Bullet Point Blog

Hey guys, Dan here with the first blog of 2010. I'm a little bit busy with other stuff right now, which is why there hasn't been much blogging activity on my part over the last week or so. Just so you're all aware that I'm not dead, I thought I'd write up a quick bullet point blog to fill you all in on what's been going down since I last blogged on Christmas Eve. So, here goes! 
 

  • Christmas Day was pretty awesome. I got Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for my PSP (more on that in a second), stand-up comedian Russell Howard's new DVD, both seasons of Flight of the Conchords on DVD, an assortment of toiletries, money (which I've put aside for Uni living), and £30 worth of GAME vouchers (which I'm saving in order to put them towards the multitude of great games coming out in 2010). The day was spent entirely with family, eating far too much lovely food, watching awful TV and playing board games.
  • Speaking of Christmas, sorry about the lack of a third part to the Christmas Mega-Blog. I intended to push it out Boxing Day, but ran into problems with structuring it and eventually just gave up.
  • I did nothing special for New Year's Eve. Didn't even drink (incidentally, I've been teetotal for exactly two months today). Just chilled out with family, saw it in quietly and went to bed fairly early. Say what you will, but I enjoyed it a lot.
  • I moved back to my flat in Essex last night. My parents sent me back with a metric ton of 'essentials'. Went shopping for frozen food and various other bits this morning. I bought a bag, which the sales assistant put into another bag before giving to me. Lunacy.
  • Before Christmas Day I'd been playing a bit of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, but since I got it I've been playing Chinatown Wars almost exclusively. To date I've clocked up eight and a half hours and I'm loving it so far. I can't put my finger on the reason why, but I've found myself wandering off the beaten track a hell of a lot more than I usually would my first time through a GTA game. As a consequence, I think I'm only about halfway through the main story missions. The drug-dealing is brilliant, especially insofar as it largely lets you get as involved with it or remain as distant from it as you'd like. I've simply been buying up cheap drugs whenever I get the tip-off, sitting on the stash, and then selling them on when I find out they're in demand, and doing so has kept me pretty financially comfortable. Expect a more detailed blog when I finish it, but for now, all you need know is that it's awesome, and I'm loving it.
  • Speaking of Crisis Core, I'm five and a half hours in and just finished the mission with Tseng in Banora. Still on the fence over the story, but it's early days yet. Gameplay sits very well with me, feels very Kingdom Hearts-ish which certainly isn't a bad thing. My sole gripe at the moment concerns the DMW. In a lot of ways I think it's great - the concept of luck dishing out buffs and limit breaks is a pretty nice idea and keeps things feeling suitably frantic. However, I don't like the DMW slots being in control of the levelling up process. I can't help but feel that it kind of kills some of the sense of progression that you usually get from EXP gain. On the whole though, pretty good so far. Just hoping it picks up as I move further into the story.
  • In terms of holiday purchases, I have blown a whopping £3.98 in the Steam Holiday Sale. I shelled out £1.74 for the LucasArts Adventure Pack (consisting of The Dig, LOOM, and two Indiana Jones point-n-clicks), and I parted with £2.24 for the Max Payne pack (Max Payne and Max Payne 2 in one shiny digital package). Everything seems to run well on my laptop, so I'll probably end up playing them back here at University. I have a feeling the Max Payne games will be right up my girlfriend's street, so we may even end up playing through those together.
  • While out in town, I got it into my head that I was going to impulse-buy Borderlands in the January sales. Turns out all the shops in town were sold out though. Talk about being saved from oneself.
  • I did, however, give in to another urge and bought my first CD of 2010 in the form of Codeine Velvet Club's debut album. I've just finished listening to the self-titled effort and I'm incredibly impressed. I can only describe the sound as a fusion of rock, jazz and big band. Unfortunately, I don't think it sold well here in the UK on its release last week, as it didn't make it into the Top 40 album chart. Here's hoping that things pick up for them sales-wise, because I'd really like to hear more of this band.
 
I think that's enough to give you a basic idea of what's been happening over the last week-and-a-bit. Once again, sorry for the lack of activity. I'll try to remedy it over the next few weeks. Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)
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The Christmas Mega-Blog 2009! Part Two - 2009 In Review

Welcome back, readers, to the second part of my Christmas mega-blog 2009! Just in case you missed the first part, here's a link to it. The second (and most likely the longest) part of this Christmas mega-blog is going to focus heavily on 2009 as a whole, and my experiences within the year. In essence, it's the sequel to the2008 in review blog I wrote back in February. While it'll largely be focusing on games, there'll probably be a little bit of other stuff in here, most likely music-related as well as some more personal stuff. As with last year's retrospective analysis, you won't find any Game Of The Year talk here - that stuff doesn't interest me. Besides, as you'll soon see, I'm not really in a position to pass judgement on 2009 as a year for the gaming industry (the only 2009 release I purchased this year besides DLC was The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition). That's why I'll be going down the personal route with this blog, looking at the games that I've played, the music I've listened to, and the events that have occurred this year, and how they've all come together to make 2009 such an awesome year for me. I recommend you find a comfortable chair, stock up on snacks and put the cat out, because this is likely to be a pretty long read.   
 

dankempster's Review of 2009!

  

2009 In Games

When it came to writing my review of 2008, I came to realise that I'd forgotten quite a bit about the games I'd played. In some cases, I'd even completely forgotten which games I'd played! To avoid the same thing happening when it came to writing my review of 2009, I've been keeping a list over the course of the year chronicling every game I've finished. Now, with the year's end only seven days away and no end-game scenarios on the horizon, I've closed the list and analysed its contents. This year, I've finished twenty-five games. Nineteen of those were games I'd never reached the end of before. In order to prevent this blog from getting too long right off the bat, I've whittled the list down to my ten most favourite gaming experiences of the year, each accompanied by a short paragraph expressing my views on the game in question. This list is in no particular order, and I'm not putting any game above any other. If you're interested in perusing the full list of all twenty-five titles, to see the other games that defined my 2009, it can be found here.
   
1. Bully

Bully, or Canis Canem Edit as it's better known here in the UK, saved me from a gaming drought shortly after the death of my first Xbox 360 way back in February.I was looking for something to help me pass the time in the absence of my 360, while I was waiting to leap back into Fallout 3. What I got was probably the best story-driven sandbox game on the PlayStation 2. Bully had everything - great characters, a tight, funny script, and the gameplay to back it all up. The sheer level of focus that went into the game's design blew my mind, and provided me with hours of fun simply experimenting with the gameworld. If you're looking for a full account of my opinion of the game, be sure to check out this blog.

