Archives for posts with tag: Next-gen

Destiny Limited Edition
Though you probably don’t need me to tell you that. It is the most pre-ordered new IP ever, after all.

And of course, in a move that will surprise absolutely no one at all, I bought the limited edition. No, sadly not the Ghost Edition – I would have, but I’m having to buy the game on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, so that would have been ridiculously expensive all-in. Nope, I went for the ‘standard’ limited edition, if that makes any sense at all.

My PS4 standard edition hasn’t managed to find its way here yet, but my XBO order has, so while it’s installing, enjoy some pics, and if you’re going to be playing Destiny this weekend, maybe I’ll see you starside.

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The annual hype-fest that is E3 is now behind us for another year, and the question that many are asking is of course, “who won?” Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on your own preferences and interests, and as we looked forward to the second E3 for Xbox One and PS4, many were excited to see what the next year would bring for these new consoles.

Yet for me, it was without a doubt Nintendo that impressed the most. And I’m honestly a little surprised to be typing that. I had expected them to simply turn up, show off the same games we’ve seen in the Direct recordings over the last year, announce a new Zelda, and then pack up shop. But they ended up doing a lot more than that, and they did it in some style.

Of course, everyone had interesting things to show off, and I watched it all. I can’t help but get drawn into the excitement during E3, so I decided to get some impressions down on virtual paper about this year’s event.

Microsoft went first, getting us started in the early evening of June 9th. True to Phil Spencer’s promises, the Xbox conference was 90 minutes of games, with a good spread of triple-A third-party blockbusters, first-party projects like Fable Legends and Forza Horizon 2, and a good handful of indie titles, like gorgeous-looking platformer Ori and the Blind Forest.

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Immediately after Microsoft’s media briefing, I was feeling very positive indeed. I was incredibly pleased to see that Halo: The Master Chief Collection was actually a thing, as I thought remastering four games in two years would be too much work (and I was kind of right, though I’ll touch on that in another post). Fable Legends looks like it’ll scratch my co-operative dungeon crawler itch very nicely, and it was great to see a bit more gameplay footage for the colourful Sunset Overdrive, as well as hear about its eight-player co-operative ‘Chaos Squad’.

What really got me excited on the day, however, was the reveal of three games that had been heavily-rumoured before E3; Scalebound, an Xbox One exclusive from Hideki Kamiya and Platinum Games, and the revival of two of Microsoft’s older properties in Crackdown and Phantom Dust. Along with a brief tease of Halo 5: Guardians in the Master Chief Collection trailer, these were the things that were the highlights of the conference at the time.

Later in the day though, I started to wonder quite why I had gotten so excited; we didn’t actually see anything of any of these titles, after all. Everything we saw was CGI and gave little away about the games in question. Granted, Crackdown and Halo are fairly safe bets (if you’re a fan of the previous games, you’ll probably love the new ones), though that’s probably less true of Phantom Dust, which is seemingly a reboot of a very niche original Xbox game. Scalebound, though? I couldn’t tell you anything about that game. It’s seems safe to assume that, given Platinum’s pedigree, it’ll be an action game, and I guess there are dragons in it. Will we get to play as a dragon? I guess we’ll have to wait to see more of the game.

Still, it was a strong showing from Microsoft in terms of content to look forward to, even if half of it was made up of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it context-free teasers.

Sadly, I had a more negative reaction to Sony’s conference. Perhaps it was having to sit up until 4am to watch it all. Perhaps it was because it felt like they could have cut their show in half without really losing anything. Perhaps it was the 20-or-so minutes that were spent talking about television and film projects, or maybe it was all the talk of timed or exclusive DLC.

Perhaps it was all of those things, combined with the rather self-serving ‘fan letters’ read out through half of the conference, and the fact that the whole thing ran on for almost two hours and sagged horribly in the middle.

Starting out with some footage of Destiny was a nice touch for me, a huge Bungie fan (and I’ll have some Alpha impressions up later this week, complete with plenty of video content), and following that with another short look at The Order: 1886 could have proved a winner had they chosen to show something a bit more involved. I’ve said before that I’m rather unsure of Ready at Dawn’s new IP, as it seems to look like a pretty but incredibly linear Gears of War clone. This demo did nothing to defuse those worries, showcasing a short slice of gameplay featuring one of the Knights tussling with a werewolf.

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This clip seemed to have more of a survival horror atmosphere compared to the previous footage we’ve seen which is welcome, but gameplay itself seemed even narrower. It was disappointing for me; I had hoped to see something that dispelled my apprehension at the game’s perceived linearity, but instead I’m now more suspicious. I think we could also have done without The Last of Us Remastered at E3 – we know it’s coming, and I would imagine the vast majority of people watching Sony’s conference will have already played it and loved it on PS3 – it’ll be nice to have a higher fidelity version in the PS4’s library, but I feel like the time could have been used for something else (or just cut entirely along with the media stuff to help bring down that bloated running time).

