Hello again!

I opted not to post anything last week because… well, it’s going to be a bit boring for the next month or so, I reckon. That’s mainly because my gaming has become dominated by the Uncharted series, with a single-player Trophy spree on Uncharted 3, and lots of Uncharted 2 multiplayer – chasing DLC Trophies.

Whilst there’s nothing really to report on the Drake’s Deception playthrough (apart from a realisation that it really wants to be a movie, rather than a game), there’s been much more action Among Thieves. A new friend, met during last week’s boosting session, asked if I’d help him and a buddy out on a Hard Co-op level. Thinking it’d be a fun way to make some ranking-up cash, I agreed… and, after we pushed through that level with considerable ease, we upped the difficulty to Crushing. There was a bit of nail-biting, but slow-and-steady won the race (eventually)… and a Trophy was unlocked.

Those two guys generously offered to help me out with a few other Trophies, too, with one turning the somewhat tricky Gold Rush into a piece-of-piss. It was bloody brilliant fun, even if I did feel incredibly guilty that they were carrying my ageing skills through proceedings; Uncharted 2‘s Co-op really is good stuff.

But then comes the regular online multiplayer components and their associated Trophies, most of which are of the “perform [something] in [some mode]” variety. The grindiest (look, a new word!) of them is Cold Blooded – kill 2500 enemies in Deathmatch or Elimination games. Whilst not as daunting as Gears of War‘s Seriously, it was pretty demoralising early on to go into games (with my lowly rank emblem like a beacon) and maybe only get three kills under my belt… if I was lucky. But I’m over a thousand kills now, and the last few days has seen a noticeable improvement in my game; whilst I still aim to get six kills a game, I’ve recently started hitting double-figures pretty regularly. This is having a pleasing effect on my spreadsheet-of-stuff-to-do… does it really surprise anyone that I have such a spreadsheet?

The dark side of Uncharted 2, though, is the boosting. Whilst I’m happy eking out my kills in a legitimate manner, there’s some Trophies that I know I’d never attain through normal play; off to a boosting session I thus go. And I’ve mentioned before how disappointing the PSN-based boosting community is: TrueAchievements really has spoiled my expectations with its vast array of boosting session setup options and – more importantly – accountability for its users. It’s a rare occurrence that 360 boosting partners don’t bother turning up, or fail to co-operate during the session; they know that doing so will result in negative feedback that is visible to all future boosting partners.

There’s no such service (that I’ve found) on any of the PSN satellite sites. Thus, when only four people of nine supposedly committed players turned up to one session, I was a bit peeved. Of the four that did turn up, two immediately leapt into another game (“I’m not wasting my time waiting for others”), delaying any potential start; their selfish nature helped push the “start” time out by forty-five minutes. The ragged nature of the hours that followed also had me biting my lip; the loudest people with headsets refused to read the chat session that was in use, and frequently misled the rest of the group. Misogynist comments abound; griefing occurred whenever one of the braggarts didn’t get what he wanted.

It’s really quite demoralising, and – as I indicated above – a stark contrast to the dedication that one tends to find in a 360boosting session. It makes me want to just get these tricky Trophies out of the way and leave these people behind; seven Triple Threat medals, and a bunch of Plunder captures, and I’ll be happily flying solo, leaving the thought of those selfish shits behind.

There were a couple of other games that got a look-in over the last fortnight, too; there was a brief return to the Zelda franchise via Skyward Sword‘s Hero Mode (still caught in the interminably long tutorial section). But I also thought I’d start tackling the Master Challenges of Shadow Complex – in-game Achievements that have no gamerscore associated with them. After finding a decent walkthrough video that demonstrates a decent route through the Complex, I figured it would be a piece of piss; unfortunately, I seemed to have completely forgotten how to actually play the game. Progress was slow and stilted… and off-putting. Shadow Complex returned to the back-burner.

So that’s me. I’ve got 1036/2500 Cold Blooded kills, and I want many more… it’s a long term project, spurred on by the fact that it was a Resolution. But, once I shake clear of the Bad People, it’s also an immensely fun project… and one that seems to be indicating that I still have the capacity to learn how to improve my play.

Which makes me feel… well, less old.


A year ago, if I’d have said that – some day – my PS3 would receive an absolute caning one week, I’d have laughed at my own words.

Yet, this week, the 360 was only turned on to watch a documentary on iView, and the Wii only for Wii Fit; the PS3 was home to all of my gaming.

Firstly, I pushed on and finished my Hard playthrough of Uncharted 2, which was – surprisingly – pretty good fun. Running alongside a Crushing walkthrough was interesting, because the tactics contained therein made some parts of Hard laughably easy – the train wreck gunfight, for example, or the big Shambalah fights were achieved on their first attempt, which was a relief. There was also a little bit of a cleanup of Uncharted 2‘s medals, and a few excursions into co-op with another friend online… co-op is actually quite a bit of fun, with tension a-plenty as the last team-mate struggles to stay alive while the others’ respawn timer ticks down.

Uncharted 3 also got a look-in… eventually. There’s a common complaint amongst the Uncharted 3 community that their discs aren’t read all the time, leaving them stuck on the “spinning ring” loading screen; such was the case with me this weekend, with all attempts to get the game to load requiring a reboot. Eventually, I cleaned the tiniest smudge of a fingerprint – seriously, it was less than 5mm across – from the outer edge of the disc, and it booted, allowing me to snaffle a few Trophies.

