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.


You know, when I get thoroughly sucked into a game, life gets a little one-dimensional. I get a little focussed, a little bit rabid, and pretty much everything else in life takes a back-seat. Anything that’s not involved in the game is simply in the way, an impediment to playing; it dominates my thoughts, and I often find that my fingers will involuntarily exercise themselves in anticipated execution of their functions. Such is the nature of my affliction.

My obsession lately has, of course, been Halo 3: ODST. My Solo Legendary run through the game was smooth as silk – if you ignore the plethora of grisly deaths along the way. But those deaths revealed some wonderful truths about ODST‘s balance; the checkpoints are frequent and sensibly triggered, and when forced back to a checkpoint there always seems to be another way around the problem. Getting mauled when running out of an elevator one way? Try the other! Forced back against the wall in an indefensible position? Push forward to open areas! Swarmed by enemies in the open? Fall back to confined spaces and create a choke-point! So many options are available to the player, and – unlike any other Halo game I’ve tried so far – the Legendary difficulty was an absolute delight.

Of course, that leaves the small matter of the Firefight Achievements; so I found a few like-minded souls and started forming a team of crack Firefighters. Well, “crack” may be too strong a word; one chap had distinctly “good” days (where he appeared to be a Halo ninja) and “bad” days (where he would frequently run into situations we urged him not to… and die). Many of the attempts on some Firefights with only three people ended in abject failure; some attempts died with the network connection (one with the score at 188k of the required 200,000). But, in the end, all the Firefights were done (thanks mainly to a lad in the US whose remoteness lagged the game just enough to allow slightly slowed, but still fluid, action), and even the brilliant Déjà Vu Achievement was earned. All that remains now is Vidmaster Endure… anyone know a team of three ODST ninjas who can carry my fat arse over the finishing line? :}

There was also a bit more Halo: Reach… there will always be more Reach to do. So many Commendations to earn, so many cRedits to whore… This week, however, was a bit special for me: I’ve just attained the rank of Commander. And I’ve just discovered that the “incremental” upgrades are now 50,000 cRedits apiece. Blimey.

The very wonderful Costume Quest got some DLC this weekend – and, aside from the fact that it doesn’t integrate all that cleanly with the game, and a slightly disappointing final boss battle – it’s still very wonderful. So much charm and humour is packed in there; make sure you try out all the new costumes’ battle techniques… the Eyeball is hilarious.

Finally this week, I started work on a massive project… a year-long project, I reckon. It’s name? Gears of War. Yes, I finally decided to start nabbing some of the outstanding Achievements in Gears… including (deep breath) Seriously, for 10,000 ranked online kills. Now, clearly that’s going to involve a hell of a lot of boosting; and my few experiences playing Gears online in the past had led me to expect the worst from the community. However, my first selected boosting session was an absolute blinder; once everyone got settled in, it ran like clockwork, with a comfortable rhythm and plenty of kills for everyone. Just the one Achievement so far, but the bedrock for others to follow… and a mighty mountain to climb. After all, I’m only about 1% of the way there…


Last week I proudly rambled about ignoring any desire for retail therapy (aka impulse purchases); unfortunately, there’s a couple of titles that have been on my radar for awhile now that have caused my “buy now” button to throb with anticipation. Luckily, Vanquish deemed itself a non-buy, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn has been pushed into 2011 for PAL regions. Epic Mickey isn’t out for another four weeks, and that feels like a good Christmas / New Year reward to myself. But I have a List (another one) of companies for whom I grant myself a free pass; whose games I will buy Day One, sight unseen, without guilt. Double Fine is one of those companies; Costume Quest is their latest game.

Now, to be fair, I was planning to hold off buying Costume Quest for another couple of weeks (to bump the required Microsoft points purchase into the next credit card billing period – sometimes, I can think too small), but then I mulled on my gaming achievements of October – only one game completed (and what a shit game it was). That didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment at all and, knowing that Costume Quest was supposed to be a relatively short romp, I downloaded the demo to tease myself.

Within five minutes of starting the demo, I’d decided that I was purchasing the full version immediately. Yet such was the wonderful sense of humour and fun on display in the demo, I couldn’t tear myself away from it until it was done. The graphics are gorgeous, the sound full of subtle little bits of joy; the battle system is absolutely delightful and so wonderfully streamlined that it knocks the recently-caned Chrono Trigger into a cocked hat.

When I started playing the full game (around 10pm on Friday night), the grins returned immediately. Five hours straight before I forced myself to bed, and then the game reached out to waylay me on my way to the markets the following morning. Another couple of hours, and the game is done – everything collected, all Achievements snaffled. But that didn’t stop me from leaping back in and playing another 100% game (using the other character) almost immediately; that playthrough was wrapped up by lunchtime Sunday. Costume Quest, on and off The List within days – and thoroughly recommended.

