The Definitive Lara


Look what popped through my letterbox this morning…

TombRaider_1

Although having played, loved and completed last year’s Tomb Raider on the PS3 … as a long time fan of the series and with a bit of a gaming drought at the moment on XBOX ONE I thought it was a great excuse to dive back into arguably Lara Croft’s greatest adventure.

Taking advantage of the extra grunt inside Microsoft’s new console this new version carries over all the DLC that was made available originally, along with concept art, a digital comic book and in the limited edition I ordered, a very nice digi-pack art book.

The game itself has been enhanced with higher Tomb Raider_2_editedresolution textures, improved particle effects on weather, fire and water etc., better lighting and it all runs in native 1080p.  The XBOX ONE version apparently supports a 30fps frame rate compared to up to 60fps on the PS4 but is reportedly more consistent than the varying frame rate on the rival console … but I think this is only an issue for those that look for such things.  Playing it, and I have only had a short time with the game, it feels very smooth and looks superb – an extremely detailed forest / island environment and bags of atmosphere.

I am looking forward to experiencing Lara’s adventure again throughout (something I normally don’t do a second time) as it was a fun game with a good story and plenty of ‘wow’ moments.  Is it really worth double dipping if you’ve already played the first game?  Probably not but if you’re hankering for a decent game on the XBOX 1 (or PS4) until big hitters like Titan Fall and Watch Dogs arrive … you could do much worse.

XBOX ONE – hands on thoughts


Xbox-One-With-Kinect

Well it’s been about two weeks with the next generation of gaming that is Microsoft’s much hyped XBOX ONE the successor to the highly popular XBOX 360 that actually came out eight years ago!  Whether this new generation will last as long, only time will tell, but for now here’s my impression of the new console after a lengthy amount of time with it.

The games I have played are as follows: Forza Motorsport 5, Battlefield 4, Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3.  All pretty cool.  Out of these I’d say Battlefield 4 has had the most time played, mostly down to the online portion, which as many will attest, is the real meat of the game – although I greatly enjoyed the single player campaign and consider it one of the more underrated experiences around.  The game has been cursed by bugs and issues, such as single player progress getting wiped (happened to me once, when I was almost at the end of the game…grrr) and various issues with the multiplayer, most annoyingly the inability to join a game.   Graphically I might say that Forza impressed me the most, with its slick 60fps and 1080p capabilities, something that has been a bit of an Achilles heel for the XB1 so far, with games such as BF4 and Call Of Duty Ghosts suffering from lower resolutions than their PlayStation 4 equivalents (although apparently with more consistent 60fps than PS4 to make up for this).  I’m not that taken by Killer Instinct … its just doesn’t feel very polished, despite some nice visuals, and the menus, character select are sluggish.  Dead Rising 3 however has been a great deal of fun.  Immediately the amount of zombies on screen at one time is a wow factor, and overall I think its a very detailed, very impressive looking game.  Strangely the game seems to have a dislike of any sort of water or rain effects – meaning this isn’t included at all … and after the lush water seen in BF4, it’s disappointing.  Yeah I know, a small thing … but surprising nonetheless.

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The machine itself I am enjoying.  I have had a lot of fun with the Kinect sensor, and overall it responds well to regularly used phrases like ‘XBOX ON’ or ‘XBOX PAUSE’ or ‘XBOX GO TO DEAD RISING 3’ and proves useful and a fun part of the whole experience.  Apps such as Netflix, 4OD and YouTube work flawlessly in my experience and are a joy to use.  The only real issue I experienced recently was with UPLOAD, the built in gameplay capture software that stores all your recorded clips.  Now this is a great part of the XBOX ONE and playing a game like BF4 and getting a great moment and saying ‘XBOX RECORD THAT’ is so wonderful, I am surprised it’s taken this long to be included in a games console.  However for reasons unknown, one day I went to view my recorded clips and the XBOX just kept trying to load them, sometimes saying I didn’t have any.  I have 29 goddamit!  I cursed, and of course this got me worried that something was wrong.  After a quick Google search that told me a fix if some apps become unresponsive I power cycled my console … which is done by holding down the XBOX logo on the front of the machine until it reboots.  This clears the cache on the system and also resets your network card – meaning I had to manually input my wi-fi details again.  Then like magic, everything was working again, and has been fine for days now.  Very odd.  The only other issue I have come across is a slight lip-sync issue when playing Blu-rays.  Now this I discovered only occurs when having the 24hz option ticked in the settings.  When that tick is removed, Blu-ray plays fine.  Some may have issue with not being able to take advantage of 24hz playback which is pretty much a standard for Blu-ray (and works fine on my PS3) and I hope there is a patch to fix this soon … but for now, I am not overly bothered.

