A Gathering of Freaks

Vanilla and coconut... oh yes

At first mention, The Gathering evokes a sense of sinister trepidation, a horde of glassy-eyed children standing around a huge woodland fire as they chant to summon some horrendous beast from the bowels of Hades and offer one of their own as a sacrifice. The reality of the situation is considerably less twisted, yet with the same glassy-eyed stares as a room full of people sit transfixed to a television that could only be described as “shit, purely because it’s not mine”.

The television in question is about ten thousand inches across, and the mesmerised followers are a select few from across Europe who were lucky enough to be whisked away to a “secret location” in rural Berkshire to experience the upcoming releases for the Xbox 360, courtesy of Microsoft. The journey itself wasn’t without incident and could quite easily have been derived from the platformers of old because, between my leaving the house at 7am and arriving in Reading at 2pm I had to:

  • Avoid several old people who thought it was cool to bathe in a mixture of coconut oil and wet dog.
  • Listen to a guy who clearly loved his “squeezy bike horn” ring tone every time someone texted.
  • Put up with delays because of… and this is true… “cable theft on the line”.
  • Carry a camera bag weighing 18kg all day and not actually use the contents.
  • Find another train to Reading as the one I should have taken was on another platform, and almost miss the event.

That said, the journey reached an eventual conclusion as the people carrier caressed its way up a seemingly endless drive with “you’ll not catch me mowing that bastard” sized lawns on either side, and our final destination came into view. A beautiful mansion set in 250 acres of land was to be our venue for the next three days and no sooner had we managed to check in but it was time for the presentations to begin.

First of the day was BioWare’s much anticipated Mass Effect 3 which, as our host Deeka confirmed, was perfectly placed to form both a conclusion for veteran ME fans or a welcoming introduction to anyone who hasn’t yet jettisoned themselves into the Mass Effect universe. I fall in to the latter category, having only ever played the first hour or so of the original game, mainly because it was sold to me as “Oblivion in space” but was far less open world than I’d hoped, and so I slowly drifted away from it feeling underwhelmed and, quite frankly, annoyed.

Having said that, when we first experienced this full Mass Effect 3 presentation at E3 earlier in the year, it piqued my interest beyond what I thought possible. Perhaps it was the pacing of the demo, or maybe it was because I knew that it had six years of console awareness behind it, and should therefore push the envelope more than the original, but whatever it was… I was impressed. What we saw today was, for the most part, everything that we’d seen at E3 but it still captured my attention enough for me to again form an inner dialogue of “you should play this”, quickly followed by “but you don’t really DO guns and the first one bored you” before finally telling both voices to shut up so I could keep watching the presentation.

At the end, I did what I rarely do.. which is to place myself at a console and actually play a game in public. I’m not shy – not in that sense – but I’m crap. I’m crap with getting cross-hairs to move to where they need to be before I get killed by the person who SHOULD be in the cross-hairs by now. It’s nothing to do with the game mechanics, and everything to do with me being used to fighting with swords or fists. The thing is, I played Mass Effect 3 for a good fifteen or twenty minutes with a few people hanging behind me, presumably laughing at my inadequacies, and it left me wanting more. A lot more. It wasn’t so much the gameplay itself though, but more about the storyline.  I wanted to see what would happen as my decisions played out, where the world would find itself because of my choices and the actions of my cohorts. I don’t know anything about the Mass Effect universe beyond Lee’s obsession with Kelly Chambers and my own obsession with Miranda’s arse, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the outcome and so, guns or not, after getting hands on with the second follow up to the game that disappointed me so much all those years ago, I’ve hopped off the fence and am now firmly planted on the side with the N7 logo. Well done BioWare, you won me back. For now.

When Rockstar took the floor this afternoon, it was to showcase Max Payne 3. My original intention for this weekend was to summarise each day with overall thoughts rather than go in to specific titles in detail, but there was so much to say about this game that I can’t realistically do it justice. For now, rest secure in the knowledge that there’ll hopefully be a full preview on the site before the end of the weekend, schedule permitting.

Going back to what was said earlier, I am utterly devoid of any merit when it comes to shooters and the Call of Duty franchise is, as pretty much everyone knows, right up there when it comes to running around with a gun and catching baddies in the cross-hairs. I have tried, believe me, and have two COD titles in my Xbox 360 library… but I always throw the most apathetic rage quit possible when it comes to my trying to stay alive. I say “rage quit”, but it’s usually no more than an internal sigh followed by a muttering of “arfle barfle gloop”, roughly translated as “I’m so shit at these games”.

