Alfred for Mac

Alfred for Mac has been available for nearly a year but I only recently tried it via the Mac App Store. It’s a productivity tool in the mould of the much loved Quicksilver and more recently Launchbar. Alfred can be used to quickly launch any application, find documents on your computer or quickly launch web shortcuts plus a whole lot more.

Alfred is still called a beta but it’s been rock solid so far in my usage. Downloading the free version from the App Store brings with it a host of functionality. Alfred is called via a keyboard shortcut which can be chosen by the user. I always use cmd+space for my launcher applications. So typing cmd+space opens the Alfred window and from there I can search for applications and files on my local machine or on the web. For example, type 1p and Alfred will start to list files matching the text 1p. As I’ve launched 1Password before, Alfred will present that as my favourite result.

If I don’t want to launch 1Password I can tap down through the returned results via he arrow keys or I can use cmd+number to open another file, contact etc. This allows for very quick searching and launching of applications and files. On a file or contact returned in Alfred I can press the right arrow key to conduct a series of actions – launch file, mail file, delete file etc. Alfred will never replace the finder for me but for seeking out a file to edit or mail on to a friend it’s far quicker than the default Mac tools. The free tool also comes with a calculator and spell checker as well as a variety of built in web searches. Type google searchterm and a Google search will be run for the given searchterm, opening in a new tab in your default browser. Custom searches can also be added so it’s easy to add a shortcut for Bing Images for example. As a free tool it’s great but there’s also a paid option for Alfred – the Alfred Powerpack.

The powerpack isn’t available via the App store as in app purchasing isn’t supported yet. Instead, buy the powerpack from the Alfred website for £12 and you unlock a far more feature rich tool. Fallback searching (if nothing is found then search via Google) is added plus the ability to e-mail form Alfred. However the bigger additions are iTunes and Clipboard extensions.

An iTunes mini player allows you to search and control iTunes not only selecting music and the usual play/pause controls but also rate music as well. A more useful feature is Clipboard History and Snippets. Launched via a separate shortcut or by typing snip within Alfred, the snippets extension will show you your clipboard history allowing you to easily copy old clipboard entries to application. Snippets allow you to setup a library of snippets for commonly entered text. I find that really useful for the podcast – I have path entries, twitter text, iTunes boilerplate text entered as snippets so I can paste them in when required.

Alfred is not only a very functional app but looks good with it as well. The original Quicksilver always looked great and although Launchbar is functionally more rich that both Quicksilver and Alfred, I find the performance of Alfred coupled with the better design to be much better (might be due to size of Launchbar index over time). If you already have Launchbar then the extra cost of paying for Alfred can’t be justified but if you’ve not tried a keyboard driven launcher before then fire up the App Store and try the free version of Alfred. I’m pretty confident that after a few days you’ll be paying for the powerpack version as the time saved over a few weeks is worth far more than £12.

DigitalOutbox Episode 75

DigitalOutbox Episode 75
In this episode the team discuss Egypt blocking the internet, Sony NGP and O2 rolls out free wifi.

