Review: Google Chrome (beta)

Needs more polish! (Sorry.)

Rating: 3/5

A week ago, I posted my thoughts on Google Chrome, based on Google’s press release and comic book. This got me my fastest-ever flame, in just ten minutes (way faster even than the negative response I got for the oft-misunderstood Why the new iMac sucks).

I put this down to not toeing the line. Everyone and his cat has jumped on the ‘Google is teh bestest’ bandwagon, and even Macworld—a Macintosh magazine—gushed over Chrome, giving it a four-star review before quietly conceding the point that one of Chrome’s negative aspects is perhaps that it’s not yet actually available on the Mac.

I’ve been a bit more cautious. Having reviewed practically every Mac and Windows browser under the sun for various magazines, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that they’re all deeply flawed in some way. That’s why Google Chrome’s distinct lack of innovation (despite claims to the contrary by various ignorant commentators) was something I’d have been willing to set aside had Google really been a best-of browser. Sadly, it really isn’t.

That’s not to say Google Chrome is bad, and on Windows it certainly grabs with relish the position of ‘best browser for beginners’. The minimal interface clearly borrows from Internet Explorer 7 and Opera, mashing the two together and offering a few handy extras, such as thumbnails of your most-visited sites on new tabs, bettering Opera’s equivalent feature by way of being updated as you surf.

Tab management is excellent, with you being able to reorder and drag them to and from windows with ease (take note, Safari), and although the address bar’s ability to root around your history and bookmarks to try and find a match for a text string is bettered by both Firefox and Opera, it’s still impressive enough to warrant a mention. That said, it’s a shame Chrome didn’t pinch Firefox’s tagging feature—I find that a much more efficient way to store and retrieve favourite websites.

Elsewhere, I found it hard to see what all the fuss is about. Using WebKit is great, but Chrome’s change of graphics engine over Safari has resulted in a slightly botched implementation, and so it actually supports less CSS than Apple’s browser (albeit advanced features not currently in general use). And in terms of usability, Chrome makes some odd decisions.

The lack of a title-bar is baffling. This is often used to aid users, providing an indication of the site they’re on, or even their location within a site. Since Chrome still sits within a window (rather than you being able to peer between tabs to your desktop), its omission makes no sense at all. The lack of menus makes more sense, although it remains to be seen how these decisions will affect the Mac version. Elsewhere, not being able to double-click the top-left corner of a window to close it will likely irritate many users, and the ‘chatty’ tab headings within the Options dialog are utterly hateful, not describing what’s found within.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had with Chrome, though, was that it’s not rock-solid stable. It actually locked up Windows, forcing a total reboot, on more than one occasion, and just the browser itself has locked up a good few times. For a product touting the importance of one tab never affecting another, this is something that won’t be acceptable in the final product, although it’s maybe to be expected for a beta.

Clearly, Chrome isn’t done yet, and so it’s perhaps unfair to compare it with the likes of Firefox, Opera and Safari. However, that’s the reality of the market Google’s entering into, and Chrome has to be more than merely good enough. The fact Chrome is about ‘picking the best bits’, copying and refinement, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to get everything right, rather than offering another imperfect product. And when you’re cheerleading radicalism, it pays to actually be a bit radical as well.

I’ll revisit Chrome once it gets out of beta (which, judging by other Google products, might never happen), but for now, I’ll be jumping back to Firefox 3.

Google Chrome

Now That’s What I Call A Browser! 57.

September 10, 2008. Read more in: Rated: 3/5, Reviews, Technology, Web design

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Review: Judge Anderson: Shamballa

Look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes

Rating: 3/5

Judge Anderson is an anomaly in the world of Judge Dredd. Moral, emotional, occasionally zany, and resolutely human, she offers a social conscience that sits in stark contrast to the head-cracking grimness of the monolithic Dredd.

As befitting a sometimes screwball character, what we have here is an oddball collection. Instead of Rebellion’s usual chronological fare with major characters, Shamballa offers a kind of ‘best of’, compiling stories illustrated by definitive Anderson artist Arthur Ranson (whose artwork also graced the excellent Button Man).

