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…

A Big Whiny Bitchfest

This was a week where I wasted countless (or, more accurately, around a dozen) hours reading a lot of gaming-related forums – some oriented around the fans, some targeted to the industry, and some complete road-crash material.

It all started with a desire to clear up some old items in my RSS reader, some stale links. One pointed me in the direction of a forum meltdown triggered by (what the forum dwellers thought was) the “lack of research” (they thought was) evident in Retro Gamer‘s Metal Slug entry in their “Definitive” series. Now, I’ve encountered – or observed – author “Reverend” Stu Campbell’s work on other forums, and read some of his earlier work (all the way from his ST-era stuff to his superlative – though petulantly antagonistic – Space Giraffe review), so I’d know pretty much what to expect… he’s strongly opinionated, with the conviction to stand by his beliefs. I also used to read Retro Gamer pretty regularly, and found that its English roots were very evident, being constantly reminded of the glory days of Zzap!64 in tone and style.

However, there’s a bunch of people out there who aren’t familiar with the style of Retro Gamer… or Stu. And one of them created a monstrous list of why his article was lacking. Stu responded in his inimitable, aggressively uppity manner… and the following forty pages were, at times, really painful, combining the worst of fanboyisms and internet arguments. And yet I could not look away; it was true car-crash reading, branching into other forums and accompanied by utterly inane “expert” stupidity, supplemented by dubious “facts” being interpreted by those lacking the context and understanding to do so with any integrity. A real downer for the human race, there.

So I went looking for something a little more considered, a little more understanding. A little more highbrow. I thought I’d found it with a story quoting Dave Jones at Gamasutra, where he revealed that Crackdown only just broke even – and lamented the fact that, despite 1.5 million sales, there were about another 1 million secondhand sales. Now, Gamasutra is usually pretty solid in terms of the quality of user comments, but a brief perusal of IndustryGamers and Kotaku didn’t really lift my flagging spirits much.

Now, I don’t really expect anything different; most of these commenters are going to be in their late teens or early twenties, and experience has told me that their judgement is likely to be a little… ummm… ill considered. One-sided, if you will. And that’s OK: that’s usually just a lack of world experience. But I find it pretty ironic that a group of people who clearly don’t give a shit about the integrity of the written word are so eager to take everything so literally; puzzling logic leaps and assumptions abound. And the saddest thing is that the broad opinion seems to be that clearly RealTime Worlds were charging too much for Crackdown, or that their management and spending is clearly reckless. After all, 1.5 million sales should be plenty to keep the company rolling in coin, shouldn’t it?

Ummm… do the math. With current-gen games costing in the region of ten million dollars (Ghostbusters cost $12-15 million), and the expectation of sixty million dollar budgets for AAA titles in the next generation, isn’t it about time we started paying something a little more realistic for games? Complaining that Xbox Live’s Games On Demand service is pricing titles above what you can pay at retail isn’t really the point (though I find the murmurs of per-region pricing to be totally reprehensible), especially when – at almost the same time – Microsoft’s Indie Games initiative is actually making it harder for indies to make any money off the service (by reducing the maximum amount that can be charged for titles). The pressures of selling games at retail have generated a completely unrealistic expectation of cost in the gaming community, and no-one seems to be bothering to consider whether their actions are actually contributing towards a sustainable economy. After all, retail prices are driven by shelf-space and launch windows, with no opportunity for long-tail payoffs, and platforms like the iPhone are also creating downward pressure. After all, if the casual player gets the same game-time out of a $2 iPhone game as a $100 console title, where do you reckon their money is going to start going?

And that leaves us in a position where the only people left to buy The Big Games will be the hardcore, the same people who have been gaming all along. But costs are going up, and they want to pay less for more. So the pressure will be on to make every console title a guaranteed hit.

Do you see where this is going?

Ugh – I’m going to get depressed again.

As for gaming this week: T2K. The location of the final Item in Katamari Damacy (thanks to the fabulous Katamari on the Web forum). And a dozy drizzly hungover session with the original Halo, which – despite the obvious aging of its chunky models – still manages to feels absolutely delightful and perfectly weighted. And more Space Invaders Infinity Gene, accompanied by PomPom‘s Poppi on the iPhone… perfect ad-break-sized portable gaming.


Aside from a brief reminiscient blast through Ninety-Nine Nights (to test out the NXE’s dump-to-HDD performance with that title), most of the week was taken up with – you guessed it – World of Goo. I’m having a blast hammering through those OCD ranks on my second profile; only eleven left now, but one of those is the deeply unfair Bulletin Board System. Still, this actually feels like a doable endeavour, so I hope to knock the Goo off The List before the New Year.

The weekend, however, was a different story. At the turning of the page on the calendar for the last four months, I decreed that That Month would hark the Completion of Mutant Storm Empire; all that remained were some very gettable co-op multiplayer Achievements. I had an accomplice who pledged to assist in the endeavour, but every time we made a serious attempt we’d encounter some type of glitch: players getting stuck on walls, cameras zooming off in the distance, and other happenstances that could be used as an excuse for our generally poor play. Given that he was in the UK, and I in Australia, I attributed such glitches (except for the poor play, of course) to network latencies, and decided last week to search for a partner who was a little more local.

I peeked on the Achieve360Points forum, but couldn’t find a partner-seeker who’d already been sated; the Xbox.com forums yielded one potential match who, when contacted, claimed to have never played the game. Odd that it was on his GamerCard, but who am I to stalk? Eventually, though, I found a chap in Wales who enthusiastically agreed to help out and, after two big sessions on the weekend, we managed to get the 10x Multiplier and Millionaire Twins Achievements… thus allowing me to cross Mutant Storm Empire off The List. Cheers Edd! :)

Once that was done, however, I ducked back to help another pal out in his quest for Achievements. Today’s target? The O/C Gamer’s GOTY 2007, Crackdown. And fuck me, it’s still absolutely brilliant. We both cackled with unbridled glee as we romped through the easiest skill level, engaging in massive amounts of mayhem as we went; my Mercenaries muscle memory only helped in that regard as I kept mashing the reload and switch-weapons buttons inappropriately, leading to room-filling explosions rather than the intended close-quarters gunfire. If anything, I left that joyous session nostalgic – pining for the first time I encountered that world, the almost motherly embrace I associate with my growth and progression through the game.

And then I wonder – has anything made me feel like that this year?


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

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

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

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

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

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

With rockets.

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

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

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