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July 17th: Playing For Fun - Part Four

Having abandoned Red Dead Redemption 2 as a busted flush and dumped it in the “Bad” pile of games for 2019 it’s with a heavy heart that I start this part by doing the same with the Resident Evil 2 Remake.

This is a little upsetting as when I first got back into console gaming with the grey slab that was PlayStation one of my first games, in fact the first one I got totally hooked on, was the original game.

Yet here I can’t muster the enthusiasm to return to it, the idea that the Tyrant follows you around and can even chase you into a save room is a horrible one, a change too far here, which is a shame as much of the other improvements have worked pretty well… it’s still the old police station, parts of it are still reasonably familiar… but it’s not for me I’m afraid and I have to add it to the Meh pile… seems my taste in games is changing as I deteriorate into old age dementia.

Good Times… 6, Meh Times… 4, Bad Times… 1

Which is added to by the fact that I then had an utterly wonderful time with a game I, by all rights, should have hated… Detroit: Become Human

David Cage has produced some incredibly pretentious bollocks in his time, obsessed with small details and gameplay elements that remove any element of fun rather than telling a story… here that has been reigned back considerably… no having to work through half a dozen different tasks before you can drive a car… and there is a feeling that every decision counts and makes a difference as you see the flowchart (a genius idea) of each scene showing what decisions you made and seeing very clearly that there were long spiralling paths that could have played out had you made other decisions.

There are a few twists along the way, one obvious one that I’m ashamed to say I missed, and this extends to the main menu where the character who talks you through the original settings set up talks to you and asks questions each time you return to it.

It’s the first game for a long time where I wanted to start again as soon as I finished it… and I will, after a small element of Trophy clear up… but I’ll use a guide for my next run through as I want the Platinum here… a great game to play and one that I’d love to see a sequel to, if not the same characters then others set in the same universe, other states outside Detroit who had similar android uprisings for example… a solid 9/10 game and 100% a good time.

Good Times… 7, Meh Times… 4, Bad Times… 1

Time for some DLC… whilst some found the Xbox briefing to be a little disappointing, it would have been foolhardy to expect any massive reveals with the next generation of consoles coming next year… any titles shown by the developers they bought last year will have been under development before the purchase (yet some imbeciles scream that Ninja Theory have been FORCED into making a multiplayer game)and any new titles will surely be readied for the new machines launch late next year.

Two highlights for me being the release date for Cyberpunk 2077 (and I’m taking two days off work when that releases to play it) and two bits of DLC landing the same week… Borderlands 2 giving us a bridge story to set up the release and story of Borderlands 3 and Forza Horizon 4 giving us Lego racing… which looks better than the main game at this point.

In order to save myself a few pennies with the DLC I decide to join Gamepass using a card I got with the new consoles last year… only I can’t use them having already been a member… so I sign up for a month of “Gamepass Ultimate” for £1 and discover this changes my Live subscription to a Gamepass Ultimate subscription for the rest of its current life… it runs out at the end of October 2020 apparently.

But… will I be able to just drop back to a simple Live membership when that’s done… I have no interest in Gamepass really, and I’d rather not be forced into having it once the current subscription expires.

Anyway… onto the DLC…

Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary just reminds me how good Borderlands is as a game, how much I love the set up and, even though it’s a case of fetch/kill quests all the time the set up for these is far from dull and I’m having a blast again… I doubt it’ll last more than a couple of evenings but I don’t care… a definite good time.

Not the biggest chunk of content compared to the paid for DLC that was launched years and years ago, a couple of evening sessions and I had defeated the boss and was trying (and failing) to beat the Raid boss… but while there may not have been any other story related Achievements to collect there were plenty of small side missions to keep you busy for at least another session.

Good Times… 8, Meh Times… 4, Bad Times… 1

More DLC… this time in the shape of the Lego expansion for Forza Horizon 4 which adds a good chunk of content and clearly hopes to recapture the success of the Hotwheels DLC from Forza Horizon 3.

And it succeeds for the most part… it looks great, seeing Lego bricks fly everywhere as you smash through some of the Lego scenery is pretty exciting the first few hours, even the addition of “Radio Awesome” playing one track continually works well… and then there are the Challenges.

The idea of the DLC is to build yourself a huge house, this is done by winning Bricks in Challenges and at various points you’ll be able to upgrade your home… these Challenges include all the races, a few bricks for completing, several more for a podium finish and more on top of that for the win… same with the PR stunts, one star gets a few bricks while 3 stars gets many more.

All well and good… except after 8 hours playing I’m left with the Challenges that I really can’t abide… Drift Zones and the Trailblazers added in the Fortune Island DLC… I can get stars on all of them, but there are those were 3 stars is something well beyond my ability and skill level.

I’ve harvested 23 of the 30 Achievements, with the remainder being for completing all of a certain type of Challenge, getting 3 stars in all Drifts/Trailblazers and such like… not going to happen, not when I have a backlog as big as mine… any further Achievements at this point will be from casual play… still… a Good Time!

Good Times… 9, Meh Times… 4, Bad Times… 1

In search of something a little different I decide to dip into my JRPG backlog and the game “Megadimension Neptunia VII” which is apparently Version 2 and not 7 like I’d thought when I purchased the game.

I’ve played a couple of times to this point… and it’s not looking good, if I get into a game then I generally don’t tend to think of what I’m going to play next until I get close to the end… and here I’ve not only thought about what I’ll play next… but I’ve already started it… and it’s totally left field compared to what anyone, myself included, expected.

It’s an oddball JRPG and while I’m not adverse to the occasional bit of grinding to make levels manageable it seems to have happened considerably quicker here than in other titles, I’m only at the fourth area in the game and I’m having to grind away at earlier levels to the point where I can just about hold my own in the third area of the game and that is worrying.

While I like a JRPG there are those that are just too weird for me to sink loads of time into, especially when I have a good half dozen others that I can try out, a couple of which are part of a series where I have had fun in the past.

I’ll come back to this later… the game is going to take some time.

What happened next threw me a little, I ended up working through a few things for Microsoft Reward points and there was a couple of hundred on offer for unlocking an Achievement in a Gears of War title… so, against all by best judgement and overwhelming hatred of the genre… I played Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.

Whilst my ineptitude shone through as I struggled to jump the first obstacle in the training section I worked through the game far enough to get my Reward Points… and kept going… and kept going… and kept going.

Now I’m not going to convert to being a third person shooter fan, and I’m not going to run off and instantly play any of the sequels (even though I have a copy of 4 and the other 360 titles are all on Gamepass) but I had a fun time with it, sure the AI was dumb, but not as dumb as the enemies AI so that wasn’t that bad.

Even though the final boss battle, something I’ve not experienced in a game for a while, was infuriating this was definitely a good time.

Good Times… 10, Meh Times… 4, Bad Times… 1

July 5th: Out Of My Comfort Zone

To keep myself interested in the absence of “whore” titles in my gameplay habits for the year I’ve decided that, on occasions when I have a couple of days off, I’ll start a game that I wouldn’t normally spend that much time on… of which there are a couple in my backlog.

In this case there was a small added advantage (and I do mean very small) in that, having had my Live subscription upgraded to an Ultimate Gamepass Subscription, I now have access to loads of additional games, and can partake of quests to get extra Reward points… and there happened to be one for popping any Achievement in any Gears of War game.

Now I’ve ignored Gears of War since it released, what I saw was utterly unappealing to me, shooters tend not to interest me much… yet I downloaded the first two games when they were free on “Games with Gold” and even bought both Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Gears of War 4 for the Xbox One cheap off Ebay… why did I keep doing this when I have no interest in the game?