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The controller in relation to the original XBOX 360 one is similar, but lighter, still requires AA batteries (surprising considering the PS3 and PS4 both use USB charging … but battery life is about a week after causal gaming (2-3 hours each day).  I also love the rumble in the triggers, which gives Forza’s driving and BF4’s shooting real immersion.  I should also point out the machine runs very cool, only gets moderately warm after a lengthy session of gaming, and despite a small wiring / humming of the fan, is relatively quiet in operation.  Other things to note is that game installs (mandatory) are fairly painless, slowed down initially by the games I have played needing a hefty-patch which has to download, but usually the game is ready to play fairly soon (half an hour max? – I haven’t actually timed it).  There are things I would love to see added, such as being able to manage hard drive space or see the battery life on your controller, both easily done with a patch … and Apps like Sky Player and BBC iPlayer at some stage.  Being able to upload game footage straight to Twitter or Facebook needs to be implemented to I think.  Also here in the UK the linking your XBOX ONE to your TV service is reportedly not that well done and something I haven’t even tried or likely to.  I see how Microsoft wants it to be an all-in-one entertainment system, but that aspect isn’t something that interests me beyond the already good on-demand services.

For now only a slight games drought bothers me, with many big name titles not due to see light of day until at least March (Watchdogs, Titanfall) or not having a release date at all just yet (Tom Clancy’s The Division, Quantum Break) but this does mean there is plenty to look forward to in the year ahead.  Just what the machine is capable of I don’t think we have even witnessed yet.  Exciting times.

2013 and the year ahead


Been an interesting year (so far) and with 2014 looming on the horizon, I got thinking about some of the interesting things I have been able to experience in 2013.  Three quality pieces of technology immediately spring to mind … firstly my Sony Xperia SP smart phone, which I really enjoy.  Slick functionality, with none of the slow down of my previous phone (the Sony Xperia U) and it’s great for emails, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.  Oh and it makes calls, takes very good pictures with it’s 8mp camera – can see me sticking with Sony for a phone in the future too. 

Windows-8

Next up was my Windows 8 PC … now I was as sceptical as the next person regarding Windows 8 but I really like it.  The implementation of Apps, the new Start screen, and general slickness of everything makes it feel like a really state-of-the-art piece of kit on my humble budget.  This carried over nicely into the XBOX ONE, which visually borrows a lot from Windows 8 and is proving to be a great machine … even if at the moment the games only hint at what the console is capable of.

Movie-wise 2013 has been pretty good and highlights include Tom Hank’s movie Captain Phillips, Park Chan-Wook’s english language debut Stoker and Tarantino’s Django Unchained.  My yearly Top Ten will follow on New Year’s Eve and I think it’s going to be interesting selecting the best movies and choosing what order to put them in.  I am sure everyone has their favourites so I will be browsing and commenting on those that I discover on other blogs … look out for me!

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This year has also been interesting for TV shows, with highlights including the Kevin Bacon thriller The Following, even with the final season of Dexter proving disappointment.  Yet I discovered Breaking Bad this year too, and was the reason I subscribed to Netflix.  Boardwalk Empire, in it’s fourth season seems to show no hint of letting up on it’s quality either. 

2014 for me, aside from life, work, family, bills etc will be all about the XBOX ONE … with big hitters coming next year like Metal Gear Solid 5, The Division, Watchdogs and Quantum Break.  Should be very exciting.  We should also start to see true next gen graphics finally being showcased.  I’ll be honest in saying I haven’t taken a lot of interest in movies coming out next year … is there an Avenger’s sequel?  Oh and what about that rather worrying sounding Batman Vs Superman??  At the moment I am trying to cram in as many movies as possible before the end of the year, with the likes of Iron Man 3, Kick-Ass 2 and Monsters University all scheduled to be reviewed in the next fortnight.  Oh and let’s not forget a little movie by the name of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug.

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Plenty to think about and watch in the coming days, and hay it’s Christmas too – so I will report back as usual on what I have gratefully received on the day.

Craig.

Next-gen starts here


Well avid readers, I’ve only gone and done it.  No turning back now…

XBOX ONEFirst impressions?  Well I managed to get hold of the fabled ‘day one’ edition of the XBOX ONE, which for no other reason than the pure fun of it, comes with a limited edition day one controller, and you also get a day one achievement.  Add to this Forza Motor Sport 5 as a free download … and I’d say I got a pretty good deal.

Having spent the evening and part of the morning playing around with it … I am amazed just how much fun the hyped Kinect sensor is … I actually now couldn’t imagine the console without it and its voice commands, gestures etc. all work very well indeed, after a moderate learning curve.  It never gets boring telling the XBOX to switch to things, to pause Netflix, to record gameplay, to turn off and on – and it’s just so quick and fluid.  So yes a hearty recommendation there for Kinect from me.

The machine itself in operation is very quiet, although a little louder when a disk is playing.  But all very smooth – and this smoothness translates into gameplay, which seemed noticeably silkier than on say, the XBOX 360 or PS3 – maybe it’s that 60 frames per second thing.  Of the games I have played, I am currently enjoying Battlfield 4 – graphics are not a night and day leap from last generation, but very crisp and detailed with plenty of flashy effects – a good example of starting blocks for the power of XBOX ONE, which will reveal itself even more with future releases.  Killer Instinct which can be downloaded as a free demo is also fun, fast and very Street Fighter IV.

This is all very early days with the console … I have yet to quite get the hang of the game dvr functionality, and some apps like BBC iPlayer and Twitch are yet to fully materialize.  But so far, very pleased with my shiny new purchase!