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I’m not sure you can adequately review God of War with just one playthrough

Jay-Z, talking to Joe Rogan once complained that music reviewers didn’t spend enough time with albums before publishing. “You can’t review an album in a day,” was basically his point and though I gave little thought to it at the time, I’m beginning to come around.

The problem is exacerbated in the games industry, where the mad rush to be first on Metacritic leads to reviewers skipping side-quests, ignoring cutscenes, and often enough to note, not actually completing the games they’re paid to review.

This is to say nothing of the long established trope of video game reviews; namely that every triple-A release is rated on a 7-9 scale rather than 1-10.

My solution has always been to simplify things. Lose the absurdity of scoring a game out of 100%. What is the qualitative difference between a game rated 97% and one rated 98% anyway? Go beyond even the relative ease of 1-10 as well, particularly if you’re not going to use the majority of provided numbers. Lets talk about stars out of five. It’s served the movie industry well enough for decades.

A 1-5 score makes everything better. Piss off with your half stars too because that’s cheating. It’s extraordinarily simple, encourages (ironically enough) more range in reviews, and when faced with five games all rated 3/5, one might be tempted to look beyond the number at the end of a review, and actually read the preceding thousand words. They’re supposed to be the important bit anyway.

  1. Awful.
  2. Bad, but not without merit.
  3. Quite good.
  4. Excellent.
  5. Outstanding.

For game publishers, this increases the likelihood their game will actually get a ‘perfect’ score. For reviewers, it encourages more thought because 7-9 out of 10 is basically covered by 4/5 and you can’t rate everything 4 or 5 unless you work for Empire magazine. For readers, it’s an obviously more palatable serving.

I’m, to my friends at least, infamous for being miserly with ratings. Almost every Marvel film is a 2 or a 3. They’re adequate for the most part. By the numbers box ticking competent. Baby Driver is a 2. So is Shape of Water. To find a film I actually gave 5 stars to, you have to go back to 2015 when I fell in love in Ex Machina.

You’re of course free to disagree with these reviews. They’re all subjective and if you think Edgar Wright is the best thing to happen to film since Stanley Kubrick picked up a camera that’s fine. My point here is that I don’t give good reviews out like I work for IGN, so when I tell you I was happy to give God of War 4/5 upon completing it a few weeks ago, you understand that I thought it was excellent.

My opinion has since improved. Like Ex Machina, God of War has stuck with me for weeks now. I’ve rewatched cutscenes, enjoyed fan tattoos and artwork, contemplated where the series and its characters might go next, and, always nice as the result of a game, read more on the source material. I’ve started a new playthrough to appreciate the foreshadowing of the game’s big reveals, had Dad and Boy pose for the camera in photo mode. For a largely linear single player game the like of which EA incredulously told us gamers were no longer interested in, God of War hasn’t let go of me yet.

And so I find myself considering it as a 5 star game. It’s not perfect. Though the level design is admirably clever, the world occasionally feels somewhat cramped. There’s not enough variety in the bosses you encounter. Some of the puzzles slow the game down too much even when you know what you’re doing. The fast travel isn’t great. But there’s so much right with it. It’s a wonderful story of a father and son that for the most part uses Norse mythology only as a backdrop, with promise of much more to come. It looks fantastic and like Uncharted 4 before it, shows that the processing power of your system isn’t the most important thing if you have a talented developer who knows how to use it. Christopher Judge is inch perfect as Kratos, both a war god and a man trying to be better. Sunny Suljic bucks the trend of child actors and is annoying only when he’s supposed to be, spot on as a boy learning not only of the world and his father, but also himself. The combat is meaty and satisfying, calling your axe back from the chest of a vanquished foe never gets old, and almost all the central game mechanics just work really well. That shouldn’t be noteworthy, but alas it is.

At first there was no question to me that God of War was at the least a strong 4/5. I considered 5/5, but backed off because the few niggles I had with it were sticking in my mind. A 5 star game needn’t be perfect. Metal Gear Solid 3 has appalling casting for its largely Russian cast, Mass Effect 2 though superior in most ways has less depth of gameplay than its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto 5 has interminable waits for online lobbies. But they’re all 5 star games because on the whole, they’re exceptionally good. So is God of War.

With Ubisoft convinced that everything need be an open world, EA and Activision ready to ride ‘Games as a Service’ into the apocalypse, and Microsoft doing basically nothing to advance the gaming experience, you have to give credit to Sony and Santa Monica Studio for piling resources into a true blockbuster single player game, and be pleased when they reap the rewards. Naughty Dog did it with Uncharted and Last of Us, Guerilla took a huge gamble and did it with Horizon Zero Dawn. Now it’s SMS’s time.

I get joyous when I tell people about God of War. I’ve readily beamed when sharing the story with non-gamer friends who nonetheless “ooh” and “ah” with sufficient glee when particular story points are brought up. I’ve enjoyed fan trailers cut from captured footage and images taken in game. All of this adds to my enjoyment of it. All of it contributes to a higher score than I originally gave it.

Games journalism, such as it is, is a business like any other and the primary goal is to make money. To that end a quick review is better than a considered one. There are certain reviewers out there though, that I’m prepared to wait a month after launch to hear their opinions, because I know they’ll be complete experiences rather than a run down of the first eight hours, or the results of a hurried run-through at a review event monitored by the publisher.