2. Dead Space

I picked up Dead Space over my easter break, and played through it over the course of about a fortnight in April. With its great combat focused on strategic dismemberment and peerless audio design, Dead Space is without a doubt the most polished game I played this year and a testament to the way video games should be developed. One of the things that really made Dead Space awesome for me, though, is the fact that I shared the experience with my girlfriend. A big fan of horror movies, she loved every scary second, and so did I. For a more detailed round-up of my thoughts on Dead Space, you can turn to this blog.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

I'm a long-time fan of the Metal Gear franchise, but I don't own a PlayStation 3. Thankfully, one of my flatmates from last year agreed to a console swap, letting me play Metal Gear Solid 4 for the first time. I loved the updated gameplay mechanics, all of which seemed to just feel right. While it allowed the player to take a run-and-gun approach if desired, the new control scheme didn't hinder my stealthy playthrough at all. The game also looked and sounded amazing, and really showed off the capabilities of the PS3. More than anything, though, it was the plot that left me feeling most satisfied at the game's close. If you want to know more about my experience with Snake's final outing, you might like to read this blog.

4. BioShock

A friend of mine bought me BioShock as a birthday present, and I got around to playing it in May. After initially being underwhelmed, I persevered and found the game really picked up after the first hour or so. The storyline was riveting, and kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the game's final boss (probably its weakest point, in my eyes). I wasn't too struck on the gunplay, but the plasmids ensured that the combat remained thoroughly entertaining. I was also blown away by the graphics, particularly the water effects. While I didn't devote any specific blog to covering BioShock, I did write about it briefly as part of this blog.

5. Final Fantasy V

After going almost a year without picking up a JRPG, it was recommended that I try Final Fantasy V. All my previous attempts to get into the game had failed on account of the game's rather awful opening act, but I decided to give it another try anyway. I'm glad I did, because Final Fantasy V offered up some of the series' best characters, funniest moments, and most compelling gameplay mechanics. The Job System in particular is well worth praising, offering up a myriad of possibilities for customisation that I spent hours tinkering with. For a full write-up of my thoughts on Final Fantasy V, check out this blog.

6. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the game that made me fall in love with video games. I wasted countless hours playing it in my youth, but never actually made it past the game's difficult final boss battle. One afternoon, inspired by the efforts of a fellow Giant Bomber, I picked up the 360 port of the game and vowed to do what I'd never managed to do as a kid - finish Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It took a few hours, several continues and a can of Relentless, but eventually Robotnik caved and I finally got to see the set of credits that I never thought I would. What's even more amazing is how well the game holds up, even after all these years. While Sonic 2 didn't warrant its own blog, I did write about it briefly at the bottom of this blog.

7. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

If 2008 was the year that I discovered Valve, then 2009 could perhaps best be described as the year I discovered Bethesda. As well as pouring significant amounts of time into Oblivion and Fallout 3, I also devoted an unhealthy chunk of my time (probably around 120 hours, all told) to Morrowind over my summer holiday. I loved every second of the game, particularly the freedom it offered and the way it did so in such an unpatronising manner. It was difficult, it was immersive, and it was a lot of fun. I still have the two expansions to play through, and will probably visit those at some point in 2010. For a more thorough look at Morrowind, be sure to check out this blog

8. Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus

In another instance of returning to games from my childhood, 2009 saw me pick up the first two Oddworld games for the first time in several years. I played through both over the space of about a week and fell in love with them all over again. The games are undeniably charming, although it's a lot harder to actually put your finger on the reason for that. Maybe it's the wicked sense of humour, maybe it's the extremely well-designed puzzles, or maybe it's just the feel of Oddworld as you traipse through its distinctive landscapes. Whatever it was, I had a blast with both games, but I picked Exoddus for this list because it felt like the more polished of the two. More info on my time in Oddworld can be found in this blog.

9. Fallout 3

I had two very different experiences with Fallout 3 this year. The first, back at the start of the year, was one of complete awe and wonder. The second, occurring after a prolonged stint with Morrowind, left me much more aware of what I was doing, but also left me feeling a little more critical of the game in general. One thing didn't change over that time period, though - my belief that it was a great game. I also picked up all the DLC packs for my second playthrough, and found that they all really added to the experience. For a complete breakdown of my opinion of Fallout 3 and all the DLC packs, you can head over to this blog.

10. Lost Odyssey

One of the last games that I reached the end of in 2009 was Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey. I fell in love with it almost instantly, heaping praise on the game's amazing aesthetics and addictive combat mechanics. The game felt an awful lot like Final Fantasy X, unsurprising considering it's the brainchild of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, but it never felt like that was a bad thing. The game's protagonist, Kaim, was also a welcome addition, serving as a really interesting take on the whole 'amnesiac protagonist' concept that's been done to death by JRPGs over the years. If you'd like to know more about my time with Lost Odyssey, be sure to check out this blog


2009 In Music

2009 was a pretty slow year for music for me, although the waves of complete bilge were actually punctuated by some pretty great releases. Among my favourite albums this year were Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum , The Enemy's Music For The People , Them Crooked Vultures' Them Crooked Vultures , and Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown . I'm also looking forward to one more album this year, namely Codeine Velvet Club's Codeine Velvet Club , which comes out on Monday and looks set to be brilliant. However, when it comes to picking my favourite album of the last twelve months, I don't need to hesitate in making my decision - it couldn't be anything other than The Black Crowes' Before The Frost.../...Until The Freeze . I bought the album back in early October and fell in love with it on the first listen. Since then it's been pretty much all I've listened to, and has become not only my favourite musical release of 2009, but also one of my favourite albums of all time. Chris Robinson delivers one amazing vocal performance after the next, and is backed up by some truly inspired blues-based rock music. It's an incredibly mature sound, carrying the weight of an obviously much wiser group than the band that produced Amorica and Three Snakes and One Charm . Attached below is my favourite track on the album, the rip-roaring I Ain't Hiding
  
   
 

2009 In Events

Not world events, but rather personal events. It's interesting to look back at how much has happened over the last twelve months, it really puts things into perspective and has made me realise how much I've grown as a person. Sorry if this part seems self-indulgent at all, but I wanted to include it. There might even be an off-chance that it'll interest some of you. If you happen to be crazy stalker-people.
 
