As you might have gathered, there are three things we like rather a lot on Noise to Signal : Doctor Who, games, and Charlie Brooker. And in the absence of TARDISwipe, last night’s BBC4 special Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe was bound to get us a bit excited.
And a fairly decent piece of television it was, too. While far from the best thing that Charlton has ever put his nickname to, it generally spoke from an informed and authoritative position, was as well-made as ever (including a wonderful opening titles sequence), and made a number of salient points, some of which had never really been touched upon by TV-based games coverage before (including a discussion of… TV-based games coverage). And with each new series, the Zeppotron archive-hunting department seem to get better and better, with some brilliant choices of old footage (indeed, the sections that looked at the mass media’s attitude to gaming over the years were generally among the programme’s best material).
Nevertheless, we wouldn’t be complete bastards if we didn’t get nitpicky, so here are a few general thoughts on the show, and on how we felt it might have done a bit better.
- The buggers have nicked our font.
- The guest speakers were a mixed bag. I’m usually no fan of Dara O’Briain, but at least he had something of note to say - a point I’d never really considered before, in that games are pretty much the only entertainment medium that, as a fundamental part of their makeup, withhold content until you’re good enough to access it. Unfortunately he later let himself down by slagging off Weezer. The chaps from Consolevania, meanwhile, did themselves no favours by being smug and twattish in their intro, by declaring that “retro” is only what they perceive it to be, and nobody else. In my book, “retro” as I understand it was summed up perfectly by the brief clip of Games World. It just depends on your age, dunnit. Old farts.
- That lass who did the song-based review is something of a cutie. But it was a bit difficult to hear what she was actually, you know, saying about the game.
- Charlie’s already addressed the fact that there simply wasn’t time to cover every single great game in history, and obviously he has a point. But there were occasions when it felt like glaring omissions, if included, actually would have helped to make a point. For example, there was discussion of modern-day games not having the same bonkers charm factor as the ’80s British home programmers’ revolution - but then Portal, a game which would have made for a strong contemporary counterpoint, was simply skimmed over in a later section. Similarly, the likes of Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex might have warranted a mention (moreso than Call of Duty, anyway) in Graham Linehan’s section about story - telling, as they do, decent stories in a way that only games can.
- As someone who read Brooker’s reviews of Carmageddon for PC Zone back in the day, it was strange that the game’s fleeting mention was fairly derogatory. And as he’s (again) already acknowledged, it would have been nice if fairer due had been given to the GTA games as the glorious satire that they actually are - if you’d gone into the programme with the perception that the games are a horrible unmitigated violence fest, I’m not sure if anything would have made you think otherwise (except for O’Briain’s diatribe about being stuck in traffic). Even Linehan missed this - Vice City is supposed to be a blatant parody of Scarface.
- It straddled an uncomfortable divide between being the proper games review show that the hardcore nerds wanted, and a general guide for the uninitiated. It actually did the latter quite well - but that simply left those of us who already know our stuff wanting more. And the two review segments would have been fine if part of a Screenwipe-esque weekly review series - but simply ate up far too much time in the context of a 50-minute special.
- While we’re at it, each copy of that 50 Cent game should come with a tracking chip inside, allowing a gang of thugs with baseball bats to find the owner’s house and smash up every console they own.
- The whole thing could have been a lot funnier. The Myleene Klass bit made me - and I suspect a lot of other people - laugh out loud, but that was about it. Charlie’s famed for his knowledge and his wit, and a better balance of the two would be helpful.
At the end of the day, it was just pretty bloody gratifying to see vaguely intelligent - and, more importantly, grown-up - games coverage on a major UK channel. And there’s really nobody currently working in television who’s better suited to doing such a thing than Charlie (consider the alternative, whose name rhymes with Bliain Blee). But this almost felt like an overexcited splurge, trying to do too much at once - as if this was going to be the only chance they’d ever get to do something like it - and never really nailing down any of the individual elements perfectly.
But then, the pilot of Screenwipe wasn’t perfect, either. I’d still rather like a full series, please, thank you very much.