Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Achievements: a gamer's crutch

It's 10am on a Saturday and my fiancé wanders into the living room, wrapped in a blanket, she still looks tired but, more than that, she is furious. I've been up since roughly 4am, maybe a touch earlier, in order to meet up with some like minded people and play Call of Duty 3. We aren't playing for fun, or even because we know each other that well, instead we are playing to rack up enough points to unlock the gnarly online achievements that so few people have attained. It's a waste of time, but also a bit of a compulsion.

My gaming career, not that it's earned me any money of course, began way back in the day with a Spectrum 128k. This was the updated and improved version of the tired Spectrum 48k and actually had a tape player BUILT INTO the system, such was the lofty state of advancement at the time. Early games included Manic Miner, Treasure Island and Firelord to name but a few.

At the time my obsession with games was only slight. My parents controlled when we could play and the games themselves didn't really lend themselves to multiple attempts, seeing as they were so small and linear to begin with. A few games certainly piqued my interest, like the collection heavy Dizzy series that relied on you finding and locating key items in order to solve puzzles. The series grew in size and scope, relative to the era, until things became pretty demanding. So much so that Spellbound Dizzy had a helpline set up in order to assist gamers in finding the last few items they may be missing.

In an era before online guides and with monthly magazines only having so much room for tips, you can imagine that I ran up a pretty big bill. Or would have. Luckily my mother had the clever idea of recording those guides and then typing them out for me while she was on her lunch at work. Bless her heart.

From there we had the obvious leap to games on the NES and SNES, with a brief sojourn into the Amiga in order to sample puzzle classics like Monkey Island. Probably the first game that I remember just HAVING to spend a lot of time with was Super Mario World. If you found and completed every single level, and some of them were devilishly hard, then you got a little star next to your game save. That was it. A star. Yet I poured hour upon hour into doing just that, finding and unlocked each level in turn until I could bask in my triumph. For a few seconds anyway.....

There was no time to enjoy it, as I had to move onto something else; Zelda: A Link to the Past, Shadowrun, Metal Marines and I especially remember getting up early before I had to go to school in order to spend even more time on Secret of Mana. I never played games and got bored, or played them for five minutes and moved on, I played them until they were done, finished, and beaten in every conceivable way. Probably the best example would be Striker, a SNES football (soccer) game that was pretty easy to beat. Only you could never save your triumphs, or the two uber tough teams you unlocked from winning the bigger cups. So I made it my goal to beat every single cup, league and tournament I could in one epic session. With Guatemala by the way - as one of the decent teams would have been too easy. I did it happily, knowing that once I powered off the console my achievement would be instantly erased.

Again though, this was relatively small fry, as games were still fairly constrained in terms of their size and scope. Plus, operating on a budget that consisted mainly of pocket money and Xmas/Birthday gifts I was bound to play games to death as I only had a few games to go at regardless. So it never caused me too much grief in terms of friends or family.

The next step up was the Playstation and games like Final Fantasy VII - my first real introduction into JRPG titles. This was a game which was chock full of hidden nooks and crannies, one that was designed from the ground up to have surprises around every turn. I beat it the first time in roughly thirty seven hours, and remember feeling disappointed as I had been led to believe that it was impossible to complete in any less than eighty. I felt let down by the game, as if the rug had been pulled out from under me. Then I spotted a guide and saw all the bits I'd missed: the Gold Chocobo, the hidden material, the ultimate summons. Time for a second attempt, and this one lasted a good 90 hours and saw me beat the last boss in one attack: such was the strength of my ultra buffed characters.

Here at last was a console with games that matched my ambitions. Titles that demanded on repeat viewings and had rewards for alternate playthroughs. Did I unlock Hunk on Resident Evil 2? You know I did, and that bloody useless Tofu as well. I then went to my friends house and did the same for him, only on the Dreamcast version. Took me a couple of hours without a guide. I remember feeling pretty proud of myself, even though I had literally just done the very same thing that I'd already accomplished myself weeks ago. It felt like an achievement. The irony isn't lost on me.

