Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Rise and Rise of The Girl Gamer

As a culture we, gamers, have a problem embracing change. We're getting better at it, but the last few years have proven time and time again that gamers are generally not as open minded as many of us would like to believe. The number of people who play games has grown to the point where there is almost no such thing as the typical 'gamer' anymore. This diversity is echoed by the emergence of new gaming experiences this generation has brought on. For a long time, so called 'hardcore' gamers were opposed to this growth, claiming the influx of new demographics would erode the demand for more traditional games. This hasn't happened, nor was it ever going to.

Now, thanks to the publicity around Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a website archiving abusive PSN and XBL messages aimed at girls ranging from simply sexist to face-palmingly dumb, we know that not only are there people who believe games should be made just to suit them and their tastes, but also that there are men in the world who feel that there is no room for girls who share that taste. I feel it's time to share a little of my personal life.

My girlfriend is a reluctant gamer. Wary of the specific skill-sets each new game requires her to learn, and the time comittment many solo campaigns demand, she is particularly choosy about what games she plays. However, having been raised on a gaming diet similar to mine, Sonic, Golden Axe, Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider etc., her taste, in my opinion, is generally quite good. LittleBigPlanet, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock, LocoRoco, even some Final Fantasy titles have all found themselves places in her heart.

But there's a bigger point to this rant. She may be picky about her games, and she may avoid playing certain titles for reasons many would mock her for, but it has to be said; she's good. Dead or Alive 2, Killzone, Burnout 3, Soul Calibur 4, BlazBlue, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., all games she has bested me in at some point or another. When she watches me play single-player platformers, she frequently figures out where to go next before I do and if there's a puzzle to be solved, she's got it solved from the sidelines in no time. Sometimes it bothers me she doesn't play more, she's clearly got the head for it.

Recently, at her house after Christmas I coaxed her into trying the multiplayer in Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. As expected, she was reluctant. Conscious, and nervous, about wandering into its murderous-multiplayer environment as n00b, let alone a female n00b with an obviously female PSN name, she eventually agreed to give it a shot.

Firstly, I feel it should be said that as far as online-multiplayer goes, AC: Brotherhood is not only one of the best experiences I've had, but also one of the fairest. It's very difficult to feel hard-done by when playing, even when things aren't going your way. The incentives are there to do well, and even when these incentives are used against you (poison knives, guns etc.) they only serve as reminders that they will be in your hands soon enough if you just plough through it. My girlfriend was about to experience this for herself.

Once she'd grasped the basic premise and pulled off a few kills she'd developed a taste for it and lo and behold, was quite good at it. Soon enough she found herself placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd in ranked matches, often ahead of players of much higher levels than her. Within less than two hours she had shot up 14 levels. Inexplicably, I found this incredibly attractive. In fact, part of what really endeared me to my girlfriend when we first met was the fact that she was into games at all, never mind how good she was with them.

So initially, I found it hard to understand the derision with which my fellow man viewed girl gamers. On reflection, however, it is condusive with the social journey games have gone on since their inception. At first, games were exclusively for geeky boys, because geeky boys were the only ones who liked them. The Nintendo/Sega era widened this demographic from 'geeky boys' to 'boys' and at that point, probably some girls. Playstation changed everything and gave games a sense of cool they'd never enjoyed before and since then the market has only gotten wider still. While socially introverted geeks/nerds such as myself find the idea of girls playing games socially reassuring and appealing, if we liken the late-comers to cool kids or jocks, as juvenile as that may seem, their frat-boy-esque chauvenism is easy to understand. Those who understand gamings colourful social history are happy to see it take in all kinds of newcomers, those unaware of its history see it as something to keep outsiders away from. Perhaps I'm taking them too seriously. The spelling ability these men showcase would definitely make one think so.

I was hesitant to write about this 'girl gamer' issue because I like to think there are bigger things to think about with regards to games than whether or not girls play them. In talking about this gender divide, all we do is create the consequences that we claim to detest. We fuel the idea that girls playing games is an odd thing, in turn justifying unwarranted self importance in both the girls who play and the males who take issue with it. If even half the people who know better just shut up about it, the egomaniacs and chauvenists would be exposed for just that and soon, I believe, would find themselves in a very distinct minority.

In short, if we ignore it, it will go away.

TL;DR: Girls play games. Get over it. Everyone.

