The Shield – Retrospective

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A bunch of corrupt and morally ambiguous cops is an interesting focus for a TV show. So interesting – and unique – in it’s presentation and delivery, it had been copied numerous times, but – in my opinion – never bettered.

The Shield follows Vic Mackey, the leader of a police strike team in the fictional Los Angeles town of Farmington. Residing right on the border between Mexico and the United States, Farmington sees a colorful variety of criminal activities, from drug dealing, prostitution and murder; and it is uncompromising in its graphic details.

It’s controversial, gritty and – at times – really troubling to watch. But what wins out is how The Shield makes the viewer feel about the characters. None of the cops are black and white, good or evil. They feel very much in the human grey area. While Mackey and his team use illegal methods to control the drugs market, you can’t say they’re not doing it for the right reasons. When they kill a child rapist, you can’t help but feel the guy deserved it. It’s this constant moral fence hopping The Shield has the viewer doing that makes it so engrossing.

The writing is of a superior standard, and the dialogue is incredibly realistic. Impressively, it manages to be ‘street’ without dropping the F bomb every second. After 7 seasons, it never loses its power to mesmerise.

There are great performances across the board. No one is a weak character. From Mackey’s gruff renegade cop, who at heart is a decent man who cares deeply for his family and friends, David Aceveda the police captain who will stop at nothing to become mayor, Shane Vendrell, the well meaning coward, and Kavanaugh, the internal affairs investigator who is almost as dirty and ruthless as the officers he investigates.

The Shield is one of the best crime/police shows ever written, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you will want to get at least two seasons to get started, because one episode is never enough.

eBay – How has it taken me so long?

Well, I’ve started blogging and tweeting and just today I set up my Ebay account for the first time. I am truly now part of the 21St century. Though, being unaccustomed to Ebay’s culture, I have had my first bout of bidding rage. Yelling something along the lines of “I just want to buy something! Why do these people keep stealing my purchases?!” throughout the house, met with chuckling from my girlfriend who is, undoubtedly, an Ebay veteran. Not a day goes by without some mysterious package arriving in our post box.

Well, now it’s my turn. If I can stop being outbid.

9mm – Android Game Review

Is a lot of swearing, Max Payne styled shoot-outs and a storyline heavily inspired by The Shield a formula for a great game? Well, no.  Read why.

After watching a three season marathon of The Shield, this title seemed worth a go. It was my first foray into the world of mobile 3D gun action games. Turns out for every plus, there’s a minus…

So, I can deal with cheesy names, but John “Loose” Kannon is a pretty overpowering cheese-fest. You play as the owner of this facepalm worthy moniker, and you are – in fact – a renegade cop. You and your ethnically balanced team of corrupt cops steal some money from a drug dealer. And his brother swears vengeance will be his. Or something.

To be fair to the game, I didn’t watch the cutscenes after the first couple. They’re detrimental to the game in my opinion, with some really shonky voice acting and a pretty incoherent script. Usually, I won’t even bother talking about cutscenes in my reviews, but 9mm makes such a point of its graphics, and ‘gritty’ dialogue that I have to point out that unless you’re twelve, you’ll not likely appreciate it.

Also worth noting is I tested the game on a HTC Desire S. A mid-range Android handset.

CONTROLS

This is what killed the game for me, if I’m honest. With a similar system to Modern Combat, you have a virtual stick on the left to control forward, backwards and strafe movement. You swipe the screen left or right to turn left or right, and there is a dedicated fire button at the bottom right-hand side. The weapon icon in the top changes weapon if swiped. There is also a dive stick on the right hand side. If you swipe over this then you will dive in slow motion in that direction.

So as you can see, quite a lot going on here. Now, I’m no newbie to games in general. But my hands were all over the screen, 90% of the time during firefights. This approach may have worked in FPS games, but it definitely does nothing for this one.

I sprint out into an enemy-infested corridor. I pull out my 12 gauge, and flick all over the screen like I’m playing Fruit Ninja. It probably takes a lot of practice to be any good at this, but ultimately with the complete lack of charm offered by the other aspects of the game, I didn’t feel compelled to.

GRAPHICS

For a mobile game, 9mm looks pretty good. It’s on a par with Grand Theft Auto 3, I’d say. So it looks nice, when you’re not watching the cutscenes. These can be skipped, so I’m not going to complain about them too much. Quite a lot of frame drops on my Desire S, though.