  • After meeting my girlfriend at University, we became a couple on January 13th. We've been together for over eleven months now, and I've loved every single second of the time I've spent with her.
  • My University accommodation was burgled in the early hours of February 22nd. The thief/thieves stole my (broken) Xbox 360, my DS (along with a copy of Chrono Trigger) and my 30GB MP3 player. It took the police four months to get back to me about the case, telling me that nothing could be done.
  • On February 28th I turned nineteen. My family came to visit me for the day. It was awesome.
  • On March 17th, my family lost our beloved dog, Freckles, to a short battle with an aggressive malignant disease. She was eleven years old, and is still sorely missed by all of us.
  • On March 21st I saw Paul Weller perform live at the O2 Arena in London. That event brought the number of my favourite artists that I've seen live to two out of four.
  • In July, I got my exam results for my first year of University. I passed with 2:1s across the board, leaving me with a comfortable pass into the second year.
  • On August 1st my girlfriend and I moved into our new flat, where we'll hopefully be staying for the next two years.
  • In late August, my family got a new puppy - a border collie/Alaskan malamute cross named Mya.
  • On September 17th my girlfriend turned 21. We stayed with her family for two weeks and organised a huge barbeque to celebrate.
  • On December 18th I returned to my family home for the first time in four and a half months.
 
I think that just about covers it. Sorry for the insane length of this blog post. I don't have the patience to go back and proofread it, so I hope it's readable. You can expect the third and final part of the Christmas mega-blog to materialise sometime on Boxing Day. In the meantime, a Merry Christmas to all of you who take the time to read this, as well as to all of you that don't. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.   
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) 
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The Christmas Mega-Blog 2009! Part One - Dan's Festive Plans


 I am dankempster! I am feeling festive!
Hey guys! It's Christmas Eve, and that can mean only one thing - it's time for the return of Dan's Christmas Mega-Blog! Those of you who've been around Giant Bomb long enough to remember this time last year might recall me pushing an epic three-part mega-blog into the blogosphere over the Christmas period. Well, I intend to do exactly the same thing this year. If that sounds like way too daunting a read, then fear not, because I've already thought of that, and will be putting this blog out in three separate manageable-sized instalments. That way it should avoid any major signs of Wall-Of-Text Syndrome. To drag up last year's analogy, think of this mega-blog as being a bit like a tasty Christmas dinner. The first blog, a quick update on what's happening with me over the Christmas period, serves as the prawn cocktail starter. The metaphorical turkey dinner comes in the form of a mammoth recap of my own personal experiences of 2009, gaming and otherwise, complete with all the trimmings. Finally, a wind-down blog in the form of a look back on my gaming life will take the place of the Christmas pudding with custard. If the prospect has your mouth watering, then I'll bring this preamble to a close and allow you to get stuck into the first course. Hope you enjoy this year's Christmas Mega-Blog! 
 

Dan's Festive Plans

Time to whack out the stock Christmas image! 
Well folks, Christmas is once again upon us. I hope you've put up all your decorations, picked up a choice turkey from the supermarket and wrapped up all the presents. I got all of that stuff well out of the way quite some time ago. Anybody who read last year's mega-blog will know that I don't really go in for the commercial side of Christmas, nor for the religious side. For me, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones. As a University student, I don't get to see my family and friends much (before last week, the last time I saw them was when I moved into my new flat way back in August), so Christmas is a very special time for me for precisely that reason. That being said, though, I am still looking forward to that turkey dinner.
 
 I challenge you to find a more adorable dog than Mya
I get the feeling it's going to be a pretty mixed Christmas this year. On the one hand, I'm spending a lot of time with family over this holiday season. I returned home last Friday and it's great to be back. It's made me realise just how much I miss the company of my parents and my sisters, and I've finally had a chance to meet the incredible new addition to the family - Mya, the border collie/Alaskan malamute cross puppy. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, we're having my grandad on my dad's side over for the whole day, and my mum's parents are joining us for dinner in the evening. I anticipate that lots of food and alcohol will be consumed, lots of board games will be played, and lots of priceless family moments that'll be remembered for years so come will unfold. That'll be the perfect Christmas for me. On Boxing Day, we're having a friend of the family over for a light evening meal (which I believe is Mum-speak for "getting rid of all the leftover turkey"). Finally, on New Year's Day, my dad's side of the family will be gathering at my grandad's house for the traditional Kempster New Year's Day family dinner. I'm looking forward to all of these events, and am going to treasure what comparatively little time I have with my family before trudging back to Essex and putting my nose back to the grindstone for a new term. 
 
I got the Lonesome Anti-Christmas Blues... 
But at the same time, I feel like this Christmas is going to be a pretty lonely one. Even though I'm back at home, and in the company of people that I haven't seen for over four months, I still feel like something substantial is missing from the picture. I guess that's because I won't be seeing my girlfriend until a few days into the new year. We've been living together for over four months now, and to suddenly go from seeing her every day to not seeing her at all is a pretty jarring experience. Even now, almost a week after moving back home, I'm finding it hard to settle without her around - sleepless nights, lack of motivation, the works. It's incredible how seeing somebody every day can lull you into a state where you start to take their company for granted. It's also very weird to feel, for the first time in my life, like I don't have a fixed home anymore, because whether I'm here in Hertfordshire or back at the flat in Essex, I still see very little of at least  some of the people who matter to me most. Thankfully we're still talking loads on the phone, so it's not like we're completely cut off from one another. Also, to compensate for our not being together on Christmas day, we had an Unofficial Christmas Day in Essex last Thursday. We exchanged gifts, cooked an amazing turkey dinner together, and watched comedy programmes on TV until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. It was a great Unofficial Christmas. Hopefully in a couple of years, when we're out of Uni and in a bigger flat, we'll both be able to invite our families over to our place for Christmas lunch. Now that would be a complete Christmas. 
 
I can't wait to get my hands on this 
In terms of gifts, I haven't asked for much this year. My parents have promised to pay for my passport renewal as a Christmas present, and have also bought me Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on PSP, which I'm really looking forward to playing. One of my sisters has bought me comedian Russell Howard's new DVD, Dingledodies. I'm really excited about watching that, because his first DVD was amazing. My girlfriend bought me a pen (the single greatest gift a writer can receive, in my opinion) and a really nice watch. Other than that, I suspect that I'll receive mostly cash and vouchers, which I'll be putting towards picking up Codeine Velvet Club's debut album, and probably saving to go towards some of the big releases I'm looking forward to playing in 2010. 
 
All in all, this Christmas is shaping up to be an excellent one. I hope you all have a great day tomorrow, too. I'd love to know what people are asking for/expecting to receive, so feel free to comment. In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed reading this. I'll see you in a few hours with the second instalment - a personal review of 2009. Thanks for reading guys, I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan
 
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Currently playing - Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
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The Mission's Over!

 More of the wheat, less of the chaff
I'm not normally known for impulse blogging, but I'm going to break that tradition for today. I've just finished Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and now I feel like briefly sharing my thoughts on the game with all of you. 
 
