Sunday, March 5

Former glory

Cry for father's hands
No more following orders
Fruitless rebellion

He can't hear you now
The shaking stops, but the brain
Only knows fight / flight

I'd never hurt you
You have to believe me, dad
Listen through the fog

Find yourself in dark
Through alarm, fatigue and drugs
I'll stand by the light

I hold memories
Of precision and labour
Your former glory

Sunday, February 7

High Horse Audit 2015: The Best and Worst of the Year

For a long time I thought I wouldn't write a "Game of the Year" post for 2015 because it seemed pretty redundant, given that most of my free time in 2015 was spent playing Destiny. After spending the first few weeks of a new year playing games from the last one, however, I've gained the perspective to put together a list of my favourite experiences from last year. I also had time to reflect on the worst of it.

The Janet Jackson Award: Destiny (Year One)
For the second year running, I've found it necessary to acknowledge the game that most effectively said Come Back To Me a year on from release. 

On my main character alone, I've amassed more than 21 actual days of play time in Destiny. If I took my alternate characters into account, I'm pretty sure I'd come depressingly close to a month of play time on the shooter MMO hybrid.

This hasn't been addiction, or a force of habit; throughout a year of play I became increasingly confident, and took on all the challenges that Destiny's first year had to offer. The House of Wolves expansion was pivotal in that it gave me that little bit of extra strength to take on the most intimidating activities that, in some cases, had been available not long after launch.

Without those extra four levels of experience (and gear), I wouldn't have been able to fell Crota, nor would I have been able to tackle Skolas, or Atheon on Hard mode. The raids, and higher level Prison of Elders runs made up a weekly ritual that I was anxious to complete for months on end. So rehearsed were my movements that I could even finish raids remote playing on a Vita; without a headset, no less!

I didn't make many new friends in Destiny's first year, but my word did I develop a throng of acquaintances. Some were terrible human beings, some were genuine fun to hang with for an hour or so a week. For every racist American teen decrying Obamacare, there four or five genuinely nice people who were praying just as hard as I was. Until the launch of The Taken King, RNGeezus answered almost all of my prayers too.

Destiny rewarded my loyalty with everything I wanted, except for Praedyth's Timepiece.

The Most Disappointing Game of the Year: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V features the most fluid controls the series has ever iterated, and for the first time, it had something resembling a coherent narrative. For those reasons alone, I had next to no interest in it.

Put another way: Metal Gear Solid V is a great game, but a terrible Metal Gear Solid instalment.

Save for the first hour, gone are the ridiculously long codec conversations, paranoid political fantasies, and David Hayter. Snake's voice is noticeably absent, not because Keifer Sutherland is a feeble replacement, rather because he's an absent replacement.

It's telling that I haven't finished this game. More telling that I don't want to. The first few hours were packed with thrilling stealth and recon encounters, but following that, I found it grating how often I had to capture the same outposts, and extract the same, albeit slightly stronger combatants.

The formula that first appeared in the PSP's best game, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, doesn't work on home consoles because of the large sandbox environments. Peace Walker put you right where you needed to be, Phantom Pain made you grind from point to point. I can tell Phantom Pain was rushed to market without even having completed it.

Keep on walking, tough guy.

Thursday, January 28

Cibele Review (PC): She's a poet

I was a shit teenager.

Save for a limitless, almost cliched ability to recall classic Simpsons lines, I was humourless. I dressed like Joey Fatone (or X member of Y boy band), but thought I had a unique sense of style and charm. I had frosted tips. I couldn't ride a bicycle, skateboard, or scooter. I couldn't snowboard. I didn't get my learner's permit. (note: still can't do, or don't have those things, so shit adult too?).

One of the most reassuring things about playing Cibele, is the message that pretty much everyone was or is a shit teenager. We are all, in spite of great talent and beauty, hideously insecure. We are (or were) unable to accept the genuine affection of others because we feel undeserving, or unable to let go of the comforts of home... and videogames.

