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   More of Alex's screenshots at

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Silver Surfer feels my pain

Silver Surfer by Jack KirbyI'm currently in the process of migrating the old faithful website to the shiny new joy of Wordpress. Getting pages into the Wordpress database is delightfully straightforward, as a copy and paste from one Firefox tab to another does the job with some minor tweaking. It's taking me an age though, as I have entirely too much crap to move (and I'm also importing the reviews I've written in here as well). However, It's been fascinating to delve further than I previously had into CSS and learning all about Wordpress has been pretty interesting.

What's painful is the writing. Fuck me, it's like nails on a chalkboard a lot of the time. I'm eternally critical of anything I write because I know it's really bad compared to the array of material I read daily on the web. I write for fun, not for any deluded sense of talent. Looking at a lot of what I wrote in 2002 and 2003 though... christ! Some of the structure I can remember thinking "hey, that's cool, I like how I did that" - concrete evidence of brain damage, I tell you.

Younger-me's irritating phrase of the day - variations on "it won't win any awards but...". I'd like to travel back in time and thrash younger-me every time I typed it.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 7:03 PM 37 comments

Friday, June 02, 2006

Review: SiN Episodes: Emergence

"But for all the effort that’s gone into it, it’s lacking that crucial level of polish - the balancing to keep the action consistent, and nips and tucks to keep it flowing instead of frustrating. There’s nothing special about the action to keep you holding on for the next instalment; it’s nothing you wouldn’t get in just about any shooter you pulled off the shelves, and it’s sure as hell not one you follow for the story - a story which pretty much begins and ends with the artists getting to draw jiggling breasts"

SiN Episode 1: She Canne Take No More, Captain!I was going to ramble on about SiN Episode One: Emergence the other week but (occasional PC Gamer UK contributor and Future Publishing writer) Richard Cobbett sums it all up brilliantly. The patch released a few days after release certainly fixed the stupid balancing bug (and I have to wonder, did they playtest it with mad ninja skilled FPS gamers and forget about the "competent majority" like me?) but that wasn't enough to elevate it greatly. With the chaingunners as defeatable enemies the second half of the game certainly became more enjoyable (and quite fun when you could get moving and roll through some solid firefights) but the first half, when difficulty was no real issue anyway, was quite drab.

SiN Episode 1: Munchkin MonsterI really don't see episodic gaming working without story, character, plot - at least one element past the minute to minute gaming. It needs to hook the player enough to make them want that next five or six hours now rather than months down the line. Emergence doesn't. It's not bad by any means but it's the embodiment of "competent, generic FPS". Far more so than the much malaigned Quake IV, in my opinion. I had some fun but it never pulled me along with it (which really isn't that hard either, I'm notoriously easy to engage with in games like this). It's going to take some strong reviews from my trusted few paper and pixel publications to convince me that Episode two is worth my time.


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:21 PM 1 comments

Monday, May 29, 2006

Plastic Boxes Of Heat, The Next Generation

And so the future is upon my living room. Geometry Wars:Retro Evolved is as brilliant as expected and Rockstar's Table Tennis is truly magnificent in its simplicity. Project Gotham Racing 3 seems to have lost some of the joy it had in version 2 but it sure does look purty! No HDTV here but then that's me in the same boat as almost all other UK homes. Xbox Live is wonderfully done, and offers a surprisingly speedy and robust connection for the larger content (so far). And with an update to make it even better due in the next week or so, it's all jolly pleasing.

Also, my 360... it's alive:
"Pick it, pack it fire it up, come along, lets get Alex Hopkinson's gaming on! Gamer score is 65. That is a gain of 15 points over last time! He played Geometry Wars Evolved, Rockstar Table Tennis gaining 2 achievements, and almost cried with joy. I have that affect on people."

Self important little bugger!

