Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

I'm a huge Mario Kart fan. I've owned and played to death every version on every console. He’s the Mac daddy of kart racers and nobody, not even the Bandicoot could topple the fat mans reign. Now, it seems Sonic wants to get in on the act.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is heading to all home consoles, PC and DS later this month and actually looks as if its going to be giving the moustachioed plumber a decent run for his money.
I've played the demo on 360 which features Banjo and Kazooie as the console specific cameos and it plays well. Fast, slick and incredibly pleasing to the eye.
If the full game can deliver on its promise of varied tracks, with a decent amount of power ups, entertaining weapons and decent multiplayer, then we could have a genuine contender to the throne of karting games party maestro, or summat along those lines...

I'm downloading the PS3 demo as we speak and will update more when I get my grubby little mitts on the full games in a few weeks. I say games because along with a home console version I'll no doubt fork out for a DS version too.

Resident Evil 5 DLC 'Lost in Nightmares'

I've just gone out and purchased Resident Evil 5 (this is the second time I've brought this title after trading it in after completing it last year)ready for a co-op play through of the new DLC on Monday night.

Returning to the Mansion of the first game, 'Lost in Nightmares' fills in a blank from a flash back cut scene featured in the actual game.
Apart from primarily being more puzzle based I don't know a huge amount about this new chapter but I'm very excited to be going back to a game that although flawed was a fun co-op experience.

I'll report back Monday night, Tuesday morning with my initial thoughts and summary.

Lost in Nightmares is available now on XBL for 400mp, and £3.99 on PSN.

Demon's Souls A-Z

You die, a lot. You hear that when reading about this game. It's true. The game is uncompromising in its difficulty, which is pretty much on a plateau. It doesn't get harder or have easy levels to work through.
Anything and everything can kill you no matter how many hours you've played, what does change though is your knowledge of the enemies attack patters, short cuts and when to dodge through a door before quickly turning and fire-bombing that demonic mother to ashes.
Forget A-B, this is A-Z. Every time you reach a new 'letter' you're almost guaranteed to die and sent back to A to work your way through again.
It’s the few steps closer every time that makes it highly compelling and addictive.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Grand Theft Ought to: Think Of A Better Title

I’ve touched upon the subject of (irrational?) excitement on the lead up to a game before. I mention this because it’s happening again. But the emotions I’m experiencing this time are wholly different and if I’m honest, a little worrying.

The game in question is Grand Theft Auto 4. I, like many hundreds of thousands of others, am extremely excited or ‘pumped’ as some would say about the new instalment in the seminal crime-play series. I’m aware of friends who are as excited as me, we’ve even discussed possible ways of getting our grubby hands on copies before general release. Even with all this camaraderie and conversation over this new release, it’s making me feel incredibly lonely and isolated.

I’m literally counting down the hours, ok I’m lying, I just did it on a calculator (153), but the anticipation is at boiling point. The game has gone ‘gold’ and my copy(s) are sitting in a truck or warehouse somewhere. I imagine a big beam of light emanating from the disk and shining brightly into the early evening sky. I can follow this beacon of goodness and greet my copy with open arms and tears of joy. I’m a geek, a nerd, a bit weird and above all else ‘sad’. I know this, but I don’t care. Even though it’s having a detrimental effect on my sleeping and eating patterns, these all consuming thoughts are giving me a sense of purpose and fuzziness. Not unlike that feeling of having a drink in a pub garden and you can smell the aroma on a fledging bbq, the meat is coming…..
And these meaty thoughts are evolving into little stories and scenarios, scenes if you will that I hope to be carrying out in but a few days time. An example..

I’m walking down a suburban street, I spot a man getting out of a sports car. I run up behind, push him aside and hop in. I spend the next few minutes evading police detection and getting to a nice open road. Once I know I’m safe I switch on the radio, some cool tunes begin to fuel my driving, I weave between the light traffic. I see a police car up ahead. I don’t know why but I decide to clip it as I drive past. I also fire a few shots behind with my pistol. They give chase. I keep them at bay for a while until I see the road end and a cliff edge approaching. I slow down so I’m beside the police car. I manage to shoot both occupiers. The driver’s head lands on the wheel making the horn sound, and his foot goes heavy on the accelerator. The car shoots forward and over the cliff, as I approach the edge with a manic grin I see a police helicopter rise up beyond the edge and it begins to open fire. I hit the pedal and manage to take the chopper down with me into a big ball of flames at the waters edge.

