Posts Tagged ‘Xbox 360’

2014 was the year I gave up on my Xbox 360. I’ve enjoyed owning it, and it’s given me some great memories, but over the last 12 months or so I’ve been throwing myself more and more into PC Gaming. My favourite genre has its home here, there’s been a lot more genuinely innovative games here thanks to the rise of self-publishing, and with the announcement of the Steam Machine late last year… I was ready to give up on the home consoles for good.

I didn’t mean to completely go cold turkey, mind. My pile of shame is shameful indeed, and half of the reason me and the missus bought a 50″ TV was so that we could get a visual treat whilst playing on our consoles. For some reason though, I haven’t touched my 360 for gaming purposes since I moved here last December. Haven’t touched my PS3 either but then the PS3 is something I’ve always almost regretted buying, mainly because I never use it much. The 360 was my favourite console of the last generation, but now that the ‘New’ generation is here, as a 360 owner I don’t feel satisfied anymore. All of the ‘cool’ projects are going to be new-gen from now on. At the very least they will be cross-generational, but I firmly believe buying a cross-gen game for the weaker generation is even more pointless than upgrading to the new generation (it’s looking like things will get better, judging by this year’s E3, but I’ll talk about that in another post).

That only really leaves the odd smattering of games that are still being targeted for the last generation, mainly because the install-base is there and proven, while the new generation don’t quite have the numbers yet to keep everyone happy. You’ve got Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel I guess, but I’ve got Borderlands 2 if I really want my fix for that. GTA V is something I’d rather buy on the PC (now that I know it’s coming), same with AC4, which is a cross-gen title anyway. All in all, I’m left with my existing library but I never really feel inclined to dip into it, so I don’t. Everything I *really* want, I own, and I can’t bring myself to spend the money on speculative purchases anymore when I have so many games already.

In February, I received an email from Xbox Support telling me my card details were incorrect, and that my automatic Xbox Live Subscription Renewal might fail. I didn’t feel inclined to rectify the issue, and I resigned myself to losing the only thing I really enjoy doing on my Xbox towards the end, which is playing multiplayer with my friends. Mainly Battlefield 3. That was four months ago, and all I’ve really done is play on my PC and twiddle my thumbs waiting for more Steam Machine news. Looks like I’ll have to wait until next year now, which is annoying, but what can you do.

Then I lost my Xbox 360 headset.

Well, firstly my best friend said he wanted to start playing Battlefield 3 again, then I realised I’d lost my headset when I went looking for it. Another friend of mine just got a 360 again (long story), so we’re going to surgically insert a copy of Battlefield 3 into his machine. To top it off, looking through my bank statements (for a different reason), I suddenly realised that my renewal payment HAD worked. My annoyance at losing out on 3 month’s worth of Xbox Live time, and free games, was quickly replaced by weird sense of joy and nostalgia as I realised maybe it was time to dust the ol’ gal off and take her for a spin once more.

Of course, I still had no headset, so I made what I suspect will be my last investment in my Xbox 360, and bought a new one.

Actually, I bought a ‘GioTeck Elite Essentials Kit’ for the Xbox 360 from Tesco. It came with a new headset, a HDMI cable AND a rechargeable Battery pack with charger cable. My last Charger cable broke years ago, so this was appreciated – all for £15! In contrast, headsets alone for the Xbox One were retailing for £50 – 80, depending on what type you got. Another reason I’m not adopting new-gen now (if ever) – the pricing of everything.

So, for now, my 360 has been given a breath of fresh air. Will be on Battlefield 3 tonight, and who knows? Might even start looking at some of the other games I’ve got lying around as well. I spend too much time on my PC as it is, so perhaps doing something different for a bit will be healthy. But if I still need my XBL Subscription come February next year, I’ll be surprised. Eventually, it’ll have to go in its box for the last time. What I’ll do with it, I don’t know… I still have my GameCube and my N64 in our loft, but then again I might just trade it in. My missus has a 360 as well, so we don’t really need to keep both, at the end of the day.

Hello, old friend. It’s been a long time.

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I usually don’t like commenting on articles about feminism, sexism or stuff like that, as I find it hard to articulate my views without getting into trouble. Ultimately, I’m a supporter of better representation of women in videogames, as it’s been a bit of a boy’s club for too long. Sometimes I think over-zealousness gets in the way of common sense, but at the end of the day I’m a guy, and I can’t really put myself into the female mind-set and so I’m not really qualified to speak. But every now and then, I’ll read something that really makes me “hmm”, like these two articles. They’re both about the portrayal of Cortana in Halo 4, and whilst I don’t take issue with everything they say, there are just some interpretations that I find puzzling. That and they’re also both written by guys, so if they can comment, so I can I.

