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What could be better than a stealth guerrilla dystopian action adventure game? A stealth guerrilla dystopian action adventure game with anthropomorphic animals of course!
In 2003 Ubisoft released this title across nearly every platform that was available at the time. Its commercial success was not as high as anticipated but it performed reasonably well on the PC and the Xbox. Initially it was to be part of a trilogy, but its puzzling failure to capture a wide audience has tarnished the reputation of the franchise and its sequel has finally been delayed until next gen consoles are available, despite a teaser being released in 2009.
Michael Ancel, the creative designer behind Rayman, was responsible for the design and development of Beyond Good and Evil, he claims they approached the game much like a film, and for the most part that actually plays out true, the linear plot line is immersed in a very in-depth and well thought out universe, the story having a very definite beginning, middle and end.
In March 2011 an HD remaster of the original game was made available through the Xbox 360 Marketplace and this review pertains to that version. I mention this because that means it is now available to download and play whenever you want, and you should, right now. Seriously, I'll wait right here.
Characters and Story
You play as Jade, a dependable and generous photo journalist who runs a shelter for orphans. She has a passion for martial arts and a keen eye for a story. She has set up home on in the lighthouse of a town called Hillys. The town has recently been under attack from the dreaded DomZ, an alien force, threatening to overcome the planet.
Although the Alpha Sections military are sworn to protect the loyal citizens of Hillys, all is not entirely right with the world. Often the attacks come in the night, the DomZ kidnapping people and destroying buildings and disappearing after this shock and awe campaign. The Alpha Sections are often absent when they should be fighting off the invading aliens. You can be arrested for murmuring dissent and people have started to whisper in dark bars, behind their hands.
Such is the case at the beginning of the game. Jade's home is subject to an attack just as the lighthouse shield generator runs out of credits. She must save the kids, singlehandedly by whacking the glowing green alien nasties with her stick and frightening them off. Even so, it's not a pleasant experience and she's soon contacted by a secret agency of resistance fighters who want to expose the awful truth behind the Alpha Section's apathy and the timing of the DomZ attacks.
When Pey'j, Jade's adopted uncle (an anthropomorphic pig) is kidnapped too, Jade's mission becomes personal, now she only has herself and a clumsy, if upstanding Alpha Sections officer named H to rely on.
Beyond Good and Evil is a fun and often twitchy mix of stealth combat (ala solid snake) puzzle adventure and racing game. As Jade completes missions she has to navigate her way through mazes of patrolling bad guys and alarm trip wires that are set to blow up or alert guards if she touches them. She has only a glove that shoots plastic discs to turn on far away buttons or misdirect guards and her agility to do so. If things turn really bad she does have her stick and a pretty good punch, but to be honest, if she's fighting guards, you've probably approached that room wrong.
In order to finance her missions and the cause of the resistance she must collect digital pearls that are stashed away in various optional dungeons, most of which require a combination of fighting and puzzle solving to pass through. When she is with either Pay'j or H they can perform attacks together that are the key to getting through certain obstacles.
Jade has access to a little hovercraft that she uses to move around the island nation of Hillys that is occasionally forced into shooter style combat sequences during DomZ attacks that frankly I could have done without. There is, however, a plot reason to take part in the Slaughterhouse races, a kind of underground aquatic race circuit that you can compete in at any time. The courses are wipeout style, with zip pads and booby traps that are actually pretty fun.
The big side quest in the game however is a pokemon style photography task where, because of the attacks, a science centre has asked Jade to document every living creature in Hillys. Some are easy, like seagulls and ladybugs or the various anthropomorphic races to be found wandering the streets. Some are a little less obvious, and require you to solve puzzles, like kicking a generator in a dungeon to turn off the lights and coax out a brilliant bioluminescent slug thing to creep out from behind some crates. You have only seconds to capture these creatures on film before they disappear again. It's diverting, satisfying and fun!
A big selling point is that nearly 10 years on its graphic design and world are still incredibly pretty. Ancel opted for quite a cartoony style with the game, but to be honest it really works. It's well acted, well animated and don't be fooled by the cutesy graphics, behind all that colourful fun lies quite a dark dystopic story that really shines by the second half of the game.
The world that Ancel has designed is as creepy as it is cheery. The citizens of Hillys are downtrodden, but hopeful and not likely to lie down and take domination easily. It's a society you can root for, if you can ignore the big screens everywhere shouting about how the Alpha Sections are here to protect and serve and how everyone should just go about their business while their children and families are captured and turned into human batteries.
The other is the gameplay itself. Every room in Jades missions are set out like a puzzle, it should be possible to get from A to B without being spotted, if you have to make a run for it, you've probably missed something. However, half the fun lies in distracting the guards, the shooty disc ability, if shot at close enough range can take out the breathing tank of a guard prompting his buddies to come and help, at which point, if you've positioned yourself right you kick or shot his out too, leaving you free to mosy on past to the next room.
Drop puzzles where you have to time jumps and drops down a shaft without setting off alarms are fun and the camera angles are well thought out and rarely irritating. Unfortunately you can't move the camera, but to be honest in some puzzles that would just give away the solution. Dying a couple of times just to catch a glimpse of the next corner is always an option; the game will just kick you back to the start of the last section anyway. *
The big deal here is that it's not a combat game! You don't go in there guns blazing, you don't get weapon or gear upgrades, the only consumables are health foods and boat fuel, your job is to get in there without being seen and take pictures that the resistance will publish. The growth of said resistance from tiny conspiracy theorists to lobbying activists is actually tangible as you progress through the story. Slowly, people in the street start talking about their newsletter, then the photos you publish and finally, when things start heating up they and the rest of the citizens are out in the streets waving placards. It's very uplifting.
*Incidentally I always feel a bit bad about the guards, who are really just doing a job, when one of their buddies gets hit they always shout "Hey!? HEY? You OK??" really earnestly and I feel a bit guilty...
Although Beyond Good and Evil hasn't really dated at all, it's still as playable now as it was then, it's tough to see what this rerelease in HD actually brings to the game. There are no special features, no deleted scenes or updated menu options. Everything has been left as it was bar the fact that it's HD. I'm really ok with that expect for the fact that the old Xbox game isn't backwards compatible so I essentially had to buy it twice. There is an avatar package available however, should you wish to dress your little version of yourself up as Jade or have a mini pet Pey'j. I actually think this should have been included in the download personally, cool as it is; I'm not buying more stuff.
It should tell you something that I am willing to pay for this game twice. The HD rerelease might just be a shiny update but it's a cracking game, and one I am willing to recommend heartily. If you fancy something a little different, where you don't go in all guns blazing where care and attention has clearly be lavished on character and world design then if you haven't played this you should, if you have, did you know it's available again?
The web statistics and article site AllFacebook.com revealed that in 2010 there were 80 million active users of the game application Farmville. In fact, it is estimated that of the 200 million users that log into Facebook every day around 15% were playing Farmville.
It's in interesting issue for the gaming world, once upon a time gamers were seen as reclusive geeks. Now, thanks in large part to successful marketing by giants like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, consoles, webapps and smartphone games are familiar territory for many new players who are being aggressively targeted by companies like Zynga wanting to exploit their free time and open wallets.
Resource management though? What is it about Farmville that attracts so many players?
I can't hope to answer that, I've played it and I suppose there is something satisfying about watching things grow and selling the efforts of your labours for whatever reward. But it's not a new concept, the Harvest Moon games for example, have been around since the early 90's.
Rune Factory Frontier is part of the Harvest Moon series. It's technically a spin off, since it deviates somewhat from the basic premise of the original series, but to my mind it improves on the concept a great deal. Perhaps I'm not cut out for the basic grind of plant:wait:tend:harvest:sell:buyseeds etc but I need something more from a game.
