A change is as good as a holiday?

That’s the saying, isn’t it? “A change is as good as a holiday?”

Well, personally, I’d rather have the holiday: Change is too hard on the nerves. Believe me, I know.

Today, I ended a 22 -year-long career in journalism, at the one employer. That’s a big change and not one that I’d like to repeat in a hurry. Oh, sure I’d done plenty of different jobs during that 22 years but, still, this is a huge monumental change in my life. I need to take stock of that. I need to take a breather and soak that in for a minute.

I didn’t think it would be, but it felt weird saying goodbye to all those people I’d worked alongside for so long, all those people who I’d seen every day. All those people I’d shared coffee with, chatted to, said “Gidday” when we passed. All those people who went through the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch with me.

And when you think about it, I probably spent more time with my work colleagues than I did my family, bar weekends, of course. But now that has all changed: I no longer do a blog on Fairfax’s Stuff website (long story short: Fairfax refused to pay me to do, given that I’m now, you know, unemployed, so I made the decision to end it. It was a tough call but I had to make it. Right?)

So, now that I’m a free agent, a freelance writer, this is where all my game writing will go for the foreseeable future: This is where all my inane ramblings, opinions and thoughts will go. I’d love you to join me. A colleague at my farewell said he reckoned I was the best games writer in New Zealand. I’d debate that, probably because I don’t like to toot my own horn and it would make me arrogant, but whether it’s true or not, I hope I’ve done a damn good job of getting video games into the mainstream media in a positive way. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the last few years: Letting mainstream people know that video games are something that normal, tax-paying, work-going people play.

I hope I succeeded.

I grew a wonderful community of followers over at my Game Junkie blog on Stuff and I hope most of them follow me to this blog and we can grow the community even further. We can, right?

But a  community is all about its readers, about followers. I hope I can continue to bring a different spin to the traditional games writing which so often just seems to be regurgitated press releases. I’m sick of seeing that: The same story on numerous websites. I want to do things differently. I want to delve a little more. I want to give a different view-point on things. I want to create engaging, thought-provoking content that stands out from the flood of same old, same old video game coverage.

I know those are bold words but even if I fail, I want to give it a damn good crack. Will you join me on what I’m doing here? Shall we take that journey together? I hope so. Email me at: gamejunkienz@gmail.com and tell me what you think.

Let’s build something beautiful here.

Pay Day 2: one to play with friends

PayDay2I make a hopeless virtual bank robber. Pay Day 2 showed me that.

Thankfully, I’m not planning on making a career change to full-time criminal but Pay Day 2, the first-person-bank-robber simulator from development studio Overkill, isn’t a game that you want to play on your own. You’ll get frustrated with it pretty quickly. I did.

It’s a game best played with three friends who can fill the roles of the three members of your hard-as-nails crew, replacing the computer-controlled AI – which is pretty bad.

How bad? When I botched a heist – I forgot to subdue and handcuff all the bank staff and one of them triggered an alarm –  I ran out into a side alley, hoping to confuse the recently alerted police. Suddenly, my three colleagues appeared beside me, shooting at the police instead of, I don’t know, staying in the shop and grabbing the jewels that we needed to complete the mission. Thinking about it, the single player isn’t the best.

In fact, it’s almost as if the game’s makers felt obliged to include a single player mode just because it was expected by the public – when really all they wanted to do was make an online four-player co-op game.

Objectives will vary from job to job – one might involve using a thermo-drill to open a safe, while an other might see you having to upload data to a computer – but they all follow the same format:  case the joint, start the mission then hold off increasing waves of armed police until the objectives (objectives) is done and you can scarper to the exit point.

Visually, it’s not a pretty game – the character models are ugly but a game primarily designed for online doesn’t want fancy pants graphics slowing things down now, does it?  – but Pay Day 2 is best when it’s played with three other humans who can work together, complete the tasks then get the hell out of  doge. That’s when Pay Day 2 is at its best.

