KameoBurnout… IkarugaHeroes

If last week’s entry was brief, this one will be positively fleeting.

I had all of one attempt at another A-Rank in Kameo – I’m attempting the Snow Temple, I’d completely forgotten what utter shitpigs the ice trolls with shields are. I was attempting to get one A-Rank a week through April, but I’ve lost all inspiration now… burnt out, maybe?

It’s a shit segueway… but Burnout Paradise is still awesome online with mates. Up to 298 Challenges complete, now, with most of the stragglers in the 7- and 8-player categories.

I paid for Ikaruga. I played it on one of my demo accounts (so as not to taint my glorious completion percentage… in the short term). I gasped at the glorious rotated screen options. Oh yes, this is so totally what I wanted from this title… expect a painful blow-by-blow account of Ikaruga Achievement chasing later this year.

And finally… No More Heroes. I have to admit, my first impressions were not good, but I soon got into the groove of things… that groove is now nearing 40 hours, including two Sweet (Easy) playthroughs and a Mild (Normal) playthrough. All the collection sub-quests have been completed (even all 138 t-shirts!), all Gold Medals for side missions have been won, and I’ve started a Bitter (Hard) playthrough.

Oh. My. God.

The sheer joy of the fighting mechanic has now been revealed to me. Now, bear in mind that I normally hate boss battles… or rather, I hate boss battles that I can’t easily beat. Repeating the same strategies over and over and over and over again just shits me to tears; usually I can only give it two attempts in a row before throwing the controller away in disgust, angry at the black mark on The List that the game will likely leave (Bujingai, I’m looking at you).

But…

And I’ve just played Shinobu, the 8th ranked boss in No More Heroes (the third in the game) – and the conflict was fantastic. Utterly, utterly brilliant. Five failed attempts in a row, each getting down to the final pixels of health for us both, before finally breaking through for the win. A great ending, a brilliant fight; I’m loving this game.

Next week? More Bitter, more Burnout. And that’s plenty :)

KameoHeroesBurnout

Short and simple this week.

A brief mention (again) for Burnout Paradise: continuing to hammer through the Challenges. I’ve got about 280 (of 350) done at the moment; I’m aiming to polish the rest off and tackle the inevitable DLC before striking it off The List.

Kameo coughed up a couple of Achievements, too. I managed to nail the Forgotten Forest level not once but twice, netting me both the solo and co-op A-Rank achievements. I followed that up with a monthly-record hammering of the Water Temple level – my first level score over 100 million! – and now I’m musing over the upcoming Snow Temple, rated as second-hardest of the bunch. I never liked that level when I was just playing through the game, so the prospect of protecting those fucking walruses as well as my own multipliers gives me The Fear, quite frankly.

Just as well I picked up No More Heroes for the Wii, then. After promising myself I wouldn’t buy it until after I lopped another Wii game off The List, I caved under the immense pressure of a 10%-off deal with DVDcrave. And so, with 18 hours invested in Suda51‘s followup to Killer7, I managed to finish it on Sweet (that is, Easy) mode. And there were bits that delighted, and bits that disappointed; elements of genius, and head-slapping crapulence. This will be a real marmite game I reckon; the overworld is so incredibly clunky that it’s offputting, and the near vertical difficulty leap at the end of the game is a touch nasty, too.

Early levels are fantastic – you can deal massive amounts of death by button-mashing, but the subtlety in the controls expose themselves later on. But it’s style is really quite disturbingly brash – and that’s not a “good” disturbing either. There’s a real lack of coherency; retro plays a big influence, but that clashes with some of the more modern aspects of the production, and Heavenly Star sticks out like a sore fucking thumb. There’s be more written about No More Heroes later, but as of now I’m only half looking forward to playing through it again.

Next week? Kameo: that bastard Snow Temple. Maybe more No More Heroes, on the Mild mode. Maybe Ikaruga on XBLA.

BurnoutKameo

An unimaginative title for an ordinary week, variety-wise; whilst I mentioned a number of target games in my last post, I managed to play only two of them.

Burnout Paradise pretty much stole my weekend with huge amounts of time spent online trying to get the last few multiplayer achievements. This weekend was also a sponsored weekend of Xbox Live, so I suspect a lot of people who were in the various Paradise games were unfamiliar with good online etiquette. I’m being as nice as I can. Needless to say, after struggling over the course of three hours to share 3 Challenges with various random strangers, I decided to perform as many future Challenges with friends instead. 6 hours on a Sunday morning saw the 250 Challenge Achievement pop up, and lots of goodness for all those who chose to participate. Co-operation really works.

The other focus this week was Kameo. I’ve got a stack of A-Rankings left to acquire, and – having previously A-ed the first level – decided to attempt the second. A little reading indicated that it’s widely regarded to be the hardest of the A-Rankings and, having spent a good number of hours on it, I can see why; there doesn’t appear to be much room for error there. My top score is a touch over 5 million, the target is 15 million – but Kameo‘s somewhat exponential scoring scheme means there’s probably only two or three little mistakes separating those two scores.