It was Matt Barton’s piece on Armchair Arcade that I read first, which references an article on Gamasutra, so I’ll deal with each piece in turn. Like I said, I don’t object to everything that’s said, and there are some fair points in both cases, but there are other instances where I can’t help but think the authors are just a tad uninformed about Halo’s lore and background.

Take this excerpt from Matt’s piece for example: “Cortana is not even granted a body, but exists only as a hologram. She is completely and utterly dependent on the Chief for protection as well as mobility–he literally picks her up and plugs her into his suit.”

To be fair, this is a valid argument if you disagree with the original decision back in Halo: CE to make the Cortana character a hologram and female. If you’re just looking for someone to be the antithesis to the Chief’s gruffness, then perhaps it could quite easily have been a chirpy guy. I can’t help but feel it was probably due to the fact that Bungie didn’t want to add another physical character into the mix which made the Cortana character a hologram. But that’s something rather separate to the fact that the Cortana character is female, even if it does appear to say something by casting the emotional side of the duo as a woman. Even if you take this as an affront though- we’re on the fourth Halo game now. Cortana has always been a hologram, has always been “dependant” on the Chief because, funnily enough, holograms are incapable of existing outside of a computerised environment like the Chief’s exo-suit. I’m only saying complaining about it now is a bit redundant, which is never reason not to speak up, but 343 weren’t going to make changes to Cortana like giving her a body. Cortana can no more be ‘real’ than Tali could be Bi-sexual.

It’s the next bit though that I think really made me pause: “In perhaps the final insult to females in this game, it’s emphasized that even her individuality is an illusion; she can be copied again and again when the need arises. Finally, she is even denied rationality, and becomes increasingly less coherent and more dependent on Master Chief until the closing credits”.

This comment could have been influenced by a couple of instances from Halo 4 – I profess I don’t know which one Matt is referring to, but I’ll deal with them both. First off, there are a couple of comments that Cortana makes when trying to figure out how to deal with her on-coming Rampancy. The second is a bit in the last level where Cortana makes copies of herself in order help feet the Didact. In both cases, having read Matt’s article, I get what he’s saying, I just again think it’s a bit… cynical, to take the material and interpret in that way. Matt himself does go on to say he doesn’t believe the game is truly sexist, but he raised the argument so I shall respond.

In terms of the last Halo 4 level – I just saw it as a computer thing. Cortana is an incredibly advanced computer program, and one of her abilities is to be able to make copies of herself so that she can monitor or do several things at once. In the novel First Strike, she does a similar thing when they assault a Covenant Space Station, and as far as Canon goes, the ‘Cortana’ you meet in the Halo Reach game is supposed to be a copy or shard as well (It’s one of the few things they did to reconcile the game Halo: Reach with Eric Nylund’s companion novel The Fall of Reach which had been released nearly ten years prior).

Then there’s comments Cortana makes earlier in the game where she says a ‘new’ version of herself could be made if they don’t get her back to Earth in time. In the Halo universe, “smart” AI’s like Cortana are created by using the natural synapses of a human brain, usually the brain of someone smart and already dead because the organ is destroyed during creation. Cortana’s case is unique however as she’s the only AI generated from a living brain, that of Dr. Catherine Halsey, an important figure in the Halo Universe who made her first in-game appearance in Halo: Reach. Halsey cloned her brain to create Cortana, and considering Halsey is still alive and well, the process could be done again (even though it’s illegal).

Cortana is quick to point out though that the ‘new’ Cortana, should she ever be created, wouldn’t be the same as the Cortana you’ve known through the past four games – she wouldn’t have the same knowledge or experience, and so ultimately wouldn’t be the same person at all. Despite what the author may think, I don’t think the game is trying to say that Cortana can be replicated at will, far from it. I personally would find the inclusion of a ‘new’ Cortana fairly interesting, as the Chief will have to undertake a new emotional challenge of dealing with this entity that’s so familiar, yet so alien. As far the “even denied rationality” comment goes, Rampancy has been a known quantity in Halo lore for donkey’s years – Smart AI’s (for reasons you’d have to look up as I can’t remember) only have a shelf life of 7 years. By the start of Halo 4, Cortana had been in service for 8 years, so the fact that she hadn’t already gone Rampant is a bit of a miracle. Cortana was always destined for Rampancy, as is every other human AI in the Halo universe, like Roland the AI of the Infinity who you see in the Spartan Ops cutscenes.

