2011: The Year in Review

And so, as 2011 draws to a close, I have this lingering feeling that – for me – it was a pretty rubbish year for gaming. Which seems like an odd thing to say, with so many big titles that should have tickled my fancy. But there were massive tracts where I completely lost my mojo, and where I couldn’t bring myself to write at all; there were some foolish purchases, and a lot of buyer’s remorse.

The List barely shrank, a result of thirteen new games being ever-so-slightly outweighed by fourteen completed. But only seven of those new titles were released in 2011, which really limits my ability to talk about the “current” state of gaming. So, as a result, my annual collection of half-arsed awards will likely span a number of years.

But all that sounds rather morose, and that’s not the point of these awards; so let’s bring the fun!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Whilst I could happily slot Uncharted‘s Crushing Trophy in here, it’s pretty hard to go past the mountain of sweat and hope that had to be scaled for Gears of War‘s Seriously Achievement – even though it was almost entirely boosted. Whilst not a patch on the latest version of Seriously (which one of my friends acquired after an estimated 1100 hours), the uncertainty behind the original gives it a special place in every recipient’s heart. Massive kudos to my boosting crew for their seemingly endless help, without which I would still be stuck on less than 200 kills.

The “Friendly Tumour” Award: Another award for the game that initially hides its charms, but grows on you, this has to go to the original Uncharted; despite having picked up last year’s Shrugging “Huh?” Award, the harder difficulty levels completely won me over… yet another instance of difficulty making a game better.

Disappointment of the Year: Uncharted 3 (and, to a lesser extent, Uncharted 2). After the joy I (eventually) found in their predecessor, it was sad to see the much-lauded sequel stray away from that open-combat formula into tightly choreographed set-pieces which, whilst gorgeous to look at, eschew gameplay for storytelling spectacle. The latest chapter just epitomises style over substance.

Multiplayer Moment of the Year: Teaming up with gibajon to tackle Kameo‘s Time Attack Achievements. Each level became a puzzle, a carefully choreographed piece of complementary teamwork, with massive relief when we successfully got each A-Rank… and to then discover that our scores were all within the Top 50 in the world – well, that was pretty bloody special.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Despite being another potential victim of style over substance, with simplistic and extremely limited gameplay, Enslaved gets the nod here for its astounding graphical presentation, genuine heart in the storytelling, and amazingly good DLC extension. Totally recommended as a gentle, enthralling game.

The “What Have I Done?” Time-Sink Tentacle: A lot of people raved about the free-roaming nuttery of Just Cause 2; for me, it was an OCD nightmare. Two playthroughs of over one hundred hours each, with every possible side-mission, destructible, and collectible covered off. And, due to a bug in the game, the maximum you can get is an annoying 99.95%.

The “About Bloody Time” Conferral: This could go to the insidious Wii Play, a List-dweller for far too long (until a recent sick-day saw me twist my way to Pose Mii victory), but instead it goes to the mainstream gaming press, for growing a pair of balls and daring to say something negative about some of the recent AAA-titles.

AAA-HypeTitle I Missed Award: More Modern Warfare? More Elder Scrolls? More Assassin’s Creed? Well, I at least played the first of that series. Still, I appear to remain well outside the mainstream gaming zeitgeist.

The Ingénue Infrastructure Gold Star: Come on… you didn’t expect me to forget about Sony’s little problem earlier in the year, did you? Well, at least it got me playing the PS3 again, with a couple of decent freebie games as compensation for wide-open web servers.

The Nutball of the Year Coconut: I love me some crazy game stuff. Shadows of the Damned brought tawdry schoolboy humour, coupled with a talking skull that transforms into a gun that transforms into a motorcycle, hallucinatory sections where you run over your girlfriend’s lingerie-clad body, and boss fights that included giant goat-headed demons pissing evil onto statues. But it was pipped by the non-stop visual orgasm that is Child of Eden – and there’s no better demonstration of that than Giant Bomb’s Quick Look. The whole video is pretty great (“September 11, 2019… too soon, man”), but if you’re after the infamous Space Whale comments, skip about 22 minutes in.

Boomshankalank – that’s 2011 over and done with. And, as with last year, I don’t have a post ready-to-go about my game of the year… but that’s okay, because my Game of the Year is a bit of a no-brainer. While it arrived late in the year, the game that impressed me most was such a wonderfully deep experience that it almost wiped the memories of the games that preceded it.

My 2011 Game of the Year is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Despite an almost impossibly slow opening, the latest Zelda iteration has such wonderfully emergent gameplay that there doesn’t seem to be a wasted second as you progress through the plethora of tasks at hand. It’s a game that I cannot wait to re-visit – something my OCD will accommodate, with another pair of playthroughs required.

And so, without further ado… Happy New Year!


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.


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…

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.

Boost, Baby, Boost!

I played a little bit of Halo: Reach this week. Just a few Daily Challenges, nothing much.

And that’s about all the gaming I’ve got to report.

Hang on a minute… that’s not right. I’ve been essentially glued to my beloved lounge this week doing pretty much one thing, and one thing only: Gears of War boosting.