Speaking of wacky scoring schemes… Ikaruga should be appearing on XBLA on April 9. Whilst I’ve still got the Gamecube version on The List to complete, I’m sorely tempted to splash my 800pts on this, simply to let The Man know that it’s appreciated. The Achievements look like a bitch, though; I reckon my best rank ever was a B. So: do I buy the game that will be long-term on the list, or just pretend to get the Achievements on the Gamecube version? Decisions, decisions…

DarkWitchUnderParadise2

Well, after four or five weeks writing about other forms of entertainment, it’s good to be back in the land of the Gaming.

The big news is, of course, my absolute lack of willpower regarding Burnout Paradise. A mere day after vowing that I’d not purchase it until after all my Festival and Fringe hijinks, I made a completely self-fulfilling “deal” with myself that saw me purchase the latest Burnout and a Live Vision camera. Much fun ensued; Paradise is a really lovely game, and completely bereft of all the difficulty spikes that existed in the last iteration I’d played (Burnout 3). Sure, there’s still some broken bits – the Stunt Runs when you’re approaching your Elite license are seriously broken – but it’s mostly bloody good fun, especially when you take it online.

As well as Burnout Paradise, I also gave Undertow a bit of hammer over the last month or so (when I should’ve been writing up Fringe shows). Managed to get a group of like-minded souls together to push through its Ultra difficulty, which managed to be equal parts frustrating and fun. One of our hand-picked band disappeared just as we hit the final level, to be replaced by a young American chap who appeared to be experiencing the game for the first time. Our simple instructions to him – “stay over there, in the corner, and don’t die!” – may have seemed a little abrupt and cruel, but he scored an Achievement out of it and seemed happy with his lot.

Over this (Australian) long weekend, I thought of no better way to celebrate the death and resurrection of JC than to dress my hot young female avatar in a (skimpy) schoolgirl’s uniform and leap about (upskirts, ahoy!) killing Geist. Yes, it was a return to Bullet Witch – the game that just keeps on bringing the disappointment – in a bid to conquer Hell Mode, the hardest difficulty level in the game. The reward for such a monumental task? A solitary 1 GP. Cheeky bastards. Still, it’s been done now – so that’s another game off The List.

I’ve also returned to Perfect Dark Zero – which is most definitely not a shit game, with the exception of Mission 10 – in an attempt to garner some of the points there. I’ve enlisted the help of an English chum for the co-op levels, but he’s a n00b to the game and deserved a bash at the early skill levels. So far, so good – but I’m aware this is a long-term project.

Finally, the only other games I’ve missed were Geometry Wars (which I fired up to see whether I’d magically gained some new, hard-core skills… I had not) and Outrun 2, a real blast from the Xbox past. I really like Outrun 2, but I’m stuck in Mission Mode Stage 8; I can’t, for the life of me, nail that last Single Race. It’s no Ridge Racer 6 – I seem to be fighting drift all the time. More practise required, I think.

So now we’re all caught up. The aim for the next few weeks is to clean up the online elements of Burnout Paradise, continue plodding through PDZ, start working on those A-rankings in Kameo, and satisfying my O/C Needs in Katamari Damacy. And writing a longer post on Bullet Witch, which should be good for a laugh.

UnderGears of Rez

As might have been evident from last week’s post, life has been consumed by Rez. For a week, it was pretty much all I played, and I’ve got a crippled RezThumb to prove it.

Rez‘s Achievements were perfect for the game, and pretty much matched my definition for 100%-ing the game (as I’d previously managed on both the Dreamcast and the PS2). But I really savoured this one, using the 30 Score Attack runs to explore the alternative graphic and sound filters. The new graphics filters were wacky – Tile ups the challenge mightily, and both Bloom and Glare are distractingly scary when you get to the Area 4 Boss. And, even though I’ve snaffled all 200pts from Rez, it remains on The List – I’m committing myself to 100% Shot Down / Collecting each Area… any less would feel disrespectful.

Also did a little whoring post-Rez – racked up a few kills in Undertow (anyone want to co-op Ultra?), and collected the rest of the DLC Achievements in Gears of War. That’s enough to bump my GamerScore Completion percentage over 90% – something I’m immensely proud of, and yet find pricklingly goady at the same time. But, given my roster of games, getting to 95% is going to be nigh-on impossible… too many points are tied up in ranked Gears, Perfect Dark Zero, and the twin-stick triumvirate of Robotron, MutantStorm, and Geometry Wars.

Also pottered around with the Burnout Paradise demo – lovely stuff, and very reminiscient of the freedom found in Crackdown. So I’ll be picking that up in a month or so.

A little housekeeping: hopefully-regular commenter Aureole mentioned…

I think the point of the GOW multiplayer, like them all really, is to do it with people you know. Of course, I was way more into the co-op than the versus mode, and I think the game is biased towards that. Halo 3 is a multiplayer game served along with a functionless parsley leaf of a single player campaign daintily perched on top.

The first point is spot-on, and the co-op campaign of Gears is truly a wonderful thing. The problem for people checking their GamerCards on a daily basis – like me – is that Gears‘ Achievements are mostly weighted to the Ranked online stuff – which is, frankly, rubbish (as I’ve noted before).

