XO18: I’m underwhelmed

Today, Xbox held its XO18 showcase in Mexico and, being completely honest, I was a little underwhelmed. I was looking for a compelling reason to keep playing games on my Xbox One on, and, sadly, I didn’t find one after watching XO18.

I sort of feel that Xbox could have saved itself some money and just tweeted its announcements rather than hold XO18, which would have no doubt costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together.

To my eye, the bulk of XO18 was dedicated to Game Pass – Xbox’s monthly subscription service where you can download a great back catalogue of games, and new releases – and that’s not a criticism of the service: It’s a great platform for Microsoft. Sixteen new titles are coming to the service (including Ori & the Blind Forest, Kingdom: Two Crowns and Thomas Was Alone), as well as additional content for already released Xbox games like Sea of Thieves (which is getting a “fast-paced” standalone PvP mode called The Arena), Forza Horizon 4 (which is getting a new off-shore location called Fortune Island) and State of Decay 2  and  … not much else. At least, nothing that interested me. I’ve played a lot of the games on Game Pass.

I’m not into PUBG so I couldn’t care less that it’s coming to Game Pass this week, Crackdown 3 has been in development for so long that I just can’t muster up any enthusiasm for it, which is a shame as I loved the original Crackdown. It’s nice that the original Crackdown is available on Game Pass now (I haven’t checked the NZ store so I don’t know if it’s there or not), but I have zero interest in the third edition in the series. One highlight was that Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice is coming to Game Pass next month, and if you haven’t played Ninja Theory’s latest then, please, please, please download it when you get the chance. It’s a cracker.

I wasn’t expecting hardware announcements at XO18 but while Xbox said there wouldn’t be Halo news here, it would have been nice for those gamers who are pining for news on the Master Chief’s next adventure. Where were the new IP that will generate hype and sell consoles? It wasn’t there and I feel that was a lost opportunity for Xbox.

There’s no denying Game Pass is a great service and well worth the monthly fee but I kind of feel that, deep down, Xbox have given up on this console generation and is now looking to the future, laying the foundations for the next generation consoles. I mean, why else would it  invest in studios like Obsidian Entertainment and inXile Entertainment unless it had grand plans for the next generation and are laying the ground work now?

There is also no denying that the Xbox One X is the most powerful console of this generation and one that is best for playing multi-platform titles on. That’s a documented fact , as is the Xbox One X’s ability to play games at 4K at a stable frame rate, but I don’t feel that Xbox have leveraged that hardware’s superiority against the PlayStation.

Maybe developers are still coming to grips with the intricacies of the Xbox One X hardware, and that’s understandable, but I don’t see the point in having “The world’s most powerful console” if you don’t have exclusive titles that will convince gamers to buy your console over that of the competition. It might play multi-platform titles the best but, you know what? I want exclusive games on my consoles, not just prettier versions of ones available on the competition.

I was hoping for so much from XO18 but I was left wanting more.

Why I was wrong about Red Dead Redemption 2

Note: I will not be doing a review of Red Dead Redemption 2, and not because I bought my copy and didn’t get a review copy from Rockstar. I want to enjoy the game for what it is and not have to pick it to pieces for a review. I also haven’t read a single review: I don’t want to spoil the story for me. What follows, though, is some thoughts on why my initial opinion about the game was wrong.

“Hindsight is  a wonderful thing,”so the commonly uttered phrase goes, and in my case, it is entirely appropriate for Rockstar’s Red Redemption 2, a game I initially criticised on social media but now, with hindsight, and several hours of game play under my belt, I’ve changed my opinion.

Here’s the offending tweet here:

OK, so it’s clear from that social media tidbit that I didn’t enjoy the game’s opening couple of hours, which, to be far, are rather pedestrian. Well, they are: Most of it is tutorial stuff spent in a snowy landscape (the snow does look fantastic, though) and the controls don’t make sense at times.

If I had a dollar for every time I pressed a button that I thought would do one thing (get on my horse) but  did something completely different thing (punch said horse in the neck), I’d probably have at least $10 by now. The controls seem stuck in the past, initially making no  sense. I’m still trying to get used to the dead eye mechanic that slows down time during duels (I’m not talking about standard dead eye: I’ve got that sorted, by the way):  It took me about 10 attempts to defeat one opponent, as I just couldn’t work out how to manage it. He killed me every time.

RDR 2 is gorgeous, by the way. It is probably the best looking game I’ve played in a long time. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro on a Samsung 1080p TV with super sampling enabled & it’s jaw-dropping at times, especially as dusk falls, casting shadowy light across the landscape or when you’re caught in a rain storm, lightning striking in the distance.

