Games In Pictures - 27 Aug '10

Yes it is weird. Recettear (2010, PC), a new translation of an existing Japanese game, is part cutesy shop simulator, part Jrpg, part rogue-like - it's vomit inducing one minute, and addictive the next. The full game isn't out yet, but the 10-day demo has enough gaming crack in it to whet my appetite for the full PC release.

Light-cycles given the full grand prix treatment, Art Style: Light Trax (2010, Wiiware) is a great arcade racer with little coloured lines. It's got a great freeway section where you travel between race meets, and the power-ups involve building up power by racing parallel to other lines. It's got clever ideas in it and I like it very much, thankyou.

EpicWin (2010, Iphone) , a fantastic game/app that spills over into real life, giving you experience points, loot and character development based on tasks you specify and award to yourself. Yes, it's a to-do list, but an epic one which in my limited experience so far, actually works. Kudos. And 250xp to me for writing this blog!

Shot Shot Shoot (2010, Ipad), from the bloke who made Blueberry Garden. This is much more of a quicker, less pretentious bang for your buck for 59p/99c. You just swipe at either end of the screen to send little square bombs flying at each other, cancelling out opponents shots, and trying to pick up ammo in the centre of the screen. Each game lasts about a minute, and is incredibly quick-fire. But as I play it I do improve, and it really is like nothing else. 3 thumbs up!


My Gaming Week - 1-7 Jan 2010


Hey! Dipped in and out of a few games this week – nothing grabbed me for more than a few hours. It’s the new year, and I’m hovering at the moment, waiting to swoop in for the kill when a game really grabs me .

The MAG (Massive Action Game) beta, currently in progress on Playstation 3, gives us the chance to experience exactly how revolutionary it feels to play a multiplayer shooter on a 64-player map. Let’s pretend for a moment this wasn’t possible a decade ago on PCs. Let’s pretend we haven’t played an MMO where thousands can interact daily. No real surprises here – the game plays like a direct port of Battlefield 2 (2005), and it scratches the same itch that surely every gamer has had recently scratched by Modern Warfare 2 (2009). Apparently at higher levels it allows 256 players in the same map at once, but I fail to see how this will really make any difference. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, but I won’t be paying for the privilege when the full game launches – indeed I’m not sure I would play the game if it was free.

A much more appealing experience with Punch-Out (2009) on the Wii, a game that got great reviews in mid-2009 but I notice is conspicuously absent from most GOTY lists. The reason probably is that it is so slavish to the gameplay of the Punch-Out games in the 80s that it actually fails to carve out its own space in the gaming zeitgeist. Great fun for an hour or two simply because of the nicely animated and genuinely funny characters – I fail to see how anybody could fail to enjoy it, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine how anybody could love it either.

A quick romp through the Dante’s Inferno demo (pictured), which has been cruelly dismissed as a God Of War clone, when in fact it’s a very servicable Bayonetta clone instead . The fidelity on some of the cut-scenes here is absolutely astonishing, and the gameplay is lively hack and slash fun. I’m a big fan of developer Visceral’s recent games – there’s a hint of genuine artistic ambition to their stuff, here indicated by their apparent slavish deference to the source material. I’m just not sure that putting ‘The Game of the book by Danta Alighieri’ is going to have the queues forming around the block. And the game is too generic and senseless to have any genuine high-brow potential. A weird mix.

No such problems with Army Of Two: The 40th Day – the demo for this is not only extensive, but absolutely riveting, played out during a missile attack destroying a whole city around you. It’s co-op Gears Of War with our old friend Nolan North and a bunch of interesting twists on third-person gameplay. The idea is to promote ideas like taking hostages, tieing up people instead of killing them, drawing fire while the other player flanks, and sticking some moral choices into the mix as well. It looks like a total mash-up, but one with lots of little details that appeal. I’m officially ‘bored of shooters’ but I’m very impressed with this regardless.

On a completely different level to these efforts is Indigo Prophecy AKA Fahrenheit (2005), which I bought in the Steam sale in order to get an idea of what David Cage made before Heavy Rain (coming out on the PS3 in the Spring). Despite a story it is impossible not to be indifferent to, this adventure game is absolutely slavish to its idea of ‘the game as movie’ and is a totally singular experience because of it. It’s a game I would love to pull apart just to see how the interactive movie was mapped out. There’s a slight feeling that there was a more interesting story to be found here if only you’d done that thing differently 45 minutes ago. It makes me excited to see Heavy Rain, not for the bog-standard B-movie script, but for the development of this feeling of being in the moment and making genuine choices.