And I’ll also respectfully disagree with Aureole’s dissing of Halo 3‘s single-player campaign – which I found much more engaging than Gears‘ big-men-go-bang “story” ;)

He goes on to say:

BTW: Bioshock is shockingly generous with the points – even the “ultra hard” Brass Balls achievement which turns off the bit of the game that makes you effectively invincible and immortal.

Thanks for that – but ease-of-Achievements wasn’t the thing holding me back from Bioshock – it was the fact that I nearly shit myself playing the demo! I couldn’t subject myself to 20 hours of that! ;)

Alas, this is likely to be the last weekly report for a month or so – my other compulsive habit, the Adelaide Festival & Fringe, kick off soon, so I’ll be tending to my other blog where I write up everything I see. I reckon 90 shows is looking doable this year which, as you may imagine, is going to be a bit of walking and writing. Hopefully, the writing I’ve been doing here will help me slip into the groove a little quicker this year :}

See you in a few weeks!

Rez (Part 1)

The earliest reference to Rez I can remember reading was had Jeff Minter denouncing its gameplay, claiming it was “Panzer Dragoon with trance trousers.” Which meant nothing to me, until I snaffled Panzer Dragoon Orta on the recommendation of an Edge review. At that time, I had little-to-no understanding what a rail-based shooter was all about – but Orta sure taught me all about it. I still love the occasional bash at Orta (which, due to the Hard mode and all the fiddly little mini-games – and the original Panzer Dragoon – is still on The List), and it sparked an interest in the genre.

And then I recalled Minter’s words.

Rez, eh?

I already had a Dreamcast – Jet Set Radio forced my hand in that direction. A bit of eBaying led to a pricey, but mint, copy of Rez. Then came a period of days where I learnt all about the dodgy GD-ROM pressing that led to most Dreamcasts being unable to read the Rez discs. Worry not – it’s possible to adjust the GD-ROM laser (similar to the C64 Datasette’s azimuth adjustment) to read finicky discs; a bit of hardware hacking, a lot of time, a smidgeon of panic when the Dreamcast failed to read any discs, and finally Rez was booted.

And fuck me if it wasn’t magnificent.

The first level, Area 1, will go down as one of my favourite levels of any game ever – purely for the aural accompaniment. I feel like I’ve written this a million times before, but the sonic punch provided when you enter Areas 1-4 and 1-8 – “breathing” – has attained almost spiritual significance to me; the choice of Buggie Running Beeps as this (almost tutorial) level’s soundtrack is inspired. Visually, Area 1 provides a trippy introduction too.

But Area 4 is the one that I love the most (and yes, I realise this means that Rez has two of my favourite game levels ever – but I feel obliged to give credit where credit is due). For a long time Area 4 gave me grief – it was my stumbling block, the one that made me feel uneasy. But, with two years of hindsight, it’s also the level that excites me the most – I find the graphics to be the most arresting of the game (even over Area 5, which is the reason most people give for Rez‘s greatness) – the Running Man boss is simply incredible. Joujouka’s soundtrack is edgy, driving you on through the level with rising levels of adrenaline and concern, building to a thumping crescendo; end-to-end, it’s a wonderful level, surpassing Area 1’s dull boss and Area 5’s introspective length. Area 4 is simply a miracle of gaming, one of the few times that the audiovisual experience is all-enveloping, all encompassing.

And yes – I do have the Trance Vibrator for my PS2 copy of Rez (a far less pristine version of the game, I might add; a most-definitely second-hand eBay acquisition, the PS2 version makes the hacking rainbows more colourful). Whilst my SO looked at me with what can only optimistically be described as quizzical indifference when I indicated Game Girl Advance’s Rez exploits, I found that it was a brilliant addition to the game – playing the PS2 version, Trance Vib behind a cushion nestled into the small of my back, was a sublime experience.

And so we come to 2008, and the long awaited release of Rez HD – and I’ve never been more excited about a game’s release, never felt so much anticipation. Having to travel for work determined the release date, with 2,000kms deemed an attractive torture device by Fate. Whilst others were blissfully playing through Area 1, I was half-drunk; I lay on my bed in the dark and listened to the soundtrack rips that have accompanied me everywhere on my MP3 player for the last 4(-ish) years. The backs of my eyelids glowed with the recreation of the visual experience that I know all-too-well, yet not well enough; Areas 1 and 4 came alive for me.

The plane ride home Saturday night was nominally two-and-a-half-hours, but felt much longer; I listened to that soundtrack again, over and over, while clouds and land and sea drifted below me. The plane only had a smattering of passengers, so I was unabashed in weeping with joy, weeping with anticipation, grinning like a loon – for I was on my way to play Rez again. A bigger, bolder, brighter, louder Rez.

I got home, kissed the SO, and played.

Oh yes. Oh yes.

But more on that later. Another day, when typing is easier because the tips of my thumb (which prove to be ever-so-useful for hitting the space bar) ache so much from the mashing I’ve given them the last 24 hours. Easily my best Score Attack scores, and even a miraculous 98% run through Area 5. I love this game.

