Far Cry 5″s testicle roasting is just part of the grand Far Cry fabric, says developer

Remember the days when side missions were all about killing rats and collecting items? How times have changed. In 2018, Far Cry 5 players can stumble onto an optional mission that will have them hunting down fresh testicles for the local culinary celebration, Testy Festy. It involves guns, bulls, tractors, and the most surprising use of Marvin Gaye”s Sexual Healing since that awkward ninth grade biology lesson.  

It sure came as a surprise in the game. Ten minutes before, I”d been reading a pretty emotional letter from a father to his daughter while I was checking out a prepper stash, and the local cult was still raging – but here I was attacking sexually aroused cattle with a flamethrower. Far Cry 5 feels more open than ever before, so the emotional and the crazy is all mixed into one massive cocktail. We spoke to the game”s executive producer Dan Hay about how the Testy Festy mission came about, and how the team at Ubisoft makes the shifts in tone work. 

“It”s exactly what you imagine. The game is so big, and we want to make it so that you have a whole bunch of different experiences,” he says. “So that one minute you have something that”s poignant, and the next minute you have something that”s crazy, and that it”s always surprising.”

Hay says the key to creating a mission like Testy Festy is the one ingredient that can make or break a Tinder date. “That”s the thing that”s really tricky: injecting charm into it with something like the right song. Each character and story has a little idiosyncrasy to it.That”s the process, finding what it is that makes it weird and wonderful.”

And what about those shifts in tone? We got a few hours to play the game, and I spent a lot of that time drawn to the madder moments – but someone else might”ve spent that time just following the main mission. How does the team plan for players following their own whims rather than a storyline? 

“The way I choose to think about it is like a piece of music,” says Hay. “In previous Far Crys, we were building a very specific piece of music; we knew where you were going to be at certain beats, so we knew what emotional state you would be in. With this game, we said “No – just provide unique notes and rests, and let the player choose what it is they”re going to do.” It”s not prescriptive, it”s just about opportunities. 

“There are going to be times when you go through and you find something that”s poignant, something that”s powerful, something that”s earnest. Then there are going to be times when you”re running around saying “That”s the most ridiculous thing I”ve ever seen.” Our world is not painted with one brush, so why would we try to do that if we”re trying to build worlds? Why not make it interesting, unique, and allow the players to explore?”

This wild experimentation is part of what keeps the Far Cry series so fresh. It”s an action game that has gone back to the Stone Age, had an “80s-style spin-off, and let you ride elephants around Nepal. “One of the cool things about our brand is that we get to play,” says Hay. “It”s the same spirit that created Blood Dragon, or Far Cry 4; we said “OK, what about going back 12,000 years and doing something in prehistory”? Somebody says “What?!” – and then we know it”s the right idea. As soon as somebody says “what” we know we have to chase it.”

With USS Callister, Black Mirror’s fourth season proves it understands video games better than anything else on television

It’s either a shrewd spot of meta satire or a deeply unsettling coincidence that the first episode in Black Mirror season 4, set in a fully immersive video game parody of Star Trek, was released only a few months after the launch of an actual Star Trek VR experience  – Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Yet, funnily enough, that immediate resemblance tells you all you need to know about where the spotlight is pointed for USS Callister. 

Black Mirror’s depiction of virtual reality Trek may be a much darker and more technologically advanced fabrication compared to the real thing, but seeing as showrunner (and video game fan) Charlie Brooker co-wrote the episode only a short time after Bridge Crew was announced, it’s hard not to imagine him chuckling away while considering all the black comedy that could be wrung from a dystopian hyperbole of the game’s central premise.

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Even outside of the obvious comparisons to Bridge Crew, though, USS Callister feels like Brooker’s treatise on the state of video games in today’s landscape of ever accelerating technology, acting as both a celebration of their potential and a warning against the way we use them. 

It’s a persuasive argument for the uninitiated and a cautionary parable for the hobbyists all at once but, more than that, coming after season 3’s Playtest (and, to some extent, San Junipero), the episode cements Black Mirror as a show which understands video games in a way that few others do. 

While the rest of television too often falls into the lazy trope of presenting games as nothing more than a frivolous pastime relegated to the domain of archetypal nerds and nobodies (The Big Bang Theory, South Park, The I.T. Crowd), Black Mirror continues to explore the medium with much needed poise and perceptivity.  

Virtual insanity

In USS Callister, developer Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons, who looks loads like Matt Damon) spends his free time commandeering a space fleet in his own private prototype of the sci-fi MMO game he’s famous for creating, Infinity. Nothing particularly unusual about that, so far.

The Black Mirror flavoured kicker is that Daly’s crew are all made up of digital (yet fully sentient) clones of his work colleagues, who he’s virtually imprisoned by harvesting their DNA, forcing them to role-play as his obedient and sycophantic subordinates. “It’s a bubble universe”, explains Jimmi Simpson’s character to Cristin Milioti’s newly uploaded clone, “ruled by an asshole god.” 

Already, this uniquely sinister scenario sets the stage for Brooker and co-writer William Bridges to bring myriad topical issues into focus, from the dominance of the male perspective in pop culture to the dangers of online echo chambers. But it’s the episode’s dealings with the nature of video games that draws out USS Callister’s most observant commentary. 

The “asshole god” comment, for example, is more than just a coy reference to god games like Dungeon Keeper or The Sims, but reflects the episode’s wider metaphor for the way in which games often establish unfair power dynamics between different players online, or indeed between the main player and other AI characters.

Whether you’re playing in a private Battlefield server under the strict jurisdiction of a punitive host, or being griefed by a domineering and petulant stranger in DayZ, most of us have been on the receiving end of such dynamics at some point in our gaming history. While Daly’s assertion of his power comes across as much more intense and horrific than what players might typically experience during a game, that’s only because, in his world, the virtual technology is as authentic and lifelike as reality itself. 

“USS Callister might just be the most technophilic Black Mirror story yet.”

“Quite often in our stories we explore what happens when a normal, flawed human being is given some sort of immense power by technology” said Brooker in a recent interview with GQ, and while video games may only offer virtual power for now, USS Callister asks how that power might become more significant (and more dangerous) as the lines between reality and virtuality continue to be blurred. 

Despite his mild mannered behaviour in the real world, Daly turns into a cocky, misogynistic bully as soon as he enters Infinity, fetishizing an imaginary lifestyle in the only place he knows he has absolute control over. The game is an outlet for his frustration, then, but it’s also a lawless space for him to indulge in his darkest fantasies without consequence; the kind of environment that’s conducive to the displays of aggression which we see him committing against his crew.

There’s plenty to be said about the positive implications of using video games as a form of escapism, but what happens to someone when that escapism starts to become a replacement for their own reality? USS Callister offers an extreme but nonetheless pointed answer to that question with the case of ‘Captain Daly’, who clearly enjoys his life as an abusive tyrant in Infinity more than his meek existence as a sidelined CTO in the real world.

