Tag Archives: Xbox One

Ark: Survival Evolved Review (PC)

So Ark is out of Early Access and is now officially released. A dinosaur based sandbox survival game, Ark sees you and your friends (or enemies) gathering, crafting, building, and taming on a tropical island (or a scorching desert in the controversial paid DLC). You go through an underpowered weakling struggling to survive on scraps of cooked meat and berries to a powerful clan with numerous complexes all over the map, mech-style gear for you and your dinosaurs and a mostly automated system of gathering so you never run out of crafting materials. But is it any fun?

My feelings towards Ark can be summed up in two brutally short stories. One evening, on an official server on the Xbox One, Naimgear and me spent five hours taming a pair of sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles) in the always-dangerous swamp. Taming involved knocking them out with a huge amount of crafted tranquiliser arrows and bolts, and then sitting by the unconcious beast while you feed it narcotics and meat for hours on end, praying that nothing from the swamp comes out to kill you. We eventually got both of them, made the dangerous swim back to our base using our very expensive saddles, and put both of them in a giant pen we had been creating for this very purpose. We logged off, satisfied that they were safe.

The next day we logged on and everything had been destroyed. The giant warehouse we kept our flyers in, the giant pen, both sarcos, everything was gone. This was because some other players had seen our base and wanted to destroy it, no other reason.

The second story was on an unofficial server on the PC with ‘TheArrow’ and Naimgear where gathering and taming was sped up to be twice as fast, making the tames and building not quite so painful. We had built up a huge metal base with turrets on top, vaults inside, and electricity to power all manner of top-tier crafting benches. We had a pet T-Rex, a Brontosaurus, a Quetzal (the largest bird in the game that is notoriously tricky to tame because it never lands) and more. While we were playing the other two had gone off to gather things from nearby mountains while I was doing some basic chores around the base, fertilising planets, filling up feeding troughs etc. Then it arrived. A gigantosaurus, the largest of the carnivores in Ark, spawned in the middle of our base. Instantly everything went crazy because it took a disliking to one dinosaur and bit it, causing every other dinosaur to attack. Suddenly the base was a flurry of tooth and claw, but the gigantosaurus was high level and was winning easily. They go berserk when they take too much damage, and this one was destroying absolutely everything with reckless abandon. The main metal base fell almost instantly, along with most of our supplies and defences. The collection of dinosaurs was decimated as many of the carnivores who might have been able to help were trapped behind the herbivores and the flyers were on passive to make sure no one could kite them out of our base. Eventually I hopped on the quetzal and led the lizard away into the sea, hoping to drown it. This involved flying close enough to make it think it could bite me, then flying up and away so it missed and chased for a while. Leaving the smouldering wreckage of our 100-hour base behind, I flew out to sea. Then it bit the bird and we lost that too.

Both of these events were immensely frustrating and the reason I quit playing on each console, but then both couldn’t have been that frustrating if it wasn’t for the tens of hours I spent building up to that moment. Ark is a game that draws you in and absorbs your time, and the thrill of exploration and expansion is very real. There’s nothing like building a huge fortress with your friends and there’s always a project to be getting on with. If you log in alone you can head off to gather some rarer materials or even just expand your buildings a little. When everyone is on together you can take on a challenging tame, or explore a cave (which are unbelievably tough challenges until you have end-game gear and levelled dinos) or raid another team’s base.

Of course there are horrible disasters that will befall you, but you can mitigate most of these through your choice of server and base location. PvP servers make the game much more exciting and makes success more rewarding, but you’re constantly faced with the threat of being wiped while you’re offline because people are cowards. PvE servers are safer, but a little more boring and you end up butting against the strange building restrictions that occur when you allow hundreds of new players to build little huts everywhere but then not letting you destroy them to make space. You can make your own servers and play offline single-player or with a small group but then you’re missing out on the social aspect of Ark altogether. The point is, you have a choice and that choice is very broad. You can play Ark how you want to play it and once you get into a server you like, there’s a huge amount of things to do and fun to be had.

Sadly, there’s also a lot of annoyances in the game that will cause you problems at some point and betray the game’s lack of polish. Dinosaurs will glitch through the map and clip into rocks, you’ll be attacked by things you can’t see (especially underwater), when you’re building things will get placed in the wrong position at the last second, wasting your materials. While Ark is an impressively broad sandbox, it’s not a very refined one, and the developers have focused on introducing new dinosaurs and tech into the game without ever really fixing some of the key problems.

Thankfully on PC you can use mods and private servers to alleviate much of this, and even add in new maps and features. It really is a very customisable game and will no doubt persist for a long while after the developers stop providing new things thanks to the excellent community that works hard to create new things for people to play with – but for a game that is now charging a high retail price (£50 at the time of writing) you’re going to be getting something of much lower quality than you would probably expect.

For all its issues, Ark is an incredible game. It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours in its worlds and each time you start afresh on a new server you’ll have all of that fun all over again, but despite it coming out of Early Access, do be aware that you’re very much paying £50 for something that feels like a work in progress.

