Xbox & Bethesda showcase, E2 2021

This morning, I woke up at stupid o’clock – 5am New Zealand time – to watch the Xbox & Bethesda showcase for E3 2021 (from the comfort of my bed via my iPad) and of all the games that were announced – 30 games apparently (I didn’t count, sorry) – the one that I was most excited about was … Psychonauts 2 from Double Fine Productions.

Why Psychonauts 2, you probably didn’t ask? Well, it’s because after backing the damn thing a few years ago when it was seeking funds on a crowd sourcing site in 2016, raising $3,829,024 we now have an actual release date: August 25 2021.

It’s great that a date has been locked in but, sorry, Tim Schaefer, I know how the gaming industry works: I’ll only believe it when I have my PC backer code in my hot little hands. To be honest, though, I’m pleased I didn’t spend an additional $18 for an Xbox or PlayStation code: The game’s coming to Xbox Gamepass day one, seeing as Xbox bought Double Fine a while back.

Anyway, here’s the Psychonauts 2 trailer from earlier today:

Did you watch the event? If not, you can watch the entire event which is posted at the top of this post but personally, the game’s that caught my eye the most – apart from Psychonauts 2, of course – were Stalker 2, Microsoft Flight Simulator and A Plague Tale Requim. The 90 minute presentation opened with Xbox and PC exclusive Starfield, but the trailer didn’t show any game play so I’m really not sure about that one yet. I guess we’ll know more in the lead up to the November, 2022 release. Yes, November 2022.

Other key announcement included:

Starfield (Xbox Series X/S, PC):

Redfall (Arcane Studios, Xbox Series X/S, PC):

Fallout 76 Steel Reign & Expeditions expansions:

Xbox Series X: raw power fused with familiar Xbox DNA

Thanks to Xbox ANZ, I’ve had an Xbox Series X for the past couple of weeks to put it through its paces. Here are my thoughts, for what their worth, on Xbox’s vision for next-generation gaming.

In a handful of hours – less than six, if we’re counting – the Xbox Series X and it’s smaller sibling the Xbox Series S will launch in New Zealand and Australia.

Come the stroke of midnight on November 10, Australasian gamers will be able to get their hands on the new generation of gaming machines. Sony’s PlayStation 5 launches in New Zealand and Australia two days later on November 12. Without a doubt, it’s definitely an exciting time to be a console gamer.

Much has been made of the Xbox Series X’s design: Yes, it kind of looks like a fridge. Yes, it looks like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in all honesty, it’s no bulker than the original Xbox’s footprint, which was a hearty boy for sure, and it was actually more compact than I was expecting. It is hefty, though.

Unsurprisingly, given the consoles roots, it reminds me more of a PC than previous consoles thanks to its mini-tower design. I have it sitting vertically next to my Samsung Series 8 4K TV and it doesn’t look out of place, thanks to its minimalist design.

Out of the box, set up is incredibly simple using the Xbox smartphone app. The console updated itself (so you’ll need an active internet account for setup) as I was entering my existing Xbox account sign-in details. From booting up the console to the Xbox logo splash screen was around 14 seconds, with the boot screen often appearing about the same time I’d managed to select the right source on my TV. Using the consoles instant on feature, the boot up was less than 5 seconds.

There was a console update and there was also a firmware update for the controller. It was all remarkably stress-free and within a few minutes I was staring at a familiar-looking Xbox dashboard.

Without any games installed, the high-speed SSD had around 800Gb free and with five games installed, I still had 6725Gb of space to play with. For me, that’s plenty of space but you can expand the storage space when you need it using proprietary storage solutions which slots into the rear of the machine.

Powered up, the Series X actually ran quieter than I was expecting, too, especially given how much hardware is crammed into its tight form factor. It’s designed so that all the heat created by the console is drawn upwards, exiting via a massive 130mm exhaust fan at the top (which has a neat green effect that shifts as you move your perspective when you’re looking at it. It’s hard to describe). The engineering clearly works as when I put my hand over the massive air exhaust at the top, I felt the gentlest of breezes, even when the console was under load.

In a nod to Digital Foundry and it’s technical analysis, I used an infra-red temperature reader that I bought for one of my son’s science projects many moons ago to check the console temperature: At idle, the front was sitting at around 20deg Celsius while the grilled top above the exhaust fan sat at about 25.6deg. Under load – a solid session of Gears Tactics – the exhaust recorded a temperature of 45deg. It was warm but not hot.

