[Edited version of a long email i sent.  Trying to make it less current tense while talking about last year! I’ve also put Demon’s Souls in a proper position. It’s a lot higher than it was! Now i know it got a bit of a anti-hardcore backlash from a few dissenters on the internet, but i geniunely enjoyed it. You know you are really deeply into a game when the clock strikes 3am and you’re still gripping the controller with palms sweaty from the tension!]

Last year was a pretty good year for gaming, in spite of the “run away” mentality of almost every publisher at the end of the year, as the assumed omnipotence of Modern Warfare 2 loomed greatly over what could have been a fantastic final few months.  Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2, Bayonetta, God Of War 3, Split/Second, and many more all turned their tails and bravely run away into 2010.  It means we’ve had a great beginning to this year, but it meant the pickings were a bit thin at the end of last year.  Not that this has stopped lots of great games coming out anyway, just only from the brave, the niche, or those that just knew that they already had a strong enough fan base.

Aside from this, it’s been a year of my gaining two pretty sweet new consoles.  
Nintendo’s DSi came out in April and was a day one purchase for me.  Although some of the new features are pretty easy to ignore, it’s new feel, better ergonomics, and improved online capabilities made it quite desirable to me, in spite of it not really being a massive technological jump.  More dramatic than this was my succumbing to Sony’s charms once more and finally getting a PS3.  When the much smaller slim was announced with a very appealing price drop, the lure of Little Big Planet, God of War 3, and DC Online Universe overwhelmed me, i could resist no longer and i had to get one.  Although i’m still keeping to my “exclusives only” rule, i’m finding that there are plenty of absolutely great games available on it, show casing a greater power when it comes to processing and graphics in some games, as well as an often more enjoyable, and free, online experience.  It is often a fairly lonely one, with very little in the way of comms, but people are generally friendlier and less annoying.

10) Disgaea DS (DS) – A fun, involving, and practically bottom-lessly deep strategy JRPG.  Great, if insane, characters and a fun and easy to use combat system.  The difficult necessitates a lot of grinding, which can get a little dull, but the levelling options are neatly incorporated in the strategy elements.

9)   Battlefield 1943 (XBLA) – A much anticipated download that just had a lot of well thought out ideas to make it as fun as possible.  A mixture of vehicles, a basic and easily changed set of classes, and simple combat made this a real blast to play and at very little cost.

8 ) Mario and Luigi in Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) – A curious mixture of Mario platforming and RPG type combat, but a lot of fun with a good story and likeable and often funny characters.  Completely bonkers but absorbing.

7)  Assassin’s Creed 2 (Xbox360) – Such a massive improvement over what was a rather dissappointing first game.  A wealth of new features, much more likeable characters, and a fun world in which to explore.

6)  Batman Arkham Asylum (Xbox360) – Rare is the game that does the right thing with a superhero franchise.  Most just mess it right up with either bad story, improperly used characters, terrible controls, or just rubbish ideas.  Batman Arkham Asylum avoids so many of these problems, creating a likeable Batman voiced by proper voice actors who’ve made the characters their own, a decent story, and a simple but exciting combat system.

5)  Borderlands (Xbox360) – A fun, breezy shooter with absurd weapons, bizarre characters, a well judged difficulty curve, and a unique graphics style.  Nice online co-op as well, if the local co-op is spoilt by a cluttered display.

4)  Killzone 2 (PS3) – When i first booted this up, the graphics blew me away.  It does just look gorgeous, unfortunately the single player campaign is like Gears of Wars’ spoilt idiot son, but don’t let that put you off, the online mutliplayer is excellent.  Huge, gorgeous, interesting matches, and plenty of levelling up to do that’s not just handed to you.  A lot of fun and well worth putting the effort into.

3)  Uncharted 2 (PS3) – I managed to get through the brilliant prequel before this came out and already had a big soft spot for Nathan Drake.  As Bourne is to Bond, Nathan is to Indy.  Aside from a likeable lead, this has a great cast, female characters that approach Alyx Vance in terms of strength and doing good for computer generated Woman-kind, beautiful and exciting set pieces, and a lovely control scheme.  It’s also got a wealth of online modes, with a tonne of free DLC available.  Absolutely awe inspiring and exhilirating.