Apart from that though, Matt piece has some interesting sections to it, I liked his take on Cortana as the ideal women, and Halo 4’s notion of chivalry etc… although again, the bit where he says “whose very identity, individuality, and physicality, are all either denied or rendered suspect” I take issues with this as these are all symptomatic of the fact that she’s an aging AI who’s been through a lot – how else is she supposed to act? I also think Matt was being a tad unfair in the next bit:

“There’s a telling (if not touching) moment at the end of the game where the Chief is talking to a much less intimidating man, one who’s face is not obscured behind a helmet but is in fact quite animated. It becomes obvious from the man’s questions, attitude, and height compared to the Chief makes it clear he’s not nearly as rugged and self-contained as the hero. His remark that soldiers makes him seem weak and barely worthy to be in the same room. The Chief is taciturn, as a man ought to be; this guy talks too much about his feelings. Indeed, the Chief’s last words before the credits point out that Cortana, the Female, had said the same thing.”

I’m not actually sure if I’ve figured out what Matt is trying to say here (some missing words and poor sentance construction), but if I have, I think he’s making one too many assumptions as to what the character of the Chief “is”. Halo 4 raises some very interesting points, points that you don’t really think about until they’re thrust in your face. The Master Chief and the rest of the Spartan-II’s were kidnapped as children, indoctrinated, medically enhanced and trained to fight.

Fighting is all they know and fighting is all they have done since the Human-Covenant War began. The scene in question is more to do with the Chief struggling with that fact that he’s human, something Cortana tries to remind him off in game. I think trying to twist this as something about how men “ought to be” is a bit unfair. Men, even Soldiers, aren’t supposed to be machines, and Lasky (the ‘less rugged man’) is trying to remind the Chief of that.

Anyway, that was Matt’s article. Let’s take a look at the Gamasutra article he references, written by “Jon W”.

To start with, he points out what everyone has been pointing out since the first images arose – Cortana’s “makeover”. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a fan either. It wasn’t really necessary, although thankfully when playing through the game I didn’t really notice it much. Some odd shots here and there where her new cleavage is a bit ‘in your face’, but mostly the game concentrates on her face and emotions anyway, which helps support something Matt mentions in his piece about Cortana. Anyway – I don’t really have any issues with Jon’s comments here, although if you look at the two images he uses, Cortana actually does have a respectable chest to her in Halo 3 as well, so one could argue Cortana’s bust isn’t a new thing, only that the change in art direction and better technology has made it more obvious.

To also be fair to Jon, Frank O’Conner’s quote doesn’t really help things either. It’s true; Smart AI’s in the Halo universe do get to choose their appearance. I don’t know if Cortana’s choice is stated in any of the EU works, like the Fall of Reach novel, and Frank’s explanation is to be honest a little hollow. I doubt Cortana chose to be more obviously ‘sexy’ so that she could disarm people in conversation, and again it’s only in this recent game that Cortana has become so obviously “a women”. It sounds like Frank just trying to downplay something that they knew they didn’t really need to do, so Jon has a point calling them out on that.

I take issues though with some of the other things Jon points out though. For example, he rags a little bit on the Master Chief being called “Master Chief”. Sure, it’s not a great name, but Master Chief Petty Officer is his rank, and given that he’s technically the result of illegal kidnapping and experimentation, throwing his name about probably wouldn’t be a good idea either, so what does that leave? That’s not even me delving into some of the psychology of Spartan’s you get to see in the novels – they’re a close-knit family, the kind of family who wouldn’t give their name to just anyone.

Anyway, Jon moves on to point out some other examples of Halo 4’s assumptions on women, moving next to Spartan Sarah Palmer: Commander of the Spartan IV forces aboard the UNSC Infinity and voiced by Jennifer Hale (femshep). Jon makes a quip (using a still taken from the post-credits cut scene) that Palmer’s only purpose is to “gawp openly at the hero”. This is again unfair – with the Covenant laying waste to humanity world by world, the Spartan-II’s were the only force that were making much of a difference. They were deliberately built up to be heroes, and the Chief (besides being a bit of a ledge for what he did in Halo‘s 1-3) is the only ‘officially’ (as in, in the games) recognised survivor of the Spartan-II program. He’s a freak of nature, a thing of legend, and he was supposed to have just died when the Didact’s ship exploded over Earth. If you then saw him just rock up without so much of a scratch, you’d stare too. If you play that mini-scene out fully you’ll notice Palmer’s companions – other Spartan IV’s – are also staring. Also, her mouth isn’t open. This speaks to me of Jon being deliberately obtuse, and to be honest ruins the whole article as I don’t want to take him seriously. He does have a point about the achievement titles though… I  think 343 have been watching too much How I Met Your Mother.

