"You are not eligible for this conversation." But... but... I'm a psychotic Bounty Hunter who guns down her clients almost as often as she does her contracts. I've executed prisoners in cold blood, then laughed about it. I've presented horrified wives with their husbands' severed heads in a burlap sack. I've poisoned water supplies, killing hundreds of innocents just because there's a fee in it. I am a stone-cold murderous bastard who'll do anything for a handful of credits. And you're telling me I'm not able to talk to a passer-by because... well, because you need to partition the world into neat little slices for different types of player?
SPOILER ALERT!: This piece contains story spoilers - from the very first sentence onwards.
How would you review Tetris, if you were reviewing it today? "The puzzling is very tight, and the soundtrack is catchy." That's the thing - Tetris is so much more than that by now, but it's almost impossible to disassociate it from its cultural resonance. Minecraft, the free-form building and survival game, hasn't yet seeped into the global consciousness to the same degree, but it has become something far more than a mere game.
There are dragons! Unlimited dragons, purportedly, and I probably should have chased one of them down in my three hours with Skyrim. Instead, I got distracted by crafting swords. This may not have been ideal journalistic practice, but it does speak to what Skyrim really is, as opposed to what all those dramatic trailers present it as.
They picked the hard route instead of the easy route. Whatever else a game of A Game Thrones gets wrong, I admire it for resisting the sure temptation to be a dime a dozen medieval-themed real-time strategy game filled with units that endlessly uttered familiarly pithy or portentous lines from George R.R. Martin's deadline-busting fantasy books.
Once, we dreamed of worlds where we could be anyone, do anything. That day may yet come, but in 2011 the grand fantasy of a sandbox MMO is one that is served only by boutique or elder games which determinedly reward the eternal ardour of their existing fans but struggle to add that surface level of gloss and accessibility necessary to draw a gigantic crowd.
The spacebar is my best friend. The spacebar is my worst enemy. It tells me what I want to hear, but it lies. With a tap, I see a preview of the fight to come: the bullets that spray from my guns a micro-second before the enemy turns to see me. Spacebar, do you speak truth this time?
It's hard to shift the cynical feeling that Darkspore, Maxis' action RPG, is more about finding a way to recycle the no-doubt expensive character-editing tech created for the divisive oddity Spore than it is about creating a top-notch dungeon crawler. That's not to say it's bad, as dungeons crawlers go. But you can smell an air of 'systems first, personality later'. It's a robot with a toothy grin crudely painted on its cold, metal face.
It's going to be an incredible year for RPGs: this much is clear. After a year in the relative wilderness with only the dry bones of Dragon Age II to gnaw on, the remaining months of 2011 now promise us the excitements of Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and a lesser-known game that we're now sure can stand tall amongst such towering names: The Witcher 2.
Never, ever put me in charge of anything even remotely important, let alone of the fate of the bally world. I have plunged Africa into violent civil war. I have caused mass famine in Europe. The US is wracked by fire and drought. The Middle East can add catastrophic disease to its many other crises. The quality of life in China is worse than anything Mao ever wrought. I've turned India into a brutal police state. The Bactrian camel is extinct. Oh God, even the camels are suffering because of me.
It's the best of times and the worst of times for tower defence games. While it's a fine thing to have no shortage of choice, the App Store, Kongregate et al being flooded with clones of clones of clones of clones risks diluting the raw appeal of building a bunch of big guns and watching them automatically decimate a marching army of morons.
Now, where did we leave things? Last time on Deus Ex Street, poor Adam had been beaten senseless then strapped to an operating table to have most of his internal organs and limbs replaced, nice Dr Megan had gone missing and those naughty geezers from the other side of town had been causing all kinds of problems for friendly neighbourhood science genius David Sarif.
Call me paranoid, but there might just be some sort of conspiracy here. Maybe I'm just imagining things. Or maybe it's the four mysterious figures on flickering video screens, faces blanked out, talking about how they're planning to hoodwink humanity. "A few weeks of discomfort and the public will be primed for the recall," one hisses. C'mon, it's not just me, is it? These are shadowy, sinister puppetmasters if ever I saw some. Rotters! Rotters, the lot of 'em. Or are they?
