I’ve noticed a worrying trend with somes games reviews of late. There’s an increasing tendency for high-profile games to get perfect scores. I’ve seen ten-out-of-ten and 100% “Perfect!” reviews and it doesn’t make me happy.

This is not to say the games being reviewed aren’t great. Just that they’re not perfect. No such thing exists. And to give a score that represents “free of flaws” or “couldn’t be improved” that a 10/10 suggests is simply wrong. No game is perfect. Every game can be improved. Every game has flaws.

Now, in part, this is as much a criticism for using a two or three digit number to distill one person’s lengthy opinion of one game into a piece of meta-data that the typical A.D.D. style gamer can grasp as much as it is a critcism of misrepresenting “good” as “perfect”.

I know what you’re thinking – and you’d be wrong. I’ve been against ‘perfect’ scores since the first time I saw Xenon 2 get 10/10 in Amiga Power. This isn’t an issue about games appearing on certain formats. Save that for the shallower arguments please. Although, I must say, in the two most recent examples of perfection that spring to mind, both are by western media, for western games, produced by western developers, parented by one of the largest and richest companies in the west. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy but sometimes, when something sounds too good to be true it’s because the truth has been compromised.

I know reviewers are human beings. They have feelings like you and I. They have bias like you and I, and they can get caught up with the excitment of the moment like you and I. The difference between us and them, however, is that most of us don’t use our opinion as the basis for our profession. So there is an expectation and a responsibility by reviewers to rise above bias, excitement and goodie-bag and remain objective. Anyone willing to review a product and declare it as perfect, in my mind, has compromised objectivity somewhere down the line.

In fact, when I think about it, I dont think I agree with any game review that’s given a perfect score to it’s subject. I’d have considerable more respect for a review that stops at 99% than goes to 100.

The last game I played to the end of was Bioshock. A game that got more than one perfect review. Ignoring hype and agenda-fuelled fanboys and, generally speaking, everything that wasn’t talking about the game itself, I wasn’t really too fussed about Bioshock. Once the reviews came through and the demo was played I had something meaningful to work with. As you may have read, I’ve bought the game, played through it and found it definitely less than perfect.

This only serves to reinforce my attitude towards games with perfect scores.

Of course, game scores carry a lot of the blame. At the end of the day they become numbers for warring fanboys to volley at one another to prove that something as unquantifiable as a player’s experience with a game can be represented by a number between 1 and 10 and, based on that number, serve as undeniable proof of the worth of a piece of silicon. Such a flawed mentality! I mean, if you truly gave a damn about whatever it was you were arguing about you’d manage to make the effort to say a little more about it than “average of 98%!!” to prove your point. But then, people are lazy and numbers, like stats and specs, are always manipulated to present a one-sided story.

So, here’s hoping that games journalism can hold onto some shred of dignity by avoiding the easy, please-the-reader-at-the-expense-of-quality route and we can look forward to reading opinions worth something.

In summary: if you think a game is perfect, or if you believe it should be graded with a perfect score then you’re happy to cheapen perfection when it suits you.

Shame on you!


I finished Bioshock last week. I have to say, it was a pretty good game. I certainly don’t regard it as a 10/10 perfect game. But then, I don’t think any game will ever be perfect.I was pretty aware but resistant to the mass of Biohype that preceded the game’s launch. I’d heard plenty of talk about how the game offered unheard of levels of freedom. That challenges in the game could be overcome in a variety of different ways. That no two player would play the game the same. Pretty lofty claims! Lofty, assuming you’ve never played a sports game or something as revolutionary as chess, perhaps.

I’d considered these claims and wondered what variety of dilemas that game was going to present to the player that would necessitate such an array of abilities and behaviours. After downloading the impressive demo on my 360 I decided to buy a copy of the game and find out for myself.

Now that I’ve played through the game and have been listening to the excited comments from people who claim the game cured their blindness just from coming withing ten yards of the box, I have to say that it doesn’t meet any of the lofty claims that its developers, publishers, reviewers and fans have breathlessly foisted upon it.

Oh, that’s not good is it? I’ve started to criticise Bioshock. Obviously, I must be wrong. You might as well stop reading now. The last thing you need is to carry on reading the rantings of some hate-fuelled killjoy that doesn’t appreciate why Bioshock is perfect.