To Sony’s credit, they also had a broad spread of content and managed to pack in a few surprises, such as a live demo of Little Big Planet 3 from Media Molecule (who had previously sworn blind that they wouldn’t be appearing at E3 at all, cheeky scamps), a remake of cult-classic LucasArts adventure Grim Fandango, an exclusive from Suda 51 called Let it Die and a proper trailer for FROM Software’s PS4-exclusive Bloodborne. Again, like Microsoft’s more exciting surprises, we only got CGI trailers that told us very little, but as with those projects, it’s good to know what’s in the pipeline, even if we don’t know exactly what these titles are.

At the very end of Sony’s conference, we got another brief glimpse at Naughty Dog’s latest, Uncharted 4, now subtitled A Thief’s End. It was clearly envisioned to be Sony’s big, crowd-pleasing sign-off, but for me it fell flat. I’ve said before that I was disappointed when Naughty Dog announced another game in the series – not because I dislike Uncharted, but because it worked out so well the last time they did that. No, I like the Uncharted games a lot, but I’ve played four very similar games and didn’t feel that I needed another (incidentally, I’d have said the same about Gears of War had Microsoft decided to show a teaser for that).

With all that said, I was (and still am) really hoping to see The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley mix things up a fair bit for the franchise’s debut on PlayStation 4, and I was hoping to see a gameplay teaser to underline this. Instead, what we got was a short teaser that told us nothing except for the game’s subtitle and the fact that Nate has aged a bit. We got the kind of trailer that would have worked well as an announcement trailer, had the game not been announced a year previously.

To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. ‘Disappointed’ would be a better word. Sure, it looked great, but then we always knew it would. I wanted a reason to get excited about another Uncharted game, and that reason needs to be more than just ‘because it looks nicer’. As a final moment of an overlong conference, it simply made me crave my bed as 4am crept up and the sun began to rise.

It ties into my biggest disappointment with E3 2014 – the reliance on CGI trailers, concept footage and prototypes. Both Microsoft and Sony had their fair share of these, but really it was EA’s conference that was the biggest offender. Perhaps that’s because I really want to see what shape their new Star Wars, Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge titles would take, which meant I was doubly disappointed when all we got was some footage of offices populated by talking heads telling us about what they’d like to maybe possibly do, perhaps. It’s great to know these games are coming, but it’s hard to look forward to something so intangible.

But if there was one attendee at E3 that didn’t rely on such scripted thrills, it was Nintendo. Before the event, the Kyoto company’s decision to abstain from the big press conference dynamic in favour of a pre-recorded streamed ‘digital event’ seemed like a pre-emptive admission of defeat. In retrospect, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Nintendo proved they were out to have fun right from the off, with NoA President Reggie Fils-Aime and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata squaring off in a Smash Bros.-style brawl that was very very silly, yet managed to be somehow entertaining, setting the tone for the rest of the stream. Their digital event ran for a little under an hour, meaning it didn’t really have a chance to get boring, and while you could argue that the run-time was indicative of Nintendo having less content to offer than their two rivals, the reality is that it was focused almost entirely on first-party games – strip out the third-party offerings from Microsoft and Sony’s conferences and they may well have been about the same length.

So while we got another look at Smash Bros., another glimpse of Hyrule Warriors, another peek at Bayonetta 2, we also got new software announcements like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Woolly World and an unveiling of Nintendo’s new Amiibo NFC figurine platform. All of which was bookended with gloriously nutty, self-aware Robot Chicken-style vignettes.

Ok, so maybe Mario spin-offs aren’t what you’d call particularly new. What, then, about Splatoon? A new IP announced during E3 that wasn’t leaked or rumoured beforehand? That’s got to be impressive in itself, never mind that the game looks to be an absolute blast. If Splatoon is Nintendo embracing the online shooter, then it’s clearly doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you shoot brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted.

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For me, Splatoon was the most pleasant surprise of E3. It gave me serious Dreamcast vibes, reminding me quite strongly of Fur Fighters, but shot through with an AM2, ‘blue skies forever’ aesthetic. It’s essentially a third-person team-based shooter, but rather than focusing on kill counts, it’s all about map control; each team has their own colour ink that they need to splatter all over the floors, the winning team being the one that covers the most ground in their colour. The ink also has other properties, allowing players to turn into a cartoon squid and swim through their own ink at speed, while enemy ink will slow you to a crawl. Splattering walls can also allow access to higher vantage points, giving you a better perspective on the colourful chaos unfolding below.

A decent chunk of the stream was given over to showing off Splatoon, with the three development leads also appearing to talk us through the main concepts and strategies of their game. There has been a growing suspicion in recent years that the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, and this segment seemed tailor-made to dispel such thinking. That’s not to say that the old guard was forgotten however, as Miyamoto himself showed up at the end of the conference to let us know that he was working on a few new things (one of which is a new Star Fox game that we will hopefully see something of soon), but not before Eiji Aonuma, caretaker of the Legend of Zelda series, made his long-rumoured appearance to show us just what he’d been working on.

Aonuma’s segment was my favourite moment of E3. As he began to talk about his desire to shake up the veteran fantasy series, we saw moments of older games in the series. This was intended to draw a parallel between the freeform exploration seen in the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda and what he hoped to inject into the newest title in the franchise. Then, he snapped his fingers.

