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Patch Fury

I am not sure if it's EA or DICE that hate their own consumers but someone is making it difficult for me to love Battlefield 3 at the moment. After caving in and purchasing a Premium pass I am now unable to download all the extra content as it won't physically fit on my hard drive. My original beef was that they included the DLC in the update patches you were forced to download which meant you had to devote space to stuff you couldn't even access. However the upside was that if you did want it then it would all be there right? Wrong.

It seems that after Close Quarters someone must have thought that the solution was to separate out patches so instead of one massive patch there are, wait, TWO massive patches? Whose idea was that? What the hell is in all these giant files and how come they are so ridiculously enormous? It's maddening. Is there no way around it? We all welcome patches that smooth out bugs and hinder cheats but this is just preposterous. The only workaround is to buy a USB pen drive to house all these extra files that do virtually nothing. Thanks guys.

I love you, I think

Have you ever had that weird feeling where you play a game but aren't so keen on it yet the next day you keep thinking about it only to repeat the cycle over and over? That's the feeling I am getting with Metal Gear Solid 4 at the moment and even though I have been underwhelmed by the experience so far there is something about it that keeps sticking in my mind. I am not sure why but there are three possible reasons

1. The subconscious part of me knows it's a great game and is just waiting for the rest of my brain to catch up.

2. The building blocks of the game aren't great but the Hideo Kojima magic touch is undeniably entrancing.

3. It's actually a terrible game and I am kidding myself because it has Metal Gear Solid on the front.

Not sure so far but I am definitely going to throw myself into it. Let's hope it's more of a Justified than a Heroes.

In other news I finished Far Cry 3 last night and the ending was just amazing. Those last few levels were a blast, literally. I know that as gamers we are supposed to promote our hobby as more than gun fantasy but when gun fantasies are this spectacular you have to enjoy the ride. OK, an escape through an army of bad guys that like to park their jeeps next to red barrels may not be Dostoyevsky but it was a lot more fun than Crime & Punishment. And as we all know, red barrels are gaming for fun.

Seriously though, gaming IS maturing as a hobby and there IS a definite need to make this clear to people but at the same time Hollywood produces mountains of melodramatic, hollow action films or predictable, bland romantic comedies and they seem to be immune from the hate train. People snaffle them up because they are simple distractions, would you want every film to be a Mulholland Drive or Citizen Kane? Probably not.

Today's Thoughts Regarding Cats

I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami and he is easily one of my favourite authors. I remember the first time I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and being transfixed by it. Train rides to work just disappeared in a flash of pages and I couldn't wait to get back to it when I had to put it down and get back to real life. His style has come under a lot of criticism as being overburdened with superfluous detail, lacking in focus and not challenging the reader and while his books do have a relaxed, meandering pace, I enjoy them and surely that is what counts. I love the fact that hidden in each novel could be a world of hidden meanings and clever allegories, or that these simply told stories are just written for their own sake and nothing more.

One recurring motif that appears in his books is cats. Many people dislike cats and as a cat owner I am often reminded why but there is something magical and aloof about them which fits very neatly with Murakami's books. A pet's life and it's owners usually run parallel to each other. We look after our pets and they take life's path with us but this model doesn't apply to cats. Although they depend on us for food and shelter they don't share our lives alongside us but rather our worlds intersect theirs like the centre of a Venn diagram. I couldn't tell you where my cat is right now, his habits and mood changes on a whim and he will sometimes stare at a corner of the room like there is something there. In his world there is.

This theme of dual worlds and parallel lives that may or may not have a connection pops up in a variety of Murakami's novels and the cats in his books often feel like key figures, navigating through worlds, sage-like and ethereal. In fact, the cat in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is important due to his total absence.

Anyway, I think I got a little carried away in feline philosophy there. I am sure that there aren't many people that spend so much time wondering about their pets position in the fabric of reality so returning to what prompted me to write this blog in the first place is a little parable called The Vegetarian Cat and the Rat told in the current Murakami book I am reading, 1Q84. It's relevance is a mystery but is it's relevance even relevant? The tale goes like this.

