Some perspective please–it’s just an Xbox

11 12 2005

The phone rings. I moan out of frustration and fatigue. I let it ring while I muster the courage to pick up the receiver. “I have a job to do. Maybe it’ll be different this time,” I tell myself, as sweat begins to trickle down my forehead. My hand trembles as I reach for the phone and nervously press it to my ear. “Hello, CompuSmart West Edmonton Mall,” I say into the receiver, trying not to let my voice crack. I hear heavy breathing on the other end. I can tell he’s as anxious as all the others, and I know what he wants. “Hey, uh, do you have any Xbox 360s?”

Now, I understand the mentality. The idea is that this newfangled gaming system is the coolest distraction machine ever to be invented. It has all the latest technology, and in the case of the Xbox 360, it’s also very aesthetically pleasing.

So, you go to your nearest gaming store and pre-order yourself one of these $500 systems that you can’t afford. You take out a loan if you have to. You then proceed to take the week after the launch off of work and school, feigning illness or death, or whatever you have to do to fulfill your desire to play with the system when it arrives before you ejaculate uncontrollably into your Joe Boxer underoos. Believe me, I understand. My laundry bills are huge. But fellow gamers, I ask you this: do you have to be so fucking stupid about it?

From the moment I walked into our store, I saw a lineup with far more people than the number of systems we even had, so I knew there’d be problems. Upon entering, I was accosted by two boys in black jackets who proceeded to offer me $100 cash on top of the list price to sell them one of the pre-ordered Xboxes. Now, considering the fact that I could sell one on Ebay for $1000, I really didn’t see much benefit in this plan, which was pathetic and moronic to begin with.

Ah, but the best was yet to come. Amidst all the tears of disappointment and anxious nerd-sweat, there was a 20-year-old boy—I know, because I checked his ID—who was so disappointed he wasn’t one of the people whose pre-orders we could fill that he actually got his mother to come with him to the store, who then threatened to call our head office if we didn’t fill her son’s pre-order. Did I mention that he was 20?

I mean, everyone who’s in any way involved with this system—as a consumer or otherwise—should have read, or should have been informed by a salesman like me, that Microsoft is shorting everyone, everywhere—except for the people at the launch party, every single one of whom was given a system. The logistics behind this move are irrelevant at this point, and the info is out there if you really want to know.

The fact is, of all the CompuSmarts in Edmonton, my store got the most Xbox 360s, of both core and premium models. We got ten of them in total, with 36 pre-orders to fill. So what makes people think that we can magically shit out an Xbox at their desire? Why act like such nitwits, like such immature man-boys whose thumbs need to constantly move in a butto- pressing motion? Why, dear god, are some of my compatriots so fucking stupid?

It’s people like that that give gamers a bad name. You give Jack Thompson and his band of mothers-against-humanity fuel for their witch hunts. You people need to realize that, in the end, it’s just a gaming console. Is it important? If it’s your passion, as it is in my case, then perhaps. That doesn’t mean that I’d get my mommy to whine about it for me. Until you learn to exercise some self-control, you don’t deserve your pre-order.

Besides, I already sold it on Ebay.


Review: F.E.A.R

11 12 2005

First Person Shooters (FPS) have become an almost clichéd genre in the video game market, falling into the same traps and contrived conventions that make many of them fairly identical, if not tedious. Monolith Games—the minds behind popular titles like Alien vs Predator 2 and No One Lives Forever—promised to avoid contrivances in FEAR, a horror FPS that, for the most part, succeeds in dodging the monotony of the genre, though not completely.

In the game, you play a nameless, newly assigned point man of FEAR (First Encounter Assault Recon), a secret military organization that investigates paranormal activity. Your team is sent in to stop Paxton Fettal—the insane progeny of another secret military project—a “psychic commander” who has the ability to control a battalion of mindless clones. Your mission is to stop Fettal and to uncover the source of his insanity.

FEAR has a lot of great things going for it, the most obvious being its graphics. Firefights look amazing, with vivid and detailed dust and bullet ricochets. While the level design may seem repetitive (there are plenty of sharp corners and long corridors) and the character models could be sharper, FEAR shines in its ability to create a truly creepy atmosphere. There are dark corners everywhere, thanks to some clever lighting and shadow effects that allow for some genuinely scary moments—a hallmark not only of a frightening horror film but also of a scary horror game. This is helped by the fact that much of the game’s imagery is inspired by Japanese horror flicks, the most notable being The Ring. It doesn’t make the games atmosphere exactly original,but it is exceedingly effective.