I bought the first three games in the Splinter Cell franchise incredibly cheaply for my PS2 some time ago, with the view to playing through them in the near future. I got around to playing the first game last year (around the time this most Giantest of Bombs blew up), and found it frustrating and rewarding in more or less equal measures. The game wasn't as open-ended as it initially seemed, and progression was largely through extensive trial and error. I think part of the reason I left it so long between playing the original Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow was my fear that it would be more of the same frustrating experiences. Imagine my surprise, then, when I picked up Pandora Tomorrow last week and found it to be an improvement over its predecessor in almost every conceivable way.
 
One of the main problems I had with the original Splinter Cell was its rigidity. The game presented me with the illusion that I could get through any situation in a multitude of different ways, but often boiled down to "sticking to the script" because most of the cool gadgetry was only useful for getting myself noticed. Pandora Tomorrow feels like it's addressed this issue by being a little more flexible in its execution. The big one is the addition of the humble whistle to Sam Fisher's arsenal. The inclusion of something this small really did have a big impact on the game, because it meant I could choose to break the game's patterns, rather than having to adapt to them. I also heaped criticism on the original game's unforgiving nature, but didn't feel the need to do so with Pandora Tomorrow, which seems a little less hard on mistake-makers. Checkpoints are (for the most part) generously handed out, and raised alarms seem a little easier to cope with this time around. Unfortunately this all seems to go out the window with the game's final mission, which cranks up the difficulty exponentially and just seems to expect you to deal with it. 
 
Sticking to the shadows is as important as ever
Aside from these two points, Pandora Tomorrow is pretty much what I was expecting - more Splinter Cell. It still looks great (for a PS2 port of a 2004 Xbox game), it still uses light and darkness really effectively as a gameplay mechanic, the action is still incredibly well-paced (again, for the most part), and the gadgets are still lots of fun to play around with. It's also still pretty linear, and still requires a lot of patience. I guess the biggest complaint I have is regarding the game's final mission, which felt like the complete antithesis to the rest of the game. With its poor pacing and soul-crushing spike in difficulty, it felt tacked-on, as if the developers thought the game wasn't going to be long enough or challenging enough and half-heartedly threw an extra level on the end to make up the time. For the most part though, Pandora Tomorrow was pretty much everything I could have asked for from a sequel to the original Splinter Cell - an equal level of challenge with more reward and less frustration. I'm certainly not going to leave it so long before I check out Chaos Theory, which I've heard is the best game in the series. 
 
Team Fortress Classic may be old, but it's still awesome 
Away from the rediscovery of my PlayStation 2, I moved back to my family's place on Friday, and I'll be staying here for Christmas and New Year before winging my way back to Essex for the Spring term of my second year. It's been nice to see all my family and friends again, and it was especially awesome to meet the new dog, Mya, who is quite possibly the most beautiful puppy I've ever set eyes on. I'm also working hard on two Linguistics essays which I have to finish before terms starts in January. In the land of games, I took the plunge and popped my Team Fortress Classic cherry yesterday. Even with ten years of age to account for, the game plays incredibly well and looks set to become my next gaming vice in the absence of a computer that can run Team Fortress 2. I'm not ashamed to admit that I suck at it, but hopefully that will change as I become accustomed to playing shooters with a mouse and keyboard. 
 
I think that about covers it for this blog. Now that I've wrapped up Pandora Tomorrow, I'm thinking of directing my attention in the direction of something a little more in-your-face. Right now Devil May Cry is looking like the most interesting option. I'm also really eager to start playing Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, so I'll probably dust off my PSP and give that a whirl some time soon. Anyway, thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you in a couple of days for the return of Dan's Christmas Mega-Blog. 
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Team Fortress Classic (PC)
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Lost Odyssey: Discovering Gaming Greatness

Retroactive Game of the Year 2008? Let's find out... 
It's been a long time since I last wrote a Discovering Gaming Greatness blog. A quick glance back through the archives seems to indicate that the last instalment was written way back in August, in relation to the first two Oddworld games. A lot of games has been played since then - I've worked my way through two Pokémon games (namely Yellow and Crystal), wasted a hell of a lot of time with Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise and Forza Motorsport 2, and obtained my first Giant Bomb S-Rank in my playthrough of Fallout 3. The latest name to add to this list of titles is Lost Odyssey, a fittingly epic JRPG from Hironobu Sakaguchi and the other folks at Mistwalker. As a long-time fan of Sakaguchi's other work, the purchase of Lost Odyssey seemed like a no-brainer when I first picked up my Xbox 360 back in May of last year. Despite picking it up in last June, though, the game went largely unplayed for just over a year. It wasn't until the end of August, when I hit a bit of a post-Morrowind gaming drought, that Lost Odyssey finally found its way out of its case and into my 360 proper. After three and a half months of Lost Odyssey, totalling fifty-nine hours of gameplay time and punctuated by a couple of fairly long breaks, my time with the game has come to an end, and I'm happy to say that it's without doubt one of the greatest games I've played through this year. Not only that, it's probably the best JRPG I've played since Final Fantasy X hit European soil way back in 2002. Want to know more? Then read on...
 
Every boss battle is unique and memorable 
One of the things that really made Lost Odyssey for me was the combat. While it may not cover any new ground, its true success lies in its ability to refine the age-old premise of turn-based combat to a level of near-perfection. Lost Odyssey represents perhaps one of the most finely balanced battle engines I've ever seen in any RPG. At no point during my playthrough did I ever feel like anything arbitrary was going on with the battle engine. Even little things that most players might not care too much about, like the MP cost of different spells and skills, all felt really well-balanced to me. I was also impressed by the highly tactical nature of what's going on under Lost Odyssey's hood. While being able to switch rings and accessories on the fly might not sound like a big deal, it's probably the most next-gen thing about Lost Odyssey's battle system. Not to mention the Guard Condition parameter, a seemingly simple addition which really encouraged me to start thinking about how to distribute my attacks and maintain my defence. Lost Odyssey also really knows how to do boss battles. Every one took full advantage of the little pieces of the game's combat puzzle, making for some unforgettable stand-offs. All these little innovations came together to create a truly memorable combat experience for me.
 
The whole game feels perfectly balanced 
All this excellent combat was backed up by a levelling system that took me completely by surprise. One of my favourite things about Lost Odyssey is the way the game handles experience gain. Rather than adopting a strictly numbers-based system, Lost Odyssey simplifies the process down to the most basic of levels. Lost Odyssey rewards you for taking on stronger foes, while weaker foes yield minimal experience gain. This system impressed me for two reasons. First, it makes it easy to get back on top of things if you're under-levelled at any point. Second, it discourages grinding and power-levelling tactics in order to power through the game. It also helps that this system is as well-balanced as the battle system. I stuck pretty rigidly to the game's innate 'level guide' and at no point did I ever really feel that the game was either ridiculously easy or frustratingly difficult. From a mechanical perspective, I don't think I've ever played a game as refined as Lost Odyssey.

