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Monthly Archives: March 2012

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I’ve just come back from my local Game store hoping to pick up a bargain, following their recent decent into administration. Miraculously, the Game in Eastleigh has actually stayed open. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the store I once worked at in Winchester which ceased trading yesterday. For all the bad press and complaints (many of them legitimate) that the company received, I’ll miss Game should they disappear from the high street completely. This is my Woolworths, really.

A lot of press coverage has focused on Game’s financial mismanagement. I think even the owners of Portsmouth FC would look at what went on at Game Group and raise an eyebrow. One of the biggest and most avoidable mistakes was having so many stores within such close proximity to each other. I know for a fact that Southampton had two Game stores and a Gamestation within around 500 yards of each other. What’s the point? It’s never going to attract enough new customers to offset the massive rent bill. Going by other comments and articles on Game’s situation, it seems this was a common trend nationwide. 

So is there a place for a dedicated video game retailer on the British high street? I think so, yes. Obviously it will never be able to compete with online retailers or supermarkets in price. Tesco is selling Batman: Arkham City for less brand new than Game is selling it pre-owned for instance. However, where a dedicated gaming store can deliver is in customer experience.

One of the complaints leveled at Game and Gamestation was ignorant and pushy staff. I can’t really speak from experience on the ignorant staff aspect as when I worked there everyone knew their stuff. I can definitely say that the pushy staff complaint was due to orders from on high. It’s actually part of the training DVD you watch that you should approach every customer and ask if they need any assistance. It’s entirely the wrong way to go about things. Anyone with a basic understanding of human body language can tell the difference between someone just browsing and someone who’s completely clueless. 

If stores such as Game, HMV or Gamestation want to thrive, they need to engage with customers in new ways. One way to do this could be through developing a community of gamers at your local store via multiplayer tournaments, game clubs and the like. Make people want to come to your store for a number of reasons besides picking up a game. How great would it be to have multiplayer parties when the latest Call of Duty game comes out at the store where you bought it? Sure, it might cost you a couple of quid more, but you’d meet new people, get tips and advice and have a pleasant shopping experience. It doesn’t have to stop there either. Throw in things like console repair and maintenance or help with getting started on things like XBox Live and you foster good will and trust with people. As someone else pointed out; look at Games Workshop. People don’t just go in there to buy models or paint. They’ve developed a sense of community where people can go and have fun and play some games and they seem to be doing okay. Why can’t the same be done with video gaming?

I don’t want to see gaming stores disappear. As poorly as Game was run, I’d rather have it in a more streamlines, reduced form than not at all. And whilst I doubt that any company CEO’s are going to read this, I hope it goes to show that the situation isn’t hopeless and something can be done to have a national gaming store.

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This season of The Walking Dead has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, the first half of the season was dire; slow, meandering and devoid of any threat, both internal and external. However, since its return from the mid-season break, the show has gone back to its season one heyday. The tension that had been slowly building between Rick and Shane this latter half of the season came to a close last week, with Shane attempting to murder Rick two too many times and promptly getting a knife to the gut, only to return as a zombie before getting shot by Carl. 

Now we finally get to return to a zombie threat as the herd, seen at the end of that episode, descends on the farm.

This is easily one of the strongest episodes of the show so far. What makes this episode so good is the fast pace of it. Forty-five minutes flies by and whilst some may have wanted it to be a feature length episode, the fact it’s a standard length ensures we end the season on a high. There’s a good ratio of action to character moments and often to two are combined.

The body count isn’t as high as I was expecting, though. Only two characters bite the bullet and they’re the two lesser-seen members of Herschel’s group. Coming off the back of the deaths of Shane and Dale, seeing these two nobodies get devoured means virtually nothing. Honestly, would the show have been worse off for losing Carol, T-Dog or the blonde girl that tried to commit suicide a couple of weeks back? Hell, seeing as how the show has diverted so much from the comics, maybe even Glenn for a tug at the heartstrings? The Walking Dead’s biggest problem, as I see it, is too many characters. It doesn’t have the acting skills or the writing to carry off a cast this large. With the added characters a new season inevitably brings, some serious pruning will be needed at the start of next season.

Speaking of new characters, it’s fantastic to see Michonne, especially this early. Honestly, she’s one of the best characters in the comics and will bring some much needed level-headedness to the show. I can see her getting on well with Daryl, which should be interesting given that she’s a black woman and we’ll likely see the return of Daryl’s racist brother, Merle.

