Monday, January 31, 2011

Back in the saddle

After a bit of a lull period, I have finally got my next review title underway. Mindjack actually came out last week but I was unable to pick it up at the time as I was suffering from the flu which basically left me at home feeling sorry for myself. It also meant a pretty non-active weekend in fairness, though at least I managed to polish off the single player aspect of Halo: ODST.

Instead I popped out to pick it up on the Friday just gone, and then settled down to play it on my girlfriends account. Before I review a game I always make a judgement call on whether or not to put it on my own tag - which usually depends on the achievements and how much of a pain in the ass they will be to complete.

Now before everyone rambles on about how I should play games for, you know, FUN. I only do this for review titles, as they are often games that I wouldn't normally pick up myself, as is the case with Mindjack. However, even if the game hadn't previously appealed to me, I will give it a shot depending on the time sink required.

Mindjack seemed easy enough to do, though you would have to rely upon other gamers joining your game or then have to boost certain achievements with two or three other people. None of which really appealed to me - plus I'd rather devote my gaming time to FFXIII at the moment and didn't want the added hassle of trying to pimp Mindjack for all it was worth.

The game itself is.......odd. On a basic level it is a fairly simple cover based shooter, the twist comes from the fact you can leave your own body and 'hack' into those of other people and machines. If you play online you can also 'hack' into other peoples games and either help or hinder them depending on your personal preference. It is a neat idea but one that seems fundamentally wasted on such a linear and simplistic game. You go from area to area, killing everything in sight, and that is pretty much all she wrote. With a few more ideas and a bit of variety this game could have been a bit special - instead it is a bit shit.

It doesn't help that when you complete a section of a level, all the weapons you picked up are taken away. Also, you cannot pause the game either as the game just continues on in the background. Say what?

Not exactly the start to the year I was hoping for to be honest, but I'm sure things will pick up in short order. I'll be finishing off the review in short order and, for anyone interested in achievements, the game should be a fairly easy 1k (20 hours?) assuming you can find a buddy to play with.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Open world gaming

I'm currently dabbling with Halo ODST, and found the set up of the game to be quite interesting. You play the new squad recruit and as you wander the almost abandoned city you stumble across clues about your teams whereabouts, which in turn lead to standalone missions in a flashback stylee.

You can take on some of the missions in whatever order you like, or you could just wander the city and search for collectibles while pummeling the Covenant you come across. It is obviously exploration-lite, but it got me thinking why there hadn't been a full blown attempt at an open world FPS. The idea makes sense and games like Oblivion and Fallout (though both are primarily RPG led) show that it is easily possible.

On a personal level I cannot say whether or not the idea would appeal to me - as I'm notoriously shy about playing open world games. I really just cannot get into them, I've bought the last three games in the GTA series and, after about an hours play on each, they have been consigned to gathered dust in short order. I actully didn't bother buying Red Dead either, as I knew I wouldn't get around to playing it and strangely I don't regret that decision one bit.

Maybe I just need one special game that will draw me into the whole open world set up, but I can't see that happening any time soon.

Anyway, Halo is done with but the inevitable trawl for collectibles begins. I've managed to find 28/29 of them in the city but have no idea which one I've missed, so the thought of going over the locations one by one is not something I'm looking forward to. Still it needs to be done, if only for my sanity.

I'm also within touching distance of the last boss on FFXIII, so I'll be getting that bad boy done this week too. Though that will only really be the beginning of my time with the game as I still need to get all of the weapons/accessories and level everyone up. What joy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why good stats matter

I'm not going to go on some kind of crazed rant about why little graphs, achievement points or 100% completion matters. Instead I would rather talk about those little behind the scenes issues that keep games ticking over and make sure that they accurately track your performance along the way. Obviously this kind of thing is more important than ever when it comes to achievements thanks to a plethora of "Get X kills with X" and other amazingly inventive ideas.

When you have a goal in sight then it really helps to know that:

A) Your progression towards that tally is being monitored, and....
B) That once you fulfill whatever mystical condition may be required, then you will be duly rewarded.

Games can help with A by having some lovely trackjing screens that show you exactly what you have done and how close you are towards completing said challenge. Good examples include The Darkness and Gears of War 2, both of which monitor your performance in terms of kills, chapter progression, games played and so on. It makes things remarkably easy to follow, and you do not end up wondering just when you will have played your 1,000th game (or whatever).

This kind of thing is sadly not as widespread as you would hope, but then it doesn't really need to be as long as the software is doing the same job quietly behind the scenes. So in either case, once you get to point B and have played your games, got your kills, or single handedly won the war then you can expect to get your reward.


.....any time now.

Any second.


