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DmC: Devil May Cry – A Videogame Review

Okay, hands up who still cares about DmC? It was first released over three years ago, which was in itself about three years after its initial announcement, and feels like it’s been around forever. It’s certainly been on my hard drive forever; it was free on Games for Gold a while back and has since been hanging out in my pins with Dishonored and Hitman and the like. This week, however, I finally got round to playing it, and having not read any of the wanky think pieces about it because I honestly couldn’t have cared less I’m now going to write my own wanky think piece. Such is life. Prepare for some inevitable wank about the other two at some point, since they seem like they’ll be very wank-heavy, but now I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh yeah, an irrelevant video game.

underwater

Upside-down Rapture is not a sensible place for firearms, young man, now put it away.

First, a bit on the actual ‘game’. Gameplay wise it’s not as deep as previous entries but the combat is still pretty fantastic, which is always a good start. There are enough weapons to have variety without too many to bog you down, it’s not infeasible to use every weapon in the game in the same air combo, and the enemy variety means you have to switch up your tactics fairly often to tackle different situations. Grappling around is fun, the camera doesn’t seem actively worse than any other game in this genre, and the general visual style of the game is amazing. It often resembles a high contrast Escher painting, with buildings twisted and contorted around, and the series of levels that are set upside down are particularly great.

It does sort of run out of ideas towards the end of the game, unfortunately. There’s a level which boils the in-betweeny platforming bits down to literally a straight line, and the last few missions take place in a massive office building, which is visually boring and padded to all baloney. The semi-final boss is a complete rehash of a previous one but with a worse framerate and a character design made up of Play-Doh and Stickle Bricks, and none of the other bosses are all that fun to fight either. There’s nothing to rival fighting a God in space with a fire dragon, that’s for sure.

Basically, while there are issues, it looks lovely and plays extremely well. So now that I’ve qualified it as A Good Game, let’s talk about fanboys.

devil trigger

Note: dumbing down of gameplay is not automatically a bad thing. If your game is impossible to play, maybe it’s not as good as you think it is.

Fanboyism is one of the dumber things to happen in the last twenty years or so, as the internet’s anonymity and ease of use makes it super easy to cultishly defend or attack anything and everything. You see it with Star Wars, you see it with My Little Pony (bizarrely), you see it with fucking real life actual politics for fucks sake as a racist cinnamon bun slow dances his way into the Oval Office, and you saw it with DmC. New Dante was unveiled as a gaunt, deathly pale, black haired Hot Topic frequenter, and fanboys lost their shit.

However, while certain screaming morons got worked up over his fucking hair colour, the issue among most sane people was that Dante seemed like every background extra from Twilight rolled into one. This was a dumb decision, not because it was radically different from the original Dante, but because the change was stupid; Original Dante had evolved into a wisecracking joke character, which was a perfect fit for an insane action game about demons and air combos. You don’t put Hamlet in a John Woo film, and so after some sensible changes the original Starving Mournful Emo flavour was gone for a more suitable Handsome Punk Rock Douchebag one. If anyone is still complaining about his appearance they can be officially ignored, because it now looks fine. Good, even.

dante comparison

Still a twat, but a better kind of twat.

This change didn’t happen cleanly, however, and there are obvious remnants of his old woe-is-me mopey nu-metal persona littered throughout the game. Most of this is in the concept art, as is to be expected, although the flashbacks can get a bit grim; there’s one where he’s in a public bathroom clawing his own chest out while screaming, with ‘anarchy makes sense’ and ‘WAR’ graffiti reflected in the mirror. There’s also hints of a drinking problem, schizophrenia, and a trailer-trash mentality within the opening montage, along with jarring mentions of sexual deviancy that seem to come out of nowhere. This tortured soul shtick doesn’t mesh with the newly confident and brash Dante, and the whole game suffers from a similarly bipolar tone. Even the name didn’t make it out alive.

Let’s start at the beginning – the main bad guy (a dude in a suit in a giant tower) blackmails the President with something irrelevant and smells (?) Dante from across the city. This sets out the stall immediately for buckets of stodgy, lazy writing that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is. Blackmailing a President is Captain Planet levels of hokey villainy, and he randomly senses Dante for seemingly no reason other than there’s now a digital camera in the vicinity that he can spew exposition into.

Anyway, Dante is out partying, and he’s troubled by visions of Demons in everyday life, leading normal humans to think he’s a bit deranged. He goes back to his trailer with some strippers and shags them because he’s a rebellious delinquent, dammit. A random girl conveniently appears to tell him a Hunter wants to kill him just as the Hunter shows up and attempts to kill him by dragging him into an alternate reality that for some reason also wants to kill him. We learn he is not deranged at all, removing any subtlety from that idea completely. His trailer is also alone and on the end of a pier, because why not.

fairground pier1

A terrifying neon-nightmare LSD demon pier, but a pier nonetheless.

Lack of subtlety is a recurring theme in this game, it seems. There’s an alarmingly derivative They Live scenario going on where some humans are secretly demons and if you can see in Demon Vision or whatever it is, billboards and posters change to show their real subliminal meaning. Shame, then, that They Live wasn’t very smart about it to begin with, and ripping it off wholeheartedly just makes it even less interesting. Adverts for an energy drink with a buff man change to show a fat slob with OBESITY and STUPIDITY plastered everywhere, and the drink itself is actually demon’s piss (or vomit, but it barely matters). The news channel is a secret prison for traitors with OBEY YOUR MASTERS showing on every TV screen. The workers in the financial building are “barely human anymore”, having been “corrupted beyond recognition”. It’s all so obvious and blunt.

The problem is the uber serious tone, which makes the surface-level satire seem like it was written by the Goth Kids from South Park. If it was a bit more devil-may-care (heh) about everything, some of the They Live shit wouldn’t be as cringingly lame as it is. Dante does have some shit puns, true, but they’re delivered with venom instead of the silly camp that they should be. Remember that bit in DMC4 where Dante puts on an incredibly sexual flamenco routine to celebrate shooting a floating dog head? The equivalent of that in this game would be when Dante trades “fuck you”s with a screeching larvae who then vomits all over the stage. It’s just not as fun.

stupid satire

Awesome level, stupid satire.