For those of you that haven’t stropped off in disgust at the first sentence that didn’t match your own opinion, I’ll now elaborate why the game isn’t perfect.

Firstly, let’s get the necessary out of the way – from this point forward there may be SPOILERS of the game in this text. Frankly, I’m not fussed about learning spoilers in a game and I’ve little time for crybabies that act like you’ve just bitten off their leg who ARE bothered about such revelations. But there you go, I’ve warned you. Now, would you kindly show some backbone and not complain about reading stuff you didn’t have to read. Thanks!

My biggest issue with the game is the claim of unrivaled freedom in the genre. Now, cynic that I am, I was wary of this before I played the game. The cynic in me thought it was quite a major claim to make and, considering the restrictions of the first-person genre, would truly be revolutionary if it turned out to be true.

When push comes to shove, Bioshock isn’t really doing a great deal of interaction. The core game follows standard FPS template (walk, run, jump, aim, shoot, reload). The major embellishment to this is that the game allows you to pick up loads of stuff. Well, that in itself isn’t very special. I mean, most FPSs see you picking up health and ammo. So, there’s MORE stuff to pickup. But, regardless of the variety of stuff you’re picking up, you’ve not expanded your level of interaction with the world. Picking stuff up is picking stuff up – regardless of what that stuff may be.

Different types of interaction beyond picking things up would be flicking swtiches/pulling levers. There’s a few instances in the game when your character does that. Once again, we’re not quite entering pioneering ground here.

And there’s lots of objects to open and search inside. And when I say lots, I mean fucking LOADS. Seriously. But do you interact with them? Not especially. You can’t move them to allow access to different areas by making makeshift stairs. You can’t push them or pull them. You can’t use them to wedge doors open. You can’t place them on pressure-sensitive switches (because there aren’t any). So they act as set-dressing and as an extra step to picking stuff up. Instead of picking stuff up directly, you ‘search’ by pressing a button to reveal a list of stuff you can pick up. Then you pick it up.

Oh, I’ll add that *some* objects in the game world can be moved using the power of telekenesis – although these tend not to be BIG objects. Moving objects serves little purpose other than to pull a distant goodie closer to you (so you can pick it up, yay!) or to fling at an enemy in order to hurt or kill them – which isn’t a particularly uncommon goal in first-person games.

Some objects in the world are locked – such as safes. You can ‘hack’ these to open them. Essentially what we’ve done is add another step to the ‘picking stuff up’ formula. Now you have to hack, then open and then pick stuff up.

Doors open automatically (apart from special doors that don’t – such as little hatchways for you to crawl into – such areas typically hold.. wait for it.. items that you can pick up)

What’s left? Vending machines. You can buy stuff from a very pretty menu. There’s a few flavours of vending machine/menus around. Fortunately, one of them allows you to combine your stash of stuff magically carried about your person (the game doesn’t bother with an inventory to display the results of your obsessive scavenging). The pretty menu allows you to combine your petty stuff into more significant stuff. But it’s still all stuff, y’know?

So, we’ve not really broken any moulds with it comes to the passive interaction. What’s next?

Well, unsurprisingly, you’re not alone. There’s automated turrets that will shoot you. You can shoot them back if you like. Or you can hack them so that instead of them shooting at you, they’ll shoot at your enemies. How do they know who your enemies are? I don’t know. You must have hacked it into them or something. What else can you do with them? What unparallelled level of interaction does the game offer? None, it would seem. You can’t push them around or relocate them. They either shoot you or they don’t.

Cameras cast their beady gaze in many places too. Stay out of their view lest sirens go off and heli-bots go at you (which you can shoot or hack). You can hack cameras too so that they like you but don’t like your enemies. How do they determine the difference? Erm.. dunno. So I guess the camera thing is cute but it’s not radically changing the way the game is played. Stuff still gets shot at, it’s just other stuff instead of you.

