Gaming in 2018


gaming

This was the year that I embraced the Nintendo Switch further and also upgraded my Xbox One to the Xbox One X.  It’s also been fairly packed as far as actual games are concerned, and although I haven’t finished that many games, I have experienced a rather wide variety of gaming than I have for a while.

HellbladeI dipped my toe into the narrative-lead genre with Life Is Strange and enjoyed following a story primarily rather than shooting or hitting things.  It was refreshing.  The award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice took a similar narrative focus but also brought with it intelligent examinations of mental illness mixed with nors mythology.  Both are games I intend to go back to and finish at some stage.

Finishing (at least as far as their stories are concerned) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Dishonoured 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider this year were also some of my fondest gaming memories in the last twelve months, and especially Zelda being now one of the best games I’ve ever played.  It feels a good time to be a gamer.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Sony’s PlayStation 4 I confess has taken a significant back seat this year with even titles like God of War not really holding my interest.  I think it’s just the fact it’s the most talked about and most popular games consoles on the market that leaves me cold and I often find myself shunning that which is treated as such and well, who doesn’t like to back the under-dog?  So yes, Xbox has got far more of my attention and although I’ve only slightly dipped my toe into the consoles admittedly lacking exclusives (Sea of Thieves seemed cool at first ‘till I realised it had nothing to offer the single player, and Xbox One XForza Horizon 4 is superb but racing games don’t hold my interest.  However I did really like State of Decay 2 and should get back into it at some stage).  Yet I admit it hasn’t been a great year for Xbox despite their Gamepass service being terrific and a great way to play lots of different games I may otherwise pass up.  I have my hopes for 2019, but Crackdown 3 or possibly the next Halo isn’t going to win them a console war they’ve already lost.  Roll on next gen I say.

Recently I’ve been getting into Pokémon.  In the run up to Nintendo Switch exclusive Pokémon Let’s Go, I’ve been playing the mobile game Pokémon Go.  I really like the concept and can see it being a new thing for me and am really enjoying the Switch game since having it for Christmas.  In addition to this I’ve been playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate (I’m a complete novice to the series but am certainly impressed with what this version offers as far as modes and gameplay not to mention the graphical detail on show).  Also I’ve been playing the much hyped Red Dead Redemption 2 which is THE showcase for the Xbox One X, with native 4K resolution and the most detailed and impressive gaming world I have ever experienced.

Pokemon Let's Go

There’s been a fair few games I’ve had to leave on the back burner, and whether or  not I return to them I can’t say but games such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Assassin’s Creed Origins are two I hope to dip back into as I was enjoying them a great deal but with so many gaming distractions throughout the year, it’s easy to get side tracked.

So there you have it, my thoughts on gaming for me in 2018.  I’m excited for what 2019 will have to offer and am sure I’ll get to play many more great games.  For now I’ve got my work cut out with the games I have got.

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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.

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.

My 2017 – a look back (part one)


I think at least as far as entertainment is concerned its been a pretty good year.  There’s been ups and downs as there is every year, disappointments and resounding successes.  So I thought I’d do a look back and therefore have decided to split this into two posts over the next week or so … leading up top my annual Top Ten of the Year on 31 December (please check back for that).

January to June

The year started off rather interestingly, with the absolutely nutty The Greasy Strangler … a movie I had heard a lot about.  The eventual experience was a bit ‘wtf?’ and remains probably the oddest, most out-there movie I’ve seen all year, and not in a good way.  The biggest let down though of the month (and year) was undeniably Trainspotting 2.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but this trapped-in-the-past, albeit entertianing sequel delivered nothing to either repeat the gritty cool of the original or offer anything new.  It’s not a terrible movie but it just had very little to warrant it’s existence.

iPadAir2One of my favourite gadgets this year has been my iPad Air 2 which I picked up in January, and use regularly for so many things…other than my phone (which I’ll get to in party two) it’s been my go to gadget of choice.  Hell or High-water was a particular highlight and a solid robbers on the lam sort-of western with two great performances from Chris Pine and Ben Foster, even if I thought Jeff Bridges was a little over-hyped.