See the green colour? It’s applied so that it appears to move as you change your view.

The XSX comes with one controller and it looks like … well, an Xbox controller: That’s not a criticism it’s just an observation. It’s roughly the same size as an Xbox 360 controller (minus the battery compartment on the bottom, of course) but smaller than the original Xbox’s duke controller.

I always have liked the design of the Xbox controllers and the XBX’s feels familiar and comfortable to hold. It also has a nice textured back. The controller is an evolution of all the Xbox controllers before it: The triggers feel more refined as do the shoulder buttons. There’s also a dedicated screen capture button on the face, which is nice touch.

The only technical issues I encountered was after a few days the console decided it didn’t like the HDMI connection on my TV that I’d selected and turned itself off a few seconds after booting up. Changing to another HDMI port, which the TV automatically identified as an Xbox, seemed to sort the issue out.

It’s all about the software, baby

Microsoft kindly supplied a handful of game codes and while some of them weren’t optimised for the Xbox Series X yet, I tested out Ori & The Will of the Wisps, Gears of War 5, Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Gears Tactics, The Touryst, and Red Dead Redemption to test the backwards compatibility functionality. I would have loved to have tested out Assassin’s Creed Valhalla but the supplied game code, while pre-loading the game, wouldn’t unlock the game until until November 10, the consoles launch day which was kind of frustrating.

As time of writing, games that had been optimised for Xbox Series X were Gears of War 5, The Touryst, Gears Tactics, Forza Horizon 4 and Sea of Thieves. Games that would be optimised at or before launch included Watch Dogs Legions, Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Dirt 5, Destiny 2 and Tetris Effect Connected.

Gears Tactics looks great and plays great on Xbox Series X.

Gears of War 5 already looked great on Xbox One but it looks even better on Xbox Series X and performs a lot better, too. Colours are more vibrant, textures are much higher resolution, especially on a 4K TV. The frame rate is much more stable, too. Gears Tactics, too, plays extremely well and is a nice addition to the Xbox family. If you haven’t played it, I recommend it highly.

Ori looks gorgeous, too, even in its unoptimised state, as does The Touryst (allowing up to 120FPS, I understand), but Like A Dragon looks, well, like the Yakuza games did on PlayStation: Nice but not ground breaking.

It’s a shame, though, that Halo Infinite wasn’t ready for the console’s launch (Master Chief is still plastered across the back of the console’s box) as I feel the Xbox Series X really does need a strong console-selling first-party game at launch – and Halo would have been that game.

And how was the Backwards Compatibility mode? It’s good and while disappointingly, Batman Arkham City isn’t one of the compatible games, Red Dead Redemption is, requiring a 7.4Gb update, and it looks remarkably superior to the original 360 format that I played it on: Visuals are much, much sharper with higher resolution textures and much faster transitions between game play and cut scenes.

BC is a great option if you have a large Xbox 360 library and no longer have your Xbox 360 or Xbox One console but for me, I want a new console to bring me new games and new experiences: Not play old games but with better frame rates.

The verdict

To me, hardware aside, the Xbox Series X is more a refinement of what came before, not an evolution: The dashboard is a refined version of that of the Xbox One (to this day, I believe the most impressive Xbox dashboard was from the original Xbox: That was truly innovative) and the controller is a refinement of previous controllers. Not bad things in themselves but I was expecting a little more innovation in those areas.

The Xbox 360 controller on the left, the Xbox Series X controller on the right. You can see refinements in the D-pad, buttons and sticks but the shape remains relatively the same.

I feel Xbox have played it a little safe in terms of UI and controller design, here, but in terms of raw power, the XSX is a winner and I really look forward to seeing what the future holds – and what developers can do with the power under the hood.

I’ve also heard older hardware like the Xbox One series are starting to creak under more graphically intensive titles so it seems the timing is right for a new generation of more powerful console, but – and there’s always a but – I feel all this power is being squandered at the moment without some strong first-party games to really showcase what the hardware it is truly capable of. Those games will come, of course, with time.

For the time being, though, the Xbox Series X has laid robust foundations for the future. Now, Xbox needs to build on those foundations in the months and years to come.