No idea… none whatsoever.

What I had forgotten as I loaded the game up, and by game I mean the remastered Ultimate Edition of the original game, is that the next game where I would unlock an Achievement would be the 250th game on my card… so Gears of War has that dubious honour.

Now having ignored the games before I was clueless… and skipped much of the dialogue out of habit and thus, when faced with the first obstacle to jump over, found myself having no idea how to get over the pillar in question… this does not bode well.

I work through the tutorial, pop a couple of Achievements and claim my extra Reward points… I keep going and, while I’m by no means even close to competent, I do seem more clued up than my team mates who seem to have the most stupid AI ever seen in a game… I had to reload one checkpoint when a character got stuck in the stairs, others refused to move onto the next checkpoint after I’d cleared everything… ho hum.

Yet… around 9 chapters into act 1 the story has me interested… I may be useless, but I’m going to work through the game at least once (and as it will probably only be once I’m using a video guide for the collectables along the way) to see how it ends… and I may well end up playing the sequel at some point after… and, of course, it looks gorgeous on the X.

June 26th: Surprising those who know me, and myself a little, I go back for some more, and continue to enjoy myself… most of the time.

In Act II the game introduces a new mechanic that I’m not overly pleased to see or have to play through… keeping out of the dark.

Seems there are areas of the game, or the whole landscape for all I know, where the skies fill with an enemy known as the Krill which will devour anything foolish enough to walk in the dark… so progress through the playing field revolves around keeping near a source of light, either a street lamp, a blazing barrel or, and this is where you get to help, a leaking propane tank left on the street in a convenient manner.

These are not always easy to see and because the control scheme sucks balls (running requires you press the A button rather than pressing down on the movement stick) it’s easy for a novice (or a completely useless player such as myself) to get caught on the scenery and become a sitting target for the Krill to take down.

I’m not enjoying these sections, even if they do add a little variety to the gun play.

The second new mechanic was the vehicle section… driving is fine, but with the AI being shit thick you have to jump between controlling the vehicle and manning the turret to take down the krill who are set on attacking you.

It’s at the end of this section that I call it a night, almost 4 hours of play in total and a dozen Achievements unlocked… and I want to go back for more… for someone who avoided playing the game as long as I have this is getting quite worrying.

The start of July sees the next session and I’m in danger of finishing a game off that I never thought I’d start at all… what is the world coming to.

I work through the fourth chapter and the niggles are still creeping in… I reach the end of one chapter and am told that I’ve failed it on account of my partner hasn’t made it to the end with me… because my partner is taking cover in a section we’ve already cleared… what’s worse is that he’s taken cover behind something that is no longer there as it’s been destroyed, so he’s just squatting there for no reason and I can’t make him move.

Then, a couple of chapters further on, we’re working our way through a building when we’re attacked… what does my good buddy do?

Sod all… just stands there and lets the enemy pass by on their way to me… thanks pal!

With the final chapter all that stands between me and the end of the game, with only the bare minimum of clean up to be done for an extra Achievement or two it’s been fun… but I’m not going anywhere near the sequels without a break first.

July 5th: The day I finished my first Gears of War game, by which I mean finished the story… as opposed to the “unlocked all Achievements” type completed… no way do I have the patience for that.

Even though I’m generally a ham-fisted player with close to zero ability this didn’t really hold me back until I reached the end and the, frankly unfair boss fight at the end… how the hell do the sodding Krill keep killing me when I’m in the light permanently and nowhere near General Raam?

I’d picked up the collectibles along the way, paused momentarily to compose myself for the final battle and got repeatedly crushed… it started to get a little disheartening when, having reached this far, it looked for a few minutes like I’d flop hard at the end.

I checked YouTube videos and finally, possibly more through luck than judgement I got him, in a fraction of the time I’d spent before trying the same thing… I think this time the frag grenades were better placed than before.

After a further 15 minutes to collect 1 final Achievement for killing multiple enemies at once and I’m done with the game less I stumble over a co-op partner for a couple of Chapters I have no intention of going back and trying to play it on harder levels or attacking the online game… fun… but not something I’m going to rush back to.

June 13th - E3 2019

It’s potentially hard to criticise an E3 briefing where over 50 games were shown to the crowd, where details of an exceptionally powerful next gen console were hinted at, where a Hollywood A Lister revealed one of the most anticipated release dates we’ve had for a long while… but…

I felt a little let down.

Maybe I’m getting old but of all the games released one I have had pre-ordered for two months already (Borderlands 3) but didn’t really show anything new on that front, one I’ve now pre-ordered (Cyberpunk 2077) but that was always going to be the case as soon as the release date was set… but of the rest, two I’d possibly buy in a sale and 20+ were passed over in seconds as part of the ID@Xbox montage.

I might be tempted to pick up “The Outer Worlds” were it not being released a month after Borderlands 3 which, to be honest, it does seem to resemble rather a lot and, still being honest here, I’ve never really rated Obsidian that much.

Obsidian to me seem capable of taking a known IP and creating something that improves a few areas of the gameplay, but then falls flat on its face with a terrible ending… KOTOR 2 improved some of the combat mechanics, added an influence system so your companions would be affected by your deeds… but had a seriously curtailed ending which left me feeling ripped off.

Fallout: New Vegas improved on some of the mechanics from Fallout 3, bullets type and crafting… but had another shocker of an ending which stopped any further exploration, a dead end after an ultimately very dull final mission set up.

When they were given free reign with Alpha Protocol we got a decent spy story which was crippled a little by the fact that your agent couldn’t step over a cardboard box on his way to check a desk out for clues so you had to walk all the way around it to the other side… there were numerous other niggles but that one really got on my nerves… this was supposed to be a next gen game (at the time) and the sodding main character can’t step over a box that comes up to his ankle.

So pardon me if I’m not enamoured by the thought of playing what looks to be a Borderlands knock off just 5 or 6 weeks after the launch of the real thing.

The only other full release that looked interesting was the upcoming EA Star Wars title that had been shown in more detail the previous day so wasn’t exactly a fresh reveal… and this one I’d need to check out more closely as I’m not 100% sold on buying that as things stand.

And that… is just about it… for me at least.

Disappointed?

A little, but considering that we all know there will be a new generation of consoles coming next year it’s clear that the real big hitting reveals will be saved for the next E3… after all, if any of the new studios they bought last year were working on something new chances are it wouldn’t be in state that it could be shown off this year, anything that was shown from newly purchased studios then these would surely have been worked on before the buy out.

For the nay-sayers moaning that Ninja Theory have been forced to work on a multiplayer game, what they showed was way more advanced than anything with less than a years worth of development… but I guess if someone is dead set on an opinion then there’s little you can do to change their tiny minds.

Elsewhere… well I haven’t been overly bothered… Bethesda’s was apparently a car crash… a Battle Royale mode for a game that many have already abandoned as being a dud?

Final Fantasy VII Remake release date… all well and good, but the new combat looks too far removed from the original to be interesting.

I’ve already accepted that I’m only buying one or two more games this year… but next year I could (read probably will) be buying one or two new consoles.

June 7th - Remaining Human

Detroit: Become Human… has become the first game for a long while where, having completed the story, I jumped back in for a second play almost instantly.

I say almost instantly as I’ve decided to work through it for the Platinum Trophy… and there were a few other Trophies I could harvest before I had to take that route.

First up there were a few Trophies I missed that could easily be collected without the whole 12 hour play through malarkey… although I will have to do that as well, so I loaded up various chapters and played through them ensuring that I made a different decision at the end to unlock the alternative Trophy that chapter offered.

