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The Finished Fight (Spoiler Free)

If you read my last blog (at least two of you did :P), then you'll know that I caved into the Halo 3 hype, the fake documentaries of soldiers reminiscing about the Master Chief being there inspiration, and the war memorial video. I admit, I wasn't going to get the game, but the hype got to me.

I'm very glad I did. I completed the solocampaign on Heroic (although for some reason I didn't get the acheivments for2 chapters for some reason :(), and I must say that, I thought, it equalled, or maybe even superceeded the quality of the first Halo. The campaign is absolutely divine.

The story and the cinematics are its strongest point by far; whilst relatively simple, it will really pull on the heart strings of any self respecting Halo:CE lover at several moments.

The cut-scenes are magnificently "shot",some fantastic images, genuinely epic images could be snap-shotted out of the several cut scenes throughout the plot. The voice acting and script is also fantastic, there are some really heart wrenching scenes. The dialogue really strings together well, and there are plenty of quote-worthy lines coming from it.

Aside from the actual story aspect, the gameplay in the campaign is just as brilliant as the story. There are certainly more than a handful of brilliant set pieces in the 12 hour (played on Heroic), 9 chapter campaign, and it genuinely exceeded my expectations in every possible way.

I said it above, I'll say it again: This game decimates the disappointment of Halo 2,and truly does live up to the timeless legacy that is the Halo series.

Thank you, Bungie, for not letting me down!

Believe (the hype)?

Halo 3. It will probably become the biggest selling game on the 360. Halo: CE, was one of the main reasons for the original Xbox's success, the series has spawned spin offs, all the usual, and soon, a new (probably series) of games: Halo Wars. It's everywhere, even if you're not interested in games, you'll almost definitely know there's something coming out to do with a man in a green armoured costume with an orange visor...Because the Master Chief is everywhere.

Where I stand (or rather, stood), was here:

Halo: CE, is still my favourite FPS ever. I don't know if it will ever be surpassed, but even if it's not, it will always have a special place in my heart. It was a fantastic game, with a brilliant story and campaign, and the coop and multiplayer elements were undeniably good. The storyline finished, and there was undoubtably going to be a second.

The hype started for Halo 2. Bungie and Microsoft brought it on hard and fast. FLashy trailers, the MC jumping off spaceships...the Covenant have found earth we learn, the big defensive is on, time to defend the human race...Flashy graphics, bring the family, the whole kids, yipee.
Alas, there was no big defence. The campaign mode that I had been so frivilously anticipating fell drastically short of my expectations. The storyline and missions revolved not around defending Earth, but unearthing some (albeit interesting) Covenant political upheaval, going to another ring world (it did send a bit of a shiver when the Gregorian monk chant came on at the site of the new ring world) and doing all sorts of stuff...Furthermore...You didn't even fill MC's boots for the whole game, but were dragged out of them to play as some Elite that you didn't relate to or care about, all you really wanted to be doing was killing the big bad covenant and stopping them from destroying precious Earth.

So Halo 2 ends, Cortana's eloping with some Flood intelligence, the Elites are seperated from the rest of the Covenant, and the Brutes are now the baddies.

"Spartan 117 reporting for duty...[I'm here] to finish the fight."

Alas, we didn't get the chance to finish the fight. I felt cheated, dismayed, and irritated by the poor, unproductive and quite plain plot of Halo 2; many people were...Then came the first trailer for Halo 3, sub-titled:

FINISH THE FIGHT

Naturally. I was done with Halo though. I might pick up Halo 3 eventually, I'd just read about what happened. The Halo 3 beta which I got with Crackdown was also extremely uncompelling, felt like Halo 2 with some extra icing.
Then the hype. The genius, genius hype.

"Believe" would seem to be the main word they're using. I was walking around Edinburgh and saw a double-decker bus park right beside me on my way to the station with a massive poster of the MC, looking epic, and the almost cheesy, but for some reason desperately passable "A Hero Never Dies" tagline beside him. "Believe".

From the station I came home. Came on the internet, and watched the John 117 monument video, then the war veteran one. Both of them cheesy, but both of them, for the sole reason that the MC is at the core of them, pulled on my heart strings. I now started thinking "How can I just let the MC pass me by and read about what happens? I have to see the MC to victory..." and so it began.

Here I am now, planning on going into town to see if any shops here have broken the embargo, and if not, I'll click the "Checkout" button on Play.com, be £40 poorer, and for what? A game that I don't actually expect to fully satisfy me? Yes.

This is, without doubt, the epitome of how powerful the Microsoft-Bungie hype machine is. I was consciously opposed to the hype of Halo 3, knowing what the same hype had done for Halo 2...But I can't leave the MC out to dry, I have to play Halo 3, complete the campaign, because the MC that "gave the soldiers hope", the MC that is the "Hero that never dies", is just too much of a cheesy, but compelling history not to be a part of.