When you see this, you know you're in for an interesting read 
For the most part, Lost Odyssey tells a pretty great story. I loved the global scale of things, and the turmoil that befalls Uhra, Gohtza and Numara is one of the games industry's more interesting 'world in chaos' plots of recent times. Less interesting were the character-driven parts of the story, which really weren't helped by the game's cast of characters. Jansen, Cooke and Mack in particular were more suffered than appreciated, I found. Thankfully, the game makes up for this with its amazing protagonist - Kaim Argonar. This is partly due to his evolution over the course of the game, but mainly owed to the beautifully written Thousand Years of Dreams stories that punctuate the game experience. Every one is interesting and appropriately emotional, and they serve as an incredible insight into the thousand-year-old mind of this troubled character. If anything ever drags me back to Lost Odyssey, it'll probably be the desire to experience more of these heart-rending dream sequences.

I'm not saying Lost Odyssey is perfect. It's got more than its fair share of issues, many of which detracted from the experience for me. The game has a major problem with loading times, for a start. While I'm not too bothered about loading times cropping up between different areas, they're a much bigger issue when they start interrupting cut-scenes. Another problem I had with the game was its unusually low encounter rate, which at times seems intent on offering up battles at ten-minute intervals. There's an unnecessary obligatory stealth sequence early on, indicating the folks at Mistwalker didn't get the memo that they went out of fashion in 2004. But, while these issues do mar the experience, they're not enough to stop Lost Odyssey from being one of the best games I've played this year. Between the expertly refined gameplay mechanics, the gorgeous visuals and the captivating story, Lost Odyssey feels like the game we might have had if Hironobu Sakaguchi had still been with Square Enix while they were working on Final Fantasy XII. I'm definitely not going to be leaving it so long before I pick up my next JRPG, that's for sure. Thanks for reading guys. I'll see you around.
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Forza Motorsport 2 (X360)
18 Comments

Hack 'n' Slash 'n' Shoot 'n' Run

First things first. I'd like to apologise for my recent absence from the Giant Bomb blogosphere. I've been a little preoccupied with writing an essay for my Early Modern Literature module (a rather interesting one, actually, concerning racism and sexism in Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta). While I still have yet to finish said essay, I'm also up pretty early for a Sunday morning, so I figured I'd use this time to briefly update you on what I've been playing since I finished Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony, as well as to let you know what I've got planned blog-wise before this year comes to an end. 
 

Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey looks great and offers a solid combat system 
Ever since I wrapped up The Ballad of Gay Tony, I've been sinking pretty much all of my game time into this awesome JRPG. While I'm intending to save my thoughts on this for a slightly longer write-up upon completion, I feel obliged to say a bit about it now. I'm currently on Disc 4, having just beaten the first part of Grand Staff and seen off the Nefarious Saints. I'm absolutely loving it so far, to the point I'm willing to say it's one of the best games I've played this year. Lost Odyssey offers pretty much everything I could ever want from a JRPG - it tells a brilliant story, the gameplay is a solid mix of dungeon-based puzzle-solving and extremely well-balanced turn-based combat, and it looks absolutely incredible. It's also well and truly staved off my JRPG blues. That's not to say it's perfect - long load times and an unusually low encounter rate are among its issues, but they are (thankfully) minor. I don't want to say too much else, for fear of ruining the Discovering Gaming Greatness blog that I'm planning to write for this in the near future. For now, all you need to know is that Lost Odyssey is great. If you need a JRPG to fill the void in your 360 until Final Fantasy XIII comes out next year, you could do a lot worse than this game.
 

Team Fortress 2

I can see you... 
A bit of an interesting story behind this one. Last weekend here in the UK Microsoft held something called the Winter Xtival. For the uninitiated, it was essentially an Xbox LIVE free weekend, with some cool multiplayer events thrown in for good measure. As somebody with only a Silver membership, I decided I'd make the most of the Winter Xtival and play some online multiplayer over the weekend. My first thought was to play a little of Grand Theft Auto IV's multiplayer, I ended up changing my mind in favour of popping my Team Fortress 2 cherry. While the 360 version of the game may not have much of a community, I had a blast playing it over the long weekend. I spent my first few matches under the guise of a Medic, and ended up experimenting with all the classes before I settled on the Sniper as my class of choice. Now I've caught the TF2 bug I wish I could pick up the PC version and keep on playing, but sadly my laptop doesn't have enough "ooomph" to run it. Hopefully while I'm at home over Christmas I'll be able to get it running on the family PC and maybe even engage in one or two holiday Bombing Runs.
 

A Most Difficult Decision

That's essentially all I've played since I last blogged, with the exception of a couple of games of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (which I still suck at, by the way). One thing I've noticed while looking over the list of games I've played this year, though, is that my beloved PS2, my favourite games machine of all time, has been largely neglected in 2009 in favour of my Xbox 360 over the last six months or so. I intend to put this right by picking up a PS2 game and playing through it before Big Ben chimes midnight on December 31st. My question to you, the Giant Bomb community, is which game should that be? I've managed to narrow it down to a personal three-way choice between Deus Ex, Primal, and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, but if you'd rather head on over to my Pile of Shame and suggest something else, I'd be more than happy to consider it.
 

Blogs To Come...

Between now and Christmas there are a few things I intend to put out into the blogosphere. Here's a brief summary of what you can expect to see on this page in the coming weeks:
 
  • 2009: The Year In Review - As the name suggests, this will be a blog looking back on my own gaming experiences of 2009. Think of it as a kind of sequel to the 2008 review I wrote earlier this year. Expect this right at the end of December.
  • Why Red Dead Redemption Will Probably Be My Game Of The Year 2010 - Red Dead Redemption is the 2010 release I'm most excited for. This blog will shed a little light on the reasons why.
  • Return Of The Christmas Mega-Blog - Remember last year's three-part Christmas Mega-Blog? Well, I'm planning to write another one this year as my Christmas present to the Giant Bomb community.
  • Lost Odyssey: Discovering Gaming Greatness - As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I'm intending to finish Lost Odyssey before the year is out. As soon as I do, you can expect a lengthy write-up expressing my opinions on the way it plays, as well as what I liked and what I didn't.

I think that's enough to constitute a decent update. Until next time guys, take care. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Lost Odyssey (X360)
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Ballad? More Like A Limerick...

