Reach Burnout

And so, after nearly five weeks, my Halo: Reach flame has burnt itself out.

The beginning of the week was fine; I’d just hit the rank of General, and my daily inclination of 25,000 cRedits was proving to be pretty easy going. Grab the Dailies, pop into Grifball, a couple of games of Slayer, have a little Firefight Doubles session. Tuesday night saw my cRedits-in-hand break two million – enough to purchase the single most expensive item in the Armory, the Inclement Weather armor effect. Bought and equipped, it seemed to turn me into a target in Multiplayer Matches – Grifball is now insanely silly, with the opposition drawn to the lightning & black storm-clouds surrounding me.

But, thereafter, I lost something. Willpower, I think it was.

The climb to the next rank was a bit of a struggle, and even though the increments between ranks has dropped to a less daunting 150,000 cR, I’m just not feeling it anymore. The fun grind has been reduced to just a grind (with a few bits of fun mixed in).

It might be time to focus on something else, I reckon. I’ve gained about 1.4 million cRedits since I fired Reach up again… General Grade 1, nearly 62% Commendations. That’s a pretty good platform to build on.

But I must admit that I’m a little bit concerned that I feel so spent after only five weeks. Sure, it was five pretty hard weeks, but the difference in passion now, as compared to when I fell back into my Reach-fest, is pretty marked. And the permanent distraction of all of Reach‘s statistics (and I do love a good number crunch) has led to yet another month where nothing has been struck off The List; an all-too-common occurrence in the last year or so.

But what’s going to be next on (or, more importantly, off) The List? I had a bit more of a fiddle with Gridrunner Revolution this week, but I’m not sure it’s something I want to focus on, y’know? Burbling around in the background is fine for that one, I reckon. I had a bit of a fiddle with Geometry Wars Evolved^2 (in a vain attempt to see whether it could help avert the Completion-less month), and that could lead to some ongoing interest… then again, there’s always a potential return to initially underwhelming pair of Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned.

Or maybe a freakish left-turn into bizarro-land… Towers II on the Jag.

In the words of Fox News… you decide.

(That was a hint to you, dear Reader. What do you think I should tackle next? Put forth your arguments! Something already on The List is preferred, but other titles will be considered…)

Gears of War

With the upcoming release of Gears of War 3, I thought I’d take the semi-topical opportunity to clear another little bit of writing from the hopper… and that is a look back at the original Gears of War.

Absolutely nothing about the pre-release hype sparked any interest in me for Gears; even the positive murmurs of the online enthusiast press failed to inspire curiosity. It all seemed so drab, so cynically testosterone-driven; the graphics that had other people drooling didn’t impress, and the constant giddiness surrounding the chainsaw-led enemy dismemberment was a genuine turnoff.

And then Gears was released.

My XBL Friends List went wild. All my friends seemed to be playing it, and my international forum-friends – having an extra week (or two) before the Australian release – started agreeing with the critical response, breathlessly raving about the graphical quality and storytelling approach. Now my curiosity was piqued: innovative storytelling, you say? Hmmmmm…

I found myself visiting my mailbox, as I am wont to do, after work on a Thursday evening; my regular bricks-and-mortar gaming store was just a block away. Maybe I’d just pop in, to… y’know…

I blame my frothing friends and retail therapy for the Limited Collector’s Edition tin I purchased; I even managed to snaffle the t-shirt (a laughable XL that fit like an S on my frame) and some (pointless) COG tags that had been reserved for pre-orders. I went home, the words of friends swimming through my mind in anticipation, and fired up my 360.

Straight away, I knew I’d made a mistake.

For all their detail, the visuals were as drab as I’d initially imagined; the chunky characters, lethargic controls, and forced dialogue left me genuinely distanced from the game. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the bullet-sink enemies made combat feel unsatisfying; so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to finish even the first Act that evening, getting scared off by the guttural snarls of the Berserker. Returning to Gears for the weekend gave me a better glimpse at the “innovative” storytelling; alas, it failed to impress me. The comic relief of Dom, intended to contrast the overblown machismo of the player’s Marcus, barely raises a smile; most of the dialogue continued to feel B-movie-strained, with the storyline being propelled by the demise of previously unknown characters.

Act 3, in particular, demonstrated the best – and worst – that Gears had to offer; opening with wonderfully understated and atmospheric weather effects, the game turns to almost survival horror (a loathed genre) with the arrival of the Wretches. Abhorrent monster closet action breaks to a thrilling mine-cart ride and assault into gorgeous underground caverns; muscular macho posturing after the death of the Corpser, followed by the stereotypical jump for safety, make it feel like a Michael Bay-esque Hollywood action-fest.

But I hate Michael Bay’s movies. I prayed for Gears to end.

It took a lazy week to finish the game on Casual, and a peek at the Achievements left me depressed. Still, a friend in England loved the game, and wanted to play through it in co-op; off we went on the Hardcore difficulty, with most of the hosting being done in the southern hemisphere. It was noticeably tougher, to be sure, but with a friendly off-sider it was infinitely more enjoyable. The arrival of Cole inspired a bunch of friendly memes (“my throat is parched… woo!”), there was silly panic as we struggled through the Kryll driving section, and the surprise when the Corpser actually ran away from us… they were the memorable moments for me. The moments surrounding the game, not within it.

When we turned things around for the Insane difficulty, with the hosting being performed in the UK, I was gobsmacked: there was a tangible lag in the controls, with about a third of a second between squeezing the trigger and bullets being fired. To my mate’s credit, he’d never mentioned it when he’d played as Dom; I, however, was rendered useless. Unable to mentally compensate for the lag, my attacking moves were pointless, my defense comical. Separated, and unable to rely on my offsider’s host advantage, the mine-cart section took ages to push through… and the Wretch rail-car was almost Benny Hill-ish, as I ran around firing my shotgun in a seemingly random (and certainly ineffective) manner, waiting for my partner to pick off the enemies. Once RAAM got stuck on some geometry, it was over.

With the Campaign conquered, I looked at the remaining Achievements… shit. All were based on ranked matches, and I was reluctant to go online with strangers; my experiences in other games had left poor impressions of ranked games being packed with selfish shitulent children. So, against every OCD fibre in my being, I reluctantly reconciled myself to the fact that there were a huge number of Achievements that would not be Achieved… completion percentage be damned. But then the Annex-related DLC hit the Marketplace, with 250 GS that could be achieved outside of ranked matches… I broke out the second controller and ground out (what felt like) the millions of Annex matches locally. Then, stuck in the middle of an Achievement-per-Day run, I swallowed my fear of the unknown and ventured online to score my “Always Remember Your First” Achievement (for my first online ranked match) – and my fears about the online community were confirmed. What a bunch of wankers! Two games, a lot of juvenile smack-talking (to a n00b, no less), less-than-a-handful of chainsaw kills, and I was willing to kiss Gears goodbye, languishing in half-completeness.

Until…

Late in 2010 I found myself aimlessly drifting between little gaming projects; sadly, none of them were sticking. None of them were compelling enough to persevere with. I’d start a seemingly small task, spend a couple of days making significant progress, before letting it slide off with indifference.

I felt the need for something bigger to sink my teeth into; a task that was big enough that any progress represented Good Progress, but was daunting enough to not immediately burn out on. Something with numbers that accumulated would be nice, something with accumulated statistics that I could plonk into a spreadsheet and extrapolate expected completion dates, then attempt to drag that date ever closer; those sorts of things really tick my mental boxes.

And that massive number associated with Gears‘ most revered Achievement sprang into my mind: ten thousand kills in ranked online matches. Ten thousand… that’s a pretty big number.

I thought I’d start by researching. The boosting community in 2010 was far far far more substantial than that of previous years, with the advent of sites like True Achievements facilitating the congress of likeminded people hankering for the same goal; I signed up for a couple of Gears boosting sessions. Now, I had no idea what to expect from the boosting, but after the first session, after I saw the 30 minute breaks afforded by the spawn boosting method, I thought that this would actually work in well with other little projects of mine. I figured I could do something else productive in those breaks – write blog posts, do my taxes, clean up e-mail, pound my way through Chrono Trigger again.

That never happened, though.

Instead, I found myself talking to people.

I’ve written before about the start of my boosting escapades, and of the joy contained therein, so I won’t cover that again (except to thank nearly everyone who helped me out over that mad month – you know who you are!). But as I wrote the opening paragraphs of this piece, I realised that my time with Gears of War was largely enjoyable; not because of the game itself, but more because of the social interactions it inadvertently encouraged. From taking the piss out of its testosterone-fuelled “story”, through to a silly New Years Eve boosting session consisting of wine and smoke grenades, and that shared thrill within the group when someone’s Achievement popped… they were the bits that made Gears of War a special game.

