Wednesday, November 30

The spoils of war (or Movember, as it were)

Dear Readers,
My effort

I'm proud to announce that Team Unbearable Dutch raised nearly $1300 (thirteen hundred dollars!!!) for the Movember Foundation and its partners, beyondblue and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. Thank you to all of those who donated this year, and thanks to everyone for the words of encouragement (or derision in some cases :p).

You may remember my goal of besting Tom Selleck's legendary moustache. I may not have managed to do that, but - thanks in great part to my Mo Bro and fellow contributor, Dawson - we may have made the lives of Australian men that little bit better.

I've heard a few stories over the course of the month that has me convinced that this is something that I need to do every year. I can deal with an unsightly upper lip if it means a brighter future for dads, brothers and sons across the nation. Next year, I implore more of you to join us!

Do you have any Movember stories? I'd love to hear them.

In any case, thanks again to all of you for your support. Here's to a better tomorrow for all!
You still have a few hours left to donate too! If you're in a position to support our Movember efforts, please visit the following link:
Dawson's mo (Believe me,
there's a mo there somewhere)

Cheers: To another successful Movember!



Sunday, November 27

Skyrim is ruled by deeds, not words

Note: This post contains spoilers for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3. 

For all of their ability to create absorbing worlds, Bethesda can't write a decent character to save themselves. Skyrim may be an amazing game world - with a deep, though decidedly uninteresting lore, and peppered with stunning landscapes and vistas - but the people that occupy its many townships and settlements have so far proven less than memorable.

This issue isn't unique to Skyrim, mind you. With the possible exceptions of Uriel and Martin Septim - voiced by Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean respectively - Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3 lacked notable cast members. It's arguable that the worlds that featured in these games were the true stars: with each decision that players made having consequences of - at times - unimaginable scope. You may choose to save Megaton in Fallout 3 and interact with its dead-eyed inhabitants, or set off the bomb that was the town's namesake; killing everyone and sparing you from unconvincing voice acting and multiple repetitive fetch quests. You may choose to rise through the ranks of every guild in Oblivion as well, but can you honestly name five characters from the game without consulting a wiki?

One more person speaks to me in a monotone voice and BOOM!

With that being said, it's hard to assemble a strong cast with a soulless mute playing the lead role. Meaningful conversation is a dance that requires at least two active participants. It's also difficult to develop chemistry between characters when one doesn't emote or employ the subtleties of tone, pace and pitch.

You don't need moving lips and the batting of eyelids for a relationship to develop in a believable way either, as evidenced by the banter between protagonist, Adam Jensen and sarcastic tech-head Francis Pritchard in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Conversations between these two can play out in both first and third person, but you feel a connection develop regardless of the perspective. In Oblivion, moments like Martin Septim's transformation and ultimate sacrifice fall flat, because short of retrieving a whole bunch of items for this bastard child, there's no back and forth between the two of you. In Fallout 3, your father's demise doesn't end up meaning too much because apart from the implied father-son relationship (and the amusingly-awkward death scene), you and dear-old-Dad didn't do too much together. If Bethesda wants to develop meaningful relationships between characters, they each need to be able to communicate in a way that is both apparent and believable.  

Sound design plays a big part too. Using Deus Ex: Human Revolution as an example once again: you would hear peripheral chatter from the denizens of Detroit and Heng Sha, but the speech of quest givers and the central cast took priority. On my way to my first encounter with a dragon in Skyrim, Irileth's speech to the Whiterun guards was consistently interrupted by the idle chatter of minor NPCs. I had to strafe continuously, or else the (what I imagined to be a) stirring oration would be lost in a sea of musings about the weather and stranger danger. In this instance, the world needed to take a backseat to the scene that was unfolding; instead the people of Skyrim ensured that no one person could steal the spotlight.

With characters unable to assert themselves, there's only one thing you can do to make these games amazing: get lost. Forgive the unconvincing, droll tones of every NPC. Pick a fight with a giant and lose... badly. Loot every corpse and container that you come across. Immerse yourself in a perfect world filled with imperfect characters. 

 Once more, with feeling!