There is nothing worse than KNOWING you have accomplished something and then being royally screwed out of your moment of glory. The issue hit home yet again as I was playing Assassins Creed Brotherhood last night. A few of us had got together in a private match (so we didn't upset the natives) to finish off some of the trickier multiplayer bonuses and snag Abstergo Employee of the Month. However, no matter how many different awards we got (and we got them all fo sho) it would not unlock for one member of my team. I will admit that I was kind of glad it wasn't me, but still felt the same pain.

We had all played the MP together and all gotten the same bonus tags and what not, so the reason for this issue is not entirely obvious. It also does not help that AC:B provides no way of tracking your progress or even seeing which bonuses you already have. Good work Ubi - and I know you can do better as I've seen the stat tracking on HAWX.

It reminded me of the horror of Gears of War, which actually had stat tracking, and yet despite my screen telling me I had 10k worth of online kills I still had to go and get another two thousand to get that damn achievement to unlock.

It just shows that these things are never as thoroughly tested as you would hope, and if you want gamers to put the time and effort into experiencing everything your game has to offer then do not shaft them at the finish line. I suppose it just goes to show that, even now, achievements are not really given the time they deserve in both a development or testing phase. Never mind that this is the exception - should it really happen at all?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Final Fanta...zzzzzzzzz!

Let me preface this blog by saying that I love Final Fantasy games in general. Obviously VII has a special place in my heart, but I also think Tactics is one of the greatest games of all time (I had the U.S import) and really enjoyed VIII, IX and X too. I have every single PS1 and PS2 Final Fantasy game in my collection and they will probably stay there - some things are too awesome to sell.


Final Fantasy XIII is easily the worst in the series so far. It is not just the amazingly linear nature of the game (which has been discussed to death) but also the fact that most of the sidequests come after you complete the game - why? - and the story and characters as so underdeveloped. The reason people loved VII was because of the great characters and superb stories. When a certain character died you actually CARED, hell I was still praying for some kind of miracle revival come the end of the game.

The newest title has none of that. The characters seem cold and unapproachable, and most of them seem far too self absorbed to really invest yourself into. Some of the dialogue is also pretty damn cheesy and does not really help to suck you into this, admittedly, gorgeous world. Plus the battle system almost insists on taking all the cool decisions away from you. Sure you could select your own attacks but then you would lose valuable time and get beat on - better to just hit Auto Battle time and time again.

With a sequel now in the works you would hope that Square will learn from some of the feedback and make a game that lives up to the series lofty traditions. Hopefully I will have finally finished off XIII by the time it arrives, as I'm in the process of polishing off the full 1k. With the majority of the Ci'eth missions and item grinding still to come it may take me some time, but hopefully I'll get there as it is pretty much the only title I'm playing right now.

Oh - other than Halo ODST, which I did some more of this morning. Annoyingly the tracking for the kill achievements seems to reset when you reload the game, grrr! Still killing Brutes with a plasma pistol never gets old, ha ha! If I could get two more games off my list I would be a happy bunny.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Money well spent?

I think everyone knows my opinion on DLC by now. I certainly like the idea behind it, as anything that can expand your favourite games is to be applauded, however, more often than not the DLC is underwhelming and not really value for money.

This weekend I played through the Noble map pack on Halo Reach, in a bid to snag the last 250 points I needed to finish off the game (again). Having put at least 80 hours into Reach already, most of which was online multiplayer or firefight, it was a bit of a shame that the new maps were not all that. Sure you can snag the points easy enough, it took about two hours to get them all, but the maps themselves are not a patch on the original stuff. Playing Invasion on Spire or Boneyard was always a blast, with the large maps offering muliple angles of approach, however the new Breakpoint map seems cramped and ill thought out in comparison. As a result it is easy to create killing bottlenecks that can only be broken by sheer luck it seems.

I think Reach was good fun while it lasted and I have no illusions about the fact that there will be more DLC in the future, but I doubt it will live up to the fun I've had with the core game. So if DLC is not really enhancing the experience then what is the point?

I finally managed to polish off Planet 51 as well, in the end I probably spent close to thirty hours on the game all told - which is far too long for a kids game really - as how many children are going to have that kind of attention span and dedication. Achievements on kids games are reknowned for being easy, but that is because they SHOULD be. These games should cater to their target audience, rather than throwing in a bunch of tasks that are a lengthy chore. The achievement crowd is still in the minority in terms of the 360 population and developers need to make their achievements fun for anyone that wants to go for them, while staying true to the game itself.