Not some stupid bloody chainsaw on an ineffective machine gun held by a chunky nouveau-emo muscle boy.

Reach Revolution Podcasts

This week in The Moobaarn? Reach, and plenty of it. Up to Brigadier Grade 2 now, 59% Commendations. And, apart from mentioning that Grifball is my new favourite cRedit whoring method, that’s all I want to write about that.

There’s a new addition to the family this week – my first new PC since 2004. Sure, I’ve bought a couple of laptops since then, but I’ve got no hardware newer than my pre-unibody MacBook Pro. And bugger me if hardware hasn’t marched along… sure, that’s hardly an astute observation, but there’s such a massive leap in performance from my last PC that it actually makes me feel like my new mid-range video card was actually an overspend. Where the old graphics card used to cough and splutter under the Shader 2.0 efforts of my most recent PC game acquisition – Gridrunner Revolution – the new video hardware barely raises a sweat under Shader 3. And Gridrunner really benefits from the extra grunt; running it full-screen at (essentially) 1080p is akin to serving up a visual feast. Delightful, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with Minter’s work.

But, in the absence of any game-progress-related talk (I’m saving all the best Reach-related stories for later), I thought I’d tap out a few words on a topic that has been sitting on the back-burner for a while now – gaming podcasts. And when I say “a while”, I’m talking years – I’ve got a note from July 2009 that was meant to act as a post-prompt that was conveniently ignored.

Now, I listen to a lot of podcasts – probably up around twenty hours a week. Music, current affairs, tech, politics, and – yes – gaming. But of all those topics, of all those podcasts, the gaming field has proven to be the one with the biggest turnover… because, quite frankly, a lot of them really suck.

Or, worse, are borderline offensive.

I realise that there’s a large element of personal taste involved in any podcast selection; after all, you’re essentially making new friends. You’re inviting new people into your ears. It’s like a more intimate extension of the old Zzap!64 philosophy: provide consistent personalities that the listener can learn to recognise and identify with. So when I listen to a podcast for the first time, and hear nothing but testosterone-fueled conversation which wouldn’t feel out-of-place ensconced in a date-rape joke, then you’ve lost me almost before we’ve started.

I usually give podcasts a fair bash before deciding that they’re not for me; my most recent rejection received a good dozen episodes – nearly twenty hours! – before I decided that these people just did not deserve the ear-time. Well-meaning – and even pleasant – in their own circles, I’m sure, but me and them were just never going to get along. But some gaming podcasts struggled to make it through one episode; they were people I’d be ashamed to share the same air with, as laden with narcotic fumes as it would appear to be.

But when you do get a podcast that works for you… well, it’s like a little reunion every episode. A great example of that is the Giant Bombcast crew; when I first started listening to their two-hour-plus ramblings, full of discussions on energy drinks and cooking and – hey – a little bit of video gaming, I initially thought that they’d be heading to the Reject pile. But a few episodes was enough for me to get a feel for the regulars, and their insightful gaming commentary shone through. And their recent E3 episode featuring David Jaffe is amazing, featuring a wonderful, heartfelt discussion on the interactions of design and development, with Jaffe weighing in as only he can.

I’ve tried really hard to stay positive here by not naming any podcasts that I simply don’t get along with. But here’s a list of those that are still in my RSS feed, including a few that are sadly no longer with us…

  • Giant Bombcast: An audio spurt out of the Giant Bomb crew, this is probably my favourite gaming podcast at the moment. Yes, it’s usually bloody long, but it’s totally worth it – especially if you have any interest in Mortal Kombat or Starcraft (some pet loves of the crew). Great guests, passionate commentary.
  • Retronauts: Just about the only 1UP podcast I can handle, even if the regulars have a seemingly unhealthy interest in the Final Fantasy series. They’ve recently shifted formats to a alternating themed call-in shows (which can be disastrous) and in-depth panels; the recent Deus Ex episode [MP3 – 92MB] was great.
  • 8-4 Play: Despite the lame podcast name (and rocky first few episodes), Japanese translation company 8-4 push out this great podcast from Japan, focused on Japanese games and gaming. It’s a great alternate take on the western podcasts, and their episode that featured a surprise drop-in from Tetsuya Mizuguchi was fantastic.
  • GDC Radio: GDC Radio used to have a bunch of fantastic (and free!) recordings from GDC. Sadly, they all appear to be stuck behind a paywall now;
  • Kotaku Talk Radio: Another production that seems to have fallen by the wayside, the Kotaku folk put out a handful of decent shows. The show featuring Tim Schafer was beyond great, though.
  • Platinum Games PGTV: No audio here, but plenty of video… including director Hideki Kamiya’s Bayonetta playthrough (with commentary!).
  • Major Nelson Podcast: If you can forgive the (expected) Microsoft bias (not so apparent now, but in the year after the 360’s launch their was some real shonky “interviews” in there), this is actually a relatively enjoyable bit of banter.
  • Zero Punctuation: Oh come on, is there anyone out there who doesn’t watch Yahtzee’s stuff religiously?
  • The Arsecast: Hands down, the funniest gaming podcast committed to the Internet ever. Though it’s been four years(!) since an episode was released, this short-lived indie-focused one-man show is beginning-to-end brilliant. Graham loves his indie stuff, and his scripts are riotous in either their effusive enthusiasm or brutal mockery. If you can handle any level of classical British humour, download every episode forthwith… and thank me in the comments.

Apparently, there’s also a Grasshopper Manufacture podcast that’s occasionally available on their Facebook page – I’ve never seen (nor heard) one, though.

And what about the two of you out there who’ve read this? Do you have any gaming podcast faves?

Another Big Completionist List…

This should be a quick’n’easy weekly post – I’ve mainly played a ton of Halo: Reach. I’m still really enjoying myself – even more so, now that I’ve discovered the gloriously silly Grifball. Running around the map, smashing gravity hammers with scant regard for anyone’s safety (with, thankfully, no punishment for betrayals), and occasionally actually paying attention to the Grifball, is a soothing palate cleanser after a couple of hours of Team SWAT or Firefight Doubles Arcade.

I’ve hammered my way through most of the Colonel Grades, and have just attained the Rank of Brigadier; the targets I mentioned last week were clearly far too low. And with the variety of games I’m comfortable with now, it feels like it’s relatively easy to snaffle 200,000 cRedits a week… if I avoid playing anything else.

And, y’know, I’ve got a few other games to work on as well.

The most overt of the “other” games is Suda 51’s Shadows of the Damned, which I finally got around to starting this week. And, for me, it’s a pretty conflicted game: I’m not into the control mechanism at all, and – as soft as this may seem – I’m finding it a bit too scary to play late at night… thank christ I decided to ignore the game’s gamma-adjustment suggestion. On the plus side, however, there is a generous amount of Suda nuttery on display, and Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is fucking amazing. But overall, I’m finding it tough going at the moment – not so much in difficulty, more in desire and application.

But what about the other “other” games – the long-term List-dwellers? My old Gears-boosting buddy Lita asked (on my TA friend-feed) whether I had a breakdown on my outstanding requirements… and I figured that was a pretty good thing to write about (rather than try to recount some sticky-grenade antics from the week’s Halo-play).

Now, a lot of these requirements are driven by my desire to see everything the game’s creator has included – to fully acknowledge their work. It’s not just a matter of Achievements (or Trophies), though they may indeed span the breadth of (or even exceed) what I would have normally deemed “complete”; it’s the satisfaction of the OCD itch that tells me something wonderful may be hidden inside a game’s bits and bytes. To that end, I’ll often do a chunk of research (i.e., hammering GameFAQs) to see what may be embedded before deciding on a reasonable completion target; I’m always open to suggestions, though…

Wii::

  • Wii Sports: All Pro-levels, all Gold Medals in the practice events (yes, I know there’s a Platinum Medal, and that there are maximum Sports rankings, but I see no need to attain them).
  • Wii Play: All Gold Medals.
  • Paper Mario: I’m almost done with this (though I’d love to replay it at some stage) – I just need to ensure I’ve collected all the recipes.
  • MadWorld: Complete the Hard difficulty level, get all collectibles.
  • Wii Fit Plus: Ummm… no idea, really. Make sure everything’s unlocked? Actually use it again?
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: I’ve got two versions of this – the US and the Japanese. Both should be completed on Bitter difficulty; I’m dreading the return to it, actually.