Behind him materialised an expansive view of a lush, beautiful Hyrule Field, grass dancing in the wind as Link sat atop Epona watching shepherds tend their goats. It was glorious, and I was immediately reminded of the rapturous reception afforded to the unveiling of Twilight Princess back in 2004, wondering briefly what kind of reaction this new title would have received, had it been unveiled before a live audience.

There was no time to think too deeply on it however, as Aonuma began to talk of a series convention he wanted to keep – that of a seemingly peaceful world that could be turned upside down in an instant thanks to the appearance of a powerful threat. A large enemy, looking like a mix between a peahat and an octorok – only armed with exploding lasers – entered the scene, scattering the farmers and livestock to the winds as it barrelled down on our hero. The scene cut to a narrow forest path hemmed in by ancient ruins as Epona galloped toward a bridge. The monster flew ahead, smashing the bridge and trapping Link. As he reached back to remove his cape, he took the opportunity to draw and fire two bomb arrows, stunning the monster.

Standing on his steed, Link launched himself from Epona’s back, drawing a strange, futuristic-looking arrow which lit up like the enemy’s lasers, and the trailer faded to white. “2015” was all that remained on the screen. If Sony’s Uncharted 4 mic-drop left me cold, this brief glimpse at a new Zelda definitely had the desired effect. It was glorious.

The fun didn’t end with Nintendo’s digital conference however, as they started up their live-streaming service, ‘Nintendo Treehouse Live’. This was an absolute masterstroke, and probably the best thing about E3. Treehouse ran for three days on both Youtube and Twitch, showing hours of live content presided over by a handful of young Nintendo developers and staffers. We got plenty of interesting interviews with developers as they came on-stage to both discuss and play their latest projects, and thanks to this simple, effective format we got to see far more of those games than we’d ever usually be treated to. All of this without any media personalities or corporate suits – just developers talking to other developers about the games they had made, all for the benefit of the gamers watching live.

That the most forward-thinking, fan-friendly take on E3 came from typically the most conservative of the big three – and, let’s not forget, the one that not so long ago took action against let’s players – is a bewildering thought. Yet, without even showing up to the main stage, Nintendo deftly made both Sony and Microsoft’s approaches look a bit old-hat. The good news is that Treehouse is something that they could replicate fairly easily, so hopefully E3 will become more fan-centric going forward. Even if we only have Nintendo doing something like this again, it’s still something to be championed.

While Nintendo personally impressed me more than any other attendee at E3, perhaps the right answer is to say that gamers won. A little bit of a lame response for those seeking drama, perhaps, but there’s tons of great games on the horizon no matter what your tastes. Granted, that horizon seems to be sitting deep in 2015 at the moment, with only a handful of things coming for the end of this year (though Destiny, the Halo collection, Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors sit high on my to-buy list), but 2015 may just be a marquee year for this hobby of ours.

Last week saw the release of possibly the most hyped game of recent times, as Ubisoft’s open-world hackathon Watch_Dogs finally made its way onto shop shelves.

I think the level of hype has worked against the game somewhat; like many, I was incredibly excited about it when it was first shown at E3 in 2012, but every subsequent showing stripped a little more of that enthusiasm away. Also tempering my excitement was my cooling interest in Ubisoft’s output as their games begin to trend more and more towards homogenisation; now everything is an open-world with skill trees and lots of ‘stuff’ to do. I thought I’d love that, until I’d just had enough of it. Far cry 3 was about the limit for me – I loved it up to a point, and then I suddenly couldn’t even be bothered to finish it.

It doesn’t help that much of that ‘stuff’ I talked about is uninteresting. In Watch_Dogs, you can’t walk the length of a block without some pop-up informing you that some more ‘stuff’ is now available, or that some identikit mini-quest has been triggered in your vicinity. It feels a little strange to say the game has too much content, but when much of it seems to be filler, it makes me feel overwhelmed with pointless crap.

It’s putting me off going back to the game, if I’m honest. Going forward, I will probably just be focusing on the main story missions, but I really wish I could turn off the extraneous filler that I’m only going to ignore anyway – perhaps I’m not the obsessive-compulsive gamer that I once was, but I’m finding that it’s on the verge of ruining the experience for me. Having said that, there are a few additional things that I will be doing, such as hacking ctOS stations (as they’re generally fun little environmental puzzles), and the digital trips, which I’ll touch on later.

One criticism I saw in a few reviews was that the city feels lifeless and dull, and that’s something I can’t really agree with. Strolling around the city – in between ignoring all the prompts, of course – you can see couples kissing under bus stops, people playing keepy-uppy, others engaging in street rap battles and plenty of people staring, zombie-like, at their phones. Toying with the people of Chicago by messing with traffic lights and bollards also brings out some great reactions and one-liners, too. Below is a video I put together showing some of the life in Chicago, as well as me just having a bit of fun trolling the populace.

Moreover, the city is given life through the ability to passively profile everyone you see as you walk down the street, listening in on their calls, intercepting text messages, learning their purchasing behaviour and political leanings and even their sexual proclivities.

