George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire has become incredibly popular over the last few years, mostly due to the success of HBO’s V adaptation. Because of it’s critical acclaim, medieval fantasy setting and phenomenal popularity, it was only a matter of time before a development team started seeking out the rights to bring the story to games consoles.

As a fan of the series, both novels and TV series, I was in two minds about the news that developer Cyanide was working on an action RPG installment to the franchise (not least because of the critical slamming that the developer’s previous installment, an RTS based in the same world, received). After playing the game through to it’s conclusion, I remain in two minds. The game-play is, for the most part, utterly dreadful. The character models are bizarre and animations an be even more so. The voice acting is pretty poor but, as this is an RPG, you would expect a heavy reliance on narrative, and thankfully this is where the game really shines.

The plot centers on two main protagonists: Mors Westford, a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, and Alester Sarwyck, long absent son of a Westeros Lord who has become a Red Priest of Rh’llor. Sounds confusing? Don’t worry; the game manages to induct you into the world quite quickly and with impressive little patronising. Players will take on the role of either of the protagonists, dependent on certain choices that are made and which chapters are being played. Each character can be created to use one particular fighting style, and each have their own unique special abilities. I found that the best way to keep things fresh was to give both characters dramatically different fighting styles, though thanks to the game’s sloppy mechanics even that may not be enough.

The game’s combat system is a half-heated mash up of other titles’, with the most noticeable styles being from Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher 2. In any combat scenario, the player selects which target they are going to attack and which type of attack they are going to use. Unfortunately, there are only two standard types: attack and defend. You can use stamina to use special abilities, selected from a skill wheel while the action enters a very Witcher 2 style slow-motion. The problem is that most of the special abilities use quite a lot of stamina, so you will inevitably find yourself using two basic ineffective attacks for most of the game, until you can progress enough through the levels to improve your base stamina.

Both the visuals and the sound really let the game down. Graphically, the game looks like a title from the previous generation with only a few half-decent lighting effects to improve it. Character animations have been based on the actors from the TV series where possible and these characters look fine, but it looks as though the developer couldn’t be bothered putting the same amount of effort into original characters who, including one of the main playable characters, look simply weird. Locations have, again, been based on those from the TV series and are well enough designed, if a little simple in their layout. The music is fair, not standing out in any way (though fans will recognize a few of the themes). The final nail in the coffin for the game is the voice acting which is, across the board, awful. Both of the main characters sound bored, even during emotionally intense scenes. Needless to say, this takes away a fair amount of the impact that this well written story deserves. Also, characters from the series aren’t voiced by the actors that portrayed them and, whilst this didn’t bother me too much, it is certain to rile some fans of the series.

All in all, if you play games for a rich and immersive experience, Game of Thrones is not for you. There is definitely a gem here in the form of the game’s excellent story, but I can’t imagine that many gamers will be willing to wade through the wreckage of the game to appreciate it.

Scientific discussion has, to an extent, become more and more prevalent in popular culture in recent years. There are various reasons for this, from newspapers warning us about LHC-induced black holes killing us all to Professor Brian Cox managing to find the hook to interest audiences on a large scale. Whatever you may think of Prof Cox, it can only be described as a good result if people are leaning more and more towards rationality and wanting to know how the world actually works. 

It is very easy to move onto religion-bashing from any talk about scientific discovery, but I don’t think that it is necessary to do so. Religion is too deeply rooted in every society for my telling people that their faith is a po-faced  fairy tale based on vanity to have any effect. Why should I bother? I know that my beliefs are feasible and based on evidence rather than superstition, so it shouldn’t matter to me that people believe otherwise. I have been asked why I’m so tolerant of religion before and I always have to respond that I’m not tolerant; I’m indifferent. As long as other peoples beliefs aren’t encroaching on me, they’re welcome to them.

That is not to say that I believe that religion has a place in a modern world, as in all honesty I can’t see why we still cling to beliefs that are, logically, impossible and only become more far-fetched the more we learn about the universe. I just cling to the dated idea that maybe people should just get along for a change. In the words of War: Why can’t we be friends?