Xbox 360:

  • Perfect Dark Zero: All Achievements. That covers all the difficulty levels, and I’ve played too much of the multiplayer as it is.
  • Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved: All Achievements.
  • Mutant Storm Reloaded: All Achievements. The one remaining cheevo for this is Black Belt Grandmaster (complete the whole game on the hardest difficulty setting in one go); never going to happen.
  • Robotron 2084: All Achievements. Even less likely to happen than the above. I struggle to make Wave 10, let alone Wave 100.
  • Ninety-Nine Nights: Ah – the first game on this List for which I have all the Achievements, yet is deemed Incomplete. There’s a bunch of random drop collectibles to be snaffled here; quite looking forward to revisiting this at some stage, actually.
  • Lumines Live!: All Achievements, all Skins unlocked, all Puzzles solved.
  • Halo 3: Hey, it’s a Halo… complete Legendary Solo.
  • Boom Boom Rocket: All Achievements. No DLC required, since it was a pack-in freebie.
  • Luxor 2: All Achievements.
  • Rez HD: Oooooh… 100% shoot-down all levels.
  • Ikaruga: All Achievements. The Gamecube version of the game deserves to have all A-Ranks, too. S-Ranks are just pie-in-the-sky thinking.
  • Geometry Wars Evolved^2: All Achievements. Should be doable.
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed: All Achievements. Probably won’t be.
  • Shadow Complex: This has a bunch of internal Master Challenges; I reckon these should be doable (in much the same way that the Braid time-trials got reeled in).
  • Bayonetta: Ah, Bayonetta. Your Achievements came so freely, yet you are less than a third complete. There’s two whole characters (and hence playthroughs) left to go here; one requires all Platinum levels, the other the successful completion of a bastard hard challenge. Never going to happen.
  • After Burner Climax: Christ, I’d forgotten about this. I feel compelled to get all the Score Attack medals. The problem is that I’m incredibly shit at the game.
  • Halo: Reach: Ugh. Witness my torture! 100% Commendations, 100% Armory, Legendary Co-op Campaign, Inheritor Rank. Most of that is insane.
  • Child of Eden: All Achievements. Never, ever, going to happen.
  • Shadows of the Damned: All Achievements, though I think there’s an additional difficulty level unlocked after Legion Hunter. That’d be in-scope, too.

PlayStation 3:

  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: All Trophies. Ugh.
  • WipEout HD Fury: All Trophies. Pretty near impossible, I reckon.

Xbox:

  • Time Splitters 2: All unlockables… ummm… unlocked. This pretty much translates to all Gold Medals, play through on Hard.
  • Panzer Dragoon Orta: Everything in Pandora’s Box unlocked, a successful playthrough on all sub-levels, and a Hard playthrough.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War: Explore dialog trees and repercussions (tricky!), but I’m not sure whether I’ll force myself to do a Realistic run…
  • Outrun 2: Unlock all Cards. I’ve no idea as to the feasibility of this.
  • Halo 2: Hey, it’s a Halo… complete Legendary Solo. Also create a series of save-points near the Skulls.

Gamecube:

  • F-Zero GX: All machine parts unlocked, Story Mode complete on Hard, all character responses witnessed. Never, ever, ever going to happen.
  • Metroid Prime: Complete on Hard, and complete the embedded version of the original Metroid.
  • Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2: Have all levels unlocked for practice… including Master and Master EX. Incredibly unlikely.

PlayStation 2:

  • Bujingai Swordmaster: All coins collected, all goodies unlocked.
  • Frequency and Amplitude: All songs unlocked.
  • Katamari Damacy: Roll up all the countries in the end segment, and get 75% or better in the Constellation levels.
  • We Love Katamari: Collect all items. Don’t really know about any of the levels yet; I’ve not played this since the weekend after I bought it.
  • Super Galdelic Hour: Check to see whether the end-week sketch image changes depending on results.
  • Vib Ribbon: All Gold.
  • N2O: Complete on Hard.

Nuon:

  • Ballistic: Complete on Easy (yes, that’s right, Easy… because it’s a fucking shit game and there are no additional rewards for completing the higher levels).
  • Tempest 3000: Collect passwords for every (available) level. Oh, and finish the game.

Dreamcast:

  • Jet Grind Radio and Jet Set Radio: I’ve got three versions of this: US, PAL, and Japanese. I know the US and PAL releases differ, but I don’t know whether I’ve got the slightly-buggy-but-hard-as-nails JP version, or the re-badged US version. Regardless, all three must be played until all characters are unlocked.
  • Space Channel 5: Dunno about this one, really. All routes explored?

Jaguar:

  • BattleMorph: Erm… finish it!
  • Cybermorph: Likewise!
  • Defender 2000: All 100 levels, plus a look at all the other bits Yak squeezed in there.
  • Iron Soldier: Just finish it…
  • Tempest 2000: Just the 100 levels, thanks. A playthrough on Beastly will not be required.
  • Towers II: Completion with all four characters. This one may be painful.
  • Zero 5: Figure out what’s going on, first and foremost. Then… finish the game.
  • VidGrid: Complete all the levels.
  • Blue Lightning: No idea about this one at the moment.

PC:

  • Starship Titanic: Finish the game, exploring the dialog tree along the way. Play with the parser!
  • GridRunner Revolution: Finish all levels in Normal, Endurance, and Thrusty modes.
  • Space Giraffe: LNLM both visualisations.

DS:

  • Electroplankton: Explore all modes!
  • Chrono Trigger: A Level 3 Perfect File, as described here (minus the cat requirement).

So there you have it… all the expectations I have for myself. These are complicated, of course, by the fluid nature of the industry: I feel compelled to focus on the Achievement and Trophy hunting in the short term, in case those mechanisms disappear in the future! That’s also reflected in my current Reach efforts, too – I feel like I have to hit those targets before the Reach servers disappear, or the community dries up.

So – for the very few who make it this far, please comment: what’s the most stupid thing you have ever committed to, in terms of game completion?

Reaching for the Implausible

Last Monday night, having just got home from the first of four movies in the local Bill Murray Bonanza (Ghostbusters!), I decided to have a bit of a spring-clean of my Mac. Unsurprisingly, the desire to organise things nice’n’neat soon passed, leaving a half-arsed confusion in its wake, but one thing I did accomplish was the thinning down of open browser tabs… from fifty(!) to a far more manageable twenty.

One of those browser tabs was my Bungie.net Halo: Reach profile page, which I always left open so I could easily check the latest Challenges… just in case I wanted to chase some easy cRedits. Just before the browser tab disappeared, however, I snuck a glimpse at the latest Weekly Challenge – 10,000 cR for an incredibly easy task. “No problems,” I thought, and fired up Reach for the first time in months.

It's-a me... petee-moo.
Hello, I’m petee moobaa… I’ll be your target this evening.

Several hours later I forced myself to go to bed, several Daily Challenges conquered alongside significant progress on the Weekly. But I’d been bitten again; my wandering attention had been grabbed by Reach. And that’s a bit of a problem, because – in terms of List-worthiness – I don’t really know how much Reach will actually placate my OCD niggles. All the Achievements have already been acquired, and there’s three clear indicators of complete-ness: Campaign progress (I’ve still got a co-op run to do on Legendary), Commendations (awarded for accruing in-game events), and Rank.

For those (ha! like anyone reads this) who haven’t encountered Reach, I’ll elaborate a little. Commendations are split into three equally-sized categories, and are typically based around kills – Covenant kills in the Campaign and Firefight categories, your online foe in Multiplayer. There’s Commendations for sprees, using certain weapons, destroying vehicles… that sort of thing. Commendations each have five levels before you max them out – Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Onyx – and attaining each of these five levels adds a point to your Commendation rating – there’s a maximum of 225 Commendation points, upon which your Commendation percentage is based.

The problem is that the requirements for some of these Commendations are… ummmmm… insane.

Now, don’t get me wrong – most of the Campaign and Firefight Commendations are relatively easy to snaffle. Manipulate the game into giving you a useful Checkpoint, get your kills, restart from Checkpoint… rinse and repeat. Boring, but doable. But when it comes to (say) the Firefight “Grounded” Commendation – “Destroy an enemy-occupied vehicle in Firefight matchmaking” – well, I’ve seen maybe a total of fifty vehicles in all the Firefight I’ve played (and I’ve played a lot – I’ve got a handful of Commendations at Onyx already).

Let me repeat: I’ve seen fifty.

To get an Onyx Grounded Commendation, you need to destroy six thousand.

So that’s, like, pretty daunting.

And to a cack-handed player like myself, inexperienced in the ways of online FPSs, the multiplayer Commendations seem equally as remote.