Unfortunately, much of this information seems to have been included simply to be provocative. I get that a large part of the game is about invasion of privacy, and that the ease at which Pearce is able to learn almost anyone’s darkest secrets at the push of a button is intended to underline this, but it often comes across less like timely criticism of our digital information age and more like lurid voyeurism.

I’ve been somewhat negative on the game so far, but there is certainly fun to be had. There’s a fair bit of mileage in playing with the city infrastructure to troll random bystanders, but for me the real fun comes when you need to infiltrate a guarded area. Watch_Dogs smartly rips the cover and movement system from the last couple of Splinter Cell games, which allows the player to stay out of sight, swiftly moving from cover to cover as needed. This is all great if you want to play the game as a third-person cover shooter (which is totally viable), but what’s more fun is to use the game’s central theme of hacking to get to where you want to go without even needing to fire a bullet.

Staying out of sight, you can hack a nearby camera to survey the area, jumping to other viewpoints as need be. You can then see all the available hackable elements that you can use to bring down your foes. It’s a fantastically fun (and oddly calming) slice of gameplay that allows you to sit back, somewhat detached from the action itself, and act as and when you please. For me, it’s stuff like this that validates Watch_Dogs‘ tagline of “hacking is our weapon” – not only does the game give you powerful yet easy to use tools, it changes the way you’d generally play through such an encounter. You can see how this plays out in another of my videos below.

I mentioned digital trips earlier, and this is an element that I’ve only just come across in the game. Digital trips are small virtual reality-style mini-games, yet even these have skill trees to unlock. So far, I’ve only played the Spider-Tank game, which basically puts you inside a Fuchikoma, and it’s a whole heap of fun.

Your tank is highly mobile, capable of climbing everything, jumping from building to building, firing a chain gun, and finally engaging in an arachnid “HULK SMASH!” melee attack. Leaping around the city clambering over buildings frees you in a way that can never be realised while playing as Aiden, and it’s exhilarating to clamber up a building before leaping from the top, hurtling towards the ground before slamming down to wreck everything around you. I would probably play a full game of this, if it was more fleshed out, and I can certainly see me putting in a few hours, as well as trying out some of the other trips. Below you can see a video of my first attempt at Spider-Tank.

I must admit that I’m finding it hard to be drawn back to Watch_Dogs at the moment – I’m still on Act I. As I said, it certainly has its moments of fun, but it also has an equal amount of mundanity. I have both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Murdered: Soul Suspect calling to me from my shelf, and surprisingly Borderlands 2 on the Vita is consuming the majority of my gaming time at the moment, so I think I’m going to have to stick to the main story and bomb through it. Hopefully, once I’m a bit further into it, I’ll be enjoying it a lot more.

Ryse-Son-of-Rome-4Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome came in for a lot of flack before it was even available to buy. Firstly, it was an Xbox One exclusive, and that was enough to tarnish the game in the eyes of many. Secondly, it was from Crytek, a development studio that some feel prioritise graphics over all else, while others believe the team don’t know how to end a game.

And then there was that E3 reveal that saddled the game with the reputation of being a QTE fest. While not entirely undeserved, it seemed clear to me at the time that these quick time events were simply finishing moves, so I found the uproar a little difficult to take seriously. Still, I had no idea how the game would turn out and early previews were less than glowing – one even likened the game to dialling in numbers on a phone.

I decided to add Ryse to my pre-order list after a short demo of the multiplayer gladiator mode at a GAME lock-in, and having just finished the single player campaign today, I’m glad I did.

Ryse is the tale of Roman soldier Marius Titus, who returns home just in time to see his family butchered by barbarians rampaging throughout the Eternal City. Marius is taken under the wing of Commander Vitallion of the XIV legion, an old friend of his father who is leading the assault on the barbarians’ point of origin – our fair isle of Britain. Suffice it to say, not everything goes to plan, and Marius stumbles upon a realisation that will eventually lead him back to Rome to exact his bloody vengeance on the true architects behind his family’s demise.

The story is pretty standard revenge-tale fare, though it’s handled well with likeable characters and excellent performance-captured acting. Lip-synching is up there with the best and facial animation isn’t just for cutscenes; if you happen to catch Marius’ face in the middle of an attack, you’ll see his teeth clenched, his face tensed in the moment, and you can frequently see full lip-syncing in dialogue that pops up while you’re playing.

If you’re looking for a title to show off your shiny new next-generation Xbox, Ryse is the one. It’s the richest, most lavishly produced video game my eyes have ever borne witness too. Marius’ arms and armour glint convincingly in the equally convincing sunlight that bathes Rome’s marble courtyards in golden shafts. Verdant forests are packed with lush green vegetation that moves underfoot, and real-time reflections in a dingy puddle genuinely stop you in your tracks – I lost count of the number of times I stopped just to pan the camera and gawp at my surroundings. Throughout the campaign I saw no dodgy textures, no clipping, nothing to destroy the perfectly-polished sense of place – everything was solid, pristine. Ryse really is an outrageously pretty game.