Yoshifumi Hashimoto, who produced the original Harvest Moon series describes Rune Factory as Harvest Moon where you wield a sword. It's a fair approximation; it's basically a farming game with a dungeon crawling element.
RF: Frontier was the first of the Rune Factory games to be released on a console, the previous two games were both DS only, and Frontier is technically the third in the series. The storylines are not linked in any way however and it is entirely possible to play them each independently.
Characters and Story
Harvest moon games in general have a habit of rehashing old character names and personalities and Rune Factory is no different. You play Raguna, a young man with amnesia who knows only that he came to town searching for a girl, Mist. As in previous Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games you are given a disused farm and a house in which to live. If only real estate were so easy to come by!
Mist is indeed living in the town, she and the inhabitants of the sleepy Trampoli are just plodding along through life, enjoying festivals and trying to stay out of the way of the occasional monster than wanders in to town.
Raguna is a pretty easy going guy, he doesn't seem too phased by being offered a place to live and it's easy for him to make friends. He seems to be possessed of a relaxed charisma that people find attractive, they want to help him, and often give him gifts to help him on his way.
The people of Trampoli do have secrets however, the inhabitants have backstories and personalities that you uncover as you play the game. The timeframe here is vast, you spend years in Trampoli, and your relationships develop slowly as you speak to people, use their services or give special gifts. There are 9 bachelorettes that you can woo and eventually marry and they are, in fact tied into the fate of the town itself. For some reason there is a large, sentient island floating above Trampoli, that is in the shape of a whale. To find the connection the maidens have to the island, which is slowly losing power, threatening to fall on the town, you must work the land, court the girl(s) and explore the four elemental dungeons below.
In Harvest moon you could woo girls, grow crops and raise animals and that is all still present in the Rune Factory Series. You buy seeds, clear the land, plant them and sell your crops. This all results in cash to upgrade your house, it's decoration and interior and buy equipment to cook, brew potions or forge gear.
There's actually a hell of a lot to do! Sometimes I feel like time is getting away from me to be honest. A day passes incredibly quickly, in fact in ten real seconds, ten minutes of game time passes. Crops grow if you water them, and take a set number of days to mature. Watering crops, tilling land, breaking up rocks or chopping wood all use up rune points. Your rune points can be restored with food or by relaxing at the spa (once a day) Here's the catch though, food is cooked by you, and it consumes rune points to make it or fish for ingredients or grow the veggies...etc. The balance is about finding the best foods you can make and stock piling it ready for a day of crafting, or fishing or dungeon crawling. (swinging your weapon also consumes it)
If you run out of rune points you end up collapsed and back in the hospital, possibly with a cold.
Learning how to pace yourself is important, if you work too hard you end up exhausted and can't run through town, walking takes forever to get anywhere.
However, if just seeing to your farm is running your rune points down too quickly (which might be a sign you've bitten off more than you can chew) there's hope. Firstly, you can upgrade your equipment with resources found in dungeons. This saves time and effort, for example, the watering can only waters one square of field, but upgrade it and it will water a line of three, so that eventually you can cover whole areas of your land with one move. The resources are hard to get to sometimes and require levelling in the dungeon both to reach them and to be strong enough to wield the upgraded tool.
There is also a monster raising element to the game. You encounter monsters in the dungeons that will try to kill you, if you use a taming glove you can send them back to the barn where if you keep them fed and pet them every day they eventually become domesticated. They will then perform tasks on the farm that can save you time and effort. Elefuns for example, will water crops for you, and some humanoids will harvest crops, helpfully placing them in the collection bin ready to be sold. Shiny!
The relationship mechanic is based on you finding out what people like, what their favourite gifts are. You can do this for every inhabitant but it is especially important for your chosen beau. She will eventually become your wife (after a few quests) and you can have a child with her later in the game.
I really like being forced to slow down and take it easy. There are so many games that foster the 'moremoremoreshinygimmegimme!' aspect of gaming that when you achieve something in Rune Factory Frontier it really does feel like an achievement. You certainly can't dedicate too long every day to chopping wood for a bigger house, but if you do a little every day and sell enough well grown crops you'll have enough wood and cash eventually and then, that bigger house will feel like a palace!
The other thing worth mentioning is the quality of the cutscenes. Every bachelorette is introduced via a short FMV anime scene that wouldn't look out of place in a feature length film. The graphics even in game play are, while being cartoony and comical, beautifully designed and polished. There are no glitchy animations and while I would prefer subtitled Japanese voices to the American voiceovers , they do suit the characters and it is at least well acted.
Another nice feature is the sound effects. They are brilliantly well crafted and very clear, and the designers have made use of the speaker in the Wiimote too, fishing is actually really fun for the sound effects alone!
The balance at the start of the game is a little off. It's far too easy to be overwhelmed by everything you have to do, and there's no real guide to how to make certain characters appear. My advice on that is to check a walkthrough for making characters move to the town, else you could actually miss a few, or have them move in years after you do.
Oh, and Winter.
If you enjoy resource management games, sim farming and so on, and you're looking for something that fulfils a deeper story and character interaction I can highly recommend this game. I don't know that people really need to own every Harvest Moon or Rune Factory game there is since the plot tends to take a back seat to the mechanics, but I played the old PS2 version of Harvest Moon, and I have the original Rune Factory on the DS, I can honestly say the Frontier is a better game than both of them. The Wii suits the game so well that I am actually tempted to get Tides of Destiny when I get a PS3 just to see how they compare.
I'll be honest, ever since Neverwinter Nights, I've been a bit of a Bioware fangirl. When they started releasing the sliding scale morality games that they have built their current empire on, I was right on board. I still think Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best adaptations of the Star Wars universe.
Dragon Age Origins is a return of sorts to Bioware's D&D roots. They wanted a game that reflected the past environments they were so comfortable in with Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Old School European RPG. Swords, myths and magic, Tolkienesque fantasy.
I'm not really sure it was the right move.
Characters and Story
You have more options as a starting player than many of Bioware's recent games have allowed you. You may start as a dwarf, an elf or a human and additionally some of the starting zones have alternative options. The dwarf origins story for example, allows to to begin as nobility or as a commoner. Whichever option you choose, you will play through the starting zone until events lead you to cross paths with Duncan of the Grey Wardens and eventually to join him, where the game 'proper' begins and all routes feed into the same path. NPCs from your starting zone may pop up later in the game, and depending on your choices, your reactions to them may be friends or even adversaries.
Each ally you find in the story has a different background, they story is revealed through interactions at camp, which you can access between 'missions'. You travel together attempting to stem the flow of Darkspawn that threaten to overwhelm the world after a failed attempt at a military campaign leaves the traditional Grey Warden defences almost nonexistant.
These ally characters are not always obvious in their motivations., in fact sometimes it's not obvious why they stick around at all. They have a basic alignment, but you curry their favour with the responses you make to their stories, your actions in the field (which they will react to) and gifts, which you will unearth throughout the world.
Eventually you must face the big bad, and make choices based on your relationships fostered in the meantime.
You can interact with NPCs and storylines at each city, offering to take on missions and quests and favour with the characters in the town. The scripts relating to these quests are well written, the characters are a mixed bag of good and bad or somewhere in between, and unlike KOTOR or Mass Effect it's sometimes hard to see what reaction any of your responses will garner.
Some of the ally characters are missable, you can kill Wynne by mistake by responding to her a certain way at the mage tower, and Sten can literally be ignored. If you never speak to him, you never recruit him.
