Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Is This Thing On?

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Musings

Wow, almost a whole year without a single post. In a professional portfolio. *Kicks self*

So here’s what happened…

After ThatGamingSite, Alltern8 and ConnectedConsoles all began to falter and shut down, I found myself wondering what I was doing. I’d put some serious time into writing for those sites, at the expense of my paying job, and at the end of it all, I didn’t really know if it was all worth it. I threw myself into my job, sometimes working up to fifty hours a week, and began writing a novel (about 90% done). I still write for Movie-Moron, but it’s much more sporadic – the occasional review, really.

Now I’m going to pick myself back up and get in the game again. I had a curious chance meeting with an old associate at the Eurogamer Expo last week and he made me remember what I loved about the writing. The only thing I’d done wrong was to overdo it.

So I’m going to do my best to write for one site at a steady pace. I’ll let you know what I end up doing soon.

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On Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Musings
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I wanted to have my review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution up by now. I really did. Reviews for the game were glowing with praise across the board and I was very excited when I finally borrowed it from my housemate.

Then I started playing it and everything went wrong.

It’s such a strange game. Half of it is good – almost superb, in fact – but the other 50% is pure, undiluted shit. To start with, the text is incredibly small. If you happen to play this on a TV screen that’s smaller than, say, an entire wall, you won’t be able to read half of what is going on. Emails, ebooks, plot-relevant reams of text, you name it – you can’t see any of it.

Another point is that the game is more buggy than an anthill covered in honey. Some side quests can become impossible to finish if an enemy glitches out of existence, guards can sometimes be killed by your non-lethal tranquilliser gun, you can even accidentally slaughter a guard if the glitch occurs while you move their unconscious body out of the way.

Something else that pissed me off was the fact that you have to spend your vaulable Praxis upgrades kits on expanding your inventory. Why? What’s wrong with spending credits purchasing larger pockets? Why must you be forced to choose between a useful upgrade and a ludicriously minor one that shouldn’t inconvience you at all?

While the game is a thoughtful one, rewarding you for sneaking through areas and not going in guns blazing, the achievements make little sense, as you seem to be rewarded for doing things that are completely at odds with how you should play the game. One achievement will unlock if you toss a man off a roof (going against the achievement for not killing anyone at all), another will reward you for letting a guilty man escape justice and another will unlock if you choose not to hand over a piece of evidence to a grieving mother. Um, what?

I’m almost at the end of Deus Ex, an experience that oscilates wildly between entertaining stealth and hateful mechanics (why do you have to stop and listen to every single guard’s conversation when you try and sneak through an area?) I’m now in a position where I can’t see any way to progress. I’m in a boss fight with the final mercenary and my augmentations have been turned off (I was probably warned about this in some document or other, but I couldn’t read the blasted things). Naturally, I have been playing the game without trying to kill anyone, so I have very little ammunition. I am also playing the game on Hard. And now I am stuck.

So that’s my experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – mostly excellent stealth pretty much destroyed by the game it’s in.

On Those Special Games

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Musings
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What is it about Resident Evil 4? I only ask because I’m sitting here in front of the Xbox, watching the download bar slowly fill as I wait to play the game again. Problem is, this will be the fourth version of the game I’ve played.

Resident Evil 4 changed the gaming world, reinventing third-person gaming and giving players a masterpiece to enjoy again and again. It’s now seven years and has appeared on the GameCube, PS2, Wii, PC and now the 360. I bought the game on launch day for the Cube and played it for a solid week, loving every second of it. The set pieces. The characters. The tension provided by the ammo-enemies ratio. THe incredible action. All of it was brilliant.

When the game was ported to PS2, I travelled to Reading to help a friend play the Mercenaries bonus game and check out the additional content. While the game didn’t look or feel right on the PS2 (those analogue sticks were always wrong, somehow), the game was still good fun.

Then the game was ported to Wii. Once again, I bought it on launch day and spent a whole week reliving the masterpiece. The Wii version was the best one yet, providing the incredible graphics of the Cube version with all the added content of the PS2 release. The only downside was the fact that the pointer controls made it a hell of a lot easier to shoto enemies, thus reducing the fear factor.

Now it’s here again. I’ve purchased it on launch day (again), with money I don’t have (again) and will happily throw several more hours into the game (again). Why, I ask myself, why?