Crytek’s stated ambition with Ryse was to create the best sword-and-shield game they could, and in mechanical terms they’ve done pretty well. Controls are simple: ‘X’ to slash with your gladius, ‘Y’ to shield bash, ‘B’ to dodge-roll and ‘A’ to deflect incoming attacks, and if you have a stock of spears in your back pocket, you can aim and throw these with the triggers. Combat is strongly timing-based; if you see an attack coming, hit ‘A’ to deflect your assailant’s blade and you open them up to your own attacks, timing your next sword slash or shield bash as the previous one lands to chain your combo together. Once you’ve done enough damage, a skull icon will appear above your enemy’s head – a sign that you can pull on the right trigger to begin the execution animation.

These are the QTE kills that we saw in that E3 reveal, though thankfully without the intrusive button prompts. Instead, as the world slows around Marius, the enemy is quickly outlined in colour – yellow for the ‘Y’ button, blue for ‘X’ – and hitting the correct button will grant you perks selected via the d-pad – extra health or xp, for instance. Rather controversially, these QTEs cannot be failed – you can ignore the button prompts altogether and your enemy will die all the same. But you’ll miss out on those perks. It’s a curious choice, but at least if you screw up you still get to see the excellent animations at play.

In gameplay terms, it often feels like Ryse is action gaming boiled down to its absolute basics – certainly when you’re one on one with a single enemy. There’s not really anything else to do besides fight hordes of barbarians or fire the odd arrow-turret, and while you often get a chance to form a phalanx and advance on archers, or order soldiers to hold a certain point while you defend another, it still generally ends up in third-person combat. Levels are linear in the extreme, and while that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, the environments are so beautifully-crafted and inviting that you’ll often want to go off-grid and explore a bit. All you can do is keep barrelling forward through the level. There are a number of collectibles hidden in alcoves or dead ends to find, however.

Ryse‘s combat really comes alive when you’re battling against a number of enemies at once. They don’t patiently wait for you to dispatch their comrades, instead lurching in while you’re busy trying to thin out their numbers. You’ll often find yourself surrounded, having to watch out for signs of attack from every side, and if you should happen to weaken two enemies and place yourself between them before pulling on ‘RT’, you’ll perform one of the game’s almost-balletic double-executions. The fluidity of animation helps here; no matter what you’re doing, you can always bail out with a dodge-roll, or throw in a hasty shield bash to throw an enemy off balance. It’s a fantastically responsive system.

In my seven or eight hours with Ryse, I was constantly reminded of three games. The first of these is Final Fantasy XIII, which is another game that distilled its genre down to the barest essence. As with that game, I enjoyed it for what it was, but wouldn’t necessarily want the next instalment to follow the same design paths. Secondly, combat reminded me of a stripped down version of The Witcher 2‘s sword-play system, as in that game you also had to know not only when to attack, defend and evade but when not to do these things, risking punishment if you read the situation wrong (also, a number of environments reminded me quite strongly of Geralt’s medieval fantasy world).

Finally, I was most often reminded of one of the big hitters from the Xbox 360. It feels to me as if Crytek wanted to create the Xbox One’s Gears of War, but with a sword and shield rather than a chainsaw gun. It’s got the same all-out action feel, the same rule-of-thirds camera, the same focus on cinematic storytelling, and that same occasionally bleak tone. Granted, these aren’t elements that are particularly rare in modern gaming, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that Crytek want to be to Xbox One what Epic Games were to the 360.

A few days before release, I read a review that likened Ryse: Son of Rome to the first Assassin’s Creed – a title that was a decent foundation for an excellent sequel. I hope Crytek take another shot at Ryse; I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it and I’d like to see the concept reach its full potential. As long as it isn’t simply more of the same, I’d be very happy to see a continuation.

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DPD have just dropped off my shiny new console!

I’ve yet to get it set up, but it’s all out of the box. First impressions? I actually really like the way it looks. It’s solid yet light, and gives off a rather ‘premium’ feel. I admit, when it was first unveiled in May, I didn’t like the design at all, but now it’s in my hands, I really like it.

I’m just about to get it all set up and updated (fingers crossed) so no doubt I’ll have more to add later in the day.

***UPDATE***

Oops, I promised to come back, didn’t I?

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to check out half of the games I ordered yet thanks to the day one update taking forever (which was entirely my fault – I sat watching it go nowhere for over an hour before realising I had a dodgy homeplug. When I switched it for a new one, it took about fifteen minutes). I managed to download Killer Instinct and enough of Crimson Dragon to play the first mission, so I’ll give some impressions about those shortly.

Firstly, some words about the UI: I think it’ll take a bit of getting used to. On the surface, it’s very well laid out and easy to use, but some stuff is fairly obscured, making me wonder if Microsoft simply expects everyone to use voice controls. One thing that kind of annoys me is not being able to go back up a step in a menu if you’ve exited and returned to it. Here’s an example: say you go into the store and load up the page for Netflix. Say you then press the Xbox button to go back to the homescreen (or indeed say “Xbox, go home”). If you then click on the store tile, it’ll take you back to that app page. You’d expect that a press of ‘B’ will take you back up a step to the store front. It doesn’t. It’ll return you to the home page.

