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.

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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.

State of play


Regular readers of this blog will have observed I haven’t been posting many reviews of late.  Well, I’ve simply not been watching that many movies and concentrating, entertainment-wise more on videogames, what with recently buying the Nintendo Switch and having a great deal of fun with it.  Even my Xbox One and PS4 have become a little neglected as a result, even though I have been playing Persona 5 on the PS4 recently and getting some fun out of that.

Nintendo_Switch

Firstly I’ll report how much I’m enjoying the versatility of the Switch.  That simple idea of being able to play it like other consoles on my TV, and then being able to take that experience mobile and go play it wherever I like portably.  It’s pretty revolutionary and I’m guessing the big reason the console has been selling like hot cake since launch.  A month on I’ve clocked in over 60 hours in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and also had fun playing Graceful Explosion Machine and most recently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.  To a lesser extent I’ve found indie titles like Snake Pass and Mister Shifty, intriguing but somewhat flawed and very frustrating.  However I’m mostly aiming that at Snake Pass which I doubt I’ll even pick up again it annoyed me so much.

Persona-5Going back to Persona 5 for a moment, I craved a traditional JRPG and with it’s lush anime style visuals and quirky personality, I jumped on this with excitement.  The opening hours though are very slow, dialogue driven and well, not much action and I could see it putting some people off.  However having stuck with it after what seemed to be a lengthy tutorial, the game did open up, the exploration restrictions and focus on dialogue relaxed a little and I could get more into the world, the game mechanics and the general vibe.  I cleared the first major mission after about 10 hours of game time and I’m intrigued to see where the story goes.  However it is a game that once you start playing, hours fly by and I realise I need to set some time aside each time I play to really get any progression done.  For now though I’m enjoying it.

Breath of the WildBreath of the Wild has been a massive, somewhat daunting experience but has all that unique Nintendo charm I’ve always admired, and this feels like the most fleshed-out and intricately detailed Zelda game I’ve played.  I wouldn’t call myself a Legend of Zelda aficionado by any stretch and have only really played through the Gameboy release ‘Links Awakening’ and the Gamecube game ‘Wind Waker’ whilst only slightly touching on ‘Twilight Princess’ back in the day, and although this has echoes of all those games, with an art style slightly resembling Wind Waker (but less kiddie more Ghibli), I have fallen in love with everything it has to offer.  Even 60 hours in I’m still finding new areas, uncovering side quests and well, have barely delved into the main missions (I’ve completed one ‘divine beast’ so far…) so still tons to do.  All I’ll say though now to conclude is that I’m very much impressed.

On the back burner some games have had to be placed.  It’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid owning three consoles now, and I need to focus on just a small amount or run the risk of getting bogged now with unfinished games.  So Dishonoured 2 which I’ve been really enjoying has had to be ignored for a bit, as has Watchdogs 2 and Mafia 3.  Phew that’s a lot of games but for now my time is best spent with Zelda and Persona, even though both games are reportedly so huge that It’ll be a while before I dive into much else.

Smaller games are an easy option though just for a bit of variety and some of those games, like Mario Kart and Graceful Explosion Machine are dip in and dip out experiences that I don’t need to dedicate hours.  I suppose I’m lucky to have the options that I have, and I don’t take any of it for granted even though I work hard to buy the things I enjoy.

My final thoughts on the above come down to one sentence:  It’s a great time to be a gamer.  Additionally I also have some movies I need to get reviewing so expect normal service to resume shortly.

That’s all from me for now.

Craig.

New toys, new music, new year!


Apple-iPad-Air-2Well it’s a new year and I managed after dipping into some savings to get myself a new toy.  Therefore I recently purchased the iPad Air 2 which following buying directly from Apple I got engraved with my name and my website address.  So far I’m finding it invaluable to further explore my growing interest in music, and having subscribed to Apple Music in recent weeks it’s given me a way of discovering new music and having more variety in what I choose to listen to … something I hadn’t really being doing for a long time.  It’s also enabling me to get more into some TV shows I previously missed out on and am currently enjoying Super Girl and also hoping to start watching Blacklist.

Garbage Autobiography Ltd EditionIn related news I was happy to see that last night Garbage’s lead singer Shirley Manson received the ‘powerhouse’ award at the She Rocks Awards ceremony in Los Angels that is held annually to promote women in the music industry, both on stage and behind the scenes.  In addition to this news I also saw a separate interview with Garbage drummer / producer Butch Vig where amongst other topics he revealed that the band is to release a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Where do the children play” as part of forth-coming charity album Music to Inspire – Artists UNited Against Human Trafficking.  It’s to be released on January 31.  In other Garbage news the band also recently revealed a limited edition of their forth-coming autobiography ‘This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake’ which for the first 1000 copies sold will be signed by the band and come with an exclusive vinyl consisting of 6 unreleased live recordings as well as a presentation box.  I some how managed to nab one of the first 1000 so am ridiculously looking forward to July when it will finally be in my hands!

