“The times they are a changing”: How gaming less has made me appreciate it more

gamepad_318-48332.pngI’m sure I’m not alone in this but I’ve found the amount of time I have to game these days seems to be getting less and less – and the times I play those video games has changed, too. I guess, when I look at it, it’s the natural progression of getting older, having more responsibilities (partner/children/work/other interests) and prioritising things –  but, surprisingly, gaming less is not necessarily a bad thing, at least  not for me.

When I was in my early 20s, I was pretty much able to game when I wanted to, apart from while I was at work, of course (although when I picked up a job doing game reviews for a NZ newspaper that shall remain nameless I was able to convince my non-gamer wife that the hours I was spending on video games was legitimate work: It worked most of the time). If I wanted to play a game on a Saturday afternoon, I could but as work became busier and children came along, my priorities changed: Gaming took a back seat for a while, especially when the children were still up.

If I wanted to game while the children were up I had to be selective on what I played, too: I rightly couldn’t play violent first- or third-person shooters in front of them, which was fair enough. There was a silver lining, though, as the children got older I started reviewing more child-friendly games, meaning I could get them to play the game with me: Win-win. Of my two children, my son is the one who games these days. My daughter hasn’t shown an interest in it apart from The Sims from time to time.

As I got older, time to game didn’t become so much of a priority: Other things took precedence. I’m sure many of you have found yourself in a similar position: By the time you get home from work, do the things around the house that need doing, sort dinner, take the dog for a walk (or go for a bike ride) and spent time with the family, it’s almost bedtime! Well, not quite, but it seems I don’t have the energy or time to spent four or five hours gaming in a single session anymore these days. I’m also not usually gaming until after 10pm, which means if I’m too late I’m pretty tired in the morning.

I guess it’s natural for the time you spent on things to change as your life changes but I’m now finding that now I’m in my mid-40s (I know: Old man, right?) while I don’t have a lot of time to game, I’m finding that I’m enjoying it more because it’s more focused. I’m doing it in bite-sized chunks and that suits my life now. I’ll play a mission then go to bed.

Another thing I’ve noticed, too, is that I’ll often be quite happy sitting watching my avid gamer teenager son him while he plays multiplayer COD or a few rounds of zombies on Black Ops 3. I don’t have to be gaming myself to find enjoyment in it. Watching my son is a fascinating exercise in seeing how a young, agile gamer tackles particular  situations or scenarios (it’s also great in seeing how he handles when things go wrong). Sometimes, I’ll just sit, transfixed as he racks up another kill or jump boosts his way through a map, taking down a horde or zombies with a bow. He’s young so has quick reflexes and reactions, unlike me. I don’t play MP games anymore  these days: My hand-eye co-ordination just isn’t up to the task anymore and my eyesight is starting to get worse (I had to buy a cheap pair of glasses from a chain store the other day just so I could read the fine print on a bottle of something)  and I’m not old (at least I don’t consider that I am) but my reflexes aren’t as quick as they used to be. I’ll stick to my campaign/story-based games, thanks.

That fact that I game less now isn’t a bad thing: I think it’s actually made me appreciate gaming more. I think it has helped that I don’t review as many games as I used to. When you review dozens of games a year I think you start to lose the enjoyment factor and the reason why you started playing games in the first place. As a critic, you’re no longer playing games for fun, you’re playing them to find fault. Now that I’m reviewing fewer games and buying more games myself, I can sit back, take as long as I like to finish it, and enjoy it. I’m liking that.

I’m also not so obsessed with collecting Achievements/Trophies as I was as a younger gamer. Now, I want to experience the game for all it can give me and I’m not wanting to blast through it, missing details in the narrative or all it has to offer. I’ve got no problem taking 10 hours to finish a game that Gamer X took six hours to complete. I have less time to game these days so I want to savour every moment.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is if you’re gaming less now than you used to don’t see it as a negative. Embrace it and enjoy it. You might find,. like me,  you start enjoying games a little more.


COD: Advanced Warfare review: A return to form

This review marks something of a departure from the usual reviews you find on this site. Normally, it’s just me spouting my opinion but this time, because this game is so multiplayer-focused, I’ve enlisted some help: Master Game Junkie, my teenage game-playing son who know more about COD MP gameplay than I do. So, this review is two parts: I’ll do the campaign, and Master Game Junkie the MP. I’ll post the MP review when he’s finished. It should be later today or tomorrow.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare

There’s a mission in Advanced Warfare that took me back to one of perhaps the finest missions in a COD game of all time: Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Exo CloakDecked out in a fancy exo-skeleton from Atlas, the private arms corporation owned by your now deceased best friend’s father, Advanced Warfare’s hero has to use the suits cloaking ability to skulk past patrolling enemy guards, aerial drones and scanners to reach the next objective.

