Sat down? Good, this will provide ample opportunity for me to bleat at you about what’s been going on these past weeks – some of it not even about games.
Part 1: The Part About Games
Obviously I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution,which takes pride of place as this post’s image theme. Shamefully, I hadn’t even played the original until last year, and Invisible War remains untouched, so I wasn’t able to honestly join in with the collective sighs of relief that oh boy, someone had finally got a DX sequel right. That said, it’s a magnificent game in its own right, a deep and compelling story of conspiracy and face-punching set in an artistically unique and richly detailed world. How great exactly is the scale of freedom? Easily the biggest complaint being levelled at Human Revolution is the inclusion of unavoidable boss fights, a jarring misstep considering every other section caters for shooting, sneaking and subterfuge. And yet, players promptly found clever and/or cheeky ways to end these fights without firing a shot. It’s not quite reminiscent of DX1’s pseudo-bosses, which you could circumvent by uttering a code phrase which makes them explode or, better yet, simply running away, but it’s always good to see an FPS which asks ‘So how do you want to do this?’ rather than ‘Which assault rifle do you want to shoot up this corridor with?’. Even when it locks you in a room with a furious man with a minigun for a forearm.
I also moved house, which isn’t particularly interesting, except it meant that, for the first time since June, I had broadband with actual broadband speeds, rather than something akin to a man reading an encyclopedia aloud down a length of hosepipe. In game terms, this meant I could download Battlefield: Bad Company 2 without causing horrific slowdown for myself and everyone else in my home, having purchased it weeks ago in the Steam Summer Sale. ULTIMATE VERDICT: it’s okay. I love how the weapons handle and sound, each having just enough recoil to feel powerful without becoming completely unwieldy. Other than that, there’s nothing special about what I’ve played so far (entirely the singleplayer campaign, as per my procedure of completing offline modes before entering the online fustercluck); it’s shorter than Black Ops, the story plods along, tonally shifting between Saving Private Ryan and Delta Farce with a peculiar regularity, and only one level – a hilly desert, previously filled with seawater and thus dotted with crusty shipwrecks – is visually distinct from places we’ve visited in games dozens of times before. Strangely, while I bought this to prepare for the upcoming Battlefield 3, it hasn’t changed my expectations at all – based on the admittedly dubious sources of trailers and alpha footage, this looks like it’s aiming to be an entirely different beast. Considering it’s a modern-day shooter set in the Middle East, I suppose it has to try.
Briefly returning to console land (Christ, it’s been what – a year and a bit?), I picked up Resistance 3 for the PS3 and blasted through it while pointlessly attempting to sniff back an incoming cold. The change from grunting military epic to a more personal, down-home tale was a welcome one, and I didn’t even think I missed being able to carry a dozen huge guns at once (Resistance 2 limited you to a primary and secondary) until I was switching between five in a single fight. That said, the emphasis on character-focused storytelling is somewhat at odds with a series that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go with its lore. Here’s a short version: a parasitic alien race called the Chimera have occupied Earth, and after two games which end with apparent victories, it’s only gotten worse (way to make replaying the old ones feel completely futile, guys!). Meanwhile there’s a bunch of incredibly tantalising backstory that literally everybody wants to hear, but remains infuriatingly stuck with passing mentions in notes and audio logs. I can’t fault the vast majority of R3 – it’s great fun, even now I’m a mouse and keyboard convert – but perhaps the reason it left me cold was that it’s based on a story so afraid of revealing anything important, in case Insomniac want to use some of it further down the line, that the scraps we were given couldn’t sustain yet another full-length adventure.
Part 2: The Serious Stuff
“One speaker described a British Tactical PsyOps team which had been working in Iraq. Its staff consisted of a builder, a fashion photographer, a telecoms engineer, a nursing graduate, several snipers and a mortar platoon on transfer to make up the numbers.”
