On the third effects of mass, and not on specific spoilers, I promise.

Is free will an illusion?

Do the actions of our past truly define our present and future, or is our ultimate destiny written in stone (or possibly some more complex but theoretically decypherably language scrawled across the universe)?

It’s one of the classic questions reflected in story ever since man first picked up the quill and began to write ponderous self-important fiction, and has persisted to the present day in which narrative has been honed to its ultimate form – pretentious, ponderous blog posts. And I believe I finally may be nearing an answer; it depends entirely on whether God is being forced to animate our destinies to a rigid launch date, and does he have to fit all the spoken dialogue onto two DVDs?

There’s a lot of smack being talked about Mass Effect 3. Fans worldwide are raging out about how the tantalizingly vast array of choices and sacrifices demanded throughout the game ultimately boiled down to one frustratingly closed-minded cutscene. I personally would agree that the game could be compared to being sexually edged for twenty to thirty hours by a master whore, only for it to finally be revealed that the whore is an expertly animated shop dummy, the considerable amount of money you spent on her now seems largely wasted, and that the pimp has crippled her in such a way that her resale value is diminished by her inability to perform multi-player for anyone but you.

That said, I’ve had a marvellously entertaining twenty to thirty hours, although if anone asked me to describe the game, I would probably say “harrowing”. Like some cross between Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise and Battle Royale, the game repeatedly re-introduces characters that you’ve come to love over the last three games; characters you’ve helped, and who have in turn helped you, and presumably ones you’ve gone to some degree of effort in the past to preserve. Then it pairs up your prized and beloved companions in front of you, loads a revolver, and asks you who you love more.

Somehow the actual choice here makes it more disturbing. When the acts of the plot murder your companions, it’s not so hard to take. The universe has taken them from you, and these not being real characters, you’re blameless. There’s no way they could have survived. The knowledge that more missions, more dialogue, and more touching moments exist for each character, and that you’re making a decision that robs them of that, can be gutwrenching at times. This is how Mass Effect has captured an element of Interesting Times that I’ve never really felt in a video game before; the loss, the waste, and the sacrifice. As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I couldn’t say it’s a wholly positive experience. Commander Shepard certainly isn’t a hero that women want to be and men want to be with. Although that said, Shepard does seem to inspire a certain bisexuality, and even Xenophelia, in almost everyone he/she meets.

The great tragedy is that after all this emotional battery, the game takes the bizarre and borderline psychopathic measure of reassuring you that you’re innocent of all these crimes and heroics, because what you’re ultimately given is a straightforward choice as to how you want to fuck the universe. The whore asks you where you’d like to blow your load; in her ass or the face? Maybe the classic creampie?

She then proceeds to donkey-punch you until your blood and semen trickly sadly down your leg into your crumpled underpants. I think we can probably leave that metaphor there.

Mass Effect 3 is, I would not deny, a great game, and narratively taps into a vein of emotion and inspiration that’s possibly never been mined before in the gaming meduium. It’s just a shame that after crafting a fascinating universe, pioneering the preservation of choice between installments and after probably more than a hundred hours of individual gameplay this labour of love sadly falls short of what we’ve come to expect, in the last ten minutes of the show.

Now if you’re still playing ME3 for the first time, I urge you to make the most of the excellent missions on offer, and not to be impatient for closure. Because it’s a bit shit.

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Four free games you may never tire of

Sustainability is a hot issue these days, so in the interests of efficiency here’s a list of awesome games that write themselves as you play them.

Spelunky

SpelunkyIf you haven’t played Mossmouth’s freeware randomized Indiana-Jones-em-up, you absolutely should. Broadly speaking a cross between vintage platformer Rick Dangerous and one of your granddad’s rambling yarns that change every time he tells them, Spelunky is a prince among procedural games purely because every game you play is golden. Play it, you’ll die. A lot. And every time, you’ll love it. It’s being re-developed as a commercial XBox Live indie title, but is still (and will remain) available free for Windows. Because Mossmouth still got love for the streets.

Dwarf Fortress

I'm watching Inglorious Basterds.  Sweet jesus, this is the shittiest movie Brad Pitt's ever done.Tarn Adams’ sprawling epic Dwarf Fortress isn’t for the faint of heart. The vanilla version sports nethackesque ASCII-only graphics, though veterans hold that after a while you don’t see the code. It’s like the Matrix, with dwarves and the capacity to build infernal contraptions that drown invading armies with freshly pulped cats. It takes the form of a random-terrain basebuilding sim in the vague style of Dungeon Master, though the unbelievable depth and flexibility in it means you can basically make your dwarves do whatever sadistic savagery tickles your fancy. If it’s all a bit daunting, you can follow the sexiness of Captain Duck’s honeyed dutch tones in his tutorial series on getting started in the game. You’ll probably need it.

