My Column #1

So, there was a DarkZero staff meeting held earlier this week. Among other items on the agenda was the lack of work done by a number of the staff here. Of course I was absolutely disgusted by the lack of effort put in by these people and was shocked at the nerve of they have to take all the benefits of being staff yet giving nothing back themselves. Of course it later transpired that I was one of those doing no work, and so, in the vain hope of keeping myself on the DZ staff, I’ll be writing this monthly column. I’m not particularly sure what exactly I’ll be talking about yet so it might just end up being a bit of a random trip through the gaming month as I saw it.

December, usually the golden month of gaming and 2005 was no change from this ridiculous tradition with the launch of the Xbox 360. No doubt there was other stuff happening too, but to be quite honest none of that interested me once I got my hands on the new Microsoft console. Having had the thing pre-ordered for about four months, buying a decent TV to go with it and then queuing for another two hours to actually get the thing, nothing was going to spoil my enjoyment of a month of top quality gaming … or was it?

Of course the first few weeks were a daze of non-stop enjoyment, playing from dusk till dawn every day (well every day I didn’t have to work at least). My five launch games (Project Gotham, Perfect Dark, Kameo, Call of Duty and Condemned) were sure to keep me going way past Christmas and well into the New Year, or at least I thought they would. It’s not that any of them are particularly bad games (well one is but that’s beyond the point), they just haven’t held my attention like I thought they would. It seems to have been a case of games gradually being left on the games shelf and not coming back down to be played.

Condemned was first to go, half an hour in I could see why Game were forcing it on people. Just horrible if you ask me; nasty controls, bland atmosphere and no real incentive to pick it back up. Now this seems to be quite contradictory to most forum posts on the game and I still don’t understand what people see in it. In my eyes it’s by far the worst game of the five I bought.

Call of Duty I’ve actually found to be much more enjoyable than I expected. At first I only had it to complete my five game bundle but I’d actually say it’s right up there with the best of my selection. It looks nice, plays well and has some great set pieces with the music placed to them perfectly. What really lets it down is that there are far too many checkpoints. A small problem for some I imagine, but I’ve found that because of it I don’t really bother thinking of any clever tactics. If I die I know I probably only have to cover one or two minutes worth of play before I’m right back to where I started to try again. It’s because of this that I just don’t care anymore what happens within the game. There’s no risk involved with running out into an open battlefield and no real sense of achievement when a brilliant plan comes together successfully. This game could have had a fantastic strategy element to it. As it is, it’s just a simple shooter with no real depth.

I’m not at all sure what my problem with Kameo is, it’s just all so “meh”. I’m sure I’ve played this game before somewhere … I just can’t quite place my finger on it … everything seems so … familiar. Hang on, I’ve got it, it’s exactly the same as any pretty looking platformer I’ve ever played. I really hoped this would be something special; mixing your elemental warriors in unique ways so that each player had a slightly different experience. Instead it’s more a case of; Trolls: get out Pummel Weed, Things on fire: Time for Deep Blue, and on and on like this all the way through. The only time you seem to need more than one at a time is when you have to shoot yourself up a ramp as Major Ruin and then grab onto a wall a few metres away with Chilla. That was all very good the first time I did it, unfortunately it pops up every other level and seems to be about as complex as this game gets. Having said that, it does look fantastic and it seems like the kind of gameworld you could get lost in for hours. It reminds me a great deal of Star Fox Adventures, and for me that’s no bad thing. It’s decent enough I suppose but not the amazing launch day platformer I was hoping for. Were it by a no-name developer I doubt anyone would even care about it.

My big hope for launch day was Perfect Dark Zero, and for a good while after launch I thought it was everything I’d ever wanted in a console FPS. Then little cracks started showing each time I played it. For a start the game is far too short, just as I was getting into the swing of things BAM! That’s it … thanks for playing. I just don’t see what Rare have been doing all this time. Sure it’s a decent enough game while your playing but if it had been my only game I’d have been finished with it by 2pm on the second of December. The graphics also seem very odd at times, it all looks lovely so long as you don’t move. The blurring in the game looks more like a fault than something they intended, and half the time it makes the screen look like it has chronic tearing problems as seen in a fair few lower end HDTVs. Put quite simply, this game makes a high quality TV look like you picked it up for £50 down the local rag market. The one redeeming feature is the fantastic multiplayer. Get online with a bunch of friends (not random geeks that take it way too seriously) and it’s a joy to behold. I think I can just about forgive all of the faults with a multiplayer experience this good. No doubt the DarkZero games will be a part of my gaming routine for a good while to come.

So, on to my final game, Project Gotham Racing. I’m not sure I have anything bad to say about this at all; it looks great, plays great and has an excellent online aspect to it. I suppose my main gripe is with the fact everything is ranked by your ‘kudos’ score. Set a blistering time around the Nurburgring and you think you’re a dead cert for a high rank. Sorry! You didn’t powerslide round every corner with only one wheel touching the ground – 45,985th. Ridiculous. I’m not all that good at it and I doubt I’ll ever finish it properly but it’s one hell of a good ride. The standout launch game for me.

Anyway, enough of the bad, from what I’ve seen everyone who actually managed to get their hands on a 360 is having a damn good time with them, and that’s all that really matters isn’t it? Sure, much of my rambling focuses on the negative, but then we all like a good moan now and again, don’t we? Truth be told I’m actually quite impressed with the overall package this new machine delivers. The first time you turn the thing on everything works together flawlessly. If Project Gotham is the standout game the dashboard is easily the 360’s standout piece of software.

So, who’s the real winner out of the 360 launch then? Microsoft? Gamers? Ebay Sharks? Nah. If you ask me Samsung is the big winner. There’s not a gamer in the land who hasn’t been exposed to the TVs on the Xbox demo pods. Across most forums the LEXXR41BDX range seems to be getting just as much coverage as the Xbox itself. It’s not the best TV out there, not by a long way, but the hype around it is truly stunning. Not a day seems to go by without someone recommending it for anyone wanting to take the plunge into the world if HDTV. Whatever the ins and outs of that deal it has certainly done Samsung no harm at all.

Well hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading through my random thoughts, I didn’t quite mean to go into the 360 games as much as I did, so for that I apologise. Hopefully it hasn’t been too bad and you’ll read again next time. I’ll aim to make January’s edition less predictable as I do something other than sit in front of the Xbox for my gaming fix. I’ll also try to cover a bit more than I managed here, but then console launches always push other events to the side. For now though I’ll leave you with my final thought for the month, see you next time!

A recent thread on the forums asked whether people thought the 360 was worth buying, of course all the 360 owners rushed in saying how wonderful the thing is but to be honest I’m still not totally convinced. The Live! integration is fantastic and lays a foundation that will surely see some brilliance in the future. Right now though the choice of games is limited and what there is isn’t as amazing as other 360 owners would have you believe. Am I glad I’ve got one? Well yes, I suppose I am. Would I be all that bothered if I couldn’t get hold of one? To tell you the truth, I don’t think I would be.