with a legion of trained killers aware of an impending assault my only option was to sneak my way in.  Sadly the stealth system in Bloodlines is a shambles.  The standard awareness meter, famously implemented in the Thief series, is what determines whether you’re spotted or not, but it works in such a retarded way that I could, with just one or two experience points spent in stealth, crawl past the hunters with them staring straight at me.  You have to see it to believe it.

Being someone who sinks into boredom and despair rather easily, I surprised myself by striving through the mission, and the next one, and the next, hoping for a return to some more satisfying and involving gameplay, an injection of riveting dialogue—some relief from the monotony of endless combat.  Grievously, nothing of the sort ever came.

Now I’m at another boss battle in the basement of the Sabbat headquarters, having gunned my way through three or four sprawling floors crammed with generic enemies.  It turns out I simply don’t have the hit points and firepower I need to get through the confrontation, and so I’ve decided to stop playing.  Having experienced the end-game twice before I know that things only go further downhill from now on anyway, so I won’t be missing much.

The fact that I will almost certainly return to Bloodlines at a later date despite all its low points is testimony to how unusual a case it really is.  I’ve only ever played as two of the seven clans—Toreador and Tremere (vampire mages)—and I’ve heard amazing things about some of the others. Malkavians are supposed to be particularly interesting, having been driven mad by their vampirism to the extent that they hear voices emanating from inanimate objects and persons alike.  I’ve no doubt there’s plenty of replay value to come.

Apart from its replayability though, I recommend Bloodlines to an RPG fan for its core brilliance.  I won’t repeat what I’ve said in my previous post, suffice to say that it’s a game that scores highly where an RPG most needs to.  It lets down its guard at times, with poor AI, frankly rubbish combat mechanics, and a platter full of bugs and unfinished content (neither of which taste very nice), but it’s still one of the best ‘serious’ games out there.  What’s more, it’s now on a Steam for an incredibly low price. Give it a whirl.


You call this a patch?

September 7, 2008

Who wants to know what I’ve been playing recently?  No one?  Pah!  The absence of interest does not discourage me in the slightest!

These days there are four games on my playlist. My first single player experience of choice is Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, an RPG oddity that I’ve blogged about once or twice before on Imperium.

I’m playing as a Toreador, the “pretty boy” vampire breed in pen and paper RPG maker White Wolf’s campaign setting. My weapons are my seductive charm, my dazzling charisma, and my preternatural presence.  I also carry a Colt Anaconda in the rare case that my words fail me and I require a different kind of stopping power.

This is my third play through of Bloodlines, but the first time I’ve played with the unnofficial community patch installed, now at version 5.6.  I have to say I’m entirely unimpressed by the patch, having noticed no impact at all so far on the game’s stability or completeness.  I get prolonged stutter from the moment I try to load my save game, and glitching in facial animation, audio cutting short, horrendous crashes, and all sorts of other technical blips and immersion-breaking moments ensue thereafter.  I’m not just starting out either – I’m now into the closing chapters of the game in Chinatown, one of the four hubs constituting the backbone of the game world.

What sparkles underneath all that muck, and what makes Bloodlines a curious anomaly in its genre rather than a total failure, is the remarkable attention to quality in the dialogue, and a small (compared to shambling behemoth The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) group of superbly realised NPCs to interact with in a world that, at least at times, pulsates with heavy neo-gothic atmosphere.  When Bloodlines is good, it can stand proudly at the side of Planescape: Torment or Deus Ex; when its bad… well let’s not dwell on the bad.

Second in single player is a long campaign in Medieval II: Total War, with me playing as England (like you had to ask).  Having attempted and failed at this campaign before I know the dangers of lingering and not expanding.  The goal is to capture 45 settlements, including Jerusalem, before the time is up.

I was quick to remove the taint of rebels and Scots from the British Isles, having left them to develop in my previous game, much to my detriment.  I’ve still got problems-a-plenty though.  The inevitable war with the French is in full swing, and their allies, the Danes, are presently dominating my navy (for shame) with a fleet of longboats.

Medieval II Total War Screenshot

My greatest frustration remains the Pope and his twisted sense of justice.  On paper, the policy of the Papal States is that all catholic factions ought to get along swimmingly, march together into the Middle East and put the muslims out of their misery.  The way it works out is that the Pope picks favourites from among his flock—in my case the French (how I rejoiced)—allows them to wage war against as many catholic factions as they want, and punishes their victims (me) for daring to counter-attack.

The Pope is so talented at alienating catholics that I’m now on my way to join a crusade to capture Tunis, not held by African muslims as you might think, but by Sicily, whom the Pope has kindly excommunicated.  As long as none of the other factions capture the city before me, I should slip back into the Pope’s good books, at least for a while.  If not I’ll call my own crusade against the silly bugger.  No, that’s a bad idea – wouldn’t want all of Europe trying to murder me now would I?

I won’t keep you any longer.  Return here in days to come and I’ll tell you all about my multiplayer escapades in Team Fortress 2 and Civilization IV. Cheerio!


Inspirational Inauguration Speech

August 19, 2008

My friends, we observe today not a victory of one blogging platform over another, but a celebration of freedom – symbolising an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change.  For I have sworn before you and Almighty Whedon the same solemn oath that we observed those many years ago when the great cultural pillars called Lack of Faith and Imperium were founded.

The world is very different now.  Then-unimagined treasures are now within the grasp of man.  No Country For Old Men, and Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog have graced our DVD players and hard drives.  And yet the same principles and beliefs that we have always fought to defend and uphold are still at issue around the internet – the belief that the value of entertainment stems not from marketing or advertising, but from the opinions of fans.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that revolution.  Let the word go forth from this time and place, to fan and Hollywood Studio alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of blogger – born in radness, tempered by Company of Heroes, disciplined by Portal, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those consumer rights to which the blogosphere has always been committed.

The old ways now are behind us.  No longer can we be separated by petty differences of genre or media.  Let this new blog be a symbol that the realms of gaming and film, television and literature will from this day be made one.  For united there is little we cannot achieve.  Divided, there is little we can – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

And so the trumpet summons us to blog again.  With good writing our only sure reward, with our readers the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth and review the films and games we love in hopes of honoring the great critics and fans that have gone before us, and of inspiring those that we will leave behind.