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.


Something I neglected to mention last week was that I’d managed to ignore my previously steely resolve regarding the purchasing of perhaps (retail therapeutically) unnecessary games in purchasing After Burner Climax when it was on sale on XBLA recently. Post-blogging last Sunday night, I sat down and played it for the first time… and bugger me if it wasn’t a barrel of fun. Lots of things flying about at breakneck speed, Achievements popping left and right, and an extras system that frequently unlocked ways to make the game more explodey and… easy.

Yes, ABC is one of a select group of games that seems intent on making it significantly easier for the gamer the more they play… and it’s not just a matter of practise making perfect. The EX options steadily add options that make the task at hand (at worst, a fifteen minute run through a dozen stages) a doddle: auto-fire, increased lock-on capabilities, decreased damage rates. So, after a handful of runs though the game, all the EX options are unlocked, the Achievements on offer are cleaned up, and I’m ready to knock ABC off The List almost as quickly as it appeared on it…

…until I dug around the Score Attack section of the game. More specifically, the Medals awarded for various events in Score Attack mode. The Score Attack mode which, in the interests of fairness, doesn’t allow any of the EX options to be enabled when blasting through the game. And – to be quite honest – I’m fucking rubbish at After Burner. My aiming reticule zips across the screen with no semblance of control, my fighter plane is rolling almost constantly, and the enemy appear to just hang out in the distance, giggling at my inept piloting.

And those Score Attack medals… they mock me. My OCD is terrified of them now, and I have that bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth that I usually get when I make a rash purchase that lingers, goading me.

In short: another game on The List that will take ages to cross off, even with all the GamerSmarties acquired.

Crackdown 2 also got a bit of a hammering this week, with a little elbow grease yielding decent progress. I was pottering along at a comfortable rate of an Achievement-a-day, which was nice; a few clever exploits coughed up all the Renegade Agility Orbs, and then I started on a few races, a few Renegade Driving Orbs. But on Friday, I went chasing one particular Orb; scooting around canyons, in all manner of vehicles, frustration rose… and then something snapped. The experience was, quite tangibly, not fun. I turned off the 360, and fired up the Wii…

…for a return to Super Mario Galaxy 2. I was already well into the Green Star Challenge, which I was lock-stepping with my Luigi playthrough – finishing a level with Luigi unlocks a staff ghost, just the kind of content I love. And in the last couple of days I have absolutely caned SMG2; the Luigi playthrough is complete, all the Green Stars have been obtained, and the Grandmaster Galaxy opened up as a result.

Now, Star 241 – The Ultimate Test – wasn’t too difficult; sure, a lot of lives were lost exploring the worlds contained therein, but that was just practise, really. Star 242 – The Perfect Run – was a return to the same worlds… but in a one-hit, no checkpoint, daredevil format. And I don’t mind admitting that I attempted that level upwards of 150 times – lots of little mistakes ending promising runs – before finally managing what was, indeed, The Perfect Run.

And, just like that, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was off The List.

Somewhere along the line, the ability to display the Death Count on the SMG2 save file is unlocked; when I saved after acquiring that 242nd Star, the Death Count read 1257. That’s a lot of deaths… but a hell of a lot of fun. Not once during this weekend’s onslaught did the game feel like a chore, or an impossible challenge; I was always aware of what was required of me, and all the mistakes were my own. Compare and contrast to Crackdown 2, where I constantly feel like I have to exploit the game to garner any progress from it; compare also to Uncharted, which I fired up to celebrate SMG2‘s passing… and quickly switched off again.

That’s the thing about Great Games, isn’t it; they may not be the prettiest, but they’re always upstaging their shinier cousins.


The past week began with me wholly immersed in Super Mario Galaxy 2; I was anxious to get through the first batch of 120 Stars before the arrival of Crackdown 2 later in the week. Tuesday night saw the final two stars (including the terrifying cousin of Luigi’s Purple Coins) succumb; a replay of the divine final level then unlocked the Green Star Challenge, another 120 collectible stars. Then I discovered that playing through levels as Luigi unlocks staff ghosts, full of nifty tricks & techniques… so now the target is to play through the whole game again as Luigi, collect all the Green Stars, and polish off whatever else gets in the way.

So – a long term project, then.