It’s also strangely muddled, with a hundred potentially interesting elements that all get wasted by minimal attention. One of the most obvious examples is the presence of Demon CCTV cameras that are supposed to be watching and tracking Dante through the city. Unfortunately, there are several major issues with this concept – firstly, the Big Bad wants to kill Dante and has sent out Hunters in order to find him. Mate, you have cameras. You don’t need to ‘find’ him when you have him on a video feed that he doesn’t know about. Secondly, they only appear in one level and you remove three in the entire game. Thirdly, Dante is running away from things for the duration of about one level, and is actively seeking out and goading the Demons in the other nineteen. These three things combined make the camera idea pointless in concept, execution, and tone. Why is it in the game.

Another abandoned idea is the city that wants to kill him, but only ever does so in linear ‘run through this set piece’ sections while the walls sort of cave in but not really (this also follows the confused camera logic of ‘find Dante’ while he’s in a city that knows where he is). There’s a whole underground rebellion thing which I’m fairly sure is just made up of three people, including Dante, that gets taken down halfway through the plot. The Raptor News network, so called because Fox is an animal and that’s about it, only exists for about three missions and an intro cinematic. The inevitable final boss happens simply because it has to and is tacked onto the end of an otherwise finished plot. Dante’s hair slowly turns white for absolutely no reason other than because it was white in the other games, which begs the question why it was ever black in the first place. An old wizard appears midway through a level, fixes some platforms with his magic green eye, and blurts out some critical exposition before buggering off into a portal. The female companion has psychic powers because she has to for the plot. Every boss fight is crap.

pandering2

How to exploit fanboys? Annoy them then pander with DLC. Quids in.

It very much feels like what it was – a project that was one thing to begin with (a normal Devil May Cry), then something vastly different (a modern, technology based, dark-and-edgy masterpiece of social commentary), then it kept juddering back and forth between the two until sort of settling vaguely in the bland middle ground. It’s still got all the gothic statues and weaponry and mannequin-like enemies of the old games, but there’s also a level where you fight a giant Bill O’Reilly head made of pixels. It’s got Vergil in a trenchcoat and katana, but now he’s also a hacker and wears a fedora.

If they’d gone all in on either style it would have felt a lot cleaner and more focussed. Instead, the plot is confused, messy, and underdeveloped, while the dialogue is either bland, characterless exposition or unfunny crude humour, and often slaloms violently between the two, leaving the tone as confused as a Jewish pig. The whole thing feels like something your edgy thirteen year old cousin would write while listening to early My Chemical Romance albums. The presence of Combichrist, a band so edgy your ears might start self-harming, doesn’t help.

city2

Please don’t self-harm with a seven foot scythe. Do it with crayons.

It all reeks of edge lord ego with any semblance of self-awareness drained away, which makes a whole lot of sense when you realise it was the first game written and directed solely by Mr Tameem Antoniades, a man who once said “if I do my job properly, [it will] break the myth that all videogame stories are trite and will never stand up to the best that theatre and film have to offer”. Cheers Tameem. You didn’t. It doesn’t. It’s shit.

The enduring image for me in DmC is when, during the groan-inducing masturbatory studio tour in the credits, one of the devs slowly rides off on a skateboard while flipping the bird at the camera. The creators thought they were doing something so smart and cool, so progressive and punk rock, so deep and clever. All they did, though, was make an action game.

Better luck next time.

angels

Maybe take out the finger-handgun-penis routine as well, that won’t have helped.

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The Seven Deadly Sins – An Anime Review

First of all, I feel I should point out that I’m a bit of a dick. I can be nit-picky, I can be sweary, or I can just start ragging on something for no apparent reason. I say this because I feel that the first season of The Seven Deadly Sins is something that probably doesn’t deserve an absolute hammering but is most likely going to get one anyway. I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a pig that is also a hill.

a pig that is also a hill

Pictured: a pig that is also a hill. With a pub on it.

So what is The Seven Deadly Sins? Well, going in I assumed it would be a charming, swashbuckling remix of things like Dragon Quest, Zelda, and One Piece; a bit of adventuring here, a bit of wholesome pirating there, all silly fun with no major repercussions. This impression was only strengthened by a main character that looks identical to every non-tunic’d Link you will ever see, and the squawky, bouncy, malleable, nails-on-a-chalkboard-annoying bloody pig bloody sidekick that looks like those ones at the start of Wind Waker you can chuck around at the kids with the massive bogeys (you know the ones). Turns out this isn’t the case, and instead it’s Bleach in the Middle Ages as told by Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.

The set-up is that a group of Holy Knights called The Seven Deadly Sins are rumoured to have killed their leader in an attempted coup before disappearing into hiding. Ten years later, a random girl with preposterously massive breasts falls over in a tavern and sets in motion a chain of events that sees the Sins re-unite and attempt to clear their name, all whilst uncovering the standard sinister plot within the upper hierarchy that aims to do something that isn’t really ever clear at any point in all honesty.

king ban

Before we start, I should stress that there are a lot of cool looking things in this show. A child impaling a backup dancer is one of them, apparently.

Unfortunately, there are many things that are wrong with The Seven Deadly Sins. It has tonal issues, pacing issues, plotting issues, dialogue issues, visual design issues… it’s one of those irritating Code Geass situations where a fairly insignificant part of pretty much everything is consistently and repeatedly a bit off, meaning nothing ever quite feels ‘right’ despite it seeming really pretty good on the surface. It’s a shame, because once the immersion is broken, every single problem stands out like a house fire.

Firstly, and most obviously, there seems to be no cohesive vision for the character designs: Blondie looks like a homeless Hobbit  version of Edward Elric; Crying Girl is dressed as a sexy fondant cupcake with a stocking missing; Giant Pigtail Lady comes in a bright orange mech pilot bodysuit with the legs cut off to show her arse a bit more round the edges; Abs Man is Grimmjow moonlighting as a Michael Jackson striptease artist; Whiny Floating Child is South Park by way of Naruto; Tumblr Bait Skinny Boy is just Uryu Ishida with pink hair, even going so far as to copy his personality and special weapon of an energy bow that shoots light; and all the knights are from your generic swords and sorcery armoured goon show, but with more boob windows, abs, and thigh gaps. By the time the Boar Sin of Gluttony arrives as a Victoria’s Secret model in a G-string and a dinner jacket they’ve just completely given up. If it wasn’t for the thigh high boots she would pretty much just be wearing censor bars.

