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Pushing Through

Written by Mike Holmes on the 6th of February 2012 at 16:59

No matter how good a game is, there are nearly always moments when you find yourself pushing through a monotonous task or a series of elongated missions.

To its credit, Skyrim kept me completely absorbed up until last night. So far I've clocked up over 50 hours on the game, and there are only a handful of titles that offer up such an extended experience. It's rarer still to find a game that can go for so long and still feel fresh; and I know just how much more there is to explore.

I've not deviated too far from the main quest. I've got involved in some of the domestic politics (after all, I'm a Nord, it would've been rude not to get involved and help my countrymen wrestle the country from the grip of the cruel, Godless Imperials), and I've taken down my fair share of castles and dungeons, but beyond that I find myself falling into a bit of lull.

I know what I've got to do to get things moving, it's just I'm finding it harder and harder to motivate myself to do them. I'm putting off the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood quest-lines for a later play-through, and I'm not really exploring magic either, so I'm left with the unenviable task of having to run through the wilderness looking for side-quests and dragons to kill (so I can finish making the armour I have coveted so long).

The only problem I can find with Skyrim is that it is so frickin' massive, doing anything of worth in the game takes a considerable chunk of time. Something that slows the pace down even more. I sat down last night for a quick adventure, but by the time I'd sorted out my inventory and got going on my quest, I'd been on for nearly an hour. With over 50 hours in the game so far, I find myself wanting the pace to quicken a little, but all I seem to be able to do is meander about the map looking for trouble, trying to grind my stats into respectability.

It's such a minor gripe, because Skyrim offers value like no other computer game I've ever played before. Other than this little lull in pace, I have been very, very impressed (as has everybody else) with the world created by Bethesda. I'll soldier through this lethargic patch and get back into the main story soon enough; games of this quality insist on completion. I guess I've just got to keep pushing through.

Control + Alt + Expletive + Deleted

Written by Mike Holmes on the 31st of January 2012 at 11:38

I have recently returned to PC gaming after an absence of three or four years. I had a laptop and later a Mac, but until now it has been a while since I had a computer capable of playing decent games.

All that changed over the holidays when I invested in a computer. It's pretty solid, and I was looking forward to playing some of the latest games, perhaps most notably; Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Another of the games I was eager to get my hands on was Total War: Shogun II. I remember playing the first game many years ago, and after reading the reviews I decided it was to be one of the first games I would buy for my new PC.

Despite the game requiring pretty high specs, I was confident that my new piece of kit could handle the pressure, and so I bought the game without a second thought. I took it home, stuck it in the drive and started the installation process. So far, so good.

Once the game had finished installing, I started up Steam and pressed ‘Play'. But nothing happened.

I tried it again. Nothing happened.

I tried it again. I got a loading screen. I waited, for what felt like an eternity. Control + Alt + Delete. Close programme.

I tried it again. Another load screen.

I checked the manual. Perhaps I was forgetting to do something obvious. Disc in? Check. Drivers updated? Check. Recommended spec? Check.

To the forums I went, searching for people who've had similar issues. Eventually, after a bit of hunting, I find people with similar issues. Then it was a case of working through the posts to ascertain which ones had similar hardware.

After hours and hours of fiddling and reloading, of scanning and troubleshooting, I think I've finally worked out what the problem is. Something to do with the bios needing an update on my motherboard; a problem I'm only now starting to get my head around.

I still haven't got the game working. I've invested a considerable amount of time and have very little to show for my efforts; just a loading screen and the promise of an excellent game.

I'll get it fixed, eventually. It's just very annoying. What a welcome back to PC gaming. When it works, it's spectacular. When it doesn't, it's Control + Alt + Expletive + Deleted.

Bite sized chunks of gaming.

Written by Mike Holmes on the 16th of January 2012 at 11:49

For those who have been following these blogs, you will be aware of my passing interest in the Star Wars MMO. The Old Republic has been on my radar for some time now, and after a delayed start, I'm finally beginning to enjoy the game.

I don't get to play it as much as I'd like. Sitting down in front of a game like TOR requires preparation. You need time; that's the essential ingredient. Sitting down for less than an hour of playtime leads to a disjointed experience. For me, finding the opportunity to play for extended periods has been difficult of late.

This is compounded by the fact that there are always new games to be played; this week I've been trying out The Settlers Online and last week I played a lot of All Zombies Must Die! (I even sneaked a couple of sessions on that one in this week). I've also been trying to beat my meagre scores on Bejeweled 2 and I often round the day off with a couple of games of FIFA 12 on the iPad. And let's not forget my occasional foray into the world of Halo: Reach and Modern Warfare 3, I'm not as prolific as I once was, but I still get the games in when I can.