The day after last week’s gentle introduction into the Gears boosting scene was posted, I applied for – and was accepted by – another boosting group. They kindly showed me the ropes, gave me hints, and were amazingly accepting; and that’s proved true of about two-thirds of the people I’ve encountered in these sessions. It seems that the community is happy to accept another into the fold once they’ve signed up to perform a silly feat (The Seriously Achievement); there’s a common sense of purpose, of acceptance. Knowledge is freely shared, there’s very little judgement, and everyone seems resigned to their fate – and is happy to just try and make the task as easy as possible to accomplish.

For those who don’t know, Seriously is a Gears of War Achievement awarded for attaining 10,000 online, ranked-match kills. Of course, it’s also renowned for being ridiculously fussy, too: various people have reported their Achievement being awarded at anywhere from 9,800 kills, all the way through to 22,000+. No-one’s quite certain what is counted and what is not, and the boosting community saves most of its compassion for those who are in No Man’s Land: 10,000 kills, no Achievement, and just plugging onwards, hoping that the sweet release of the Achievement toast will appear at the end of their next match.

But getting to 10,000 is the first hurdle and, when you consider the Gears team-based multiplayer gameplay, that’s a hell of a lot of playtime. Most three-hour sessions yield around 100 – 148 kills per player; I’m banking on this Achievement requiring one hundred sessions… three hundred hours.

I must be nuts.

But in my first handfuls of sessions, one colleague mentioned the concept of “double-boxing” – two Xboxes, two copies of the game, two Live accounts, leading to double the kills. “Hmmmmm,” I thought, probably out loud, “I have two Xboxes…”

A quick trip to JB Hifi the next day, and I had a grubby old copy of Gears in my hand for the princely sum of $25. Yes, that was a rip-off… but it was paid back almost immediately as I managed to drag my second account (or, as I like to call it, “my alt”) into the mix for an extra 148 kills. That’s three hours of my life back… money well spent.

But I remember standing in JB with that copy of Gears in my hand, excitement sweeping over me as I started thinking about all the double-Xbox opportunities opening up to me; and one game marched out to join Gears as the flavour of the week: Robotron.

There’s a solitary online Robotron Achievement remaining for me: getting to fifth on the online ranked leaderboard. Apparently, it’s dead easy to get if someone in the top five allows themselves to be repeatedly beaten by you; certainly, that’s how a large majority of the top fifty have attained their rank. But a few politely-worded messages to people in those lofty positions failed to garner a response (not even a “fuck off, child, do it yourself” chunk of ironic arrogance); so I thought I’d try to boost myself up there.

Two Xboxes; two accounts. Ranked matches. Lovely telly operating in side-by-side picture mode, allowing me to see the action on two screens at once (also great for Gears sessions when the cricket’s on). One account being pummelled by the other; 226 games later, I’m up to 1500-ish on the leaderboard. Hmmmmm. Needs more work.

So – I’m double-box boosting now. And I’ve got a session in about ten minutes, so I’ll sign off quick. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that all is wonderful in Boost-Land; certainly, I’ve been stuck in misogynist, racist groups for three hours. I’ve heard such pearls as “I want to move to Japan to marry one of them Chinese chicks.” (“You mean Japanese women?” “Sure, they’re hot too.”) Apparently “sand-nigger” isn’t racist if you say it to an Asian-American. And some people, no matter how clearly you explain a task, will deem your experience as irrelevant and try to learn things the hard way.

But, despite all that, I feel a camaraderie with a lot of the boosting community; I imagine them walking through their days, seeing visions of the roadie-run from one side of War Machine to the other, fingers involuntarily twitching the motions, trying to get those three kills down in less than fifty seconds.

I feel their dedication, and I feel happy knowing that I’m not alone.


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…


In yet another OC-unremarkable week, not much was achieved; Marble Blast Ultra received some DLC on Wednesday, luring me into playing it online for all of two matches to net the one new Achievement on offer… on The List and off again in the same day. Another look at Wii Fit ruptured any credibility in the product, as it awarded my creaking lardy body “Yoga Trainer” status on multiple mini-games. And something lured me back to Gears Of War: perhaps a curious mind that was wondering whether the online multiplayer was really that unpalatable. A whole bunch of matches for all of three kills with a bitchily uncommunicative crowd reminded me that yes, there are better things to be doing with my gaming time… and yet, those multiplayer Achievements still gnaw away at me, goading me with their “Locked” status.

Luckily, the week in gaming was saved by a chum wanting to play a bit of Mercenaries 2 co-op. Not being an Achievement Whore (nor afflicted by OCD), he was unphased by the prospect of killing HVTs (and hence missing out on the “Aces High” Achievement)… the resultant joy as the two of us teamed up for helicopter-hopping, tank-trashing, airstrike-addled mayhem was incalculable. It really, truly is a completely new game with a partner by your side – a noticeably easier game, yes, but staggeringly good fun.

Mind you, Mercenaries 2 did show itself to be horribly bug-ridden. Sound glitches galore, mysterious hangs, and instances where my co-op partner’s 360 and mine didn’t really sync, resulting in our view of proceedings being out-of-whack. And the “…And Justice For All” Achievement – effectively a subset of the aforementioned (and previously obtained) “Aces High” Achievement, refused to unlock until I re-completed the game while physically disconnected from Xbox LIVE. Ermmm… quite.

Still, Mercenaries 2 is fiendishly good fun – especially with that co-op player. Even better, an upcoming update is supposed to include models of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. The idea of getting Obama to trigger a MOAB airstrike in the middle of the Caracas shanty-town has me cross-legged with giggling anticipation.