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So much more than war...
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The recent blog, Peace in the Era of Call of Duty  really made me think about war games that dig deeper than simply a kill streak reward. The first game that came to mind was Spec-Ops: The Line and although I haven’t played it, I began to wonder if it did the war genre as...

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Video game characters who suck at their job part 2
Posted on Sunday, July 13 2008 @ 15:40:10 Eastern

CPU race car drivers

I like racing games, not lots, but I can play them without breaking out in a rash. I've played a few racers in my time including a few GTs, a couple of McRaes and Forza 2 and, despite being different games, I've noticed one startling similarity: the CPU drivers suck. In some games they suck in the most obvious sense; they crash into walls, oncoming traffic and pebbles which send them careering into the nearest unfortunate cardboard bystander whose sole purpose in life is to get crushed by two tonnes of wildly spinning metal. These guys at least suck in a way one could expect a human opponent to suck: they drive badly. Sure, the outcome is multiplied several billion times by the "emphasis lens" many game designers shine their ideas through but it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination in an environment where the starchiest of the couch potatoes can become one with the art of racing and join the ranks of racing gods. In truth the worst sort of CPU driver is the sort that drops behind you and your awesomeness only to begin travelling at a speed beyond the capabilities of any car, ever. Once it's caught up with you it slows down again. Yes, this car has quite clearly demonstrated its ability to beat you into the tarmac but has refused to do it. Worse, though, is its refusal to let you lap it, instead opting to use its kryptonite infused engine only enough to piss you off. It denies you the sheer pleasure that comes from overtaking a rival... twice. I could go into the guys who follow a set course and don't change it for any bugger but that would be too obvious.

GTA pedestrians

This one really depends on how you look at it. We could say that the pedestrians lining the streets of Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City are awesome at their job but in the same breath I'm going to argue that they blow, it all depends on what we consider the job to actually be. If GTA peds exist solely to provide the protagonist with a continuous flow of cannon fodder, gore and blood curdling screams then they do a bang up job and should continue to be paid their wage, maybe even receive a raise so their frequent trips to the hospital don't leave such a dent on their finances and maybe they could afford to have a kid or two with their high school sweetheart. If on the other hand we assume that desperately clinging to the enormous grill of a runaway truck isn't their full time job and they need to find some form of employment which doesn't involve regularly snapping bones and absorbing bullets then the GTA cities surely feature long lines at the dole office as one of their attractions because the majority of pedestrians do precisely bollock all. Every other character I have previously discussed at least try to do their job, GTA peds can't even be arsed to turn up to their place of work! I suppose it could be argued that since we never see them actually working we don't know if they're good at their job or not but would you employ someone who pisses about getting killed by the same maniac day after day instead of turning up to work? Didn't think so.

Skate. opponents

Skate. is one of those games that drove me to continue playing until I had uncovered everything. The only thing I didn't bother with was online and that was due to some unfavourable first experiences.  There were two aspects of the single player game that were infuriating to me though and both were rendered less than enjoyable because of my opponents. The first area is the 'death race' challenge where several skateboarders try to latch themselves onto their board in defiance of gravity as they hurtle down hills at speeds far too quick and protection far too non-existent in an attempt to be the first to reach an arbitrary point on the map that happens to be lower than the starting point since that's the way gravity works. This is frustrating as it is since the mechanics of a plank of wood on wheels don't really allow much grip between the board and the masochist atop it but the true difficulty lies in avoiding the mentalists who seem to thrive on ****ing you up. These guys succeed in two things: justifying the moniker 'death race' and making your life difficult so while they don't technically suck at their job they go about it in a particularly homicidal manner. The guys who truly suck at their job are the ones who face you during the games of S.K.A.T.E. In this game it's the second player who must replicate the trick performed by the first. Clearly the most advantangeous position to be in is first where you can choose the trick and that is where I endeavour to be. Usually I'll do relatively complicated tricks in the misguided belief that they will be harder for the computer character to mimic but the truth is it matters not what I do, the only importance is on which side the simulated coin lands. I swear I've fluffed a trick and ended up just doing an ollie only for the computer character to successfully land the jump and then bail as if he ran over a discarded ironic badge. A professional skateboarder who trips over an ollie? Pure, unadulterated suck right there.

