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.


This post could be incredibly short and sweet; I could just say “last week, I played Reach, ground Chrono Trigger into the dirt, and checked out a couple of demos on XBLA”. And whilst that is factually correct, it’s the periphery and the detail that holds all the interesting stuff.

This week is the first week in ages where I’ve felt the need for a bit of retail therapy; the opportunity to try something new. That’s been something I’ve been resisting for much of this year (with notable weakening of resolve around Portal and After Burner Climax) but by and large I’ve managed to stick to my guns – I had a List (surprise, surprise) of stuff that I really cared about, and desperately wanted to stick to it. I even managed to strike one off that List (Vanquish, which – much to my disappointment – was too much Gears of War, not enough P.N.03). Lately, though, trusted chums have been banging on about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and the demo (despite reeking of the shiny-Unreal Engine) felt interesting enough to warrant a buy. I managed to suppress that urge, only to have an inexplicable yearning for Borderlands (nearly a year old at this point), which was recently released onto XBL. Again – I bit my lip, buried the urge, and decided instead to try and satisfy my wanderlust by dabbling in a few missed XBLA demos.

First up was Darwinia+ – and it’s fair to say that, despite looking and sounding lovely (like a Proper Computer Game), it’s not my cup of tea at all. I can imagine what would transpire should I buy that: I’d toddle about ineffectively in-game for a dozen hours, before resorting to a guide to help me dominate. And that doesn’t feel right; although I love the fact that Introversion have put out a game that’s polished just the way I like it, it’s not really fair to subject myself to guilt and anguish if I’m not going to get on with the game.

On the other hand, Costume Quest ticked just about every box imaginable. Gorgeous audiovisuals, wonderful sense of play and humour, and the opportunity (hopefully) to grind away at a (hopefully) shortish quest. Double Fine’s latest is on the Must Buy List (yes, yet another List)… but something else has to be finished first.

And this week I invested all my time in the same games that I’ve been playing for… well, pretty much the last month. My second Chrono Trigger playthrough (and first on my intended 100% Save File) was completed, with a thumb-numbing bit of grinding that managed to drag my character levels into the 90s, and one character to Max. That allowed me to clean up the last of Spekkio’s forms – part of my 100% quest – and a New Game + for the second playthrough is coming up soon. But that’s all fallen by the wayside…

…because my Solo Legendary run through Halo: Reach has consumed me. This time last week, I had just started struggling through the Sixth Mission (Long Night of Solace), otherwise known as the Space Mission. Now – spoilers beware! – I’d really struggled with a number of sections of this level when playing on Normal and Heroic, and Legendary was wiping the floor with me… so I was very, very, very nervous about tackling the Corvette sections. Of course, they had to wait until I learnt how to survive space combat on Legendary… who knew the flip would be so shield-protectingly effective?

So – I eventually landed on the Corvette. Two Elites floated up to greet me and my Sabre pals and obliterated us. Oh, OK – learn where they appear and deal. A couple of attempts and I’ve got my melee-dash-melee down pat; two dead bad guys and no ammo wasted. Perfect! …hang on, where have my offsiders gone? Oh, they leap into the ship (and a nest of nasty Elites) once the two up top have been vanquished? Bummer for them… and me. Restart from checkpoint. Do it all again, follow my chaps down. We don’t stand a chance – there’s crossfire opportunities a-plenty for the Covenant nasty-pasties, and even when I stick to the high ground, the sheer weight of numbers means that I don’t stand a chance.

Off to the Interwebs. What do other people say? “Give one of your colleagues your rocket launcher,” someone recommends. But I don’t have a rocket launcher…

Restart level. Grab rocket launcher. Space battle. Re-jig my melee-dash-melee path when I can’t palm the rocket launcher off to the closest friendly due to another poor weapon choice. Drop down into the room… and we’re still hammered. Even from my lofty “safe” position, I’m still slaughtered, and my rocket-powered friend is completely ineffective.

Hmmmmm. Teeth are ground.

