Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Reprise)

Deftones - Koi No Yokan

Deftones – Koi No Yokan

If I had to sum up the Deftones in only four words I would do it thusly:

Tension. Release. Tension. Release.

You know I love this band.  I loved their Album of the Year Diamond Eyes of a couple of years ago (reviewed here), and their outstanding live performances (like this one), and pretty much everything they’ve ever done.

So you won’t be surprised to know that I love this album too.

There are no major surprises here, just more refinement and honing on their well established songwriting and sound. Nick Raskulinecz handles the production again after taking over on Diamond Eyes, and Matt Hyde does the recording and engineering, so you know the sound will be perfect.

I won’t go on about this too much because there’s only so much Deftones raving one blog can handle, but I just want to unpack the tension/release thing a little, give you a couple of sample songs off the album, then wrap it up with the obligatory 9 or 10 out of 10.

The key ways the band generates tension are: non-standard time signatures, jarring or syncopated rhythms, Frank Delgado’s atmospheric synths and samples, and the honest and heartfelt vocals of Chino Moreno.

Here’s an example of the time signature thing from the second track, Romantic Dreams.

Notice in this track the verses are in 3-4 time, before the bridges and choruses break into the standard 4-4. You can check this just by counting out the bars in your head (1,2,3 – 1,2,3 – 1,2,3, etc). Notice the emotions you feel during the 3-4 bars. They’re kind of unsettling and difficult to settle into. This is a metal band and metal bands don’t play in triple metre, dammit!

Then at the 45 second mark you get 10 seconds of 4-4 time, giving you a little taste of the way things should be, and a chance to relieve the tension for a moment, but not for too long as we have another 3-4 verse to get through yet. Then at the 1:15 mark you get the big chorus, back in 4-4 time again. By the time you get there you really need that release, and Chino’s soaring vocal provides that in spades.

Here’s another example, track three, Leathers.

This time we get instant brooding atmosphere from the keyboards, before a jarringly heavy verse and syncopated riff shocks the listener. Once again the release comes in the chorus: ‘Shedding your skin, showing your texture, time to let everything inside show’.

That lyrical theme seems to come up again and again throughout the album – a kind of psychological unpacking where the listener is invited to cast aside their outer shell and explore their innermost essence. It’s such an unexpected and emotionally confronting experience that very few heavy bands can match (maybe Tool?).

Here’s another example of an exploration of that theme, a song called Tempest, with the lyrics front and centre for your consideration:

Look I think I’ll leave it there for now and let you explore the rest of this album on your own.

I love it.

10

- Hazizi

Skyrim: Dragonborn (PS3) – Bethesda

Where Are We And What Are We Doing?

For those of you who came in late: I’m sitting here in the Cave of Assessment, my mystical retreat located halfway up Mount Experience, atop which sits Hazizi’s Palace of Enlightenment, somewhere in Nahyoupushedittoofaristan. This is where I do all my reflection and scoring of videogames while chowing down on some weird grey hallucinogenic algae.

Hazizi’s Holiday House, aka The Palace of Enlightenment

The Cave is a lot like Skyrim – it’s wintry, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in it and it used to be a lot buggier. And Skyrim is why I’m back in the Cave. Beautiful, solitary Skyrim (review here), which I haven’t played for a year.

Skyrim came out in November 2011, yet only now in 2013 do us long-suffering, no-friends-online-having, third-place-this console-generation-getting PS3 owners get our hands on Skyrim’s chunkiest add-on so far: Dragonborn. The question is: is Dragonborn a case of “It’s Too Late“? Or is it “Finally“?

Preliminary preliminings

For Dragonborn, I loaded up my second, less-advanced character: a level 36 sneaky archer Khajiit called Snappy Tom. After such a long hiatus, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to play Skyrim, as if somehow I’d forgotten how a Bethesda game works, or that without my supervision Snappy Tom would have dropped out of shape, gotten rusty on his skillz and pawned all his cool enchanted gear for skooma. But within mere seconds of inserting the disk and then within 15 minutes after that, downloading and installing the mandatory software update, then within a further couple of minutes after that waiting for my save game to load, it all came flooding back: Skyrim is primarily about listening to music while watching a loading screen. I remembered how to do that, no problems!

Once I was actually in the game, it didn’t take long to reacclimatise. All my gear was in my house in Whiterun where I’d left it and — surprise surprise — on Snappy Tom’s person. I took Snappy Tom out to the wilderness, aimed for a map location and slipped right back into the satisfying rhythm of adventuring. Beyond simply remembering how to play, it felt good to be back; the break made the game feel fresh again. It was like returning to a favourite holiday spot a year after you were run out of town by the locals and discovering that no one remembers you so you can do it all again.

The other benefit of a long break is that the game has been patched right up. Water used to be the scariest part of Skyrim, not just because I was playing a cat-man but because the game would freeze up if I even dipped a toe in. This has been fixed, along with numerous other issues. It shouldn’t really be a positive to say that something that should have worked the first time now works, but I appreciated it.

So for my first few hours, I didn’t even touch Dragonborn, I just enjoyed playing Skyrim again. But Dragonborn isn’t happy with that — it has ways of making you engage with its content!

Tell Me A New Tale — Spoiler Free Story Outline

The main story of Dragonborn is that there’s this dude Miraak on the island of Solstheim who has heard of you going around calling yourself Dragonborn and he’s pissed because he’s also Dragonborn and he sees it as a major branding conflict. I mean, he’s already taken out full page ads in the Solstheim Tribune and booked major ad spots during the Fredas night Troll Fight. Plus, he’s using his Dragonborn powers for evil and enslaving people and whatnot.

Instead of coming to a practical franchise zoning agreement where you can be the Skyrim Dragonborn and he can be the Solstheim Dragonborn, Miraak wants to settle things Highlander style — There Can Be Only One — so you have to go to Solstheim to deal with him. Dragonborn brings urgency to the situation in a clever way: Miraak starts showing up when you kill dragons and he steals their souls before you get them. That had me packing my bags toot sweet. I heard he was enslaving people and I went “meh”, but once he started stealing my Dragon Souls, it was Clobberin’ Time!

Solstheim is a separate island which you can go to and leave at any time. Solstheim has been done before in Elder Scrolls games: it was in Bloodmoon, an expansion to Morrowind, and those who played Bloodmoon will notice some continuity with that earlier incarnation. Some of the Morrowind music makes a return too, which will twang a few nostalgia strings.