But let’s also mention Rank: Rank is based solely on the accumulation of cRedits. You glean cRedits for just about every violent act in Reach, with little bonuses being awarded for completing Challenges (tasks assigned by Bungie that range from the simple – “kill 100 enemies in any game mode in Reach” – to the insane – “complete <level>, Legendary, All Skulls On”). There’s a cap on the number of cRedits you can earn each day – currently, that’s 120,000. And the topmost Rank is Inheritor – which requires an accumulation of twenty million cRedits.

Do the math – that requires hitting the cRedit cap every day for 167 days.

To put that into perspective, I got a lot of my early Firefight Commendations playing Gruntpocalypse (on Corvette, natch), which netted me about one thousand cRedits every fifteen minutes or so (including setup time). I’ve never come close to the cRedit cap.

So there’s my dilemma; my OCD says “you really won’t be happy unless you’ve got 100% Commendations and an Inheritor Rank”, but the pragmatist in me knows that my OCD has no firm grasp on the time required to achieve those goals.

So, then – baby steps. It’s nearly been a year since Reach was released, so why don’t I set some sort of reasonable target for the anniversary?

I decided that I’d aim for 50% Commendations, and up to the Rank of Colonel Grade 3. That left me with about 300,000 cR and about a dozen Commendations to acquire in about six weeks; 50,000 cR a week seemed doable.

I started poking around the hive-mind, looking what The Kids were doing for easy cRedits these days; “Firefight Doubles,” asserted one youngster. Off to Firefight Doubles I went for a look.

And, bugger me, it was insanely good fun – twenty minutes of rushing forward, guns blazing, before being mercilessly slain and starting again, the only penalty being precious seconds (of the maximum allowed twenty minutes) wasted. There was no need for communication between my partner and I; occasionally we’d cover each other, but most of the time it was just plasma-coloured mayhem.

And then, during the end-game, the reward – over 3,200 cR.

Holy shit, I thought. Three thousand for twenty minutes of fun. Now we’re talking.

So I started hammering Firefight Doubles; if there was a lull, a moment where a match wasn’t immediately available, I’d leap into the Rumble Pit, a generic Multiplayer playlist. Now, I’m amazingly shit at multiplayer – my kill/death ratio was sitting down around 0.7 – but I figured that any kill would add to the overall tally. Based on previous performance, I expected that I’d manage two-to-three kills a game.

And I pretty much managed to keep that average up.

Saturday morning, though, I noticed a message pop up as I fired up Reach – big cRedit jackpots in Team SWAT! Now, I’d never played Team SWAT (team-based, no shields, rifles & pistols), but I was willing to give it a bash if there was a potential for a “big jackpot”.

I was slaughtered, a true impediment to my team. Two kills per game, if I was lucky.

But after the third game… boomshanka. Twelve thousand cRedits.

Easy! :)

So – I’ve been playing a shitload of Reach, hopping between Firefight and Team SWAT. And bugger me if I haven’t noticed a tangible increase in my skills – most SWAT games I’m now garnering six or seven kills, and my team appears to be winning more often than not. And the feeling that these old eyes, these old hands, are steadily improving is absolutely joyful; maybe not quite as joyful as breaking through that 50% Commendation barrier, or knowing that I’m already within striking distance of Colonel Grade 3, but… hey, this stuff is fun.

But it’s a bloody long road. And I’m not sure I can reasonably manage it. I suspect that, as with most games lately, boredom will set in and I’ll eventually get distracted, leaving Reach behind… only to return with a vengeance for another hit of the cRedit pipe later.

And all week, Suda 51’s latest game, Shadows of the Damned, lay unopened on the couch armrest, begging to be played.

Kamxor 2, and Supporting the Ones You Love

The précis for the past week reads somewhat similarly to last week’s effort: nothing but Kameo and Luxor 2.

I’ll start with the latter: I think I’ve managed to burn myself out on Luxor yet again, pushing through to Stage 12-4 on Normal (and up to the Supervisor of Fledglings rank); whilst I’m getting some jollies from my conservative approach to grinding through the levels, the rewards have started to be outweighed by the relentless pressure of the game. It’s stopped being fun and, though I’m a mere eleven stages away from another rare achievement (and the chance to get my gamerscore modulo five again), I might have to step away… again.

Kameo, though, is finally – after having picked it up on the 360’s launch – off The List. Monday night saw me knock off the two remaining solo Thorn’s Pass Achievements, and a greedy late night attempt at my final Score Attack A-Rank ended in failure when I neglected obscure game traits – like Kameo’s health. But Tuesday morning I woke up nursing a dribbly, muddle-headed cold, and subsequently had two days away from the office… I still had sufficient hand-eye co-ordination to play, however, and a repeat attempt at the final Score Attack was a half-billion-point success. Enabling Kameo‘s inbuilt cheat modes (through Score Attack unlockables) yielded a simple Expert-mode walkthrough, and with that… Kameo was done.

But I still want to write a longer piece on Kameo, so I plunged straight back in and started a whole new game, just to check whether my memories of the game were correct. And it was a blast – my A-Rank skills allowed me to blitz my way through the game, and I almost 100%-ed the game inside a dozen hours, and my level scores nearly all exceeded the A-Rank requirements (except that bloody Forgotten Forest level – grumble). So – the information gathered will now likely gestate for a couple of months before popping out into an experience-piece (as opposed to opinion-piece, or review).

There’s one more thing I’d like to write about this week (having just pissed away a large amount of time watching stuff on YouTube), and that is the battle that I’m facing on an almost daily basis about whether or not I go on a big game-buying frenzy. Now, let’s be quite clear, here: I’m well aware of the need for retail therapy, but what I’m currently feeling isn’t an instance of that; rather, I’m currently being jostled by the desire to Support the Ones I Love conflicting with the need to reduce The List.

One of my many Other Lists is a collection of names that I feel have earned my immediate support – creators that will get my money almost immediately upon release, no questions asked. But that List has been causing me a lot of double-takes lately; whilst Llamasoft seem to have targeted the non-List-impacting iOS, Double Fine have seen fit to release Trenched which, by all accounts (and I admit to not having even tried the demo), is a tower defence game that requires friends for Good Times (a problem for me, since its release in Europe – where most of my XBL friends are – has been caught up in a legal quagmire). And I’m not a fan of tower defence stuff… at all. Platinum Games have delighted with Bayonetta, and then disgusted with a not-returned-to-in-ages MadWorld; the demo for Vanquish didn’t impress me (on either the 360 or the PS3). And after the stunning Killer7 and No More Heroes, I was shattered by the crapulence of Suda 51’s No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, and am thus wary of grabbing Shadows of the Damned (especially when Suda 51’s next game is slated to be the zombie-filled Lollipop Chainsaw – because I hate the use of zombies in games). If Shadows is shit, that may put Suda 51 in the three-strikes territory for me (as it has for other people).

In short: I want to buy Vanquish to support Platinum. I want to buy Trenched to support Double Fine. I want to buy Shadows of the Damned to support Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. But I’m scared by the resultant pressure on The List; whilst Shadows looks easy enough, Vanquish most certainly does not, and I’m already struggling with Luxor, another game-style I don’t get on well with, and I doubt Trenched will offer the same opportunities to brute-force progress.

My arm gets twisted when I hear that sales for recent games have been “disappointing”; whilst I have no real idea how accurate the numbers at VGChartz are, Child of Eden is pegged at less than six-figure-sales, and Shadows of the Damned has struggled to sixty thousand sales (split evenly between the 360 and PS3).

And that, frankly, is bullshit.

I went straight out and bought a brand-spankin’-new copy of Shadows. I’ve not played it yet, but at least I’ve put a penny in Grasshopper’s pocket. Vanquish will have to wait – part of the lust behind that was driven by the discovery of a local store selling lenticular copies (on both platforms) for a mere AU$30. But then that’s almost too cheap; I’d actually rather pay AU$50 to buy it on XBLM (or, I assume, PSN) because I believe in digital delivery, and because I figure Platinum would actually get more out of that.

…oh god, what have I done?

Kamxor

Last Sunday night, post-blogging and lacking inspiration, I found myself pottering around aimlessly: looking at everything, settling on nothing. My plan for the month was in disarray, and I didn’t really know where my (legitimate) game-for-the-month was going to come from. I still have a few fall-back games that I can push myself through (you know, the type of backburner game that’s pretty much done, but just needs another weekend’s TLC before being struck off The List) – so a Plan B formed, and Paper Mario and Super Galdelic Hour started meandering to the foreground of my mind…

…in the meantime, though, I figured I’d put some effort into one of my long-term games. Chrono Trigger? No, that’s too long-term. Rez HD? Not while I’m still struggling with Child of Eden (which didn’t any game-time this week). F-Zero GX? I want to play something, not be reminded about how crap I am.

