Why I’m Voting Remain – Sorry Nigel

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There are only two days left until the referendum and the polls are neck and neck to an even greater extent than during the Scottish IndyRef. Unlike in that referendum, someone has stupidly decided to give me a vote this time around and I’m intending to wield it with all the subtlety of Prince Phillip on a foreign visit.

I have no great love for the European Union, all too often it is bureaucratic, overbearing and leeches sovereignty away from national governments, striving to become a federal government against the will of it’s people.To suggest otherwise is nonsense, the founding principle of the organisation was and still is to an extent, ever growing integration. Nor do I feel a particularly close affinity in cultural terms to our European neighbours, as a nation Britain is culturally closer to our cousins in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States than we will ever be to Poland or Slovakia or Greece. However for the reasons below I’ve come to the opinion that to vote to leave is too risky and contains too many unknowns to make it the sensible decision.

Perhaps I’m talking crap and perhaps I have too much free time on my hands, make up your own mind:

The Economy: Simply put, unless you’re already wealthy, a vote to leave the EU is too risky. While they have vested interests, the business world has been overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. Britain benefits from it’s position as a competitive market economy within the EU, with many overseas companies investing in production facilities in order to export their goods to the rest of the EU, such as the Nissan factory in Sunderland. A single market of 450m people with a larger combined GDP than the United States is an invaluable asset to the health of the British economy and provides massive opportunities to our companies. So many of our main industries rely upon this market to be successful and to tap into economies of scale.

What is the alternative we have been provided with? Vague promises of free trade agreements with countries that will not prioritise us, even the United States has been blunt on this matter, the Donald aside. The restored right to be able to increase tariffs and import duties to support failing British industries? The right to set a low VAT rate? It’s not really much compared to the opportunities that being within the EU provides. Even if the EU nations were in a conciliatory mood and decided to allow us access to the EEA post Brexit, we’d be stuck in a similar situation to Norway, having to apply the majority of European laws, funding them and yet having no say in how they are formulated (click)This is an undeniably worse position than we have presently and that is before you even begin to contemplate the costs to business of adhering to legislation that will be changed in the years after and the inevitable recession that the country would be plunged into initially as the financial markets adapted to our departure.

The economic argument for Brexit is shaky at best and seems to be based upon the idea of Britain buccaneering across the world and trading with exotic lands from a position of strength like we were still an Empire. It’s not 1860 any more unfortunately. Thank god for that as dying of cholera isn’t high on my list of priorities. Have you seen how it kills you?

This being said the prospect of an 18% drop in house prices (click) is mighty tempting given how my generation has been screwed over in terms of owning a house, while boomers and those born shortly after continue to gain ever more wealth through their housing stock, while we (18-35 yr olds) pay the mortgages on their buy to let investments. Yay social mobility! However this isn’t enough to ignore the rest of the economic warnings or the wider economic damage that will be caused in the advent of Brexit. Remain wins here by  a landslide.

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The Lack Of A Viable Alternative: For all Boris and Gove’s grandstanding about taking back control of our nation they have utterly failed to put forwards any concrete or realistic plans for what our country would look like after Brexit. There’s been loads of high charged lacking in substance talk about taking back control of fisheries (which only employs around 14k people – click ), £350m extra for the NHS (which was false), a massive cut in immigration, avoiding a wave of Turkish migrants and avoiding an EU Army (I work in this sector, it’s not going to happen) but they have utterly failed to grasp the nettle of what will happen after Brexit.

When asked how long negotiations with the EU will take or how we’ll trade with Europe or the consequences of a drop in the £ to average people, they react with bluster, lack of answers or in the case of Gove a belief that everything is worth it in order to obtain the Holy Grail. Which is all well and good when you have a net worth of £1m (click) but when you’re one of the average people, a credible plan for this jump into the unknown is the least that should be expected. I wouldn’t make any major day to day decisions without knowing the likely results, so I don’t see why I should make a political decision without knowing. It’s a shame, as if they had provided a stronger alternative I could have voted to Leave. Moderate Eurosceptics such as myself are exactly the market they need to win over.