Beyond that, maybe everyone could benefit from waiting a week or two after completing a game to give their reviews the finishing touch. With most games it may not affect the score at all, but some stick with you longer than others. They carve out places in your heart that you may not be aware of in the heat of the moment. It’s only on reflection that you truly realise you’ve become a fan.

Like most European gamers I cared little for the shouty hack n’ slash arcade beat ’em ups that were Kratos’ Greek adventures. Cory Barlog and his team have dragged me on board with a gutsy reimagining that so easily could have been rejected by a community that’s always ready to pounce when it doesn’t get its way. It worked out. It was a success. On reflection, it was a five star achievement, and I’m only just getting that now, weeks after I completed it for the first time.

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Unionists are terrified of a second Scottish referendum, and this is how they could lose it

It’s baffling to many Yes voters and campaigners that so many in ‘mainstream’ or ‘old’ media continually represent the last independence referendum as a torrid, rancorous, calamity which took a land previously bathed in the joy of unicorns riding on rainbows and tore it asunder, causing families to war with each other, siblings to spit at one other in the street, and mothers to abandon their newborn babes at English orphanage doorsteps lest the spirits of Atlantis sink Scotland into the sea, ever to be mourned as a lost nation.

Why, when they recall it as a ‘Festival of Democracy’ which inspired the apolitical to get involved and educated concerning politics, and which engaged the young as never before, do others consider the two years leading up to September 2014 a black mark upon Scotland’s modern history? Well, in short, it’s because it serves their purposes for it to be remembered as catastrophic. Who wants to revisit the inferno, after all?

For those who post about politics on twitter every day, the question has always been ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Scotland will hold another referendum on Independence. Yes voters have looked forward to it with unconstrained glee; unionists fear and loathe the idea. The latter never wanted the first referendum and know full well how close they came to losing it, squandering a thirty-point lead in the polls, and only pulling it out of the bag at the eleventh hour with Faustian promises of more powers for Scotland. While it’s true that another quick victory for No would indeed settle the matter for a generation, it’s never been clear enough which way the Scottish public would vote a second time for there to be any genuine confidence from the former members of Better Together.

It’s easy to forget when embroiled in the Twittersphere however, that most of the people in Scotland don’t engage in 140-character snark-baiting. For those who don’t post on Twitter every day, read the newspapers only on occasion, and find River City, ICW, or Outlander to be worthy of considerably more interest than Reporting Scotland, the referendum is done and while most independent voters may have had no more interest in a second than unionists, they don’t fear it half as much either.

So it falls to the Aiden Kerrs, Stephen Daisleys, and David Torrances et al, to do their best to put that fear into them. “You remember the last referendum?” they ask with the barely concealed contempt of hacks who feel they must hold the electorate to count rather than politicians. “It was ghastly, wasn’t it? We don’t want another of those.”

Putting aside the point that the average person in Scotland is fairly capable of remembering internationally newsworthy events of only four years ago, if you repeat something often enough in the media, it becomes truth in the media. Alex Salmond was for years the most popular politician in the country by a mile, matched only by the woman who would go on to succeed him. But how many times did you read how divisive he was? How many times was his ‘arrogance’ portrayed as a crutch for Yes Scotland and the SNP? It is now an accepted media fact that had someone else led the party and (nominally, at least) the campaign, Yes would have done better. The complete lack of evidence supporting this and the amount of evidence disproving it are an irrelevance. The narrative is all.

So we return to that concerning the referendum’s tone. No one of note, sound mind, or honesty would deny there were hostilities, open threats, and an ugliness that should have been condemned by all. But those same people would also note that such contemptible behaviour was only practiced by a tiny minority of people, barely deserving of the title. Both sides would blame the other for the majority of it. Yes voters would talk of George Square, mounted riot police, and Nazi salutes. No voters would speak of stickers and an egg.

Old media’s narrative however, is that which was detailed further above. The Scottish referendum of 2014 was roughly equatable to the Battle of the Bastards, flayed corpses and all. And if they can convince voters that the referendum was bad, then it naturally follows that those who made it happen, and will make it happen again are bad.

How then, can Yes voters counteract this now that it seems a second referendum is inevitable within the next three years? Well Yes owns Twitter; that much has been clear for years. But Twitter though fun, and useful in its own way, is not where any political battle is won or lost. Twitter has a few hundred million active users around the world each month. If you want to campaign on social media, the big blue is still the place to be. One billion people log into Facebook every month, and there’s a much greater percentage of unionists and non-politicos (read: normal people with social lives) who are likely to get their information from a shared article on their wall than a retweet in their newsfeed. Both come secondary to television and newspapers however, and while it may be the case that some Scottish publications will change their stance on independence given the results of the EU referendum, those journalists who are staunchly opposed to the idea remain. And they will not lightly change their tune.

There is nothing Yes voters can do about them, but there is something they can do about the material they are given to work with. As we saw with Jim Murphy and Ian Murray, the slightest impolite infraction from those of the Yes side will be pounced upon by old media. ‘Yes it may only be an egg,’ will run the op-eds masquerading as reports, ‘but that egg represents an English-hating, introverted, racist, violent darkness in the heart of the Yes campaign.’