So, that leaves the other people in Rapture. The other people have a wealth of ways of interacting with you. Some will shoot you. Some will attack you. Others will try to cause you harm. Their buddies might try to kill you. Your wealth of options with dealing with these startling AI entities involve shooting a variety of steampunk weapons at them or using your plasmids. These typically see you emitting different pretty ways of doing harm to others. Fire and lightening are common. Bees and tornados are somewhat different. Oh, but tornados don’t work on objects such as gun turrets. Odd that. The “turn the enemy into your friend” mechanic is can be employed here also and is available to you in a variety of guises with plasmids. You can make folk angry so they try to kill anything near them. You can tag folk so that they are the target for all the AI attacks instead of you. I’m sure you get the picture.

These are all means to an end. The player is still not interacting with the characters or the world in any new and fascinating way. In essence, the player is still using weapons to deal with enemies. You can’t talk your way out of a situation. You can’t jump on their heads and squash them. You CAN ignore them. You can’t trade your items with them. You can kill or you can be killed. That’s it. Bioshock’s achievement is that it’s come up with some very evocative ways of achieving this age-old goal. It hasn’t actually changed the goal.


What about the characters that speak to you and push the story along! You don’t kill them, do you! HA!

Well, actually, you kill all the principle characters the game lets you get close to. All the other characters are forcibly seperated from the player using the revolutionary mechanic of placing the player behind a big sheet of glass. So, no, you don’t kill them – but then you don’t actually do anything with them at all. You just sit and watch. In one instance you actually sit and watch as the game forces you to a kill a character. Riiiiight..

So, beyond a very typical set of on/off rules this wonderful game doesn’t actually break any new ground in terms of gameplay. This binary ruleset even applies to the game’s big hope for emotional connection when it comes to encounters with Little Sisters. Do you save them (good ending) or harvest them (bad ending)? You don’t talk to them. You can’t kill them either. And considering the amount of effort gone into forcing emotion and backstory rather bluntly into the game, the payoff isn’t half as rewarding as something like Ico – which has about 10 lines of text in the whole damn game.

And this promise of unprecedented freedom ain’t all that. You have freedom to do what you like in a variety of ways – so long as what you want to do is kill things. Rather bizarrely, you are not free to hold more than $500 in the game. Even though you can hold hundreds of assorted items. Even more oddly, your finances are reported in four figures (as in $0500) which reinforces this abitrary limit on the player’s supposed freedom. Other inventory contradictions show that you can only hold 9 heath pickups and 9 plasmid pickups, no more. But bits of rubber tubing and metal cases? You can hold as many as you like! Odd.

Sometimes these non-violent NPCs want you to do things. However these things tend to break down to either picking stuff up or shooting things (with a camera – that uses film as it’s ammo mechanic). So, once again, we’re doing the same thing but just giving it a different label.

As such, in terms of gameplay, I found Bioshock pretty unremarkable. It is, by no means, this champion of gaming that a perfect score would suggest.

There’s arguments against this, of course. But, to it’s credit, Bioshock covers up it’s unremarkable gameplay with very pretty graphics and some of the best sound design I’ve ever encountered in a game.

One area that I particularly admire the game for is in it’s use of the audio diaries that are littered about the game world. Now, I’m not particularly amazed at how these diaries give the player episodes of back story and motive to what went on before he arrived. That’s just narrative. It’s not particularly carefully handled, it’s not startlingly intelligent, it’s certainly not especially clever writing (everything is spelled out to the player in the end – really spelled out so that even simple gamers can understand what’s going on.) In fact, the implementation could have been a bit better – the varying volume levels were annoying. In terms of context, some of the things mentioned in the audio diaries (such as passwords and top-level secrets and unethical musings) are about as absurd as a Bond villain always telling Bond his master plans and then walking away believing the sharks will eat him. Contextually, it’s rather broken.

No, what I love about the audio diaries is that it was a fantastically economic and smart move to do. You get loads of exposition and you don’t have to animate anyone – just record script. Big pat on the back for whoever came up with that solution for the narrative and character development. Top marks!

Credit where it’s due, Bioshock is a lovely game to look at. But like other astoundingly pretty games like Gears of War or Resident Evil 4, this lavish set dressing succeeds in fooling a lot of people into thinking the gameplay is more than it is. Many people claim that “games are more than just graphics” and then tend to adore games with very pretty graphics but gameplay that doesn’t compare. Like Resident Evil 4, Bioshock does this very well. When you purposefully seperate the game’s aesthetics from the actual player gameplay you’re left with a huge amount of garnish for a rather small meal.

