Xbox Series X – impressions


So the other week I finally got my hands on the elusive Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s ultra-powerful flagship next-gen console. Now having spent a couple of weeks with it, I can firmly say I’m impressed. The most notable improvement over last gen, and I’m coming off the technically capable Xbox One X, is the new ‘quick resume’ feature which basically acts as a save state for games, meaning you can switch from one game to another without quitting the previous game and quickly resume where you left off. This is a great quality-of-life improvement that I never knew I wanted until now. It makes dipping in and out of multiple games a breeze and with the super-fast loading of the console’s NVME SSD drive, it’s only seconds before you’re back in the action. It’s not currently available on all games, but that list of games that use the feature is constantly growing.

Like the PS5 this machine benefits greatly from the super-fast SSD, whilst technically not quite as speedy as the PS5’s, in practice games load up almost as quickly (Red Dead Redemption 2 falls from over 2 minutes to just over 30 seconds!). There’s also the inclusion of Ray-tracing for far more realistic lighting and reflections, and many games benefit from silky smooth 60fps, some even offering 120fps. The other notable advancement is the ‘smart-delivery’ feature which automatically upgrades any game in your collection to the Series X version, depending if an upgrade has been made available. Yes, this leads to some mammoth downloadable patches, but the system does everything for you including moving said games from an external HDD to the internal storage to ensure it takes full advantage of the SSD.

Game on…

The only obvious negative of the Series X and Series S so far has been the lack of a flagship exclusive, like PS5 had with Demons Souls, and more recently Ratchet & Clank. Timed exclusive The Medium doesn’t exactly fill those shoes, despite being a suitably atmospheric horror adventure but not exactly a showcase for the machine. Yet it’s with Gamepass where the Xbox brand shines, with over 300 games to pick from, including big names like Gears of War, Doom and Halo. Yet outside of Gamepass the machine is no slouch with its third party support either, and all the big games like Call of Duty, Tomb Raider etc. are on the machine, mostly running better than ever with much faster loading times included.

Perfect Dark

The future is bright for Xbox, with Microsoft having invested highly in development studios, meaning those exclusives will grow in number in time to come. Also with highly anticipated games like Perfect Dark, Bethesda’s Starfield and let’s not forget Halo Infinite among many more … there’s much to be excited about.

PlayStation 5 – six months in


Well, its been a while since I posted about this machines and my experiences with it. Of course I’ve discovered much more since first buying the console and have much to report back on. Below I’ve separated my thoughts into a few sections for a deeper overall opinion. In short I’m loving the console.

The hardware

It has had its quirks. Generally I’ve not had many, but have experienced some issues. Firstly using external storage, such as my Barracuda Fast SSD, had one issue that crashed the system all together during an update. I was playing Spider-Man Miles Morales and the console decided to update Ghost of Tsushima on the external SSD, and suddenly I got a black screen and an unresponsive console. Turns out holding down the power button put the console into standby shut it down and it eventually restarted. Thankfully the condole came back on and I haven’t had that happen since. A bit of online research resulted in me discovering this was a known issue, and after numerous updates, this seems to have been fixed, as have many of the other known issues that have been reported. Currently the machine feels rather robust and less glitchy than it first appeared which is great for late adopters. Overall I’ve not had many problems that have ruined my fun.

The controller, the dual-sense is one of the major next-gen things about the PS5. It feels great to use, much more so than previous PlayStation controllers and is closer to the Xbox controller in weight and feel. However its biggest selling points are the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. Although not used in all games and like the touchpad on the PS4 controller, will mostly get used in exclusive titles. In the free bundled game, Astro’s Playroom it gets a real workout, with the player able to feel (and hear) raindrops falling. In addition the way the triggers work, providing resistance based on whatever you are doing or using in-game works great when it’s used. In recent shooter Returnal the guns feel incredible with the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback giving each gun real punch.

The console’s built-in SSD is also next-gen stuff, with games often loading super-fast. Going from the titles screen in Spider-Man Miles Morales to gameplay is about 3-4 seconds which… just never happened before, and fast travel in big open world games, is finally that – fast. It varies from game to game, and PS4 games only slightly benefit from it, but actual PS5 games it’s very noticeable. It makes simply switching on the console for a quick gaming session, far more appealing.