As I write these words, the credits are rolling on Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. At this point, I figured I'd write up an analysis of the content similar to what I did with The Lost & Damned. However, after wrapping up the game in a little over a week of on-off playtime, I'm left feeling pretty indifferent about the whole thing, and I'm not sure it warrants such an analysis. Before the hate starts pouring in, I'm not saying the game is bad, not by any means. In some respects, it improves on areas that I wanted to see expanded upon in the main game and the first DLC pack. It's longer than The Lost and Damned by a good couple of hours, as well as boasting more interesting achievements and a more colourful supporting cast, the missions are more varied than the ones in Grand Theft Auto IV, it boasts a hell of a lot of content in the way of side-missions, and the new additions to the game's arsenal are a lot of fun to mess around with (especially the sticky bombs). It also does a pretty good job of tying up all the loose ends left over from the last two games. Yet, in spite of all these improvements, The Ballad of Gay Tony is (in my eyes) the weakest of the trinity by a significant margin.

Vice City was a last-gen masterpiece... 
Before I begin to explain why I feel this way, I think it's important to give you a bit of background information about my relationship with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. I've been playing Grand Theft Auto games since the franchise was confined to two dimensions, and prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV last year my favourite game in the series was without doubt Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The primary reason for this was the perfect balance that game managed to strike between story, gameplay and atmosphere. It boasted an extremely well-realised story driven by arguably the series' best protagonist to date, Tommy Vercetti. It took everything that made the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto III so irresistibly fun and cranked it up a notch, crafting some of the series' most memorable missions in the process. Finally, it dropped all of this amazing content into a fully-explorable recreation of 80s Miami, oozing authenticism in everything from the music to the cars and right down to the hawaiian shirts. It may have been a product of pop culture, but Vice City knew it, embraced it, and was brilliant because of it rather than in spite of it. 
 
...San Andreas, not so much 
Two years after Vice City, Rockstar released a sequel in the form of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game that has always struck me as the black sheep of the GTA family. While it was an awesome game with a lot to offer, it seemed to take a step back every time it moved forward. Any potential the game's story had was lost as soon as it was attached to protagonist Carl Johnson, who was incredibly flat and lifeless in comparison to his predecessor. For every logical progression of the series' gameplay (such as the ability to swim), there was an illogical one impairing it (everybody remember the jet pack?). On top of all this, the game had a very schizophrenic atmosphere that seemed to lack focus, particularly after getting out of Los Santos. Carl Johnson doesn't fit in in San Fierro or Las Venturas, because he's never anything more than a boring Los Santos gangster. My experience with San Andreas, while a good one, was definitely harmed by its overambitious scope and lack of focus.

The Ballad of Gay Tony feels like Grand Theft Auto IV's equivalent of an Undo button 
The Ballad of Gay Tony could definitely be described as the 'San Andreas' of the Grand Theft Auto IV trinity in pretty much every aspect, but for slightly different reasons. The story never even reaches the standards of The Lost and Damned, let alone the lofty heights of Grand Theft Auto IV's plot. Luis Lopez is a terrible protagonist, very flatly acted and displaying nothing even remotely resembling a personality. It's only the supporting cast that save the game's main story from flatlining completely, largely thanks to the brilliantly portrayed personas of Tony Prince and Yusuf Amir. The additional gameplay content is an awkward hybrid of stuff that needed to be in Grand Theft Auto IV (drug wars, sticky bombs) and stuff that has no place in the new incarnation of Liberty City (base jumping, triathlon races). The missions start off as diverse and interesting, but from the half-way point onwards every other mission involves parachuting out of a helicopter and it soon gets tiresome. 
 
Ultimately, it's not the atmosphere that's the problem. Liberty City was so well realised and defined in Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned that it's impossible to have any complaints about the game's environment not being detailed enough. The primary problem is that most of the new content in The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn't fit in particularly well with the preconceived image of Liberty City. There just isn't a logical place for so much unfocused content in such a focused atmosphere. In the title of this blog I referred to The Ballad of Gay Tony as more of a limerick than a ballad, and I think that analogy stands. It's funny, but it lacks any real substance, and the end result is something that is superficially entertaining, but dramatically hollow.
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (X360)
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Dan's Ultimate Fallout 3 Round-Up

After having what may well be the worst morning I've lived through in recent memory, I'm in a pretty bad mood. The kind of mood where I want to bitchslap everybody I see because the mere sight of them seems to do me some grave injustice. So, I'm going to try and dispel all the nastiness by writing this blog. Hopefully I'll be at least moderately successful in this endeavour. Thankfully, I have a lot to blog about. The topic of choice today is Fallout 3, that other open-world free-form first-person RPG developed by the dudes what made Oblivion. I finished the game up yesterday, snagging my first ever S-rank on Giant Bomb in the process. This blog will be focused on my opinion of the game, and will also document my thoughts on all five of the DLC packs in simple YES-NO terms. With those facts laid out on the table, let's quit the jibber-jabber and press on with the matter at hand.
 

Fallout 3

This guy looks menacing... 
There's not much that I can say about Fallout 3 that hasn't already been said in earlier blogs. I think it's an awesome game. You all probably know that I think it's an awesome game. Yesterday, after sixty-seven and a half hours of traversing the Capital Wasteland, my stint with the game came to an end. Rather than showering praise on the game in the style of a review, I'm going to focus more on the little things that both made and broke the game for me at certain points. 
 
The biggest selling point for me with Fallout 3 was the sense of atmosphere and the immersion that the game managed to convey (most of the time). The richly detailed world of the Capital Wasteland, and the colourful cast of characters that inhabit it, are what really made my Fallout 3 experience. Call me crazy, but I liked the game's desolate environment, probably because the whole post-apocalyptic setting is something that really set the game apart from other RPGs of this generation. I also loved the whole "retro values in a futuristic environment" concept. I guess it all boils down to this: Fallout 3 has a distinct personality, and it's a personality that I can really identify with. With regards to immersion in relation to Fallout 3, I know this is a hotly contested issue. For me personally, it's quite hit-and-miss. When I was wandering across the gameworld on my own from a first-person perspective, simply seeing what there was to see and discovering cool stuff for myself, I lost hours. In that respect, it's immersive. 
 
The variety in Fallout 3's quests is pretty impressive 
Fallout 3's quests ranged from being awesome (The Replicated Man) to pretty dire (The Nuka Cola Challenge). I think it goes without saying that I had a lot of fun questing in Fallout 3, and one of the main reasons for that was the sheer amount of options the game gave me to play with. Right from the off I opted to build a good karma character specialising in ranged combat and social interaction, later deciding to branch out into stealth after maxing out my key stats. The result was a game experience that constantly presented at least two (but usually more) ways of dealing with the vast majority of problems. I elected to play a diplomatic game and tried to resolve things with words before resorting to bullets. At higher levels I incorporated stealth into my combat strategies, making some of the later fights real heart-in-mouth affairs. This multitude of approaches really helped in preventing the game from growing too stagnant for me, which is probably just as well considering I invested nearly seventy hours into my playthrough.
 