Playback
Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

Shownotes
1:05 – Egypt Blocks the Internet
– Started off with rumour of Facebook and Twitter being blocked
– Vodafone said it wasn’t them – govt were blocking
– Internet and SMS and Mobile phone networks now being blocked
– Follows a week of protests and escalating violence on the streets – protests over ruling government – demonstrators demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak
– Tim Bray, an engineer at Google, tweeted: “I feel that as soon as the world can’t use the net to watch, awful things will start happening.”
– http://gigaom.com/2011/01/28/how-egypt-switched-off-the-internet/
– http://www.renesys.com/blog/2011/01/egypt-leaves-the-internet.shtml
4:53 – BBC Cuts
– 360 staff to lose jobs
– Online budget to drop to £103m by 2013 – 25% cut
– BBC said it will meet with commercial rivals twice a year to clarify its online plans, increase links to external sites to generate 22m referrals within three years and will halve the number of top level domains it operates.
– Blast, Switch and h2g2 are among the sites to be ditched.
Other closures will include the standalone websites for the BBC Radio 5 Live 606 phone-in show and 1Xtra, 5 Live Sports Extra, 6 Music and Radio 7 digital stations.
– In all, the BBC is pledging to close half of its 400 top level domains – with 180 to be gone ahead of schedule later this year.
– The 606 site and iPlayer Message Boards close. iPlayer will become focused on “long form video content” – no radio via iPlayer – http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/2011/01/delivering-quality-first.shtml
– While BBC iPlayer has been a good home for online radio, the way audiences want to interact with radio and music online is different to TV. Radio and music will come out of BBC iPlayer, and we’ll develop a new stand-alone product. All radio station sites, music events, podcasts and programme pages will be integrated to focus on highly interactive live radio, quick and seamless access to programming, support for new music and personalisation – on whatever internet-connected device you happen to have.
9:26 – Sites Hacked/a>
– Lush has it’s site hacked
– anyone who made online purchases on the handmade cosmetic company’s UK site between October 4th and January 20th is at risk of having their credit cards used fraudulently
– Site was hacked on Christmas Day but Lush only took down their site on Friday 21st
– Many people angry at the delay – no wonder – Lush say they were investigating the hackers intentions – only when they started to use small test payments using stolen card details did they take action
– Paypal driven website to launch shortly
– Trapster’s site also compromised
– http://www.itpro.co.uk/630250/trapster-passwords-leaked-after-hack
– 10 million e-mail addreses and passwords potentially stolen
– Ouch
– If you used a common password, nows the time to change it
– E-mail addresses and passwords now ‘in the hands of hackers’
14:48 – ACS Law stops chasing file sharers
– The patent court in London is currently scrutinising 26 cases brought by ACS: Law on behalf of its client MediaCAT. The law firm had sent thousands of letters to alleged file-sharers.
– Those who received such letters may pursue ACS: Law for harrassment, said law firm Ralli, which represents some of the defendants.
– In a statement read to the court, solicitor Andrew Crossley said he had now ceased all such work
– “I have ceased my work…I have been subject to criminal attack. My e-mails have been hacked. I have had death threats and bomb threats,” he said in the statement, read to the court by MediaCAT’s barrister Tim Ludbrook.
“It has caused immense hassle to me and my family,” he added.
16:51 – Google censoring torrents
– The search engine now actively censors terms including BitTorrent, torrent, utorrent, RapidShare and Megaupload from its instant and autocomplete services. The reactions from affected companies and services are not mild, with BitTorrent Inc., RapidShare and Vodo all speaking out against this act of commercial censorship.
– What is most surprising about the new filter is that the keywords appear to be picked arbitrarily. It includes BitTorrent clients such as uTorrent and Xunlei, but not BitComet and Vuze. While cyberlockers such as RapidShare and Megaupload are banned, prominent sites such as 4shared, HotFile and MediaFire are not.
– In addition, all the names of popular torrent sites including The Pirate Bay are not included in Google’s banlist either. BitTorrent’s Simon Morris agrees that this is odd, to say the least.
21:23 – Amazons Record Quarter
– Significant milestone – tipping point?
– Sold 115 kindle books for every 100 paperbacks – doesn’t include free downloads
– Ian – been enjoying using Kindle software, not hardware
– Amazon in general doing really well – sales up %40 on last year – first $10 billion quarter
23:46 – Microsofts Great Quarter
– Kinects – 8 million in 60 days
– Entertainment division doing well
– Office 2010 – fastest selling consumer version of Office yet – licence sales 50% ahead of 2007 at this stage
– Windows 7 – fastest selling op system yet – sold more than 300 million licences
– Windows phone 7 – umm – 100 new apps per day?
27:08 – O2 Rolls Out UK WiFi
– O2 is planning to deploy 13,000 Wi-Fi hotspots over the next two years, with free internet access in exchange for your mobile number and a few quid from the venue.
– Free for all, no matter what network your on