But the major achievement of the week was the crossing off The List of Ico after a tense speed-run. In attempting to get under the two hours required for my final Trophy of the game, I found a speed run guide that presented a plethora of tricks that I’d not discovered myself. A bit of dedication – and swearing at Yorda – saw my error-ridden run clock in at 1:56:09; the Castle Guide and Platinum Trophies popped soon thereafter.

But, right now, I’m feeling a little bit burnt out after an incredibly frustrating boosting session for Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer Trophies. It had the lot: uncommunicative cowboys, people who ignored instructions, streak breakers, kill stealers… I left the last game in a complete huff. I play these games for fun; I do this boosting for that little surge of delight that appears when a Trophy pops. I don’t need to be feeling rage from these activities.

So, for now, a little break. Or maybe some Mario Kart

ThirdUnchartedJourney: PortalFlowerKart

I’ve got a life-long friend who loves getting his game on, but is somewhat stymied by his work and family duties; four kids will, I guess, devour a chunk of (what I’d consider to be) prime gaming time. But every so often he gets a day-pass from the family, and we get to sit and eat junk food and play video games – on the couch, making a nice social day of it.

But I struggled with inspiration for stuff to show him this visit. Eventually I kicked things off with a bit of Uncharted 3, pushing through some couch co-op… which was great, until the game failed to present a checkpoint that we had, by all accounts, earned. Then came Portal – he’d heard of it, but never played it, so I just let him play and kept quiet until help was needed. The same went for Journey – whilst he laughed and joked early on in his experience, when that moment occurred the room went quiet.

“That’s… fucked up,” he quietly offered. It was great to be able to see him get that affected by the game; I think it surprised him.

We wrapped things up with Mario Kart Wii – and really, is there any better competitive game when two people are in the same room? In all, it turned out to be a fantastically fun day, and a real mixed bag of experiences for him.

But, in terms of solo play, it’s been a real tale of three consoles this week, with my gaming time split pretty evenly across all three of the major platforms. And, despite the odd niggle, it’s almost all been universally great.

The 360 got a look-in when I finished off the second (of seven) playthroughs of Saints Row: The Third. The protagonist dialogue – the real reason for the multiple runs – actually started diverging quite significantly towards the end of the game… but the subtitles did not, which was interesting. I toyed with the purchase of Fez, but decided against it… for the time being.

The Wii’s drawcard was, of course, Mario Kart Wii, which provided oodles of fun and swearing – even on the slower speeds. A brief look at the harder levels indicated that it’s going to provide the madcap bedlam that I’d expect, with items zipping across the courses and my kart spending more time in the air than on the road. Fantastic, sweary stuff.

But the central focus of the week was most certainly Ico. A lazy first (PS3) playthrough reminded me of how remarkably emotive the game is, with the second (back-to-back) run an absolute delight that I celebrated with Yorda, eating watermelon on the beach. It really is a beautifully constructed experience, though some of the “high-def” work left a lot to be desired: the clean definition of Yorda’s face during the bridge cut-scene took away from the ethereal white glowing beauty that I experienced on the PS2.

There’s just one speed-run required to wrap Ico up, and this week saw the final Trophies for Flower and Journey claimed. But the most significant effort – in terms of weight of expectation – was that I finally started putting some serious effort into the Uncharted 2 multiplayer trophies.

By boosting, of course.

After looking around to see if any communities like TrueAchievements exists in the PS3 world, I discovered a real mixed bag; there’s two sites that are somewhat obviously named, and (there’s also the much newer PSNProfiles, which looks like it could approach the glory that is TA, but doesn’t quite have the weight of people behind it yet). Both offer Trophy lists, guides, and forums, but they both seem to be populated by a mix of people that actively sneer at boosting (horror stories abound) and those who just want their Trophies any way they can get them. I eventually found a dishevelled boosting thread on .com (as the kool kids call it), with one bloke recently posting that he’s about to start working on the game; “I’ll be in that,” I offer, and hesitantly we organise and plan.

I start my Hard playthrough of Uncharted 2 as re-familiarisation exercise: Ico‘s use of Triangle to jump makes things quite laughable for a few minutes. Then my old 360 boosting buddy Mitchell joins in, and we start tackling the co-op missions… and are mercilessly slaughtered.

The boosting session starts, and it becomes immediately apparent that we’ve had it incredibly easy on the 360 – comms via text chat is painful (must set up a keyboard!) and the party system buggy. Eventually we get going, though, and things go relatively smoothly; after a couple of hours, we’ve all claimed the trophies widely regarded as the trickiest in the game. The Americans eventually drift off, leaving Mitchell and I to attempt more co-op… and we’re joined, quite unexpectedly, by another player.

And they were bloody brilliant.

In an experience not unlike that of Journey, they guided us through the co-op levels – picking us up when we fell, guiding us through the tricky bits. They were headset-less, so there was no communication with them… but that didn’t stop Mitchell and I from profusely offering thanks every time they dug us out of our own shit.