A belief in the supernatural is another part of the human ego that I don’t understand, however I believe that such beliefs can, in fact, be dangerous to people who are more inclined to follow them. Mediums, for example, are a group of people who take people’s money in exchange for a chat with a dead relative. How such people are allowed to do this is beyond me, yet this is a legally acceptable business. If someone claims that a ghost made them murder someone, however, the plea is, as it should be, dismissed without consideration. Why is there this hypocrisy? If you can’t accept that the latter is a possibility then you logically cannot accept the former and until the issue is addressed, vulnerable people are going to continue being taken advantage of.

In the interest of fairness, the other side of the argument can irritate me quite as much. It grates at me to hear people loudly condemning other people’s beliefs, be they religious or otherwise, without knowing the evidence or theory to support their own argument. A popular one is that ghosts can’t possibly be real, as they violate the laws of physics, yet if you ask them to explain exactly what they mean, you will rarely hear someone explaining the second law of thermodynamics and contextually apply it to the argument they so boldly give.

I think that science is the only possible way for the future. I do not think that religion will exist at the scale it is now in another 100 years. Taking these two beliefs, I think that people who firmly believe in science should keep working towards a better world and that religion should stop telling everyone to ‘repent or burn!’. In fact, both should ignore the other, as we have pots of evidence showing that they aren’t friends.

I’m not too keen on a future based on two different societies trying to ‘one-up’ the other.

Horror has been represented in video games in many different ways, from the action-based gore fest that is Resident Evil to the psychological nerve assault that is Project Zero. Despite the differences in the approach to the genre, however, most horror video games base the fear experience around the same thing: the fact that you are fighting the object of terror. The same cannot be said of free-to-play game Slender.

The game is based around the Slender Man mythology which was brought into being by the Something Awful forums, where a cryptic post showed old photographs which, in the background of each, featured a tall and strangely proportioned man with no features in a dark suit. It inevitably didn’t take too long for the internet to be filled with further images, stories and videos all depicting the Slender Man, all with a creepy tone to them.

The game itself is a first-person affair, and you begin by awakening in the woods. It is dark and you are armed only with a torch and a slight sprint ability. You have one goal: to collect 8 separate pages which are hidden on various landmarks throughout the area. Sounds simple? Sure it does. Sure it would be, too, were it not for the fact that you are being pursued by the Slender Man throughout your search.

The visuals aren’t amazing, but this is a fan made game. A free one, at that. The sound, however, is excellent. The sounds of the forest are quickly subverted by a terrible, layered pounding that rhythmically continues, making you think of large and heavy footsteps closing in on you. There are also occasional audio glitches which are the staple of any horror; a loud, high pitched sound akin to a malfunctioning radio. These all add together to create an excellent accompaniment to what is being shown on screen.

The sense of chase is where the game really succeeds and you will inevitably find yourself sprinting through the woods wildly, sure that the lanky antagonist (lanktagonist?) is right behind you. The fact is that you will rarely see Slender Man as, Amnesia style, looking at him causes damage to you and so you have to turn very quick and run, meaning that he is behind you. For the most part, whenever you do encounter him it will be as an ominous figure in the background who will appear closer each time you see him and he never moves whilst in your vision. The genius of this is that, as he is always static, the trees in the forest very quickly start to look like Slender Man, panicking you and making you lose track of where you are or where you were going.

The pages that you have to collect are, themselves, creepy as all hell. They all bear a childlike stick drawing of Slender Man and have some ominous messages. My two personal favourites are ‘Follows’ and ‘Can’t Run’. As there are only 8 of the pages, the game isn’t a long one, especially seeing as you probably won’t manage to get all 8. This is instead a quick and fast scare which relies on the threat of very imminent death rather than a gradual building of atmosphere.

I personally see this as a great piece of inspiration for game developers; you don’t need to arm your protagonist to the teeth and throw wave after wave of monsters at them to get scares. Give the player a sense of helplessness and of inevitability. Give them the unknown and you’ll scare the trousers off them. Slender certainly did that to me.