I don’t know what these kinds of thoughts say about me but I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of playing these kind of set pieces. Maybe it’s the longing to carry out all these tasks without fear of reprisal or bodily harm and/or death? We’ve all had those dreams of incredible self-embodiment, where you can fly or run really, really fast; you’re invincible. Doing these things we can only ‘dream’ of is partly realised in these games. It’s the ultimate escapism. And the real world setting makes it a little more appealing than say the Mushroom Kingdom.

This case is argued a lot in the media, with the hate mongers quick to say that if people are to enjoy these experiences in a game, then they’re likely to commit them in ‘real life’. I find this statement incredibly insulting. And it puts ‘gamers’ into a bad light. It feels to me like a huge weight has been lifted off the film and music industry and placed squarely on the shoulders of game makers everywhere. Is it because the revenue made by games is now the largest out of all main medias? Is it because it has finally broken the mainstream, or because these crazies have realised the fight against films and music isn’t getting them anywhere so are picking on the new kid?

I don’t want to go into that debate in too much depth at the moment because I feel I’m not educated enough on the subject, but once I have more research and facts in place I’ll be back with vengeance. So back to my original topic. I’m actually dreaming of playing this game. It’s my place of peace and solitude when I shut my eyes. There was a time when this place was Disney Land, Springfield, Lucas Ranch or even hundreds of years in the future. But now it’s a world within a computer game. A world I can enter into any time I like. A world I can visit with friends. I can do anything, steal a car, fly a helicopter, fire a gun… even kill a person if I so wish. Because when I put it that little disk in my console, it’s MY world, and no one can touch me there, and no matter what I do there I can’t actually get arrested, injured or killed. Now THAT’S the dream.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Game, anyone?

I’m on a mission to bring back the heart and soul of multiplayer gaming. I enjoy playing an online game as much as the next guy but you really can’t beat that joyous feeling of competing with someone sitting right next to you. Online is like the real life version of doing timed laps, all well and fun but actually getting out there for the hustle and bustle of a real race is where my pleasure lies.

I spent much of my childhood huddled around a tiny portable telly with friends and/or siblings playing games. The SNES and Mario Kart spring instantly to mind. I would take it to every friend’s house I stayed at and it was to be the entertainment for every sleep over and gathering for the next four years. These memories are very dear to me and I find it hard to think of any gaming moments in more recent years that replicate this fondness . Maybe it’s the because of the boom of online gaming, or because friends naturally grow apart as everyone gets older; university, work, significant others and relocation all contributing factors. Maybe it’s the worry free innocence of childhood that heightens the simple experience of driving a kart around a track? Whatever it is, I’ve made several attempts to try and recreate these fun-filled gaming events, but ultimately it appears they just cannot be recreated.

As adults it’s harder to try and gather friends round as often as we used to. Grown up commitments? Maybe, but to be honest most of the friends I used to play SNES with hardly game anymore, if at all. Some see it as a bit of a childish exercise (I’ll get onto that subject another day), so trying to find other like minded gamers is difficult. If you like music you can go to a gig , films are shared experiences that can be exploited at a cinema. Where do gamers gather to play the latest game release? Arcades are not exactly the kind of gaming haven we (I?) dream of, so the only real option for a meeting ground is somebody’s house.

It turns into a military operation; finding an evening on which everyone is free, a space that is large enough and then there is working out who will provide the extra pads, games, batteries etc, and of course those all important gaming munchies. It’s a lot different than going for a simple sleepover as a 12 year old with whoever’s mum bringing the constant supplies of sugary drinks and snacks.