Don't get me wrong: I'm loving Skyrim, I consider Oblivion to be one of the best games on this generation of hardware, and I found Fallout 3 to be somewhat enjoyable. That said, I found the ability to wander - both aimlessly, and with purpose - in each game's vast, untamed and unpredictable environments to be the most compelling aspect of each title.

Can you name five characters from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Fallout 3 without consulting a wiki? Who are your favourite characters from Bethesda's open wold opuses? Why are you enjoying/loathing Skyrim?

Saturday, November 26

The Changing Face of Entertainment

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how games are affecting us differently, specifically Modern Warfare 3 and the crazy antics surrounding its release.

This week is the followup and I'll take a peek at how gaming marketing has changed.

While it can be said the media landscape and competition is very similar between now and 20 years ago ie Sega vs Nintendo is similar to Sony vs Microsoft and each system heavily promotes their key titles and exclusives, a change in lifestyle and greater acceptance of gaming means impressive results for carefully planned marketing efforts.

Today's campaigns are huge, incorporating social media, transport, billboard, press, TV and more with history's most anticipated game, Modern Warfare 3, starting its campaign five months before the release.

As a result, MW3 destroyed records by making $775 million in only five days. To be fair, the momentum of the franchise and its sales history would allow a moist turd in a box to sell like this however other non-COD games have smashed records too, with GTA IV and Halo 3 earning $500 million and $300 million in their first five to seven days respectively

In terms of cinematic releases, The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 only earned circa $202 million in their first week. (Source: The Guardian).

Although this sales information is impressive, comparing ticket sales to units sold tells a more accurate sale of consumer penetration.

Game content is even changing with professional writers being consulted to ensure a solid plot and Hollywood actors voicing characters for greater character development and depth.

Outside of the actual game, merchandise including toys, clothing, comics, anime and movies have become much more prevalent. Devil May Cry and Street Fighter both put forward great anime series while the recent array of Gears of War 3 toys, shirts, belt buckles and accessories available online and at Gametraders are, for the most part, pretty cool.

And let's not forget the years of Mario and Sonic merch from as early as 1990 as well as promo items on special edition releases such as figurines, remote control cars, T-shirts and DVDs.

As with any brand, publishers are doing everything they can to get you to choose their game over others. Have you fallen victim to clever marketing lately?

Source: The Guardian,

Wednesday, November 23

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review (PS3): A great adventure and a broken ride

The first two Uncharted games were reason enough to buy a PlayStation 3. Both were challenging, beautifully-rendered adventure games that combined solid third-person cover shooting with thrilling set pieces and platforming sequences. Nathan Drake returns - two years on - for his third adventure, Drake’s Deception. Can Naughty Dog deliver three essential experiences on the Sony platform?

The Good
The Keanu Reeves Effect – Drake’s Deception is the most visually-stunning game that I’ve played since Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction. The varied locales – which range from ancient temples to the London Underground – are rendered with such painstaking attention to detail, that you’ll often want to take pause and appreciate what Naughty Dog have managed to create. More spectacular still, is watching these structures and vistas fall apart. Be prepared to think and say “Whoa,” a lot. 

Knowing the ropes – The Uncharted games have been like comfort food for this gamer’s soul; and the third game works similarly enough to its forebears to soothe even the most cynical gamer. You’ll be able to predict every plot twist, every explosion, every false platform and handhold. You’ll laugh at each of the casts’ clever quips, and sit on the edge of your seat when you believe for anyone of them to be in mortal danger. Even the way trophies are doled out is nearly identical to its predecessor. Uncharted 3 is the videogame equivalent of an action movie, and it’s an association of which the developers are clearly not ashamed. 

 We're getting the band back together!

The Bad
Doesn’t play well with others – Even now, just weeks after launch, most of Uncharted 3’s various multiplayer lobbies are as desolate as the Rub’ al Khali desert. Worse still, modes like Co-op Adventure feel like a missed opportunity. Recycled assets, aimless narratives, and repetitive shoot-out stacked upon repetitive shoot-out makes this mode entirely skip-able. 

Fisticuffed – You’ll notice from the outset that Uncharted 3 features a more fluid melee combat system than that found in previous iterations of the series. What you’ll also notice – particularly by the end of the adventure – is that said melee combat system is shoehorned into as many situations as humanly possible. When there’s competition that does it better (far better if we look to the recently released Batman: Arkham City), you have to question whether the attention devoted here could have been diverted to more important areas... like the gunplay. 

