Friday, March 06, 2009

Byte: Another string to the bow

Today represents a watershed. I've been writing reviews of PC games for literally years, and while I've done the odd review for Nintendo DS and Xbox, I've not really done a huge amount of console reviews. So the review of Race Pro that went up on Videogamer today, is a little bit like having a new era dawn for me.

If you knew me in the days of the old PC Gamer forum on Delphi (about 8 or 9 years ago now), I was the archetypal hardcore PC gaming fanboy. I'd never owned a console, never wanted to own a console, couldn't even consider the possibility that I'd ever want to own a console. Over the years, especially post-Halo and post-KotOR, that stance has been gradually shifting toward console-a-philia. (Yes, I know that's not a real word, but bear with me here...) It's all Charles's fault. Charles is a friend of mine at work who also happens to be one of the admins at NTSC-UK, and at one time when we worked together, you had two admins for arguably the two most elitist gaming websites in the UK (NTSC-UK and the now defunct State) sitting within a couple of feet of each other. Very small world, huh? It was only really through Charles that I ever really considered console gaming as potentially being on a par with PC gaming. He successfully bugged me into buying a Nintendo DS, so that we could multiplay at lunchtimes, and Olly, another gaming colleague on our team (and NTSC-UK member), found me a second-hand Xbox on the NTSC-UK trade forum with about half a dozen games (including the stonking Burnout 3) for a mere pittance (around £80 or £90 all in, as I recall). And from there, I never really looked back. PC was still my preferred platform, but at least now I could appreciate the value of console gaming.

It wasn't inferior to PC gaming, as I'd ignorantly thought, it was just different. And difference can be good. From there I went on to pick up a bargain-basement Gamecube, so that I could play the Metroid Prime games and Resident Evil 4, though that got shifted on once the Wii came out, and I could play the dozen or so games I'd picked up for the 'cube through that. Then, finally, I picked up an Xbox 360 Elite as a birthday present to myself at the tail end of January. And I have to say, while the lion's share of my playing time still goes to the PC (old habits die hard), I am very impressed with not only how good the games look and play, but also how (unlike a lot of PC games) they don't take a huge amount of faffing about to get working properly.

Convenience is obviously a big factor these days when you're a high-stressed, time-pressed professional with a girlfriend who increasingly fills up the social calendar in order to stop you from spending too much time playing videogames. So I like that out-of-the-box playability, and also playing on the big screen TV. The resolution (720p) might not be so good as you get with a PC game, but hell, I'll have the extra acreage on the screen size, thanks.

I picked up Halo 3 (well, I have the first two, I might as well complete the set) and Dead Rising off Play for £15 each about a week ago, but I haven't gotten around to them yet, thanks to Dawn of War II (I'm replaying that in the odd spare moment, thanks to the short mission lengths, and still enjoying it mightily, I might add) and Empire: Total War, which I wasn't actually that interested in, but since Videogamer offered me the review, I was hardly going to pass it up. When someone says, "Here, have this free review code", my natural Scottish instincts just take over... I won't say too much about Empire here yet, as the review will be going up sometime next week, but what I will say is that I'm pleasantly surprised. I thought I was all Total Warred out after Medieval II, but 18th Century combat is pleasingly different to the meat-grinder approach seen in Rome and (to a lesser extent) Medieval II. Obviously, the big new feature is the Naval combat and it's fascinating. Tactically it's very different to fighting on land, and takes quite a bit of practice. And it's pretty spectacular when you have ships explode... it shocked the hell out of me the first time it happened. Especially because it happened in the middle of my formation and set a couple of my ships on fire.

Anyway - my review will go up sometime next week, no doubt, so I'll link when it gets posted.
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