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Aven Colony Review (Xbox One)

We love survival colony games. From Settlers to Anno, it’s always been a nice change of pace from the usual hectic first person shooters and tense RTS games. The joy of starting out with an empty field then slowly building up a village, to a town, to a sprawling metropolis than is entirely self sustaining. Aven Colony fits into that category neatly, but sadly doesn’t do anything to push it onwards.

The basics are simple, you begin on an alien planet with colonists from Earth. You very quickly need to establish the basics: Power, Water, Food, Air, Storage, Entertainment. Usually in that order. Over time the game throws new challenges at you like a kind of fungus that grows on your buildings and needs to be scrubbed off by drones, or lightning storms and ‘shard storms’ that are basically just meteorites – but dealing with these is as simple as building a specific building.

As your colony grows there’s a wealth of things to farm and mine, chemicals to produce, and things to research – but essentially they all serve the same function, it’s either food or entertainment. This is symptomatic of the larger problem with Aven Colony, it’s all so bland.

After you’ve created your first proper colony and completed the first real campaign mission, you will have seen nearly everything there is to see. Each map has a new twist on the formula (maybe there’s nowhere to farm so you have to trade, or there overly-aggressive fungus that needs to be beaten back quickly) but the description of the campaign level basically tells you what you need to do. Very quickly you fall into a set building pattern of how to deal with challenges, then you just let it play out.

Difficulty settings are present, but essentially they are just narrowing the margins in which you can be successful. Once you understand how the systems work, the game is exceptionally simple, with very little RNG to mess you up.

Sadly the game isn’t immersive enough to be a fun distraction when you just want to relax. Everything looks incredibly generic and is quite low-res on Xbox One. You can occasionally see colonists milling about but they don’t really do anything other than walk from building to building. There’s no life or spontaneity in anything that happens – you’re just slowly expanding a collection of by-the-book sci-fi pods in a colourful, but forgettable landscape.

It’s a shame that the game is quite dull when it gets so much right. The controls, often a bugbear in strategy games on console, are spot-on. Whoever has designed the interface is a genius as everything is immediately accessible and not once did I feel using a gamepad was getting in the way of what I wanted to do. The quest system too is quite good, giving you a range of different challenges that don’t distract you from your overall goal, but let you try something different for a few moments like growing a load of a certain crop, processing it, and trading it. Even the voice acting is a step above other games in the genre on console – but however satisfied you can be with the mechanics of the game, there’s just no heart to it and nothing unique to keep it fun.

If you’re desperately looking for a colony-builder on console, Aven Colony is a fine game, just go in aware that’s uninspired and unlikely to last you more than a mildly entertaining evening.

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Injustice 2 Review (Xbox One)

Last year Street Fighter V came out and many of us (including me) were shocked at just how little content it offered. This was a game created almost purely for the hardcore tournament goers, no single player to speak of, no progression, just a roster of character and a solid offline multiplayer and slightly shaky online. For people who are really into fighting games, that might be all they need, but for the millions of casual fighting games fans around, it felt far too sparse. Enter Injustice 2, possibly the most generous fighting game I’ve ever seen.

For starters, Injustice 2 is a direct sequel to the first game. While the roster has changed (lots of heroes have been taken away including Zatara, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, etc) the campaign follows on directly from the first game and the fighting systems are all intact. You still build up a super meter that can be used to augment attacks, bet on a wager, or unleash your super-move; you can still hit people off the stage into a new one; you can still interact with all kinds of things in each area (if you want, all of this is customisable).Anyone familiar with how the first one played will be instantly at home, but there are some new toys for anyone who was put off by the simplicity of the first game.

Now that super meter can be used for something much more technical than just adding damage to your moves. You can now use a bar of it to do a counter mid-combo to make sure you always have a chance to break free. This is a combo-heavy game and the ability to do an air-counter when you’re juggled into the air is an absolute godsend as some characters can destroy you as soon as they bounce you up. This new feature seems to make the game a lot fairer and even online all of my games have been incredibly close, with far fewer whitewashes just because someone gets control early on.

Of course all of this doesn’t mean much if you’re just here for the fancy fighting and characters you know, and that’s where the campaign really shines. It might be cheesy and over-the-top, but it manages to fairly intelligently weave in every major character (except the pre-order exclusive Darkseid) into a plot that sees many of the DC heroes facing off against Braniac and a collection of the villains. If you haven’t played Injustice the roster might be confusing, with Superman now a villain in prison and Harley Quinn on Batman’s side, but with a couple of YouTube videos you can catch up quickly and enjoy the ride.

The campaign is a series of fights with cut-scenes in between and the occasional choice of which character you’d like to fight as. The cut-scenes are fantastic with some spectacular set-pieces and outstanding facial animation. The characters sometimes look a little odd, but the animation on characters such as Gorilla Grodd and Braniac sets a new bar for in-engine scenes.

