Let's Fight

It’s the eve of the PS3 launch in the UK but there’s been two cracking games launched recently on the 360 that are highly recommended.

Firstly is GRAW2 (thats Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter….2). This plays like any other first/third person shooter and at first is dissapointingly familiar. Especially compared to GRAW. However the multiplayer options are far more comprehensive than the previous version. The online graphics have also been improved. By adding better shadows and lighting the depth and difficulty has also increased. Environments are far more realistic and it can be really difficult to spot enemies now. Clan support has been added along wth more maps, more gameplay types and allegedly a great single player game although I have to depend on friends opinions for that one as I’ve yet to strike a blow in the offline game. Still – a great game and this is the best in the series so far.

The achievements also deserve special mention. Small rewards that are drip fed the more you play although one that stood out is the one hour defend. Defend a base against infinite enemies for one hour. With no ammo drops. It was tough but when six of us completed it last night…well…there was a great sense of achievement which is what it’s all about.

After a tense game of GRAW what better way to relax than a game of Worms. The classic game surfaced a couple of weeks ago on Xbox Live Arcade and it’s just…perfect. It first came out in 1994 and for those not in the know it’s a turn-based strategy/arcade game. You take command of a team of four worms and the aim is to destroy the other worms. Simple. Up to four players over Live can take part over an almost infinite set of levels.

The beauty of this game is it’s simplicity. Controls are easy and the physics all pretty realistic but it’s the variety of weapons and ways of killing your enemies that lift the game. Standard weapons are bazooka’s, grenades, air strikes. However there are super punches, jet packs, ninja ropes and exploding sheep that make killing other players an absolute joy.

On Live you can name your team and individual worms and also select a voice pack for your worms. Online games are so unpredictable. Even when ahead the other three teams can easily team up to knock you out. It’s also easy to kill yourself in the most unpredictable way but it’s a great laugh. Single player is frustrating though as the computer AI is far more accurate than fallible human opponents. Get three mates and you could spend hours on this – a bargain for only 800 gamer points.

Crackdown

GTA4 is out October this year, however you don’t need to wait – just buy Crackdown. Thats probably a little unfair but it’s from the guy who devised the original GTA and it’s hard not to see the roots when playing Crackdown. You play an agent who’s task is to take back three islands who have been overrun with gangs. You start off with fairly basic skills and through more driving, shooting, fighting you build up your skills. Sounds pretty formulaic but there are some twists.

Crackdown Vista
Firstly there are agility orbs – the more you pick up the further you can jump and faster you can run. This really opens up the game. No longer is driving the best way to travel. The islands have height, lots of height and once you start to level up you can make incredible leaps. Secondly the cars evolve with your skills. Some can even drive up walls again making great use of the terrain. The game can also be played any way you like. Enemies taken out in any order, evolve only the skills you want to, take part in agility and car races…if you like. While the sandbox environment mimics much of GTA, Crackdown’s game engine delivers far more than GTA ever could.

Crackdown
Finally a sandbox game with no pop-up and no other graphical issues that get in the way of the game. There’s nothing better than scaling one of the taller buildings, looking over the whole island and then jumping off, landing like Nero/Blade with the ground crumbling under the force. Golden moments that you don’t tire off. Explosions can be massive, there can be 100’s of enemies all firing at you, bullets ricocheting off walls, cars and other objects thrown at you…it’s all rather impressive especially as it’s got a cel shaded quality that makes it all look spiffy.

There are a couple of flaws though. Driving is tricky as the driving model is pretty poor and the streets crowded. Killing locals attracts the police and it’s pretty unavoidable at times. The islands are also pretty small with not much variety. Speaking of variety, the biggest flaw is the lack of variation in killing the gang members. They increase in volume and difficulty and thats about it. Once you clear an island there are no gang members left. Once the game is completed you can turn gang members back on but not the gang bosses which takes some of the sandbox nature away. However there are time trial options in which you compete to kill bosses in the quickest way possible which adds some depth.

Online play is limited to 2 player co-op and uploading race times. The co-op is excellent and you are only limited to your own imagination in what you do…play the game, race, fight, horse around etc. You feel though that an eight or sixteen player multiplayer game would have been amazing. With the different weapons and skills, battles could have taken place over the whole map or just limited to one island. I would love to play capture the flag in this game against friends.

I think thats my real gripe…it all feels rushed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game but it’s as if they’ve finished the single player game and instead of developing multiplayer Microsoft have slapped in the carrot of Halo 3 beta which is admittedly a very big carrot…but this game could and should have been so much more. Already dev’s are talking about Crackdown 2 which like the Halo series will probably see the introduction of online multiplayer. Probably more expansive environments too…and taller. However it will be another game, another £50 and more evolution rather than revolution. Crackdown is highly recommended but bare in mind it will probably take two versions to truly deliver unless, like Gears of War, downloadable content will be used to deliver extra multiplayer goodness.

Xbox 360 Network Issues

I know a few folk that have recently or are about to get a 360. While it generally works a treat without much issue, getting on Live for the first time can be problematic depending on your router or use of Internet Connection Settings. Annoyingly it may work and you think everything is OK but it’s only when you start playing games with others that you really find out if it’s 100%. The following steps should help make the experience a little better.

1) Check your NAT
Whether you connect to Live first time or not, visit the System blade on the dashboard, then Network Settings and finally Test Xbox Live Connection – here’s a link to the official Microsoft help page detailing this step. The key setting I’ve found is NAT. There are three possible values for NAT settings – Strict, Moderate and Open.