Most of the allies are worth picking up however, even if you never take them out with you, Zevran alone is worth it for his innuendo and wit. My favourite ally however, is Shale, a bitingly sharp golem who is overfond of sarcasm and killing pigeons. He is available through the Stone Prisoner Downloadable Content, which grants access to a new quest and the ally. He is hilarious, and I recommend you pick him up. His voice acting is superb.
You are accompanied into the world by two or three of your companions. You can choose which come with you whenever you leave camp. Whenever you act in the world, choosing to take sides or helping/killing someone, they will respond. Morrigan, for example despises anything that cannot stand up for itself and will chastise you for helping them, while Alistair will never refuse help to anyone, but will often become soppy or confused about the outcome.
Unlike previous games in this genre by Bioware, there is no scale for your morality, the choices you make will instead simply effect how people respond to you, the options available throughout the game, and eventually the outcome of the story. If you become despicable enough for some allies they will either leave, or in some cases actually attack you.
During combat you can issue orders to your allies, queue up spells or abilities, make use of specialised class abilities and use items. The differences between the classes is largely minimal in terms of combat options, although stealing and spell casting are obviously dependant on your class. Others are largely a combination of melee, long range or supportive skills, with no discernible advantage or disadvantage for each class.
Your class will effect how people react to you however, Mages, for example are feared in the world as magic is considered an unclean disease. Since elves are considered second-class citizens, an elven Mage doesn't have it easy. Spells can be combo'd though, creating interesting and unexpected mixes that often engage with the environment. However, nothing alerts you to this, if you're playing a spellcaster, learn to see your surroundings as an opportunity, rather than setting.
You upgrade your class, and that of your allies by assigning points, if you've ever played an RPG before, this will be nothing new, it doesn't break any virgin ground.
Using the camera zooming feature often allows you to spot danger before it spots you, also having the sound on will alert you to Darkspawn since they make so much noise it's a wonder they ever ambush anything.
The voice acting is exceptional. I cannot stress that enough, coming through the era of games where voice acting was basically a novelty and we were subjected to appalling, terrible dubs over Japanese games, it's a pleasure to say that they are now considered a viable career addition for self-respecting actors.
Joining the cast for DA:O is Tim Russ (Tuvok) Kate Mulgre (Cpt. Janeway) and Claudia Black (Aeryn Sun, Vala Mal Doran) all of whom do a brilliant job of bringing their characters to life.
The game also does a great job of providing you with enough options to really have to stop and think about what the consequences of your actions might be. It leads to some intense game play and some real "What just happened??" moments.
The other thing this game should be commended on is it's lack of fear when it comes to exploring mature themes. You have the opportunity to explore romantic relationships with a few of the allies, and there are same sex as well as hetrosexual options. A couple of the characters are bi-sexual.
This may just seem like pandering to the 'mature game audience' but actually with the end of the world possibly nigh it makes a lot of sense that your characters would seek a measure of comfort. Choosing to pursue a relationship actually effects the story in significant ways depending on who you choose. Bioware's choice to add the homosexual element actually caused a lot of controversy and although they came under fire they made a statement and stuck to their guns. Their line was, essentially, why shouldn't there be these relationships, we don't have a compelling reason to ignore the chance your chance your character might be gay.
Also, before you ask, yes, there are sex scenes. That 18 doesn't sit on the box for no good reason, it's certainly not all that blood.
The other highlight worth mentioning is that because the plot and choices/morality system works the way it does there is a serious amount of re-playability here. You'd have to try really hard to play the same game twice.
The blood is an interesting point actually. I don't think I'll play this game again for a while. That decision has nothing to do with the playability, the writing or the sex. It has to do with the graphics.
When I first bought an Xbox 360, it came with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and I never finished it. I think due largely in part to the graphics. When game designers try too hard to make textures as lifelike as possible I struggle to enjoy the aesthetic I think. This game is dark. I don't just mean that in terms of the plot and the choices you're forced to make, although dark certainly is one way to describe them. I mean that sometimes I have to shut the curtain to play this game. Everything looks a little rusty, there are too many dark tunnels where you can't see the entrance in front of you, the water is murky and often indistinguishable from the rock....and so on, it's dark.
The blood doesn't help. In an effort to make combat more realistic or whatever, bloodspatter has become something of this game's trademark. Don't get me wrong, it's not grindhouse, but look at the box art, it's right there on the front cover. What happens in battle is that you often end up looking like three slightly rusty mud monsters that have been dragged through a hedge backwards...and their dog. (Sorry, can't leave the dog behind, he's too damn cute) and even the dog is brown.
I really wish someone would just turn on the lights, and then remind Bioware that while they have excellent rendered graphics and their lip synch algorithm is very very impressive, their overall aesthetic is reminiscent of the old early 90's rendered 3d models, with imported textures. In truth, we're just not there yet. I get what they were going for, it just doesn't work for me.
This game is now subject to two sequels and a ton of downloadable content. That means you can pick it up very reasonably priced indeed. I would still recommend you buy it. It may be Bioware's weakest offering in my eyes but you may disagree, Jade Empire was so unpolished you spend one scene having a conversation with a barrel, my point is, it's still Bioware, and it's still a bloody good story.
There's something truly comforting in knowing that however fast technology moves, it's still possible to get a good gaming experience from an outdated and obsolete system.
Original Playstation titles have, for whatever reason, been experiencing something of a revival over the last couple of years. It's been good to see that even with the release of the Vita, ported games from the old PSX have still been making it on the PSP playable list, and it's still possible to buy, if not the old PSX system, then certainly refurbished PS2 systems in trade games shops. Yeah, I'm an advocate of older games, you can't blame me when so much joy can still be had from games published over 10 years ago, even more in some cases.
As far as older games go, this one should certainly not be passed over. It's something of a collectible now, often going on ebay for as much as a new PS3 title might. If you see a copy of this in a trade in store for pennies, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you passed it over.
Breath of Fire IV is one of the Japanese style RPGs that hit the market just after the millennium. It is the fourth title in Capcom's successful franchise that was it's answer to the wildly successful Final Fantasy series offered by Square (Enix). BOFIV was released in the Japanese and US market in 2000 and the European market in 2001, selling over 300,000 in it's first year and qualifying it for that old re-release silver bordered thing Playstation used to do.
Characters and Story
The story focuses on a number of characters as the game progresses, and in JRPG style, we learn a little more about them over time as their relevance to the story is revealed.
The protagonist is Ryu, as is always the case in Breath of Fire games. This incarnation is a blue haired boy who has the power to transform into powerful dragons. He has no memory of who he is, or where he is supposed to be when he is discovered at the beginning of the game.
Fou-Lu is a mysterious and frighteningly powerful man who were are introduced to through cut-scenes and short play scenes. He is Ryu's 'other half' the immortal emperor, newly awakened and hell bent on ascending to Godhood.
Ryu is joined initially by Nina, a winged princess of the Wyndia kingdom and Cray, a cat-like warrior of the Woren tribe. They initially set out to take Ryu to the nearest town, in the hopes someone would know him, but like all amnesiac heroes, he's irresistible and they just can't leave him alone. Good thing too, else there probably wouldn't have been much of a game to write about.
As they uncover memories and flashbacks, Ryu realises Fou-Lu is attempting to ascend, an act that will have dire consequences for the mortal world. They embark on a quest to stop him, picking up the usual RPG bunch of misfits as they go.
The characters here are vivid, and while they certainly don't break any huge norms, they do have empathetic personalities and stories with which you can engage. It is noteworthy that the characters are not cut in black and white here, even those outside the playable 'fellowship', they are complicated people, with ingrained ideals and hard won trust. Their aims may not all match up with Ryu's for the same reasons, but there are some genuinely touching moments in the plot. In BOFIV The characters are the story, they are not along for the ride.