Thanks to JB Hifi reliably breaking street-date again, Crackdown 2 was welcomed into The Moobaarn… and first impressions were mixed. The opening cutscenes felt muddled, and first steps were disappointing; the once cheery and vibrant Pacific City was now decaying, decrepit. The distinct gangs of the original were sorely missed, replaced by an anonymous night-time foe that annoyed me so much in my early progress that I feared the in-game darkness.

But, technically, the game looked amazing; the graphics harken back to those on display during the original Crackdown‘s development, a gorgeously solid cel-shaded-lite. And the draw-distance is incredible… incredible. Looking from atop the Agency Tower, it’s possible to spot details of action within each of the three islands… it’s really quite an amazing achievement.

The gameplay, though…

Oh dear.

Initially, I was nonplussed – run here, cause some damage, open up progress to the next little bit. But then comes the first big Freak battle, defending your beacon from the oncoming hordes – and I’m lost. I get mercilessly pummelled, confidence shattered, and my desire to continue evaporates.

So I decided to sidestep those particular battles and play the rest of the game instead. Orb collection, rooftop races, stunt rings… all the side-quests that are so memorable from the original. And that was genuinely enjoyable – my OCD kicked in, I started collecting away like a busy little bee, and the hours flew by.

Strength was my first attribute to max out at Level 5, unleashing a wonderful ground-pound that has since become my signature get-out-of-trouble move. Agility soon followed, allowing all the freedom associated with unrestricted bounding around the city… but it also allows access to the biggest gamebreaker in Crackdown 2: the helicopter.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the helicopter, I really do, but its inclusion in this game (along with the new “orb-sonar” ping that can be performed using the minimap) butchers the OCD-aspects that made the original Crackdown so satisfying. It’s now possible to cruise around the world eyeballing for Agility Orbs, making the quest to find all 500 quite straightforward (it took me less than four days, maybe less than 20 hours game-time). Hidden Orbs are a little trickier, but a regimented scan-and-sweep dug them up without too many problems.

So – with most of the game done (except for those loathsome beacon protection battles), OCD thirst quenched, and my head sore from beating it against the wall from the frustration of some of the later rooftop races, I was pretty down on Crackdown 2. I considered it a passable attempt at carrying on the legacy of the first game (my game of the year from 2007, I remind you), but bits had been changed for the worst without any improvements being added. Kinda like No More Heroes 2 in that regard, I guess, but nowhere near as disappointing…

But still disappointing.

And then a friend of mine popped online – he’d snaffled Crackdown 2 last Tuesday. I ping him; his world or mine? He joins my game, and all of a sudden everything changes. We leap into beacon defence situations and blast through them with barely a scratch. We fall back into old Crackdown habits of attempting a silly stunt then failing then blowing the crap out of each other with rockets, then attempting the stunt again. It’s brilliant with a partner by your side; all the depressing bits about the game are forgotten, you revel in the fun. My game gets finished in short order, so we switch to his, more objectives conquered and Orbs sought and experiments performed. Give me a pair of mag grenades, a helicopter, and an SUV, and I’ll show you two men laughing their arses off at the result.

I’d be hard pressed to think of a game that manages to change so drastically with the presence of a second person; Crackdown 2 manages to transform from a grind-to-the-finish experience into something that I wish I was playing right now. Sure, there’s still a stack of Achievements that need achieving, races to be run, and rings to be leapt through, but what I really want to do is grab a UV Shotgun in one hand and Cluster Grenades in the other, sitting in a car suspended beneath a helicopter until the pilot takes a turn too quickly tossing my SUV into the heli blades destroying them both, resulting in a five minute rampage around Pacific City while I try to stuff a grenade down his throat. Then we beat up bad guys.

What a great week :)

A New Era…

Last night I had cause to look something up on this blog – a quip I’d made at some stage – and happened to notice that it was nearly three months since I’d posted an entry here. That caught me a little by surprise, really; and now it’s time to make amends, and time to get back to writing. And I’ll open with a grandiose statement:

It’s a new era at The Moobaarn.

Indeed, it’s a new Moobaarn.

In the three months since my last post on this blog, I’ve moved house, bought my first new TV in over 15 years, and – gasp! – acquired a brand spanking new PS3. Luckily, those last two events were linked, thanks to Sony’s latest promotion; I’ve not assisted SCE’s ledger by actually purchasing one of their now-profitable bits of gaming hardware. And the out-of-box experience is great; it’s a lovely chunk of kit, and was set up with no real drama.