The thing is, when I first paid attention to the Call Of Duty 4 TV spots, I was immediately captivated by the realism. I don’t particularly enjoy war movies and, as much as it pains my better half, I have almost no interest in war history… but there was something about those trailers that made me immediately decide that I HAD to play that game. I wanted to experience life as a soldier in damning conditions without actually being shot; to know what it felt like to have someone on your squad have their entire future taken from them by what is essentially nothing more than a small piece of metal travelling at ridiculously high speeds. Call of Duty was, as far as the ads would lead me to believe, all of that and more.

It probably was. If I could actually play it without being killed. It didn’t stop me from buying Modern Warfare 2 when it came out though, just in case the gameplay mechanics had changed to the point where they would introduce a “Warfare For Dummies” mode whereby you hold the trigger and the cross-hairs would jump from enemy to enemy automatically. It didn’t happen with Modern Warfare, and I can guarantee – and would wager everything I own – that it won’t be sitting there in the Modern Warfare 3 menus either.

I do still want it though. I’ve wanted it since it first graced the screen of the Microsoft conference in LA earlier in the year. From the first underwater segment through to the escaping from the sub on the power boat, every second was a legitimate “wow”… from someone who prefers to amble through picturesque vistas with a sword, shield and some tights. The initial Modern Warfare presentation this weekend was that same demo segment, and it was as exhilarating today as it was in June. I cursed my inadequacy and longed for that switch to trip inside me where I’d suddenly have faster reaction times and be able to avoid the headshot rather than attempting to knock the bullet into the net like some fabled first division footballer. A sadness overcame the excitement as I resigned myself to the fact that, as before, I’d probably fork out the money for this game and never be able to play it, just like all the others, so it was best to avoid it.

Then something miraculous happened. We got shown “Mind The Gap”. A segment of gameplay, which was played in veteran mode after some taunts from the audience, where the squadron were fighting their way through the London underground in an attempt to stop a runaway subway train that had been taken over by the enemy. This wasn’t the “Mind The Gap” footage that had been leaked to YouTube a month ago; this is presumably much further on in the level where everything is in the subterranean networks and is something akin to the famous Indiana Jones mine cart race coupled with the best sex of your life… with guns.

The suspense was incredible, the pacing was out of this world and the action almost left me breathless. When the segment finished and the mission objective had been reached, I let out a very audible “Fuck” and, much to my relief so as not to be “that guy”, so did everyone else in the room. Speaking with Mark Cox from Activision after the session, I had to express my disdain at how they’re about to put out yet another game that I want to play, but which I know will undoubtedly end in my being disgusted with myself once again. He, along with the others around at the time, found this satisfyingly funny.

You know what? Fuck it. I want to plant charges on subs, bounce across the water at breakneck speeds, dodge a handful of bullets and absorb more than you’d care to count. If I’m crap, then so be it. At least I’ll have fun dying.

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Rook says:

    Don’t go playing COD on veteran with this newfound bravado, you won’t have fun dying and you will die alot. :) However, the satisfaction at completing a level on veteran washes away all those deaths. Hopefully, you’ll be more accustomed to the first person shooter style after spending so much time with Borderlands.

    I play consoles and although I have tried fps on PC at a friends house and could control it, there was still some over exaggerated momements of the crosshair when looking around, time would have gotten me more comfortable with it but I don’t play games on PC so I have never had to get used to it.

  2. Chris Toffer says:

    Yeah, your many, many years with Borderlands will assist with your lack of experience. But don’t touch it on Veteran. The controller will be lying in pieces on the floor before long.

    Can’t wait for the Max Payne 3 article. HUGE fan.

  3. Mr McGash says:

    M.E 3!! wooooo!!
    Keep ya CoD’s, leave it to the kids who should even be on there… but that’s another matter entirely

  4. Richie richie says:

    Top writing. I like these event pieces when it’s all about the games. I’ll even tolerate the occasional mention of a cosplay chick. I take it she’s chained up at GLHQ now?

  5. Edward Edward says:

    I have to admit from what I played of Eurogamer MW3 does look interesting, but I’m probably going to skip it simply because I have absolutely zero time for it anymore.

    Otherwise, awesome you got to go to this!

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