Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Game, Set and Match

It has been a good week for polishing off tennis titles, as not only did I finally get to Grade 15 online in Top Spin 4 (and finish up the few offline things I still had knocking about) but I also found the time to polish off Virtua Tennis 09 too.

Considering the fact that I was expecting to be playing VT09 for another five weeks this is a starling turn of events and came thanks to an anonymous tip from a guy who had been looking to boost but then found a faster way. Apparently every player you create on the game can access a new set of online tour matches, meaning that you can just keep creating new players winning 16 matches and so on. So you can snag the full 150 tour wins in a day or so, especially as the second player can just forfeit. WHY DIDN'T I KNOW THIS SOONER?

Still it meant a rapid conclusion to a game that has been ongoing for months, and I can finally play something else, ha ha!

So after getting tired of whacking balls about, I have moved onto The Club again. I'd briefly dabbled with the online but made an effort this week to get all of the online stuff done (barring the 10k worth of kills naturally). I figured that I can then spend an hour a day chipping away at the massive target of kills that I need in order to get it done ASAP. My only real concern is that the servers may be shut down which is what happened to the PS3 version, so I really need to get cracking. I have close to 600 kills at the moment so there is still a long ass way to go.

In other news I have reviewed both Lego Star Wars III and WWE All Stars. Both games disappointed me for different reasons to be honest. Lego was more of the same but the split screen mode was pretty broken and the story was appalling and severely lacking in direction - plus the game just seems to end, with no real conclusion.

WWE was a lot more fun but it has a very steep learning curve for a game that is meant to be a quick bit of entertainment. Mastering the controls is an art form in itself and for such a shallow game it hardly seemed worth it. I did love the Fantasy match ups and using all of the amazing old school characters but on the whole I cannot help but feel shortchanged.

Still, not every game can be an instant classic and I'm sure both will have their fans. For me though I'm still waiting for a game to truly blow my mind this year, whereas at the same stage last year I'd already had things like Darksiders, Bayonetta and Bioshock 2 to entertain me. Hopefully business will pick up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lazy time

I've been pretty slack on the blogging front recently, which is unusual as there has been a number of occasions when I have felt like writing about something but have never really gotten around to it. I even fired up my blog more than once with the intention to get some words down but sheer slackness prevented me.

So I suppose there is some catching up to be done.

I did manage to finish off Gray Matter, though I had to revert to an earlier save in order to get the last achievement (for 1,000 conversations) but it only took another hour or so so was no big deal in the grand scheme of things. My assessment of the game remains the same, as it is a cracking old school adventure title though one that is a bit lacking graphically and will probably last less than ten hours with very little replay value. Still well worth a play though.

I also managed to blitz through Pacman CE DX in double quick time. I really love the Pacman games and I've finished off every version available on XBLA to date. There is something about the CE versions of the game that really appeal to me, as the crazy high scores, shifting levels and tight time limits all combine to make a truly entertaining experience. Sadly the games are pretty brief in terms of achievements and points, which is a shame as with the amount of games I play I never really have a chance to go back to things like this.

In the same arcade style vein, I also polished off Plants vs Zombies which I totally loved. My better half actually cajoled me into playing it and I'm glad she did. It is a quality tower defense game, of sorts, and is pretty intense and funny to boot. The story mode pretty much just teaches you the basics of all of the plants and level types, then you can take that knowledge into the Puzzle and Survival modes. I actually found myself completing all of the little trophies in the games (for no achievement - which is a first for me) just for the hell of it. The ultimate accolade is doing well in Endless Survival and I managed to hang on for 70 waves, though I then got a little borde so went and dismatled my defences so I could go to bed. My score still shames everyone on my friends list, but I could have probably gone on further if I had the stamina - ah well.

In non-achievement news, I also went back to Geometry Wars for a dabble. I didn't manage to survive 1 million points - mainly because I suck. But I did manage to best two of my friends scores which was satisfying on its own. To date that is probably still one of my favourite arcade games, which is good going considering how old it is now.

In other gaming news I've been lured back into the sordid world of tennis. After coming so close to finishing off Virtua Tennis 09 (barring a few weeks of tournaments) it seems painful to have another tennis game come along so soon. Thankfully Top Spin 4 is a different animal and is much more tactical and realistically paced. I'm enjoying it thus far though I never knew that Tennis would lead to vast amounts of trash talk - the number of people who gloat when they beat me online, or moan if the opposite happens, is staggering. I fail to see why people take online matches so personally - if you beat me, well done, and I would expect the same response if the reverse was true. Instead people bitch and moan instead of just moving on and having fun. Hopefully I'll be able to finish the game up fairly soon and then be able to avoid the horror of online competitiveness.

Oh yeah, I also started up The Club but got interrupted by my tennis review duties so only managed to unlock a few online achievements before having to put it on the back burner.I'll get back into it soon enough no doubt. Well, there is some doubt, but not much.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Puzzling, culling and completing

The review business if finally picking up again. I spent the weekend playing through Gray Matter, a point and click game without that self same interface. In fact the fiddly controls were the major let down for me as the rest of the game was pretty fun - the graphics were not stellar, but the storytelling and plot were superb which is what really matters in old school adventure games like this.