Problematic controls aside, I’ve stuck with RDR2 for two reasons: 1), because I paid $94 of my own money for it and I want to see if through to the end & 2) the more I play it, the more I realised it isn’t the fast-paced game I was trying to make it. The last few games I’ve played have been fast-paced action games – Spider-Man, God of War – so  my muscle memory is used to the in-your-face, fast-paced action. RDR2 isn’t like that: It’s deliberately slower paced, actually forcing the player to methodically work their way through it, step by step, piece by piece..

After a few hours, I  realised  Rockstar has deliberately slowed down the pace of the game at times so that you actually soak in the game world its countless developers have created [Oh, and yes, I’m well aware of the furore surrounding Rockstar’s crunch period around the game and fully support the criticism around overly long work hours. I hope those responsible for RDR2 are fairly compensated for the hours they have put into it. They deserve it .]

I realised that RDR2 isn’t about racing from point A to point B, ignoring what is happening around you: It is about meandering from one town to another, taking in the small details that bring the game and its main character Arthur Morgan to life.

Things like when Arthur gets snow on his jacket, and he goes into a house, it slowly melts.  Like when he wants a cup of coffee at the camp, he rustles into his satchel, pulling out a mug and pouring coffee into it (then discarding the dregs before putting the mug back into his satchel). Like the ruts and corrugations created by horse’s hooves and wagon wheels as they plow through mud. Like how dead bounty hunters leave impressions in the mud where they’ve fallen after a gun fight. Like the lively banter that goes on during a party around a camp fire. RDR2 is a game full of small details that make the world seem alive more than any other Rockstar game before it.

Heck, when you save the game and come back to it, I’ve found Arthur asleep against a rock or leaning on his saddle, atop his horse, contemplating what is going on.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is unapologetically slow-paced and almost RPG-like in its management system where you have to make sure that both Arthur and his horse are well rested and nourished before embarking on major adventures. I loved the random encounters in the original RDR but they’re stepped up a notch in RDR2.

I changed my tune in my social media posts, too, proving to me that perhaps I need to think first, post later:

 

 

 

I think I also posted on social media that I was going to go back to Spider-Man, but I haven’t: I’ve played nothing but RDR2 since I bought it a week ago. I should be playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for a review but I haven’t even installed it on my Xbox One yet. Red Dead Redemption 2 is taking my every waking gaming moment (and sometimes my dream time, too, as I seem to be going through missions in my head, working out how I could have handled something better).

Look, RDR 2 has its faults – it’s not a 10 out of 10 game for me, – and the attention to detail at times can be a little too much:  Arthur is beautifully animated compared to John Marsden in RDR2  but that means that if you want to stop suddenly mid-run, you have to wait for a slow-down animation to play   but the more I play it, the more entwined I become with Arthur Morgan and his world. I guess what I’m saying is while RDR2 isn’t going to suit everyone, stick with it through the first few slow hours: You’ll thank me for it.

While I didn’t think this at first, I’m now knees deep into RDR2’s narrative and world and I want to know where Arthur’s story goes and what sort of man he becomes.

And you know what? Red Dead Redemption 2 could really be the game that defines this console generation.

 

 

 

 

 

Late to the Party: Spider-Man review

Selfie courtesy of the game’s photo mode.

Late to the Party is a n infrequent feature when I review a game that has been out for a while but I haven’t been able to review it at launch. Today, I’m looking at Spider-Man, on the PlayStation 4, which arrived a day after I had left for vacation in Canada. I was gone for a month.

For me, the Peter Parker in Insomniac’s Spider-Man isn’t the youthful Tom Holland from the most recent Avengers movies (inexperienced and unsure of his abilities), nor Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker (new to the superhero lark), but Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, a superhero that is comfortable with his abilities and wearing the red-and-blue suit, but a little socially awkward at times.

In Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker has been spinning the web for a while now, so he’s come to grips with his abilities and what he is capable of and the narrative features an ensemble cast of well-known villains and characters from Spider-Man lore, including Doctor Otto Octavius (Doc Oct), Martin Li (Mister Negative) Scorpion, Tombstone, Electro, (love interest) Mary Jane, Aunt May and Norman Osborn. The story has Peter defeating crime kingpin Wilson Fisk in the opening moments of the game,  putting him behind bars, only for another crime lord to rise in his place in the form of Martin Li, or Mister Negative.

As I write this, I’ve been back from  Canada for almost a week and have completed about 55 per cent of Spider-Man’s main campaign, collected 50 of the 55 backpacks and done about half a dozen research missions.I’ve also taken on thugs patrolling construction sites, tried to (unsuccessfully) capture wayward pigeons and had my arse kicked (a few times) by men armed with electric whips.