– The network won’t just be for O2 customers: anyone with a mobile phone will be able to sign up to the service, which will provide free internet access while logging the customer’s location and details for better delivery of targeted advertising. This will all be paid for by the venue, which might also like to make use of that advertising channel.
– Users wanting to take advantage will need to provide a mobile phone number, from any network, which will be confirmed with a text message. O2 then links the number to the MAC code (unique identity) of the kit connected, enabling it to automatically authorise future connections as well as spotting when the customer enters an area covered – enabling the delivery of the aforementioned advertising by text message or MMS.
-You can opt out of O2 Wi-Fi altogether, which will prevent you from receiving content from the venue.
– The system will only know you’re there if the equipment with the registered MAC address is switched on when you pass by, so advertising should only really happen when you try to use the service. That will change over time – modern smartphones constantly monitor for Wi-Fi networks, and connect to them when they are available, which will be enough for O2 to consider you fair game for a text message.
– But at least O2 won’t be tracking usage or browsing habits, nor will it be filtering content beyond what’s legal and in contrast to the mobile network. All UK mobile operators are required to block access to pornography and other adult services over their mobile networks until the customer presents proof of age, but it seems the same company can provide internet access over Wi-Fi without any such obligation: a strange double standard that surely can’t be allowed to continue.
31:12 – BSkyB buys The Cloud
– The acquisition gives us ownership of over 5,000 public Wi-Fi locations across the UK, ensuring that customers can access our online service at a network of convenient locations,” it said in a statement.
– “In addition, the initiative will complement our existing broadband services by offering customers a comprehensive option for Wi-Fi connectivity while they are on the move.”
32:28 – Galaxy Tab Price Drop
– Amazon and Tesco have also chopped their prices to a palatable £341.24 ($542) and £359.20 ($571)
– Dropped $250 in America
– Not selling too well or new updates coming in next 3 months or so?
– Honeycomb can be installed seemingly on the tab
34:35 – Android 3 Honeycomb Previewed
– Built for tablets – looks really, really good
– I like how they’ve made more changes due to screen seize, especially on home screen – iPad missed opportunity in many ways – lots of widgets and stacks
– Latest Android SDK includes an early Android 3.0 system image for developers
37:09 – Runkeeper Pro Free Forever
– Formerly priced at $9.99, fitness-tracker RunKeeper was one of the first 200 apps in the iTunes app store and became one of the store’s top sellers. After a month of free downloads, the company announced today that the product will remain free indefinitely. It’s not about app sales – it’s all about the platform.
– “We are less concerned about short term monetization,” founding CEO Jason Jacobs told us by email today, “and more concerned about building up the biggest, most engaged community of fitness enthusiasts that we can.”
– Jacobs told us that three million users had downloaded a RunKeeper app over the past 2 years, 1 million of whom downloaded Pro for free in a single week in January. The free and Pro versions of the app both made Apple’s top free and grossing apps of 2010 lists.
39:36 – Playstation Suite
– Sony unveiled a cross-platform software framework called PlayStation Suite, which sounds rather boring in those words, but what it amounts to is an official PlayStation Store filled with games for your Android tablets and cellphones.
– Sony’s starting with an emulator for existing PSOne titles and is promising an Android game store later this year, but soon it might be much, much more: the company’s calling PlayStation Suite a “hardware-neutral” development framework to make games portable for all sorts of handhelds, and says that “new and exciting content” is also on the way.
– PlayStation Suite requires Android 2.3 at a minimum
– Emulate touch screen controls
41:01 – Sony NGP
– 5 key concepts – Revolutionary User Interface, Social Connectivity, Location-based Entertainment, Converging Real and Virtual (augmented) Reality
– Specs include a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 5-inch touchscreen OLED display with 960 x 544 resolution, dual analog sticks (not nubs as on the current generation), 3G, WiFi, GPS, a rear-mounted touchpad, the same accelerometer / gyroscope motion sensing as in the PlayStation Move, an electronic compass, and cameras on both the front and back.
– Games will come on “new media,” not UMD anymore, but we’re unclear on what sort of flash memory is being used. Sony’s rather proud of the fact it’s offering the world’s first dual analog stick combo on a portable device, though we’re more geeked about the quadrupling of pixel count from the original PSP.
– touch panel on the back is the same size and positioned directly under the front OLED touchscreen, which allows for some pretty sophisticated controls when using the two simultaneously.
– In closing its presentation, Sony trotted out Hideo Kojima to show off a cutscene from MGS 4 rendered in real time on the NGP. It was pulled directly from the PS3 version of the game and ran at 20fps, which looked very smooth indeed
– Allegedly…the power of a PS3 and will deliver PS3 like graphics
– Out in 2011…in at least one territory