The games

I’ve played a number of games on my PS5 and feel I have a good overall opinion on what the machine is capable of, even if we have still not had games that really push the machine’s capabilities (although anyone who has watched the recent Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart state of play, will have a good idea what can be achieved). I have played Watchdogs: Legion which has a massive recreation of London and showcases the machine’s ‘Ray Tracing’ capabilities to demonstrate some gorgeous reflections. This can also be seen in Spider-Man. It makes games look particularly impressive.

It has also been fun revisiting some PS4 games I either didn’t play or never fully got into, like Horizon Zero Dawn. As technically a PS4 game, I’ve also played a lot of Cyberpunk 2077, which I know has had its problems but I have still had a good time with it. In addition to the games mentioned I’ve also played the Demons Souls remake, which whilst technically impressive, its challenging gameplay, whilst rewarding and well worth it, can be an acquired taste (file Returnal under a similar category too).

A big selling point of many games on the PS5 is 60 frames-per-second, something that is even more appealing than say, 4K resolution. It’s not in all games, but is offered up in most, usually in a ‘performance mode’ such as with games like Immortals: Fenyx Rising (pictured above) and gives a much more fluid, sharp and life-like experience. I’m really sold on it. The more games that come out, and the better developers get used to the console, the more this will become the new ‘normal’ in games. That’s such a great thing.

I should also mention 3D audio. I recently picked up the official Pulse 3D headset and my experience thus far has been very positive. I’m a bit on the fence of the benefits of 3D audio, whether it sounds that much better than regular audio, but it depends on the games. Yet the headset sounds very good regardless delivering plenty of detail and atmosphere when playing.

Final thoughts

I’m not too happy about the price hike on certain games (mostly exclusives) to £70 which is just too high. Suppose Sony being the market leader can do what they want as long as the audience is there. However in comparison to Xbox’s Gamepass it does seem a bit of a rip off. Yet it’s hard to argue with the quality of Sony’s games. The technology built into the PS5 is really great too and that just makes for an exciting gaming future. Overall, I have very few gripes and otherwise highly recommend getting this machine if you can find one.

Games of a generation


I thought I’d look back on the last gen of gaming. The generation I am talking about of course, is PlayStation 4, Xbox One, as well as Nintendo Switch. Between these consoles there have been many quality games released, but the games/franchises detailed below are the titles that overall impressed me the most.

game on…

Dishonoured 2 – Arkane Studios deliver one of the finest sequels ever. A highly detailed and absorbing steam-punk inspired world, gorgeous visuals and the best stealth gameplay in the business. A ton of ways to play it and rewards replaying sections over and over. A game that got rather ignore upon release and really shouldn’t have been.

Rise of the Tomb Raider – I’ve always been a fan of Lara Croft and have played many of the games she has starred in. However this sequel to the rebooted Tomb Raider is the most cinematic, exciting, puzzle filled and action packed than anything that came before. It’s also endlessly playable, with perfectly implemented stealth and with many areas you can revisit and explore.

Titanfall 1 & 2 – for me the best multiplayer shooters ever made. The combination of on foot shooting mixed with giant mech carnage is done so well, it was always thrilling. Add to this the brilliantly cinematic gameplay of the sequel’s single player campaign, and despite games like Call of Duty remaining the popular vote – this series for me is far superior.

Life is Strange – one of the only story-driven adventure games that held my interest. This absorbing episodic game about a teenage girl’s return to her home town and the strange things that happen was really involving and cleverly done, so much so that its sequel couldn’t quite deliver whatever it was that made this game work. For something a bit different but still compelling, I’m really glad I played this.

Assassin’s Creed Unity – despite technical issues at launch, I didn’t pick this up until those issues were fixed. The only ‘Creed game to hold my interest all the way to the end. It didn’t feel bloated, had interesting characters, finely tuned gameplay and a fantastic world, with a stunning Paris boasting some of the most detailed visuals of the generation (the crowd physics are still yet to be beaten).

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – one of the deepest most absorbing RPGs I’ve ever played. A huge, intricate world to explore, rich story telling, a brilliant protagonist in ‘Geralt of Rivia’ – and brilliantly crafted action, gorgeous visuals and just plenty to see and do … for months.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – live out all your wildest cowboy fantasies in Rockstar’s stunning Wild West action adventure. A deep and involving story, memorable characters and one of the most detailed, life-like worlds ever put into a video game. This will take some beating.