One of the first things that I noticed with Spider-Man is that Insomniac have nailed the swinging mechanic perfectly. Before too long, you’ll be performing acrobatics between skyscrapers towering above the traffic and pedestrian-filled streets and zipping through the air. In fact, the swinging mechanic is so good I didn’t feel the want (or need) to use the game’s fast travel system: It was more fun getting to the location using the old-fashioned Spidey way.

Melee combat is integral to Spider-Man and it’s top-notch, reminding me a lot of the combat in  Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, and once I’d got to grips with the plethora of moves and combos, combat was fast and fluid, with me being able to guide Spidey from foe to foe seamlessly, filling up my suit’s focus meter which then let me unleash brutal finishing moves on hapless foes.

I watched my son, who has completed the main story (yeah, yeah, it’ll ruin the story for me. I know), and there were some hallucination sequences that, again, reminded me a heck of a lot of Rocksteady’s Arkham series (you know the segments where a tiny Batman has to sneak around while a giant Scarecrow taunts him). I’m saying that as praise, not a criticism, by the way.

There’s a lot to do in Spider-Man when you’re not doing the main story mission, from collecting backpacks that Peter has left dotted around the city and doing research for Harry Osborn using laboratories he has left around the city to unlocking corrupted communications towers (which is a game mechanic that I think has been done to death in video games) and taking selfies at famous New York landmarks. While some of the busy work seems formulaic, a lot of it was a good break from the hectic moments of the main story.

There’s a benefit to that busywork, too: The more collectibles and side stuff  you complete, the more weapons, gadgets, skills and suit mods you can unlock so there’s a real incentive to do the busy work: The results are well worth it. I mean, what’s not to love about a bomb that explodes, showering all around it with web or electric web that shocks enemies.

One thing I wasn’t a fan of is the wave-based enemy system used when you want to take down construction sites under Fisk’s control and demon bases ruled by Li but defeating bases is essential to unlock in-game Spidey suits, so I tolled away at them, but it was  my least favourite aspect of the game.

Spider-Man doesn’t  invent the wheel when it comes to third-person action games – plenty of other games have done the same thing and Spider-Man does fall into the formulaic overused video game tropes at times  – but Insomniac’s Marvel superhero game is so much bloody fun, with an engaging narrative, well-fleshed out characters and great game mechanics that it’s another reason why, for me, PlayStation is simply owning this console generation hands down.

Now to see if I can complete it before Red Dead Redemption 2 drops this week (I’ve pre-ordered the game: I’m not getting review code). I don’t like my chances.

Reaching for the stars – Starlink: Battle for Atlas review

Ubisoft might be a little late to the party when it comes to toys-that-appear-in-your-games peripherals but with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the company could have a hit with pint-sized space explorers who like to play with toys as part of the game they’re playing.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas treads the commonly told tale of an evil entity wanting to take over the solar system and it’s up to you to save the day but central to Ubisoft’s space game are the plastic spaceships and figures that use a special mount that fits to your controller then brings the ships to life in-game.

Fox McCloud’s famous starship & the special base that the Joycon’s slot into and the spaceship toy locks into.

I played the Nintendo Switch version (it’s also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), where you slide a Joycon onto each side of the mount then attach the spaceship toy/ you have. Each craft and pilot has different abilities and weapons. The toy feels a little heavy on the controller to start with but you soon get used to it. As a bonus for Nintendo Switch players, the Switch version has a toy based off  Fox McCloud’s Arwing spaceship and the wily fox himself – and it’s a beauty of a craft, and Fox plays a major role in the game, with Switch exclusive missions focusing on the Star Fox team.

Fox McCloud in the flesh. Well, plastic. Alongside him is pilot Mason Rana.

  If you’re something of a toy collector then things could get expensive if you decide to buy as many ships as you can afford. The starter pack costs around $118 with additional ships setting you back about $58 a pop for a spaceship. Additional weapons packs cost around $30. You snap on the attachments, which appear in-game and you can swap out weapons and modify them on the fly, depending on the enemy you’re squaring off against.