But this is why I don’t get involved too much in more subtle side of discussions like this – Matt and Jon look at these things and see a cynical, almost juvenile representation of the relationship between men and women. I look at these things and (mostly) see eventualities backed up by a thoroughly laid out backstory, plot, and universe. Of course, there are more obvious and vulgar examples of sexism in games, and I’d happily join Matt and Jon in calling those out, but as far as Halo 4 is concerned I can’t help but ponder how they got to where they did. I think way too much about Halo stuff.

It’s that time again folks – with E3 well and truly behind us and most of the post-E3 preview tours out of the way, PR’s are now looking to the next ‘big’ event on the calendar, the Cologne Games Convention. I say ‘big’ – Cologne has always had issues because it’s rather too close to E3 for a lot of company’s liking, although being in Europe, being more PC-friendly and being largely consumer-based (as opposed to E3’s purely Press & Corporate), it has some leeway. That hasn’t stopped companies like Microsoft, Sega, etc… From pulling out though. Still, it’s technically the world’s largest gaming event, which counts for something.

This year will be my fifth year at GamesCom, and my first as a freelancer… although I won’t be able to do that much freelancing per say – this year is also the first year that I couldn’t quite afford to pay my way up front (Times being tough, plus I’ve had to shell out a lot for the flat move…). Thankfully, Strategy Informer (the people who I’ve always gone anyway), agreed to pay my way up front this year (instead of me claiming it back after the fact). I always enjoy GamesCom… great atmosphere, great times, great people… I still want to go to E3 at least once to say that I have, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up liking GamesCom more overall.

I’m also not as in charge of my own schedule this year as I have been in the past, so I imparted some words of wisdom onto my boss to help make sure he doesn’t make my life hell, and it inspired me to write up a post on the subject. Here are some of the rules and tricks I’ve pick up though for planning a GamesCom:

Hotels

It doesn’t matter which side of the River you are on. No matter which side you choose, you’ll have to trek somewhere. Last year I was on the Messe side of the river, in a little urban/parade area directly south of the convention centre. A lot of out of the way and cheap hotels (although with little frills), and you’re no more than a five minute walk away from the convention hall. It was then a quick tram ride into the centre of town…This year, I’m on the other side of the river, just up the road from the Central station – it’ll mean a slightly longer trip (15 minutes top I should think) to get to and from the Messe, but I’ll be right in the heart of the town. Swings and Roundabouts really… most of the press and other industry folk tend to go to the same places anyway, so you’ll rarely have far to go. There’s this Irish Bar that I’ve always missed out on going too.

– Try to be near a metro/tram station. The reason for this is two-fold: Firstly, it gives you a greater degree of flexibility as to how far out your Hotel can be before it becomes unworkable (happened to me a couple of years ago, was a good 20-25 minute TRAM ride away… didn’t got out much, as you can imagine, although I did get a lot of work done…), and also because Cologne-Bonn airport as a good rail link into Cologne central station (and the convention centre, if you wanted to go straight there) and from there you can access most of the major tram lines around the town. The tram/metro service is pretty decent in Cologne, and as much as I feel guilty for advising this, it can be quite easy to get a cheeky free ride on the tram – conductors are rare.

WiFi is Golden. Check your Hotel’s policy on Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet… the convention centre’s wireless infrastructure has always been a little sketchy, and while some publishers set up their own internal networks at the booths, those can also be a little dodgy and sometimes they don’t allow press access. That leaves your Hotel as your last viable line of communication with the outside world. You’re unlikely to get free wifi (although I did last year, it was epic), so check prices. If they offer wired Ethernet for free, make sure you bring a cable. I keep forgetting …

Breakfast is also Golden. Apart from maybe the first day, all the other days you’re going to wake up exhausted and/or hung-over. Therefore, Breakfast really does become the most important meal of the day, as you’re unlikely to get another decent meal until dinner (see ‘Give yourself a break’ below). It may bump the price up, but splashing out to have breakfast included will be the best investment you’ve ever made… depending on your location, you’re unlikely to be able to grab a bite to eat anywhere else, and certainly not when you get to the Messe (see ‘Avoid 9am bookings’ below).

