Rare Replay – A Compilation Done Right

Rare Replay CoverI recently picked up the new Rare Replay compilation that just came out on the Xbox One. It’s the third compilation game that I’ve grabbed on the console, after Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Of the three, the latter two are definitely I think the better executed of the bunch. I’ve written plenty about how Master Chief Collection just falls flat in its delivery already so I won’t belabor the point here. Instead I want to talk about what makes the Rare Replay work so well.

For starters, value is really important with these compilation games. Rare Replay shines here – there are 30 games celebrating the 30 years that Rare has been a company. That’s already a good start, but add in that the price is only $30 and that adds up to a really awesome value just from looking at it from the top down. But when you look at some of the games in the collection, that’s really where the value starts to show. Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Battletoads and Blast Corps are all classic games over the last 30 years that each would be easily worth more than the $1 dollar on the collection. The fact that there are some truly hidden gems on the collection (R.C. Pro Am, Sabrewulf, Conkers Bad Fur Day) just helps add even more to the value.

Battletoads Cover

But the reason why I think this collection and the Borderlands collection do so well, while Master Chief falls short is because they don’t rely on it all being in one place. Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel are actually separate downloaded titles – Handsome Collection is just the only way to get them on the Xbox One right now. Rare Replay takes a similar approach – all the previous 360 titles are downloaded and launched separate from the main game, which has the older titles on it. That makes trouble shooting a whole lot easier, and I would have to think that coding it a hell of a lot simpler too. The big lesson that I think we can learn from Master Chief is that having multiple game engines running in one title can be terribly problematic. With Rare Replay the emulators are limited – an NES, Arcade, N64 and Original Xbox – each older consoles with more stable emulation. Pulling the 360 games out as separate entities helps keep it that way. It is easier to address any future issues with the emulation on the older games this way.

The other thing that helps make Rare Replay special is the love behind the game. Master Chief came close – it really is an incredible collection of the Chief’s adventures so far, and does feel like a love letter to his story. But Rare Replay takes it even farther – with behind the scenes videos detailing the studios history, to go along with specific ones on games. There’s a lot more bonus content with this beyond the 30 games than in either of the other two collections. Add in to that the fact that Rare has always been a very unique studio, doing things their way, and it just feels right. In the end, even if there is only a couple games you’re interested in here, you really should pick it up. The value is awesome, the games play great, and there’s some legitimate gaming history here.

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The Problem With Pre-Order Incentives

I’ve written in the past about pre-ordering games – what I look for when I actually go about doing it, specifically about limited editions. While my thoughts haven’t really changed a whole lot – I still like having that guarantee that the game is already paid for and taken care of and will be mine on day one; I have seen a few pre-order incentives that really made me scratch my head. These days those pre-order incentives are really what drive them now more than the convenience factor thanks to downloadable titles. So publishers have to come up with incentives that players will actually want to have in order to drive the pre-orders up, and help ensure a solid early portion of the lifespan.

Halo Master Chief Collection

I should mention now that I’m really approaching this more from looking at the multiplayer side of things. For single player games, or the campaigns in games with both aspects, pre-order bonuses really don’t make a huge difference. Even things like the Bandana Skull in Halo: The Master Chief Collection – which was a pre-order bonus from GameStop – and grants unlimited ammo and grenades, since it’s a singleplayer experience, it’s only impacting your experience. If you would like to play with that bonus, go for it. It’s totally different from if that same Skull applied to multiplayer – especially in a competitive game like Halo. Generally, the bonuses for games with strong multiplayer – Call of Duty comes to mind – are only cosmetic changes. Weapon skins or player skins that show off your dedication to the series are cool, and don’t actually impact the gameplay.

Evolve Cover

Which brings me to what was the genesis of this post. I mentioned yesterday about Evolve‘s pre-order bonuses being early access to the third and final set of characters. In theory that’s not the worst thing possible – until you realize that each individual character within a class has slightly different gear. For example, the Medic class – Val, the initial Medic has a healing beam that requires you to keep line of sight; while Caira, the third Medic, has a grenade launcher that fires healing grenades. There’s a huge difference in tactics between the two weapons’ usages. With Val, you need to be near your teammates at all times, in order to heal them. Caira can move around a bit more freely, thanks to the grenades – as long as the explosion hits your teammates, they’re healed. It gives you more tactical choices, which impacts gameplay.

Mortal Kombat X

The other pretty grievous offender is April’s Mortal Kombat X. They announced the pre-order bonus back in the fall, and I put down my thoughts right away on Twitter. Pre-ordering MKX will give players access to Goro – whether that’s exclusive access or early access I’m not totally sure about though. Either way that’s a pretty major issue. Goro is a boss character – always has been in the series. Within fighting games, boss characters are almost always pretty over powered, whether it’s their attack power, or their move set. M. Bison is pretty infamous in the Street Fighter world for his A.I. back in Street Fighter II, where his skill would increase dramatically in the second round, especially if he had lost the first round. Goro was more of a power difference – he hit super hard, and didn’t really flinch, which made combos difficult against him. Assuming that they are rebalancing him for Mortal Kombat X doesn’t really make me feel a whole lot better though. He’s still bound to have some of his iconic moves – his throw in particular is a pretty iconic move, and used to hit super hard.