By this point I had a part time job and was going through college and then university. So by the time the PS2 and Xbox turned up I had free reign to pretty much pick up and play every game I wanted to. I'd run through games in as fast a time as I could, often failing to savour them properly, just so that I could move onto something else. I still put the time into unlocking as much content as I could, but it often meant that I'd choose quick games over lengthy ones or get bogged down on bigger games as I couldn't bring myself to skip certain tasks.

The clearest example, and the one that almost broke the cycle, was Final Fantasy X. I spent hours making sure I would be able to unlock and find every single item, ultimate weapon and ability. From hopping past 200 lightning strikes to using a key combination of abilities to turn massive damage into skill building points, nothing was beyond my remit. Only I found myself growing tired of the nitty gritty, was it all worth while? I could have spent that time moving on with the game, but instead I was grinding against specific enemies and using guides to make sure I hadn't missed anything. It felt more like a chore than a game, and it's a lesson that somehow failed to stick with me.

The overwhelming reason is probably that I was just as much into books, films and attempting to seem attractive to the opposite sex (no mean feat when you list books, films and games amongst your hobbies) as I was in games. So I had other diversions to stop the frustrations from totally putting me off my gaming style for good. In hindsight it's probably a shame that I didn't persist with just the games, grow annoyed and pack them in entirely or at least to a more moderate level, but sometimes these things work out. Or not.

By the time the Xbox 360 came out I was a convert to the Microsoft cause. I'd ridiculed the original Xbox at first but had gradually shifted my perception, mainly thanks to my friends persistence and a large number of late night Halo LAN sessions that were often raucous, ridiculous and hilarious affairs. So my new console of choice was the 360, also helped by the fact the PS3 was ludicrously expensive to begin with.

At first it seemed like I'd bought a dud. The new releases were non-existent and I barely touched the thing for the first six months I owned it. After a while I started to play a few games that other people had lent me, the first being Call of Duty 2. I figured I'd tackle the game on the hardest difficulty just to spin it out for a while and, along the way, happened to unlock all of the achievements. At the time it didn't really mean a lot. Sure it was nice to see them popping up along the way but what, if anything, did they matter?

Then of course, my gaming nature to bleed every last drop out of a game took over and achievements, naturally, were a good way to measure my progress. I'd play through games on multiple difficulties, track down hidden items and even play specific matches and modes online in order to get things done. A buddy of mine felt the same way and that was how my first achievement boosting session occurred.

It sounds a little sordid really, probably because it is, "boosting". Like we were trying to score drugs, only the fix was actually a virtual number that had no real meaning outside of our heads. We set up games on Top Spin 2 together and proceeded to take turns losing. Though we did also duke it out a few times on the game for real, this was the first example of me basically taking the shortest possible route to achievement success. Is it the legitimate way to get things done? Of course not, but it was the best way for me to get the game done and move onto something else. The real surprise was just how many people felt the same way.

Eventually of course that led me to specific sites set up to assist people in acquiring achievements, with guides and hints. Not to mention a plethora of like minded fools to team up with to make seemingly impossible tasks that much easier. In a way though it also changed the way I played games, often for the worse. I used to only pick up games that appealed to me, ones that had good word of mouth or looked like they would interest me or provide a unique experience in some way.

Once achievements kicked in, that all changed. Instead of avoiding crappy games I would go out of my way to track them down and blitz through them. Titles like Avatar: The Burning Earth (notorious for giving up the full 1,000 Gamerscore in roughly 30 seconds), Hannah Montana and My Horse and Me 2 were just the tip of the iceberg and pretty much anything and everything became fair game. I was aided (and abetted) in this endeavour by the fact I worked at Blockbuster and could rent games for free, when I moved on from that job I took out a Lovefilm subscription to maintain the same perks. It wasn't wasting money, I reasoned, if it was a monthly subscription and I didn't actually own the games. Though at the same time I would still buy brand new games and leave them sat on shelves for years as I didn't have time to play them - too busy playing crap. Games like Assassins Creed 2, all the Mass Effect titles etc went to waste while I played movie tie in after movie tie in.