Dawn_Roar_preparing_to_fight_the_Sins

Alright, so we’ve got a female Templar with a bent sword and too much thigh, a bored Robin Hood, a tweenage Samurai, mecha-Baloo with a giant pizza cutter, and heavy metal Casey Jones with a red satin thong stretched over his shoulder, enormous pink washing-up gloves, and a… weapon, of some sort. Consistency?

It’s a very vibrant and colourful show, which combined with the ‘distinctive’ character designs means everything looks strangely fake and plastic. It’s all a bit too well produced, a bit too polished. Whenever I see any of these people interacting all I can see are vinyl collectable figurines bumping into each other on a shiny tablecloth. Call me cynical (please), but I can only assume that the original character designs were all done independently at different times for marketing purposes, before being quickly squeezed into a plot to form this semi-competent flip-flop of comedy and drama that I like to describe delicately, and with class, as blithering nonsense.

This brings me to the writing. It’s lazy. As lazy as a very lazy simile, which is very lazy indeed, let me tell you. The only excuse I can think of is that it’s probably stuffing too much manga into not enough show until the pacing snaps and it all goes a bit wacky at the angles. An actual plot only drunkenly lumbers into view in about episode sixteen of twenty four, with a helpful bit of exposition that turns one of the various Slightly Evil Dudes into the Main Evil Dude, finally giving us an actual villain with an actual plan. It all feels like a first draft by someone who was making it up as they went along, perhaps translated from a different dialect on a different planet through a sophisticated combination of hand signals and panicked shouts.

The major plot beats just sort of happen out of nowhere with very little foreshadowing, such as the time fucking King Arthur of Camelot appears without any of the constituent parts of that title being said at any point prior to his introduction. It would be like if Bleach brought out Nikola Tesla in the middle of an episode to talk about how he created a laser space shuttle that can turn the moon upside down. He’d also be crying, because that happens a lot as well.

Elizabeth_falling_while_serving

Like, a lot.  A really, very, very big lot.

More wonky storytelling occurs when, towards the end of the season, several incredibly major action sequences are hijacked by the fifteen minute exposition fairies who throw flashbacks at you until you care slightly more about why the fight’s supposed to be happening. This is obviously much, much improved over the tried and true method of, say, sprinkling small bits of exposition throughout the series to keep intrigue high and boredom low, instead of fucking off to a beer and fighting festival for like six episodes where you just spend time slamming your cocks around to see who can make the biggest crater in that cliff over there.

Even the dialogue doesn’t escape unharmed; it’s a constant deluge of slightly bizarre sentences that doesn’t really mesh or develop character as such, rather just shout what’s happening at a breakneck pace in order to keep everyone roughly abreast of the plot that nobody actually knows. Any world building or backstory is lumped in with the throwaway intro narration that’s really hard to follow since it keeps jumping around in time like Doc Brown on a particularly rough weekend.

The practical outcome of all of this is that I have no idea what’s going on, who’s involved at what level of government, what the governing system actually is, what the time scale is, why some Holy Knights are evil for no apparent reason, or where the hell the Fairies and Giants come into it (fun fact, there is exactly one Giant in the entire series, making me question if it wasn’t just a weird perspective trick the whole time). Compare this to something like Fullmetal Alchemist, where I know exactly how the country works and so can follow the schemes of the villains in their plans to royally fuck it all up. Here, all I know is that sometimes people are evil and sometimes people are dressed as bugs.

Weird_Fangs_Anime

Clockwise from top left: King Boo bolted to a Texas Longhorn; Ariados; a boss character from Bayonetta; and a bad day with a ball of yarn.

OK, so maybe the structure isn’t very well thought out, but the action itself is good, right? Well… shit, not really.

I’ll give some examples.

There’s a sequence where the main character traps a villain, who’s secret power is turning invisible, in a basement to make the latter stop pursuing the heroic female companion. This is so they can have a nice dust up without our hero having to look over his shoulder for her the entire time, since she’s such a strong character who definitely isn’t a pathetic useless crying bleating wailing waif the whole time. Literally four seconds after this they bust out the side of the building into the street in broad daylight and this big dumb idiot with her stonking honkers comes running out with squawky pork in tow to have a conversation. This pig sidekick has done nothing but squeal and make atrociously ham-fisted (smirk) pork puns because pigs are har har funny bacon. Neither combatant is restrained or cornered, so the villain could just pick her up and leg it, but instead he turns invisible and gets on a horse, which isn’t invisible, and runs away on that, riding off into the distance and consequently straight out of the plot.

There’s also that time our heroes have to fight their way through a bunch of eminently beatable cannon fodder, but instead of smacking them around they pull an ex-machina out of their collective arse and go into sneaky stealth mode around some chest high walls to avoid them all. Something in the near distance explodes, throwing rubble a few hundred feet up into the air directly in their line of sight. Someone asks “what was that”, and receives the ever helpful answer of “it was over there”. They all decide to get angry again and charge at the source of the explosion with the amazing idea that “the fastest way [to win] is to wipe them all out”.

Quick question – why did you start sneaking around people if you were just going to beat them all up anyway as part of the plan? Never mind the actual plot, even moment to moment interactions are impossible to keep up with.

pig and link

Side note, I fucking hate this pig.

