The map won't scroll.
Much like reviewing its prequel, Neverwinter Nights 2 offers you a challenge. Do you review it just as any old videogame - that is, the adventure in the box - or do you measure the power of the creation tool included into the box, and think about all the mods that'll result from it?
I have a busty woman in my head, talking in an over-provocative voice telling me to do things I really shouldn't. At least in this, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic is terribly familiar.
Want a long shot? Now that the media firestorm engulfing Bully is beginning to rival weekly scandals about what Dennis the Menace is up to for absurdity, how about Defcon as most controversial game of the year? It's a game that features the annihilation of every city on earth every time you play. All it takes is a dirty nuke going off somewhere (and that's bound to happen sooner or later, yeah?), a screenshot of the city disappearing beneath an ultra-white nuclear bloom and the small legend "7.2 million dead" and suddenly Introversion is public enemy number one.
The initial reference point has to be to Knights of the Old Republic.
Call of Juarez makes an inspired design decision, which impacts on the game in such a hugely positive way that I can't work out whether its creators are actually geniuses in terms of understanding gaming psychology or just got incredibly lucky. The case for the former is, pretty much, how good it is and how it makes the game better in just about every way. The case for the latter is how rough and awkward many other sections can be. I suspect it may be a little of both - Call of Juarez is a maximalist game which lobs pretty much every idea it can think of at the wall and sees what works. That it's not incoherent in the slightest is one of its greatest assets and a direct consequence of its Inspired Design Decision.
It's a lesson that took me ages to learn: Life is a hell of a lot easier when you're having sex with a beautiful woman.
While we're selecting levels when preparing to play this Soldiers: Heroes of World War II except-in-name sequel, we notice a small legend in the bottom left hand corner of the screen.
I'll go a long way to spare bandwidth. In fact, I'll go to Surrey. It's the day before the Dark Messiah demo's being released and I've trekked down to the wreckage of Ubisoft's HQ to spend some quality time with Arkane's forthcoming fantasy-first-person action-RPG, so Eurogamer can be the first with their impressions. Not that it's quite the same code as the demo that's been released, with access to a few more weapons and skills than what's available to you if you download it, but the tone and timbre's the same. So get it downloading and read this while you're waiting.
Before we get down to the hardcore analysis of the first expansion pack for one of the best PC games of last year, I've a little information of public interest I feel compelled to disseminate. From what I understand - from many earnest and slightly breathless witnesses with red cheeks and tingling groins - fellow Eurogamer writer James Rossignol is a phenomenal lover. Peerless in all techniques, Rossignol is - apparently - the man for all your orgasmic needs.
Here's a thought for you: we've been waiting for the next Elite for over twenty years now. No, not literally. We got that when Frontier appeared, and that wasn't the next Elite in the way we're currently yabbering about. What it means is a game which immediately and obviously dominates the gaming landscape and consumes the social life of pretty much everyone.
Downloadable extras. For cash. There's a lot of that this year, isn't there? While most of the attention has circled around Valve (positively, for its excellent Episode 1) and Bethesda (less positively, for its less excellent give-horsey-some-armour), it's not just the first-person developers who are getting involved. Creative Assembly's Alexander is the most notable example of a strategy developer trying this, and while not up to Episode 1, it's in a position to snort at horsey-armour. That it's about our favourite always-entertaining top-ancient greek bisexual conqueror's another bonus.
While Playing Rise and Fall I find myself thinking about the poetry of Shelley, and not just because I'm an irremediable ponce. You see, this is Empire-Earth creators Stainless Steel Games swansong, having closed down before its release. Well before. Several months before its release, meaning it's only a swansong because someone's holding the bird's neck up, moving its jaw up and down and doing a little ventriloquism. Whatever state the game was in when Stainless Steel went down, it was passed over to Midway itself who finished it off.
Thinking about Rise of Legends makes me think that maybe we're just doomed.
I've been at many press conferences. I've seen thousands of my peers doing everything short of throwing handfuls of their own bodily fluids in the air in an E3 Microsoft press conference when it's revealed that Halo 2 will feature DUAL WIELD WEAPONS. I've seen men now powerful and senior in the world of games interrupt the gushing announcement of a new Civ game where the core Firaxis men are talking about wanting to do this for the love of the fans by loudly coughing "Bollocks - you're doing it for the money". But this is the first time I've been at a press conference in the body of an enormous robot/lizard hybrid.
