Are Videogames Art?

Part One – Changing the Way You Think.

Humans and their ancestors have been painting or drawing since before recorded history. From simple symbols to intricate real-life recreations, this form of expression has slowly become known in the public consciousness as a form of ‘art’.

In the early 20th Century, Hollywood began to capture the imagination of millions. Throughout the century, film and cinema grew exponentially in terms of sheer size, maturity and the technology that allows these movies to be made. In less than 100 years, cinema has gone from a fresh new form of entertainment to a legitimate medium for ‘art’.

Then there’s videogames. Videogames’ roots are vague yet complex. Games as we see them today are generally believed to have been ‘invented’ in the 1980’s (it’s up for debate exactly when), and have since gone on to become one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world. They have also ushered in beautiful, thoughtful and meaningful experiences in a variety of genres for a plethora of different audiences. Yet ask a member of the general public what videogames are and who they are for, and the answer would be anything but “artful experiences for intelligent adults”. Instead, the overwhelming majority would tell you that games are about shooting people, killing people, and they are for children – or adult recluses still squatting in their mother’s basements.

I’m not here to ask why that is or berate misguided people for saying it, but to change those people’s minds about what videogames can be. I’m also going to skip right ahead and answer my own titular question right now.

Yes.

Videogame ARE art.

Let me show you why…

My Are Videogames Art series will be going up in five parts over the next two weeks, so please tell me what you think and enjoy! Part 2 coming soon…

The 5 Best Games You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

The average gamer’s videogame collection consists of a mixture of first-person shooters (a Halo, CoD or Battlefield), with an annualized sports title (FIFA or Madden), maybe a racer (Forza, GT or Need for Speed?) and a customary open world sandbox game (Assassin’s Creed or more likely the juggernaut GTA).

Sound familiar? It most probably does.

Those games, and many similar ones besides them, are great. They’re highly rated and sell in huge numbers for a reason.

Sometimes, though, we need something a little different to both cleanse our palette and expand our horizons. In the spirit of trying something new, here are my 5 games that are totally awesome, but you probably didn’t play.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Multiplatform)

The hook of Deus Ex is the choice it gives you. Making your way through a room full of guards and security cameras could go any number of ways. You can run in guns blazing, sniping off the first henchman from a high ledge and disposing of the rest with semi-automatic fire. But in being so crass, you’d be robbing yourself of some of the greatest stealth gameplay in years.

The augmented cop, Adam Jensen

As Adam Jensen, you can use your cybernetically enhanced body to hack computers and turn turrets or armed defence robots against your enemies. Or you could use cloaking and a hidden vent system to sneak through totally silently, your adversaries never even knowing you were there. Or try my personal favourite route, somewhere in the middle. Sneaking up on enemies, and depending on how pissed off you are, either temporarily knocking them out or outright murdering them (using awesome blades that extend from Jensen’s arms).

A great politically and morally charged story, memorable characters, and one of the best worlds in gaming (I spent SO much time just walking around the astonishing near-future worlds of Detroit and Singapore) add up to make a memorable experience. The shooting mechanics need an upgrade, and the boss fights are downright poor, but there’s more than enough here for anyone looking for a new Metal Gear Solid.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (Multiplatform)

There’s a reason Pac-Man Championship Edition has a Metacritic average of 93% on Xbox 360 and 91% on Playstation 3. It’s frigging awesome.

So shiny

Utterly, utterly addictive, its neon aesthetic and synth sounds look and sound like the original Pac-Man on acid. And it plays that way too. This download only title takes the basic gameplay of the arcade original and turns the old-school action up to 100. It’s exhilarating to see a chain of 50 ghosts (yes there’s more than 4 now) all lined up and ready to be consumed in one epic chain. You really have to play it to realise how fun it is. I’m not a high score-chaser, but this game had me eagerly scouring the leaderboards trying to find out how many places I had climbed on my last run.