Interwebs. “Don’t forget the Bubble Shield” …what?

Restart level. Grab rocket launcher. Grab bubble shield. Space battle. Further refine my melee-dash-melee because… well, I had to forgo Sprint for the Bubble Shield. Finally, all is in place…

Lambs to the slaughter. Again.

Deep breath. Try it again…

I drop down to my usual vantage point, and the enemies seem to have been expecting me; volleys of plasma come from multiple directions and my health is shredded. I erect the Bubble Shield to restore my health; the Covenant’s eyes collectively light up as they target the Shield, barely affording it enough time to replenish my health before it collapses. I’m crouching to avoid their fire, wondering how in the hell I’m going to get past this… when I hear it.


My UNSC buddies – they weren’t yet dead! Apparently the bubble shield had distracted the Covenant long enough for my men to float to the ground floor; two had made it, and the guy with the rocket launcher was lighting the room up.

It was beautiful.

Of course, they eventually both perished – but the damage had been done. A few headshots from me had helped thin the numbers out and, bounding up to safety when my shields were down, I managed to whittle down the rest of the opposition. That next Checkpoint was a relief.

I pushed on. The odd death here and there was expected, usually as a result of trying to rush the enemy. Slowly, I learn about the need for patience. I clear the way for Jorge to meet me; I collect a new group of cannon fodder soldiers and move on. They die quickly, but I’m through the room… and suddenly I’m facing the area that I dread, the Corvette Control Room. I get a checkpoint; I duck back to the dashboard, copy my save file to another device. There’s no way I want to risk having to do all that again.

I’m being ripped apart by nerves now; I’m thoroughly amped, jittery, unable to sit still. To help soothe my nerves, I decide to watch one of the many Legendary walkthroughs on YouTube (I really enjoyed HaloReachTutor’s video). And it is calming, leaving me with a good idea of what was to follow.

Namely, death. Mine. A lot.

Still, eventually the game takes pity on me. The principal Elite in the room winds up watching me from the opposite side of the map; he seemed content just standing there (as opposed to dashing about looking to kill me), so I took the opportunity to shoot him in the head. Repeatedly. He didn’t even move when I whittled his shields down to expose the fatal head shot.

Phew. Easier than expected!

The trek back to Jorge was tense. I’d started nursing weapons – dragging a stockpile of arms along with me, covering any eventuality – and a few of them came in mighty handy when I was set upon in the next room. I return to the hanger, help Jorge out with his fight… and then the final batch of Elites arrive.

I run. I run like a chickenshit scaredycat. I run for the “safe” room, where “usually” the Elites don’t follow… I’ve already hidden a sniper rifle there, but just as I get to cover…

…a plasma launcher?

Ducking back for the plasma launcher almosts costs me my life, but it was well worth it. Two of the Elites noticed me in the “safe” room, and started coming towards me; Jorge saw fit to shoot them in the back. The Elites, obviously miffed, turned to accost him… and, ever the opportunist, I globbed them with lots of explodey plasma.


Bear in mind, that action took over five days, I reckon. The anticipation of that level had terrified me, and now it was done. To say I was relieved would be quite an understatement.

…so I pushed on.

The next level, Exodus, also has a few fearful memories, but another visit to YouTube found the Beginner’s Guide to Legendary, which demonstrated easy solutions to several of my pain points; better still, they were solutions that were easy enough for me to implement. Far from being a feared level, Exodus ended up being the easiest on my Legendary run to date.

The next mission was a bit more of a headache; again, I was terrified at the thought of I intended to ease my run by taking advantage of the Grunt Disco easter egg to help me get through the big Hunter face-off; unfortunately, you apparently need to access the hospital before the nightclub for the easter egg to work… and it was then I discovered that the objectives issued in the Eighth Mission come in a random order.