Turning the PS3 on yielded another story. It strikes me that the XMB at the core of the PS3’s interface is every bit as cumbersome as the original blade interface of the 360, and completely at odds with the ten-foot interface paradigms of the Wii and the NXE. I reckon the interface – like the DualShock controller, something I’ve never really got on with – was designed by engineers, for engineers; the organisation and design is very clean and regular (symmetrical, in the case of the DualShock), but it fails to compensate for the volume of information… it just doesn’t feel fit-for-purpose, lumbering under the load of the options forced upon it by the opportunities afforded by the hardware.

Anyway, enough bitching.

Having a big HD telly for the first time led me to crack out some of the more graphically impressive 360 titles; Bayonetta‘s arse looks spectacular, Prince of Persia a cel-shaded work of art, and Space Giraffe even crazier than I remember. I tried getting my eye back into the twin-stick-shooter genre with little success (Mutant Storm Reloaded and Geometry Wars Evolved^2 both rebuffing my advances), and there was even some Halo 3 multiplayer during a zombie-themed Double-XP weekend that netted a few new achievements. Yes, the acquisition of a HD TV certainly performed wonders for my flagging gaming mojo.

Prior to delivery of my new TV, though, I was stuck in my new Moobaarn with most of my possessions trapped away in a barely stable structure of boxes. Sure, my old TV had been setup, but the 360 and Wii were buried underneath scores of books and old videotapes that had (perhaps mistakenly) also made the move. Desperate to make some impact on The List, I dug out my original Xbox and started flicking through the pending titles there; Panzer Dragoon Orta got a bit of a bash, but surprisingly I spent a fair wodge of time playing TimeSplitters 2. Now, I’ve ranted at length at this game on various internet fora, especially targeting those that recommended that game to me; as the second console FPS I ever played, it was a woefully abysmal experience compared to Halo. In fact, the in-game stats indicated that I’d spent a scant six hours playing TS2, completing it on the easiest difficulty setting, before running away to play something that felt right. I really didn’t like it at all.

Those same in-game stats, however, indicated that I’d only “completed” 10% of the game on offer… and that just doesn’t sit well with my OCD. So I started churning through some of the Arcade and Challenge modes, determined to attain Gold Trophies in all events… and, lo and behold, I found myself actually enjoying the game! What a pleasant surprise. Anyway, the percentage had crept up to about 34% by the time the new telly arrived and the old Xbox was consigned to a disused part of the entertainment unit; I will return to play more TimeSplitters 2, though, you mark my words.

My sole PS3 purchase so far has been the original Uncharted, and… well, colour me unimpressed. Woolly controls, glaringly shiny teeth, and paint-by-numbers action has done little to warm me; it really does feel like a prettied-up Tomb Raider clone with an awful lack of precision. In its defence, I’m only about half-way through the game, but my favourite bits thus far have been the oft-maligned jetski sections. Sure, Uncharted 2 may have been the critic’s choice for 2009, but on the strength of its predecessor I’m not sure I’ll bother.

But the good thing about this experience is that I think I’m starting to crystallise what appeals to me as a gamer. Without wanting to sound patronising in any way, Uncharted conjures up the same feeling, the same approach and mood, as Gears of War did for me; not in the gameplay (though there’s certainly some similarities there too), but in the way it’s presented: linear progression with well-defined set-pieces. And, just as GoW irked me massively (co-op hijinks with friends notwithstanding), I think Uncharted is going to pan out the same way.

Ummmmm, what else have I been doing in the last couple of months? Well, I’ve knocked two Wii games – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Paper Mario – off the list, the latter being a paniccy weekend completion of one of my aforementioned In Case Of Emergency games when I realised that I wasn’t getting my skills together to complete Wii Play. Yes, the best part of five grand dropped on a nice new HD telly, and I’ve spent most of my time playing Wii games. And that continues even now, with the local release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 last Thursday… a couple of days solid play has allowed me to gather 118 Power Stars, enough to access one of the finest levels of gaming I’ve ever encountered… but more on that later.

Next week? Crackdown 2… and I cannot fucking wait. Which makes me reflect on the fantastic world we live in; only a fortnight ago, I wandered into my preferred vendor of gaming goodness and slapped down pre-orders on Super Mario Galaxy 2, Crackdown 2, and Halo: Reach, and two of those are released within a week of each other. How awesome is that?