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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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

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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.