Which meant I got to do the Bug Run first. I mapped my route, timed my run, then threw the whole plan away because a Bugger saw through my active camouflage and started shooting, leading to a lot of very tense hide-and-seek before I escaped. The hospital eventually became my final objective, and was a nightmare – ammo was at a premium, and I managed to knock off the final jetpacking Elite with my last DMR bullet. Apart from that, New Alexandria was pretty straightforward.

Then came The Package, ending in the monstrous defence objective. Again, the Beginner’s Guide pointed out the best approach which made the task a doddle, to be frank. Which just leaves The Pillar of Autumn.

Oh god.

I spent most of today playing through this level, nursing weapons across vast distances (only to have them disappear when I turn my back), getting slaughtered by the three Elites just before the Hunters, but now I’m perched just before the penultimate battle: the firefight standoff with the Brutes at the landing pad.

And I’m absolutely shitting myself. I struggled here on Normal, barely made it through on Heroic (mainly due to a surprise attack which turned very bad for the attacker and netted me a Gravity Hammer), and none of the walkthrough videos I’ve seen look even remotely doable to me. I’ve got no Noble team-mate to lean on, I’m jittery as hell, and I can’t sit still long enough to even trigger the first wave; nervous energy has decimated my ability to even start. The backups have been made, and all I have to do is start. Push through it. One kill at a time. Checkpoint.

…that’s tomorrow’s job. Right now, I’m just scared.

Yes, this post could have been incredibly short and sweet; instead, you got me blathering about Reach for over a thousand words. Thanks for reading this far! :P

I Love A Good Grind…

After last week’s aggressive chunk of negativity (which I like to think was cathartic), I’m going to tap out a few words on something near and dear to my heart… something I often forget about until I realise I’m knee-deep in its clutches, having a rollicking good time: grinding.

Because I love a good grind-fest.

I’m currently focussing my gaming time on two gorgeous examples of great grinding: Chrono Trigger and Halo: Reach. The former, nearing the end of a second playthrough, has seen me level up from a relatively comfortable Level 35 to the mid-70s, exploiting the hell out of a couple of well-known EXP-farming spots exposed in the late-game sidequests.

Now, some people may think that running through the same areas over and over and over and over and over again, using the same button presses to dispose of your foes, with no variation in the proceedings from one iteration to the next… well, that would be boring, wouldn’t it? And there’s a part of me – a tiny little part of me, mind – that may (when the repetitions climb into three-figures) agree with them.

But the payoff… oh, the payoff. Running into battles with not a care in the world about the offensive/defensive abilities of the party. Caring not a jot for the fine-tuning of equipment. Being able to run into an otherwise tricky fight and beat the living shit out of your opponent…

Yes, I am a bully. A big, grinding bully.

I love games that give me the option of trading time for talent. Chrono Trigger gives me the ability to waste an hour or two on a long flight, or half-watch the news while playing, or catch up on e-mail during the predictable successful-battle celebrations… all while my EXP is accumulated, and I march steadily forwards to becoming an all-conquering tank. Now, I know that there’s no real requirement in levelling up that much (apart from the OCD stat-maxing that must be done… but hey, Chrono Trigger requires at least twelve playthroughs, so I’m not sure EXP accumulation is going to be a problem); but the feeling of power associated with being that over-levelled is undeniably intoxicating.

That trade-off – time versus talent – must be a bitch to get right… if indeed it is even considered. I’d love to think that it is a focus for game designers; certainly something like Ocarina of Time is moderately challenging if you’re just playing through “normally”, a doddle if you collect as many additional Heart Pieces as you can at any given point in time, and a major challenge if you’re attempting a Minimal Run. The very idea that the game can be satisfying on so many levels is fantastic.

So my Chrono Trigger grinding is pressing all the right buttons, so to speak; but what about Halo Reach? The obvious grindable benefit in Reach is for the accumulation of cRedits, used to buy additional armour and gain rank. The armour adornments are purely cosmetic – there’s no additional protection afforded by one piece over another – and the rank has, likewise, no impact on either single- or multi-player gameplay… but, when you discover the correlation between rank and cRedits, it all gets a little bit addictive.

