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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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.

What I’ve been up to


Destiny_2

I haven’t posted on here for a while.  Well, apart from going away on holiday for a long weekend last week, I haven’t been watching any movies and have more been concentrating on a combination of work and in my leisure time, playing some games.  Currently I’m playing Destiny 2 on Xbox One which I had pre-ordered a while back.  Short impressions?  I’m really digging it.  It’s not exactly far removed from Destiny 1, bar some improvements and polish to the formula, such as now being able to travel to different locations without returning to orbit.  I put many hours into Destiny 1 and can see me putting just as much time into this sequel.  The advent of clans and easier to be a part of fire teams seems an added incentive also.  Graphically it’s no slouch either, with varied planets to explore and great effects and atmosphere.  The core combat is also as satisfying as it ever was.  The game could greatly do with some new enemy types however but apart from that I’m having a great time.

Steam World Dig 2

Another game I’m enjoying is Steam World Dig 2 on the Nintendo Switch.  I liked the look of this game from footage I’d seen a while back and it’s as fun and interesting an experience as I’d hoped.  What can I say – platform exploration mixed with mining / digging is like gaming crack, and I find it very appealing that I want to rush back to the game time and time again.  It may be a 2D platformer but it has colourful, vibrant graphics with a charming art-style and plenty of detail.  I don’t have much else to say other than give it a try if curious.

I also got my hands on the highly anticipated Sonic Mania.  I have the Switch version and boy, I’d forgot how difficult Sonic used to be.  It’s sort of a celebration / re-imagining of the first 3 Sonic The Hedgehog games from waaaay back on the Sega Megadrive, with a few new stages added in for good measure.  Although I’m enjoying it and it’s still a great deal of addictive fun, it’s reliance on old-school pixel graphics is a little disappointing – a bit of refinement here and there would’ve been nice – and a few new animations only adds so much.  Overall for a Switch game it’s at times a bit ugly.  Yet as a celebration of a famed videogame character, I guess it does it’s job well enough.

twin-peaks

I finished watching Twin Peaks Season 3 also, and have come away somewhat disheartened.  The ending, without spoiling just left me thinking ‘wtf?’ and many plot threads (if they can be called that – this was not your usual show) failed to go anywhere.  I’m leaving my final verdict until after I’ve re-watched the whole season on Blu-ray where I can really study it … not that I’m really expecting to come away all that wiser.  We’ll see.  Yet I will say this:  as a purely artistic, utterly surreal ‘vision’ and as a return to film-making by acclaimed director David Lynch it was still effective, and at times amazing – but satisfying?  The jury’s still out on that one.

I have some movie reviews in the pipe line and a few other ideas for this blog, so keep an eye out for further updates soon.

Craig.

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.