Speaking of the characters, no-one can accuse the developers of playing it safe. Alongside series stalwarts like the Justice League, the Joker, and Bane, we’ve now got a group of new additions from characters made popular by recent TV shows (Supergirl, Captain Cold, Firestorm, Gorilla Grodd), classics of the comics who aren’t given enough screen time (Swamp Thing, Darkseid), and some strange characters who I’d never heard of before (Cheetah and Atrocitus). The roster is incredibly diverse with no two characters playing the same. There’s no group of ‘heavies’ anymore, each character has their own quirks and ways of holding control, from Grodd’s incredible rushing potential to Deadshot’s extreme zoning.

All the characters also have a tonne of dialogue with specific lines for every single match up, often with references to the comics or films. Some of the designs are perhaps less convincing this time around, with the Joker being more inspired by Leto’s Suicide Squad version moreso than other popular takes on the character, and Green Arrow oddly going for the classic comic version rather than the TV show. Still, there’s always the potential for new skins and I sincerely hope (I can’t believe I’m saying this) there’s a bunch of DLC packs for skins in the near future.

To top off the progression system there’s a huge number of collectables that serve as gear on your characters. If both players agree this gear can be used in multiplayer, boosting stats as well as having a visual impact. If you like the stats of one piece (and there are hundreds of different items) but not the look, you can even transmogrify everything to keep the look and shaders you want, but with the bonuses you need. The idea of having stat-enhancing gear sounds terrifying, but so far online it doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact as most of the boosts are relatively minor or only activate until very specific conditions, like never jumping, or being in a certain part of your health bar.

To get all this gear you unlock loot boxes, which are liberally given out through the campaign, levelling characters, levelling your profile, or possibly my favourite thing about the game, the Multiverse. The Multiverse gives you loads of sets of challenges that rotate on timers, from hourly, to daily, to weekly. If you finish a challenge (with interesting mutations like being able to call in Constantine to help, or both players being able to heal by collecting pickups) you get gear and box and xp rewards, and can face off with other players on leaderboards. This means there’s constantly more things to do and if you just fancy a quick fight without the pressure of fighting online, there’s always plenty for you to do.

Of course there’s even more to this game that I haven’t really mentioned. There’s a guild system, there’s progression challenges, different difficulties, a whole season of DLC coming and built-in tournament options. It’s basically everything you could ever want in a fighting game, with gorgeous graphics, a fantastic roster, and engaging mechanics. If you’re into DC, or fighting games, this is an essential purchase.

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Titanfall 2 Review (Xbox One)

We’ve been excited about Titanfall 2 for a long time purely because it’s a sequel to one of our favourite multiplayer FPS games of all time. That being said, we were worried. We’d been on holiday over the beta so had missed out on that, and with Battlefield 1 being released a couple of weeks ago (and being excellent) and Call of Duty coming out a week later, we thought it might get buried, forgotten, and ignored like so many brilliant games that were released at the wrong time. Thankfully Titanfall 2 is being to shine through it’s unfortunate (or incompetent on the part of EA) release window and has actually managed to drag us away from Battlefield. Titanfall 2 is everything we wanted and so much more.

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The multiplayeris very similar to the first game in nearly all the right ways. You still fight over control points, or kill AI opponents, or capture flags, or kill enemy players in order to get points. As you gain points yu also gain percentages towards your Titan meter. At a specific point on this meter you unlock a boost like a Smart Pistol (no longer a normal equippable weapon) or a turret or mines. Once the meter reaches 100%, you can call down your Titan. The Titans make exactly the same sounds and visual impact on the game as they did before and I genuinely can’t see what Respawn could have done to improve it. Screaming from the sky in a fireball of cloud and steel they smash into the ground and await your instructions or get ready to help you climb in. Jumping into your Titan is incredibly empowering. You go from an agile but flimsy weakling darting around the battlefield to a 30ft tall death machine. Obviously as the game goes on other players will get theirs too and it quickly separates into a war of two fronts with pilots duking it out in the buildings and on objectives while Titans do their best to gain map control and prevent the pilots from going around their business. When it works and your team manages to keep a few titans while destroying all of your opponents’, it feels amazing. Suddenly you can lock down the map and quash any resistance.

Of course Respawn didn’t want that to be the end of a round so now pilots have even more abilities designed to help them get around and avoid the Titans’ attacks. There’s a grappling hook that lets you clamber up ledges and onto Titans quickly, a phase shift that lets you shift out of real space for a while and then reappear at another point, and even a decoy that will run ahead of you and hopefully confuse the opponents into shooting the wrong way. Games of Titanfall never get boring and there’s always something to do or a problem to solve, within short spaces of times it’s amazing how quickly you transition between different tactics and strategies alongside a team you’re not even speaking to, from armoured warfare to guerilla defenses to free-running sprints across the map. Even when you lsoe a game the desperate sprint to the (now much more fragile) escape dropship feels exciting and meaningful.

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In terms of what’s new for Multiplayer, there’s now six Titans instead of three, but you can no longer select the weapon for them. There’s still a 40mm cannon attached to Tone who plays the most like the old Titans, but then there’s some interesting new takes on the machines like Scorch who can set down petrol bombs ready to ignite large areas, or Ronin who can dart around and phase shift then lay waste to enemies with a giant sword. It might not be practical or realistic, but it looks amazing.