This was maddening at first. Then I realised that to actually close something, you need to press ‘menu’ (what was once the start button) on that tile to bring up a contextual menu. Selecting ‘quit’ will end that particular session, allowing you to start afresh again. It’s convoluted, and a bit annoying, but perhaps there’s a way to do it within the specific app or store that I haven’t yet figured out. I need to spend a bit more time with the system before I get it all figured out.

Now, about those voice controls I mentioned. I’m very impressed, actually. I’ve turned the system on and off, loaded and switched between apps and games, snapped GameDVR to Killer Instinct and even recorded clips, all with my voice. Best of all? No more inputting codes! Simply say “Xbox, use a code”, hold the QR code up so Kinect can see it, and in a second or two you’ve got your content on-screen. It’s fantastic and incredibly snappy. I have had a few instances where it ignored me, but I was speaking rather quietly. Still, I had to speak a bit louder than I’d like, considering I’m talking to a games console. Putting that aside, colour me impressed. I often had a grin on my face when telling it to do something that it simply then did. It’s responsive, and it’s fast.

Onto the games. My order came with boxed copies of Forza 5 and Dead Rising 3, and a download code for FIFA 14. The disc games have to be fully installed (though I believe they allow you to play once they’re around halfway through installation), and obviously FIFA 14 has to be downloaded. I also downloaded the Ultra Edition of Killer Instinct and Crimson Dragon, and these took quite some time to come down the pipe. I’m guessing the XBL servers are getting hammered as it’s day one, so hopefully things will be a bit speedier over the next few days. KI (at 3.4GB) took well over an hour to download, and Crimson Dragon was, last I checked, still downloading. The latter allowed me to play from 51% installed, but curiously only gave me the first level – trying to launch the second mission gave me a prompt to wait for the rest to install.

So, Killer Instinct. I’ve talked about it a fair bit before, but I’d only had ten minutes on it before today. I’ve managed a few hours across a range of modes today (Survival, Versus against CPU and the excellent Dojo Mode) and I think I’m in love. I’m still getting to grips with how it plays (and even though I immediately bought the full Ultra edition, I’ve yet to use anyone but the free Jago), but I’ve managed some 18-hit combos and cancelled a throw into a shadow endokuken a few times, which is pretty glorious. I’m only playing it on ‘noob’ difficulty while I get to grips with it, and I’ve managed to capture some clips with GameDVR, one of which you can see below.

GameDVR and the PlayStation 4’s equivalent are really going to be game-changing features, I think. Even if it’s just sharing what you’re doing with a friend rather than plastering your videos all over social media, it’s something that I can see getting a hell of a lot of use. Gaming is inherently social as far as I’m concerned; even if I’m playing a single-player RPG, I’m always talking about what I did with friends. Now with GameDVR I can easily record it and show them. For now, the Xbox One feature can only save the video locally and show it in your activity feed, or upload it to SkyDrive. I use SkyDrive quite a lot anyway, but it’s simple to download the video from your online storage and upload it to Facebook or YouTube, as I have done with the above clip.

Crimson Dragon is a game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I am a big Panzer Dragoon fanboy, and recent videos had suggested that Crimson Dragon owed a fair bit to Panzer Dragoon Zwei, a game that comfortably sits in my list of top ten games of all time. I mentioned above that I only managed to play the first mission, but I did quite enjoy it.

The game looks nice, more from an art/design perspective than a technical one (it’s fairly obvious it was once an Xbox 360 title), but the controls will take some getting used to. The Panzer games used one d-pad/stick for both aiming and moving, with 90-degree sweeps around your dragon handled by the shoulder buttons. It was a very elegant control method, and one that Crimson Dragon really should have copied. Here we have the same limited on-rails movement and radar divided into 90-degree quadrants, but the controls use the left stick for movement and the right for aiming and it’s a bit jarring to have to do each separately. I was struggling quite badly for the first half of the first mission and just barely scraping by after a few minutes. In the older games, using a shoulder button to quickly switch your aim to the side was perfect. Here, you have to slowly pan the camera around and hope you don’t take a hit.

It also appears you can’t shoot enemy bullets out of the sky, you simply have to dodge them (which is made more difficult than it used to be by that twin-stick control method) or barrel rolling out of the way (which is easier). Defense was a key part of gameplay in the older titles; you couldn’t avoid everything and it was necessary to shoot enemy fire before it reached you. It feels somehow wrong to not be able to do this, but again I’ve only played about ten minutes; I’m sure I’ll get used to both the aiming and the game itself the more I play it. It says something that despite these issues I still really enjoyed my short blast of Crimson Dragon – despite handling and playing quite differently, it felt like a Panzer game, which is the most important thing for me; as long as the feel is right, I can adapt to the differences, and I think with a bit more time invested I’ll really enjoy it.

So that’s about it for my day one impressions. There’s been a lot of waiting, a lot of downloading and installing, and quite a bit of Killer Instinct. Hopefully, things will have settled down by tomorrow and FIFA, Forza and Dead Rising will be installed and ready to go. And maybe my copy of Ryse will even turn up. Then I’ll have to install that, too…

I’ll no doubt have more impressions to come throughout my first week with Xbox One, so if you’re interested keep checking back.

xboxonePlayStation 4 may have launched a few days ago in the US, but here in the UK we’re less than a week away from the next generation. Microsoft’s Xbox One launches in just five days time (with the UK launch of the PS4 set to follow a week later) and in the build-up to the big day retailer GAME has been holding ‘lock-in’ events in their stores for eager gamers to try out the new machine. I attended one on Friday and thought I’d share some thoughts (and pictures!) with you.