Appointments

Avoid 9am bookings. The Messe has a strict policy of only letting staff and ‘Trade’ Visitors in before 9am. Everyone else, including ‘Press’, have to wait until they doors officially open at 9am each day. Even waiting at the South entrance – the one nearest the two business areas, you’ve still got a 5 – 10 minute walk as you get there, get to the right hall/floor, and THEN have to find the right booth. I aim for a 9:30 start, which allows me plenty of time to get in there and just take in the surroundings, as well as find out where everyone is.

Avoid any appointments in the consumer areas where possible if they are Thursday onwards. GamesCom has been growing in size and prestige every year… my first GamesCom was the last year it was in the East German town of Leipzig (convention centre was pretty swish, town was very soviet and rundown). Since it moved to Cologne, the number of attendees has just kept growing. 2011’s attendee figure was at 275,000… that’s a lot of eager, sweaty Germans trying to cram into one place. They even had to bar entry on the Saturday because there were just too many people trying to get in.

Trust me when I say you DO NOT want to be dealing with that. Now, most of the ‘big boys’ will have booths in the Business centre, which is never that crowded. Sadly, some of the smaller (yet just as cool guys), will only be able to afford to be in one place, and they will want to be in the consumer halls to get their message across to more people. This means that some consumer hall appointments will be unavoidable – do yourself a favour and limit those to Wednesday as much as possible… Wednesday is the press day, so the halls won’t be as crowded.

Give yourself a break. This is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times in the past I’ve ended up with wall to wall appoints, 9-6/7. Granted, the Business area booths are usually nicely decked out, so you can take ‘mini-break’s and feed yourself via a drip-feed of snacks and caffeine at the various booths. Still, try and give yourself at least one hour in the day to just sit somewhere – feel free to work, I mean you’ve probably already seen, like, five games that day, might as well start writing some of them up – but make sure you’re sitting down, fairly relaxed with a drink or something to eat. I wouldn’t try going to one of the Messe’s restaurants – they’re not that big and are usually fairly busy (not to mention pricey), although you could try hitting the food stands on Wednesday – more variety and you’ll actually be able to get at them.
Expect to leave the Messe, and try to plan for it. Some companies now, instead of booking a booth in the Messe itself (whether Business or Consumer), will hire out some Hotel suites near the convention centre. Sony did it last year, Paradox Interactive are doing it this year… whilst these venues are no more than five minute walks away, you’ve still got to get there, get back, and then find your next place. The Messe is quite large – coming back to Sony’s example last year, it was on the other side of the roundabout from the Messe’s North entrance, but the Business centres are all the way in the South side… that’s a good 5-10 minute walk right there. Planning stuff like this is hard, especially because companies do things differently, which leads too…

Expect to reschedule. A lot. It’s easy to get some appointment booking done early – some companies are pretty good like that. Other aren’t though, and as you get closer to GamesCom and the gaps start filling in, Someone you really want to see will only have times available where you’re already booked, so you’ll have to shift, compromise and find work around whenever possible.

Cold Calling generally doesn’t work. There can be many situations that leave you without an appointment for someone you’d really like to see – they didn’t have times that matched your schedule, you’ve lost touch with your local PR’s, you don’t know who your local PR is anymore, they don’t like you… That basically means you have to rock up to the booth and try and wrangle an appointment. Generally, I don’t think it works (feel free to correct me, everyone). PR’s and even the people hired to man ‘reception’ are pretty on the ball when it comes to stuff like this.

If you’re going to attempt it, at least make sure you know who your local PR is and ask for them directly. It would help if you’ve had some contact with them in the past, and generally just try and be humble about it. Or accept that it’s just not happening and take the opportunity to get some actual work done. Which leads to the Golden rule…

DO WORK WHEREVER POSSIBLE. GamesCom mans a lot of appoints spread over 3-4 days, that’s a lot of games, and mostly all of them will need writing  up in some form or another (that’s not to mention news, mini-featurettes etc…) Get a head start as soon as possible, as it WILL pile up and you’ll be spending the week after GamesCom grinding them out one after another.

I know you want to go out and party, but make sure you leave yourself sometime after a day’s work, not only to just chill for a bit, but to do some work. IF you’re like me and you’re on your own, it’s especially important. Actually, that should be the Golden Rule… Bring a team… I’ve been soloing GamesCom every year for four years, and trust me when I say it’s tough… I was hoping to have an extra with me this year but that’s not happening.