Around the time I was approaching over 100,000 Gamerscore I was made redundant. My old company had over expanded and, as I was one of the newest hires, the writing was on the wall. Tragically it happened about a month after I'd just bought a new house but I'd at least shown a bit of foresight and planned ahead. I was renting two rooms to a couple of friends (who also had an Xbox 360 each - which I would mercilessly borrow to "boost" games against a non-responsive opponent) and so was covered until I got a new job.

Around this time I also met my other half. We met through a mutual friend, just chatted online to start with and then I would pop in and see her at work when I could. We shared a lot in common, with interests in reading, films plus the clincher being that she was a bit of a gamer herself. Eventually I plucked up the nerve to ask her out and, maybe out of some kind of pity, she said yes. Shortly thereafter I got a new full time job and a few months after that she moved in.

Of course, in the background there was always the gaming. I would stay up late at night to finish off crappy games or boost with other people. I stopped reading, pretty much entirely, and I'd no longer go to the cinema and watch other films. That's not to say those hobbies were exactly rivalling healthy equivalents like running, football or carrying watermelons, but at least they were something. Instead I dedicated my spare time to playing games, bad games, ANY games. Though at least I spent the majority of time with my girlfriend. Or so I thought.

Over time she began to point out that I spent more time gaming anything else, even spending time with her. I lost track of the amount of times that she fell asleep on my lap while I was trying to complete Ben 10, or track down that last item in Looney Toons. It was good natured at first, a little joke and smile. I'd inevitably laugh and be set straight for a few days, maybe a week, and then eventually I'd creep back into gaming mode when some new piece of tat with easy achievements turned up.

The jokes gave way to arguments, and the arguments gave way to promises (not kept) that I'd do better. To my shame I'd also be that engrossed in playing games in a morning that I was occasionally late for work, it was only by five or ten minutes, but as someone that gets annoyed by people being one minute late it was decidedly out of character. Not to mention stupid.

Which leads us back to where we started on that fateful Saturday morning (25th October - a week before her birthday). Call of Duty 3 was a game I'd despaired of ever finishing off, mainly due to the ludicrous need to get 40,000 points online. However, a method emerged which saw teams throw flags at each other and rack up thousands of points per game. I approached my girlfriend to ask for her permission to play, at 4am (as most of the people involved were in the U.S.) and she said that would be fine. Though asked that I stop playing by 9am and make her breakfast.

I didn't stop at 9am.

By 10am she was downstairs, practically in tears, and rightfully at her wits end with my antics. I'd once again chosen to inflate some meaningless score over being with her and felt like a class A moron. She had had enough, she packed up a few things and went to stay with her parents for the weekend. I asked when she'd be back, and her reply was "I don't know". I genuinely thought that was it. End of the road. No one deserved to get dumped more than me, and what had I achieved?

For the next couple of days I mooched around the house not doing very much. I was on my own and felt like throwing my 360 off a cliff in some kind of ceremonial act of contrition (kind of like Say Anything but with less boombox and more violence towards consoles). I didn't touch my console again and really have hazy memories about what I did with myself during that time other than having a sense of pity (entirely unjustified) and hoping things could turn around.

She called me on the Sunday night and asked me to go over and see her. I did so and we walked for a couple of hours, just about where we were at, how we felt about each other and what I could do to stop being such an ass.

Did I completely mend my ways? I'd be lying if I said I had never played a game purely for achievements since then, but I no longer let it overwhelm me. I've played plenty of games since, some of them crappy, but they mainly come through my review work. I now only purchase games that I know I'll enjoy and steer clear of games that need a lot of online play, for fear that they will drag me back down into the pit. We still occasionally argue about me spending time on the console, but it's a rare event and certainly not as ongoing as the grand "whose turn is it to wash up?" melodrama. In fact I can't remember the last time it was brought up (my lady probably can, she dates and files all grievances against her - possibly for some end game life strategy I am unaware of).