I think I’m years late in being drawn into the tower defence game. but a stint on Crystal Defenders (2009) on the PS3 over Christmas had me completely hooked – it’s not much good as a game but I decided to go for the hardest gold trophy or bust and it game me a real Christmas challenge. But this week I finally caught up with Fieldrunners (2008) on the Iphone and it’s had me sketching layout designs on paper for my towers, and it feels like a geometric maths problem as much as just a hypnotic one-more-go experience. I love games that appeal to the intellect as well as the senses, and I expect to sink countless more hours into the game.

A leftfield pick on Brainy Gamer’s Games Of 2009 confab had me trying out Saira, which is a delightful PC indie platformer that has a friendly semi-amateur look to it, but seems to play out over a much larger and more involved story than these explorathons usually contain. It elevates would could be an utterly forgettable little game into something more with little puzzles, fragments of story, and a small sense of freedom with interplanetary travel. I’m pondering the full purchase.

And I also dipped into Cryostasis, a 2009 GOTY pick on PC from Dave Snider, and I am thoroughly impressed so far. It has a totally vivid, blurry, expressive visual style which I am sure would put off the usual texture-quality-whore shooter crowd. It also has a slow pace and scores highly on atmosphere – that’s another huge group of gamers switching off. It plays a bit like an art-house version of Condemned so far, with similar melee fighting and horror movie scares. I love the idea that you replay the final moments of the dead bodies you encounter in order to save their lives. I like games that play like a one-off experience, and this is definitely one of those.

Next week I’m intending to plough through Assassin’s Creed 2 (my next rental). I’m expecting to hate The Saboteur. I’m going to finish Indigo Prophecy and Cryostasis. I’m going to replay BioShock to play along with the Vintage Game Club.
Cheers and best wishes.


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 6

I’m revisiting some of my favourite games of the year. Here's the other parts - 5 4,  3, 2 and 1...


Scribblenauts, from 5th Cell, was released on the DS in September. As a game which promises the player that they can create anything and have it appear in the game to help (or hinder) them, the game generated incredible buzz before its release, but was generally perceived to rather drop the ball in execution. It’s an 80 on Metacritic.


I find Scribblenauts a fascinating case – it scores top marks for novelty, but average at best for execution. For most players, it seems, the frustrations of trying (and often failing) to use the DS stylus to manipulate the things you create basically killed any goodwill the game could create. And there’s no doubt that some items, like the infamous Jet-pack, can reduce the campaign to a chore.

But for me, novelty wins. Big time. This game offered me something I have never ever seen before in a game. That matters a lot to me. There’s a lot of repetition of ideas in gaming – sometimes we want more of the same thing we enjoyed before, and sometimes we want something new.

The ability to create a surgeon, stick them on a tandem, and have a little ride around, is a sort of emergent joy that I don’t think you can put a price on. Part of it is that you want to beat the game somehow – you want it to somehow fail to have everything. At the same time, the surprise when you find that it has a bike, a tandem, a tricycle, unicycle and the rest. It’s a wonderful playground.

More than that, I reject the criticisms of the game. The campaign is dull? Don’t play it! You can create magic as soon as the game loads up, you don’t even have to press the start button to start creating wild objects and getting them to interact. Even worse, the criticism that the campaign is too repetitive if you use the same items is crazy to me – don’t use the same items!!! Come up with a new way to overcome every problem – that’s what I did, I never used an item twice and loved the game that much more because of it.

The novelty wears off? Of course it does, that’s why it’s called novelty. I only played Scribblenauts for a few hours, and then I was done – but what a few hours it was. I think you should judge experiences for their enjoyment, not necessarily what the score was at the end.

I learned a lot by looking at reactions to the game. Many people simply don’t want to look beyond the basic rules in their capacity to enjoy a game. If you can win a game simply by pressing one button repeatedly, many gamers seem duty-bound to simply press that button. Rather than looking for beauty in a thing, many gamers seem to just obsess over its utility. The equivalent, to me, of looking at an exquisite still life and saying “that’s just a bowl of fruit, move on”. You miss everything that way.


Obviously I hope to see the same idea, perhaps with more fully realised physics and maybe in a 3D environment. I hope radical, fresh ideas like this come up more often. I think gaming needs to be focussed not on the application of rules, but the emergent possibilities within those rules.