There’s more I could say, but I don’t want this to get too jumbled or long-winded… only other thing I’d mention is don’t bother with the official GamesCom party – it’s like £40 a ticket and most of the press/PR will go out to Cologne town centre anyway. Other publishers throw their own mini-parties as well, and those are usually free-entry too. If anyone wants to submit their own GamesCom (pro)tips, then feel free. Look forward to seeing you all there!

Ok, so I may or may not have just placed a pre-order for Halo 4 on ShopTo.net. With 343 taking the helm, there’s a lot to be apprehensive about when it comes to this new ‘Reclaimer’ trilogy which Microsoft are pushing, and whilst I believe that they’ll probably be good games, whether they strike a chord with gamers like myself who remember the Bungie games fondly is another matter entirely.

I wasn’t going to pre-order initially, but looking at what’s in the special edition there’s actually quite a lot of good stuff there, you should check it out. ShopTo is my current go-to place for games at the moment. They were pretty good at getting me a Mass Effect 3 copy to me on launch after GAME couldn’t honour my pre-order, and they got Darksiders to me pretty sharpish as well.

Thinking about it, and especially after having a chat with another writer for a project of his a couple of weeks ago, I reminded myself of the impact that this franchise- and especially Combat Evolved – has had in terms of my personal history as a gamer. It’s the game that really switched me on in terms of the Xbox, it’s the game that really got me into First-Person Shooters, and in terms of memories and moments, it’s the game that I’ve have the most fondest memories of. That’s not to say of the massive impact I personally believe the franchise has had on gaming – Halo 2 and Xbox Live in my mind completely revolutionised the industry’s attitude towards online gaming and multiplayer, and Combat Evolved help put the first Xbox on the map, despite not initially being considered as a poster child for the console (there’s a great four part series of articles done by Patrick Garret over on VG247 that you definitely need to read).

Anyway – long story short – Halo 4 gets the benefit of the doubt for the moment. From recent experiences, I can’t help but feel that in situations like these it’s dangerous to put your trust and faith into something without having really seen anything beforehand. There’s a lot riding on Halo 4 being good, not only because Microsoft wants to keep their golden boy making money, but 343 themselves have to prove that they can do it without Bungie. It’s almost like the Treyarch/Infinity Ward divide, and I hope 343 don’t change too much for the sake of making the franchise their own.

Couple of things that have me concerned though at the moment:

* The new ‘Spartan IV’s’ – how they are going to fit in lore-wise it going to be something I’m going to pay attention to, since to be honest Halo: Reach and the official acknowledgement of the Spartan III’s, was handled rather cack-handedly I feel in terms of the official timeline (I’m a bit of a lore buff, what can I say) – it was like Star Wars all over again. I don’t see how the universe allows for the existence of a fourth generation of Spartan soldiers, but there you go. Mind you, from what’s available so far, the Spartan IV thing seems only to exist to allow for a plausible plot reason for multiplayer to exist. Unnecessary I feel but fair enough.

* Halo 4 is apparently relying a lot more on trans-media to help promote and tell its story, in a way. The Forerunner Trilogy of novels is supposed to have considerable relevance to Halo 4’s story, and Karen Travis’ Glasslands’ novel is as well. I have mixed feelings about this as I rather resented Mass Effect 3 for bringing in someone from the novels to be part of the story of the game, although in principle it’s not so bad I guess. Problem is, I’m rather disappointed by Travis as an author, not only because when I met her in person she seemed rather soulless for someone dealing with IP-fiction, but also reading reviews of Glasslands’ it doesn’t sound like I’ll like what she’s done with the story post-Ghost of Onyx. Plus I wasn’t that impressed with her work on Gears of War 3 either, but that’s different.

I don’t want to sound too negative before I’ve even seen the game though. Even though I care about lore and story and continuity more than I probably should, it didn’t completely stop me from enjoying Reach, and it won’t stop me enjoying Halo 4 either. If this doesn’t work out though, then that’ll probably be it in terms of investing in aHalogame beforehand.

What was that? Diablo III? I have no idea what you’re talking about:

Diablo III, Collectors Edition

Diablo III

It’s well good by the way Sian.

So, as previously mentioned, I’ve been playing through all of the Mass Effect 2 DLC. There’s quite a lot of DLC for this game – there was a bonus character and a couple of new missions that you got for free provided you purchased a new copy of the game, there was another lot of free DLC post launch, and then a series of paid-for packs. Personally, I miss the days of expansions, so I haven’t quite gotten on-board the whole DLC train yet. I didn’t pick up the premium packs until there was a sale, and even then It took me this long to get around to playing it all. At least there shouldn’t be anymore, what with Mass Effect 3 so close and all.