Because it’s worth it, that’s why. Every gamer has their favourite, a particular title they’d drop everything for in an instant and Resident Evil 4 is mine. The fact that the series is being rebooted just one game on from this masterpiece proves how flawless it is. While the gameplay may have aged, the characters, set pieces, heart-pounding fear and constant adrenaline have not and never will. Resident Evil 4 is back. All hail the king.

Come in, put your feet up. Would you like a drink? Why, yes, I have been away, thanks for asking. I went to Orlando, Florida.

It was incredible. I was fortunate enough to go there ten years ago, and now I’ve gone back. It’s perhaps twice as good as I remember, simply because this time my brother and I hit all the rollercoasters we could. The Hulk – a big, bad mother that launches you away at 60 mph – was utterly brilliant. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was also fantastic, featuring Hogsmeade, Hogwarts and several other key locations such as the Three Broomsticks. It was also the first place everyone chose to go as soon as the park opens, meaning that, if you don’t get in there asap, you aren’t getting in there for, oooh, hours.

So, yes, now I’m back. With a post-holiday bank balance to match. Eeesh. Happily, there is plenty of work going at the moment, so something resembling normal service can now resume.

So… where have I been?

Posted: June 25, 2011 in Musings
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It’s been a mental month.

Firstly, changes to the house. Two out, two in. The house still looks like a bombsite a week later. No access to the living room – therefore, no Wii or Xbox. Mercifully, I made sure to keep my 3DS out of the carnage, otherwise I would be going spare.

Loads of people have been ill or on holiday at work, so I’m now working as much as possible. These shifts tend to be the most unsociable hours going and leave me little time to do anything else.

That Gaming Site has shut down. Connected Consoles appears to be beginning its own death spiral. So I’ve decided to focus on this portfolio for the time being. I’ve written a bunch of reviews for this (Doctor Who, several 3DS games, etc), but haven’t had the time to do anything with them. So now they’re all going to get the posting treatment. Yay.

The first thing that becomes apparent when you boot up the 3DS fresh out of the box is that it’s a miracle machine with the potential to change gaming forever. Whacking up the 3D slider to full for the first time is an unforgettable experience: the background literally warps away into the distance, leaving a clear distinction between that and the text in the fore. The 3D effect is an outstanding one, made all the more impressive by just how effective it is. The slider is easy to position, allowing it to be placed just right for each player’s eye.

After you’ve set up the system to your specifications, you get to take the 3DS online or (if you’re Anne Diamond) set up parental controls to crack down on fun. A quick update from the servers gives you a free demo video – nothing special, just some landscape shots set to funky music, but what it suggests is a wonderful future of full 3D movies in the palm of your hand. In perfect clarity.

The 3DS comes pre-loaded with several Wii-style channels. There’s the 3DS Camera, positioned on both the outer and inner lid, that can take 3D photos at any time by pressing one of the shoulder triggers. 3DS Sound allows players to stick music on their SD card (free with the console) and listen to it whenever.

The Mii Maker returns from the Wii, allowing you to create even more monstrosities with added content and to transfer your existing Miis over. You can also take a photo of people and have the Mii Maker create a face based on it, or scan a QR (Quick Response) image and upload a whole new one. The Wii’s Activity Log makes a return appearance here, as does a channel devoted entirely to Health and Safety. Bloody killjoys.

There are a couple of short demonstration features with the console. First up is Face Raiders, an amusing point-and-shoot title where your face (or those of your loved one/ people on the bus) gets drafted into playing the role of a villain. You then have to swivel, turn and move your body to aim at the attackers, using the built-in gyroscope to point the screen. It’s a short, fun, highly amusing blast that provides a great introduction to the software. More impressive is the Augmented Reality game that utilises the six AR cards provided with the console. In AR, you have to place a card on a flat surface and aim at it with the system. before long, the camera is distorting the surface of the image – be it a table, garden, or sleeping partner’s forehead – and unleashing a pleasing collection of minigames that encourage movement like Face Raiders. Best of the bunch is probably Shooting, as you then get the hilarious sight of a giant dragon emerging from whatever background you’ve chosen.