SOUND

The weapons sound pretty good, but there is terrible voice acting throughout. An example is the Mexican crews that you shoot your way through. They will shout things out during battle, but it sounds like a white guy doing a slightly racist impression of a Mexican. There are all sorts of things like this with the sound. I think they would have been better off just having text instead of voices, as this really shows the limits of a budget for developers. The soundtrack has few licensed tracks and suits the mood really well. Mostly urban hip-hop stuff.

MULTIPLAYER

There is a multiplayer function, and it seems to work rather well over Wi Fi. I just kind of wish I could control my character a little more! Pretty bog-standard deathmatch options.

OVERALL

Feels like a tech demo more than a game. The graphics will make you say “ooh, I can’t believe my mobile can do this”, but the actual controls and terrible audio experience will have put you off long before you finish the story. The Shield this isn’t.

Fear in Video Games

Scared

There’s something about sitting in a darkened room, guiding your character through an eerie forest at night just waiting – hoping – for something to jump out and scare the hell out of you. There’s something very attractive about scenarios that make you feel like you could die at any moment. It’s a stark contrast to what a lot of top selling video games promote. Where many FPS games will cast you as a rugged, heroic, killing machine, horror games usually make you feel very vulnerable indeed. They touch you on a very primitive level.

I figure the horror genre is so popular because it manages to consistently provoke emotional responses from the audience, whereas  action genres seem to have a tougher time to get us to sympathise or empathise with the protagonists, especially after so many years of desensitisation from explosions, bullet wounds and instances of heroically saving the man that was left behind.

The past decade has seen some excellent horror video games, the stand out ones for me were Alan Wake, Dead Space, Condemned and F.E.A.R 2. All of these managed to completely immerse me in the ongoing story, with great characterisation and original mechanics.

I just wish that other genres of games were as interesting.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare – Quick Review

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Alan Wake was a triumph in videogaming. It had emotion, excellently written and performed dialogue, and also offered a new, twist on the horror genre. How does American Nightmare stack up?

As an Alan Wake fan, my expectations for this were quite high. The original had a compelling story that left me wanting more, and an uncompromising level of dread and tension that didn’t let up until the credits rolled.

So, is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare any good?

The answer is yes. If you liked the original.
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AWAN is more of the same in terms of game play, with a few tweaks to the camera and a slight increase to the pacing of firefights with Taken. There are loads of guns to collect, which alter your play style significantly. You will want the enemy up close when you use a 12 gauge, but will want to whittle them down from a distance with the pistol. The new weapons allow for a more action oriented experience.
The light mechanic that worked so well in the previous game makes a return, so you will need to use light to destroy a Taken’s darkness shroud before you can dispatch it with whatever you have handy.

There isn’t as much tension in this entry to the series, but it’s obviously going for a different mood, with a grindhouse feel to the area and narrative as opposed to the claustrophobic environs of the first game.

The storyline is a little tricky to explain, but you should play Alan Wake before this if you want to make sense of it. Let’s just say it will have you confused at least once. I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone, so I’ll just say that this is more of a spin-off than a sequel.

A new feature outside of the story mode is arcade mode, which challenges you to stay alive for ten minutes against increasingly difficult enemies. Chain successful attacks and dodges together to earn multipliers to increase your rank on the leaderboard. This gets tricky as new enemy types come into play. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I won’t go into too much detail.

There’s a fair bit of replay value to be had if you like the game, too. Unlockable weapons, story snippets and flares all await the explorers amongst us. Add that on top of the lengthy 6-7 hour campaign, and you’ve got great value.

All in all, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is an excellent game and easily worth the 1200 points. Get yourself a flashlight and get comfy. It’s going to be a long night.

Buses

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It’s times like this I think I should learn to drive. I’m stood in the rain with a collection of the most depressed looking people I’ve ever seen. Part of me doesn’t want the bus to show up in case one of  them decides to give up on it all and throw themselves in front of it.
I was in quite a good mood just now, too.
Thing is, learning to drive costs money, and I’m just about managing to bus it to work and occasionally eat.

God bless Stagecoach and their happy travelers.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer

Why can’t I seem to get interested in multiplayer games like Call of Duty or Gears of War? I figure it’s because I associate multiplayer with the old school days of sitting on the end of my bed with a mate playing Streets of Rage 2.

Multiplayer felt a lot different back in the day because you both relied on each other to finish the game, cheering when your buddy killed the annoying end boss because you ran out of continues.

I guess playing online feels different because you’re detached from the other players. It might also be because I’m crap at video games or perhaps unwilling to persevere with getting XP or unlocks.

I’m trying to get into Gotham City Impostors, but due to terrible connection problems, I’m only level 10. I do have a full time job, though, and should near that in mind when I see a level 46 player two days after launch.