Insert 'Don't Lose Your Head' - style pun here 
For the most part, I enjoyed the combat in Fallout 3. The gunplay, while not exactly stellar, was broken up enough by the other aspects of questing that it never began to really grate on me (at least not in the main game, but more on that later). One thing I can say in the game's favour is that I found most of the guns in the game to be incredibly memorable, something I can't proclaim of many shooters that I've played. Most of the guns in Fallout 3, particularly the unique ones like Lincoln's Repeater and the Mesmetron, practically have personalities of their own. The other thing I loved about the game's combat was the extreme sense of satisfaction I got whenever I heard the "ka-ching!" and saw the on-screen notification that accompanied experience gain. So much so, in fact, that when I hit the level cap and stopped receiving experience points, the lack of notifications took a lot of enjoyment out of the game's combat for me. It's a silly little thing, I know, but after fifty-plus hours those sounds and notices became quite comforting, and it was difficult to adjust to their absence. 
 
The most disappointing thing about Fallout 3 for me was its storyline. After the pretty promising start with your father's escape from Vault 101, the story seems to stagnate and doesn't really go anywhere meaningful. Maybe it's because of the game's free-form nature, which kept me distracted from the main quest line for prolonged periods of play, but I found it very difficult to care about what was going on with regards to the game's plot. Maybe I was just expecting more after the comparatively stellar storyline of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, or maybe I wanted a greater scope from a game I spent nearly seventy hours with. Whatever the reason, Fallout 3 just failed to deliver on the story front for me. 
 
So that's my position on the game itself, but what about all the downloadable content packs Bethesda put out post-release? Fear not, ladies and gentlemen, for Dan has formulated opinions on all of those too! Presenting dankempster's Comprehensive Fallout 3 DLC Summary!

Operation: Anchorage 

Snow, guns, and Communists 

YES 

  • Awesome Rewards - The Winterised T-51b Power Armor stayed equipped on my character more or less from the end of the DLC right through to the end of the game. 'Nuff said.
  • Welcome Change Of Environment - The snowy cliffs of Anchorage, Alaska were a world away from the desolate Capital Wasteland, and made for a nice vacation.
 

NO 

  • Too Much Combat - Operation: Anchorage was a very combat-focused DLC pack, and the gunplay-heavy action did begin to grate towards the end.
  • Lack Of Lore - For a DLC pack that professes to deal with a major event of Fallout lore, the subject isn't explored much in Operation: Anchorage. I was hoping for more nods to the background that made the main game so memorable. 
    

The Pitt 

Industrial... 

YES

  • Grey Moral Choices - Gone were the black-and-white, blow-it-up-or-disarm-it, clear-cut choices from the main game. Upon completion of The Pitt's storyline, no matter what course of action you choose, you don't come out of it feeling like you've definitely done the right thing.
  • Great Quest Line - I found The Pitt to have the best story of all the DLC packs. From the introductory segment leading you to the train tunnel, through the arena fights and culminating in a dramatic stand-off, The Pitt spun a pretty good yarn.

NO

  • Artificially Lengthened - While it's not obligatory, the collection of one hundred Steel Ingots in The Pitt feels like a cheap attempt to artificially lengthen the DLC's play time. At least the Bobbleheads in the main game took you to different locations, and there were only twenty of those!
  • Uninspired Setting - While it was certainly a different kind of locale to the Capital Wasteland, The Pitt was a pretty drab place. With the exception of the bridge leading into The Pitt, there was nothing particularly memorable about the environments in my eyes.
 

Broken Steel

The Heavy Incinerator will always have a place in my inventory, and in my heart... 
*NOTE*
-  I never finished Fallout 3 before downloading Broken Steel. Opinions may therefore be affected accordingly.
 

YES

  • Raised Level Cap - Although I never maxed out at that point, Level 20 seemed like far too low a level cap for the game. Level 30 seems like a much more reasonable cap, especially in light of the additional content provided by the DLC packs.
  • Memorable End Game Quests - Had I completed the game before downloading Broken Steel, I think Take It Back! would have been quite the anti-climax. Who Dares Wins is a much more memorable conclusion to the game's campaign in terms of set pieces (although the story is still considerably lacking).

NO

  • Albino Radscorpions - The designer who thought that the inclusion of these bastards would be a great idea needs a slap upside the head.
  • Half-Arsed Perks - To me, with the exception of Puppies!, most of the perks beyond Level 20 seemed like they weren't really given much thought. Consequently, most of them didn't seem to be of much use.
 

Point Lookout 

Sloth's post-Goonies career was short-lived 

YES

  • Best Quests - Point Lookout has the best quests of any DLC pack from a gameplay perspective. A healthy mix of combat, exploration and character interaction ensured that the gameplay in Point Lookout didn't stagnate.
  • Longevity - In terms of length of content, I think Point Lookout is the DLC pack that most justifies its price tag. After clocking six hours focusing solely on the main quest line, with a little sight-seeing and one side quest cleared, I believe that Point Lookout could very easily hit ten-plus hours with some thorough exploration.

NO

  • Hard As Nails - I went into Point Lookout at Level 25 with most of my combat-related skills maxed out, and within the first hour of play had my arse handed to me by the "residents" no fewer than three times. I didn't expect a pushover, but man, combat in Point Lookout was tough.
  • Janky As Hell - With the exception of a couple of VATS-related incidents in The Pitt, I hadn't run into any problems with the other DLC packs. Point Lookout crashed on me a grand total of seven times. Not cool, Bethesda.
 

Mothership Zeta 

Much like dinosaurs and Led Zeppelin, space will always be cool 

YES

  • Best Concept - Alien abduction. Close encounters of the third kind. Crazy extra-terrestrial technology. 50s B-movie sci-fi influences. Outer space. Mothership Zeta definitely boasts the most awesome setting of all the Fallout 3 DLC packs.
  • Alien Weaponry - Most of the guns in Mothership Zeta were wonderfully unique and a lot of fun to use, not to mention pretty damn powerful. This, plus the addition of the wonder-material that is Alien Epoxy, means I'll probably be using my Alien Disintegrator fot a long time to come.
 

NO

  • Is This DOOM? - For all Mothership Zeta's awesome aesthetics, I couldn't get past the fact that it seemed to be little more than a two-hour long corridor-based shooter.
  • Sally - If I'd have been playing the PC version of this game, I'd have downloaded the Killable Kids mod within thirty seconds of meeting this annoying bitch.
 