But I’ll leave with this little tale:

When I had my little jaunt around the UK in 2004, the RLLMUK rips of the Rez soundtrack never left my MP3 player. Not once. Pretty impressive when you consider that it was only a 512MB player. There were so many dream-like instances where I’d be coasting through the English countryside – by train, bus – and have sunlight streaming through the window onto my face, the greens and whites and blues passing by, enveloped in a state of bliss. At those times I’d often reflect, a little self-indulgently, that this life I was leading was just a game, a game that – like so many others – I was only moderately “good” at, but I was having an absolute ball playing. And Rez provides the perfect soundtrack, the perfect metaphor, for that game of life.

Luck of the Draw

Bloody hell. My earlier post must have jinxed it, eh? Well, reverse-jinxed it. Positively affected future outcomes.

It did good, anyway. A Royal Flush is mine, after a mere 11,086 hands of Texas Hold’Em on XBLA.

And when I say “mine”, I really mean “the power brick which sat atop the A-button for the last 2,000 hands.” And before the power brick was a Charles Petzold book.

No matter; I’m now sporting a shiny “Luck of the Draw” Achievement. Yay!

HaGoPopFrog CarcaXas TowRR

A late entry this week, which I’m blaming on the Australia Day holiday. Staying up late caning my way through the Carcassonne Achievements wasn’t responsible, oh no.

A reader (or rather, “My Only Reader”) Aureole posted a comment asking…

How the hell do you get the time for this? I’m 1/3 of the way into Bioshock and I’ve had that since the launch. And I’ve only completed Portal out of the Orange box in a similar time.

The answer is remarkably dull, I’m afraid; I normally work only four days a week (due to a miraculous agreement with my employer; it really is liberating, I recommend it to everyone), so I deem my fifth “workday” a gaming bonanza. In addition, I have no qualms whatsoever about living in an absolute pigsty, so 95% of all housework is ignored. Result: more time for satisfying my O/C Gaming habits.

As I’ve noted before, the Bioshock demo gave me the heebie jeebies, so I figured it would be too scary(!) for me to comfortably play through; and The Orange Box is just waaaaay too much game for me to commit to. That, and I fucking hated the original Half-Life (which shares the dubious honour – with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – of being the only games I’ve ever gotten rid of). But the very best of luck to you, Aureole – may you never be afflicted with an obsession such as mine ;)

This week started with a bit of a run; for five days straight, I’d managed at least one Achievement – mainly due to the battering of Bullet Witch and Astropop. I decided to see how long I could continue this run…

Gears of War: Struggling for reachable Achievements, I decided to use up one of my trump cards… the giveaway for your first online ranked match in GoW. So online I ventured; and, after the lush Halo 3 support, GoW feels positively rustic. Once the game – eventually – began, it was clear I’d stumbled into something akin to a 4v4 turf war – albeit one perforated intermittently with awful lag. Five rounds passed before I scored my first kill – an accidental chainsawing of someone I was trying to melee. That dictated my future strategy, and I began running around like a chainsawing loon. I wound up with five kills, and the team won (mainly due to one exceptional chap), but the whole experience felt horribly clinical – not fun at all. Why was this game so popular online, exactly?

Astropop: I managed to clear a screen five times to snaffle one Achievement – that was Day 7. The GoW Cheevo was Day 8. I tried to stretch into Day 9 with the level-in-25-seconds Astropop Achievement; I failed. 8 days is all I could manage.

Halo 2: finally got past that Drone ambush section I mentioned last week. Imagine my relief when I actually saw the words “Checkpoint” appear onscreen! Imagine my dismay when I subsequently emerged in a room with two Hunters, that I barely scraped through on Normal! Scared, I switched the Xbox off again.

Frogger: Last week I neglected to mention that I’d decided to give the XBLA rendition of Frogger another bash, in an attempt to conquer that bastard Level 5. That carried over to this week, and I’ve yet to lay eyes on that Level. Bugger. Two weeks of practice for no reward; go me.

Carcassonne: I downloaded for free this back during the “Live is 5” “celebration” a few months back… and left it unplayed. If only I fired this up for the first time on Day 9… Alas. Played this for the first time on Sunday. 100%-ed the game same day. Had a ton of fun, some good giggles playing with mates online contriving spectacular results, and it barely troubled The List. My kind of game, really :)

Texas Hold’Em: it’s still churning away next to me, A-button on the Hori Fighting Stick held down by a power brick. Royal Flush, eh? Not bloody likely.

Undertow: I knew I’d play this. Against all good sense. And play it I did, despite 95% of the 360-owning Internet bitching to Microsoft about how shit this game is. And they’re wrong – it’s not the greatest game ever, but it’s very far from the worst. Playing online with mates, attempting the rock-hard Ultra levels, provides some genuine fun – a nice mix of capture-the-flag and blowing the shit out of stuff, with good bits of teamwork and tense, almost nail-biting moments where we – as a team – grimly hung on to our capture points and watched the counters tick down.

Ridge Racer 6: with the Rodent Awards coming up this week, a bunch of us decided to give the departing 2006 Game of the Year a bit of a send off. And bugger me if the old girl still has it… more fun than you can poke a fun-stick at. Glorious.

Finally – Rez HD is due this Wednesday. Which utterly, utterly pisses me off, because I’ll be interstate on work until Saturday night. Have fun with your four-controller trance-vibrator rumbles, you lucky buggers – I’ll be joining you the moment I get home :)

HaHaStraWra TexasBulletPop… Sigh.