The painful awkwardness of, what was for me, ICQ and Yahoo chat rooms are captured so perfectly in a loving dedication to Final Fantasy XI. A network of friends are pieced together through emails, photos, and chat logs. A cross section of the author's life and desktop are on show for all to see.

The dialogue sounds genuine, and really evokes the nervous energy of [clears throat] matchmaking. The music and sound design make up for the repetitive mock MMO combat. You won't be brought to tears by this tale of first love, but I hope that you, like me, are glad that something like Cibele is out there. It's odd, short and sweet.

Saturday, January 2

Halo 5: Guardians Review (XB1): A retcon for the ages

I am a guy that likes Halo. I am one of millions.\

I wanted to like Halo 5. Really, I did. It's funny then that the game -- as both a package, or when considering the PvE and PVP offerings in relative isolation -- did all it could to dissuade me. Halo 5 hates players, be they series veterans or new players. This is a hostile experience.

So, consider this your spoiler warning. I'm going to talk frankly about why I don't recommend picking up Halo 5, and I plan to talk story.

I'm not someone who deep dives into series lore: I haven't read the veritable library of comics and novels that make up the series' extended universe. For that, I am both punished and thankful. Punished in that I had very little idea of what was happening initially, or why. Thankful in that I haven't invested anything more than what was required for a pretty shitty, nonsensical narrative payoff.

If you're playing alone, you play as Spartan Locke of Fireteam Osiris, that has the task of tracking down Master Chief for some reason; or Master Chief of Blue Team who has gone AWOL for (also) blue, AI lady friend and somehow love interest, Cortana.

Throughout the adventure, there are close calls and run-ins with old friends and foes. These encounters are baffling, in terms of both how they're set up, and how incoherent they are. As Locke, your comrades watch dumbfounded as you engage in fisticuffs with Master Chief. Do they intervene? No. Do Blue Team question why Chief takes them AWOL to follow a seemingly evil warlord? Yes, but only briefly, and in the most laughable way possible. Apparently they've fought together so much that they're like family, so OK let's destroy a mining settlement full of civilians. Wooooooooo!

What's worse is that all of Master Chief's heroics from the first four games are misappropriated in the end. Turns out that instead of saving the galaxy all of those times, you were actually helping stage the villain's master plan. Worse still, the ending is the barest of setups for the inevitable next instalment.

"Are we gonna keep running?"

"Yes, until we're ready."
Fade to black, roll credits. Worst. Ending. Ever. The conclusion made the Halo 2 "Finish the fight," debacle look like a narrative master stroke.

It doesn't help either that the action that holds this mess of a story together is so familiar as to feel redundant. There's another level where you ride a scorpion (read: tank) for an extended period, there's more weapons than you could possibly hope to use, there's lots of situations where you'll flank Covenant and Forerunner forces. To my knowledge there's only one new enemy type: the Warden Eternal. Each time you fight one or more of this boss type thing, you'll find yourself in an arena setting. Every time you can sense a showdown, it's with one or more Wardens.

It's weird that there are no other varieties of boss encounters littered throughout the campaign. I thought for sure that I would've been pitted against a Guardian in some vertical encounter, but nooooOOOOoooo. Just as well too, as the collective intelligence of the friendly AI for both Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris would be hard pressed to solve how one would escape from a wet paper bag. I mean, for fuck's sake, if the voice actors keep saying "We have to shoot him (in this case, Warden Eternal) in the back," but when ordered to attack, move to the front of the enemy and aim for nothing but his mid-section, that is a clear recipe from frustration. I can only imagine how painful some of the later firefights would be on higher difficulties, with your ill-programmed partners spraying bullets any which way but where they need to be.

Insult is added to injury when you realise that split screen co-op is no longer supported. You're on your own if you don't have Halo-loving friends on Xbox Live. To me, split screen is a big part of the Halo brand, and to forsake it for slightly more fluid visuals seems a betrayal; albeit the slightest committed in this particular iteration.