Picks
Ian
Sketchbook Express
– Free from Autodesk
– Supports tablets – bamboo and higher spec tablets from Wacom – great mockup tool for free
– Pro version for £44.99 (was £19.99 at Mac store launch) has more tools, layers and export options

Chris
Speedlight SB-400
– A great compact flash from Nikon
– Makes a big difference when shooting, especially indoors

Episode 74 Updates

Quick post to update you on a couple of points. Firstly, the App Store did hit 10 Billion downloads before we got the podcast published – oops.

What was great about the winner of the competition though was that she was from the UK…and the app she downloaded was from a small UK developer – double woo-hoo. Gail Davis downloaded the app Paper Glider from Neon Play. Just a shame that she can’t use the $10,000 to buy Apple hardware. I also wonder what conversion rate Apple will use when awarding the prize. Using todays exchange rate, $10,000 works out at just under £6,250. However Apple’s exchange rate used when calculating the price of an Apple TV ($99 in America against £101 in the UK) would mean the prize works out to be £10,202. I think I know which route Apple will be taking. And before any fanboys drop by, yes, I need to educate myself.

One last podcast update – this was the view for the last 20 minutes of the podcast. Henry’s chair proved just as insightful as the good man himself but not as funny. Henry’s mid podcasts escapes are proving legendary 🙂

DigitalOutbox Episode 74

DigitalOutbox Episode 74
In this episode the team discuss Apple and Steve Jobs, Google and Eric Schmidt, UK Gaming news and Rim.Jobs