At the moment, it all might sound as though USS Callister is nothing but a damning condemnation of the very existence of video games, but it’s worth remembering that Brooker is a lifelong gamer himself, and the episode’s critiques are ultimately made out of a desire to improve an art form that it visibly expresses a tender appreciation for. In fact, USS Callister’s overall message is one of great love for the medium, in spite of its ongoing growing pains, and nowhere is there more proof of that than in its uncharacteristically optimistic ending.

To infinity and beyond

After escaping Daly’s server and entering the full, online world of Infinity, the cloned crew couldn’t be more elated for what awaits them. “We’ve got an infinite, procedurally generated universe at our disposal” says Diagnostics Officer Dudani. Yep, they’re stuck in a futuristic version of No Man’s Sky meets Elite: Dangerous (with a sprinkling of Mass Effect), and even as they flee from their first encounter with another player (voiced by Jesse Plemons’ fellow Breaking Bad alum Aaron Paul), the episode’s final scene is one of excitement and promise. 

This is no longer Daly’s world of exploitation and inequality, but a liberated playground of adventure and sociality, where each crew member is allowed to express themselves and interact with one another in a healthier, happier environment. 

The subtext couldn’t be clearer. Black Mirror may be chastising the kind of play represented by Daly’s regressive universe, one built on sentiments of prejudice and dogmatism, but it screams “yes please” to the idealized opportunities posed by a game like Infinity. 

If USS Callister’s story is saying anything, it’s that, once the selfish and narrow-minded values epitomised by Daly are out of the picture, games have the potential to flourish into the kind of bright, expansive canvas for play that’s teased by the episode’s cheering denouement. It might just be the most technophilic Black Mirror story yet.

The 25 best FPS games of all time

Okay, this list was never going to be easy to compile. As one of the most popular, eclectic and influential gaming genres, nailing down the list of the best FPS titles to just 25 games is an almost ridiculous task. So to help narrow things down, we made some hard and fast rules. Read them before you move on.

Number 1: The games have to be first person, and shooting has to be the predominant game system (hey, the clue is in “FPS”). So no Gears of War, and no Resident Evil 7. Number 2: This list is about currently best, not historically most important. To keep this list accessible, we”re only including games you can play right now on current-generation consoles, PCs and gaming laptops, instead of having to hunt down a PS2 at a garage sale. Have no fear: we haven’t forgotten the influential games that came before. They have their very own slide that explains their importance to the genre before we get started. See if you agree with our choices, as we progress toward revealing our number 1.

Best MMORPGsBest co-op games Best Xbox One gamesBest PS4 games

25. Honorable mentions

Let”s start with the influential FPS games that didn”t quite secure a place on the list. If you side-step the genre”s wireframe origins – expanded in our 43-year history of first-person-shooters – let”s start with the granddaddy: the original, 1993 Doom. While not the first FPS, developer id”s shooter is a masterclass in intelligent, cleverly-paced level design, alongside deceptively strategic gunplay – while also establishing id as the premier gun “feel” craftsmen in the industry.

In terms of its mainstream appeal and cultural crossover, the next most influential shooter was probably Goldeneye, which proved that FPS could truly work on a console, delivering the most cinematic action game of its era. Rare”s shooter hosts one of the most legendary multiplayer modes in history. Oddjob is still banned, though. 

The split-screen multiplayer template evolved with Goldeneye”s unofficial, next-gen follow-up, TimeSplitters 2. Headed up by key members of Rare’s Goldeneye team, TS2 is a history-spanning, thematic pick “n’ mix campaign skewering movies – and even Goldeneye itself – with endless, brilliantly observed pastiche. Add another terrific multiplayer offering plus the staggering depth and imagination of its Arcade challenge leagues, and you have a game way, way ahead of its time. 

A less obvious choice, but a game that expertly stole – and re-assembled – the genre”s greatest mechanics, is PS3″s Resistance 3. With echoes of Half-Life 2, Chronicles of Riddick and Halo, this overlooked sequel is like a greatest hits package of FPS gaming”s 40-year-history. A brilliantly structured campaign journey, fueled by inventive, satisfying weapon design, and serious fun. David Houghton

24. The Darkness 2

Release date: February 7, 2012
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

What is it? A love story. A wonderful, touching tale of a former mobster who is trying to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend while murdering his enemies using a combination of chunky automatic weapons and demonic tentacle powers. Often both at the same time. How many other games, for example, let you pick up a goon by his feet and blow him in half with a shotgun? Or to rip him in half with your tentacles like you’re pulling the wishbone at Christmas? Or shove your tentacle down an enemy’s ass and pull out his spine? Not many. Not many at all. But yeah, The Darkness 2 is a love story at heart. And it’s still playable on PC, so you have the chance to play one of the most creative, touching, and utterly sickening shooters ever made. Go do that.

Best for: The creative kills. While the story is lovely and all, you can’t beat the feeling of grabbing an enemy by the head with a tentacle and popping off his head, before lobbing it away like an apple core. Andy Hartup

23. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

Release date: November 6, 2015
Format: Xbox One, PS4, PC

What is it? Call of Duty began as WW2-era shooter focused on recreating the tense drama of war. Since then, we”ve had CoD games set during the Cold War, Vietnam War, modern day, even the far future and outer space. Black Ops 3 is the current Goldilocks of the CoD legacy, which is to say it sits somewhere in the middle and manages to feel juuuust right. Not too futuristic, not too held back by the past, Black Ops 3 infuses smart design with fluid gameplay to create something that feels unique and powerful without straying too far from its roots. Choosing a specific character gives competitive multiplayer a slight MOBA feel, while the campaign re-introduces four-player co-op to the series. And of course, let”s not forget our undead friends lurking in the Zombies mode, which gets an entire city in Black Ops 3.

Best for: A night (or week, or month) of fast-paced, highly-competitive running and gunning, or anyone who wants to see Jeff Goldblum as a zombie-slaughtering magician. Sam Prell

22. LawBreakers

Release date: August 8, 2017
Format: PS4, PC 

What is it? A Vs. multiplayer FPS that takes into account a detailed, working knowledge of the last 20 years of arena shooters, so that it can understand all of the rules and conventions before tearing them up and reimagining them into something new. Its nine asymmetric character classes deliver radically contrasting gameplay experiences – each feels like they could be the protagonist of a different (brilliant) game – but all are bonded by their scope for fantastic, unexpected, tactically kinetic gameplay. LawBreakers is a shooter as deep and clever as it is immediately, air-punchingly exciting, dense with possibility and scope for player growth, while also immediate, gratifying, and easy to initially pick up. 

And that growth certainly doesn”t begin and and with the player. LawBreakers is also one of the best-maintained “live” games we”ve seen in a long time. Developer Boss Key is taking a refreshingly pro-active, communicative, community-minded approach to the game”s upkeep, pouring constant updates, tweaks and additions into it alongside its already revealed roadmap of (free) expansions for LawBreakers” opening months. 