As a late 90's/early 00's game it relies on the classic overhead, isometric viewpoint with a moving camera. Often the camera can be rotated to position the viewer more favorably, which is invaluable in towns as there is often a door that's invisible from a certain angle. It has to be said; I have, on more than one occasion, forgotten this feature and spent a good half an hour trying to figure out why I can't get anywhere/find the shop/leave the town.
As you journey through the world Ryu learns more about his dragon heritage. You learn how to harness that power, which can be tamed into specific spell forms that Ryu gains over time. When you draw on these forms in battle, Ryu will transform first into a dragon/man hybrid, in which he is able to use ancient magic, or, when the power gauge is full draw out the dragon's full form. This transforms Ryu fully into the dragon you have 'summoned' cuing a cut-scene for the ultimate attack. They are stunningly beautiful and actually useful, unlike some games, where the benefit of summons is unbalanced against the time taken to watch the cut-scene/animation.
There are several side quests and extras you can engage in, forging your own armor with scavenged and farmed parts, minigames in the plot line to advance the story and the ever present fishing in all JRPGs. The fishing's useful however, although there's the old 'Pokemon' element there it's also a method of unlocking rare items, since you can turn in fish for vouchers.
The other aspect of this game's approach is the fairy village. At some point on your travels, when you have set up camp, a fairy will approach the band and ask for help. They are useless at managing their time and resources and need someone with a level head to help them out. Without considering Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' Ryu agrees and you suddenly have access to a whole extra part of the game which is a charming mishmash of part SimCity, part Harvest Moon and rewards your resource management skills with new minigames, shops and for some reason...insurance. (I'm not sure why incompetent fairies sell insurance but It helps you revive dead party members, so it's not to be sniffed at.)
The big highlight here is not only how well written and complex the characters are, although that's a sure fire winner, it's the graphics. It's rendered in beautiful 3d, with 2d sprites, it looks very 'Capcom' which in all honesty is no bad thing, and the environments, creatures and animations are beautifully designed.
If you'd like to see more, just google images for this game, the world alone is pretty, but the aesthetic of the world is so good that it's spawned fantastic fan art, FMV cutscenes and even it's own Manga.
The music is also brilliant, so much so that I have the official soundtrack, which is pretty rare for me.
These are blissfully rare. The camera angle thing is irritating, but at least you can rotate it, and are not stuck trying to 'guess' where the doorway or alley might be.
Sometimes the overhead view can make traversing terrain a little tricky, and certainly I've fallen off more than a couple of rocks, but it isn't as bad as some 3d platformers that are on the market even now.
I consider BOFIV to be a gem in the history of console RPGs. Admittedly I have a weakness for the old Japanese style, but in all honesty, it's hard to beat the great story, well paced plot and pretty animations that it has to offer, even if you don't.
I would recommend keeping an eye out for it in bargain bins, if you see it, snatch it up. If you are a collector of classics, or enjoy games like FF7, FF9, the Tales of...series or even some of the Zelda games, there's a lot for you here. It may even be worth paying collectors price for.
Four months ago our trusty old DVD player broke and we had to make the difficult decision over whether or not to stick with DVD format or make the leap to Blu-Ray. Since we didn't have that many DVDs and a lot of our media content tends to be streamed over the internet we went with a unit that would touch a lot of bases at the same time. We stuck with a lower end unit, at the time we paid £180 for it.
As a basic Blu-ray player you could do a lot worse than this machine. It starts up fine, hooks up fine (to the TV anyway, we had a little trouble with the wireless functionality but more about that further down) and plays fine. It's quite a loud unit though and sometimes the noises it emits can be a little alarming, but we haven't noticed that it interrupts your viewing enjoyment, as it were.
The picture is clear and sharp through Blu-ray play, and unlike some players the loading times are relatively short. However, they are nowhere near as fast as Samsung would like you to believe, they advertise the BD-C6500 as having 'Ultra Fast Play' but honestly, it hasn't exactly impressed us, no wow factor, as such, but perfectly functional. There are the occasional blacked out screen during loading.
Samsung likes to sell this unit as an all singing, all dancing machine that will connect wirelessly to your home entertainment network, play DVDs, Blu-ray and internet@TV
Although it is definitely more than a bog standard unit, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles Samsung might like you to think it does. It gives you access to a slew of rubbishy games that play in what can only be described as very much less than HD quality, it also hooks you up to networked sites like Youtube and iPlayer but again their quality is hardly crystal clear. We haven't tried the Lovefilm movie streaming since we've never fancied keeping a subscription.
We have had some success in hooking up streaming media through the BD-C6500 but we found the feed sluggish and unreliable, we've since invested in a cheap media box for that purpose, which has been brilliant.
After having a little trouble setting up the wireless connection to our laptops we called Samsung customer services, frankly they deserve a review all of their own, it was appalling. Not only did we have to sit on hold for ages, which made us question how much we cared about getting the true potential from our purchase but their eventual advice was so unhelpful that we never did solve the problem; hence the media box...
I honestly wouldn't recommend the BD-C6500 to anyone as a main Blu-ray player, although it might be fine for a second unit, maybe a second bedroom or kids room. There are much better players on the market, and they probably deserving more attention. Samsung have way oversold this mediocre offering.
I have been using this particular brand of toothbrush now for a good couple of years, this one is one of the higher end electric toothbrushes on the market and at £150ish it's a big old splashout.
Philips claims the brush has a contour-fit head, wider bristle range and 'broader sweeping motion'. I think it is designed to cover more of your mouth, it certainly does shift it about, but to be honest, you still have to move a toothbrush to use it, I've always considered 'tooth coverage' to be the brusher's responsibility to be honest. That said, it is good for getting in the cracks and crevices and it's too harsh. In that 'reaching' department however, I wouldn't call it any better than any of the contour manual brushes on the market.
The Philips HX6902 comes equipped with a Smartimer, which 'encourages two-minute brushing as recommended by dental professionals'. This actually automatically stops your Sonicare toothbrush after the two minutes has elapsed. However, you know what it's like, other half comes into the bathroom to ask if you've let the dog out and you end up talking about tomorrow's school run. You have to remember to turn off the timer if you want to make use of the feature if you get interrupted. Also, it'll reset after just under a minute if you switch it off. The brush does vibrate quite hard though, so it's unlikely you'd forget. It will remember where you are in the two minute timer and resume from there. The timer does reset if you put it back in it's holder though, which is kinda cool...for a toothbrush.
In case you don't know how to brush your teeth the timer will beep every 30 seconds. This is to tell you that you need to move the brush to another part of your mouth. I find this feature quite annoying, it seems patronising, but I guess if you're tired and want someone else to tell you what to do before you collapse face down in bed then it'd probably be quite useful. I think they may have just been reaching for functionality when it comes to creating an electric toothbrush in the first place.
This toothbrush is supplied with a worldwide two-pin plug for use in standard two-pin bathroom sockets. This is handy for travel but you need an adaptor to plug it in three pin, and they do not supply this. I really hope they've fixed this issue since I got mine, but I doubt it since more and more electricals seem to be suffering this problem.
Thankfully mine was bought as a present, so I use it when i can afford the heads. This has been less and less lately because a pack of heads is around a tenner and they tell you to replace one every 3 months. A bog standard toothbrush is £3.
I have just finished Final Fantasy 12. When I say I've just finished it, I don't mean to say that I have just completed my third play-through or that I have finally achieved the completest game or downed Yiazmat...I have literally just finished the main story. This particular game has taken me over two years.