Of course, we must have sounded like those pricks you always mute in games, and my subsequent friend request has been sadly denied… but that certainly was a fun couple of hours.

But as I leave my solo Uncharted 2 to write this post, I’m cowering behind cover as Chloe picks off my opposition for me. “I’ve lost him,” calls one enemy soldier as he exchanges shots with her; apparently, her gunfire is of little threat to him. Clever writing, eh? Using an undercurrent of patriarchal dismissal to encourage you to hate the baddies even more?

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

But the crux of this missive is that I reckon I’m enjoying Uncharted 2 now, far more so than in my earlier efforts. Whether that’s because of the boosting factor (and the socialising that it provides), or whether it’s another case where (as with the original Uncharted) familiarity breeds contempt respect, I cannot quite figure out yet; regardless, I’m quite looking forward to hopping back into it again soon.

Like, right now.

A Grim Realisation

In the middle of the protracted writing session that produced last week’s blog post, I had an impromptu visit from my brother and his son. I’ve mentioned my nephew a few times on this blog, often wanting to use our twenty-eight-year age gap as a (hopefully) interesting contrast in attitudes. After he mocked me because his PSN profile level was higher than mine – Level 6, 83% versus Level 6, 13% – I pointed out the fact that he had four times as many games on his profile as I did. In doing so, I was challenging him to play like me – and that, in retrospect, was a pretty silly thing to do. After all, he should feel free to play games the way he wants, finding the joy he wants… I should just be a guiding force, not a dictator.

But his goading triggered a competitive spark in me, and I quickly wrapped up most of the remaining Trophies for Flower and Journey early in the week. Then, during a moment of procrastination (and somewhat prompted by the fact that my nephew claims – he’s got a habit of cheating occasionally – to have beaten the game on Hard), I flitted over my 2012 Resolutions and started considering at my commitment to knock Uncharted 2 off The List. So I started digging around a bit to see what I’d be happy with… I was thinking all Trophies (naturally), as well as all multiplayer add-ons – boosters, skins, et al. You know, all the game had to offer.

Now, I was well aware that the multiplayer components required a fair bit of work – the Trophies, especially, would probably need some significant boosting. Some perusal of various PS3 community sites led me to believe that the support for boosting Trophies is… well, almost non-existent; still, the challenge of forming a reasonable boosting crew wasn’t daunting at all. To get things started, I popped online midweek for a bit of multiplayer action… and failed to find a game. There didn’t seem to be anyone still playing.

And then I started looking at the character skins… and my hopes plummeted. Some of the skins only became available at Level 80 – eighty! – and that, quite frankly, is a bridge too far. With my current rank stuck somewhere around Level 14 (with maybe $300,000 earned), and knowing that the levels between 60 and 80 required fifteen million dollars apiece, Level 80 felt like it would require many Seriouslys worth of effort.

I came to the grim realisation that my ideal Uncharted 2 completion would be bloody difficult. This was further backed up when I discovered that a number of skins were one-offs – only available for participants in special events, or as rewards for selected offers. It became apparent that there was no way to get them all regardless of the (seemingly impossible) Level 80 requirement.

My goal was, thus, impossible to achieve.

And, of course, my incredibly mature reaction to that realisation was to mentally throw my toys from the pram. “Fuck it,” I thought, “why bother with this stuff at all? What should my goal really be?”

So I started thinking about what would make me happy with all this content-experiencing stuff that I like to do. I can’t escape Achievements and Trophies, that’s for sure – there’s too many numbers associated with them to allow me that freedom. But if I were to accept that the primary reason I buy these games is for the single-player content, than can I dismiss any extended multiplayer hijinks?

There’s so much that’s appealing in that premise: imagine being able to give Uncharted 3‘s multiplayer only the barest of investigations. Imagine being able to write off Halo: Reach‘s horrendously convoluted Commendations! It’s a tantalising idea, but not one I can commit to… yet. I’m still ruminating on whether I can, in good conscience, accept such a shifting of goalposts.

But, speaking of Uncharted 3, I also wandered online to play a bit more of it’s multiplayer modes. The difference between it and its immediate predecessor are enormous, as is the skill levels of the players that inhabit those worlds; but I found a fun pastime in playing co-op missions in both Uncharteds, yielding minor Level increases (now up to 17 and 11, respectively).

And – deep breath – I also fired up Perfect Dark Zero for the first time in years. It’s really not a friendly game, is it? The introductory level on the easiest difficulty setting was all I could stomach; completing that game is going to be a real test of mettle. But there was one really nice thing about playing PDZ again: the opening movie is the first game-related thing I ever saw on my (then) brand new 360… my introduction to this generation, if you will. And, as a big fan of the Bond franchise, I was immediately sucked in by the movie, and even today it still generates genuine excitement in me.

Pity about the game behind it, though.

Finally, this week I had cause to buy a new Wii – and, in a vain attempt to future-proof, I wanted one of the old-style units with Gamecube compatibility (my Gamecube is really tetchy with my F-Zero GX disc, whereas my Wii has never locked up with it, so I figured I’d play all my GC games on the Wii in the future). The only new Wii unit I could find was a Mario Kart bundle… so now I own Mario Kart Wii, a somewhat unwanted – but not unappreciated – addition to The List. After being staggered that the copyright notice on the title screen says that it was released in 2008 – nearly four years ago, now! – I settled in and played the first Cup – with the Wheel, naturally. It feels good: solid, playful. But I know it’s going to be a List-dweller, though I may grant myself some leeway with regards to three-starring all Cups.