It's actually quite depressing that I can't resist the temptation...but maybe I wont regret it...Although I probably will.

I don't believe your hype Microsoft...I don't believe your hype Bungie...But I believe that the MC is a legend as far as computer game characters go, and if only for him, the MC that I took through Assault on the Control Room so many times, that I dragged through the Library on Legendary, that I drove to safety through the crumbling Pillar of Autumn...With that same MC, I just have to finish the fight.

Looks like I've been fooled by hype I don't "believe". Dammit.

Outrageous

A lot of you might have seen now, through Gamespot news, the new Xbox 360 Elite that has been released. I'd like to take up just a small amount of this blog to describe why, in my eyes, this is out of line, and totally outrageous.

 1. I payed £270 for the Premium Xbox 360 pack the day it came out. That's loyalty and trust in a company who hadn't let me down before. I thought I'd be getting the best from the 360 with the money I spent, and when I spent it. Apparently not. Not that it bothers me, but no HDMI port, and (this does bother me) my console is cream white, not an awesome jet black.

2. With my Premium 360 pack came a 20Gb Hard Drive. I got it for a reduced price bundled, rather than bying it seperately (since I shelled out more for the premium pack). This memory has rapidly been wiped by music and demos and themes and trailers etc. and a 120Gb hard drive is perfect...Only now to get one, I have to spend more than people who have backed off buying the 360 for ages, and are now going to buy the "Elite".

Basically, I have to spend way more money to get my 120Gb HD, and WAY more money overall to get a black 360...Microsoft, you've really stabbed us all in the back. In some petty attempt to out-muscle the PS3, you've double-crossed loyal customers. Shame on you.

Crackdown for Halo 3

I'm getting Crackdown. I'm ordering it from PLAY.com, where you can read, next to it: "Includes an invitation to the Halo 3 mutliplayer Beta".

Had I just impulse bought it, randomly gone on the site, seen that and clicked it, then you could accuse me of getting the game solely for the Halo 3 beta. If I had heard about the offer, and then gone to the site to buy it, then you could accuse me of getting it just for the Halo 3 beta.

I downloaded the demo. It's more than OK, it's a really fun game. Really surreal and superhero-ish, and it's made by a developer that are HQ'd a thirty minute drive from where I live. I like games that are just pure fun, but to be totally honest, I don't often buy them.

This has been such a slick move by Microsoft. So many more will have been in my boat ("Should I get it, shouldn't I?"), and been pushed to getting it because the beta is there. Others will just run down to their local GAME and pre-order it not even knowing what it is, so long as they get an early try of Halo 3.

I was disappointed by Halo 2, but I want to play Halo 3. Now I'm going to get the chance. It's been such a smart move, this game will sell big, and Microsoft will make a mint...and it will further the hype machine in the build up to Halo 3 (which, to be honest, compared to 2 has been substantially in a lower gear).

So there you have it. I'm buying Crackdown because of the Halo 3 beta...but not for the Halo 3 beta...there's a difference :)

People's Game of the Year


It was always a given, really, that it was going to go to Gears of War.

The game was immensely hyped, with cinematic advertisements and events being set up for its launch, very little was known about Gears of War until nearer the launch date.

When I think about it, I realise that this game has it all.

It has the superficial "wow" effect. You boot the game up, go to a new campaign, and you automatically see how beautiful it looks. It is without doubt the best looking game on the 360. Not just in the fantastically chunky and robust character models, but from the beautiful drizzle of the water, to the globular blood flying from enemies as you gun them down. The sounds of the game will also grab you to start. The brilliant voice acting and sounds of rattling machine gun fire really put you in the boots of a COG...

Once you get over that, there's the gameplay. Balanced to absolute perfection. The "Active Reload" system is the kind of innovation we need to see from more games, in an industry that's getting evermore samey. The campaign wont last you too long though, and that's where the multiplayer comes in.

Fantastically tuned, with a robust net code that barely ever disconnects or lags you up, there is no better online experience for the Xbox 360.

It's contenders (for the 360 throne) weren't weak. Rainbow Six Vegas is a brilliant game (I'll be reviewing it soon), but it has its downfalls. Oblivion, well, I personally am not on good terms with it, and despite it being fantastic, it was simply too mainstream and accomodating to be as unique as its predecessors.

All in all, Gears of War deserved this. It's as simple as that. It is the best game of 2006...and so that's the award it was given. Totally justified.

