Alpha Protocol

(Sega: PC, Xbox 360, PS3)

If ever you needed proof of the two most salient facts of computer gaming, here it is, in the form of one single product. Salient fact one: Computer gamers are overwhelmingly massive children. Salient fact two: Computer game journalists are overwhelmingly massive children, and also corrupt.

For the past year or so, the anticipation for Alpha Protocol has been rabid. It’s the first actual proper espionage game I can think of since Covert Action from 1990, which is to say it focuses as much on tradecraft, confidence tricks and investigation as it does sneaking up the joint Splinter Cell style. It sounds like a fab idea for a game.

Unfortunately, such a solid and appealing concept inevitably leads to imagination feature creep among the intended audience, who’ve apparently got little better to do than dream up their ideal form of escapism (hint, try taking a drug overdose); and then when the game finally comes out, and it isn’t the fist-sized conflict diamond it was anticipated to be, tantrums and smirched underwear is the inevitable result. It’s pretty funny to watch.

For a top-of-the-line title, Alpha Protocol has, admittedly, come out in sort of a sad state. It’s full of strange bugs, the interface and presentation are pretty laughable, and the animation is borderline hilarious. Baddies act like lobotomy victims, and there’s a lot of grating grenade spam to make up for it. You’ll see textures popping in continually. And protagonist Mike Thornton’s sneaking motion looks a bit like a duck in a neck-brace trying to peck a Hovis trail up off the ground.

As yet there is no end to the level of splenetic venting that has resulted, and it’s not just the customers, either. Reviews are pretty divided – Destructoid gave the game two out of fucking ten, which is either idiotic, cynical, or just nakedly dishonest. Be interesting to know what Sega’s ad spend has been there, wouldn’t it?

Yeah, it is clunky, but it’s also fucking fun. It’s fun to crouch in hiding, waiting for your pistol reticule to narrow for the perfect critical one-shot kill from cover. It’s fun when the childish ragdoll physics take over and flip your target through a quick somersault when you slot him with yer shootah. And it’s fun when the thicko AI somehow psychically detects you from miles away and sets off an alarm, turning your careful approach utterly tits up and funnelling a torrent of hapless goons into your lead cloud. Know why it’s fun? Because all of that is the sort of thing that happens in James Bond and Jason Bourne films, and that, if anything, is what this game is aiming for.

Alpha Protocol scores most of its hits with its writing, though, alongside the integration of choice, the lifeblood of RPGs, into the game. It’s a sight better than Mass Effect in this regard, while remaining every bit as streamlined and intuitive. The plot’s a typical Tom Clancy potboiler, but it never takes itself all that seriously. It’s better than Mass Effect in that regard, too, a series that has never really struck the mark for me.

You’re continually picking up perks, a lot like achievements. Rather than bloating your fucking ‘gamerscore’ badge of shame, perks instead confer bonuses. Unless you’re autistic enough to look up all the perks and what you do to get them, you just sort of absorb them organically by doing stuff, and build a character while you’re not really looking. It’s a marvellous RPG system, for those of us who dislike Microsoft Excel.

Similarly, your relationships with other characters are nicely handled. Typical for an RPG, other characters react depending on how you treat them. But here, you get subtle, unlooked-for storytelling and gameplay consequences for how you approach your relationships. The plot might be on rails, but there’s a few branches in the line, and it’s not always clear whether you’re changing the points or not. It keeps things unpredictable.

I have a feeling this game is going to be like that vampire one that came out a while ago, and got butchered in the press for being buggy as heck and weirdly animated. Once they got over their need for absolute technical perfection though, and realised what a genuinely nice bit of writing it was, it became a cultish, flawed classic, a rough-edged gem, and every games writer that panned it quietly updated their opinion to reflect consensus. Sadly, by then, it was too late for that game.

I suspect the same thing is going to happen to Alpha Protocol. It’s worth a go, at the very least.

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Paraphwoaar (NSFW)

Hayley Williams from Paramore posted her boobies. It is a day of days.

Here is the picture. I have edited out the nips, but you get the jist. Besides, if you’re a frenzied wanker like me and want to find the pic in all its glory, it’ll be all over the internet and you’ll be all over that shit like a rash.