All in all, Bioshock is a superb game but it’s another example (like RE4 and Gears of War) where prettiness is being confused with substance. That the gaming community adopted this game (in part, thanks to some very community-friendly marketing) also meant that it was going to be championed and any argument would be shot down with the usual mob-rule mentality that game nazis love to excersize.

Bioshock is just about more than the sum of it’s parts. It has a lot of unrealised potential (the compelling “underwater city” setting is criminally underused). It does many things well, but, for it’s claims and for the amount of time it has had to learn from masters of the trade, it is no where nearly as good as it should have been.

It’s rather odd really. Bioshock suggests a rich open gameplay nirvana and then brings in lots of invisible gameplay walls but uses great audio and pretty images to distract you. Space Giraffe is the opposite – suggesting a very limited and narrow gameplay experience and dispensing with aesthetic pleasantries and then turns out to offer a whole lot more game that it’s author let on.

I know which game I’ll be playing for longer!

Wii are not amused

So, I bought myself a Wii.

It was all a bit of a mistake really. You see, I pretty much bought myself a Gamecube in order to play Metroid Prime. Back then I was a Metroid fan and concerned with how this traditionally two dimensonal game would handle in 3D. I was very pleased with the results and enjoyed the game all the way up to the bastard that was Meta Ridley. The cheeky blighter got the better of me and torments me to this day. Anyway, by that time I’d watched a speedrun of the entire game, realised just how poor I was at it but decided that I’d seen the good ending and played 95% of the core game and got my money’s worth. For christmas one year, I got Prime 2 but wouldn’t allow myself to start it until I’d beaten it’s prequel.

Things change. The Wii is out and Prime 3 has launched in the US with a PAL version due in late October. I could feel my resolve buckling as I considered investing in the hardware in order to play the third 3D installment of the only Nintendo franchise I didn’t regard as being horribly overrated.

I decided the best way to combat this would be to get my fill of Metroid by finally plonking Prime 2 into my Gamecube and work my way through it. I was certain that once I’d got through the game (if you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been trying to stick to a one-game-at-a-time-until-I-beat-it rule this year) I would have had my fill of Metroid and wouldn’t be hungry for any more for quite some time.

Well, with the combined enjoyment of getting the better of Dark Samus and solid reviews (all of which mentioning a greatly worrying aspect of Prime 3 in that it had been made noticeably easier than it’s predecessors) I realised that my plan had backfired and I was just as keen, if not keener, to play Prime 3 than ever.

Knowing that the game comes out next month I thought I’d bite the bullet and buy the hardware this month. Despite Nintendo’s inanely smug apologies and promises of the hardware being out of stock I had no problem picking up the oversize iPod wannabe in the first vendor I went to. After a smattering of online research it appears that any of my usual digital haunts would have been able to sell me a Gamecube 1.5 too. Out of stock, my ass.

So last week I got the hardware and opened the packaging. Yeah, cables, connections, usual gubbins. Get the thing set up. Answer some questions, get the box onto my router so far so good.

I’ve now had enough time with the darling of this digital age and, frankly, I’m finding that all my perceptions of it are true and that the notion of motion control is one of the worst, most unnecessarily gimmicky conceits that ever hit our industry and, by God, I certainly don’t want a single game developed around such a broken idea let alone an entire console.

I don’t believe I’ve ever used a less accurate way of controlling a game than with the wonder that is the Wii controller – with the possible exception of those VR headsets that were around in some larger arcades in the 90’s.
Now, first things first – as a pointing device, it’s superb. Especially when combined with nice big fat on-screen buttons that are a quarter of the screen in size. Games that involve pointing at stuff such as a shooting gallery are instinctive and feel pretty accurate. Although, as Wii Play’s shooting game demonstrates – not accurate enough to have the confidence to remove an on-screen cursor to indicate where you’re firing – but still pretty accurate. When moving in the X or Y direction it’s nearly as good as a five dollar mouse. Outstanding!

