Je Retourne (2011 Edition)

Ummm… hello again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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…


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.

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.

Reach for the Twin Sticks…

This is likely to be the first of a month’s worth of short, perfunctory posts. Mainly because there’s not a whole not new happening (or likely to happen) in the gaming corner of the moobaarn in the next four weeks, but also because I want to preserve my typing digits for NaNoWriMo, in which I’m participating for the first time this year (follow my progress here!)

Luckily, there’s no monster stories about Reach left to tell. I’m on the final cRedit grind on my way to Lieutenant Colonel, and trying to ease my progress by taking advantage of the cRedit bumps given when you receive a Commendation upgrade… which, in turn, has led to plenty of Checkpoint restarting and Gruntpocalypse. But I’ve also taken the opportunity to start playing with a number of Reach‘s other gameplay modes, including online Firefights with randoms. These have been, with one exception, a genuine delight: the firefight scenarios, with their infinite-life / infinite-ammo / fixed-time-limit options, lead to some downright silly, thrilling, seat-of-your-pants, explodey goodness.

Of course, the first time I played one of hese online firefights, I netted an Achievement (for scoring 20K in the game). This caused me to reflect on my GamerScore a bit more and, harking back to my stats on TrueAchievements, I realised I was getting close to a milestone: 94% of my possible gamerscore. And, knowing that Crackdown 2 and Halo: Reach DLC is incoming (with more percentage-mangling Achievements), this was my chance to set a new high-water mark.

The Halo: Reach achievement had left me with a mere 21 additional GS to hit the 94% mark; scouring my gamercard, I noticed that Geometry Wars Evolved^2 had a solitary 25 GS Achievement outstanding. If I could snaffle that, then I’d knock a game off The List, and clear 94%. Two birds with one stone.

Brilliant idea, huh? One little problem, though.

I’m shit at Geometry Wars Evolved^2. Bloody rubbish. I gave Smile a good old bash, and got nowhere near comfortable with it. Buggered if I know how I managed to complete Sequence previously.

It’s all so pretty and neon and… overwhelming. So, to hone my skills, I thought I’d drop back to the rustic Robotron 2084. And wouldn’t-you-know-it, I’m shit at that, too.

So – I’m no closer to nailing my 21 GS. I look further afield… Halo 3: ODST. One of the VidMaster Achievements in ODST has long been regarded as pretty straightforward, so I gave it a bash… and in less than thirty minutes, the Achievement popped. 25 GS, piece of piss. Welcome to 94%-land.

Of course, that led to me looking at the firefight score attack Achievements in ODST, but that’s a task for another month. Given it was November 7th today, I did pop in the Halo 3 multiplayer disc from ODST to chance my arm on the 7-on-7 playlist, hoping that the opportunity to snaffle my final Halo 3 multiplayer Achievement would pop up… that’s when I discovered that there’s 301 people still playing Halo 3 online, and they’re all ninja good. I got one kill, and that’s only because someone else softened up my target with multiple rockets.

So: the whoring in Reach goes on. And I’ve just written 500 words on this blog post that could have gone into my novel. There’s the odd oblique reference to gaming in my novel, you know… ;)


Another 360-bound week has passed – I seem to have completely forgotten about Jet Set Radio for the moment (apart from the obvious comment in passing) – but at least I haven’t bought anything new. The release of Suda51’s Flower, Sun, and Rain is pretty much a must-buy, and I might as well snaffle Soul Bubbles while I’m at it. More DS goodness that, unfortunately, is going to push The List dangerously close to 70 – SEVENTY! – unfinished games.

I used to think that completing – that’s PeteComplete, of course – one game a month was a pretty reasonable goal. After all, my normal “working” week permits a lazy twenty-odd hours of gaming, so that’s eighty hours a month – surely enough for most games, save longer RPGs. But then there’s games that actually require skill and skill (in my case) requires practise… so what am I to do? Even at a game a month, there’s nearly six years worth of gaming on The List!

Case in point: two of the games I played this week I’ve had since the Australian launch of the Xbox 360 (March 23, 2006). Geometry Wars still kicks my arse and, despite my commitment to improve my skills through regular practise late last year, has remained obstinate in giving me a fair go. That’s what I reckon, anyway. Likewise, my skill level in Robotron hasn’t got much better in two-and-a-half years, although I did manage to score a surprise Achievement whilst searching for Ranked matches during the week – the lag associated with my adversary’s host across the Pacific allowed me to jerk my way to Wave 11. Up popped the Achievement, surprising me so much I died thrice in quick succession. Yes, I’ll blame the Achievement Toast… yes ;)

Finally, though, Mercenaries 2 continues to delight with its co-op multiplayer goodness. My co-op buddy in Perth joined me to tackle the PMC challenges (which must be literally impossible in single player mode) and we managed to unlock all the additional costumes for all three characters… Mattias’ suit is a chuckle, and Jennifer’s catsuit is delicious, but nothing – and I mean nothing – can top the Chicken Suit.

Cluck On
No, ma’am, I’m a chicken

Two men, firmly ensconced in middle age, separated by thousands of kilometres, controlling characters running around Venezuela in chicken suits, raining heavy ordinance all over the country and punching army chaps in the head. Seriously, if this is as good as it gets, then I’m pretty bloody happy with the state of gaming :)

Cluck Off
I don’t know who was more surprised, really.