I'm not sure if Guild Wars won or Guild Wars lost.
When Preview code arrives in the dread palace of Eurogamer, it's our first chance to really see behind the PR curtains and get a real impression of what's to come. Let's take that first impression thing literally. Here's the rise and fall of thoughts as Rise & Fall entered my consciousness, virtually unfiltered except for all the times when I stared into the middle-distance and thought of evil things involving pretty girls.
The problem is always time.
We're in Hammersmith, London. We're here to see Neverwinter Nights 2. We're watching Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart, veteran commander in chief and ex of Black Isle, walk us through the game. He shows us the improved graphics engine. He shows us some of the new mechanics, adding direct control of a party rather than the Mr Lonesome of the original Neverwinter Nights. He leads us through the improved Neverwinter tool-set, showing the increased power and accessibility of this next generation of the world's foremost roleplaying game creation tool.
Videogames never cease to surprise. If before playing this you asked me to bet what I thought my introduction would contain, I'd have put serious money on some manner of the usual leftist pinko Guardian reading nonsense that Walker and I end up crowbaring into our reviews much to everyone's embarrassment. Evens odds on it featuring the line "We'll stop putting politics into our reviews when developers stop putting politics into their games". But no.
Condensed reviewer mode: on. Act of War: Direct Action. C&C Clone. C&C Beater. Explosions. Techno-thriller. Terrorists! Conspiracy! Actually really good. So-bad-they're-good cut-scenes. Should have sold more. Expansion pack!
The first Buzz was a great game. No, shuddup. It's the only game my parents played last year. It's the game which people - even more so than Singstar - turned up at my house, stinking of booze, and demanded an opportunity to play. Hell, I spent the last six months in an increasingly estranged relationship with my girlfriend, but no matter how bad it got and how the hatred simmered, we could always play Buzz silently until it lightened our mood. When I finally got around to returning the game to the person I borrowed it from, we split two weeks later.
The original Empire Earth's expansion pack presented an unusual experience. Now, at the time of its release, looked like the State of the Art in the Real-time Strategy game, with its 3D battlefields and assorted gubbins. So there was a yelp of surprise upon, less than a year later, booting up the expansion pack to discover that it suddenly looked really, really old.
The success of the last Galactic Civilizations was hailed as a David and Goliath situation, where Galactic Civilizations managed to out-perform the money-draped Master of Orion III. In the towering Goliath corner, a team whose art department was "only" five people. In the David corner, a whole development team less than five people. While the details of the victory were somewhat less than stirring - in the same way the Biblical David and Goliath story would have been less impressive if David's victory was secured by Goliath walking onto the battlefield, immediately throwing himself off a cliff while punching himself repeatedly in the face - GalCiv was exactly what the space-exploration empire-building beard-sporting kids wanted. A big, complicated, dedicated, intelligent game of universal domination.
New York, New York, so good I'll build it twice. In the two game modes, natch.
Introversion have made it a habit to release brilliant games. This has been constant. What's varied is how easy they have been to explain. So far, they've alternated in terms of how easy it is to grasp them. First, Uplink, which was a hacker sim. Easy. Second came Darwinia, which is, depending on your inclination, either an RTS with wonky pathfinding and some substandard graphics or one of the best games of the last twelve months straddling half a dozen genres and a worthy subject for beat-poetry. Defcon, Introversion's recently announced new game, is a return to Uplink's tradition in that it's interesting but immediately graspable.
Why does no one ever talk about developer Deep Red's previous city-management game, Monopoly Tycoon? Because - y'know - it was brilliant. Were I Deep Red, I'd be terribly ticked off.
Rise of Legends isn't the safe option for Big Huge Games. The predictable thing would have been to glue a "2" to the end of the original game's title and return to the scene of a previous real-time strategy triumph - to reaffirm brand qualities, or whatever marketing speak's popular in corporate boardrooms this week. But to their credit, Big Huge Games said screw that for a game of real-time soldiers and did something a little different.
This review is proving awkward to write.
There's nothing quite like an Award Ceremony.