Geographically Solstheim is located between Skyrim and Morrowind, and this is reflected in the environment. The north side is Skyrim: arctic and Vikingy, while the south is Morrowind: ashy and Elfy. The south side sits in the shadow of a recently-erupted volcano, which smokes ominously on the horizon. It turns everything brown, but despite the brown, the south side has refreshingly different architecture, clothing, wildlife and plants. Virtual tourism has always been one of my favourite things about Elder Scrolls games, so I really dug having different buildings and people to look at. A standout was Tel Mithryn, the village of mushroom houses with nary a Smurfing Smurf to be seen.

Raven Rock really pulls off that “covered in volcanic ash” look

Solstheim is impressively big. It is basically a new Hold, with a main city, Raven Rock, and plenty of forts, ruins and dungeons to traipse around in and find sidequests. Just as each Hold in Skyrim has city quests that lead to getting a house there, so too does Solstheim, and the house you can get has all the crafting facilities that today’s busy executive Dragonborn requires.

You Is Where You At — New Places and Quests

The main quest will take you to the realm of Apocrypha, which has a decidedly Lovercraftian vibe. By “Lovecraftian”, I mostly mean “Critters with creepy face tentacles”, but also the environment itself. Apocrypha has its own flavour, with features you don’t find in other dungeons around Skyrim. The effect is weird and unsettling: physics-defying architecture, corridors that change direction as you walk down them, tentacles that emerge from black miasma and lash you, and toxic clouds of dark gas. The rewards are handy too. When you finish each dungeon in Apocrypha, you can choose from some interesting new abilities or perks, such as the ability to summon your own tentacles, or one of my favourites: summon a Daedric merchant so you can flog loot and restock arrows mid-dungeon without needing to head back to town.

They call him the Seeker … He been searchin low and high … he ain’t gunna get what he’s after … till I stab his eye …

Solstheim is generally just a little bit a freakier than Skyrim. There are dozens of sidequests, which often start out normal enough but take odd twists. One particular example involves a bunch of warriors who have been kicked out of their Mead Hall by a tribe of goblin-like Rieklings. Usually this would be a straight out “clear the critters” assignment, but in this case you can choose to side with the Rieklings. Although many quests are combat-oriented, a number of them have solutions that cater for other skills, with opportunities for persuasion and sneaking. That said, Skyrim ain’t Fallout and it is near impossible to play a total pacifist without subcontracting your killing to a follower.

As for the NPCs you’ll meet in Solstheim, Bethesda seems to have recruited from 2 main voice acting schools: the Arnie Schwarzenegger Academy and the Dick Van Dyke School of Cockney Guvnor. Despite their dodgy voicework, the characters are reasonably interesting and have a little more attitude — you start out as an outsider in Solstheim and people give you some stick. Neloth, the arrogant wizard who lives at Tel Mithryn, is particularly amusing.  There’s even talk of a special dude you only meet once you hit level 80 — I haven’t got that far yet myself.

The Dwemer ruins and other locations are not just carbon copies of their Skyrim counterparts either.  Dwemer ruins in particular have more difficult puzzles in them, so you’re not just looking at a dragon claw to open a door. There’s a few new dwarven guardian robots to cause you grief.  The ballistas on legs pack a wallop, with armour-bypassing, staggering crossbow bolts.

In fact, many of the Dragonborn critters seem tougher than your average Cave Bear, so I wouldn’t recommend going before level 30 unless you are playing on Easy. Ash Spawn can throw fire at you, Burnt Spriggans are resistant to fire, Reavers seem to be a tougher version of bandits and then there’s the annoying jumpy exploding spiders. Also, there’s a few new named Dragons and Dragon Priests, with their highly-enchanted masks. Rieklings are not so tough, until they swarm and one of them rides a boar into you. Ouchy!

A Netch is a Netch, to fetch to fetch, have you ever heard of a retching Netch?

What Have You Done For Me Lately — New Stuff

As well as the new environments and enemies, Dragonborn adds new elements into each of Skyrim’s systems: alchemy, enchanting, crafting, magic, even cooking.

If you are into poisons, you’d love Solstheim because scathecraw is all over the south end and it has 4 poisonous effects.

Enchanting gets a new effect you can add to weapons: Chaos Damage, which is a 50% chance to do extra fire, frost and shock damage all at once — a kind of “all or nothing” effect. Also you can unlock a place to enchant your own staves, something that seemed strangely missing from vanilla Skyrim.

Crafting gets a new material to use, Stalhrim, and new armour and weapon types to craft: Bonemold, Chitin, Nordic and Stalhrim. Stalhrim is especially receptive to frost or chaos enchantments.  And there’s a place where you can make your own annoying jumpy exploding spiders.

Each school of magic gets some new spells. Conjuration in particular has been given a huge shot in the arm with a bunch of new critters to summon. Restoration gets an offensive spell in the form of a poison rune.

Cooking has, err, new recipes for things you can cook and eat.  Does anyone cook in Skyrim?

There’s also new Dragon Shouts to unlock. Cyclone is fun, as it sweeps enemies up in a mini tornado, and drops them stunned to the ground. It’s good for crowd control, if a bit similar to Unrelenting Force. The big ticket item is the shout that lets you ride dragons … yeah baby! Once aboard a dragon, you can direct it to attack targets while casting a spell or shouting yourself, and you can use it to fast travel. I can’t wait to use it back in Skyrim proper to cause some radiant havoc around a giant’s campsite.

They get good mileage, but parking is a bitch

As for loot, it is plentiful and there seems to have been an effort to cater for character builds that may not have got much love in the main game. There’s a unique set of armour and swords that are geared specifically for dual-wielders, some awesome unique two-handed weapons and even some rings to wear if you’re a werewolf. Whatever your build, there should be some loot that takes your fancy.

More, More More — The Digital Appraisal

Overall, Dragonborn is a fantastic add-on for Skyrim. If it had simply provided “More more more” vanilla Skyrim, it probably would have been good enough, but what lifts it to greatness is that Bethesda took the opportunity to try new things, fill some gaps and improve on Skyrim’s original formula. There’s easily over 20 hours of things to do in Solstheim, and besides dealing with Miraak to stop him sharking your dragon souls, you don’t have to do it all at once. Solstheim is just an extra place you can visit now. It had me fantasising about if Skyrim was connected to Cyrodil, which was connected to Morrowind … oh wait, I guess that’s what the MMO will be all about.

As I keep saying, the true mark of good DLC is whether it draws you back into the game, even after a long absence. Dragonborn did this and then some. I am further impressed that it managed to do so after a year’s break. Even after finishing up a bunch of stuff in Solstheim, I am hook, line and sinker back into Skyrim and loving every minute of it!

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 10
Atmosphere: 8
Addictiveness: 9
Overall:

9

 

- Felix

Mark Lanegan – Ding Dong, 4 March 2013

My girlfriend and I went to see Mark Lanegan live at Ding Dong last week.