Or maybe that’s just me ;)

Now – I’m no great shakes as a Halo player. Yes, I’ve completed the original Combat Evolved solo on Legendary, but I used many cowardly practices that would make hardened veterans scoff. Certainly, my ongoing solo Legendary run through Reach has seen me leave most of the killing to the rest of Noble Team; my thankfully-completed run through the Fourth Mission saw me notch up a mere 55 Covenant kills. Amongst many, many restarts.

So – I’m not going to attain rank through my inherent skills. But I can gain rank through… erm… time served.

And my time served is spent playing one of the Score Attack modes in Reach‘s many playlists: Gruntpocalypse. In particular, Gruntpocalypse on the Corvette map. Because, over the course of ninety (yes, I just counted) games so far, I’ve nailed that particular process. Sprint ability; run for ammo. Scoot to top of ramp. Headshots as Grunts emerge from doors, stairs, doors. Clean up, wait for “reinforcement” announcement, run for ammo. Rinse, repeat… 970-ish cR for twelve minute’s work.

And, after those ninety games, there’s still plenty to learn, and plenty to surprise me. The different intonations of Grunts when they’ve got you in their sights; the way you can drag the reticule whilst firing for a better chance at a headshot. And the repetition has even helped my in-game skills somewhat; dropping back to help a friend on Normal this evening was a real joy, with my precision skills making me far more useful on the battlefield of Reach than the scaredycat of old.

Of course, to hit the (rumoured) top rank of Inheritor I only need an additional 19,758,126 cR – which is only around 20,370 more games of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette. Now that is a grinding challenge.

Lastly this week, I just wanted to sing the praises of three gamers I met during a Crackdown 2 session this weekend. We gathered using TrueAchievements‘ party support to wrap up some of Crackdown 2‘s trickier multiplayer co-op Achievements; focussing on a common goal, we nailed the immediate problem, and then the group started cleaning up other outstanding Achievements. This resulted in me wrapping up the current batch for the game (though I’m reluctant to strike the game from The List just yet, with additional DLC incoming), and a great wodge of progress for other players, too – it really was a wonderful session, with a great bunch of strangers gathering to be helpful. So thanks again to lordmaster andy, LitaOsiris, and hatchywatchy – for reminding me that not everyone on LIVE is a mewling teenager :)

Back From The Dead… Again

Nearly three months it’s been since I last posted here. Three months.

But there’s an excuse for my absence.

A really, really good excuse.

…erm, not really. As you might have gathered, my gaming mojo had been flagging a bit back then; in fact, August was the first month in over three years in which I didn’t knock something off The List. There was a fair bit of emotional hullabaloo going on as well, which sapped away any enthusiasm to get into The Zone. A significant amount of work-related travel didn’t help, either… but it did help me out with the first game I’d like to have a little blather about: Chrono Trigger.

Now, Chrono Trigger always seems to get mentioned as one of the greatest games of the SNES era and, given my new-found love of grinding out RPG success, I figured this would be right up my street. It sat in the shrinkwrap for over a year before finally being chucked in one of my resurrected DSes – and initial impressions were favourable, with lots of running around and chatting with cute characters in their beautifully pixellated world. Levelling up was a delight, the battle mechanic (when switched to the wussy Wait mode) was really nice, and – apart from the mute and anonymous nature of Chrono himself – there was plenty to like about my expanding party of protagonists.

But about halfway through the game, it all became a bit too much. Sure, I had probably played 15 hours in four days, but it suddenly felt too twee, and actions too obtuse; I began to miss things. Exits became obscured from my view, actions that should have been obvious were invisible to me. Suspecting burn-out, I gave the game a break, returning a few weeks later (on another work trip) to finish it off. But the initial delight didn’t return, so my feeling towards Chrono Trigger is a reluctant “meh”.