It only costs a couple of quid, has multiple ‘maps’ and modes, and I practically promise you’ll become addicted. Waka-waka.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (Playstation 3/Playstation Vita)

I love fighting games, but I’m put off buying so many of them because of their ridiculously high learning curves and the thought of getting absolutely trashed online. This is where Playstation All-Stars comes in.

All-Stars is most like Nintendo’s Smash Brothers series, pitting multiple famous faces on 2D battlefields in anarchic but skilled fist-fights. It’s got the perfect ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ balance and comes into its own playing against friends sitting next to you on the couch.

“It’s got the perfect ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ balance and comes into its own playing against friends”

There’s nothing quite like pitting God of War’s Kratos, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, a Helghast soldier from Killzone and Tekken’s Heihachi in an epic 4-way brawl to the death. Or seeing who really is the greatest Playstation duo; Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank? With a fairly large marketing campaign behind it, but ultimately selling under a million units, this is underrated gem.

The Orange Box (Multiplatform)

I recently wrote about the Orange Box in my ’10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation’ post, so for the details of this brilliant collection check that out. Just know this is a collection of some of the best shooters since the start of the last gen.

Half-Life 2 and its two extra ‘episodes’ are the place to get your single-player story and character fix; Team Fortress 2 will please those looking for fast-paced multiplayer; and Portal is a puzzle-infused twist on the shooter genre that will satisfy your appetite for humour and scratch that itch on your brain.

Selling a combined 3m units, it was hardly a flop, but each game in the collection deserved to sell more copies than that by themselves. The PS3 version has technical issues, but it’s X360 and PC counterparts have 96% Metacritic ratings for good reason.

Valkyria Chronicles (Playstation 3)

Take one glance at the beautiful artwork of Valkyria Chronicles and you can probably tell whether or not it’s for you. If a strong anime style and a typically Japanese type of storytelling put you off, fine. But by skipping on this brilliant strategy RPG you’re denying yourself one of the greatest exclusive games of the past decade.

The Galian Reserve

The story is essentially an anime retelling of WW2, with you playing a recruit in the fictional ‘Gallian’ army. Befriending a group of misfits in your miss-match squad (a slight twist on the cliché ‘high school class’ dynamic), you face increasingly difficult strategic battles best described as Final Fantasy Tactics meets Gears of War (but of course far more the former than the latter).

Another highly rated (an 86% Metacritic average this time), but under-selling (just over a million units) game, you owe it to yourself to overlook the art direction and dig in to the meaty, challenging campaign. And if you like anime and all of its tropes, why haven’t you played this yet?!

So there it is, the 5 games you may not of heard of but sure should give a try. Obviously I’ve kept this list to the last gen, as most people will currently own those consoles/a compatible PC. What obscure gem would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Whatever Happened to the Player-Manager?

So Swansea have sacked Michael Laudrup, and placed long time club captain Garry Monk in temporary charge of the Swans. This got me thinking, what’s happened to the once popular trend of player-managers?

I’m sure Monk will never put a Swansea shirt on again, but he’s still contracted as a player at the South-Wales side. But other notable examples before this are few and far between. Nicolas Anelka’s short-lived stint as a striker and a coach at Shanghai Shenhua? Edgar Davids at my local club Barnet? Whatever happened to the player-manager?

Whilst on paper it seems an odd idea, ‘playagers’ actually have a strong history of success. Few have been more successful than Kenny Dalglish. Becoming Liverpool’s player manager in ’85/’86, Dalglish immediately led the Reds to the double, including scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final over Chelsea. He won another League title in ’87/’88, and groomed a plethora of young talent into a title winning side. Dalglish went against the common thought that a player-manager would simply select themselves for every game. Instead he made just 21 appearances in his first season and slowly let a new generation take over.

Grahame Souness was equally as successful in the same time frame, when in 1986-87 he joined Glasgow Rangers (ironically leaving Liverpool to join the Scottish side). In his initial season he won the League and League Cup double, beating Old Firm rivals Celtic in the cup final. Back to back championships followed in 1989 and 1990, not to mention two more cup victories in ’89 and ’91.