Should you be minded to consider this ridiculous, no one would blame you. But we saw four years ago that it’s not unprecedented or unique. So don’t give them the ammunition. Live up to the memory you have of a joyful, optimistic, and inclusive campaign. Take a second before you post on social media to consider whether your words could be taken out of context to represent something you never intended. Imagine them printed in a newspaper and how they would look next to an hysterical headline proclaiming sweary Braveheart fans have overtaken Scottish democracy. Consider how a demonstration at Pacific Quay will be received in the media and whether it will actually achieve any good. Don’t talk of stringing up ‘parasitic’ royals. Don’t throw eggs at soon to be unemployed politicians. Before you shout, consider whether talking might be a better approach. Don’t tweet anything ever, to or concerning JK Rowling.

Independence campaigners ran a hugely impressive campaign last time around. Whatever guff might have been spouted lately by those glad the UK’s leaving the EU about being up against the entire British establishment, Yes really was. It might have a few more newspapers on its side this time (don’t count on it), but make no mistake that those against will be out for blood immediately. It’s already begun in some dark corners. No one will underestimate Yes this time. No one will dismiss them. Plenty will try to sully their name, and paint them as something they’re not to fit a narrative that says once again, Independence is Bad for Scotland, and These People are Bad for Scotland.

Don’t give them the opportunity  to use you as an example of this.

Part of a fandom? Yeah, you’re probably toxic as fuck

I’ve been a fan of Star Trek almost as long as I’ve been a fan of anything. Owing to a mother raised on the adventures of Kirk and Spock, I was raised on the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Picard, and all others who would follow. At one time I could tell you the launch date of the Defiant, the length of the Excelsior, the number of decks on the Enterprise, and the maximum stable cruise velocity of Voyager (Warp 9.975, in case you cared).

With the democratisation of the Internet and fan forums popping up everywhere like STIs after shore leave, it didn’t take me long to realise that in one way, I was different to most other fans. I liked Deep Space Nine.

Deep Space Nine is consistently regarded by critics as the best written, most interesting, and daring of all the Star Trek franchises. Contrasted with Voyager which aired at the same time and told no story that couldn’t be forgotten a week later, DS9 ditched the white picket fenced perfection of the original, told a story of Paradise Lost, good men lost to brutality, the control of religion, and the horror of war. In short, it took risks and was rewarded by most fans by being firmly cast as their least favourite Star Trek series. Voyager by contrast, remains a firm favourite.

Despite my enthusiasm for all things Trek, I never described myself as being part of a “fandom”, not least because no matter what Wikipedia might tell you, no one did back then. But the cornerstones of the faith which defines all of them were clear to see even then. Put simply, they were as follows.

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought, and
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.

In a line; “Star Trek was better when I was a kid, and you should make it like that forever.”

Of course everything was better when you were a kid. WWE was better when it was called WWF and featured The Rock and Stone Cold every Monday. Match of the Day was better when Des Lynam hosted it. Assassins Creed II was the best of the lot, they don’t make drugs like they used to, and why the fuck is Taylor Swift so popular?

Of course the realisation seemingly beyond the grasp of most is that these things were better not because of any inherent qualitative difference, but because you were better, happier and more enthusiastic as a kid. Now you have bills, a mediocre car, a disappointing partner who’s settled for you, and two point four children you try your best to pretend you’re happy were born even as they eat away your twenties, figure, and freedom. There’s a reason John Inverdale looks back with rose-cunted glasses.

The direct result of this fandom mindset is easy to identify. Deep Space Nine was unloved. Enterprise which is now accepted as, “not as bad as people say,” was left to die. The 2009 hyper-successful JJ Abrams reboot “isn’t Star Trek”. The 2013 sequel, Into Darkness, an unashamed love letter to The Wrath of Khan is a “rip-off”. Beyond is… Well. Star Trek Beyond is a shitpile. Let’s be honest. And the first Star Trek series anyone’s had in thirteen years is most charitably describable as, “divisive”.

All of this from nice polite, bespectacled, dorky, loveable, kind-hearted, Star Trek fans. Who are to nerds what nerds are to jocks. It has never really been socially acceptable to like Star Trek the same way some like Star Wars or the reheated microwave meals of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Trek fans are losers. Christ, what would it be like if they weren’t?

Fandoms seem to have this strange idea that they have part ownership of an intellectual property, and nowhere is this easier to see than with Star Wars. I like Star Wars. Always have. Most people I know will happily sit down and watch one once in a while, even if they only recognise Boba Fett as a concussed incompetent who fell down a hole in the eighties.

But there are fans, and there is the fandom. A bulbous, hateful, non-productive, disorganised, incoherent, mess of testosterone and bile. A fan will tell you why they don’t like a particular film in a franchise. The fandom will call for the head of the director. In fact, let’s add two more characteristics.

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought.
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.
  3. Assumption of ownership privileges.
  4. The creation of enemies.

JJ Abrams (the JJ is short for Jar-Jar – har har) was the most hated figure in Star Wars production history since, well, George Lucas. And that tells you everything you need to know. It’s not enough that George Lucas created Star Wars. That laser swords and space wizards and Han shooting first were his ideas in the first place. He ruined Star Wars. He raped my childhood. He’s a problem. Take the above in order.

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought.
    1. Midichlorians are stupid.
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.
    1. The prequels aren’t as good as the originals.
  3. Assumption of ownership privileges.
    1. This isn’t my Star Wars.
  4. The creation of enemies.
    1. George Lucas needs to go and Ahmed Best should kill himself.