After last weeks commitment to Achievement whoring, I thought I’d continue and commit one round of Gears of War a day, building up to the release of some more of those shitty online Cheevos… this commitment lasted all of one day.

Stranger’s Wrath: completed a second run through, did a lot of the little side-tinkerings that I didn’t manage the first play-through… these tinkerings mostly involved Clacker abuse. Knocking them all down into the sewers, knocking them into the water, that sort of thing. Anyhoo, Stranger’s Wrath is now crossed off The List.

Halo 3: last week, I felt a sense of dread regarding online Achievements – what happens when players abandon your game-of-interest for the next big thing? So I thought I’d try and knock off my remaining Halo 3 tasklets… only problem being, they were all bloody tricky. Two kills at once with the Spartan Laser? I’ve been lucky to get one – ever – and I’m pretty sure that was someone on my Team.

So – I gave the much-publicised language-filter trick a try. Bang – the first ranked game that came up had five like-minded chaps who organised Achievement scavenging with ruthless efficiency. Within thirty minutes I had my five remaining ranked Achievements, and my eyes were opened to the seedily-perceived world of Boosting. Bloody funny stuff, though – helping other people get their Achievements when they’ve not got a headset to communicate through is certainly an amusing exercise in machinimatic mime.

With the ranked tasks out of the way, I went back and finished the rest of my pending Meta-Game runs… bloody hell, that Cortana level shits me up badly. It’s no Library, that’s for sure. And so came 1000/1000 for Halo 3, but no crossing-off The List yet – my goal is to beat single-player on Legendary. Which has to wait for Halo 2 to be finished on Legendary…

Halo 2: fired this up for the first time in aaaaages to discover that my current checkpoint – Heroic, Gravemind, end of Detention Block – is incredibly badly placed; I’m instantly set upon by those bastard Drones and killed. Try again – dead. Again – dead. Again – and I escape. Tip-toe sniping, I take out the little bastards, then the Elite Guards (who I’d completely forgotten about). Room cleared, I move forward… to be ambushed by more Drones.

Shit.

Start again. 3 more tries to last longer than the opening salvo, take out the Elites, trigger the Drone ambush, run away, snipe, creep into next room. I see some text appear in the top left corner of the screen and, assuming it was the “Checkpoint” text, I save & exit.

It was not the “Checkpoint” text.

Double shit.

Start again. 2 more tries blah blah, take out the Elites blah, go to trigger the Drone ambush… oh poo, where’d this Brute come from? And why is he pummelling me so? And why do my melees, so effective in Halo 3 on Normal, do him no harm? Oh dear, I’m dead. Again.

Sigh. Power down Xbox.

Astropop: two more Achievements. I’ll be glad to see the tail end of this bugger.

Bullet Witch: finished Chaos difficulty. HELL is waiting for me, and then the opportunity to write about the heartbreak that is this game.

Texas Hold’Em: I rue the day I downloaded this for “free”. It will remain the noose around my neck, even when Astropop has gone. As I type this, my 360 is churning away, trying to randomly conjure a Luck Of The Draw Achievement. Sigh.

In other news – no Rez HD, obviously. And Microsoft has seen fit to offer everyone a copy of Undertow for persevering through the Live “difficulties” over the New Year. In general, the response was unfavourable and, given the “joy” I’ve had with the last “free” game, I’m not exactly waiting for the chance to download this freebie.

But I know I will.

Sigh.

Whoring for Points

This week started off like any other – a bit of Stranger’s Wrath, a few practice games of Geometry Wars and Lumines – but, after a bit of discussion by the members of the Way of the Rodent Leaderboard, I thought it appropriate that I focus on getting my completion percentage up to 85% – especially since I reckon that Rez HD will get a release this week, and I’d be guessing there’ll be some less-than-straightforward tasks in there (something tricky like 100%-ing each level, for example). The 85% target meant that I needed to scrounge up 66 points from my (seemingly) already tapped-out games.

First step: Mutant Storm Empire, with its cheap multiplayer Achievements. I enlist the SO again, who proves to be utterly piss useless and completely unable to process the visual cues of incoming death. We fluke it through to my intended multiplier-whoring spot, only to discover that time-limited levels mean that whoring is not really an option. “Cheap” multiplayer Achievements, indeed.

Next stop: Empire‘s predecessor, Mutant Storm Reloaded. Surprisingly, I manage to snaffle the Black Belt Achievement at first attempt… 30 points. Impressed with the ease of that task, I figured I’d give the Black Belt Grandmaster a bash: I lasted 3 levels. Of 89.

Given my apparent improvement in Reloaded, I thought I’d give the grand-daddy of twin-stick shooters another bash: Robotron: 2084. And lo, my first three games all saw me bump up my high-score; eventually, the High Score Achievement pops up. A day later, a joyous bit of blasting say the Wave 10 toast appears. 30 more points, woohoo!

Looking down my list of games, Astropop stood out – a mere 60 points from the game. A bit of poking around revealed an glitch which relieves the time-pressure of the game somewhat; exploiting that yielded another couple of Achievements, another 40 points… and the job is done, I’ve hit 85% completion on the Xbox 360.