It got me to thinking about how I felt about Final Fantasy games in general. I have long been a devotee of Square and later SquareEnix, but it's a devotion that comes hand in hand with a certain amount of frustration and ire. They are long, involved and convoluted, everything I both appreciate and condemn about them. I like the stories that are told through these games, but feel much is lost 'in translation' both culturally and linguistically. Much of this is my own fault, I still don't think I could accurately explain, for example, what exactly the deal is with Cloud and Zack, or the flashbacks that Squall and his friends suffer. Perhaps that's due to a lack of attention to detail, or absentmindedly working my way through Garnet's escape from the castle without really reading the text on screen.
I want to experience these games again, while actually paying attention to what's going on, gleaning as much as I can from the experience as possible.
While finishing the cutscene-heavy final minutes of FFXII it occurred to me that while graphics are appreciated and certainly in the later games rich and beautifully designed, they were not what the success of the franchise was built on. In order to examine exactly what is, and why I happily commit hours of my life to them, I will take this project back from the beginning. Starting with the earliest game I can reasonably play (without emulators and so on) and not including the Nintendo revamps for the DS. Starting with FFIV as released for the PS1 in the anthology I will play through every core numbered Final Fantasy game that is not an MMORPG. I make the list: 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12 and 13. Because I own IV and V as this anthology, this review will need to be in two parts.
I've very nearly completed Final Fantasy IV, under it's Japanese number, rather than the American release calling it Final Fantasy II. I'm playing the version that was released for the Playstation as an anthology together with FFV. As a side note, for some reason most sellers of the anthology list the collection as containing FFV and FFVI, even Amazon.co.uk. This would be the case in the US, where the two later games were released together I believe, but the European version of the 'anthology' contains IV and V.
It seems strange to me that these games have always suffered a certain amount of regional controversy. I can't fathom the logic behind making two different anthologies for the US and Europe. I can, perhaps see a certain selfish justification in making games like FFVII: Before Crisis available only in Japan, but it makes tracking down the correct references to games quite a task. I was to learn, for example, that the translations of the script for FFIV for the SNES, the PS1 anthology (Europe) the DS remake and the 'complete collection' version all differ from each other, sometimes quite significantly.
Let's take the line "You Spoony Bard!" - An infamous insult from very early on in the game, which has consequently been spoofed many times over and even been ported in it's original translation into the DS remake. I went looking for the history of the quote and found some of the literal translations. - So far in FFIV I am largely unimpressed by the script. I am beginning to realise this may be due to the translations rather than the writing. I am having the same reaction to it as I do when I watch anime in English dub. For some reason American writers/translators seem to underestimate the intelligence and sensitivity of their audience. We are treated to recaps of things we have just watched unfold and extensive explanations of context that are simply not necessary. It puts me in mind of the original Thundercats, it wasn't a translation issue, but the writing suffered the same flaws. Mark and I recently attempted to watch it, thinking some nostalgia would be fun. We found ourselves constantly addressing the characters on screen. "Thank's for that recap Cheetara, without your input I would never have understood that Lion-O was being attacked by those Lizardmen!"
"Spoony Bard", as it turns out is an apt description of Edward's state of mind, a lovesick and sentimental fool. The FFWiki points out quite rightly, given Tellah's anger, it's unlikely that's the choice phrase he would have used, therefore it jars quite badly with the rest of the admittedly poor script. With such better writing (take FF9, FFX and FFXII) later on in the series proving it is at least possible to write games well, its a wonder we put up with it in the first place. Xenogears didn't have this problem.
Giving your own characters credit however, seems to be low on the priority list here, I found myself wondering, as Cecil returns from his mission in the opening scenes, why Cid sees fit to threaten Cecil after welcoming him home. He's worried about his daughter's feelings, I get that, but it's the equivalent of my Mother greeting Mark at the door with "Hi Mark, glad you made the drive here safely....if you ever make Alice cry I'll gut you and feed you to the dogs!"
Rosa offers to 'visit' Cecil after this encounter, since he's on his way to bed, I can only raise an eyebrow. Turns out she's just worried about him and wants to let him know, I wouldn't be, the man sleeps with his helmet on...
For all that I am wishing for a more believable group of characters I am finding myself enjoying the world and it's inhabitants. I was charmed by the lady in Kaipo who was very interested in showing me her synchronised swimming dance. Lovely. The same could arguably said for the monk in Fabul who wanted to do the same but lured me in by dressing as a woman, only to leap out of the dress and dance around in his monkish garb...startling. The graphics are charmingly retro (I can't believe I just said that) without being clunky, although it's funny to see NPCs who are stationary walking on the spot, making it look like this is a world inhabited by ADHD sufferers.
Being an RPG though, I am struck with the irresistible desire to explore every nook and cranny of the map. EVERY ONE! it takes far too long and does me no good, no ultimate equipment is every found that way and as in every other FF game I play I know that I will likely ignore items almost entirely by the time I hit level 20-40 or so as my HP outstrips the capabilities of potions or hi-potions (I'm looking at you FFXII). I always seem to end up by the last boss fight with an inventory stuffed to bursting with pointless dark motes, x-potions, softs and whathaveyou.
As part of this play-through I've been considering the issue of grinding. From what I can remember, and it's been a while I admit, I never had to do much grinding for the main story line or regular boss in later FF games. The notable exception being my first encounter with Seymour Flux on Mount Gagazet in FFX; that fight's a real doozy. I noticed however, that each new area of FFIV is significantly harder than the last and I suffered what feels like an unusual number of party wipes. It's possible there's a setting I missed out but I checked everyone's equipment and all seemed fine. There just seems to be huge steps of challenge rather than a gentle curve. I'm starting to think that's something they ironed out in later games.
There was a distinct lack of forced grinding, for which I am grateful. The situations where the writers knew there was a boss coming up and rather than trust you to have been taking the game slowly for a bit they insert an area you have to inch your way through, random battles hitting so thick and fast you get dizzy. (Highbridge and Mount Nibel, I'm looking at you.) The dungeons in FFIV seem well paced and a good length, although the dungeon crawling element far outweighs the rest of the game. There's not much extra story progression here, just small vital speech screens between dungeons. There's a distinct lack of convoluted sidequesting going on, which I'm choosing to take a blessing in disguise, considering my dislike of the script.
Is the existence of grinding in games like these simply an effort to 'pad' out the game? Do you really get your money's worth when you spend x amount of hours walking backwards and forwards across a world map looking for random encounters to beef up xp/gil/items? It's a 'perform task, get reward' cycle that rings too close to Pavlovian for me. That doesn't stop me doing it though, I know I'm just ringing a bell to get a treat...but I like treats. In an MMORPG environment, WoW or FFXI I actually find it relaxing. 'catch 15 fish get a point in fishing skill' is superficially satisfying, especially when accompanied by a flashy little animation and a cheer. It's one reason why facebook games are so popular. You add the chance to catch a rare mount or something worth a lot of cash and it becomes a little like gambling, effort and time vs the chance to catch something cool, with tiny payouts along the way.
The difference between the MMORPG grind and the grind in a single player RPG however is one I find quite distinct. If I get bored fishing in Azeroth (MMO) I can always go grind one of a hundred other things or play PVP/instances but if I'm bored of fighting mist-monsters and I haven't yet collected the gold I need to buy that mithril plate for everyone, I'm still not going to survive the next boss.
In FFIV, so early on in the series the variation of monsters and areas in which to grind are limited, so there's not even a change of scenery to be had. In this respect, I'm looking forward to the later games where both the need to grind has been absorbed into the story and there's a much greater aesthetic variation to be had.