Best for: When you need an immediate, incendiary burst of “Holy crap I can”t believe that just happened” multiplayer FPS action. Whether you play for 20 minutes or three hours, LawBreakers will give you plenty to holler about. David Houghton

21. Far Cry 4

Release date: November 18, 2014
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? In essence; Far Cry 3 goes to the Himalayas. Switching out the sunny not-so-perfect tourist destination of Rook Island for the vertiginous Kyrat, Far Cry 4 adds even more deadly bells and whistles to an already solid foundation of murderous exploration. Even more flora and fauna is ready to be plucked and skinned, and entire ecosystems are just waiting to be ruined as you quest for a new wallet. The story of Ajay Ghale is almost incidental to the combination of stealth and action on offer in Ubi’s intimidatingly huge open world. Whether you want to send a drone hovering over an enemy camp and tag all enemies individually before picking them off one by one with brutal melee takedowns, shoot a tiger out of its cage from a safe distance to watch it tear your foes to pieces, or literally crash down the gates on the back of an angry tusked Babar, it’s entirely up to you. However you play, Far Cry 4 is a heady cocktail of death and destruction. Drink up. 

Best for: A singleplayer that’ll involve you obsessively collecting every animal skin for accessories before charging an elephant into a camp of unsuspecting foes. Sorry PETA…. Louise Blain

20. Star Wars Battlefront

Release date: November 17, 2015
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? Sure, Star Wars Battlefront 3 is a first-person shooter. It’s also a near-simulation for some of the most iconic moments in the Star Wars universe. This game feels more like an arcade creation than the grand, stoic visions offered by the best of Dice’s Battlefield games, but you still get the studio’s hallmarks here: class variety, specialized weapons, and gorgeous graphics. Each of those elements have just been filtered through the lens of the beloved sci-fi universe. The level of detail is incredible, and it’s a must-try for Star Wars fans. You get to play as Boba Fett. Who doesn’t want that?

Best for: Living out all your wildest Star Wars dreams, either with strangers in multiplayer or with a friend in co-op. May the Force be with you. Anna Washenko

19. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Release date: August 24, 2012
Format: Xbox One (backwards compatible), PC

What is it? Ever since its debut as an expansive Half-Life mod, the Counter-Strike series has constantly stayed on top of the competitive shooter scene. And though CS:GO is now the de facto way to play this Terrorists vs. Counter-Terrorists FPS on PC, it originally started life as a modernized port for consoles. CS:GO is all about tension: there are no respawns during rounds, so once you die, all you can do is watch and anxiously hope that your team detonates/defuses the bomb or rescues/retains hostages successfully. Each map is meticulously crafted to allow for myriad tactics requiring varying degrees of skill, and the lovingly modeled guns in your expansive arsenal all have minutiae in their firing rates and recoil that can only be learned through experience. CS:GO”s skill ceiling is practically in the stratosphere, and it puts equal emphasis on cooperative teamwork and heroic moments where you get all the glory.

Best for: A test of skills, wits, and sniping ability for when you feel the need to prove your FPS superiority online; those with fragile egos may want to stay away. Lucas Sullivan

18. Bioshock Infinite

Release date: March 26, 2013
Format: PC, PS4, Xbox One (latter two in BioShock: The Collection) 

What is it? Look, I know. The original Bioshock is a better game. But this is the best FPS list, and whatever your feelings about it as a sequel, the fact is that Bioshock Infinite is just a better pure shooter than either of its predecessors. They might have had guns and first-person viewpoints, but the shooting was never their focus. They were immersive, narrative-driven, systemic RPGs with shotguns. 

Infinite though, is the real deal. Opting for a more direct, action-driven approach, it fully commits to exploring the full scope of Bioshockian powers and gunplay in the aim of pure combat. By the time you have a full set of Vigors, you”ll be playing one of the most expressive, versatile, option-packed FPS around, one that seamlessly blends a fast, kinetic emphasis with a wider, strategic battlefield plan. Tooled up, and applying the creative thought encouraged by Infinite”s often sprawling, multi-levelled arenas, you”ll often feel you”re on playing part-FPS, part-RTS. And it”ll never be anything less than exhilarating. 

Best for: When you want to blend experimental shooting with a mind-bending, rollercoaster story, and don”t mind too much whether it makes total sense. David Houghton

17. Borderlands 2

Release date: September 18, 2012
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Xbox One, PS4

What is it? How to describe Borderlands 2… you could say it”s the underlying principles of the first Borderlands wrapped up in a more pristine, funnier shell. Or you could call it World of Warcraft: The First-Person Shooter. With its heavy emphasis on loot, loot, and more loot, Borderlands 2 drowns players in a sea of guns with varying abilities and stats (including a gun that shoots swords, and a gun that literally goes “pew pew!” every time you fire it), conveniently color-coded by rarity. The colorful cast of characters breaks away from the traditional “fighter, wizard, rogue” archetypes, and each hero is memorable in their own right. Especially Krieg. Oh Krieg, you crazy barbarian poet. Sure it”s still a bit of a slog to play through if you don”t have any buddies going co-op with you, but at the end of the day, this sequel still stands as the zenith of the Borderlands formula.

Best for: Those who like their FPS games to be as equally funny as they are violent – especially if they don”t get attached to their armory, since something more powerful is always right around the corner. Sam Prell

16. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

Release date: December 1, 2015
Format: PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? Rainbow Six Siege has quietly become one of the best multiplayer shooters around, combining the intensity and replayability of Counter-Strike with the unique abilities and personality of Overwatch (albeit with a more grounded cast). The real star of Siege is the impressive destructibility of your environment: walls, floors, and ceilings can all be fired through and ultimately destroyed, so you need to smartly choose which flanks to cover and which walls to reinforce, lest someone blast through them with sizzling thermite. You and your squadmates choose from a variety of highly skilled Operators, each with their own specialties that can complement each other for a rock-solid team comp, though your propensity for sneaking and aiming a gun are what matter most. Every round becomes a tactical, incredibly tense game of cat-and-mouse, as one team protects an objective while their opponents try to scout out danger and survive a breach. 

Best for: The thinking person”s online shooter, where careful planning, coordinated teamwork, and adapting on the fly are all a crucial part of completing your competitive mission. Lucas Sullivan

Click “Next Page” to see titles 20-11 in our countdown of the best FPS games. 

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“Online, you aren’t your gender, colour, or sexuality” – the rise and positivity of gay gamer groups

LGBT+ people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans) are, by and large, poorly represented in video games. Moreover, the gaming world itself can be hugely anti-social, and often hostile towards LGBT+ gamers. It’s a safe bet that comments on this article on both GR and social media will be rife with negative stereotypes and distasteful comment just based on the headline. But the same sense of exclusion and lazy stereotyping is all too often true of wider culture towards gamers. So if you’re an LGBT+ gamer, it’s a double hit. This is why so many feel the need to create their own spaces in music, television, sports, and so on. But how does it help? What kind of culture do these increasingly popular groups create to insure complete inclusivity for its members? And are many of them formed for positive reasons, rather than negative?