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 8:27 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oblivion At Day Five

Since I picked Oblivion out of my mailbox after work on Friday I've played nothing else (hell, I've almost done nothing else!) and the disc has not left my drive. I was pretty clued up on what to expect and I was maintaining a high level of expectation whilst not setting my sights too high. To hell with that, it's been fantastic so far. I'm about twenty-five hours into this beast with the end still nowhere in sight. It began with an underground journey (one that was perhaps a smidgen too long) that acted as a delightful showcase for the game. However emerging into the light unleashed all my exploration instincts and I spent the next fifteen hours (not in a row!) exploring the countryside around the Imperial City and investigating the large city itself. I cured an invisible village, hunted down some fish for a crippled man looking to retire, shopped a corrupt city guard, established the source of some disturbingly cheap goods and generally chatted, walked, bought, sold and fought. Quick travel? Not a chance.

It was only after those first fifteen hours that I decided to engage in the first part of the main quest, not least because I'd read you get a free horse. That was excellent, a very well put to together sequence I won't spoil at the moment. After death, destruction and ultimately victory I guided my charge back across miles of countryside to what should have been his safety, only to leave their with a third traveller as we all trotted off (everyone on horseback) up deep into the snowy mountains. Since that long journey I've returned to my own exploration, visiting towns and sacking dungeons and ruins for treasure. I'm back in the Imperial City now, with my own shack to store non-essential clutter and my eyes on the Arena for my next challenge.

Combat is weighty and enjoyable, the scenery is magnificent under the eyes of HDR lighting and the game has completely captured me. I cannot stop chronicling it through screenshots or reading about the damn thing at work. More, more!

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 11:14 PM 6 comments

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Review: Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

PC (also PS2, Xbox & GC), December 2003 [Amazon UK]

Sands Of Time is one of those games that, no matter how much it causes you to beat the tables and keyboards of this world in frustration, you can't help but love to play it. When you're fully “in the zone” and leaping from walls to poles like a human Sonic the hedgehog it's wonderful. Outwitting traps and finding the path that's been hidden from you for the last few minutes, it's like ballet dancing your way through the game if you're lucky. Even the simple combat model can relinquish moments of joy when you pound from sand warped enemy to sand warped enemy, leaping through the midriff of one to then jump over and slice down the centre another. But wait, that's not how it happened...

Rewinding the mistakes to bound onwards is a fantastic addition to the “picky platforming” genre, especially for players as inept as me. The Dagger Of Time is a rather handy little beast and the abilities it adds (in addition to the renowned time rewinding there's freezing pesky enemies in wave 3576 of impossible fight 6 and letting you turn on the slow motion to walk, roll and run through some traps) are an expansion to the game that's essential in its achievement of being very good indeed. Essential to me anyway, because even with all these added toys and ways to avoid death I die a lot. A few of the paths to freedom were downright obscure, or hidden by initial attempts failing so miserably that I assumed my journey should lead elsewhere. The worst offenders are some of the combat sections though, hurling twenty-five tough enemies at you in wave after wave is enough to frustrate the best of us. The combat is pretty to look at and often fun to engage in but things are too limited to be enjoyable when you're facing seemingly endless waves.

It's a testament to the overall quality of Sands Of Time that these hair-tearing parts of the game don't overshadow it's brilliance. There's a story here which is both straightforward and marvellously executed, complete with a twist that sheds a new light on the game up to that point. Your relationship with the skinny princess Farah is unfolded reasonably well, like a tempestuous first date interspersed with near death experiences involving wall jumping and soldiers possessed by the sands of time. Hmm, or maybe not. But it works with a few jumps that, in comparison to many an anime relationship, don't seem worth worrying about.

Our two beautiful leads get to run around a beautiful world as well. Despite being two or three years old I'd disagree with anyone that thinks it's aged poorly. The fuzzy glow that permeates the carefully built expanses of the palace gives everything a dream like quality. The characters, whether nubile young leads or crinkly Big Bad Enemies, all have a nice style to them that's matched in the rendered cutscenes. The Arabian soundtrack complements this nicely, and it's hard to fault the package wrapped around the platforming and combat.

