Sunday, December 28, 2008

PS3 Impressions

It has almost been a fortnight since I bought the PS3 hinted to in my last post and now that I have spent some time with it I thought I would offer up some basic impressions on the console. I have some more in-depth thoughts on LittleBigPlanet, the game I got with the console, on the way as well as some other things but for now some basic thoughts will suffice. I also purchased a HD TV in the same week so let me just say briefly that the difference between HD and SD was better than I thought it would be.

LittleBigPlanet is quite simply charming. Before playing it I didn't really have any expectations for it with nothing more than a casual passing interest in the game. After playing it I was pleasantly surprised to find a simple yet charming game that literally puts a smile on my face. It makes for a nice change after the gritty wastelands of Fallout 3 and onslaught of Locust in Gears of War 2.

Trophies are nowhere near as compelling as Achievements on the 360 are although being the completionist that I am means I have already outlined in my head the ones that I want to obtain and the ones that may be out of my reach. I definitely aim to obtain as many as I can but at the moment it definitely feels as if the majority of my time and dedication will still be with Achievements. Perhaps that is because I have had the 360 for longer though and who knows, my interest in Trophies could grow as I obtain more and play a variety of games.

PSN has been reasonably interesting with some good trials for games like EchoCrome, PixelJunk Eden and Super Stardust HD. I have enjoyed all three and will definitely be purchasing them in the near future as well as Wipeout HD. I have also tried out some demos including the two Motorstorm games, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Ridge Racer 7. The Motorstorm games surprised me in a similar way to that of LittleBigPlanet, where I only had a passing interest in the games before actually playing them. They are definite purchases and so is Uncharted: Drake's Fortune which I knew was going to be good because one of my favourite developers, Naughty Dog, are behind it. I also had a two hour session with Home the other night and came away with mixed thoughts. I can definitely see the potential of it but for some reason just can't see Sony taking advantage of that potential. It will be interesting to see how the service turns out that's for sure. Interestingly the web browser included for the console is seeing quite a bit of use with me using it to read blogs in bed when I should be sleeping.

Overall the console was worth the purchase and it is nice that some games have been pleasant surprises. It is no secret though that it was a future purchase of sorts, with me buying it in preparation for the upcoming Heavy Rain and whatever Fumito Ueda and his Team ICO are cooking up. In the meantime I look forward to more time playing LittleBigPlanet, purchasing some games that I passed up on in favour of the new TV like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue and also checking out a few more games on the PSN. Who knows, I might even buy a Blu Ray movie or three and start watching movies again now that I have the TV to take advantage of it...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Sitting here thinking about what I was going to write for this week, I couldn't help but let my mind wander into the thoughts about how my gaming year has panned out and comparing them to previous ones. The fact that it is December could be playing on my subconscious too with a whole host of Game Of The Year articles due from the various gaming websites out there. Looking back at it, the year has definitely been different for me and it is somewhat surprising.

At the start of the year I can remember worrying about two things. I had missed out on some of 2007's big titles like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare so I was worrying about whether I was going to get a chance to play these titles or not. In April, another thing I was worried about was whether I was able to buy Grand Theft Auto IV on launch and was starting to pick out games that I would be okay with trading in if needed just to ensure I was able to secure my copy.

Fast forward to now and the story is much different. I went from uncertainty to, well, I'm not even sure what to call it. The fact that I bought 8 games in the month of November shows just how much a difference a few months can make. That alone was surprising for me as usually I am someone who can only afford maybe three of the titles I am interested during the end of year rush. But no, a week or so before November I bought Fable II and a week after November I bought myself a new DS after giving my older one to my little sister. I'm not literally doing it but I feel like I am just throwing my money around at the moment. Being able to buy so much of what I want lately feels weird and you know, I actually kind of feel guilty about it.

As a gamer the ability to buy what one wants is a good thing, especially when there are so many titles worthy of attention these days. As someone with a conscious though, I can't help but feel as if I am perhaps too greedy and that I just want too many games. It is either that or we really are spoiled for choice these days. Maybe I didn't leave the uncertainty behind after all, maybe I just redefined it as the year went on and am now just over analyzing it all due to it being an unusual thing for me. It won't be stopping anytime soon either as sometime today or at the very least this week, I will be spending even more money on something gaming related. I am looking forward to it but for now, I will keep what it is quiet so I can talk about it on here later in the week. A lame attempt at keeping you in suspense, if you will.

For the record the year was quite good regardless of whether I had a brilliant November or not. I bought Burnout Paradise when it released and had a blast with it. I did manage to play some of the games I wanted to from last year even if it was in ways I didn't expect. I managed to play the Xbox Live Arcade titles I wanted throughout the year like Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 and perhaps more importantly, Braid. I also secured that copy of GTA IV without having to trade games in so all in all it was a solid year. A solid year that became a brilliant one last month and is set to continue this week...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Out Of The Blue

Thanks to the joys of digital distribution I recently had the pleasure of playing Portal: Still Alive, a game that I have wanted to play since its release last year but one that I just unfortunately hadn't gotten around to yet. Being late to the party meant that I missed out on the cake but luckily for me I was still able to see my faithful companion (cube) and play around with the toy gun.