Playback
Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

Shownotes
1:13 – Steve Jobs Takes Medical Leave
– Team,
At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.
I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple’s day to day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011.
I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.
Steve
– Perfect timing – take leave on a holiday, earnings results on the Tuesday
– Apple in safe hands though as proven over last few years
– Shares drop 5% on Tuesday
3:30 – Apple Quarterly Results
– Apple: $26.74bn revenue, $6bn profit, 4.1m Macs (+23%), 16.2m iPhones (+86%), 7.3m iPads, 19.45m iPods (-7%).
– Best Mac quarter but analysts expected more due to Air
– Best quarter ever for iPhone
– Lots of Touches sold – more than half of all iPods, 27% growth
– iPad popular 🙂 Total iPads sold since April – 14.8m
– Mac revenues were 20% of Apple’s total. iOS were 75% (13% iPod, 5% other music, 39% iPhone, 17% iPad), with peripherals at 2% and sw/ 3%
5:47 – Google Quarterly Results
– Google has once again posted optimistic growth this quarter boasting $8.44 billion in revenue, and increase of 26% compared to fourth quarter of 2009 in which revenue was $6.67 billion.
– Google also announced that co-founder Larry Page will be replacing Eric Schmidt as CEO of the company. This transition will take place on April 4, Google says.
Schmidt will take the role of “Executive Chairman” and will focus on “deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership,” the company says. He will also continue to act as an advisor to Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin.
– Speaking of Brin, he’ll be working on “strategic projects, in particular working on new products,” the company says. His title will remain “co-founder”. So it sounds like no big change there.
– Perceived loss of edge at Google – lost out on a few deals recently, Facebook seen as the big new shiny – reason for change?
9:00 – Google Clarifies h.264 Stance
– It’s all about HTML5 – nobody will ever agree that H.264 will be baseline codec, hence their decision to drop H.264 and push on now with WebM – short term pain for long term pain
– What this means is that Flash (or Silverlight) is required to playback H.264
– Google will also supply plugins via WebM project team for Safari and IE9
– They will also be re-encoding all YouTube videos to WebM
– Who wins? Flash. Way to go.
– http://blogs.adobe.com/jd/2011/01/video-debate-cutting-to-the-chase.html
– Crazy post from John Dowdell
– Safari is non standard and is doesn’t allow extendability via plugins?
– But then a draft for HTML5 does say that browsers need to support plugins
11:59 – Instant Pop
– Sony & Universal to makes songs instantly available
– David Joseph, the chief executive of Universal Music, said: “Wait is not a word in the vocabulary of the current generation. It’s out of date to think that you can build up demand for a song by playing it for several weeks on radio in advance.”
– Songs used to receive up to six weeks radio airplay before they were released for sale – a practice known as “setting up” a record. But the success of selling the winner’s single immediately after the X Factor final has made record bosses think again.
– Google and YouTube searches were peaking 2 weeks after songs started airing
– Also demonstrating to government that they are willing to change in face of piracy
14:46 – Amazon buys LoveFilm
– Amazon today took full control of DVD rental and online video company Lovefilm, in a deal to buy the 58% of the business that it does not already own for an undisclosed sum.
– Lovefilm remains a leading player in DVD rentals since launching in the UK in 2004, and has 1.4 million subscribers across Europe. The company tripled its sales in 2009 to almost £100m, and in March last year launched its digital streaming service, enabling viewers to rent and watch movies over the internet.
– Within the past 12 months, Lovefilm has stepped up its movie streaming business, while leaving its physical DVD rental service to continue its growth. In 2009, Lovefilm declared that online was now its “primary” business – despite online rentals representing a 10th of DVD and Blu-ray rentals.
– Lovefilm customers can now also stream films over a number of internet-connected living room devices, including Sony and Samsung TV sets, and the PS3 games console.
17:00 – Cheap PC’s to reduce digital divide
– Race Online 2012, which aims to “make the UK the first nation in the world where everyone can use the web”, estimates that of the more than nine million adults in the UK who are currently not online, four million are socially and economically disadvantaged.
– The cheap computers will run open-source software, such as Linux, and will include a flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, warranty, dedicated telephone helpline and delivery. Prices will start at £98 for a refurbished PC.
– The packages will be sold through 60 UK online centres which offer IT training and Remploy, an organisation that specialises in helping disabled and disadvantaged people find work and which runs the computer recycling scheme e-cycle.
– Race Online 2012 has also negotiated cheap internet packages using a mobile dongle, costing £9 a month or £18 for three months, to help people access the web.
– The 12-month trial is part of the Race Online 2012 scheme, which aims to reach out to the 9.2 million adults in the UK who are currently offline.
– Distributor Remploy hopes to sell 8,000 machines in the next 12 months.
19:09 – iPlayer Growth
– BBC’s iPlayer clocked in a record 145m programme requests in December 2010.
– That total is up 27 per cent on December 2009’s total, but only just under three per cent on November 2010’s total of 141m requests.
– Interestingly, requests TV programmes hit just 89.7m, showing that almost 40 per cent of requests – 83.1m – were for radio shows. The internet is perfect for radio, which is far less bandwidth-sensitive than the telly stuff.
– The BBC said Virgin Media viewers asked for 23.9m programmes to be played back. PlayStation 3 owners made a further 7m requests
21:56 – XBMC on iOS Devices
– Full XBMC for these iOS devices – not remotes – the full thing
– Need to jailbreak device but…
– Apple TV2
– Full XBMC install, this is not a remote or thin client streamer.
– No longer is your AppleTV2 chained to iTunes.
– Who wants transcoded video anyway?
– Share files on your network your way.
– Full hardware decode for 720p/1080p movies.
– Everything else you know and love about XBMC.
– iPad/iPhone
– You guessed it, this is full-blown XBMC. Not a remote.
– Launch XBMC like any other app.
– Drag and drop media from your computer, or share it on your home-network
– Also fully hardware accelerated for most formats.
– Works on iPhone4, though it’s currently frustrating to use.
– Challenge: Who will be the first to create a gesture-driven skin?
– Video demo -http://www.engadget.com/2011/01/20/xbmc-comes-to-the-new-apple-tv/
24:30 – 10 Billion Downloads
– App Store is about to hit 10 billion downloads
– If you download the 10 billionth you win a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card
– Handy for the Mac App Store 😉
25:57 – OneNote hits iOS
– Onenote
– Makes sense
– America only at the moment
– App is free but for limited time
– Text audio and picture notes
– Sync with Windows Live Skydrive
– Where’s the iPad version?
– Many get (including me) a login error – MS says it’s due to high demand – just keep trying or download Evernote.
27:52 – Games Sales Slip in 2010
– Games market in 2010 was worth £2.88bn – a significant drop from the £3.31bn recorded in 2009.
– Console consumption was on the up, though, with growth for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Sony and Microsoft combined shifted 2.3m units. The Xbox 360 outsold the PS3 in 2010, just, with sales of £232m to Sony’s £229m.
– In total, UK consumers bought 63m console and PC games – more than one for every man, woman and child in the country.
30:35 – Nintendo 3DS Release Date and Prices Announced
– March 18th or 25th
– RRP seems to be £249
– Games – £30
– Super Streetfighter iV and Pilotwings – look really good but not enough to buy
– Also does 3dtv – http://www.digitaltveurope.net/news_articles/jan_11/20_jan_11/eurosport_and_bskyb_to_provide_3d_tv_to_nintendo_3ds
– Nintendo has struck deals with a number of partners to deliver video content, including a two-year, pan-European deal with Eurosport, and a deal with Aardman Animations who will provide a series of original Shaun the Sheep short movies in 3D. It has also stuck a UK-only deal with Sky, who will deliver 3D content from its new Sky 3D channel, which is likely to include sports events.
32:26 – Minecraft Sells A Million Copies
– Game has just hit beta and already has this many sales
– It’s like lego without the restrictions…and with monsters
– YouTube is awash with Minecraft video’s
– It’s very addictive
– Single or multiplayer
34:39 – Most Inappropriate URL Ever
– RIM register rim.jobs domain as a quick URL to their career pages
– Someone somewhere is having a right old giggle within RIM