Edge has lamented that Sands Of Time didn't herald a brave new approach to platforming games, that its own sequel tore apart the subtle approach of this classic in subservience to mainstream tastes. It's certainly a sad indictment of the gaming masses that this gem never sold enough to steer it clear of the X-Treme but I'm not so sure how non-Prince Of Persia games would build on the Sands Of Time example without unacceptable levels of imitation. I guess it doesn't matter though, as there was no revolution and we're left with this delightful piece of gaming history to enjoy instead. It's both perfect and imperfect, the frustrations will threaten to overwhelm you mere minutes after the game has delighted you more than you thought a platformer ever could. It's worth it though, and if I can drag my useless carcass through the difficult bits I see no reason why the legions of better gamers who may have avoided this shouldn't.


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 12:03 PM 3 comments

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Random Gaming Comments 3

Locked into an ever increasing cycle of Civilisation 4 appreciation it’s with wary interest that I perused the Galactic Civilisation II website (have a look at the latest images and some of the latest blog posts) and related forum threads. I remember the original receiving a favourable PC Gamer UK review but being strangely uninterested in it myself. It’s something of a Penny Arcade favourite though and everything I’ve read and seen from the sequel (due next month) leaves me really rather interested. Whilst I really can’t sustain another title in the same addictive sphere of epic excellence as Civilisation 4, I wouldn’t say no to making the attempt.

The approach of GalCiv 2 (you can’t have a game like this without being able to chop the title down!) also ties in neatly with the upcoming Star Wars: Empire At War, which appears to essentially be a jazzy 3D version of Star Wars: Supremacy (apparently called Rebellion in the US, for christ knows what reason). However unlike Supremacy the focus would seem to have shifted to combat, with full RTS ground combat joining the space combat that’s not really that different to Supremacy’s. It doesn’t look like there’s as much empire building, though it’s obviously rather hard to tell from the demo (and as if I can be buggered to read a preview!). Sadly the entire affair seemed pretty lacklustre to me – the space battle didn’t reach the tense, last ditch affairs of Supremacy (never have so many fights taken place between barely space worthy wrecks!) and the ground battle seemed chaotic and messy. Time will tell though.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:23 PM 0 comments

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Korean Kracker

"Korean TV, you should understand, provides a barometer for the rest of culture. Games are so popular amongst Korea’s youth that you often have to be a gamer to be able to socialise - the content of all Korea’s game media reflects that fact. TV shows are often designed purely to keep gamers in the know, while gaming magazines and their counterpart websites are all about making sure players have the latest tips and walkthroughs, as well as telling gamers how their favourite Korean rock band regularly plays online games. Gaming is so cool that it’s practically mandatory, and being good at games can be a great social boon." [Article Link]

Jim Rossignol’s great article on the otherworldly realm of Korean mainstream gaming culture. I read it when it appeared in PC Gamer UK an issue or two before Christmas but it’s great to see it let loose in the wilds of the internet so soon.

A comment on Jim’s blog post about it remarked that it was all essentially old news, that anyone who knew anything about the games industry already knew all of that. Lack of manners aside the poster’s clearly not grasping the reality of the article, a piece written for a consumer’s gaming magazine rather than some insider publication. I’m a gaming consumer and one with a larger amount of knowledge and interest in gaming culture than Joe Average (off the street, not Joe_Average from the ‘net). For me the Korean gaming culture has always been a very ethereal concept – “games are big there and they play lots of Starcraft and Lineage right?” I was not aware of the actual mainstream penetration/domination of gaming that Jim describes. For me his article put meat on years of vague assertions.

The question is whether we’d like such a mainstream transformation of gaming here in the UK or across the waters in America, Canada and mainland Europe. Is it as desirable as we think it is? After reading the article I’d have to say No. Somewhere in-between what we have now and what they have over there would be interesting to me.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:52 PM 0 comments

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gaming Screenshots

Some wandering thoughts on taking prettier gaming screenshots. No seriously.

Over at the PC Gamer UK forum a while back we had a discussion about game screenshots as more “arty” pictures and a rather lengthy thread of examples continued. It sounds absolutely cringe worthy, I know, but for the most part we weren’t seriously contemplating the shots we could take in your average game to be comparable to the works of respected professional photographers. It was more geared towards appreciating that pretty pictures can be taken in games that move past being pretty just because they’re showing off the latest graphics engine.