The real tragedy of Halo 5 is the multiplayer.

The Arena playlists take the multiplayer back to something more familiar, when compared to Halo 4. At first, I thought this was a change for the better, but then I realised that I've played this game for hours, days, years already. After grinding out requisition points and experience for about four hours, I felt it was time to move on.

All the old friends are there, but the stories haven't really changed. The Spartan Charge and ground pounding are done better in better games. Halo feels like it's in this weird space where it made the console first person shooter a viable product, but now it can't evolve without noticeably aping competitors.

Even the new Warzone mode borrows from games like Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, and doesn't feel overly fresh. In fact, it's only fun when you're winning; otherwise it's the worst kind of grind. Performing well increases the level (read: effectiveness) of requisition that players are able to call in, which include power weapons, vehicles and buffs. Better hardware means you're not only more prepared for your human competition, but also the AI enemies which afford generous lots of points to your team. If you're losing, you can still call in reqs, but usually less spectacular ones than those your enemies have command of.

More problematic still is the fact that requisition packs can be bought. Yes, they can be unlocked, slowly, through continuous play, but shelling out anything from 4 to 140 real dollars can make them available faster. While a lot of reqs are cosmetic in nature, there's a troubling proportion of which that can directly impact the result of Warzone matches. This is pay to win, in a game that costs as much as 99 actual dollars depending on how savvy (or not) a shopper you are. That is, as the French say, fucked.

When I spoke with my brother, a Halo tragic, about the virtues of this iteration, he advised that Halo 5 was a good tale if you're prepared to read several novels in preparation. For Halo 5's mess of a story to make any sense, I had to read hundreds of pages of licensed pap. To look how I wanted to in multiplayer I had to grind for about six hours, or just easily drop tens, even hundreds more dollars. No returning characters from ODST, no beautiful graphics, no Nathan Fillion is going to be enough to make that sound like a good deal.

Halo 5 is not a bad game, technically speaking. It's just not a very good one either.

Friday, December 11

Interstate Love Song

Dearest Carly,

Today we celebrate five years as a married couple. In the best possible way, I can't remember what life was like without you. Without you I imagine I'd be Destiny without an internet connection, Mario without Luigi, a book without a cover.

We've made the most of our move too. What many had called "brave", I simply thought of as common sense. Every year we returned to Melbourne, every year you shed tears as we left the hotel, every year we got to the airport too early. No more. We're finally home, and I feel all the happier for it.

Not to say that this year has been without challenges. I can't forget my troubles at home, even now, having withdrawn almost entirely. You still held me when I cried, when I felt useless, when I felt betrayed. I can never adequately repay you for your care and your patience. 

I'm not sure what the next year will bring. Be it mortgage stress, more responsibility at work, or more of the same, I'm grateful  I get to experience it with you.

I love you.


Sunday, December 6

Badgers, art and body horror at Summertime Party

Last night I had the chance to meet up with a Destiny raid bro at Summertime Party, an event which showcased live music, video games and interpretive dance.

The non-nerdy aspects of the evening were pretty cool. Emma Donovan and the Putbacks played a quality set, as did the Sugar Fed Leopards. The DJs, Mz Rizk and Sovereign Trax, also managed to keep a small group of people dancing despite the crowd majority's preference to remain sedentary. I saw two of the dance acts: the first evoked memories of Tom Green's confrontational shame comedy (although I'm sure this was unintentional), while the second was a playfully-violent burlesque dance set to Ginuwine's Pony.

While my fireteam set the dance floor on fire, it was a shame that most of the attendees were keen to mean mug the night away. Still, the tunes were good, and the entertainment was vastly different to my usual Saturday night offerings (read: Destiny).

The video games on display were presented by Freeplay, Australia's longest-running independent games festival.

