• Alan Martin

A New Year’s Resolution of mine is to write more. To help this along, I’m going to write some stuff about any game that grabs me enough to finish in 2013 - the only rule is that I won’t bother if I’m reviewing it elsewhere, because that would be wholly pointless.

The Walking Dead is the closest I’ve come to finding a Choose Your Own Adventure Story in two decades of videogaming. Unlike those kids’ books though, The Walking Dead is brilliantly written and actually pretty emotionally draining over the 5 episodes… two charges very rarely made of games.

What it adds to the mix on top of this is a real time sense of urgency. With a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you could read the set up as many times as you liked, and then slowly turn to the page you want, read the first line, go back and decide again if you felt like bending the rules a bit. In The Walking Dead, the action unfolds in front of you, and you have very limited time to make a choice - and usually the choice is between two pretty unsavoury options. The consequences have a lasting impact on the way your band of zombie survivors treats you in future.

Case in point: we come across a group of strangers out in the woods - everyone distrusts people in this game, given the undead walk the earth, and bandits are killing and stealing the scant resources. Anyway, one stranger’s foot is caught in a bear trap. After deciding these folks are probably trustworthy, and vowing to help the guy out of his beartrap shaped dilemma, one of our party spots zombies on the horizon. The game switches to the first person and I struggle with the bear trap. All I have is an axe at this point, so I try forcing it open. It resists. I try cutting the chain the to the trap, so at least the guy can be carried away. Still no luck. The zombies are getting closer now and time is running out, when suddenly I spot a third way… but I really don’t like it, so I try forcing the trap again. As the zombies get closer I realised there really is no alternative - amidst screams of protests from the unwilling patient I take the axe to his leg for some good old fashioned ‘no anaesthetic’ surgery. It’s pretty gruesome, and it doesn’t come off in one cut. I manage 3 swings of the axe before the zombies get too close and we have to leave - his leg is still attached… just. If I’d had the stomach to axe his leg sooner, he’d have escaped, as it was he was left to the zombies, all the while in great pain and bleeding profusely from the leg. I’d failed, and I felt awful. Genuinely awful.

I must have killed tens of thousands of virtual people in sprite form over the years - this one I’d known no longer than my other virtual victims, but it created real guilt. And that’s why The Walking Dead is special. It doesn’t really matter that your choices don’t make much difference to the overall story arc (the game is remarkably resilient at ensuring your actions don’t count for a great deal in the greater scheme of things. If a character is going to die, you might make them last a bit longer, but they’ll eventually snuff it - take that chaos theory!), it’s about telling a story and making you care about the diverse range of characters.

The zombies themselves are window dressing, really - necessary scenery for the bunch of diverse survivors to get thrown together, and get increasingly fraught with each other as time goes on. You can’t please everyone, and you may find characters treat yours completely differently in your version of the story - in my case, the most cathartic moment of the game was telling a guy named Kenny, who I had spent the entire game mollycoddling through tantrum after tantrum, to “go fuck himself” when he expressed doubt at helping me in the final chapter. Suffice it to say, he didn’t react well to this, and I knew full well I was jeapordising my chance of a less unhappy ending in this distinctly miserable story: I didn’t care. Or rather, I cared too much to let the game end without giving Kenny an earful of abuse.

Considering how little I care for most game stories, that’s a major feat. And as for the story itself… well, it’s not that it's particularly novel, but it is wonderfully told, with plenty of surprises and cliffhangers, and it pulls at your heart strings in just the right way to make you care about the characters: in particular the little girl you’re charged with protecting for the game. I’m a sucker for a story with a lead achieving personal redemption, and my version of that character was just that: ostensibly a good person who had made some bad choices in life, but managed to redeem himself by the time the credits closed on the fifth and final episode - but not without a few regrets along the way, as the body count stacked up.

This is a game for non-gamers, because there’s actually not much game here, and the bits that are kind of get in the way of the story, and yet it’s still one of the best I’ve played in years. Buy it, and more of this kind of thing!