Here’s a grainy photo to prove it:

Image

Dude with guitar and Lanegan

The small venue was chockers, but I was amazed at how quiet and respectful the audience was. It was a stark contrast to the last time I went to a ‘quiet’ gig, when I went and saw Art of Fighting a few years ago and the wanker crowd chatted their way through the whole thing.

One bloke arked up a bit during one of the songs but was quickly and politely advised to shut the fuck up by a discerning audience member.

It was just Lanegan and some dude with an acoustic guitar on stage, and it really was a spellbinding performance. That voice live gives you shivers, and the imagery and emotion that guy conjures up could bring a grown man to the verge of tears at times. Not me of course, but a grown man not quite as strong and tough as me.

I’m not exactly sure of the set list but it looks pretty close to what he played in Sydney on the 9th (see here for the list).

The Cherry Tree Carol was my favourite for the night, and thankfully someone in the crowd filmed it and put it on Youtube, so here it is:

It was a great gig, certainly the best vocal performance I’ve ever seen live, so well done Melbourne for turning out to support the great man and showing him the respect such a talent deserves.

- Hazizi

Dishonored (PS3) – Arkane Studios

Dishonored

The thing about the English language is, it’s called English.  Not American.  Accordingly, the correct spelling of the title this game is “DISHONOURED”.  With a U.  The developer, Arkane Studios is French, which makes it extra galling, because the French brought all the Us to England in 1066 and whacked them into the language like an arrow in the eye.  It’s not like the French not to stick to their linguistic guns.  Every time the title screen came up my eyeballs kept superimposing a squiggly red line under the name … because I took the extra time to make the English (UK) dictionary my default Word dictionary because I am a civilised human being.  Sheesh.

In protest at this linguistic heresy, from now on I will call the game “Corvo’s Ag-Burgs“.  Corvo is the name of the character you play and sounds like Aussie slang for a bloke who steals undies off the clothesline.  “Ag Burg” is Victorian cop slang for Aggravated Burglary, which is an accurate descriptor of what you do as Corvo in this game, and using the term makes me feel tough, despite my otherwise comfortable suburban bourgeois existence.  I am also docking the game’s score by 1 point for spelling.  You have to get the basics right.

Anyway, Corvo’s Ag Burgs is one of the only big-ticket games to come out in 2012 that didn’t have a 3 in the title and it has guts going up against some of the biggest franchises in gaming.  But, just like the Greater Western Sydney Giants, while it is to be encouraged for being new, it still makes some clangers here and there.  Let’s get into some details, shall we?  For ease of reference I have used Cypress Hill song titles as subheadings.  You’re welcome.

Real Estate: Dunwall City

Imagine a world run by whales.  Well, not actually by them — where would they all meet?  The whales are slaughtered because their oil is the source of electrical power.  I think this is what the Japanese have been researching all these years.  Whale oil is put in canisters and used to power everything an early industrial-era city needs: boats, street lights and zappy gates that fry you when you walk through them.  Because we are playing a videogame, these canisters also blow up when you shoot them.  Imagine the OH&S issues if your office building needed an explosive canister on every floor to make the computers work.  Coal doesn’t seem so dirty any more.

Whale oil detail is the shittiest detail

Whale oil detail is the shittiest detail

Corvo’s Ag Burgs is set in the whaling capital of this whale oil powered world: the city of Dunwall.  It’s rendered in a striking art style that leaves its imprint after you switch off the game.  The architecture is Victorian gothic, the colour palette is washed out like a water colour painting and for the character models, the artists eschewed realism for a more expressive look — faces and hands are bigger, other features more distinct. This prevents the people from sliding into the uncanny valley. The voice acting and character work were good and they cast some impressive names:  Lena Headey, John Slattery, Carrie Fisher, Brad Dourif. They even got Susan Sarandon, the hottie from the Motherlover video clip!

You know what they say about big hands ... they're the result of a character design choice

You know what they say about big hands … they’re the result of a character design choice

One of the themes of the game is a tension between technology and mysticism.   It’s like David Copperfield and the Eiffel Tower had a weird cyborg baby and are fighting over custody.  Technology is winning, but it hasn’t stamped out all mysticism yet.  One reason is that technology has not solved all the city’s problems: it is infested with plague.  The medicine for plague is expensive, so it afflicts the poor more than the rich.  Because we are playing a videogame, the plague turns people into zombies.  The city is run by a fascist junta, with curfews and restricted movement, providing a neat narrative excuse for the all the guards and “being where you shouldn’t” aspect of the stealth mechanics.

So with the oppressive government, wealth disparity, plague and zombies, Dunwall isn’t a joyful place to be but it is a vivid, albeit doomed, playground.  Rather than being an open world, each chapter of the game takes you to a different part of the city, sealed off from the rest, and in between you hang around a homebase area. The technology vs mysticism theme is also demonstrated in the tools at Corvo’s disposal: swords, guns and magic, speaking of which …

Stealth v Action: Dead Men Tell No Tales 

Corvo’s Ag Burgs offers flexibility in how you play.  You can opt to be sneaky, trying not to be seen or heard.  You can even try not killing anybody.  Or you can treat it as an action game, careen about noisily and shoot everything you see.  You can even whack your sword against a pole to get the guards to hurry up and come to you.   Or you can play it as a little bit of both.

The game tugs you in different directions regarding the stealth and killing.  It guilts you with narrative and loading screen messages that tell you keeping fatalities low will result in Low Chaos give you the “good” ending.  Then it gives you all sorts of cool, mostly loud ways to kill people:  sword, gunshot, exploding gunshot, crossbow bolt, exploding crossbow bolt, vertical takedowns, grenades, sticky grenades, spring razor traps … and eaten by rats.  So the game puts a large bowl of mixed lollies down in front of you and then asks you not to eat them all.

By contrast, the only non fatal ways to take someone out are to choke them out or sleep dart them.  Sleep darts are problematic: ammo is limited and they don’t work on every enemy type.   You can of course just sneak past a guard and not touch him at all, I guess.  These moves are available right from the start, rendering most of the magic and item upgrades unnecessary, whereas the fatality guys get to pursue cool unlocks right through the game.  The lack of desirable upgrades reduced my motivation to explore levels to find the stuff that unlocks said upgrades.  I couldn’t help compare it unfavourably to Batman games and Deus Ex: Human Revolution  — the smorgasbord of cool upgrades in those games had me scouring their environments for the goodies to unlock them.