Some other dumb things: there’s a ten year gap built into the plot but everyone still looks between the ages of four and fifteen at all times; of the Seven Deadly Sins we never actually meet the seventh, and one or two are so pointless it might as well just be four; the opening credits manage to spoil a boat load of characters that aren’t introduced for ages, ruining any impact their debuts might have had; there’s a giant conch shell that lives in a basement and can grant wishes that is mentioned twice and shown once; some people have moral difficulties with killing the same guy for what is ostensibly the third time; a character appears and is then immediately killed off for a dramatic impact that falls completely flat for obvious reasons; and one character offhandedly whistles a dog into existence from another dimension that can teleport whatever he eats to wherever you want to go. This was a vehicle to get an arse shot of a woman in a leotard. I was… struggling at this point.

cool armor (grr)

Can we just go back to these cool looking things from the intro please? Hm, what’s that? They never appear in the actual show? Oh…

In summary, The Seven Deadly Sins is alright. It was incredibly, nigglingly, frustratingly annoying at times, but the actual direction, production, animation, and music are all really good. The fight scenes in particular would be fantastic fist-pumping moments if there was any character to back it up, but that’s been lost in a sea of tits and primary colours. If you don’t care about or notice plot holes, the loud game of exposition hot potato doesn’t get your goat, and you’re not put off by the scattergun character design then you’ll probably quite enjoy it, but for me it just became infuriating. There’s a pig that is also a hill, for crying out loud.

In a scene near the end, a character gets up after having a massive hole blasted in their chest and punches a giant soldier head over heels in one blow. The line that accompanies this? “I recommend not over-thinking things”. Touché.

slide large

There’s also this weird curio in one of the opening titles where someone in the editing department doesn’t know how to zoom layers properly. Look at these slidey arseholes slip-slidin’ around. It’s like they’re on a bar of soap.

A Word On… Why I Watch Professional Wrestling

 (Originally published in Issue #5 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in March 2016. Read that version here, on pages 36-39.)

Some things can be hard to explain – quantum physics, the offside rule, why some women go to the bathroom in small herds rather than, as one would reasonably expect, individually. Do they need moral support? Are there bodyguards? Is there some complicated hive mind thing going on where their minds automatically flip to BATHROOM mode like a weird urinary Roomba? Anyway.

One thing that’s often been the trickiest to explain, however, is the appeal of professional wrestling. While still a big deal on TV and in pop culture, it’s never quite managed to shake some of the stigma associated with it over the years. It’s a combat sport without the competition, some decry. It’s stupid, gross, and fake, others calumniate. Where’s my sandwich, asks Bob. To these diverse and varyingly valid arguments, however, I say this: that’s the point. Professional wrestling is not supposed to be a sport; it’s a wildly varied circus stunt show dressed up as the already ludicrous world of professional boxing mixed with car crash American TV, and your sandwich is in your lunchbox Bob. Where else would it be.

punk_cena

The worlds most outrageous hug.

Because it’s a pre-determined ‘sport’, wrestling shows are a unique kind of TV, where they can essentially tell any story they want as long as it ends in two people throwing each other over their heads and into tables. Wrestling characters are by and large fairly simple, denoted as either a heel (bad guy) or babyface (good guy) with a few marketable character quirks around it to get over with (get a reaction from) the crowd. These ‘gimmicks’ as they’re known include the red and yellow ‘Hulkamania’ of Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle the Olympic gold medallist, and literally every part of John Cena’s clothing, vocabulary and anatomy.

This way, it becomes fairly easy to get people to care about two people having a fight – the heel does something horrible to the babyface/his friends/his family/his gerbil or whatever, the babyface wants revenge, you tease them fighting for a month or so then have a big blowoff match where you get to make a load of money and roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck in the Federal Reserve.

Some great angles have revolved around relationships, such as the time a very real backstage affair was made public in the form of Matt Hardy and Edge feuding over Lita, or the famous breakup of the Mega Powers where Randy Savage became paranoid about Hulk Hogan’s blossoming relationship with Savage’s valet Elizabeth, subsequently turning heel on his tag partner. Shawn Michaels v Chris Jericho  began due to a simple dispute over match tactics, and Hogan v Andre the Giant was just because Andre wanted to beat up a sweaty clay-man with a ridiculous moustache. These feuds are all fondly remembered, and feature motives no more confusing  than “I think you’re a bit of a twat, mate”.

austin_mcmahon

Pictured: a twat, mate.

This is all a rather simple way of writing storylines and is proven to work, but given wrestling companies tend to be run by billionaire carnies with the emotional intelligence of a satsuma, the people in charge can sometimes get bored of normalcy and instead do something bugger nuts ballistic. For instance, there was that time a giant turkey thing hatched out of an egg halfway through the same show an undead wizard/zombie/gravedigger man made his debut. This ‘undertaker’, as some called him, would go on to become one of the biggest ever stars in professional wrestling and a pop culture icon, despite having a midlife crisis where he fell madly in love with motorbikes and started wearing leather vests and bandanas. Thankfully, the turkey didn’t last the month.

This is where the car crash nature of wrestling comes in – wrestling ability is certainly a large factor, but fan interest in a feud will only really ignite because of the storytelling. While a good story can make for amazing programming, a bad story becomes amazing for completely different reasons.

Some infamously awful examples: two Mexican best friends beating each other up with ladders to decide who got custody of a small child; a man climbing into a casket to shag a mannequin before holding up some goo and saying ‘I screwed her brains out’; the current WWE power couple initially getting together by one drugging, kidnapping and marrying the other without their consent; a Viagra on a Pole match; a tag match where one of the participants is God; an old woman giving birth to a hand; a man being buried in a desert in Nevada for several months; the male tag team champions at one point consisting of a wrestler and his mother; a tournament where more points were awarded for kidnapping an audience member than winning a match; a character called Mr Ass who’s gimmick is exactly what you think it is; a Hog Pen match wherein the winner is the first to throw his opponent into a pig pen filled with mud and shit; and a reverse battle royal, where everyone started outside the ring and raced to get in it. How that match managed to last more than 3 seconds I have no idea.

wtf_vince

Here’s an unrelated picture of Donald Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head. Ignore the nearly naked black man with creamy hands, he’s not important.

While this sort of writing can be entertaining in retrospect,  viewing it live makes it crystal clear that nobody has any idea what they’re doing. This combined with incredibly stubborn management that seems to actively enjoy doing precisely the opposite of what fans want can be frustrating and often boring, such as the current attempt to push (make fans warm to) Roman Reigns as the next big hero character despite looking like a greasy Expendables villain and being the least talented of a very well regarded trio.