Of course, there’s no way that Chrono Trigger has been struck off The List yet; after all, I’ve merely finished the game with all characters levelled up to the high 60s & low 70s (mainly thanks to a red-eye flight to Perth offering the opportunity for much bleary-eyed farming in one particularly button-mashy level). But I’ve taken to referencing this FAQ as my Chrono Trigger bible, and I’m aiming for a Level 3 (of 5) Perfect File:

LEVEL 1: (Only one playthrough required, no New Game +)

  • Beat the game and unlock Ending #1 and #13.
  • All sidequests complete.
  • 100% Treasure found.
  • Have a complete Bestiary list, excluding Magus at North Cape.
  • At least 1 of every item in the Inventory.
  • Learned all Single, Double, and Triple Techs.
  • 200 Silver Points at Leene Square.
  • A Doppel Doll and Poyozo Doll for each character.


  • Everything from level 1.
  • All characters at Level 99.
  • Defeat Spekkio’s most powerful form, the Pink Nu.
  • Have a complete Bestiary.
  • Unlock all 13 Endings.
  • 100% Extras. Everything unlocked.


  • Everything from level 2.
  • MAX stats for every character.
  • 11 Cats in Crono’s house.
  • Get a Perfect Score of 2371 while racing Johnny at Site 32.
  • Defeat ALL of Spekkio’s forms; Frog form included.

Despite Chrono Trigger‘s New Game+ option, straight away I see I’m in trouble: my Level 60+ characters preclude me from fighting most of Spekkio’s forms, especially the tricky-to-encounter Frog form. You can guess what that means, can’t you? Yep – let’s start again. Save slot number two, 14 hours in, Level 30-ish, and at least a third of the game to go. Again.

And then there’s the small matter of the other 11 endings. Progress will, obviously, be ongoing; a short game this is not.

After a completion-free August, I felt the need to get something done, to make some inroads into The List. I decided that the early part of September would be devoted to the belated conquering of my final Texas Hold’em Achievement: the Tournament Expert. Now, I’m rubbish at poker, and had been royally (and repeatedly) trounced by the penultimate tournament AI last time I’d attempted this; but a dig around my beloved TA yielded a simple solution that I followed in an extremely disciplined and cautious manner. Except for that rash All-In which could’ve cost me everything. Lady Luck, however, granted me a free pass that time, and a couple of hours on a dreary Saturday saw me clear Texas Hold’em off The List.

Then, harkening back to my Resolutions for 2010, I thought it time to tackle one of the non-current-gen platforms; I opted for the Dreamcast and ChuChu Rocket! I’d already cleared all the challenge mode puzzles and played a bit of multiplayer with a mate last year, so a couple of evenings saw off the solo puzzle levels without much incident. In fact, I probably spent more time trying to get the software to back up my VMU running properly on my laptop.

But the latter half of September, of course, was devoted solely to Halo: Reach. Tragically, work saw fit to send me to Perth on the day of release; as fate would have it, that’s where I was also stranded for the release of Halo 2. And Halo 3. (And Rez HD, but that’s another story). So I picked up my pre-ordered copy on the way to the airport; arriving home at 10:30pm on a Friday night, I fired up the 360 before I’d even dropped my backpack.

I drank in the loading visuals, listened to the familiar-yet-new extended tones, then set about building up my avatar – as usual, mauve was the go-to colour, “M000” my call-sign. I started playing.

Now, I loved the original Halo. It was the first console game I every really played, the game that dragged me into the world of console gaming, and the game that convinced me that twin-stick FPSs could actually work. I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the feel of the controls and (in a move that separates me from most other fans of the game) I loved the repetition of it all. I loved The Library (and recall letting out a little squeal of delight when I first entered the Library-esque structure in Halo 2), and I loved retracing one’s steps through previously conquered environments. Somehow, that made the Combat Evolved world feel more real.

The immediate sequel disappointed me somewhat. The controls felt slipperier, the cartoon-ish graphic overhaul was offputting (oh, how I loathe the sights and sounds of the New Flood), and the humanised Covenant jarred. Halo 3 fixed the control issues and delivered a great game to-boot, but Halo: Reach… well, it feels like a big love-letter to the original Halo. From the solidity of the action, through the return visits to battle-torn environments, it really feels like Bungie returned to the original game, leveraging later works only where necessary.