Enter Disney and JJ Abrams. Let’s play again. Abrams, being no fool saw the value in paying homage to the original just as he’d done with Star Trek. His two Trek films are littered with references to the original series, often so subtle or obscure that most people miss them. The Force Awakens is, as has been noted elsewhere at length, effectively a reboot of A New Hope. Desert orphan runs away from space nazis, loses a father figure and becomes a hero. As a result though there is some vocal criticism of him, most are agreed that The Force Awakens is acceptable. It’s about 85% audience appreciation on Rotten Tomatoes. Abrams didn’t break the first rule of fandom. There’s nothing original about his Star Wars film. Indeed that’s the biggest criticism of it from mainstream viewers, but for the fandom, this is ideal. Unlike the actions of Rian Johnson who basically caused global warming with his follow-up.

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought.
    1. It was too funny for a Star Wars film.
    2. Rey isn’t a Skywalker, Solo, or Kenobi, and so invalid to the Star Wars experience.
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.
    1. I liked Luke better when he was young and hopeful.
    2. Green milk makes a mockery of blue milk.
  3. Assumption of ownership privileges.
    1. He had no right to take such risks with the story.
    2. This still isn’t my Star Wars.
  4. The creation of enemies.
    1. Jar Jar Abrams is ruining Star Wars like he ruined Star Trek.
    2. Kelly Marie Tran is a legitimate target for my ire.
    3. RIAN JOHNSON IS THE MOTHERFUCKING ANTICHRIST.

“Fandom” used to be a word I associated only with tweenage girls who for reasons best known to child psychologists, appeared to be under the impression that Justin Bieber was not only the greatest musician who’d ever lived, but the best person too. There was no question as to his greatness and news outlets who shared stories (with plenty of evidence) of him leaving a monkey with German immigration to be destroyed, urinating from a balcony onto his adoring public, or vomiting on stage because he’d drank too much for a pre-schooler, were swiftly inundated with all caps illiteracy defending the pint sized prick.

It’s evolved since then though. Donald Trump has a fandom. And I’m not even kidding.

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought.
    1. That is fake news.
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.
    1. Make America Great Again.
  3. Assumption of ownership privileges.
    1. They’re taking our jobs and our country away from us.
  4. The creation of enemies.
    1. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
    2. The European Union.
    3. Canada.
    4. The World Trade Organisation.
    5. The United Nations.
    6. “Lock her up.”
    7. “Build that wall.”

Star Trek fans can tell you why the don’t enjoy episodes of Discovery. The fandom shouts that Star Trek is dead.

Star Wars fans can tell you why they don’t rate The Last Jedi. The fandom talks of ruined childhood and chases actors off social media.

Fans of Donald Trump might say why they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. A member of the fandom calls for her incarceration.

To talk of, “a part of the fandom” is to muddy the water unnecessarily. Fandoms are toxic by nature. If the first thing you can describe yourself as on twitter is a fan of a particular show, film, or person, you’re not well placed to speak objectively about them, and the liklihood is that when someone disagrees with your interpretation, you won’t take it well. In fact your feelings re this post probably run something along the lines of,

  1. An avowed opposition to original thought.
    1. That hasn’t been my experience.
  2. An insistence that the product was better when they first experienced it.
    1. Maybe there is a small problem now but it wasn’t always like that.
  3. Assumption of ownership privileges.
    1. Your opinion doesn’t matter because your franchise is worse than my franchise.
  4. The creation of enemies.
    1. I’m never reading this stupid blog again.

I like Star Trek. I like the old Star Trek; I like the new Star Trek. I also like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. I’ve never cared if the neighbours like them, and never gotten angry when I didn’t like them. I’m a fan. Not part of the fandom.

You shouldn’t be either.

Trump is not a threat to the American Dream; he’s the inevitable result of it

Time for some truth, America. President Donald Trump was always in the works. America is a country which more than any other has celebrated and championed ruthless capitalism ahead of the public interest; of course the Oval Office was eventually going to be bought by an amoral billionaire.

President Elect Trump is not the problem with America; he’s the symptom of an insidious parasitic disease which has always been a part of the American experience. This is the richest country in the world that can afford to do literally anything; build a colony on the Moon or turn the Middle East into glass; and yet won’t fund healthcare or education. A country that has used 9/11 as the excuse for every evil it has perpetrated since, and yet refuses to look after those brave first responders who are dying as a result of the smog at the World Trade Center site. America is a country that acts so often in the name of its founding fathers while deliberately and systematically dismantling the systems they created.

A country that for years has looked at tens of millions of its citizens who quite literally cannot read, and rather than attempt to change this fact has cultivated a distrust of those who attend the finest educational centers in the land. “Ivy League” is a greater insult in the US than “illiterate”. A country where televised news is explicitly designed to consider advertising revenue as more important than informing the electorate. Where the sacred duty of acting on behalf of the people in holding politicians to account has been replaced with fawning over celebrity, misreporting pop science, manufacturing epidemics of fear, spending more money on three dimensional diagrams than research, and replacing statesmen-like journalists like Edward Murrow with hyperactive TV presenters like Wolf Blitzer.

This is the country that has decided children being massacred as they sit in school is an acceptable price to pay for the right to carry a firearm.