My own thoughts were essentially that. Anyone can take a screenshot, much like anyone can (and will) take a photograph. To state the obvious some more, many people can take competent photographs that we’d all agree look nice. I’m assuming (I’ve never really looked into photography much) that far fewer people can take photos that are worth paying money for. With games I don’t think that third band is there yet, really. We have plenty of quite attractive games around but they either need to get even prettier (which is a whole other argument) or there need to be more that offer their own distinctive visual style. In addition they require the freedom to allow every participant to potentially find a shot that’s not going to be stumbled into by a random screenshot key press.

So to continue what I’ve said, that leaves us with the second rung of screenshotting that’s not just your average random snapping. That requires some basic skills to be applied and consequently is a step above your basic screenshot. You need an eye for composition, which is probably quite an obvious requirement. It’s not a highly skilled occupation (that I can see – I don’t think there are any people employed solely to take screenshots…) but it is a bit more than button pressing whenever you feel like it.

That’s my view, which has been reinforced by experiences in the past – particularly in selecting and/or taking screen shots for the Gundam Universe Quake 3 mod in my time there. I’m not much of an artist anymore but I like to think I still have my artist’s eye (which sounds pretentious as hell I know), particularly when it comes to composition. I don’t always exercise it but it’s there, I think. I try and bring that to the screenshots I take every once in a while. I currently maintain a flickr account here where I post up the shots. I don’t think I’m producing images of great skill or anything but I like to think I’m striving for a prettier kind of gaming picture. Shots like the one below are ones I’m quite satisfied with.

Dawn Of War: Blooded

There are others doing this as well and you can find them amongst the member list of the group created for that original forum thread. Whether screenshots of games will ever surpass the status of “pretty picture” in the hands of a talented future “virtual photographer” I don’t know, but at least there are some folks trying to make a better image to glance over.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:48 PM 0 comments

Monday, November 07, 2005

Leonard Nimoy Haunts My Dreams

The downside about finally being busy again at work after two months is that you no longer have the time to write gibberish for the internets. It also doesn’t help that some kind of gaming rainbow has levelled the landscape with a delicious pot of gold tailored towards people like me. In a “dangerously close to succeeding” attempt to halt my Final Fantasy 7 play through I’ve been slapped senseless by two sequels and an expansion pack. Winter Assault brings us Dawn Of War fans some harsh snowy landscapes to crush beneath the swarming juggernaut of the Imperial Guard war machine. It’s not until you’ve halted the entire Ork onslaught with a Baneblade tank and three Earthshakers that you’ve really tasted it. There’s the majority of the single player for me to still to taste, and the Ork and Chaos campaign should be deliciously hellish, but it promises to engage me every bit as much as the main game did.

Sequels of late have been brought to you with the number 4 and the word “addictive”. Quake 4 is beautiful when you’re in it, beautiful in ways static screenshots seem to fail to portray. It’s also incredibly good fun, in a way I really wasn’t expecting. Possibly my expectations were just set low but it’s addictive, which Doom 3 wasn’t quite. Speaking of addictive, Civilisation 4 clicks in ways that Civilisation 3 somehow failed to. This is The Great Game moving forward, changing for the better and returning the sense of “Just one more turn” that I’ve missed since Civilisation 2. My first game saw the English empire running a wonderful combination of communism, free speech and organised religion as the founder of its state religion Hinduism. As I used my large voting block to thwart or pass any motions the UN leader tried to pass towards the end of the game I was completely enthralled.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:55 PM 0 comments

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Review: Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

Xbox (also PS2 & GC), September 2005 [Amazon UK]

I have a huge soft spot for games that finally recreate the experience of being a certain superhero and then throw you through level after level of action and fun. I loved the first Spider-Man game and continued to enjoy the first movie game (never played the second, for some reason). Hulk: Ultimate Destruction leaves me with a similar feeling of glee at being able to be the superhero in question. Essential to its success and the focus point of enjoyment in the game, the experience of being the Hulk is everything you could have wanted.