A cat met up with a big male rat in the attic and chased him into a corner. The rat, trembling, said, Please dont eat me, Mr. Cat. I have to go back to my family. I have hungry children waiting for me. Please let me go. The cat said, Dont worry, I wont eat you. To tell you the truth, I cant say this too loudly, but Im a vegetarian. I dont eat any meat. You were lucky to run into me. The rat said, Oh, what a wonderful day! What a lucky rat I am to meet up with a vegetarian cat! But the very next second, the cat pounced on the rat, held him down with his claws, and sank his sharp teeth into the rats throat. With his last, painful breath, the rat asked him, But Mr. Cat, didnt you say youre a vegetarian and dont eat any meat? Were you lying to me? The cat licked his chops and said, True, I dont eat meat. That was no lie. Im going to take you home in my mouth and trade you for lettuce.

What does it mean? Maybe nothing but it's been floating around my mind all day.

Cat

What the hell is he thinking?

An Alternate Future

Is it too nerdy to buy a soundtrack to a videogame? I hope not because I got the one for Fez a few days ago and it's blippety bloopity electronica is a great reminder of what an absorbing and magical title it accompanies. Actually it's probably not too nerdy, if anything it's not nerdy enough. Unthinkable 5 years ago, the word geek now appears next to the word chic without snorts of disdain and it seems that nerds are not what they used to be. Maybe there will come a day when cool teenagers break out D&D instead of playing spin the bottle and all the girls will swoon when the best looking lad in school defeats a dragon with his level 13 cleric. The d20 will replace the guitar as the teenage gusset-loosener of choice and the alpha male spot won't be decided by floppy hair and rudimentary knowledge of Nirvana guitar tabs (as in my day) but by the roll of a dice.

It's not likely though is it?

The case for Ictodad Tower Defence

Look what the doctor found in my wife

Baby



For those that aren't sure what they are looking at the above is an ultrasound image of a foetus. Yes, an actual human is growing inside my lovely wife. Whether you find the idea to be weird or wonderful it's a bit of a shocker and I am finding it a bit unreal that I will soon be labelled as 'father.' This wasn't unplanned but it has happened rather quickly and I am struggling to get a mental grip on the realities of the situation. Many turn to books or films for advice and guidance but as a man who loves videogames I am turning to my gaming library for assistance. It turns out I probably shouldn't have!

The closest comparison that springs to mind is the escort mission and it must be the nearest gameplay type to my current situation. Sadly I reckon gamers aren't particularly nurturing because I am pretty sure that when you see one coming you roll your eyes in exasperation as much as I do. Remember Ashley from Resident Evil 4? Instead of climbing a tree or waiting on a ledge when trouble shuffled into view she would just stand there while zombie dogs bit her face off. Then when you went to check on her she would accuse you of looking up her skirt. What a cheek! But she wasn't the worse. At least Ashley had the sense to duck when you pointed a gun at her, how about the human sheep from Dead Rising? I remember taking a swing at a big horde of zombies when one fool put himself in the way. I can only assume he was some zombie rights activist but his reward for such kind behaviour was getting his head stoved in with a sledgehammer. Unlike real life you can reload a game but with a frustrating escort mission you might not want to.

But there is one exception. In Ico I genuinely wanted to save the girl and despite her frailty the game somehow fostered a bond between me and my fragile ward. It would have been nice if she had swung a stick or something every so often but then again Sheva in Resident Evil 5 had a gun and she spent most of the time pumping ammo into the sky so it's probably not worth the effort. I'll stick with Ico then.

Ico



So it seems there is some hope and on continued reflection even the unfriendliest of games have a protective element. In Call of Duty or Battlefield there are usually a few NPCs under your wing that charge with you into action. Naturally there are the fodder that get themselves shot to tatters in the first 10 seconds but Private A. Smith or Lieutenant B. Shootman aren't my concern. I am talking about mustachioed he-man Captain Price or fearless lunatic Private Haggard. Men who stand side-by-side with us as we battle whichever group are on the hate-list at Activision HQ that week. Should these men take a bullet we would be there to patch them up and send them back into the fray. The problem is that they don't. These are super-soldiers that can take an RPG to the chest and just run it off. You are a delicate meatbag that they are taking along for the ride but should you fall that's it. They move on and you don't. It's a one-way love.