Mucho thanks to the artist formerly known as Eric Hanneman for alerting me to this.

THE DEMON PIGEON EDITED PIC…

Paramore are my new favourite band.

Sassy Kraimspri- Dirty White Lies

(Lady Luck Records)

I think this is the first record by a female artist that I have ever actually reviewed, and to be honest, the prospect is daunting. It feels like I’ve been remiss, really, but as under-represented as women are in rock and metal, you can hardly blame me. Anyway, as a sensitive, progressive, left-leaning renaissance man (ie, a pussy), I’m gonna try my hardest not to be misogynistic or patriarchal or sexist in this review, because frankly, I’m better than that, and you all know it.

There’s a bit of everything in Sassy Kraimspri. She has a voice that could raise the dead, among other things. And she knows her way around a chorus. Among other things.

This is a lot harder than it looks, trust me.

Dirty White Lies has got three distinct things going for it that push it way beyond the realm of the ‘merely quite good’ and into the land of ‘genuinely ace’. One is the voice, possessed of a range that veers from snarling pop-punk to yearning balladry without an instant’s pause. Another is the solid layer of baritone guitar that throbs across the entire album, dumping steam shovels full of raw power and spontaneity into your tabs. The third is a set of song-writing chops that make it difficult to credit this as ‘just’ a debut album. It’s strong, confident, and, in places, absolutely fucking massive.

Fundamentally, putting this album on is like playing a game of hopscotch with all of the rock genres. There’s sludgy bits, punky bits, black metal bits, and heart-aching melody bits, and it’s all so well-blended that it’s hard to tell where one influence ends and another begins. And it’s all egged up in a shell of 2kool4skool attitude that appeals to crusty old idiots like me. It reminds me of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (and, inevitably, his Cristina Martinez-fronted side-project Boss Hog) in that regard, and I could hardly think of a better band to be compared to.

Better Daze is a minute-and-a-half of thick, heavy guitars chainsawing away at a washy beat, with a chorus that will probably make you go ‘haha what’, purely because you will not remotely have seen it coming. It is genius, and it brings us to …Am I Gonna Feel Like Shit in the Morning, which moves at a fraction of the pace, with a riff I could imagine hearing on a Melvins record. It switches places with an odd-number verse, all quiet and moody; then here comes a sweetly-crooned bridge. And it all makes sense, it all hangs together, even though the component parts have so little in common. Or there’s Take it Slow which actually sounds closer to Morcheeba than The Donnas, and that is unquestionably a very good thing.

Toy Boy, the lead single, is probably my least favourite tune here, actually. Not to say it’s bad, but it’s a pretty straightforward punky rattle from one end to the other of its three minutes, compared to say, All Work and No Play or All for Me, both of which are rootsy stompers that stand out even against this background of quality. All for Me, in particular, has somehow managed to wow me by simply making its gorgeous chorus quieter than the verse. It’s such a simple and subtle dynamic idea that I can’t believe it’s not ubiquitous. But offhand, I cannot think of anything else I’ve heard recently that doesn’t just stamp on every pedal and twist the gain knob till it breaks for the sing-a-long bits.

Older is emblematic of the quieter passages of this record, and it showcases Kraimspri’s way with a melody to absolutely devastating effect. Subtle orchestration here calls to mind the likes of Elliott Smith or perhaps even the chamber pop of a Polyphonic Spree or the like.

I really, really like this album.

8 pats on the head out of 10.

http://www.myspace.com/sassykraimspri

Deftones- Diamond Eyes

(Reprise Records/WMG)

Because it’s too hot and my brain turns to mush in temperatures like this, I’m going to get to the point. Diamond Eyes is mega, and the first consistently good Deftones album since White Pony was released over 9000 years ago, and I was studying for GCSE’s and my sexual obsession with dinosaurs hadn’t held full sway yet.

The best thing about Diamond Eyes is the absolute lack of filler. It’s all killer. It’s like the name of that Sum 41 album. You know… Chuck. The last couple of Deftones albums had lots to recommend them, but there were some right shonky bits on them. The self titled had lots of lazy, ineffectual bits that tried to capture the heavy bits of Around The Fur but were ultimately too bloated and laboured to do so, and Saturday Night Wrist was like a prog journey up Chino Moreno‘s arse. And it was massive at the time.