  • Alan Martin

A New Year’s Resolution of mine is to write more. To help this along, I’m going to write some stuff about any game that grabs me enough to finish in 2013 - the only rule is that I won’t bother if I’m reviewing it elsewhere, because that would be wholly pointless.

So, my first of these: Resident Evil 4. Actually, that’s a slight lie - I completed it in December 2012, but it gives me a running start in any case. There are some games that everyone raves about and looks pityingly at you if you admit to never having tried them. While I still have that dishonour for any Zelda game, I can now get rid of the Resident Evil 4 zombie-monkey from my back.

And I must say, as is often the way when you pick up a game which is actually almost pushing retro now, first impressions were painful. Resident Evil 4 is 7 years old, and at times it really shows. Leon - the rugged protagonist with the suspiciously unmoving side parting and the charm-ectomy - moves with all the stilted grace of a zebra trying to moonwalk, and aiming a gun in front of you sees the targeting reticule darting round the screen, meaning you constantly need to twitch the analogue stick to shoot on target. And there’s more: the awkward menus, the weird handling, the fact that unlike every other modern game that puts a gun in your hand, it inexplicably puts the trigger on the face buttons rather than, y'know, the handily placed trigger at the top of the pad - they all add up to an inaccessible experience in 2013. And forget about multi-tasking: Leon will resolutely only do one thing at a time - moving and shooting simultaneously are completely beyond him (which is fair enough, I suppose - put an M16 in my hand, and I doubt I’d be doing pirouettes while shooting cans off a wall 100 feet away).

Which may sound like a meandering way of saying ‘this game is of its time, and shouldn’t be played fresh in 2013’, but I persevered based on the glowing praise of friends, and discovered a lot to like. Surprisingly, it’s the awkward feel which often leads to truly great moments: if the aiming reticule worked like every other game, taking out a bunch of slow-moving, shambling zombies would be child’s play. As it is, the inability to move and shoot causes you to waste a whole bunch of bullets over the 14 or so hours the game takes to complete, and they’re often hard to come by, forcing you to get up close and personal with a knife (which, true to form, Leon also handles with all the precision of a surgeon having checked out on his last day taking voluntary redundancy because of a crippling squeamishness to blood). It’s a tense games at times, as you get increasingly frantic with your shots as a group of zombies moves in, and all the more satisfying when your shots come off - through luck or skill. Memorable moments, aplenty.

The plot is so ludicrous it’s barely worth even mentioning - not so much a B movie as a D or E film. Something about rescuing the president’s daughter who has been captured by things which… well, they’re not quite zombies, but they may as well be, except sometimes their heads pop open with weird tentacle things. It’s full of cameo appearances from equally ridiculous characters, who I assume I would know all about if I’d played the previous games. They all talk in the kind of Hollywood film chatter you’d expect from someone who had only read about films in a magazine a couple of years ago and was trying to imitate the style from memory. After a heavy bout of amnesia.

But I could list all the games I’ve played with good plot and writing without even reaching double figures, so that's forgivable. Overall, it should be obvious that I quite enjoyed it, and it’s the first game to grab me until I finished it in quite a while. But I will end on this note:

When you spend half the game battling to make Leon move with any urgency at all, how on Earth does he pull this off in a cut-scene late on?

Bastard kept those moves quiet.

This article originally appeared on, but it seems to have been lost during a redesign - which is weird, as my other work for the site still lives on. In any case, it's saved here for posterity.

In a week where a 17-year old is arrested for tweeting first and thinking later, it’s safe to say we know human beings have limitations: we’re frequently grumpy, insulting and spontaneously angry. So why do we expect public figures and companies to effortlessly rise above their instincts?

I remember hearing Gyles Brandreth talking about his time as an MP, and commenting about how deeply members of parliament loathe the average voter, especially during election canvassing time. He recalled making nice with people he’d normally go out of his way to avoid, and nod along passively as they discussed matters they barely understood with infuriating passion. Of course, given Mr Brandreth lost his seat in 1997, he only had to endure two campaigns (and only one successful), and was telling the story in his usual flamboyantly embellished style.