Gears of War - Multiplayer 1st Impressions


You can read my last post on the campaign. I'm about 3 hours of gameplay after that, and I'm about 1/3 of the way through Act 4. My estimate is that, on the second hardest difficulty, it'll be about a 12-17 hour game. Respectable in my eyes, the norm for shooters of this type.

However, after the campaign, what to do? Well, the multiplayer is there of course...So I took a break from going solo and launched into the lobbies.
First-off, there's a bug with getting in games. You have to re-click refresh THEN select a game to get in one, so in that way, I wasn't to impressed...but then there was everything else.

From my 30 minutes of multiplayer in a room with total strangers I am extremely happy. I walked away with a huge smile on my face. This game has it all. Trust me.

The actual gameplay? 4 vs 4 is the maximum. Not a glamorous number...but it is the perfect amount of people for this game. Truly perfect.

Lag? What lag? There is none. Literally. Zippo. Everything looks and feels just as good in the multiplayer as it does in the single player...

Sure I ran into 1 glitch in a level...but 1 glitch out of the 5 levels I sampled? No lag? Great gameplay ideas and modes?
What is 1 glitch? Nothing.

I've only had the game a day. And I'm going to let it settle for a week or so. But my verdict so far is that this is the best game in my collection. Bar none.

First Impressions - Gears of War

It's November 17th! Emergence Day! The Locust hoardes have invaded!

**Edit** I'd like to add that the people who say the game's story has no depth aren't entirely right. It has a sustained theme of what you could only describe as "destoryed beauty"...The story isn't told through the narrative, but through the environments you go to and people you meet.

Correct, Gears of War was released worldwide today and I busted the bank open to pick up my copy. I'm so happy I did.

I've played until the end of Act 2 (I'm told there are 5 acts) so I'm under half way through...and that's about 5 hours of gameplay. So first impressions are that it isn't the longest of games...but so what? Most games of this sort are only about 12-15 hours...In fact, I almost got the majority of CoD 3 finished in about 7 hours, so the length isn't that great a factor...and even after this play though, I have co-op and insane difficulty, not to mention the multiplayer, which I haven't started yet...Wait..I'm waffling... **HERE IS WHERE I START ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE GAME**

Frankly, so far, what I'm thinking is: "This is how a game should be made."
It's so obvious that the devs have put so much time and effort into its creation...especially just after having played PES 6 and CoD 3, two games which feel as if they've been kicked through the development processes.

Gameplay is sublime. It has a really, really natural feeling to it. I'm playing it on Hardcore difficulty right off the bat, and whilst I've been told it gets more so in the later acts, I've found it hard so far, but not frustrating...another contrast to CoD 3. The core of the game is jumping from cover to cover, but there are some absolutely fantastic little gameplay amendments, like "active reloading" where you can determine how quickly you reload and even how much damage the bullets do. Not only this, but the entire feeling and realism of the game...for example, instead of meaninglessly responing enemies (nods toward CoD3 once again) they emerge from holes, which, if you're willing to take the extra risk, you can shut...

The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The character models are so thick and chunky, they just look absolutely fantastic. In fact, every model...weapon, building, vehicle...all of them are seamlessly brilliant. This is without doubt the best looking game on the 360 as of yet, and if games are looking this good only a year into its life, I'm seriously looking forward to the future.

First impressions? Very, very, very good. Once I've fished about the multiplayer and completed the campaign, expect to see a review....and if I were you I'd expect it to be good.

The Thin Line in Gaming

I love a hard game. As much as I hate it at the time, sitting in front of the TV, screaming until I go blue, resisting the massive temptations to throw my £40 controller as hard as I can at the wall, and start tearing apart the very shirt on my back. It's a horrible feeling; I get angry, and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry...

When it's all said and done though, and I finally reach what I was aiming for through gritted teeth, I know I've achieved something. There's little better than seeing the "Checkpoint Reached" text appear at the top right of the screen after having laboured through a Call of Duty level whilst playing on Veteran. A platformer that requires the upmost coordination and timing to make it through alive will make you feel greater when you make that last jump, and an RPG that puts up such a hard fight for that legendary armour only makes you feel so much better wearing it. Yes, it's so, so satisfying, to play and win a hard game.

But it is a very thin and delicate thread that seperates a hard game and an unfair one. The difference between a hard game and an unfair one is huge, and I think it's worth pointing that out.

Dictionary.com defines "unfair" as:
"not fair; not conforming to approved standards, as of justice, honesty, or ethics...Not just or evenhanded; biased"
This prety much describes an unfair game. "Not just".

You should be in control of how well you do in everyway in a game. If you can't progress in an FPS because your shooting isn't accurate enough, that's your fault. If you can't progress in an FPS because the A.I flanks and kills you, that's your fault...These things are why the game is hard: It requires accurate and fast shooting, and it has good A.I...However, if you can't progress in an FPS because the enemies get a headshot every time from 400m, that's not your fault. If you can't progress in an FPS because enemies spawn randomly on your flank, that's not your fault.