Andy x

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

I'm a little late with this review, but I have good reason. Having seen the film twice, once on its release and once a few weeks ago, and allowed for a cooling off period to let my fanboy fever die down, I now feel like I'm in a position to speak as objectively as I can about Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

I add the caveat, 'as objectively as I can...' for a good reason also. Having read (and adored) the cult-darling comic books by Brian Lee O'Malley prior to my viewing of the film, my opinions of the characters and events portrayed are considerably more well-informed than those who haven't, so it's very possible I'll be more forgiving than certain critics of the adaptations shortcomings. Considering also how faithfully the film stuck to the principal ideas laid out by its source material, it is difficult not to draw direct parallels between the two. Disclaimers out of the way, on with the review.

First, the obligatory synopsis. Scott Pilgrim is a 20-something slacker from Toronto who lives and hangs out with other 20-something slackers, also from Toronto, and eventually falls in love with a 20-something hipster from New York and must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to court her. Comical, certainly, and not the type of premise that will appeal to everyone, but lets remember this is the stuff of comic books. It doesn't ask to be taken seriously. In fact, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, both the comics and the movie, makes every effort to make sure you don't take it seriously.

This is a world where couriers travel through peoples minds to cut time on long-distance jobs, where bass players punch holes in the moon, average-joes have other-worldly super-powers and villains burst into coins when defeated. If any of that made you cringe or raise an eyebrow, Scott Pilgrim is not the franchise for you. However, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief that extra little bit and see past the relentless video game arcana, you're in for, what is at its heart, an interesting, character driven relationship story. Albeit, one with lesbian-ninjas and psychic vegans.

Scott Pilgrim is, potentially, the worst protagonist in comic book (and comic book movie) history. He's lazy, narcissistic, whiny, poor, the list goes on and on. When we're introduced to him, his only ambition is to spend time with his high-school girlfriend, Knives, and mooch off his gay roommate, Wallace, never aspiring to anything bigger than a cup of cocoa and a gig for his, awful, band. He does however have a unique, inexplicable likability, much of which comes from Ceras natural on screen charm, which segways us nicely into his journey of self-discovery when he meets his excruciatingly cool love interest, Ramona Flowers.

While reading the books, around volume 4 I believe, I remarked to a friend that I really didn't like Ramona as a character, and that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to or not. The film, in my opinion, suffers from the same problem. It's honestly difficult to like Ramona. She's snide as opposed to sassy and continuously comes across as a conceited, hipster bitch. This is even more apparent in the film than the books and it really makes it difficult to understand why Scott is so infatuated with her, especially over Ellen Wongs adorably insane depiction of Knives Chau, who on more than one occasion I found myself rooting for. Having said all that, Scott Pilgrim has always been as much a parody of nineties-youth as a celebration of it, and Scotts bewilderment at Ramonas consistent hipsterisms (much of which was lost in favour of more infatuation in the film) can serve as a much needed contrast to Ramonas unwarranted self-importance.

But I haven't written the story, and Ramona isn't COMPLETELY unlikeable, so perhaps thats just my own issue. Their relationship evolves at a slightly more unrealistic pace than in the books, but that's to be expected of a film adaptation with seven antagonists to get through, and truth be told the way in which both Scott and Ramona develop each-other as characters is still apparent and still heartwarming. A quality deviation in Knives' story also brings her character full circle, creating a more well-rounded Knives than the books delivered.

This movie is as much about its villains as its heroes, and some top notch casting, writing, acting and directing bring these bad guys to life in spectacular fashion. Brandon Routh and Chris Evans steal the show as Todd Ingram and Lucas Lee, but even Mae Whitmans Roxy Richter delivers a few laughs, while the battle between Sex Bob-omb and the Katanyagi Twins is an aural-visual onslaught that will test as many as it will delight. The supporting cast are also worth a mention. Young Neil is a subtle scene stealer, Kieran Culkins Wallace Wells is a not-so-subtle scene stealer and while Kim Pine can come across one-dimensional to those unaware of her comic book back story, Alison Pil delivers a convincing, and at times exhilarating performance as the habitually pissed off drummer.

But any story ultimately relies on the strength of its leading man/lady, and given how useless Scott appears at first glance, how could anyone possibly relate to his story? Well it's simple really. We've all been where he is, willing to do anything to win over the guy/girl of our dreams, including dealing with the issues of his or her past, issues which in this case are embodied by seven evil exes.