It’s over! With the final whistle heralding the victory of Spain came the end of the tournament and, despite the coverage in newspapers and news channels of racism and violence, I think it’s been a good show. To watch, of course. If you’re sitting at home. Not having your head caved in by a bigoted gimp with more teeth than braincells (and that’s saying something).

Not being what you’d call a ‘football fan’ (league matches annoy me with the heavy application of ego that the sport attracts), I think that I had the benefit of being able to enjoy all aspects of the tournament because I simply did not really care who came out on top. Oh, of course I cheered England and wanted them to win, but was I crushed when they inevitably buggered it up? No, because I enjoyed watching the game itself. 

There is, alas, one thing about the game that I’m sure riles every single person watching. Why, why do the players have to be drafted from the Screen Actors’ Guild? Players collectively spent more time rolling about on the floor than a prostitute in times of plenty. It’s unnecessary, it’s embarrassing and, worst of all, it damages the game. Not only in an immediate sense, though the flow of the games seemed to consistently interrupted by grown men crying about the fact that the nasty man on the other team’s foot touched them. This is a game which is predominantly played using the feet, thus some innocent kicking is to be expected. If I was watching a game where the players had to smack each other in the forehead with their own testicles and, after suffering a devastating ball-to-eye catastrophe, the offended player calls for a penalty, I would have to recommend that the man decide to play another sport seeing as the sweaty appendage (it’s a tense game, nerves are tense) seems to disagree with him in such a way that renders him useless in his chosen profession. So why is it that players are let off for such flagrant leg-clutching in order to curry favour with the referee? Fear not, ladies and gentlemen, for there is a solution:

We should introduce aspects of the Grand National, an incomprehensibly popular sporting event, into football. It is a well known (if reluctantly admitted) fact that the horses who prove to be cost-prohibitive are put down. This obviously is only to cut the owners’ losses and enable them to be in a better position to come back at a later stage (disgusting a practice that it may be) and it clearly has no psychological impact on the horses. Imagine, if you will, this scenario played out, not on a horse, but on a human being. If a footballer knew that, with injury, came a sad sigh and the words ‘take ‘im out back, John’ followed by a walk outside and the assistant coach fixing his damp eyes on them as he raised the shotgun, I believe that players would stop trying to be Helen Mirren and would just get on with the game that they are paid obscene amounts of money to play. 

I’m starting to get old. Not physically, as I am at the tender age of 23 but mentally? I’m starting to get old. I’ve suspected as much for some time, but I find it confirmed every time I try to entertain myself. I put on a film and I’m prepared to be disappointed from the start. I couldn’t give much less of a shit how cool Robert Downey Jr. is in The Avengers. I try out a new game and see things that I’ve seen before in a thousand other games, emit a world-weary sigh and return to that age-old question: what should I do with my day off?

I have been wondering why I find myself with such a miserable view of everything and have come to the conclusion that the problem is that I’m expecting entertainment outputs to treat me like an (at least moderately) intelligent person. Anyone who has been to the cinema, opened a newspaper or booted up a video game is aware of this and it is a blessed shame. It sounds like your typical American-bashing, but I have started to turn more towards foreign film-makers and authors to help me pass the time as they seem to try more original ideas and styles than a Hollywood blockbuster. The best comparison I can come up with is that Hollywood is like a roller-coaster; you’re being led through the story at high speed and adrenaline hits you like a giddy brick, whereas I much prefer to be led through a story as though through a dark room by an unseen figure; there is a sense of danger and mystery and you have no idea what is at the other end of the room, only that it might be marvellous. Basically, I don’t want have my hand held and I don’t want to be patronised.

The problem is that entertainment exists not only to entertain, but to allow itself to continue to entertain. To whit, it needs to make money and the fact is that as long as one style and genre is making money, studios will continue to replicate it, squeezing every last penny out of every idea before abandoning it to the shadowy realms of forgotten memory to usurp the next fad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that they’re the sole cause, and I entirely understand the necessity for the studios to be able to make a profit from what they produce. We, the consumers, have to accept out share of the blame, after all the only reason the same ideas get reused and stagnate is because we will pay to go and see the latest offering every time, meaning that the studios never feel the need to take more of a risk because we aren’t giving them any reason to.