For all I dislike the SNP, at least they articulated a coherent vision, even if it was utterly torpedoed by their lack of economic logic. The Leave campaign’s vision is a mess of assorted grievances, populism and outright inaccuracies thrown together to see what sticks.  Sorry Boris, as much as I like you and think you’re underrated as a politician, your campaign has been poor and answered none of the questions posed of you.

Immigration: This is the one subject which the political class has utterly failed to grasp. Predictions on the numbers of workers who would arrive after the 2004 EU enlargement were frankly laughable. Since that moment immigration has soared and become an increasingly divisive issue, bringing out the worst of this country on occasion.

While undeniably good for our country in macroeconomic terms and helping to drive down the average age of the country, it has had a negative impact on many parts of the country, often the most economically deprived. In my home town of Torquay and it’s surrounding region of Torbay, large numbers of EU workers have helped keep wages down in a region already economically deprived and reliant upon low paying jobs. Other places such as Boston have had to deal with 10% of the population changing in a decade, bringing with them new cultures, new languages and new ways of living. While the idea of migrants ‘stealing’ jobs off British people is a load of old toss, there is no denying that they deflate wage markets and hurt the working class the hardest. Those with degrees in professional jobs have little to fear and ignore the problem, failing to understand the issue and blaming it on ‘racism’ and other easy generalisations, only fuelling the issue. The rise of UKIP in areas like Torbay and Labour’s heartlands is no surprise and while they undoubtedly have racist elements to their support, within their ranks they also contain thousands of normal people concerned at the pace of change and the economic impact of globalisation.

The EU is blamed for this and the freedom of movement it provides definitely causes issues, however leaving will not suddenly resolve the issue. It ignores the fact that the majority of immigration is non EU (click) and the underlying economic issues in the regions that suffer the most will continue to exist. There is not suddenly going to be an end to package holidays, bringing the British seaside back to it’s 1920s prime. Blame should be placed upon the government for not doing more to assist economically failing regions. For example, in this day and age with fast broadband connections, do we really need all government departments based in London? Why couldn’t some be moved to decaying towns such as Torquay, Blackburn, Blackpool etc whose previous economic reason for being is fading to the detriment of the people who live in these regions. A slow start has been made with the creation of Enterprise Zones but far more needs to be done. Incidentally EU development funds have achieved much success in this area.

Immigration is an issue that will continue creating headlines for the coming years, Brexit or not. In the coming years real efforts will need to be made to tackle the issue, increase social cohesion and truly come to grips with the concerns of those people who feel angered and left behind by rapid change, rather than ignoring them and deriding them as ‘racist’. Leaving the EU is not a silver bullet to fixing these issues nor will it eliminate immigration altogether, turning the clock back to  the early 00s. It may have a restraining influence on the numbers coming here but the social impact of the recent arrivals is here to stay. Developing better ways of integrating new comers, creating cohesive communities and turning around struggling communities is a far better option than turning to isolation.

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Our Standing In The World: Britain. Britain. Britain. We’re a member of the G7, the UN Security Council, have one of the strongest armed forces in the world, produced Gareth Gates and invented the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. We are a highly influential nation but we still need our alliances and relationships. Without NATO we would cut a less influential figure in military affairs and without the EU our economic clout will be reduced. No longer would we be able to influence trade deals to the same extent and derive maximum benefit as one part of a large trading zone. It is likely that in time we’d enter into trade agreements with most of the major nations in the world but it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be on such favourable terms.

This being said, it’s nonsense to suggest, as some have done, that leaving the EU would leave us small and insignificant, a fading former power, the Nottingham Forest of world politics. Our economy, our army and our wide ranging soft power (recently voted the highest in the world by The Economist – click ) would ensure that would never happen but leaving the European Union would have a detrimental impact on our economic clout and for this reason it makes sense to remain.

Scotland, the United Kingdom and It’s Future: I don’t particularly like being blackmailed and I don’t particularly like Nicola Sturgeon. I remain a Unionist and want Scotland to remain part of this country. Voting to leave the EU would open a whole can of worms in relation to Scotland even if recent polling suggests they would vote to stay in the UK after Brexit (click) and raises concerns surrounding the Northern Ireland peace process. This country has already undergone enough political turmoil with coalitions, Corbynites, AV, IndyRef, European Referendums, an economic crash that we’re still working our way out of and the last thing we need is for the Scottish question to be reopened. A vote to stay will undermine the SNP’s adversarial politics of driving a wedge between England and Scotland and emphasis our joint principles and shared beliefs. While not my main reason for voting Remain, it has had an impact upon my views.