Image: liverpoolfc.wikia.com

Whereas Dalglish’s success came through cultivating a team mixed with veterans and young blood alike, Souness’ strategy focused on attracting quality players back to the Scottish league. The ‘Souness Revolution’ revolved around signing players like Ray Wilkins, Terry Butcher and Trevor Francis. If Kenny wasn’t afraid to let the kids take his place, Souness didn’t mind sharing the limelight with established footballing stars.

The point I’m trying to make is the player side of being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier; playagers have first hand experience playing with their team mates and a hands-on view of the tactical battle on the pitch.

“Being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier”

But probably the most famous examples of playagers in the Premier League was the trio of appointments at Chelsea in the ’90’s.

In Summer 1993, Chelsea made Glenn Hoddle player-manager, and he didn’t do a bad job. The Blue’s had a few years of mid-table finishes, but highlighted with impressive cup runs including the FA Cup Final during Hoddle’s first season with managerial duties. He also signed Ruud Gullit, who would take Hoddle’s place as player-manager in summer 1996 when The Hod left to become England manager. Gullit went one step better than Hoddle, and actually won the FA Cup in his first year in charge – Chelsea’s first major silverware for 26 years.

Gullit was the first foreign manager to win a trophy in England, but soon fell out with the Board during the ‘97/’98 season. As a tangent, this began Chelsea’s history of sacking successful managers, as the West London outfit were second in the League and in two cup quarter-finals. In a strange case of things coming full circle, Gullit was replaced by Gianluca Vialli, someone he helped bring in to The Pensioners.

SOCCER N'castle v Chelsea5

Image: thefootballweek.net

Vialli was hugely successful, winning a League Cup, Cup Winner’s Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup and coming just 4 points behind eventual champions Manchester United in the Premier League Season ending in ’99.

What does all this mean? It means player-managers, even when given relatively short stints in charge, can be massively successful. Chelsea had not seen this type of success, barring some cup wins in the early 1970’s, for 40 years. And they’ve grown ever bigger since.

So if player-managers can positively affect the management of the team, and be a success, why have they died a slow death? I think the perceived notion that they’re bad for business wins out over the actual facts – player-managers can be brilliant. Of course there are flops (Lombardo, Romario and Gascoigne come to mind), but also many success stories.

And perhaps even more importantly for us fans, they can be hugely entertaining. Football often needs more personalities, and a manager putting himself on and scoring a 87th minute winner is the stuff footballing dreams are made of.

After years of being a footballing joke, it’s time. Bring back the player-manager!

What are your thoughts about player-managers? Did you think you could possibly read an article that says ‘player-manager’ so many times? Sound off in the comments!

Flappy Bird is the Greatest Fucking Game Ever

That Flappy Fucking Bird. Bobbing along with that useless fucking look on his face. Barely able to do the one fucking thing birds have fucking evolved to do – fly. Fucking Flappy Bird.

Time of my life I'll never get back
Time of my life I’ll never get back

I really hate the flappy bird. But I can’t help but to try and help him get further and further each time. I don’t even know where he’s going, or why. I don’t care. I just want to beat my own records and everyone’s around me. I want the flappiest fucking bird in town.

It’s so simple, just tap at the right time. The difficulty is so perfectly tuned, though, that people simply can’t resist that ‘one more try’. It’s never unfair, we know the rules, yet when you get so close to a new high score and inelegantly headbut a pipe you lose it and have to stop yourself smashing your phone through a desk.

Yet I come back. Everyone comes back. Even if you fail again, its only taken 30 seconds of your time. So you’ll have another go. It’s brilliant. That flappy fucking bird.

The new game from cult mobile game creator Dong Nguyen is top of the Free Games chart on the App Store, and all over my social network feeds. Word of mouth seems to have spread this game like crazy, even putting Nguyen’s other games top of the free charts. If you can beat my current high score of 69, let me know in the comments!

