WIN: When World of Warcraft meets Coffee..

January 11, 2010
Unless, like me, you’ve spent the last week or so pretty much living in bed, it’s been hard to ignore the Snowmageddon that’s been sweeping the nation. And in a situation like that, there’s nothing better to do than sit down, with a hot drink, and play video games.

There’s probably other ways of spending the time, but it wouldn’t be useful to talk about those when we’re about to talk about the aforementioned activities, as BritishGaming has got some unique World of Warcraft Raiding Kits to give away courtesy of Starbucks.

These special packages consist of a limited edition WoW themed mug, a USB cup warmer, and samples of Starbucks’ upcoming instant coffee, VIA, which is scheduled to be released in March. There have only been 25 of these mugs made, so you’ve a chance at getting a rather unique item.

Unfortunately, until the kits arrived at BGB Towers I forgot that I don’t like coffee, making me possibly the worst choice to review it. Thankfully, scientific studies I’ve just made up state that Dads tend to like coffee, and I happen to have one of those. The reliable verdict from him is generally positive, and if you’re looking for an instant coffee that tastes more like real coffee, it certainly fulfils that criteria and does what it sets out to. More significantly, it’s got lots of caffeine, and that’s all that truly matters in life.

To be in with a chance of winning one of the two kits, simply answer this question.

The mug shows a Hearthstone from World of Warcraft on it. What does a Hearthstone do in the game?
a) Teleport you to a home place
b) Attach a thunderhand to your attack
c) Confuse editors unfamiliar with the game into thinking someone stuck an additional H in to the word but with no idea which one of the H’s they should take out

Send your answer that you probably just found on Google you cheating git in to an email with your full name and address to winstuff@britishgaming.co.uk – with the subject title “Starbucks”.

You have until 7pm GMT on January 14th 2010 to enter. 2 people with the correct answer will be chosen at random to win kits. No cash alternative. UK residents only, employees of BritishGaming.co.uk, Starbucks and Activision Blizzard are illegible from this competition. 1 entry per person.

If you’re a company that has a product you’d like us to give away with a tenuous link to the video games industry or would just like to shower our wonderful audience with goodies.

Tony Hawk RIDE

December 23, 2009
For Tony Hawk’s tenth skateboarding iteration, after being dethroned by EA’s Skate and swapping developers from Neversoft to Robomodo, controllers are out and a bulky plastic skateboard peripheral is in.

Obviously you’re not going to be launching the board up in the air or kicking it into a spinning pirouette, so it’s more a series of codified abstractions than a real skateboard in your living room – push down on the back to Ollie, wiggle the board a little to do tricks and wave your hand over the sensors to grab it. On screen your awkward movements and uncoordinated seizures translate into the tricks and moves we all know and love – Christ Airs and Melons and Turkish Delights and Polish Social Workers.

As you can imagine, seeing your physical actions being read by the magic electronic plank beneath you, and spat into the game world, is quite exciting. It’s like when you first used a computer mouse in the eighties or nineties, but now you’re standing on it and looking like a burke in front of your friends. You scrape your foot along the floor and as if by magic (or an infrared sensor on the side of the board) you start to move in the game.

It’s really quite stimulating – after the 15 minutes of configuration, Tony Hawk’s pandering voiceovers and video tutorials where Tony’s wearing the absolute whitest Vans trainers in the world – to be wobbling about on a plastic board and making somewhat approximated animations appear in the game world. It’s physically engrossing and kinetically pleasing. Then Tony asks you to do a “flip flick trick”, which sees you popping the board up, rotating it 90 degrees clockwise and then swinging it back in line with your TV. Easy, let’s do it.

Your character does a spin and lands on his face. And then your foot is apparently over a sensor so your skater does a nosegrab instead. And then your skater does a manual, for some reason. Then your Xbox crashes.*

Tony Hawk RIDE
I don’t want to belabour the point, but I spent 2 hours reading about this fabled trick on the internet. Developers Robomodo released some handy YouTube videos but the comments are filled with angry gamers who can’t make their complicated (and annotated) instructions work. Forums have dedicated topics to this line of trickery and video reviews bring it up as an impossible move. I think it would be easier to just buy a skateboard, learn how to ride it and land a ‘varial’ in real life. Backwards. On the moon.

None of this is made any easier by the half-second lag between living-room-wobbles and in-game- manoeuvres, the ultra-sensitive sensors that launch you into grabs if you step on them or the general inconsistency from one movement to another. Sometimes the board is ultra sensitive and other times it just goes to sleep. Leave the board perfectly still on the floor and menus will spin and skaters will push themselves to their inevitable doom. That definitely isn’t going to help matters when you actually step on it.

Therefore the game is, in a word, broken. If your 360 controller’s guide button only popped open the dashboard once in five presses, or your toaster would only start toasting when you slam the button with the force of an Olympic God**, you’d probably start digging through your cupboard for a receipt. Or a hammer.

