Half-Life 2 and Episode One now have Achievements

Damn you, Valve. Seriously, damn you. I was resisting the urge to play your silly little games because I had school work to do. Well, what do you go and do to me? You give the game achievements. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and you do it the weekend before I have an assignment due. Now, I have one goal and one goal only – get those fucking achievements.

You have me wrapped around your finger, Valve. Now I’m not so sure if I’m ready for an Episode Three – sure, it’d be awesome, but I think that, if it were announced, my head would explode and I would be dead.

For everyone else’s interest, HL2 is now on special for $6.99 on Steam. Sure, not as good as the special that I saw when I bought every single HL and HL2 game for $17.99 (from memory). The episodes are going for $5.59 each. Oh, and to round it off, if you want them all then why not just buy the Orange Box, on special for $20.99? That way you get all the HL2 games, as well as TF2 which is awesome and Portal too, if you didn’t get it when it was being given away. All those games for such a small price? My advice, to everyone, BUY NOW.

“Forgiveness Rock Record” (2010) by Broken Social Scene

It’s always hard to come up with something original about a record. Especially when those devils at Pitchfork Media have already said the funny, clever stuff that you were thinking when you first listened to it. Legendary indie-hipster-favourites-huge-Canadian-musical-collective Broken Social Scene have returned to the scene with album number 4. Is it different? No, not really. There’s plenty of clever, introspective, thought-provoking music on here, reminiscent of everything else that BSS have ever done. But is it good? Yes, dear God, yes, it is. Comparing this to most of the other self-proclaimed “indie” records released this year, it stands out like a golden nugget floating on a sludgy, brown river of shit.

Everything you’d expect from a Broken Social Scene release is on this record. You have the horns, the instrumental, the collaborations, and the grandiose of the music in general. There are hints of Pavement, Modest Mouse, Beck – name an indie music legend, and I’m sure you’ll be able to hear some of them in here. As many bands do as they grow older and mature, BSS have recorded some of their most radio-friendly tracks on this album. Songs like “World Sick”, “Ungrateful Little Father”, and “Texico Bitches” are only one quick edit away from being hits – maybe knock out the swearing, or cut the long instrumental sections, and you’d have yourself a single. The band won’t be planning on doing this, however – for the last three albums, they’ve been content with featuring only on hipster favourite radio stations cool enough to play them such as JJJ, and I highly doubt that they’ll stop this trend.

Forgiveness Rock Record is all about forgiveness and grandiosity. Not heartbreak, not sympathy, not melancholy, but forgiveness. As an emotion, it’s deeper and more sincere, requiring BSS to mature their songwriting. Have they taken this challenge head-0n? Well, yes and no. Musically, they’re tenfold better than they’ve ever been. Lyrically, they’ve evolved and expanded, while still retaining their prized indie cred.

So, yeah, it’s a good indie album. It’s cool enough to be held high by hipsters and yet still accessible enough to be held high by everyone else.¬†Forgiveness Rock Record turned out to be everything I’d expect from a Broken Social Scene record – but hey, I’m not complaining.

Choice tracks: World Sick; Chase Scene; Ungrateful Little Father; Meet Me In The Basement
If you like: the Polyphonic Spree; Feist; Neutral Milk Hotel; Mercury Rev

Half-Life 2 on OS X

A new trailer appeared on Steam today. Because it was a trailer and had something to do with HL2, I nearly came in my pants, assuming we’d finally got a teaser trailer for Episode Three. Alas, it was not to be. While it doesn’t interest me (as a non-Mac user), HL2 is coming to OS X today. The trailer is a very clever parody of the classic Orwellian style Mac ad, featuring Alyx smashing a huge TV screen giving orders to the masses by throwing a crowbar into it.

I want to play HL2 again now. Sadly, studies are in the wayūüė¶ how I miss the holidays. If you have a Mac, you must buy HL2. Now. Now now now. Your life will never be the same after playing it. In the meantime, I’ll wait like a crazed fanboy for the announcement of Episode Three.

10-Yard Fight [NES]

Wikipedia claims that 10-Yard Fight was the first slightly realistic American football game ever released. Well, they got one word right. “Slightly”. That’s the key word. Because apart from the whole run-the-ball-over-the-line mechanism, there really isn’t any similarities to American football at all.

When you’re on the offence, there’s three choices. You can either run as the quarterback, pass the ball to one of two running backs, or pass it to the sole wide receiver. 90% of the time, a pass to the wide receiver will be intercepted, so that kind of knocks that option out. Conveniently for the defense, no matter whether you or the computer are in possession, the defence will always run a tiny bit faster than the offence – just enough to piss you off if you’ve just made a break.