One thing that struck me as odd was the way Rick decided to inform everyone of him killing Shane. Yelling: “I killed my best friend for you people, for Christ’s sake!” wasn’t one of his brightest moments. It’s hardly going to endear him to the group, even if you do let them know it was self-defense. Thankfully that scene does show that Rick is finally getting to grips with being leader. All throughout the show they’ve looked to him to make decisions. Now he’s making unpopular ones like trying to keep the group together and they don’t like it? Rick’s right when he says it’s not a democracy, not when most of the people in the group are as moronic as they are. Their priority is to survive and splitting up is the surest way of ending up dead. At this point, Rick is the only one I’d trust to make decisions, especially now that Dale is dead and Herschel is content to take a back seat from the decision making.

Ultimately, the episode does precisely what a good season finale should do. Many of the loose ends have been tied up and new plotlines hinted at. It’ll be fantastic to see the Prison next season. It’s easily the best plot line in the comics and with a ton of material. Considering they managed to stretch Herschel’s farm out to a whole season, the Prison could easily be two.

I must confess, after the first few episodes of season two, I was close to giving up on the show. Now I’m disappointed to see it go. Bring on season three!

I finally finished Mass Effect 3 at around three o’clock this morning and I’ve never felt this conflicted over a game before. On one hand, you have this utterly amazing game 99% of the time that’s a vast improvement over the previous two instalments. Unfortunately, it’s that 1% right at the very end that puts a massive damper on what could easily have been one of the best games ever made.

Before getting to the ending, I think it’s important to go into more depth on just how excellent the game is besides. So much is improved upon and refined. The way in which you explore the galaxy and collect resources (in this case War Assets, salvage and fuel) is easily the best of the trilogy. Gone is the repetitive Mako missions and tedious planet scanning. Instead, you scan the system and outrun Reapers who detect and chase after you. Perhaps the best thing about the War Assets is that they give even the most mundane side-quests a sense of weight and importance that they didn’t have before. It actually feels like you’re making a difference.

The weapon customisation makes a welcome return as well. Though not as extensive as in Mass Effect 1, it’s a system that works better. You get upgrades but you aren’t left with the older versions of those upgrades, it replaces them. You also have a weight limit, restricting the weapons you can take with you on missions, meaning you have to think about your equipment, rather than just give yourself the most powerful weapons.

I’m also rather fond of the soundtrack for the game. As disappointing as the departure of Jack Wall is and the fact that Clint Mansell is only responsible for two tracks, Sam Hulick. Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan do a great job on the rest of the score, though I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been nice to see what Mansell could have done if given a free-reign.

As for the gameplay, that’s been upgraded nicely. I was worried when playing the demo that it had become clunkier, but I found myself pleasantly surprised at how fluid it felt in the final product. It’s not changed all that much from Mass Effect 2, but I didn’t think it really needed to; they’ve just improved on a winning formula.

The highlight of the game for me is the character moments. There are lots of them littered throughout the game and the emotions they generate can leave you crying or laughing. The new characters are also done very well. James Vega, contrary to my earlier expectations, is actually a decent character. Secondary characters like Cortez, your shuttle pilot, and Samantha Traynor, the replacement for Kelly Chambers, are great additions with a good deal of depth to them. Plus, they finally have crew interaction on the Normandy, either by commlink or by visiting them in their quarters. It adds an extra dimension to life aboard the Normandy where people aren’t separate but do in fact talk to each other, in some cases even forming relationships together.

Really, this game would be damned near perfect if not for the ending. Now, I’m not going to be like some people and say that it ruined the game for me. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the game is prior to the last fifteen minutes. It just makes no sense and there’s a real lack of closure, a quite literal deus ex machina plot device and plot holes you could fly the Citadel through. It’s incredibly lazy writing on Bioware’s behalf and I can’t believe that it was okayed by management. It’s not even that it’s a sad or tragic ending. I could deal with that. Instead, you’re left remarkably unfulfilled and with a very bitter taste in your mouth.

What is so disappointing is that it’s such a lost opportunity. If the ending had been done that bit better then Bioware could pat themselves on the back for creating probably the best video game trilogy ever made. Now, with the fan backlash generated by the ending, they’re left in a difficult place. Do they release some DLC to alter the ending to provide something more palatable for fans à la Fallout 3? Personally, I think that’s what they were planning from the beginning. The ending is left highly ambiguous and gives ample scope to be able to retcon. Of course this will generate backlash from those who liked the ending as well as from those who hated it, seeing it as profiteering from fan anger as I’d be amazed if it was free.

Ultimately, Mass Effect 3 goes from the sublime to the ridiculous at a rapid pace of knots. Does it deserve the merciless bashing it’s getting across the internet and the precipitously small user scores on the likes of Metacritic? No. Is it as good as it could be? Definitely not.