For these reasons and others I have had time to write about such as employment legislation, I’m voting Remain. The EU is not perfect but it’s too much of a risk to vote Brexit. We should stay within the Union and improve it, reforming the parts that don’t work and ensuring that a British voice is heard loudly. We’re not without allies, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland amongst others have on many occasions expressed similar views. We should work with them to continue moving forwards. The economic crisis has laid bare many of the old myths of the European Project and ‘ever closer union’ is no longer a sacred cow. A Europe of a strong alliance of states working together for the better of all is the way forward whilst rejecting isolationism.

This is not to say that many elements of Brexit are not attractive but the Leave campaign has failed to put forwards an attractive alternative, suggesting for our future a ghostly quasi existence somewhere between Switzerland and Norway (Dortmund? Yeah I’m trademarking ‘DortmundOption’- hands off Daily Mail). To make such a radical decision the alternatives provided are not good enough. The Leave campaign’s failure has made even long term Eurosceptics such as myself turn away from leaving in preference to staying and working from within to improve the EU. To nick a phrase from the summer of Salmon, we are Better Together.

That’s a quick summary of my views, you may think I’m an idiot or wonder why I’ve typed this all up instead of doing something more productive but whatever your views are, the important thing is that on Thursday you go out and vote. This is a referendum where your vote counts, no matter where you live, no matter whether you are the Prime Minister or Joey Essex. If you don’t go out there and vote, you’ll have no right to complain on Friday morning when the vote goes against you.

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Why I’m Voting Remain – Sorry Nigel

Top 20 Video Games: Part 1 – Burnin’ Rubber and the Best of the Rest

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Burnin’ Rubber. Those were the days. Look at those individual blades of grass accurately swaying in the dynamically generated wind.

My history with video games dates back to early 1996 where I had the dubious experience of being handed down an Amstrad GX4000, with a built in copy of Burnin’ Rubber, one of only 15,000 GX4000s ever sold in the UK. The GX4000 was Amstrad’s one and only entry into the console market and was quickly blown out of the water by the Sega Megadrive and SNES, games being few and far between as the console flopped. It had been dead for years when I was handed mine in a tatty white cardboard box which had probably been stored under a bed since Christmas 1990, the previous owner relieved to get rid of some space to store the box for their new 3DO, the console of the future.

Aged 7 and generally more interested in outdoor activities than gaming, unusually for my generation, the GX4000 never captured my attention in a way future consoles would, the lack of games being a big impediment as my letters to various publishers about their future games went unanswered (this was the pre-internet era where unless you read specialist publications, information was few and far between). The GX4000 quickly became a second thought as I moved onto more interesting things such as watching England lose to Germany at EURO96, beginning the long process of the English football team brutalising my childhood, while my parents played the console more than me. Despite this in many ways both the GX4000 and EURO96 were the beginning of  interests that continue to develop as I got older.

Later that year building upon my brief foray into gaming with that useless box of white plastic, my mother bought me a Sega Mega Drive II (I long wondered what the Mega Drive I was before Wikipedia, the reality being significantly less interesting that I had dreamed about) along with a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This was when my love for computer games really began to develop. Sonic was like nothing else I’d played until that moment, although when the competition was Burnin’ Rubber and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Game Boy game it’s not saying much. I’m still not sure what the mid 90s aversion to ending their words in G was about.

Many hours were sunk into Sonic although I never managed to complete the game until 2008 when I picked it up on PS2 for a nostalgia trip and finally got beyond Metropolis Zone Act II, my previous nemesis all those years ago. Tails was as he still is now, a complete and utter bastard but the rest of the game was a multicoloured frenetic experience from the now iconic Emerald Hill zone and it’s theme tune to the bloody annoying oil slicks on Oil Ocean Zone. That game was what hooked me on gaming and from Sonic I went onto other classic Mega Drive games such as Micro Machines 2, Ecco the Dolphin, Comix Zone (fairly certain I was too young for this), the original FIFA and some ancient Avengers game that I had promptly forgotten all about until the recent avalanche of Marvel movies re-ignited that particular dormant memory. I always played as Captain America because of his ability to throw his shield being great for clearing out screens of enemies without having to go too close. Now I think Captain America is by far the most boring of the Avengers. How things change.