And somehow I found myself playing Luxor 2.

Now, I’ve written before about my love/hate encounters with Luxor 2, and when I loaded it up for the first time since I got on Stage 13-4 I was full of trepidation. But, fully aware of the struggle I was having just finishing the first third of the game, I had no great expectations… other than accepting that I was engaging in match-3 practice.

So imagine my surprise when judicious use of the account-signout “feature” saw me inch my way past my stumbling block… and the next stage. The next night saw another three stages completed; the following night another fell. That left me on the final level of Easy difficulty… when I was whisked away to Perth on work. Any spare moment on that trip, my mind flittered back to Luxor 2; the moment I stepped back into my home, the 360 was booted. Forty-five teeth-gritting minutes later, I’d scrounged my way through the game.

And then I leapt straight back into the Normal difficulty level. Currently at Stage 6-1, with my rank a lowly Cutter of Reeds. And, once again, I find myself curiously thinking that I may be feeling something that approximates fun… I’m unexpectedly eager to push on, anyway.

But, having posted a link to last week’s post on my my TrueAchievements feed, one of my old boosting buddies left a comment on TA suggesting we return to our previous Kameo challenges. Some months ago we’d given up on making further progress on the (zero-gamerscore!) Time Rank achievements after our Water Temple attempts left us bewildered and bemused; however, some enterprising German lads had posted some new video guides online, and they left my mate gibajon champing at the bit. So we started tackling them again… with initially predictable results. We were well off the pace, unable to even finish the level.

But we learned; we worked things out. We acted as a team. Sure, it was a pretty uneven team – with gibajon’s slick skills showing my old-man floundering for what it really is – but we worked out how to cover for each other. We polished each little section of the game, we started getting the feel for the flow of the level. The first time we actually finished the level – with a scant three seconds left on the clock, earning a convincing E-Rank – felt like a triumph. Getting within thirteen seconds of our A-Rank target, we knew we could squeeze the extra seconds from somewhere; but when the breakthrough came, and we finished easily… well, it’s safe to say we were both pretty happy.

Then came the next level… less than a dozen attempts. The next… less than a handful (despite my protestations about the apparent impossibility of the task). The final level, with tight initial timings and requiring a healthy dose of luck early on, was more testing, but eventually it too was conquered.

And suddenly Kameo‘s Time Attacks were out of the way – and a little bit of digging led us to discover our world-wide rankings were a more-than-credible 38, 41, 30, 35, 22, and 25. We got gibajon a few extra hosting Achievements, and then somewhat sadly went our separate ways – the Co-op camaraderie was brilliant fun. But it left me further enamoured with Kameo again: it’s still a lovely game, and – now that I’ve managed to blitz the hardest remaining A-Rank – it’s feeling like it may be off The List sooner, rather than later.

I’m pretty sure it deserves another playthrough, though…

Dirty and Uninspired…

I entered the second half of 2011 with a pretty clear goal of what I wanted to achieve; whilst it looks like my goal of reducing The List down to 50 (as arbitrarily – and optimistically – stated in My 2011 Gaming Resolutions) is out-of-reach, most of my other targets are much closer. I’d actually started mentally steeling myself to tackle six past-gen titles for completion, along with a couple of other current-gen games, and even went so far as to nominate a month in which I wanted them Completed.

Unfortunately, the plans have all gone awry.

My July game was none other than Deus Ex: Invisible War. Fresh off a playthrough on Normal, I figured I could just leap straight back into it on Hard, opting for the opposite choices that I made in the previous run, then return on Realistic for a “breaking” playthrough. However, a little research told me that some of the breaks I was planning can make the Xbox version of the game unstable – “possibly resulting in game save corruption.” And boom – just like that, I’m discouraged to the point where I cannot face those grey, bland textures again… especially after the teeth-gnashing week at work I had (and am likely to be facing this week, too). Coupled with the fact that I know my “seventeen hour” Normal playthrough was actually more like thirty, and I was starting to feel like I would be pushing to squeeze another two runs into July anyway – what with the expectation of work travel and the upcoming AVCon knocking out a weekend.

So I looked at the other titles planned for the rest of the year… and I couldn’t find a morsel of inspiration in any of them. Except for Tempest 2000, but the task of digging the Jaguar out put paid to that idea.

Luckily, a workmate was kind enough to lend me his Kinect while he was away, so I decided to set that up and have a play. I discovered the Kinect Fun Labs series of toys; four free downloadable titles that tinker with the capabilities of the Kinect. And hey – they have Achievements… Free? Gamerscore? Sweet.

So all four of those “games” were acquired and completed in short order – you only need an hour or so (each) to snaffle all the Achievements. The problem is that, despite the glossy production values of the toys, they’re only vaguely entertaining for about five minutes – the rest of the time spent feels like a grind. Still, I pushed myself through it because, I figured, these “games” could count as my Completion(s)-of-the-Month, as well as keeping my new-game-percentage up.

The problem is, even with all four on and off The List within a day, I feel so dirty. It feels so cheap to have even let those things taint my profile; and my temporary leap into the Top 100 of Australia’s Completed Games Leaderboard has sharpened the sour taste.

To cleanse the palate (still not feeling inspired enough to make any real progress), I decided to focus on the main reason I wanted to borrow the Kinect in the first place: Child of Eden. Much has been written about Eden‘s Kinect mode, with many comments suggesting it’s the best use of Kinect to date… and I have to admit, I actually found it easier to play whilst standing and waving my arms. The brain soon compensates for the lag as you sweep your arms around, and releasing Perfect Octo-Locks seems much easier as you throw your hand forward with the beat. But the finicky nature of Kinect also jars, too, with many instances of confused hardware popup spoiling the flow of the gameplay.

But at least Kinect managed to conjure up some interest in Child of Eden – and I consider that a big win for the week. However, I’m now convinced that Eden will be a long-time List-dweller; even with the lax targeting and reduced scoring targets of the Kinect mode, the best I can manage is a four-star completed level. I’m buggered if I know how I’m ever going to gold-star those buggers, especially when the fourth Archive is so severely kicking my arse…

Je Retourne (2011 Edition)

Ummm… hello again.

It’s with my tail firmly wedged between my legs that I return to the game-blogging world; after another massive Fringe (131 “official” shows, another handful of impromptu gigs, and nowhere near enough writing done… I’ve still got 93 shows left to write about!), there was a long period where I couldn’t face the keyboard at all. Which is proving to be a bit of a problem with work, but that’s another story.

That’s not to say that I’ve forgotten about gaming; quite the opposite. In recent years I had experienced a kind of post-Fringe malaise, a separation-anxiety after the hyper-social frivolities of my ultra-arty-month; but that didn’t really seem to be the case this year, and I hurled myself back into gaming with a vengeance. This seemed to be fuelled by the games that were released during my self-enforced gaming exile: Double Fine‘s Stacking was the first cab off the rank, followed closely by Beyond Good & Evil HD.

Double Fine games are an easy sell to me; I love Tim Schafer‘s work. Costume Quest proved that, even with his role reduced to that of an overseeing producer, the rest of the company has more than enough talent to pump out funny and focused games. Stacking proved to be a perfect sibling for Costume Quest – a short, punchy game with a distinct sense of individuality and style, backed up with an elegant sense of humour. A short late-night taster of the game turned into a six-hour session, experimenting with all the different dolls and their special abilities (the flatulent efforts managing to bring an immature smile to my face, whilst managing to somehow remain charming). It didn’t take long to explore the breadth of the game, but there was a short wait until the Lost Hobo King DLC was released in early April, and then it was crossed off The List.

The second of the March releases was Beyond Good & Evil HD. Despite having heard many raves about this game, I knew next to nothing about it – but its age was apparent from the somewhat clumsy opening. It’s a great game, though, and I managed to hammer through a pair of playthroughs in quick time before crossing that one off The List too.

So – with two new purchases quickly wrapped up, I cast my mind back to my Gaming Resolutions for 2011, and decided to tackle a game from one of the previous generations; the Chosen One was Deus Ex: Invisible War (hereafter more conveniently referred to as DX2) on the original Xbox. I adore the original Deus Ex for its wide scope and political intrigue, coupled with a solid FPS with RPG aspects and myriad possibilities. And I recall being ultra-keen on this game when I first saw the leaked opening FMV back in early 2004. And I also remember the disappointment when I first played the game, blasting through it on the easiest difficulty setting in a couple of days… before turning my back on it. A neutered ammo system, the removal of the RPG elements, and an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobic simplification all combined to leave a distasteful memory.