In one instance there is a Trophy for killing two androids who attack you in a warehouse, there is also a Trophy for allowing them to live, add in a few other instances like this, such as when Markus breaks his programming and can fight back against Leo in one of the small chapters… one Trophy for fighting back, another for doing nothing.

Once most of these were harvested I had to replay the final Chapter and not mess up one element involving Connor like I had done previously… this was a pain.

Not because it’s a dull chapter, nor is the 45-50 minute play time excessive considering what happens, but because I wanted to preserve my original save so I wasn’t getting the benefits of the checkpoint system… and thus, when the game crashed in the final action section, I lost 45 minutes work… the Trophies don’t unlock until you hit the flowchart scene at the end.

Bugger!

Once that was replayed I started my guided run, this will allow me to collect the Trophy for every character surviving, which annoyingly includes a handful of NPC’s as well as the three main characters, and collect most of the magazines needed for another Trophy… the guide is simple enough and only covers what you really need to do to complete each chapter fairly quickly.

As such it takes the quickest route through the game… early doors you’re presented with the option to sleep in a car for the night, Alice doesn’t like the idea of this and, when I played through the game originally, we moved into the squat and met Carl, a rather mangled and clearly dangerous android who did, eventually, come to our aid before a chase scene kicked in.

This time around we stayed in the car because that ends that chapter much quicker, and while the next chapter saw a different path taken to escape the area, we still ended up in a chase as I was supposed to keep the trigger button pressed to use an umbrella to hide our faces not just press it once.

Thus far I’ve reached the point where Kara and Alice end up at Zlatko’s mansion seeking help, it’s one of the more interesting chapters I found from my first run, but having been off work I wasn’t really up to working through that again.

June 2nd

Double bugger! Seems the failure with the umbrella means I end up having to replay a rather large chunk of the game again… if you make it through that part the magazine in the Zlatko section has a different cover and, obviously, counts as a different collectable.

So… having worked through my good run and collected a couple of additional Trophies from it, I thankfully decided to check the magazine covers unlocked to see which ones I needed to hoover up in the “bad” run through.

Most of these would appear in the “bad” run, except one which relates to Kara having escaped the clutches of the police undetected rather than having to bolt across the freeway in a mass of QTE’s.

So I replayed a couple of hours and picked up the one I’d missed… at this point, having played through the Zlatko episode several times I was starting to feel tired of this chapter… it’s interesting… but it’s also the slowest moving episode with a huge dialogue section that you just can’t skip.

It also highlights the horrible “set path” nature of the game.

Once you arrive at the house you ring the doorbell… you stand and wait… the option to ring the doorbell appears again… and until you do ring it again nothing will happen… and this sort of thing happens a lot.

Too often in fact.

There are far too many places where you have to complete a task for the game to move on, they are the most obvious “trigger” events around… in some areas you can spend ages messing around which the game doesn’t mind at all… because the event/action that triggers the story progression hasn’t been done yet.

It’s a small complaint… and I played through the game three or more times to unlock the platinum… but one that could irk some people.

Playing the pacifist throughout does change a few scenes… the visit to see Carl before the final battle is replaced by a visit to his graveside for a start… but if I though the additional scenes in this run were interesting I had no idea what to expect next.

Onto the final run through… the bad run through.

While my guide said to complete some sections as I had previously there were still options I wanted to explore… so in these instances I tended to ignore the guide and see what happened.

So… when Kara breaks her way through and starts to disobey I choose not to escape out the window, I thought I’d try and reason with Todd, having been hit and knocked down I then choose to try and protect Alice a little differently… long story short… dead Todd.

Did make the escape down the stairs a little less frantic.

In this “bad” run the idea is for Connor to die… a lot… like eight times, once at the hand of a key NPC along the way.

To start with this is pretty easy as you just head straight to the outdoor area in the hostage negotiation scene having ignored all the evidence and you’ll be able to die pretty easily, after that you actually have to go out your way… failing QTE’s whenever possible or winding up your partner to the point where, after a bad end to a scene, he pulls his gun and shoots you in the head.

Failing the QTE’s is harder than it sounds unless you’ve chosen, for some reason, to ramp up the difficulty and you get plenty of time to hit the correct button that it almost becomes harder to fail them… although leaving the pad alone sounds simple… but when in the whole swing of things you just react instinctively.

A nice touch here… next time you have to see Amanda in the odd looking garden, walk around the path to the right and you’ll find a number of gravestones marking your deaths.

Even once I’d completed all the runs, unlocked every Trophy and saved every character there were still sections of flowcharts I’d missed entirely… one at least covers Kara and Alice getting captured whilst at Rose’s which I never thought to be an option… the game being so very linear I’d just assumed there would be an action scene where someone is knocked out and the game makes a solitary reference to it later in a line of dialogue.

Sure the game boils down to a modern day version of a “choose your own adventure” book but first time through it tells a decent story and I’d totally encourage anybody playing to ignore any guides first time through… definitely worth a play.

May 27th - Becoming Human

I haven’t done a detailed gameplay diary for years now… they tended to be overblown affairs as I was, more often than not, playing through some 90+ hour epic that would take me weeks… not the most riveting thing to work through as a reader… but I feel my latest game could work out fairly well in this format… not too long, and I won’t work through any of the subsequent further plays in any sort of detail unless something staggering crops up.

There will be spoilers along the way, but as the game released almost a year ago (probably over a year by the time this is posted, 25th May 2018 was the actual date) I figure this shouldn’t be an issue… the game in question…

Detroit: Become Human

May 21st

A brief history lesson… I have never gotten on with Quantic Dreams games… to me David Cage is a sad little prick with a huge chip on his shoulder who tries to make his games so cinematic that the “game” bit is lost along with the enjoyment… not everyone will share this view, but while I want a good story I also want to enjoy myself.

In the past I played Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy of US players) on the original Xbox, it started well with the scene where you clean up after a murder, and even the saving the kid after his fall into the water was okay… but I lost interest when you discover that part of your mission is to keep a depressed cop from killing himself… yay for fun!

I tried starting Heavy Rain, played through the opening scene, then the infamous “Jason” scene in the shopping mall where you try and find the most annoying (and clearly dumb as f**k) kid in the world only to see him get crushed on the road because the stupid little prick wouldn’t stand still for 10 seconds when he got a balloon… but then the next scene kicked in and blow me it was dull… in a driving scene I don’t want to have to put my seatbelt on, check the mirrors, turn the key, release the hand brake… and so on before the scene moves on… sorry… too freaking dull.

I have Beyond Two Souls, thanks to PS+ (although maybe for not much longer given their recent selection of freebie titles on offer) and all that, but with my history it doesn’t even make it into my backlog… which now stands at 51 games.

I played the demo of Detroit as the story seemed interesting, I’m sure there will be some who use the whole hatred of Androids and the way it’s depicted as being a metaphor for racism and so on… don’t care for that, the story looks good… and the demo was interesting enough for me to buy the full game… then I fell ill and it’s sat untouched until today.

Playing the full game the polish is evident, from the way you pick your setting to the opening credits after the first (exactly the same as the demo) playable scene… the first few are all just scene setting really, Connor saving (maybe) the child at the start, Markus’s role as aide/carer for the elderly artist Jack and Kara as a domestic slave who has recently been repaired following an “accident” at home.

After each scene you get a flowchart of how it panned out, you can see how your decisions compared to others whether among your friends (and in my case only 1 appears to have played the game) or everyone who played it… this also shows which items or events you missed.