Canabalt

Yeh, this game is about to end.Why is Canabalt man running? What are the shadowy monstrosities looming in the distance? I’m a twenty-seven year old man with eighteen years of gaming behind me, why can I never get the fucker to go through a window? Why does adding a fourth question break the narrative flow? Another impossibly addictive free game that’s been catapulted into the commercial market, Canabalt was recently ported to the iPhone. Seems bound for success, given Canabalt’s headlong single buttonry is instantly addictive, lasts about thirty seconds before inevitable plummeting death, and can hold you captive for about the length of a moderate bus journey. Hit the button to make your running man jump, to hurtle through and over buildings in twitch-inducing accelerating parkour. Check out the free flash version at Canabalt central.

Probability: 0

Probability 0You’re a man. As you descend into the pit, surrounded and assaulted always by red-eyed fiends, your constantly dwindling chances of escape are displayed at the top of the screen in such cheery idioms as “Probability of seeing your family again” and “Parallel universes in which you still live”. When you hit zero, you die, you swear, you compulsively start again. A nice touch is the ability to start with Talent (moderate abilities but no advancement) and Potential (no starting perks but the potential to level up past the abilities of a Talented character). Though statistics show that if you select Talent you are a dogfucker. Go and fuck your dogs at the official thread at TIGForums.

Warning Forever

Wow, this is a grandaddy of procedural games, with the respectable pedigree of all Hikware shrumps. Three minutes on the clock, infinite randomly-constructed bosses and the ability to piss fire like an demon with herpes. Die and lose time, kill a boss and claw a little back. That’s really all there is to it; it was released in 2003 and didn’t tax the hardware then, but its neon-tinted apocalypse looks like like it was built yesterday. If you’ve got the p300 and DirectX 7 it demands, you can pick it up at the official site.

I will admit, he does transmit…

BALLS. I just bought a power ball. It’s allegedly a fantastic way for nerds to exercise their pale, bandy little arms – so hopefully I’ll soon be looking like this guy:

Yeah, keep watching there, it gets funnier. Respect to the guy, I know I’d never be able to do that near a mirror. I particularly like the choice of music – “I’m coming home again to you ’cause you’re my only friend”. Indeed.

And because it’s awesome, and it’s Balls:

I watched the Watchmen and made a tired pun about it

dr-manhattan-3Watchmen finally hit UK cinemas last week, and my contemporaries and I made a pilgrimage around the weekend to see it (in the biggest motherfucking cinema I’ve ever seen, seriously, what’s the deal with that?).

After a modest period of casually asking each other what we thought of it (british to a man, can’t show too much uninvited enthusiasm) shit-eating grins broke out all round, and happy fanboyism commenced.  In case you haven’t heard, it is good, and faithful to a degree I didn’t think possible.  Alan Moore is a writing deity in my book, but he’d do well to stop grumbling about other people paying him multi-million-dollar homage and start complaining about the people who watch the damn thing.

I’d wondered how public opinion would regard Watchmen; western culture doesn’t deal well with pragmatism and mixed motives in its news reports, let alone its entertainment.  If hell froze over and the mature themes in Watchmen – a comic that muddies the waters of morality around terrorism, murder and rape – weren’t censored or omitted, how would the stupid, cow-eyed masses of the public react to it?  Condemnation?  Dare I hope for a reconsideration on the unsympathetic reactions to what we are told to regard as criminals?  I was beginning to fear for British tabloids‘ readership.

I needn’t have worried.  Rather than discussing the plot and characters, the blood-spattered smiley has been supplanted in the hearts of the population by a giant, glowing dong.  Transfixed by the shiny (helmeted) objects, the media pundits narrowly avoided discussing questionable morality and instead fixated on Doc Manhattan’s freely swinging member.  You’d think that in light of recent events, radioactive cocks would be a sensitive subject in the UK, but noooooo.

I do love how, although taboo in most circumstances, unrestrained wangers are considered more suitable for public consumption (steady now) than questioning the moral status quo.  Still, at least my Comedian badge is bona-fide geek cred, right?

Puzzle Quest Galactrix – the thinking gamer’s domestic abuse

galactrix_logo1

I’m conflicted about tagging this as a game review.  Because I’m not completely sure that’s what Puzzle Quest is.

It masquerades as a simple Popcap-esque brainteaser, a little casual gaming sundae laced with sprinklings of RPG-element crack to drag you in.  Any friend of mine will tell you I’m a total slug for RPG games, and I do love a good DS-based casual puzzler (plus god knows I loves me some crack).  So what’s the beef bringing the savoury spoilage to my delicious ice cream metaphor?