Pay Day is a bust if you play it just for the single player mode – and it’s not a game that will hold my attention for too long – but if you can muster together three friends to play it, then you’ll have a lot more fun.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is all kinds of special

Is this guy just trolling these two brothers? Nah.

Is this guy just trolling these two brothers? Nah.

I’ve tried not to spoil anything in this review. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (out on PS3 and Xbox 360 now, Steam at some time soon)  is something you need to experience for yourself, so if you’re in any doubt – as much as I hate to say this – stop reading now!

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is, essentially, a tale about loss and how two brothers deal with it. At least, that’s what I think it’s about.

I say it’s about loss because the game opens with the younger of the two brothers mourning the death of his mother, her headstone looking out from a hilltop over a calm sea. The boy sobs gently as he remembers his mother but his sorrow is short lived, as he soon has to help his older brother get his clearly ailing father to the village doctor – and their quest begins to search for the remedy.

Brothers is one of those games where quiet, contemplative moments are common (there are even benches dotted around the environment where one or both of the brothers can sit and soak up the stunning vistas, and they are truly are stunning) but it’s also one of those games that has a moment near the end so profound that it alters the whole shift of the game.  I wish I could tell you about it but it’ll spoil the whole game.  Let’s just say it’s a profound event.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a single player co-operative game where you control both brothers, at the same time in an effort to save their father, and while most of the time  you control the brothers individually, the game really shines when you have to combine the talents of the two to solve the game’s simple puzzles.

The left stick controls the older, stronger brother, while the right stick controls the younger, more agile sibling. The trigger buttons let each brother interact with the environment. It’s not a perfect control system – an hour or so into the game I was still managing to steer one or other brother into a wall or pillar every now and then – but sometimes it just shines, especially a moment when the pair have to control a gilder as it soars through the air.

It’s also clear from the beginning that although the pair speak in some nonsensical language (somewhat similar to the language spoken by Sims), the boys have very different personalities – and that comes out in they way the boys interact with their surroundings. When the pair come across a fellow villager tending to some plants, the younger boy slaps him playfully on the backside, while the older boy tries to placate him. The younger boy plays a villager’s harp beautifully, while the other plays it dismally.

brothers-a-tale-of-two-sonsThe game play is simple enough: environmental puzzles – for example,  in one location, the younger boy will turn a handle to open a gate while the older boy clings to a chain handing from a conveyor belt – ledge grabbing and climbing and as the boys’ journey continues they’ll come across a variety of landscapes and inhabitants, including rock trolls, the remnants of a battle between giants and a snowy wonderland.

In one scene as the boys traverse an underground mine (sometimes you can see trolls down below swinging pick axes), they come across a troll trapped inside a locked cage. The only problem is that the key to the lock is on the belt of a nearby guard, who stands behind two gates. As I guided the younger of the boys through the first gate then negotiated piles of human bones , I couldn’t help but smile as he started tip toeing across, careful not to disturb the bleached white bones for fear of attracting the attention of the guard troll.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons won’t take an age to finish – I think I finished it in around three hours (I wasn’t counting but it was done over an evening) – but I was captivated the entire time, even though the puzzle solving won’t tax those wanting to test their grey matter and the game play is a little safe at times.

This is a game that plays like it’s set in one of Grimm’s fairy tales and to be honest the control system only caused me problems during on chase sequence where I died once until I’d worked out the layout of obstacles in the boys’ path. This is a game that has an ending that comes as a surprise and one that shows the game’s makers weren’t afraid to push the boundaries a little and give gamers’ something to think about. The team at Starbreeze and 505 Games deserve any accolades they receive for this game: It’s one of the most memorable I’ve played this year.

You can probably tell I loved Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s haunting, it’s captivating, and I could play games like this until the cows come home (I’m not sure what that phrase means, considering I’m not a farmer but I’m hoping it means that I’ll be doing something for a long, long time). I liked it. A lot.

As far as I’m concerned, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a must-play for gamer’s who want something different from the AAA blockbusters that tread the tried and true,