Sunday, March 20, 2011

Drown your spirits


Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer has a stout, impressive looking bottle, trying to emulate the kind of vessel associated with real ale.

On first crack there is a light, spicy aroma of ginger, the head is very impressive and the  amber tint neither too cloudy nor too clear - the substance is there but it’s not all sediment. On tasting, however, the beverage is deceptively light. Crisp and benefitting from being chilled, the ginger taste itself is very mild, even if it does linger, and the bubbles aren’t really in evident. The drink is a very easy one, and it’s a wonder that there was any need for the invention of alcopops at all if this were an available alternative. With none of the bitingly sweet tones of the chemically enhanced likes of WKD and Smirnoff Ice, this feels like a much more preferable choice for those who prefer their alcohol to be sweet rather than bitter, even though the ingredients do point to the use of sulphites, sugar and sweeteners. Much is made of the elephant trademark dating back to 1801 and the emblazoned statement in ‘original’ ginger beer, but the ingredients are unlikely to set this far from the alcopop crowd. Still, this is ahead in taste and I would recommend for those who are after a refreshing brew with a light kick (4%).

Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry

On cracking there’s only the faintest hint of cherry, certainly not the sweet tang of cherry drop boiled sweets I’d associate with flavoured cola. The high fizz factor of a diet cola is present and correct, but the large head soon gives way to a tamer brew with that familiar brown-hued darkness to the liquid. With the drink loose in a pint glass the cherry aroma is no stronger than from the can; the first taste isn’t 100% smooth, but there certainly isn’t that acidic hit you’d get from a badly made artificial flavour. As with the odour, the taste is light, supplying an edge to the usual diet pepsi taste, doing the job of adding highlights without overwhelming the original. This is something I could get used to, if it were a standard addition to most shops’ pop lockers.

The ingredients feature the usual suspects with only calcium disodium an unfamiliar addition. Crucially the can states ‘contains no juice’ in order to cover themselves against people assuming that the use of ‘wild’ and ‘with other natural flavours’ goes hand in hand with organic or the drink being good for you.

Guarana Antarctica

Subtitled O Original Do Brasil, so I’m assuming that this is Portuguese and it’s a Brazilian drink with guarana as a chief ingredient. Guarana was marketed in the 90s, before Red Bull achieved fame, as a natural stimulant, appearing in drinks and chewing gum with promises of alertness. I tried the gum but don’t remember it having any particular effect

That ingredient list is dense as hell.

On cracking the can there’s a quick citric whiff, but this weakens quickly. The fizz on pouring is moderate, with a small head that subsides almost immediately. The colour isn’t that appealing, piss yellow in keeping with energy drinks but slightly less radioactive looking than red bull.
The odour in a glass is less citrus and more sugary, hinting at syrupy thickness. IT goes down smooth though, the sugar not leaving an unpleasant coating and a taste somewhat like muted lime. This does taste more natural than your average buzz beverage.


Made by the coca cola company, this beverage smells a bit like diet coke on first cracking the can, it looks like diet coke after you first pour, and it also tastes like diet coke, albeit with an unpleasantly metallic/soily aftertaste. I remember Tab clear being basically a way of having clear cola, but I can’t see the point in Tab at all.

Diet A&W root beer

On the crack you get a strong whiff of liquorice, very reminiscent of dental mouthwash. Whilst the gloop looks like your standard cola in the glass that medicinal taste is overpowering, with only a hint akin to sweet caramel from the ‘aged vanilla’ underneath.
Not something I’d like to sample again, definitely a stronger taste than the naturally brewed root beer I’ve tried before.

Metro 2033 - Xbox 360

Metro 2033 is heavily based on the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky. In 2033 a nuclear war has resulted in Moscow becoming an irradiated wasteland populated by mutated creatures, whilst the surviving people live underground in the metro systems tunnels and stations. The player controls a typically mute character Artyom, who finds that his home station is under threat from mutants called Dark Ones, more deadly than the usual tunnel dwellers that attack those who wander beyond the safety of the stations.
As Artyom you venture out looking for help from other stations, coming across outposts of communist and fascist groups who seek to control what remains of the city until ultimately finding an old nuclear weapons facility. There are hints in cut-scenes that the mutant beasts are some sort of radioactive evolution rather than mindless killers, but this idea isn’t really fleshed out at any point. There may be more made of the idea towards the end of the game depending on the moral choices you make at various points (giving money to a beggar etc.) but these decisions don’t seem significant in and of themselves.
The game is ultimately a first person shooter with a few tweaks on the standard genre tropes. Certain areas of the metro, and most of the surface of Moscow, necessitate the use of a gas mask, which needs filters to keep fresh or Artyom’s breathing becomes heavier and harsher. Additionally it can becoming damaged in combat meaning you will need to scavenge new ones from your victims. Ammo comes in two different flavours, expensive military grade pre-war ammo, which is understandably rare, or the botch job amateur produced gear knocked out in the metro system. Ammo is used in the stations for trade, though what you can buy is restricted to trading ammo types, guns and upgrades and health kits.
As well as the gas masks another consideration is light - much of the metro system is swathed in darkness so a torch is essential, and although use is limited it can be recharged using a hand pump.
Much of the combat takes place in a state of mild panic as you wheel about in the dark, mutants clambering across ceiling and walls, so it’s more relaxing when you come up against the human enemies in their dens. The action is fast and violent, the game allows a certain amount of damage which ‘regenerates’ - the screen gets increasingly red which fades when you find cover - and much like the charging of the torch and opening your log book, using health kits is done in real time, opening a box of vials and administering a quick dose of something with a syringe.

Due to its setting within the metro system, the game architecture is often limited to corridors and tunnels, and when the world opens up on the surface you still have the standard apocalyptic ruin seen in everything form WW2 shooters to Gears of War and Fallout 3. Opting for Russian dialogue with subtitles gives the game more atmosphere, but there is essentially little deviation from the survival horror style of the FPS genre as you battle monsters and bandits in the dark. As the genre inhibits much of the storytelling and characterisation that an RPG allows, the combat is pretty much all Metro 2033 has to fall back on, so happily this is as meaty and involving as you could expect.
Nothing truly exceptional but a nice change from the CODs that currently dominate the overcrowded FPS stable.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs - Xbox 360

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is illustrative of a change in the way film tie-in games are now produced. Typically seen as cash cows and chiefly a way of milking the last drops of cash from a franchise, games were often rush produced to meet the film launch deadline, inevitably resulting in sub-standard fare.
These days the film production companies are more savvy, preferring to be associated with a more quality product and therefore involve the development companies at a much earlier stage.
Meatballs certainly seems to capture some of the film’s magic, allowing for the fact that an inevitable lack in characterisation means a heavier emphasis on the art style and fantastical situations.
The gameplay chiefly involves platforming and combat, as is tradition with a tie-in aimed at kids. The mechanics are fairly basic owing to the perceived skill levels of the pre-teen intended audience, but the use of inventor Flint Lockwood’s gadgets to overcome the obstacles in the levels and deal with the sentient food aggressors lends it a little complexity. There are collectables hidden throughout each stage which accumulate in order for you to upgrade the devices, including a vacuum for sucking in and shooting out substances, a slicing blade, extending boxing glove and overpowered hair dryer.
The introductory animation is presented in a charming 8-bit style and this is repeated between each stage, while the levels themselves are bright and chunky, fitting the look of the film perfectly.
As the challenge is so slight the whole game can be wrapped up in a few hours, but they are satisfying hours. It would have been nice to have something a little harder (the NES era games were all aimed at kids but were pretty unforgiving - Ghouls n Ghosts anyone?) but it’s a fun diversion.