Having been unwell last week and the week before I haven’t really been in the right mood to play games or watch movies, and have mostly spent my spare time chilling.  However now better I’ve been getting back into the sublime The Last Guardian which from the maker’s of cult PlayStation games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, is a breath of fresh air in an industry full of shooters and well, violent games like Grand Theft Auto and Mafia 3.  I love the exploration, puzzle solving and the look of the fantasy world the game inhabits, and well the icing on the cake is the unique concept of a little boy and his enormous dog / bird-like creature – the two having to work together and rely on each other to get through the world in one piece.  Seven years in the making, many rumours of it’s cancellation and the end result is everything I could have hoped for.  I’m also towards the end of Gears of War 4 to go back to a gun-obsessed kill-fest but hey, this series has really struck a cord with me and the fourth entry is just as action packed and gorgeous as the other games and I’m enjoying it a great deal.  However I’ve never been able to gel with the multi-player, which granted has become a big part of the franchise but I’m sorry…I just don’t find it ‘fun’. 

The Last Guardian

There’s also several movies I’d like to see but haven’t got around to as of yet.  The Golden Globe winning La La Land and also Passengers, Hackshaw Ridge and especially the imminent Trainspotting 2 are all on my radar.  Hopefully you’ll get to see reviews of all of these at some stage, so keep your eyes pealed.

That’s all from me for now.  Until nest time.

Craig.

2016 a look back


Regular visitors to this blog will already know what my major highlight of 2016 was … hey, I still can’t stop talking about it.  Yes it was going to watch my favourite band Garbage perform at the Troxy theatre in London and to actually meet them.  Wow, I still pinch myself that it actually happened but it did and I feel so proud of myself for achieving a true dream of mine.  Their latest studio album ‘Strange Little Birds’ also impressed.

garbage troxy

Other than that event, I think 2016 has been a decent year for quality movies, something that will be reflected in my end of year Top Ten coming on New Years Eve (make sure you check back here then!).  But it hasn’t all been great.  There’s also been a number of disappointments and rubbish I’ve had to sit through just to bring my opinion to you, my readers.  Particular disappointments include the rather poor Legend, a new movie about the British gangsters Ronnie & Reggie Kray, and despite the casting of Tom Hardy in both roles, this was a borderline insulting Hollywood-isation of a violent and gritty true story that was done so much better when the Kemp brothers from Spandau Ballet did it in the early nineties.  I really didn’t get much out of The Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar! either, which should have been a fun, fascinating snapshot of old Hollywood, but had a limp script and a confusing plot that just felt like a slog despite good production values.  Also along the way I felt underwhelmed by Deadpool … probably the most hyped and acclaimed comic book movie of the year that left me a little ‘meh’ despite finding it funny, it just seemed a bit of a one note show.  The summer also brought with it some further disappointments … let’s all agree that Batman V Superman could have been better, and well, wasn’t Suicide Squad a let down, promising so much and delivered so little?  I wasn’t that impressed with Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! either – a deflating spiritual follow up to his classic Dazed & Confused.

deadpool

It was also the year that I tried to branch out, listen to more music (not just the aforementioned band) and discovered new artists like Kristin Kontrol, PVRIS and Against The Current … yeah, thankyou Apple Music.  So broadening my horizons has been fun, even if in the music industry it has been sad to see the passing of legends such as David Bowie and Prince this year.  With that said, the music industry continues to irritate me however and I find myself left cold by much of today’s most popular music (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and to an extent Gwen Stefani all delivered rather ‘average’ albums despite plenty of publicity and hype).  Yet I find solace in those artists existing outside of the heavily publicised, record label controlled mainstream and well, there’s some really good stuff to find if you’re willing to look beyond what you’re told to listen to.

game of thrones

On the TV route highlights of the year for me have definitely been the last season of Game of Thrones, arguably the best yet and some of the best TV I’ve witnessed all year.  I also got a lot of enjoyment out of House of Cards (I’m still behind…currently on season 3).  Daredevil was also good, despite a slow start.  However the big surprise this year has been just how good West World turned out to be, of which I’m due to watch the final episode any day now.    Orange Is The New Black was underwhelming this year though and despite some shocks towards the end, really needs to step up it’s writing and characterisation for the next season or I can see myself switching off.

titanfall 2

Oh and hasn’t it been a packed year for videogames?  I enjoyed and completed the following:  Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Titan Fall 2 … but have played many other titles, some of which have been too huge to finish (yet) or have caused me to lose interest.  One such game like that has been The Division, which managed to lose it’s appeal after a while and I haven’t gone back to it in ages … something I can’t say for the similar Destiny which with it’s expansions and still-intriguing concept keeps on pulling me back even two years since release.  The news of updated versions of current systems wasn’t so good however, having spent a great deal of money on owning the PS4 and Xbox One only to have the advent of PS4 Pro and Xbox One Scorpio to eventually replace them.  But for now I’m still happy with what I’ve got and will continue to be until games stop getting released for these machines.

I wanted with this post to touch on the various things that have interested me and stood out for good or bad this year and with that I’ll sign off for now.  There’s some more reviews on the horizon and of course my end of year Top Ten.  So watch this space for much more soon.

Craig.