There will always be that bit of OCD about the way I approach games, and my girlfriend (now wife) understands that. Part of my wedding speech even mentioned her tolerance of all the crappy games I used to play, and the ludicrous boosting I did, it got a good laugh. Mainly from her - which was the most important thing. Though it was no laughing matter at the time, and it took us a while to get back on track.

Of course, having said all that, I still currently have 383k worth of Gamerscore and a 96% achievement completion ratio. I still try to complete every game I play 100% but it no longer bothers me if I can't. Last year was a milestone moment for me, as a bunch of friends asked me to join in a boost for the two prestige achievements on Call of Duty: World at War. 200+ hours of boosting for two zero point achievements. We had a brief practice session and, for the first time, I said to them that I was out, it wasn't for me and I'd rather spend all that time doing something else. They understood and I felt like a weight had been lifted. It seems like nothing, but there was a point when I would boost ANY game no matter how long it took. Since then my boosting has been kept to a minimum and I just play games I want to play, like in the good old days.

In fact I decided to finally go back and play all the great games I'd missed (while playing crap for points) and sell off all of the crappy games I had sat around, still untouched. In the last year alone I've played through three Assassins Creed games, Dark Souls, Portal 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, all the Splinter Cell games and a bunch of other stuff and it's been great. I can enjoy the story rather than skipping it to complete the game faster and revel in superb games that I should have been playing all along. I've sold off 30+ games that I'd had sat around to pimp for points and I doubt I'll miss any of them. I even bought, and played on DAY ONE, a bunch of newer stuff too which is amazingly unlike me and I could actually talk about new games with other people that had played them AT THE SAME TIME. It was a liberating experience.

The best thing in life (as opposed to what Conan might think) is that I spend time together with my wife every day, I do some cooking before she lands and she tells me about her day and who she wants to kill at work. We hang out for a few hours, watching TV, moaning about work and telling each other random "nuggets" (stupid facts we have discovered during our day) and it's great. It's the way it should be and it boggles my mind, looking back, that I put that sense of having someone, someone to share life with, behind the tick tock of a virtual number.

Achievements are a fun addition to games, and they changed how I play games forever (and not always for the better), but don't let them BECOME the game.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Boldly going where quite a few have gone before..........

SPOILER ALERT - I'M GOING TO RUIN VAST SWATHES OF THE NEW STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS FILM SO DON'T READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT.

SERIOUSLY..........

It's been a while since I blogged about anything, a new hectic job will do that to you and, even with the best intentions, I find myself with less time on my hands to idly type away. Which is a great shame as I love waxing lyrical every now and then.

Still I did think it would be fun to share some of my thoughts with you about the latest Star Trek movie, a film that seems to be long on hype but short on actual substance. At least for me. I enjoyed the film, sure, but it wasn't the Earth shattering event that many had billed it to be. In many ways I actually found it lacking in comparison to JJ Abram's first Star Trek effort too which is slightly disappointing considering the benchmark he set down.

The film got off to a rollicking start, with an opening sequence that felt like it had been taken straight from the original series. A planet is in peril and the crew of the Enterprise defy that pesky Prime Directive in order to try and save it. I have no idea why ALL of the senior staff are on this particular mission - does your Chief Doctor make the best getaway man, should your Head Science Officer be dropped into a volcano, do you need a Communications Expert on board the shuttle and, above all, would the Captain be the best choice for an impromptu temple heist? I get that they are trying to reintroduce the major players but it just felt like they were forcing the issue somewhat.

Things go badly, then turn out fine in a last minute rescue that leaves a lasting impression on the impressionable natives. Kirk submits his report and Spock, to no ones surprise but Kirk's (seriously does he know what a Vulcan is?), submits the truth. Though I find it odd that Spock would be all for the Prime Directive when it was made pretty clear that the plan to freeze the volcano was his in the first place. Would that meeting not have been a better time to say, "maybe we should step back. PRIME DIRECTIVE FOLKS." Him going along with it and THEN deciding they should have upheld the directive seems like an odd change of character.