Lara Croft

Lara is very much a staple memory of many gamers with her tomb raiding and gravity defying boobs. Except one of those things doesn't hold up to scrutiny and let's face it, the other is pretty obvious for all to see. Lara is certainly no Indiana Jones and not just because she's carrying a pair of ever expanding sweater puppies and all he's got is a whip. She doesn't raid tombs and she certainly doesn't explore them, she's simply too busy killing the local wild life and the mercenaries hoping for a peek. Ms Croft is single handedly responsible for the destruction of more tombs than you could shake a stick at. I'm sure this makes for a more entertaining game than methodically exploring tombs in the hopes of recovering some ancient artifact but couldn't the title be a bit less misleading? Lara Croft in Tomb Destroyer. No? How about Relic Obliterator? Ancestral Burial Ground Desecrator? Maybe it needs work.

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Video game characters who suck at their job
Posted on Tuesday, June 24 2008 @ 18:08:09 Eastern

Mario

Let's get the obvious out of the way straight away. Mario sucked at his job and I don't mean plumber. Let's face it, the guy's never held a wrench in his video game life so I don't think that moniker holds any water at this point. What I'm talking about here is the job of 'Princess Saver'. Mario blew what could have been a three level job (Level 1 - princess taken, Level 2 - journey to the princess, Level 3 - save princess!) into an adventure spanning multiple 'worlds'. Don't get me wrong, this was for the best since no one wants to play a paltry three levels before being crowned king of a place no one's ever heard of but what was the reason for this extension? "Thank you Mario. But our princess is in another castle!" Damn. Maybe Mario could have focused a little more on his navigational skills and a little less on his turtle jumping and dinosaur befriending skills? Just saying.

Gordon Freeman from Half Life

Gordon Freeman was a scientist. Scientists study things and as most people know, studying means you don't shoot the s*** out of it. Presumably Freeman was quite the scientist before HL1; his presence in Black Mesa indicates he must have had something going for him in the research department, but when the faeces hit the rotating air movement device he turned into a full time badass/terrible scientist. Clearly this is so much better for the game, I highly doubt a Half Life game about examining petri dishes and cultivating a distinct lack of social skills would have pulled in quite as many sales, but the fact remains Freeman the scientist sucked and blew at the same time.

Every character in every WWII game ever created

I don't care who they are, I don't care if they single handedly f***ed over every German character in virtual Poland, they all sucked at their job. Any member of the Allied forces had a single job to do; stop the evil Axis empire. This task was accomplished in six years of fighting in the real world while apparently the video game equivalent of the evil Axis empire is still going strong. This hasn't been going for a measly six years, WWII games go back at least as far as 1984 making them about a year older than I am. If the real World War 2 had lasted 24 years I'd be forced to assume that, thanks to the '60s, pilots would have been bombing the f*** out of German occupied territory while tripping their balls off on LSD and ground battles would have taken an odd turn once the shrooms had taken effect. I'm wondering how efficient the killing would have been when the world started leaking colour and the rifles started talking.

Jung and Michael from Rainbow 6: Vegas

These guys exist to help Logan and so, since you control him, you. Logan is the guy in control; he points, they follow; he points angrily, they shoot the guy dead. Or at least that's how it should work. In reality Jung and Michael are little more than planks of wood that fire bullets (sometimes) and fall down in a crumpled heap after absorbing too many of the terrorists' bullets (most of the time). You point to a door the opposite end of the room and they'll barge straight through terrorist infested areas to get there irrespective of the dire case of lead poisoning they're rapidly contracting. They're also incapable of making basic decisions themselves such as reviving a fallen team mate. I thought soldiers were meant to look out for each other? Apparently realising that they should stick that magic needle into whatever area of their comrade's body is nearest the sky is too much for these guys to understand which is why they'll wait for your command before doing anything but inhaling shrapnel so if it's you that's waiting for assistance... well you may as well just kick it now and save yourself time.