Over all, I’m glad I got all the content in a sale – some of the premium items were a bit disappointing, but the free items were as good as you’d expect a free pack to be. I was also kind of disappointed that – aside from The Arrival – none of the extra content really fitted well with a completed game. All of the content is designed to fit in with everything else during a play through – which further encourages you to start a new play through I guess. That is one way of getting added replay value, but personally I’m not the type of gamer to replay games over and over, especially in a short space of time. That’s partially why it’s taken so long to get around to this. I would have liked to have seen more independent missions, or missions that weren’t blatantly meant to fit in during the pre-completion chronology of the game. Anyway, there were a few packs, so I’ll go through them in the order I played them:

** SPOILER ALERT **

Kasumi’s Stolen Memories

This pack introduced the second downloadable character after Zaeed, who was a bonus character you got free at launch provided you purchase access to the ‘Cerberus Network’ (which came free with a new purchase anyway). As a character, Kasumi seems fairly interesting, and her abilities are especially unique and very useful in fight. In fact, once I’d unlocked her she was a permanent member of my squad along with Legion in all of the DLC incursions after that. Considering this was a premium pack however (Zaeed was for all intensive purposes ‘free’), I had two main problems:

First off, Kasumi’s integration into the game was at the same level as Zaeed’s – Limited. Now, I’m willing to concede it wouldn’t have been an easy feat to retro-actively add Kasumi into all the important bits considering this pack was released well after launch, but considering we had to pay for it Bioware could have tried a bit harder. The problem I had with Zaeed is that, after you’ve met him and done his loyalty mission, that was it. He had no proper conversation engine: so if you went to visit him in his quarters, you wouldn’t go the conversation interface, he’d just be like an NPC, just more chatty.  It was exactly the same with Kasumi. She had no decent interactions outside of meeting her and her loyalty mission, and so you stop having anything to do with her pretty quickly.

Lastly – her loyalty mission itself had a lot of wasted potential. It started off well, with you having to infiltrate a party and crack into a safe without anyone noticing – different from the norm and was mildly challenging. Then there was the obligatory shoot-your-way-out segment, and then… oh. Nothing. It was kind of short, overall, and they wasted an opportunity to do something interesting with the memory device itself, especially considering what they did in the Project: Overlord pack. Overall, too short and the character is not given any room to grow… although at least she’s useful in a fight – never used Zaeed if I didn’t have to.

Firewalker Pack

This was the first major DLC pack for the game post-launch, and the last one to be given away for free. It’s main focus was to introduce the M-44 Hammerhead into the game. It was a hover tank, and the five ‘assignments’ (mini-missions) that came with it all had gameplay that revolved around the use of the his tank. It was great, as it was like having the Mako from Mass Effect back, just with more firepower and less of a bitch to use on awkward terrain. For a free pack, there was a respectable amount to do here, and the fact that the gameplay was completely different stopped it from being just more of the same.

The only we can really complain about is that – apart from Project Overlord – no other DLC pack featured the Hammerhead. Seems like a slightly was of resources to me, but hey it was still a nice little pack to play around with post-game.

Project: Overlord

Speaking of Project: Overlord, this is hands down my favourite DLC pack of the bunch. Basically, your called to a planet were a Cerberus-funded operation has gone awry. In attempts to control the Geth much like how Sovereign/Saren did in Mass Effect, some scientists have been experimenting with fusing VI and Human Intelligence. Again, not to give away too much ,but this is pretty interesting techno-thriller esque pack that combines both on-foot missions and even Hammerhead segments, making it pretty comprehensive and a good hour, hour-half’s worth  of gameplay

There’s even an interesting segment where, prior to the final ‘boss’, you’re actually fighting in virtual environment whilst the last key piece of the story are revealed to you. A really good segment, and it’s such a shame that Kasumi’s pack didn’t do something similar once they’d recovered the greybox with the memories in them. My favourite bit is the end, which managed to forge an emotional response almost equal to the climax of the main game. Ultimately, I feel videogames should strive to forge emotional connections with the players as often as possible, and this DLC pack certainly did in its closing moments. It all seemed so harmless…

Lair of the Shadow Broker

This pack is also in many ways the best pack, but it’s not my personal favourite. Unlike Overlord, it didn’t really connect with me emotionally, and to be honest I felt some of the segments were a bit boring and repetitive. It doesn’t make use of the Hammerhead, and the gameplay could have been taken from any point in Mass Effect 2. Saying that, this pack was a decent length, and it also had the most impact on the wider main game, making it really worth the money. As the name suggests, you finally help Liara track down the Shadow Broker and there’s several parts to this pack – tracking down Liara and dealing with the assassin sent to kill her, infiltrating the Shadow Broker’s Stronghold, and then a boss-fight with the broker himself.