For the rest of the world looking in, America is the great horror show. For every Barack Obama, there are ten Donald Trumps. George W. Bush’s Presidency, hugely unpopular across Europe, now seems like the good old days of Republicanism. At the turn of the Millennium, Europeans thought there could not possibly be a less competent character for the highest office in the world. Then Americans gave them Sarah Palin. Surely, that was the worst it could get. No. Not in America where gross incompetence is no more a deal breaker than outright racism or brazen lies.

2016 has been an awful year in almost every regard; movies have been appalling, beloved artists have died, and across the civilised world, countries have competed to see who can commit the most self harm in one vote. For months it seemed that the UK would claim this title with Brexit and a resulting GBP value roughly equivalent to a half eaten tub of Pringles, but never to be outdone in size or stupidity, the US has wrestled the title of Stupidest Electorate In The West from their old masters.

Donald Trump has lied perhaps more than any other Presidential candidate of all time. His supporters do not care and nor, despite the indignation of some individual commentators, do the media. FOX News is often correctly lambasted for its openly partisan reporting and its continuing support for Mr Trump was never in question, but organisations such as CNN and MSNBC have much to answer for as well. In an attempt to chase ‘balance’ they have switched fairness for false equivalency. Johnny Sixpack may be excused a, ‘they’re both as bad as each other’ albeit with a weary sigh, but respected newscasters suggesting the same have abandoned reason. Whatever her faults, Secretary Clinton is manifestly more qualified to hold office than the host of The Apprentice. She has been a public servant for decades, she is respected around the world, and she doesn’t lie as often as Mr Trump. There is nothing of real public interest in the Wikileaks emails (all courtesy of a man who is effectively an anarchist, lest we forget), and yet they have dominated electoral converge.

The environment has been a non-issue in this campaign. So have guns, so has healthcare, the shape of the judiciary for the next fifty years, congressional and electoral reform; John Kerry lost an election because absent evidence, the media perpetrated the narrative that he was a coward in Vietnam; Hillary Clinton lost an election because absent evidence, the narrative was that leaked emails suggested corruption on her part.

There is no dressing this situation up. It is not hyperbole to say that Mr Trump is potentially the worst American President in history. An office held by great men; men like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and James Madison, is now to be held by a man who boasts of sexual assault, a man openly supported by white supremacists, a man who demonises people based on nothing more than their place of birth, who has called for political rivals to be incarcerated, who suggests shooting Presidential candidates, who calls the sitting President an ISIS founder and a Kenyan Muslim, who lies and lies and lies and lies – this is to be the Leader of the Free World.

This is to say nothing of Vice President Elect Mike Pence who believes homosexuality is an illness which can be cured, man-made climate change is a myth and there should be no such thing as the separation of church and state.

This could not happen elsewhere. Donald Trump could not become President of France or Chancellor of Germany or Prime Minister of Canada. Only in America could a bullying, misogynistic, racist, failed Emmy winner be rewarded for his petulance with the highest office in the land. Donald Trump is the violent ejaculate of a superpower that treats its own citizens with abusive disdain. Other Western democracies house middle-classes that bemoan the inequality of society and wonder how best to help the weakest in society. America scrapes its poorest off the boot of unconstrained free market economics that work from the basis that if you’re not rich, it’s your own fault and the horrors that follow are your just desserts.

Of course America voted for Donald Trump as President. The shock of Barack Obama’s election wasn’t that he was black; it was that he was socially liberal in a viciously illiberal society. That a shred of basic decency had somehow made it through the faecal gauntlet that is the American electoral system. President Obama was a modern European pragmatist in an Old Testament country.

Donald Trump is larger than life, ridiculous, inexperienced, unfit for command, a bully, a charlatan, a cur, mocked around the world, excessively wealthy despite having done nothing to earn such riches.

You reap what you sow. Donald Trump is America.

10 myths busted about the Ched Evans case

The Secret Barrister

Footballer Ched Evans was today acquitted after a retrial of one count of rape. The jury at Cardiff Crown Court returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty, Mr Evans’ solicitor read out a statement on his client’s behalf to the gawping media on the court steps in the time-honoured fashion and, within seconds, social media duly exploded with more speculation, myths, distortions and unjustified fury than one might suppose 140 characters could contain.

Ched Evans was a star player at Sheffield United.

The facts, as reported, can be briefly summarised: Ched Evans was originally tried with a co-defendant, and fellow footballer, Clayton McDonald, in April 2012. On 29 May 2011, Evans and McDonald had sex with the complainant, X, in a hotel room. McDonald had met X on a night out, taken her back to the hotel room, and had alerted Evans that he had “got a girl”. Evans duly arrived, made his way to the room and, seeing McDonald…

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In the darkness of the storm, we can see the rainbow

Wee Ginger Dug

You might think that with a Brexit vote supported by just 52% of those who voted that the Tories would go slowly and carefully on their plans to take the UK out of Europe. You might think that they’d be concerned to ensure that they gained the support of the whole country. You might think that they’d be careful not to antagonise other EU countries which hold most of the cards in Brexit negotiations and which are concerned about the fate of their citizens who live in the UK. You might think all of these things because you’d be a sane, rational and reasonable person. Which means you’re not a Tory.