Picks
Ian
Alfred
– Productivity App for OS X – similar to Launchbar but thats ¢25 but does a lot more
– Launch app’s with shortcuts, instant access to web searches, bookmarks
– Browse and play music
– Perorm actions like email, moving files
– Reduces mouse reliance
– Speeds up activity
– Free on App store

Myfitnesspal

My first pick of 2011 and it’s no surprise that it helps with one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions – dieting. Myfitnesspal is a web, iPhone and Android based weight/calorie tracking tool. It was first recommended by a friend last year and I immediately dismissed it as I hated the name and the web site design wasn’t the best. What a snob! Roll on a few months and at the start of 2011 I wanted to track more carefully my food intake. Partly to improve diet and partly to provide a food diary to help with migraine root cause analysis. After seeing myfitnesspal being recommended alongside RunKeeper I decided to look again at the service.

First good aspect of myfitnesspal is that it’s a totally free service. After downloading the iPhone app and creating an account the biggest plus of the experience so far was the capture of daily calorie intake. Myfitnesspal has a large database of foods that are easily searchable. It’s also stocked with lot’s of UK foods as well and it means a typical day’s food intake takes a couple of minutes tops to add in. The app also remembers foods you’ve previously eaten so if you are a Scot addicted to Frosties and Diet Irn-Bru (not at the same time I hasten to add) it takes seconds to add these in to the app. If a food doesn’t exist it’s fairly straightforward to add that to the database so it’s searchable from then on. Based on height, sex and weight myfitnesspal will display a daily target for calorie intake and guesstimate how your current intake will decrease, or increase, your overall weight. As I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks it’s hard to say how accurate this side of the app is. However it really does hammer home how much you eat in a day to day basis. I’ve already switched a couple of foods to one’s with a far smaller calorie/fat/salt intake.

The app also allows you to track weight and exercise but these have to be manually inputted – no link up with other sites like Withings here. One interesting touch is that alongside weight tracking you can also track body measurements like neck size so you can see if you are staying static in weight but reducing fat/increasing muscle. The reports within Myfitnesspal are rudimentary and basic but allow you to see progress over time.