The audio in FEAR is also astounding. In a game that plays off of being afraid of the dark, it’s often the little noises that can make you spin around, ready to blast whatever’s there. The combat also sounds glorious—you can hear every noise in a firefight, including shattering glass, breaking boxes and falling shell casings.

Beyond the aesthetics of the game, however, is some very intense action with undeniably the best enemy artificial intelligence of any FPS game to date. The clones seem to tell each other everything, from when you try to flank them, to checking in with their squad leader for advice. They use the dust that flies during a firefight as cover because they know you can’t see through it. You’re given, fortunately, something called “Reflex,” which allows you to temporarily slow down time, giving you a distinct advantage. This ability doesn’t last very long, and in fact it’s its length that makes it a perfect fit for the otherwise chaotic gunplay. All of these factors come together to make some of the most intense shootouts you’ll find—a good thing, since the core of the game rests there.

Still, FEAR does fail in a big way when it comes to Monolith’s desire to avoid FPS contrivances, mostly because they use them to push the story of the game forward. Along with “Reflex,” you also have the ability to access others laptops and voicemail at random, without requiring any sort of pin or password. The only information you receive is by these means, which is a bit deflating, since sub-par storytelling and overly convenient devices hinder an otherwise fantastic game.

FEAR is a phenomenal game that will keep you occupied for a fair while—you’ll get about ten to twelve hours of play from the single -player mode, and ten times more in the multiplayer. It will scare you many times over, as well as challenge you in ways never seen in previous FPS style games. If you don’t mind a slightly unsatisfying story, FEAR is definitely an adventure you’ll never forget.

Review: Black & White 2

11 12 2005

While most people try to avoid playing God—and indeed frown upon those who do—if premier game designer Peter Molyneux had his way, playing God would be something that every opposable-thumbed computer owner would look forward to.

In 2001, Molyneux created an innovative game that allowed players to be God. You controlled the world of Eden using (almost literally) your right hand, manipulating this world and its people however you pleased. The game was Black & White, and you were free to be any kind of god you wished—a vengeful, Old Testament-style god, or a peaceful, New Testament kind. While its open-endedness and charm drew in those not usually of the gaming persuasion, the game’s confusing directions and complete lack of interface left it feeling unpolished. Now, four years later, Molyneux’s has returned with Black & White 2, the long-awaited sequel that fixes many of the issues of the first installment, though still manages to be plagued with its own batch of problems.

In Black & White 2, you control the recently attacked Greeks, forcing you to help them flee and rebuild. With the aid of your equally powerful pet, you must help your people regain their glory and defeat their Aztec enemies. Where in the previous game your “ranking” as a supreme being was based entirely on the way you treated your people, the sequel determines how good/evil you are by the way you conquer the world. If you wish to be a first-rate god, you can build massive cities with impressive monuments, persuading other cities to join your empire. If you feel more like a bad-boy deity, you can simply amass an army and conquer foreign cities by force. Your pet, who assists you throughout the game, can be trained to be a ruthless warrior, or a kind gatherer and builder. The best improvement by far, though, is the addition of a real-time strategy (RTS) style interface, allowing you to easily select which kinds of buildings or miracles you wish to create easily, instead of employing a variety of keys.

Graphically, the game is sound, if not above average. Each new landscape is lush, with vegetation and mountainous areas, with the full range of weather effects, and, of course, this wouldn’t be a Molyneux game without an abundant amount of light bloom giving everything a nice, retina-burning glow. The ambient sound in the game is clear and precise, though the music can be a bit bland. The soundtrack only becomes dynamic during combat, and otherwise doesn’t add much experience.

The problem with Black & White 2 is that, for all these wonderful additions, their implementation tends to take away from the whole experience. For example, while it’s nice to finally be able to actually understand your pet (by means of thought bubbles, a feature absent in the original), his overall value is limited; he’s only any use as a soldier, at which point he becomes overly effective, and can destroy whole armies by himself. Also, the interface, while a nice addition, can easily become frustrating due to the lack of hot keys. You can only use your mouse to navigate it—and while I understand the whole “the hand of god” motif, it becomes a bit clunky when you’re forced to control six or seven cities with one freaking hand.

My biggest grievance with the game, however, is that your ranking is solely determined by whether or not you go to war—an annoying feature, since no matter how big a city you build, your enemies will always attack you, meaning you always have to have an army at the ready, effectively ensuring that your going to be at war at some point or another. The game gives you no real reason to be good, and with that, the charm of the first game is almost completely lost.

That said, Black & White 2 is still a fun, slow-paced game that improves on the original by leaps and bounds. While some of the magic of the first game seems lost due to these changes, you will still get hours of entertainment from this godly adventure.