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!

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I’ve got a pointless story that’s full of impotent venom for a large corporation that doesn’t care what I think… but this is a largely happy post, so let’s not dwell on that too much. Suffice to say that I obtained my Playstation 3 via a Sony promotion for the princely sum of AU$25 post-and-packing; the day I received it, I wandered down to my local gaming retailer and looked for something to impress me. Uncharted 2 had been critically lauded, but the original game seemed to be highly regarded, too – and I’m not one to leap into a series halfway through. I slapped down AU$50 for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and went home to put the third pillar of this gaming generation through its paces.

When I first played Uncharted, I hated the controls – the DualShock deadzone made everything feel loose and sloppy. The story, whilst interesting, lost the plot quite disgracefully in the last quarter, and the characters – though well formed – didn’t compel. The mêlée combat felt onerous, and the gunplay unsatisfying, with enemies that appeared to be bullet sinks. And, worst of all, was the fact that the game didn’t feel very well signposted: there were a number of spots where I had to look up a FAQ or walkthrough just to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, or where I was supposed to be going.

I pushed through to the end of the game (on Easy) with the help of vash12349’s playthrough – and, to be quite honest, I almost preferred listening to vash’s commentary than playing the game itself. After sinking seemingly endless bullets into a seemingly endless stream of pirates and mercenaries, I was dreading my inevitable attempts at the harder skill levels – and, worse still, I was ruing the AU$75 I’d spent on my Playstation 3 so far.

But then, over a year later, I had that feeling in my fingers, and I picked up the controller again.

Returning to Uncharted was a surprising experience: I expected to engage in more bullet-sink drudgery but, in an attempt to snaffle Trophies, I discovered the simplistic joy of the pop’n’punch – running up to an enemy, firing a single pistol-shot from the hip, then following up with a quick mêlée for a near-instakill. This form of attack turned tedious cover-based battles into gloriously silly games of chasey, where I’d try and separate one foe from the pack before running straight at him for the pop’n’punch kill. That shifted dynamic, combined with the fact that I actually knew where I was going, made my return to Easy difficulty a delight.

As soon as I (re-)finished Easy, I started a game on Normal. And, whilst Nathan Drake’s tolerance to bullets was noticeably decreased, the pop’n’punch still worked a treat. A couple of post-work plays and Normal was done; and then I went straight back in on Hard.

And Hard was… well, hard. Opportunities to utilise the pop’n’punch were limited, as running into the open became untenable; old habits returned, and I’d cower in shelter before popping up for headshots. And, for some reason, this felt OK: the characters didn’t feel like bullet sinks anymore (god knows what I was doing on my first playthrough!). Despite the marked increase in difficulty, the Hard playthrough was completed in less than a day.

Then came a half-soothing, half-nervous two-day break.

Then came Crushing.

Uncharted‘s hardest difficulty mode starts off quite gently; the first couple of Chapters are very low impact. The first encounter with Eddy’s mercenaries, however, demonstrated just how fragile Drake was now: three quick pistol shots saw you killed, and the enemy were even occasionally capable of headshots. Running out into the open was suicide; the game became all about cover and headshots.

Chapter 4 was the eye-opener: a sequence of tricky gun battles, with swarms of enemies trying to flank you at every opportunity. But I started figuring out what made the game’s AI tick, and how I could use cover against them. Many battles were overcome through bloody-minded repetition: checkpoint, pistol, head-or-body-shot to slow one guy down while I push to cover, wait, grenade, stopping shot, move to next cover… then figure out what to do next. In fact, it reminded me of playing Quake on Nightmare: you’re initially overwhelmed by the brutality of ogres bombarding you with grenades, but you soon figure out their quirks; the game becomes more of a puzzle game thereafter.

And, far from being boring, I found this repetitive puzzle-solving to be delicious.

The infamous “plane wreck” sequence in Chapter 4 proved to be the trickiest of the game’s 22 Chapters for me. In about fifty attempts, I couldn’t replicate the behavior (or skill) in that video, so I started skirting around for other approaches. Experimenting with various other bits of cover proved useless, until I found two boxes near trees at the very back of the level. Hiding behind them seemed to anger the enemy AI – within seconds, the area was swarming with all five waves of enemies. But they seemed unable to navigate their way to the clear shot at me from the side, their persistent gunfire was stopped by the indestructible boxes, and the (ogre-like!) cascade of grenades were thrown in such a way that they bounced far enough away to not kill me (though there was most certainly risk involved).

All I had to do is line up the enemy’s head in the middle of my screen and blind-fire.

Of course, once that band of enemies had been dispatched, another wave poured in – and they did know how to deal with box-hiders like me. But I’d survived that wave, and managed to get to another checkpoint… and generous checkpointing is something that Uncharted gets very, very right.