My first playthrough was on Normal (a real departure for me, since I usually start on the Easiest skill levels and work my way up), followed quickly by a repeat playthrough on Heroic… and I felt a massive difficulty spike there, especially when I got to the penultimate battle. And now, since starting my solo Legendary assault, progress has slowed dramatically – I’m currently using the active camo Loadout to avoid fighting as much as possible, because I’m getting pulverised if I engage the enemy.

Of course, there’s the odd ally AI bug – on my first playthrough, I got stuck in a battle with two Hunters which took every ounce of courage (and two dozen shotgun shells) to overcome, because my Noble Team partner had buggered off somewhere to look at the scenery. Second time through he obviously pitied me, because he joined in the biffo and made the fight a whole lot simpler. But, on the whole, I’m absolutely loving Reach.

But there’s so much more to the game than that; the Commendation system is extremely addictive, and I reckon I’ve already played more online multiplayer against randoms than I have in any other game ever. It feels great getting involved in that part of the community early on (rather than being typically late to the party), and levelling up a Commendation (along with all the ranking credits associated with it) is immensely fulfilling. And whoring the shit out of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette will never get old… headshots ahoy!

The big problem with Halo: Reach is the requirement for completion. Sure, the initial set of Achievements seem relatively doable (assuming I can overcome Legendary), but it’s only to be expected that there will be a ruck of additional Achievements associated with the inevitable DLC. But there’s niggling little statistics like “Armoury Completion” and “Commendation Progress” that weigh heavy on my mind; and with the highest rank requiring twenty million credits of accumulated carnage, it’s fair to say that this may be a game that will forever remain on The List…

…which is a brilliant way to segue into Ballistic. Now, I hate Zuma-like games with all my black little heart, and Ballistic is Zuma‘s grandfather. I finally decided to give it a red-hot go yesterday, and dug out my old Samsung N501 Nuon (and the chunky step-down transformer I need to run the bugger) and hooked it up to my old CRT telly. And Ballistic looks bloody awful; chunky graphics which somehow manage to also have a fuzzy feel to them, accompanied by steel-drum “tunes” that grate after a handfull of minutes playtime.

And I still suck at the game itself.

Because the Nuon doesn’t support a save-state, and Ballistic itself doesn’t support any in-game passwords, to beat all 25 levels (twenty-five? that doesn’t sound like much…) I’ll have to do it without powering down the system; a worrying prospect when one considers the ominous buzzing of the step-down transformer. “Still,” I mused, “surely it won’t take more than a concerted weekend to bludgeon my way through the levels?”

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

A good four hours of concentration failed to get me any further than Level 3-1… the eleventh level of the game. There’s a reason I hate these games, and that’s because they hate me.

Which leads me into my final game for discussion: Astropop. But maybe that’s better saved for another post…

2009: The Year in Review

2009 was quite a weird one for me; even as I acknowledge my dearth of console gaming knowledge, I’ve never felt more distant from the gaming mainstream. I managed to ignore the miniscule lure of the PS3 for another twelve months, I still don’t do Rock Band, I’ve avoided Borderlands and the Fallout series like they were OCD quicksand, and semi-realist games like Forza 3 and Modern Warfare 2 tick none of my boxes. In fact, the only mainstream toe-dipping I reckon I’ve done this year are with Halo 3: ODST, New Super Mario Brothers Wii and, maybe, Brütal Legend.

Despite that, The List has largely been treading water; throughout the year, I bought sixteen new games, and I completed a total of sixteen games. It didn’t help that a cleanup led me to discover previous purchases, conveniently forgotten, plumpifying The List somewhat; just a lazy 71 games outstanding now, helped along by cheap end-of-year deals on Xbox Live.