Bounding around town, running up the sides of buildings, leaping far and digging in, then clambering up, as you strike the sides of towers, ripping out innocent pieces of scenery, throwing things, smashing the ground into huge schockwaves, catching missiles and throwing them at targets, pulling helicopters and jets to the ground, grabbing on to huge mechs and pounding them, impaling hulkbuster battlesuits with a thrown lamppost, playing baseball with special forces dropping from a transport chopper. You really are the Hulk, with all the right feelings of weight, near indestructablity (when not facing giant mechanised war machines) and awesome punching power. If you’ve always wanted to play a game as the savage jolly green giant then here we go, you don’t need to care about anything else – you’ve found your ultimate toy (and it’s hard to see how the experience of being the Hulk could be much improved).

Most people will want a good game outside of the basic Hulk escapism. So past the giggling childhood wish fulfilment, what is there? Well the game is defined by its mission to let you Be The Hulk, so the entire structure is there to best facilitate this. It’s a dangerous goal and it would be all too easy to tip the title into the realms of an entertaining sandbox to play in but little of substance to keep you interested. Ultimate Destruction walks this knife’s edge successfully, so when the “holy shit I’m really the Hulk!” factor wears off you’ve still got plenty of great big fun missions to enjoy your toy in.

There are three central areas in the game: the badlands, the city and the church. The church is essentially an ingame junction room, a bit like the cantina in the delightful Lego Star Wars game. So by entering the church itself you access the menu system to buy moves, read/listen to decoded background files, load, save and so on. Outside the church is a small village and also the jump points to the other two central areas (as they’re available), and at the end of a chapter a special mission star which will advance the storyline to the next set of storyline missions. The city area is a huge city, with plenty of vehicles to use, abuse and throw until they fall apart, people to scare and kill, power-ups to collect and lots of huge towers to run/climb up and leap off. The Badlands house a small town settlement, lots of winding canyons and rocky areas, and ultimately the military complexes.

The central storyline is progressed through missions that appear, one at a time, in the central locations (indicated on the straightforward area map). You jump between church and other area, and you can pick one of potentially several jump-in points as and when you unlock them. You can then either jump to the point closest to the mission location or enjoy a smashing (literally) trip across the city or Badlands. As well as the storyline missions there are dozens of small challenge missions (usually time limited and involving things such as races or seeing how much damage you can do). These can be completed for smash points (also accumulated during missions and any general destruction you engage in) which are then used to purchase the many increasingly insane & powerful special moves for the Hulk.

The storyline missions take a “good” amount of time (I didn’t note down how long but I certainly didn’t feel cheated out of my £30) and give you some truly excellent periods of action. Belting around a city island as General Ross uses his massive mech to demolish the buildings, stopping to pick up and hurl tanks and large pieces of rubble at him is just one stand out fight. You’ll find many a satisfying moment as your critically charged Hulk does a maximum power “atomic” smash of his fists into the ground, blasting apart scenery in the shockwave and hurling Hulkbusters units against buildings and toppling tanks. I’m a big fan of fun and this really is top quality grin-inducing fun as far as I’m concerned.

The story itself has been constructed and scripted by former Hulk scribe Paul Jenkins (currently writing the second Sentry miniseries for Marvel). It’s a shame, then, that it doesn’t feel much different to a standard videogame plot. It’s an action game, so the plot was never likely to enter too far in at the deep end, but even then it seems particularly constrained into the accepted formula of sending you all over the place to collect gubbins for a super machine of some sort. There are certainly above average moments when we look more closely at the characters involved and the nature of the Hulk, the dialogue is generally good and overall it does improve in the second half of the game… but it wasn’t a real step above the norm.

Disguising yourself as a truck isn’t on my list of things I wanted to see in a Hulk game and it’s at this point that the storyline missions take something of a downturn. Until that point they’d been wonderful pieces of total destruction, with the more frustrating encounters being doable after a few attempts and an excellent choice of checkpoint saves on the longer missions. When you find yourself slamming a truck over your head to sneak into the military base, that’s when you know you’re in for possibly the most poorly planned mission in the entire game. Escaping the base with some gubbins is rather hard, which is good, but the checkpoint save comes on the other side of a very long haul through fun, tedium (the truck), fun again and then hell (trying to make a run for the jump out point). It took me many attempts, possibly because I’m rubbish, but in no universe do I see someone walking a long distance very slowly whilst wearing a truck and enjoying it enough to want to endure it every single time they retry. Luckily this is very close to the end but unfortunately the majority of the levels after that are equally frustratingly hard, with at least one more offering a dubious lack of decent checkpoint positioning.