However, the best features are the most subtle ones. Keeping Nintendo’s tradition of social activity and personal health alive is the excellent StreetPass feature. If you turn on the wireless connection and close the lid without turning off the system, the 3DS keeps a track of how many steps you walk, converting these into Play Coins (ten per day, 300 in total). These can be used in the Mii Plaza, to purchase puzzle tiles to complete images, or to hire heroes in the lightweight yet fun RPG mode. In addition to this, if your 3DS comes into contact with another player’s, your Miis will swap over, bearing gifts for each other and adding to your Mii Plaza count. You’re encouraged to meet as many people as you possibly can and, quite bizarrely, it’s incredibly satisfying to have new faces appear in your Plaza.

In addition, the hateful Friend Codes are (almost) abandoned. While you still need to swap codes with a friend to have them appear on your 3DS, you only need to do it once. After that, you’re saved onto each other’s systems in a profile screen similar (but as not as comprehensive) to that of Xbox LIVE. You can see what the other is playing and leave a message – although rude text will be censored.

You can also return to the home menu at any time simply by pressing the button. The genius is that the game will simply pause quietly in the background. This will allow you to make notes, check your online friends, notifications and – in a future update – surf the internet. All while the game waits paitently for you to return.

It’s brilliant, no doubt about it. But the system isn’t perfect. For one thing, battery life is shocking. With full brightness, wireless and 3D all on at the same time, you’re looking at a battery that will last for a mere three or so hours. After you sort out the brightness and turn the wireless off when it’s not needed, that can last up to five hours – but that is not going to do down well when the big games roll out. Who’s going to want to play Ocarina of Time or Resident Evil: Revalations for just a few hours at a time? Anyone with sense can practically smell the inevitable 3DS Lite re-release with improved battery life.

Also, if you play in the sunlight, the 3D gimmick fails to work. It’s a strange one, but if direct sunlight falls on the screen, then the optical illusions fails to trick your eyes into seeing a 3D image. Instead, the screen will only blur when you slide the 3D bar.

While the battery issues can’t really be ignored, the 3DS is undoubtedly a work of genius, transforming a stagnating playing field into something fresh and exciting. The gimmick is a small one, and there aren’t many games out for it right now, but this is definately technology to get behind.

I’ve been playing a lot of Dead Space 2 lately. Mostly because it’s a very good game, but the other side of it is that Dead Space 2 has what might be considered among the finest gaming challenges: Hardcore mode.

Unlocked after completing the game for the first time, Hardcore is a totally different kettle of fish. Enemies are tough, every bit as dangerous as they are on the previous hardest difficulty, and ammo is just as scarce. In fact, ammo is one third as plentiful as it is on the easiest difficulty, meaning that the standard Plasma Cutter gets just three extra rounds for every drop, as opposed to nine rounds. This forces cunning use of the ability to grab and throw dangerous items at enemies, as well as intelligent use of the game’s stronger weapons (which are now a hell of a lot less useful.)

On top of this is the fact that you can’t use any of your previous save files to help you out. If you start a Hardcore run, you do it from scratch – bad weapons, basic health bars, the works. The only advantage you might have is that your downloaded weapons and suits will be waiting for you in the store, but you have to survive around half an hour in order to get to them.

Is that not hard enough? Nope, there’s more. There are no checkpoints and you can only save three times. Yep. It’s quite brilliant, really. The game is between four and eight hours long (depending on how much running away you do) and you can only save three times. Just imagine how ridiculously intense the game becomes, knowing that the slightest foul-up will undo hours of your hardest work.

Naturally, I’ve been giving it a try. I’ve had to rely on a few online guides here and there, just to have some idea of where to save. The most common advice is around chapter three or four (out of fifteen).

If only I could get that far! The Necromorphs have become some kind of super intelligent hive mind that somehow read my thoughts and manage to position themselves in the worst possible places. It probably doesn’t help that I’m in a state of panic, due to the knowledge that I’ll lose everything if I get killed. It doesn’t help that the game opens with an unskippable ten minute cutscene that you have to watch every single time you restart.

So that’s me, getting torn apart in deepest space, simply for the satisfaction of doing it. If that doesn’t convince you that it’s worth my time, check this out:

It’s a foam hand that owns everything it’s pointed at! C’mon!! I never thought I’d see a weapon greater than the Hand Cannon from Resi 4… it’s gotta be worth it.

Other than that, I’ve been getting stuck into the online multiplayer on Dead Space 2. It’s phenomenal. Quite simplistic and limited, but it’s so much fun. Four humans try to complete a series of objective, while four Necromorphs try and force them to run out of time. Chaotic, intense, hilarious and bloody good fun, it’s become a brand new addiction. Yes… another one.