The weakest part of the multiplayer offering is definitely the maps. Although the layouts are quite interesting and work well, visually they’re very dull and nowhere near as good as those found in the base game. Thankfully Respawn have said that all future maps will be free, so perhaps they can change things up with DLC, but at the moment every map essentially feels like a series of boxy buildings. One has caves and a crashed ship, and one is in a giant building, but the rest are all pretty forgettable. We’re also a little annoyed by the lack of viewable stats, but it’s understandable that Respawn didn’t want people working to improve their K/D ratio at the expense of the rest of their team as happens so often in Call of Duty and Battlefield. At least having some basic stats like kill streaks and win percentage would be really useful.

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Now the most surprising thing about the game package is the single player. The original Titanfall didn’t even have a single player – it was purely multiplayer combat, but Respawn decided to do more than just dabble with a campaign and have created a short but incredibly impressive story that doesn’t just help to explain what’s going on in the Titanfall universe, but actually makes you care about the characters. The level design is top notch with each mission introducing you to a new mechanic or tool that feels natural to use in the situations you are presented with. Interestingly there’s plenty of platforming involves in the campaign and trying to find some hidden helmets that serve as collectibles is actually one of the most entertaining things we’ve done in a game this year. The free-running puzzles involves have been far more engaging then the entirety of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

Overall Titanfall 2 is an absolute no brainer for anyone who enjoyed the first game. If you’re new to the series this is a refreshing and entertaining take on the FPS genre and easily up there in terms of quality against the big hitters. We only hope it survives well enough against BF1 and COD to warrant a Titanfall 3.

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Overcooked! Review (Xbox One)

Overcooked is a couch co-op cooking game in which you either try to control two hapless chefs by yourself (incredibly stressful and not recommended) or you are joined by one to three friends and you all fight over who’s fault it was that the kitchen lorry burnt down while you were waiting for lettuce to be chopped and passed over from the other lorry (incredibly stressful and highly recommended).

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In terms of gameplay, it’s quite simple. You are given and kitchen and some orders, such as a hamburger. That hamburger order might say it needs lettuce, tomato, a bun, and meat. So you need to go and mince the meat, then start it cooking in a pan. Then you need to get the bun, chop up some lettuce, chop up some tomato, put all of that on a plate, then once the meat is done cooking you put the meat in. Then you put it in the little place where orders are served. Then once the dirty plate comes back you wash that up and do it all over again with a new order. If you leave something to cook for too long it’ll catch on fire and need to be extinguished, but other than that it’s not too complicated. Unfortunately only the first kitchen really works like that. Later on your kitchen is the victim of earthquakes, splitting it in two, or only has enough room for a single person to go past, or has customers walking through the middle of it, or is split over two trucks. On top of that you have a range of different orders coming in that require different ingredients and different preparation methods. You also only have a very limited supply of plates and cooking pans. Oh and your character controls like they’re slightly clumsy and drunk. And you might be a cat. All of this put together leads to plenty of chaos and the only way to overcome the challenges are to either split the work evenly between the two characters you control (and swap between with a press of RB) or to manage tasks as a group. It’s easy when you can have one person cooking the meat and another cutting up the veg, but often your roles will constantly be in flux based on how the environment is changing.

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Each level is graded out of three stars and the more stars you get the more chefs you unlock (purely cosmetic). Trying to get three stars on the later levels is a real challenge, but an addictive one as you constantly strive to find ways to make your kitchen ever more efficient. When it’s all working, it’s brilliant, with chefs zooming about all over the place and food seemingly getting prepared miraculously out of the organised chaos. When it all goes wrong it’s often hilarious as people try to carry on cooking while others are fighting fires and some are just running around in circles in the corner. With four players this is often how things go and it definitely feels like two players is the sweet spot, but as long as you’re not on your own it’s always fun.

There’s a lengthy campaign but in addition as you go you unlock versus modes where you split into teams and try to do the challenges faster than your opponents. This is a lot of fun and being split-screen you can always see how they’re getting on and steal their ideas if you think they’re doing something better than you are. Sadly there is no online functionality at all, and while we can understand that couch co-op really brings out the best in this game, it would be nice to be able to try and use voice chat to organise things or at least to have some leaderboards to compete against others. Ah well, here’s hoping for a sequel!

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Overall Overcooked is easily one of the most compelling split-screen experiences on offer on current-generation consoles, and there does seem to be a real scarcity of quality games that can keep people entertained. Don’t be put off by the cooking theme or the fairly basic-looking graphics, the gameplay here is genius and for the money Overcooked can provide hours of fun.

Verdict 8

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Why the Halo Wars 2 Beta has killed my hype

First of all, I understand that this is a beta. I can imagine how the conversation went over at Microsoft:

So do you have that Halo Wars 2 demo ready for E3?

I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, it’s not ready. The animations are incomplete, it’s buggy, the performance is all over the place, and we haven’t even finished the assets for most of the units.

