Anti Freeze

Being a somewhat grumpy gamer, there are, naturally, many things which irritate and enrage me about my hobby: multiplayer achievements, abusive morons, ‘ists, and ‘obics on LIVE, review score trolling by fanboys, cheating AI, escort missions…however, few inspire apoplexy like the good old fashioned freeze.  You know what I’m talking about – that heart stopping moment when your box of tricks just locks up for no good reason.  The screen freezes while the music loops endlessly and, after the initial shred of hope has died, you realise that your game has frozen and, you are, to put not too fine a point on it, fucked.

At this point, there are four things that, if you are anything like me, you will always do:

1 – Panic.  Pound every single button and trigger repeatedly because you never know if one will suddenly, magically unlock your console and save your game.

2 – Wait. If you wait long enough, surely it will unfreeze, the game will judder apologetically back into life and you can go about your business.

3 – Scream.  Pound your controller into the carpet/table/thigh/wall in sheer rage and vow all manner of horrendous punishments involving woodchippers and dog shit.

4 – Admit defeat. No matter how badly it chaps your chafeables, you have to give in eventually and switch off, allowing all your progress (unsaved, naturally) to fade to black.

Lockups and freezes are as much a part of console gaming as crashes are for PC gamers, however, this isn’t sugar coated by the fact that such things only ever seem to happen at the most inconvenient, soul destroying, game wrecking moments.  Boss battles, after a number of tricky platform manoeuvres, at the end of a level or campaign, when you are far enough from a save point to be utterly screwed, after locating a tricky collectable, or have built a sprawling home/metropolis, or achieved a top time in an especially difficult challenge.

It will never happen while you are in the menu, during the intro video, at the start of a campaign, immediately after saving, or during a cut scene.  It will wait until it really matters, until you are at the point where it will royally screw your game/day/mood beyond repair, almost as though there is a sadistic sentience built into every game.  I’ve had vast mansions in various Sims games vanish under a blue-screen after not saving for two hours, I’ve had Naughty Bear glitch and freeze at the end of an especially nasty challenge while on track for an achievement.  Mirror’s Edge has frozen in the middle of a flawless speedrun on several occasions, leading to my scream of rage reaching a pitch of hysteria that shredded canine eardrums up to five miles away.  However, my most recent experience was the one which prompted me to finally whip out a vitriolic pen – namely Left 4 Dead 2.

I am reliably informed by veterans of the game that freezing is not all that common.  This offered little solace however, especially since, as ever, the timing of the freeze was nothing short of impeccably dickish.  The last campaign, the last level, the last fucking section of the bridge…I was that close to finishing the game.  Ellis was charging up the left hand side of the cluttered bridge, armed with a fire axe and a machine gun, determined to scoop the achievement for making it in under three minutes; I was on my way to victory and to completing the game after a long trudge through a pain in the arse campaign in which I had managed to get lost more times than a blind pixie in a hedge maze.

It may have been premature, but I was pleased with myself and on the verge of celebrating.  My team had fallen behind, the Tank’s music kicked in, but I ran on, determined to make it….and with a shudder, the game froze.  I waited for that brief, initial moment…the moment where you discover whether it is a nasty piece of lag or a genuine lock.  Nope.  You.  Utter.  Bastard.  In horror, all I could do was listen to the endlessly looping Tank music, stare ahead at the bridge, and taste how close I had been.  I’d almost finished the level, campaign, and game.  I’d almost snagged the achievement.  Almost.

After fifteen minutes of button mashing, swearing, and playing the waiting game, I had to concede defeat and switch off.  What made it worse was that there are no mid way saves in Left 4 Dead 2 – if I wanted the achievement for completing the last campaign, I’d also have to redo the lot in one sitting.  Well, fuck you.  I gave up for the night, vowing to ignore the game and my Xbox for as long as possible in protest at the shabby treatment it had doled out.

At least, in the grand scheme of gaming pains, it wasn’t so bad…I’d only lost an hour or so.  There are far worse freezing casualties.  Back in the old days, before the Elite, when the Xbox would run hotter and heavier than Barrymore chasing a pool boy, freezing was far more common and, given that one of the launch titles was the vast and gorgeous Oblivion, it was a very big issue.