Now in and of itself, these bonuses aren’t the worst ones ever. What makes them an issue to me is that they both have easily apparent impact on the multiplayer side of their respective games. Within Evolve, those final tier characters could totally make early games play very different – especially against players without those same characters. With Mortal Kombat X, it could just be that Goro still has too much boss character power in him, even as a playable character – which in a competitive arena like fighting games, is definitely not good. Whether this ends up being a major deal really remains to be seen – Evolve still is about a month away, and Mortal Kombat X is set for an April release. But I don’t really like seeing games put in actual gameplay elements for pre-order bonuses in the multiplayer side.

My Top Picks for 2014 in Gaming

Now that 2015 is here, I thought it was my turn to look back over last year’s games and pick my choices for the best of the year. Instead of picking ten games and listing them in some arbitrary order, I just thought I’d list out what I thought were the best games of the year.

Titanfall

We’ll start with the two games that I think were the best of last year. For me, it was a year of shooters – starting in March with Titanfall and then in the fall with Destiny. Now, I get that neither really had much in the way of a story/campaign, but what both games did well was the most important aspect – the gameplay. Titanfall was the first shooter in years to feel fresh, with a focus of movement and speed instead of cover-to-cover combat. Add in the massive titular Titans and you had a wonderful mix of action that was totally refreshing to play. The DLC for the game kept it in rotation through most, if not all of, the year – adding a free co-op mode was a great idea by Respawn. I’m excited to see where the studio heads now – I would expect to see something maybe at E3 this year.

Destiny

As for Destiny, a lot has been made about the story already, so there’s no reason to belabor the point. However, I have been playing it consistently since it released in September. The gameplay is that good – it gets all of the Bungie trademarks right. The gunplay feels great, the melee and grenades and super abilities all add in a good variety to the combat, and the game itself looks incredible. The PvP is a little iffy at times, but playing through the raids is always exciting, and even just running the bounties everyday is still pretty enjoyable. There’s still one more content pack that we know of coming soonish, so we get another good look at Bungie’s work at keeping the game in good shape. I just hope that with Destiny 2, whenever that comes out, that Bungie uses the Lore that they have on hand with the Grimoire and finds a way to put it into a great story in-game.

Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition

While I think those two were my favorite games of this past year, there were a bunch of other great games that I got to play last year. First was the Xbox One version of Guacamelee – a game I knew nothing about when I downloaded it. It was free with Gold this summer, and I would have rather spent some money on it to support Drinkbox games – it was that good. It nailed the Metroidvania style game perfectly, while managing to feel unique with its art and music and usage of Mexican lore. Fantastic game, from top to bottom – you really owe it to yourself to play it.

This was also a great year for a couple really tough, old-school platformers. Shovel Knight and Volgarr the Viking both harken back to the classic days of gaming – both evoking the feel of NES and SNES platformers respectively. They require patience to learn the patterns, precision to nail the platforming and timing to get through the combat. Shovel Knight was just announced for PlayStation platforms with the added ability to play as Kratos, which not only could look pretty cool, but also could help the game reach a new, larger audience. Volgarr is still free with Gold on the Xbox One, so you really should pick it up – even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s free.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

As for other major releases this past year, I really thought that Sunset Overdrive managed to standout. It’s got the movement and speed that looks to be the trend of current-gen action games, but the game is so self-aware and irreverent that it’s humor is actually funny. Sometimes games try to be funny and it comes across flat – Sunset Overdrive is a good example of a game that is funny, but also has really tight gameplay to back up the wackiness. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is another great example. The series has always been keen on the humor, and each game has been phenomenal examples of action-RPG values. The action is tight, but the RPG elements have grown in each game, which allows for growth both within the game world as well as the player base. People who started with the first game and took a more straightforward approach to the action element can grow with the RPG side which helps open up the whole genre to them.

We also got new entries in the two biggest shooter franchises on consoles – Halo and Call of Duty. Both were strong games for sure – Master Chief Collection was just plagued by major networking issues at launch, primarily because of the scope of the game. As time has gone, the game has gotten much more stable, which is great, since all four games are still fun as hell to play. Adding in Halo 3: ODST and a remastered version of the Halo 2 map Relic is a great move by 343 to show some support for the dedicated fans. Now we just need to continue with the Halo 5: Guardians beta being solid and I think the feeling going into this year will be good. On the other side of things, Advanced Warfare didn’t have a particularly rocky launch – just a little laggy, which is to be expected with a major launch; and has grown stronger since then. It’s the Call of Duty that Activision needed, especially going up against Titanfall, which was already established this year. Moving forward, we’re set up for a really interesting 2015 – there’s bound to be a new Call of Duty game in the fall, plus the DLC for Advanced Warfare still, add in the new Battlefield Hardline, Halo 5, and Star Wars Battlefront coming this year, and I think you can see why it was so important for Advanced Warfare to do well. It shows that the series still has a place in the Current-gen world.