Okay so it wasn't exactly a toy but damn, if it was that would be the best toy ever. I couldn't help but think of what it would be like if we had our own portal guns to use, which in turn took me off into a tangent and thinking about some of the possibilities that our future could hold. Irrelevant to the game maybe, but I still found it interesting nonetheless and it is a bunch of thoughts that could not have happened if I did not play Portal. Whether it was transporting yourself to a local mall through portals, or just playing pranks on friends, many ideas and possible uses for portals came to my head and I found it fascinating. The power of the imagination eh?

Back to the game, my thoughts are pretty much on par with all of those that were discussed last year when the game was the topic of conversation. I loved the way it eased you in and how simple it was to pick up for the first time, yet I also loved how that evolved as you progressed into a rather complex game that definitely had my mind boggling a few times. It was a great challenge for me and the satisfaction I had when I finally figured out how to progress through one of the test chambers or challenge maps is unmatched. Well, except for maybe Braid which tested my brain in similar ways.

It wasn't just the gameplay that used simplicity to its benefit, the game as a whole did so as well with the graphics, design of the rooms and even the music all being quite simple when compared to other, bigger games. But that is exactly what the game needed and as everybody knows by now, the experience worked. No more praise needs to be heaped upon the game so instead I just want to say that, for the developers to be able to create a fun and challenging game that can stand on its own, yet also tie into their bigger franchise in Half Life, is quite amazing and a testament to Valve's ability to produce brilliant games.

What was perhaps most interesting to me though was how the (little) story managed to grab my attention. Unfortunately I haven't had the pleasure of playing a Half Life game (meaning I'm not a real gamer, then) so for Portal's story to be able to hook me even though it indirectly ties into the Half Life universe with references to Black Mesa and so on, again says something about just how much the game worked and why it deserved the praise it got. I think it is safe to assume that there will be more Portal games and regardless of whether I get around to playing Half Life or not, I look forward to finding out more about Aperture Science in the future.

This has almost turned into a review so now all that is left to say is this; If you have not played Portal yet then make sure you do. It is short so it won't take too much of your gaming time but that should not matter anyway. The game is definitely one of the most satisfying games you can play and I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Unintentional review or not, I cannot underline just how much I love the game and how much I think everyone who loves games should play it. Being late to the party does not matter and will not affect your experience or appreciation of the game at all. The cake might be gone, but you will always have your faithful companion cube. What more could you want?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Always Connected: Cooperative Play

Always Connected is a series of posts I plan on doing about Online gameplay. From particular subjects related to playing games online, to personal experiences I have had and any other feelings I may have about the subject, they will be discussed within this series. Part one begins with a focus on cooperative play and how it's changing the gaming experiences of the industry as a whole.

Most games these days feature the option to play through their respective stories or campaigns cooperatively or if not that, then a separate campaign created specifically with Co-Op gameplay in mind. The fact that consoles can now connect to the Internet has played a big part in that. Multiplayer gaming of any kind is no longer relegated to sharing an experience on the couch or via a LAN in the same room and while a lot of us may miss these shared, in-person experiences, the fact that we can now play with friends in different states or even overseas is definitely a good thing for the industry as a whole.

The last couple of years has seen games with Co-Op experiences increase tenfold, with games like Gears of War, Halo 3 and more recently Left 4 Dead providing polished, enjoyable gaming experiences that are arguably more fun to play cooperatively than they are as a solo experience. These sorts of games have, in some ways, changed the perception of how games are played. Games are no longer played by the typical stereotype of a gamer in their bedroom or in the basement, alone with no communication or interaction with the outer world as they play their games. The ability to share the story of a game as an experience, or even just a particular gameplay mechanic has been welcomed with open arms by gamers and allows people to actually participate in some potentially awesome moments in these games instead of hearing about it at school or work the next day.

Of course, the ability to play these games online means that it is not just friends who you can potentially play with. There are thousands, if not millions of gamers out there who you could end up cooperatively playing with and this in turn can lead into some bad experiences. Not knowing these gamers could mean that the differing play styles that you have might clash and hinder your experience rather than help it, or that these people could choose to not help at all knowing full well that they can get away with it due to their anonymity. It could also go the other way though and you could end up working together really well while you tackle the game's obstacles and challenges. Who knows, you may even make a friend or three. Arguably, choosing to play a game cooperatively online means that you are taking a risk and that the experience can go either way. You wouldn't have made the choice though if you were not willing to take a risk and as such, one can only hope that the risk was worth it and that the participating gamers can all have a good time. Sometimes, what would be regarded as a bad experience could end up being a good one in an indirect way such as this Left 4 Dead example.

People who have been gaming for many years will always have a soft spot for playing games with their friends on the couch and would also argue that it is a better multiplayer experience than any online cooperative experience could ever be. Perhaps that is true but the general direction recent games have been taking us in by providing the opportunity to share a game's experience over the Internet is definitely a good thing for the industry and something I hope continues to be pursued in the future.

Note: I apologise for the lack of posts last week. I was sick and just couldn't focus my thoughts enough to read anything in-depth, let alone try to write anything in-depth. Thankfully I seem to be over it now and as such, posting now resumes.