By the end of my particular Megadrive era, trailing a few years behind the actual Megadrive era, I had well and truly become a gamer. Following the Megadrive, I owned a Playstation, Game Boy Colour, Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Game Boy Advance SP and three gaming PCs. Roughly around the time of the Playstation 3 era, as a result of leaving school and later heading to university I dropped out of the console scene but have been an avid PC gamer ever since, playing most of the major multi-platform releases. Aside from my long hoped for PC port of Red Dead Redemption I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out. I’ve seen the industry evolve from it’s mid 90s days when it was still overtly kid dominated, console mascots roamed wild in the field and licensed Disney games were amongst the best-selling games, through to its maturation in the PS1 era as gaming became more cool and mainstream, through to its mainstream acceptance in the PS2 era and then the recent mobile and digital download revolutions. The industry has changed for the better in many ways and for the worse in many other (bad DLC practices, micro-transactions, F2P abuses etc) but I still try and find a few hours in each week to play some kind of game.

As a celebration of 21 years gaming, this is my list of the Top 20 games I’ve ever played. This is not a list of the top 20 games ever, indeed you’ll notice a significant lack of Nintendo games given my lack of Nintendo consoles and dislike of the same games slightly tweaked every generation, but instead the 20 games that gave me the greatest enjoyment and memories over these years. I intend on writing this as three separate posts, firstly those games that just missed out and two later posts dealing with games 20-11 and 10-1. Let’s do this.

Best of the Rest

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All the cool kids had an Amstrad GX4000.

Burnin’ Rubber – I don’t really remember too much about this game aside from the fact it functioned along the same lines of a modern endless running mobile game like Temple Run but with more freeform moving between lanes. It claimed to be a racing game but it’s not something that modern racers would recognise, instead it’s something much more along the lines of 90s arcade racers with you driving on an long road, the background changing as you progressed and more obstacles being thrown in your path to increase the difficulty. You accelerated and dodged other cars on the track and obstacles and if you went off on the grass for too long your car blew up, probably due to being constructed in France or something. The graphics were pretty cack  from what I remember but this is where it all started, god bless you Amstrad and your 90s Xtreme attitude towards naming games, without you I might have actually done something productive with much of my childhood.

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Usually the result of me accidentally dropping a grenade rather than the shot of the century.

Worms Armageddon – I can’t count the amount of hours I devoted to playing Worms games in the late 90s and early 00s. Strangely enough having to play the games on a PS1 and having few friends that had even heard of the games, the majority of my time was spent playing the AI. It was only later in my life that I discovered the ‘revolutionary’ feature which was online play. Nevertheless what started as a minor obsession with the original Worms game exploded into a full on obsession with Armageddon. The sheer amount of extra weapons, scenario types, customisable rules and obscure accents with which to equip your Worms kept me interested for at least a hundred hours even playing the AI. I became a genius with the ninja rope and able to fling a banana bomb from half way across the map as second nature, or at least I considered myself so, had I actually played online I imagine I’d have been quickly humbled as I have been with almost every online multiplayer game I’ve played.

Since then the series has never lived up to this high for me. I played Worms 3D and at its best it felt uncomfortable, the series never feeling right in a third dimension and losing some of what made it Worms. When I heard about Reloaded coming out on the PC, I was overjoyed, finally a chance to play the game on it’s best format and against actual human players but Reloaded was an utter failure with half the modes and weapons stripped out, limited number of Worms, crap online matchmatching and a general lack of content. In sum it lacked all the customisability and variety that made Armageddon so good. Revolution which came along a while after and was slightly better but fell victim of the modern day DLC profiteering while failing to fix many of Reloaded’s issues. Since then I’ve largely ignored the almost annual rehash of basically the same game that Team 17 puts out, having long since lost the faith that they might produce a version of the game that the modern MP era deserves but for a few years Armageddon ruled my world. Especially those rare moments when I actually managed to get a real human to play again and schooled them with my ninja rope abilities and darksiding to the point of frustration.