At least one other review mentioned that by the last third of the game actually being the Hulk has become rather passé, throwing planes into tanks being run of the mill. I’d disagree. The shine lessens, certainly, but there are so many moves (well, moves that you’ll actually use – there are even more than you’ll probably never try) and the levels continue to ramp up the insane amount of combat that I never really got tired of Mr. Banner. I would agree that the game couldn’t have sustained anymore levels by the end but I found its length to be just right. It’s a lot of fun, basically, and the less than spectacular storyline still offers plenty of great mission setups. The sandboxes of the city and Badlands are superficially great but don’t hold the depth required to entertain for any length of time. These aren’t the cities of GTA: San Andreas. That doesn’t matter though – alongside the often middling challenge missions they do offer enough to substance to entertain you for a 20 minute bash after work once the storyline is complete. This is fun with a capital H and well worth your time and the inevitable cramps and blisters.


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:50 PM 3 comments

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Random Gaming Comments 2

The PC is my gaming platform of choice and I only console game because my Xbox was free. Still, I like to keep an eye on that market these days as it has rather large effects on my favoured platform. I just read this first impression of Xbox 360 launch title, Perfect Dark Zero and it sounds pretty much what you’d expect from a day one first person shooter on the first of the next generation consoles. I get the feeling that, more so than ever before, people will be making massive judgements on the next three consoles far too early in their lifecycles. Technologically speaking they’re all pretty much there, presumably around the same level of my new PC infact (I’m too lazy to do ultimately pointless investigation into specifics). The games will take time – we all need a bit more patience.

Outside of completing Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (which I have a review of to post) and playing Battlefield 2 online, I’ve been spending a lot of time gaming in Emulators recently. I go through cycles like this, so I’ve been resuming my game of the Japanese Playstation title Super Robot Wars: Alpha Gaiden, which is fun for a fanboy like myself. It’s nice to be able to read plots & dialogues without a translated FAQ though, so I’m also playing a lot of Final Fantasy 6 for the first time.

I must admit I expected FF6 to be a bit more mature than it is (I was running on the assumption it would balance along the same lines as 7 in terms of tone and dialogue) but it’s been good nonetheless. I do like seeing what they do with the SNES hardware – I think it’s quite fascinating to witness how much developers can get out of old hardware towards the end of its shelf life (there was some really comparatively powerful stuff done on the C64 near the end). After I complete 6 I’m contemplating playing 7 through from the start and finishing the end this time, which is a dangerous road to travel...

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 3:47 PM 0 comments


I’ve put up some index pages that you can find linked on the top left. If you’re bored enough to be reading this blog then it’s entirely possible you’re bored enough to have an interest in hunting through for pieces that interest you, so those pages should sort you out.

Expect to see my notes on Street Angel and Sharknife Vol. 1 assembled into posts that resemble reviews sometime soon(ish). Well... before christmas at least. Also I should be returning to my journey through the Judge Dredd strips once I finish off my review of the next period. Comics parcel reviews have been abandoned to avoid turning “blogging for fun” into a second job but I expect I’ll have a fountain of gibberish to write about various issues as time goes on.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 3:05 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Review: Final Fantasy VII: Last Order

A short review for a short one-off piece of anime. Apparently included in the Final Fantasy VII : Advent Children DVD in Japan (not currently scheduled for the west, strangely), Last Order is a 25 minute anime set prior to the events of the original Playstation and PC game. If you’ve not played the majority of the game then the anime (and this short review) will spoil some decent storytelling moments in the game. So a bit of a gap, which I shall fill with a screen capture of animated SOLDIER Zack.

I must admit, my memory of Final Fantasy VII has slipped slowly away in the 3 or 4 years since I finally played it on my PC. I was initially a bit baffled as to why a character named Zack appeared to be Cloud, and Cloud... wasn’t. Then it clicked and I remembered the neat piece of false flashback memories in the game – this anime (also something of a flashback, largely) depicts the incident at the Mako Reactor involving Cloud, Tifa, Zack and Sephiroth. In parallel we’re shown Zack escaping the clutches of Shinra with a practically comatose Cloud, hunted by the Turks on the way to Midgar (set a few months before the game begins, I believe). Despite how complex this sounds, it’s actually a pretty straightforward 25 minutes.