Roman’s push has been going on for about 18 months by now and has never even begun to look like working; he has the charisma of a large plank of wood with a drawing of The Rocks face glued on it upside down, has about three moves of which one is called the god damn Superman Punch, and he gets to wear bulletproof armour in his matches for some reason. This last part is a rather apt metaphor for how management is treating him at the moment, and the fans have just about had enough and started booing the piss out of him. Management has responded by muting the crowd. Genius.

roman

Someone once had a sign saying ‘Roman is a wank pheasant’. Can’t argue, really.

Due to the clashing styles of PG TV and management not being able to evolve their ideas beyond things done twenty years ago when you could show boobs and poop on screen and nobody cared, the WWE is currently in a lean period of too much empty predictable nothingness happening on their shows. Luckily, it’s not the only game in town – promotions like Ring of Honor, New Japan and Lucha Underground have had room to breathe away from mainstream attention and corporate sponsors, and have turned out much the better for it.

Lucha Underground especially isn’t really a wrestling show. It’s headed by Robert Rodriguez of all people and portrays a strange noir Aztec meta-show (it’s a TV show about a wrestling show, for all extents and purposes), played relatively straight but with a knowing Grindhouse-esque mentality about how ridiculous the whole thing is. There’s a phoenix, a dragon, the living embodiment of death itself, and a man called Prince Puma who’s spirit animal is the jaguar. It’s oddly brilliant, and something completely different to the often flavourless corporate wallpaper paste of WWE.

lucha_underground

Warning: may contain traces of very silly trousers.

You may have noticed I’ve barely mentioned the act of physically wrestling in this article. Put simply, most modern wrestlers are fantastic. While the overall shift from “do things that don’t hurt but look like they do” to “hurt yourself immensely but pretend you’re fine” is generally a bad thing, both for wrestlers health and the minds of the audience, wrestling nowadays is a much more athletic venture than in the 80s and 90s. People like Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk helped to shift the tide away from immobile giants like King Kong Bundy and The Great Khali, with a new emphasis on mat moves and technical grappling. It’s almost as if you should be good at wrestling to be a professional wrestler, and not just be really really really tall.

The best wrestlers need more than just moves, however; legends like Shawn Michaels, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, Ric Flair and The Undertaker know it’s a constant performance from the moment you enter the arena to the moment you leave, and all the little things such as facial expressions, body language, and selling moves to make them look more dangerous than they are make you forget it’s all pre-determined and they’re not actually trying to hurt each other. Watching a match often requires significant suspension of disbelief, especially when a lot of moves are set up by one wrestler not being able to stop running, but when you’re invested in a match it can be exhilarating.

bret_hart_sharpshooter

This probably hurts, but to be honest I can’t really tell what’s happening. Are those legs?

So back to the title; why do I watch professional wrestling? Well, I watch it to see impressive physical feats of strength and endurance. I watch it to be engrossed in storylines, both wacky and serious. I watch it to see what’s coming next for my favourite wrestlers. I watch it because it’s a pantomime, a comic book, a soap opera with powerslams, almost a parody of sports in general. It often gets looked down upon, sometimes with extremely good reason. But I watch it, basically, because it’s fun.

Oh and Brock Lesnar’s fucking massive.

bork

He’s like a bear made out of gammon steaks. It’s terrifying.

A Word On… Modern Visual Media and Why They Suck

 (Originally published in Issue #4 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2015. Read that version here, on pages 12-15.)

Why does everything have to be a movie? Don’t get me wrong I like movies, but whenever a book, game or even TV show becomes a hit there’s instantly talk of when the movie version’s coming out. It’s indicative of the steaming pile of sequel factory bullshit the blockbuster movie industry has found itself in, and videogames aren’t far behind either.

For starters there are books that have absolutely no right to become movies, like the unbearable Fifty Shades of Grey. Like any film based on sex, it would have either had to be Pornhub: Extended Cut or two pasty personality sieves gawping at a dildo for two hours in various vaguely hospitable settings. However, the critical issue with Fifty Shades is that the book is absolute putrified garbage, written as fan fiction to fucking Twilight of all things before they changed some character names around and fed it to sex hungry mums whose husbands were too busy eating mud and kicking themselves in the testicles to notice they were married. If a book is lacking in plot, characters, material that can actually be released in a cinema, or general noticeable quality, then it has no purpose being a film. It’d be like trying to make an action thriller based on the contents of my shower drain.

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If it’s not just a shit adaptation of shit material then it’s movie execs wringing as much money out of a franchise as they can. Endless sequels, prequels and duringquels effectively split one story into eleventy billion parts for maximum dollar and minimum customer satisfaction. Harry Potter started the trend and sort of got away with it since the book was legitimately too big, but since then films have been all too happy to stall for time like lawyers at a strippers wedding. The second Hunger Games film was the movie equivalent of a fat moggy getting stuck in its own catflap, Twilight existed for about 8 films longer than it should have, the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making movies just because it needs to keep existing, and The Hobbit padded a fairly short book with mine cart races and stoner wizards. Modern movie franchises are like public bus services; short journeys, loads of stops, irritatingly expensive, and a decent chance of finding a homeless man masturbating with a paper bag in the back row.

But while book-to-film adaptations are getting progressively stupid and pointless like when a dear relative passes into their ninth decade, videogames have a much more chronic problem; they’re beginning to think they are movies. Little Jimmy Ubisoft likes to dress in Momma Paramount’s dresses on occasion and is slowly hatching a plan to kill her off in a freak golfing accident so he can replace her in society, even though he’s about 8 and smells of Wotsits and fear.

Games publishers talk bullshit. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it means it has expensive graphics. When a game claims it’s ’emotional’ it means it has an over-complicated, under-acted story. When a game claims it’s ‘immersive’, it means it’s paranoid about being shit and praising itself for doing its job. Listen: if your game is not immersive then your game is bad. Immersion is broken by inconsistencies, so if the players are noticing physics glitches and graphical weirdness or it controls like a crab at the helm of a 747 it’s going to pull you out of the experience no matter what the experience was to begin with. If you advertise a visual media as ‘immersive’ you may as well advertise the fact that it makes pictures appear on a screen.