Anyway, Kirk gets stripped of his command, which was genuinely surprising, only it turns out he doesn't lose it for very long, which wasn't surprising at all. You also get another of those patronising exposition lines that ruins what is coming, as Admiral Pike says that Kirk would never sacrifice himself for the good of the ship. I HOPE THAT IS IMPORTANT LATER, you may say. Rogue agent John Harrison, aka Benedict Cumberbatch, aka the best thing in the film, has decided to lay the smack down on Starfleet and starts by blowing up the annoying as hell Noel Clarke (yay!). Oh yeah, and the research lab he worked in - which was more the point.

For some reason that leads to Starfleet pulling all their most senior people into a glass fronted room with no security and only being moderately curious about why Harrison stole a non-space worthy gunship. Enter said gunship, exit most of the Starfleet higher ups. Including Admiral Pike, which is a shame as I loved how his character turned out, but obviously it gave Kirk the required telling off/daddy issues to go get some revenge.

Oh, except for Admiral Marcus who was all grizzled and moany about the Klingons wanting a war. He lived and decides that Kirk should go and nuke part of Kronos (the Klingon home world) from orbit as that is where Harrison is hiding out. That part of the planet is uninhabited and such a bombardment from a Federation ship would in NO WAY START A WAR!!!! It was here that I died a little inside as the rest of the film become so pedestrian and obvious that it barely seemed worth the effort.

72 missiles are shuffled on board the Enterprise and Scotty refuses to sign for them and resigns. That may as well have read "we needed a major cast member somewhere else, and this was the best we could do." Honestly the scene where he quits is awful, with neither him nor Kirk bothering to have a rational discussion. Kirk could have just said, "Hey, take them on board now and we'll check out these mystery missiles when this security dude is gone." WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID LATER ANYWAY! So why boot Scotty off the ship? No reason. To make matters worse, Chekhov, who has had precisely zero screen time thus far is then booted down to engineering and is reduced to the role of single line dialogue for the rest of the film. At the same time the Admirals daughter, Carol Marcus, is introduced and then does nothing other than have THAT scene in her pants for the rest of the film. To say she is superfluous is an insult to the lowliest of extras. She serves no point whatsoever.

In fact, it's worth pointing out that beyond Kirk, Spock and Scotty (in the second half of the film anyway) the rest of the main characters get very short shrift here. More on that as we go.

After Bones (thank God for Bones, legend) and Spock growl at Kirk over blasting a planet, he decides to go the route of negotiation and leaves Sulu in charge (for his one major line of dialogue, seriously do we not like Sulu and Chekhov anymore? What gives?). They threaten Harrison with the missiles and he then dismantles a bunch of Klingons before deciding to hand himself in.

Again this whole scene was a mix of good and bad. The new look Klingons certainly bode well for the future, and I liked the whole look and feel of the warrior race even though they are only in the film briefly. The whole "one man army" thing with Harrison also worked well too. What didn't work was the ham fisted negotiation bit with Uhura. Again it was as if Zoe Saldana demanded more screen time and the writers had to throw in a few jarring sections just to make her feel better. The same thing happened as they went to the planet, with a lengthy blurb between her and Spock that was meant to showcase his emotional attachment to her but came off as pretty trite.

Still they roll Harrison back to the ship and he reveals he is KHAN!!! To absolutely nobodies surprise. I mean who else was he going to be? Bones starts to analyse his crazy awesome blood and Khan tells them that the missiles they have on board have some unlikely contents (other super people) and for Kirk to check out some co-ordinates.

So they crack open a missile (could have done it earlier when Scotty asked, but nooooo!) and send Scotty to check out the mystery location. Khan waxes lyrical about how Admiral Marcus wanted weapons knowledge and thawed him out to get it, before then threatening Khan with his old crew if he didn't co-operate. Khan did a runner and here we are. Turns out the ship is knackered though due to some suspicious sabotage - but at least it gives Chekhov a reason to say something for once. Poor guy.

Then Admiral Marcus himself shows up in his big, bad new starship and goes to town on the Enterprise. He beams his useless daughter away first (seriously, why was she in this film?) and is about to deliver the coup de gras. BUT WAIT.