The 5 Most Overrated Premier League Players

Ever watch a game down the pub, or read the back pages, and wonder why everyone’s raving about the ‘hot new winger who’s about to light up the league’? Have to listen to mates go on about their clubs new signing (probably just because they’ve seen some clips on YouTube), and think “what on Earth are you talking about”?

Well I certainly have, so here are the five players I think garner too much credit in the minds of fans and mainstream media:

Simon Mignolet – As a £9m acquisition, and more so as a successor to the great Pepe Reina, Simon Mignolet really hasn’t justified his hype. Liverpool have kept 7 clean sheets this season, around about the league average. But The Reds aren’t an average team. ‘Pool are the league’s 2nd highest goalscorers, and without Suarez and Sturridge hammering them in, Mignolet would be under a lot more pressure.

Also, many of the goals Liverpool have conceded have been either preventable by Mignolet or downright his fault. The Belgian is by no means a disastrous ‘keeper, I actually like him a lot, but he is certainly no top-four contender. And if the Scousers have ambitions of getting Champions League football, or indeed winning the Premiership, they need a better man between the sticks.

Christian Benteke – Keeping on the topic of over-hyped Belgians, Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke has a lot more to learn than people think. He’s good, but also incredibly raw and clumsy, and a long way from being a complete striker.

Coming to Villa for £7m, Benteke has a pretty good League record of 26 goals in 53 appearances. Much of this can be attributed, though, to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Villains chances fall at Benteke’s feet. Villa have scored just 75 goals since his arrival, and often play with the Belgian as the only out-and-out striker.

Time will tell whether the 23-year-old will go on to be a Drogba-like hitman who can also play the ball, but for now he’ll remain overrated and under-developed.

Kyle Walker – For a player who won PFA Young Player of the Year in 2012, Kyle Walker had a lot to live up to. And I bought into the hype. Since that day, however, Walker has seemingly regressed, becoming a more forward-thinking full-back and totally neglecting his defensive duties.

To be an attacking full-back, however, a player needs to be involved in goals – either directly or in build up play. Walker is certainly not a goal-scoring defender, netting just 4 times in 105 top flight appearances. He does get involved in the build up, but invariably decides to attempt a mazy run and shoot from distance. What’s worse, is he’ll bomb forward at the worst times, especially for his country, and leave huge gaps in defence.

Walker needs to mature, quickly, or risk being one of the great under-achievers of the Premier League.

Moussa Dembele – Dembele has played well over 100 times in the Premier League, scoring just 7 goals. Oh, we’ll he’s a playmaker some would say. Well Moussa only has 9 top flight assists in the same period. So what plays is he making, exactly?

Technically very good, but lacking the killer vision a player in his position needs, the Belgian (yes, another one) doesn’t chip in when and where his teams need him to. Martin Jol went as far as to call him “probably the best player on the ball I’ve ever seen.” Martin Jol clearly doesn’t watch a lot of football.

Adel Taarabt/Hatem Ben Arfa – My final position was saved for the unlikeable Adel Taraabt, but for some reason AC Milan seem to like their mid-table Seria A position and bought him. So I’m going for a player I have very similar gripes with, Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa.

One of the most predictable players in the league, Ben Arfa will drop shoulders, step-over the ball and generally try to look flash. But he’s going on his left foot. Every time.

The few times his pace and left foot strike have combined spectacularly have given Ben Arfa a good reputation, but realistically he isn’t much of a goalscorer. The Frenchman scored just 16 times in 127 senior appearances whilst playing in France, and has 13 goals in 70 appearances for Newcastle. As a winger, Ben Arfa has to score goals or create them, but his selfishness and awful decision making means he often does neither.

So there are my picks for the most overrated Premier League players. Far from the worst, just the ones who don’t deserve the level of admiration they often get. Who are your most overrated players? Let me know in the comments!

The 10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation (Part Two)

With a damn fine console generation (almost) behind us, now’s a perfect time to look back at the very best the last few years had to offer. Last time out I looked at the best games to reach multiple pieces of hardware, so now it’s time to approach the best exclusives each machine has to offer. Let’s get to it!