Deepwater Horizon was a great disaster movie based on real events with a stand out turn from the always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg.  February was also when I played the return-to-form latest entry in one of my favourite gaming franchises:  Resident Evil 7.  One of the few games this year I saw through to the end, but this gripping, at times genuinely frightening and action-packed game truly put the franchise back on track.   Around this time I began to deep dive further into music having subscribed to Apple Music and I have discovered some really great artists this past year, which started out with Tegan and Sara as well as Chvrches, PVRIS, Royal Blood and many more (I’ll be covering my music highlights more in part two).

Train to Busan

March delivered one of my firm favourite movies of the year, the Korean zombie horror Train to Busan, which was a brilliantly executed thrill-ride with great characterisation and top-notch production values.  Look out for it in my end of year Top Ten.  March also delivered more highlights in the form of the enjoyable if a tad over-hypoed Doctor Strange, as well as the charming and touching A Street Cat Named Bob.  However the good times had to come to an abrupt stop in the surprisingly poor Kong: Skull Island which offered some truly awful characters, only saved slightly by some fun monster smack down action.  What Tom Hiddleston was doing in this is anyone’s guess though.  Thankfully it was only a short-lived blip as I then got to see another favourite of the year, Logan – with a career defining performance by the often underrated Hugh Jackman.  If you haven’t seen this one yet … remedy that immediately – it’s really that good.

Nintendo_Switch

The end of March also saw me pick up what has been a really worthwhile purchase this year, the Nintendo Switch!  As with any Nintendo console, it was a bit of a risk.  Gamecube failed after only a short run, the Wii was a major success but lacked games, and well I didn’t bother with the Wii U.  Thankfully with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Steamworld Dig 2 and Super Mario Odyssey it’s been the games console I’ve played the most in 2017 without a doubt. 

April was the month this blog reached it’s 10 year anniversary.  Wow…had it really been that long?  I’m not popular, what I discuss on here is a crowded field to say the least, and standing out is difficult.  However let it be said I still very much enjoy expressing myself on here and appreciate every visitor, every like and every comment when I get them.  Thank you to all who stop by!

Despite being one of my favourite actresses, Scarlett Johansson’s much anticipated Ghost in the Shell, whilst entraining didn’t turn out to be all that it could have been despite some great visuals.  However Tom Hanks delivered a solid performance as always in the based on true events Sully.  I also recently started getting back into the highly-imaginative world of Persona 5 (released in April) which is unique and cleverly done, despite some typical Jap-RPG gameplay trappings.  Suppose all that Switch goodness proved a distraction this year and there’s many games I need to also go back to.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2

In May I saw more highlights of the year, firstly the highly entertaining (if not quite as refreshing) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 boasting some great turns especially from Kurt Russell.  Then the Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nocturnal Animals was also an interesting take on a relationship drama that struck a cord and proved powerful and clever.  Yet the over-hyped and generally rather tiresome La La Land was a huge disappointment with a lack of memorable songs for a musical and bland characterisation despite featuring a great cast.

As June rolled around I finally managed to see the highly acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge and came away humbled and suitably impressed.  It was a very different approach for a war movie but director Mel Gibson and star Andrew Garfield nailed it.  Following this possibly the best comic book movie of the year was released; Wonder WomanGal Gadot was born to play this roll and with a great dirty-dozen meets fish out of water storyline I really had a great time with this one.  I also got around to watching bullet fest sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 which although simply more of the same was still pretty damn good and well, who doesn’t enjoy Keanu Reeves obliterating bad-guys?

Xbox One X

June also saw the annual videogame convention ‘E3’ arrive which promised a great deal from the three big gaming giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and highlights included the reveal of the Xbox One X, more footage of the highly-anticipated Super Mario Odyssey and Sony’s God of War amongst many more.  It was a pretty exciting time to be a gamer and 2017 was only to prove itself as a classic year in gaming history.