OK but we need something to send out, people need convincing that a console RTS can still work, it’s been a while.

This won’t do the job, it’s not ready.

It’s fine, just bundle together the unit’s you’ve done, put it on a weird game mode so people won’t notice the balance issues, lower the unit cap until it runs and just call it a beta.

But it’s barely even an alpha…

Call it a beta.

And so here we have the Halo Wars 2 beta. I was so excited to play it, telling everyone I know who played the old game to go download it so we could relive all that fun we had with the original. Two games in and I stopped telling people to download it.

The biggest problem, aside from the performance, missing animations and effects, and lack of game modes which is just down to it being a beta ( I hope) is that it doesn’t feel like a Halo game. When people think of a Halo RTS they want Warthogs being sliced in half by Brute Choppers, Banshees to be raining down Fuel Rod shots onto advancing Scorpions, squads of marines facing off against squads of elites and grunts, scrambling for cover, using grenades and getting decimated by vehicles that blaze through the combat. They want the opening cinematic of Halo 5, with a Spartan team laying waste to a downhill battle at breakneck speed.

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Instead, we get pathetically anaemic skirmishes that mostly consist of a group of vaguely marine-looking people, firing shots randomly at a load of Brute-looking people, why vehicles park up and join in with the neon snowball fight. There’s no sense of impact, no velocity, no excitement in the battles at all. It even feels like there’s a delay in issuing commands so every battle happens at a tortoise’s pace, unlike the fevered warzones of Starcraft or Dawn of War.

The units simply aren’t what you’d recognise from a Halo game. Yes there are warthogs, scorpions, banshees and more, but the warthogs park up to shoot, the scorpions can siege up and are less intimidating that most of the marine squads, and those marines are just the basic unit of the UNSC, more advanced infantry types are flamethrowers units and cloaking snipers. Not cloaking Spartan snipers, just random marines that apparently go invisible. It’s almost as if 343 and Creative Assembly have had a hard time balancing the real kind of units in the Halo universe and just decided to copy Starcraft instead. Scorpions are now Siege Tanks in all but name, sniper units are Ghosts, Hellbats are thrown in for good measure despite not having an equivalent in Halo. On the Brute side you have some Brutes, but they’re not the rampaging death Gorillas we’re used to, instead they are just gorilla-skinned marines, standing there going ‘pew pew’. Grunts come in suicide squads but the explosion animations seem to be missing. There’s no Pelicans to quickly transport troops and equipment, the Banshees are weirdly weak and slow, particularly to marines, even the Wraith doesn’t look quite right. There’s plenty of new units, but they all have an uninspired design that simply copies another unit and makes it chunkier. Creative Assembly have clearly tried to stick to the rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay from their Total War games, but that doesn’t translate well if it means a marine with an assault rifle can easily down a Banshee.

The larger powers at least feature the MAC cannon, but here it does about as much damage as a large grenade, without any of the punch you’d expect from a space-station cannon that’s firing at a planet. You can also drop mines (remember that from Halo, when a load of mines were dropped from orbit and decimated an entire army?) and ODSTs, but the ODSTs look and move just like normal marines, there’s nothing special about them at all, nothing to make them live up to their fearsome reputation.

As it stands, nothing about this game is good. It looks terrible, with low resolution assets and tonnes of missing effects, played out on dull looking maps. The unit capy is unimaginably small, enough space for 2 scorpions, 2 warthogs, and maybe 4 marine squads in your entire army (until you get the upgrade that lets you have an extra warthog or so). The buildings don’t look like buildings we recognise from Halo, the upgrades are nearly all completely soulless and uninteresting, offering things like a flat 15% in damage for a single unit type. Nothing to change up the gameplay at all, just a stat boost to make you kill things quicker.

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The controls themselves are barely functional, mostly due to the aforementioned delay in getting anything done. They need to be quick and snappy for any kind of competitive play to be bearable, but instead they’re so and sluggish, leading to all games consisting of players amassing one army (unit cap is too small for efficient smaller groups) that lumbers around the map occasionally coming into contact with another lethargic horde, trading tiny little ineffectual blaster bolts until one of them disappears.

If this had been a new RTS coming out in the era of the original Red Alert, I would still have been disappointed. To be coming out in 8 months, in 2017, and to not even feel like it carries the licence it’s designed with, is appalling. Hopefully 343 will take on board the criticism and delay it another year or two to rebuild most of it, because what exists so far just isn’t worth your time.

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EA Access

EA Access has been running on Xbox One since August 2014 and while it was immediately met with a healthy dose of suspicion it’s now widely regarded as one of the better gaming-related deals on offer. So what is it exactly and what makes it so good?

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For £3.99 a month you get access to everything EA Access has to offer. This includes early access to the latest EA games and a whole host of AAA games in the ‘vault’. The early access has worked on Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield Hardline, allowing anyone with EA Access (you do not need to have the game pre-ordered) access to some or all of the content for ten hours before the game launches. For example, in the latest Battlefield you could only play the first hour or so of the campaign, but you could play as much of the multiplayer as you wanted for ten hours in the week before launch. You don’t need to have subscribed for a certain amount of time, as soon as you sign up and pay your four quid, you have access to it all, so if there’s an EA game coming out (Battlefront anyone?) you can just pick it up for that month and enjoy all the perks.