So – the next target is, logically, 90%… but I’m hamstrung by the bastardic Gears of War, with 620 points – nearly half – from multiplayer. I’ve never got on with Gears in multiplayer, and I generally regard ranked Achievements as evil; but then I realise that the “additional content” Achievements are not listed as “ranked”. Cue 2-player local games, and another 90 points… with a further 160 points in the wings.

The best thing about this week, however, was the re-exposure to Robotron. It’s a fantastic game, and really knocks Geometry Wars into a cocked hat… if only because it doesn’t jar when restarting the game. I was also surprised at my apparent improvement in ability – I put this down to the effort I’ve put into with Geommie Wars. My word, this “practice” stuff really pays off!

Next week: hopefully, we’ll see an awesome Rez HD, more Stranger’s Wrath, and (hopefully) the return of Killer7

Killer PhaNWrath

Wow. Now that was a wacky week.

Killer7finished in about 15 hours. What a fantastic headfuck! I loved this; just giving it a little break before attacking the harder skill level (then Killer8, then Hopper7).

Stranger’s Wrath – just started a second play-through. Lovely game :)

N2O – a new one this week (as well as Killer7). Ace game, though it still feels a bit loose to control. My recently-obtained PS1 memory card makes all the difference, here, as it means I can save high-scores and forget all those arcane level codes. Level 8, half-a-million points so far.

Phantom Hourglass – ummmm… I found a ship part. And a Courage Gem. Still have six million of each left to find, however.

Lumines Live, Geometry Wars – didn’t play either. I still don’t trust Live.

Microsoft have announced (probably to avoid a class-action suit… oops, too late) that there’ll be some sort of compensation for the Live issues over the New Year period… here’s hoping it’s points. Rez HD is a-coming… :D

Killer7 (Part 1)

I like to be challenged in the art department. I like my art to be confrontational, emotive, engaging in the headspace. I love my obscurities, my non-mainstream, my fringe. I listen to free jazz, mexican death metal, j-punk, and all the genres in between; Lynch and Cronenberg and Jarman and Kaurismäki and Jeunet are all welcome visitors in my home.

But Killer7 is absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent, completely batshit insane.

It’s also utterly brilliant.

And it’s also an incredibly polarising game – more marmite than Space Giraffe, as incredulous as that may seem. Killer7 offers the gamer every opportunity to hate it: from the harsh and occasionally garish cel-shaded graphics, to the minimally-interactive on-rails action, to the deliberately obtuse plot. Having to stop movement, take an attacking stance, scan for the enemy you know is there, then wibble your gunsight around the screen to attack the source of the mocking laughter in your ears. Lift off A, hold R, hit L, move stick, whack A, twiddle C. Not exactly the most overt control scheme.

And yet, it carries its head high. Killer7 is a distilled production, the essence of style. Suda51‘s brainchild is clearly of greater value than the sum of its parts – the caustic gameplay, glorious anime cutscenes, and eerie aurals meld into a cohesive package that rivals Rez in terms of its completeness.

Yes, the game is pretty short – 15 hours for my first play-through. Yes, the puzzles are pretty basic in nature (necessarily so, given their somewhat eccentric solutions). The inbuilt hint system is a laugh – the idea of having a helpful hint-provider turning into an abusive bastard (with double-deuce action) merely by shooting his lucha libre mask is… well, different. Then again, humour is everywhere – one of the first blood-splatters you see on the wall says “How Soon Is Now”… the Killer7 are all Smiths, geddit? The different psyches of the Killer7 are also a hoot – it’s pretty hard to go past Dan “The Hellion” Smith, though each of the Smiths manages to maintain their own love/hate relationship with the player. Boss battles are… odd, ranging from simple to WTF. Killer7 versus the Handsome Men is one of those giggle-fests that makes you reconsider the evilness that usually accompanies boss battles.

But, in the end, it’s the plot which carries Killer7 (avoid the Wikipedia article, it’s a spoiler-filled funbuster). I came into the game with the understanding that I was controlling seven psyches, but the reality-bending that subsequently occurs almost defies belief. In the end, all the threads presented are kinda pulled together, and I’m pretty sure I figured out what was going on… but in the world of Killer7, it’s hard to be absolutely sure.

I will say this, though: the final level of the game (as opposed to the post-credits snippet which is the icing on the cake) is one of the best end-of-game levels I’ve ever played. No, scratch that – this easily usurps the Halo run home. It’s a couple of minutes of the most glorious brainfuckery that I’ve ever experienced. And it’s ironic that, within a rail-based game, the level with the least interaction is the pièce de résistance; but that’s the parting shot of Killer7, the last stand of one of the most confrontational interactions I’ve engaged in.

I like to be challenged by my art, and Killer7 delivers in spades.

Crackdown

My avatar is crouched upon a rooftop, my foe on a rooftop two buildings away. A tiny overhang protects me from their gunfire; a city bustles around me. I leap up, instantly targeting an enemy in the middle of the group. Away scoots a homing missile. Or maybe two, I’m feeling feisty.