It’s clear that AW’s stealth sequence owes a great debt to All Ghillied Up, and frankly, while it isn’t as  good as Modern Warfare’s radiation-ravaged Chernobyl mission, it sets the tone that hints that this year’s COD is a return to form for the series’ campaign which has been on shaky ground since Modern Warfare. It’s almost as if developer Sledgehammer Games, given sole control of this one, decided to go back to the series’ finest moments and get the series back on track.

Advanced Warfare is the best COD campaign I’ve played since Modern Warfare. Is it as good as Modern Warfare? No – but it’s close. Also, could this be one of the first games to actually have a character say the title of the game in it? Watch the trailer below …

For some reason COD games always seem to get a bit of stick from certain gamers. Part of me feels that people just hate on the series because it’s something to do or they want to jump on the band wagon.  t’s true that the series hasn’t changed much over the years, and the campaign especially has been in decline since the outstanding Modern Warfare, but fans of the series know exactly what they’re getting: scripted action and constant instructions telling you what to do, what to use and when to do it. COD games are not open-world, explore-anywhere-you-want games. Never have been, never will.

COD games are tightly controlled, blockbuster action, Michael Bay movies in video game form (Disclaimer: I’d rather play a COD game that watch a Michael Bay movie) where the player is funnelled in a particular direction to keep the action moving along  – and I don’t have a problem with that. I know exactly what type of game a COD one is as soon as I hit the menu screen.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Will IronsCOD games have never been known for their storytelling, either, and AW’s is no different: You play former US Army soldier Captain Jack Mitchell who looses an arm (and his best friend) after fighting in Korea but is given a second chance – and a robotic left arm – by Jonathon Irons (played by a mocapped Kevin Spacey), the father of his best friend and founder of Atlas, the world’s largest private army. He starts working for Atlas but things don’t appear as they seem and it’s up to Mitchell and a secret military outfit called Sentinel to stop Irons.

The action travels to Seattle, Detroit and New Baghdad, each new set piece almost out doing the other, and the body count will stack up as you fight your way to the finale. In each mission, Mitchell is equipped with a different exo-skeleton that has different abilities: cloaking, grapple, shield, magnetic gloves, but sadly,  you can only use each ability when the game wants you to. I think I only climbed about three walls using the mag gloves throughout the entire game.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Kyle CormackTaking a nod from the Advanced Warfare in the title, Mitchell is equipped with a variety of hi-tech armaments, too,  including grenades that can highlight enemies through walls and smart grenades – grenades that target enemies then explode. They worked well most of the time.

One of my favourite missions was one where Mitchell had to control a UAV hight above a Greek village, having to locate where a terrorist target was. It’s good to see that Sledgehammer mixed things up a little, and I also like that I was only in control of one character, not the multiple characters in previous COD games.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_UtopiaThe game is still QTE heavy and – I’ll say it again – tightly controlled, telling you when you can set a mine that silences noise or where you can use your exo-skeleton’s cloak but by Homer, I enjoyed the seven hours or so it took me to beat the campaign. I wanted to finish it. I didn’t feel I had to finish it. Sledgehammer has done something right.

Kevin Spacey’s performance is a little wooden at times (and his eyes are almost dead looking at first, given how realistic his in-game character looks) but I felt that his performance got better as the game progressed: It was if he had channelled is Frank Underwood here. And that’s a good thing. The in-game cinematics are so life-like that for a second I had to double-check that it wasn’t human actors. They look that real.

The bottom line is that if you don’t like COD games then stay away from this one. Heck, you probably weren’t going to play it anyway. I have to say, though, this one really surprised me – and in a good way. Yes, it’s scripted. Yes, it doesn’t break the formula. Yes, it’s annoying that you can’t use the cool gadgets and tech when you want, but if you want a fun-filled romp filled with action and mayhem, then grab the popcorn and buckle in: You’re in for a hellava ride.

Thanks to Activision which provided a PS4 retail copy of the game for review. 

Shit, COD Advanced Warfare, you’re impressing the pants off me

Activision have released a new trailer for COD Advanced Warfare and, man, it’s blowing my socks off (and impressing my pants). I haven’t really been interested in a COD game since Modern Warfare 2, which I consider the best of all time.

Anyway, here’s the trailer, called Power Changes Everything, which shows what looks like it’s a little of the campaign but focusses on the game’s exo-skeleton co-op mode, which looks like it’s like Gears of Wars’s Horde mode where you face off against rounds of increasingly tougher enemies.

I note that some online users are moaning about the game mode not having zombies. Even I know that zombies are something that Treyarch bring to the COD table. I’m pleased that Sledgehammer have bought something new.

COD: Advanced Warfare is out in November. If it keeps up the way it is, I might not have any pants left by then: They’ll have been blown to bits!