Some of the other spaceships that you can buy for Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

That said, the toys aren’t necessary to actually play the game so you don’t have to buy them if you don’t want to: You can play it without spending a cent on the ships and weapon attachments, if you want. The game takes place on a variety of planets with different fauna and flora, as well as the Atlas star system, and while there is a bit of a grind where you have to explore planets for clues to help you in your missions, mine for resources, form alliances with other alien races and do busy work for locals to move the story forward,  I was surprised how much of a smile it put on my face. Maybe it was the fact that I was controlling the on-screen spaceship with a controller that looked like the on-screen spaceship. The combat is fast and fluid enough, and it seems to hold a pretty consistent frame rate on the Switch, something that is vital for a game that relies on fast reflexes. It’s a lot of fun, too,  swapping out weapons mid-battle when you realise your initial arsenal isn’t up to scratch, but young players might find the intricacies of weapons management mid-battle  a little daunting, though. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a lot of fun, even with the grinding busy work and some repetitive missions, but the toys add a different dimension to the game play that will appeal to spaceship fans. Parents, just keep in mind that the cost will mount up if your game fan wants more and more ships and weapons. Heck, 10-year-old me would have danced with delight if I’d been able to play a game like Starlink: Battle for Atlas with its snap-on space ships and weapons. Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Starlinke: Battle for Atlas and the toys.

No blog for a while: I’m on holiday

Morning.

I was hoping to have a review of Spider-Man for you before I left for four weeks holiday in Canada – but, alas, the review code has not appeared. If it does, it’ll after I get back in mid-October, before I kick into Red Dead Redemption 2 (which I’ve pre-ordered).

As the title says, I’m on holiday for four weeks, touring around Canada and its locales. I won’t be updating the blog during that time.

Thanks to those of you that still stick around: I do appreciate your loyalty.

If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll post photos of my Canadian adventures.

See ya.

Good on ‘ya, mate: Australian gaming site Player 2 streaming for charity

Despite our Trans-Tasman rivalries, I’m very fond of the game writing chums in Australia that I know and interact with, so I’m always happy to help out when one of my fellow game writers across the ditch is doing something that benefits those less fortunate.

So, read on for a press release from Player 2’s Matt Hewson about the site’s upcoming gaming marathon for the Terry Campese Foundation in Australia. There’s the chance to win quite a few game-related prizes if you’re watching the live stream, too.

After a successful charity event last year, the Player 2 team are coming back once again to raise money for the Terry Campese Foundation. Last year the team raised over $3700 for the charity, every cent of which went to helping sick and underprivileged families from the Canberra and Southern NSW regions. This year the crew aim to beat that mark and are looking at the possibility of reaching $4000.

The 24-hour gaming marathon will occur on the 15th of September, kicking off at 10am and running for a full day. The team will be playing one game every hour, including titles such as The Halo Master Chief Collection, Rock Band, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection and the ever-popular NBA Jam, all in the name of this great cause.

To encourage people to donate the Player 2 team has gotten together an impressive list of prizes that includes over 200 items. Games such as Spider-Man, Far Cry 5 and Nier Automata are up for grabs along with great books, soundtracks, merchandise and even a working Pip-Boy 3000! All of these prizes will be given out to people that donate $2 or more to the event.

“The chance to help out a charity such as Terry’s is an honour and a privilege” said Player 2 Editor, Matt Hewson.

“At Player 2, we often lament the lack of positive coverage our favourite hobby receives from mainstream media, so we feel it is our responsibility to lead by example. We are a small site in the grand scheme of things, but as we have shown previously our size doesn’t stop us from helping out in a meaningful way. The Terry Campese Foundation is a charity that aims to help those who are struggling in life, be it from illness or poverty, and that is something I feel we can all get behind”

The whole event will be live streamed on the Player 2 twitch channel and will covered extensively on Player 2’s social media channels, with on-the-spot giveaways for viewers and followers. For more information about the Player 2 Charity Marathon Supporting The Terry Campese Foundation head to http://www.player2.net.au

It’s a Sunday night, I’ve had a busy week (including attending a work conference all day today) , my brain is tired, so here’s a press release prepared earlier by PriceSpy. Normal service will resume this coming week. Perhaps.

According to data insights  from PriceSpy, the fully impartial price and product comparison service, Sony PlayStation is dominating the New Zealand gaming world.

Based on historical clicks, the most popular game right now is God of War, claiming the top spot for four consecutive months.  Following closely behind is Detroit: Become Human.  Since its release in May 2018, it has quickly become the second most-popular game of the moment.

 Top Games for July 2018

  1. God of War (PS4)
  2. Detroit: Become Human (PS4)
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
  4. Octopath Traveler (Switch)
  5. Gran Turismo: Sport (VR) (PS4)

Top Games for June 2018

  1. God of War (PS4)
  2. Detroit: Become Human (PS4)
  3. Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition (PS4)
  4. Far Cry 5 (PS4)
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

Top Games for May 2018

  1. God of War (PS4)
  2. Detroit: Become Human (PS4)
  3. Far Cry 5 (PS4)
  4. Gran Turismo: Sport (VR) (PS4)
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

 Top Games for April 2018

  1. God of War (PS4)
  2. Far Cry 5 (PS4)
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
  4. Destiny 2 (PS4)
  5. Grand Theft Auto V (PC)

Halo Fireteam Raven: A pictoral essay

As I mentioned earlier this week, I was in Auckland for work so was able to head along to the New Zealand launch of the Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine at Timezone in Auckland’s Wairau Valley.