Push Me Pull You (PMPY) was the clear highlight. Projected high on a wall opposite a staircase where two sets of controls were set up, it was the gladiatorial centre of the night's proceedings. Imagine the listless wonder and mild body horror of the experimental Noby Noby Boy crossed with the excitement of team ball sports (sportsball, if you will). Teams of two must extend, shrink and wrap their way around a ball and drag it back to their side of the court to score. Stretching your collective body can allow you to hold the ball, but a smaller opponent push you to their side for a cheeky score.

The core mechanics are easy to pick up, and mish mash teams formed throughout the evening to try their hands at glory. I'd love to see this game more widely available, and I can even imagine how it would translate from two arcade sticks and four buttons to the ubiquitous console controller. (One player could control both sides of the team with bumpers and triggers used to expand and shrink.)

Would some of the magic be lost going from pair play to mano e mano? Absolutely, but local multiplayer is becoming less and less of a thing. If Halo can no longer support a couch full of players, then incoming indies must also embrace the realities of comparatively-soulless online multiplayer (particularly given PMPY could translate well).

Next up was Artners, a game controlled with a tangle of brushes, paint pots, and pads. Essentially, you have sixty seconds to fulfil a named commission. There's no winning or losing, just creating pictures that will, more often than not, resemble a a train map. I loved the urgency of producing art while the "art time remaining" chipped away. The peripherals were complex, and it's unlikely you'll see this outside of an exhibition setting, but it's well worth picking up a brush for.

Finally, there was Panoramical, reason for the best peripheral since Guitar Hero first graced the PlayStation 2 back in 2005. Using the open-shirted badger controller, you rub the animal's tummy and flick its switches(?) to produce changes in sound and vision. I found the majority of my time with the game disorienting, but a small sojourn to what can only be described as a laser rave planet was pretty cool.

While it was hard to get anything out of it myself, I had a laugh trying to explain how to play to the next group of enthusiastic players. I also feel that Nintendo needs to introduce nipple play to Amiibos or risk losing the whole Toys to Life market.

While the Freeplay offerings may only serve as distraction from my massive multiplayer online face shooting duties, Push Me Pull You is most definitely on my radar. Freeplay's Games in the Square events run through December (6-8pm, on 8, 15 and 22 December) at Melbourne's Federation Square, with PMPY available to play on 15 December. Make sure you check it out if you're in town.

Friday, December 4

Destiny: The Taken King reviewed: Your loot’s light shines across a hill of content

(Note: This post first appeared on Unfortunately, they're now offline, so I thought I'd save this one too.)

One thing becomes clear when you boot up Destiny following the release of The Taken King: you’re supposed to feel dread. That overwhelming sense of awe and discovery that was inspired by Year One’s theme has taken an ominous turn. The composition that once played while I was in orbit — one of my favourite pieces of video game music — has now been replaced by an arrangement that sounds just that little bit more sinister. There’s a change in mood here that starts with the soundtrack and permeates through the level design.
That being said, the latest chapter of the story has been brought to life by a small, but memorable cast of characters, many of whom had appeared from the beginning but have only now found their voice. Cayde-6, voiced by Firefly and Castle star Nathan Fillion is the primary quest-giver for the fight against Oryx. Fillion doesn’t just provide mission briefings, he’s the star of several cutscenes and also provides colourful mid mission dialogue.
Nolan North of Uncharted fame replaces the unfairly-maligned Peter Dinklage in the role of your Ghost. Both actors turn in stellar performances, and while the script isn’t written to elicit much of an emotional response, the added dramatic flavour makes it that little bit easier to complete a strike, story or patrol mission for the three hundredth time.