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 5

I’m revisiting some of my favourite games of the year. Here's part 4 and part 3 and  part 2 and part 1...

Fat Princess, developed by Titan Studios and released on the Playstation 3 Network in July, takes the novel approach with the multiplayer shooter by setting it in a Dragon’s Quest / Legend Of Zelda style fantasy setting. It’s a 79 on Metacritic, and was criticised heavily on release for latency and matchmaking issues.

I admit that I am tired of multiplayer shooters. I’ve been playing them for nearly 15 years now. One look at the multiplayer of Modern Warfare 2 makes me sigh a little – for all the new bells and whistles it is essentially the same game I’ve been playing since Counter-Strike in 1999, and debatably is the same dodge and shoot mechanic from Space Invaders in 1978. Essentially I am an old cynic about multiplayer shooters, and Fat Princess made me love the genre all over again.

What it does is take away all the nonsense that I feel has bogged down the genre. No unlockables, no snipers, no obsessive hours working on my aim just to keep up, no griefing over the mics, and no individuals acting like pricks ruining the experience for the rest. This is a fun game that works great whether you’re working with your team, but also works fine if you just want to loosely feel part of a pitch battle in a fantasy land.

But that’s not to say that it is simple – what I love about it is that it emphasises group tactics, simply by taking away the usual diversions. If you want to win, you have to work together with the other players, and if they want to win they have to work with you. Workers need to collect the resources and build the improvements. Healers have to back up the others. Archers have to back up the warriors at range. It’s the raid group lifted out of WOW and put in a more manageable battlefield with clear objectives and a level playing field.

And in this setting, you could write books on the tactics for each map alone. It’s actually most closer to the Counter-Strike clan match than any multiplayer game since. Of course some matches are one-sided, some are unfocussed and frustrating, and that cannot be avoided in any multiplayer game. But when it works you get that same feeling of community with your fellow players. One of my best gaming experiences this year was with one other human player fending off the opposition so long that they had to kick us out of the game in frustration.


I think Fat Princess successfully reclaims the basics of multiplayer gaming, and reminds us what was great about it in the first place. It shows that we don’t have to plough the same furrow for decades, but that with new settings, attractive graphics, and humour, that the stalest genres can be totally refreshed and given a whole new emphasis. 


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 4

I’m revisiting some of my favourite games of the year. Here's part 3 and  part 2 and part 1... 


Uncharted 2 is a major PS3 release from Naughty Dog. Sequel to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, it tells the Indiana Jones-inspired story of a treasure hunter and his search for riches and, perhaps, goodness. A smash hit with critics, it's currently the second-highest-rated PS3 game on Metacritic with an impressive average score of 96.


Uncharted 2 just has wow factor. From start to finish. My jaw has never dropped so often in a game. I'd compare it to seeing Jurassic Park in the cinemas in 1993 and thinking “How is this possible?”. It just raises the bar for presentation in games. Does that make it a triumph or a rather shallow pleasure. A bit of both, I'd say.

It defies its own criticism in a way. Because there's a sense in which I don't want to praise it, because it is simply a collection of polished visual tricks, packed around a fairly predictable action storyline, in a way that could almost be labelled as cynical. It also openly apes Spielberg's set-piece-led action cinema in a way that goes beyond homage – it is an out-and-out attempt to copy that experience in a videogame. As someone who thinks that gaming's real worth as a medium is in a route away from copying other forms, this game has forced me and others to think again.

But it's so rich. The birds that flutter around the palm trees. Your imprints in the snow. Your realistic animated stagger when you're injured. The cinematic depth of field effects. The integration of wonderfully staged cut-scenes with the action. The sense of physicality as you're thrown around the landscape. The use of dialogue, humour, character as punctuation. The scale of the vistas. The pacing. The John Williams-esque score.

It's not a healthy salad, it's a new kind of fattening gateaux. You feel like a glutton playing it. There's a train section, where you see a rich and believable landscape flying past the tracks – a bridge, a jungle, a lake, a mountain, and this is just the scenery – it's just too much. But I want more of it! It's the equivalent of a warm hug from a loved one, who reveals a special wrapped up present on Christmas Day. “Enjoy” they say. How can that ever be wrong?


A new bar for graphics and presentation, basically. At the same time I wonder if the legacy could be negative, adding another year and a few million in cost to the next generation of already-overblown triple-A titles. I think every game developer worthy of the name will be studying the incredible 'craft' on display in this game, and trying to learn the lessons. This is how you make a mainstream action game.