In one scene I was told to find something to do whilst Jack ate, so I read a book, now this was the first thing that I was offered but there were two other choices which may affect the story in a different way.

I like the flowchart idea, but it does demonstrate how linear some of the game can be… an example…

Markus’s first scene is him collecting painting materials from a store, while you start the scene in a park you can’t wander off to, say, the fountain you can see because the game puts a red wall there saying your destination is not in that direction, this happened a lot in this scene, and I was stopped from looking in different stores because the game didn’t want me to go there… the flowchart at the end showed an event happening that I’m almost 100% sure you can’t avoid simply because of where it takes place in relation to your secondary destination.

Yet I’m enjoying what I’ve played… even if the Trophy names are all capitalised and it triggers the OCD element in me.

While I do have a walkthrough, two in fact one with and one without spoilers, my initial run is going to be unaided… I want to discover the story for myself without any hints or prods from a guide… from the intro to the guide the Platinum will require two runs and a little tidying up later on, and I like the idea of seeing everything the developers have included.

May 22nd

Another half a dozen sections and the story starts to open up… while Connor is a definite oddity at this point both Kara and Markus have broken their programming and disobeyed, naturally in both cases the consequences were less than ideal… but had they been good we wouldn’t have the game.

While Connor may be the oddity, he’s also the character with the most freedom… this may be down to his role as a member of the police force and that the scenes in which he takes part are the most involved and what made me pick the game up in the first place… the examination of the crime scene I played through was excellent even if they move around like a badly handled puppet at times… seeing him sway sideways as he passes someone in a tight space is very realistic… what isn’t realistic is when he continues to do this in the same area when there is nobody within 10 feet of him.

While this same section did offer up a touch of the openworld vibe (in that the game wasn’t funnelling you towards the next set piece as Uncharted has a hateful habit of doing)as I progressed through the scene I found an NPC blocking the path I wanted to take as the game clearly didn’t want me going that way… open world vibe destroyed.

What the game does do, or at least has done so far, is make you care a little… as I was playing a later scene with Kara, now on the run after a violent episode with her owner, she finds herself caring for a small child… having been given a tip off about where we might stay safely I was still faced with finding somewhere the two of them could spend that night… having found somewhere I was genuinely worried briefly when I went back to fetch the child to find another Android was threatening her with a knife.

Even the Terminator style scene as a character is forced to rebuild themselves with parts from other, even more broken down, variants of themselves offered a moral choice or two along the way, did the way I barely hesitated to kill another android so that I might survive could for anything about the way the game moves forward or am I reading way too much into it?

Still… I know for sure I’ll be back for more.

May 27th

Been a few days since I updated this, a half day at work depriving me of my usual, lunch time, writing time and… well… I’ve now finished my first run through of the game.

We’ll get to that in a minute.

Spoiler time… if you still haven’t played the game, and intend to, then maybe give the next section a pass.

As Kara you’re bought to run the house of Todd, an unemployed, drug using, middle aged man who has a serious attitude problem and a daughter named Alice.

His wife left him for an Accountant, and the big issue here is why, having clearly gone up in the world, she left her child behind with a clearly unsuitable parent.

As much of Kara’s sections are spent making sure Alice is safe, looking after Alice and pretty much doing everything with Alice in mind… her very essence of existence at these points is looking after the child.

As is the case with this game, all three playable characters end up together, briefly, in Jericho… an abandoned ship which acts as sanctuary for deviant androids… having put Alice to sleep you leave to find Markus to ask for help, upon returning you discover the obvious (when you think about it) twist here.

Alice is not a human… when Todd’s wife left him she did indeed take their daughter with her, and so Todd bought a replacement… Alice is an android.

Back to the game.

I bloody loved it, and for the first time in ages I’m looking at a second play more or less straight away… I’ll go back and replay a couple of sections to mop up a couple of easier Trophies, then I’ll print the guide off and start from scratch going for all the collectables (missed a dozen or so Magazines) and the more complicated Trophies with a specific run through.

David Cage seems to have finally managed to put together a game where his obsession with having the player carry out even the most mundane tasks has been held back, and moving a thumb stick to interact with an object is considerably better than just pressing A or X when nearby.

The investigations done as Connor are a joy to play, deciding the method of protest my Markus and the androids is one that you find yourself giving considerable thought to as you go… looking after Alice becomes your priority as well because for much of the game you don’t realise she’s an android.

You also start to care for the other NPC’s and even went out of my way to save on very near the end of the game as they’d saved me earlier in the piece… I hate to say that Quantic Dream have finally managed to produce a game worthy a being labelled an Interactive movie.

And they’ve done it by cutting back on the padding, adding the genius flowchart system to show your decisions which is made EVEN BETTER by the fact that with the press of a button you can see how other players did… having completed the assault on the camp at the end I was informed only 27% of people had taken this route and succeeded… add one smug point to me.

They’ve even made the main menu fun.

I’ll explain.

On first loading the game a face appears talking you through the settings and options, this is clearly to try and immerse you in the whole android system (enforced later on when you meet Chloe at the home of the head of Cyberlife who make all the androids… Chloe is the same model as the main menu android) and at a later point you’ll be asked to take a survey.

Depending on your answers here, and the decisions you make in the game, her expression will change when you go back to the main menu, at one point she asked me if we were friends… having completed the game I returned to the menu and she asked “Did you free us?”

Upon answering yes… she smiled, thanked me, and left the main menu screen… she hasn’t been seen since.

The main menu offers the chance to replay chapters once the game has been completed, and I’ll use this to harvest a few missed Trophies, but I’m not sure this will allow me do so if I choose not to over-ride my save game file… if I do then I lose all my progress to that point… so if I choose to replay the opening scene with Kara first I lose all the checkpoints after that… so I need to be careful to replay the later stages first and work backwards.

You see the Trophies unlock as the flowchart updates, if I choose not to update my save my progress will these still pop at the end of each section?

Guess I’m going to have to play one without updating to find out… but I will find out.

20th May - Playing For Fun - Part Three

So it has taken till mid-March before I stumble across the first title that really, even briefly, made me want to quit and call it a day… and it would have been a crying shame as it’s a game I bought using the gift cards I received from work when I was hideously ill before Christmas… somehow that just doesn’t seem right.

I’m talking about Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales that I bought in a PSN sale and started after I completed Far Cry Classic Edition on PS4 rather than jump straight into another Far Cry game… especially as I have that ordered to replay again on the Xbox One already.

Back in the days of The Witcher 3 the game Gwent was something that I wasn’t overly bothered with at first… but then, as the game grew on me, I’d find myself playing the game for hours at a time instead of doing the other stuff that meant avoiding the main quest… and when, like me, you’ll avoid the main quest as much as possible this is a bad thing.

So a story based game with all the combat done by way of Gwent battles appealed immensely, and when it was on sale I bought it… and have now, obviously, started it… and all was… well… okay.

I’ve gone for the story mode, so if I find myself in a battle that I simply can’t win all I need do is “skip” that battle… which is handy as this is a different version of Gwent that I don’t truly recognise, only two rows instead of three, repeatable boss commands, cards I don’t recognise and puzzles to serve with a set selection of cards.

Graphically it’s basic, cell-shaded and top down, dialogue is on screen and spoken so no troubles there… but the battles can be frustrating… I had no idea what some of the cards did, wondered why, in some instances, they didn’t do the same as last time, and the enemy does seem to cheat at times… and it wasn’t fun to start with.