I’ve also noticed that as my friends have got older, tastes have changed. Many of them now opting for ‘Pro Evo’ tourneys instead of Mario Kart. That’s all well and good except I’m not into football. But that’s a personal plight. Those gatherings (from what I’ve witnessed) now seem to be pre-requisites to a night out, so they would play a quick tournament while drinking and getting ready to go out clubbing. I want a specially arranged gaming evening. Does anybody else crave this sort of entertainment or am I just vainly trying to recreate that special time from my childhood? I know these things can never be as good as we remember them, but if all involved are fighting for the same cause can we not recapture some of the magic?

I will certainly try and organise more gaming nights with friends, and possibly try finding some other people to play in real life, but where exactly do I unearth these people? Online? I can’t help thinking that it would just be easier to play online in the safety and comfort of my own living room…. Now I’m back to the start again. Perhaps this is just the way gaming is destined to go? So many game developers are leaving out local multiplayer options instead opting for online only; the days of the four way split screen seem to be rapidly disappearing.

It is refreshing to see some companies still promoting this more sociable means of playing: games like Rock Band and pretty much most of the titles on the Wii retain classic multiplayer at heart. I really hope that with the boom of Wii, many other companies see the benefit of bringing the ‘friends round the screen’ magic back to games. As much fun as online gaming is, you can’t beat the feeling of thrashing someone that’s sitting next to you and actually witnessing firsthand the pain in their eyes.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Number Addicts

‘Hi, I’m Ben, and I’m an achievement addict’. That was me a year and a half ago. I used to slog through rubbish games just for the achievement points; waste hours of my evenings and weekends doing what I considered a chore simply to boost the ’gamerscore’ situated next to my gamertag. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but there came a point when I began to look upon this task with utter contempt, essentially finding myself sneering at those who continued the fruitless task of number hoarding.

(Just to clarify, Xbox 360 games contain achievement points, which you can unlock after meeting certain criteria in a game. Such as completing a level on hard setting, killing 100 enemies or uncovering a secret area etc. Each full retail game contains 1000 points to unlock, some are easier than others, and a few are just ridiculously hard or pathetically simple to obtain.)

I had a new sense of freedom, but with that freedom came a feeling of loneliness. I’ll give you an example. Whilst perusing my Xbox 360 friends list one evening looking to join an online game, I saw that a few friends were playing Team Fortress 2. I joined, but to my horror discovered that they were participating in some disturbing acts. These people (some being real life friends) had separated into two equal numbered teams and were taking it in turns to stand on the spot while the other team inflicted damage to their rivals using the various weapons available, in a bid to collect the specific achievements rewarded for the use of each weapon. I tried my best to disrupt this sickening scene; I managed to end a few sprees before getting kicked out of the game. ‘We’re not hurting anybody’, they protested. I was angry, distressed, frustrated and above all else, disillusioned. Is this really what gaming has been reduced too? Everywhere I looked people were playing sub par games for the achievements alone. Where had the fun gone? Where were these people’s sense of pride? I was embarrassed to have them on my friends list. I deleted a few, it made me feel a little better, but not much.

Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love achievements, but not like this. I genuinely enjoy receiving an achievement after I’ve actually earned it and it’s even better when it’s unexpected. Where’s the joy in forcing it out of the game? It’s a bit sad obsessing over a number. I’d rather obsess over the game itself.
I want more games to offer proper rewards. Case in point: Super Smash Bros Brawl. This game just keeps giving and giving. Continuously rewarding the player for this, and praising the player for that. Always teasing you with the next gift, whether that be a new song, stage, trophy or character. The urge to play on is immense, and there’s not an achievement point in sight. I crave more rewards like this from a game, or at least more emphasis on in-game collectibles rather than the points themselves. I appreciate that there are many games that accomplish this, but when people are playing primarily for the points rather than the experience, something is seriously wrong.

I know that these ‘achievement whores’ are only a minority in the grand scheme of gamers, but how many times have you continued playing a duff game or bought a game on the 360 rather than PS3 purely for the points? I’m guilty myself of this inane behaviour (although when choosing between the 360 or PS3 format, the online experience and custom soundtracks on the 360 usually sway it for me).