I contacted members of a few gaymer groups (that’s gay+gamer, so gay gamers) to find out what’s driving them to create their own social communities and to figure out how they operate. I spoke with organisers from two London groups, LDN Gaymers and London Gaymers, as well as Gay Gamers Manchester but there are groups all over the world from New York to Tokyo to Sydney.

Yusif, Chris, and Kristof – three friends who run LDN Gaymers together – tell me the reason to create their group was primarily to make more gaming friends. Like so many gamers, a lot of their best friends are online, but many also grew up playing in friends’ houses. “Online, you aren’t your gender, colour, or sexuality”, Yusif says.

“You’re an avatar and you can focus on just playing the games”. Through this group, they feel they can help the gay community, especially people of colour within it, to make lasting friendships in London, a city known for its urban solitude. 

A genuine alternative

Chris, having not liked going to clubs due to huge social anxiety, wanted to create a space where people aren’t judged either. Kristof says, “I got to a point where I realised if I didn’t go clubbing with these people, would we even be friends? A lot was getting away from the drinking culture”. It seems to me he’s trading one core interest for another, but the clubbing scene is one where it’s much harder to meet people and talk, whereas the gaming community they have set up is literally for just that.

I put it to them that, perhaps because this an LGBT+ group, it’s innately more community-driven. “The heterosexual gaming world can be quite toxic”, Kristof replies. “We are providing a space where people can play without worrying about those things. Some people have to hide their identity because of their background, but they can be open here. Just the other week, though, someone came along to check their son was having fun”. Their son had only come out to them two weeks prior.

Wider gaming as a whole isn’t necessarily as problematic as the industry that creates it. The actual industry isn’t totally rife with homophobia and isolation. Keith Andrew, from Gay Gamers Manchester, says, “I’ve been either covering or working within the games industry in some form for the last decade and, particularly in the UK, it’s a very diverse one. There are plenty of LGBT+ people working within games and, while there’s always progress that can be made, rare are the times I’ve been made aware of any blatant homophobia. Rather, what [Gay Games Manchester] wanted to do was bring together a community that already existed but was largely unaware of just how big it was. It was a group fuelled by positivity, dare I say, rather than any sense of fear or negativity”. 

While Andrew feels creative industries tend to draw in a diverse range of people, and expects it will continue to do just that, he admits that the actual player base can be hostile. “While there’s work to be done with some gamers – Gamergate proved that there’s a vocal bunch who, perhaps, don’t fully embrace how the world has moved on – you only need to look at recent reactions to Football Manager’s decision to include (fictional) gay players, or Call of Duty: WW2‘s LGBT+ flags. Likewise, I remember there was a massive backlash on social media at least when Sony unveiled a Pride wallpaper for PS4 earlier this year. Games are a mainstream platform and they attract billions across the globes – you’re going to get a certain amount of closed-minded people in that group. All the industry can do is continue to challenge them – continue to represent every gamer. That’s the only way you ever change anyone’s mind”.

Mutual interests

Curtis, who runs London Gaymers, recognises how, for anyone, being a gamer can often feel quite solitary. “It”s still seen as a niche form of entertainment by many and can be quite a singular experience. Coupled with being LGBT+ where maybe you don”t feel like you fit with the common gay cliques or aren”t confident enough to be on the “scene”. Add to this the challenges a large city like London presents, and these three things compounded often mean finding people with the same interests as you can be really challenging”.

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The large amounts of homophobia found in online gaming can be distressing and upsetting to hear. For those reasons, London Gaymers is a place for people to play together without the fear of homophobic abuse or language, and to make friends with those who share those interests. By all accounts the group is going from strength to strength. According to Curtis: “Over the last 18 months we”ve increased our members tenfold, marched in our first Pride in London parade, and raised money for charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Special Effect, who work in sexual health and disability, respectively.

“We”ve also had a great response from non-LGBT+ people who completely understand why a group like London Gaymers is so needed – especially those who have heard first hand the homophobic language and slurs heard regularly in online gaming. We are always more than happy for allies and non-LGBT+ people to join in and play with us and join in – some of those people just looking for a welcoming gaming group to be a part of too. One comment we hear a lot is ‘I wish there was a group like this for non-LGBT+ people’ to which we respond with – of course – just join in with the London Gaymers”.

In October 2017, they were thrilled to be invited by MCM London Comic Con to host a panel discussion on LGBT+ diversity in gaming and have created a new project to share the experiences of LGBT+ people working in the games industry, which you can find at dig.londongaymers.co.uk.

“While in London (and elsewhere), the L, G, B and T can often be fragmented, we think that our shared love of gaming actually gives us a great space to bring people together. 

But are they truly spaces for everyone? Or just for those who identify as LGBT+?

LDN Gaymers say they are open to every part of the LGBT+ group, but also to allies. “It’s for people who don’t necessarily want to go clubbing or are sporty”, Yusif says. Chris adds, “A lot aren’t even gamers – they just want to try something new.” About 80% of their group are gay/bi men. 

More than just games

The reaction from other LGBT+ people has been overwhelmingly positive. So popular, in fact, they need a bigger venue, averaging between 180 to 200 people per major event. 40 to 50 come to the quiz, and cinema trips can vary between 20 and 60. “We love doing it because we can see the difference it can make for members – especially those with social anxiety”. 

200 miles north, Keith set Gay Gamers Manchester up along with a developer friend, Simon Smith with an idea of tapping into what he calls, “The huge crossover between the gay community in Manchester and – for want of a better phrase – the geek community in Manchester.” 

The most popular games seem to change quite a lot but online multiplayer games have more staying power. “You can nearly always find some gaymers playing Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, Destiny 2, Guild Wars 2, Splatoon 2, and a big uptick in retro games too with the launch of the SNES Classic Mini – lots of classic Mario platforming”. Yusif points out that, “Nintendo tends to make the most collaborate games”, which lends itself well to playing games as a group, particularly as an icebreaker. “Nintendo games are fun. They don’t take things too seriously.”

There’s no rivalry between LDN Gaymers and London Gaymers. The organisers are all friends and go to each other’s events. “It’s good to have another group. It keeps us on our toes,” Kristof says. “Our events are really focused on socialising. Their’s is more heavily focused on the gaming.” Chris adds, “Their organiser described it as ‘London Gaymers is more for gamers who happen to be gay, whereas LDN Gaymers is for LGBT+ people who happen to be gamers’”.

Curtis says there”s a good mix of all consoles and platforms in London Gaymers but PC and PlayStation 4 tend to be the most popular. The Nintendo Switch is very quickly becoming as popular as the others. “The portable nature of the Switch means that it’s great for meet ups as everyone can bring their own console with them and share the Joy-Con with a friend – and we”ve just started a weekly online “Nintendo Night” to help cope with the demand for more Switch gaming”.