They played the waiting game too long...

Try spending hours completing quests, faffing in forts, and unearthing a piece of grade A magical loot, only for the game to freeze and your Xbox to die.  From the enraged screams coming from my partner’s gaming sessions at times, this fate also befell him more than once.  Progress aside, you know damn well that next time you go all the way back and loot the same boss or chest, your wonderful bit of loot will be a piece of shit, equivalent in effectiveness to a magical pencil sharpener.

There are/were ways, however, to thwart the freeze, at least as far as Oblivion went.  My other half started to wise up to his Xbox’s tricks and trained himself to recognise the sound of the fans changing – the prelude to Oblivion freezing.  This subtle hint would be all the warning he needed to quickly save his game before the screen froze.  These days, with the Elite being slightly more reliable and the problem not being quite so prevalent, it is far more unexpected, so when it does catch you, it hurts.

With Left 4 Dead 2, the game actually teased me many times – those juddering, laggy moments which seem to threaten a freeze induced a near heart attack at times and there were many of those moments.  However, when the game carries on and you relax, it is merely leading you along an undulating path of near misses which allows you to be utterly blindsided when it does eventually occur.

I suppose the worst of it is that there is nothing that you can do about it and there’s no way of really predicting a freeze, bar a few cases, which is one of the reasons that it is so gutting, not to mention the progress and effort that evaporates.  While console gamers are often quick to chide PC users over patches, bugs, crashes, and compatibility issues, they certainly can’t boast of a trouble free gaming experience.  It seems that crashes and freezes will be here to stay, walking hand in hand with our hobby for the foreseeable future.  Still, the Russian Roulette of freezing gives me something to moan about…at least until Kinect porn finally arrives and turns out to have a Sims-esque censor blur over the good stuff.

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  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I can relate to this on so many levels. Oblivion, as you quite rightly mentioned, was by far the biggest culprit of the inappropriately placed in-game freeze and there were genuinely times where I would suddenly appear in a hammy movie with a crane camera pulling back from above me while I screamed “NOOOOOO!!!!”, with face skywards and clenched fists before slumping back in to the goading comfort of the sofa… contemplating whether I should start again, switch off the XBox and come back the following day… or just get myself fame on YouTube for dropping the fucking thing into an acid bath and be done with it.

    The thing is though, Oblivion DID have that brief moment where you could hear the fans alter for around 20 seconds which was pretty much JUST enough time to make your way to the menu and select a new save slot before the inevitable happened. It was a while before I noticed this change though, as it meant isolating the sound from the projector and amp fans and having to subconsciously pay attention to just ONE sound during gameplay.

    Since I upgraded to using Elites, I’ve not had these issues. I did have a potential consolicidal moment several weeks ago during a Mad Moxxi playthrough where my connection dropped at the end of round 15… more than four hours in without the option of saving… and I couldn’t reconnect to my co-op partner, or he me. That’s not so much an XBox issue and more a fuck-off-thick-walls issue so the wifi always has periods where it’ll spit the dummy out.

    Steam. Let’s not get TOO far in to Steam here. I have three kick ass PCs, one for graphics work, one for music work and one for gaming. Each PC is huge in terms of spec, and each PC has issues with Steam. I can play games on any of the PCs and quite easily become lost for ten or twelve hours without a thought to the passing of time and without even considering whether I’ll be able to make it through this level to the next… but as soon as I’m playing through Steam it’s a different story. Every movement is like tiptoeing through a minefield, never knowing when the whole system is going to come crashing down around me. With the specs I’m using, there’s no way in hell that I should be having any issues with PC gaming yet it’s only when Steam is forced in to the equation that I end up with problems. It’s why I hate Steam, and why I hate that certain games these days actually REQUIRE that you run them through Steam even though you’ve bought a genuine hard copy from a store.

    So yeah.. freezing sucks, and it’s worse when there’s nothing you can do to stop it or avoid it. My sympathies… especially as I watched you stare at the screen for an age hoping that Left4Dead2 would eventually kick in with a hearty “GOTCHA!!” and let you complete it.