E3: The big guns come out to play

Day two of the E3 press conferences before the show proper and Microsoft and PlayStation held their press events. I woke up at 4.25am to watch the Microsoft one and I liked some of the announcements, especially the Project Scorpio console (although I’m tossing up now whether to save for a Project Scorpio console or save for one of the soon-to-be released AMD RX480 graphics cards (and probably a new motherboard to put it in).

Microsoft’s biggest cheers definitely came for the two consoles that had been rumoured but no-one really knew much about. There’s the Xbox One S, which is 40 per cent smaller than the launch Xbox One, has an internal power supply and it supports 4K Ultra HD, there’s the new console called at the moment Project Scorpio which promises “6 Teraflops”of GPU power. There’s a new Elite controller and you can customise your own one-of a kind Xbox One wireless controller but as far as Microsoft’s games went: I thought they were OK but not outstanding. I do like the cross play feature where someone with a game on Xbox One can play someone who is playing the same game on a Windows 10 laptop/PC.

Microsoft had Halo Wars 2 (I loved the first game), Dead Rising 4, Gears of War 4, Rare’s Seas of Thieves (which looks great), Forza Horizon 3 (which is set in Australia!), Recore,  Final Fantasy XV, Minecraft Realms (it was good to see famed developer John Carmack wearing a Samsung GearVR headset for this demo) and The Division Underground. All solid games but nothing really earth-shattering, in my view. That said, indie title We Happy Few looks genuinely interesting as did PlayDead’s Inside (the same developers that created Limbo).

Update: Thinking about things overnight, Xbox has scored a major win in hardware side of things by announcing Project Scorpio.  Yes, it’s 18 months or so until the console will be released (I suspect it’ll be revealed middle of next year sometime) but I’d say announcing Scorpio will really put the heat on Sony and it’s PlayStation Neo console which, I think, is due for release late this year. Microsoft are really gunning to win the console wars and build the “most powerful console ever” and looking at its speaks, it is indeed a powerful machine. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s announcement yesterday has PlayStation worried about its Neo.

As far as games go (and let’s face it, that’s why people buy consoles/play PCs), though, for me, Sony won the battle, if there is such a thing. I love both consoles but personally, I felt that PlayStation’s games seemed a little fresher, a little more exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a much older (but a bit of a dick towards his son) Kratos in the God of War reboot, The Last Guardian which seems to have been in development for decades finally got a release date, Horizon Zero Dawn looks incredible, Hideo Kojima’s new game Death Stranding which featured a naked Norman Reedus (from Walking Dead fame) wondering why he’s on a beach,  there was a very Last of Us-esque game called Days Gone which features zombies in an apocalyptic setting, Detroit Become Human (the next game from David Cage) and then there was the PS VR stuff which, frankly, made my eyes pop. I was even enthralled with the Call of Duty VR stuff that I didn’t know was actually Call of Duty until near the end (oh, and I’d easily buy a copy of Infinite Warfare just for the remastered version of Modern Warfare which has, without a doubt, the best COD mission ever in All Ghillied Up). Oh, and there’s a Batman Arkham VR game [breathe, breathe]

PlayStation has a new PS4 coming out called the Neo but nothing was show at its press event. I wonder whether PlayStation will reveal more at the Tokyo Games Show?

Looks, there’s something for fans of both consoles but for me, if I had to pick a console which had the strongest line up of games coming out, I’d put my money on PlayStation. I also liked how most of PlayStation’s press event was game footage and trailers rather than people standing on stage talking.

This is not an exhaustive list of every game announced but just those that caught my attention. Anyway, enough words. Here’s some moving pictures. Enjoy.

 

God of War (PS4):

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4):

Infinite Warfare (ship assault):

Days Gone (PS4):

Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One):

We Happy Few (Xbox One):

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One):

 

Thoughts on what PlayStation and Xbox showed today?

Halo 5 Guardians review: One more for the road

Trying to punch two Promethean Knights to death in Halo 5 Guardians  is never going to end well.

Believe me, I found out the hard way.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

Two of these guys kicked my Spartan arse several times in Halo 5.

It was in the closing battle of Halo 5’s campaign when things went terribly wrong. Finding myself suddenly surrounded by two advancing Knights, the incredibly tough Promethean mechanised warrior, I realised that both my weapons were out of ammo and, sadly for me,  there were no discarded weapons nearby to pick up.