And, just to be sure of the unit’s quality, I played F-Zero GX again. Two attempts at the easiest Cup on the easiest difficulty: the Blue Falcon took me to five straight wins. The Wild Goose, on the other hand, was a twitchy fucker that I never had any semblance of control over. That game will also be a perpetual List-dweller.

The next week? Well, Wednesday should see me claiming the last of my Flower and Journey Trophies, and I’m almost finished with my second play through of Saints Row: The Third (after being stymied by a missing Stunt Jump). But then what? More tortuous PDZ, or Uncharted 2? Or maybe the tasty treat of Ico that I’ve got waiting in the wings?

My 2012 Gaming Resolutions

So… Gaming Resolutions, eh? These are rapidly becoming a bit of a joke with me.

Every year I present a collection of commitments, any of which in isolation look completely manageable, and every year I fail to satisfy those commitments. Every year, I plan to pare The List down, and every year it is merely whittled.

And, more to the point, every year I feel myself drifting further away from the mainstream gamer. As I write this, I’m listening to Giant Bomb’s 2011 Deliberations, and I’ve played precisely zero of their Top Ten. True, I want to play Saints Row: The Third, Bastion, and Portal 2, and they’ll undoubtedly be picked up next year, but still… none of them.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at last year’s Resolutions…

…to leave 2011 with The List pared back to 50. No shit. I’ve just pulled that number out of my arse, and I’m sticking to it.

Verdict: Fail. The List currently sits at 67. So that’s actually a Big Fail.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. Again. Last year’s goal of 50% was completely reasonable, yet I missed it. Try harder!

Verdict: Thirteen new games appeared this year; seven of those were off The List by year’s end. Success!

…to make an impact on every platform. Again. But do it this time!

Verdict: Fail fail faility fail. The only platforms that were touched were the Wii (and I only just scraped that in), 360, PS3, and DS. Sounds like a comprehensive FAIL.

…to clear up some of the doubles. This will feed in nicely to the pruning of The List indicated above; after all, I’ve got two copies of No More Heroes 2. Three copies of Jet Set Radio! Two copies of Ikaruga… ummm, let’s not fret about that one too much ;)

Verdict: Gimme an “F”. Gimme an “A”. Gimme an “I”. Gimme an “L”. What does it spell? petee.

…to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles. There’s a bunch of games in which I’ve acquired all the Achievements, but haven’t crossed off The List. Ninety-Nine Nights needs a bit of OCD collection lovin’, Rez needs some 100% levels. Let’s get some of those wrapped up, yeah?

Verdict: What starts with “F”, and sounds like “tail”? That’s right – me.

Clearly, 2011 was outright shithouse in terms of Resolution adherence. So what do I do – choose more resolutions that look attainable, then dismally fail yet again? Or do I pare down expectations somewhat?

Let’s find out…

In 2012, I resolve…

  • …to leave 2012 with The List pared back to… 64. Yep, the same target as two years ago. Soft, but – on previous efforts – pretty unlikely.
  • …to (still) keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. 50% is fine, since it means that some of the back catalogue is getting wrapped up.
  • …to knock Perfect Dark Zero, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 2, and Halo: Anniversary off The List.
  • …to beat Luxor 2‘s Normal skill level.
  • …to make some inroads on both WipEout HD and F-Zero GX. Racing ahoy!
  • …to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles… fo’ real this time. Ninety-Nine Nights, Rez, Shadow Complex.
  • …to break at least 500 GS in Child of Eden.
  • …to play something new; something outside the stuff I know I like. To take a risk!

So there you have it – my targets for the next year. Fewer broad sweeping statements, and more focus on the current generations (because there’s a technological change a-comin’, kids).

And, cut’n’pasting a line from previous years… What are your Gaming Resolutions for 2012?

2011: The Year in Review

And so, as 2011 draws to a close, I have this lingering feeling that – for me – it was a pretty rubbish year for gaming. Which seems like an odd thing to say, with so many big titles that should have tickled my fancy. But there were massive tracts where I completely lost my mojo, and where I couldn’t bring myself to write at all; there were some foolish purchases, and a lot of buyer’s remorse.

The List barely shrank, a result of thirteen new games being ever-so-slightly outweighed by fourteen completed. But only seven of those new titles were released in 2011, which really limits my ability to talk about the “current” state of gaming. So, as a result, my annual collection of half-arsed awards will likely span a number of years.

But all that sounds rather morose, and that’s not the point of these awards; so let’s bring the fun!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Whilst I could happily slot Uncharted‘s Crushing Trophy in here, it’s pretty hard to go past the mountain of sweat and hope that had to be scaled for Gears of War‘s Seriously Achievement – even though it was almost entirely boosted. Whilst not a patch on the latest version of Seriously (which one of my friends acquired after an estimated 1100 hours), the uncertainty behind the original gives it a special place in every recipient’s heart. Massive kudos to my boosting crew for their seemingly endless help, without which I would still be stuck on less than 200 kills.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: Another award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, this has to go to the original Uncharted; despite having picked up last year’s Shrugging “Huh?” Award, the harder difficulty levels completely won me over… yet another instance of difficulty making a game better.