Contradicting myself is a recurring weakness of mine, but the point I’m trying to make is a little contrived in itself. I’m not campaigning for the eradication of achievement points, I just want people to play games the way they’re meant to be played and for the developers to stop copping out with this easy excuse for replayability. I want to replay a game for added secrets, easter eggs and new experiences, not for a few extra digits next to my gamertag.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Unbearable Excitement

I become far too excited on the run up to release day. Every couple of months I turn into a kid at Christmas. I’m fully aware of just how ridiculous and obsessive I can be; only recently I was getting worked up about Super Smash Bros Brawl, and it got a little out of hand.

I ordered my US copy (just to make it clear, I live in the UK) from Play Asia, and paid for the basic 5-10 day delivery option (to be sent on US official release date) since at the time I didn’t know how long it would take for my pre-ordered freeloader from Codejunkies to arrive. As the release date neared, I began to panic about my freeloader. The Codejunkies website was rather vague on its stock placement, when it will be shipped and so forth. Finally the release date arrived and my copy of Smash Bros was posted, I now had 5-10 days to get my grubby mitts on a Freeloader.

I became a man possessed. I tried to cancel my Codejunkies order and then searched elsewhere, finally finding a website that guaranteed next day delivery. I bought it. Hours later I received an e-mail from Codejunkies to say my freeloader had been paid for and shipped, even though I had requested a cancellation and sent a rather angry e-mail taking issue with their ‘customer service‘. It was ok, I’d sell one on e-bay (a phrase spoken often, but never carried out). Now all I could do was wait for Smash Bros.

The positive online reviews and feedback were unbearable. Everyone but me seemed to be lapping up the Nintendo cat nip, I was distraught, a shadow of my former self. I kicked myself on the hour every hour for not paying for the Fed Ex option, it was only a few quid more! Why o’why didn’t I just stump up the extra pennies? What a fool I felt. The days came and went and soon the fifth day passed. ‘Any day now’, I kept telling myself. I had set the delivery address to my workplace as someone was always there. If out of the office, I was pestering my manager and colleagues with texts and phone calls, first around the 9am post, and then again at second post around 2pm. Nothing. Were they toying with me and my pathetic obsession? Were they going to turn up after work with a smile and a cheer? ‘Here you go Ben, just winding you up, take another few days off work and enjoy!’. No, they didn’t even care for my crippling plight.

The ninth day arrived. Still nothing. That was it, I couldn’t wait anymore. So I logged onto e-bay and found a London based seller who promised next day delivery. And then I did it. I crossed the line from obsessive gamer to impatient mentalist! But I had my reasons, the day after next was the beginning of the bank holiday weekend, I HAD to have it by then, what would I do without it? Play another game? I think not.

Next day, first post, a package! Alas, it was not for me (I was angry at my girlfriend because it was for her). I spent the next few hours shivering at my desk, fretting and feeling angry. My Facebook status read: ‘Ben is really quite angry with the Royal Mail’. Second post loomed and I hung around reception like a lost puppy, pacing and peering around on tippy toes. I waited a while before retreating back to my office. I began to think about other ‘new’ games I had to play. But nothing could cheer me up, I had hyped this game up way too much. My manager then opened my door and handed me a bundle of packages, ‘I think you’ve been expecting these?’.
Two copies of Smash Bros Brawl. I felt silly but oh so happy. I could sell one to a friend, we’d be happy together in our Nintendo induced ecstasy.

I spent pretty much the whole weekend playing it, and it was worth it, but looking back I feel a bit embarrassed by how worked up I got. Who’s fault is it? The media for all its hyping? Or the marketing company? Whoever’s at fault, they’ve done a good job of taking my money, and I’m in no doubt that it’ll happen again soon. I’m already vexed about losing my Mario Kart Wii pre-order with and am having to come to terms with the fact that I’ll be buying it on release day, in a shop!? And then there’s GTA4, I’ve actually got about 4 separate pre-orders to cover myself on this one

Is anyone else out there as obsessed as me? Or should I fret about more important things? My biggest worry? I’ll be honest, (and this is a regular thought) I’m scared of dying before a big release….
On that sad admission I’ll leave this post and actually play some games rather than work myself up over ones that haven’t even been released.

Facebook status: Ben is really quite happy with the Royal Mail.