The stealth mechanics themselves are decent. Corvo’s Ag Burgs favours the “pick them off one by one and keep moving” stealth reminiscent of the Batman games.  You can get a Dark Vision power (aka “Heaven’s Dice“) very similar to Batman’s Detective Mode that allows you to see guards through walls and their fields of vision and so on.  Imitating the Batman style of stealth is no bad thing, because it avoids some of the tedium of other stealth games that require the player to hide in a spot and wait for ages to clock patrol patterns.   That’s not to say lurkers won’t be rewarded: there are some interesting vignettes you will witness from the shadows if you wait long enough and you can choose to let them play out or to intervene.  The cool thing is that extended lurking was not compulsory.  My main gripe was that it was frequently difficult to know whether I was truly hidden or not.  Then again, there are some nice touches like being able to peep through keyholes, which made me feel extra sneaky.

Have they seen me?  I just can't tell

Have they seen me? I just can’t tell

The shaggy stealth and lopsided upgrades are outweighed for the most part by 3 awesome elements:  your core power, Blink, the level design, and the beating heart.

Rise Like Smoke: The Blink Power

Blink is like a teleport.  It is the only magic power that is compulsory, and it is a must-have.  It feels like the game was built around Blink.  It can be used to get up to high ledges, down from ledges without taking falling damage or just to traverse space.  Only when I fought other dudes who could Blink did I twig that I could use it in combat as a kind of dodge, or to get behind someone.  You can blink behind a guard as he rounds a corner just before he sees you.  When you play stealthy you will lean heavily on Blink, but its versatility and the smoothness of its use — just aim and release the trigger– keeps it from feeling stale.  About midway through the game, I got sick of trying to do a ghost run and reloading after being spotted, and I decided I would just deal with it.  I discovered that Blink is a great way to escape a bunch of guards and let them reset.  I was still finding new ways to use it in the last level.

There are some other cool magic powers — the power to possess creatures being a notable one, as is the power to slow time.  Powers and weapons are equipped to the left hand while your sword is in your right.  I would have liked to been able to dual wielded my powers, as I didn’t use my sword much; I was choking out mofos like Royce Gracie.

Now that's good level design!

Now that’s good level design!

I Wanna Get High: Level Design

Each level is set up as an assassination mission wherein you have a mark and you have to get to them and take them out.  You can discover a non-lethal way of dealing with each of them.  The levels are designed to cater for whatever set of magic powers or equipment you have chosen, with multiple paths to your target.  Some of it is truly inspired and unlike any other game — the one where you infiltrate a masquerade ball is the famous level that was demonstrated before release, but all the levels are well-designed to provide a nice balance between risk and reward, with hidden goodies secreted about to reward the explorer .  A few times I laboriously dealt with an area full of guards, only to discover a secret path that would have bypassed all of them.  What’s especially striking is the verticality of levels, wherein each level will invariably contain numerous, err … levels, above and/or below the ground floor, which offers up many opportunities for Blinking.

Get Out Of My Head: The Beating Heart

Blink is an awesome power to use, but this feature is just weird and a big part of why Corvo’s Ag Burgs will stay with me after I’ve forgotten some other more chewable titles.

Early on in the game, you are given a mechanical beating heart which, when equipped, can be used as a radar to detect collectibles, but you can also point the heart at anyone in the game and a disembodied woman’s voice will give you a little commentary on them, such as “He once killed a man for a pair of boots” or ” He will kill again tonight if you don’t wax him, bra” (may not be actual words used, my notes are a little smudged).  I found this fascinating and tried it on everyone, from high-ranking assassination targets to low level grunts, friends and foes alike.

This introduced a more personal morality system into my playthrough.  Suddenly I was playing Corvo as a personal judge of these people, and there were times I decided to kill guys that I otherwise would have spared and vice versa, depending on what the heart was telling me about them.  I marvelled at the way the heart could affect me like this — my decision about whether or not to kill was no longer solely determined by the predetermined imperative of “keep the kill count low” or by the strategic consideration of whether I needed that guard to be taken out to progress through a section of a level, but by narrative content delivered to me that I could have ignored completely if I hadn’t whipped out the heart.  So many games these days are anxious for you not to miss any of their kickass content that they will highlight, underline, prompt and cajole you repeatedly to LOOK OVER THERE NOW NOW NOW!!!  I like that Corvo’s Ag Burgs had the balls to leave some stuff for me to feel like I discovered by myself.

Overall, Corvo’s Ag Burgs — oh, ok, Dishonored — delivers a fine action stealth game that may not have the tightest stealth mechanics, but makes up for it in the flexibility and variety it provides and the way you can switch between action and stealth as required.  It is also peppered with enough endearing quirks that it is charming and compelling nonetheless — a reminder about why new games are often more exciting than sequels despite their flaws.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 9
Atmosphere: 10
Addictiveness: 8
Overall:

9 

- Felix

Miss Lava – Red Supergiant (Raging Planet)

Miss Lava – Red Supergiant

I’ve got a few CDs in my review backlog, and I can’t decide on my best album for 2012 until I get through them all, so I’m in a bit of a pickle really. I’m going to tackle this little problem the same way anyone should – one step at a time. You’ll just have to bear with me and deal with the fact that the next few reviews will be like, so 2012.

First up is a release I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to since their debut caught me by surprise a couple of years ago and knocked my proverbial socks off: Red Supergiant by Portugal’s Miss Lava.

The first thing to strike me on firing this up was the production. I thought the production was fine on the last album, but they’ve taken it up a notch here, with a beautiful snappy snare, crisp guitars, and plenty of room for their huge sounding bass, which is so essential when there’s no rhythm guitarist, especially when the lead is off playing a solo or adding melodic details.

In fact, that fuzzed up bass reminds me of… someone else…

This is a great sounding album, and when I looked up the credits and saw Matt Hyde’s name the penny dropped. Hyde produced three of my all time favourite albums: Slayer’s God Hates Us All, Fu Manchu’s California Crossing, and Monster Magnet’s Powertrip. Who can forget the first minute and a half of Space Lord, or the way he breathed new life into Slayer’s sound. I love a good producer and Matt Hyde is one of the best.

The songs on Red Supergiant are well written and bursting at the seams with big riffs. There’s nothing as immediately catchy as Black Rainbows here, but you’ll be singing along with the choruses by the second or third listen. My early favourite is Feel My Grace, and I love the film clip too, which features a couple of menina bonitas up to no good at all.

There’s nothing over four and a half minutes, so no tripped out jams like Scorpio on their last album, but there is still plenty of light and shade. The title track is slow and melancholy.  Ride plays off expansive verses against a driving chorus.  Hole To China is a slow burner that had me recalling Alice In Chains, firstly because of the chorus contains the words “down in a hole”, but also because of the Cantrell-esque use of minor chords throughout.