Following the media trajectory of this free-form building and survival game has almost been more compulsive than Minecraft itself. Watching that slow burn from lo-fi obscurity to darling of indie sites to mainstream PC gaming acceptance to woah-hey-everywhere has been an ambient pastime for 2010. That was before the game even hit beta status.
PC gamers: XCOM is a very different prospect to X-COM, the revered strategy game. You'll probably dig it anyway.
It was all going so well until they tried to explain it. We've just been privy to a little bit of hitherto mysterious shooter Homefront, which features absurdly lavish environments and some retina-bothering firebombing effects. Its very much broken world looks as it does because North Korea invaded America in 2027...
My hands hurt. They hurt in a way they haven't for years, not since my long days in Azeroth circa 2006-2008. Oh Lord, it's happened again. I have Warcraft Claw. This time, though, it's my phone's fault. I never knew my index finger could kill so many skeletons.
Timing is everything. Half the internet is busy screaming in outrage that the new XCOM is a first-person shooter rather than a turn-based strategy game, and then along comes Frozen Synapse. This is the turn-based strategy game that's going to put its arms around you, stroke your hair and say, "There, there. Mummy still loves you." You have not been abandoned.
At last: an answer to the ancient question of how videogame heroes manage to lug around enough military hardware to turn Stevenage into a smoking hole in the ground without wheezing and having a sit down every ten minutes. This future-soldiers in the new Ghost Recon stride around the world's battlefields wearing exo-skeletons, which enable them to keep running, jumping and pistol-whipping even when burdened with transforming machine guns, shoulder-mounted rocket-launchers and invisibility-generating projectors.
50-year-old American actor Robert Knepper is hungry, and a bit distracted. Well, he has spent all day talking about reprising the role of racist, murderous rapist T-Bag in the impending videogame spin-off of late TV show Prison Break. (You may also know him as Sinister Dirty-Fingered Chief Carnie Samuel in the spectacularly awful latest series of Heroes.) We're going to make him talk some more about it, as well as about the Fonz, fake beards and singing drunks. He's charming, loves to tell stories and has lovely twinkly eyes, but he doesn't know Jack about videogames.
"It's not the game of the movie, the movie is the movie of the game." That's the official line about this latest Prince of Persia do-over's relationship to the upcoming Jake Gyllenhaal blockbuster. One look at the cover art, huge standees of which adorn the room I'm playing The Forgotten Sands in, proves this isn't exactly a total separation of console church and silver-screen state, however. Donnie Darko's face might be replaced by that of a handsome, swarthy stranger, but the hair, the clothes, the pose, the font are a spit for the movie's poster.
When Command & Conquer 4 was announced, they made it sound like it was time for some answers. You want to find out who Kane really is and where he comes from? How he never dies? How his tiny beard always looks so neat? You want to know about that stuff, do you? Are you sure? Wouldn't you like some more questions? Don't you like questions? C'mon, what's wrong with questions? Why are you leaving? Won't you come back?
Oh, how to deal with a big fat spoiler? Half the people reading this will be itching to hear what it is, while the other half would rather I burned off all their body hair than even hint at it. It's especially tormenting in the case of this standalone expansion to the Games Workshop strategy role-playing game, because its best feature is in itself a spoiler.
Intensively playing two real-time strategy games with the initials SC2 in the same week is bad enough. Given that Supreme Commander 2 and StarCraft II are entirely different strategy animals, it tears the brain asunder. StarCraft is like some rare breed of exquisite tropical fish which requires constant care and attention else it'll perish, while SupCom 2's more like an average moggy. It might be less of a talking point, but chuck some food in a bowl a couple of times a day and that's about all it needs to show you love. Supreme Commander 2 can yield great rewards for minimal investment.
So there, right at the top of this invisible pyramid I'm gesturing at, are the guys who play StarCraft competitively. Then there are the guys who are really, amazingly, incredibly good at it. Then there are those who are very, very good at it. Then the ones who are good at it. Then there are the ones who are competent at it.