The Tories have instead chosen to use the Brexit vote as an excuse to go full on fuck the foreigners. They want companies who employ foreign citizens to list them, so that the companies can be shamed. In Britain…

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An in-depth review of #StarTrekOnline for PS4 (including the darkest Star Trek moment of all time)

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When it first launched on PC six years ago, I played a little Star Trek Online. It was clearly made by people who love the show, but not so clearly made by people that knew what they were doing. In short, it was promising, but very rough around the edges.

This review will go on for a bit, so if you’re one of those 70% of people who never make it to the bottom of internet articles, the skinny is that it’s quite badly made in some places, really good fun in others, and there’s a very good amount of Trekkie stuff to check out for a free game and a 16 gig download.

This year when it was announced that the game would be coming to consoles, I picked up my character and decided to have another play to see what had changed. Immediately I was overwhelmed by the most complex interface and gaming system this side of EVE Online. Why were there at least five separate currencies used in the game? Why did I have to press 2 to fire torpedoes on one ship, CTRL+1 on another, and ALT+7 to do it on a third? Were the numerous graphical glitches a result of me playing on a not particularly impressive laptop, or were they symptomatic of continuing problems on the developer’s side? Spoilers for later: it was the latter.

Entirely flummoxed by a system that threw more data at me than a Brent Spiner fan collective, I started a new character hoping that tutorials would help ease me into the game again. And this is where that story largely becomes indistinguishable from my experience on console.

If you follow 90% of players and start off as a Federation character, you’re met with a surprisingly in-depth and decent character creation screen. Sex, build, and even race are up for grabs; if you don’t like any established aliens from the show, feel free to create your own. Thereafter you’re whisked off to the instantly familiar Starfleet Academy where, as a final year cadet, you’re awaiting your fleet posting. The game introduces you to the basics of the ground-based gameplay, including combat because apparently you can spend four years training as a security officer and never fire a phaser, before you’re taken on your first space tour, as acting first officer of a starship.

What follows is contrived, but since you’ll be commanding your own ship almost from the get go, some explanation as to how a group of snot-nosed cadets end up gallivanting about on the front lines absent direct oversight was required. Better origins are provided in the Romulan and Klingon storylines where you’re already an established officer, and since you’ll be promoted through the ranks quickly enough, you’ll soon forget about your entire bridge crew being the same age as Justin Bieber.

The Final Frontier, again

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The interface is mercifully simpler on console, as indeed, it needed to be. In place of ALT and CTRL you have power wheels mapped to half the controller buttons, R2 for phasers, and R1 for torpedoes. Complicated and numerous buffs that soon mount up can be automated so you’re not trying to remember whether Engineering Team II repairs hull or shield strength in the middle of a firefight, and generally speaking, space combat is a joy.

Starting off in a Miranda-class frigate (that’s the Reliant from Wrath of Kahn, if you weren’t sure), you are weak, slow, but maneuverable enough with your phaser and torpedo systems roughly equivalent to a high powered flashlight and some conkers. Quickly you’ll be given the chance to upgrade and can choose from giant cruisers that are practically invincible but have a larger turning circle than Africa (think Picard’s Enterprise), more tech-minded vessels which strike a middle ground between power and speed (Voyager) and small, extremely quick ships that pack more punch than either (Defiant), but go down quicker than CM Punk in an octagon when it comes to a straight fight.

There’s a real sense of difference between the three, and picking a different class every ten levels will drastically affect your play style. There’s a certain arrogant thrill to be had from watching small fighters buzz around your vessel while your phasers lazily zap them away on autofire, but it’s genuinely fun to twist, dive (and, thanks to some graphical glitches, handbrake turn) your way around the battle field as a small craft, just waiting to finally lock on to someone your own size, or unload a barrage of pain on a capital ship’s rear end.

This is to say nothing of the fact that, though this wasn’t the prettiest game around even in 2010, Star Trek fans have never had such a good opportunity to play with the ships they’ve seen onscreen, and whether your favourite be Excelsior, Ambassador, Constitution, little known designs like Olympic or Saber, guest stars such as Nova or Prometheus, they’re all there to say hello to. Most are customiseable too and it can be great fun sat in orbit of Earth watching the different configurations come and go. The original design derivations which dominated marketing for the PC launch (or, “fucking arcade bastardisations”, if you prefer) are largely awful, but the classics are all there and there are some new gems hidden throughout.

Not all is well on the visual front in space though. The camera has three zoom levels, and each is based upon the assumption that you’re flying something the size of the Burj Khalifa. This is great when you’re in one of the big boys such as a Romulan Scimitar which is 1350m wide, but fly a twenty metre shuttlecraft about the place (yes, you can do that whever you want), and you’ll barely be able to see it. One mission is entirely taken up by a small craft dogfight in the skies above an under siege city which should be great fun, but the fact that even with your nose to the screen, you’ll barely be able to see your craft negates any fun that might have come from it.

Space presentation is split into two types. On the galaxy map you’ll be able to warp between familiar systems like Vulcan and Risa, occasionally running across a trade freighter or multiplayer shoot-em-up, and it typically strikes a decent mix of calm between storms allowing you time to install newly acquired updates & make some bad jokes on chat, and the crushing boredom of watching some pixels move across the screen for an age as you wait for something to happen a la EVE Online. Within systems, you can explore the ship graveyard of Wolf 359, disrupt your sensors in some very pretty nebulae, check out space stations and spend an inordinate amount of time posing your vessel in front of a star to see the different lighting effects on your hull. It’s a real shame that there’s no option to hide the HUD for screenshots because on occasion the results really are very pretty.