Still, it would be amazing if this wasn’t true of all politicians on some level: they are only human, and as humans we don’t half spend a lot of time silently bemoaning half-wits in our heads. But politicians aren’t the only ones that common wisdom dictates must be super-humanly pleasant. Take a look at any company’s Facebook page, and you’ll invariably see a bunch of entitled, rude and pushy consumers threatening to withdraw their custom over the mildest offence. I’ve seen 'fans' moaning about late deliveries, no money off coupons and even not winning a competition as if they’d just had a company badmouth their mothers.

This is universally met with friendly platitudes from the company, asking for more details to help (or at least soothing words to placate in the case of competitions), showing all the patience of Job. This is enabling behaviour, creating more whiners hoping for freebies, or just some attention: a kind of social media Münchhausen syndrome. Counter intuitively, the ‘nicer’ the brand, the more rude their customers seem to be. The squeaky wheel gets the grease for sure, but there's so much that it's become a slipping hazard.

And here’s the thing: although in the early days of social media marketing, expert, personalised and public customer service was seen as something unique and amazing (Zappos, a shoe company since bought by Amazon were early trailblazers in this field), it’s now everywhere and expected. Which brings me onto a surprising home truth: people actually quite like it when the mask slips and public figures act like a normal person, with anger, wrath and bile.

Just ask John Prescott. During Labour’s 2001 election campaign, Prescott - a former amateur boxer - threw a left hook at a protester who had egged him at point blank range. The media howled and the Tories demanded Blair sack his Deputy. A poll later discovered that the punch actually did him no harm, with the majority of the public approving of his actions - or rather his sharp reactions.

Given Prescott is not a southpaw, he’d have very possibly broken his victim’s jaw if he’d thrown a right hook. Lucky he struck with the left: a hospitalised voter may not have played out as well in his Hull East constituency, where he still polled 64.6% of the vote 22 days later. At the very least he probably wouldn’t have called his 2008 autobiography “Pulling No Punches”. Prescott continued as Deputy Prime Minister, and entered the House of Lords nine years later.

Another story springs to mind, attributed to then AFC Wimbledon chairman Sam Hammam. The story goes that Hammam was confronted by an angry fan shouting about the awful performance he’d just watched, and screaming that it wasn’t worth the cost of him coming every week. Hammam allegedly responded by tearing up the fan's season ticket, and writing him a cheque on the spot. I can find no reference to this online, but while we can question its veracity, it clearly has a natural appeal as a story. The moral? It’s better to ditch whiners, complainers and moaners than to try and fake your way to keeping them. And these people are often bluffing anyway: no doubt the fan came back and bought a new season ticket, tail firmly between legs. Do you believe an irate social media user when he vows, all in caps, never to buy a product ever again? Me neither.

While writing this article, I also discovered Dick’s Last Resort - a chain of American restaurants that intentionally dish out rude and abusive service from their staff. It wouldn’t have become a chain if on some weird level, people didn’t like having their napkins thrown at them by someone trained to show guests fierce disdain. Doubly so when it's directed at their fellow diners.

So far, no big companies have told any of their whining customers where to stick it (hint: not a Facebook comments box) as far as I can tell, but surely it’s only a matter of time. We saw a step in this direction a couple of weeks ago when @o2 responded to a tweet telling them to “suck dick in hell” with “maybe later, got tweets to send right now”, which playfully rose above it, and predictably generated much kudos across the internet. We do occasionally see public figures give as good as they get to their trolls online, but it’s harder to do that as a company’s social media guru without autonomy and the knowledge that you’d still have a job without the niceties.

We will see a change in attitudes to online customer service at some point, but just as the current ‘customer is infallible’ approach was pioneered by small start-ups, it won’t be a big company that takes a chance and lets fly. No doubt it’ll be a spindly backbencher of a brand, rather than a heavy-weight peer, who throws the first left hook online. How the world reacts will define whether it becomes a single assault or a Facebook wide brouhaha.