To buy, or not to buy? Your answer, for ten pints…

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To buy, or not to buy? Your answer, for ten pints...

Ohh it has been a week and a half. I’m unlucky where Monday’s are concerned, with everything large and small tending to go wrong to add to the general Monday Morning Feeling. However this week my Monday morning went swimmingly, and I didn’t require so much as a cup of coffee to get going.

I should have seen Tuesday coming so, when my desktop died in spectacular hard drive failing fashion. No worries, a replacement is on the way (notably, she’s just over a year old… I am wise indeed with my usage of three year warranties.) However it did screw up my gaming (as well as losing me a couple of thousand words of copy, but what can you do…) and in one sense I’ll miss the comfort of what was on that drive.

As time goes on I find that even the most nimble of machines can fill up with crap. The operating system takes longer to load, more odd errors and quirks can be introduced as more stuff is installed and uninstalled. However all of this feels like a sort of homely squalor. You’re used to it.

On the other hand of course, there’s the chance to start over. There is absolutely nothing I love more than a fresh computer which can start up like a flash. It’s pristine. It’s sleek. It works. Like virgin snow in the morning, it’s up to you to create the imprints.

With this new beginning I’ve decided not to install all my old games back on. Half-Life 2 can wait, Unreal Tournament 2004 is out and so is Dangerous Waters (shock and horror from the audience… it was taking up too much of my time, and I was far too obsessed with hearing the phrase “Torpedo in the water!” for my own good.) What’s more, I’m not going to install a ton of games and play them all at once, as I have a tendency to do.

Instead, I’m going to savour each one. Until, of course, I’ve savoured so many that I’m back to square one. Take what you can get while it lasts… But, to kick things off I have a copy of Star Wars: Empire at War. I’ve been hearing mixed things about it: Some say that it’s a great strategy game, others that it’s just another Star Wars knock-off. At $50 a pop, or ten pints worth if you prefer, and no returns accepted on PC games the room for simply buying a trying every game that nobody can quite agree on is limited at best.

This is exasperated by the fact that the demo for EaW is not necessarily indicative of the final game – the developers sped it up. This, as any discerning strategy gamer will tell you, completely changes the way in which the game is played, and raises interesting questions about how relevant these demonstrations will be to gamers in future. When you can’t rely on a consensus and you can’t rely on the demo, what’s a girl to do?

In my case, buy the thing and write a column about it. I should get a raise or something. [You’re fired -Ed] Why does that happen every time I ask for a raise? [You can give us back the company t-shirt and all -Ed]

The purpose of reviewing any product or service, be it a videogame or a theater production, involves the reviewer experiencing this product and report back to the consumer. However, a reviewer does not fork out his or her cash for said product or service. I’ve always felt that this is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand you give a review impartial of your own financial position in the world. On the other hand, one doesn’t quite get the whole consumer experience. Videogames are all similarly priced, so it doesn’t factor into most review equations. As I’ve found since leaving the circuit full time that being faced with a price tag, a no returns policy and indecision can be a Catch 22 consumer position (though I’ve picked up the habit with regards to other products… love reviewing MP3 players, don’t quite like handing over a hundred quid for one.)

Still, I spent my money and I got my game. I’m relatively satisfied and all, with plenty of Star Wars feel and explosions to keep me happy. The space battles seem to draw far more attention than the land ones, but then I suppose that’s what most people prefer about Star Wars. I mean, anyone can have land battles. Star destroyers, now that’s Star Wars.

My brother, a far more expert strategy gamer than I – who knows key combos like I know touch typing and whom I turn to for the expert opinion on such matters – also likes it. As far as he’s concerned, any RTS is the same as the next bar look and feel. He plays the system more so than the game (works for him and his ilk of gamer) where strategy games are concerned, and thinks that the game holds up to scratch. The strategic campaign is more a sideshow to the tactical battles, and it’s not quite Rome: Total War.

I could describe cliché space battles here, but I’ll leave that to ten thousand other reviewers. My opinion on Empires at War comes in at “Alright, it’ll occupy that lunchtime romp spot nicely.” I’ll play it intensively for a while longer, and then it’ll get fired up when I’m bored and need a quick fix. There are worse spots to hold in my videogame archives feeding chain.

I think the next game to fill a spot on my hard drive should be Oblivion. I’m not, as some of you may know, a massively major RPG player, online or off, but I do like RPG-lites, ala Knights of the Old Republic (coincidentally a Star Wars game… for the record, I don’t have a Darth Vader costume nor can I cite canonical errors by rote) and I’ve been hearing a lot about Oblivion this month. In the meantime, I recommend that you pick up this months issue of Wired magazine for the special videogame coverage. A lot of thought provoking, if not all entirely original but at least well-articulated, articles in there.