It turns out Scotty found the new ship at those pesky co-ordinates and got on board. Yes, he got on a board a high security new vessel, that requires only a highly trained skeleton crew to staff it, without ANYONE NOTICING. I died a little more inside.

He deactivates the ship briefly, giving Kirk and new chum Khan a chance to suit up and go for a space ride over to the new ship in a bid to disable it. BUT FIRST A REALLY IMPORTANT BIT OF STORY FEATURING BONES AND A TRIBBLE.........

"Dude. why are you injecting that DEAD Tribble with Khan's super blood?"
"I dunno. Just want to see what it would do."
"Well I sure hope that becomes REALLY important later."

I hated this scene. I hated it with a passion as it made everything that followed blatantly obvious and it felt like they were just patronising the viewer. They'd mentioned Khan's blood having healing properties on a number of occasions but that clearly wasn't enough so they went for the overt 'stick it into something dead that will no doubt spring back to life at an opportune time' moment. BULLSHIT! Don't do that, it's insulting to everyone involved.

Anyway............

Kirk and Khan jet over to the new ship and meet up with Scotty. I actually loved this bit and briefly thought that old JJ was going to pull another genius moment and have Khan end up as a decent enough guy. The chemistry actually worked and the tone between Kirk/Khan is very similar to that between Kirk/Spock. Right on the money.

Of course then they get to the bridge and Khan betrays them for no discernible reason (other than the fact Kirk had Scotty stun him first - what a douche move). Think about it. If Khan wanted Kirk dead he could have stranded him in that asteroid field they flew through, no questions asked. He could have easily killed Kirk and Scotty when they got onto the new ship, as he pretty much singlehandedly took out the rest of the crew and would STILL have been in prime position to negotiate for the release of his people from the Enterprise. So why wait? Why tag along and then decide, at the last minute, to go back on your word. I mean I get why they had him kill Admiral Marcus, as the guy was a total asshat, but the rest makes no sense. He could have easily asked Kirk for that ship and his crew and then done a runner.

Here is where I have to question the new JJ universe, ignoring what we know about Khan from the original film etc, as the set up in this film has Khan as a dangerous but ultimately honourable guy, who is out to save his crew. That's what they set up, but then they rush back to the previously established character in a pinch because of the need for conflict.

So we then get old Spock back on the horn saying how dangerous he is and that he is utterly ruthless - as if that snippet of dialogue is capable of explaining away all of Khan's other actions (most of which were ambiguous or at least respectable) and justifying the film then turning him into a psychotic loon.

Spock beams the missiles (sans Khans crew) over to the new ship, crippling it, while Kirk, Scotty and token love interest Carol are beamed back to the Enterprise. The ship is messed up though and going down cue another roll eyes moment:

Scotty - "We can't get power because the core isn't aligned."
Kirk - "I'll align it by hand."
Scotty - "You can't go in there, it's full of radiation and you'll die just like in Wrath of Khan, only that time it was Spock."
Kirk - "Man I hope that DEAD Tribble has made a startling recovery........"

So this super advanced ship, that has a radioactive warp core, does not have any radiation suits? Really? Come on now. So the obvious happens.

Kirk goes in there, he saves the day, he dies. Spock gets pissed off, tracks down Kahn (who somehow survived his giant ship blowing up AND crashing) and beats him up. AT THIS EXACT MOMENT THAT TRIBBLE COMES BACK TO LIFE, YAAAAAY! SURPRISE. So they can steal Khan's blood and give it to Kirk ensuring he isn't dead. Huzzah!

Master criminal Kahn is put back into cryo-storage with his crew (I hope it was in the same warehouse as the Ark of the Covenant - with those top men) and everyone else lives happily ever after. Clearly Kirk made the ultimate sacrifice play so now he is cool and has LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS (TM).

Thank God it's over.