It made me think of my old favourites like Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky and Grim Fandango, and the fact that we just do not see as many games of that particular ilk anymore. Hopefully that will change but I'm not too hopeful. Though at least Gray Matter was something new to experience and hopefully it will do well enough to spawn a sequel, as the writing was genuinely compelling with some superb characters and voicework.

Yay, for somthing new and fresh to occupy my mind. It's nice to get away from the same old shooters now and then, rather than just going through the same motions in a game that looks amazingly like something else. If only more developers took a chance on games like Gray Matter then perhaps people would have a more varied choice of interesting titles.

In other news I have finally started to cull my ludicrously large collection of Xbox 360 games and probably not before time.

Obviously I have played a lot of games over the years, more than a few for gamerscore alone no doubt, and for every game I've actually played there have been two or three others that have been bought and shoved onto a shelf. The other day I actually sat down and browsed through my collection - pulling out a bunch of games still in the plastic wrap (15-20 at least) which is just embarrasing.

While I always believe that I will go back and play games given the time, the reality is that it is pretty unlikely to happen no matter what. Faced with that I decided to trade in a bunch of games that I've never even touched.

Virtua Tennis 3 (after slogging through 09 this is the last thing I want to play), Call of Juarez, Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa and Brothers in Arms (which I have completed, but kept in case I ever went for the 0 point achievements - I won't, so it goes) were the games in question, I also traded in de Blob 2 in as I had finished off the full 1k, but they are really just the tip of the iceberg. I actually brought VT 3 back with me as it was only worth £1, and if I trade it against a new game I will be guaranteed £5 so it was worth keeping back for that purpose alone.

I think my shelves will get another visit soon, as I really need to be brutal with some of the stuff I have sat on there. The only games that are safe are Collector's Editions and Steelbook stuff - which would explain why I still have Endwar and Far Cry 2. Considering I can think of another 5-6 games right now that I'd like to be shut of then it will not take me long to make my collection manageable again.

Though I do admit to feeling slightly bad about getting rid of things like Mirrors Edge, GTA 4 et al without ever even trying them out - but will I? Honestly? I doubt it, so better to get rid of them now than later.

On the plus side I have polished off de Blob 2 and Gray Matter in the same week so at least I'm making some progress on newer games this year. Virtua Tennis 09 is pretty much done with as well with only Tournament wins in my way now, as of this morning I'm at 64/150 which is some kind of progress at least. I've also gotten close to completing Plants vs Zombies and I'm working my way through the shorter Survival modes in order to unlock the Endless version for the last achievement.

This week I'll be firing up Two Worlds 2 at long last, plus in the mornings I will try out the new Pacman CE Dx edition which I've been looking forward to as well as playing some of the online stuff for The Club. Bring on the pain.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I now hate tennis......

Well maybe not, but we all love a dramatic headline that can then be examined and prodded like some kind of lab rat in the ensuing blurb. Well, that's my story anyway - and I'm sticking with it.

After a couple of weeks on toil I finally have my 250 Ranked wins in Virtua Tennis 09. To be honest the whole process veered between the simple and the frustrating, often in the space of a few minutes. The online community for the game is pretty much dead and the only people I seemed to find online were from France, Belgium and Spain (maybe tennis is more popular on the continent?) with the occasional newcomer from elsewhere.

In fact my second account has a Recently Played list that is pretty much all of the VT09 regulars at this point in time. Which made it easy for me to check when people were online or already in a match.

The best approach, in my opinion, was to play the game as early as possible. As I could rack up 30 wins in the hour before I went to work if I was lucky (7.30am - 8.30am GMT). The real issue was the fact that just ONE other person could wreck my efforts and some of these people were sneaky bastards with amazing levels of patience to boot. One guy literally sat searching for a game for 30 minutes - he would then go away and play one mini-game before coming back to do the same thing. I got around him by setting my status to Appear Offline though - which goes to show that he must have been looking at my profile to see if I was still online.

Still I got everything done and dusted this morning. So now I can just do Player matches at my leisure, and then play the game once a week for my Tournament wins - which means another seven weeks to go.

I've also been chipping away at de Blob 2, which is still pretty fun for the most part though after doing ten of the twelve levels the novelty has kind of worn off. Still I should complete it in the next few days, all going well, and that will be one more thing off my to do list.

Next up is The Club and another 10k worth of online kills - though at least I can do it solo which should ease the burden somewhat.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Games night and other tall tales

Every month or so, I invite a bunch of chums over to my house so that we can indulge in some gaming. Obviously everyone can get their kicks out of beating up/shooting others via Xbox Live, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as getting one over on close friends.