After getting that done I was kind of at a loss about what to play next. I have a bunch of games that have yet to be touched, plus even more that are semi-completed. In the end I went back to Final Fantasy XIII as it is a game a can work my way through at my own pace. At the moment I'm close to 40 hours in so there is still a lot to do. It does still bug me that I will complete the game soon (two chapters to go) and yet I will then have to spend all of the post game grinding for CP and items to get the full 1k. A badly thought out design methinks.

I've also gone back to the only incomplete Halo on my list, that being ODST, in a bid to finish it off. I'll focus on getting all of the single player stuff done first and then try and coral some people into doing the Firefight missions with me. It would be nice to put that one tobed seeing as it is not likely to garner anymore DLC in the near future.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Something different

I suppose my blog has been the same for quite some time now and, as much as I would love to get it redone in a professional manner, a quick change is for the best. To be honest the main reason if changed the layout is because my Raptr widget would not fit onto the old layour and it would not let me alter the page width either (weird).

So here we are.

Now that I've changed the layout once, I'll probably do it a whole bunch of times just until I find something I like. I also want a nice header for the top of the page but I'd probably have to find someone to help me out with such things as my computer art skills are sadly lacking.

Still I have finally put paid to Borderlands after 101 hours of toil, and now I'm back onto the joys of Planet 51. Some kids games are a joy to behold but this one does not fall into that particular category - instead it is a mind numbing crawl to completion that makes you suffer every step of the way. Thankfully I'm nearly done with it and I may well go back to playing Fallout New Vegas in a bid to get that bad boy done and dusted. It would be a good start to the year if I could chalk up a couple of the RPG's on my tag.

The rest of the stuff I've already started is a mixture of things I'll never complete (because I suck) or things I could easily polish off with a bit of effort. Though my to do list of untouched games is positively frightening. I'll have to take a picture of the horror.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Collectibles in games: good idea or cheap, game extending, gimmick?

Back in the day collectibles were just a bit of harmless fun, something to provide the player with an excuse for scouring the landscape and seeing hidden bits that they might have otherwise missed. However, with the advent of achievements they seem to have become something a little more sinister, at least in the eyes of some gamers.

Now do not get me wrong, collectibles can still be a valuable addition to a game if done correctly. The audio diaries in Bioshock help fill in the back story and give some superb insight into the characters around you, plus they are not so ludicrously hidden so that players would have a headache finding them.

Heck even before achievements and the like, I would track down hidden items within games and find all the secret areas just for kicks. Though only as long as it was within the confines of the game and still enjoyable.

On the flip side you have something like Crackdown with 800 orbs scattered around the city, sure they may help your abilities up to a point, but tracking them all down takes something away from the rest of the game. Sure no one is making you do it but, lets be honest, many gamers have a sense of OCD about these things. You may be getting more game for your buck, but is it time well spent?

The topic really came to mind as this week as I was trying to finish up Borderlands. The last DLC is made up of a bunch of collectible tasks, all of which are made that much worse by the fact the items you are trying to find are only random drops from a certain type of enemy. Not to mention the fact that the drop rate of said items is ludicrously low. Considering the fact you can complete the DLC in a couple of hours it seems odd that you could be spending up to ten times that just trying to scrabble together the last few bits and bobs. It seems like the tasks were purely put in to cover up for the shortness of the general content, and it grates.

It seems that most games nowadays have some kind of collectible tucked away, varying from the ridiculous to the sublime, and I think developers need to make them feel a lot more organic and even necessary to the game. I don't mind tracking down objects that will move the story forward, power up my character or at least help complete an objective - but having a few items scattered here there and everywhere for no pertinent reason is just a ploy to try and artificially lengthen a game. I've certainly yet to meet anybody that enjoys tracking down pointless objects for hours on end.

Obviously no one if forced to do these things, but if you have shelled out money for a game then you want to see everything it has to offer and, let's not kid ourselves, there is something amazingly alluring when you grab something and 1 of 10 etc pops up on screen. What will happen if you find them all? Only one way to find out.....

Collecting things is a powerful motivator (as the over hyped Pokemon series has shown us) but it is also one that needs to be taken more seriously and used a lot more carefully. Integrate collectibles from the get go, don't just add them in as an afterthought.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Those damn bunnies

Every now and then I will find myself just completly not bothered about playing games and yet, at the same time, will want to play something, ANYTHING. In those circumstances I usually fall back on games I pretty much deem as impossible completions - any kind of music game (damn you Guitar Hero) or arcade titles like Geometry Wars or Boogie Bunnies.

BOOGIE BUNNIES?! Why sir, surely that is a game for mere children? (I'm assuming that is the thought that would go through the mind of most people).

However, rest assured that it is one of the toughest games (in my opinion) on XBLA. The game has actually been completed by far fewer people than Geometry Wars, though has probably been bought by far fewer people too, and is fairly brutal.