The Ugly
Stormtrooper Syndrome – Do yourself a favour: as soon as you’re armed with a gun, crank the sensitivity up to full. Even then, aiming is almost unforgivably-sluggish; particularly for a series where the gunplay has previously been a highlight.

A bigger bang – For all the explosions and burning buildings, Drake’s Deception doesn’t take any risks in term of narrative outcomes. It would have been nice to have been surprised when the credits rolled. To have been subjected to heartbreak, or failure: this did not happen. 

Sheltered life - Even seven chapters (roughly two hours) in, the game is still teaching you how to play: freezing the action and presenting button prompts to help you along. If any of the puzzles stump you, you're often presented with a fully-fledged solution instead of a subtle "hint". All of that handholding ends abruptly with the nineteenth chapter: the damage model becomes insanely brutal, and I'd wager that most of my one-hundred and twenty-nine deaths eventuated from those oppressive final acts. Sometimes I'd spawn to a hail of RPG and grenade fire, or in front of a group of over-powered enemies. All of the momentum from the earlier levels was ground to a frustrating halt.  

It's not quite a steaming wreck, but it can be frustrating

The Verdict
If I may, I would like to contest Simon Parkin’s oft-discussed review of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with the score (if anything, I would have gone lower), it’s the content of his argument that I have a problem with. He essentially claimed that to its detriment, Drake’s Deception does everything to keep you on course; and that even when you’re set to fail, the game will give you a helpful push to make that final jump, or kill that persistent group of bad guys. This doesn’t bother me at all, as the Uncharted games have always provided hyper-linear experiences that are at their best when the player is “on the track.” It’s when the track work isn’t quite finished that the games have faltered. The third instalment has more of those “bumps” than any other game in the series. It’s a great game that is unmatched in terms of visual prowess; it’s just this time, the flaws are more noticeable, and this impacted on my enjoyment of the game as a whole.

Sunday, November 20

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception multiplayer impressions: Over before it began

A few weeks ago, I wrote to those still playing Gears of War 3, asking for some mercy on new players with the objective of growing the player base in spite of competition from emerging heavyweights like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. I don't know if my advice inspired anyone to change their ways, but I've since noticed that there are other new releases that are hurting as well; games on different platforms that still need to contend with Activision and EA's FPS juggernauts. In this case, I'm referring specifically to Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

With the single player campaign done and dusted, I opted to trial the multiplayer suite for the better part of last week. While I could find a match in some of the more unconventional modes - like the ridiculously fun Team Objective, and the promising Co-op Hunter Arena - most of the lobbies were desolate. I had to wait five to fifteen minutes to find a game in Team Deathmatch, while other modes featured wait times that exceeded half an hour (if I was lucky enough to find a match at all). Things aren't looking good for Naughty Dog's latest effort in terms of longevity.

I can see why the game's having trouble standing out from the crowd. Hit detection is a bit inconsistent, and players can generally take a bit of damage (read: you're a bullet sponge) before dying. Further to that, the action is pretty unbalanced with the various Boosters and Kickbacks in play. Access to a limited arsenal early on also provides little reason to persist. I think if players were allowed access to a substantially expanded range of weapons early on, the developers may have been able to counter aspects of the steep learning curve.

I know that another issue that developers must account for is the need to reward persistent players, but perhaps this is where some cosmetic customisation options could have been used to better effect. Weapon skins, taunts, clothing items: elements that would otherwise not alter the gameplay dynamics are there for the dedicated members of the community, while a respectable range of kit can get n00bs standing on their own two feet. As it stands, however, I have access to just over a handful of different weapons and my contribution to my team's score is often underwhelming.

 This should be an endgame pursuit

Finally, the Co-op Adventure mode is just flat-out disappointing. With a focus on repetitive combat and lazy narrative sequences, the oppressively-difficult levels feel slapped together and entirely unnecessary. I expected a lot more from this mode, particularly with the signs of promise shown by its predecessor.