OK so maybe trying to find the caring side to Call of Duty is a bit ambitious but there are characters in games that are specifically identified by their role as father, characters like Max Payne or Kratos. Actually they are not the best examples of model parents either but they loved their offspring (to death in Kratos's case) and they can teach me what NOT to do. At least now I know that I shouldn't involve myself in organised crime and when in a brutal, frenzied rage, don't go straight home. Valuable life lessons there. But of course I am forgetting about the best gaming daddy of all, Octodad. He is not the biological parent (obviously) but he is still a caring provider to his kids. By not being an octopus I am already one step ahead. Things are looking up.

Octodad



In fact there is an example of an entire genre where protection and development are at it's very core, the tower defense game. Think about it. You are put in charge of a vulnerable and defenseless ...... well, something and must protect it from external forces hell bent on it's destruction. You are it's champion and protector and through your wisdom and patience you must take your delicate core from weak and new to strong, experienced and sophisticated. An example to us all.

Of course there are plenty more examples of games that require looking after someone or something but they all have their drawbacks as parent trainers. Bioshock had Big Daddies but they let their kids turn into junkies, Pikmin had the little leaf creatures that you gently tended but only so you could lob them at bug-eyed plant monsters and Lost In blue put you in the care of a lost and frightened girl far from home who sadly was just too boring to live for. But these are no good. It's the loving triforce of Ico, Octodad and Desktop Defence that I am interested in and developers need to take notice, mash them all together, market them to nervous fathers-to-be and then take my money. I just need a catchy name before setting up my Kickstarter account. Any ideas?

Here I Go Again

Burn the tree, throw away the Christmas decorations and get all those dodgy presents re-gifted asap. Christmas is over, a new year has begun and life has returned to normal. This means that I will not be able to get up when the clock is on double digits and will definitely not be able to go to bed when it's on single ones either. Returning to real life can be pretty painful but at least there is a cosy 3-day work week to ease me back in. It's not all bad.

So here I am back at my desk wondering how all the lovely people on GS are getting along. Catching up with all the blogs occupied my time nicely for a bit and it seems that there are a few people proudly displaying their Christmas gaming swag. Good idea, here's mine (although it's a bit of a cheat as I bought 2 of them for myself).

FAR CRY 3

The quality of this game is undeniable but for the moment I am not feeling that magic that so many people have been. It could be a combination of stellar reviews and me loving it's predecessor that is creating unrealistic expectations but it seems to be lacking that 'je ne sais quoi' that others are drooling over. More play needed.

FEZ

One fast-travel option away from greatness this Live puzzle-platformer is a real treat. Cute visuals, clever gameplay and a great soundtrack mask a devious little fox of a game that will rob you of an afternoon. Nice hat, shame about the map.

GOD OF WAR 3

This has been the highlight for me. I love the God Of War games but had forgotten how much. Stepping back into Kratos's blood soaked sandals is an absolute joy, well, maybe joy is the wrong word when you are considering a game where you play a man who headbutts a god to death in the first 20 minutes but I am loving it! Plus it has the best QTE prompt ever (at the end of the Poseidon fight for those that remember).

Well, I hope that you all had a nice Christmas and a pleasant New Year and that 2013 is as good as it can be.

Recent Shenanigans

Well, I did it. All 16 colossi were bested over the weekend and I moved onto Ico as planned. Then somewhere along the way I ended up abandoning Ico and replaying Condemned 2. I am not quite sure how I went from a touching, magical adventure to a violent punch 'em up but there you go. For those that haven't played it (and you really should) Condemned 2 is a deeply unsettling story set in a city full of violent thugs who delight in picking up blunt objects with which to bludgeon you to death with. Luckily the main character (who in the greatest action movie traditions is a grizzled ex-cop with a unique brand of justice and a heavy drinking problem back for one last case) is equally proficient in the subtle art of head-stovery. It's all good 18+ fun and there can't be many games that let you rip off toilet seats to beat a goon to death with then lob him off a balcony for good measure. Plus for those that have played it there's that Black Lake Lodge level. Remember that? It's even better the second time.

