Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Didn't get much gaming done over the weekend, on account that I was up in Harpham visiting my parents, who've both had their birthdays in the last week or so. Mum was very pleased with the Chinese cleaver I'd bought her in Soho, and Dad was likewise thrilled with his bottle of LBV Port (now that he's a "Wine Consultant" - which means I've now got a very cheap source of Chateauneuf du Pape). I took them to York on Saturday, where we had a lovely Chinese buffet and did some shopping. We even saw the Red Arrows, as the North Yorkshire Airshow was on a few miles down the road, and they went over the city once or twice.

I managed to pick up some bargains in HMV. Insomnia (watching it again at the weekend, Robin Williams doesn't actually feel so much out of place as he did when I saw it at the cinema - very odd, perhaps it's the small screen effect) and Road To Perdition were added to my ever increasing DVD collection, and I added another game to my collection too. Well, not so much added, as re-added.

My friend Florence will no doubt be totally mortified, but I bought Beyond Good & Evil again. I bought it a while back in Chelmsford when seeing Flo and Alex, but promptly lent it to Flo, since I was busy with Joint Ops at the time. Well, that's another "loan" that's going to turn into a "gift"... though Flo, I *will* want Jedi Academy back at some point. :-)

I'm not really sure why I bought it again - it was only a tenner, and the guys on State had been waxing lyrical about it again, so I just had a very strong compulsion to play it. You know what? It's really, really good. BG&E just does so many of the little things right, it's an absolute joy to play. The graphics are lovely without grinding your PC to a total standstill at 1280x1024, the sound is excellent, with some of the best voice-acting I've heard for ages, and the characters have real personality and, well... *character*. The character designers have also done a very good job. Jade is the total anti-thesis to Lara Croft or Bloodrayne. She's a very understated character - nothing stands out too much, apart from the green lipstick and her eyes. The developers have managed to make her identifiably feminine (and even the teensiest bit alluring) without resorting to "LOOK! THESE ARE BREASTS!" (See the Bloodrayne screenshot, below). Jade is athletic, inquisitive, intelligent and playful (I was gobsmacked when she called Pey'j "An old fart" - I thought "You can't say that!"), far more appealing that Lara Croft's "Breasts! And guns! Did I mention I have BREASTS?"

The game's an action-adventure, but it feels more like an RPG at times, with lots of character interaction plus some very well realised combat, which was unjustly critised in PC Zone for being simplistic and not having enough weapons (It's not Max Payne, you morons!) and a Deus Ex-esque conspiracy theory storyline. The game world is exquisitely realised, and there is a real feeling of consistency. The save game system is handled especially well. You can only save the game at MDisk terminals (which are dotted around the maps) and the game auto-loads at the point immediately before initiating combat if you die in a battle (rather than making you plough through the game again from your last save point) which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending upon your point of view (though I tend to think it's good). The eternal videogame problem of having HUGE inventories disappearing into thin air when not in use is cleverly solved by literally having it dissolve into thin air with a natty digitising pouch that sucks items TRON style into a electronic storage unit. It's simple, brilliant, and utterly consistent with the game world's technology. I daresay we'll see more games stealing the idea. The interface is very natural, and again, flows consistently with the game world. The world itself is beautifully realised, with wildlife, shiny water, boats, hovercraft, hovercars, and planes all buzzing about. The Pedestrian Areas in the city have just enough people in them, not too sparse, and not overpopulated for the area you're given to play in, either. The game feels like it's had a lot of effort and thought put into the design - everything just seems *right*.

However, the thing that's grabbed me the most is the camera. Not the 3D camera (though that too is well implemented) Jade's camera. Jade, you see, is an all-action reporter and freelance photographer. At the beginning of the game, your lighthouse has just had it's power supply cut off, and you need to earn some cash. Your main source of income, therefore, isn't from bashing monsters, it's from taking photos. Your first job (and this isn't a spoiler, really) is to take photographs of all the different types of lifeforms on the planet for the Science Centre. You use the camera from a first-person perspective, and you need to make sure that you have everything well framed and focussed to take a good enough photograph to get paid for. So you wander around happily taking photos of the local wildlife, and then you realise that the different kinds of people are lifeforms too, so you take photos of them too. Then when you're in combat, you realise that the thing's you're fighting are lifeforms, so you have to take photos of them, too. The game's constantly surprising you, as you ease into the universe and discover the terms upon which you're playing.

Even Pey'j, the SPACE PIG, isn't nearly as annoying as I feared. This is down to some top notch voice acting, and the fact that the character has been written well. He's almost endearing. However, it's the introduction of Double-H that will give you the biggest laugh of the first few hours. The game has nice tips of the hat everywhere - locations called Black Isle, West Wing (you can tell the influences on the developers here) and Double-H (who, like Minsc from Baldur's Gate) has taken one too many blows to the head, and has lost some of his memory, after you rescue him. He can't remember his name initially, and says "Double-H, Triple-X, whatever." (Triple-X, of course, being a WWF wrestler) He's kind of Minsc Meets Buzz Lightyear, and is a bit of a tragi-comic character, and is played for laughs, but in a way that makes you feel sympathetic to him. When Double-H uses his head, it's not to think, it's to smash through things.

All in all, I'm surprised at just how much I've enjoyed it so far,(Adventure isn't a genre I normally get on with) and will definitely make the effort to try and complete it. BG&E has real style, polish, sass and class. It's not revolutionary by any means, but I think it deserves a smigen more than the 84% PCG gave it.

In other news, some of the State people went to visit Pat in Amsterdam over the weekend. Poor old Aanand made the mistake of falling asleep before everyone else - whilst they were still drunk and had a camera. Ooops. Still, it could've been worse. He could've had his eyebrows shaved.

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