Consider this, all of Ramonas evil exes are infinitely superior to Scott in almost every way. They're stronger and they're better looking but they're all completely hung up on a girl they dated years ago. Scott, on the other hand, in having to (literally) fight for something he wants for the first time in his life, showcases genuine capacity and drive to change and be a less sucky person. That's why we empathize with him, that's why we forgive his initial shortcomings and that's why we cheer for him.

Edgar Wright has created an incredibly faithful adaptation in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, in a style not a million miles from his previous work, particularly Spaced. But like its source material, it will completely alienate as many as it will endear. I definitely believe reading the books prior to seeing the film will make it easier to take Scotts world for what it is, as well as giving you as a viewer, a deeper insight into characters who can seem shallow and uninteresting to those meeting them for the first time. But Wrights adaptation is (just) broad enough to have more than limited crossover appeal while keeping the fanboys/girls happy.

TL;DR: A great companion film to the Scott Pilgrim books, which will please fans and newcomers alike, provided you don't take it seriously.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

It's been awhile. Let's talk Katy Perry.

Those of you familiar with Katy Perry's last album 'One of the Boys', will no doubt be aware of the differences between her latest offering, 'California Gurls' and, well, just about anything from her debut. While many have been eager to criticise her for the shift, it does beg the question that if 'One of the Boys' had a point to make, that Katy was here to do pop music a little differently, then what's left to do when that point has been made and there's nothing left to prove? The answer, apparently, is to do something a little more obvious.

'Teenage Dream', the new albums title track, is a solid start to proceedings. From the word go we can tell things have changed since the last hour we spent in Katy's company. Gone is the angst and determination to prove herself worthy of the worlds attention, in it's place a feeling of wide-eyed wonderment and the sense that now that she finally has the worlds attention, she's not quite sure how to use it and would rather simply relish it while its there. It's on par with 'California Gurls' in terms of it's arrangement and production (which is of a reasonably high standard throughout) but where 'California Gurls' lacks the sincerity of her last album, 'Teenage Dream' is drowning in it, just in a very different way. We've all had that someone who excites us like we never knew we could be excited. 'I'll get your heart racing in my skin-tight jeans, I'll be your teenage dream tonight' Katy promises over a track so candy-floss sweet it could give you cavities were it not so true to life. This feeling of youthful exuberance and excitement is something that Katy obviously knows very well, writes very well and should have used as a running theme throughout her entire second album.

Unfortunately, she didn't.

After the title track, things get a little less interesting. 'Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)' is (almost) literally a second-rate 'Waking Up in Vegas', 'Firework', 'Circle the Drain', 'E.T' and 'Pearl' see Katy try on so many different generic pop-song pre-sets it becomes impossible to find sincerity in any of them, and 'Peacock' is so shockingly bad I'm willing to write it off as nothing more than a failed experiment. Meanwhile, 'The One that got Away' and 'Not Like The Movies' work surprisingly well as ballads and along with 'Hummingbird Heartbeat', bring back the childlike naivety and enthusiasm the album promised at the start.

It's hard to tell if it was deliberate or not, but miss Perry and her team of songwriters have quite spectacularly disregarded the aforementioned point her first album tried so hard to make. The majority of the tracks here are generic pop tunes that would be completely indistinguishable from the sound-a-likes churned out by Alexandra Burke or Vanessa Hudgens, were it not for Perrys unique vocal and lyrical traits.

'Teenage Dream' could have been great. It could have been a 21st century pop gem. Katy Perry is a bloody good songwriter with a tremendous pop sensibility, and while there are certainly flashes of that on 'Teenage Dream', it has been eclipsed almost entirely by a half-hearted attempt to secure her place in pop superstardom.

TL;DR: If ifs and buts were candy and nuts...well, Katy Perry would, presumably be a very happy lady.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Let's get this out of the way, I am a fanboy. I am shameless in my love for Final Fantasy and have been for years. There are certain non-canon spin off things that I've generally avoided, but with the exception of III, X-2 and XI, there hasn't been one I didn't enjoy on some level. The characters are always interesting and developed well, the stories are epic and the worlds are beautifully realized whether based in the medieval or the futuristic or both. I could go on and on about the merits of the series, but I won't. Instead, I'll try keep things as subjective as possible. Besides, FFXIII is just a segway for my point in this post: Linearity and it's place in video games.

Reports on Final Fantasy XIII, while generally favourable, all point fingers at one aspect of the games first half. In several reviews I've read things like, 'the game is shockingly linear' or 'the linearity is ridiculous'. Statements which, especially in the context of a final fantasy game, continue to baffle me.