The rest of the Crushing difficulty was… well, it wasn’t a doddle, but it wasn’t really daunting, either. I relished the opportunity to hone my approach to certain sections; I’d congratulate myself with a fist-pumped cheer if I cleared a battle at the first attempt. FinalAeon’s Crushing playthrough videos helped, to be sure, but the wonderful thing was being able to wage my private Pacific war my own way. After Chapter 4, the only bit that really worried me was the final church battle; it was only after being swarmed by shotguns a few times that I realised that the church door I’d suicidally barreled through was still open, so on my next attempt I waited for the enemy spawns and… left the church. Sully tackled some of the mercenaries himself, and the rest were easily mopped up with a couple of grenades and headshots as they emerged from the church in search of me.

So, having emulated vash’s battle cry (“Bitch… fuck… yo… life!”) as I punched out Navarro for the last time, I saw the Platinum Trophy toast appear. I kicked back with a nice glass of wine while I dug through all the unlockable art galleries and movies: the evolution of Roman’s character was a delight, as were the dev whiteboards full of feedback.

I felt really happy. It turns out, after a less-than-auspicious start, that I’d really enjoyed my time with Uncharted – and I clearly identified two big takeaways from the experience.

The first is that my first impression can be useless. I should have already learned that from my time spent with No More Heroes; still, it makes me wonder what other games I’ll love when I return to them. Maybe No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle isn’t shit after all?

The second big win was that I realised how glad I am that I possess this borderline OCD; that I had experienced this joyous fortnight of Uncharted because of a pathological need to check all those boxes obtain all those trophies. Again, something I should have learned from No More Heroes, but something that is (apparently) easily forgotten.

Yes, the story gets a little silly – but the voice-acting and motion-capture make it work. Yes, you do run around a jungle slaughtering hundreds of people with little-to-no emotion – but it’s a gorgeous looking (and sounding) environment, and (once I’d settled into the groove) the combat feels ever-so-satisfying. And yes, at times the game can feel like a grind – but it’s an exceptionally well-paced grind, liberally sprinkled with checkpoints, and pushing through one of the larger altercations elicits a rewarding response.

And that just makes me hunger for the next Uncharted game. And the one after that.

Admitting You Were Wrong…

Not much gaming this week, primarily due to Social Distractions: a dear friend’s birthday bash, some slam poetry, and a creeping addiction to Treme. I still pottered around the edges of the Reach Daily Challenges, though, and I creep ever closer to the end of the General ranks – though at a much decreased rate. I just don’t have the passion for the two hours a night (that it used to take me to snaffle about 20k cR) at the moment.

And I really hadn’t felt inspired to push on with anything else, either; Geometry Wars^2 entertains, but not in a gripping manner, and I just cannot face Child of Eden or Shadows of the Damned yet. The mojo still hadn’t selected a target, and that was starting to get me down.

As another distraction, I thought I’d catch up on a few videos that I’d bookmarked for later viewing, and I started with Giant Bomb‘s Quick Look at the upcoming Ico / Shadow of the Colossus re-release for the PS3. I was on the fence as to whether I’d purchase this: I loved Ico dearly, but Colossus really didn’t work for me at all (even after I changed the controls to something that made sense to my uncoordinated fingers). But the Quick Look reminded me of all the utter loveliness of Ico again and, as I watched the video, I had an almost synaesthetic recollection of what it felt like to play that game.

Now, Ico was the first game I really played on the PS2, so it is inexorably linked to the feel of the DualShock 2 for me. And, as much as I dislike all editions of the DualShock controllers, it just worked for Ico.

But the video left me with a Sony-esque yearning in my fingers – something I’d felt earlier this year. I fired up the PS3 for the first time in ages, and started playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune from scratch.

And, after a quick ten-hour run through the game (on Easy, natch), during which I netted most of the available trophies, I have to stand up and say: I Was Wrong.

Because it’s a bloody nice game.

I think I can justify my earlier bitching (and my whiny “Shrugging ‘Huh?'” award): the DualShock 3 doesn’t help at all with control accuracy, and I’ve steered clear of enough mainstream games recently that I’ve not overdosed on Nolan North, so the writing and dialogue on this second run through the game felt fresher. In fact, it almost screened like an action movie.

And that’s how I decided to play it, running-and-gunning rather than sitting cowardly in cover. Isolating bad guys and giving them the old one-shot-one-punch combo. Actually using grenades!

In short, I had a ball playing Uncharted for the second time – and I’ve immediately started another playthrough. I know that I’ll wind up gnawing my own fist when it comes time to do the Crushing run, but hey – after my Reach Legendary heroics, I should be able to grind it out, I reckon. And then, maybe I’ll move onto Uncharted 2… just in time for the release of Uncharted 3.

A real up-to-date gamer, I am ;)

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.

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?