Hence, I returned to the game with trepidation, wary of the experience my memories recalled. And first (re-)impressions were not good; time has not been good to DX2‘s visuals, with dim and grimy textures on the tiny maps and an appalling frame-rate. But, pushing on through a playthrough on Normal (the second of four difficulty levels), I was soon immersed in a storyline that – whilst failing to even approach the sophistication of the original – was still quite satisfying. Tinkering around with biomods encouraged me to tackle levels in a creative manner, yielding enjoyable solutions where my first playthrough had been brute-force and tedious. Indeed, I found myself having fun with this much-maligned game.

I eventually reached the final “level” – a return to the opening location of the first game, where decisions can be made to yield any of the game’s four endings. But the visuals had taken their toll, and I needed a high-definition break… and, wandering through JB Hifi to find a present for my nephew’s birthday, I discovered the perfect antidote: Just Cause 2, which had languished on my “To Buy” List since its release nearly a year ago. A 20%-off sale, a sticker-price on a brand new copy for less than AU$40… sold.

At first, I was a bit perturbed by some of the voice work in Just Cause 2 – Sheldon’s voice actor is the same guy who played the porcine Pey’j in Beyond Good & Evil. Hearing them (almost) back-to-back in two very different character roles was… well, odd. But everything I wrote about the first Just Cause still holds true in the sequel – there’s a massive brand-new open world (the gorgeous island paradise of Panau) to explore, but it’s still filled with cookie-cutter missions that became almost mechanically rote to conquer. The sequel is significantly more polished than the original (aside from some gameplay tweaks that I feel are detrimental), but there’s one are in which it absolutely shines: the numbers game.

I’ve said before that I love a good grind, and Just Cause 2 offers the opportunity to grind oneself raw. 368 369 smaller missions, 75 races, over 5000 (yes – five thousand) collectibles & destructibles, each and every one of them responsible for a little OCD endorphin rush… this is a game that takes ages to complete to satisfaction, even if it’s impossible to 100%. And, sure enough, 120 hours on my Casual playthrough yielded a maximum of 99.95%; my Hardcore playthrough, a more efficient 100 hours, also yielded a 99.95% final statistic – and a plethora of bugs, which I’ll whinge about at a later stage.

I’ve also indulged in a little twin stick shooting – Geometry Wars, Geometry Wars^2, a little bit of Robotron, and a splash of Mutant Storm Reloaded. And I’m still shit at all of them. I returned and finished off my Normal playthrough of DX2 – all four five endings, tiptoeing around the final level before letting loose with barely controlled use of the rocket launcher. There’s another two playthroughs required on that one, though – but, to be honest, I really enjoyed the time I spent with this sequel. It revived interest in the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though dissenting opinions about the most recent build of that have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.

You might have noticed that there was a minor disturbance in the gaming world a few months back when Sony’s PSN account databases were compromised. Now, I’ve frequently been critical of PSN in the past, and I remember heaving a sigh of relief when I realised I’d never entered my credit card details into the system. But the leaked (alleged) details about the naïveté of PSN’s infrastructure certainly gave reason to roll one’s eyes in disgust; plain text passwords, really? Sure, even I’ve done that before – but that was my first project out of Uni (and it certainly wasn’t exposed to the Internet), and I soon learnt pretty quickly why it’s a ferociously dumb idea.

But Sony’s “Welcome Back” package, while a blatant attempt to placate the (rightfully) angry public, was certainly welcome to me – despite my wariness of free games. Still, I picked up inFAMOUS and the (perennially List-bound) WipEout HD, and managed to knock out a quick Platinum trophy on the former. It’s fair to say, now, that the PS3 is beginning to earn its keep in The Moobaarn – the grand total of AU$75 I’ve spent on the system and games so far has just broken into positive value-for-money territory.

The final game I’ll mention in this little roundup of the last five(!) months is a game that both inspired great excitement as well as great trepidation: Child of Eden. I’ve ham-fistedly tried to explain how much I love Rez, but I cannot honestly say that I ever wished for a sequel, or even more content; Rez (and especially Rez HD) is perfect in just about every way. But Miz reckons that Child of Eden is a spiritual successor to Rez, so (despite its release in the middle of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) it was a day-one purchase.

But, after several attempts to get into the groove, I’m really not feeling it at the moment.

Maybe it’s the twee overtones of the (incredibly polished) production. Maybe it’s the lack of coherency of the visuals. Maybe it’s the lack of the player avatar onscreen (understandably necessary because of the Kinect integration, but its absence is noticeable for those of use wielding traditional controllers). Maybe it’s the fact that the controls don’t feel as familiar to me as I’d like. Maybe it’s the lack of connection with the music; there’s nothing as immediately uplifting as Rez‘s Area 1 tune (Buggie Running Beeps) or Area 4’s pulse-thumping Rock Is Sponge. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m finding it a little bit difficult.

But I remember that Rez took a while for me to “learn”, too – I certainly recall struggling to finish Area 4 at all, and needing oodles of practise before finally conquering Area 5 – both of which I can breeze through now after a night out at the pub. But the difference is that I was immediately drawn into the world of Rez; I wanted to be there. It feels like Child of Eden is holding me at arms length – a cold pat on the shoulder, when what I really want is a warm hug. Still, I’ll persevere – after all, that’s my lot in life – and maybe I’ll learn to love it… I certainly hope I’ll learn to love it.

And, after five months away, that pretty much brings us up to date. Sorry about this mish-mash of text, but there were words on my fingertips that needed to get out – hopefully there’ll be a few more coherent pieces coming soon. In the meantime, though, there’s more DX2, and more Child of Eden

Another Short Holiday…

Cut’n’paste post from February 2009…

Just a quick note to say that, starting tomorrow, my annual binge on my other hobby – the Adelaide Fringe Festival – begins. And that means I’ll have precious little time to write anything non-Fringe-related, let alone play any games!

Please stay subscribed & keep reading – I’ll only be gone a month or so, and (if you were, like, really desperate for something to do) you can follow my exploits on my other blog, Festival Freak.

(It’s OK – nothing much has happened game-wise lately anyway. Well, except for some ODST completion…)

See you all in late March! :)

EnslavedODSTRoboCrack

So… the gaming blog – and, indeed, gaming itself – is slowing down a bit now; I’m pre-occupied with finishing up blog posts from last year’s Fringe on my other blog, in preparation for this year’s artsy sojourn. So I’ve probably only got another week or two of semi-active gaming before I have a hefty break.

Since I last posted, I’ve completed Enslaved. It’s a game that deserves a longer post to itself; but, in the meantime, I’ll say that it is a game of many highlights, and many deep flaws. The Pigsy’s Perfect Ten DLC was, in some ways, better than the main game; but, in other ways, it served to highlight some of those flaws. However, despite all its issues, I’m certainly glad I played it… and, surprisingly, it may have inspired me to play Uncharted (of all things!) again.

Once Enslaved was out of the way, though, the gaming dropped off markedly – save for a little boosting, helping out people with their Robotron and Crackdown Achievements. But, knowing there was limited gaming time before my break, I decided to organise an attempt at the bitchy Endure Achievement in ODST. A couple of old Aussie boosting buddies – gibajon and WithTheDawn – agreed to give it a bash, and a friendly Kiwi – phatal1ty – also volunteered for the fight.

It’s the hardest Achievement in ODST: complete the fourth Set in a Heroic Firefight game. Things didn’t start well on Alpha Site; we lost a couple of lives before the end of the first Set, and they were all probably me. I was paired with phatal1ty on the right side of the map, and kept foolishly running into mêlée battles… and paying the price. Still, after the second set – where a frantic battle saw the Team lose about five lives in less than a minute – I started to tighten up a bit, aware that this was going to be a tough finish.

And tight it was; with the common knowledge that fourteen lives at the beginning of the fourth Set should be sufficient, we began with eleven. The first two Rounds went by quick-as-a-flash; and suddenly, with eight lives in hand, we were entering the last Round.

And it was bedlam.

Halfway through the third Wave, our lines broke; out of ammo, we simply couldn’t cover each other as pairs, and fell back to one side… and the hide-and-seek began. Running out into the open to grab plasma weapons, dancing around the pillars for assassinations (or, as was unfortunately the case with me, a brutish punch in my face). And then the final Wave… two lives left, Hammer Chieftains chewing through ammo, one life left, then came the other Hammer, no lives left, the final wave of jetpack Brutes, phatal1ty dies…

…and then we were through.