I  had two choices: Run or punch them in the face. So that’s what I did. I punched them.

What was I thinking? Probably that my augmented Spartan punches would crack the Knights carapaces, exposing their vulnerable AI core inside.

So, how do you think it went? It went as well as could be expected. Meaning it didn’t go well at all and I was knocked to the ground, my life force draining from my tired Spartan body.

Thankfully, one of my squad mates was close enough to revive me (that’s one of the new features in Halo 5) and, some how, I managed to sprint clear of the area, find some fully loaded Promethean weapons (I love the boltshot) before delivering swift, sweet justice to the Kinghts. It was frantic and full-on.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Master Chief: Ready to Rock.

Now, I’m not  a Halo player who knows the canon off by heart and can recite it word for word. I don’t know all the weapon stats and what works best in certain situations. I also  found some of the earlier Halo games a little boring at times. Sorry, but I did. I enjoyed Halo 4, though, and really, really enjoyed Halo 5.

Guardians lets players take the role of two protagonists: Master Chief and Spartan Jameson Locke. It’s two heroes for the price of one game. Each man is supported by three other Spartans.

H5G_Render_Locke-Close5Throughout the length of the campaign you swap between Master Chief and Locke as you take on the Covenant and the Prometheans, which first appeared in Halo 4.

Hey, look, here’s me playing through the first mission of Halo 5 Guardians, including cinematics leading into Mission 2. I do die, but only to show you the revive mechanic. Really.  🙂

:

I won’t dwell on Halo 5’s story for fear of, well, spoiling things for people but it deals with Locke hunting Master Chief, who has seemingly, gone AWOL. Go get him, soldier!

You’re squad mates are a competent most of the time (other times I bled out because their pathfinding proved difficult getting to me). They’ll provide cover fire, distract larger enemies and in the case of Edward Buck (who has now been promoted to Spartan after his fine work in Halo Reach) provides a wise crack or three (He also promises to buy everyone a drink at one point). The one thing I wouldn’t trust Buck with is driving: During one level, he seemed to just want to drive up rocks or take the long way home.

I did feel strange having three companions with the Master Chief, though. I’ve always felt the Master Chief was a lone wolf figure, taking on foes single-handedly, so it took a while to get used having three limpets (sorry, companions) but when the going gets tough, it’s great to have a helping hand. Like when you’re facing off against large groups of enemies or, say, two Hunters..

Graphically, Halo 5 looks nice with some impressive set-pieces and varied locations but – and I may be in the minority here – it didn’t blow me away visually all the time. I guess 343 Industries was always going to face a tough battle when it came to the look of Halo 5 given how good Halo 4 looked on the 360. Don’t get me wrong, when you stumble across scenes with a lot of action going on and vehicles flying all over the place and lasers everywhere, it looks great.

The frame rate remains rock solid at 60 frames a second most of the time, which was impressive given how many enemies can be on-screen at one time, and its in-game cinematics are fantastic, with great looking character models and atmospheric lighting.

Gameplay is the tried and true that Halo veterans will know but  if you’re after something revolutionary, look somewhere else: You won’t find it here. I also felt that the closing missions suffered too much from repetition and rinse-and-repeat game play. The finale disappointed me a little, too. I was expecting something a little more epic.

With Halo 4, 343 laid the ground work for what it could do with the series. With Halo 5, it has shown it knows how to respect the franchise and has created a game that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable of the series, even if the campaign has a few missteps near the end and it left a lot of questions.

The bottom line is that Halo 5 Guardians is a great game that will fuel your inner Spartan but where the franchise is heading to from here I’ve no idea. It’s clear from the ending that  there are more stories to tell, but whether Master Chief is a part of those, I’m not sure. He is getting on, isn’t he? Plus, I may have counted wrong, but I’m pretty sure you play more missions as Locke than as Master Chief. That might mean something.

I guess we’ll find out in Halo 6.

Note: I haven’t tried out the multiplayer of Halo 5 Guardians in real-world conditions yet, just what I’ve played at a preview event a few weeks ago. I’ll update the review with my thoughts on MP play when I can join some games. I’m also keen to play throught the game in co-op.

I played through the single player campaign of Halo 5 Guardians on normal difficulty from start to finish using a downloaded retail copy of the game provided by Xbox NZ

XONZ: Microsoft to showcase Xbox One titles at dedicated event this month

XboxLogoNew Zealand is at the bottom of the world so we don’t get the opportunity very often for the public to get their hands on upcoming games at special gaming events.