As I fall back to the rooftop, an explosion rocks the screen. Seconds later, a collection of tiny little orbs of light stream to my body, increasing my avatar’s competencies; I level up with a glorious feeling of power, accompanied by an awesome bass-heavy ‘FFFFFWOOOOOOOOMPSSSSSSHHHH’, my avatar erupting with new-found strength.

This is the joy of Crackdown, a game that is almost impossible to categorise. The popular description would include words like “open-ended sandbox” – after all, there’s no load times as you roam the three districts of Pacific City, and you’re free to tackle the tasks of the game in any order you please. But there’s so much more to it than that; RPG influences are blended with a fantastic selection of weaponry and vehicles, a refined sense of grittiness, and huge dollops of tongue-in-cheek thrown in. Racing, time-attacks, head-shots, stunt jumps, and some of the fiendish collect-em-ups ever… it’s all in there.

And then there’s the map. The world. Pacific City. Never before has a gameworld been so convincingly three-dimensional. Sure, you can run/kick/punch/drive your way from La Mugre to The Den, but why bother when you can leap from rooftop to rooftop, with a tense nail-biting ascent of the Agency Tower on the way? Granted, it’s completely devoid of “plot” – relying instead on the snippets of stories surrounding the three tribes and 21 bosses. As the game ends, there’s a sinister little twist that you kinda-sorta knew was coming, but it feels like an afterthought; after all, Crackdown isn’t about plot; it’s about a place, a premise. And it doesn’t suffer because of it.

I’m one of the few people that bought Crackdown on release for the game itself, and not the Halo 3 multiplayer beta that it carried with it; I’d seen demo movies of the game as part of a previous E3 showing, and became utterly smitten with the comic-esque graphic treatment. Sadly, that effect was toned down somewhat for the final release, but Crackdown pulls no punches in the visuals, with a tremendous draw distance and the ability to inspire vertigo with the sheer verticality on offer. Sonically, it’s functional – but with a great selection of tunes on offer whenever you jump in a car. And there’s no denying the aural power of the music in this clip of sample Achievements.

And what a collection of Achievements! At once tempting, difficult, and ingenious, they extend the playtime by hours… and, most importantly, encourage you to explore the co-op multiplayer. And here is where Crackdown claims the GotY crown for its own: whilst Halo 3‘s multiplayer provides squillions of laughs (especially when you have 7 mates joining you for Rocket Races), nothing comes close to the co-op of Crackdown. Nothing quite compares to dropping into a mate’s game, helping him attack a tower packed with bad guys; covering each other’s ascent whilst racking up a massive body count. Suddenly, you accidentally pop him in the head with a rocket launcher – a completely innocent shot of extreme accuracy – and the enemy is forgotten, with pistols at dawn as you hunt each other down.

With rockets.

And you continue to hunt each other, silently cheering your own death (because it results in you getting more rockets).

Hours later, you remember why hooked up in the first place; you meander back across Pacific City and finish the intended attack. Then you shoot each other some more, before trying to help each other jump through suspended purple rings. With the help of rockets. Of course.

And that, my friends, is why Crackdown is my Game of the Year. Still compelling after 10 months, still able to generate a cheesey grin, still capable of providing challenge and laughs and entertainment… and wall-to-wall fun. The only game I’ve started playing on a second GamerTag, just so I can have the thrill of gaining those Achievements again. Yes, it’s that special.

2007: The Year in Review

Another year on, and still only two readers. Doubtless they’ll give not-a-shit about these worthless opinions; why start now, eh? Still, for prosperity, here’s my bouquets and brickbats for the gaming world (as I experienced it) circa 2007…

Website of the Year: The always amusing, constantly cutting, totally tongue-in-cheek Sony Defense Force.

Almost-but-not-quite Award: Oh, how I wanted Bullet Witch to work. Something about the movie presented at the 2006 E3 left me utterly smitten. Maybe it was the idea of a gun-toting witch. Maybe it was the fact that said witch was hot. Whatever it was, my pre-order was in as soon as I saw it on my local’s list, and I awaited delivery with bated breath. Sadly, whilst Alicia the Bullet Witch was indeed hot (especially when decked out in the schoolgirl and secretary costumes), the gameplay was astoundingly average. A little more content, a few less crashes, and a coherent plot may have made this a winner; sadly, most of the pleasure derived from this game was either lecherous or directed at the laughable “writing”.

Game Writing of the Year: tough one this, but Super Paper Mario takes the gong for this little next-gen dig:

I long for the sweet peace of the pasture… but the bright colors of the world taunt me!

Why must all things be so bright? Why can things not appear only in hues of brown!

I am so serious about this!
Dull colors are the future!
…The next generation!

Disappointment of the Year: The PS3s lineup of compelling games… or lack thereof. I was expecting my anti-Sony resolve to be tested, but no – release after hyped release was deemed no better than “good” by the majority of the gaming press. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune seems to be upping the ante a little, though – about bloody time. Honorary mention to Shadow of the Colossus – why is this game so revered, again?