The Last of Us Part II – raw, cinematic, pulls no punches, devastating – takes video game storytelling into bold, uncharted waters. One of the most absorbing and powerful games I’ve ever experienced. All aided by industry defining combat, stunningly detailed visuals and characters that truly felt alive to me. One of the all time greats.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – the game I put more hours into than any other in the generation. The huge world, atmosphere and finely-tuned gameplay is endlessly absorbing. It’s also jam-packed full of secrets and things to do, but never feels overwhelming. One of the most perfectly designed and enjoyable games I’ve ever played.

Destiny 1 & 2 – for an ongoing game I always keep returning to, the world here and concept is amazing. A sci-if epic where customising my ‘guardian’, doing missions and exploring just kept me glued. Add to this constant additional content, industry defining combat and the fact it’s now free to play and on Gamepass means this is still a great go-to experience that keeps on giving.

Honourable mentions:

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,

Metro: Exodus,

Control

So, there you have it. I’m sure there are many games I failed to mention. If some of your favourites aren’t here that’ll be because I either didn’t play them or they didn’t quite grab me as much. The games in this list show that last generation was both ground breaking and a hint at the promise of the new generation and what games we can look forward to. I’ve always found it hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes me fall in love with a game… but for one reason or another the games above all had ‘it’.

Craig.

Merry Christmas


Well I realise I skipped a year, as I wasn’t well last Christmas. This year I’m in much better health and can post my usual Yuletide blog post. This year I got some lovely prezzies, my usual Scarlett Johansson calendar, the Criterion release of The Irishman, Tenet in 4K UHD, the official guide to Cyberpunk 2077, two framed movie prints (Taxi Driver & Pulp Fiction) with signatures, a FunkoPOP of The Mandelorian’s The Child, … as well as clothing, smellies, chocolate etc. Very very nice.

I hope everyone I got prezzies for liked what I got them, and I send my Christmas thank yous to all the visitors of this blog and hope you have a great Christmas and a happy New Year (let’s hope 2021 is a vast improvement on 2020).

Two crime classics…

Craig.

Cyberpunk 2077 – impressions


A utopia worth saving?

Well the most highly anticipated game of 2020 is now the most controversial with a launch that didn’t exactly go to plan. Developer CD Projekt Red is currently on damage control after misleading gamers and journalists about the state of the game on last-gen consoles, specifically base PS4 & Xbox One. Thankfully I’ve been playing it on PS5 where it has fared somewhat better with (up to) 60fps, although frequent crashes and occasional bugs still plague the experience for me. I’m hopeful CDPR will sort many of these issues over the next couple of months and that the new consoles get their proposed ‘next-gen patch’ – but until then, what’s the game like to play?

I’m having a lot of fun it has to be said and despite some of the negativity surrounding this game right now, it can’t be argued that as far as story, characterisation, setting and gameplay is concerned, this is really good. Performances, especially in missions of other characters is very convincing as is my own character who’s voice actor really conveys emotion (I’m playing as a female V). I’ve only touched the surface of the levelling up, customisation etc and even after 20 hours have yet to really get into the cyberware or ‘smart’ weapons. Exploring night city is great too – the design of the layout, buildings, neon all very convincing and impressive. There seems lots of hidden away areas, alleyways, bars, shady characters, prostitutes, gangs and sex & violence around every corner. Yes it’s very mature but in a comic book kind of way that definitely has tongue planted firmly in cheek. The RPG elements are cool but a bit fiddly and the hacking doesn’t feel that intuitive. However there is a ton of content, what appears to be a very well thought out story and plenty of side content that’ll keep me busy for a long while.

Of course I must mention the bugs. On the PS5 it’s far from the horror story reported by users of other platforms as detailed above, but crashes that send you back to the PS5 hone screen are frequent. Also for a world this detailed, it’s looks can be inconsistent. Some streets and interiors look jaw dropping, whilst others look bland and rather last-gen (this admittedly is basically the PS4 Pro version) and is in need of polish in many places, and well, pedestrian NPCs that have some personality! Lol. But these are all things I have faith CDPR will fix – they have to to regain the image they once had in wake of The Witcher 3.

So if playing this on PS5 (and reportedly Xbox Series S & X) or especially on a high-end PC … this is (almost) the game we have been eagerly awaiting. However if you’re stuck with a last-gen console, wait until it gets the patches it’s been promised – but don’t expect miracles. Despite information to the contrary, this game was always next-gen & PC experience. Just a shame CDPR felt the need to try and please everyone.