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It’s more interesting that this screenshot makes it look.

Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2)– A unique JRPG fusion of RPGing and city building with a gorgeous art style and absolutely jam packed with content. I can’t remember how I came across this game but I’m glad I did, from dungeon crawling for extra items to help me rebuild settlements via the Georama system, teleporting into the future to see them in a whole different light, to spending a ridiculous amount of time on the fish breeding and fighting minigame, it was a blast from start to finish.

The dungeon crawling was difficult at times but never felt too grindy or unfair, lacking much of the annoying random encounters and large periods between save points that other JRPGs, especially the Final Fantasy series, fall foul of. The story wasn’t the best part of it but this was more than made up for the sheer variety in environments, Veniccio being my favourite, and things to do. It remains the only JRPG I have played other than Final Fantasy and makes me feel as though I should give them more time in the future, Xenoblade Chronicles looks interesting but is unfortunately is only available on the Wii U.

Level 5 have long moved on from this series to being more interested in collaborating with Studio Ghibli but I harbour a secret hope that they might one day return and give us a modern take on the series. This was another game that I didn’t manage to complete when I first played it and although it recently came to the PSN, I’ve long held the frankly crazy hope for the game to be ported to PC at some time, just to be able to play it through to completion. Along with Red Dead Redemption I remain waiting…

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Dynasty Warriors 4.

Dynasty Warriors 4 – Probably the ‘worst’ game on this list in terms of mechanics and variety, nevertheless Dynasty Warriors has exerted a strange hold on me ever since first stumbling across the Dynasty Warriors 2 demo on an Official Playstation Magazine demo disc. The huge scope of the game, the frankly ridiculous Musou attacks and the sheer power you feel from playing as a superpowered hero ploughing through thousands of conscripted peasants who just want to be at home tending their fields are unique to this game. As a history graduate I really appreciate the admittedly simplified take on Ancient Chinese history it provides, an area of the world that British schools totally ignore and which can be hard to find the right place to start with. Plus nothing can compare to the first time I came across an elephant on the battlefield, promptly saddled it up and proceeded to stomp across dozens of regiments of fleeing men. I called him Stompy.

I missed Dynasty Warriors 3 but returned to the series with 4, which perfected the formula by adding unlockable weapons, stats building and a more meaty story mode. Since 4 the series has been whirring it’s wheels, largely producing the game every iteration or throwing in something random like Zelda or Gundam Robots, taking one step backward for every one and a half forward. The potential for a truly great game remains lurking, ready to be developed if Koei really made an effort to develop the RPG systems and add more depth and subtlety to the combat but I doubt it’ll ever happen, the current model works too well for them.

Dynasty Warriors 8 was recently added to Steam and despite little changing since the last time I played a Warriors title I was severely tempted to pick it up. That was before I saw the price tag and the avalanche of DLC coming in it’s wake, oh Koei nice to see you haven’t changed since the XL, Empires, super whizz bang nonsense I was used to.

Despite the series’ problems little can match the sheer excitement of ploughing your way through thousands of peasant soldiers before running away from Lu Bu like the base yellow coward you are…except perhaps the next game in this list. Dynasty Warriors you are truly my guilty pleasure. One day we will return to each other.

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Usually I’d put a screenshot here but I absolutely adore ArkhamCity’s threetone concept art.

Batman: Arkham City – Batman finally done right, after years of awful movie tie-in games. I’ll lay my bias in the open here and state that I adore the Nolan movies and consider the Nolanverse the definitive Batman. When internet nerds rant about how the Nolanverse takes liberties with the depictions of characters I can’t help but roll my eyes. I’ve find comic books a hard medium to get into and a medium that I do not enjoy reading due to the way they are structured, so aside from Knightfall which my father strangely bought for me one summer despite the fact I’d never shown any interest in comic books, my experience with the comic book universe was limited to the animated series’ particular take upon them. Rocksteady took the comic book universe, in a time when most people were far more interest in the Nolanverse, put their own artistic spin on it (still my favourite renditions of Harley Quinn, Talia Al Ghul and The Riddler)  and created one of the best games of the PS3/Xbox360 era.