Playstation 3

The Last of Us

The fact that The Last of Us has swept the majority of the industry’s game of the year awards for 2013 speaks volumes more about the game’s quality than I ever could. Naughty Dog, creators of Uncharted and Jak and Daxter previously, have hit gold again with this thoughtful and atmospheric action game.

Both beautiful and harrowing all at once, the post-apocalyptic world the player inhabits is so believable it’s hard to not get caught up in the drama. The developers are also brave enough to not give the player an army’s worth of artillery to work with, instead making ammunition barely scavengable and forcing players to think or even run during encounters.

The best motion and voice capture in the business, the best graphics on the system, the best music and sound (or often lack thereof). It all adds to the best presentation of a game this gen. Add a stellar story, smart gunplay and a surprisingly brilliant multiplayer mode, and you have one of the best overall games this gen. A sign of where games can go.

Uncharted 3

If The Last of Us is Playstation’s ‘The Godfather’ in terms of mature storytelling, then Uncharted is James Bond. It’s all about making the player feel like a badass; killing the bad guy, jumping away from the explosion, and getting the girl.

The same compliments I gave the Last of Us regarding performance capture and general presentation apply here, but with a blockbuster summer movie shine. Many people prefer Uncharted 2 over 3, but the last in the trilogy is just as good in my books, with a killer story twist or two and a more fully fleshed out multiplayer suite. Unrivaled.

Xbox 360

Halo: Reach

Purists will go for Halo 3, but Reach is the technical peak of a franchise that has had the most fun multiplayer shooting of the generation. Most Halo games are still running with huge online fanbases, and the online scene allows for casual noobs to have just as much fun as the veteran elite.

The single player is good, too. Maybe not quite as good as other Halos, or certainly not other games on this list, but it is especially fun playing co-op with a friend. Of particular note is the diverse array of weapons at your disposal, and how great vehicle play seamlessly merges into the traditional FPS set-up. The Spartans have defined Xbox gaming for a reason.

Gears of War

Second only to Halo in terms of popularity, but actually slightly more popular critically, is the third-person gore-fest Gears of War. Its sequels have improved on the multiplayer front, but the first Gears has the best and most exciting single player campaign of the series. Alone or in co-op its a bromance filled thrill ride; it’s obnoxious, it’s over-the-top and it revels in it’s own absurdity.

Wii

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Magical is the best way to describe Mario Galaxy, a game that takes you back to the wonder and unbound joy of gaming as a youngster. Galaxy 2 perfected the formula laid out in its predecessor, with some ‘world’s’ being simple enough for everyone to enjoy, but gaining all the hidden stars in every level takes real old-school skill.

It’s certainly the best looking game on the Wii, and the typical Mario style has held up well. The plumber’s adventure stands out this time, though, thanks to the awesome outer-space setting. Players can run 360 degrees around small ‘planets’, each with their own gravity, and it’s incredible to shoot yourself through space from one planetoid to the next in-game.

Like most Mario’s, great power-ups, fun enemy types and a general sense of creativity make this platformer just plain better than its contemporaries. It’s also one Wii game that doesn’t force you to needlessly waggle the Wiimote at the screen constantly. There’s an awful lot of trash on Nintendo’s super popular system, but Galaxy 2 is a star in the sky of cheap cash-ins.

So there we have it, the 10 games you owe it to yourself to play from the last generation! There’s an awful lot of shooters on the list, and I don’t even really consider myself a shooter fan! But the popularity of the genre and abundance of shooters released this generation obviously played a part in them becoming some of the best experiences available.

So what do you guys think of my choices? What would you change? Let me know in the comments below!

The 10 Best Console Games of the Last Generation (Part One)

The previous console generation was full of ups and downs, but here at the start of 2014, we can look back on three machines with healthy, quality catalogues of software.

So if you’ve just recently picked up one of the ‘old’ consoles, or whether your library simply consists of the dull old Call of Duty, FIFA and GTA trio, here you’ll find the 10 BEST games your money can buy.