Web 2.0

With the arrival of Destiny‘s 2.0 patch, each chapter of the story has now been “questified”. Additionally, the amount of bounty slots (for tasks like ‘Kill 50 enemies with precision damage’) has been increased with the added ability to cash them in on the go. What this should’ve meant was less time travelling to and from the Tower and Reef social spaces; however, quest lines still require players to return, and their touch points crop up just as often as the requirement to turn in bounties in Year One.
If you’re more of a PvP player, this ends up working pretty well. If you’re more inclined to take on AI-controlled opponents, you’ll end up exposed to just as many pretty loading screens as you would have pre-patch. Not a game breaker, but a missed opportunity all the same.
Even after putting in a solid few days of questing, I’m still yet to see all The Taken King has to offer. The main line lasts longer than House of Wolves, and doesn’t rely on lengthy seek and destroy tasks like The Dark Below did. Destiny is getting bigger and better.
New story missions are open to any character at level 25 or greater, meaning that it’s possible to bypass earlier quest lines and move straight on to the more exciting, better-written stuff. While this is great for writers needing to meet a deadline (huehuehue), I imagine it would make a story already infamous for being poorly told all the more confusing. I have a Hunter that I got to level 33 in Year One by equipping high level gear I bought from Xur (the mysterious weekend vendor of all things exotic) and Variks (the warden of the Prison of Elders).
Without even beating the original lot of story missions, I can skip straight to a scene where a key character dies. Without this character, the events of each Year One quest line would make little sense at all, if I were to revisit them.

You’re the one for me

It’s a good thing then that the economy has been overhauled so that it makes playing with one character a viable option. Crucible (PvP) and Vanguard (PvE) marks, forms of in-game currency used to buy high-end gear from various vendors, have now been merged into a single form, Legendary marks. Legendary marks are still subject to caps like their predecessors, but the best gear is found out in the field in The Taken King, and it’s not just found in the new raid.
Rare, legendary, and exotic gear can all be rolled with high enough light scores for players to be able to traverse the end game. Previously, you needed to be able to run the raids (Prison of Elders, and Iron Banner) to have a hope of hitting the light cap, but now it’s been opened up. At first it was disorienting, because as a veteran player my instinct was to rock purple (legendary) and gold (exotic) exclusively. Given time though, my elitism gave way to me actually wanting to progress.
Changing the way players view and treat their equipment will go along way to remedy the old end game conundrum of everyone rocking exactly the same loadout. The Infusion system takes this even further, by allowing players to upgrade lower light gear. In a game where items define your character more than anything else, this is a much-needed addition.

The new rituals

The systems that define the Destiny experience wouldn’t be worth discussing if the core action wasn’t compelling. Thankfully, the new story missions and strikes are thrilling and varied additions to the growing rotation of activities that you’ll play ad infinitum in the hope of netting better gear. There’s a competent stealth mission, a boss fight reminiscent of Devil May Cry, and a wealth of teleporting bullet sponges.
I did find it curious that several story missions are written to contradict a central aspect of Year One mission design: you’re tasked with escaping invincible foes, dark rituals, and exploding space stations, rather than facing a wave-based boss fight and warping to orbit. “Escape from overwhelming enemy threat,” is a staple of FPS mission design, but it’s not something that’s ever been done in Destiny until now. While I welcome new types of objectives and experiences, the few chase sequences offer up little challenge, and they feel a bit jarring given the last year of mowing down each last alien down before heading home.
What works, however, is the return to spaces that had previously been the domain of raiders only. The Vault of Glass and Crota’s End open up sans puzzles for players who may have found the idea of teaming up with six friends and/or random players a little too daunting. This is great as these are some of the best examples of level design you’re likely to see with a gun in your hand. Yes, the enigmatic riddles that had players stumped are absent, but they’re visually striking locales with interesting stories to tell, and I’m glad they’ll be exposed to more guardians.