There’s also a social aspect in that you can have friends on the service but at the same time still keeping certain aspects of your profile private. I can see this being handy for people who are working together to encourage each other during weight loss but for me this is purely a solo adventure.

Overall I like the service myfitnesspal offers purely due to the functional rather than pretty front end making it easy to add data and the very complete food database. The fact it’s free is another plus point but I would be interested in hearing from anyone using a similar service that they would be happy to recommend.

Batman Arkham Asylum

Over the Christmas period there’s usually some spare time between the Turkey and drink to get some gaming in. This year, with the PS3 purchase just pre Christmas, there were some great games to pick up on classic/best seller and therefore some nice cheap deals.

I actually ended up buying a whole tonne of games – I went down the best games for PS3 and got the AAA titles. In fact I picked up too much and I just haven’t played them. They will wait. However, I did pick up a copy of Batman, Arkham Asylum for my Xbox 360 and I’ve completed it. Played it straight through.

I haven’t touched any multiplayer, I couldn’t even tell you if there is such a thing in the game! But it’s another example of a developer proving that there is still life in the single player market. It’s up there with the Bioshock for me.

The game kicks off with the Joker being re-incarcerated into the Arkham Asylum. It doesn’t take long before you discover that this is very much part of Jokers plan and he’s masterminded an inside job to take over the Asylum by force.

There’s not a fantastic amount more to the story to be honest! You spend the game working towards taking back the Asylum. There are some distinct phases to the game and the early section drips in the game mechanics on a gradual learning curve. Nicely paced and well judged.

The game mechanics themselves are nice and varied. Well sorted and offer just the right amount of contextual buttons alongside skill combos. The gameplay itself is one of discovery, problem solving and action/beat’em up. I would judge that they come along in equal measure. The Asylum is split into 3 broad, large, outside areas and these are sub-divided with buildings, from the mansion to the medical building to the holding cells. All the areas and the graphics in general are realised with a dark edgy feel. Everything looks nice and together and its another case of there being a strong and coherent artistic style and it really pays off. The unreal engine is powerful and this game really maximises its strong points.

The game goes through distinct phases as well. It seems to get darker the more you play and as the story unfolds the environments also take radical twists and turns. Batman himself also changes through the game, with the effects of tussles and altercations leaving his suit torn and his cape ripped. Not every game takes the time to add these nice little touches but it really makes a difference when they are there.

If I was playing through the game again, I’d spend more time on the discovery aspects in parallel to the story. The Riddler has left a tonne of trophies to find all around the differing areas, in hidden, hard to reach spots. It’s very satisfying working out how to get them all and is a game long pursuit of it’s own. I finished the main story and then went back through all the areas once more time to get every last trophy and unlock. Had I done more of this through the main game, it would have felt more balanced.

The game also throws in some great set pieces and different gameplay styles. Whether it’s avoiding the glowing stare of the Scarecrow using shadows to hide in or areas of the map where you can’t use your ever faithful grappling hook and have to revert to the games free-running style mechanic. It’s varied and keeps interest all the way through. You have a nice selection of gadgets and gizmos that gradually unlock through the game. These new toys are sometimes needed in order to get to other areas of the maps. Areas you’ve noticed earlier in the game are sometimes unreachable until you have the correct tool to get to them.

If I was going to criticise anything, it would be that the unreal engine doesn’t do people as well as environments. Don’t get me wrong, the character models are stunning and extremely detailed, however, I always feel that they are a little too shiny. Occasionally, the third person perspective also means that Batman obscures what you trying to look at but again, this never really hampers and having the lead character on screen in a single player game is great and adds that movie edge to proceedings.

The fact that you can pick this game up on classics is excellent. It’s an AAA title with a relatively small price tag. I’ve seen it going for just a few pounds on PC via Steam but I thought that the XBox control implementation was perfect and am glad that I plumped for the console version.

If you’ve got some time to kill, like single player games and haven’t yet picked up this one, then you’ve missed out on of the best. It’s not long before Arkham City, which is now an essential purchase for me. If they can re-create half of the interest and enjoyment of this, then it will be another excellent game.