It's a pleasant fantasy to think that holidays mean long weeks of playing games, but in reality there's trains and planes to be boarded, family to be visited, lives to be unavoidably lived. Gaming during holidays is therefore similar to gaming at any other time, about stealing moments to sneak away to a quiet corner and catch up on backlogs or curl up with comforts. Some of you told us what you played over the break yesterday, but here's what RPS played between the parsnips and presents.
The confusion of an abundance of time off, during the early weeks of trying to work out how to live our lives with a baby interrupting everything, made for a lot less holiday gaming than I usually try to cram in. What is traditionally my catch-up period for all the big names I've missed over the year ended up being my desperate grasps at the comfortingly familiar.
So attempts to get past my initial ocean-sized disappointment at Dragon Age 3 got nowhere. Despite a valiant effort, gruesome load times (yes, yes, it's vast install size meant I didn't put it on my SSD, a mistake), a woefully boring opening, and worst of all, abysmal controls (even on gamepad), meant I hadn't the energy to fight through it all to get to the good I'm promised lies within.
I had the best intentions to play Wolfenstein and Alien, but never even managed to install either. I thought I'd finally try and understand why everyone puts up with the Telltale games, but struggled to care through the first Wolfamongus episode.
In the end, it was Far Cry 4 that absorbed my scraps of time. Big, fun, cuddly Far Cry 4. Not the story missions, obviously - they're stupid, crass noise to be ploughed through to unlock more fun. But just chasing down question marks. A third of the map is now question mark free, with barely a mask or propaganda poster to be found. It's ambling, meandering fun, with improvised madness occurring along the way. Obviously I've liberated any camps I've come across, and finally unlocking the crossbow has made stealth a much faster affair. But mostly it's been about getting those question marks and turning them into place markers. It's my life mission to get the rest of them, although unless I can figure out a way to make it into research for an article for the site (suggestions, please!), it's going to be nigh impossible to find the time. Perhaps next Christmas?
Alec: Thanks to not being ill or having to look after an also-ill toddler for the majority of the break, I was able to play a huge number of games. Age of Zinc IV, The Decorative Baby Cactus Chronicles, Cool Abed and Deatharea IV: Origins were particular highlights. Ah, it was just like old times. Freedom, play, being on the cutting edge: that's the life.
*dream sequence ends*
*Alec hacks up another sack of phlegm, then attempts in vain to detach a screaming toddler from his right leg. He sighs, which makes him hack up more phlegm still, then blows a thick layer of dust from his keyboard. More hacking.*
I played about three hours of Far Cry 4 and 45 minutes of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The former seemed like a slightly less obnoxious Far Cry 3 with better scenery and weirdly suicidal eagles, the latter seems like a really slick and lavish stealth game swaddled by vaguely irritating wibble which makes no sense to anyone who gave up on the series part way through MGS because he couldn't bear any more cutscenes. I'll probably play some more of it. That's it. That's all I played. Now leave me to die in peace, won't you?
My Christmases are of the type where I spend the time I have off living out of a suitcase as I go to see family and other assorted loved ones. My PC doesn't fit in said suitcase so I've been using the opportunity of enforced absence to play games on iOS and PS4.
80 Days may well have been my favourite as I curled up in a nest I'd made in my parents' attic and circumnavigated the globe several times, savouring the wonderful writing as well as accidentally improving my geography. I ended up trying to solve a murder mystery aboard an airship, nearly drowning off the coast of Singapore and... well, what happens at the North Pole stays at the North Pole because I have no intention of giving you spoilers.
As for the rest, The Banner Saga is great on iPad (although my iPad is creaky and old meaning loading screens last whole minutes) so I've been working my way through that on long train journeys. It's a game with a great sense of place as well as strong storytelling, and I'm glad I'm playing through it in the chill of winter rather than sweltering in a heatwave. The only problem I'm having is I'd like to experiment a bit more with tactics and fighting strategies but the loading times make me reluctant to head to the training grounds.
Oh, and I've been playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer and getting cross with a) being shot in the back so many times and b) being shot in the front so many times with that effing MORS nonsense. But now I'm stuck. Do I spend hundreds of hours to get good enough that I can regularly be the queen of the chain of backstabbers/long range jerks or do I step away with my dignity intact right now?
I decided to pick just one game to binge on over the holidays and Alec's writing pre-Christmas convinced me that it should be Elite: Dangerous. It's two weeks later and I played it for thirty hours and now there's a new Saitek X52 Pro on my desk.