Well, this month XboxNZ  is hoping to change that with XONZ, a chance for Xbox fans to play upcoming Xbox One games at a dedicated event on September 26. That’s a Saturday.

Kiwi gamers will be able to play the latest versions of triple A titles such as Halo 5: Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6 and Lego Dimensions among many others.

Fans will also get the chance to talk with developers from 343 Industries (Halo), Microsoft (Forza) and Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider), who are flying in especially for XONZ. The local Bethesda team will also be on hand to catch up with fans on Fallout 4.

Content from next year’s highly anticipated Remedy title Quantum Break and Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division will be showcased to the crowds, as will a hand-picked selection of Xbox@ID indie titles including Cuphead, Plague Inc. and Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut.

“XONZ will give 300 of Xbox’s biggest Kiwi fans a rare chance to see and play our greatest line-up of games ahead of their launches in the run-up to Christmas,” said Steve Blackburn, Xbox New Zealand Lead. “Having developers fly in to New Zealand to meet local Xbox fans is an opportunity not to be missed. Not many New Zealanders get to travel to international gaming expos like E3, Gamescom or PAX, so we’re delighted to be able to bring a slice of that to them.”

Attendees will also be able to get hands on with the highly anticipated Xbox Elite Controller ahead of its New Zealand release in November, as well as check out the latest Xbox Hardware including the Xbox One Forza Motorsport 6 Limited Edition and Xbox One Halo 5 Guardians Limited Edition.

You will have to register, though, to secure a place at the XONZ so head over to the Xbox NZ Facebook page (facebook.com/XboxNZ), check out the XONZ Event and be one of the first 300 fans to register your Gamertag to secure your place at this year’s event. Note, gamers must be at least 16 years old to attend XONZ.

The details:

What: XONZ

When: Saturday 26 September

Time: 10am-3pm

Where: The Studio, 340 Karangahape Rd, Auckland

Age Rating: Participants must be at least 16 years old to attend X0NZ

What’s on show: Halo 5: Guardians (Warzone), Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, Forza Motorsport 6, Lego Dimensions, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, FIFA 2016, Cuphead, Plague Inc., Wasteland 2: The Director’s Cut

Xbox at Gamescom 2015

Gamescom started this week in Germany, and early this morning (2am NZ time) Xbox had its press event, touting the “greatest games line-up” in the history of the brand. And it was pretty impressive, actually.

[As an aside, up until this year I always thought Gamescom was called Gamescon – short for Games Conference. Turns out I’ve been wrong all these years]

Here’s the full briefing if you missed ( it but probably the highlight for me was the gameplay footage of Remedy’s Quantum Break (although, do we really need well-known actors in our video games: can’t they just stick to movies?), a game that ups the ante on Remedy’s time-bending/freezing mechanic from previous games like Alan Wake and Max Payne.

I didn’t watch all of the press event – I was, ridiculously working until 3am this morning (yes, 3am) – but Xbox revealed some Crackdown 3 footage: 

Some Scalebound: 

Some Elite Dangerous (which looks very nic): 

Some Dark Souls III: 

Some Forza Motorsports 6 (driving in the rain, no less): 

Some Halo Wars 2: 

Some Worms: 

And … some of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick’s Thimbleweed Park (a game I’m more than a little interested in because I backed it on Kickstarter so want to see where my money’s going): 

All in all, it looks like Xbox are putting games to the forefront of its focus (and not a Kinect game to be seen: I think Kinect is pretty much dead in the water). There were plenty of other games shown, like the new Lara Croft game from Crystal Dynamics (I’m not sure how I feel about that one)  but I’ve picked those that stood out for me.

PlayStation won’t be having a press event at Gamescom: I suspect it’s saving its ammunition for the Tokyo Games Show which is in October. It makes sense, too, Sony is a Japanese company, after all.

So what are your thoughts? Any gems in there that have you excited?

Xbox and PlayStation bring the games to E3 2015

Firstly, I guess I’m sitting at two for three when it comes to pre-E3 predictions then, given that my three most anticipated games for E3 2015  were Mass Effect 4, a new Hitman game and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

OK, the Mass Effect reveal didn’t show game play footage but hey, EA has still announced it, as has SquareEnix with the latest game in the Hitman series featuring old baldy, Agent 47. All I need now if for SquareEnix to showcase the new Deus Ex game and I’ll be a happy man.