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 3

I’m revisiting some of my favourite games of the year. Here's part 2 and part 1...


Plants Vs Zombies, launched by Popcap games in May on the PC, and pending on other platforms, is another bright and colourful title from a developer renowned for addictive so-called ‘casual’ games like Peggle and Bejewelled. The game is about using plants to defend a house from encroaching zombies, using elements of Tower Defense games, card games like Magic, and arcade classic Tapper. An 88 on Metacritic.


The game grabbed me and never let go. It’s hard to justify that in words – it just works brilliantly. It was simply an absolute wrench to have to stop playing at any point. You don’t create that with luck.

Like Shaun Of The Dead or any of the classic zombie movies, the humour comes out of the mix of the laughably mundane with the horror of zombie apocalypse. Especially in the designs of the zombies themselves – the Michael Jackson Thriller-style zombies, the breathy grunts of them, the ludicrous way they wear buckets and roadcones as armour. Your get-out is an out of control domestic lawnmower. You are planting flowers to defend yourself – it doesn’t get much more surreal than that.

But there’s more to the game than good humour. Great game design gives you choice, and in this case that comes down to the seeds you choose to defend yourself, how you get these seeds to interact with each other, and the style of defense that you choose through their strategic placement. There’s nothing haphazard about it, which can often be the case in tower defense games – these are straightforward rows, and you immediately see the effect of the plant that you have placed against the approaching zombies.

The mark of greatness comes in the longevity of the game. Ultimately it plays out a bit like Magic or the other card games, where the seeds that you choose make up your hand, and the various strategies are near-infinite. Add to that the impressive detail of the mini-games that punctuate the action (many seem good enough to be games on their own. The power-up system of unlockables gives the game a long-term goal, and the Zen Garden that you can use to grow a selection of plants encountered in the game over real-time weeks and months.


I heard Jeff Green on a podcast saying that PopCap should be considered alongside Valve and Blizzard as absolute masters of their craft. This game shows the maturity of a so-called casual market, that actually matches or exceeds many of the pretensions of the hardcore sector that has tended to look down upon games like this as lesser products. No more!


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 2

I’m revisiting some of my favourite games of the year. Here's part 1


Shadow Complex (Xbox 360) is a 2D exploration shooter, but with 3D graphics. You play a civilian forced to rescue his girlfriend from an underground base discovered during a trip to the local caves. Warmly received on its Summer release on Xbox Live, the game currently has an 88 score on Metacritic.


What I love about it is that it’s a coherent thing. You can’t grab at any one thing in this game and say “that doesn’t belong”, because everything just fits perfectly. It’s the game equivalent of that tightly plotted thriller where you come out of the cinema without a single loose-end at which to pick. It’s like a puzzle box that clicks perfectly into shape on completion.

The star here is the underground complex – the gamespace itself. As you start the game you think you have it figured out fairly quickly – you just have to navigate in linear fashion, blast a few baddies, get from A to B. But the place itself is slippery and disorientating – as you progress and unlock more skills and weapons you realise that familiar places become gateways to new ‘unlockable’ locations and new routes and methods of navigation come into play.

The mastery here is familiarity – you get to know the place you’re in like the back of your hand, all the little tricks to get from one place to the next in the quickest time. It gives a weak central story a sense of unity that it probably doesn’t deserve – it’s not a question of moving on to the next level, it’s a question of learning to utilise the space that you know in a new way. By the end of the game the whole place is a sandbox that you feel in command of. And that’s how stories should always end – with a new perspective on what has come before.

Perspective is the game’s other major triumph. Using the Unreal 3D engine it manages to breathe life into a 2D shooter by having the background scenery come to life. It never ever feels flat – soldiers advance from distant tunnels and platforms. And it can hop in and out of 3D whenever it chooses, to give emphasis to dialogue or a melee attack. The key here is variety – from a close-up shimmy through a vent, to a super-scale pitch battle in a vast hall, the game knows how to mix it up and surprise the player from start to finish. There’s not a false beat in the whole thing.


I don’t expect there’ll be a huge number of new 2D Metroid-vania style games. I think its influence is simply in that it is a superb example of a whole that is absolutely the sum of all of its parts. From the smallest detail to the overall picture, the whole thing is absolutely integrated in a way that few games ever manage.


My Games Of The Year 2009 - Part 1

I’ve decided to get my thoughts in order early on my games of the year. Over the next month I’ll be recollecting the games I’ve enjoyed the most.