After five goddamn months, I could finally be bothered to finish reading Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. As a lowly student of journalism, rather than a card-carrying, cape-wearing Grand Master of professional writing, I kind of went into it with the same mindset as a textbook. This was all wrong – it’s a book that aims to expose rather than teach, since every tale of embarrassing failure or ridiculous cosying-up to politicians, PRs and crooks is delivered with the kind of incredulity that assumes the reader knows how horrible it can sometimes get. As a result, I don’t think Flat earth News made me smarter, but I felt a bit smart whilst reading. It’s also surprisingly funny, in a kind of droll manner I can’t quite sufficiently articulate, and ends with three chapters each dedicated to a particular newspaper and packed with so many moreish details I wish he’d write a revised edition that does the same for all the major UK broadsheets.
Actually, there was one thing I’ll be sure to consider in my career: if you’re ever meant to be taking care of a source who has sensitive information on Israel’s nuclear weapons plans, don’t leave him alone to be kidnapped by Mossad agents. That’s quite important.
Incidentally, it wasn’t long after I completed this encyclopedia of journalistic mishaps that Johann Hari was found to have been a) copying quotes from other sources to use in his own interviews, ostensibly because what he gathered himself didn’t always make sense on paper (surely a fault of his technique rather than the interviewee?), b) policed his own Wikipedia article from negative comments whilst editing those of his rivals, calling them homophobes and anti-semites and c) fabricating details for a piece describing a visit to the Central African Republic, for which he was awarded an Orwell Prize in 2008. I mean, damn.
In the interests of disclosure, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan to begin with, but always found his style too sanctimonious to be the work of an habitual liar. I also find it odd the majority of ensuing Twitter-amplified anger has been directed at his quote wrangling rather than his Wikipedia antics. Common troll’s work, of course, made considerably worse with the knowledge that he was using an alias named for a real-life university acquaintance (who now holds a senior position at The Times – yikes), as well as the infuriating hypocrisy of posting libellous bullshit on one of the internet’s most-read sites when, in 2007, he was threatening to sue a blogger for libel – specifically, for calling his journalistic integrity into question. Incredible.
We haven’t seen the last of him either. He’s on a temporary suspension from the Independent while he takes a training course in the States – because how else can you know not to be dishonest in the press without private tutoring? – and has a decent sized circle of columnist friends who’ll probably vouch for him upon his return. It’s the least they can do, after he kept their Wikipedia pages clean of anything other than glowing praise as well. Frankly, though, any sane person should be more worried about what’s to become of the Indy. I’ve always enjoyed it, but their apologetic treatment of a man with such contempt for things like ‘honesty’ and ‘his readers’ has very unpleasant implications. Which is a terrible shame, as on the same day that Hari confessed to it all, his newspaper was running a marvelous and long-overdue investigation into Steve Whittamore, private eye and Fleet Street’s go-to man for dodgy info-gathering, on the front page. Solid, fearless journalism, forever to be overshadowed by one rogue hack. I’ll defend this craft to the death but Christ, no wonder Nick Davies had to write a book.
Part 3: New York New York, Newww-www Yoooork
I was in New York. It was great! Even with an underground train system you could bake clay in, I can easily see myself living there, on the conditions that I a) lived within walking distance on my day job and b) had a day job that made me filthy rich. We were there when Hurricane Irene passed through, five days after an earthquake rattled the border patrol desk I was passing through at JFK – there was some rain, and then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe in the evening, but just in case we needed to shack up in the hotel we ended up spending over $30 on a modest day’s rations from a cramped, sweaty deli.
NYC: The USA’s most populous city. Still doesn’t have any supermarkets.
I won’t list all the stuff I did, nor the places I recognised from various games (a lot), but here are some things I learned: one, Jack Daniels makes the greatest barbecue sauce in the known universe. Two, the holes in the side of a pair of Converse are wide enough to allow complete waterlogging from a brief step in a puddle. Three, don’t feel bad for ignoring people who try to talk to you on the street; their indignation might sting, but you may have just saved twenty-five bucks in horribly-titled rap CDs you’re only going to throw away when you get home.
Part 4: Torchwood
Finished, was terrible.