It was nice event, with like-minded individuals chatting, eating delicious nibbles, imbibing fluids and, of course, being among the first in NZ to play the dual-screen, four-player Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine.

Short verdict? It’s good. It’s very, very, very good. Actually, it’s a helluva lotta fun, letting you fill the combat boots of a Halo spartan taking on the covenant hordes – with some mates along for the ride.

Feast your eyes on these images of some obligatory Spartans controlling Spartans in Halo Fireteam Raven & some video of the game in action.

Sadly, the machine was too big to to fit in my carry on luggage for the flight home a couple of days later.

 

Halo Fireteam Raven launches in NZ tomorrow night

There’s a new Halo game launching in New Zealand tomorrow night – but you can’t buy it at your local retailer or play it on your Xbox One (or One X console).

Halo: Fireteam Raven is the first arcade edition of Microsoft’s much-loved FPS game Halo to come to New Zealand – and it’s getting its first outing at Timezone Xtreme Entertainment Wairau in Auckland tomorrow night (August 28)

The arcade game lets  four players either play cooperatively, or compete against each other in the Halo universe, and boasts a 130-inch, 4K  widescreen and 5.1 surround sound. Halo: Fireteam Raven lets fans of the Halo franchise play alongside Master Chief in the battle to ward off the enemy forces of the Covenant and the Flood infestation.

Here’s the official trailer for the game:

As luck would have it, I’m actually in Auckland tomorrow night for work so I’ll be popping along to Timezone Wairau to check out the Fireteam Raven and the festivities I’ll  post images to my twitter feed (@GamejunkieNZ) during the night, too,  if you want to see what the arcade machine looks like.

Also, if you attending the event and see me, come say hi!

 

 

 

 

Huawei nova 3i: A budget priced phone with a high-end presence

Huawei’s nova3i smart phone is a budget handset with flagship features that’s  missing one thing that a flagship smartphone does: The hefty price tag.

The last Huawei phone I reviewed was the P20, which I thought was a good phone but it just didn’t wow me, especially given the flagship P20 Pro wasn’t much more price-wise. The nova 3i has impressed me no end.

For starters, I love the iridium purple (Huawei calls it iris purple) on the glass/metal back: It looks classy and high-end, and makes the phone look more expensive than it is. It’s nice to see a budge phone that is a little different from the usual gold/white we so often see on smart phones. Some one said to me it looks kind of like an iPhone X, too, and it does – but without the eye-watering price point.

 

The nova 3i has a 6.3-inch IPS screen  ( FHD at  2340 x 1080), an impressive 4Gb of memory, is running Android 8.0 (with Huawei’s Emotion UI 8.2) and its 128Gb of storage is expandable to 256Gb via MicroSD. It also lets users set Te Reo as a language, which is a great touch for those of us in Aeotearoa. The battery life was damn good, too.

The nova3i has four camera lenses (two front-facing, two rear-facing) like Huawei’s flagship P20 Pro but – and here’s where saving would have been made – not from renowned company Leica. The nova 3i takes pretty damn good photos, which I’ve posted here, and camera software uses AI to enhance where it sees necessary. Sometimes it makes the original image look better, other times, though, it makes the original image look a little over-saturated, overall I was really impressed with the camera and the images.

Before: The original image with the Huawei nova3i’s AI mode disabled.

After: The image with the AI mode enabled. Note how the blue sky looks brighter, as does the sand.

Before: Another shot from the same beach with the AI mode disabled.

After: Again, note how much brighter the same and blue sky is thanks to the AI mode.

I think one of the main reasons I’m so taken with the nova 3i, though, is the price point: This is a phone with Rolls Royce looks but with at a Datsun 180B price. At $499, I’m more likely to upgrade my ageing Samsung Galaxy S7 with the nova 3i than I am Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Note 9, which may kick the Huawei’s arse when it comes to specs and performance, but these days, I’m not that keen on spending $1700 to $2000 on a phone, not matter how impressive it is (Nor would I want to, actually.)

The Huawei nova 3i does everything I need it to in a smartphone, and at a far more affordable price. As a budge conscious tech-head, that’s a win in my book.

Thanks to Huawei for providing a nova 3i hanset for this review.