Well, it’s a tasty treat, but critically, it’s by no means a fair one.  It repeatedly occurs that I’m grinding my opponent into dust only for the random tiles replenishing the board to trigger some chance hurricane of destruction that maxes out the enemy’s special move gauges, gives the cunt seventeen turns and I lose my shields.  This isn’t a bloody game, it’s a device by which I repeatedly provide my opponent a stick with which to batter me.  It’s like playing a game of football where every five minutes the referee declares the opposition striker gets to kick you full-on in the balls, and you’re not allowed to guard.

This is repeated ad infinitum, until I’m developing the gaming equivalent of battered wife syndrome.  Knowing that any given move could cause the game to smack the shit out of me, I’m paranoid about making any move.  My stylus shakes indecisively over the game board, obsessive about preempting the vicious onslaught – but if I don’t choose, I don’t get beaten, right?  On some level I recognise that at some point playing Puzzle Quest I have fun, but I consistently come to the conclusion that the only winning move is to put the DS down and make myself a sandwich.  Which feels like cheating, because a sandwich is a winner every time.

The most annoying thing about these games is not that they’re bad.  Rubbing dog shit around inside my underpants doesn’t make my life a misery – because lacking any incentive, I just don’t do it.  Like an abusive spouse though, the good times with Puzzle Quest are good.  That glorious weekend at the beach.  The time it got me a Mining Laser for valentine’s day.  But then, the dinner’s not on the table, and I’m getting my face battered with a sock full of loose change.  By which I mean mine tiles and a damage multiplier.

So is Puzzle Quest a good game?  Yeah, I suppose it is, in the same way (to make the standard internet comparison) Hitler must have been a charmer – because there’s no way he’d have got those minorities gassed if he’d scrimped on the gameplay.

Or something like that. Anyway, play it for a bit, and tear your own fucking hair out.  You don’t need me to tell you this shit.

Grand Theft Auto : Chinatown Wars – First Impressions

chiatown1After a long wait, Nintendo handheld users (by which I mean, I) finally got an edition of GTA for the DS.  And it’s about time.  It’s true, the DS lacks the sheer girth of the PSP’s hardware (DO NOT ASK ABOUT MY CONSOLE PENIS LEAGUES), but the original GTA ran on four megs of RAM and a 486 processor.  Why not just throw out a retooled version of that?  It’s been freeware for god knows how long.

The reason is pretty evident when you pick up GTA:CW.  There’s a lot of features we’ve come to expect from GTA that the great granddaddy just didn’t provide – not least GTA4’s new “why the hell didn’t we have one of these before” routemapping feature.  Lock-on aiming, flippable vehicles you can leap out of at the last minute; CW might be DS based and stripped down, but its pedigree is pretty clear.  The engine and general game mechanics themselves play a lot like a souped-up GTA2 – tougher pedestrians and cars, although less of a freeform, sandboxy structure than the original.

I’m not sure placating the spoiled audience is the only reason a direct port wasn’t practical though.  The unspoken rule (actually, may even be contractual) is that ALL DS GAMES MUST INVOLVE TOUCHPAD FONDLING, and this is no exception, including chucking money at toll booths and – bizarrely – rummaging for firearms in bins.  I’m not a big fan of the toll booths in GTA4, but CW’s mockery of my ham-fisted blunderings is borderline unforgivable.  Switching between unintuitive controls is tricky at the best of times, when you’re trying not to crash and navigating a narrow space, it’s maddening.  Especially when some windowlicking dogfucker has decided that B should be accelerate, instead of the universally accepted right shoulder-button.

Which makes Chinatown Wars a mixed bag.  It’s definitely GTA, and it’s definitely a descendant of the classic GTA 1 and 2;  I’d recommend anyone who played the original to pick it up purely for nostalgia reasons.  But it’s retained some of the savvy moves of later iterations, with the GPS and targeting keeping it playable for more recent conversions to the franchise.  Remember backing away frantically, trying to fucking hit someone, ANYONE, with the pistol in GTA1?  It’s just a shame gimmicky touchpad interactions spoil the immersion in what would otherwise be a true classic.

I can’t shake the feeling that this touchy-feely rubbish is tacked on exclusively to make use of the DS’s trademarked gimmick.  I don’t understand why games crowbar this crap in, when there’s easily enough fantastic games out there that genuinely make good use of the touchpad (see Soul Bubbles and Music Monstars) to justify its existence.

Ethniclisted

So I was looking for a process manager for my lovely N78 on the official Nokia repository when I spotted the handy Advanced Call Manager:

“Advanced Call Manager for Symbian S3 – With Advanced Call Manager you can organize your phone book into custom lists like Black (people you don’t like to disturb you) and White (important people which are “allowed” to call you)”

Errr…  okay…

Now, I’m aware the fact that I noticed this says more about me than Advanced Call Manager, but hey, when IS somebody going to make an app so I can text burning crosses to ethnic friends?

edit: On the web page linked, it’s actually under the “Functionality” header, it’s only the summary when you access it through a Nokia phone.