Unfair games are not "Hard". Unfair games are frustrating, cheap and to put it bluntly, crap. Games like Ninja Gaiden, Call of Duty and Hitman: Contracts are "Hard", but it annoys me when people use the term so liberally. Hard games take time and skill to craft, respect them, they deserve it.

The Beautiful Game

Today I picked up the beautiful game...of the beautiful game...You'll know what I mean when I say that due to the street release date being broken by Woolworths, I was able to buy Pro Evolution Soccer 6 two days early from my local GAME store.

Now, in the forums there was a lot of stir about how you can't create and transfer players, nor can you save replays...But I have two things to say about that.

1. In the instruction manual, it says press "X" to save a replay. This means they meant to put it in. Expect an update, and expect it to be free. I think it falls under corrective maintenance, so they can't legally charge you for it anyway.

2. Open your eyes.

Seriously, why should you care about not being to transfer and create players when this is obviously the closest simulation to real football there is? The whole game plays beautifully. Sure, it's slowed down from previous versions, but football isn't a lightning fast sport. Everything on the park seems so...smooth and realistic. I wont go into it now, since a review should be up soon, but to anyone querying as whether or not to buy this, query no longer...

Football has a home once more. And once again, it's in Pro Ev.

Will He Walk the Walk?


Now that Oblivion has been and gone, I'm eagerly anitcipating my next serial game obsession: Fable 2. I bought the first one, and, whilst far from loving it as much as I did Morrowind, I spent many a Saturday morning and evening playing through it and thoroughly enjoying both its witty humour and exciting gameplay...However, there were things that were lacking.

The brains behind Fable (and Lionhead Studios), Peter Molyneux can certainly talk the talk. He is probably the most ambitious and involved creator in the games industry...but it's not seldom when his ambition gets the better of him.

Prior to its released, he was hailing Fable as having revolutionary features. He claimed that you could plant an acorn, and come back to it in months time to see it as a fully grown tree; essentially, he was promising dynamic environments on last-gen machines. People believed him, but not even the power of the original Xbox could cope, and the team called the idea off. There were plenty of other things he promised that he couldn't deliver...perhaps until now.

His intentions for Fable 2 are just as enormous. He has promised that an acorn will grow into a tree (apparently he recieved a death threat because this was not in the original Fable, something I find incomprehensible) along with many other extremely exciting features. He says he is bored of games that don't allow you to have an effect on the environment. He says that everything will be 'ownable' in Fable 2, from a house to an entire city. He has made claims such as the following, extremely ambitious statement:

"The first time you encounter the camp, you might think that any decision you make on how to interact with it is insignificant, but ... the effects of even your seemingly trivial actions will be felt for decades. If you choose to trade with the camp, for example, you might find that it has developed into a small settlement when you're in the area again 10 years later. After another decade, that small settlement .... [could] ultimately become a thriving town or city. If you decided to loot the camp and kill its inhabitants, on the other hand, the land it occupied would be reclaimed by nature, and 10 years later you'd never even know it was there. Molyneux calls this technology "dynamic regions," and it's one of several features in the game that he seems genuinely excited to talk about. "

Those are very strong words indeed, and if Lionhead is able to deliver on absolutely stunning features such as the afore-mentioned 'dynamic regions', I could see Fable 2 ushering in a new era of gaming, since nothing like this has really been done before.

Whilst none of the other features that have been announced so far are quite as startling as this, they would still appear to be quite appealing. Among them is the ability to have children with a wives of your choosing, who will love you unconditionally, looking up to you and the way you live...Meaning if you're evil, they may well aspire to be the same. A nice little quote to go with this:

"Molyneux said that one of the most magical moments of his career was when he recently saw the Fable 2 family features in action. Returning home from a lengthy quest, Molyneux found that his baby son had grown up in his absence and, as he approached the house, the boy swung the doors open and ran toward him with his arms outstretched."

Nice.

Among the other features is the combat, which he has hinted will revolve no more around hack-and-slash, but a better, possibly 'one-button' system. Very interesting.

Finally, there is one feature which he is 'most excited' about, but it would appear he is not yet ready to share it with us. However, in a recent GS article, he stated that "Early next year, Lionhead intends to show off one of Fable 2's new features by letting someone outside the development studio try it out for the first time", again, what the feature is is still under wraps; all he said was that is was "both new and important".

I'm certainly looking forward to Fable 2, and will be even more if it turns out Molyneux lives up to the things he is saying...but he's let his mouth get the better of him before...There really is only one question...Can he walk the walk?