Playing through the Wii Sports collection of games it’s abundantly apparent that the Wii is incapable of understanding where it is in realspace with any accuracy or, more importantly, incapable of quickly tracking itself in realspace.

Take baseball. It’s all very nice as your bat wobbles about on your shoulder. You swing and, about a third of your way into the swing, your whimsical Wii character goes into a pre-canned baseball-bat-swinging animation. At which point precise control is lost. Try it for yourself. Start a swing and stop it about halfway through. Your onscreen character will continue to swing.

Inaccuracies of the same nature are present in Tennis, Bowling and Golf. I’ve not bothered with Boxing a great deal but I’ll say that I have my suspicions.

Now, this all flies in the face of what I want from a videogame controller and what many would have me believe a Wii offers.

What I want from a controller is control. I don’t want to suggest an action and have some vague facsimile of that movement played out on screen. I don’t want to be told that a game will pay attention to every motion I make and then learn that it ignores most of that information because it’s going through a predetermined animation.

Furthermore, I play games to do things digitally that I can’t do in real life. I can’t throw fireballs. I can’t drive competently at 250kmh. I doubt I’m any good with an AK47. Obviously I’m must be so insecure that I don’t get entertainment in being shown my real life inadequacies replicated by a small box that looks like it wishes Steve Jobs was it’s daddy.

I was ready to give a degree of credit to the controller when playing the Wii Sports bowling. It felt pretty accurate. When bowling in real life I bowl with my right arm and the ball tends to travel with left spin. I get much the same performance in the game. Eyebrows got raised. Cynicism was challenged. Then, when I noticed that the game doesn’t care about your large bowling arm arc, just the orientation of the controller (try holding it in place, pointing it to the ceiling and then swivelling it so it points down. Your on screen character will move their entire arm) I got suspicious. I decided the cheat the controller. I told the game I was using my left arm (the on screen character’s stance changed to reflect this) but kept playing with my right. My cynicism was rewarded – the ball now had a tendency to spin to the right. In other words, these nuances were nothing to do with my bowling characteristics but were built into the game to suggest the controller was doing far more than it actually was. In fact, just like mind-readers and those that claim they can talk to the dead, the Wii succeeds based more on the power of suggestion that is programmed into the software than on any genuine cleverness in the control.

Now, this hasn’t put me off Metroid. Why? Because Metroid aiming is with the Wii remote and if the remote is good at one thing it’s at point on the screen. Samus’s movement, fortunately, is controlled using, of all things, a control stick. Well bugger me! Traditionalism for the win and all that gamer slang.I’ve got the Wii’s number and I’ll be able to tell what games control well and what games give, at best, a vague facsimilie of interpreting motion into game control. Here’s the deal:

Games where the remote is used as a pointing or aiming device will feel pretty good.

Games that expect the user to survive by precise control performed with the remote will crash and burn.

Some of these other games will consist of making a gesture and if that gesture approximates what the game is expecting you will trigger the predetermined outcome. Big whoop (that’s sarcasm, kids). That’s not all though. Did you know that a simple bit of misdirection is all that it takes to fool most gamers? Here’s something you can try at home with your Wii. Find a game that asks you to point the Wii at the TV and move it in a circular direction – not just the pointer end, but the entire remote. Perhaps this is a Wario minigame or some part of a game that sees you rotating a wheel to secure a lock (I dunno, work with me on this ok?). Now, because an on-screen prompt is directing you, you’re compelled to follow it to the letter. Why not try just waggling the controller in a steady motion from side to side. You’ll find it just as effective.

The Wii, from what I’ve now experienced of it, is a charlatan. The controller isn’t doing half as many things as it is claimed but with smoke, mirrors, suggestion and misdirection and a marketing campaign full of safe colours and pictures of old people enjoying themselves Nintendo have succeeded in fooling a lot of people that they really do have that miracle cure to save ‘all that is wrong with gaming’. Nothing is wrong with gaming – nothing apart from companies abusing their position in the industry and smiling their way through some pretty blatant lies that a load of gullible folk want to believe without questioning.

It’s all really quite hilariously, tragically ironic when you think about it.

Still, Metroid should be fun.