Skate 2, developed by EA Black Box, was released in January. Set in the fictional town of San Vanelona, it’s a open-world skating simulator where success is measured by your status among the world of skating magazines and community events. It’s a 84 on Metacritic. I wrote about it before here.


Not a natural choice for many game of the year polls, I would guess. At its heart it is simply a very good skating game. But I think it’s more than that.

I don’t think the complexity of the controls in this game is given quite enough credit – it puts most other games to shame, sports or non-sports. Unusually for a game, all of your skills are unlocked when the game starts – what you are taught is the ability to implement all the subtle controls you already have. It’s not a question of simply pressing the right button at the right moment, you need all sorts of elaborate flicks of the sticks and co-ordinated keypresses. Easy to start, almost unbelievably hard to master. It’s one of the hardest games I have ever played, and I love it for that.

In many ways it does for an individual sports game what Burnout: Paradise did for racing. A huge sandbox in which to play, with gradually more difficult unlockable events and career paths. An achievement system for the best tricks and also a Hall Of Meat for the best wipeouts. Different skate-parks, different zones encouraging different styles of skating. But the career mode isn’t the fun part of the game – it’s simply being in the place and manipulating your character. You find one spot and you find a couple of hours pass while you try and master it.

The online ‘freeskate’ play is an absolute standout, which while a long way from perfect, is still one of the best online modes I’ve ever played. At the press of a button you are connected to whoever else is skating in your area of the city, and you can simply hang out then if you choose. You can try to wow each other with your party tricks. Or you can do one of a bewildering bunch of group events. What I love about it is that there’s no difference between a top-level player and a newbie – you’re all essentially in the same boat, and you trade on your skills and not on your status.


I think the online play is the eureka moment here. I see the next generation of sports games taking place in the equivalent of an MMO space – a persistent world for all players to hang out. And it’s a creative space where the usual rules of competitive gaming don’t have to matter at all – you don’t need a career here, or a set of achievements, you just need a skateboard and an avatar.


A Ghost On Mars


A visit to Mars (Red Faction: Guerilla). It’s a society in flux – a guerilla movement pitted against an oppressive corporate force. My doomed brother welcomes me to the planet - soon he perishes at the hands of the authorities and I’m thrust by default into a battle between workers and the oppressive bosses.

I’m just a visitor, hired muscle with a hammer, but what a hammer. My first experience on the planet is a mission to collect some salvage. I do this by bashing buildings apart with massive swipes – what a feeling of power. Even faced with assault rifles, explosives and zappers, there’s always the hammer. Everything is smashable, breakable, destroyable – what a playground!

Mars as an experimental, industrial workshop of a place is initially fascinating, and lovingly created. Vehicles are stockily built as if prepared to bash through the rock on their own. Buildings are metal, pylon and sheet, built to purpose by mechanics not artisans. It’s the world of the hammer – built by it and about to be destroyed by it. Urban chic is measured by the size of your workshop/garage. Status is the size of your hammer – you are the alpha male wielding your superior tool with prowess.

But this Mars holds no surprises. I’m not expecting an ice zone - I’m expecting bigger pylons. Exploration holds little appeal – I’m a veteran of exploration, I’ve explored Liberty City, the continents of Azeroth, and a multitude of Mario worlds. The unappealing dustbowls of Mars don’t cut it for me, where beauty comes in lego brick designs among the craters. I’m free to explore, but there’s no freedom – the roads and buildings all look the same.

And what is my cause? I’m a guerilla by name, but I don’t know what for – some vague notion of workers rights? I have no insight into the politics – I was hired muscle, and I love the hammer first and the cause last. Okay my brother was killed, but I’d only met him about 90 seconds before, before I was thrust into some rebellion that I don’t understand. That my brother only had a vague connection to in the first place. And where was my choice?

The other guerillas seem more committed than I. They throw slogans and stories around. “I saw some drones get their hands on a marauder woman – it wasn’t pretty”. Even the harshest brutalities come across like platitudes. My enthusiasm starts to turn into guilt – how do I tell these people that when all is said and done, I don’t believe? I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to believe.

So here I am, a fraud in the middle of a battle I don’t understand. A few hours ago I was a stranger in this world. Worse, while I idly play about busting metal with my mighty hammer, workers take up arms dying to defend me. I don’t want to be part of their petty war – I don’t know who the good guys even are. I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them. It takes all my self-discipline not to start casually smashing up the rebel safehouses. For fun. Just to ‘do’.

