E3 thoughts


e3-2018

I had mixed feeling in the run up to this year’s E3 conference … the biggest event on the gaming calendar, where the big companies, publishers etc. showcase their plans for the coming year and beyond, often revealing games and services for the very first time.  It’s always very exciting, but with the recent slight fall from grace Microsoft and it’s Xbox brand had experienced with a drought of AAA exclusive games compared to it’s immediate rivals, Sony and Nintendo – I was also concerned.  So below I’ll go through my brief thoughts on the various conferences shown followed by a few highlights.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot to prove.  The army of Sony fan-boys loved sticking it to the American giants that the platform was lacking the big name exclusive games compared to their beloved PlayStation, and I can certainly understand where they are coming from.  Where’s Xbox’s God of War?  So watching the near 2 hour conference was nerve-wracking … but, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer came out swinging, with an immediate reveal of Halo Infinite (just a CGI trailer sadly) and then went on to present a very confident presentation showcasing many games and several exclusives, including the likes of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 4 and  Gears of War 5.  However the big news was the acquisition of 5 game studios that will now be working on first party games for the Xbox platform … the big surprise being the purchase of Bafta award winning studio Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senora’s Sacrifice).  Microsoft shot down the nay-sayers that would presume Xbox isn’t interested in exclusives anymore and set in motion a future that well really, should have been set in motion years ago – but at least now that future is more promising that it had seemed before E3.

Crackdown 3

Outside of exclusives, some games that will be appearing elsewhere also, were shown for the first time including Devil May Cry 5, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Cyberpunk 2077.

I would have liked to have seen a Fable announcement or the rumoured Perfect Dark game, but that elusive, big name exclusive title that would wow me and surprise me, was sadly absent.  Microsoft did a lot right here to build confidence in their brand and to pave an exciting future ahead, along with a brief mention of new Xbox hardware on the horizon … but in the present, they still for me didn’t do enough to sway those not already invested in Xbox.

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros UltimateWith Nintendo riding high on the success of the Switch, and it being my preferred platform of choice for the best part of the last twelve months, I had high-hopes for their presentation.  Much more low-key it turned out than Microsoft, with no on-stage conference just a 45 minute Nintendo Direct.  Games like Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Super Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate were revealed for the first time along with several indie titles and more footage of previously announced games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  However an absence of Mario Tennis was odd and especially disappointing was no mention of Metroid Prime 4.  The follow-up Nintendo Tree House event showcased Smash as well as an in-depth look at the forthcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games … but my overall impression was that Nintendo really didn’t pull anything out of the bag this year, perhaps a little too confidence with the Switch’s continued success.

I’ll certainly be getting my hands on Smash Bros as it looked a ton of fun and Pokémon interested me a lot more than I expected.

Sony

Sony went for a rather unconventional approach to their conference, hosted in a tent for starters and focusing on previously announced games rather than any new reveals (for the most part).  It was not what I expected from Sony, who are currently the industry leaders by a large margin but I guess they can relax and show they don’t really have anything to prove anymore.  So yeah if they want a banjo player on stage, then I guess they can have that.

Ghosts of Tsushima

So we got to see a lot more of The Last of Us: Part II, Death Stranding and the first full details of Ghost of Tsushima and Spider-Man.  Flute players, banjo players and a running commentary …different, but what’s E3 without a few bizarre moments?  I am excited for The Last of Us definitely, it looked incredible as did Ghost of Tsushima.  I was however surprised to see a Remedy game showcased, namely ‘Control’ but it’s a multi-platform title so they hadn’t jumped ship to Sony after mostly working with Microsoft for years.  Several games for PlayStationVR were also announced even if VR doesn’t interest me.  The big surprise for me was a remake of Resident Evil 2, arguably my favourite Resident Evil game of all time.  Not exclusive to PlayStation but an exciting announcement all the same.

The overall feeling I got from the Sony conference was that PlayStation were sitting very confident in their line up of games, not really showcasing anything ground-breaking for the future, but that’s probably something to do with the persistent PlayStation 5 rumours.  It’s clear to me Sony have some very good studios in their pocket and they’ll continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

The other conferences etc.

I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the other conferences other than checking out highlights from EA, Ubisoft and Bethesda, all of which showcased some exciting stuff including Rage 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the impressive looking The Division 2.  As with all games shown, taking what we’re seeing as actually what we’ll finally get should include a hefty pinch of salt but damn… were there some stunning looking titles showcased this year.  The future looks healthy for all 3 major platforms and the games industry as a whole is making leaps and bounds in technology and innovation to bring us, the gamers so much for the coming years.

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Update


Well it’s been a bit of a quiet week as far as this website’s concerned and I’ve had a few distractions what with life and work etc that has meant I haven’t had the interest to really watch any movies.