Bottom left corner, facing left. There's the fucker.

Oh, and another thing. When you’re defending, before at least half of the plays, the wide receiver of the computer team runs from one side of his team to the other, in a process that takes about fifteen seconds each time and is accompanied by the sounds of baby elephants being tortured, which I think were supposed to be footfalls. Do they realise that this is played on a grass surface? Footsteps on a grass surface really aren’t loud enough to require any sort of sound effect, even if you could actually make it sound like footsteps instead of the poor, tortured cries of elephant calves.

I found this game way too easy. And the text that we get to see (not much of it) is hilarious. I played two games. At the beginning of each, I was instructed to “Select your opponent’s skill level!!”. All in caps, of course. For my first game, I chose the easiest difficulty, “High School Team”, as I know of games that are crippling and unforgiving (eg Contra). After winning, I was shown this delightful winning screen:

Your are on your way!!!!!!!

Classic Engrish, as was the norm for NES titles of the time. I was interested about what I would see if I beat the game on Super Bowl difficulty, so I gave it ago, and beat it with a lot more ease than I expected. And do you know what my reward was?

Exactly the same thing. Yep, Im am still on my way to the Super Bowl, even after defeating it.

Brain meltingly boring and dull, 10-Yard Fight is not a game worth playing. One of the most disappointing moments of my life – beating Super Bowl to get the same congratulations as beating High School. Fuck you, Irem.

“Crystal Castles” (2010) by Crystal Castles

Canadian duo Crystal Castles have followed up their debut self titled record with yet another self titled record.¬†Crystal Castles (2010), while shying away from the kind-of radio friendly singles from their debut such as “Alice Practice”, also loses the perfect mixture of fun, doom and experimentation that their debut has. While experimenting is never a bad thing, Ethan’s gone a little too far down the wrong path this time, and come up with an altogether bland, dreary final product.

I think what I miss the most is the 8-bit sounds from the first record. When they went, all the fun in their debut also went. Not that this is necessarily bad – hey, the album cover doesn’t exactly suggest “Yay! Lots of fun to be had on this album!” But they don’t do the doom and depression right. You can tell they’ve tried, and props for that, but it’s a little bit half-arsed and half-cooked. There’s been too much effort spent on making the record dance-able, and not enough on giving it the right atmosphere and feeling. In general, it sounds like¬†someone’s¬†taken Nine Inch Nails, made it more like house music, and flushed it through the toilet of bad-atmosphere (I couldn’t come up with a simile for something with lame atmosphere.)

That being said, Ethan still makes good use of noise in his second attempt, and, as before, the best songs are the ones in which Alice shuts her hole and lets Ethan work his magic. I still don’t get why everyone considers CC a “band”. As far as I know, Alice doesn’t do anything except for sing/scream in a few tracks, and not even the good ones. The standout tracks on¬†Crystal Castles II are definitely the ones without Alice that retain the dance-able beat and chopped up samples which made the first album brilliant. Her voice is used in many ways, but most of them are hardly her and mostly Kath taking her vocals and mushing them into something entirely different.

Crystal Castles II is a jack of all trades but a master of none. The good tracks are too sparse for my liking, with too much shit to sift through in order to get to one. It’s good, yeah, but it’s not great, it’s just.. meh. Personally, I’ll look forward to any solo Ethan Kath release, but I haven’t got my hopes up for Crystal Castles’ future. And I want more 8-bit.

Choice tracks: Violent Dreams; Vietnam; I Am Made Of Chalk
If you like: hmm, well, it is original, I’ll give it that. Maybe The Future Sound Of London; Justice’s softer stuff.

New Call of Duty Game for 2010

The other day, Activision announced that the latest game in the Call of Duty franchise will be called Call of Duty: Black Ops, and is set for a November 2010 release. It will be developed by Treyarch – the same developers who did CoD: World At War. I’m not sure if we can expect another MW game from Activision, with the recent quarrels between Activision and Infinity Ward (the creators of the MW sub-franchise and developers of CoD4 and MW2).

It’s fairly certain that Infinity Ward aren’t¬†focusing¬†on releasing MW3, but are instead coming up with another, unique IP. No doubt they’ll make something brilliant, but, until then, we have an all new CoD game coming our way, and it’s shaping up to be amazing.

GameInformer Australia, #5