I skipped a battle, after a dozen attempts had failed, and slowly learnt the deck I’d been given… just in time for that chapter to end, the story to take a twist and I was suddenly playing with a different deck with different rules and different rules… but… the game does seem less punishing that it did before… I just need to work out what some of my cards do now.

The more I played the more I got into the game, a couple of chapters later and I was damn near invincible in a normal battle, attacking a castle to regain it from the invaders or fighting my way out of an ambush… but in non-standard battles I struggled, my normal “scorched” earth policy wasn’t always the best one and the checkpoint system sent you too far back to make simply exiting and re-planning your deck of cards an option.

The idea that certain character cars would leave your deck dependant on your decisions is a good one, I had stumbled across a Sorceress card in a battle, who agreed to join my party as a healer, having vowed never to kill in anger, and she was damn good at it… a couple of times her healing and boosting ability saved my neck in some of the battles… later she decided as out caused was just she’d help more against the enemy, so instead of healing my side my 80+ points when played she’d inflict some massive damage to turn the tide.

Later, having learnt of some deserters in my ranks, I decided to hang every third one of them to try and deter others from following suit (while decisions you make will affect some elements of the game going forward there is no option to micro-manage things like this) she decided that this was too much and could no longer continue to help… and left… arse!

This wasn’t the first time this had happened (potential spoiler ahead) in that a close aide to a king who has joined your party is a potential recruit after that chapter is done, you learn more of her upbringing in particular the ridicule she used to suffer for being the result of a human breeding with an Elf… she has a hatred of half-lings and thus battles against the elven bandits are something she loves… she even gets stats boosts as elves perish in battle… sadly this also extends to Dwarves and, in a later chapter, when you are tasked with looking for 40 Dwarves who have gone missing… she kills the lot when you find them bound and held captive.

In fact the whole game seems to work on this basis, character cards that join your party will leave, one Dwarf character had been my guide and a great card to use in battle throughout the whole journey through one area only to leave later when you discover that the very incident you’ve been sent to clear was the fault of his house he departed… another character who even saves your life in one story related episode turns out to be not what he seems either and another great card you’ll have been using regularly drops out of your hand.

At this point you’ve probably guessed that I had a good time with this one… the Geralt depiction on the games main screen is a little deceiving, he is in the game, but can only be used in a story related battle and, in that, Dandelion of all people is far more useful… the battle in question however does cover the part of the whole Witcher backstory of how he came to be Geralt of Rivia.

After around 26 hours I’d collected 30 of the 40 Trophies, missed two potential character recruitments due to my decisions (one, looking back, was very obvious) and one more for completing a set piece battle which falls under the “non-standard” banner where my deck wasn’t set up anywhere near properly to deal with what she threw at me… I could work through the game again and collect another 3 or 4 maybe, but with so many other titles screaming for my attention that won’t be straight away.

At the end of it this is something I’m glad I stuck with, it starts very slowly as there doesn’t appear to be an option to skip tutorials, and I made a total dogs egg of my save file (once completed you can go back to the start of any of the chapters to replay them, thus making it a little easier to see the multiple endings… but instead of skipping back to the Dwarven area to harvest a least one missed Trophy I opted for the very start of the game… doh!) later on… well worth a play and something that makes me feel happy that I still look to pick up titles that differ from the norm and are brave enough to try something different.

Following my fun times with the PS4 version of Far Cry 3 the chance to get the Xbox One version was too much to resist… and thus this was started as soon as it arrived, only for me to discover the disk had a crack in it… a second copy was sent to me by the store who didn’t want the cracked copy back… so I sold it… we already know how this one goes, and I don’t care that I played the game recently… so this is another fun time to add to the totals for the year.

It’s at this point that my Gamerscore whoring started to get the better of me… I didn’t start playing games just for points, but the stock piling of titles I’ve bought for next year is now close to double figures, and we’re not even halfway through April… one of them, Ben Hur, based on the recent(ish) film just appeared, as far as I was aware it wasn’t even available in the UK.

In similar fashion, as I put all my Xbox games into folders, I discovered that I had The Witness presumably from when it was free as part of the Games with Gold scheme although I can’t remember when.

And, naturally, I’m still buying games when I see them on sale… the backlog has hit 50 titles with the addition of another JRPG on the PS4, a sequel (of sorts) to one I played (and enjoyed reasonably well) a couple of years ago… and with PayPal funds sitting there it was rude not to buy it when the price dropped to £14.95

Now… it’s time to address one of the two large elephants in the room.

At the end of last year one of the most highly anticipated games for many a year was released, Red Dead Redemption 2 landed.

I’d pre-ordered it after E3 when my favoured online retailer issued a discount code that worked with pre-orders so it was mine on day one for the PS4… back then I still had a base Xbox One model and no idea that, by the time the game would release, I’d have two X’s in the house.

When it arrived I was sick as a pig, illness meant I was deaf as a post so it went unplayed until I could hear the dialogue properly… I wanted the full experience.

And… well… it just never grabbed me, the pacing seems way too slow and I haven’t been near it in over a month… so it’s being sold and I’m throwing in the towel… my backlog is far too big to grind through a game I’m really not enjoying when there are 50+ games I could start that might capture my attention and keep me going back day after day.

Maybe, had I started it at launch when all the gaming world was playing, it might have been a different story… and I feel bad for having to include it here in the “Bad Times” count for the year… but there’s no other place it really fits.

Now… the other elephant, Resident Evil 2 Remake, is something I still hope to get back to at some point... but we’ll see.

Running Total:

Fun Times… 6, Meh Times… 3, Bad Times… 1

1st April - Back To My Old Self

For those who read the previous “Long Term Illness” piece this is a follow up… it’s a month or so later and things are still on the up… and it culminates with the moment I realised I was feeling much more like my normal, intolerant, self.

March 8th was my final dose of Chemotherapy and the moment I was able to walk out with no appointment booked for future sessions was great, and it also ended up being a sort of “full circle” day as regards progress.

With the Outpatients department being busy I was ensconced in the second of the two rooms for outpatients and ended up in the very same bed that I spent five hours in when I was first admitted, not only that but the doctor who approved my blood test results from two days earlier had been the one who had dealt with my admission… as my surname is somewhat rare she figured it had to be the same person and came to see how I was doing.

And became the latest in a long list of people who have told me how much better I’m looking since I was admitted… this list gets longer later in the piece.

The date also coincided with my consultant on ward rounds so she also popped in for a quick chat and gave me a prescription for the next set of tablets I’d be taking.

It wasn’t all fun and games, the whole process took over 6 hours from walking in to walking out (some two hours longer than normal as they were busy) and, as had been the pattern, I felt sick for a much longer period after than I had previously after the treatment… but, the silver lining being that I’ll never have to go through that again… touch wood.

Fast forward two weeks and my next consultant visit, different consultant but same process… having checked my blood tests it was advised to start the new meds on half dose as tests results showed the part of my blood that would break down the new tablets is registering in the “Low” zone and too much of the new meds may result in a dangerous drop in white blood cells… so stick on half dose until they’ve checked out another blood test.

And here is where I realised I was feeling much, much more like my usual, grumpy old man, self.

Unlike normal I was off the morning of the test, and decided not to go first thing in the morning as I was due at work in the afternoon and didn’t really want to get there for 10am when I wasn’t due in till 2pm… instead I casually rocked up at midday expecting a short wait before I could leave and grab a leisurely lunch.

I was very, very wrong.

There was a bit of a queue… I collected ticket 94 and they’d just called in number 80… so at least 13 more ahead of me… not to worry as I’d just met Liz, someone I used to see back in my cricket playing days.