The next games on the to-do list are those that have been featured in the PSN and Live Christmas deals which are the sort of sale I can get along with. No going elbow-to-elbow with the sweaty populace who have been driven into mince-pie fuelled shopping desperation, just a casual few presses on a controller while sat on a comfy sofa, munching on a jaffa cake and slurping a lovely cup of tea. As long as PSN data isn't hacked again, that would be bad. Of course there is the Mayan apocalypse in a couple of days but at least I'll get a start on Fez, Journey and The Unfinished Swan before the world is reduced to rubble. I am not too worried though as a lifetime of gaming have taught me how to manage a tight inventory, cycle confidently between fortification and repulsion and most importantly that any injury can be overcome by having a quick breather behind the uniformly waist-high bits of rubble that will be handily dotted around the smouldering crater that we once called civilisation. I would have invested in Tokyo Jungle just to make sure but you don't want to plan all the fun out of the end of the world, do you?

Gamer Nesting Instinct

My wife is away for the weekend and this little gamer will be all on his own. **sniffles** But I won't be pawing forlornly at the door, only breaking my high-pitched whining to glance furtively at my food bowl. No. I will be using this as a chance to live like a bachelor for a weekend, safe in the knowledge that I will not be doing any housework, building, going to the tip or any of that husbandy guff. Instead I will be in 'the nest'!

This gaming nest will be a Sheldon Cooper-esque perfect spot on the sofa where all remotes, controllers and cans of beer are within easy reach and I can game constantly without human contact for as long as I wish. My current plan is to get my PS2 out of the loft and play Shadow of the Colossus from start to finish (with Ico in reserve if I haven't scratched my pre-gen gaming itch by the time Sunday night rolls around). Then I will give the house a quick tidy (made simple by the fact that I won't have cooked or even moved much in three days) and it will be clean and ship-shape for the wife. I am a man with a plan!

More Sequels Please

Sequels are good. There, I said it. While it's easy to criticize companies for giving us what can feel like annual DLC, it's worth noting that the usual suspects (CoD, FIFA etc.) not only sell well but generally review well too. It makes plain business sense for the likes of EA and Activision to profit on an established brand and although I would always champion a fresh, new IP it's hard to deny the quality of so-called 'triple-A' sequels. This may bring snorts of disdain from eye-rolling haters but their scoffery should really be directed at the exiled, ostracised and forgotten hermits of the past and instead of demanding less they should be crying for more.

Although some spec-snobs will disagree the WiiU has officially landed us in the next-generation (or in a new current generation again - I am never sure when that changes) and with it comes the opportunity for developers to exploit this power to tear up the rulebook and create new and original experiences but there is also the potential to give some lesser known titles a second chance. Titles that may not have met their own expectations in terms of sales, reviews or even quality, but ones that had the ambition to offer up something that we may not have been ready for on older hardware. Here are a few examples

Project Eden

Project Eden


Portal 2 proved that a co-operative puzzle game wouldn't just work, but that it could be great. Although Project Eden may have been presented as a shooter, at it's heart it was a puzzler. Sure there was a lot of combat but it was of the stand and shoot variety and involved little or no strategy due to Bioshock-styIe respawn booths every ten feet or so. No, the combat was there as a nice little palate-cleanser between wandering around in a Monkey Island kind of fug until you managed to stumble over the solution. Four characters each with separate skills had to descend deeper into the bowels of a MegaCity One type complex, constantly hindered by failing lifts, collapsing walkways and annoying beasties. With Live and PSN this could be rebooted with new graphics and drop in / drop out play that games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island use so effortlessly.

Stubbs the Zombie

Stubbs the Zombie

Zombie games are hardly a rarity but the difference with Stubbs the Zombie was that you didn't destroy the zombie horde you created it. As the original zombie it was up to you to bite unsuspecting humans, reducing them to shambling warriors so they could spread the plague to others and so on until you could take on the military and then ultimately the world. With a cute soundtrack and a great sense of humour this game turned the genre on it's head and had a real sense of fun in it's skull-munching gameplay. So while the original meant that you could create a zombie horde of only about 8 or so, a powerhouse sequel could increase that number a hundred-fold to create a Dead Rising sized mob of brain-hungry monsters to throw against all those undead haters out there.