The list of EA Access games that you get complete digital access to is ever expanding, and unlike PS Plus or Games with Gold, they don’t seem to be taking old games off the list. So far we have:

  • Battlefield 4
  • Madden NFL 25
  • FIFA 14
  • Peggle 2
  • Need for Speed Rivals
  • Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
  • EA Sports UFC
  • NBA Live 15
  • Madden NFL 15
  • NHL 15
  • FIFA 15

One of the hidden perks of this program is that if you do the trick where you set your home Xbox to a friend’s, and have them do the same to you, only one of you needs EA Access to get the complete library available to you both, to play at the same time together. The vault currently has some of the best multiplayer games Xbox One has to offer with Battlefield 4, Plants Vs Zombies, Madden, NHL and Fifa (we’re not sports fans but they’re all a lot of fun playing with someone you know and can chat to) so for £3.99 between you, two of you could have access to a huge amount of gameplay.

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Considering the somewhat mercenary business practices EA has indulged in over the last decade, it’s surprising to see how generous this program is, but while it’s here we say pick it up and make the most of it before they come to their senses and start charging more!

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Gridom – A tool to find other gamers

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As interconnected and social as gaming is right now, it can often feel pretty lonely. If you’re playing through a co-op game like Borderlands by yourself it feels like half a game, but as you get older your friends have other commitments, they might not have the same game, or they might not even game at all anymore. You could set your game to public and let anyone in, but most of the time they won’t be using a mic, they won’t be wanting to do the same thing as you and there’s a decent chance they’ll be actively trying to troll you rather than enjoy the game alongside you. So what can you do? Sign up to Gridom.

Gridom is a website that allows you to sign up and create or search for game lobbies for a selection of games. It takes seconds to set up a lobby, select your platform and region and describe what you want to do. Then anyone can see what it is you want to do, whether you have a mic or not and then join if they’re interested. This takes you to a sleek chat lobby that lets you iron out the finer details. Choose the difficulty, decide who’s hosting, work out how you’re going to chat by sharing Teamspeak or Skype details. While you’re waiting for people to join your lobby you can still go look around for others without leaving and once you’re full, you just start up your game, get everyone in and then click on the shield icon to let the website know that you’re done. This closes the lobby down so people aren’t having to join dead games.

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We spoke to the creators of Gridom and it’s reassuring how much they care about the finer details in this project. Yes you have to register but that’s by design. There’s no sinister data tracking or advertising, instead it gives them to capacity to avoid toxic behaviour, something that has been pushing people away from gaming communities for the last five years or so. If you’re giving yourself a bad name amongst the community, you could be banned. Hopefully this will lead to a faith that if you find a group on Gridom, you’re going to be able to have a good game with them.

At the moment there’s 28 games that can be searched for, but not all of them are the most obvious choices. There is Call of Duty, Halo and Destiny. But then there’s also Terraria, Hearthstone and The Golf Club. New games will be added and rotated through consistently but there’ll always be a wide variety to cater to different tastes. There’s no elitism present, no pretension of being purely for ‘pro’ players. Everyone is welcome, on any platform for any type of multiplayer game. If you’re a casual Smash Bros player who needs a sparring partner, you can find someone. If you just want to mess around with unlimited poke balls, you can do that too.

We’re excited about the potential for Gridom, but as with most communities, it’s only going to thrive once the word is out. So help out and tell your friends!

See you on Gridom.

You can join Gridom at www.Gridom.com

 

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Microsoft Announce Kinectless Xbox One

In what to us at least was a shocking move, Microsoft have sent out a press release explaining that they are to release a Kinectless bundle for the Xbox One at the £349 price point from June 9th. Given that we’ve already been seeing heavily discounted Xbox One packages from some retailers, expect to see a £299 Xbox One in a store near you sometime soon.

 

For some readers this might be a boon, the Xbox One is an expensive console and this makes it just that more affordable. There’s never really been a ‘killer app’ for Kinect, even on the 360 so few gamers are really going to feel that they are missing out, but we can’t help but feel that they really are. By making the Kinect mandatory on the Xbox One they created a huge userbase making development for the platform actually viable. We have yet to see great uses of the technology in games (with the exception of great last-gen title Dance Central) for the mainstream audience, with Rare seemingly leading the charge on the only AAA titles in the Kinect Sports series that has recently made its first appearance on Xbox One. As long as games like Kinect Sports and Dance Central are the keystone for Kinect, it will always been seen as something for parties, not ‘for’ the average gamer, but it could have been so much more.