As with the last album, it’s consistent from start to finish and there isn’t a weak song on the album.

So you probably need to get this album, right?

Well that’s not quite as easy as it seems. I’m an old fogey who likes to have the CD, and that just didn’t seem to be possible, so I resigned myself to downloading it instead. I checked it out on iTunes and it was $17 or something. Thankfully I didn’t fall for that, because it’s much cheaper on their Bandcamp site – only $8 US for a high quality release.  As Molly Meldrum would say: do yourself a favour, because this is well worth it.

Get it here!: http://ragingplanet.bandcamp.com/album/miss-lava-red-supergiant

I gave their debut a 9 out of 10, and I think this is better, so I’m giving it 9.5.

It’s true what they say: Miss Lava rock!

9.5

- Hazizi

P.S. This episode prompted a fit of anti-iTunes rage which led me to delete the stupid program from my PC once and for all – but that’s a story for another time. But ALWAYS check Bandcamp first before you line the pockets of Apple – they’ve got enough money already. And don’t torrent.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PS3) – Firaxis

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The following message was intercepted from a downed UFO and totally NOT plagiarised from a Polish gaming site and put through Google translate.

What is game? XCOM is game.

This game makes fun of alien invasion of Earth, which has serious portent if true.  Not Will Smith being seen however.  Instead become Bill Pullman: commanding soldiers to fight aliens (but not an air pilot).

In giving name and hair to your soldiers, bondage grows thick and playtime ensues with added personal feeling.  Also humorous is to send electronic messages to the reality friends who are the namesakes, announcing to them their death.

Mission maps hold tactical intrigue.  Battlement with adversaries occurs at shopping mall, petrol station or other place.  Cover is important but mostly out of reach.  Best action results from teamwork; the lone ranger rarely emerges victorious.

Choices are relatively few but vital: take difficult aim, dash further for improved shot or stay back and be reactive?  Tactical decisions are boiled essentials, with detritus scraped away.  Controlling is a gale, retaining focus on tactics not twitching.

Similar to benevolent sporting duel, luck also participates.  Do not mourn a misfire from 90% success chance, for such is true mathematics in operation.

Many will die, friend and foe.  When friend perishes, do not reload!  Vicissitudes of war must be borne with dignity.  Memorial with haunting bladderpipes preserves memory of fallen comrades.

After mission, return to base.  Scientists reside to research better kit and engineers abide to build facilities and tasty guns.  Valorous soldiers find promotion and special abilities to use in mission, making increase of team value.

Addiction grows from virtuous circle: mission success yields spoils to imbue base and personnel with belongings.  Once there is the new item, you are tickled to have next mission for item use and need to recoup spoils for next items. Virtuous circle closes.

Firaxis makes a game here like Civilization — player can stop at any juncture but is still compelled to play until dawn from pure mechanic flow.  True joy springs from emergent individual feats, recounted later around fluid dispenser.

Foreshadowed replay is inevitable.

Behold!  A new master for consoles arises in the strategy desert.  Some say Valkyria Chronicles arrived previously, but XCOM omits teen angst to be best of kind.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Addictiveness: 10
Overall:

9

- Felix

2012: A Year Of Awesome Tunes

OK, so let me tell you about my year, because I’m sure you’re DYING to know.

So after I single-handedly brought about the introduction of a carbon tax in Australia – the best and most positive and progressive piece of legislation introduced in my lifetime – I thought I’d become a teacher. Can’t be too hard, right?  So I moved back to my home town of Ballarat, did a teaching degree, started playing the trumpet again for the first time in twenty years, joined the brass band, just the usual stuff…

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing let me tell you.  It was a long, cold winter in this freezing cold pocket of Victoria. And the course was pretty tough going at times, what with all those essays and the like. And Richmond didn’t make the finals AGAIN.

But, as always, it was music that got me through the tough times, and was there to celebrate with me when the good times inevitably rolled around again.  I frikking love music and you all do too, right?

So let me tell you about the music that I will remember from this crazy year. Most of these albums were released this year, so this list can also serve as a preliminary ‘Best of 2012’ list, with the disclaimer that there have been a heap of great bands releasing albums recently which I’ll be listening to through the festive season.

I won’t bother with the album covers (although they are great click bait!), but I’ll give you a nice little Youtube clip for each one so you can have a listen. I won’t put ratings in either because quite frankly I can’t be arsed. They’re all good and highly recommended.

Let’s go:

Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral (4AD)

That voice. Oh my. Mark Lanegan surely has the best voice in all of music. Dripping with cigar smoke and whiskey and sadness, it is simultaneously primal and ethereal, almost spectral, like a voice from before time.

Alain Johannes provides the music and production, and while it’s hugely stripped back from the layered complexity of QOTSA’s Lullabies To Paralyze, there is a dark sexiness here (along with the presence of Lanegan) that recalls that classic Queens album. Johannes does a great job of putting the voice front and centre, while adding enough musical variation to keep the album interesting all the way through.

Jack White – Blunderbuss (Third Man Records)

OK everyone knows this guy is basically a songwriting genius. I mean the man can play, but lots of people can play. It’s the ability to write that is truly valuable. There’ll be White Stripes fans who will argue with me about this, but I’ve never heard Jack White’s music sound this good. I’m a sucker for a 3/4 song every now and then, and the title track is a typically doleful example. Every song is a timeless classic.

Pelican – Ataraxia/Taraxis (Southern Lord)

Are you familiar with the teachings of Epicurus? Well you bloody well should be. If everyone followed his teachings the world would be fine. Here’s how ataraxia is defined on Wikipedia: “ataraxia was synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the state of robust tranquility that derives from eschewing faith in an afterlife, not fearing the gods because they are distant and unconcerned with us, avoiding politics and vexatious people, surrounding oneself with trustworthy and affectionate friends and, most importantly, being an affectionate, virtuous person, worthy of trust.”

Nice, huh?

I would add to this “listening to Pelican” to this list. There is something so comforting about listening to a Pelican album. You’ll get the heaviness and expansiveness of a great post-metal band, but without having to worry about some dude yelling at you every now and then. It gives you time to think, to feel, to write an essay if you will.

Long time readers will know how much I love me some Pelican. They released my favourite album of 2009, and although Ataraxia/Taraxis was only an EP it played a big part in getting me through 2012 with in a state of “robust tranquillity”. Ahhhhh…

Torche – Harmonicraft (Volcom)

Another former Three Paper Album of the Year winner, Torche are simply awesome. This album continues the crossbred pop-meets-heavy genius from their previous albums, but if anything finds them reaching a new level of confidence, complexity, musicianship and bold experimentation that pays some remarkable dividends, with the band at times finding some previously uncharted musical territory. There’s also a couple of those slow, doomy tracks (Solitary Traveler and Looking On) that they do so well.