  • Open NAT means that either the port-assignment policy is minimal or the device has a fully compliant version of UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) enabled by default. This is the ideal setting and should give mostly trouble free online gaming.
  • Moderate NAT means that the port-assignment policy is minimal, but the device is filtering addresses or ports. Will work with most people but can lead to conflicts.
  • Strict NAT means the port-assignment policy is aggressive. Can lead to lot’s of issues. No voice, disconnects from games.

A more detailed explanation of NAT can be seen in this Microsoft help page.

2) Fixing NAT
If your NAT is open then your fine. If moderate or strict then try the following, but don’t mix and match and try a few of these in parallel. Try them in order as they are presented here, switching back to where you started before trying the next option. Also, reboot router and 360 after making changes to make sure that the changes are in place and have been detected by both router and 360.

  • UPnP – Universal Plug and Play. This networking standard should allow the router and the 360 to open the correct ports and communicate efficiently. If your router supports this then enable it.
  • If that doesn’t work then try forwarding the Xbox Live ports to your router. The ports that require to be forwarded are 88 and 3074. Every router works differently but there’s an excellent website called PortForward that allows you to select your router and the application or service (Xbox 360) you want to use. It then provides step by step help in how to configure your router.
  • If that fails then try putting your 360’s IP address in your router’s DMZ. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and means (for me) that a device in the DMZ is taken out of your protected network, allowing it to connect to the internet without restriction while maintaining your PC and other devices behind a secure firewall (Wikipedia DMZ explanation). Couldn’t really find many guides on the net so this looks like a ‘consult the manual’ job.

3) Still Having Issues?
The best advice from Microsoft and others is to go and buy a new router, or if your using Internet Connection Sharing, definitely go and buy a router and make sure it’s one on the Microsoft Xbox compatibility list. In fact this is Microsoft’s first step but I reckon this is always a last resort if you’ve already got a router and it works fine for everything else. Still, if your mad keen on gaming this may be the only choice. Note that the list contains those routers that have been tested and certified by Microsoft and also those that have failed and been deemed incompatible. If your router isn’t on the list it doesn’t mean it won’t work – just that it’s not been submitted and tested by Microsoft.

If your on cable broadband try connecting the 360 directly to your cable connection, cutting out any router or other equipment. This will at least tell you whether the issues your getting are down to hardware or your broadband connection.

Finally, a link to a really good site – Xbox Live – The Guide. It contains lots of useful information and has some guide’s on NAT settings and DMZ setup’s for popular routers. An excellent site and I should probably just link to that site and remove all the other text here, but it’s written now. Hope this helps.

Anniversaries

5 years since the Xbox, and hence Halo was launched…

4 years since Xbox Live was launched…

Just over 2 years since Halo 2 was launched…

I guess it’s not a big stretch to expect Halo 3 to launch around this time next year but there was some news today of upcoming developments. Firstly there’s a multiplayer Halo 3 demo coming next spring and to wet the appetite a new screenshot was shown.

Halo 3

More of a surprise is that there are new maps for Halo 2 coming next spring. I still regularly play and enjoy Halo 2 so it’s great to see a more than two year old game get extra content, even if it is paid content and a final chance to extract some money from Halo 2 players. The only restriction is that you need a 360 to enjoy the new content.

Reading about the Xbox Live anniversary brought back memories of my first time on Live. I was beta testing the UK service and it was a Friday afternoon when I first plugged in the headset and booted up the beta Moto GP. I had no idea what to expect so picked a random game (there were only a few available) and joined. Only three people in the room, one of which was a Climax developer. This was amazing. Silky smooth, no lag although it felt a bit odd talking to other gamers. The next Moto GP session had around eight players. Still great although the voice chat was brought to a crashing, jarring stop. ‘Who’s that fanny thats in front’ could be heard…from the mouth of a wee Glaswegian ned. Unmistakable. ‘Oot the way ya prick’. Ouch.

Funnily enough those two sessions sum up all thats been good and bad about Xbox Live. Great online gaming with real and virtual friends with the occasional (slightly more than occasional on Halo) annoyance of some wee turd running his mouth off. Americans in particular. Still, it was a revelation and revolution that is now being copied by Sony and to a certain extent Nintendo. Console gaming just wouldn’t be the same without it. For all the abuse that Microsoft received (and still gets) it should be applauded for bringing out Xbox Live. Roll on the next four years.

Project Gotham Tournaments

An update last week to Project Gotham enabled online tournaments, the first of which started today. From today until the 2nd May you must set a time that will hopefully end up in the top 64. Thereafter there will be an elimination round with prizes for those involved.

I’ve got no chance of getting into the top 64 (last time I checked I was in the top 300) but it’s events like this over Live that extend the lifetime of a game. Hopefully there’s more to come. Just a shame that it’s locked to auto gears and the car (Lamborghini Gallardo) sucks. Reminds me of the Paris pack on PGR2 – me and Piglet raced one track until we were both in the top 50. Those were the (sad) days.

Cheat Free Halo?

From Monday Halo2 will be patched. Hopefully online play will now be glitch free. Like most online games at the moment cheaters spoiled the game for the average player. From Monday most glitches will be patched or there advantage removed. Next rankings will be reset with some new maps to follow at the end of the month. Can’t wait to get back playing this.

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 :-).

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.