Picture of Graeme Virtue

Graeme Virtue


Graeme Virtue is a writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow. You can follow him on Twitter at @GraemeVirtue.

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Rogue Trooper Redux review

Blue man whoop.

War is hell. But sometimes the view is spectacular. One of the most memorable things about Rogue Trooper first time round, on PS2 and Xbox in 2006, was its beautifully realised prog-rock skybox, a gorgeous, pulsing black hole haloed by sparkling particles that lazily waltzed in slow, chromatic eddies. The new Redux version again drops players directly into the action, firing you down into the toxic battlefields of Nu-Earth from low orbit in a screaming and fairly rickety-looking deployment pod. And again, it's all too easy to stop and gaze up that awe-inspiring sky, ignoring the blood, muck, sizzling laser fire and whopping great quartz crystals all around you.

Does the world seem just a little bit closer to apocalypse now than it did five years ago? Perhaps that's why I recently became so obsessed with Tokyo Jungle, the beastly post-cataclysm survival sim that on its initial release in 2012 was generally viewed as an idiosyncratic throwback rather than a giant evolutionary leap forward. Developed by Japanese studio Crispy's, it was a PlayStation 3 exclusive that ruffled a few feathers but did not seem to leave much of a cultural paw-print. Depending on who you talked to, it was either too weird, or too basic, or somehow both of those things simultaneously.

Every game of Altered Beast - Sega's timeworn, arcade-born bash-em-up of Greek gods and weird monsters - is preceded by a command from Zeus. 'Rise from your grave!' he intones, and with that scratchy incantation of digitised speech, he reanimates a brave, nameless Centurion and throws him into a precarious mission that kicks off immediately with a bloody and slightly disrespectful brawl in a graveyard. The fact that mighty Zeus prefers to delegate the task of rescuing his beloved daughter from the evil sorcerer Neff suggests the randy old goat might know more about the perils of the situation than he is letting on. But despite his powers of resurrection and prophecy, not even Zeus could have predicted the dogged afterlife of Altered Beast, a lycan game that no-one seems to love.

Late last year, when Modern Warfare Remastered was bundled in with Call of Duty Infinite Warfare - so tightly bundled, in fact, that it was clearly an attempt to bolt a hefty booster rocket onto premium sales - it raised the question of what deserves being preserved when it comes to video games. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was hardly in any danger of being lost in the mists of time, right? Its blockbusting original sales and cultural ubiquity ensuring it remained embedded in the minds and muscle memory of at least a generation of gamers.

FeatureBlock ops: How everything fell into place for Tetris

Writer/artist Box Brown on his ambitious new graphic novel.

Tetris is a game with no story. The closest you get to a plot twist is rotating your current shape - officially, a tetromino - in the hope of a closer fit with the ad-hoc crenellation below. Achieve your nominal quest by creating a complete line and the result is not closure, it's erasure. The only real narrative comes with failure: a screen now cluttered with poorly stacked pieces standing as an autobiographical document of your own shortcomings as a player.

Talk about kicking it old-school. The signing of one-man brand Dino Dini should have been a real coup for Sony. Coming over 25 years after Kick Off 2 - still a totemic 16-bit scrambler, as beloved in its own weird way as the all-conquering Sensible Soccer - the announcement of Dino Dini's Kick Off Revival had the makings of an irresistible comeback. Here was the return of a coding legend with a thumping reboot of his signature game, promising a stripped-back antidote to the iterated bloat of the FIFA/PES monetary industrial complex. Kick Off Revival would also be a six-month exclusive on PS4 with a Vita version apparently warming up on the touchline. For the players, indeed.

With apologies to Kojima, the original Snake was pretty solid. A killer app before smartphones were even a thing, the game transformed blocky Nokia handsets into persuasive handheld gaming devices. Now there's a free globalised upgrade for desktop, iOS and Android that smooths off some of Snake's traditional right-angle corners and sticks a pair of Cookie Monster googly eyes on it. In Slither.io, you are still tasked with chugging around the screen eating blobs to grow your snake from slim adder to bonzer anaconda. It's just that there are four or five hundred other players trying to do the same thing.