My main problem was how dumbed down the story was, with important points being hammered home every ten seconds that ruined any surprise you may have gotten from the movie (dat tribble). Not to mention that a lot of the characters felt completely redundant. Sulu and Chekhov were the hardest hit, and the character of Carol Marcus served no point at all other than to get a shot of a lovely lady in her pants into the trailers no doubt. Uharu was, in a way, overused - often turning up in scenes and conversations where she didn't seem relevant, while her actual job on the ship seemed irrelevant. Not to mention bringing back old Spock felt far more forced, and unnecessary, than it did in the first film where it was handled in a very organic way.

The saving grace was Bones, who made me laugh every time he turned up and chewed through his dialogue superbly - kudos to Karl Urban. Cumberbatch as Khan was also superb, and the interaction between Pine as Kirk and Quinto as Spock bodes well for any future instalments. I also enjoy Simon Pegg as Scotty too, even though his character seemed to have a few random off key moments throughout.

On the whole though this feels like a massive step back for me. The first film reinvented the franchise and gave them carte blanche to re-imagine the universe as they saw fit - but instead they just remade Wrath of Kahn, and swapped Kirk for Spock when it came to the sacrifice play. Talk about playing it safe. Kahn was always one of the best films and a remake would have been positively received regardless, but I feel they could have done so much more. Even within the remit of this story, they teased an alliance with Kahn and the thought of him out there, either with a crew of similar supermen/women or as a lone operator, would have left the door wide open.

Instead they rolled him out of stasis, made you like him, made you feel for him, then inexplicably made him go crazy for no reason at all and then rolled him back into stasis. What a let down.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Busy, busy, busy

Well since the completion competition finally wrapped up in January I have still managed to be amazingly busy on the gaming front though without that pesky need for quick and easy games to saunter through.

Though having said that - I have completed Battleship and Cartoon Network Super Punchtime Explosion (real name) but only because they were sent my way via the rental service I use and I am determined to actually get my moneys worth now, especially as I had Sherlock Holmes sat around for nearly two months before finishing it. Shame on me.

Still those two games were mere footnotes in my gaming odyssey for the last month as the vast majority of my time was spent with Borderlands 2.

Now I'd previously started the game months ago, pretty much when it first came out, but then got distracted with reviews and whatnot. So by the time I'd gotten back around to it there were now three DLC packs to tackle on top of the original story. Luckily I'd snagged the season pass when it was half price over Christmas, so I just downloaded all of the content and got to work.

The amount of fun little references and throwaway gags is just great, and I even really enjoyed most of the DLC - which is odd as most people seem to be up in arms about it - I thought the pirate story was a perfect addition and the over the top, sweary Torgue was pretty hilarious. The only letdown was Hammerlocks Big Hunt - which seemed a bit more tiresome and ill conceived but as I'd had so much fun up until that point I'll let them off.

I did everything solo too, which consisted of a full playthrough with all quests done (barring Terramorphous) and then a second runthrough to level up, grab weapons and what not. After I'd done all the story, DLC and quests I eventually started to use the Infinity Pistol/Evil Smasher combo to blast my way through the remaining invincible bosses. I had originally hoped to do them with friends but they are holding off until a GOTY version is released, so I figured I may as well finish everything off myself. In my defence those last few raid bosses are ludicrously overpowered for regular players so I don't feel too bad about having the upper hand.

After that I used the wife's account (that I'd levelled up to about 33 during my run) to level up the other three characters so that I could get their specific achievement - top tip here: use the various arenas, as they are great for power levelling your back ups. That took me a few hours to boot, but the game was finally done.

There is more DLC on the way which is pretty awesome, though I'm not happy that content outside of the season pass is being mooted and especially when the level cap increase is being suggested as having an additional charge. When I've effectively 'wasted' three DLC packs worth of XP, as I'd already hit 50, then to raise the cap and have the audacity to charge extra for it is a pretty low blow. Here's hoping that doesn't happen and that any future content is reasonably well handled.

Now that Borderlands 2 is done I figured I'd try something a bit similar, and I've ended up going back to Fallout New Vegas in a bid to rush through and get that bad boy done and dusted. Fingers crossed I can do it in double quick time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lost in the Borderlands

Since the end of the Completion competition, and some time finishing up Battleship, I've played absolutely nothing except for Borderlands 2. The game is pretty awesome and the amount of fun little moments and references that you find along the way are superb.