However! Chino’s shed some pounds, and so have the band. This is the the sprightliest and most instinctive they’ve sounded since Around The Fur. It’s 40 minutes of the best pop metal, with great big chorus’s and enormous feck off guitars and Chino’s best vocals… ever probably. Seriously, he was hideously out of tune on the self titled, and sounded autotuned to buggery on SNW, but on Diamond Eyes he’s flawless.

Best songs? Well being an absolute bender for Will Haven, the second track Royal gave me a boner. CNTRL/CMND is also FKN/GRT, and if you don’t like Rocket Skates you’re an idiot. The more sedate songs sound excellently romantic and windswept too, with Sextape and 976-EVIL proving absolutely perfect for ‘entertaining.’ Which in my case means wanking.

Basically, since I’ve had Diamond Eyes I’ve probably listened to it more than the rest of their post 2000 output combined. That’s a lot. It’s not quite as good as their best (which is Around The Fur, and if anyone says White Pony they’re a lying bastard) but that it manages to come close to evoking the best heavy album ever (I went there) is excellent.

That there’s another album stashed away called Eros (that was abandoned because of what happened to Chi Cheng) is exciting, as judging by Diamond Eyes they got their groove on again, but even if it’s ages before it’s released, Diamond Eyes will happily do absolutely eeeeeeveryone for now.

Diamond Ayeeeeeeee.

9/10

www.deftones.com

An Hero

Look at this man.

His name is Glen.

Glen is in a band with these fellows.

I know not his name, but if I’d have to guess, it would be Krom.

The final part of the triumvirate is this fellow. Again I don’t know his name, so I shall dub him Lancelot.

Glen and his comrades are a band. The band. The best band.

Listen to his music.

http://www.myspace.com/glenlentz

Glen’s music has been a regular fixture in my life for 3 or 4 years. He is metal personified. Also for the longest time, he didn’t have drums but then he got Rock Band and now he uses the Rock Band drums to fully realise his chimerical visions. The end result is stunning. One listen to Tornado of Flesh should convince you of that.

You doubt he’s the real deal? Read the below statement, taken from his blog…

I have a lot of music I’ve been writing.  A couple projects I wanted to do and get out is the album that was slated for early 07″  “Maximum Brutality”, which is almost turning out like Guns and roses with “Chinese Democracy” which took Axel Rose over 13 years to come out.  The next one is a greatest hits and rare tracks compilation hopefully with a bad lads DVD called “Still Alive?” and lastly the follow up to “Maximum Brutality” called “United We Fall”, based on the millions of shortfalls of the United States and the vialness and corruption of America under the rule of greedy capitalist pigs and how the american people line up and sport the flag in support of the very government and corporations fucking them in the ass.

If only every person had such unwavering, juggernaut-unstoppable self belief.

Glen… We salute the hell out of you.

ADDENDUM

Glen is not only a master musician… he’s a director and writer too! Here’s a clip from his movie… Biohazard Dawn.

Forget Danny DeVito… Glen is THE Renaissance man.

Streaming (Road)bums

Just so we don’t look like the useless, shiftless, irremediable cretins that we unquestionably are, here’s a transparently lazy update in the hope of staving off a reader exodus to other, frankly inferior destinations, more punctual and committed though they may be. You come here for raw talent, after all, not rigid adherence to things like timekeeping or basic human respect for a fragile and blossoming readership.

Anyway, chances are, you didn’t make it to Roadburn (I did, SMUG). Aside from it selling out in less time than it typically takes Doctor Who to save the fucking universe again, that volcano with the name full of consonants meant that even people who’d got themselves tickets were left furiously cursing and ruing, simultaneously.

But weep no longer, child, for the brilliant and lovely organisers of this bestival have got streams of all the sets, right there on their website! It’s brill.

For now, it’s just a few of the bands, Brant Bjork, Yob, Nachtmystium and Trinacria, among others, but it looks like more will be on the way soon. At the very least you will want to hear Garcia Plays Kyuss. And now I can pretend I actually was at Goatsnake, who were fucking incredible, apparently.