One thing that lacks is the sense of scale. Park your starting ship next to a top tier behemoth and you’ll notice the difference, but not quite as much as you should. Space stations that are identified as being over three miles tall never seem quite that big when you’re drifting by in a two-hundred metre garbage scow. Commands can fix these camera issues on PC, but on console (ironically) you’re stuck with how it is.

All I ask is a tall ship… and giants to crew it

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These scaling issues continue to the ground levels where they are hugely exacerbated. Everything in Star Trek Online is too big on the ground. The relatively small bridge sets seen on the show are transformed into cavernous, empty , negative space deadzones, and racing to keep up, the furniture looks like it was built for the BFG. Characters almost never sit properly on their enormous chairs, instead perching on the edges, or just as often sitting on the floor in front of their consoles. Plonk a 5’9” female character in the Captain’s chair and she’ll look like a hobbit extra from Lord of the Rings. This will continue when you notice her sidearm; the sleek bottlenosed phasers of the show that fit as naturally in the hand as a TV remote are gone, replaced by foot-long monstrosities that belong in a geeky sex dungeon. And almost every other player you meet will seem like the descendant of Richard Osman because the default character height seems to be set at six and a half feet.

These are the voyages of the Starship MIKEYONE316

Storytelling in Star Trek Online varies in quality throughout. Some mission ideas are genuinely clever and not only take inspiration from the series and films, but actively expand upon them in new and interesting ways. An ancient race mentioned fleetingly in the series here is set up as a major villain. Characters such as Worf’s son Alexander are given more interesting roles than they ever were on the shows in occasionally touching ways and if you ever wondered what the next Enterprise would look like after Star Trek Nemesis, it’s Star Trek Online that gives you a satisfying answer.

But there’s also some dreadfully written dialogue, shoehorned references to the episodes a particular mission is drawn from as if the developers are scared you might not recognise everything they’ve put in and scream, “See! Remember this from Next Generation season 2? We got that from there! We’re fans!”

Furthermore everything is dominated by the lazy thinking that all players want to do in an MMO is fight. So the Klingons who, last we saw, were at peace with the Federation, are now at war with it. The Romulans who have been decimated by the loss of their home planet, are at war with themselves. Everyone in the Delta Quadrant is ready to shoot at Starfleet because of the seven years of hell they endured at the hands of Janeway (understandable that one, really), a splinter group of Dominion and Cardassian forces are trying to re-enact their lost war for no greater narrative reason than, “wasn’t Deep Space Nine awesome?”, and the Breen are doing whatever it is that Breen do, and trying to invade Federation space. This is to say nothing of the Tholians, Gorn, Remans, Orions, Mirror Universe, and shady illuminati types in the shadows, all of whom shoot on sight.

Star Trek Online isn’t the first or last Trek game to focus on combat more than diplomacy and with good reason, but other games have shown us that story isn’t something to be feared, and when you have a universe as vast and well-developed as that which exists for Star Trek, it’s criminal not to use that to further some gameplay which at least purports to be more than horde mode on Gears of War.

This is where Star Trek Online is at its worst. In one typical mission, you respond to a distress call from a freighter. After a brief chat with the captain where he tells you exactly what season of Voyager his people popped up in because everyone in the galaxy is as big a fan of the show as you are, it’s revealed to be an ambush and you are attacked by a ship. You destroy it and then are attacked by two more. You destroy them and… can you guess where this is going? At its laziest, the game simply throws waves of faceless drones at you, often acknowledging as much in the mission objectives list. There’s no narrative reason given for why they don’t all attack at once and blow you up, you’re encouraged to ignore the high improbability of you taking out ten larger warships than your own in one sitting, and there’s no real impetus to worry either, because if you die you’ll simply respawn as you would in an FPS and there’s nothing lost.Story and character; always more important to Star Trek than action, is forgotten.

Despite a few pretences, there are no moral choices in Star Trek Online akin to those you’ll find in Telltale or BioWare games. In the Romulan storyline, following the destruction of your homeworld some years earlier, you’re a refugee living on a colony when unnamed nasties show up and you’re left to flee with a rag-tag group of survivors. Seemingly pulled between two factions; the remnants of the military-intelligence complex and a group of rebels seeking a new home, there is no choice as to which you can join nor, despite a brief tease, any question that the rebels are good, and the Empire is bad. That sounds familiar.

With this newer expansion there was a real opportunity to break the mould of Star Trek Online and allow players to experience both a story and gameplay style that was far removed from the constraints of an upstanding Federation officer. Visually it starts off that way as your crew have no uniforms and look like a grotty group of pirates. Maybe you want to play the heroic rebel, but maybe you think that sacrificing a few forgotten colonies to restore the former glory of your people is worth it. Doesn’t matter. The game will force you into one path and away from the other.