That's a lot gaming on the go; it seems that life doesn't want me sitting down in front of my PC for large chunks of time. Whilst much of the time all I want to do is fire up The Old Republic, grabbing 45 minutes on any of the titles I mentioned above is much more convenient. It's a shame, because I like to sit down front of a good RPG and really experience the narrative, and I'm not getting the chance to do that right now. Happily, things change and I'm sure it wont be long before I'm sitting down to a series of three or four hour sessions on Bioware's epic adventure.

And then, when I've done that for a while, maybe I can get back to Skyrim.

Me in the Old Republic

Written by Mike Holmes on the 10th of January 2012 at 12:53

Character creation has been on my mind recently. A lot.

Do I want to be good or bad? Well, right now I'm thinking good, but in a couple of weeks, might I be a bored with the light side? Who knows? Anyway, the classes look more interesting on the Imperial side, but do I only think that because I'm likely to be on the side of the Republic? I can be Imperial if I like, there's nothing to stop me, but why am I not really entertaining it? Perhaps I should consider this more carefully.

I'm still only on the first, most basic choice. This is going to take some time.

Ok, so I've gone with Republic. I'm trusting my gut. Now to pick a class. Again, the selection daunts me. Do I want a lightsaber? That's the real question. Because if you strip it all down, that's what we're talking about. The trusty lightsaber; a Jedi's best friend. But the Smuggler looks cool. Really cool. Or I could be that trooper with the big gun? Though maybe not. I didn't come all this way to play with a gun, this is Star Wars. I want a lightsaber. But being the smuggler, blasting away from cover, firing off the one-liners; cool.

In the end I go for the Smuggler, but with the full knowledge that I'm going to play as more than one character; one day the lightsaber will be mine.

What, more choices? I've gotta pick a species. Come on, let me start shooting stuff. Ok, let's go with Human, boring but straight forward, and simple. Now for the hair colour, style, facial features, scars, skin tone and colour. My character is starting to take shape, at last. Now all I've got to do is pick him a name. An important step, as we'll be together some time.

Ok, so I've got a name, a beard, a little scar on my face that I got from a fight in a cantina many years ago and at last I'm ready to go.

I've watched some cut scenes; I've been impressed. I've sorted through a variety of different screens, each full of far reaching customisation options; I've made my choices. Now it's time for me to jump in and see exactly what Bioware has in store for me.

Playing the Waiting Game

Written by Mike Holmes on the 3rd of January 2012 at 14:01

I had an enforced period of waiting thrust upon me this Christmas. For much of the holiday I was left sitting around with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs in a hospital whilst waiting for news. What I had intended to do with my week off was spend as much time as I could on immersing myself in Bioware's MMO: Star Wars The Old Republic.

But life often likes to throw a little spanner in the works. Instead of sitting in front of my new computer and learning ‘the ways of the force', I had to find different ways of getting my games fix in.

I spent the first few days reading magazines and playing Angry Birds and Jetpack Joyride, but neither of these games offered me the kind of depth that I needed to fully immerse myself in. I played a bit of Galaxy On Fire 2 on my iPad, and started to get into that, but at the end of the day it wasn't satisfying my needs.

It was much to my surprise that the solution presented itself in the form of EA's cut-priced iPad games sale. At Christmas I spent about £8 and for that money I got some interesting titles, such as Dead Space, Mirrors Edge, Rainbow Six and, most notably, FIFA 12.

FIFA 12 cost me something like 69 pence, and it was quite possibly the best value for money I have ever encountered when shopping for games (except for possibly some of this freeware).

At first I was a bit unsure, but I took a punt and downloaded it anyway. I've tried several games on the iPad and the controls on some titles can leave a lot to be desired. That said, it seems that my FIFA fears were unfounded.

Whilst it is undeniable that the PC/Console controls for football games offer more accuracy and a greater range of tactical options, I found the control system for iPad version of FIFA 12 to be intuitive and easy to grasp. Of course the level of detail in the game is dwarfed by that of the full retail version, but the iPad edition offered enough depth and statistics to keep me occupied.

Overall, I think it's fair to say that I have been incredibly impressed with all aspects of my iPad FIFA 12 experience; the pricing (at the time of writing it still only costs 69p), the gameplay, the controls and the size of the package provided by EA.

The other games I downloaded all got a bit of playtime, with Dead Space catching my eye in particular, but the game that provided me with the most comprehensive distraction from all the infernal waiting this holiday was FIFA 12.

If you're ever stuck waiting around with nothing to do and you have an iPad handy, I can heartily recommend that you download it.