  2. Samuel Samuel says:

    I feel your pain on this one, I really do. I have had Forza 2 cack out on me on the last lap of a 8 hour endurance race (the indignant ranting was so bad the neighbours complained). Assassin’s Creed froze up once or twice on me, including once mid-save, ruining my entire progress in the game by corrupting the save file. The original Mass Effect was notoriously unreliable technically, so glitches and freezes would happen more than I care for, and I’ve not played Red Dead Redemption in a couple of months now because that crapped out on me when I’d spent about 3 hours hunting bears for their pelts without saving, and I can’t bring myself to even look at it without bile rising in my gorge over it.

    It’s only something that happens on the Xbox 360. I have only a single game on my Wii that has ever frozen, and that’s Super Paper Mario, and everybody who bought the game at launch got the glitch that freezes it on their disk; I simply never bothered to send it back for the replacement when Nintendo issued the recall over the problem. My Gamecube never ever froze on me, and if my PS2 crapped out it was always hardware failure, where the DVD lens decided not to read disks anymore. It used to happen with knackered floppy disks on my Atari, but that again was for a reason. The Xbox likes to freeze on a whim, and then act fine when you reboot it, as though it did it just to spite me.

    The only thing that really compares to random freezes is power cuts. The same bits of Sod’s Law applies to power cuts as to freezes. And sadly the electric goes out here fairly often.

    I’m mad just thinking about it.

  3. Rook says:

    I’d had freezing issues and am sure some of them have incurred a rage within me, alas I cannot recall any specific instances were it caused me to lose alot of progess. The one freezing moment that does stand out for me was while I was playing The Darkness and it was after a save and finish seesion. The next time I loaded the game, I would leave the subway, load in the next area and the game would freeze withon 30 seconds everytme. I had to go this way for the story to progress too.

    It had put me off playing for a few days and when I did go back the Xbox red ringed. This made me slightly happier , bizarrely, as it meant I could get Microsoft to repair it for free. While it was away the Elite came out and I bought it. The original Xbox wasn’t repaired and I was sent a new one, which was sold anyhow.

    Freezing is a bitch though.

  4. Lee says:

    This made me lol on the inside, it is without question the 2nd worse thing that can happen to an xbox owner (we shall not mention the first for fear of tempting fate).

    When ever this happens to you though I’m not the person you want around. my usual response it to laugh and ask the question; “sucks to be who?”

  5. MrCuddleswick says:

    Red Dead Redemption used to freeze irretrievably on me, no exaggeration, once an hour. At least.

    Then I got Halo: Reach and it was a similar situation. The solution?

    I sold that 360 and the related accessories, and got a slim 360.

    No issues at all now. It’s so nice.

  6. Richie Richie says:

    My trick – WHICH NEVER EVER WORKS – is to take the battery pack off of the controller and put it back on like it’ll do anything. Dead Rising 2 froze on me last week leading to me almost creating a giant space fist with my mind and sending it vaguely in the direction of Japan.

    It was only 30 mins worth of fuck the fuck off but it was still annoyance.

    Oblivion pulled that shit on me all the time.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    Speaking of Oblivion…after dusting off my copy and doing some pottering around…the fucking thing froze on me last night. Talk about timing.

  8. Edward Edward says:

    It’s annoying as hell when it happens, but I think it rarely happens to me anymore.
    However, I can completely empathise to the fact it waits until the worst moments. I swear they built in a sod’s law meter to wait to calculate the perfect moment to strike.
    On the plus side, considering how much time we spend gaming and how comparatively little times its happened to us, it’s not all bad!

  9. Rook says:

    Lost 4,000 zombies kills earlier because Dead Rising 2 got stuck on the loading screen while changing locations. Took a break and I am know 10,000 kills beyond that point.

  10. Kat says:

    I know I shouldn’t laugh at your misery but consider it a testament to your writing :D I hate when L4D freezes when I’m on the winning team of a Versus match then I restart the console and join the losing side -_-

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    You’re always on the losing side Kat :p

  12. Lorna Lorna says:

    May end up installing Oblivion to my hard drive since it is lagging more than I remember when loading areas and teasing me with potential freezes.

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