To seek out new life and new civilisations, and blow the shit out of them

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That being said, not everything you’ll do as a Starfleet officer is in keeping with characters like Picard and Data. In one mission, and not for the last time, your team is trapped in a gladitorial pit and forced to fight to survive. This has happened in almost every incarnation of the TV series so nothing seems unusual. Until you break out of the pit and proceed to slaughter absolutely everyone in the club next door. Not just the security staff, or the alien nasty who trapped you. Everyone. Bartenders, dancers, customers. People firing at you in self defence and people cowering behind tables. You kill them all. As you do, you pass by another gladiatorial slave, who bangs on the forcefield of her cell begging release. There is no option to free her amid your slaughter, and so she watches as you casually slay everythng that approaches like Stallone in the 80s, then leave her alone to watch fifty-plus corpses rot in front of her as she starves to death, alone in a cell. Starfleet protects the weak.

It’s an aberration; no other mission comes close to this level of casual murder, but it is jarring and it’s fascinating to wonder if there was any competent oversight during development. Never would such a scene have been allowed onscreen absent fallout, and though it’s the worst, it’s far from the only time Star Trek Online has spread the optimistic hope and joy of Gene Roddenberry’s future at the tip of a casually waved Gatling gun. Almost every hurdle you encounter throughout will involve you blowing up said hurdle, shooting the other runners, and nonchalantly jogging to the end of the race, only to do it all again tomorrow.

Fire at Will. Yes, that Will

Things aren’t helped by the enormous amount of bugs throughout. More than once you’ll see a character’s eyes bulge out of their forehead if the camera gets too close, making Vulcan mind melds seem much more dangerous than they ever did in the show. Missions objectives often fail to be acknowledged leaving you with no option but to start again, it’s easy to become stuck in environments, and to top it all off, combat on the ground just isn’t much fun. Holding L2 will lock you on to one enemy and, theoretically at least, swiping left or right on the right analog stick will change targets. This almost never works however, and the system is much more likely to target an enemy so far away they’re out of range rather than the Klingon charging you down with a giant sword. Worse yet, it makes no distinction between friend or foe, meaning that when an enemy dies and it automatically switches to the next target, you’re just as likely to throw a grenade into the back of your first’s officer’s skull as you are the group of enemies twenty metres away.

You can attempt to sidestep this by forgetting about L2 and firing away in freemode, but the camera never helps you with this (you also lose an attack bonus) and so you’ll eventually blast through ground segments as quickly as possible, hoping desperately that sometime soon you’ll be asked to beam up to your ship and destroy something larger.

The Vacuum of Space

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At launch, there are a host of features, ships, and episodic content missing from the console version. Minigames that function like Extra Ops in Metal Gear Solid or contracts in Assassins Creed Brotherhood are entirely absent. An entire temporal war story thread (and The Original Series introductory levels that go with it) is notable by its absence. The ability to explore your ship and see engineering, sickbay et al is non-functional for most players, one particularly important story mission is so bugged it causes the entire game to crash for most players, and there are a number of mission giving NPCs from PC that on console simply standing around looking like badly drawn bouncers at a particularly jerky nightclub.

Doubtless much will be added in the coming months and there’s more than enough content to get you started, but PC players will find that this is a smaller, simpler game than the one they’re used to.

Of particular note is the lack of multiplayer at the time of writing. It’s almost an entirely solitary experience, bar passing other players in silence. That should change though as more players progress and unlock the higher level multiplayer scenarios and playing fields. Thus far my few fleet actions have been good fun; one particular highlight coming as a Sovereign-class cruiser upped their aggression levels and soaked up damage from a Borg cube (oh, yeah. They’re at war with the Federation too. Also Species 8742), only for me to fly out from beneath their hull in my Defiant and unleash a devastating volley of phaser cannon and quantum torpedoes the moment the enemy’s shields dropped.

I then got caught in the resulting explosion and died, but we don’t talk about that.

Once you have their money, you never give it back

Much has been made elsewhere of the not-so-microtransactions in the game. Buying a top tier starship will set you back twenty bucks and a uniform set such as that seen in Enterprise isn’t any cheaper which seems extortionate, but by the time you get to the level where you can fly such a thing, you’ll already have had tens of hours of game play for free and dropping the developer a monetary thank you doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. It is theoretically possible to gain currency for this without spending a penny, but to get enough will take serious grinding. You might be able to gain 30-40 free credits a day absent forking out then try to play the market, but that top level ship will set you back 3000. I was able to increase my cash by about 5% over the course of a day, so starting from scratch as opposed to paying £7.99 for 1000 really is taking the long way round.

Star Trek Online is a deeply, deeply flawed game. The joy of space flight and combat is matched by the boredom and monotony of ground play, and even the former can get trying in the game’s less inspired levels. It’s kept me coming back though, and there is a certain addictive quality. Is it because I’m starved for Trek and also decent space-based fun on console? Almost certainly, but it’s not just that. There are moments in both gameplay and script that are genuinely funny, some are touching, and others are impressive. It can’t be compared to Mass Effect or HALO, and probably not Infinite Warfare when that launches soon, but compared to other MMOs it keeps pace, if not exactly leading the pack.

And almost none of its competitors are on console. This is probably the best free game on PlayStation and while that is admittedly faint praise, it’s not nothing. You don’t need a PS+ membership to play it either, which is hearteningly surprising.

Trek fans should have no questions about whether or not to check it out. They’ll almost certainly have at least a few hours fun with it, and where else nowadays does that come without a price tag on console? Third person action fans will find nothing to love in the ground sections, but if you’re convinced that Star Trek Invasion was the last game of note based on this IP on console, the space combat should do you just fine.