It's Christmas time...

and the shops are bloody mobbed. Did some more gift buying yesterday – the queue in HMV was 20-30 folk long…and that was at 10AM. Madness. Internet buying is far more sensible at this time of year. I see the music channels are now starting to drop in festive videos – there’s still 4 weeks before Christmas! Well, 3 weeks and 6 days.

Scrooge signing out…

Killer in the Family

After 11 years my cat has finally proved her worth – her first mouse kill. Woke up this morning to see the cat proudly sitting next to a mouse with a particularly smug grin on her face (looked like it to me) – made me smile so much…even now. Downside is I need to hunt down how the little blighter got into the house foam filler and Polyfiller at the ready.

Half-Life 2

Picked up Half-Life 2 via steam on Tuesday. Played for roughly an hour……quite simply the most atmospheric 1st hour of any game I’ve ever played. Graphics are amazing but unlike other games the environment depicted is amazingly realistic and full of real world detail. This is helped by an impressive sound engine that not only delivers good in game effects but an impressive (so far) soundtrack. I’ve also been surprised twice within the first hour which is a good sign of more impending shocks. Story is also unwinding at a good pace. The havoc engine used for the physics also adds to the realism although some of the graphical lifting effects are a bit ‘rough’.

On the minor side, the loading times are very high and also pretty frequent. Steam as a delivery system was also brought to it’s knee’s on Tuesday but thankfully didn’t affect me too much.

Can’t wait to play more but as usual in the games industry…too many good games in the run up to Christmas means somethings got to be sacrificed…I wish it could be Christmas shopping but alas it will probably be Half-Life for the time being. Sneaky hours hear and there are the order of the day.

Halo 2 One Week On

This game just eats time. Played about 20 mins of single player – all the rest was online. The matchmaking mode allows you to take a party of four friends into 16 player battles and for one of the first times the games with the septic tanks and
Europeans are largely lag free. Some of the map randomness (lack off) is disappointing but apart from that its all good. It also really emphasises good team play – no point charging in on your own when there’s 6 guys waiting for you. It’s managed to keep me away from Half-Life 2…….almost :-).

IrfanView

I used to love Paint Shop Pro. Around version 7 though it started to bloat beyond belief. All I wanted was a quick to load image viewer in which I could easily resize/resample images to a variety of different formats. Ta-ra – IrfanView. Loads instantly, works quickly, can be a bit quirky but apart from that it’s great. It’s now my must have graphics package.

Proxy at work

Sigh – the work proxy is blocking more sites than ever – almost every gaming site has been blocked over the weekend. It’s only a matter of time before Google gets the treatment (they did ban Google groups a few weeks back but that was quickly reveresed). Guess I’ll need to do some work to fill in the day now.

Halo 2 Thoughts

It’s now only a few days till Halo 2 hits the UK (Thursday the 11th or 10th if I’m lucky) so I thought I’d share a few opinions (no spoilers) of the ‘test’ version I’ve been playing. I guess I should be honest and say that although the original Halo was a stand out game for the Xbox on launch, it tired quickly for me. I found the repetitive level design and unoriginal gameplay meant the single player campaign was difficult to stick with. Admittedly I was playing on Heroic to make sure the game was a challenge but the Library level and the flood character designs were in my book a filler in an otherwise stunning game., and playing through filler just turned me off. On the other hand the multi-player while not online was stunning and gave a real taster for what Halo 2 could be.

Halo 2 so far has been great. The single player campaign has been difficult but full of nice ‘set-piece’ moments. I’m now onto level 4 (again at Heroic) and although the graphics are ever changing I’m picking up a feeling of repetition again. Still – early doors with regards the campaign. Multiplayer has so far been limited to Xlink Kai and XBConnect games through the pc. However even with that frustration, the online gaming has been supreme. Amazing maps mixed with balanced weapons leads to some quite stunning gaming. The options for a host are massive, with the old favourite of Slayer with sniper rifles still available. Coupled with that are some ground breaking stats available at Bungie.net. Not only will the usual best player, friends list type stats be available but kill ratio’s, experience stats and current player levels are all there as well as a feature called ‘Game Viewer’ which is pretty neat. Basically each game you play in can be reviewed afterwards and you can see where you were shot from and who by – a picture says a thousand words.

Other new features – duel wielding which is basically firing two guns at once. This adds quite a bit of strategy as certain weapon combinations are more potent than others. The weaponry has also changed with some new additions and some tweaks to old ones (removal of sight from zoomed in pistol being one). Vehicles are also destructible and also there’s more to choose from – the ghost is superb.

Summing up, for me the online play is unrivalled on the Xbox. I can only hope for some lag-free gaming over Live on Thursday (hooray for holidays). Considering how good online this game is, the campaign mode might not be played for quite some time.

Some useful links – gamespot.com review and also the FAQ page at bungie.net.