2) Demon’s Souls (PS3) – This is a curiousity. It’s a game that, well, i really shouldn’t have played when i did. You see, i bought it for myself as a Christmas present. It’s only available on import from the US from what is likely to be a limited run, but the word of mouth and reviews were seriously glowing. Most of it’s praise however, was due to it’s unashamed hardcore nature. Never being one to shy away from some sort of elitist niche 😉 , or at least give it a go, i got it on import. While i was off sick, i was naughty, and in a fit of illness induced self-pity i started playing it. My thinking being, what if it’s just too hardcore for me. What a frustrating dissappointment that would be. I owed it to myself to give it a go. 😉

Well, it is pretty hardcore, but it is definitely fair. In fact, it takes most of the quite unrealistic things from RPGs that help you get by, and gets rid of them. No wolves dropping spoons for you to sell, all monsters are a threat to the unready, carelessness costs you lives, in fact, this is a game that embraces your characters death. At the end of the tutorial there’s boss which is supposed to kill you. Really. (It will kill you on your first playthrough at least.) It will scare you when you see this enormous beast swining a huge axe at you. Then you get to start playing.

You spend most of the game, in soul form, with a depleted health bar, fighting things that can easily kill you with a few well placed blows. There’s a lot to be said about this game, mainly because it’s got a wealth of refreshing and original ideas all packaged up in the unassuming guise of a standard dungeon crawling RPG. For me, it’s the fantastic combat that allows you to be graceful if you can master it, and the fact that every move you make, every step, every retread is filled with intrepidation and fear. Thrilling but demanding and destined to be a classic.

1)  Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox360) – Bit of a no-brainer.  Very much the social online game as far as i’m concerned the new version adds so much to the game and is definitely much more than just a collection of add-ons to an already excellent game.  With so much done to fix the original, not that it really needed much fixing, this is a game that deserves praise for taking it’s own ideas in exciting new directions.  Also, hurray for Valve, DLC is already planned for next spring, bringing back Zoe, Bill, Francis and Louis for a zombie packed meeting (including a new Campaign for Coop and Versus, Scavenge and Survival) and extra weaponry!

Published in: on 29/03/2010 at 9:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turn of the decade – Music of the 00’s

[Note : This is a few months old now, but definitely still accurate.]

The last decade was probably the most important decade for music for me. The 90’s were definitely my formative years, but for most of it i lacked both disposable income and the immense scope of discovery that the internet has given us. This decade, i had the money and the means to really stretch my musical legs. It took time to get the ball rolling, but once it did it caused a veritable avalanche of cd’s – a geniune hazard in my bedroom as Michelle will no doubt wearily testify.

It’s hard to encompass it all in a nice and easy way, especially as remembering just a years worth of musical discovery is hard, and some acts hit high points with specific albums only to never quite make good on their promise. So i’m going to cheat a bit.
Honourable mentions :

Vitalic, Justice, Soulwax/2 Many DJ’s : For doing their very best to stop dance music just becoming a farce of no-talent morons doing covers.

Poison the well : Only just got into this band this year with the absolutely awesome “The Tropic Rot” and have soon become a band that i’ve hunted down as many albums as possible for and have never been disappointed. Definitely my band of the last year.

Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Pixies, Iron Maiden : Four bands that have offered up some of my musical highlights in terms of live performances. Meeting Trent and the rest of the band was fantastic, as was seeing Faith No More and The Pixies – two bands who i never believed i would have a chance of seeing, and an afternoon of drinking at Twickenham followed by two hours of metal awesomeness just made Iron Maiden total amazing.

MP3 players : Let’s all be honest, they’ve changed the way that everyone listens to music forever. It might not all be for the best, i still fear MP3’s will kill the album, but in terms of being able to just buy specific songs and the ability to carry large chunks of your music collection around with you, they’ve done considerable good for music lovers everywhere.