It’s hard to pin down, exactly, where the majority of the blame lies. The skateboard controller itself is actually a pretty decent piece of kit – sturdy, aesthetically pleasing and its grip tape and curved underbelly give a pretty accurate representation of a skateboard. The game itself however, rattling about in the large box like a toy frog in a box of Shreddies, is so embarrassingly awful that it makes Proving Ground and American Wasteland look like ambitious artistic endeavours.

It’s so far away from being a satisfying and complete game that you’d swear they accidently left the proof-of-concept beta build in your box. It’s shallow, stupid and lacks many of the features that Neversoft built in nine refinements of the series. You won’t miss doing tuck jumps or hanging onto gutters, but the session markers and video creation tools are sorely missed. But you can still dress your skater up in different clothes! Ell Oh Ell, I made him 7 foot tall and really fat!

Tony Hawk RIDE
The four (four!) skateboarding modes it gives you are: time trial, trick, vert and challenge. If you say “free skate” is a mode, you’re getting slapped. The first three basically require you to wiggle about enough to get a good enough time or score to complete it. Challenge is the fun one (that’s sarcasm, if you couldn’t detect it, challenges make me want to gouge my eyes out) that asks you to do extremely specific moves. Fun, challenging and satisfying when you pull it off, TV-smashingly infuriating for the hundred attempts that you failed because the board didn’t work right or the game arbitrarily said you failed.

Obviously talking about the terrible graphics, incessant glitches, embarrassing skater videos and uninspiring cities is pretty redundant when, you know, the game doesn’t work correctly. But the menus deserve special mention – they are, without a doubt, the least helpful menus since Little Chef. I could write an entire dissertation on this ugly, mangled mess of inconsistent actions and useless information boxes. Sometimes you can navigate (poorly) with the skateboard, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can press the buttons on the side of the board, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes they say “clearing the vert gap is totally gnarly” without an iota of irony.

Between every mode you must – take a deep breath – accept a pop-up by doing an Ollie, insert your name by physically picking up an Xbox 360 controller, back out of the event, enter the next event, reposition the board, kick the start button and do an Ollie. It could be cut in half if they didn’t ask “Regular or Goofy?” between every event. Oh, you can remember that my man is naked except shoes and tight shorts, but you can’t remember my preferred position on the skateboard?

null Tony Hawk RIDE is rubbish. It’s almost amazing how rubbish they managed to make it and still have the balls to charge the price they are. RIDE is, at a very basic level, a few minutes of physical, kinetic fun. But it’s more of the “£1 a go in a Brighton Arcade” kind of fun, and not the “£99.99 boxed product from Argos” one.

*That’s not a joke for effect – the game has fully locked up my Xbox 360 three times since receiving the game.

Hands on – God of War III

October 31, 2009
After playing an entire generation worth of clunky brawlers and button mashing slice-n-dices nicknamed “god of war” clones, it’s easy to forget why they inherited that cheeky moniker in the first place.

But it only takes a few seconds of God of War III, with its brutal blood shedding evisceration and the way it amps simple button presses into glorious lacerating manoeuvres, to remember why Kratos is king. The way the screen shudders erratically when you unleash giant swipes and the floors of ancient Greek palaces become awash with blood. The way you switch between close combat fists, mid range swords and distancing arrows in split second decisions of tactics and violence.

Sony Santa Monica does have a tricky decision though; what secondary pace-changing and palette-cleansing game play can be inserted between fights, but live up to the gargantuan violence and runaway freight-train pace of its brutal combat? Light Tomb-Raidering and harpy-grabbing platforming are admirable attempts, but don’t really fit the bill. Ridiculously fast flights up burning chambers are on the right lines though.

As are the demo’s multiple boss encounters that make a change from the popcorn enemies littered between them; giant mythological beasts that mix combination fighting with quick QTEs, and even make you forget that QTEs suck for a few seconds as you wrench off a lion-monster’s horn and shove it through its skull.

God of War III is bloody beautiful. The opener of the demo features a giant render of Kratos’ snarling chops; press start and the camera swings out to the play area – no loading screen, no jarring cutscene beat – all in game. The world toys with shadows and contrast to make scenery that would be prerendered backdrops in previous generations, Kratos is constructed from more polygons than some games put together and blood is that gooey, crimson gel that games love so much.

And it sounds bloody amazing too. The epic score, the clinking blades and the thumping bass of each skull crushing punch. If this game doesn’t make you buy an HDTV and a good speaker set up or some quality headphones, nothing will.

And it’s also bloody brutal and borderline sickening. I’ve now pulled out a Cyclops’ eye and ripped off Helios’ head, and I’m not sure my dinner is going to stay down. Every fight ends in some gut wrenching (sometimes literally) manner, some blood spraying finale or a neck wrenching climax where the skin finally tears and the blood is let loose. I’m feeling queasy just typing it.

But gore is God of War’s calling card and without it the visceral, brutal and downright sadistic violence would be silenced, the primal thrill neutred and the game’s claim to fame compromised. Then again, if you disembowel a Centaur, rip out a Cyclops’ eye and remove a head with unrelenting force within a 15 minute demo, I think I’ll be playing with a sick bucket when the full game launches next year.

God of War III will be a Playstation 3 exclusive when it launches in early 2010.