Go and listen, and in the meantime, we might do a proper update soon, if you’re lucky.

http://www.roadburn.com/

Iron Man 2

Anyway, in the end it turns out there is such a thing as a film Robert Downey Jr can’t save. Or… is there?

I honestly do think that, somewhere inside Iron Man 2, there’s actually a reasonably good movie desperately struggling to expose itself, like a drunk Tony Stark unable to find his iron zip at the Avengers’ mansion glory hole. Sadly, that good movie is smothered underneath so much weirdness and digression and meandering that by the end, you’re just left confused and a little bit sad that this sequel is not even remotely as good as its predecessor.

At the core, you’ve got a revenge story which casts the eternally charismatic good guy Stark in some welcome shades of grey. Mickey Rourke does a great job with Ivan Vanko, one of the many lives that has been heartlessly crushed out of all recognition, through no fault of his own, by the breaking wheel of Stark Enterprises. It’s telling that Vanko has made the downfall of Tony Stark the consuming passion of his entire life, while Stark has literally no idea who Vanko is, or why he’s so very bloody mad. After busting up Stark’s party in a pretty well-done sequence set at the Monaco Grand Prix, Vanko’s left ripe for manipulation by Stark’s business nemesis Justin Hammer, which forms the spine of the middle act.

If that had been the whole plot, I’d say this would be a solid film, and a decent successor to the best comic book flick of 2008 (The Dark Knight was bollocks, hope this helps.) You’ve got at least three good, solid main characters, being played by extremely capable artists, and a supporting cast that is also pretty excellent. Downey’s Stark is still the best cinematic realisation of a comic book character I’ve seen yet; Rourke does a fine job with what little screen time he actually gets; and Sam Rockwell, playing Hammer, is actually legitimately effing brill. He inhabits his role right down to the soles of his feet, which is no small ask, considering that his character has no dimension. At all. Not even a little one. None of the dimensions.

Unfortunately, though, that’s not the whole plot. Nothing is ever made of the golden opportunity for Stark to face his fundamental capitalist-peacenik hypocrisy, and to count the cost of treating geopolitics as his own personal playground. Instead, there’s a whole thing about Stark’s glowing cold-fusion heart slowly killing him. It’s spoiling nothing to say that he finds an answer, pulling it through his rectum like a magician’s bunting in the film’s most bizarre sequence, and there’s never a shred of explanation why it matters to this story, or why we should care. Then there’s a weird animosity that explodes between Stark and his best mate James Rhodes, and it comes out of fucking nowhere, purely so the writers can get War Machine on the board. But once he’s there, they’ve got nothing for him to do but backstop Tony in the climax, and he’s not even very good at that. And then there’s all this fannying about with SHIELD and Sam L. Jackson, building towards the 2012 Avengers flick.

After the opening act, this film gets greedy, and just piles more and more plot onto its plate, until the blue cheese dressing has ended up all over the pavlova, and now it’s just a colossal, inedible fucking mess. To its credit, the movie manages to resolve all these strands middling well, but it seems out of breath doing it. A lot of important details are completely ignored, and none of it feels as satisfying as it should. And ultimately, the flabby plotting leads to the movie’s cardinal mistake: leaving us waiting way too long between action set pieces.

In a nutshell, they should have done what they did in the first film, and kept it stupid, simple. Iron Man 2 is actually the same length as its predecessor, but it feels about half an hour longer, and not in a good way. Honestly, I seriously doubt Avengers is going to be a good enough movie to justify Marvel stuffing its many, many franchises with all this expository garbage. And, while it was nice to see some stuff about Stark’s taut relationship with his father Howard, this, too, goes absolutely nowhere. It’s just another load of wobbly bingo wing padding that should have been ruthlessly culled. Finally, we sure as flipping heck didn’t need War Machine in this movie, the shittest, blandest, off-brand Iron Man knock-off Marvel have ever come up with. And this is a company that tried to sell us The Unicorn as a credible baddie. This is The Unicorn:

Mediocre and disappointing.

5/10