I decide I’m the cancer not the cure. So I turn off Mars. It’s the only way I can see to get the moral upper hand here. It’s the only way to win.


7 Days In Games...

Call Of Duty 5
It's been first-person shooter overload for me this week.

I’ve had both Call Of Duty 4 and Call Of Duty 5 on rental, so it’s been nice to compare the two. They’re both essentially the same game, and both excel simply with the feel of the gunplay – it just intrinsically feels right when you’re moving and shooting with a gun in your hand. As a Counter-Strike veteran I can’t see a whole lot to really attract me personally to the multiplayer online in the long-term, but I can see how many players have spent months and years on that feature.

Both games have a short-ish but perfectly formed single-player campaign. The level of polish on these is absolutely superb – little things like the almost total absence of ‘clipping’ on the models is impressive. I found both enjoyable, though my criticism is that the game essentially is another “fire and dodge” shooter – the basic mechanic hasn’t really changed since Space Invaders thirty years ago. And there’s the merest skeleton of a story to pique the interest beyond that. I’m not sure how long I can simply keep playing this same game.

I think Call Of Duty, as a series, is totally average in every way. It does a bog-standard experience better than any game I can mention. And I think that is why it’s such a bestseller. It offers multiplayer for the ‘hardcore’, and a polished single-player campaign for the ‘casuals’. There’s nothing radical here, nor need there be. (I've written a longer piece on Call Of Duty 5 on my blog)

Speaking of distinctly average FPSs, I am trudging through Fear 2. Actually it’s a pretty shocking game in my opinion, and the story is absolutely woeful – incredibly confusing, impossible to follow, and deeply uninteresting. The draw in this game for me is the little horror-inspired moments – a flashback that flicks onto the screen, an apparition here and there, and lots of environmental effects that really work well. The game is really good at knocking you off balance, often physically – don’t play this if you get motion sickness. It is doing just enough to keep me playing, but never doing enough to really impress me.

On a totally different level in every way is Windosill, a flash game that to many would barely qualify as a game at all. There’s about 10 connected screens filled with weird and wonderful contraptions, shapes and creatures, and you interact with them with the mouse and watch them do beautiful little animations. Each screen is also a little puzzle, where you need to find a small wooden block so that you can proceed. If it sounds weird that’s because it is, but it’s one of the finest half-hours I have ever spent on a game.

The Sims 3
I’m still playing The Sims 3 – I think it’s a great game with a lot of hidden delights. While playing with my daughter we discovered a mausoleum – you can send a Sim in there and it turns into a vintage “Choose Your Own Adventure” style adventure, and you decide whether to turn left or right at the fork, whether to drink the potion etc. Your Sim comes out of it covered in soot, usually having been mauled by a bear, but with a little treasure to show for it.

I think it’s a much more open-ended game than the previous versions. In the Sims 1 or 2 I felt rather trapped into sending my Sims off to develop a career, which then got boring, but there simply are more options now. You can busk, fish, cook or paint for a living. You can get a part-time job. You can become a partner in one of the local businesses. And if you choose to ignore work altogether there are still aims to fulfill, whether it’s running a well-tended garden with rare plants, or travelling about the town looking for bodies of water with rare fish to catch. The game still has its faults – it’s too safe, and it’s simply much harder to fail than to succeed, and your sims always default to conventional mode. But it’s still a unique experience – there is no other game that is like The Sims.

I’m still trying to play through Mass Effect, but it’s frustrating me more and more. Any section where you have to drive the BigTrak just drives me mad. I hate the save system. I find all the equipment tinkering fiddly and unsatisfying. You have to forgive the game continually for glitches. And the basic combat just ain’t that good. Even worse, I think I must have skipped the infamous sex scene for some reason - story of my life!

I think this is a game that everyone feels goodwill towards, simply because it looks so damned good and was really very ambitious. But it’s a game I’m endurng rather than outright enjoying. But I do think I’ll get to the point with Mass Effect where I’m so invested in the characters that I start really caring about what happens, and a game with that capacity is simply a step above most of the competition.

Windosill is my game of the week though.

Plans for the next week? I want to finish Valkyria Chronicles. I’m going to buy Zeno Clash when it’s cheap on Steam at the weekend. At some point I want to start going through the Final Fantasy games in order. And just a week to go until Tiger Woods 10 and the motion-plus here in the UK – I can’t wait.