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.

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.

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.

The Xbox situation


I’ve been an Xbox fan since the OG Xbox back in the day, and supported them to this day. I love my Xbox One X but it’s certainly been a shame to watch its nearest rival PlayStation and also the Nintendo Switch soar away from it in sales figures and all-round positive buzz. The Xbox One got off to a poor start, touted as an all-round media device rather than a games console that was both weaker than PS4 and more expensive with its at the time mandatory Kinect add-on. Despite best efforts from the team ever since, with the inception of Gamepass etc,, they still failed to turn things around … not helped by a shortage of major exclusive games that could compete with what PS4 has been offering. Although franchises like Forza, Gears of War have still been well received.

Going into the new gen, it’s become clear that Microsoft and Xbox head Phil Spencer’s philosophy is very different to PlayStation. Sony are riding high on massive sales and extremely positive feedback, so are happy to go full-on into PS5 and kiss PS4 goodbye – safe in the knowledge that millions of fans will likely follow. Xbox however seem reluctant to abandon Xbox One in favour of Series X and are delivering a confusing, worrying message to their fans and anyone interested in next-gen. Phil Spencer says ‘exclusive games are anti-consumer’. They don’t want any game coming Xbox Series X that’s not also coming to Xbox One for at least a year (if not two), and are relying on a subscription service as the way forward rather than asking consumers to have to pay £50-£60 for new games. They also insist on everything coming to PC, ruining any ‘exclusivity’ their games could potentially boast. On one hand it’s very consumer-friendly, but on the other hand it suggests a lack of confidence.

Recently both Sony and Microsoft have shown their hand with regards to the future of their respective brands. Sony chose to hold off the reveal of their console, whilst Microsoft showed theirs early on. Sony showcased plenty of in-game footage and showed off the potential of their super-fast SSD storage solution in games like the dimension-jumping Ratchet & Clank. Microsoft revealed Halo Infinite in a rather current-gen state. Instead they boasted that all their games were coming to Gamepass. That’s cool, I’ll admit. Both consoles will be of course be very powerful, boast (amongst other features) ray-tracing that brings game visuals to life in a way never before seen on a console. Yet something about Sony’s marketing is exciting, whilst Microsoft’s is simply ‘safe’.

I feel that Xbox have good things in store, the Series X will still be a very capable machine, and long-term they may well turn things around. They have some good ideas to pave the way and place them in a good position for the future. Gamepass, X-Cloud etc is the way the industry is going. They have the development studios now more than ever. It’s just currently, PlayStation has the buzz, Microsoft should be focused on selling their new console, not just their brand. I’ll be interested to hear the prices of the new consoles, which could prove a major factor, and launch games line-up of which at this stage, Xbox has the numbers. We’ll see what happens.

E3 2019 roundup


The biggest calendar event in gaming, E3 has come and gone once again, and as usual there’s been surprises, disappointments and lots and lots of games! Sony’s absence this year was jarring but not all that missed as there was still plenty to gush over, some of which, my personal highlights, I’ve detailed below…

Microsoft

I was majorly hyped going into this press conference that kick-started E3 2019 and have to admit … I came away a little disappointed. Big games announced the previous year like Gears of War 5 (now simply called Gears 5??) and Halo Infinite were shown but with little to no game play. I wasn’t really expecting much from Halo, but more was shown of Gears last year than we got in this initial press conference. A strong focus on the multiplayer was also concerning.

However, a ton of games were revealed, a good amount of exclusives such as the new game from Ninja Theory ‘Bleeding Edge‘ which looked cool but a bit too Overwatch-y for me. A release date for the long-awaited Ori and the Will of the Wisps was welcome, even if February 2020 still seems like a long wait. There just wasn’t that big ‘wow’ moment I had hoped for unless you count Keanu Reeves coming on stage to reveal the release date for Cyberpunk 2077 (April 3020) – which admittedly was rather cool. Even a reveal of-such of Microsoft’s next console ‘Project Scarlett‘ didn’t do much – what does it look like? How much will it cost? Still, 4 times more power than Xbox One X? Where do I sign?

Overall the show entertained, showed a lot but never really took off for me, which was unexpected considering all the promise of last year. Xbox is clearly in good shape and has plenty still to offer, but with PS5 on the horizon, this wasn’t quite enough to silence the nay-sayers.

Nintendo

Ok Nintendo truly knocked it out of the park with a Nintendo Direct and Treehouse hands-on that showcased a good amount of games I’d really want to play. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looked incredible, as did the personally-anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I was also really impressed with Astro Chain. Oh, and The Witcher 3 is getting a Switch port? That’s pretty damn amazing. Animal Crossing delayed till 2020? Oh well, it didn’t float my boat much anyway. There was also no sign of Bayonetta 3 or Metroid Prime 4.

However it was the confirmation and teaser trailer for a sequel to Breath of the Wild that genuinely blew my mind. I’m suddenly excited about Nintendo Switch all over again!! That’s how you deliver the goods at E3.

The other guys

Ubisoft’s conference was decent. I’m certainly now hyped for the amazing looking Watchdogs Legion, and the new Ghost Recon Breakpoint game looked cool too. A lack (again) of a Splinter Cell announcement was disappointing though.

Square Enix showed more of the highly anticipated Final Fantasy VII remake which looked lush. However I remain on the fence about Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers game. The Switch version of Dragon Quest XI looks great though.

Bethesda seemed to take a long time apologising for Fallout 76, but did manage to show off Doom Eternal and various game expansions and mobile games (a growing trend at E3). The new game from Arkane Studios ‘Death Loop‘ looked freaky and interesting, as did ‘Ghostwire Tokyo‘.

Nintendo and a few others aside , a reliance on pre-rendered cinematic trailers rather than hands-on game play footage was problematic (no Cyberpunk game play after all this time?) but this year E3 still proved it’s worth and remains for me the best way to get hyped about the games industry … an annual event I truly hope never disappears.

Game of E3: for me it’s definitely Watchdogs Legion

Biggest surprise: Breath of the Wild sequel teaser

That’s all from me for now.  Lots to look forward to on the gaming horizon.

Craig.