I was thinking earlier today about how I was going to cover today’s press events from Xbox and Sony: Would I write it up, game by game, announcement by announcement, giving my opinion on everything? Or would I just let the trailers speak for themselves?

I’ve decided that I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves. I’m not going to do these “Xbox/Sony Won E3” write-ups that inevitably appear after E3’s pre-show events.Frankly, they’re pointless (and I probably did them in the past).

Do you want to know who won? Gamers won, that’s who. Let’s stop this “X won E3!”bullshit. There was plenty there for Xbox gamers, plenty there for PlayStation gamers. Gamers won.

Tomorrow, I believe there is a dedicated PC gaming event so I’ll watch that as I’m sooooo close to plonking down close to $NZ600 on a new nVidia Geforce GTXC970 GPU so I want to see what I can do with it.

I got up at 4.15am to watch the Xbox press event and it had games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5 Guardians, a compilation of 30 games from British developer Rare, backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games (I’m guessing it’s some form of emulation where you’ll have to download a digital version of the game, even if you own a disc copy), a rather impressive game from New Zealand development studio Aurora 44 (where are they based? Call me! Lets talk!) called Ashen (which had a real Shadow of the Colossus/Journey feel to it), a game from another Keewee Dean “Rocket” Hall called Ion, a rather impressive demo of Hololens and Minecraft (although, I’m sceptical about Hololens until it’s actually at retail and we can see it in real-world conditions) and a re-mastered version of the original Gears of War, as well as Gears of War 4.

It was a solid showing. I’ve got trailers for some of them below.

Gears of War 4: 

Halo 5 Guardians: 

Ashen: 

Ion: 

Sony

From what I’ve heard about Sony’s press event, it seemed to be full of fan service (I didn’t watch it. I was working) and no doubt wooed the crowd by finally showing The Last Guardian, a game that seems to have been written off as vaporware after around eight years in development.

Among the games Sony announced were: a remake Final Fantasy 7 and that Shenmue 3 was in the works, a new game (not a FPS) from Killzone developer Guerilla Games called Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Mans Sky (which looks fantastic but, if I’m being honest, I still have no idea what you do apart from fly around and discover other planets), a new Hitman game, a game that looks genuinely interesting called Firewatch, Dreams from Little Big Planet developer Media Molecule,  and, not surprisingly, an extended look at Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

The Last Guardian: 

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: 

Dreams: 

No Man’s Sky: 

Firewatch: 

Hitman: 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you liked from Sony & Microsoft.

Sunset Overdrive launch trailer: Apocalypse in a multi-coloured world

Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive is set for release in a few days on the Xbox One console (yes, Insomniac once used to be a Sony-only developer) so Xbox have dropped the launch trailer for the game.

Taking place in a Sunset City, a brightly coloured world that has gone to hell in a handbasket after the launch of a new energy drink from Fizzco went horribly wrong (not really a spoiler alert: It turned those that drank it into orange mutants called the OD), the game stars you – yes, you – as hero, who can grind, jump, bounce, twirl and flip his way around the city as he gets to grips with what has happened.

Look, check out the launch trailer here to see for yourself.

Be warned, though, if your ears hurt when you hear anyone say the swear word that rhymes with Truck, then best you cover your lugs near the end. That word is said (but only once).

The game’s out next week, I think.

Game Junkie impressions so far: The Xbox One

It’s a familiar logo, a familiar boot-up sound and a familiar colour – Xbox green – but it’s a completely new experience and a completely new console: The Xbox One, Microsoft’s next-gen machine.

Pride of place: The Xbox One doesn't look out of place sitting above my Panasonic DVR.

Pride of place: The Xbox One doesn’t look out of place sitting above my Panasonic DVR.

It’s bigger than the 360 –  about 10 per cent, apparently and putting the latter on top of the former shows by just how much –  but the new console’s unobtrusive look means it’ll blend in with all your other entertainment hardware without problem. It’s not some space-age looking piece of kit that’ll catch a visitor’s eye,  and it sort of reminded me of the old Mitsubishi Black Diamond VCR I used to own. Not much to look at but functional.