We had a fair chat, and it transpired she’d seen me on the day of admission in November but figured it couldn’t have been me as I looked “bloody awful” and thus one more person added to the list who now believed me to be looking “much better” which continues to grow.

I get into the room… they’ve called 81… still waiting.

Things pick up when they call 82 and 83 quickly and I start to think I could still be out in plenty of time… and then it came crashing down.

Now, those who have ever had a blood test will know that the amount of blood actually taken is tiny… like really, really small quantity wise… barely enough to fill the cap off a bottle of diet Coke… in other words… not very much at all.

So when I discovered that one of 82 or 83 had fainted whilst giving the sample my first reaction was not “oh the poor girl” but more in the realms of “selfish bitch… some of us are in a rush here” and THAT is the moment I realised I was through the worst of all this and was much more like my normal self.

Sure I still have to go through another 18 or 19 months of medication and monitoring… but that ought to be the easy part and, even better, this coming weekend I get to go back to playing golf… something I had feared I’d never be able to do when I could barely move because of the joint pain.

Roll on Sunday.

19th March - Far Cry Fever

I’ve never been that keen on First Person Shooters… or even first person games at all… if there is an option to play in first or third person then I go for third person every time… what’s the point in customising your Fallout character if you never see them on screen?

I’ll “occasionally” switch to first person when I’m creeping through a new location and trying (and usually failing) to stealth my way through… but that’s about it… the first person genre is just not my bag so to speak.

Naturally there are exceptions… if the game has something that makes it stand out from the crowd then I’ll bite the bullet and give it a go… enjoyed the rebooted Wolfenstein… but not enough to rush out and buy the DLC or the sequel, I had some fun with rebooted Doom but this ran out around two thirds of the way through the game and by the end I just wanted it to be over.

And then there are two franchises that I adore… Bioshock and Borderlands.

Bioshock stands out, the stories (at least in the first two) were decent enough and the inclusion of the Plasmids and Tonics worked really well in keeping the combat varied enough to keep me not only playing, but going back and replaying the games… the DLC for the sequel, Minerva’s Den, is one of the best chunks of DLC that I’ve ever played.

Borderlands is out and out the best loot game I’ve come across… the anticipation of opening up a weapons crate to see what it contained still holds strong, and I have to fight my urge to buy the Handsome Collection on the PS4 every time I see it on sale... the original also contains some decent DLC, the sequels DLC being very hit and miss.

In both these cases the third instalment is a bit of a let down… Borderlands The PreSequel was not a good game, felt padded out with a lot of repetitive tasks to drag it out to a respectable play time, and Bioshock Infinite was a triumph of visuals over story with one of the most obvious twists known to man, one so obvious Rhianna Pratchett could have penned the script.

Which brings me to the title here… my first visit to the world of Far Cry was the third numbered release, and one that a lot of people believe to be the best… myself included.

Saddled with a December release date the game was almost sent out to die, it had missed the big release dates of September and October and had just three weeks to sell before Christmas… not that I cared, it was a first person shooter and I don’t care for those.

Over the weeks I heard it being praised on various podcasts, not just a little… a lot, heaps of praise landed at it’s door and, when I saw it on sale after the holiday break for half price… I bought it.

And loved it.

It struck the right balance of exploration, combat, actual character progression (even if Jason Brody was a bit of a prick) and allowed you enough leeway that, should you so desire, you could just wander off and explore and totally ignore the main quest until there was nothing left to do.

I collected the Relics, even beyond the requisite number needed for Achievements, all the Lost Letters, all the Memory Cards, spent ages scouting out Command Posts to try and take then out without being spotted, dropped off supplies, went hunting rare animals to make myself a bigger wallet of weapons pouch… hunted pirates that were tormenting local villagers… blew up a lot of enemies and generally had a good time… before returning to the main quest when there was nothing left to do.

The panic that came over me when, having jumped into a large lake, I was instantly grabbed by a crocodile… which I didn’t even know were in the game, or on my first hunting trip looking for Boars to expand my inventory slots suddenly coming face to face with a Leopard armed only with a pistol.

That realising, in the second half of the game, that every time I jumped more than a couple of feet I was going to get the prompt to open my wingsuit even though I was clearly climbing a radio tower and would not be needing the sodding suit at all… in fact I only ever used that once in the game and that was when the plot decided I needed to in order to reach the southern islands.

Jump forwards a few years and I buy Far Cry 4 on the PlayStation 4 when I see it going for pennies on Ebay… granted I haven’t played it yet but I’ll get there soon.

Jump forward again and the setting for Far Cry 5 is revealed and I’m sold already… who doesn’t want to take down redneck bible bashers, explore nuclear bunkers filled with conveniently placed medical equipment and ammo, taking down hordes of soldiers to take over another outpost… I was sold.

Because the Far Cry formula works for me… I didn’t mind clearing radio towers in Far Cry 3 because they were a challenge, I don’t mind slowly taking back control of the area by clearing out outposts, slowly moving onto better weapons through progression, crafting medicine on the fly… I love all that.

So when half of this was all present in 5 it was almost a relief… I understand the formula needs a refresh… and with the progression through the story punctuated by taking down the siblings before confronting Joseph Seed once more (having started the game out by going to arrest him) was fine by me… even the weird scenes when you were out of your head on Bliss were fun… and despite the rather dodgy ending… I had a ball.

Even some of the DLC was passable, sure it got worse with each chunk… the Vietnam one being by far the best, and the only one that made the best use of the base game… having read the blurb for the final DLC that went untouched.

But… the best part of the season pass was getting a copy of Far Cry 3 Classic Edition thrown in, now that sells online for £24.99 on the PSN Store, the Gold Edition of Far Cry 5 cost me £58 so effectively £33 for the main game and the DLC… bargain, I’d have rebought Far Cry 3 any day of the week… as soon as it hits a sale on the Xbox I’m in there to go through it for a third time.

Going back to Far Cry 3 was a wonderful experience… sure Jason Brody is a bit of a prick (already said this but it needs repeating in case you were in anyway unsure) and there are occasions when the enemies guarding an outpost seem incredibly gifted at spotting you amongst the foliage when you take out a sniper from over a hundred yards away, steaming towards you when they shouldn’t even know which direction the bullet came from as they didn’t see the guy fall, just stumbled over his body.

I did my usual trick of ignoring the main quest when I hit the second island until I had nothing left to do (all collectables found, all outposts liberated, even a few of the short and sweet side missions were cleared) and then romped to the end of the game virtually unhindered.

I’d forgotten much of the story, not the hideous escort/protection mission early doors, nor the confrontations with Vaas… but I’d forgotten Sam the Mercenary on the south island and his demise later in the piece… I had so much fun with this replay that I went against all my playing for fun ideals of this year and activity went searching for a few hints to make sure I could Platinum the hell out of the game… such was my enjoyment.

Part of me wants to go through this all over again, part of me wants to ignore the 49 games currently in my backlog and order New Dawn now, despite the reviews it is, after all, more Far Cry goodness… what’s not to like?

Yet… I couldn’t give two f*cks about Far Cry Primal… I don’t care that they’ve reused the map from Far Cry 4 (after all they’re reusing a lot of the assets from 5 for New Dawn) in the slightest… but the game has always been about the gunplay, in the wrong hands or at times just for fun, the Far Cry games can turn into full on run and gun shooters… not spear throwing, rock axe wielding nightmares with animal taming thrown in for good measure… Primal is the sort of game I wouldn’t pick up even if it were free.