Well, that’s it for part one of this look back.  Phew, it’s been a pretty packed year when looking back and there’s plenty more to come.  Look out for Part Two this time next week!

The big e3 2017 report


Well once again the biggest date on the gaming calendar, the e3 gaming convention in Los Angeles … has come and gone, and so what have the big names had to offer us feverish gamers?  Let’s find out…

E3-2016

Sony

God of War KratosI didn’t watch the whole briefing, but have learnt they showcased several games, some of which interest me some that don’t at all (Gran Turismo Sport … yawn, I became bored of that series a while back).  I am however looking forward to God of War and the new Spider-Man game looks impressive.  Days Gone, one of the most anticipated games of last years e3 had another showing and again wowed.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see they’re going to be releasing a Shadow of the Colossus remake.  Detroit: Become Human looked interesting but I’m not sure exactly what it is still.

However there was a strong focus on VR (which I can’t say interests me at all) like they were desperate to flog this expensive and gimmicky peripheral, and some of the newest most interesting looking games were for VR which was disappointing.  They also had a large presence of third party titles like Call of Duty WWII and Destiny 2, both of which looked decent.   There seemed a serious lack of firm release dates for all these titles overall which wasn’t good.  Overall some good stuff but not a lot to really blow me away this year.

Microsoft

The Xbox guys had some new hardware to showcase, making their briefing more exciting than Sony’s from the off and the uber-powerful Xbox One X certainly looked cool.  I’m an Xbox fan first and foremost these days and I was anticipating the reveal of the previously hyped Xbox Scorpio and like the new name.  Microsoft predictably showcased Forza 7 running on it and also showed off a new game in the acclaimed Metro series as well as my personal highlight of e3; Bioware’s stunning looking Anthem.  Sea of Thieves was looking better than previous but I’m still on the fence over whether I’d enjoy it all that much myself.

Xbox One X

They also showed off a ton of indy games but not many big name exclusives to get all that excited about.  No Halo, no Gears for example which although not surprising could have really added to the whole new hardware reveal and made it all that more sexy.  It was a bit of a case of quantity over quality but games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps still looked great.  Like Sony before it though it’s hard to really be all that confident in the games from an XB1 and PS4 owner’s point of view actually looking anywhere near as good as we’ve been shown due to the new PS4 Pro and Xbox One X consoles, meaning us existing console owners potentially being left short handed in time to come, which I’d say is inevitable.

Nintendo

Super Mario OdysseyNintendo’s segment was initially short and to the point, showcasing only a handful of titles but with some exciting announcements.  The biggest surprise here was Metroid Prime 4, an game I’ve personally been hoping for, and despite no actual footage, it’s got me feeling happy I own a Nintendo Switch.  To further cement this feeling we had reveals of new Kirby and Yoshi platformers which both looked great as well as further details on Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and especially Super Mario Odyssey.  The Tree House segment that ran over three days and was broadcast live on YouTube also showed longer gameplay of some of the aforementioned titles like Yoshi and Mario Odyssey and well, I was left drooling.

There was something immediately alluring about Nintendo’s games … they all looked a ton of fun, and well, fun is something that has gradually been getting replaced in the games industry for a while now, in place of realism – which it has to be said can make a game feel more like work than leisure.  Third-party support still seems Nintendo’s Achilles heel, and well there was Fifa and Rocket League announced which I suppose is a start.

There were absences of expected or hoped for titles to be mentioned for all three companies’ machines with no Animal Crossing or Virtual Console talk from Nintendo, no Halo, Gears or much in the way of big name exclusives from Microsoft and well, where was PS4 exclusives Hellblade or the Final Fantasy VII remake this year?  Overall each company had something to offer and as someone with all three consoles, there was certainly something to play on each machine for the foreseeable future, which can’t be a bad thing.