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...Whoa, that's a whole lotta blog. Thankfully the whole cathartic aspect seems to have paid off, because I'm feeling a lot better now. Anyway, I guess I'd better sign off. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (X360)
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Things To See And Do In 2010

Crystal may well be the best Pok émon game I've ever played  
In my last proper blog, I presented my Official 2009 To-Do List - a list of five games that I want to finish before the year comes to a close. First off, I'm happy to report that I took the first game off this list yesterday, when I beat the Elite Four in Pokémon Crystal. I'll be sure to put out a more meaningful blog on this one over the weekend. For now, suffice it to say I've had a brilliant time with the game over the last month and a half, but it's also nice to finally be able to put that game down. After playing through Yellow and Crystal in quick succession, I'm beginning to feel pretty burned out on Pokémon right now. With Crystal out of the way, I'm moving on to another game on my To-Do List, namely The Secret of Monkey Island. I've never played a point 'n' click adventure game before, so I'm really looking forward to getting to grips with this one. I have the Special Edition on Steam, and I'm not sure whether I should play through the original version of the game or experience the souped-up, hand-drawn, voice-acted version.
 
However, there's also another list loitering around at the back of my head. Namely, a list of things I'm hoping to get around to doing in 2010. With nothing to on this chilly Thursday morning but wait for my lecture, I figured (largely through boredom) that I'd share that list with the rest of you guys here on Giant Bomb. Naturally, this list isn't completely video game oriented, so I've spared you the boring 'do-well-in-my-exams, find-a-decent-part-time-job, finally-finish-reading-The-Lord-Of-The-Rings' aspects in favour of all the juicy video gamey goodness. So, while you're all playing BioShock 2 and Mass Effect 2, here's what I'll be doing next year: 
 

Clear More Of My Pile Of Shame

This looks awesome. Why haven't I played it yet? 
My Pile of Shame continues to serve its purpose, insofar as every time I look at it I start to feel terribly guilty for buying so many games and finishing so few of them. Ever since I joined Giant Bomb way back at launch last July, I've been endeavouring to get through some of these titles, and to a certain degree I've been pretty successful. I've also drastically cut down my spending on games, which has resulted in me actually being able to reduce the number of games on the list overall. There's still lots to be done, though, with a massive sixty-one games still on the pile. A quick glance at the list shows off a few titles in particular that I'm dying to get to grips with - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Okami, Primal, and Persona 4 are all games that I'm absolutely dying to play through, yet they all remain largely unplayed. 2010 will hopefully see me continue to reduce the size of my Pile of Shame, while also providing me with plenty of stuff to blog about.
 

Play More PC Games

I need to start treating my PC like a gaming machine 
This is something that I'd resolved to do last year, but ultimately didn't really get around to, only managing to play through the first two Oddworld games back in August. While my laptop isn't exactly a gaming beast, it's proven itself to be more than capable of running quite a few titles I've purchased off Steam. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the little fella has outright surprised me with regards to its power as a gaming machine. This also ties into the previous item on the list in that a lot of the games on my Pile of Shame are PC games - Braid, Fallout and Fallout 2, Half-Life spin-offs Opposing Force and Blue Shift, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl are the most obvious examples. I'm attempting to start this trend early by playing through The Secret of Monkey Island this year to get me in the swing of things. I'm just hoping that this is one New Year's Resolution that I'll be able to stick to. I'd hate to miss out on some of these games for yet another year. 
 

Return To Unexplored Post-Game Content

Snowier climes await in Solstheim 2010
To the uninitiated, this probably looks like pseudo-English for "go back and get some Achievements I missed first time round". While I will probably be returning to a couple of Xbox 360 games next year (Dead Space and Grand Theft Auto IV being the prime candidates), this is more targeted at games without any Achievements at all. The main one that springs to mind is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This year I picked up the Game of the Year Edition of Morrowind for Xbox and played through the main quest, spending probably around one hundred hours with the game and seeing a pretty large portion of the subsidiary content. After spending so long with one game, I felt pretty burned out on it, and elected to leave it be for a while before I returned to tackle the expansions, Tribunal and Bloodmoon. 2010 would be a great time to return to Morrowind and get to grips with all this unexplored additional content. The other obvious example is the just-finished Pokémon Crystal. I have the whole of Kanto to explore now, but I'm all Pokémon'd out at the moment and couldn't stand to play through all that post-game content right now. In a few months down the line, I'll be more willing to return to Kanto, and more likely to appreciate the experience.
 

Play Through Final Fantasy VII Again

Tifa's boobs had no bearing on this decision whatsoever 
Here's one that's more than likely to ruffle a few feathers. If everyone can set aside their own personal love/hatred of Final Fantasy VII for a moment, I'd like to explain why this is on my list. I think everybody has at least one game that they'll always come back to, even years later, and still be able to appreciate it as they did the first time. For some, it's Ocarina of Time. For others, it's Half-Life. For me, it's Final Fantasy VII. I haven't picked it up in over two years, and I feel like I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't play through it again at some point next year. My plan is to play through most of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII this year, starting with Crisis Core (which is still on my Pile of Shame), moving on to Final Fantasy VII proper, and finishing off with Dirge of Cerberus. After neglecting it for so long, I feel like I owe it to myself to get reacquainted with the game that made me serious about games.

Pick Up A Few 'Must-Have's

I am so excited for this game. And I don't even really like Westerns 
2010 isn't going to be all about old games, though. There are a couple of new releases that I'm really looking forward to picking up. Being a student, I've had to be pretty selective about what my money's going to be spent on over the next twelve months, but I've managed to narrow it down to three games that I absolutely must own. The first of these is Red Dead Redemption. I'm super-psyched for this, and I'm surprised to see that I seem to be in the minority, at least here on Giant Bomb. The screenshots and trailers that have been released look incredible, for a start. After Grand Theft Auto IV, the thought of what Rockstar could do story-wise in a Wild West scenario has me almost wet with excitement. Second, there's Final Fantasy XIII. Why am I excited for this? Simple, really - I'm a sucker for JRPGs. The return to the Active Time Battle system looks to be a good decision based on the footage I've seen, and it seems to be spinning a pretty good yarn from what I've read so far. Finally, I'm majorly looking forward to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. I'm a big fan of the Metal Gear games, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was far and away my favourite in the series, so any further exploration of the Big Boss story arc is fine by me. I loved Portable Ops, which I played through earlier this year, and if Peace Walker turns out to be anything like that, it'll be well worth picking up.
 
So, there you have it. That's what my 2010 is probably going to look like. Pretty much the same as my 2009, now that I think about it. Should be a pretty good year. Now that's all typed up, I'd better think about getting ready for my 11am lecture. A look out of the window reveals the weather isn't particularly inviting. Gotta love being in Britain. Take it easy, guys. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan
 
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Currently playing - Fallout 3 (X360)
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Getting Off The Fence

Seeing as I've not spoken a single word on the whole Modern Warfare 2 debacle, I'm finally going to break my silence now and state my position on the game. 
  

  
...Man, I feel better after getting that off my chest. 
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Fallout 3 (X360)
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