(An aside: the Statue of Liberty’s “Anthem” special attack would have to rate as one of the most magical gaming moments of the year :)

The surprise for the week was a completely inexplicable desire to play Boom Boom Rocket. I’ve no idea where that hankering came from; it’s (essentially) a rhythm-action game, and I generally suck when rhythm is concerned – as evidenced by my performance this week. Playing on Medium, the best grade I managed was a B – and that was after many, many attempts – and venturing into Hard was a complete joke… the game was over in seconds as I battered away at my gamepad with seemingly scant regard for the colours I was supposed to be matching. The timing was askew, too. Needless to say, the hand-eye coordination needs a bit of work there.

The big effort this week, though, was the continuation of my solo Legendary run through Halo: Reach. Last week, I’d managed to get to the penultimate battle: a brute-laden firefight. I’d managed to shuffle a selection of around half-a-dozen potent weapons to that location – a fully-laden DMR, a plasma launcher, needler, shotgun, rocket launcher, needle rifle. All I had to do is choose which to take into battle… and the significance of that decision stymied my enthusiasm to do anything. But, walking home from work Monday night, I snapped – just get in there, I told myself, and do some damage. If it doesn’t work out, dig up an old checkpoint and try again.

I got home, backed up my current savegame to multiple memory sticks, and went in.

The first attempt didn’t go to plan. Covenant 1, petee 0. Ahem. Second attempt was a little better; got a few brutes knocked down, then went to trigger the secret ammo cache (such foresight!). Sure enough, a big block of blammo popped out… then landed face-down on the ground, completely inaccessible to me.

Ummmmm. Restart, try again.

The next attempt is much better; pop some brutes, cap some grunts, ammo cache accessible. I sit up top with my UNSC distractions, and they promptly walk in front of multiple streams of plasma fire and die. Prone and alone, I take cover down below… and there I stay for nearly three hours, popping my head out the door, maybe squeezing off a sniped round or two before being drowned in plasma and retreating to safety.

Seriously – nearly three hours. Check out the (very boring) stats yourself. That’s 39 kills, 9 deaths, 168 minutes.

But here’s the thing, though: from that tiny room, nursing every bullet in my DMR, I felt safe. I was alive. It was all manageable – I’d poke my head out, whittle down the enemy, and then retreat. Checkpoints seemed plentiful, and I felt like I was very slowly making progress.

Eventually, I kill the easily visible enemies – and some of Martin O’Donnell’s characteristically ominous tones start playing. “Hurrah,” I think, “I must be on the final wave already. That was surprisingly easy! Three hours well spent.” I keep up my ultra-conservative play, sniping from shelter with my DMR, and letting loose with my shotgun should brutes venture into my little hidey-hole. One by one the red dots disappear off my mini-map; I can still see the odd brute running around on an outcrop in the distance, but there’s only one enemy somewhere above me. I wait until I’ve got a checkpoint, then wander outside to check out the red triangle that distracts me from the bottom corner of the screen.

Oh shit. Hero brute. With a Gravity Hammer. Which he uses to flatten a surprised me.

Restart from checkpoint. Venture out again. He intercepts my run, mashes me up good. Third time around I notice that merely stepping out of my saferoom is enough to bring him running down to my level; then he’d either rush the room, or pace fretfully outside before returning to his rooftop position.

I hatch a plan. Lure, grenade, shotgun… Oh. Hero brutes have shields. Well there is a painful lesson learned.

On about the twelfth attempt, he rushes the room into which I’ve backpedalled, spraying shotgun shells. He lunges with his hammer, I dodge… and suddenly I’m halfway down a stairwell with two handrails between me and him. The AI doesn’t quite know how to negotiate the stairwell, and he looks to be running on the spot. I reload the shotgun and empty it into him. Reload, more shots… and then he’s dead.

And now I have a Gravity Hammer.

The checkpoint flashes up; I switch off the 360 and go to bed. That night I dream of Covenant slain and yet to face my wrath. Work couldn’t finish quickly enough the next day; I scoot home, back up the savegame again, then start my final assault. And now it’s easy; catch the enemy’s attention (an errant shot here or there, or just running out in the open), then beat them with the mighty hammer. Of course, there was another massive wave of enemies before the end of that section – my previous audio cue guesses were completely wrong – but, with Hammer in hand, I felt good. Strong. Legendary.

Checkpoint. Onto the final battle. The n00b combo (overcharged plasma pistol, followed by a UNSC pistol headshot) is… well, not second nature, but doable. It clears the room out, and there’s one last ultra-fast, ultra-shielded, ultra-angry elite between me and my objective.

He, too, gets stuck on the furniture. And dies by my hand.

As I executed the end-game sequence, I didn’t feel the same overwhelming emotional attachment to the game that I did when I completed the first Halo on Legendary (I had literally wept tears of joy that almost obscured those fleeting seconds of extra footage I’d worked to hard for, and had so yearned to see). But, as my Xbox popped up a “Achievement Unlocked – 2 for 275G”, I must admit that felt a little bit sad that the task was over.

Then I came to my senses. Never again… never again. There’s no need to put yourself through that again. No need to tiptoe through Nightfall, no need to launch an attack on the Corvette, no need to panic-run through Bugger attacks. Never again.

Wait a minute… “Data Pads,” you say? Of which over half only appear in Legendary?

Sign me up!