Breaking up the blackness are a silver accent around the Blu-ray drive and a white touch-sensitive Xbox button on the right hand side.  The “brick” power pack of the Xbox 360 is back and the console runs near silent, which is perhaps why it’s the size that it is: plenty of room for air to flow around?

Kinect is mandatory this time but it’s a much more advanced design to the original

Kinect camera: The new Kinect is bigger than the old one and shinier, too (yes, that's my reflection you can see).

Kinect camera: The new Kinect is bigger than the old one and shinier, too (yes, that’s my reflection you can see).

Unlike the Xbox 360, Kinect is mandatory this time but it’s a much more advanced design to the original, featuring a 1080p HD sensor that can even pick up your heart rate (granted that was using the game Kinect Fitness).  It was easy to set up, with the Kinect adjusting itself until it was happy, and a neat feature was that once set up, Kinect could differentiate between my profile and that lf my son’s,  even noticing when I had handed the controller to him.

Another impressive feature was that if left in standby mode, the Kinect will wake up the console as soon as you walk into its field of view field of view, greeting me with “Hi, Gerard!”. You can still use the traditional controller to sign in, if you want.

Microsoft says the Xbox One’s controller has been radically overhauled and while it feels a lot more organic, a lot smoother,  I can’t say I noticed much difference: It feels nice to hold, though. The  button layout is similar to that of the Xbox 360 (although I don’t think the bumpers are solid as those on the Xbox 360), with the Xbox button having moved upwards. There’s a much improved D-pad and menu and view buttons replace start and back. It’s powered by two double AA batteries but I think there’s a plug and charge kit available if you want to go the non-AA way.

Old with new: Here's the old controller alongside the new Xbox One, er, one.

Old with new: Here’s the old controller alongside the new Xbox One, er, one.

The Xbox One’s dashboard has the live tiles like Microsoft’s Windows 8 “Metro” interface, and it takes a little to get used to. There’s a central tile that shows your most recent activity – game, application – and pressing the  Xbox button on the controller will pause the game/app, taking you back to the dashboard.  Click on the central tile again and you’re taken back to the game or application, exactly where you left off. No pause, no waiting.

There’s also a Game DVR function that I’ve been playing around with. It records up to five minutes of game play footage (I’m not sure how it determines when and what footage to capture) then you can save the clips, edit and add a voice-over using Upload Studio and Kinect.

It’s a pretty neat feature  and I’m looking forward to playing around with it. You can also do “Picture in Picture”, where it overlays one game play clip over another, but for some reason the recorded voice over was echoey.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Kiwi gamers, though,  is that voice commands aren’t enabled for New Zealand at launch (no doubt that’ll be updated with a patch at some point but when? Who knows: It took Microsoft a long time to get voice commands for us Kiwis with the Xbox 360s).  Stupidly, I didn’t actually know that until I found out from Xbox’s NZ PR person earlier this week, so spent the first night with the console saying things like things like “Xbox, go to games” and “Xbox resume Ryse: Son of Rome” , wondering why nothing was happening.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Kiwi gamers is that voice commands aren’t enabled for New Zealand at launch

It’s sad but hopefully it won’t be too long until voice commands are New Zealand-ified. [Sidenote: Something I’ve noted about Xbox One application delays – the YouTube app is delayed in NZ at launch – is that we’re lumped in with Ireland and Austria. We’re not even anywhere near each other so I don’t understand the delay? Shouldn’t we be alongside Australia?]

While voice commands don’t work, Kinect still does and I used it to feed a giraffe in Zoo Tycoon by  holding an outstretched hand and did some fitnessy things playing Kinect Fitness, where it told me what my resting heart rate was (it was 77, if your interested).

Perhaps one of the strongest multimedia applications for the Kinect is that you can make Skype calls. I made a Skype call to my wife t his morning [her at work 6km, me in my living room at home] and it was flawless. The preview unit Xbox One that I have at the moment had a sizeable patch on Tuesday night (over a 1Gb) and apparently the Skype functionality was enabled with that.

Using Skype with Xbox One was a far more pleasant experience than using it on a laptop or with a camera on a desktop computer. A nice feature is that the Kinect follows the user when you move around, meaning I was always in the shot.  It even followed me when I squatted on the ground and stretched up really high. Using Skype on the Xbox One is a joy.

