Thursday, 30 September 2010

Sweating optimism over Eurogamer expo

I’m currently buzzing with optimism and excitement because I get to go to Eurogamer tomorrow. It’ll be my first trip to an expo, made even better as I’m getting in on a press pass. Of course on the other side of Friday I’ll probably be completely the opposite, damning that I’ll never go to one of the bloody things again because it’s a lot of work, queuing and committing myself to lots of writing when I get back. I’m really hoping that it won’t reduce me to a bitter husk of a man sworn off of press events forever.

It’s shaping up to be a good day tomorrow though, with my list of games to cover consisting of Gears of War 3, Bulletstorm and Gran Turismo 5. Of course most surprising on my list of nice things I get to cover are Just Dance 2 and Dance Central. My lovely editor has decided to make me dance correspondent for Critical Gamer. Wicked.

Other exciting things on the itinerary include an interview with Yuji Naka, the father of Sonic the Hedgehog (the game series obviously, I’m not suggesting that he goes for naked rolls in the bushes). I might see if my shorthand is up to scratch to take down the interview on paper, but I really doubt I could keep up. I used to practice the skill by copying down what people said on the Jeremy Kyle Show because they mainly spoke in single syllable words and grunts at a manageable pace. I suppose an actual interview will put me to the test.

The Expo looks like it should be a good one this year, with great titles like Crysis 2, Goldeneye and Killzone 3 all making an appearance amongst many other greats. It’s a shame that there’s no sign of Arkham City or Hitman 5, but I can’t really complain with all the stuff that will be there.

The only downside that I can see at the moment is that I’ll have to traverse London. I’m a competent enough tube rat when it comes to public transport, but I always carry too much faith in the human race and make the mistake of smiling at people on the underground. I get a stern look back as if I was a publicly known poodle rapist, and it really hammers the fact home that the tube is no place for politeness and smiles. It’s all about getting places faster than anyone else because life is a race and if you finish last you’re scum and probably live out of bins.

Back to the positive though; yay games expo. I guess I’ll see you on the other side.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Bad checkpoints make me a sad spartan

If at first you don’t succeed then you are definitely doing it wrong. That’s how Halo: Reach’s checkpoint system feels at times. Having just completed it on heroic, I certainly saw my fair share of deaths and checkpoints, but not all of them were entirely helpful.

You’d like to think a system that delivers you from the cold arms of laser death and throws you back minutes in time to a period when you had a lot more spring in your step, energy in your shield and bullets in your gun would be a consistently good thing. The problems start arising however when you decide to randomly pepper these checkpoints throughout the player’s adventure with the regularity of your bowels after pizza night.

The particular experience that upset this little camper is when the game granted me a checkpoint during one of the final fights that seemed overwhelmingly difficult. I had swept the area and killed everything that was really big. Feeling quite proud of myself I start looking around the area for any nice lootables. At this point I hear a manic scream and see a comical midget like enemy running towards me with grenades held aloft.

Attempting to avoid a severe case of agonising plasma death, I started to retreat whilst firing valiantly at my assailant. I killed him just as I stumbled down the small chasm with no exit. The game also decided that having reached my new inescapable tomb, I should have a checkpoint placed there so I can reload and enjoy it all over again.

Unfortunately, the walls were so high and so steep they could not be climbed, and the only way out was to follow the tight canyon along until you encountered the piece of ground that instantly killed you. It required over an hour of back tracking through the most challenging part of the game. You know, the bit that feels like a slog, but somewhat of an achievement once you complete it because you don’t need to do it again.

The issue here is probably a mix of a level design oversight and an irritating run of bad luck with the checkpoint system, but this kind of thing is still frustrating. Only having one checkpoint stored at a time means that these things can not be corrected when they occur.

I still remember playing PC games where I have quick saved, just as I discover that the lump under my foot was actually a primed grenade ready to send me into a loop of infinite pain and discomfort. It’s really frustrating when these things happen, but at least I can say things like that on those occasions it was my fault.

An auto-checkpoint that simply takes you back to the site of your impending grave however is damn frustrating, especially on the last level. I know I’m just waggling an irritated finger in Bungie’s rough direction, but I seriously think that this kind of thing shouldn’t happen in games nowadays. Maybe I found the only place in the game where something like that can occur, but it’s still annoying.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Money troubles

I’m a hoarder when it comes to virtual currency. There is no such thing as enough money when it comes to buying weapons, cars or safe houses. Yes, I have enough to buy it, but that will clean me out and leave me vulnerable when I need that something random chaos has deprived me of.

