The 10,000 Club

It only took me the best part of two and a half years, 45 games and 502 achievements, but today, I am a man.

By that, I mean I finally got my Gamerscore into five figures.

NekoFever breaks 10,000

The one that did it was the ‘One Man Army’ achievement in the rather excellent GTA IV (impressions post coming when I get the time), with the 40 points that it yielded being enough to push me over this glorious milestone.

I’ll have to live with the fact that I was playing the system a bit in order to get it (running backwards and forwards on the train tracks where the police couldn’t get me for five minutes with a six-star wanted level), but I can deal with it. It’s the gaming equivalent of grinding out an important win with ugly football.

Will I ever reach 20,000? Doubtful. At my current rate of achievement unlocking, purchasing the required number of games would surely bankrupt me, and I seriously doubt even the most optimistic analysts projecting any console to have a life that long. Oh well, at least I no longer have that four-figure black mark on my gaming credentials.

So This is What Beta Means…

I trust that everyone’s enjoying their first taste of Metal Gear Solid 4, with the online beta available for download now. Stunning menus…

…and not much else, because it’s still not working. Having been released for download over a week ago and taking an inordinate amount of time to download (I was at 17% of a 741MB file after three hours), it required the immediate download of the 1.01 patch, which would either time out on the HTTP download or, on the BitTorrent option, max out at about 16kbps while uploading at over 40. And now there’s a second patch, which you have to download after 1.01, because they’re incremental. And I’m having the same download problems after eight days.

Not to mention that when it does work, you need a Konami ID (lower-case alphanumeric), a password for that, a game ID (lower-case alphanumeric; must be different to the Konami ID), and a second password (this time only numerical). Given the fact that every online PS3 user will already have a unique ID… why!?

Epic fail, in other words.

Xbox Live gets a lot of stick for costing £40 a year, but I’d be more than happy to pay that for PSN if the damn thing worked half the time. I’ve never spent more than 30 seconds downloading a Live patch (unlike Super Stardust HD, a twin-stick shooter that inexplicably gets a 153MB patch) or dashboard update, and because it’s a closed system I know that my one account will work on all games. On Live I’ve participated in three betas – Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and currently Battlefield: Bad Company – and all worked just as transparently as any demo or downloadable game.

That’s worth £40 to me. I’d rather pay for a nice steak than get a free grease burger and I’d rather have something that works to something that doesn’t. I’m not even demanding feature parity with Live on the original Xbox (universal friends list, cross-game invites, etc), though that would be nice; just a system that works. Yes, it’s free, but so is Steam, and that’s arguably better than Live at the moment.

Call of Duty 4 Variety Map Pack Impressions

It’s been a while since I cared enough about a game to actually pay for DLC. Even Halo 3 had me waiting for the first map pack to be free, and before that I think the last time was Crackdown’s excellent content pack, released way back in May. I may have drifted from COD4 in recent weeks (my current poor form testifies to this fact, although I still blame the new controller/new maps/Prestige mode/lunar alignment), but that couldn’t stop me dropping 400 points (that’s £3.40 in human money) on these babies.


In fact, the last game that I bought more than one content pack for was Call of Duty 2, which probably says something about how this series grabs me. Until this game came out, COD2 was still by far my most-played 360 multiplayer game.

I came to this download knowing nothing about the maps other than the names, so imagine my surprise when I found out that the pictured map, Chinatown, is a remake of Carentan, my favourite map from both Call of Duty and COD2. I’d been waxing lyrical about how I’d love that map and another classic from the first two games, St Mère Eglise (one for the next content pack, please), and here we are; Infinity Ward heard my pleas. Continue reading Call of Duty 4 Variety Map Pack Impressions

Among the Elite

Xbox 360 EliteI think most 360 owners have the experience of owning more than one machine, albeit rarely by choice, but when my premium machine started to show those ominous signs of imminent death – random crashes, usually the herald of the red ring of death – I decided to be proactive. I wasn’t going to risk having GTA IV sat here while my 360 was in the repair centre, no doubt with a backlog of plenty of others who experienced similar quirks of bad timing.

