Saturday, 13 November 2010

Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe [BBC4] Television Review: Commission this now, BBC

Last week, BBC4 apparently screened a fifty minute video game special entitled 'Gameswipe' featuring the irritable but inimitable Charlie Brooker. I must admit to quite liking his other show 'Screenwipe', probably less so since he went 'mainstream', but it's an enjoyable half hour nonetheless.

Now, I don't know what was in this latest special, maybe it was just footage of Brooker creaming his pants whilst playing Halo or something - I somehow contrived to miss it, even though it was supposedly repeated throughout the week. I blame my Freeview box, on which I have been unable to get the EPG working for some months now - that's the last time I buy my electrical goods from ASDA.

More likely to have been featured on Gameswipe, though, is a brief look through video gaming history from Pong to whatever the big thing is these days, with a typically cynical and acerbic edge; I expect it to be a non-nerdy narration heavy romp taking the mick out of fanboys and the like. Good stuff then, eh?

At this point, the writer went off and actually watched the thing on iPlayer.

If you think about it, video game fans have been somewhat starved of televisual content recently. Following the technology-obsessed 80s, games went mainstream with the release of the fourth generation (that's the period 1992-1995 for the non-geeks out there) home consoles, and there were always television shows to suit the attitude of the time; we had BBC Micro Live for the techies out there, and stuff like GamesMaster and Games World for the 'kiddie' audience.

Since then, games shows have come and gone quicker than the Virtual Boy, with no really popular ones to speak of in the last ten years or so. Why is it that, even though video games are arguably more popular than ever, there is no mainstream television programme dedicated to the genre?

This is one subject dealt with in Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, a one-off BBC4 special showing as part of the station's retro electronics season. Said protagonist attributes this puzzling situation to the fact producers have never really nailed down a suitable, functional format for the 21st century. For example, how do you cater for both the mainstream, namely your casual gamer that likes to dust off his Wii once in a while, and the enthusiast, who could tell you how to beat each of the Halo games within an hour?

Barry Shitpeas getting his head blown off by a Nazi

Ironically, in explaining this problem in his typically sardonic, cynical style, Brooker may well have solved it. Should the BBC decide there's enough interest surrounding this 'pilot' episode, they may well commission a whole series at some point in the future.

Personally, I hope they do, as it was refreshing to see a new approach to the good old video game review. Gone are the subtle innuendos of GamesMaster's Dominik Diamond in favour of full-on, no-holds-barred opinion based segments featuring such stars of stage and screen as Dara Ó Briain -- who explains how he'd rather be stuck in real life traffic than a Grand Theft Auto gridlock -- and Graham Linehan, ardent gamer and writer of Father Ted.

But this is nothing like the talking heads shows you could not move for at the turn of the century. For evidence of this, simply look to singer/songwriter/game reviewer (a heady combination if ever there was one) Rebecca Mayes' singing review of MadWorld. It's nothing like I've ever seen before, and I've been trawling YouTube for this stuff for the majority of the past month. Yeah, research can be fun, can't it?

They've somehow managed to squeeze an awful lot in here, but it whizzes by relatively quickly - blink and you'll miss the Atari advertisement starring Morecambe and Wise, or the blatant crowbarring of 'Zero Wing' visuals (all your base are belong to us etc.). Some of the footage in there, particularly the GamesMaster segment, also seems to be sourced from 1990s VHS of dubious quality - but we'll let that one slide as I don't think anyone will notice.

As you might expect with Mr. Brooker's past record, it definitely isn't a show for kids. For so long we've had to put up with series aimed at an adolescent audience with somewhat childish, basic humour (not naming any names here) so it's good to see something geared towards a different type of viewer for a change - besides, I'm sure the 8-15 age range have their own review segments in Live and Kicking or whatever they show on Saturday morning these days.

Dunno about you, but I would buy this game.

The whole thing is blended together with some pleasingly retro titles and transitions. They're adequate for the purpose but in my opinion, they would have been infinitely more impressive had they actually been created on one of the systems whose aesthetic they set out to mimic. But then, that's the ultra geek in me coming to the fore, and this is beyond nitpicking.

I'll admit Charlie Brooker is not everyone's cup of TTX (geek joke alert), but the show's buried away late at night on BBC4 so it's unlikely you're going to watch if you never intended to. Some may well be offended - not least 50 Cent, whose game (there's a game about 50 Cent?!) is largely panned in the show. Unlike persistent offender Jeremy Clarkson, though, Brooker's opinions aren't deliberately convoluted or exaggerated simply to seek attention, but then that's the north-south humour divide for you.

Sample clip: Charlie Brooker reviews Beatles Rockband (Gameswipe, BBC) - don't worry, the profanity has been edited out.

Oh yeah, and Brooker really does know his stuff, which surprised me somewhat. I want to see more! BBC: Commission this now. I compel thee.