Then when they decide to play it straight and just write a great song, there are few in the world today that can match them for catchiness and the ability to make you feel damn good about life in general. And this film clip is hilarious:

High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

Do you know what a grimoire is? It’s a book of magic spells, chants, curses and other occultish instructions.

If you are a fan of metal you really should read H.P. Lovecraft, because his writings have inspired so many heavy metal songs, lyrics and images over the years. I’ve been reading his stories this year, perhaps prompted by my return to my dank and chilly ancestral home. (The Rats in the Walls is my favourite) In his stories he often referred to a famous fictional grimoire called the Necronomicon, but he did mention others, including De Vermis Mysteriis.

Anyway, enough of the QI style fact sharing.

High On Fire released an album in 2012, and it was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. The early excitement from High On Fire albums has worn off a bit, it’s true. All their albums have been excellent, but I don’t think they’ve progressed much since Blessed Black Wings. Still if you love their swinging doomy riffs and thumping toms then you’ll love this too. Romulus and Remus is my fave track.

Trap Them – Darker Handcraft (Prosthetic)

OK, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything that sounds like Entombed, which is why I love this album. It was actually released in 2011, but I gave it a pounding throughout 2012.

Of course, every Entombed album is different, so you can’t just say a band ‘sounds like Entombed’, you have to say which one, and this is probably closest to Uprising in sound and punk rock attitude. It’s probably more accurate to say it sounds like Doomriders mixed with Disfear, but of course both of those bands were heavily influenced by the Swedish death gods.

There’s some fast and aggressive stuff, and enough d-beats in here to keep Discharge fans happy, but plenty of fun rocking riffs too.  Here’s a song called The Facts:

OK that’s it from me for the time being, I’ll get back to you as I digest some more awesome tunes over the next month or two.

- Hazizi

Civilization V: Gods and Kings (PC) – Firaxis

Hazizi: OK Felix, nice to be back in the Cave. I’m glad you got rid of that smell! How did you manage it?

Felix: I drilled a ventilation shaft through the back of the cave.  The shaft runs for 163 metres in a straight line and has a diameter of only 2 cm.  The exit hole is somewhere in the study on the ground floor of your Palace of Enlightenment.   Drilling such a narrow shaft for such a distance was incredibly difficult, painstaking, and required me to jerry-rig some equipment and develop engineering techniques hitherto unseen by man.  I have sold some of my discoveries to mining companies, surveillance groups and espionage agencies.  This skinny air shaft may win me a Nobel Prize or land me in Guantanamo.

Anyhoo, that’s why you haven’t heard from me for a few months.  It’s also how I knew about your NFL fantasy draft choices….BEFORE YOU DID!!

Rightio.  I wondered why my study ponged a bit.  I thought it was an egg sandwich I left in a desk drawer.

Now last time I was in here we did a joint review of Civilization V [here it is], which we both quite enjoyed.  I’d also like to add that the patches they’ve added since that early edition have done wonders (Wonders!!!  BOOM BOOM!!!) for the game – removing glitches, improving the AI and balancing out the power of different buildings, units and social policies.  And I think we might in part have Steam to thank for that, as the game designers can now monitor the success rates of different civilizations and strategies and tinker with the game mechanics to rebalance it.

That’s a good point about using game data for designer analysis … but I am still ambivalent about Steam.  Although Steam is good at managing patches in the background and keeping the game up to date, it’s suckered people into accepting an always-on DRM regime.  I’m not 100% comfortable with Steam being the doorman for my Civ, even if it currently is a very polite doorman who tells me if my friends are in the building.  That could all change one day … what if Steam sold out to Facebook or Disney or something?  Yeah.  Think about it.

Now unlike last time we can’t review this one together because, well, I haven’t actually bought this yet.  But I have spent an afternoon on mate’s couch watching him play, and I know you’ve been pumping some hours into it, so I’m thinking we do this one as a bit of a Q&A session, where I play the role of Tony Jones and take everything you say as a comment.  I did make some preliminary judgements so I’d be interested to hear if my hunches were correct. So here goes…

Q. Firstly, the big ticket changes and additions, in no particular order, are religion, espionage, new Civs, new units, new resources, new wonders and improved AI.  Is there anything I’ve missed there?  And can you tell us about your early impressions of the game and thoughts as you started trying out the new stuff?

What you’ve missed in your list are the amendments to the existing Civ systems: combat, diplomacy social policies and science.  Not every single change is a winner in my book, and it’s hard to itemise them all here.  Here’s some notable biggies though.

Combat has been overhauled, largely for the better.  Most notably, units now have 100 health rather than 10.  This effectively means they can take more hits before going down.  The insta-heal promotion doesn’t fully heal anymore either, it gives 50 points.  There are new units and upgrade trees, most notably being the inclusion of First World War units before the more modern units.  Crossbowmen upgrade to Gatling Guns, a ranged unit with only 1 tile range.  Gatling guns are wicked.

Best of all, naval combat has improved to the point that ships are actually relevant.  Ships now have either melee or ranged attacks, and melee ships can take cities. That’s right — beware the ancient era trireme rush!

On top of this, as I will discuss later, the AI is way better at combat.

Diplomacy has been substantially improved, mostly by being made more transparent.  The diplomacy screen now tells you the consequences of different positions to take with a Civ.  Finally I understand the significance of making a declaration of friendship or being denounced!  You can check your diplomatic history with a Civ and see why they hate you so much.  You can establish embassies – a great way to find their capital on the map.

Other Civs will change their opinion of you depending on your social policies.  It’s funny when you secretly go Autocracy then other Civs pop up out of the woodwork to welcome you to the International Brotherhood of Fascists.

There are more things to do with City States: a larger variety of missions you can do to gain influence, and the option to bully City States for cash or units.  Some City States also have unique resources that cannot be found on the map.

The tech tree has been puffed out to accommodate faith and for other reasons I suppose.  Great Scientists and Research Agreements don’t give one free tech any more — they give you a number of turns’ worth of your research output.  Instead of hoarding scientists for that advanced tech that takes 33 turns to research, there is incentive to hoard them until your science output is at its peak and then cash them in for maximum beakerage:

Overall, these improvements to the pre-existing systems of the Civ V make Gods and Kings a must-have, before you even get to the religion and espionage.

Q. Well, let’s go through the new systems.  Firstly, religion.  My first thought was that it was great to have religion back again. And while in some ways it is handled similarly to in Civ IV, there do seem to be some major differences.  Your thoughts on religion in Gods and Kings?