For the sake of fairness and clarity I’ve chosen 5 multiplatform games, 2 each for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even a Wii game. Yes, a Wii game is one of the best of the generation. Just trust me on this one. So without further a do, lets start with the best games you can buy on multiple platforms from the last 8 years:

Multiplatform

Bioshock

Undoubtedly my game of the generation, Bioshock is absolutely unmissable. A first-person shooter that actually has brains behind it, Bioshock intertwines story, character, place and gameplay like VERY few other games manage. It doesn’t rely on stopping the game and showing a cutscene to move the plot on like other, simpler games would. The story is told through the players actions – you yourself make meaningful choices in the games narrative, such as whether to kill ‘innocent’ children in order to become more powerful.

The shooting is tight, with varied and fun weapons and powers, and its downright scary to boot. And more than enough has already been said about Bioshock’s iconic world of Rapture. A masterpiece.

Portal 2

Portal 2 is hard. Like really hard. Both mentally challenging and an exercise for quick FPS reactions, Portal 2 can have you either scratching your head or screaming at the TV (in the best way possible).

Players are tasked with simply placing two portals, one you enter in to and another you exit out of, to get to the exit of a room. It seems simple at first, using most gamer’s innate knowledge of how to play a shooter to disguise the fact that it’s really a unique puzzle game; but the difficulty quickly ramps as momentum, moving targets and a number of new abilities begin to layer in. Sprinkle on a fine, genuinely laugh out loud story and some of the best voice acting ever, and you’ve got yourself one of the best games in years.

Dead Space

Dead Space is terrifying. I’ve yet to see any film that has scared me even half as much as this video game equivalent of Alien. It’s honestly hugely unsettling. If that doesn’t put you off, buy this game.

It’s tense, the weapons and space-suit powers are great fun, and it will definitely stay in your dreams (read: nightmares) for a long time after you’ve finished playing. Dead Space 2 is equally as great, but slightly tones down the horror and turns up the action, meaning the first Dead Space is the purer piece of work. Don’t be a scaredy-cat and play this game.

The Orange Box

The Orange Box is actually a collection of 3 games and two add-ons, making this the best value game on the list. The meat of the collection comes in the form of a game some people call the greatest of all time, Half-Life 2, and its two additional ‘episodes’ that continue the story. But I actually prefer the two quirkier pieces of the package.

Team Fortress 2 is a class-based online-only FPS, which may sound intimidating, but it’s fun all the way. The great selection of classes, welcoming online community and fun visual style make the game a blast even if you’re always getting your arse kicked.

And rounding out the Box is the original Portal – much shorter than its full-blown big brother of a sequel at about 4/5 hours – but perhaps even more of a memorable experience. It was truly unique for its time, and once you play it you’ll realise why so many immitators have copied its design and aesthetic since. Its fun, funny, challenging and has a great twist half way through that no-one saw coming. Wonderfully rounds out a fantastic collection.

Borderlands 2

Borderlands is another first-person shooter, but it’s vastly different to most on the market. Firstly, it’s meant to be played with friends (up to 4) and is a much better game with some mates round. It really differentiates itself, though, through its mix on FPS and RPG gameplay.

You’re never trapped into choosing a traditional ‘mission’. Rather, you talk to the hilarious and wacky characters on a huge open-world map to gain ‘quests’. You complete these quests at your leisure, all the while collecting delicious loot from your fallen enemies. Collecting these guns and gold is a dangerously addictive pursuit,  but the incredible arsenal you can obtain is more than worth it.

You also gain XP as you go to upgrade yourself in all sorts of ways – from gaining awesome new powers (like rocket turrets, flying robots and killer birds to aid you) to stat-boosts and new types of shields and grenades. It all comes together fantastically and the DLC available is some of the best in class, so try and pick up the ‘Game of the Year’ edition, as most of the extras are included. A brilliant art style, off-the-wall humour, and fun shooting make this a keeper.

So with the best multiplatform games sorted, come back soon for the best console exclusive games! In the mean time, what are your favourite games of the last gen? Let me know in the comments!