Since when is linearity the enemy? I love a good story, and I genuinely believe that games have the ability to provide unique, innovative narrative experiences, but only if there's something interesting there to work with in the first place. Without gushing like the miserable fanboy I am, FFXIIIs 'shocking linearity' works 'shockingly well' in my opinion. It's a different experience to the usual formula, and the lack of exploratory freedom isn't going to go down well with everyone, but it's this linearity that provides the much needed momentum to the story. These people are cursed and have no idea how to fix it. They don't have time to go trouncing around forests or fields chasing mutated squirrels and giant lizards, they're too busy continuously pushing forward in a collective effort to not die.

I realize a full post on FFXIII (and how I love it) would be too predictable for me. But as an example of my point it's quite useful. Linearity, coupled with good storytelling (most of the time anyway), has ALWAYS been a huge part of the FF experience, one that has enthralled as many as it has repulsed. Why are critics suddenly so eager to point this out?

I hear the arguments coming already. 'Every path is just a tunnel or a narrow corridor', 'the level design is unimaginative', 'TOWNS TOWNS WAH WAH WAH'. Yeah every path is a narrow corridor, as I said the current storyline doesn't lend itself well to time-wasting, we're in a life and death situation here. Unimaginative? Are you for real? I don't think there's been even one locale in the game this far that didn't make me grin like an idiot, the game, including its levels are nothing short of beautiful. As for the towns, get over it. Yeah I liked them too but things have to change.

'Change? But aren't you, here, on this blog, decrying this change? you hypocrite!' I hear you cry. Not quite, I'm afraid. I'm not against change, in fact XIII has done away with a lot of the shit that bugged me about previous entries, and even the new additions I'm not too keen on deserve their part in the experiment.

No More Heroes, my favourite game of 2008, suffered the opposite of this. With an open-world idea (very obviously) tacked in as an afterthought, one that never really felt very open at all, NMH came under heavy criticism. Now FFXIII has decided to toss any and all pretense of an open world, with a story that justifies, no, demands it's 'shocking linearity' as a sense of urgency. It seems as if people genuinely are just impossible to please.

Open world gaming is a great idea. But admit it, when faced with an open world sandbox to explore or terrorize (Just Cause 2, GTAIV, Saints Row etc.) how much attention do you usually pay to the story? Very little, I'd wager. Not that I'd blame you, those games usually have stories as impressive as those found in Stephanie Meyer books or the type of fanfiction you'd find on DeviantArt blogs. That, or they end up shockingly pretentious in their efforts to avoid it. Either way the open world idea lends itself much better to gameplay than it does to narrative.

Which basically brings us to what you personally want from a game or what you believe games can do if you believe they can do anything. Personally, I think there is untapped potential in the idea of games providing truly unique narrative experiences and that's what I want to see. Sandbox games are incredibly fun to play, but their novelty ultimately wares off and I often find I need a little more to sink my teeth into. A good story, well told, is a nice way of providing that extra depth.

I mentioned in my Heavy Rain post that there seems to be a growing divide between what developers want to make and what consumers want to play. Realism has proven to be a false-prophet for the industry, and I think this disdain for linearity will end up the same.

I'll probably be posting more on Final Fantasy XIII in the not too distant future, there's bigger plans afoot than what I've talked about here.

TL;DR: A mediocre post on the merits of Linearity. Expect a better one when I have time to string a metaphor together.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Moving Units

*NOTE: This is an article for this weeks TN2 magazine, I'm assuming anyone reading this already knows what PSmove is. If you don't, enjoy my briefing. If you do, enjoy the rest of it.

Despite opinions to the contrary, I am personally of the belief that flashes of healthy skepticism are a positive force in a world riddled with manufactured hype. I don't necessarily buy into the idea that corporations are the enemy or that Starbucks harvest children for sandwich meat, but it's important to recognize the difference between actually wanting something and being told that you want something. That said, there is little in this world that bugs me quite as much as unfounded negativity and my faith in 'healthy skepticism' is often mistaken for the unreasonable belief that 'everything is shit until it can prove itself otherwise'.

So the long talked-about PlayStation motion controller has finally been unveiled as the PlayStation Move, and it seems as if the bloggers are ready to fire up their cynicism cylinders and declare it a failure before it's even hit the track.

Far be it from me to preach about the merits of keeping your hopes up, especially where Sony are concerned, they have an unfortunate reputation for not delivering on promises (or lying, as it's more commonly known), but anyone ready to dismiss the PSMove as a 'Wii-Too' is clearly unaware of the technology that's actually involved.