Master Chief from Halo

Hear me out here. Master Chief was initially created because of the growing problem with terrorists and space pirates. Of course this first calling wasn't to be because the Covenant came and started glassing the hell out of every planet they didn't like the look of. The Spartans suddenly had a new enemy; one that was ugly as sin in several different ways and had seen some hidden advantage of firing brightly coloured, slow moving, easily avoidable lumps of superheated plasma that causes weapons to overheat frequently as opposed to regular old ballistic based artillery that needs to be... reloaded every so often. So before these alien bad guys wiped humanity off the face of the galaxy Chief got a buzz on and started kicking Elite, and then Brute, ass. I'll never dispute his ability to do this since it is quite evident; I mean the Grunts call him Demon and the Elites, a frighteningly gung ho race, actually respect him. The problem is that all of this crazy exchange of lead/superheated ball of plasma is over the salvation/destruction of the human race with Chief obviously siding with the humans since he's one of us yet every single level in all of the Halo games has resulted in countless of the bloody marines dying. Yes this could be chalked up to their own ineptitude (and they are inept) but it's the Chief's job to stop them biting it given that he's the one who's been training for war right after training for the toilet and he's the one with the MJOLNIR armour. It's got to the stage now where I'm honestly wondering if humans have reached endangered species level and, more relevantly, if they hold any military funerals at all any more or just kick them all out into space at the next opportunity to save time. Personally I think being engulfed in an enormous glowing orb of ship grade plasma would be a cool way to dispose of the body.

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Advertising campaigns that shouldn't work but apparently do
Posted on Wednesday, June 11 2008 @ 15:27:21 Eastern

In a regular (non) working day one could expect to encounter all sorts of advertisements, adverts if you will. They're on the radio, on the side of buses, in newspapers, on billboards, on the internet and of course on the television. Spend an hour or so plugged into the vast entertainment network that passes for Western 'culture' these days and you'll come into contact with all sorts of adverts. Some of these actually serve their purpose; you know, making us want to buy the product being advertised, but most are peculiar mixes of various themes either totally unconnected to the product or linked by a thread so tenuous it threatens to snap in two should anyone actually put any thought into it. Companies have had to get more inventive with their adverts as consumers have become more savvy. Gone are the days when a simple "Hey! Hey, you. Buy our product, it's really good!" would suffice, instead advertisers need to truly big up their product or distract the customer from any degree of suck their product may have by presenting another theme in much larger quantities. Kind of like putting an anti-worm pill for your dog inside a steak pie. Adverts change but these themes generally stay the same:

Ill advised comedy

One example is sticking in my mind here, it's for some sort of painkiller; paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, something like that but with the added bonus of giving the sensation of a massage. A man in an office is rubbing his neck and is advised by an attractive colleague that he needs a massage. Cut to this guy naked but for a pair of boxer shorts (no stains visible) laying on the desk when she plonks the advertised product down next to him. There are plenty of these types of adverts knocking about but most of the time the comedy is mixed with other things, like sex.