Years after picking up my first Far Cry game I have yet to regret it… even as a hater of the genre there’s something about these games that makes me forget that I can’t see my character… and if that means I can have fun, then I can happily continue playing the games for many years to come.

16 March - Playing For Fun - Part Two

After three weeks of playing for fun… it seems to be working, I’m enjoying gaming but it’s taking a few days to get used to my hearing aids… so many sounds that I haven’t heard for so long… it’s a cliché but hearing the birds on the walk back from the hearing clinic to work having collected them was awesome.

At date of writing (January 20th close to midnight) I’m facing a busy week of hospital appointments and my fourth session of chemotherapy on the 23rd… as the last two session have left me wiped out for a good 24 hours after I’m looking at a day in bed, or at least resting up, on the 24th which offers the perfect time to start Red Dead Redemption.

Before then I’ll grind a few Achievements on my latest started title… one that I have been putting more time into than it probably deserves…

The Grand Tour: The Game is not going to give Turn 10 or Playground Games any sleepless nights, and it won’t win any game of the year awards either… but as a fan of the series I was interested to see what we got, and using the rest of my Xbox credit the game cost me a whopping 47p and I’ve got my money worth to this point.

The single player campaign (thus far) consists of three sets of events based on the first episode of each series, so Season 1 is based on the three Hybrids they tested/raced in the first series, races, drag races, drift challenges and so on… 15 events where I managed to collect a gold medal for each… between each race is a clip from the show leading up to the next event and so on.

Season 2 covered the Past, Present and Future vehicles ending with the big crash that saw Hammond hobbling the first few weeks of the show and Season 3 started with the trio in Detroit using Muscle Cars.

Now some of these are repetitive, in the latest set of events (Season 3, Episode 1 had 16 events) there were three identical events where your aim was to build up the decibel level in an old theatre, and three separate events on the same track one after the other in each of the three cars.

None of these take that long if you’re skilled… I’m not so some took time, and I’ve given up on getting Gold in every event because there are times when the handling is an absolute bitch, under 32 seconds on the factory track is not happening when my best (after an hour) is still over 34 so I’ll skip that.

The one big selling point (well… the only selling point) is multiplayer being local split screen stuff, so you can work through the online Achievements if you have a second pad… but they take time, 50 wins for each of the four characters is a grind, after 2 sessions grinding I’ve only got one presenter to 80% completion for these Achievements so the other 3 will take a while.

But… am I having fun?

Sure, it’s mindless fun… and the game itself is better than I had expected, but if you hate the show it’s probably not going to convince you to start watching… but I love the childish nature of it all, so I’ll keep going back occasionally when I need to kill a little time.

Okay… small confession… even though I’m playing for fun, the part of me that is a huge Gamerscore whore refuses to lie dormant.

Even though I’m not planning on playing any games for points this year, I’m still buying the occasional easy completion title using the credit I’m collecting through Microsoft Rewards to buy and stockpile games for next year… and if I’m not buying them, I’m making a note of the names in case they appear in a Live sale later on… next January ought to see a huge spike in my Gamerscore to cover the pitiful total I’ll add this year by avoiding them.

2018 saw me add 31,000 to my total (almost 10,000 more than 2017) but with the bulk of my backlog being PS4 based if I hit 10,000 total for 2019 then I’ll be happy.

Now at this point I did start a couple of fairy big name releases… Resident Evil 2: Remake and Red Dead Redemption 2… but neither really grabbed me straight away… so I went wandering off, game wise at least, and started a couple of other titles to offer a change of pace… and before I even considered going back to either of these monster titles, I’d finished…

Crackdown 3 on the Xbox.

A game beloved of Sony fanboys everywhere as they feel it gives them a stick to beat the Xbox with if you look at the review scores… if you listen to people who have actually played it… it’s a different story.

If you enjoyed the first game this is great, the repetitive gameplay can be levelled at most shooters (see also Doom which got very grindy at the end) but here this is actually a reason behind it… try taking down the main boss before you’ve weakened her supply lines and support lines and you’ll have a bad time… try taking her down after wiping out the eight sub bosses and you’ll still find it tough… but not impossibly so.

In the end this, part time change of pace, kept me enthralled for a week or so, I could keep playing and try and hunt down the missing 360-370 orbs scattered around the map, or find and jump through the last 13 or 14 stunt loops, or complete the final 19 roof top races… but that wouldn’t necessarily be fun… and this game is all about fun… and boy I had a lot of it.

With Red Dead 2 still failing to grasp my full attention I go in search of some quick fun and delve into the backlog… and decide to go for Far Cry 3 Classic Edition that came with the season pass for Far Cry 5… now I could go into a lot of detail on that here… but as the next piece I intend to post does that in some detail I’ll leave this paragraph relatively short… but man did I have fun.

Now the next one is a difficult one, to come down a little after the platinum in Far Cry 3 something more relaxing was required, and a walking sim that I’d heard told a compelling story… Drowning on the PS4.

Now it does tell a story, but it could tell it better, and the translation to English could be better… basically it revolves around a childs decent into depression and there are several endings, half of which are bad, and the story is told by the child inner dialogue with himself.

And while the story is interesting enough the graphics and pace of the game are awful… which detracts from the tale being told… it’s not a long game, and a relatively easy completion, the publisher is known for knocking out games with an easy 1,000 Gamerscore on the Xbox, but here they had a chance to disprove that reputation (or at least repair it a little) but the presentation lets it down… in the end a resounding Meh on the fun scale.

Running Totals:

Fun Times… 4, Meh Times… 3, Bad Times… 0

Long Term Sickness...

So… where to start…

Okay… firstly this has been written purely to get my thoughts on the last 5 or 6 months down onto what passes for paper these days, a blank Word document, using a nice neat font and an aging laptop… I apologise in advance for anything that comes across as self pity… but it’s been a rough ride for my family just as much as it has been for me.

June 10th 2018, the day of the pre E3 Microsoft show, and a day I spent on the golf course playing the bets round I’ve put together for years followed by a couple of pints of ale in a village pub… onto the conference and a pair of earphones to keep the audio to myself and not interrupt the other family members watching something else on TV.

I removed the earbuds but the hearing in my right ear didn’t come back, it was muffled, and would come back only temporarily when pinch my nose and blew… it was like I was at altitude and was waiting for my ears to pop.

Anyway… long story short, it was passed off as a case of “adult glue ear” and would cure itself in a few months.

But then headaches kicked in big time, painful migraine levels of pain, accompanied by Tinnitus and a near total loss of hearing in that ear… mid September the left ear started down the same path… and I caught a light case of the flu.

At this point I had a hospital referral come through, and the “adult glue ear” diagnosis confirmed, hearing tests were done and my hearing loss put at 85% on the right and 70% on the left… the world had become very quiet and I was becoming more and more isolated… work was almost like I was in a separate office, I could see people chatting, laughing and conversing… I just couldn’t take part in it.

An operation was scheduled to drain the fluid trapped behind my ear drums and get my hearing back… but by now that was almost small beans compared to rest of it.

My joints hurt like hell, and not just the major joints like ankles and knees, every joint… every knuckle on every finger hurt like hell… the cough element of the flu was still hanging around and that was now so bad that I would go through bouts of coughing so bad that I was struggling to catch a breath through the coughs… I couldn’t get comfortable to sleep from the joint pain and couldn’t breath when I lay down because of the cough.

Sleep was only managed if I propped myself up on the sofa, covered myself in a thick blanket and eventually passed out through exhaustion.

The operation came… and failed.