Basically I hook up my two Xbox consoles, set up the TV's and then we play Halo and Gears until the sun goes down. This time around there were seven of us and we pretty much played Halo from about 7pm until 2am. Good times. Most of the games were pretty close and there is always a good level of banter and ridiculousness. Not to mention enough cool moments to fill a highlight reel for life. Not to mention some dark times too - like when my idiot teammate managed to kill off one of our own team and then himself in the last second of a match, turning a victory into a draw. Nice.

We also order copious amounts of pizza, eat dubious nachos and drink far too many fizzy beverages than is good for us. Surprising then that pretty much every attendee is either married or engaged to be, which just goes to show that having a social life and having a gaming life do not have to be seperate entities.

I also managed to play some Horde with some of the early arrivals, finishing off the Blood on the Snad achievement in the process, and pimp the whole of Harm's Way on the Arcade. A fun night on the whole, plus the joy of pizza and a few achievements. What could be better?

After that I just kind of cruised through the rest of the weekend. I managed to finish off all of the single player tasks on Virtua Tennis 2009, though the last few minigames were a nightmare to max out, so now I just need four more Gold medals to get the full 1k. All of them are online tasks and two of them are tied to online tournaments specifically. Hopefully I will have the Ranked and Player matches done with by the end of this week - which will leave me needing 102 more Online tournaments wins to get that elusive completion. With a max of 16 tournaments a week, that means another seven weeks of toil (though the actual playing of the events only takes an hour). So roll on the end of April!

I also went back to de Blob 2 in a bid to continue my quest for collectibles. The game has far too many of them to be honest, and with no real way to save the game it can become a real chore if you die - I ended up having to redo a bunch of challenges three times due to constant deaths at one point which was hardly fun times. Despite that, I have fully completed eight of the twelve levels at this point so hopefully the end is in sight.

After that I will be turning my attention to Gray Matter and Two Worlds 2 - hopefully they can prove to be an interesting diversion, and a nice stream of points too of course.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Painting by numbers and hidden MP

My current review project is de Blob 2 - a sequel to a Wii game in case you didn't know. To be honest I was expecting the usual kiddy style shovelware and an easy 1k worth of achievement points. However, the game is actually pretty fun and I've already put 10 hours into the game and still have a bunch of stuff to do, so this is not a game for the quick completion pile.

The idea is that evil Comrade Black wants the world to be as drabbly black and white as he is, so sets about making that dream a reality. It is up to our paint charged hero to then restore the natural hues of the fair city and stamp out this monochrome menace once and for all.

In terms of how it plays then we are firmly in platformer territory here, with a side order of painting and decorating thrown in. Blob uses his powers to clean up the town, defeat foes and solve various puzzles along the way. It is a pretty nice change of pace from my usual fare and I'm really getting into it, though the collectibles and challenges on each level are becoming a major grind. Still I recommend people check it out and hopefully my review will be up shortly.

Next up will be Grey Matter, an old school point and click game which I'm quite looking forward to. It has been a while since I sunk my teeth into something new from that particular genre so I'll be taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny. The key for me will be the dialogue though, as such exposition heavy games need a great plot to drive them along.

In the mean time I'm still working away at Virtua Tennis 09. I'm pretty much done in terms of everything barring gold medals, as the only solo achievements I need are 3 Strikes in a row on the bowling mini game and to beat King (and unlock him). I should have those wrapped up at the end of my current solo season so I have downed tools on that for the moment. Instead I've focused all of my efforts on the online aspects of the game.

It does actually annoy me (considerably) that the devs saw fit to put two easy online achievements in the mix (simply PLAY 10 Player mataches and 10 Ranked matches - not even win) and then hid the real graft behind one achievement worth 25g. You could probably get to 975 points in less than 30 hours if you were so inclined, but then you are looking at 80+ hours for the last achievement. Madness.

Anyway, I've currently done about 50 Player match wins, out of 250, which is the easiest to do as I can invite a friend, and just play 1 game, 1 set.

Then I have 121 Ranked wins (again out of 250) which is more of a pain as there are still a few commited players and the lag in legit matches is horrendous. I tried playing a few people and more often than not I would hit the ball, it would show as going past the player on my screen and then the ball would suddenly reappear halfway across the net on my side of the court - point lost. What the hell?

Instead I set up matches with my second account, usually as early in the morning as I can to avoid other people, and then crank out as many wins as I can manage before getting interrupted. Considering I only started on Saturday then my progress is pretty good. I hope to have the required amount by the same time next week.

The real grind, in terms of time not difficulty, are the Online Tournament wins. As I can currently only manage 16 a week maximum assuming I play all of the two player events and no one else hops in, then the events get reset on a Sunday night. I managed to grab all 16 wins last Thursday and a further 16 on Monday. So I'm sat at 32 out of 150 needed. Meaning another eight weeks work at the very least. Damn it all to hell.

To say I will be super happy when I get to 1k is an understatement, plus I know for a fact this is a game that very few others have completed too. Double awesome. Hopefully, I'll have everything bar the Online Tournaments done by next week and then I can pretty much put it to bed except for sporadic play.