The Bonus Round was silly icing on the cake, and the wait for the Achievement to pop was interminable… but pop it did, and I was elated. I don’t think I could possibly express my gratitude to the other chaps for their efforts in covering my sorry arse; my stats say that I wound up comfortably last on points, and second on deaths; in my defense, all I can say is that I spent much of the match stripping shields with plasma, rather than getting kills (197 Assists; the next highest was 68). But we made it… as a team, we got together and Endured.

And it was one of those gaming moments that, like its Achievement namesake, will endure in my memory.

So – what’s next? One last playthrough of ODST on Easy, one last Achievement to snaffle… and then a bit of a break…

EnslavedRoboGears’Em

So – I fire up Gears of War on the 360 on a Friday afternoon in order to help a mate in the US out with his Seriously Achievement… only to discover that I was a day early. “No problems,” I laughed, “anything else you need help with?”

And so we started a little bit of contrived card-playing in Texas Hold’em, earning him a $900,000 – and an Achievement – in the process.

And then we started Robotron.

Now – Robotron is a tricky game. Rock-hard. But there was one seemingly gettable Achievement outstanding; Versus. “Play on Xbox Live Ranked VERSUS and gain the rank of 5.”

Gain the rank of 5? What the hell does that mean? Get a TrueSkill rank of 5? ‘Cos that would be pretty easy.

Hell no. It means “get to the 5th position (or better) on the Live Ranked Versus leaderboard”. That’s an all-time leaderboard. But, of course, it’s based on TrueSkill, so it’s open to a little bit of abuse… and abuse it we did. At one point, one of my alter-egos – BraveMite6103 – was ranked second in the world, before sacrificing his position to my mate DangerSlave – Achievement unlocked. And then it was my turn… unfortunately, due to previous Robotron whoring, it wasn’t quite so simple for me. A bit more elbow-grease was required – but I was happy to provide it. A couple of hours later, and it was done… many thanks to DangerSlave’s son, BraveMite6103, the amazing JasmineBore393, and NightPayload116. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Danger’s Gears whoring the next day was successful, too, with his Seriously unlocking around the 11,000 mark. And that, coupled with the completion of another playthrough of Gears on Casual, will hopefully mark the final time I ever touch that disc. It will not be missed, but there’s more to be written about that later.

But the bulk of the last week has been spent playing Enslaved. It’s a staggeringly beautiful game, with some of the best mo-cap and facial animation I’ve ever seen. The voice acting, too, is incredible, but the gameplay… hmmm. I’m not sure there actually is any gameplay.

OK… so that’s a bit facetious. But my first playthrough – as usual, on Easy – proved to be astonishingly unchallenging. Combat was straight button mashing, and the platforming elements seemed to be entirely on-rails and impossible to fail. And the lack of challenge created an emotional disconnect between myself and the otherwise wonderful storyline… and that feels like a massive missed opportunity.

However, I’m about halfway through a playthrough on Hard… and it’s a bit more challenging (the challenge, of course, being significantly reduced by the carry-over accumulation of power-ups). And some parts are almost too difficult now, to the point of unfairness – the Dog chase sequence has a time limit that’s tighter than a duck’s chuff. But I’m persevering, and I’m not hating it… so that’s nice.

RabbitsWarCourse

It’s been nearly three weeks since my last Sunday-night update, and that’s largely because of my recent Gears of War boosting habit.

I say “habit” for good reason; my Gears boosting became an addiction. When I first started boosting for the Seriously Achievement, I guesstimated that it would take about one hundred sessions to complete… that was about three hundred hours’ worth of Xbox occupancy. With various time off, and with various other stuff on my plate, I figured I could manage two or three of those sessions a week… a year of effort, then.

But in my first couple of sessions I fell in with a group of other boosters (Lita, Narv, and Beets, with a couple of regulars like Wicky and The Polish Guy) who were more than accommodating, and a barrel of laughs to-boot. Two or three sessions a week turned into two a day, five times a week. The purchase of a second copy of Gears led to the introduction of the double-boxing crew (Bolch, Saturn, Raven, and then Slash and Danger)… all the while, with every multiplier, the outstanding time I guesstimated for my Seriously Achievement was dropping.

Suddenly, I realised that I could finish it before the Fringe this year (in mid-February); hell, I could finish it in January.

Or even early January.

I returned from Christmas with my family late on the 27th of December, and leapt straight into a late-night boosting session. I went to bed around 2am, then got up again at 5am for another session; the entire Christmas / New Year break was a cacophony of sleep and boosting, catching both wherever I could (although one 5am session was shamefully missed when I slept through my alarm. Literally. I woke up three-and-a-half hours late, alarm still blaring away. I sheepishly apologised to the Team; they laughed, and thanked me for the extra kills).

One by one, my friends and accomplices in this most Serious of goals started dropping out, having Achieved what they set out to do; many of them donated their second box (or even both their boxes… thanks Bolch, Narv, Lita, and Beets!) to sessions in order for the stragglers to pick up quick extra kills. And for all of use, there was a pleasing social regularity to proceedings; check TA to see if anyone had got their Achievement recently, then hit the sessions, get the gossip (who popped? what was their count?), and start grinding those kills out.

Raven popped at 11,154; Narv at 12,345. Lita, presumably stymied by a number of network drop-outs, had to wait for 13,246 – and the pause at the end of each game was almost heartbreaking, as we waited in vain for her squeal of delight. And then Beets and I were surging through the 11-thousands, with him trailing me by 300 kills…

…and, at the end of one match, after 11,291 kills, Beets yelled out in jubilation. And I did not.

I don’t mind admitting that I felt absolutely gutted at that moment. I’d played alongside Beets for probably two-thirds of the time, and with only slight variations of play; yet his Achievement had popped, and mine had not. Deflated, I pushed on, running alongside Slash and Danger as we surged through the kills again. Another day, another seven hours, and Seriously had still not unlocked.

Finally, after another four demoralising hours, it popped – at 13,166. I didn’t exclaim my delight out loud; I just smiled to myself as I felt the dejectedness fall away. And then I had a glass of wine. Or two.

Remembering all the kindness that had been shown to me by others, I stayed in the game. Eventually, word got around and the congratulations poured in, but I became focussed on getting others to that goal. Slash popped next, at 11,550, and as I type this now Slash and I are sitting ducks as Danger runs rampant, racking up 57 kills every twelve minutes. I’m now paying it forward.

It may sound clichéd, but I’m going to miss those sessions. For 27 days I chatted to the same group of people about pretty much everything (though I’ll freely concede that, if there was a downer of a conversation topic, I probably brought it up). Sure, it was a gaming grind – but it was a sociable one. I really meant it when I said that Gears provided the Surprise Discovery of the Year for the sense of community I felt; but that provided another little thrill when Raven read that post and was delighted himself. And Slash’s acceptance speech says it all far better than I ever could.

So – I’m sad (and glad) that Seriously is out of the way. Another little bit of effort saw all the rest of the Gears Achievements wrapped up. One more playthrough, a more considerate blog post, and – after four years – Gears of War will be struck from The List.

Speaking of The List… The Rub Rabbits was finally completed. Fucking Stampede Memories. The less said about that, the better, I think, lest this otherwise positive post become a torrent of bile.

Finally: for the last couple of years, I’ve always seemed to manage to have a nice little palate-cleanser of a game first thing in the New Year. This year, I fired up Doritos Crash Course (which I’d conveniently forgotten to include in all my end-of-year calculations) on New Year’s Day… and bloody hell did that entertain me when I wasn’t whoring Gears! All Achievements wrapped up (including some bastard-hard Gold Medal times)… Fantastic stuff, and well worth the free download (for your 360).

So – the next week should see Gears completed, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll start Enslaved, after an irresistible bargain appeared in the New Year sales…

My 2011 Gaming Resolutions

As usual on the first day of the New Year, I publicly reflect on my Gaming Resolutions. 2010 was a reasonable year in terms of consumption; 14 games were crossed off The List, but only 10 were added. (Please note: The List does not cover my occasional iOS purchases. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a cop-out or not)

And that last number scares me a little.

I call myself a gamer, but I only bought ten new games in a calendar year? Worse still, three of those are from previous years, and one title is in there twice. What’s going on?

Well, I admit that my focus on the numerical size of The List may have been a bit too harsh… but what I want to do is reduce the surface area of my attention somewhat, allowing myself to focus on the current generation of consoles without guilt. I certainly spent much of the last two months of the year hammering away on the 360 with scant regard for anything else; I’d love to continue doing so, without the nagging voice at the back of my head telling me I should be playing something on the Jaguar instead.