There is a lot to like though. Vertical movement-oriented maps allow for a great variety of strategies to be employed. The fluid platforming mechanics also translate well to fast-paced multiplayer standards like King of the Hill and Marked Man. Team Deathmatch games often have some dramatic openings on moving vehicles, making for some awe-inspiring takedowns and breathtaking visuals that would not be possible in other, more conventional shooters. Stealth takedowns and convincing animations also add weight to the argument that Uncharted 3's mutliplayer component is well worth experiencing. 

 Incomparable thrills and (potential) spills

With that in mind, it's a shame then that Naughty Dog didn't think much about the plight of new players. Especially in the weeks and months after launch, where those more experienced players will exploit a commanding arsenal of weapons as well as passive and active abilities against new recruits.

What are your thoughts on Uncharted 3's multiplayer offering? Is it worth playing with all the other shooters on the market right now?

Wednesday, November 16

Batman Arkham City Review (PS3): Heroes deserve a city, not a sandbox

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the genuine surprise of 2009. Street Fighter IV may have reinvigorated a genre, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves may have taken most of the gongs, but Arkham Asylum held a special place in my heart as the first game that genuinely allowed for players to walk in the boots of the Dark Knight.  Two years on, and again I’m in the cape and cowl. Will Rocksteady’s effort prove to be as successful and impressive as the first?  

The Good 
Self-contained lore – There’s no way you can honour continuity with an intellectual property as storied and as cherished as Batman. Rocksteady have built on their unique narrative and art direction in Arkham City. The important “facts” are all there in each character’s bio, but with both instalments of the Arkham franchise, the developers have forged their own, compelling version of Batman’s universe.  

 I make this look good.

Bright lights, big city – Arkham City is truly a sight to behold, with imposing architecture, blaring neon signs, and almost nothing in the way of technical hitches. I can only think of one time where the frame rate stuttered, and that just happened to be during one of the more elaborate set pieces. 

Sounds like a movie – The quality of the score in Arkham City is unmatched. I could listen to the menu theme for hours and not grow tired of the cinema-quality orchestral arrangement. The piece that plays after dispatching a whole detachment with stealth takedowns was simply hair-raising. An aural triumph!  

Signposting – With the sole exception of the epilogue, Catwoman’s part in the adventure is well worth experiencing. If you choose to buy the game used, you really should lay down the extra cash to get the full experience. Without those brief sequences, the transition between acts would be jarring to say the least.   

The Bad 
That was awkward – The player-controlled Batman is infinitely more-awkward than that of the Batman in print. The jerky camera made climbing some structures a lot harder than it ought to be. The camera, at times, switches clumsily between the tighter angle used to great effect in the predominately-indoor environments of Arkham Asylum, and a zoomed-out perspective for open world travel; the transition between the two can be disorienting at times. 

The bigger they are –Arkham Asylum’s boss fights were tough and fraught with tension. Arkham City’s offerings by comparison rarely register above manageable. The stealth battle against Mr Freeze is the exception, but the majority of these encounters are easier than a fight against a group of some of the better-equipped thugs. 

The Ugly 
How do I do that? – There are a ridiculous amount of gadgets in Arkham City and - in all honesty - not all of them are needed. I used the Line Launcher a grand total of five times; I used other tools even less than that. Then there are all the extra combos and button combinations to remember for complex combat situations as well. Next time, we need a better means of gadget selection, and maybe – gasp – fewer abilities to remember.  

Not everyone’s a winner – While Rocksteady’s team have hit the right notes with most of the Rogues Gallery, I can’t help but feel as though Two-Face and Penguin felt a bit too much like generic gangster types. One of my favourite Bat books is The Long Halloween, where Harvey Dent is this tragic, mysterious character. Arkham City’s Two-Face, however, is a Cagney-esque caricature.      

 Get into character!

Fizzer – I don’t intend to spoil anything, but the final chapters of both Batman and Catwoman's adventures are so terribly disappointing, and end so abruptly, as to almost derail the entire experience.  

The Verdict 
Despite all of the twists and thrills, I walked away from Arkham Asylum feeling deeply disappointed. The sights and sounds of the prison city were often breathtaking, but the little things did their best to detract from the experience as a whole. Sure, my graceless movement and inability to adapt to the needlessly-complex controls may not be an issue for others, but I wasn’t as taken with this second effort as I thought I would be. Bottom line: Arkham City is bigger, bolder, but not necessarily better than Arkham Asylum. Still, the game comes highly recommended.