On the other hand, I have been playing games and trying to get as much out of my shiny new Xbox One X as I can.  One game I’ve played at length so far is Far Cry 5 – a real showcase for the system, with high quality texture detail, fantastic lighting, bright, sunny vistas, lush forests and quality NPC animation as well as a huge world to explore.  The only real puzzling aspect is the rather bland water (games like Witcher 3 and Sea of Thieves do water so much better).  The gameplay is fairly par of the course for open world games, but is quite engaging, helped by some movie quality shoot-outs and plenty of atmosphere with the ability to approach most tasks however you see fit.  The backdrop of a religious cult taking over a southern community is both topical and intriguing, and something not that explored in other games.  I’ve also dipped in and out of older games in my possession like Gears of War 4 (which looks stunning), Mafia 3 (finally the game runs smoothly!) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (probably the best looking game I’ve played on the X so far).  In addition to these I’ve recently got hold of the five times Bafta award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which is a different kind of hack and slash game, where the focus is less on combat and instead that of the fragile psyche of the lead character and her journey into a hellish underworld to free her lover’s soul (I think), and explores aspects of mental health quite unlike any game I’ve played.  It’s also gorgeous.  This former PlayStation 4 exclusive looks fantastic on Xbox One X and is another showcase for the system, especially once you start getting further into the game.

Hellblade

Hellblade on Xbox One X

I’d like to blog more about games and am thinking of doing a post on favourite games of all time, although it won’t be a top ten.  I also have much interest in game-graphics and with such boundless power these consoles have now it seems, why do we still see games like Far Cry not have mirrors in bathrooms (usually they’re broken and therefore non-reflective…really?) it’s a pet peeve but I’ve seen them done perfectly in much older games (Max Payne 2 comes to mind) without a hitch.  Mafia 3 attempts them but they are all messed up (even still after the X patch).  Do game developers really struggle with this seemingly simple thing??  By now things like mirrors, realistic weather and convincing water effects should be a given … some games pull it off great (check out the still industry leading rain effects in Watchdogs).  The snow and blizzard effects in The Division are also great, but most games never seem to cover all things to the same level, excelling in some areas but letting themselves down in others.  It’s rarely the complete package.  So are we still a little ways off fully impressive looking games that just simply nail everything as far as realistic effects creating convincing real-world representations?  It’s clearly more about development shortcomings and less about the graphical power at hand.

Below are two examples of great looking graphics,

captured directly from the Xbox One X

Quantum Break   Witcher 3

With Gaming PCs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X now available, and hints of next-gen around the corner … when will such graphics reach a standard where nothing, and I mean nothing seems out of place and the overall impact is jaw-dropping.  We’re close I know it.  Just not quite there yet.

Craig.

The X Factor?


Yeah, I’ve been eyeing this up for a while but was never that sure whether to make the leap or not.  What am I talking about?  The Xbox One X of course.  I always felt that Microsoft upgrading their Xbox One console made more sense than Sony upgrading theirs.  Well, the PS4 ever since it’s release had been riding high on the simple fact it was more powerful than Microsoft’s console and hit that much desired 1080p HD resolution more consistently than the Xbox One could.  So along with Microsoft’s woes with the largely ignored Kinect, a lack of sheer horsepower made it the less desirable console.  It placed the machine in second place and well, the damage was done.  So to grab back some momentum and close the gap in graphical power… the much anticipated Project Scorpio for me, made sense even if shelling out for another console was less appealing.

Xbox One X

Now since Sony’s own PS4 Po has been released, I was impressed to see that even with such competition Microsoft could still make the more powerful machine – something admittedly they should have done from the start, but er… better late than never, eh?  I’d had the original Xbox One for getting on for 5 years and so thought it may be time to upgrade, seeing as I were more and more games taking advantage of the enhancements afforded by the X.

gears_of_war_4So my first impressions from about a day of having the Xbox One X  It’s a much sleeker looking, compact machine, dwarfed by the enormity of the original machine in comparison, but also weighs a fair bit more as a result.  How they managed to cram almost 5 times more raw power into a much smaller machine boggles the mind (it’s even smaller than the PS4 Pro) and doesn’t come with an external power-brick either (same as the redesigned Xbox One S).  So it’s a nice looking machine but how does it operate?  That’s a tricky one to answer.  Without comparing both machines side by side, the graphical upgrades aren’t immediately obvious.  The games I’ve tested thus far include Far Cry 5, The Witcher 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4.  All feel extremely smooth and look very sharp.  Lighting, particle effects and texture detail all seem excellent so it’s difficult to grumble, but how much better?  I’m still unsure.  But there does seem an improvement.  These games were already graphical powerhouses (although Far Cry 5 I got with the console) and some have required huge update patches to bring the enhancements.  Certain games also give handy menu options to toggle such things as visuals, frame rate or fixed 4k support.  However, I am using a 32” 1080p TV so seeing the true 4k beauty isn’t possible – but by my eyes each game looks great.

Xbox One X controller

It’s early days, but owning a new Xbox has made me want to get back into the platform after being distracted by the joys of Nintendo Switch.  So I will be returning to Xbox games I have yet to complete and checking out recent and forthcoming releases, especially the ones that really show off what the machine can do.  So far I’m impressed, but like the transition from DVD to Blu-ray the real joy of this system will only come with time.

Craig.

A pirate’s life for me!