Disappointment of the Year: Uncharted 3 (and, to a lesser extent, Uncharted 2). After the joy I (eventually) found in their predecessor, it was sad to see the much-lauded sequel stray away from that open-combat formula into tightly choreographed set-pieces which, whilst gorgeous to look at, eschew gameplay for storytelling spectacle. The latest chapter just epitomises style over substance.

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Teaming up with gibajon to tackle Kameo‘s Time Attack Achievements. Each level became a puzzle, a carefully choreographed piece of complementary teamwork, with massive relief when we successfully got each A-Rank… and to then discover that our scores were all within the Top 50 in the world – well, that was pretty bloody special.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Despite being another potential victim of style over substance, with simplistic and extremely limited gameplay, Enslaved gets the nod here for its astounding graphical presentation, genuine heart in the storytelling, and amazingly good DLC extension. Totally recommended as a gentle, enthralling game.

The “What Have I Done?” Time-Sink Tentacle: A lot of people raved about the free-roaming nuttery of Just Cause 2; for me, it was an OCD nightmare. Two playthroughs of over one hundred hours each, with every possible side-mission, destructible, and collectible covered off. And, due to a bug in the game, the maximum you can get is an annoying 99.95%.

The “About Bloody Time” Conferral: This could go to the insidious Wii Play, a List-dweller for far too long (until a recent sick-day saw me twist my way to Pose Mii victory), but instead it goes to the mainstream gaming press, for growing a pair of balls and daring to say something negative about some of the recent AAA-titles.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: More Modern Warfare? More Elder Scrolls? More Assassin’s Creed? Well, I at least played the first of that series. Still, I appear to remain well outside the mainstream gaming zeitgeist.

The Ingénue Infrastructure Gold Star: Come on… you didn’t expect me to forget about Sony’s little problem earlier in the year, did you? Well, at least it got me playing the PS3 again, with a couple of decent freebie games as compensation for wide-open web servers.

The Nutball of the Year Coconut: I love me some crazy game stuff. Shadows of the Damned brought tawdry schoolboy humour, coupled with a talking skull that transforms into a gun that transforms into a motorcycle, hallucinatory sections where you run over your girlfriend’s lingerie-clad body, and boss fights that included giant goat-headed demons pissing evil onto statues. But it was pipped by the non-stop visual orgasm that is Child of Eden – and there’s no better demonstration of that than Giant Bomb’s Quick Look. The whole video is pretty great (“September 11, 2019… too soon, man”), but if you’re after the infamous Space Whale comments, skip about 22 minutes in.

Boomshankalank – that’s 2011 over and done with. And, as with last year, I don’t have a post ready-to-go about my game of the year… but that’s okay, because my Game of the Year is a bit of a no-brainer. While it arrived late in the year, the game that impressed me most was such a wonderfully deep experience that it almost wiped the memories of the games that preceded it.

My 2011 Game of the Year is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Despite an almost impossibly slow opening, the latest Zelda iteration has such wonderfully emergent gameplay that there doesn’t seem to be a wasted second as you progress through the plethora of tasks at hand. It’s a game that I cannot wait to re-visit – something my OCD will accommodate, with another pair of playthroughs required.

And so, without further ado… Happy New Year!

Reach Among Assassins: Anniversary Sword Deception

Sure, there’s been many weeks of non-blogging, but that’s not to say that there’s not been many games played at The Moobaarn… quite the opposite, in fact. In between festival shows and acting classes and 80’s Brat Pack film sessions, I’ve been squeezing in Silly Season games wherever possible.

So welcome to this brain-dump. All signs point to it being a mess.

Let’s start with the easy stuff, first: I’m now a Field Marshall in Halo: Reach – with only 579,000 cRedits required to my next rank bump! Oh Reach, you’ll be the death of me.

Alongside the Reach Dailies, I’ve been trying to regularly squeeze in a couple of games of Uncharted 2 multiplayer… and I feel compelled to say that I’m really quite enjoying it. The twenty-odd-thousand people still playing online seem to be remarkably similar in ability – certainly compared to (say) Reach, or even Uncharted 3. There seem to be kills available for everyone, with the best players (everyone else) maybe only doubling the kill-count of the lowly (i.e., me). And I think the relatively even playing field makes it a bit more fun to play right now, as opposed to its sequel – I popped on for my second session of Uncharted 3 multiplayer and was quite soundly trounced, despite ranking up a couple of levels (I’m up to 12 and 6, respectively. A long way to go!)

I also pottered through my second playthrough (on Normal) of Uncharted 2‘s campaign. And, I have to admit, it was a touch more enjoyable on that run – though the emotional leaps-of-faith the game wants the player to take are still absurd (let’s all shed a tear over the team-killing Nazi who we’ve known for five minutes). And with that completed, I started my second playthrough of Uncharted 3… and, again, was disappointed.