Sunday, November 13

Why I’ll always choose Call of Duty over Battlefield

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was easily one of my favourite games of last year: the large-scale multiplayer battles and expertly-paced single player campaign had me entertained for hours. Call of Duty: Blacks Ops, on the other hand, was somewhat less impressive; but I still would’ve played it for longer and – arguably - had more fun with it too.  

The reason for this is simple, but it’s not the kind of thing you read about in reviews anymore: 4 player splitscreen multiplayer.  

Roughly six days in every year, I get together with my brother, Reuben and my best mate, and play for the better part of the day. Modern Warfare 2 accounted for this style of play best, with a rank and unlock system identical to that used in the online component. Still, the original Modern Warfare, World at War, Black Ops and now, Modern Warfare 3 cater to that small percentage of the player population that prefers that their victims be sitting right next to them.  

 What do you mean: no splitscreen multiplayer?

It’s funny to think of the legends that have developed throughout our rivalry. My brother’s expertise with akimbo pistols was probably the most frustrating chapter, but there are many tales worth re-telling.  There were the hours before my friend’s bucks party, where I relegated both him and my sibling to the bottom of the scoreboard with a riot shield. Or my friend’s unfortunate – though humorous – predilection for the sniper rifle against two run-and-gunners like Reuben and I. The games have provided more fun than they’re worth, solely for allowing that level of intimacy that online-exclusive multiplayer shooters (like Battlefield) are unable to provide.  

Sure, you can do amazing things in the Battlefield games, and the maps are of a size that the CoD games are yet to match; but DICE refuse to cater to the online-impaired (or averse). I also would reject the argument that Battlefield maps are too big for three (or four) player splitscreen, because there are vehicles. That, and the high level of destructibility would prove to be a great distraction. Imagine scanning a vast cityscape from a helicopter, looking for a small group of opponents that are too preoccupied blowing the walls out of buildings: that would be a bucket-load of fun, in my opinion.    

Still, here we are with both Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 sitting on my coffee table. I know which one I’m going to get more out of; I’m meeting up with the boys next weekend, just to be sure.

Which shooter do you prefer? Do you still play splitscreen multiplayer?

Saturday, November 12

The Warfare of Modern Warfare

This is the first of two posts I'll be doing in the coming weeks on the changing face of gaming.

There's no doubt that games have been marketed and received differently than in the past. They are a prime source of entertainment for millions around the world with releases breaking records for sales over and over, rivaling and exceeding those of Hollywood summer blockbuster films.

But how desperate are we to be the first to play these games? Are you that keen that you'll join the mob at the EB /JB/Game midnight releases? Would you buy more V energy drinks than ever required for your chance to win a private playing party? Or are you willing to bypass the retail scene and turn to an act of crime?

While pirating games is illegal (and half the PC version of the game was available via BitTorrent sites two weeks prior to its release), this isn't what I'm talking about.

On the eve of the worldwide release of MW3, two separate armed robberies occurred in France with one team crashing into a van, attacking the drivers with pepper spray and making off with 6,000 copies of the game. The other robbery involved taking the drivers at knifepoint.

In total the thieves made away with three quarters of a million Euros in games, reportedly selling at least one copy for $1,725.

Furthermore, a Missouri man frustrated with long lines to buy the game followed another man home and tried to take it at gunpoint. The owner was not willing to give up his copy so he fought back, surprising the attacker who fled, only to be picked up by police soon after.

More drama in the US unfolded as an angry customer threatened to blow up a Best Buy in order to get his preordered copy.

What is happening to the world? Preordered games are in store and guarantee you will be playing later that day. Why pay four figure sums for a game that will be released the next day for 5% of the cost of the stolen copy.

Is this a world gone mad for pixelated awesomeness, a sign of hard times or an increase in modern stupidity?

Have you played yet? What did you pay, where did you get it and what are your thoughts?

Friday, November 11

Arkham City is not a heroic take on the open world action game

Batman: Arkham City may be a great looking game, but I can’t help the feeling that I’m a poor imposter of the Caped Crusader. Further to that, I can’t help but feel as though the game itself gets the character and flow of Batman wrong sometimes. 