I would still recommend the game as a piece of gaming history. It seems to have stood the test of time very well. Square were very clever in recycling the music from this game into it's beloved and revered FFVII as I'm getting flashbacks to parts of that game when I play this one, even though I played FFIV first! It creates a powerful reaction, and while the plot is very fairytale-esque and the script is terrible, its still a great game. Although to be honest, if you want to play it, you'd do yourself no disservice by playing the DS remake, it's practically the same but with more monster variation, improved dialogue (mostly) and no 16-bit graphics.
For me, often the fantasy genre is as much about the setting as it is about the plots and characters. Not that these don't need to have a great deal of believable inpact, it's just that without a compelling setting fantasy tends to fall flat on it's face.
So when I first started reading Lois McMasters Bujold I was keen to note how much skill she creates her worlds with. There isn't anything ground breaking here. Gods are very real, very powerful and very involved in the world. Rather than being wholly manifest on the world's surface however, the Gods of Chalion choose saints to work through. For these individuals the blessing is a double edged sword, it can make life very very complicated.
This book is the second of those set in the Chalion universe, and I hesitate to call it a sequel, for all that it contains some of the same characters as the first and technically takes chronologically after it. The story this time focuses on a minor character of 'Curse of Chalion' as she begins a pilgrimage to thank and the honour the Gods and escape the emotional battering of the events of the previous novel. It has much of the same wry humour as the first novel and goes some way to deepen a reader's understanding of the way the powers that be operate in Chalion. Ista, as a kind of anti-heroine is thrown into a plot so very thick with universe specific magic that it becomes very hard to guess the ending. It does, however, manage this without alienating the reader through jargon and badly managed plot as I have seen in a few novels that have tried a similar technique. The key to Bujold's success here is simplicity. There's little in the way of 'magic', only really bad luck and ill-advised desperate measures.
Bujold is a master at not over flowering her language. Her characters are practical, hard put-upon and her narrative reflects this, I have never once felt that there was a sentence, description or metaphor out of place. She leans quite heavily on internal monologue to convey her character's story but I think within the context of their trials that this makes sense and it has never jarred for me. it becomes especially useful during parts of her novels that are heavy on the political intrigue.
I would heartily recommend the series, and only lament that there aren't more of them. Having never read her larger science fiction series - The Vorkosigan Saga, I can only hope she's managed to paint as rich and vivid world as she has done here. I would, if you have not already done so, read the first one too, The Curse of Chalion, as while they do stand alone, I think this novel stands much better with the context of what went before.
It may seem funny to write a review of a single part on vacuum cleaner, but Dydson have a special name in household appliances, they are widely regarded as the best and they have a reputation for quality.
The stair tool is essentially a spare part, some models of Dyson come with the part included, some, like mine, do not. However, I was fortunate enough that a friend was replacing her vacuum for a more portable one and she gave me this part to attach to mine. It's bog standard grey, like most Dyson attachments it's made of thick, sturdy plastic. There are no bristles or fabric on it to fray or fall off so it's likely to last a long time.
The part is attachable to most models of Dyson vacuum, and is designed to use on carpeted stairs. I would comment on how it performs on wooden stairs but we don't have them unfortunately. The part has a lip to fit over the edge of the stair which is incredibly handy for hoovering the edge of a step, it also fits snugly into the corner of the stair so that you can get the dust out of the awkward places.
That said, £9 is a lot to pay for one spare part that essentially just does a slightly better job of the brush attachment that all Dysons come with. While it is well made, sturdy and convenient I would probably baulk at paying that much for something that probably should be included as default with every model.
It's unlikely to break, but if it ever did I doubt I would pay to replace it.
So, due to 'circumstances beyond my control', which at the moment roughly translates as 'school holidays' I'm currently out of work. It's not too bad, I'm getting to catch up on all the TV I seem to have missed while I was out getting my degree and whatnot.
First up on the queue, CSI, the original.
I'm not sure how I missed this show first time around, it's just up my street, I have a weakness for car crash TV and crime dramas. I'm sure that says something about the human psyche. Nevertheless it snuck under the radar and I'm watching it 11 seasons behind but catching up fast.
So the orginal CSI, ignoring the various spin-off including CSI: New York and CSI: Miami is set in Las Vegas and for some reason focuses on the night shift at the central crime unit. The team comprises supervisor Gil Grissom and his various subordinates that work to forensically analyse evidence found at the various crime scenes that crop up across Las Vegas City and the surrounding areas. These can be anything from bomb explosions to homicides or kidnappings.
The nice thing about CSI is that it works to stay abreast of the best graphics technology available to the production team. Possible scenarios are played out through 'flashback' CGI that will superimpose a sequence onto the object. Through this technique the characters will 'imagine' how a bullet ended up lodged in a ribcage, or how some's heart was affected by poison. The show also uses static models for dead bodies and so on. It can be gruesome, but is usually so quick that it's stomachable for someone like me, who can be a little sensitive to these things. Speaking of which, if you are grossed out by bugs or rats or decomposing bodies, you might want to watch this show with the remote close by. Just a warning.
The series is shot both on location in Las Vegas and in California. Often the episode will include sweeping shots of the landscape and make ample use of extras and props from kitchen knives to helicopters. Nothing about this show ever suggests that the studio has cheaped out and I think it really shows in the end result.
Mostly each episode will focus on two crimes, unless the main crime is so big that involves all local CSI agents. There have been a number of episodes that involve a multiple homicide including children or a serial killer where that has been the only plot focus. There is also plenty of interaction between the characters, who all have some sort of skeleton. Warrik Brown, for example, has a gambling problem. The development of the friendships and relationships between these characters is consistent and believable, which helps, often in shows the first season of a show will ignore development in favour of character establishment. By creating characters that are flawed from the beginning CSI seems to avoid this trap.
The only small flaw is sometimes in the writing of the crime, half the fun of crime dramas comes from guessing 'whodunnit' and through the first season, it guessed right more often that not, but at least it was not as formulaic as Castle which while more whimsical and fun follows a much stricter formula for it's generic episodes.
I liked that there is also an overarching plot line that is established in the pilot of CSI which is followed up and referred too quite regularly through the first season.
I imagine it was pretty hard to design a show that has such a specialist premise. These characters are scientists, trained forensic analysts. While they solve crimes by examining evidence we sit back and watch the magic happen. What that actually means is that often we're left watching a conversation play out that probably wouldn't happen between these people. They describe processes to each other that they most likely would have studied in college. As a viewer I might not know that dry drowning is caused by the larynx closing involuntarily during submersion and that it only occurs in 10% of drowning cases but you can bet your ass that Sarah Sidle, forensic CSI knows that. So why is the coroner explaining it to her? There's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief here, and in order for the show to work you have to sit through some of the science. Often it works, especially when Gil Grissom is playing 'mentor' to one of the team, or when they test a theory together, but every so often it stands out. The first season is the worst for this, after that, it definitely gets smoother.
I would definately reccomend picking this up if you like crime dramas with good character development, especially if you like to be surprised by an ending every so often. The material is very adult both in content and subject and doesn't always make for easy watching either visually or emotionally but it is a good, entertaining and slightly different take on the old 'whodunnit' detective show. I'm going to continue watching the remaining series. I think you should too.
Also cross posted on my personal blog at http://unsteadyfooting.blogspot.com/
When my partner and I moved in together over two years ago we were not looking for a good letting agent, we were more interested in getting the right property. I have had my fair share of letting nightmares in the past however and when we found a great property I was looking for decent service from the agent as well.
I want to be clear here that the only experience I have with Tenant is with the Eastbourne branch, so other customers may have had an entirely different experience with another team.