On the dashboard, the Kinect 2.0 has become one of our favourite things about the Xbox One. From signing in whoever sits in front of it and keeping track of their controllers to the widespread use of voice commands (seriously being able to boot up the Xbox and load an episode of House of Cards in a few steps just using your voice is amazing), the Kinect has easily proved its worth, but now a whole new generation of Xbox One owners are going to miss out on that, and they won’t mind because they never knew. It seems like this decision is the beginning of the end for the peripheral, as an optional expensive camera I can’t imagine many are going to be persuaded to pick one up, and it seems a shame that this came before any developers had a proper go at making a mainstream game that uses it well.

Potentially this is a shrewd move by Microsoft before E3. Next month Microsoft will be announcing all of the big guns that are coming out over the next year and if there’s no Kinect titles (as the rumours suggest) eyebrows will be raised. Maybe they’ve admitted that they can’t make a compelling game experience for it and this a way of avoiding those awkward questions, by admitting defeat before the show, the focus will be back onto the games that they do show, but it still feels like a real shame. We would have loved to have seen attempts at using Kinect in innovative ways, particularly the head tracking and gesture recognition in collaboration with standard controller use, but splitting your audience is never a good thing for publishers so it’s becoming less and less likely.

After the u-turns on digital content, licences, sharing and now Kinect, it seems like Microsoft have finally given the internet trolls exactly what they want, a slightly more powerful Xbox 360 instead of something new and exciting. We know the PS4 is more powerful but we’ve made no secret of the fact we preferred the Xbox One, mostly because it actually seemed like it was an attempt to make progress, to change things up, this is another nail in the coffin of that idea, we’re almost resigned to the idea of having another whole generation almost exactly like the last one, and the rumours around E3 of games like Halo 5, Gears of War 4, Uncharted 4, Forza Horizon 2 and so on don’t exactly fill us with confidence that the gaming industry is going to have anything new and exciting to show us for a long while to come yet.

Let’s hope Facebook doesn’t ruin VR.

 

The full press release is attached below:

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Delivering More Choices for Fans
A blog post by Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox
 
LONDON, May 13th, 2014 – Since the beginning, we have focused on delivering great games and entertainment experiences for you. Your feedback matters to us and it shapes the products and services we build. Your feedback showed up in the Xbox One console we launched back in November and in the monthly updates we’ve delivered since.
 
Today, we’re excited to share more ways your feedback is impacting the products we build.
 
First, beginning on June 9th, in all markets where Xbox One is sold, we will offer Xbox One starting at £3491. This is a new console option that does not include Kinect. For £349, our new Xbox One offering will continue to deliver access to the best blockbuster games like “Titanfall,” “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” “Forza Motorsport 5,” “Dead Rising 3,” and the upcoming “Watch Dogs,” “Destiny” and“Sunset Overdrive”.
 
You will also be able to access popular entertainment apps, such as Twitch, YouTube, and Netflix, as well as watch live TV and use OneGuide.  Finally, you will continue to be able to use many of the unique features of Xbox One including the ability to get game invites while you watch TV, switch between games and entertainment apps, enjoy Twitch broadcasts, and upload your favorite gaming moments.
 
Next, we’re bringing more value to Xbox Live Gold members and offering all Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners access to entertainment apps whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership. In early June, here is what you can expect from the new generation of Xbox Live:
 
·         Free games with Games with Gold2Since Games with Gold launched on Xbox 360 a year ago, over 12 million people have enjoyed great free games, resulting in nearly 200 million hours of free fun playing Games with Gold titles. We’ve been learning from your feedback and have focused on making improvements each month to the selection of titles. To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Games with Gold for Xbox 360 and as a thank you for helping shape this program, members will receive an additional free Xbox 360 game in June. The Games with Gold titles for Xbox 360 in June are “Dark Souls,” “Charlie Murder” and a bonus game of “Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition”.
 
We’re pleased to bring Games with Gold to Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox One in June. Members will have subscription-based access to free games ranging from top hits to breaking indie stars. The program will launch on Xbox One with “Max: The Curse of Brotherhood” and “Halo: Spartan Assault”. A single Gold membership will get you access to the free games for both Xbox One and Xbox 360.
 
·         Exclusive Discounts. Deals with Gold will also launch for Xbox One in June, delivering discounts for great games each month, with significant savings for Xbox Live Gold members. The first titles offered in June will include “Forza Motorsport 5,” “Ryse: Son of Rome,” and a few other surprises. In the coming months, we will offer significant savings of up to 50 – 75 percent off certain titles. This program will continue to be available for Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox 360. And new on Xbox One, we will launch a virtual VIP room exclusive to Xbox Live Gold members where we will feature free games, monthly deals, and other great benefits.
 
·         Popular entertainment apps will be available for all Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners. Xbox 360 has been a leader in delivering entertainment experiences for years, with over 170 global entertainment apps and experiences available today. We’re constantly adding new partners and experiences to the growing catalog on Xbox One. Coming in June, anyone with an Xbox will be able to access popular entertainment experiences – whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership. This includes great gaming apps like Machinima, Twitch and Upload, popular video services like Netflix, Univision Deportes, GoPro, Redbull and HBO Go, sports experiences like the NFL app for Xbox One, MLB.tv, NBA Game Time, NHL Game Center and more3. Microsoft experiences including Internet Explorer, Skype, OneDrive and OneGuide will also be available to all Xbox customers4. You can find a full list of apps and features here.
 