Firstly, whether it’s in the flesh or in the digital representation of Gotham, I’m a relentlessly clumsy person. Real-life Tristan nearly gave himself a concussion when trying to retrieve an elephant-shaped piggy bank at the age of fifteen. As Batman, I’ve made my presence obvious to goons all over Arkham City. I can beat them senseless upon discovery, but never with the unbeatable finesse of the hero in print form. In my hands, Batman is a fumbling shadow of the character I’ve been exposed to through comic books and film. 

There’s also the problem of focus: as in Bat-Tristan lacks any semblance of it. I could be on my way to save a political prisoner, only to hear a phone ringing in the distance. That poor bastard probably got stabbed to death, but at least I’m fifteen percent closer to cracking the case of the Cold Call Killer! 

While we’re on the subject of side-quests, they just seem to be at odds with Batman and how I know him - or the superhero comic book medium as a whole - to operate. Would the Caped Crusader allow Mad Hatter to indoctrinate new followers unabated, so that he could thwart another villain? No. He would engage with him in an episodic manner; or, Mad Hatter’s antics would tie into the main story arc leading the hero to the next piece of the puzzle. I guess you could argue that comic book aficionados are afforded the same level of freedom - as they don’t have to read every Bat book – but in the context of a self-contained adventure, this doesn’t sit well with me. The fact that you can abstain from some of these encounters altogether annoys me to no end. Not that I’m going to, but the Batman I know wouldn’t let any evil go unpunished. 
So, you're going to let him go?

I’m not saying that Bats couldn’t prioritize either, but as far as the writing in the comic book goes, he often doesn’t have to. He’d be able to call on Robin, Nightwing and a great many other allies if the number of opponents became too great. Batman: Hush, Battle for the Cowl, hell, even Superman/Batman show that anyone wearing the cape and cowl can play nice with others. The Batman in Arkham City almost resents the offer of assistance, and his partners aren’t too charming either. Videogame Robin matches the hero in terms of broodiness while Nightwing is unforgivably-silent in the expensive Nightwing Challenge Pack DLC. Sure, Catwoman is there to provide a different perspective, but the over-sexed interpretation of Selina Kyle is hard to take seriously.  
The lack of other voices in Arkham City feels like a real missed opportunity. It’s about time Rocksteady got a little more heroic with its DLC strategy and offered some story, instead of all this throwaway score attack nonsense. Dick Grayson is one of my favourite characters: you could have at least given him some purpose, if not some personality.  

Please! Say something!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the game, and it is an amazing – if not, flawed – second effort from the developer. I just wish there was a little less freedom in this game. Batman can’t fart around looking for collectibles when there’s evil afoot! 

Am I out of line here? How have you enjoyed your experience with Arkham City?

Wednesday, November 9

Sonic Generations makes me want to write to myself

Have you ever wanted to go back in time to tell your younger self that everything would be OK?

Sometimes it’s the bigger things, like if I could go back to about two weeks after my Uncle Peter died and promise myself that I wouldn’t sob on the walk to work anymore from that day. Or if I could speak to lovelorn, overweight, sixteen year-old me and assure him that in ten years time, he’d be happy and married to a beautiful woman.

Sometimes – like in this case – it’s the little things, like telling my fifteen year-old self that a good Sonic game would come around again.... in about thirteen years time.

That would have saved me a lot of time, money and disappointment. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Sonic Adventure by any means, but it was still a good game. Good, however, isn’t normally enough to tide you over for a decade.

If I had known that Sonic Generations was good, I could have left the Blue Blur alone, and I may not have fallen out of love with him and his ridiculously-large cadre of anthropomorphized followers. I could have just ignored the painfully-mediocre Sonic Rivals, the punitive Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), and the just plain baffling Sonic Unleashed. I may not have even rolled my eyes every time that a Sonic or Sega compilation was announced, released, or re-released, or made available for download.

What in fresh hell was that all about?
How could have I known that Sonic Generations was going to be enjoyable, let alone playable? The first demo didn’t help, with its choppy frame rate and momentum-killing physics. Sure, I found hints that I could be in for a treat after the second, more-refined trial hit the web; but I dared not allow myself to feel disappointment’s cold touch again. Sonic had hurt me too many times for that to happen once more.