I sit down and watch the huge-budget titles, too. The reason for my doing so is that a fast paced story, huge set-pieces and shallow writing are a quick thrill, undemanding of intellect or attention and after a week at work when you’re stressed and exhausted, that can be all that you need. But sometimes, I feel that everybody should watch a foreign or an independent film. Don’t be put off by a complex plot and an emphasis on characterisation, look forward to the feeling of contemplation and satisfaction that will come before the end credits and, most of all, don’t allow the studios to fool you into thinking that you are stupid, that you can’t handle anything ‘more difficult’ than what Michael Bay has just made. After all, there’s as much enjoyment in a slow sip of bourbon (two cubes floating freely) as there is in a shot of tequila.

You’re better than they give you credit for.

It is, in my opinion, a shame that people who respond to the question, “what do you like to do in your spare time?” with “I’m a gamer” have to do so only after a nervous little laugh and an ashamed glance at their shoes. People still envisage gamers as spotty teenagers with no social skills sitting in their parents house all day and eating Pringles, whereas the truth is that this is true of only 37% of gamers (that is a fact-checked statistic only if you don’t go trying to verify it). The fact is that the video games industry is becoming more akin to the film industry with every passing year, with the production values of AAA titles soaring. Indeed a report from http://www.joystiq.com claimed that the video-games industry was worth $74Billion in 2011, showing us that playing video-games is a rapidly increasing pass-time.

Why is it, then, that whenever the media report on a murder or on gang activity, or rapists or any unsavoury story, all gamers will hold their breaths waiting for the line “the murderer played video-games”? Let me tell you that absolutely no-one has so much as passed out from a lack of oxygen waiting for this remark.  The usual sacrificial game held up before the world is Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto, a game (for those of you who must have been dead for some time [congratulations on your revival!]) where the player assumes control of a chap and is able to high-tail around a fictional city stealing cars and using them to mow down civilians. ‘Well they may have a point!’, I hear you cry. Just wait a second, I reply with a frown furrowing my brow and a finger raised to make sure that my point is well and truly made, these heinous activities that people are enjoying on the game are not the reason for the games existence. The ending of the most recent GTA title leaves the player with a distinct ‘crime doesn’t pay’ flavour and notes of ‘best not go out and murder countless people’. The fact of the matter is that the people who play such games only to wreak virtual mayhem bought the game for just that reason. They were not expecting to create an online farm and annoy the face off of all their friends by constantly spamming them with updates about it, asking them to get a similar online farm and spam all of their friends with it, creating a circle of pain and misery that will only stop when 2012 ends and they realise that the world didn’t end, who’d have thought it, and go out into a bright sunny day, ready with the promise of a new life. Sorry, I digress.

There is an argument that, perhaps the developers of these games are being irresponsible by putting some of the content into their games that they do, and that is a much more fair line to take. However, it would only be irresponsible if the games were aimed at children, which they demonstrably are not. Games such as this all feature on their covers a large red circle with the number ’18’ printed in stand-out white. Now this, as a message to all cretinous parents out there who think such games are corrupting children’s minds, means that this game is intended for people who are above the age of 18, the age where one becomes an adult and (theoretically) takes responsibility for one’s actions, where blame becomes nothing more than a hark-back to childhood. It is, in fact, a legal responsibility of retailers not to sell such a product to anyone under the age stated. There you go, all those evil corporations you hate are even telling you that it isn’t suitable for kids. But as soon as you allow your offspring to play the game and they start using foul language and acting in a way most inappropriate for a child, it is immediately someone else’s fault.

I suppose what I am saying, and I will round off this incomprehensible vent of spleen here, is that if you are a parent and allow a child to watch pornography, when the child suddenly becomes obsessed with sex and has no concept of socially acceptable ways of approaching such situations, then you should take responsibility for that, bend over and let the huge rod of ‘consequence’ re-enact one of your child’s favourite scenes.

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