Although initially a foil for Judge Dredd, unnerving the square-jawed one with her flippant manner, Anderson moved in an overtly serious direction under Alan Grant, exploring the difficult subjects of child abuse and religion. The bulk of the ‘think of the children’ arcs are missing in this book, which instead largely concentrates on Anderson’s gradual understanding surrounding religion and faith—powerful ideas that the Judges seek to quash in the Godless world of Mega City One.

Within this book’s pages are Anderson’s two best tales. Shamballa chronicles Anderson leading a team of scientists beneath the Himalayas to try and stop cataclysmic supernatural events that are threatening the existence of the world. And Satan pitches Anderson against an evil, ancient being that at least thinks it’s the devil. However, because this collection cherry-picks Anderson’s adventures, it’s incomplete.

With a character like Judge Dredd, this might be less of a problem. But in this book, events are regularly witnessed out of context, and dialogue refers to things that you’ve not seen. A good example is lead story Shamballa: much of the emotional impact of the events resonates from the suicide of Anderson’s close friend Judge Corey. However, with the Corey story yet to see reprint, newcomers and lapsed readers will likely miss the significance of chunks of this book.

Despite its flaws, Shamballa nonetheless cements itself a place amongst the best Dreddworld books in Rebellion’s line. It’s just a pity so much of the story is missing.

Judge Anderson: Shamballa is available now for £15.99. For more information about 2000 AD graphic novels, check out the 2000 AD Books website.

Judge Anderson: Shamballa cover

Judge Anderson patiently waited for Dredd to return with the Nurofen.

August 21, 2008. Read more in: Graphic novels, Rated: 3/5, Reviews

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Review: Civilization Revolution DS

He’s got a whole world in his hands

Rating: 3/5

As someone who’s been pining for a DS version of Civilization for a couple of years, I wonder whether the realisation of such a product could ever have been anything other than a disappointment. Unfortunately, after a few weeks’ play, ‘disappointment’ pretty much sums up my opinion regarding the DS port of the latest game in the famous turn-based strategy series.

To be fair to Firaxis and Sid Meier, it’s actually the DS itself that causes some of the problems with this game, and the Civilization core remains largely intact. You get to take a civilization from prehistory to modern times, building and moving units, researching technology, and aiming to become the greatest in the world via various means (domination, economics, technology, or by building the UN). However, with Civ basically being a strategy title, it’s problematic when that aspect of the game is hampered.

First and foremost, the DS screen is too small to provide you with a decent overview of the world. Although the team wisely ditched the 3D graphics from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, opting instead for an iconic approach similar to the original Civilization, the map still feels cramped, and moving around it is a chore. This problem could have been alleviated somewhat by providing the option to allow the map to appear—at least optionally—on both screens; unfortunately, one screen is mostly reserved for pointless battle animations.

Elsewhere, the streamlining of the original concept to hammer it into consoles rather than PCs and Macs has neutered it. Although the game is faster, it’s become more of an overt race than a game of chess. Instead of investing in technology and thinking of long-term plans, a war-obsessed AI largely forces games into tending towards moving units, protracted wars and conquest. The technology tree is very basic, and random events are frequent and absurdly powerful. It’s not uncommon to end up with tanks in 200 AD, especially if you stumble across Atlantis, which always spews forth a number of technological advances.

It’s not all bad news—the game is quite fun, and gives you a quick Civ-style fix for when you’re away from your PC. However, rather than being captivating in a ‘total addiction’ sense, this game instead feels ‘annoyingly’ compelling in the same way as Puzzle Quest: you can’t put the game down, but in your heart of hearts you know it’s actually a somewhat tedious slog that could have been a lot better.

Civilization Revolution is already out in the US, and comes to Europe towards the end of August.

Civ on DS - sorta

Sadly, Civilization Revolution doesn’t have a whale unit—it’s just a resource icon.

