“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.

 

The war of the war first-person shooters

“Different strokes for different folks”.

It’s one of the English language’s most bizarre sayings – one that would confuse the hell out of non-English speakers, I’m sure – but it essentially means that different people like different things. That one thing won’t suit us all.

I like to apply the phrase to EA’s Battlefield 4 and Activision’s Call of Duty. Both are first-person viewpoint war games, both have single player campaigns, both have online components, yet they seem to be the two games that are the most divisive when it comes to which one is best.

It seems fans of one like to slag off the other but here’s my take on things:  If you don’t like Call of Duty, don’t play it. Same for Battlefield. No-one is forcing you to spend time on a game you don’t want or like. Both have millions of fans, each happy with the game they’ve picked, so why the bitching?

BF4Personally, I don’t have an allegiance to one or other. I’ve played both BF4 and COD Ghosts, and if I’m being honest, my favourite Battlefield game is Bad Company and my favourite COD game is Modern Warfare. Neither of them the latest in the long running franchises.

Now, most people won’t buy either of these games for their single-player component, and rightly so as both are highly MP-focused, but I’m not most people and still like to play solo campaigns, often more so than online offerings. 

Here’s my take on campaigns from BF4 and COD Ghosts: They do a solid, if somewhat unremarkable job. I didn’t hate them but I didn’t fall in love with them either. I wouldn’t take either out for a second date .

Both have a silent protagonist, which sort of bugs me about a lot of shooter games. It bugged me back in the day that Gordon Freeman from the Half Life games was mute. It bugs me now. With today’s games wanting to immerse the player in the experience, having a silent lead character just disconnects the player from the action. I might as well be playing as an ice cream cone. 

Ghosts tries to mix things up a little – one of the opening missions takes place in space but it’s too brief, and the remote sniper is great fun – and Riley, the trained dog, is a nice touch, but it seemed to me that just as you were settling in to controlling him and thinking “This is pretty cool”, the control was ripped from you and it was back to the tried-and-tried “move forward and shoot everything in your path” gameplay.

BF4’s campaign was more enjoyable than I expected but it’s still a cliche riddled affair, with stereotypical characters that I didn’t care for (I couldn’t even tell you their names). I played it on PC and it looks wonderful when things are cranked up to “OMG” fidelity.

Both suffer from instances where one moment you have to lead the way and open a door then the next there’s no way you can progress any further until your team catches up – and open a door for you. Ghosts’ campaign also dishes out trophies (I played it on PlayStation 3) like they’re going out of fashion: It seemed like most missions had two or three trophies each.

call_of_duty_ghosts-wallpaper-big

Right, now to the MP. I’m not a massively successful online gamer – sadly, my twitch reflex isn’t what it used to be –  but if I had to pick a game that had MP that I enjoyed the most, I’d take Battlefield’s MP over Call of Duty. That’s not to say that Ghosts’ isn’t enjoyable – I really enjoyed its infected mode – it’s just that BF4 online game gelled more with me.

BF4’s MP  is an assault on the senses, though, with explosions everywhere, voices echoing in your head  and bullets zipping all over the place (generally into my avatar’s body from an unseen sniper).

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not very good at MP, though: I always tend to get killed more than kill. My Kill/Death ratio would generate much laughter and mirth around hardened MP players, but I stick with it, slowly but surely earning points so that I can rank up.

How bad am I? Well, I’m ecstatic when I manage to hit an advancing enemy with one bullet from the almost entire clip I’ve emptied into him. Some people might call that luck but I call it … Nope, who am I trying to kid: It’s pure luck that I actually manage to kill enemies in this game. And I’m OK with that.

I’m not going to dwell on specific maps and all their intricacies – there are plenty of other reviews around if you want those details – but some of the best moments in BF4 were when I spawned into a vessels and manned one of its side guns. I once spawned into a tank and made so many kills it made me giddy … then the game crashed, causing me to loose all my points.  Another time I spawned onto a boat. I shot down a helicopter that time, just continuously firing at it using the boat’s mounted gun as it flew past. It took a few hits  but he just seemed to hover conveniently near where we were. It was strangely satisfying seeing it erupt into a cloud of smoke and fire. Moments after that, I got killed by a sniper.

One MP mode in Ghosts that I like is Infected, where one player starts out as an infected human while the other are soldiers. Slowly but surely as each soldier becomes infected, it becomes an exciting game of cat and mouse as the surviving humans ward off the advancing infected.  It’s a pretty neat mode and a nice change of pace from the usual capture the flag or deathmatch-type affair.