A real problem that I am finding in games at the moment is that I build up so much money through personal restraint, it becomes meaningless. I always deprive myself of the small upgrades that will help in the short term so I can get the bigger version that little bit sooner. I don’t re-purchase my weapons when I am arrested, I load a previous save game. I re-invest my cash in more ways to earn so that I become closer to having a sustainable passive income. It turns out I’m as boring in games as I am in reality.

Normally I hoard the most in RTS games, when I make my first priority after base defence to become economically sound. This lets me create a self sufficient mega fortress that can repel any attack thrown at it and lets me pump out my units in peace. If you’re an online RTS master, you can probably guess from this paragraph that I don’t play online much.

I’ve recently learned that when playing an RTS, having money in your back pocket is a bad thing. If you have a big bank balance it means that you could have a bigger army of tanks but don’t. This lesson was bashed into me when reviewing R.U.S.E. for Critical Gamer. I made the mistake of approaching my online opponents like they were the predictable drone like AI.

As soon as the game started I set about getting a base and supply routes established. All was going well. I had scouts out at a decent perimeter distance and was happily going about setting up base defences and researching units. This is when it went horrifically wrong, as my opponent started thundering towards me with a steam roller of pain. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had the indecency to strike when my base defences didn’t quite have every area covered. Needless to say, I didn’t make a very good general.

The next game, I thought that I would be the fast striker, I would be the tinned lightening. I would be the winner. I wasn’t, but I gave it a damn good go. I spent all of my research and cash on getting into big aircraft immediately and managed to bomb the living crap out of my opponent’s base, taking out their main headquarters. Normally this would leave me to make a killing blow, but instead I had ran out of money and my supply routes had been cut off. I had simply slowed down my enemy and my inevitable demise.

I’m not very good with money in games and I still need to learn how to be better. The trouble with games like Grand Theft Auto is that I always struggle with money to begin with. This means that I get into the habit of never spending it. Unfortunately I stick to this habit when money is no longer an issue, and it just becomes an obsolete number taking up some of the screen. I need to learn how to manage my virtual finances better.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Being late to the party

Fashionably late is something that I will never be. Conveniently late on the other hand is definitely within my grasp. I don’t necessarily mean the kind of situation where I miss catching a plane that happens to be overrun by poisonous snakes, avoiding a blood coagulating death by failing to promptly get off my arse. I mean something more along the lines of keeping my ‘games to buy’ calendar a few months behind. Although avoiding death by sleeping in does appeal.

Anyway, the point I am making is that sometimes it is best just to wait a while to get a game. It can be hard trying not to jump the gun like an excitable greyhound chasing a fake rabbit stuffed with chew toys, but there are benefits to holding off on anticipated purchases.

I have only just started to enjoy the gravity and logic defying delights of Just Cause 2, despite following it very eagerly up until its release in March. Many times I have seen it floating around the £30 mark, but have decided to hold off at the last minute because I had other games that still needed my attention.

Come the relatively entertainment dry months of summer and much to my delight, I spot it for £18. It makes every grappling hook medical complexity that I inflict on the military forces of Panau that much sweeter, knowing that I managed to snag the game at a relatively decent price.

Now, sometimes a game can be dripping with so much appeal, we cannot help but leap and snag it at the release price. Day one sales figures usually reflect this when a big title comes out, like a new Zelda or Gears of War, and I can definitely say that sometimes I am among that crowed. The thing that I can’t stand however is this new attitude that some games companies *cough, Activision* are carrying around. You know, the one where they decide that because their games are so great, they can be sold at a marked up price that the public will happily lap up.

This has happened with a few games, such as Modern Warfare 2, and more recently, Starcraft 2. With a RRP of £44.99, you can probably find a copy of it for about £35. I refuse to pay that much for a game that originally was meant to contain so much more, until they decided it contained too much and then broke it up into a main piece and two expansions. I feel like Activision Blizzard are trying to drag the consumer’s collective balls through the sand, because that is honestly taking the piss.

It may only be a matter of £5 over what a PC game would usually cost (and more or less in line with console purchases), but it’s the principle of the matter. My one man boycott may be a simple case of angrily pissing into the wind, but it does bug me that most people are happy to lie in front of Activision’s money train as it happily steams over their wallets.

Ah well. I guess it just means that I’ll be enjoying Starcraft II’s campaign long after everyone else has. Hopefully though, I will be safe in the knowledge that my Zerg rushes cost me less. Now then, back to tethering people to passing helicopters.