One-hit wonders of the decade : (Five bands who hit a peak they never returned to)

5) The Rise – Signal to Noise : Just awesome hardcore/electronica cross-over. This band got me into Refused, which is never a bad thing, and is definitely an album that i can listen to in one sitting without ever looking for the skip button.
4) Mudvayne – LD50 : Just in the last decade – early 2000, but a fantastic album. Severely overlooked because of comparisons with Slipknot, this album’s got much more in terms of creativity and originality and should have been given a much better chance than it was.
3) At the drive-in – Relationship of Command : This may seem a little unfair, but this was their glorious swan song, and the only one of their albums released in this decade.
2) Bloc Party – Silent Alarm : Initially i resisted the charms of this band, but i don’t know why. A musical tour-de-force, brimming with great songs and fantastic double guitar riffing, all topped off with some truly great drumming.
1) Queens of the stone age – Songs for the deaf : Definitely the peak of the Queens’ career. A band at the height of it’s powers spawning some of best singles of the decade. With Dave Grohl blowing everyone away with his drumming, Mark Lanegan providing some great extra vocals, and before Nick Oliveri left and a big part of their edge went with him, this was the sound of a group of performers clicking like very few others ever do.

Bands of the decade : When trying to pick my best albums out i hit a big problem, i was often having to comapre two albums by the same artists and pick one over the other. In the end i noticed a pattern, certain bands kept just cropping up time and time again. I figured that rather than just trying to pick out specific albums, i will just take the easy road and pick out the bands that have, for various reasons, just made the last decade so musically memorable to me.

10) Lamb of God (Albums : Ashes of the wake, Sacrement, Wrath)

Fairly late to the table, but just brimming with metally goodness. A thorough-bred of riffery and growly vocals. I picked up Sacrement first, and over time found that i just loved listening to all of it. Ashes of the wake and Wrath followed on, and all are just a joy to listen to. One of many metal acts that i’ve listened to since it’s rebirth in my musical horizons, but definitely a notable high point.

9) Kings of Leon (Albums : Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak, Because of the times)

Before they really fell out of favour with me with their commercial album. (YUCK). These guys were the embodiement of modern rock’n’roll. They looked like freakish gonks and rocked like an avalanche. The first two albums are now sadly sold as “complete-ists” collections, but really were them at their very best.

8 ) yourcodenameis:milo (Albums : All roads to a fault, Ignoto, They came from the sun)

Just a great band with their own sound. Liked the fact that they tried out a few new ideas on each album and certainly knew how to rock more than their mainstream contemparies.

7) TV on the Radio (Albums : Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, Return to cookie mountain, Dear Science)

Fantastic vocals make the backbone of this group, a sort of barbershop quartet for the 21st century with each album improving on the previous in terms of ideas and creativity.

6) Les Savy Fav (Albums : Inches, Let’s Stay Friends)

A wide variety of styles and sounds packed into both of these albums along with some incredible songs definitely make them deserve a place in this top 10.

5) Yo La Tengo (Albums : And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, Summer Sun, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass)

Technically it’s a non-00’s album of theirs that should be here. For me, “I can hear the heart beating as one” is one of the best and most accomplished albums i’ve heard. Covering a wide variety of styles and genres with little effort but always sounding like it’s their speciciality whatever they are playing. They make beautiful music and were a band that definitely played a big part in broadening my musical horizons.

4) The Paper Chase (Albums : Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1, Now You Are One of Us, God Bless Your Black Heart, Hide the Kitchen Knives)

A horror band, best way to describe them, or certainly discomfort if not horror. Their lyrics are often creepy, lecherous or just eerie, with a mixture of guitars, strings, piano and samples to back it up. All chugging along as if they want to suggest that there’s something about to jump out from the shadows and grab you. Simply unique and in my mind unmissable.

3) Mastodon (Albums : Leviathan, Blood Mountain, Crack the Skye)

A massive metal monster of a band that have managed to make prog not such a dirty word any more. Great riffs, fantastic vocals, and awesome songs.

2) McLusky / Future of the left (Albums : My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours, Mclusky Do Dallas, The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, Mcluskyism / Curses, Last night i saved her from vampires, Travels with myself and another)

A band i discovered when they first split up – fortunately they partially reformed as the more eclectic Future of the left – McLusky were clever, witty, yet fierce and have made me pick up more lyrics than many others bands due to sheer catchiness.

1) Reuben (Albums : Racecar is racecar backwards, Very Fast Very Dangerous, In cities we trust, We should have gone to University)

A band of the last decade in many ways. Forming near the beginning of the 00’s they sadly split up in ’09 but left a musical legacy worth cherishing. Many great albums with many great songs and little fear of being aggressive in a nerd-rage sort of way. A common, bittersweet theme to several songs of their being a struggling rock band made their untimely demise all the more heartbreaking.

Published in: on 29/03/2010 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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