Nintendo magic

But the Switch has seen a massive reaction within LDN Gaymers. They recently worked on an event with Nintendo, where group Nintendo provided 250 people with Arms, Mario Kart, and Splatoon 2 – before Splatoon 2’s release. The characters in the Splatoon series are quite androgynous, they point out, which they feel appeals to a lot of gaymers, who believe it’s intentional. Compare that with a lot of main console games, like the Final Fantasy series, where characters are often hyper-gendered. “Nintendo games flip that”.

So why do some many LGBT+ people set up these groups? One factor, clearly, is a desire to escape the hatred encountered in gaming and beyond. However, there is also a common desire across every group to create a positive social space that doesn’t rely on drinking or clubbing culture. By focusing on community, and interacting within it, they are better able to interact with those outside both the core gaming world and even the LGBT+ world. Through groups like these, they can simply have fun, but also celebrate LGBT+ representation in gaming, as well as challenge the industry by providing LGBT+ gamer representation in themselves. So it’s for mainly positive reasons – rather than fear of the negative – that these groups are thriving. And that can only reflect well on gaming as one of the most progressive forms of entertainment in the world.

Kinect died a while ago; now Microsoft is ripping out the life support tube

The once-hyped Kinect camera for Xbox One hasn”t exactly been alive and kicking for years – but today came the last nail in the (one imagines) shiny green coffin. Microsoft has confirmed that it”s no longer making the adapter needed to hook Kinect up to your Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or any other Windows box.

It was back in October 2017 that Microsoft announced it was no longer producing the Kinect camera sensor, but you could still find the units floating around second-hand retailers, and still grab an adapter to hook it up to your new console. Now that the company is purging the adapter from store shelves and its official website, it feels as if Microsoft really doesn”t want anyone playing Kinectimals ever again. Goodbye, Daniel the white tiger. I”ll never forget you. 

“After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10,” an unnamed Microsoft spokesperson told Polygon. 

Bad news for the seven people who still really wanted to be able to play The Black Eyed Peas Experience (yes, that is a real game) for the next 20 years or so; good news for internet entrepreneurs. Prices for the peripheral are now averaging $200 on eBay and $300 on Amazon, so if you overspent at Christmas, now”s the time to check your box of forgotten peripherals. Perhaps gold lies somewhere underneath those Rock Band microphones and dusty headsets?

If this news is hard to take, just grab the last of the Christmas cooking sherry and comfort yourself with our review of the last – and best – Kinect game ever made.

“Incredibly distasteful” – The most brutal reactions to the Slender Man movie trailer

No, you haven’t travelled back in time. The Slender Man movie is actually a thing in 2018. The trailer is out now and, as you’d expect, the internet has been abuzz about the hottest meme of *Googles* 2010. Uhh, well, Hollywood may not be striking while the iron is hot but, hey, at least it’s got people talking, right? *Googles again* Oh. Oh dear.

A real-life tragedy

For those unaware, two girls repeatedly stabbed another child in Wisconsin, saying they were forced to do so by Slender Man. Probably not the best idea to centre a trailer around several young girls then, really. No one is exactly pleased with that decision…

Years too late

Away from that, there’s also the issue of Slender Man pre-dating the tragedy entirely and, frankly, being a bit old hat (and suit and tie). Memes are confined to a time and place, people. First The Emoji Movie, then Slender Man. What’s next for 2019, a Dolan Duck musical?

Chances of this being good? Slim to none

The trailer itself is a bit, how do I put it, generic. There are stock images a-plenty and it’s giving off a serious school project vibe, which a lot of people have picked up on. Hey, at least it doesn’t ruin the entire plot of the movie like seemingly every other trailer.

But some people are hoping for the best…

There are eternal optimists, and then are those who think Slender Man could be a bit. You brave, brave souls. If nothing else, it could be a decent ironic watch. Think The Room with fewer spoons and more eyeball mutilations.

Last chance to get 20% off tickets for the PC Gamer Weekender

The PC Gamer Weekender takes place February 17 and 18 in London and is a must-attend for anyone who loves their games to come with a side of keyboard and mouse. You can score 20% off tickets with discount code chr1stm4s until midnight on January 5 – so what are you waiting for?

This year, the show will feature games like open-world, post-apocalyptic kung fu fable RPG Biomutant, RTS/RPG hybrid SpellForce 3, turn-based strategy games Frozen Synapse 2 and Phoenix Point, action/strategy game MetaMorph: Dungeon Creatures, puzzle-platformer Shift Quantum, and team-based online game Guns of Icarus Alliance.

There”ll also be top-notch advice on starting a career in the games industry, a deep dive into the world of esports at the Omen by HP Bootcamp, PC Workshops teaching you how to build and maintain your own gaming rig, and even classic arcade games. 

All this will be joined by many more speakers, games and booths, all at the PC Gamer Weekender, which is being held February 17-18 at the Olympia, London, in the UK. For more details see the site, and follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news. Tickets are available now from £12.99.

Death and destruction loom large in these new X-Men: Dark Phoenix images

X-Men: Dark Phoenix was never going to be all rainbow and lollipops. As these new images attest, this looks to be the darkest chapter in the franchise – and I’m including Logan in that, which was about as light-hearted as getting a shave from Wolverine himself. There’s a funeral, dramatic staring into the distance, and Jessica Chastain’s villain gets a name too. Neat.

Let’s start off with the funeral. It’s not definitely a funeral, but I can’t think of many other reasons why you’d stand around in the rain in black suits whilst holding an umbrella. Professor Xavier, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Cyclops are all present. The main missing trio who aren’t there and may have bitten the bullet: Jean Grey, Beast, and Mystique. Take your pick.

Two of those three, however, are present in the other images. Jennifer Lawrence is donning the blue makeup yet again and she’s looking pretty perturbed. That’s nothing on Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, though, who turns the angst up to 11 by being all down in the dumps in the middle of a downpour. Has she just slain one of the X-Men as she did in the comics?

The final image is the most intriguing, however. Jessica Chastain’s previously unnamed villain has been revealed by IGN to be called ‘Smith’. That’s probably a cover-up for a comic book character, such as how MJ was ‘Michelle’ in Spider-Man: Homecoming. There is a little-known mutant from the comics called Tabitha Smith, but she’s firmly on the side of good, not evil.

Check out the destruction behind her, though. My best guess: she’s hot on the heels of Jean Grey after a destructive Phoenix incident. But I’ll bet she wants to use Jean for more nefarious deeds…

Images: Fox

Great games need a great bad guy – why the perfect nemesis is everything

Does anyone, other than politicians and teenagers, have real-life true enemies? It takes so much energy and effort to constantly hate someone. But in games it”s a different matter. They serve as narrative cocaine: keeping you focused and singularly determined to do whatever it takes – it doesn”t matter how many countless goons get slaughtered along the way to victory, a good villain, a true nemesis, makes it all about them. 