A trip to Gamestation and £259.99 later, I had a shiny new 360 Elite and free copy of PGR4. Why an Elite? Well HDMI was an attraction, and while new premiums boast the same output, the Elite has the £35 official HDMI cable (needed for optical audio) in the box. And it also had that 120GB hard drive, which is almost certainly overkill (I’m not even close to filling my PS3’s 60GB drive, even with several movies, a few installs and countless demos on the hard drive), but costs a ridiculous £130 on its own, and if the GTA IV DLC is really on the scale that they’ve been talking, the 5GB of free space that I have on my 20GB drive might start to pinch. Plus, you know, it’s black.

Of course, a secondary benefit to avoiding the 360 service centre roulette is that you pretty much ensure yourself one of the newer, quieter, less failure-prone, 65nm ‘Falcon’ units. Using the highly scientific ‘check the wattage of your power brick’ test – old machines have 203W supplies; the less power-hungry Falcons are only 175W – and the fact that the idling 360 now runs at a volume comparable to a PS3 at full pelt, it seems I’m now well-equipped in that department.

Presumably because Microsoft doesn’t anticipate too many people to spend another £280 on a second machine, the biggest oversight of the Elite package becomes apparent when you’re trading up: out of the box, there’s no way to transfer your data from an old hard drive to the lovely black 120GB model. The solus hard drive comes with the necessary adaptor, but getting one for the Elite requires a phone call to Microsoft and a wait that, assuming friends who have done it are typical, could be anywhere up to ten weeks. It’s free, but that’s a long time to actually have to make space for demos.

Thankfully I could borrow the transfer kit from a friend, and it was nice and easy: 20GB drive on the 360, 120GB drive attached via USB, insert disc and away you go. It formatted the 120GB drive (except it doesn’t, because after transferral mine had sprouted several demos and Live Arcade trial games that I didn’t download) and transferred 13GB of my data across in a bit over an hour, which seemed like a long time considering that I can back up my 120GB laptop drive in about 25 minutes. Regardless, it worked and I was ready to go, now showing almost 100GB of free space.

Overall I’d say that the Elite is an improvement. It certainly seems quieter, although the main culprit – the disc drive – still sounds like a jet engine when it’s spinning a disc up to full speed. Would I prefer shorter load times or quieter operation? Somewhere in the middle would be good, I think. The D-pad on the sexy black controller seems to be improved on my launch day controller, feeling a bit less spongy. I’m going to blame my atrophied Call of Duty 4 skills on having a new pad that hasn’t been worn in yet – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

One point that I do want to make that I haven’t seen anywhere else, though, is that while the console is quieter the smaller power brick has a fan (did they always?), which now makes up most of the system volume. A side-effect of this is that turning off the console during a download so that it goes into its low-power mode now makes little appreciable difference to the system volume, whereas before it was like flipping a switch. That’s a bit annoying, but it’s not enough to stop me saying that while the Elite probably isn’t going to be worth trashing your old machine for the upgrade, it should be the version that new 360 buyers look at.

That or wait for the Blu-ray version. Now that I’ve bought a new machine it’ll be announced in a matter of days. Mark my words.

Who’s More Evil: EA or the Taxman?

Rock BandSo today it was confirmed that we, in Europe, will be getting a game several months after its US release. Still, can’t blame the publishers when the console manufacturers and enforcing these draconian region locks. What’s more, the price will be a direct dollar-to-pound conversion, but with the exchange rate at around $1.40-£1, that’s fair enough if you take into account taxes and shipping costs. Oh, and I wonder what it’ll be like in a couple of years when Tony Blair is Prime Minister?

Oops, sorry. I was using a post template from 1995 and forgot to delete it all. I was really ahead of the curve on this blogging thing.

So today it was confirmed that we, in Europe, will be getting a game several months after its US release. This is a game that is region locked on the 360, despite it being an option. And with an exchange rate now closer to $2-£1, an already-expensive game coming in at £179.98 (that’s £49.99 for the game, plus £129.99 for instruments) equates to $354.34. By comparison, a complete US copy will cost you $169.99 from EB, which comes out as £86.34.