I have to admit that it’s kind of satisfying (in a self-validation kind of way) to see some of the (admittedly soft) backlash against Uncharted 3. The game seems to be walking a fine line between game-of-the-year and starting-to-creak; criticism is rife. My favourite analysis was Michael Abbott’s piece over on Brainy Gamer (which also has a great podcast); truthfully, I’m a bit pissy about it, because I had ten half-coherent lines written that have been rendered pointless by Abbott’s far more eloquent take on things.

Abbot’s central assertion – “playing Uncharted 3 is less about watching a film than shooting a film” – is pretty much beyond dispute. But my contention is that, with the game trying to act like a movie director, with the player reduced to the role of an actor (or, more appropriately, a stuntman), there’s an implicit limitation to the freedom on offer; as my acting coach tells me, the writer fucking hates it when an actor drifts off script.

But what other options are available to the gaming world if we chase the action-movie trope? The player cannot be the director in an interactive storytelling experience; after all, we’re all griefers at heart. You can imagine the YouTube clips of Drake leaving Elena to die, hot-footing away with Chloe at the first available opportunity… it’s impossible to constrain the player, and yet still make them feel in complete control of a rolling storyline. There’s no real answers out there at the moment, but I’m pretty certain – despite all the plaudits – that Naughty Dog have done pretty much the best they can do within that style of narrative… it’s just that they’ve chosen a dead-end path.

And I’m buggered if I know what the “right” path forward is.

But back to the actual game for a moment: despite the slick presentation (a noticeable improvement on Uncharted 2, with the exception of less in-game tweaking options… maybe a consequence of the tighter storytelling control?), it’s still an experience that’s story first, gameplay second. But at least Naughty Dog put some effort into melding the narrative and interactivity together…

…which is more than what can be said of Assassin’s Creed. After much good-natured goading from a dear friend, I finally decided to see what this series is all about – and, not being the kind of person who can start a series halfway through, I bit the bullet and launched straight into the original, knowing full well its reputation for being an occasionally glitchy grind.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the extent of the grind.

Now, I love a good grind, I really do, but Assassin’s Creed takes it to new levels. The game itself has some glorious gameplay – all half-an-hour of it. Seriously. Within half-an-hour, you’ve seen all the glory on offer. There’s some wonderful, free-flowing combat and counters and running; it’s genuinely exciting running around knifing people, and even when an attempt at a stealth kill fails and you become surrounded by a cluster of enemies, the rhythmic RT-X bounce eventually kills them all with little thought.

But that half-an-hour of fun? You’re repeating it another sixty times. And every time you hear a rescued civilian say “another minute and they’d have made off with me” in a rotten English accent, you start wondering whether you’re on the right team or not. Of course, the game’s plot likes to suggest that, too… but I’ve never – ever – felt more divorced from a game’s storyline. Plot is purely injected through awkward cutscenes, with absolutely no attempt to engage the player through the gameplay. I dreaded the cutscenes, watching them only through duty, and feeling painfully bored throughout. But then it was back into the game for another half-hour of bliss like the last one…

Still, Assassin’s Creed was only on The List for a grand total of eight days, so that’s reasonable enough… but I doubt I’ll be firing it up again anytime soon. And I highly recommend that anyone thinking of playing it not plan on speeding through it… for that way frustration lies.

With Assassin’s Creed all wrapped up, I waited anxiously for the release of Halo: Anniversary; the original Halo holds a very special place in my heart, and I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth back into it.

Why, then, have I barely touched it?

I don’t know, I really don’t. I started a Normal game (just to get back into the groove of the levels), and pushed through the first through levels in quick order… but at the beginning of “Truth and Reconciliation”, I just turned it off. I didn’t want to face that night-sniping cliff-face crawl, followed by the bastard Belly of the Beast battle, followed by the fight through the Covenant craft… it all felt a bit too daunting.

Luckily, the rest of my life saved me from worrying about it too much… and then the latest Zelda game was released, closing out my Silly Season.

Now – first impressions of Skyward Sword were not great. Yes, the graphics really are lovely, the controls take a bit of re-learning before regaining their familiar efficacy, but dear god it’s a slow opening (something I also mentioned when I wrote about Twilight Princess five years ago). But here’s the good bit: I’ve now played twelve-and-a-half hours, and I’ve only just reached the second dungeon.

So there goes all my credibility as a gamer.

Truth be told, I’ve had a ton of fun just piss-farting around: I’m constantly leaving my current task to see if any other side-quests have opened up. I’m constantly returning to the Skyloft hub to watch hint movies for tasks I’ve already completed! Now, it’s not smooth sailing yet: I’ve yet to figure out how to collect bugs effectively, I barely made it through the first boss fight with one heart intact, and Skulltulas are my most feared enemy… but I’m through the boring stuff. I can sense the good stuff to come. And I’m bloody loving it.

So get ready for six weeks of Skyward Sword updates ;)

The Silly Season…

With the start of the US-centric “holiday season” comes a glut of high-profile releases, with November seeming to suffer the most from the weight of numbers (and expectations, too, with all the “AAA”s being thrown around). Most years I find it easy to ignore The Silly Season: I can tune out of the gaming world, knowing full well that the hyperbole that gets thrown around will be forgotten – along with the games that encouraged it – in a few months time.

Not this year, though. Three triple-A titles, one on each of the major consoles, coming out in the same month… and all are likely to be List-dwellers for some time.