Sex appeal... or appeals to sex

This is probably the most prominent theme ever and I'm not just talking about in the advertising world. Even the example above had a reference to sex, well if you believe that stuff about knocking shops masquerading as massage parlours anyway. Even inherently unsexy items often use natural horniness as a way to sell. The advert for Mazdas features attractive people dancing and jumping as the car drives up and down an unusual shifting background, the Rustlers advert shows what appears to be a conventionally attractive woman in a coat only conventional for a public flasher roaming Central Park magically convert into a steaming sexpot lounging sexfully wearing underwear available from the likes of Ann Summers on the spinning sofa intended to emulate a room sized microwave. Moreover I don't think I've ever seen an advert for a cologne or perfume that didn't feature either an incredibly attractive woman in skimpy attire or an attractive guy in trousers only. If you're lucky the sexiness of the advert will be incorporated into the product in some way, if you're unlucky (and we're usually unlucky) then the product will be tacked on as an after thought once the bouncy models finish prancing... actually that's not so unlucky at all is it? The worst for this is Lynx (like Axe for those of you across the pond). The geniuses at Lynx HQ decided way back when that their product should be targeted towards adolescents and young adult males and as any advertiser can tell you: appeal to your audience. So what do adolescent and young adult males crave most? Poon, tang and getting their end away. And so began a lengthy advertising campaign which can basically be summed up as "spray this on your junk and you'll have your pick of these lovelies" *present lovelies in provocative poses*. This strategy has apparently been successful since the company is still going strong despite most of its wares being about as effective at preventing excess perspiration as this condom would be at preventing the transmission of an STD and carrying completely unappealing names such as 'Africa' (nothing says "suck on this, baby" quite like the smell of oppression and apartheid). Even so, I have to wonder about the merits of an advert depicting a man simultaneously becoming a chocolate effigy of himself and irresistible to all manner of fantastic women as he runs around town. I'd never complain about getting another chance to catch a glimpse of those wonderful ladies but I must lament how inaccurate the advert actually is.

Completely unrelated to the product in question

I'm thinking of a water advert here. It features Brains from Thunderbirds dancing for a couple of minutes. Only at the very end of the advert is the product being advertised actually mentioned and this idea is used all too frequently. Sure occasionally it's fun to guess what the hell an advert is getting at but it has to be pulled off pretty well to justify the screen time used to do nothing but allow the director of the piece to display his hitherto unused creativity in a totally irrelevant way.

This blog has been overwhelmingly critical of these sorts of adverts but at least they have the potential to be entertaining even if most don't pull it off. If the alternative is the sort of fare insurance companies usually deliver I'd prefer running the risk of viewing an enjoyable advert to having to watch a D list celebrity threaten financial destitution if I don't buy their insurance.

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Gaming and its social element
Posted on Tuesday, June 3 2008 @ 09:55:20 Eastern

How old are you? No, there's no hidden agenda to that question and with the second question all shall become clear: when did you start playing video games? Well, maybe everything doesn't become clear here. My point is gaming has changed. Track down a...   read more...

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Games I'm looking forward to getting back to
Posted on Tuesday, May 27 2008 @ 16:43:07 Eastern

I've been away from my 360 for nearly five days. I've had plenty to keep me occupied since last Thursday; my end of degree ball; saying goodbye to people; frantically cleaning my flat so I don't get ridiculous charges due to gobshite flatmates and so...   read more...

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A pre-emptive strike
Posted on Tuesday, April 29 2008 @ 19:26:18 Eastern

Well it's sort of a pre-emptive strike, it can't be a real pre-emptive strike because there have already been articles about the evils of Grand Theft Auto IV (what? You thought it was going to be about the new Brawl?). So what is this, an... ...   read more...

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Anticipation
Posted on Wednesday, April 9 2008 @ 21:42:04 Eastern

So the year is 2008, video games have existed in some form or another for a little over four decades. One of the most hotly anticipated games EVER is just around the corner and I am (almost) literally pissing myself with excitement. The only way I co...   read more...

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Gaming Addiction
Posted on Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 21:11:27 Eastern

Addiction\'s a funny thing. There are people, know-it-all people, who would claim a person has an addiction if they frequently indulge in something they enjoy whether that \'thing\' is music, films, jogging, gaming, masturbation, drinking, smoking an...   read more...

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The importance of enunciation
Posted on Wednesday, February 13 2008 @ 16:01:15 Eastern

Read this in the voice of Father Stone from Father Ted and if you don't know what that is then just stop reading, I don't want the likes of you here.

I play Mass Effect with great interest and I absorb volumes of information about the alie...   read more...

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Hype: the benefits and pitfalls
Posted on Sunday, February 10 2008 @ 20:05:09 Eastern

Hype's a funny thing. We see it everywhere, at least everywhere there is a public interest. Books are hyped, music is hyped (I still remember the massive build up to the first Angels & Airwaves album; Velvet Revolver, Foo Fighters and several oth...   read more...

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