There was no fluid behind the ears to drain, my hearing was still screwed… but the surgeon, a wonderful man to whom I owe so much, administered two steroid shots and prescribed a weeks course of Prednisolene… the joint pain vanished, my hearing perked up a little and things were looking good.

It didn’t last.

Once the weeks medication was done, the pain came back… and I broke.

November 18th was not my proudest day ever… but there would still be worse to come shorty after.

November 18th… after a night of very little sleep I was sat on the sofa and watching TV, I wasn’t really capable of much else, even a walk to the shop round the corner was a struggle, and earlier in the week I’d managed to walk the two and a half miles to work and been accosted in reception by well meaning people who instantly offered to take me home I looked so bad… and they were probably right… I felt like crap but wanted to work to be at least do something.

Anyway, my significant other snapped, she’d slept less than me as my coughing kept her awake more than me, and she gave me a mouthful of abuse, something she’s admitted (knowing what we do now) she feels guilty about… she unloaded with both barrels and I can’t blame her.

In response I broke down, through tears of pain and frustration I pretty much gave up on life… I told her that the reason I did nothing other than sit there was because it took all my energy to get there in the first place, that I was sorry this wasn’t ideal, but that while I didn’t know what was exactly wrong with me what I did know was this it had broken me, and if she didn’t mind I was going back upstairs to curl up in a corner and just wait for the end… that I had no more to give and didn’t care how it ended as long as it did.

I shambled upstairs, collapsed on the bed and cried.

After a respectable period my better half came upstairs and held me… still sobbing I declared that the worst thing about it all was that I hadn’t heard our daughters voice for almost 2 months, that the one thing in life that makes me proud with everything she does had become a passer by almost, and I hated that more than anything I had become.

The next ten days weren’t much better.

Three days later I had an appointment with the surgeon again, armed with blood tests he gave me the news that my hearing would never fully come back, that what I had was incredibly rare (it affects 1 in 100,000 people) and was the reason behind my hearing loss, the joint pain and most likely the cough… my other half was more shattered by the news of my hearing than I was… but then I was concentrating on hearing what he had to say and didn’t want to miss any of it.

I had to go back to work after… that wasn’t good… I needed a few minutes, well 15/20 or more, to try and compose myself… it failed and when I went to break the news to my boss more tears flowed… I couldn’t see an end to any of it and that scared me.

With another referral to a different hospital being worked on (the ear op done at a private hospital that did a small number of health service appointments, one of which I had been granted due to my partner working there) it’s fair to say that the feeling of being “broken” was now well set.

Tuesday 27th November… another low… scrub that, a new lowest of the low.

Family funerals are never good, and this one was terrible for other reasons than burying a dead relative… my mother was one of eight kids, and following this funeral she was now the last one of eight kids still alive… we attended to help my mother even though I wasn’t really in any condition to go.

On the way from the crematorium to the wake all my energy vanished, didn’t finish my drink, was shuffling even worse than normal and in front of half the family as well… at this point the guy in the box had probably been in a better condition than me… there were people at the wake maybe 40 years my senior who were moving better than me… I ended up scaring half the family and certainly my mother.

On the way back home from the wake I got a phone call… at this point a very interesting thing as I was now even more hard of hearing that before and awaiting a call from the hearing aid centre to get a fitting… I could barely hear people speaking to me, which made conversation hard.

The better half had left me in the car while she grabbed a few groceries, wary that I was struggling more than usual and didn’t want to tax me any more than I needed to… I rejected the call.

I checked the number and it was University Hospitals of Leicester… who thankfully rang back when I wasn’t alone and my good lady took the call, explained why she was speaking on my behalf, and passed on the news that my new referral had come through and could I make an appointment the next day?

Yep… no problem… I attended expecting a few brief tests and then a second appointment.

I felt like sh!t… the bad afternoon of the day before had not been helped by a lack of sleep due to the coughing again… but was ready to go back to work after the appointment… that didn’t happen.

While November 28th started off as a bad day it was also a turning point.

The consultant watched me shuffle from the waiting room to her office and admitted me on the spot, and treatment would start that day… and thus began her habit of scaring me every time I see her.

I would be admitted for treatment… fair enough me thinks, then I’m informed that treatment will take just over four months… how long am I going to be here for me thinks now… calm down, I won’t be here that long, which was true… then she dropped the bombshell that my treatment is six sessions of chemotherapy… bugger.

It’s never a good sign when a nurse tells you that you look very ill, my special someone had to go home to pack me a few things… including buying pyjamas as I never wear them at home, a change of clothes, books to read and so on… she admitted later she had a good cry in the car before she drove off… and admitted later still that when she left me in the ward that night she wasn’t sure she’d see me again… seems the phrase “death warmed up” was a pretty apt description.

Fast forward to now… I’ve had five of my six chemo sessions, and while they themselves are fine (but dull and long affairs) the four or five days after are hell, with constant nausea and tiredness… and I’m not getting the full, cancer patient levels of the drugs… roughly half from what info I’ve found online.

On the plus side… I’m free of joint pain, my cough has vanished (see next paragraph for the scary consultant line on that one) and I’ve put on some of the weight I’d lost which was 27 pounds in 7 weeks… I’m decidedly on the up.

The cough… yes… well… on day of admission I had a chest X-Ray which showed some circles on my lungs which I was told were cavities and the reason for my cough, these, I was told, were very common with my condition… but not uncommon with Lung Cancer either so I’d be checked out for that one by yet another hospital… this hasn’t happened yet, and probably won’t, with the medics certain they were there solely due to my condition.

I was signed off work for six weeks but went back after four… and I’ll say here that work were brilliant, telling me to forget work and all the incomplete jobs I had on my desk, but to concentrate on getting better… when I went back on January 8th this year it took me half an hour to get to my desk such was the welcome I got from everyone when the realised I was back… all of them telling me to take it easy and to let them know if I needed a lift home at any time.

I was truly touched by the over whelming show of affection from everyone there, not just then but whilst I was off two friends visited with a pile of presents they’d bought me following a collection at the office… now apart from the fact that this had raised £250 or more and I had a pile of gifts bigger than I got at Christmas, we don’t do collections when people are ill at work, it doesn’t happen, a card will go around for everyone to write “get well soon” on, but no collections.

Yet a collection went around and I was stunned by the reaction… it seems my “grumpy old man in the corner” act needs some work… it clearly isn’t working.

I’ve also gotten hearing aids and can hear fine with them in, but sod all with them out… putting my “ears” in each morning is a novelty, and carrying a spare pack of little batteries is another… but it’s what I’ve been dealt and it’s the hand I have to play with.

The whole episode has changed the way I think about things, for a start it’s not a curable condition but a controllable one… when the final chemo session is done I’m to go onto tablets for the next two years, I’m going to be on the steroids for another nine months minimum and can’t give blood (something I’ve been doing since I was eighteen) until at least January 2021 and that’s before I knew about the post chemo drugs so that may be delayed even longer.

Some things that I’d been getting stressed over for no good reason I stopped doing and walked away from, not (hopefully) for good, but until I felt that I was in a better place… with my usual sense of timing one of those things I gave up changed for the better within a week of my stopping… but that’s a different story.

I’m trying to avoid the internet when it comes to medical matters, if I go there I read all sort of scary boIIocks that doesn’t help me in the slightest, such as the possible withdrawal issues from the steroids, or the side effects of the new forthcoming medication.

If you’re still reading then I thank you, it’s turned out to be something way bigger than I had expected it to be… but then a lot has happened… and with it all behind me I am certainly in a much better place than I was, but it would have been hard to get any lower.