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‘Cinematic’ is even worse. It means nothing and screams of the desperation of marketing departments trying to ride the coattails of a medium they passed by in profitability somewhere in 2009. More worryingly, however, it implies that marketers or developers or whoever think that visuals are the only important part of a film. If this was the case every film would just be a procession of flashy lights, tits, and fireworks. I can’t be certain, but other than some experimental student art films I highly doubt there has ever been a movie that hasn’t at least tried to tell a story of some kind, no matter if it was good or not. A film can look decent while still being absolute shit, such as every single thing Michael Bay has ever done in his entire career, but the best films have more than that: an excellent plot, clever use of music and set design, good dialogue etc. When a game claims  it’s ‘cinematic’ it’s often artistically good at a level of shallowness not offered by most tea-trays. Controls and gameplay don’t matter since people don’t need to play it, only sit entranced by a giant noisy screen while their body fat slowly fuses to their seat.

Then there’s the insanity of transferring a videogame franchise into a film, which boggles the mind. Videogames aren’t particularly known for their excellent storytelling, and if one is it’s often at the expense of gameplay complexities, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or The Walking Dead series. If a game has an excellent story in its own right then a film spin-off is pointless, as the story has already been told in a visual medium so all you’d be doing is removing any user interaction and throwing Ryan Reynolds in for Nolan North. On the other hand, if it hasn’t told a good story then you’re removing the pop-ups from a pop-up book and leaving behind a story nobody cared about in the first place. Films that tell a different story but set in the same universe are fine and have the potential to be interesting provided they don’t magic up a story out of thin air using a franchise name, of which Battleship is the logical stupidity black hole. If all you’re going to do though is regurgitate the same Mass Effect story with no customisation or moral choice then at least one of the creative teams involved has wasted literally years of their life.

Even ignoring all of that, why is cinema the bastion of quality anyway? There’s nothing intrinsically better about films than games or books, and the industry is now as bloated and overconfident as Jabba the Hutt. The critically ‘best’ films aren’t the most successful and the most successful are normally pretty crap. Transformers 4 grossed over a billion worldwide but is so absolutely atrocious in almost every possible way I wouldn’t be surprised if  Michael Bay was just seeing what he could get away with without being fired. The reason Marvel has taken over the box office isn’t because their films are universally amazing must-sees, it’s because they deliver a solid, consistent 6.5 out of 10 every time, with the occasional 8 sneaking in there to make up for the hopeless gibberish that was Iron Man 3. Marvel has made a TV series in the cinema, so people want to come back and watch more of their favourite characters get into hijinks in their armoured pyjamas. Unfortunately now every studio wants to do this, and it’s absolutely not going to work.

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To sum up – pretentiousness runs through the industry like a clogged artery through an obese dog stuck in a McFlurry machine, the majority of content is trash of the highest degree and the good stuff is either lost in the crowd or swiftly dogpiled by the higher ups for sequels if they made any chunk of money at all. While that may very well be a description of modern Hollywood, it’s also a perfect example of the giants of the videogame industry. Two of the biggest media industries on the planet are circling each other down the drain with blinkers bigger than Quentin Tarantino’s ego, caring little if at all for customer satisfaction or end quality. If that’s not a terrifying thought, then… well, go and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or something. I heard it was scary.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.

Hotline Miami – A Videogame Review

Warning: this review contains spoilers for Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Proceed at your own risk.

Also not recommended for people easily offended by blood, gore, swearing, or mentions of butts.

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“Man this is great, I really hope it doesn’t disappear up its own butthole”, I said out loud about halfway through Hotline Miami, the pulsating techno music pounding in my ears as I rhythmically mutilated my way through hordes of faceless mobsters, often getting mutilated right back. The exciting moral greyness of the premise with its endless possibilities, the high as a kite 80s neon kitsch, the gameplay hitting all the same buttons as Super Meat Boy did all those years ago. The combination was almost perfect, if veering a smidgen too close to butthole territory. All was going well.

Suddenly the music stops. You’ve beaten your foes. There is nobody left. All around you are corpses, rarely in one piece. The high fades as you begin to come down, both figuratively and literally. You descend the stairs back to the entrance way, stepping over your dirty, messy past. The distance to the butthole lessens.

A loud noise escapes your mouth and you manage to somehow physically injure yourself while playing a videogame, you daft twat, as a giant black van smashes through the silence and straight into your characters face. Gizzards splatter across the tiles like badly made spaghetti.  You start again. You get hit by the jump scare truck again. You start again. You get set on fire. The butthole looks at you menacingly. You start again.

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This game is VIOLENT. I really can’t stress that enough.

Hotline Miami is, at its core, very very good. Broken, dreamlike, 80s neon aesthetics are right up my alley, so to speak, despite me having never existed anywhere near close to the time period they’re supposed to ape. The gameplay is frantic and bloody, never giving you a moments peace in the best possible way. It has some of the most brutal and disturbing violence ever depicted in a game despite only being top down pixel art, but uses it in such a fashion that it never turned me off from the game. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m such a sucker for dark, twisted mystery plots, especially ones with cryptic murder messages left on your answering machine. It should be exactly my cup of tea. Unfortunately, there is a butthole looming. Hotline Miami has plans for the butthole. This game has its fat, and when Hotline Miami starts indulging its chubby side it manages to charge straight up its rear at a pace most rocket engineers would call quite alarming.

It first began to smell suspiciously of anus when Richard the chicken man (heh, Richard is Dick and chicken is cock and penis is funny) asked me a simple question; “do you like hurting people?”, he quizzed, with a look of fiery disapproval that only an expertly crafted rubber chicken mask can convey. “Well”, I thought, “given that this main character I’ve been playing has been specifically written so as to have literally no character other than a yellowish Varsity jacket, and that what I’m playing right now might be a dream but it also might not be, and that every other part of this game might also be a dream but also might not be, I don’t think I’m able to answer that question”. I paused. “Oh wait, you’re talking to me, the player, aren’t you. Aha, very clever. Yes, I see now why you wanted to venture up your own butthole, it’s because it’s a lot easier to gloat from inside your own rectum”.

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These guys, clearly not learning their lesson from the man who’s taking a kip on the floor without a head, are about to get a very rude awakening.

It stayed roughly on the level for a while after that, nose barely touching the sphincter, until I suddenly discovered that the entire game up to this point had been a warped reliving of events from the mind of a man deep inside a coma, Life on Mars style. Huh.