That was certainly the intention behind last year’s Resolutions; so, how did I do?

…to leave 2010 with The List pared back to… oooh, let’s say 64. Because it’s a nice number :)

Verdict: Oh… sooooo close. As late as November, I recall mapping out how I’d hit that magical number; a bit of Super Galdelic Hour, a Paper Mario wrap-up, and maybe Geommie Wars 2? Or ODST? Sadly, none of my plans came to pass, and I finished the year with The List a slightly slimmer 67. A Conceded Pass, at best.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. Last year’s goal of 60% seemed reasonable at the time, but was hurt by a flurry of purchases late in the year; let’s aim for 50% in 2010.

Verdict: OK, let’s fire up the spreadsheet… ten new games, four completed… 40%. Fail. At least I got all the Achievements for another three of those outstanding games.

…to not go overboard in the purchasing stakes. In retrospect, there’s a couple of titles that were picked up this year that… you know… were probably a little too retail therapy-ish.

Verdict: I think I may have gone a little over the top on this one, to be honest. Ten new games isn’t a lot, but at least there were only two impulse purchases within them; the rest were deeply considered. I’ll award myself a Pass here, but an unhappy one.

…to make an impact on every platform.

Verdict: I gave this a bash, I really did. I knocked ChuChu Rocket! off the Dreamcast, gave Ballistic some serious effort on the Nuon… but the other side of the coin is that I didn’t fire up the Jaguar at all, nor did I play a single Gamecube game. The intention was there, but not the execution. Fail.

…to not give up so soon.

Verdict: You know what? I’m giving myself a Pass here, because I think I persevered pretty well with some of these titles.

So, overall, 2010 was pretty damn average on the Resolution front. “Must try harder,” reads the report card. “But enough of that, Pete!” no-one cries; “What are your no-doubt seemingly-realistic, yet heartbreakingly-unattainable resolutions for 2011?”

Well, I’m glad that you asked. In 2011, I resolve…

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

So there you have it – my targets for the next year. Feel free to comment on these, or your own, resolutions… and wish me luck. I’ll need it :)

2010: The Year in Review

So, with 2010 drawing to a close, and after enduring my last New Year’s Eve as a thirty-something, I take heart in the old adage: another year older, another year wiser, right?

Erm… not quite.

2010 turned out to be an odd year, rife with emotional turmoil and great steps forward in responsibility, mixed (paradoxically) with chunks of silly self-indugence; and that personal stuff impacted on my beloved hobby somewhat. This year marked the first time in years that I’d failed to complete a game in a calendar month… not once, but twice, with December being barren as well. But I don’t feel as unhappy about that as I thought I would: massive inroads into long-standing bugbears were made in December; the foundation of an assault on The List in the year ahead.

But enough yakking; it’s time for my light-hearted, piss-weak, ridiculously-limited-and-skewed look back on 2010!

The Where-Have-You-Been-All-My-Life Award: Why hello, Miss Fifty-Two Inch Telly with HDMI Inputs; I do love you so very much, and can’t possibly imagine what life would be like without you now… Side-by-side, or Picture-in-picture, is the most wonderful thing to have happened to my Gaming World in aeons. Miss Portal was a worthy runner-up, but so far back in the field it didn’t matter.

Blast From The Past Award: So… Chrono Trigger, eh? 70 hours in, and only one of the thirteen endings unlocked. Bloody nice game too. RPG-grinding goodness just made for those long plane flights I suffer for my work.

Proudest Achievement of the Year: After hours and hours of shit-yourself scaredy-cat timid play, I finally beat Halo: Reach on Legendary… solo. A Monument to All Your Sins was mine.

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: Introduced last year, this Award allows me to vent at a game that annoys me. This year’s winner? Astropop. May I never play – or mention – it again.

Disappointment of the Year: Not much of a contest for this one; No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle takes the gong for taking a big steaming shit over everything that was wonderful about the original game (my Game of the Year for 2008).

WTF Gaming Moment of the Year: Pretty much all of Bayonetta. Wackiness from beginning to end.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: Back in 2006 I bought Gears of War and, after completing all the campaign elements, I tried out the online multiplayer… and was disgusted by the nature of the people who habited that world. Arrogant, gobby fucks, the lot of them. So imagine my surprise when, returning to Gears for the first time in three years to do a bit of Achievement boosting, I discovered that the vast majority of people still playing the game were kind, fun-loving, and considerate… a delight to play with. Massive props to Lita, narv, beets, Bolch, Raven, Slash, Danger, and others who I’ve just offended by failing to explicitly mention… you guys (and gal) are awesome :)

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: I like the name of this one, and it goes to Braid – or, more specifically, the whittling down of my speed runs until the final Achievement popped, and all the Hidden Stars were collected. An utterly wonderful game, and a totally doable – and immensely rewarding – Achievement.

The Shrugging “Huh?” (for Most Notable Lack of Comprehension for Critical Acclaim): Uncharted. Why, exactly, do people rave about this game, with its sloppy controls? Or am I only going to figure it out on my fourth painful playthrough?

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Boosting in Gears when three people popped their “Seriously” Achievement in one session was pretty impressive; but Crackdown 2 takes this award for the Battle Bus adventures I experienced with a bunch of people online.

The More-Of-The-Same… And-We-Like-It-That-Way Appreciation Award: Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes this one easily, after Crackdown 2 sadly failed to challenge it. Galaxy 1.5 it may be, but that’s just fine by me; the gameplay is as solid as a rock, and just as rewarding as the original.

The Easy-Peasy… Oh Shit! Discovery Award: This is a new award intended to honour the game that looked like an easy one to beat, but reveals itself to be a List-haunter. After Burner Climax was a doddle to get all 200 GS in, but obtaining all the medals in Score Attack mode? Insane, and about as doable for me as Wave 100 in Robotron. Whoops… a great example of an impulse buy gone bad.

The “I Love You… Honest” Missive of the Year: Get ready for a surprise… because the PS3 console hardware takes the gong. I love my Slim, it’s a beautiful box of electronic goodness – quiet, cool(-ish), and powerful. If only the DualShock controller, XMB software, and PSN were up to the same high standard…

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Why oh why aren’t more people raving about Costume Quest? It was the perfect example of a bite-sized, joyous, downloadable nugget of a game, with a wonderful sense of humour and awareness.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: CODBLOPs. Gran Turismo 5. Red Dead Redemption. Heavy Rain. Mass Effect 2. Assassin’s Creed. I missed ’em all.

Boomshanka – that’s 2010 over and done with. And, for the first time in ages, I don’t have a post ready-to-go about my game of the year… because I like to have crossed stuff off The List before assembling the final article. I like to have experienced all the game has to offer before I clumsily rant about how great it is. And the two real contenders for my Game of the Year are both still firmly on The List.

Halo: Reach coupled a fantastic campaign (which encouraged you to empathise with characters you knew were going to die) with stunningly flexible multiplayer; rich stats tracking wreaks havoc with my OCD, meaning I’ll never be truly satisfied until I hit that Inheritor rank… in another 19.4 million cRedits’ time. Until then, I’ll be ducking in for my Daily Challenges, popping grunts in the head, and belting through the campaign again… and loving every second of it.

But Reach misses out.

Because my 2010 Game of the Year is Bayonetta.

From the moment I first saw Bayonetta in her first teaser trailer – a few brief glimpses and half a lingering calf – I was smitten. A strong female lead in a game of gunplay? Oh, yes please. But when the first gameplay videos came out, I became conflicted; it looked like a hack-and-slash button masher, a style of play with which I’m completely cack-handed. But when I got my copy (well, two copies, really… with playing cards and Scarborough Fair replica pistols) in my hands, all concerns were erased; Bayonetta plays amazingly well, allowing even the clumsiest player to bludgeon their way through to the utterly gobsmacking ending. The combat also has incredible depth; there’s oodles of different combos and attack options, always something new to learn, but endless options should one route prove too difficult.

I love it.

And the storyline… words can’t describe it. I cannot imagine a crazier progression; sure, I’ve engaged in battles on the wings of flying aircraft before, but I haven’t laid the smack down on a many-cocked god-like creature with my hair-fists before. I’ve not had the opportunity to unleash my hirsute hair suit (see that! clever!) as a demonic monster that bites the heads off enemies while I look on, comfortable in my statuesque nudeness. I’ve not ridden a motorbike along the body of a space-bound rocket, punched a space-statue in the eye, battled a massive deity, then flung her through space, guiding her into the sun.

I mean, seriously… Bayonetta won the WTF Gaming Moment of the Year for good reason. But it’s winning my 2010 Game of the Year for a thousand better reasons.