Herdy Gerdy

Herdy Gerdy

The herd 'em up is hardly a crowded genre which makes Herdy Gerdy the best by default but it doesn't mean it wasn't full of great ideas. Big open levels were full of various creatures like the fearful Dupes or musical Bleeps that you would have to round up and herd into their appropriate pen. Dangerous creatures roamed the countryside too like the bear-like Gromps that could knock you out and start eating your carefully herded flock. A cutesy and whimsical look hid a challenging depth and if you wanted to get 100% in each level it would take some serious planning. Sadly it felt rough around the edges and basic issues like a lack of checkpoints, long loading times and a woeful map meant that the difficulty could occasionally tip from fun challenge to unfair slog. With current-gen technology there is the opportunity for bigger maps, greater creature numbers / diversity and the chance to bring this forgotten gem back from obscurity.

Dropship - United Peace Force

Dropship

To my mind Ace Combat has lost it's identity. You could never have said it was a flight sim but you still had to fly the thing, Ace Combat never felt like a corridor shooter before Assault Horizon. This leaves a gap in the market for a console flight game that wants you to actually fly and Dropship is the perfect game to leap into that breach. The Dropships that you flew were of the VTOL type that meant you could hover like a helicopter and then shoot off like a jet. It was tricky to control but incredibly satisfying when you made that pinpoint rescue landing under fire and then jetted away to safety. A modern version could not only make the game look a lot better (which wouldn't be hard) but could create some huge battles and set pieces in both a campaign mode and hectic multiplayer. Just leave out the jeep sequences.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Call of Cthulhu

Based on several Lovecraft stories this game was a disturbing trip into the occult. At the start you arrive in the sinister town of Innsborough on a straightforward missing person case but things start to go very bad, very quickly as you realise that the town is under the influence of monstrous ancient beings. Like Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube (itself in sequel limbo) you had a sanity system which meant that looking at the horrible creatures of the dark for too long would drive you mad and eventually to suicide. Reminiscent of Half Life the game was very linear and the story-telling and atmosphere meant it never felt like you were just running down a fancy corridor. An updated version of this could be fantastic and with HD visuals and sound it could be something really special.

There are plenty of other games that deserve a sequel treatment like Soul Reaver, Thief, Fear Effect or Beyond Good & Evil but these are well known and often requested. It's the less well-known that need a voice. Those titles that may not have been great but were trying great things. So if a developer is short of ideas but doesn't want to crib off the usual then they could definitely try some of the above for inspiration.

Belief in Ghosts

Those Ubisoft guys are nice chaps aren't they? I only got Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on Wednesday and they have already laid on a double xp weekend as a Thanksgiving present for me. Thanks guys. That double xp has helped me to unlock all those extras like a cap and bulb and, well not much actually. If this was Call of Duty I would have had about 6000 messages by now all telling me how I have got bonus xp for shooting 10 baddies with an M16 or walking ten feet in iron sights or wearing a cap at a jaunty angle or whatnot. It turns out that GR:FS is pretty meagre.

So this means I have had to learn a new MP shooter along with it's game mechanics, maps and exploits without the attention deficit pleasing bonus fodder that most MP shooters provide us with. Winning the round is actually the reward for playing. Crazy. It's quite a challenge but it reminds me of the days learning the ropes on Rainbow Six: Vegas where progression was slow and success was hard fought. Nonetheless it's a great MP experience and although it has it's strange quirks (landing a frag grenade at the feet of a trio of soldiers just knocked them over for example) I am enjoying it despite the fact that I always end up starting the round as Team Bodark which kind of makes me think that the host and his buddies are starting on the favourable side of the map. Still, there is that feeling of playing a game that nobody else is (at least on my friends list) which makes me feel like those guys that listen to bands you never heard of. Aren't I teh coolzies?

I have been playing the SP as well and the 'ghost' element of sneaking around is pretty neat. That moment where you get discovered, all hell breaks loose and it switches from high tension to mania in an instant is a great one. Sadly the story is a bit loose so far and uses the kind of world-hopping dizziness that probably masks the fact that there isn't much of a story there. I don't mind. I have come to just enjoy it as a series of set pieces threaded loosely around a theme and a pitched battle through traffic in a crowded street in Pakistan or sneaking through a Siberian airport are enjoyable for their own sake. Overall, it's a lot of fun. Anyone care for a game?