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And for good reason. Nemesis was originally an Ancient Greek goddess who redistributed fortune to make everyone equal. As a “balancer of life and daughter of Justice” her role grew from enforcing equality to punishing hubris and avenged crime. Really, she was really just a keeper of balance, but to the proud or arrogant, and the criminal, she would obviously appear as an threat. The roots of the word she inspired are reflected in what “nemesis” means today: someone who is opposite to you in such an offensively equal way as to become your enemy. They are the yin to your yang, the anti-matter to your matter, the peanut butter to your jelly.

Read more

Portal 2: How Valve used paint and personality to rip reality apart.

This is what Portal villain GLaDOS is to Chell. Everything that Chell is, so is GLaDOS – determined, intelligent, logical and even willing to destroy life to further their goal, with GLaDOS destroying her test subjects and Chell destroying the Companion Cube to progress. We can argue over whether or not the Cube is ‘life’, but you’ll be wrong.

But what sets them in opposition is that they are using these traits for opposite purposes. To beat GLaDOS, you have to be as good as GLaDOS; you have to outsmart her at her own game, turn her machines against her, do what she doesn’t expect you to do – and even then, as revealed in the end credits song, maybe that was what she wanted all along. After all, it was a triumph. 

GLaDOS’ evil and manipulative tactics against specifically you are what drive you on. If Portal were nothing but a puzzle game, even one with an overlay of narrative about people getting trapped, it would be nowhere near as compelling, memorable and infuriating as it is with Ellen McLain’s taunting robotic sneers at the start of each level. GLaDOS is not merely an enemy, she’s a personal reason to beat the damn game so that you can rip out her stupid voice module and stuff it down whatever computers have for throats.

But GLaDOS’s punishment for us is our imprisonment. Other game nemeses go further – they take it out on our loved ones, instead. Fable 2’s Lord Lucien killed my sister, and that was sad, but when he killed my dog, that’s when shit hit the fan. Thank god there wasn’t much game left by that point or I might have gone full John Wick, ignoring the minigames and property ladder, no longer amused by farting in front of crowds, but instead beating down minions until Lord Lucien’s stupid head was on top of a pike.

It would, of course, be neglectful to not mention perhaps the most obvious nemesis in recent history, the Nemesis System itself in Shadow Of Mordor. No game makes it more personal than this one, specifically because your nemesis in the game is no one’s but your own, generated from a list of names and titles that ranges from ‘Thakrak the Storm Bringer’ to ‘Pugrish the Gentle’. Imagine telling your children about avenging the Uruk-Hai savage who made your life hell and his name is ‘PUGRISH THE GENTLE’.

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The Nemesis System allowed you to create and nurture your own nemesis, helping him get promotions and reach the top of his career as a guy who rips heads off for a living, almost like a child or a mentee. You begin to care about your nemesis like an old friend, someone who yells your name across a battlefield as if he’s excited to see you. You are responsible for each other’s success, and it’s sad when you have to kill the poor chap – he’s as much a part of you as the ghost guy who’s actually living inside you.

A nemesis is your other half, the fuel that keeps you going forward, the reason you’re pumping that XP into getting better at everything. In fact, the only thing that separates them from the love of your life is that they probably murdered… well, the love of your life.

This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.

Black Mirror season 4 recap and review

The new season of Black Mirror – available right now on Netflix – is tough to watch. While the show has always been designed to tap into our darkest paranoias about technology and modern life with the express purpose of making us squirm, Black Mirror season 4 takes this to a whole new level. In an era where trying to watch as many episodes as possible, all at once, has become something of a habit, this run of Black Mirror feels like anti-binge TV. Viewing multiple episodes back-to-back just isn’t very good for the soul. However, that shouldn’t take away from the quality of the ideas here or the execution, and there are some truly stand-out episodes in this dystopian anthology. 

To reflect the variety of ideas on display, we’ve decided to review the whole season a little differently. Members of the GR team each picked out an episode that meant something to them personally, and reviewed it. So what you have below is an anthology review, neatly reflecting (pun intended) the way Black Mirror is presented. And please let us know your thoughts on Black Mirror S4 in the comments at the bottom. A warning: the are spoilers for each episode below!

Black Mirror season 4 – USS Callister review: “It’s like a really fucked up version of Toy Story”

With both Discovery and The Orville, you’d think we’d be sick to death of Star Trek-esque TV shows, but the very first episode of Black Mirror season 4 doesn’t care. It’s going to parody the hell out of the Original Series whether we like it or not, and actually… we love it! USS Callister doesn’t just riff off one of the most iconic sci-fi shows of all time; it mixes old school Trek with VR gaming to create a nightmare-fuelled video game story none of us ever want to be trapped in. Only Black Mirror, right?

The plot centres on Robert Daly, played by Jesse Plemons (if you think you recognise him, it’s because he looks a bit like Matt Damon), co-founder and head programmer of a hugely popular online multiplayer VR game. While Daly might be very talented when it comes to code, his real life interactions leave much to be desired. His friend/co-founder treats him with nothing but disdain, his subordinates don’t respect him (when they remember he exists), and despite his professional success, he still feels unfulfilled. The one thing which brings him joy is a private version of his game, which he’s recreated at home to look and feel exactly like his favourite retro sci-fi series, Space Fleet (AKA Star Trek).

Naturally, Daly is the Captain and his crew is made up of people he knows, from his company’s co-founder James Walton (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson), to his crush and new starter Nanette Cole (Cristin Milioti). Unsurprisingly, he gets his jollies by treating them how he never would IRL, but the ‘holy shit’ moment comes when you realise that he hasn’t just programmed the in-game characters to look like people he knows… he’s virtually cloned the real people themselves. His ‘crew’ are actually sentient beings, trapped aboard the USS Callister like prisoners, doomed to re-enact his sadists fantasies over and over again as he tries to make himself feel better about his real life. It’s like a really fucked up version of Toy Story if the toys hated Andy and just wanted to die. 

As the opening episode to the fourth season of Black Mirror, USS Callister needed to start strong, and boy, did it! It’s not just the oh-so-very Black Mirror creepiest of the story, or the near spot on Star Trek references in the same year we got Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek: Bridge Crew… it’s the fact that Daly is the perfect villain. At first, you feel sorry for him. Who wouldn’t? It’s a story we’re all familiar with and as such, you’re on his side from the beginning. You want him to take charge of his company, put his colleagues in their place, and yes, eventually get the girl. The set-up is so familiar that you’re tricked into thinking he’s the hero, which makes it all the more horrifying when you realise he’s really the monster. All the terrible things he does in his virtual world are magnified because it’s basically what you wanted him to do in real life. Sure, you didn’t imagine that he’d find his confidence by torturing his co-workers, but still… you wanted him to take charge and this is what it looks like. Intelligent, surprising, feminist (“stealing my pussy is a red fucking line!”) – USS Callister is Black Mirror at its best. Lauren O’Callaghan

Episode score: 5/5

Black Mirror season 4 – Arkangel review: “Taps into parental fears extremely well and it’s a satisfyingly uncomfortable watch”

The paranoia of parenthood is a strong theme in Black Mirror season 4. It’s threaded through almost every episode (the only exception being Hang The DJ), but none capture the fear in a purer form than Arkangel. Directed by Jodie Foster, this story follows nervous single-mother Marie from the birth of her only child, Sara, to the inevitable, downbeat conclusion. The basic premise is that Sara is implanted with a chip in her brain that allows her mother to not only track her location and see through her eyes, but also to blur out and censor anything the daughter sees that might cause her stress. It’s all done via a little tablet, which actually beeps when Sara is seeing something distressing.