July 29, 2008. Read more in: Gaming, Nintendo DS, Rated: 3/5, Retro gaming, Reviews

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Review: The Dark Knight (Batman)

Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner

Rating: 3/5

I like to go into films blind. That way, I’m more likely to have an experience that will surprise and enthral. With The Dark Knight, this wasn’t possible. Not only was the Joker’s presence all but guaranteed during the ending to Batman Begins, but Heath Ledger’s death has elevated his performance in many people’s minds to the status of some kind of acting god. The net result is that the hype machine has been on overdrive, with pretty much everyone calling this the Best Comic Film Ever.

I disagree. That’s not to say it isn’t good, nor that it’s not worth watching. However, I sat there only mildly entertained by the plot and slightly disturbed by the brutality (in excess of most comic-book movies, and certainly over-the-top for a 12A film, but you’ll have seen a lot worse elsewhere). What lifts the film above merely average is some impressive stunt-work, one or two decent twists, and Ledger’s engaging Joker, who seems to be channelling a little Jack Nicholson and quite a lot of Michael Keaton throughout.

What almost drags the film down again is, well, almost everything else. Like Batman Begins, this movie is somehow hollow and lacks soul. And seemingly content to cherry-pick the best bits from various Batman comics (Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, etc.), thereby offering an almost Batman-by-committee result, the film lacks focus. Perhaps it tries to tie too many threads together, but the result is convoluted and feels rushed, despite its extended viewing time.

The onus is largely on the escalation of warfare between Gotham’s most famous vigilante and the enemies around him—in other words, if it wasn’t for Batman, these super-villains wouldn’t exist. This has been an ongoing theme in Batman for some years now, although I’m pretty sure we didn’t need the Joker rather clumsily spelling this point out to Batman at one point during the movie.

And so although we get a standout (if not Oscar-worthy) performance from Ledger, some crunching battles, a few great scenes (notably a fast-paced bank heist that’s at once wicked and funny, but also almost anything Two Face does during his limited screen time) and a film that hammers home the ‘dark’ in ‘Dark Knight’ (repeatedly), we also have a somewhat self-important and gloomy production that’s at least a half-hour too long.

The Joker

Once again, the Joker lost during the first round of Celebrity Poker Showdown.

July 28, 2008. Read more in: Film, Rated: 3/5, Reviews

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Review: Judge Death: Young Death

The crime is life. The sentence is dentistry

Rating: 3/5

When Judge Death first appeared, he was terrifying. A twisted marionette-like figure with an evil, decaying grin, dressed in a mockery of a Mega-City One Judge’s uniform, the grotesque creature sent chills down young spines. Kids were fascinated by the mystery. What was this creature? Where was he from? We were only offered tantalising glimpses, echoes about Death having wiped the stain of life from his world, where life itself was considered a crime.

Subsequent years saw more of the pieces fall into place, but as the gaps in Judge Death’s backstory were gradually filled, I liked the character a little less each time. He no longer held such mystery, and because the usually dependable John Wagner bizarrely warped the fiend into a tiresome comedy character, he no longer held any allure.

This collection is a long way from Judge Death’s nadir, but it’s no classic either. In a tale that originally saw print at the very beginning of the Judge Dredd Megazine, during the early 1990s, Judge Death holds hostage a Mega-City One reporter, forcing him to write Death’s history. This largely revolves around a cruel younger version of Judge Death (named Sidney) being inspired by his brutal dentist father into becoming a full-on genocidal maniac, ably aided by a little black magic and some college friends.

Ultimately, insight like this wasn’t really needed, and Young Death veers a little too far towards the comic side of black comedy. And although the story is fine—in fact, it’s quite enjoyable in itself—and well illustrated by the dependable Peter Doherty (despite his take on the Judge uniforms of Sidney’s world oddly bearing little relation to Judge Death’s own garb), it’s ultimately an irreverent and somewhat expendable tale that sits uneasily between the superior original Judge Death stories and the return to the character’s horror origins in My Name is Death.

Judge Death: Young Death is available now for £10.99. For more information about 2000 AD graphic novels, check out the 2000 AD Books website.

Judge Death: Young Death

Unfortunately, Judge Death’s radiant smile was augmented by the stench of rotting corpse.

June 2, 2008. Read more in: Graphic novels, Rated: 3/5, Reviews

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