My only gripe is the fact that some bosses seem ludicrously overpowered at times, while others are a walk in the park. In truth there are a few balancing issues and they make the game equal parts easier than it should be and harder than it should be - often in the space of 10-15 minutes. I guess the problem comes down to the fact that the game has an open world feel to it, so you can technically stray into tougher areas sooner than you should.

If you then persevere in said areas you might get to a point where you are tougher than the main story arc requires you to be - making the bosses you meet on that path a touch too simple.

That aside, and it really is only a minor quibble, the rest of the game is great stuff and I enjoy being able to take time out to complete ludicrous sidequests, or just heading back to certain bosses to grind for better gear etc. It's a wonderful game.

I've not actually finished my first run through yet, though I am pretty close, but I'm hoping to get it done (along with all the quests if possible) this weekend. Then I can turn my attention to the DLC and maybe to levelling up to the 50 cap. Time will tell.

I've done the whole game solo thus far but I may need to find some cohorts for some of the more evil DLC bosses, we shall see. Still regardless of how you play it, I would recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Post January clean up

Well after a very hectic month of gaming I've emerged out the other side with a ton more gamerscore, a load of completed games and far too many annoying 50g titles littering my tag. Anyone that had never looked at my account before might just assume that I play nothing but arcade games, but it had to be done.

The overall goal, of course, was to do well in the Staff/Subscriber completion contest over on x360a and after weeks of gaming trauma I ended up with a haul of 61 completed games. Pretty awesome - but only good enough for third place. The two people above me (with 78 and 72 completions) both had access to a Windows phone and cranked out 25+ games each on that bad boy. Foolishly I'd never really thought of phone games having so much easy fodder but, in hindsight, that is exactly the type of games that are popular on phones. So without access to that bastion of simple games and, having completed a lot of easy stuff in the past, I wasted probably too much time on certain retail/arcade games than I should have.

Still I got a nice forum award regardless which was my main aim and I managed to chalk off a whole host of arcade games that I'd bought years ago and never gotten around to playing for one reason or another. It was especially nice to blitz through all four of the original 2D Sonic titles which, in my view, have not aged that well. I was actually glad to get them out of the way as they were more annoying than entertaining.

I did also find a few gems along the way too. I recommend Trine 2, which was a fun little action/adventure/platformer, plus Haunt was a good Kinect title and well worth a few hours of your time. I also had fun with the Wallace and Gromit games too, as well as revisiting Monkey Island 2 which is one of my all time favourites.

I finally finished Ghost Recon Future Soldier as well, and was probably one of the few people that actually really enjoyed it - I did pretty much all of the online (bar some challenges with friends and the DLC maps that NO ONE plays) without boosting as well. Plus, I chalked off Condemned 2 and Black Ops which had both been on my to do list for a long time. I've almost finished CoD: World at War too, with just the Prestige achievements left, so we shall see how that goes.

Since the competition ended I blitzed through Battleship and also mopped up the Family Game Night achievements I had left to do (can't touch Scrabble as it is US only). I'm now back to playing games because I want to, and have picked up Borderlands 2 again in a bid to blast my way through it in double quick time. Though at some point I'll need some co-op buddies to tackle some of the harder bosses and such, but I'll tackle that issue when I come to it.

I'm now looking to finish off a few of my easier titles and get them shifted out of the house, along with starting some of this generations gems that I may well have missed out on. Titles like Assassins Creed, Mass Effect and Dead Space, and all of their sequels, are awaiting my attention and I'm hoping this year is the time to get back to them.

By the end of the year I hope to be pushing onto 96% completion, as I'm on my way to 95% at the moment, with 20 or less games on my tag that are incomplete. Considering I have 8-9 games that I've written off already that goal would suit me wonderfully. It would be great to finally get things in order and squared away - to the point that I don't have ANY old, incomplete games to go back to and can just focus on new stuff.

Here's hoping.