“Alright”, I thought, “bit of a tonal shift, but this is excellent. It was hinted at that this was a dream the whole time and I’m perfectly fine with it. It also explains why there was random VHS static every so often, and why that one bearded hipster bloke had four different but strangely identical jobs and then got killed in four different but strangely identical ways by that same angry bald guy. Good. I’m on board. Let’s be having you, rest of the game.” I press on.

So I escape the coma ward, somehow, discover it was the Russian mob all along, kill the Don’s purple attack panthers and sexy blonde one eyed ninja pirate woman by throwing a bunch of trophies at them in scenes strangely reminiscent of Kill Bill 2: The KillBillening, and beat the game. I am satisfied. The story came to a sensible and non-butthole-related resolution. I even recommended it to some friends, so impressed was I.

Then the epilogue started. I was surprised. The butthole was now held firmly, precariously open. It’s ready for entry, captain.

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“Please don’t put pizza up my butthole, George”

The first thing you see in the epilogue is the word ANSWERS in massive capital letters. You’ve got a hand up your butt. You start the epilogue as a boss character you killed halfway through the game. Elbow deep. The epilogue continues and it’s made clear that this guy is not going insane, or in a coma dream, or taking several hundred buckets of legal highs. This character is trying to find out ‘the truth’ behind the phone calls, implying that the mafia wasn’t the real source. Up to the shoulder blade, you’re getting dangerously close now. A chapter involves you going to the same room as the earlier boss fight and killing the original main character with such force that his head violently explodes across the floor, then leaving the building. There we go, boom, zip, blown straight up there, you’ve disappeared into your large intestine never to be seen again. It was fun having you, Hotline Miami. Hope the weather’s nice in there.

When you’ve already got your main character outed as an unreliable narrator in your main plot and when he’s most definitely not killed in this confrontation in the real canonical events, and then you go and add your second character, the one supposedly to ‘get some answers’, and you make him an unreliable narrator as well? It’s shooting yourself in the foot then sucking on your toes until all your blood is in your digestive system. The level of arse dwelling is maddening, to the point where you’ve been there long enough to have started selling real estate in your gastric pits.

I kept playing anyway, to see where this dickwittery was going. After a while, I found myself stood in an empty basement talking to two ratty looking janitors, where it turned out it was them all along. They told me it was for laughs. I then left. Credits. Fuck off Hotline Miami.

I went to the Wiki for answers.

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These screenshots all tend to look the same after a while but MAYBE THAT’S THE THEME ooooOOOOooo spooky noises etc.

It turns out that the actual plot is locked behind secret collectible things I had literally no idea were even there other than a cryptic message on an owl mask. This is on top of it being hidden in the epilogue after the credits had already rolled while you’re playing a completely different character, one who interacted with the main fella a total of one time and maybe one of them may have killed the other but maybe it was the other way round and really who’s to say at this point. On top of this, the two actual villains are plebby nobodies operating under the guise of a cult that’s never mentioned and who are modelled after the two creators of the game, in a decision I imagine came about after a particularly smug mutual masturbation session.

Hotline Miami ends up being another graduate from the University of Self Satisfaction, with other notable alumni consisting of Spec Ops: The Line, a game that attempts to tell you fourteen different variations of the same story at the same time and the most rational one ends up being that the grumpy sandy man in Dubai is literally walking into literal hell for realsies, and Bioshock Infinite, which I’m surprised didn’t go cross eyed and implode from a combination of misplaced moral pride and casual dismemberment.

All of these games end up trying to tell you off for playing them, a move that I’ve come to particularly hate since if you do that you’re now looking down on me for buying your bloody game. Alright, I won’t next time. Mission accomplished?

Every line of dialogue can be seen to be directed at the player, which means the plot ends up being completely pointless and only serves to make the developers look like absolute thundering cockholes who make out with their own bathroom mirrors in the morning because it’s got a picture of their face on it.

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Our cock-headed hero has managed to block one of his exit doors with a parade of idiotic mobsters. Brilliant.

Amazingly, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is apparently even more up its own arse than Hotline Miami 1: Turns Out It Was The Right Number All Along. Now I haven’t played the sequel, but given that the original was crawling up there so hard it was basically vomiting its own eyebrows out by the end I could scarcely believe this news, unless little brother wanted to strain just that little bit harder and pretzel itself around for round two. To find out how correct an assessment this was, I went back on the Wiki and scrolled down through the main characters page to find a random line from near the end of the second game.

This sentence is incredible. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of digestive spelunking, and I can’t believe it actually exists. Knowing this series it could just all be a fever dream and not matter at all, but with that rationale out of the way I shall provide to you the very first thing I read about Hotline Miami 2 in full. Ahem.

‘As Miami is nuked, the final shot of the game is Jacket in his sparse jail cell, playing with his ball as he’s obliterated.’

This event apparently takes place three years before the events of the original game. Yes, this is the main character of said original game. No, I don’t understand.

The Wiki then goes on to fellate this nonsense with praise for how thematic it is, how it parallels the movie Drive (which is also a bunch of violence trying to be smart but not actually doing anything with it and ending up as a very pretty pile of pretentious piffle), and that it’s somehow meta, where because he was trying to entertain himself that’s like the player playing the game or something. This Wiki was written by twats.

It doesn’t matter if that scene’s just a bunch of typos accidentally strung together to mean something it shouldn’t, if it’s another weird coma dream, or it’s actually what actually happens. I have no interest. It sounds like a bunch of complete cocking bollocks from a set of writers drunk on the success of their original vaguey waguey spooky mystery VHS synthwave drug ‘n’ violence game that was super awesome because nobody could understand it, and not for the actual reason which was because it played like a buttered blowjob. No, it was because of the story. Great.

A-pretzlin’ we go, lads.

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“No mate, I’m up my own butt. Call an ambulance”

EP – In Time

A short EP featuring tracks with elements of electro, house, synthwave and chiptune, potentially as a teaser for something bigger in the future.

Click the image below to go to the EP on Bandcamp.

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Tracklist:

  1. In Time [7:58]
  2. Disasterpiece [3.49]
  3. The Replacement [3.33]
  4. (Anaemic) Chainsaw [5:12]

A Word On… Football Manager

 (Originally published in Issue #3 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in March 2015. Read that version here, on pages 42-44.)