But hey! This is supposed to be a flippant, if not light-hearted, awards ceremony blog entry written by an uneducated guy you don’t know, recycling ideas that were never that flash in the first place. On with the show!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Wrapping up Burnout Paradise. Every collectible, every Achievement, and – most chuffingly – every Challenge :)

Disappointment of the Year: Wii Fit still hasn’t had any impact on my weight (though that could possibly be due to the fact that it hasn’t been played… nor has it’s younger brother, Wii Fit Plus), and the much-anticipated GridRunner Revolution sadly failed to light my fire. But the biggest disappointment of the year was provided by MadWorld – so much potential pissed away in immature monotones.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: We Ski, bought nervously at the same time as MadWorld (with the nervousness instantly replaced by regret as soon as the “Checkout” button was clicked) proved to be stupidly good fun. Sure, it didn’t last long, but that flame burned unexpectedly bright enough to be memorable.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: A game that had a release window of about a fortnight over here, that local distributors didn’t want to know about, and wound up being sourced for less than five quid (new!) from Amazon in the UK… Soul Bubbles is a gorgeous little game, completely at home on the DS. Please try to buy a copy! :}

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Halo 3: ODST takes this one easily. Firefight, all my team-mates dead, being chased around by half-a-dozen Brutes… and I had no ammo. Black Eye skull was on, meaning no health regeneration. And I managed to get the Team through. Fucking magic feeling :)

The “I Love You… Honest” Missive of the Year: A toss-up between all the games I’ve bought, but not played, this year. Shadow Complex, Space Giraffe on the PC, The Maw… but Chrono Trigger takes the gong here.

The “I am the King of the World” Throw-Your-Arms-In-The-Air Trophy: Finally – finally – conquering Level 64 of Tempest 2000. It’s just a pity I’m now stuck on another level only a little farther along.

What Was All The Fuss About? Award: This is going to look like link-bait, but… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I’ve been chewing through a bunch of Zelda games this year (hey, I 100%-ed Ocarina thrice in 2009!), but I’m utterly perplexed by the adulation this game receives. Takes all types, I guess – and I definitely seem to be in the minority. “It was good, but not great…”

The “Go Fuck Yourself” Dismissal: The Grand Theft Auto series, on the basis of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. I swore I’d never speak of it again.

The Everything Old Is New Again Award: Sure, PAC-MAN Championship Edition is a wonderful extension of the original game, but Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the cake for a superb re-imagining of the original, with just a tiny taste of the original Commando rolled in as well. Gorgeous.

Blast From The Past Award: After a straight month and two 100% playthroughs, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker provided some of the year’s gaming highlights, with gloriously solid gameplay.

That’s What Gaming’s All About Award: Easy one, really – New Super Mario Brothers Wii eschews modern gameplay “essentials” and delivers a stunningly fun, taut, and challenging single-player experience.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: An award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, Brütal Legend snaffles this with ease. The first playthrough had it odds-on for the Almost-But-Not-Quite Award, but repeat visits opened up the glory that Schafer built.

The “Flow Like A River” Natural Gameplay Award: Well… I had to give something to the most recent Prince of Persia game, because it was a real revelation early in the year. Fast, fluid, and rewarding gameplay, backed up with charm and gorgeous stylised graphics.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: Again, pretty much all of them… though it was pleasing to see that the gaming public may be becoming a little sceptical of the hype machine (after the rapid deflation of Modern Warfare 2‘s bubble, and a retrospective post-coital “meh” being applied to memories of GTA4).

And BOOM! There goes 2009. Big props to Prince of Persia, most of the Zelda series, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Soul Bubbles, and We Ski… oddly enough, only one of that lot was released in 2009. But let’s start looking forward to 2010, and Bayonetta, lots more No More Heroes, and a return-to-form for Llamasoft on the iPhone.

But now, I’m leaving 2009 pretty much as I started it: banging my head against a brick-wall of an OCD Zelda requirement. Phantom Hourglass is demanding that I find four more ship parts, and I dare not keep her waiting.

Happy New Year!