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Normally, this would have been a no-brainer for Space Giraffe; however, judging by the Leaderboards, that title managed at least 15,000 sales (despite Minter’s almost abusive rantings… surely a candidate for Saddest Moment in Gaming for the year). However, the wonderfully weighted and polished Mutant Storm Empire was played by far fewer than it deserved – 6,454 people worldwide have claimed the impossible-not-to-get Beastie Combo Achievement. A massive shame; here’s hoping that the PomPom guys (and other publishers, too) don’t abandon the fledgling Live Arcade platform.

Funnest Gaming Moment of the Year: Halo 3. Rocket Races. Eight mates spanning three continents. I was hoarse from laughing. Honorary mentions go to Excite Truck, Crackdown, and the opening moments of Just Cause.

WTF Gaming Moment of the Year: Space Giraffe, level 52. Followed closely by level 64. Then there’s the other 98 levels, then a real big drop-off to the next game. Of course, Space Giraffe also picks up the Gaming Payback of the Year award, for the absolute glee I felt when I learnt to “see” all the levels. Brilliant stuff.

Couples Counseling Award: Earth Defense Force 2017, for bringing me and my SO closer together – in a gaming sense, at least.

Bring-On-The-Divorce Award: Halo 3, more late nights, early mornings, and inter-continental swearing and laughs than she could possibly imagine. New rule – if you see the headset on, I’m not actually talking to you. Honorable mention goes to Every Extend Extra Extreme – the SO thought it a great idea to drag me out of the zone by asking me something utterly trivial. On level 98 of Revenge Mode. Game over, achievement not unlocked.

Learning On The Job Award: Crackdown, for that initial vertiginous climb up the Agency Tower. With further play – especially with the foot races – comes the ability to just belt up the side of the building like it was an ant-hill. I can’t actually recall learning how to do that ;)

Bastard Technology Award: The EEPROM chips in Jaguar cartridges. Lost heaps of good Tempest 2000 progress because of that dodgy mid-nineties tech.

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: this is kind of a runner-up for Game of the Year; but Super Mario Galaxy, with its worlds of imagination and gentle difficulty and giggles and fun was a brilliant example of a game for everyone, not just the gaming-since-birth crowd.

In Summary: Last year, I wrote “2006 was a bloody brilliant year to be a gamer “; but it could be argued that 2007 yielded more quality titles than any other year in gaming history. Even the over-hyped critical duds were huge – see Lair, Assassin’s Creed, Heavenly Sword. My spreadsheet tells me that I bought a lazy twenty games in 2007, but look at the AAA titles I didn’t buy: The Orange Box (an O/C nightmare), Bioshock (the demo scared the shit out of me), Guitar Hero III and Rock Band (I don’t need more rhythm games), and all manner of Wii Virtual Console (Super Metroid, Mario 64, A Link to the Past) and XBLA (Pac-Man CE, Alien Hominid) titles. There’s far more games than time, and my records show that I’ve still got 63 games incomplete. Maybe I should consider making a New Year’s Resolution regarding the “incomplete” list? Something along the lines of reducing it to around 50? Hah – I’m nowhere near that naïve… a more realistic resolution would be to not let it blow out much further.

But bring on 2008…

StraGalGlass

A bit of time-in-lieu, and I’m off work for the whole week; but a trek to my parents’ place for Christmas left me with nothing but the DS to hammer for three days. Regardless, this was a big week… a big week.

Lumines Live, Geometry Wars – didn’t play either. Not really hard to avoid these chaps, what with the problems with Live over the last few weeks. Since my 360 Premium hard drive is now attached to my 360 Arcade, I require a Live login to play my XBLA games… and with Live going up and down like a whore’s knickers, I was constantly getting booted out of my games. Ho, hum.

Super Mario Galaxy – finished. 100% complete. Crossed off the list. All 121 stars, with both Mario and Luigi. That included a particularly heroic 14-hour day doing Luigi’s last 56(!) stars, including all the bastard muscle-memory-test purple coin challenges. Fantastic stuff; I loved Galaxy.

Stranger’s Wrath – finished. Just a few hours ago, in fact. After finishing Galaxy, I figured I’d push on through with this. I hadn’t felt especially driven to do so; sure, I really enjoyed playing it when I had the controller in my hand, but I wasn’t being compelled to play it. All that changed when I hit the plot twist about two-thirds through the game; when the game changed from the (decent) first-and-third-person shooter style to start incorporating run and dodge and hard-core shooter and… wow. Just wow. Great game. Will give this another play-through in a few weeks.

Phantom Hourglass – finished the main story… but, as with all modern Zeldas, the game doesn’t end there. Oodles of side-quests and ship parts and trading games and fishing left to do.

The completion of Zelda niggled me, though. In some ways, Super Mario Galaxy and Phantom Hourglass have a lot in common; both are flagship titles for their respective systems, and both show that careful design can lead to brilliant new control mechanisms that exemplify what those systems are capable of. The difference between them, though, is that the liberating control methods Galaxy are built on top of a game which, by itself, is all manner of awesome; it’s pretty hard to say the same of Zelda. Great controls, and some bits of the game are fantastic; but there’s huge chunks of crud there, too – walking into the Temple of the Ocean King for (what was to be) the penultimate time was utterly demoralising, and nearly broke my resolve.

So that wraps up a big week for me. Tonight, I start the critical darling that is Killer 7; I can’t wait :)