Arriving outside my local store just before 8PM, a small crowd had already gathered. In total, about twenty people had turned up to try out Microsoft’s new box of tricks (not too surprising, considering the bitter cold), and we queued patiently for around 15 minutes before we could get inside to the blessed warmth, fending off the occasional question of “Oi blud, what game iz you waitin’ for?” with mumbled one-word responses.

When we finally got inside, we found six Xbox One consoles (complete with chunky Kinect sensors) lined up along one wall. Two were playing Ryse, another two featured Dead Rising 3 and the final pair of systems were running Forza Motorsport 5 and FIFA 14 (which was the only title that allowed a two-player game). We were eager to get to the gaming, but unfortunately we had to first stand through a barely-working slideshow presentation (featuring a few clips of now-ex Microsoft exec Don Mattrick – oops?) while some insipid Nickelback tune played over the store’s speakers. Thankfully, Nickelback was turned off mid-song, but we still had the slideshow to get through. Ten minutes later and we were free to avail ourselves of the next generation.

dr3sharkMy two friends and I decided to give Dead Rising a bash to begin with. I managed to play the demo twice over the course of the evening, which was handy as I couldn’t manage to figure out how to combine items the first time around (pro-tip: hold RB). I came across a van and a forklift truck at one point and stood trying to turn them into a combo vehicle for a few seconds; generally, I’d just try every button, but having to stand in one place in the midst of a zombie apocalypse isn’t really an option so I had to run away.

On my second attempt (having been told how to combine by a helpful staff member), I happened to come across a motorbike parked on a roof terrace by a pool. Quite what it was doing on a roof I’m sure I’ll never discover, but luckily there was a ramp leading off the building so I sped off the edge and landed right next to a steamroller. Yes. I built a rollerhawg.

The playable slice of Dead Rising 3 was a timed demo (I didn’t time it myself, but it felt about ten to fifteen minutes in length), and having watched a few videos of the game beforehand, I did notice that some areas that should have been accessible were cordoned off with high concrete walls – I’m guessing we were given a small portion of the world to roam around in. There were also no objectives to undertake, but then it wouldn’t have been possible to complete any in the time given so we got to focus on trying out a variety of weapons and costumes (I managed to dress up protagonist Nick Ramos in a big shark suit, a medieval knight’s suit of armour and a lady’s dress) and try and turn as many of the undead denizens of Los Perdidos into pulp as possible. The rollerhawg had me grinning like an idiot and helped me to amass more than a thousand kills. Also, hitting zombies with a baguette is not very effective.

dr3baguette

Next up was Ryse: Son of Rome, a game I’ve been rather unsure of. Since it’s reveal at this year’s E3 I’ve thought it looked astoundingly pretty. I also quite like the setting of the game and the fact that Crytek have gone for full-on performance capture, giving the game a blockbuster cinematic look. But I’ve been a bit worried about the gameplay; I think a lot of people got the wrong end of the stick after the E3 reveal when they started to complain about the game being nothing but QTEs, though I thought it was pretty damn clear that these were simply contextual execution animations. So that wasn’t my worry. I simply wasn’t sure it’d be much fun. Thankfully, I really enjoyed the demo.

The slice of gameplay on offer was the multiplayer colosseum combat we’ve seen plenty of footage of, though strangely it was only single-player – a little confusing, considering two consoles next to one another were running the same thing. I would’ve liked to try it in co-op with a friend. We were treated to some wave-based combat in a shifting arena that offered some mild objectives (destroy catapults by tipping burning oil on them, kill archers on a raised platform and so on), but the first thing that really struck me is just how beautiful it looked. At one point between waves, I stopped to pan the camera around the colosseum taking in the surroundings, the crowd baying for blood while multi-coloured confetti danced through the air. It was incredibly impressive stuff, much as you’d expect from Crytek, and I can’t wait to see the environments in the single player campaign.

Combat is pretty enjoyable, allowing you to settle into a decent rhythm of shield bashes, sword slashes, dodge-rolls and executions. Blocking enemy attacks is timing-based – tap ‘A’ too early, and your avatar will simply knock his sword against his shield in a taunt, leaving you open to attack. Hit the button just as an attack comes in, however, and you’ll deflect the enemy’s blow and instead leave them open to sword slashes. Of course, you can also dodge-roll out of the way if you think you’ll miss the timing, but you probably won’t get an opening in their defences that way. Enemies are quick to surround you and they don’t wait for you to dispatch their comrades before lunging in as Assassin’s Creed‘s hordes are wont to do, so you always have to keep an eye out to see who’s about to take a swipe at you and time your blocks accordingly.