Menus. Hundreds upon hundreds of menus, spiralling out from each other like Russian Doll spreadsheets. Even the statistics you find when using the menus have menus. That’s all Football Manager is, menus, statistics and mildly confused frustration. This is football for stock brokers with a habit.

As someone who has never particularly enjoyed strategy or management games, going blind into an online Football Manager game was always going to be difficult, and as expected it was as daunting as organising a schizophrenic serial killers noticeboard. After skipping the tutorials that were so boring I felt myself visibly age after just one line of text, I inevitably found myself facing of a wall of information set out like Rain Mans receipt collection. This was more like HSBCs filing cabinet than it was football.

It didn’t really help that the options were irritatingly opaque; for example there’s no Settings menu. Instead there’s a menu bafflingly called Preferences that’s buried inside other menus with sub menus of its own. Either the developers were actively laughing at new players like they’re a blindfolded cat in a maze made of lino or they see the world purely through the medium of Microsoft Excel and don’t know what rational thought is anymore.

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Our plan was to have each of us, four partially capable humans of various Football Manager experience, manage a different Championship team and see who could become the most successful before we all inevitably got bored and went to do something else. I blindly selected my team, which turned out to be a bad choice given the others had actually chosen theirs for solid reasons. I just knew Blackburn had a good striker and went from there, ignoring the defence whose best player is an angry sociopathic Scotsman. He got sent off three minutes into the first game I played. This soon became a theme.

Having made this incredibly well informed choice, I tried to find something to cling on to in this barely legible gibberish, presented in a language that would make sense to Alan Hansen and nobody else. At this point the only menu that made sense to my addled brain was Transfers, so I tried my luck with that. Unfortunately I found that the muppets running my club had given me tuppence and a stick of gum to spend on new players, whereas everyone else had roughly half the national income of Japan.

I made do with what I had, scrabbling for loan players like a hobo looking for milk bottle tops in the gutter, pleading with agents to let the fading pensioner join my team for a weekend just in case my other pensioners fell over too much and disintegrated like a breadstick in the washing machine.

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If you have a desk job, then role-playing someone who reads a hundred million emails every week might not be your idea of a rest.

Before I started a match, I was told by the constant Steam chat I should try and work out what was going on in the Tactics menu. Here you edit formation, lineups, substitutes and general instructions to give your team whenever they play. Obviously there are ridiculous levels of complexity to this as well, like contrasting instructions that would only confuse your players if you told them to try and play both wide and narrow at the same time, and multiple subtly different roles a player can have within the same position.

Again, the negatives of any of these options aren’t exactly explicit; when I set an instruction to Hassle Opponents, I assumed it would mean an appropriate defensive or midfield player would close down the opposition and prevent passes with a modicum of intelligence. What I discovered was that almost all of my players would charge at the guy with the ball like it was the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, leaving a gaping chasm for the other team to pass into, completely bypassing the cavalry of overpaid morons.

You have to experiment and find out what is actually useful rather than it being given to you, which sounds like good game design but it really isn’t. It’s the equivalent of being given a choice of seventeen identical looking sticks then getting a thwack on the head and a branch up the arse because you chose the wrong one. Good luck getting it right on your first attempt, and your arse might not appreciate you giving it another shot.

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After making a couple of distinctly average signings and creating a new formation suitably dubbed The Penis (make up your own reasons), I suited up and went into battle. Which I lost, because my setup was crap. After waiting half an hour for the others to fiddle their menus some more, I tried again. And lost, because I scored a fluke own goal despite dominating in every statistic the game would throw at me.

This is where the addictive, social life threatening part of Football Manager comes in; nothing you do actually matters. Not in any tangible, definite way. Since you’re not actively controlling what happens on the pitch, all you’re doing is essentially making your own odds more favourable without determining anything – a random number generator where you can nudge the machine a few times if it’s fucked you over a cliff recently. No matter what you do nothing is ever certain, and so the game never becomes truly satisfying. Yes that’s football, but footballs not perfect anyway.

Since it’s essentially a strategy game with random elements there’s always this horrible one more go factor, where you want to try your formation again and hope your full back doesn’t headbutt himself and start humping the post when defending a corner. It’s a case of proving yourself against a bunch of sceptical numbers hidden behind shitty 3D visuals with physics from a particularly glitchy Asteroids clone. It’s like the Matrix if it was set in Upton Park.

Eventually, more and more of the ridiculous user interface began to make sense. I found out I could train individual players in an attempt to improve their stats. Match reports allowed me to prepare better for the next game, such as which areas of the pitch the opposition was weakest. Scouting allowed me to try and pick up promising young players on the cheap, although with my budget management being overseen by a sparrow on LSD this was essentially impossible. Almost anything you could want to do in football exists in Football Manager, unless you want to actually kick the fucking ball.

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LOOKIT ALL DEM STATISTICS HUERUEHGUHLHKHLREK

Slowly all of these options started to come together into something more cohesive; my team was well drilled and my defenders had stopped leaking goals like a colander in the Atlantic. I began to move up the league with a catastrophically unpredictable run of form for all concerned, culminating in a final day race for automatic promotion with only goal difference separating me from a fellow human. I won a close game against 7th place while he was dismantled by an already relegated 23rd. As usual, pissing off your friends is rather entertaining.

Football Manager is hard. Newcomers won’t get why so much of what they try doesn’t work, and an at least average knowledge of football is required to get to the meat of it (what the hell is the difference between an Enganche and a Trequartista). It’s similar to the Candy Crush mentality; an illusion of skill where success just boils down to luck of the draw, like being graded on Blackjack. It has an awful lot more layers of illusion between skill and luck than Candy Crush however, and doesn’t get you to pay to keep playing, so it’s at least not evil. Still, it’s football on a roulette wheel, an endless bag of cookies being guarded by Two-Face dressed as a linesman. It’s not exactly fair, but then neither is heroin.

[The version played was Football Manager 2014, but it doesn’t really matter since this wasn’t a review. If it helps I thought 2014 was great, played it for 800 hours, and thought 2015 was comparatively terrible. Those are the only Football Manager games I’ve ever played]

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.