Much like most of the tech in Black Mirror, the Arkangel Project – which gives the episode its name – is terrifyingly believable, and you can imagine the take-up from scared parents would be high if it ever became a reality. Such a great concept, then, and a strong director… it’s surprising that Arkangel is one of the less remarkable episodes of season 4. It’s by no means a dud, and the fact it doesn’t take the concept to its darkest extreme (like Crocodile or Black Museum) is actually something that works in its favour. Hey, at least no-one dies.

Rosemarie DeWitt plays the paranoid mother fairly well, her overprotective nature neatly set-up by the opening scene (where Sara takes a couple of seconds to breathe after birth) and the interactions with her elderly father. Her descent into extreme overparenting when Sara becomes a teenager is believable too, if a little rushed, and the way she lashes out at boyfriend Trick will undoubtedly have played on the worst fears of most teenage boys. 

The problem with the episode lies with the development of the daughter and her mother’s slightly inconsistent interactions with her. When Sara’s censorship is switched off, following a visit to the psychiatrist, we see her quickly absorbing all the stuff previously unavailable to her. But by the time she reaches teenage years, none of that seems to matter, and Sara is a perfectly healthy girl for her age. After that, the pace reaches a furious peak again, as she lies to her mum, sleeps with Trick, does drugs, and gets pregnant all in a short space of time. Given how paranoid Marie is meant to be, there’s no way she’d have simply left the Arkangel tablet locked away for so long. And if we’re wrong about Sara – and she isn’t a well-balanced teenager – there’s even less chance her mum wouldn’t have seen everything happen before.

Generally, the episode taps into parental fears extremely well and it’s a satisfyingly uncomfortable watch. Shame it doesn’t set up its characters with quite as much grace. I get that it’s hard being a single parent (because I am one), but even with the emotional unpredictability that comes with it, Marie’s behaviour feels a little too inconsistent. Sara too isn’t always convincing. How she doesn’t figure out that her mum is watching her life sooner is a mystery, as is the way she decides to leave the tablet on her mother’s bed when she’s packing a bag to leave. Surely just smashing it up would be the obvious solution. But then again, when it comes to parent / child relationships, the rational answer is often obscured by the extreme emotions of the moment. That’s something most Black Mirror season 4 episodes wholeheartedly agree on… Andy Hartup

Episode score: 3.5/5

Black Mirror season 4 – Crocodile review: “Almost feels like a twisted homage to Fargo”

At times, Crocodile almost feels like a twisted homage to Fargo, as a plucky female investigator slowly crosses paths with a law-abiding citizen turned crook. Of course, given that this is Black Mirror, it’s safe to say that Crocodile’s escalation of events doesn’t lead to the same happy ending as that Coen brothers classic. In fact, aside from one of the cruelest jokes this show has made so far, Crocodile is a gloomy, depressing, and altogether uncomfortable watch from beginning to end.  

More full blown thriller than philosophical fable, Crocodile plays with simple yet effective dramatic devices (linearity, violence) to stand apart from Black Mirror’s typical lashings of dread and psychological horror. In fact, Brooker and director John Hillcoat appear to be more interested in telling the story of a serial killer than anything else, with the usual focus on technology sidelined to a supporting role. It’s a gambit that can be appreciated for its ambition, but the results leave Crocodile feeling less like Black Mirror and more like the pilot to a new Scandinavian crime drama.

At least the whole thing is dressed up well. Filmed on location in Iceland, you won’t have seen a Black Mirror episode that looks quite like this one, as cinematographer Lol Crawley makes good use of the setting to establish a palpable atmosphere of fear and threat. The camera often lingers on wide shots of Iceland’s mountainous vistas; a bleak, white backdrop made even less welcoming by the fact that everybody appears to live in nu-modern, open plan housing. It’s a place that you believe is full of sinister secrets and closeted skeletons, and it works perfectly against the tone of Crocodile’s story. 

That story focuses on Mia Nolan (Andrea Risenborough), who finds herself embroiled in a depraved descent into crime after an old friend dredges up a regretful past. Risenborough is, without a doubt, the best thing about Crocodile. Her transformation from free spirit to tortured matriarch over the course of 15 years stays believable throughout the hour long runtime, and watching her try to come to terms with her actions makes for some of the episode’s most captivating scenes. It’s a character arc that sounds ridiculous on paper, but Risenborogh carries it through with aplomb.

The technology this time is a device which can replay people’s memories, allowing for insurance company worker Shazia Akhand to investigate claims with greater accuracy, using the recaller to verify the testimonies of witnesses to the accident. Crocodile doesn’t spend a huge amount of time mulling over the details of its tech, but little tidbits of information are fed out (witnesses are obliged by law to share their memories, despite how embarrassing they may be) to at least consider the ethical implications.

Where do we draw the line between legal jurisdiction and personal privacy? When the ubiquity of mobile phones has created a world of walking cameras, is Crocodile’s depiction of a democratized surveillance state really that implausible? Brooker isn’t really interested in answering those questions but, given this episode’s intensely depressing tone, he clearly isn’t optimistic about the whole thing. Alex Avard

Episode score: 3/5

Black Mirror season 4 – Hang the DJ review: “It’s rare that you can end an episode of Black Mirror with a smile on your face”

From someone who has been on just one (excruciatingly awful) Tinder date, the idea of spending as long as it takes to find “The One” inside an all-consuming dating app sounds like utter horror. The System equips everyone with a device called Coach that’s dedicated to their dating happiness, acting a lot like a Google Home speaker with a screen and an obsession with one night stands. But within The System, Coach is more like a dictator, spelling out how long each of your relationships will last to the minute. It’s not quite clear what The System is, but it could be something akin to a cult or a kind of post-apocalyptic future where repopulation hinges on perfectly matched couples. Either way, there’s a big wall around the strange Centre Parks-esque dating world and nothing else to do apart from be with the person you’re matched with until your timer runs out – oh and occasionally play a little squash or go for a swim. The end game is to reach your Pair Date, which is when Coach has gathered enough info on you and your preferences to find your perfect match and ultimately your happily ever after. Supposedly. 

But it all poses quite the problem for protagonists Frank and Amy. They’re paired together on both of their first dates within The System and despite the fact they’ve only got a mere 12 hours together, there’s an instant spark. I was rooting for them from the first awkward moments of their date; it’s a natural, clumsy, giggly kind of attraction that makes the pair easy to believe in. None of this Hollywood stuff here, after all you’re never going to get a straight Black Mirror rom-com, are you? This is definitely more along the lines of The Lobster than La La Land, especially when it comes to the driverless golf carts and the security guards watching their every move.