It’s also a rather lacking 25 minutes. What works as a nice part of the game storyline does not make an outstanding piece of anime. It’s a nicely animated version of that backstory, and the new sections are very fluid and action packed but it’s all very much in the territory of an average episode of a TV anime. There’s nothing outstanding here and much more could have been done with the “present day” material that surrounds the pre-existing events of the past. The ending is particularly poor, as they try to make a shocking and sudden stop in the post-escape pleasantries but instead produce a jarring cut to the credits which rounds off an all too short, and all too unadventurous 25 minutes.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 10:59 PM 0 comments

Comics On The Screen

One of my pet interests is the concept of online comics distribution, or more accurately the lack of it. In the past I’ve bemoaned the lack of huge libraries of comics to be paid for with pocket change and read on the screen. It’s a market that could potentially exceed American print distribution, or at least work in those kinds of numbers., Folk from all over the world deciding to buy and read a few digital copies of this and that from the huge Marvel & DC superhero backlist, or what have you. Offer these at high quality and yet cheaper than single issues or trade paperbacks – the iTunes method, basically. There are already a decent number of people who’ve downloaded the first 300 issues of Uncanny X-Men which they then read in the simple yet tremendously accessible CDisplay software. It’s a topic not often discussed in the comics internet but it has cropped up every so often – the technology loving comics writer Warren Ellis being someone who has expressed a similar longing as I have (though I expect he’d be much less interested in the superhero library of Marvel and DC).

So yesterday’s Lying In The Gutters column over at ComicBookResources offers up some commentary and a short interview on the subject. This section in particular caught my eye:

"If you think comic shop owners scream bloody murder when there's an exclusive with Barnes & Noble, imagine how they're going to scream if you can download your X-Men or your JLA from the publisher website (never mind the piracy), instead of setting foot into the shop."

Despite everything I read about the western comics market (and I read entirely too much about it) I always forget that there are retailers who can get shafted by so many of our grand ideas. I selfishly approach these thoughts from the perspective of a very nerdy customer with too much disposable income, so retailer concerns have to be pointed out to my crumbling brain. It’s true though. Whilst many comics fans would continue to buy the bulk of their material through shops there would still be a significant percentage that would move a chunk of their business to the digital realm. As the article states, many readers would rather not read material on their screen but it’s certainly a less prevalent attitude as people grow up with technology. You could get around this by only offering older material, which would be my suggestion, but this may also have some effect on retailers and their slim profits.

There’s also the Infinite Crisis problem. You have the latest Marvel or DC event that involves a dozen titles and tie-ins which you’re informed “aren’t necessary to enjoy the main story” but inevitably end up carrying things of importance and garnering your interest. Many a superhero fan does not want to or simply cannot afford to buy all these titles off the shelf. Comics are expensive and corporate crossovers have had too many drastic failures to warrant large scale investment from your average reader. So your current internet comics fan will just pirate the stuff they were never going to buy. If these issues cost them then some, if not all, would instead pay for them. These things are never direct migrations from the free & illegal to the cheap and legal (we all like free things after all, and it’s not like we’re stealing actual objects…) but there’s established examples in books and music that suggest that you would convert enough.

Then again, comic fans are a strange breed…

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 8:59 PM 3 comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Review: Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death

PC, October 2003 [Amazon UK]

Released in 2003 this multi-platform first person shooter from Rebellion was not well received and faded quickly into oblivion. Having revisited the tired demo as part of my ongoing immersion in Dredd comics I had a look on Amazon UK and discovered it available from marketplace retailers for the paltry sum of £4 (including postage). That’s not much more than two US superhero comics and less than the price of a computer gaming magazine. For £4 I thought why not – reputation be damned.