Tenant offered to give us a tour of the property we found through Rightmove, and booked us in for the end of the week, unfortunately someone else viewed it before us and took it. Tenant called us to let us know and offered us a viewing at another property they had on their books (which are usually pretty extensive) that didn't quite meet our needs but was close enough. They even negotiated a drop in the rent with the landlord as it had been empty for a while and wasn't quite what we were looking for.
From an administrative point of view they were incredibly efficient, having references and paperwork sorted in a matter of days and we were moving in as soon as my partner's term had ended at his previous place. Their fees were not the cheapest around, but they were certainly not the highest either, at the time it was £150 per person for references and a further £50 admin fee. I can't comment on what their fees are now.
By the time we moved into the property we were very happy with what we perceived to be an efficient and effective team. They would not be managing the property, they were simply finders, so from moving day onwards we dealt directly with the landlord.
Skip forward a little over two years and we're moving half way across the country for work. We're very excited, we've found an awesome place in our new town and we're ready to close things up with the old house.
The landlord was very accepting of the situation, he even let us fiddle around with our term instead of demanding an extra months rent as we called him a few days after what we would have preferred to call our last rent date, he just let us pay the equivalent of a week's rent over instead. Decent chap.
We called Tenant to organise the administrative side, getting the property back on the market and our deposit back and so on and they were as quick off the mark as they had been to find us in the first place. The sign went up outside the day after and viewings were booked (with us on site) for the following week.
Once we had packed our stuff up and moved three hours up the M3 however, things began to change. We drove back the day after moving to clean the house from top to toe (took nearly all day) and drop the keys off. The property hadn't been in the best nick when we moved in owing to it's age and character and cheap rental property carpets and wallpaper but we did the best we could and I'd even say it was better than when we'd moved in. However once we had done that and driven all the way back to the new place again, they inspected the property we got a call to claim it was filthy.
The woman at Tenant was extremely rude. So much so that my partner had to stop and ask her at one point whether she had been inspecting the wrong property. She sounded livid.
She accused us of having "just moved out the furniture without cleaning anything" and after some minutes of what can only be described as bullying abuse Mark began to challenge her on some of her claims.
One example is that she began a rant claiming that the skirting boards in the living room were "caked with dust" (something that would have caused us endless problems if it were true as Mark is very asthmatic) Mark called her out on it and explained that he had watched me hoover around the area twice the previous day. She finally conceded after numerous challenges that it was "alright, just one corner" Which is much much more likely but still a little far fetched since I hoovered it not hours before. By the end of the exchange I very much got the impression that this is a stunt she pulls with any exiting tenants that she feels she can get away with it on.
She was incredibly unprofessional about the entire episode, speaking to Mark and I as though we were school children (although I'll hang up my chalk if I ever ever hear myself speaking to my pupils like that) which, since her position was based entirely on hyperbole, made her sound like a raving lunatic.
The result eventually was that we agreed to let her get a quote for professional cleaners (which came to £80 - suggesting the place wasn't actually that filthy...) I suspect this was the actual intended result of her stunt. For the sake of getting her off our backs we agreed to carpet cleaners as well, to clean the horrible brown cardboard-like carpets that should have been replaced three tenants ago. If we had not moved so far away I would have been down to the office and the old house challenging both of these charges but without the ease of access it would easily have turned into a battle of paperwork and ombudsman red tape.
It's a pity that you can't find out how a company conducts themselves through their entire customer lifetime in advance. With letting agents this is especially true since they are salesmen at the beginning of your relationship and will present a professional and helpful face to get you into a property and earn their finders fee. I suppose this is what Dooyoo is for, thankfully.
Bush seem to have developed a bit of a reputation for affordable electronics. That's no bad thing, very commendable in fact. They had actually dropped entirely off our radar as far as 'trustable electronics brands' were concerned. Often I wonder if we go for names like Sony or Sharp because we recognise the name and that must mean they're popular...while this is true, it's not a guarantee of quality.
Our old, wheezing TV finally gave up the ghost last week, thanks to green blotches all over people's faces. Well timed since my partner just trotted home bearing his proudly earned bonus. We had been deliberating what to spend it on (the Xbox needed replacing, possibly a fridge...blowing the whole lot by walking into a bookshop and seriously beefing out our graphic novel collection...) in the end though, it was the creeping green tint that made up our mind. We just couldn't shake the feeling that the TV was going to fall over as soon as we had bought something else. Besides, the tint was making our favourite TV characters look like they had the plague...
We picked up the TV (along with a shiny new Xbox) from Argos, who, while cheerful and knowledgeable hasn't done themselves any favours by smacking a great big "Do you need help setting up your TV" sticker on the shiny black surround of the unit and left that awful goop that needs to be removed with nail polish remover behind.
The TV looks great despite that, Bush have recognised that packaging not only needs to keep the unit safe but you also need to be able to get it out of the box. They caught on and split the polystyrene in half, so the dreaded "please don't drop that while the packaging creates a vacuum while you lift it out" moment never came to pass. You simply remove the top layer of packing and lift out the TV. This is a good time to mention that it is surprisingly light and swivels a little, just enough, on its base to let you adjust the viewing angle.
It comes with minimal bumpf as well. 2 manuals, neither of which we needed and we have all manner of peripherals (including a PC) and a remote with included batteries. The remote is pretty standard fare, I haven't used all the buttons, but I have noticed there is a slight delay when you switch over the channel. Nothing major, just something I feel I should point out in case it's the sort of thing that might bug you.
It has numerous SCART, HDMI, USB and YPbPr (I have no idea what this is) and connects quite cheerfully to the PC to boot. Minimal fiddling with leads meant that we managed to get The Xbox, the PC, the Wii, the PS2 and the old VHS hooked up to it without a splitter and with barely any effort whatsoever. The sources are split in the menu and each one has a button on the remote, so very very easy.
The picture is incredibly clear, and while we have Sky but not the HD package I can't comment on it, I can however, comment on the HD through the 360, which is perfect, very sharp, not at all wobbly, and colours are not headache inducing. The 32" screen is quite big enough and while we were tempted by 40"...we thought that might be a little excessive for us.
This model has a digital TV receiver inbuilt, but I cannot review it because we don't have a signal where we are now.
We paid, in total, £249 for this TV, other comparable models range from £220 to £400 and I honestly don't see how paying the higher price would have bought us a more satisfying purchase.
After a fairly catastrophic crash from my 3 year old Blackberry I decided I should finally get on board with the touch screen revolution. My partner has one of the first android phones, the Google Nexus, and while I have always been impressed with it's functions and design I couldn't quite bring myself to jump in the deep end.
I felt I still needed a keyboard, at least for some things.
The Desire Z took it's sweet time coming out in the UK and it's still not offered on some networks, I ended up ordering it through the Carphone Warehouse on one of their Orange deals. A decision that was worth it's weight in gold since they almost immediately merged their signal with T-Mobile and meant I could actually make calls...but that is another story for another review.
The Desire Z is a hybrid phone almost, it came after it's brother the Desire and the Desire HD, which struck me as rather odd. It has the same touch screen functionality as the others in the range but has a slide out keyboard that is full QWERTY for longer bouts of typing.
The phone itself is well made, it's sleek, solid design with no rough edges and it certainly doesn't feel cheap. It's a little heavy, compared to it's peers, but the added weight only serves to feel more reassuring in my pocket. The phone isn't bulky on its own but I feel like it needs a case to keep it safe for scratches and bumps and that immediately makes it seem almost brick-like, enough that several people have commented on it.