Religion doesn’t spread along trade routes like in Civ IV.  First you send a Great Prophet to a city and found your religion there.  This city becomes the Holy City for your religion and it starts emanating religious pressure to other cities within 10 tiles.  Cities subject to religious pressure will start to sprout followers of that religion, based on population size.  The rate of follower-sprouting will depends on how many cities that follow the religion are nearby.  If the city is near cities that follow different religions, it will sprout followers of each religion.  Once more than 50% of a city’s population follows a religion, the city is said to follow that religion, and it becomes a node from which religious pressure exudes to other nearby cities.  This process can be hurried along by missionaries, who go to other cities and convert people into followers of your religion, or inquisitors, who purge cities of followers of other religions.

Sadly, you cannot take other religions by conquest.  If you capture the Holy City of another religion, you deprive them of their founding belief but you do not gain it for yourself in some kind of religious Highlander deal.  Also if you capture another religion’s Great Prophet, that unit will remain a prophet of the other religion and cannot be used for yours.

I’ve had games where I’ve been drawn into entertaining minigames around spreading religion.  I would compete with my neighbours as we sent missionaries and inquisitors off to vie for the hearts and minds of each others’ cities and the nearby City States, all while maintaining cordial diplomatic relations and pretending to be buddies.  Missionaries also burn strength each turn that they are in enemy territory without open borders, so you can block them from reaching cities until they burn out and die, without inciting war by attacking them directly.

The Eurythmics foreshadowed this strategy in 1987:

Apparently religion affects diplomatic relations, such that others of the same religion are nicer to you, but in most games I played each Civ had their own religion.  It may affect City States’ regard of you too though.  The main incentive to spread religion is for the cumulative benefits derived from the belief bonuses, speaking of which …

Q. The major difference is that this time around they’ve tried to shoehorn it into another ‘bucket’ system, where you accumulate faith points and go up ‘levels’ when you have enough points.  In the games I saw, each time you ‘levelled up’ in your religion you were presented with a bewildering array of possible bonuses. I much preferred the tree based system they used for social policies and just wish they had done something similar for religion. Maybe it’s not too bad once you get your head around the system. How are you going with it?

It is another bucket — you amass faith points through buildings or one-off boons and when you get enough to produce a Great Prophet, you can found a religion.

The belief bonuses are unique — once they are chosen by one religion, no one else can have them.  Also, each time a Civ founds a religion, the faith cost of a Great Prophet for everyone who hasn’t founded a religion goes up, and there are not enough religions for every Civ to have one.

Whenever you get a choice to add a belief bonus to your religion, the choices can be daunting.  Firstly, they are of different types — some bonuses that apply to your Civ as a whole, some only to cities that follow your religion, including other Civs and City States.  I liked having to make a difficult choice between something of immediate but limited benefit — say, extra culture from wine and incense when you have only 1 city near those resources — or something that starts small but may be of large benefit later if you spread your religion far enough.  The “best” choice may not be apparent,  however some of the cumulative bonuses can be slow burners that pay off grandly.

In particular there is a bonus called Tithe that grants 1 gold for every 4 followers, which stacks to great effect for sprawling Civs that spread their religion, especially if City States follow your religion, because those guys just keep growing.

While religion can be an amusing diversion, you can ignore it completely as there are no victory conditions tied to it.  That said, I kept getting sucked in to the faith game.  I think it’s the scarcity — not wanting to miss out on getting a religion when all the other Civs have one.

Q. Now you’re a big Civ Rev fan, and I always thought that game handled spies in a neat and intuitive way. The new game has espionage too, but now you never actually see your spies, they’re just numbers on a screen. Do you think espionage has added to the game, and how do you think the new system stacks up against the way spies have been handled in previous Civ games?

Yeah, it sucks that you don’t get spy units to move around.  It’s too impersonal.  Nor do you control when you get a spy — the game gives them to you at the start of Eras.  Spies’ functions are too limited to be useful. They can steal tech from other Civs, get some info about a Civ or its city (which is often useless) or be used to tinker with your influence rating with City States.  What about sabotaging buildings, stealing gold, or converting other Civs’ cities?

It’s fun to steal tech, but after a while the Civs that have the tech you want wise up and put in protective measures that make it impractical.  Using spies to shore up City State influence is handy, but also happens slowly over a number of turns and is too easily overridden by a Civ with deep pockets simply buying influence.  Most times I just used my spies to protect against other spies.  Perving on other cities is a little fun, I admit, but it’s hard to put that information to use.

Yep, it’s about as fun as it looks

This spreadsheet approach may be saying something about bureaucracy and espionage but it feels half-hearted.  Considering how versatile spies were in Civ Rev and other Civ games, it’s disappointing.  Those who hated spies in Civ IV and thought they were too powerful will be relieved that they’re not gamebreakers, and people like me who liked the extra layer of options they provided will be disenchanted.

Q. The first thing you notice when you start a game is, of course, that there a whole new bunch of Civs to try out. I had a look at the Austrians and the Dutch.  Austria was great – you could just save up your cash and use it to buy city states outright. Have you had a crack with them? And which other new Civs have you tried and liked?

I’ve tried Austria, Byzantium, the Huns and the Celts, playing on Emperor.  I haven’t won with any of them but had some enjoyable losses.

She looks like a fairy godmother, but wields her money ruthlessly

As you point out with Austria, cash is king.  One thing to consider is that allied City States often give food, happiness and culture bonuses that you lose if you annex them, so buying out City States isn’t always a good idea.  You can at least buy enough City States to deny a UN victory to other cashed-up Civs.

The Celts can be very powerful in the early game due to their Pictish warriors — pre-iron sword units who get a bonus outside friendly lands and earn faith with each kill.  The Celts can drop off once the Picts become obsolete though and you need to plan for the inevitable backlash that other Civs will orchestrate against you after licking their wounds for a few centuries.

The Huns are also geared for early game aggression with their battering rams (which replace spearmen, subbing out a defensive unit for a city-taking unit) but it can end in tears if you’re not fully prepared for some protracted Classical Era war.  I wasn’t, and it did.

I’ve also tried the original Civs playing against these foes and they can be tough to beat.  As fun as it is being Austria, it sucks being against it.  Watching Austria buy an empire of City States, nullifying centuries of hard work pumping up your patronage and currying favour can be crushing.

Q. And the new AI plays a much better game, I’m sure you’d agree.  Have you noticed much of a difference? 

I have, partly because the AI is a lot better at combat and partly because I’ve started playing on Emperor.