It may be naive of me, but I believe there is ample room in the gaming landscape for both Battlefield 4 and COD: Ghosts, but, I guess, if someone held a gun to my head and told me to pick one or else, I’d have to say I liked BF4’s overall experience more than COD: Ghosts, both in MP and single player.

Not that I’m an expert, mind you. I can’t tell you the intricacies of how each weapon’s rate of fire differs from the last game, impacting on game play,  or how the scoring system has changed for the better/worse. I can’t tell you whether vehicles are now overpowered (although on some BF4 maps I noted that if you didn’t manage to get a vehicle you were pretty much screwed): I just play the damn things and tell you if I like them or not. That’s how I do it.

“Different strokes for different folks”. It’s rather appropriate here, I think.

Killzone: Mercenary – the review

Killzone Mercenary (PS Vita)

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Killzone: Mercenary, where have you been all my PS Vita’s life?

Mercenary is a shooter that you’ll actually want to play. It’s the shooter that my PS Vita has been crying out for. Oh, sure developers have tried FPS games on the Vita before but let’s face it: They sucked. Pure and simple (I’m looking at you Black Ops: Declassified and Resistance Burning Skies. You were shit).

Killzone Mercenary is the real deal. And if Mercenary had been available earlier,  my Vita would have seen more action over the past few months rather than pretty much gathering dust, sitting unused.

Why, Sony, why has it taken it has taken so long for a great first-person shooter to appear on the Vita? Not through lack of talent as there are plenty of talented people in your development studios. There was really no excuse for it. I mean, the Vita has two analogue sticks: It’s made for the FPS, right?

Placing the player in the shoes of soldier-for-hire Arran Danner, Killzone Mercenary is set between the events of Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 and interestingly, in a first for the series, the player will fight alongside both the ISA and Helghan after a twist near the end. Danner is a, after all, a mercenary so he goes where the green is.

Let’s get the visuals out of the way first, though: they are stupendous. The two images with captions are screen captures I did during game play. Looks pretty good, right? It’s like the developer took the PlayStation 3’s Killzone and zapped it with a shrink ray: It really does look that good. Is is too much to say this is the best looking game the Vita because I think it is. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful and really is the best looking game on the Vita.

But good graphics does not a game  make, it needs a solid story to back it up. Well, Mercenary’s story is nothing we haven’t seen in countless shooters before (filled with betrayal and backstabbing) and you can see what’s coming a mile off but it’s a shooter, after all: It’s not a Shakespearean play filled with enlightened exposition and wonderment. It’s a game where you shoot people to earn money and complete objectives. I also found the controls took a bit of time getting used to – crouch and sprint are mapped to the circle button which makes things interesting during an intense firefight – but things fell into place soon enough.

Killzone-Mercenary-Preview-03-600x339Mercenary uses the Vita’s touch screen cleverly, too, letting you melee kill foes by tapping the triangle button then following an on-screen prompt indicating which way to swipe.

Being able to do that means you’ll use it – and I used it a lot, against both normal Helghast grunts and heavily armed heavies. In fact, I probably used it too much (and handily, many of the Helghan turn their back on you when you melee them), but there’s just something satisfying about swiping the touch screen to kill a Helghan (although, does Danner really have to stab some of them in the balls before knifing them in the head? That just made me squirm)

The touch screen is also used to set mines (placing each thumb on the screen then rotating them charges the mine) and kills earn valour, or money, which can be used to buy new weapons, ammunition, better armour and other gadgets  from black market weapons chest conveniently dotted about the game world. Every kill earns you money: headshots earning you more than a shot to the chest.

If there’s one thing frustrating about Mercenary’s game play, it’s its checkpoint system, which isn’t very good. I would have liked to have seen a more robust save system and while yes, the Vita has a good standby mode, if you quit a level mid-mission expect to have to start again from the beginning. It’s annoying.

I’ve only touched on the single player campaign here because, well, I haven’t had a chance to try any online yet. I got a code to do that but haven’t had the time. Perhaps when more people are playing it I’ll give it a whirl.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

OK, to round up. Yes, Killzone Mercenary shows little innovation when it comes to game play (and Killzone is a stupid name for a game) and yes, the story is cliched and yes, if you hate the Killzone series then this portable version isn’t going to change your mind, but it’s a freaking console quality shooter on a handheld and it’s a good one  –  and that should be celebrated as far as I’m concerned (and if it was shit, I would tell you as much).

Not so long ago I was thinking Sony had forgotten about the Vita completely and hoped no-one would notice. Well, we did notice  but if Mercenary is Sony’s way of saying, “Sorry about the previous shit Vita FPS games. Try this for size” then I forgive you, Sony. I forgive you.

Game Junkie Verdict: buy, buy,  buy.