Unusually for an animated movie aimed at younger viewers with a full global theatrical release, Ratchet & Clank isn't available to watch in 3D. This is obviously good news for parents who resent paying for multiple pairs of plastic Roy Orbison-style glasses that add an illusion of visual depth to productions that often seem paper-thin in many other areas. Instead, Ratchet & Clank boasts an even more exotic stereoscopic experience: the opportunity to play an already critically and commercially successful PS4 game that is clearly several light years ahead of the usual rushed tie-in.

Lego Marvel's Avengers review

More bang for your Bucky.

There's a real art to crafting a good superhero story. Ideally, you want the stakes to be sky-high, building to a shattering climax that screams Nothing! Will! Ever! Be! The! Same! Again! And yet, the most popular comics characters have been around for decades, which makes it tricky to mess with them. Whatever you try and do to Steve Rogers - and in the past decade alone, Captain America has been assassinated, resurrected, de-super-soldiered and even replaced by his best friend - eventually it will all be undone. When you're dealing with iconic IP, and your business model is predicated on another issue coming out next month, things can never really change.

At first glance, Gain Ground appears to be retreading old ground. With its chunky combatants and sorta top-down view, it looks rather like teeming mega-brawler Gauntlet broken up into bite-size chunks. Instead of a sprawling, eight-way-scrolling dungeon with enemies crammed fractiously into corridors like commuters on a rush-hour train, you are presented with a single screen - often a rather sparse, scraggly green-brown field more suited to a mid-tier music festival than the glorious crucible of combat. Gain Ground has no gold to collect, no food to shoot. There are still plenty of baddies, though, and it's your task to wipe them out as a warrior of your choosing.

Right now, certain times seem not so long ago and certain galaxies not all that far, far away. The two-pronged assault of Star Wars Battlefront and The Force Awakens means that, willingly or not, we're all reliving memories of George Lucas' space saga: what it meant to us when we first experienced it, what it means to us now and what it might mean moving forward if Disney pursue their rather Imperial-sounding aim of putting out a new Star Wars movie every year until our planet goes the way of Alderaan.

As well as being forever on Her Majesty's secret service, a certain veteran MI6 agent has spent the last three decades carving out a lucrative second career, essentially freelancing on consoles and home computers. It says something about the durability and ubiquity of Bond, the great British brand, that very few of these 007 games seem to come out at the same time as one of the actual movies. Tee Hee, the towering, metal-clawed henchman from Live And Let Die, could count the number of official film tie-ins that have hit the correct release window on his one good hand.

After a solid week of back-to-back shows, I've just about got to grips with Guitar Hero Live's new visual vocabulary. It's a three-lane bowling alley where ergonomic icons scroll smoothly into strum bar range, a blizzard of black-and-white plectrums and the odd liquorice allsort hurtling down the familiar endless guitar-neck highway. It's taken some physical graft and a little mental rewiring, but ramping up the difficulty level feels like it has been worth it: there are pleasing nuances to uncover among the challenging punchcard patterns.

FeatureGuitar Hero's decadent reboot breathes new life into the series

Fret not. First impressions ahead of our final review.

Editor's note: Guitar Hero Live, Activision and FreeStyle Games' reboot of the rhythm action series, releases this week. Seeing as a large part of Guitar Hero Live is built around the new online service, Guitar Hero TV, we're holding off on our review until we have adequate experience of the game on fully stressed servers, and we currently anticipate having our final impressions live by the end of the week. Before then, here are early impressions culled from a handful of days with Guitar Hero Live.

RecommendedRock Band 4 review

Full plectrum warrior.

Pop stardom isn't a zero sum game, but it is often built on rivalries, real or manufactured. A bit of bad blood can be monetised, whether it's Katy Perry versus Taylor Swift, Blur versus Oasis or the Beatles versus the Stones. In the gladiatorial history of rhythm-action games, it has been Guitar Hero versus Rock Band, two franchises that enjoyed such accelerated success there seemed to be no time at all between them minting a new genre and completely saturating the market. Since 2010, both titles have been lying low - presumably in great mothballs of fire, plotting their returns. This month, they reignite their old rivalry with two carefully stage-managed comebacks.