Let me make one thing clear; I own a Wii. I like the Wii. Sure, it's gimmicky and there's hundreds upon hundreds of terrible, unnecessary and terribly unnecessary titles out for the thing, but the (admittedly few) games I do own I enjoyed immensely. No More Heroes is still my favorite game of 2008 and its sequel could end up being my favorite game of 2010 (FFXIII not withstanding), but even I can't feign ignorance towards Nintendos marketing strategy, although I could be inclined to refer to it as evil genius. The Wii-Motion Plus, which, let's face it, many of us shelled out for, was basically a peripheral to make the Wii do what it was always meant to do in the first place. We'd been had; tricked into buying a console with a control system that was, unbeknownst to us, incomplete and then charged for its completion when sales started to dwindle. Sony's decision to imitate the technology this late in the game isn't much better, but at least they've come to the table with a finished product.

The PlayStation Move is exactly what you'd imagine a Wii-Remote to look like if it were made by Sony and had a giant plastic ball attached to it. If that sounds comical, well, it is. It looks ridiculous. However, last week at GDC the press finally got their first chance to test it out first-hand and while a trip to San Francisco was just slightly out of TN2s budget this year, the reports from more financially viable press sources have been generally favorable.

The giant ball at the top of the controller contains three LEDs that can combine to make any color you can imagine. When a game is fired up, the eyetoy camera (a peripheral required to use the PSMove) scans the room for colors and lights up the controller in a color it didn't find, thus providing a highly effective way to keep the tracking at a ratio of 1:1. For instance, if you were in a room with lots of blue, the sphere would likely turn orange or red, so the camera can track the big orange or red thing in the room full of blue. It really is that simple.

While Sony have admitted that they're planning a considerable amount of casual fare to be released for the device, their insistence that they're still a company for the 'core gamer' (a term I use with much disdain) took a sharp turn for the believable when the latest title in their much revered SOCOM franchise, SOCOM 4, was demoed using the PSMove in a way, nay a multitude of ways, that actually worked. Admittedly, it required the presence of the conspicuous 'sub-controller', an additional wand that resembles Nintendos Nunchuck peripheral, which seemingly brings us right back to the Wii argument, but the video is undeniably impressive, showcasing a tracking ratio unlike anything I've seen on the Wii, with or without it's motion-plus add-on.

The PlayStation Move is currently scheduled for an autumn release, coinciding with the release of Microsofts controllerless-controller-camera-thing, currently codenamed Project Natal. The unveiling at GDC confirmed several bundle packages, the most alluring of which being the 'starter kit', containing a controller, a game and the eyetoy camera for (apparently) under $100. Microsoft have come under some criticism for their avant-garde approach to this idea (doing away with a controller altogether) and with Nintendo consistently underwhelming everyone of late, Sony might just be on to a winner here. Only time will tell if developers will really get on board with this, after all third-party support for the Wii has been thin on the ground, but with the right software support and the inevitable marketing push towards Christmas 2010, the PSMove has the potential to truly finish what the Wii began.

TL;DR: PlayStation Move could quite possibly do what Epic Games have failed to do: Kill the Wii.

Andy x

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heavy Rain - Rated 'R' for 'Real'

3 months in and no posts in 2010. Let's fix that.

Last night I finished Heavy Rain, a game I'd been itching to get my hands on since 'the casting' tech-demo was unveiled at E32006. The lead up to its release was tense, with Quantic Dream showcasing what was easily one of the best marketing campaigns I'd seen in a game for years. From the deliciously-vague profiling of the four characters (and the appearance of half their faces in several magazine ads) to the 'four days' viral campaign which sent myself and countless others on a hunt for what turned out to be the demo for the game, it was clear that thought had gone into this, and most-likely every other facet of the product.

Having read through several reviews of Heavy Rain (some glowing, some flickering) I think I have a reasonably good handle on both sides of the argument. Yes, the game does rely quite heavily on QTEs. Yes, there are technical issues. No, the control system isn't perfectly tuned. The game definitely has its faults and is far from perfect. But I cant help but feel that these critics are somehow missing the point. For me, the issues that occasionally cropped up during my experience with the origami killer were not enough to break my immersion (although a trip or two through the uncanny valley certainly came very close) or impede my enjoyment. Far from proving that Heavy Rain is not perfect, these imperfections simply reiterated to me the idea that perfection is impossible to achieve.