After powering through Green Hill in the full product, imagine my surprise when Chemical Plant - and later, Sky Sanctuary - also proved to be challenging, though fair, and fun to boot. It was almost enough to have me in tears when I heard that familiar track from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and I had to find air bubbles to stop myself from drowning in that uncharacteristically-colourful industrial setting. It was beautiful, and completely unexpected (despite the fact that the game was being sold on its “back to basics” approach).

It's gonna be OK

Don't get me wrong, the game is far from perfect. The "modern" levels sometimes move too fast for my eyes to keep track of the happenings on screen, meaning you'll still suffer from the odd cheap death. Also, Sonic's entourage is still present - albeit, with reduced camera time - and the present day hedgehog still reeks of baditude. All things considered, however, it looks as though this franchise may finally be on the road to recovery. I don't want to get your hopes up in case the next instalment is a turd, but at least we have this to keep us occupied for the next few years.

Sonic Generations may not have helped with the pain of loss and loneliness that I experienced on occasion throughout those thirteen years, but knowing that the game was on its way would have comforted me when I suffered all those cheap deaths, poor level design and insufferable characters in Sonic’s last few outings.

What are your thoughts on the Sega mascot’s latest adventure? Can we get excited for the next instalment?

Monday, November 7

An Open Letter to the Gears of War 3 Player Community

Dear fellow Gearheads,

There are dark days ahead of us. Even with the recently-released Horde Command Pack and the promise of free maps to those more frugal players amongst us, our numbers are set to drop; and drop severely. 

Battlefield 3 has already dealt us a jarring blow, and things are made even more desperate with Modern Warfare 3 mere hours away from release. Before you know it, full lobbies will be a distant memory, bots will be your most common comrade, and you’ll have no competition for those weapon pick-ups. 

Sure, there may be some benefits: high scores, lots of ribbons and a spot atop the leaderboards; but try and think long-term. This community could perish unless we implement some strategies to consolidate our numbers and attract some new players. If I may suggest the following:

Chainsaw Etiquette
If you are dispatched by a player who has a predilection for the chainsaw or retro bayonet (like my brother, who I played with for several hours recently), may I ask that you refrain from protracted stints of verbal abuse? Yes, it can be frustrating to die by the blade – particularly when you have your shotgun out – but it’s no reason shout the likes of “n00b” or “cheat”. You’ll triumph more often than not if the circumstances are to repeat, so accept the death, keep calm and respawn

A gracious loser would make for a happy ending to this scenario

For the Horde
You may not know the person you’re playing with, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t revive them during a game of Horde. Seriously, I must have spent about five minutes in total crawling from player to player during one harrowing match on Blood Drive, yearning for someone to pick me up. If you had a new player go through that ordeal, they’d more than likely switch discs and be done with us. 

If at first you don’t succeed
This is another Horde-related pointer: if you die during a wave of Horde and you can’t afford the respawn, just wait a few minutes while we clean up the remaining Locust and Lambent threats. Don’t quit out nine waves into a promising match. Further to that, let’s say that all of us die, why don’t we all hang around for the next attempt? Horde is such a great selling point for players that aren’t up for the cut-throat competitive scene, don’t dissuade them with your rage-quitting. 

Events are regularly scheduled (read: pretty much every weekend since release), so jump on and play a few games of “Boom Snipes” or “Can You Dig It?” Not only will you earn ribbons – and by extension, medals - but you’ll also find some compelling twists to the Gears multiplayer formula. For example: I imagined that when players are handed a Digger and Boltok pistol to start, all I would see was explosions. You know which ones I’m talking about, the kind with fire. I couldn’t be more wrong, as heads were popping all over Drydock

Get ready for a new type of explosion

To close: I love this game, and I love playing it with friends, siblings and total strangers. Please don’t contribute to the demise of the community that plays Gears of War 3. Adopt some of my tips, and maybe I’ll play some Wingman matches against actual people! 

Do you have any tips that you would like to share? I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmest Regards,

Tristan Damen
Gamertag: Dutch Rootsman