The idea is simple, match up three or more similarly coloured bunnies to score points, earn enough points and you move onto the next level. You fire bunnies at a wall of their counterparts in order to make chains and combos. On Classic mode the line of bunnies moves forward a step after you fire every third bunny, if they move forward too much then they will topple into the water costing you points and, ultimately, the game.

The problem is that the further you get then the more colours of bunny you see, and linking them up becomes a nightmare. The latter achievements see you having to clear ten levels in a row without losing a single bunny - which is a nightmare. I actually got to the last beach level over the weekend without losing one of the critters but then, well, I'm sure you can guess. Assuming I did get through that level then I have to repeat the trick on the Hollywood missions. After that I would then have to clear Arcade mode, where the pesky rabbits move forward at a steady interval so you have less time for planning. The horror.

Despite the nagging feeling that I will never quite manage the full 200 points, I do still enjoy falling back to the game to relax and just pass a bit of time. It is fairly relaxing, and just a bit of fun as most old school puzzle games usually are. It certainly makes a refreshing change to the constant pursuit of points or playing the next dubious review title.

It reminds me that, before my Xbox and all those crazy achievements, I regularly used to have a game that I would play just for fun. Something that I could spend some time on without a specific goal. Usually it would be Pro Evo on the PS2, or even the original Ghost Recon on the XBox (just tackling missions solo with a sniper rifle or similar). I think it's a good habit to have and certainly stops me playing games that could possibly frustrate me just for the sake of it.

In other news, I have my first retail completion of 2011. As I finished up the original 1k in Borderlands, not to mention most of the DLC, so I'm finally up and running. I still have one mission left to complete on the Knoxx DLC and then some time consuming (apparently) collecting on the Claptrap DLC before I have the full 1750, but that should just be a matter of time.

In fact I have a number of games on the 1750 threshold now, which is weird when I'm basically getting two games worth of points from one title. I've already knocked off Lips, Halo 3 and Dragon Age (finished up the last of that DLC over the weekend too) and I have Borderlands and Gears 2 on the cusp. To be honest, more and more games will probably hit this mark and I'm still not sure that the quality of DLC matches the investment required. Time will tell, but I feel that the 1750 mark has been, and will continue to be, a purely money making scheme rather than one promoting quality content.

I hope I'm proven wrong in the long run though.

The only other gaming activity I've taken part in revolves around Planet 51. It is a game I reviewed a while back, but it was such a drag that I didn't put it on my main account. Sadly my wife decided to play the game while I was out at Gamescom last year, unlocking that dreaded ONE achievement that meant I could not delete it. So now I am slogging through the game again, trying to do all of the tasks and snag all of the collectables. If anything I hate it more the second time around as it all feels like such a chore - but I suppose that is an argument that could be levelled at most achievements.

Hopefully I'll have it done this week and then I can move onto something far more enlightening. Though I still have more than a few games still demanding my attention in the back catalogue.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

What makes a great game?

I've been playing a lot of Borderlands recently - pretty much 70 odd hours worth in the last month alone - and the thought struck me that I wasn't enjoying the game as much as I thought I would.

For a title that had garnered so many game of the year awards, and a bucketload of general praise, I was surprised that the final product did not quite live up to expectations. Perhaps it is just not my kind of game, but I do like shooters and I love RPG's so a mix of the two should be ideal and that isn't even mentioned four player co-op which is how I experience most of Pandora.

I think the main problem is the almost total lack of story and interaction. For an RPG the story is pretty sparse and just consists of mission logs that you can read and the occasional character that pops up on screen to yak at you. I do love some of the humourous touches and dialogue but it all seems just few and far between. It doesn't help matters that most of the missions are just the same old thing over and over again - find something then trek back or kill something then trek back. With such a vast open environment the lack of variety really becomes stifling.

Some of the DLC also does not help matters as the Mad Moxxi arenas are a longwinded waste of time, and one that does not even net you any experience despite the fact you are offing hundreds of foes. A similar experience is in the Knoxx DLC, with the tiresome Circle of Duty mission dragging on for far too long as well. Not to mention the lack of fast travel between areas within the DLC meaning that you have to trek between missions and drive down the same tiresome roads.

Now don't get me wrong - I have had plenty of fun with the game, especially in co-op. But it is not the diamond in the rough I had been expecting. I suppose it just goes to show, ince again, that games are always going to be a personal preference and nothing, no matter how hyped, will ever appeal to everyone.

The end is in sight for my trek through Borderlands as I just have a couple of odd bits to finish up from the DLC and then I can move on - but I think once that happens I'll be glad it is over rather then sad I'm moving on.