In good company

Speaking of raids, King’s Fall is visually distinct, and features even more mind-bending situations than its predecessors. I’d go as far to say that the platforming sections in the initial stages of the raid are some of the most visually stunning set pieces I’ve seen throughout a year of playing Destiny. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve sampled two of the boss fights and they are brutally difficult, and absolutely require communication and careful coordination to progress. Some of the solutions seem a little too abstract for my tastes, and it’s a fair bit stingier than those that came before it, but I recommend giving it a go all the same.
Four new strikes have been added for PvE enthusiasts, and the Taken have also been added to existing strikes in a bid to freshen up some of the more tired examples of bullet spongery from Year One. Sunless Cell is my favourite of the bunch, with a boss fight that takes place in near darkness. It’s a bog standard fight, but it looks amazing and is sure to elicit the odd squeal if you’re easily startled. Shield Brothers is easily the most enjoyable clash you’ll have with the Cabal, whereas Fallen S.A.B.E.R and Echo Chamber have extremely durable enemies overstaying their welcome.
Heroic and Nightfall strikes (the same coop missions with more difficulty modifiers) have been overhauled to respect your time just that little bit more. New strikes drop strike-specific gear. One of the more grindy aspects of Destiny‘s end game is becoming dangerously close to enjoyable.

Holding court

Last, but not least, is the Dreadnaught, the new explorable environment and ship that houses Oryx and his Taken and Hive armies. It’s easy to get lost in the network of caves, hidden platforms, and crashed spaceships, but the mysteries hiding within are sure to keep me spelunking in the months to come.
The Court of Oryx, a space within the ship where players can initiate public events (read: timed boss fights), is a stingy disappointment that has its secrets spoiled prematurely. You’re prompted with hints as you play through all but the highest tier of these encounters, and if you’re not the player that initiates the fight, don’t hope for anything but blue engrams.
Patrolling the Dreadnaught falls into a rhythm similar to that which you’d find on Earth, Venus, Mars or the moon. The key difference here is that, for the first few hours at least, the Dreadnaught doesn’t feel like yet another sandbox with endlessly spawning enemies: there is more to it than killing low level ads and searching for collectables.

A bridge between worlds

The new subclasses for the Titan, Warlock and Hunter classes have supers that cover the gaps in their respective arsenals. I didn’t get the chance to test them all, but the Warlock finally has a close quarters arc attack to churn out orbs in PvE, and rack up quick kills in PvP. I’ve seen Hunters offer effective support as Nightstalkers, and Titans burn through minions of the Darkness with the Hammer of Sol projectile attack.
There are quest lines to attain each of the new classes, and in the case of the Warlock Stormcaller, it becomes apparent that Bungie missed an opportunity in building up the subclasses that came before it. The Sunsinger can defy death, surely that would’ve made for a more interesting quest line than inFamous In Space. In any case, reports from fellow players indicate that the new digs are just as enjoyable for the other classes.


Each of the new classes seem built for use in the Crucible, Destiny’s PvP component, and the new Rift mode is the perfect playground for Hammers, Bows, and Palpatines. What other competitive multiplayer mode allows you to slam dunk a futuristic basketball while dodging gunfire? No takers? I thought not. The previously near-invisible Salvage mode has also risen to prominence, and is a great fit for the new maps.
PvP is still very much a tale of corridors, but I actually enjoy Rift and Salvage, as opposed to the Call of Duty with Superpowers that was Control (Domination) and Clash (TDM). Here’s hoping that the next time the Iron Banner flies, we’ll be offered the chance to dunk instead of corner camping.

Hill of content

As a veteran player, The Taken King offers everything I was looking for: hours worth of fetch quests, new playgrounds to explore alone and with friends/randos, and thousands of opportunities to pray to RNGesus. Best of all, strikes like Sunless Cell, and the King’s Fall raid have me feeling that the best is yet to come.
The price to confront Oryx is steep, but the additions to the weekly set of rituals that isDestiny are worthwhile and, for the most part, enjoyable. The return to experience levelling and the new quest system may appear to be geared towards recruiting new players, but there are plenty of challenges available to experienced guardians as well. If you love the grind, it’s time to crash the Dreadnaught.
The author purchased Destiny: The Taken King at their own expense.