When you’ve done enough damage to a barbarian, you’ll see a skull appear above their head. Pulling RT will segue you into an execution animation, with the enemy being outlined in a specific colour to denote a button press: blue for the ‘X’ button, yellow for ‘Y’. It doesn’t seem possible to fail these – missing the prompt seems to result in the execution playing out anyway, just with you receiving a lower score. It’s also possible to chain executions by injuring more than one enemy to execution states and then positioning yourself between them before pulling on the trigger. These sections are all about the grisly, slow motion spectacle and despite the lack of player agency they’re good fun.

Whether or not they will still be enjoyable after ten hours remains to be seen however, and that goes for game itself too. I thoroughly enjoyed my short time with Ryse, enough to put down a pre-order, so I do hope the campaign will be engaging across its length. I also think the multiplayer could be quite fun with a competent friend in the same way as most other horde/survival modes. At the very least, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the story, and Ryse is certainly a fantastic graphical showcase for the new system.

forza5
After hacking through waves of barbarians, it was time to drive a shiny car through some shiny environments in Forza Motorsport 5. I found this beautiful racing game to be the standout graphical showcase of the event – it’s genuinely stunning. I’ve watched plenty of videos of Turn 10’s next-gen launch title and marvelled at the visuals, but it looks so much better in person; the way you can see your car’s dashboard reflected in the windscreen is particularly impressive, as is the way the sunlight plays across the asphalt as you make your way around the course.

I raced a bright yellow McLaren P1 around a single lap of Laguna Seca and got to experience those new impulse triggers firsthand. They’ll take a little getting used to, but I enjoyed the precise feedback even if I struggled to stay on the road a lot of the time – I’m just bad at racing games. Forza 5 is one of my launch day games however, so I’m hopeful I’ll get better, and I look forward to seeing how other games implement those triggers.

As for FIFA? I didn’t play it. My two friends played against one another though, and I’m happy to say it looked like FIFA. Character models in replays did look rather special though. I haven’t bought a football game in years as I just don’t play them often enough to make it worth the money. Happily, FIFA will be coming free with my Xbox One, so I’ll be able to play those occasional matches without having to buy the game.

Back in my Eurogamer Expo piece, I noted down my initial impressions about the new Xbox One controller. At EGX, I only managed to use that pad for ten minutes during a bit of Killer Instinct, but at the GAME lock-in I used it far more. My initial reaction hasn’t drastically changed: I really like that controller. It fits well in the hand, I like the sculpted triggers and it just generally feels right, a clear evolution of the Xbox 360 controller. I did mention in that earlier piece that I thought the bumpers might be a bit more of a stretch than on the current pad and that the sticks felt a little loose, but neither of those complaints held true on Friday; while playing Dead Rising 3, using the bumpers felt just like the 360 controller and the sticks felt noticeably tighter than those I used at EGX – either some adjustments have been made or that pad had taken a bit of abuse. Either way, I really, really like the Xbox One controller, and I can’t wait to get my hands on my own one.

A quick note on the console’s dashboard: I did try to go to the dash once while Forza was loading, but unfortunately it was the development version that you can see in this picture so I couldn’t do anything with it. Interestingly, going into the dashboard also reset the Forza demo, so I had to wait for it to load again before racing my lap. It’s a bit disappointing, though not entirely unexpected, that I couldn’t try out the full release dashboard for myself, but I guess that leaves something for me to discover on my very own Xbox One when it arrives on Friday.

The only disappointment from the lock-in was the lack of Killer Instinct, a game I’ve been itching to play ever since that ten-minute spell at Eurogamer Expo. But again, I won’t have to wait too long to jump back into that on my own system. Overall, the GAME event has made me even more excited to sit down with my Xbox One in four days and get stuck into some shiny next-gen gaming. I can’t wait.

In a strange bit of scheduling, both of the final episodes of Ryse: Son of Rome‘s four-part webseries have appeared on Machinima.

In episode three, we meet Gannicus, a gladiator fighting in the arena as he regales us with stories of how death has been good to him. Yet now it appears he is up against the vengeful spirit of Damocles that we saw in episode 2. I have to admit, I really enjoyed this episode. It’s well paced, very atmospheric and a little bit brutal. I do wonder what significance it bears to the game’s narrative, but I guess I’ll have to play it to find out.

In episode four, we’re back with protagonist Marius as he sits with an older man, presumably his commander. In between images of the sacking of Rome, Marius’ commander speaks of the real heart of Rome, Palatine Hill. He tells the young legionnaire that the day will soon come when he must decide whether he fights for his own honour or for Rome.

It’s been a strange, disjointed webseries across these four episodes, and it hasn’t really told us anything about anyone. I’m mildly intrigued to see what importance it may have to the game, but in hindsight I think I would have enjoyed a series of separate, atmospheric vignettes like episode 3 rather than a disjointed semi-arc that doesn’t really go anywhere.

But then perhaps I’m unfairly comparing ‘The Fall’ to ‘Forward Unto Dawn’, which had a very definite story arc; maybe the sole purpose of this is to get people intrigued enough in the game to buy a copy. Given the setting, and the fact that, while short, the series has been very well produced, I’d liked to have seen where this could have gone had it been a bit longer. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for Microsoft’s TV productions to see the potential realised.

See parts 1 and 2 below:
‘The Fall’ episode 1
‘The Fall’ episode 2