The AI pulls far fewer boneheaded moves in combat, which makes me realise I wasn’t as good a general as I thought I was.  The newfound relevance of ships and the smart way the AI uses them makes coastal cities more vulnerable.  You can also dock a ship in town and it will stack with any land unit garrisoned there, doubling up on defence. This alone broke a number of my sieges.

The AI is better at combining different forces too.  For example, in one game I initiated a desperate modern era invasion of Sweden to distract it from building rocket parts.  Sweden basically had a continent to itself at this point.  I used boats, planes and land troops to take a couple of cities and establish a foothold, but the troubles started when I had to defend my new turf from the Swedish counter-attack.  I was begrudgingly impressed when Sweden started using its anti-aircraft guns offensively — rather than let them sit and wait for my planes, Sweden turned them on my tanks and artillery, softening them up to be finished off by helicopters.  Clever sods.  Needless to say, “Operation Hurdy Gurdy Burt Bork Bork” ended in failure.

Emperor Gustavus of Sweden was not happy when invaders had landed on his eastern coast

For a military aggressor like me, it seems that the defensive game is easier.  Taking cities is harder and it’s easier to take cities back on the counterattack.  I guess this brings other strategies to the fore, but when you play at difficulties higher than Prince, where the AI gets advantages over you in nearly every area of the game, it can be hard to come back if you lose the lead early.

Frequently I would “win my continent” and be the dominant Civ on my landmass, but then discover my true rival is the superpower on another continent — that other Civ that has also been expanding and outstripping me in tech, culture or gold (or all three).  If I try to buddy up and be friends, the Civ will just go on to get a science or UN victory, and if I try to invade, it takes me ages to amass an invasion force and then I face problems of resupply while the other Civ is fighting on home turf with cities and roads to resupply lost units.  Maybe Civ V is trying to teach me not to be such an invading jerkwad.

Q. And what about the new resources and buildings and technologies and stuff?  Whaddya reckon?  Huh?  Huh?

As alluded to before, there’s a lot of tweaks, pokes and fiddles, not all of which I’m sure about.  There are a few things I have noted.

Obviously, some of the buildings and Wonders have been adjusted to allow for faith producing buildings.  Temples now produce faith as you’d expect and the good ol’ Stonehenge culture rush is off the table as that hunka limestone makes faith now.  New Wonders are handy — Petra can make a useless village in the middle of a desert into a flourishing oasis, but if you don’t build it before someone else, you’re stuck with your crappy desert village.

Catapults no longer need iron and longswordsman have a reduced attack strength, so the rush to iron is no longer as effective a military strategy.

Resources give a little less happiness, but there are more of them.  You’ll be pleased to see copper and pigs (well, truffles) make a return.  It encourages more diplomacy to trade for resources.

Copper and Pigs, Baby!

The overall effect seems to be one that removes some strategic spikes and instead rewards the long slow grind, where you combine the decisions you make for your research, city building, tile improvement and social policies to augment your predetermined speciality.  It’s deeper but somehow feels more restrictive, like a shrunken pair of long johns.

Q. The big question this release raised for me was: what the hell is it really?  It seems to have lumped together a bunch of stuff that really should have been in a patch (the AI improvements), with a bunch of stuff that could have been optional DLC (the new Civs), with some other stuff that fundamentally alters the game (religion and espionage). It cost 50 bucks, so I guess you have to review it as a full priced game, but do you think the package justifies that?

Don’t forget the three scenarios!  Fall of Rome in particular was interesting: if you play as Rome, you get a degrading social policy tree.  Policies are penalties that are inflicted upon you as you lose cities.  Having to choose between reduced gold income or deserting soldiers — ouch!

Honestly, I would have been happy with the tweaks to combat, diplomacy and social policies without religion and espionage — at a reduced price of course. Of the two extra systems, religion is the more interesting and I’ve yet to explore its full potential.  The cumulative belief bonuses could provide some handy exploits.

For its price tag, it is a comprehensive package of changes, which they could have nickel-and-dimed you on by releasing in bits.  Many of the changes to the tech tree and building functions are consequential upon the introduction of faith, such that it would be hard to unscramble the egg.  Sure I wish it were cheaper, but it did what a good expansion pack should do — it dragged me back into a game that I had left alone for months.  It also brought some of my coworkers into the game.  They bought the Deluxe Civ V edition with Gods and Kings and all other DLC for the same price I paid for vanilla Civ V in 2010, so they’re up on the deal by $80 and a couple of hundred hours.

Q. I remember when Civ V came out I came up with a whole bunch of ways that Civ IV was better, yet after a couple of weeks of playing with hexagonal tiles, ranged combat and unstackable units there was no way I could have gone back.  I guess that’s the big test for you here Felix.  You’ve played this for a while now with all the new bells and whistles.  Is there any way you could take yourself back to the pre-religion, pre-espionage days of plain old vanilla Civ V?

I agree, there is no turning back.  The improvements to combat and diplomacy combat make it a must-have.  Religion, espionage and the extra Civs and scenarios are bells and whistles.

Gods and Kings reinforces Civ V as a game about specialisation and steady accretion.  It flattens out potential game changers like instant techs and megapowered Wonders and adds in more cumulative benefits.  Pick a victory condition, choose a Civ that is geared to achieve it and grind out your strategy.  I used to play Civ games with a “let’s see where this goes” approach, but such generalism hasn’t worked for me in Civ V beyond Prince difficulty.

On one hand, Gods and Kings has smoothed out some of the exploits and strategies on which I used to rely.  As a result I have had to use more of the mechanics and systems to eke out an advantage, thus learning how better to play the game.  On the other hand, I feel that if I don’t get a perfect start, I am doomed.  It can still be fun to play out one’s doom, but it would be nice if there were more ways to dig yourself out of a hole, especially given that higher difficulty levels handicap you in relation to the AI.

Ok, thanks for letting me into the cave again man.  See you back here for Civ VI.  Wow, now there’s a scary thought.

In the meantime, there’s this other Firaxis game called XCOM … wait, where are you going?

Isis Things

Hey folks,

Just quickly wanted to let you know that THERE WILL BE SOME ACTIVITY on this blog in coming weeks and months.

I’ve just finished a very hectic teaching degree and will now have some time to talk metal.

And Felix has done a great review of Civ V: Gods and Kings which I’ll post soon too.

In the meantime here’s a couple of things from Isis, who broke up in 2010 but are releasing a few things from their back catalogue at the moment.

The first is a new film clip to an old song that was on a 2010 split EP (with the Melvins).  It is called Pliable Foe and was recorded during the Wavering Radiant sessions.

The second thing is a link to a cover of Streetcleaner by the mighty Godflesh which they did back in 2000.

Streetcleaner – Isis

Enjoy, and I’ll see y’all real soon.

Hazizi