The twist: I'm not sure I like it very much. It's not that it's a job, because that's what I wanted it to be. It's not that it's predominantly about travel, because I love Euro Truck Simulator 2 and City Car Driving. It's that it's an empty, regressive grind. Progress through its systems seems dependent upon long hours spent running on a treadmill, and it took me hours of aimless flying just to find that treadmill since most space stations I landed at either had no missions I could take or no missions at all. When I saved enough money to buy a better ship, I was faced with the prospect of an exponentially higher price of the next ship - and suddenly it seemed a fools' errand to get that far.
Worse, most of the systems you encounter along your run aren't very fun. Mining is boring. Combat at these low levels is a threatless chore. Finding good trade routes is an interesting challenge, but hampered by poor explanations and a UI that pushes you to second-screen, immersion-breaking research at every turn, and cargo spaces for starter or low-budget ships are so small that it takes forever to make decent money. PvP barely works and meeting up with friends is next to impossible.
The only thing I really do like, then, is the docking. It is similarly poorly explained by the tutorial, but it's the one satisfying, physical interaction I've had with the game. Other than that, Elite Dangerous seems like a lush interface placed upon minigames and 2002's worst MMO quests - which will keep me playing it, but not keep me happy.
I finished The Talos Principle and absolutely adored it. I binged on it, staying up until 4am on Christmas Eve's Eve to see it through. It's in my top ten of the year, without a doubt. The only other new thing I played - new to me at least - was Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, which is as good as several people had led me to expect. Quite why I didn't make time for it earlier in the year, I don't know. Most likely because I'm a fool.
Other than that, I found time for a few old and not-so-old favourites. I spent far too much time tinkering with Dwarf Fortress without actually getting anything done, which is pretty much par for that particular course. I went back to Rome War: Two Total to check out the Emperor Edition and lost more than a day trying to work out if I was enjoying myself or not. Eventually I accepted that I was but I still think the game lacks focus. Or I do. Maybe we both do.
Then there's Football Manager, which I knew I'd end up visiting time and time again, even though it's suffering from a bit of feature-knack this year. My excuse is that the busy festive football schedule hypnotised me, leaving me dazed and in need of some sphere-based tactical jiggery-pokery. I'm still in my first season of a new career, managing Bury. I don't think I'm going to play so much as experiment though, using a realtime editor to do some RPG style levelling up whenever a player gets a man of the match award or does a goal.
I even managed to get in some gaming on New Year's Day. I'd been supping cans of Kenneth Kronenbourg's idiot-fizz as midnight approached and decided it would be sensible to add a layer of vodka, like a shimmering skin of oil atop the ruin of my innards. The next morning I woke to find my tablet in the bed next to me - Bret Hart glistened on the screen, threads of pink spandex covering scant inches of his torso. I'd been watching Wrestlemania IV at some point in the night. I didn't remember when and I'll never understand why, but the evidence was right there, like unexpected lipstick traces on the pillow.
I slithered downstairs into a crowded living room, sheepishly acknowledging gathered relatives. They all looked like they'd spent the night before at a health and beauty spa. I felt like a stain. My better half was there, talking to her dad who we'd arranged to meet up with later in the day.
"We might be a bit late," she was explaining. "Adam had a strange reaction to the beer last night."
I appreciated the attempt to protect my dignity even if nobody else did. The assembled family and friends chortled, pointed and mocked. I felt like the teenager who has never had a hangover, and repeatedly claims that every night of excess just happens to coincide with the next morning's bout of hayfever or migraine.
Later, after dinner, I took out my iPad to check train times and saw that I'd downloaded XCOM at some point during the night. I had a saved game and all of my soldiers were named after wrestlers from the late eighties.
I enjoyed a nice stretch of solitude. I read, I wandered, and I did satisfyingly difficult things.
I finally made a start on The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, and instantly fell deep into it. Over 60-odd hours, I've smashed Mom, crushed her Heart, rushed the bosses, aborted It, knocked off Satan, given Isaac himself a good kicking, and popped a blue baby. I still have a long, long way to go and a whole lot more to unlock (88 secrets down, 90 to go). Not realising I'd set the difficulty to hard for 20-odd hours didn't help at the time, but has steeled my nerves. It's a pretty great game, you guys.
My cold water swimming continued, including a brisk three laps on New Years Day. By the time I left in the early afternoon, 129 people had taken a plunge in Kenwood Ladies' Pond. It was a lovely big celebration. This has been the best and most satisfying challenge of all 2014. I've almost regained all sensation in my right hand after that swim on New Year's Eve with the ice too.
I played the fun game of purging possessions ahead of moving, aiming to get Everything I Own In The World down to about two suitcases. The difficulty is not Inventory Tetris, more Worrying That I'm A Monster For Binning Gifts Now-Dead Relatives Gave Me. My collected mementos could fit in a coat pocket, and are mostly pebbles from beaches. Perhaps I'm a selkie.