Towards the end of the month comes the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword. I remember seeing some promo movies a while back, and wasn’t particularly impressed: the style for this outing seemed to be a non-committal cartooning of Twilight Princess-era graphics, without pushing all the way through to create something as unique (and stunning) as Wind Waker. The idea of Motion Plus-inspired controls didn’t fill me with optimism, either, so I was thinking that maybe I could sit this Zelda out.

And then the press started buzzing.

Typically stingy-scorers Edge gave it a 10, calling it “a triumph”. Pro-press and lucky bloggers alike waxed lyrical (within the constraints of their embargoes) about the game, many expressing their delight at how they were surprised by a franchise as familiar as Zelda.

So that’s pre-ordered, then.

A week or so before Zelda? Halo: Anniversary. I’ve literally been suffering flashbacks to my original Halo Legendary run, and wondering how the hell I’m going to manage the same again. And that’s before tackling the rest of the Achievements, some of which encompass the tricks I know and love… and some of which look insane.

So that’s pre-ordered, too.

The final game in my Silly Season is Uncharted 3, which I picked up last Thursday and pushed through on Easy over the course of a couple of sessions. And that first run was significantly more enjoyable than my first playthrough of Uncharted 2, with a notably improved graphics engine. But my most recent Uncharted misgivings remain, with all senses being co-opted to drive the storyline along, distracting the player from the loose gameplay.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the game; lord no, it’s a genuinely thrilling experience. And it certainly encouraged me to go back and start a second playthrough of Uncharted 2 (and dip into the multiplayer of both, which has proved to be both surprisingly fun and exasperatingly annoying). But… the Second Coming it most certainly is not.

And, whilst the storyline of Uncharted 3 is quality B-movie action, it’s the conversation around the game that has been most entertaining. Eurogamer’s Uncharted 3 review spawned one of the most amazing comments threads I’ve read in ages, with the (UK branch of) EG awarding the game a healthy eight-out-of-ten score… raising the ire of many. Apparently, many readers are unable to comprehend the idea of modern “reviews”, leading to cracking messages like this:

How can this get 8/10 when Uncharted 2 got 10/10?!

Or this:

So is it 8/10 like you say, or is it 10/10 like Eurogamer Italy gave it today. I don’t want to hear that’s it’s your opinion man, opinions mean shit, is the game 10/10 or 8/10

Are you trollin or is Eurogamer Italy talking shit, because you can’t both be right

Which is, quite frankly, pretty funny. One of those things that, like drunk Facebook photo postings, people will regret having committed to the Internet in their middle age.

But then, you also find comments like this one:

You, as a player, are not required to do anything from a gameplay perspective. You’re carried along on a strictly linear Cinematic Emotional journey and are even bolstered, as mentioned in the review, at certain points, should you fail, just in case the “narrative” is interrupted. The player has absolutely no agency in this game at all; they’re not really the primary participant. They just get to press buttons now and then.

Indie designer Keith Burgun came up with a great term for games like Uncharted and Call of Duty (yes, I consider them products of the same school of thought): asset tours. It’s perfect. Because that’s what they are. The developers create a bunch of beautiful assets and then the “game” itself is just about dragging you along to look at them.

The narrative itself may well be compelling from a “storytelling” perspective, but the narrative the player tells through his or her actions is nonexistent. That’s not what a game should be.

And that is brilliant. That post captured so much of what I think about Uncharted‘s later iterations that I feel frankly embarrassed about my own ramblings. I’ll try and chat more about the player agency (or lack thereof) in the Uncharted series at a later date, but – in the meantime – let me just say that “asset tours” is a perfect phrase.

In the coming week, though, I’ll be forgoing my agency and looking at pretty pictures onscreen… and getting dragged into the emotional slipstream that the Uncharteds supply. And then hating myself afterwards for being sucked into a shallow experience. And then playing through it – and getting sucked in – again.


Short, sharp and shiny this week, since not much gaming has taken place in the last seven days (due mainly to a spot of sickness, the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and offering oodles of moral support to a friend in need).

After belting through Uncharted 2 last week, I wanted a bit of a palate cleanser; I decided to push on and finish my first (Easy – or “Lemon Hunter”) playthrough of Shadows of the Damned. I noted in my last post that the game’s writing had been improving as the game went on; later chapters are a cunning mix of frustration (there’s lots of instakills) and glee, especially once the weapons get amped up and the demon parts start flying. There’s some wonderful nuttery (the oft-cited segments where you control the protagonist as he runs over an enormous rendition of his girlfriend’s lingerie-clad body) and a few choice bits of dialogue; the bosses aren’t too obtuse, and it was all a good bit of fun. Lemon Hunter complete; three difficulties to go!

Having got that out of the way, I thought I’d bounce back to Uncharted 2 for a second playthrough; I managed to get to the first of the stealth bits before turning the PS3 off in disgust. I didn’t mention hating the stealth segments in my last post, but my word I thought they were awful. And far too plentiful! So that’s a nice little turn-off.