I’ve still lots to test out with the Xbox One – I haven’t watched a Blu Ray yet or really checked out the Store, apart from a few downloadable games – so this is a “review in progress” that will evolve and update as I discover more,  but it seems a solid console so far, despite many of Kinect’s much-touted features not enabled for our region.  I haven’t had the chance to compare it against the PlayStation 4 yet, either: the unreliability of couriers and my heading to Melbourne for five nights tomorrow meant things just didn’t work out.

The launch games I’ve played are a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest: I didn’t like Crimson Dragon much at all;  Zoo Tycoon is fun for those that like to micromanage things;  Dead Rising 3  is fun but didn’t initially screen next-generation (or is it current-generation now?) to me, apart from the masses of on-screen zombies and Forza Motorsports 5 looks great and it’s what you’d expect from Turn 10 studios. I’m playing a fair bit of Ryse Son of Rome and I’ll post a review next week sometime when I’m back in NZ but for the most part, I’m enjoying it,  apart from some niggles.

As I said, this is a review in progress so I’ll post more updates as I discover more stuff. Feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll answer them if I can (I might not be able to, but I’ll try if I can).

Update: I’ve had some more play time with the Xbox One and I think it’s a solid, solid console. I’m still making my way through Ryse: Son of Rome (I’ve completed about 88% so far) but have yet have playthroughs of other stuff. I’m doing a review of EA’s NBA Live 14 for NZ Gamer.com so I’ll get onto that t his weekend. The only issues I’ve heard relating to launch consoles is that some people are suffering “crunchy” drive issues, where the drive gives off this horrible clunking sound. I know of one Xbox Live friend who had issues with his launch-day Xbox One – only to have the replacement one do the same thing! Here’s hoping his third one is trouble-free.

It’s going to be an interesting week: E3 kicks off on Tuesday (for us in NZ)

UPDATE: I probably should have mentioned that I’m not going to E3 this year. Yeah, I’m gutted too but that’s life. There’s always next year.

This time last year (day wise, not time wise, I can’t be bothered working out what time it is in LA right now) , I was probably sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Los Angeles supping back a double shot latte and people watching – and wondering whether I’d brought everything I needed to cover E3 2010 properly.

For those that haven’t been to LA it’s an incredibly massive city with beautiful people everywhere, especially in places like Beverley Hills and Wiltshire Boulevard. It’s also where the crazy game show E3 takes place.

It would have been a couple of days before E3 started and I would have been gathering my thoughts, on how I was going to make it through four days of mayhem – and that I’d remembered to bring all the accreditation I needed to get into the press conferences and the show itself, which was due to start at the  LA Convention Centre in a couple of days.

OK, so E3 2011 is going to start in a couple of days for us: this is what I’m most looking forward to.

  • Much of the focus this year will be on Nintendo and its new rumoured console, Project Cafe. Gamers will want to know just how many of the rumours flying around the internet are actually true.  Here is some of the speculation doing the rounds: the console will use 25Gb optical discs and have 8Gb of on-board flash memory; there won’t be a built-in HDD but it will use SD cards; the controller has a touch-screen as well as a standard button layout; the console will be more powerful than both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Whether all this is true will be revealed in a few days time.
  • This year Microsoft needs to show gamers that there is more to Kinect than just party-style and fitness games. Hopefully there will be reveals of games that hardcore gamers can actually sink their teeth into. Last year’s Xbox event showed brief glimpses of an on-rails Star Wars game, so who knows? Maybe we’ll see more of that this year. I think that if Microsoft don’t start getting some decent stuff for Kinect, the technology will be wasted and hardcore gamers – those that bought Xbox in the first place – will start to get frustrated.
  • Sony’s been rocked severely by the recent hacks to its PlayStation Network, so it will want to bring its A-game to this year’s E3 to restore the confidence of gamers in its PlayStation brand. I’ve heard that its pre-E3 press conference is several hours long – several hours long- what the heck are they going to showcase there? Last year it was all about 3D but this year I’m sure it’ll be all about the Next Generation Portable handheld (a name change would be a good start) as well as more information about the next game in the Uncharted series, Drake’s Deception.

E3, though, is mostly about the games, and here are some of the game’s I’m looking forward to hearing more about:  The Last Guardian,  Hitman Absolution, Uncharted: Drake’s Deception, Batman Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Gears of War 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.