As I said, a lot of it is pretty standard fair, even the boss fights, so there’s not a lot about the gameplay that will keep you interested. Also, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember Liara being so mono-tone and emotionless. Her performance seemed a bit wooden, if I’m being honest, although it might have been an attempt to show how she hadn’t been really ‘living’ since Shepard died – there’s some better moments towards the end. The most interesting thing about this pack is what happens after you’ve done the mission. For reasons I won’t spoil here, you get access to the Shadow Broker’s facilities, which offer you various little meta-segments like ‘investing’ in missions or causes for a cash return, buying charts to mineral rich planets, and even video logs – although the point of these still escape me. There are even amusing and insightful dossiers on several of the main characters.

Overall, not the most inspiring pack, but in terms of content and integration into the main game, definitely the one most worth buying I think, apart from Overlord.

The Arrival

Last, but not least, is The Arrival. This is really the only pack catered for post-completion, as it deals with the impending Reaper invasion and sets things up to lead in nicely to the start of the third game. Again, much like Kasumi’s pack, it starts of interesting as you have to infiltrate a prison in order to rescue someone. There’s even an achievement to do it without raising the alarm – something that I think should have been incorporated into the actual gameplay. Considering you were on your own as well, it had the same effect as the Firewalker pack in introducing an interesting and different way to play the game. Once you rescue the prisoner, you then have to naturally fight your way out, but this doesn’t last too long and you’re soon on your way to the second ‘half’ of the pack.

I won’t go into too much detail – but in essence it mainly involves more shooting and escaping. There’s a kind of hoard-like section were you have to survive for as long as possible against waves of enemies (there’s an achievement for surviving all the waves, which despite trying for an hour couldn’t do), but apart from that there’s not a lot too this half. The main character for this pack has an annoying accent and doesn’t really give a good performance, but the ending is pretty cool in an “impending doom” kind of way.

The rest of the DLC (apart from the launch DLC which I didn’t count as I played it at launch) were weapon and armour packs, which I refuse to buy as I think it’s the ugliest personification of the DLC business model. Sure, add in new weapons, armour, whatever in with the other content packs (which they did), but I draw the line at those kind of packs.

Bit of a long one today, but feel free to leave your thoughts.

So, I’ve been playing through all of the Mass Effect 2 DLC – was about to start Lair of the Shadow Broker, but it told me to insert Disc 2. In all honesty, I’d forgotten it was a two-disc game, but it’s ok, all I need to do is get the second disc from the- wait, where is it? I bet it’s still in my housemates 360. My housemate who is currently in Belgium. FUUUUUUUUU- Guess I’m going to have to delay this slightly then – the plan is to do a blog post on the whole experience once I’m done.

Thing is, I’ve never really been on to buy into the whole DLC thing much. Sure, I’ve bought some maps for Halo, got the odd other add-on here and there, but nothing serious. Mass Effect 2 I think is the only game where I’ve actively purchased every bit of DLC, and that was in a made sale rush a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t bought anything as they’ve come out. From a professional perspective, we’ve never really known what to do with DLC – short articles don’t really look that great on the site from an aesthetic stand-point, so everything has to be substantial enough to fill out 800 words. I think I’d struggle to write 800 words on some of these. Also, because our site is based around a database, we have to create  a separate entry just for DLC – which to me seems a bit inefficient, especially since we can’t link separate entries together (unless it’s via platforms).

I won’t talk about the ME2 stuff too much yet – I’ll save it for the main blog post – but it’s all been a bit meh so far. I’d heard good things about Kasumi, but to be honest I wasn’t too impressed. Best so far was the Operation: Overlord DLC, which I thought was pretty good. It even had a really good emotional connection and was interesting to play through. Lair of the Shadow Broker is supposed to be good, although I haven’t heard good things about The Arrival, the only other one I have left to do.

Also, I might try and 100% complete the achievements on this game, it’s the only one where I’m anywhere near being close, and think I have the patience and skill to actually do it. Halo 3 is the other one, but I don’t think I’d be able to complete some of those achievements.