Asylum was a great restrained start to the series, one which I spent far too much time playing during my first year of uni, but City took everything that Asylum did and expanded it out to the full canvas that it needed. The fighting system, the only one that’s ever given me the same sense of power as Dynasty Warriors and copied by seemingly every game since, was given more depth and challenge, there are far more side missions and quests and although sprawling and unfocused at times, the storyline is much more grand. At times it can almost become a victim of it’s own size, many of the Riddler trophies becoming a little tedious and verging on the edge of Assassin Creed’s collect-a-thons but on the whole it’s a brilliant game.

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This was a looker once upon a time.

Age of Empires – The epitome of this series in many people’s opinion was the sequel Age of Empires II: Age of Kings but I’ve instead picked the original. Back when I was a poor 11 year old I picked it up for about £10 from a local Staples (strangest place I’ve bought a game) and was engrossed in a game that had all the appeal of Command and Conquer but with historical flavour as well. One of the best things about this game was the gorgeous thick instruction manual that came with it, packed full with historical details about each of the game’s factions. I read through that manual almost as much as I played the game. I miss the days when publishers made beautiful detailed instruction manuals for their games rather than just a one sheet piece of paper with a link to an online .pdf. One of the things that the games industry has got worse at as the years have passed.

The game itself felt like a slower historical spin on Command and Conquer (more on that series later) but with a far greater choice of factions and more along the lines of my interests, with my sci-fi interest not developing until much later. I would spend many an afternoon crushing the AI, much like with Worms, and messing around with the map editor to create ridiculous maps and scenarios with huge amounts of resources and elephants stampeding around the place. Looking back at it, I seem to have had a thing for  elephants, weird.

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Tomb Raider (Reboot) – As Three Lions was playing in seemingly every pub, restaurant and shop in the country and I spent my weekends watching Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, I was possibly the only PS1 owner that wasn’t interested in Tomb Raider. My one attempt to play a Tomb Raider game, well after the craze had died down, was Tomb Raider III and I found it slow and finicky with an awful control system, overly reliant upon pin point platforming and with not enough action to interest me. It was with this in mind that I first heard about the Tomb Raider reboot, the focus on survivalism, more action and the artistic style piqued my interest but it wasn’t until the game was on Steam sale that I picked it up and I’m glad that I did.

While borrowing a lot from Uncharted, the game seems genuinely fresh as a Tomb Raider game. The story while hardly original drives things on with a certain gusto and the development of Lara is well done, if you ignore the oft noted sudden switch from being scared to kill one man to mowing down enemies in their dozens. The game even attempts to deal with some issues that video games often shy away from, dealing with said issues in a much better way than the media uproar before the game suggested. The tombs included within the game are at just the right level for someone that never really enjoyed the puzzle aspect of the original games and the liberal sprinkling of Japanese culture and history is interesting without becoming too overbearing. The platforming elements are far less annoying than in the original series and I genuinely enjoyed scaling up cliff faces and getting higher and higher, revealing new nooks and crannies and various routes across the large environment. The graphics are also gorgeously and ridiculously well optimised, looking brilliant and running mostly smoothly when I played it using an Intel HD3000(!).

I’m now eagerly awaiting getting a chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider but as my laptop is older than sin and I’m just as poor, I doubt I’ll get the chance to play it any time soon but as is usual with my experience with games, a couple years down the line I’ll finally get the chance to play it and I can’t wait for that.

Other games that came close to getting a nomination for best of the rest but were just short were Smash Court Pro Tournament 2 – I’m not usually one for sports games but this has the best career mode I’ve seen in a tennis game and the perfect balance between simulation and arcade gameplay and Dragon Age: Origins which was a perfect throwback to old 90s RPGs while having all the polish and graphical finesse of modern games. Shame they screwed up the rest of the series.

Next time around we reach the actual top 20 with numbers 20-11 being listed. Until then I’m off to find another game where I can wreck elephantine destruction on my enemies.

Top 20 Video Games: Part 1 – Burnin’ Rubber and the Best of the Rest