Feeling spurned, and having snaffled a fair few GamerSmarties from Shadows, I started poring over my 360 titles for more gettable Achievements… and decided to give Child of Eden another bash. Playing through the earlier – and hence familiar – levels was fine, but when I attempted the fourth level again I was reminded at why I found it tough going previously: the “game over” mechanism amounts to little more than a very sudden (and occasionally disorientating) message that can be crudely translated as “fuck you”.

And that, y’know, doesn’t really inspire me to leap back into the fray.

Still, I was convinced that Eden was at least beatable… and, after many attempts, I managed to squeeze through the end of the Passion Archive. That unlocked the final regular level, and when my first attempt lasted for a good fifteen minutes before that blunt message reappeared (doubly galling given the glacial pace of the Journey Archive’s opening minutes), I had a peek at YouTube for a level playthrough… only to discover that I’d died within about ten seconds of the final “danger” spot of the game.

On my second attempt I breezed through… grabbing a nice, fat, hundred-point Achievement in the process. But the end-game… oh my. For all that Rez managed to emote in its final stages, Eden completely misses the mark for me. Now, I’ve raved about Miz previously, but there’s one crucial bit of evidence that indicates that he and I aren’t on the same page: he thinks Heavenly Star is an awesome and inspiring song, and I most certainly do not. So that’s a bit of a bummer.

My OCD quakes at the thought of having to gold-star all those levels, especially when my first attempt at the Hard difficulty ended in shameful failure. So that will be an interesting learning experience…

One last note: I was sorry to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs. The first computer I ever coded upon in anger was an Apple ][e, and once upon a time (in the System 6-7 days) I was a massive Mac Fanboy – I’ve still got the “Windows 95 = Mac 88” t-shirt to prove it. Whilst everything I’ve read (and heard, from people who’d met and worked with him) indicated that he was a… difficult man in the workplace, I’ve nothing but admiration for the bloody-mindedness that Jobs applied to his companies to ensure they produced the products he thought the public wanted. Without his focus, I’m certain the smartphone market would be nowhere near as vibrant and exciting as it is now, and the computer market in general would be stuck with beige-box aesthetics. But most of all, I respect Jobs for not caving to the music industry – and for setting a precedent for the paid digital download of media. That’s something that I really do believe in, and without Jobs’ efforts the digital delivery landscape would be a far more fragmented beast than it is now.

Rest in peace, Steve.


After wrapping up my Uncharted Platinum last week (and writing a few thoughts about the game), I decided to return to the previously-disappointing Shadows of the Damned.

My first impressions of Shadows had not been kind; once I got past the fear generated by the awesome soundscapes, I didn’t like the awkward aim-then-fire control mechanism, and it felt like my avatar (the gloriously-named “Garcia Fucking Hotspur”) was a lethargic blob. Enemies were difficult to target, and…

Blah blah blah.

That line from my Uncharted piecemy first impression can be useless – should be tattooed on the backs of my eyelids. Whilst Shadows is by no means brilliant, I had a shitload of fun with it this week; I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, I reckon, and – after ditching my existing save-file and starting again from scratch – it’s been a real romp. I took advantage of a well-known glitch to max all my weapons out very early on; this had the unexpected effect of making me play with a much more carefree manner – a recklessness. Without The Fear, the game become much more engaging for me, and so I got to experience Suda51’s wacky bosses… and the dialogue has just been getting better and better. Garcia struggling to read a storybook was an absolutely brilliant touch.

But, being quite honest, Shadows was only a placeholder, something to pass the time – because I was absolutely gagging to play Uncharted 2. I wanted to hammer the first playthrough, so I fired it up for the first time on Friday night, expecting to spend the weekend romping through Drake’s second outing. Unexpected Grand Final plans on Saturday stymied my intentions, though, but (after a little recuperative snooze) I leapt back into it on Sunday… and finished it that evening. Two big sessions is all it took.

Now – as I’ve said before, my first impression can be useless, so I’m not overly concerned at my comparative lack-of-enthusiasm regarding Uncharted 2 at the moment. But I will tap out a few notes: I love the new grenade mechanism. I hate the new armoured enemies. I love that the Shiny Teeth from the first game have gone. I hate that they’ve been replaced by shiny eyeballs that make Chloe look like she’s wearing mirrored contacts. Speaking of Chloe… I hate her voice acting – it sounds like it was recorded separately to everyone else. Hate the city bits. Love the temple bits. And it’s still a pretty poorly signposted game, though I know that only annoys me on the first playthrough.

Here’s the thing, though: for all the “hate” mentioned above, I really quite enjoyed belting through Uncharted 2 the first time… certainly far more than I enjoyed the first run of its predecessor. But – and that’s a big “but” – I couldn’t shake the feeling (once again) that I was disconnected from the game somewhat, like my actions didn’t really matter. It really feels like the player is flung from one spectacle to another – and whilst these set-pieces are really quite exciting, and certainly well scripted, I always felt a little cheated when I reflected on them.

But hey – this gaming thing is still a relatively new artform. Uncharted 2 is pointing us in the right direction in terms of storytelling – that moment in Chapter 17 is really, really well done – but we’re not there yet.

Of course, that’s just my first impression, so who knows what I’ll think in a month’s time ;)

Oh – Halo: Reach remains a constant. I’ve just hit General Grade 4; now begins the long climb to the last of the military ranks, Field Marshall. 344,841 cR remaining…