We’ve heard that you want more choices from Xbox One. You want a wide variety of options in your games and entertainment experiences and you also want options in your hardware selection.
 
To be clear, as we introduce this new Xbox One console option, Kinect remains an important part of our vision.  Many of you are using Kinect for Xbox One every day. In fact, more than 80 percent of you are actively using Kinect, with an average of 120 voice commands per month on each console. Some of the most popular voice commands include “Xbox On,” “Xbox Broadcast” and “Xbox Record That.”
 
We will continue to offer a premium Xbox One with Kinect bundle to deliver voice and gesture controls, biometric sign-in, instant personalisation, instant scanning of QR codes, and enhanced features only available with Kinect in games such as “Kinect Sports Rivals,” “Just Dance 2014,” “Project Spark” and more.  
 
If you buy Xbox One for £349 and later decide you want to have all the experiences Kinect enables, we will also offer a standalone sensor for Xbox One later this fall.
 
We’ll share more details about the standalone Kinect for Xbox One in the coming months.
 
Phil
@XboxP3
 
You can learn more about both Xbox One options here.

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Xbox One OS updates coming next week!

As much as we love the Xbox One, we’ve barely played it over the last month. We burnt through Dead Rising 3, Ryse, loads of Forza and a little bit of the smaller titles and BF/COD, but there’s just too many annoyances getting in the way. Battlefield wasn’t much fun because of the instability – which is mostly fixed – but also because the party system seems broken and difficult to use. There’s some great multiplayer titles but we haven’t played much multiplayer because the console makes it so difficult to sort simple things out like chat and invites. Even achievements have lost some of their appeal thanks to being buried away.

Thankfully many of our issues have been identified by Microsoft and there are two updates coming on February 11th with another following in March that will address all of the biggies. In February there’ll be some nice quality of life improvements like being able to see how much charge is left in your controller or being able to have control over what’s on your hard drive and when things are downloaded and in what order. In March there’ll be a bigger pre-Titanfall patch that will apparently fix the party system. We’re a little light on specifics at the moment but Microsoft have promised more information in the next couple of weeks so we’ll bring the news as soon as we get it.

We’re excited for this update, it could turn the Xbox One from a good console with many annoyances to a great one – lets just hope they’ve really been listening.

 

Xbox One Keeps Getting Better – Product Updates Coming
A blog post by Marc Whitten, Chief Product Officer
  
I’m excited to be able to share details with you today about several product updates we’ll be delivering for Xbox One starting next week.  The team has been really excited to see the gameplay on Xbox One and the millions of hours of fun our fans have experienced since launch. We’ve also been busy listening to your feedback and working hard to incorporate it into Xbox One as soon as possible. We remain incredibly energized and we are aggressively working to make Xbox One better, faster than ever before.
 
Xbox One is a platform for continuous innovation and new consumer experiences over time.  Just as we did with Xbox 360, Xbox One will have regular updates to deliver new features and platform experiences designed to delight you.  We’re always listening to you and we love your feedback, so keep it coming.
 
February 11 system updates
On February 11, the first update will be delivered to customers who sign into their Xbox One.  It features many new improvements – including lots of behind-the-scenes updates for developers building apps and games for Xbox One, several new features we believe Xbox fans will love, stability and product updates to improve the customer experience, and continuous improvements to the quality of Kinect voice so commands become more fluid and responsive over time.  While we won’t be going into all of the details of the product updates today, we will be sharing more information soon. 
 
Some of the features you can expect to see on February 11 include:
 
·         The ability to see and manage your storage space. With this update, you will find it easy to find how much space your content takes up and better manage your content. You can alsocontrol your install lineup and more easily manage your download queue. We’ve separated My Games and My Apps into separate lists, so you can easily create separate queues for both. Now you can pick the order in which you want your content to load and we’ve added a boot progress indicator so you can better track updates while they load.
·         The battery power indicator is back! You can see it right on the home screen, so you can easily track how much battery life is left on your controller.
·         And, you will be able to use your USB keyboard with your Xbox One.
 
These are just a few of the many updates we will be shipping on February 11. We’ll share more details on these and other upcoming features in the coming weeks. We have several surprises in store that we think you’ll love.
 
March 4 system updates – countdown to “Titanfall” 
On March 4, in advance of what is expected to be the biggest game launch of the year, we will be delivering another system update to prepare your Xbox One for “Titanfall.”  This update will contain many new features and improvements, most significantly to our party and multiplayer systems.  Available on March 11, “Titanfall” is a team-based online multiplayer game that showcases the power of Xbox Live, and we will be shipping a new party and multiplayer system that will help make “Titanfall” the must-have game for this generation.
 
This post is the first of many announcements and sneak peeks at features in the system updates. We’ve been carefully listening to your feedback and look forward to delivering many new features that will make Xbox One even better. We’re just getting started and can’t wait to share more information in the coming weeks.

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