I thought my most used feature would be the QWERTY keyboard, however, I found the touchscreen pad to be intuative enough that I use it often for texts and entry on searches, only resorting to the keyboard for longer emails. The keyboard itself has resulted in a few irritating quirks. The most annoying of these is the fact that flipping out the keyboard unlocks the phone, since it's very easy to carelessy pick up the phone and have the keyboard slide out you then have to lock the phone manually before putting it in your pocket; not a big deal bit an irritation nonetheless. The second is that the shortkey fuctions change when you use the keyboard to enter text instead of the touchpad. Sliding out the keyboard chaged the orientation of the screen automatically and means that some key functions are not bound the same way. While this is by no means a tradegy, it took me a few frustrating minutes to relocate some of the punctuation symbols when I first used it. I still sometimes forget where to find the '@' button.
The android system is fast and responsive and the only time I find the phone hangs is if I have it charging on USB. This counts for a lot with me as i tend to be quite a hard taskmaster to my phones and I dont like to be kept waiting by technology.
The interface is mostly intuative, and it can throw you if you install an app that changes things around a bit without you realising. Mostly however, it doesn't take long to aquaint yourself with the phone. I don't like the cluttered 'all applications' menu, I would prefer to be able to sort them into groups, but with many customisable homescreens that is mostly possible. Widgets too, larger, limited visible information screens that you can place on a home screen can make the phone behave as all sorts of things. A weather watcher, a stock monitor, a news feed, a world of warcraft portal, a calendar...all of these things and more are available to place on your homescreens that with a couple of swipes can be at your fingertips. It's astounding what technology can provide us with these days.
I reccommend you install 'appbrain' instead of using the marketplace alone to look for apps as it includes much more functionality.
I like the built in browser, I like the ability to pinch zoom and scroll, I havent installed an alternative browser because I havent felt the need but I do notice that if my phone loses it's data signal sometimes it won't let the browser connect when it finds it again and requires a brief 'turn it off and on again' quick fix, same goes for Twitter and the news feed. Kinda frustrating.
Phone calls are consistently clear and the volume range goes from silent to really quite loud, since my Grandmother speaks very quietly on the phone this is an excellent feature. I dont like the built in address book though, and I have yet to find one I like enough to stick with. HTC likes to synch all of your contacts so they are in one place, it will look for link from social networking, email, phonecalls, you name it. Not only does this seem a little big brotherish to me, but it also means that if it bugs out or misses one you can end up with double contacts and it can sometimes get a little messy. I see the point of it, I just dont like it.
I think overall I would have prefered to have gone with a HTC Desire or Desire HD rather than the Z. It was a nice idea, but I think the keyboard causes more problems than it solves. I still think that HTC is the best option for smartphones out there and having used both, it still beats the iPhone hands down.
Platform: PC, Xbox360 (through live) Playstation 3 (through marketplace) and Mac OS
Jonathon Blow, self funded independent game developer, released Braid in 2008 after the input of webcomic artist David Hellman. Hellman, perhaps best known for his work with www.alessonislearned.com worked collaboratively with Blow throughout Braid's development, which took well over two years.
It achieved top rated Xbox Live arcade game and numerous awards, including critical acclaim and "Innovation in Game Design" award at the 2006 Independent Games Festival where Blow premiered his initial evaluation version. On it's final release Braid has attracted positive reviews from peers and consumers, Metacritic reviewers awarded it a spot in their top percentage, earning the game over 93%
Is it worth paying out for however?
It has seen release as part of the humble indie bundle, http://www.wolfire.com/humble which only chooses the cream of independent gaming for its releases, but is this enough of a mark of quality?
Story: Why is all this happening?
There's no big bad here chasing our hero through space and time. In fact, it might be worth questioning whether our character, Tim, is a hero at all. He progresses through different worlds collecting scraps of paintings that depict memories. Piecing together the story is what this game is all about. It isn't a sweeping dramatic plot by any means, but it does give you a motivation, and a bit of meat for the shiny things to hang off.
Looks: Is it pretty?
First answer to this question is a resounding Hell Yes! Hellman created a watercolouresque dreamscape for this game that creates very stylised environments for the different worlds the character must move through. Add his rich colours and layered platform levels to the stunning soundtrack and I could honestly have this game running in the background all the time. The soundtrack is certainly worth looking into on its own. It's a feast for the eyes and ears. I could honestly do without some of the monster sound effects however, especially the bunnies. Evil, toothy bunnies....
Gameplay: Is it worth your time?
Well, this is a platform game, if you don't like jumping about from ledge to ledge this game is honestly not going to press your buttons. That said, this is more than retro Mario style gaming. There's a nice nod to the Mario Piranha Plants in a not very subtle homage. In fact Blow has used them in nearly every level.
The big mechanic in Braid is the ability to manipulate time. Tim, our protagonist, has the ability to rewind time. That is the first skill, and will be used in every level. Added to that is the ability to create pockets of slow time and create shadows of himself that repeat a previous action. Some things in the environment may not be affected by these skills...as denoted by glowing auras of specific colours. The trick is to find keys, jump on monsters heads or use your special skills to reach the painting scraps without being touched by anything sharp or in some cases...furry. If you do get squished however, you can always rewind a few seconds to time that jump again.
A nice touch is that the music also rewinds when you rewind the time, something that really only adds to the dreamlike quality of the game. Same with using the pocket of slow time, as you get closer to it, time slows down, same for the music, it's really quite trippy!
What I will say is that some of the puzzles are fiendishly, fiendishly difficult, with no obvious solution. Fodder for the noggin? Certainly. Cause for screaming frustration? Possibly. Fun? Undoubtedly.
Replayability? Will you want to return?
Unfortunately, despite the fantastic game design here and the effort you'll spend to complete it there will be very little reason to come back to this game once you've finished. The only exception I can think of is to show it off as a demo to friends to convince them to play it through as well. I do feel as though Blow could really have extended this game though, it is far too short for both it's price and the experience. Hopefully he will consider a sequel or an expansion of some kind.
For all that, I think it's definitely worth a purchase. I'm all for supporting independent developers, especially when they can pull their skills together to create something this tight, this enjoyable and overall this special.
If you liked this try: 2DArray's 'In the company of myself' at Kongregate (free)
Las Iguanas in Brighton is found Just opposite the library in the centre of town. It has the virtue of being one of the only restaurants in the area that offers cocktails at two for one for quite a large proportion of the evening....and often at lunch time, so it is frequented by all the best students!
They often have the pre-theatre crowd in, especially being so close to the Dome, Theatre Royal, and Komedia, and in my experience they seem to really push during this service so that you're served in time to get to your show, which is nice.
The decor in the restaurant itself seems a little confused. They appear to be trying to mix ethnic south American with modern chic and although the atmosphere is very welcoming, I don't feel like the decor 'gels' properly, it comes across like a rich traveller's living room, all designer furniture and niches in the walls to show off souvenirs. I think it may look a bit better if the either roughed down the edges a little and went more ethnic, or did away with some of the odder bits and pieces they have lying around.
However, who goes to a restaurant purely for the decor?
The food is mostly South American cuisine, with some Portuguese, and some African (for some reason), mostly influenced by Latin America, further south than Mexico, this isn't a Tex Mex bar (although they do serve cracking Margaritas), there are items such as deep fried plantain and crayfish, alongside the less adventurous fajita - alikes. A lot of fish, A lot of citrus and a lot of rice is on the menu.
The menu for the Brighton restaurant can be viewed here http://www.iguanas.co.uk/pdf_menus/LI_10_BRIG_food.pdf
The service has always been very friendly, albeit brisk, quite often they seem in a hurry, and I believe my most enjoyable dining experiences here have always been at lunchtime, when the restaurant isn't so packed, the staff seem to visibly relax. They do have a kids menu, although am not really sure why you would take kids there, it feel very grown up.
Also, the place always seems very clean, which can only ever be a bonus, in my book.