The QTEs didn't bother me. They've bothered me in other games, Wet being one of them, and I'm definitely of the opinion that they are overused by lazy designers. That said I can't believe this to be the case with Heavy Rain. What the team at Quantic Dream has done here is special. I actually panicked as my avatar did. When characters began freaking-out, the action and emotion was mirrored almost exactly by me, an experience which disturbed and enthralled me in equal measure, and this is where the QTEs made sense to me. Far from being tacked in without thought, these were the exact decisions that you or I would have to make in the situations presented to us, all of which, it's worth noting, are just within the realms of possibility. We're being chased, do we go left or right? Before we have time to think about the choice we just made we are asked again, left or right? Up or down? In or out? Life or death? Heavy Rain isn't just another action/adventure game full of QTEs, Heavy Rain is aware that in life, real life, quick thinking can be the difference between success and failure. Life and death.

My current benchmark for games is the consistently astonishing Assassins Creed II, and as a barometer of quality it's particularly useful here. Did I enjoy the experience of playing Heavy Rain as much as I did ACII? No, I didn't. Heavy Rain wasn't particularly heavy on fun. Is Heavy Rain more important than ACII? Absolutely. 'Fun' is a subjective term, and even to the one person can mean many different things. Heavy Rain is an experience. My heart has never pounded playing a game like it did during sequences of Heavy Rain (possible exception of Silent Hill 2), rarely have I connected so much with characters, a connection consistently strengthened by the very real possibility that any of them could die at any moment and it would be entirely my fault. From beginning to end I was on the edge of my seat, aching with anticipation at every potential plot-turn and pitfall.

Reality or 'realism' is something the game industry has been fascinated with this generation. While developers are insistent this is where we should be going, critics and fans haven't been so eager to agree (GTIV anyone?). With so many games having 'realism' thrust upon them as an idea, as alien to them as it is to their audience, it is refreshing to see a game finally nail the formula and be truly deserving of the term 'Mature'. Heavy Rain is not perfect. Heavy Rain is real.

TL;DR: Heavy Rain is a flawed masterpiece. A step-forward for games as a narrative medium that is worthy of your time and money.

Andy x

Monday, October 5, 2009

Paramore - Brand New Eyes

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Okay, I'll just get this out of the way; I have a serious love hate relationship with paramore. When they first showed up on the scene back in 2005 I championed them and their astonishingly strong debut effort 'All We Know Is Falling' to anyone and everyone who'd listen.
It was a stunning mix of memorable hooks, slick rock production with the delicacy and vulnerability of emo, without being overly melancholy. At times it seemed a tad whiny, but with singles like 'Emergency' and 'Pressure' that was easily forgiven.

Imagine my delight when 'Misery Business' appeared!
It seemed as if Paramore had grown too big and exciting for the walls of their emo-pop cage to hold them any longer, and on the back of an album called 'Riot!', I was sure we were in for an edgier, more exhilarating Paramore than we'd seen before.

As superb as 'Misery Business' was however, 'Riot!' was a disappointment to anyone with a brain cell. It was by no means a bad album, it was just...boring. There wasn't a track on the record that was as interesting as 'Misery Business' and whats more, after taking huge strides forward towards a more mature, fuller and ultimately more impressive sound, they retreated back into their emo-pop cage for the remainder of the album. To this day I still haven't figured out why. And I think about it every day.

So where does that leave 'Brand New Eyes'?
Well unfortunately, it seems as if Paramore have retreated even further into themselves, losing all edge and believability in the process. There isn't a single song on this album that I could remember after listening to it. No soaring Hayley Williams vocal melodies and none of the trademark 'farro' hooks that made 'Pressure', 'Emergency' and 'Misery Business' what they were. Being perfectly honest, 'Brand New Eyes' feels like a collection of b-sides that were rejected during the recording of 'Riot!'. There's no growth to be heard here, there's no evolution and when all is said and done there's just nothing to get excited about. With 'Brand New Eyes', Paramore have basically proven that they have run out of ideas and are now seemingly intent on rehashing their initial idea over and over again until all the charm it brought with it first time round has been all but worn away.

It's unfortunate really. Paramore are capable of really shining at times and that's not something that new listeners will pick up from 'Brand New Eyes'. If you're an absolute die-hard fan there's nothing here that will turn you off them, but that's about the highest compliment I can pay them this time round.

Oh, and 'Decode' is, was and always will be the worst thing they've ever recorded.

TL;DR: If you've got to have this record, download it. A lull in sales might coax Paramore into growing their 'Misery Business' balls back.