Their 12 hours together hangs like a lost lottery ticket over the following relationships both Amy and Frank have – particularly for Frank who’s stuck in a 12 month hell with a very… particular… lady afterwards. It’s rare that you can end an episode of Black Mirror with a smile on your face, but this will. It’s not only an episode with an atypical upbeat ending, Hang the DJ is also funny. Whether it’s Amy’s string of one-night stands with muscly bores or Frank’s sourpuss 12-monther, who likens their romantic escapades to “trying to shove a drawer back into a filing cabinet”, there’s plenty to love about Hang the DJ’s plot. Even the twist at the end. Yes, the VR rug-pull isn’t exactly novel in sci-fi but the fact it’s all a way of explaining a dating compatibility algorithm to me was ingenious, even if I felt a little cheated that they weren’t real people in the end. 

There are plenty of unanswered questions in Hang the DJ too though, mostly about the fact that for the most part nobody questions anything, from the wall, to what these people actually do for a living and what the heck happens if you disobey the timer. And there’s also the fact that the simulated world seems very, well, simulated. But the fact that Brooker has created the closest thing to Black Mirror rom-com without involving a pig makes this one of the best episodes yet. Sam Loveridge

Episode score: 4.5/5

Black Mirror season 4 – Metalhead review: “As much a warning as a clever exercise in storytelling”

One criticism you could level at Black Mirror’s bleak futuristic what-if-ery is that it always hangs from its twist. No matter what stunt casting or overall idea, it relies on a mid-to-end point reveal to feed the audiences’ need to feel clever. ‘Oh that’s smart,’ they say, ‘I can’t wait to tell people why later’. Metalhead has none of that. There’s a story, stuff happens. The twist is that there is no twist. Unless you count the brutally uncaring death of two of the three cast in the first few minutes. Instead this is just a brilliantly dark sci-fi tale, on par with the classic Bradbury/Dick/Clarke flavour of exploratory science fiction short which Charlie Brooker’s show often seems so keen to supplant. 

That might explain why it’s one of this season’s more divisive episodes. There’s no thought provoking grist for a conversational mill, just Maxine Peake’s Bella trying to escape a relentlessly persistent and lethal security robot. Its minimal dialogue and sterile monochrome pallet expertly handled by 30 Days Of Night, Hannibal and Hard Candy director David Slade, packing a lifetime of stress and tension into its brief 38 minutes. Back story is near nonexistent: what’s happened to the world and who these people are is left (almost) blank and open to interpretation.

Structurally, it’s effectively a slasher movie/zombie apocalypse chase sequence – something especially demonstrated by the eventually blinded, knife-pawed machine’s mindless and instinctive thumping stabs at the wall. It’s more an inexorable force than malevolent threat, that Bella, as classic victim, can’t ever hope to outrun. All that’s left is delay or distraction to slow the inevitable. And it’s this that creates so much tension. Given Black Mirror’s love of surprise and the unexpected, much of the first half leaves you hanging on finger tips for a reveal that will change the dynamic or add a new element.

It never comes. Technology aside, Metalhead’s affecting because it’s a threat we can all understand at a very basic level: I don’t want to die. Please don’t let the bad thing get me. Despite its slickly designed robot, this is as much a ‘what would you do in that situation?’ parable as any call that came from inside the house. Like all good horror, which is what this basically is, Bella/us are teased just enough hope to make the end even more painful. The raw, almost anguished triumph that comes from defeating the monster taken away so frustratingly by a face full of barbed-tracking pellets. Her fate is sealed; it’s exhausted her (us) just to escape one of these things. With a herd homing in, suicide is less a way out, more a practical solution. 

The sparse dialogue only creates more space for the fear, desperation and, ultimately, the story to expand into. Bella barely speaks, a few lines into an unanswered radio to suggest a scrap of humanity surviving somewhere. We’ll never know exactly what happened. Casual mention of ‘the dogs’, the gaffer taped clothes and a disturbing shotgun suicide suggesting that, however this end game played out, it happened gradually enough for people to make their own decisions how to handle it. And, considering the robots Boston Dynamics actually makes, or a very real concern from tech experts that autonomous weapons are one of the biggest immediate future threats, and Metalhead feels as much a warning as a clever exercise in storytelling. Leon Hurley

Episode score: 5/5

Black Mirror season 4 – Black Museum review: “Feels like it’s trying to cram in as much horror as possible to keep viewers amused until the payoff”

It’s fitting that Black Mirror season 4 ends with an anthology episode set in a museum about, well, Black Mirror itself. A microcosm of the entire season, it combines several related stories about the dangers of technology, and wraps them all up under a common theme. It’s perhaps the only way S4 could have ended. It’s also one of the toughest episodes to watch, ratcheting up the tension to near unbearable levels.

Essentially, it’s about Nish, a girl who visits a once-popular tech museum in the desert while charging her electric car. The curator of the grizzly exhibits, Rolo Haynes, takes her on a private tour of some of the items on display, narrating a series of mini-stories as they go. Obviously there’s more to it than a simple collection of digital ghost stories. In terms of structure and pace, it’s a very fragmented hour of TV, which feels like it’s trying to cram in as much horror as possible to keep viewers amused until the payoff at the end. 

The empathetic doctor story is sick without being too smart, its main problem being that few of us can (ironically) relate to the experience he goes through. It’s a neat piece of body horror to make us squirm, but little else. The ‘cuddly bunny’ plot is pure emotional manipulation, a distilled version of the parental paranoia and helplessness of Arkangel (and to an extent USS Callister). Both are extremely well presented, specifically designed to push viewers to their most uncomfortable states possible, but they feel like half-baked concepts not quite worthy of a full episode and suffer a little because of it. It’s great TV while you’re watching, but none of the stories feel like Black Mirror anywhere near its best. The final narrative, about the Weather Girl killer, is by far the weakest and while it does a decent job of exposing the dark side of humanity’s lust for power… it stumbles from terrifyingly plausible to silly sci-fi in a matter of minutes. 

Sure, the ending is satisfying, as the manipulator behind some of Black Mirror’s darkest tales gets his comeuppance, but that doesn’t make Black Museum a classic. On a meta-level, if feels like Brooker is saying goodbye to the season itself (there’s no confirmation he’s leaving Black Mirror, however, and Brooker has already said he’d love to do a fifth), his darkest creations presented exactly as they are: historical pieces with strong warnings to the future of humanity. 

Most fans will see plenty of references to the show’s past and its creators throughout the episode, and Brooker himself is part of the Game of Thrones-style wall of faces that Nish peers during her tour. However, it often feels like Black Museum is nodding and winking so furiously, it forgets to do anything particularly interesting with the core duo of characters. It’s a smart, knowing way to end the most ambitious season of Black Mirror, even if the episode itself is one of the most fragmented and disappointing of the current run. Andy Hartup

Episode score: 3/5