The multiplayer mode was something I knew I’d not be playing, and the arcade shorts were light entertainment at best, irritating shooting galleries at worst. The thrust of my interest was in the single player storyline, hoping to avoid the damn level from the demo as long as possible. The storyline itself is solid enough for an action focused Judge Dredd tale. This isn’t a Dredd story with characterisation and introspective on Dredd’s actions and attitudes, nor is it a satire on any real world events or such like. This is action Dredd, pure and simple, and there are no pretensions of it being anything else. To this end it actually works better as a narrative than Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (so far - I’ve yet to finish that at the time of writing).

You’re put through a short, yet rather pointless tutorial to begin with – one that even the ingame voice of Dredd laments. After you’ve inevitably punched an instructor by “mistake” and had to do it all over again you are freed to walk the streets and arrest some perps. This first proper level is a pleasing start to the game, demonstrating the ability to shout down perps to arrest them and if you’re feeling experimental then you’ll quickly discover you can get away with arresting most of the populace (as almost everything is a crime in Mega-City One). You get tasked with several routine arrest tasks one after the other, and it’s a solid enough foundation for a better Judge Dredd game in the future, should one ever appear. The implementation here is stiff, with people wandering aimlessly and no actual freeform element – crimes don’t occur around you that you can then deal with, you’re restricted to the sequential preset objectives. A fun start, especially the bank heist towards the end, and a good idea, but a primitive deployment.

Before long you’re embroiled in vampires and dealing with a prison riot at the penitentiary that holds the Dark Judges (Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis). It’s here that the story properly begins, which is told entirely through ingame cutscenes (though the camera breaks out of the HUD and into widescreen). The Dark Judges are trying their best to wreck havoc in Mega-City One through hordes of vampires, zombified citizens and the human Death Cult. After attempting to stop things before they start, investigating the zombie situation and doing your best to rescue citizens you (Judge Joe Dredd, obviously) hunt down each of the Dark Judges individually before a final confrontation with Judge Death in Deathworld.

The Dawn Of The Dead homage level (zombie citizens running amok in a mall whilst gently amusing announcements about mad consumerism blare out from the mall speakers) is good stuff but the game tends to fall apart in some of the longer locales. The prison, running around the Icarus lab, trekking through the ruined buildings – they drag on without enough variety. Facing off against the Dark Judges is a bit too hit and miss for my liking. Judge Fire was easily the most satisfying, fighting him with the sprinkler system inside the Smokatorium. Mortis is an almost immobile turret, Fear chases you but doesn’t really excite and Death is an invulnerable distraction on the final level. They’re great potential bosses but they’re too poorly exploited (apart from Fire).

The graphical style is an odd one. There is a style, certainly, and it’s chosen deliberately and it’s pretty consistent through out. Rebellion have chosen to build, in 3D, Dredd art that sits in the Carlos Ezquerra zone of influence (in fact it all looks quite Henry Flint). The characters are an attempt to translate these drawings into three dimensions but they’re crudely constructed and low polygon beasts, with none of the array of texture wizardry to be found in FPS games a year afterwards, or indeed in RPG 'Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic' from around the same time. The scenery walks a more shaky line, sometimes gelling with the character models and other times jarringly different. You can get a decent impression from the screenshots here as to whether it’s too backwards to accept in this modern age of visual glory.

The final quirk of Dredd vs. Death is the completion time – it took me around six hours and I’m the man who finds Max Payne games take a long time to finish. Sure, you’re left with a pile of time challenge arcade levels but they’re often frustrating and repetitive, and they certainly lack variety. Still… the single player game is a fun blast, despite its many flaws. Arresting criminals, disarming gunmen with a shot to the weapon and generally enjoying the six bullet types available on the modernised Lawgiver pistol (a very nice and chunky piece, these days), not to mention the pleasant selection of weapons for use in the other slot (you can only ever carry two). It’s fun to be Judge Dredd (the game makes a decent effort at translating this from the page) and that’s really what this is. If you’ve an interest in Dredd at all then it’s not a bad piece of fun for £4. For a full price game it would be a truly terrible purchase (and I’d be saying 5/10), and for someone not interested in Dredd it’s not worth their time. For those that are it’s six hours of competent fun for the price of a Commodore 64 budget game…


Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 5:10 PM 0 comments

All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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