Sea-of-Thieves_logo

Well I managed to pick up Sea of Thieves, the much anticipated Xbox One console exclusive from Microsoft and Rare.  Since it’s release last week the game has been getting some mixed reviews.  Whilst it’s vibrant graphics, sea-fairing and pirating mechanics have been praised, it’s rather simplistic fetch quest gameplay has not.

I have been away from my Xbox of late, preferring the wealth of enjoyment I’ve been getting from my Nintendo Switch, and apart from the occasional dip in and dip out of Destiny 2 on Microsoft’s console, I’ve barely touched the machine.  So I saw Sea of Thieves as a way to get me back on what was once my preferred platform of choice.  My experience with the game thus far has been mixed … like many.  First impressions were not great, as I was thrown into a game on board a galleon with several other players and hadn’t a clue what I was doing.  Suffice to say my not-so-welcoming-crew mates put me in the on-board jail and well, I couldn’t do much other than quit out.  After that I tried out the single player, which with no story and no tutorial was pretty much an experimentation, trying to learn the ropes etc.  Not often does a game tell you NOTHING until you figure it out yourself.  I have for the most part been enjoying the single player however; doing activities at my own pace, setting off on voyages, reading maps, digging up treasure, returning to an outpost – and then having another ship attack me and steal all my treasure.  Bastards.

sea-of-thieves

However it’s the atmosphere that is unique to me and also thrilling.  Setting sail and looking out for other players so not to get spotted.  Battling the ocean waves then finding my destination, dropping anchor and swimming ashore to take down skeletons of long dead pirates in the hope of finding some loot.  It’s an experience I don’t think I’ve ever had in a game and it keeps pulling me back, be it alone or as part of a crew.  The game also has real visual charm to it as well as simply stunning water effects and realistic weather.

Sea of Thieves mapHaving played as part of a crew, communicating to each other via headsets, watching each other’s backs and steering the ship – it’s clear this game excels when played with friends.  However Rare have nailed the feel so well that it’s not unappealing to either set out alone or on a ship full of strangers (as long as they are welcoming).  Some of the gameplay could be built upon and Rare are promising improvements and additions in time to come, so hopefully this will be a game that evolves.  For now, although a little simplistic, Sea of Thieves offers up an experience quite like nothing else available.

If you have Xbox Game Pass or are looking for something different, I say give it a go.

Switch anniversary and the year ahead


Hi everyone.  I’ve not posted like this in a while.  Life’s been pretty busy start of the year despite me managing to cram in rather a lot of movies to review.  Also there seems to be some good stuff on the horizon for me, and thought I’d give it a little write-up.

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First it would be remiss of me not to mention that today marks the first year anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, a console I have fallen in love with and over the past twelve months has given me so much fun and enjoyment.  Highlights of course include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but along with this smaller titles like Rayman Legends and Steam World Dig 2 have also been a lot of fun.  The portability, versatility of this system can not go un-mentioned either and it’s a unique joy to play it in bed, sitting in my living room or in front of my bedroom TV on a larger screen.  Having the best of both worlds.  In the process, the Xbox One and PS4 have fallen by the way-side and not the Switch is my go-to console of choice and with games on the horizon like Donkey King Country Tropical Freeze and Yoshi, I can see it staying that way for the foreseeable future.

IMG_0286I’m of course also looking forward to seeing Garbage again in concert in September.  It will mark the 3rd time I have seen my favourite band live and well, I’m still pinching myself that I actually got to meet them as well back in 2016.  This tour will mark the 20 year anniversary of their second album ‘Version 2.0’ and as it’s my favourite album of theirs where I went from liking the band to being a real fan, this concert where they’ll play every track and every b-side released at the time … fills me with excitement.  I’ll be meeting up with a few like-minded friends when I am there so it should be a great experience for me again.  Incidentally, lead singer Shirley Manson was recently honoured by UK publication NME with their first ‘icon’ award which was presented to the Scottish singer at their annual NME awards in London.  As a long time fan this was a very proud moment for me.  I have said it before and I’ll keep saying it .. Garbage don’t get the recognition they deserve and it’s awards like this that feel even more special simply for that fact.  Well done Shirley!  Currently they are working on album #7 with a hope of a release in 2019.

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In other news, I’m currently watching several TV shows, including new seasons of Homeland, X-Files, The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot, the latter I consider one of the best shows available right now.  Speaking of TV shows, I was pleased to see a brief return of one of my favourite cult shows over Christmas, namely The League of Gentlemen, which was only three episodes but it was bliss.  The creators, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton then followed this up by announcing a tour, of which I rushed to secure tickets.  Strangely enough it’s scheduled for two days after I see Garbage.  What a weekend that will be!  Their brand of humour is rather dark, character-driven comedy that is probably an acquired taste, but I love it.


As far as this blog is concerned, I want to vary the content a little and might do special posts of certain subjects, like favourite actors, movie genres etc and more stuff on video games and music.  I’m unsure what form that will take as I want to make it as interesting as possible, but I continue to love writing this blog and it keeps my love of writing alive.  Hope you all manage to get something from it too.

Until next time.

Craig.