Saturday, November 28, 2009


Obtaining, through means of complicated Hire Purchase promos, a replacement Xbox has enabled me to assess Dragon Age: Origins and the state of modern youth, although not at the same time.

Dragon Age is an odd game. It bears the unfair weight of expectation: expectation because it's a Bioware RPG in a traditional (and for once original) fantasy setting, unfair because it's a PC game that's been years in the making and only recently was it decided to port the thing to the 360.

I thought the Eurogamer review unfair, as did many commentators/forum whingebuckets, marking down the Xbox version from 8/10 to 6/10 just because it doesn't look as nice as the PC version and is missing some minor control functions. Having spent forty hours playing it I have revised my opinion somewhat. It's a good game, drawing on Bioware's strengths - a deep and complex world, a robust combat system and some brilliant design - but equally prey to Bioware's weaknesses, namely a tendency towards bland questing and faintly ridiculous characters. You can get a good way through the game without having any problems with control, but sooner or later (probably in Orzammar, in that bastard maze) you get to a point where you really wish you were playing it on a PC.

Now, I am not a platform nazi by any means and even if I were I would always plump for consoles: the first FPS I played was Red Faction (the original one) on the PS2, one of the best games I have ever played and the one that made me forever associate the FPS with the twin sticks. But the rushed porting of DA to the Xbox meant that the overhead view and queueing of actions were ditched, and rather than change the battles accordingly they just dialled down the difficulty to compensate. A bad choice, it turns out, as the later battles require much more forethought and strategy than earlier ones, something you don't have the ability to employ. Sure, you can slug it out, but that's a poor excuse - relying on level grinding as a substitute for proper design is the kind of cheap trick you don't expect from Bioware.

Then again... this kind of thing happened in KOTOR2, the endgame chopped and replaced with a padded and pointless final level in order to make ship date. Orzammar put me in mind of Malachor V: a boring grind intended to pad out the game. Tolerable, perhaps, with a fully functioning control system, but... Ah well, perhaps Divinity 2: Ego Draconis will be a more interesting dragony RPG. It's nice to have choices.

I watched Hannah Montana: The Movie back to back with Twilight and Weird Science the other night, which was interesting. Weird Science is one of my three favourite teen movies (with The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off: I'm a product of my generation and make no apologies for it) and I'm fairly sure my moral centre is what it is because of this. Teen movies in those days were always about Doing The Right Thing, about stopping being a teen and becoming a grownup - making a moral choice of some sort was always the centre of the story, the coming of age. Modern teen movies - well, pretty much all teen culture full stop - seem to be about holding on to childhood as long as possible, staving off the coming of age, denying oneself maturity. It says a lot about the way we bring up kids, I think. When I was young childhood was a necessary precursor to adulthood, not an end in itself: nowadays everybody is obsessed with keeping children childish.

Twilight was a surprisingly good film, with actors and direction that surpassed the lines they were expected to say, although the two leads seemed to have almost no chemistry, oddly. Being based on a book probably didn't help - I haven't read it but I got the definite impression that a lot was cut out - but when Bella tells us that she's overwhelmingly in love with Edward you can't help but ask out loud "Really? When did that happen?". Given that Edward will remain seventeen forever, one can see why this appeals to modern teens. Adulthood happens to other, less special people, apparently.

Hannah Montana is a much more old-fashioned affair, pleasingly, if a little bit too clean - teen comedies should be a bit risque, I think, but that's Disney for you. I still thought it was brilliant, because I fucking love Hannah Montana. If you don't, well then, fuck you, because you're wrong.

Ah well. On the whole I'm glad to have grown up in the eighties, when teen movies were available for both sexes. Modern teens are apparently all female, judging by the films that get made for them. No wonder young men stab each other all the time: wouldn't you, if there was nothing on at the cinema you could watch except Saw 19 and some crap from Pixar?

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