The first issue of The Incredible Hulk was published in May 1962, written by movie cameo addict Stan Lee and featuring spectacular art by the great Jack Kirby. The cover depicts a familiar-looking but grey behemoth looming over a skinny, scared guy in a lab coat. "Is he man or monster or... is he both?" asks the blurb, clearly in rather an existential tizzy. In the five decades since, the Hulk has survived various character evolutions and a series of hard reboots. But if we know anything about Marvel's brawl-y green giant, it's that the monster and the man co-exist, or at least time-share. An aggravated Hulk will kick the tar out of baddies all day long, but once his famous anger dissipates the big guy visibly deflates like a parade balloon with a slow puncture, returning to his other, slightly less imposing form: puny Bruce Banner.

Bruce, almighty. As widescreen summer entertainments go, Batman: Arkham Knight is big, brash and badass enough to mix it with any of 2015's movie blockbusters. It's even been marketed as the conclusion of an epic trilogy, equating London-based developers Rocksteady with popcorn auteurs like Christopher Nolan or Peter Jackson and positioning Arkham Knight as the capstone to some grand, overarching mythos. (This also conveniently sweeps 2013's snowy Arkham Origins, the competent but slightly underwhelming prequel developed separately by Warner Bros Montreal, under the bat-carpet.)

We're fast approaching the endgame of ITV's knockabout Saturday night gameshow Ninja Warrior UK, the latest international incarnation of a tried-and-tested Japanese format. Centred around a comically oversized and carefully padded obstacle course, the show is an absolute triumph of non-lethal razzamatazz, with guffawing commentary from former footballer Chris Kamara as competitors negotiate awkward hurdles and tumble into water hazards. There are no shurikens but lots of shrieking. Any true ninja would harrumph at the overeager procession of Lycra-clad, would-be shinobis and rightly dismiss the whole gaudy enterprise as frivolous shadowplay, a noisy, inelegant distraction from the important business of infiltration, sabotage and assassination.

By now, of course, it's official. A new version of Star Wars Battlefront will arrive later this year, in time for JJ Abrams's seventh instalment of the biggest space opera of them all. The galaxy might have got its first proper look at how veteran Battlefield developers DICE have revived the franchise at this weekend's Star Wars Celebration event, but we've known about it since 2013 thanks to a steady drip-drip of Imperial intelligence from publishers EA. No Bothans died to bring us this information.

Ted Nugent's Stranglehold is a nine-minute beast of a song, a deeply sinister trip to the dark side with a guy who just doesn't know when to quit. The very first line - "Here I come again now, baby / Like a dog in heat" - sets a certain cards-on-table tone. But in addition to its signature juggernaut riff, shred in tooth and claw, Stranglehold also features a long, sparse mid-section powered by a rubber-band bassline. It's during this spooky longueur that the Nuge - or you, if you're playing Guitar Hero World Tour - wrings out odd guitar wails and bursts of distorted squall. It's one of those solos that goes on so long that you almost forget it's part of an actual song, until Ted pops up again, singing hoarsely: "Some people think they gonna die someday / I got news, ya never gotta go." It's an unsettling gospel of everlasting life, preached by a dude who, when he's not generating intensities in ten cities, enjoys shooting flaming arrows. It's also totally brilliant.

When film scholars talk about the magic of cinema, you increasingly wonder if they mean being hit by a Skyrim Vampiric Drain spell. There is nothing enchanting about the fiddly process of online booking, of navigating the drab corridors of a 13-screen multiplex, of breathing in the aroma of foot-long hot dogs apparently doomed to stew on heated rollers for eternity. Even if you manage to find your allocated seat among the choppy, often chippy sea of humanity, there's a deafening prelude of crass house ads, spoiler-filled trailers and Kevin Bacon hawking 4G before the magic can even begin - and that's usually the exact moment someone opens a gigantic bag of crisps.

We should be getting used to seeing video games in museums. But for anyone who's been playing them long enough to see games artlessly demonised or dismissed in the mainstream media, it's still a thrill to see a long-standing cultural institution - in this case, the enormous, ancient National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh - giving over a major wing to arcade cabinets and consoles.

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