Everything, recently

17 Jul

Games – Splinter Cell: Conviction

Not having touched a Splinter Cell since the PS2 demo of Pandora Tomorrow, I had swiftly avoided any sense of disappointment with the new emphasis on shooty, neck-snapping stealth, rather than old-tyme shadow-lurkery. Discovery is still a fatal enough prospect that taking the quiet route is preferable 100% of the time, but Sam Fisher is no thumb-handed chump in a fight – his takedowns are beautifully swift, and instead of feeling like it’s taking control away from me, the Mark and Execute feature is almost addictive. I’ve no problem with jumping from a pipe onto a baddie, then near-instantly slotting Enemies 2 through 4 even if I’m not doing the aiming, because it doesn’t allow my own lack of marksmanship to ruin the spy-fi fantasy.

Even so, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing story-wise until about halfway through. The plot speeds by at breakneck pace, and is mostly delivered by the strained voices of terrified interrogation victims, so I wasn’t entirely sure why I was investigating weaponised EMPs even whilst I was breaking into the factory making them. As a whole it wasn’t badly written (there are some properly alarming moments near the end, mostly involving civilians) and the evil satisfaction that the highly predatory stealth (it’s surprisingly reminiscent of Crysis’ non-alien sections, with much mouthier guards) so often delivers was enough to see me through to the end. It just wouldn’t have hurt to take a breather now and then.

"It won't be like that time you pulled five guys out the window in quick succession, Fisher! I'm stood at least half a foot away from it!"

Music – Revolutions/Live At Wembley (Biffy Clyro)

One of the two bands whose material I was born without the ability to dislike returns, with their first live CD/DVD. I was actually in attendance at the recorded gig, so I happily parted with the cash knowing it was an organ-vibrating beast of a performance. The already-collossal outro of That Golden Rule growls with a dirtier, rawer punchiness than the studio effort, and Folding Stars becomes a dreamily gorgeous acoustic number. There’s No blah blah Jaggy Snake etc. is just as ferocious in the flesh, while even the comparatively poppy Many of Horror (“It’s the only version of this song”  mumbles an indignant Simon Neil on the unexpectedly hilarious DVD commentary) becomes house-sized after being augmented with thousand of backing vocalists.

Admittedly I coughed up £42 for the special edition version; a pleasingly tactile tinbox filled with confetti (possibly swept off an arena floor), plenty of nice-smelling paperwork, and a thumb-sized chunk of bright red guitar. This stuff is undoubtedly sweetener, rather than the ridiculous, overshadowing tat we sometimes see in the more expensive editions of videogames, but the fact that this little shard of instrument is both unique and spawned from a a pretty scarce resource makes it special to me. I’ll keep it near my piece of the blue flag from Only Revolution’s cover art.

Games – Frozen Synapse

A good friend of mine claims he can’t think of anything good to say about his favourite farming simulator, but is compelled to play it exhaustively regardless. This is my attitude to Frozen Synapse, a turn-based squad shooter where you can both plan and simulate turns before committing them, but in reverse. I know it’s great – watching a gambit pay off, springing a trap, or blowing up a wall with two guys behind it is joyous to behold. It’s also, with the notable exception of some asymmetrical map design, unrelentingly fair; you can simulate possible enemy manuevers as well as your own, and so failure is seldom caused by anything other than your own misjudgments. And yet I can’t bring myself to play it other than when I’ve got a multiplayer match planned. I notice my opponents tend to take multiples of the time it takes me to finalise a move, so I suppose I simply don’t have the patience for the hundreds of move/aim/shot/hide combinations I could attempt with the simulation feature. The closing minutes of every one of my multiplayer games have still been electrically tense, even with my rushed hope-for-best strategies, and I find it extremely commendable that it never forces you to make more complex plans that you’re comfortable with.

In addition, thanks to the apparently permanent B.O.G.O.F. offer on Steam, I have a spare copy if anyone wants it. Just give me a shout in the comments.

Films – Die Hard 1 and 2

A combination of a free LoveFilm trial and a recommendation from my action-hating better half was sufficient encouragement to try out this old series. I’ve only seen the first two, and they’re surprisingly different: I can’t check for sure now I’ve sent them back, but it seemed like Bruce Willis had crushed his first grunt to death on a conveyor belt in number 2 faster than it took the bad guys to even show up in the first. I’m kind of glad they sanded down McClane’s rougher edges for the second though; when he was wrestling that vaguely glam-metal chap, wailing how he’d “kill you like I killed your brother” (he was really only clinging onto him when the latter fell down some stairs) he seemed less ‘no-nonsense cop’ and more ‘fucking psychopath’. Die Hard definately had the better villain, though. I can’t even remember the name of the Quite Nasty White Guy in 2, and other than briefly resenting him for blowing up the plane of PlummyAccentCon 1990 attendees he didn’t seem nearly as wonderfully villainous as Alan Rickman’s smug master thief. To conclude: both are good, explosions are neat.

Games – Team Fortress 2

I clocked my 600th hour of TF2 this week after much pratting about on trading servers, hoping to pick up both the Uber update weapons and some of the rarer summer-themed items from a later update. Valve inconsiderately proved many of my predictions about the Uber gear to be utterly wrong: the Tomislav is so quick to deploy it tears through rival Heavies even with the slower firing speed, and the Quick-Fix is so utterly useless in the vast majority of situations I’ve come to consider switching teams if our Medic is using it. Ubercharges and Kritzes are game-changers – a crowning moment of awesome that can annihilate defenses or strike down multiple attackers. If your team lost, it was probably because you didn’t have a decent Medic. Yet the QF’s charge (which just increases its own healing rate) can’t come anywhere near the protective or offensive capabilities of either, and considering it already can’t overheal (that’s a potential 50% loss in overall team health right there) I certainly question the sense of anyone using it.

Some believe the sheer volume of new unlockables that have been stuffed into this game are effectively ruining it. As I chug a can of invulnerability cola and dart around a sentry overlooking Granary’s final capture point, catching its Engineer between the raging gunbarrels and my invincible self long enough to cut down his health to critical levels and allowing a Demoman to lob a fatal pipe bomb into the back of his head, I see that the characterful and dynamic inter-class play at the heart of TF2 is still alive and well. 600 more hours!*

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