It’s not really on, is it? The timed exclusivity is nearly here nor there for me, because if I was going to buy the game – I’m not, regardless of price – I have the facility to play it on either console and I’d be comfortable importing the region-free US PS3 version if I had to. In any case, even if you got slapped by the full complement of import duties (17.5% VAT and 3.5% import tax), you’d still only be paying £104.47 plus shipping for the import.

So, to return to my original question, who’s more evil: EA or the taxman? It may seem like a rock and a hard place, but EA won’t pay for schools and hospitals, will it? And you’ll end up paying less anyway, so it’s win-win.


CloverfieldThere’s little that I like more as a guilty pleasure than an invasion movie. For all its willful ridiculousness, Independence Day remains a film that I can watch on repeat and never tire of (my recent purchase of the Blu-ray means I’ve now seen it in the cinema – my first 12 rating! – and bought it three times on various formats), and I must admit to deriving a little bit of enjoyment out of the Hollywood interpretation of Godzilla. Stick on something from the 50’s with a bloke in an unconvincing rubber suit and I’m in heaven.

Alas, I never got around to seeing Cloverfield in the cinema, even as involved as I was with picking apart the untitled trailer – I subscribed to the hypothesis that it was a Cthulhu movie at first, which now is only topped by the rumour that it was Voltron (someone heard “it’s alive” from the trailer as “it’s a lion”, you see) in being wide of the mark – and viral campaign. Regardless, I’ve seen it now and want to weigh in with my impressions.

For all its flaws, which I’ll get onto in a bit, I thought it was one of the best, most original monster movies I’ve ever seen. Blair Witch did the shaky camera and discovered footage thing first – not to mention the teasing, Internet-led marketing – but that never struck a chord with me. Jaws taught us that the moments when you see the creature are most effective when they’re fleeting and don’t happen until the end, and Blair Witch’s conceit of showing nothing at all didn’t work for me. I’m not saying it was wrong, because it was their stylistic choice; just that I like to know what my on-screen companions are so shit-scared about. Shallow? Maybe, but it would piss me off if we never saw a monster here as well.

OK, so maybe Cloverfield wasn’t that original. We’ve established that it’s the result of a fling between Jaws and Godzilla and a tryst between their offspring and The Blair Witch Project. It has the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster married to the home-made aesthetic that we’ll be seeing a lot of in these years following the emergence of YouTube as a cultural force (see also: Diary of the Dead).

Special mention has to go to the visual effects in this film, though. How convincing everything looks is impressive enough – at no moment was I thinking about it as CGI – but to do it without a steadicam, often with the camera waving wildly? Some poor CG artists must have a few grey hairs after this one. Hopefully their sacrifices won’t be forgotten when awards season rolls around.

Credit should also be given to the film for not overstaying its welcome, being as it is a slender 85 minutes, but then again it does take rather a long time to get going. The party scenes weren’t half bad (I didn’t find the characters as annoying as some people have said), but the monster doesn’t even turn up until a good 25 minutes in, nearly a third of the film. Once we’re past that, though, it never lets up. Some cinemas had warnings for people who suffer from motion sickness that compared the effect to a rollercoaster, which is actually very apt.

The motion didn’t bother me, but what did was the same problem I have when watching someone else play an FPS: they never look where I want them to look. There’s one moment in particular when the monster is just there, and rather than filming it we get fleeting glimpses and a lingering shot of the soldiers shooting at it. Realistic? Yeah, I’d hide behind a car, too, but it’s a movie about a bloody great monster woken up by a falling satellite. Complaining about a bit of Hollywood drama in this is like complaining that an alien language in Star Wars has no appreciable sentence structure.

Although, to fall into my own trap, what kind of camera can fit 85 minutes of HD video onto an SD card? It’s not like they’re using a Mac to interface with an alien computer, but it seemed weird to me. Didn’t stop Cloverfield from being a must-see, but I’m just saying…