There were a couple other games that I know got lots of press, but I just didn’t have the time or funds to get – Far Cry 4, Shadow of Mordor, Assassins Creed Unity and Rogue, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS. That’s not even the beginning of it either – there were tons of great games this past year, and 2015 is already shaping up to be just as strong, if not more so. Hopefully we can put the focus back on the games, move on as a community and really become a mature subculture in the mainstream of pop culture.

Weekly News Recap – Week of December 1, 2014

This first week of December has been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to news. On one hand, Halo, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny all saw new patches hit this week, so there’s plenty to talk about there. But on the other hand, developers have been a little tight lipped about major new announcements, in anticipation of The Game Awards tonight, and PlayStation Experience this weekend in Vegas.

Destiny The Dark Below

PATCHES FOR EVERYONE!
I talked a bit about the most recent Destiny patch earlier this week, as Bungie prepares for the launch of The Dark Below. The last two patches for Destiny have made some pretty noticeable changes to the behavior of major portions of the game – for the better in my opinion. Streamlining the upgrades on Exotics is a great move, and being able to bring them up to the same level with the new Exotics in The Dark Below ensures they’ll be useful for a long time. Halo: The Master Chief Collection got yet another patch, fixing what seems to be the same issues they have been for weeks now. While I’m glad that they are putting out patches consistently, the fact that every patch seems to come with the caveat that they’re working on the next patch already, and that that patch will address the same issues again, is starting to get a little grating. I think that 343 Industries is starting to get close to the point of no return for the Christmas season and it’s going to be really important to get it up and running smoothly soon. Finally, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got a massive patch this week that addresses pretty much every aspect of the online components. Exo Survival got some exploit fixes, and the multiplayer side of things got huge fixes across the board. Weapon balancing was done on all the weapons that clearly needed it, map exploits were addressed, and game modes all got tweaks to score length and communication to the player. It’s a huge patch, and has actually gotten me back into playing the game – especially since Halo is still a chore to play online.

Halo Master Chief Collection

THE GAME AWARDS STREAM TONIGHT
Since Spike TV isn’t airing an award show this year, Geoff Keighley instead created another awards show to replace it. The Game Awards will be streamed live tonight on the online components for PlayStation and Xbox, and since Viacom isn’t part of the show, I would expect it to actually be less over-the-top and be more respectful towards the industry. Usually at these shows we see a bunch of new trailers and announcements, so I would expect to see the same this year – although Microsoft already has said that they are not announcing any new games at the show. Whether that’s marketing trying to pull a fast one, or they are in fact not announcing any new games remains to be seen.

SONY DSC

PLAYSTATION INVADES VEGAS THIS WEEKEND
This weekend is also the PlayStation Experience, being held in Las Vegas. Since the PlayStation brand just turned 20, Sony figured that the brand deserved a party – and what better place to have a party than Vegas. Bungie is being coy about showing something at the show – in their weekly update it sounds like they’ll be showing some of Crota’s End off. Beyond that, I fully expect to see a bunch of new content from Sony’s main franchises. I would not be surprised by any announcements – I think anything is on the table for Sony since they’re in such a good spot market-wise. If I had to bet on a major new game being announced, I would put my money on either God of War or Twisted Metal showing back up. Regardless, this weekend is going to be packed with major headlines, so keep your eyes up.

What Can 343 Industries Do To Make Things Right With Fans?

Halo Master Chief CollectionLast week, as I mentioned in the weekly news recap, 343 Industries studio head Bonnie Ross released her own statement on the state of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. While the statement didn’t really offer up much in the way of specifics, the focal point seemed to be this idea that 343i will “make it right” to Halo fans after this debacle. They’ve said something similar to this in a couple of the most recent statements, and it’s got me and my group of friends thinking about just what they can do. Since we haven’t heard anything from 343i this week yet, and I’ve been enjoying playing Halo when I can manage to find games, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what I think 343i could do to “make it right.”

Halo 5 Guardians

The first thing to look at is whether 343i is talking about making it right with MCC or if they are speaking in broader terms moving forward with Halo 5: Guardians. I think the beta coming out around Christmas might be even more important than ever before – not only from the backend side of things, but from a public perspective standpoint as well. I think no matter what their plan is, they have to look at the beta’s original plan and adjust it. I would extend it a week or two, mainly because the issues in MCC may have dropped the numbers too much – they need to have a strong Christmas showing in order to really populate the beta. Extending it would both help 343i hopefully have a more stable launch, although I think calling it a beta is a little odd since there’s no way it’s coming out before the fall. If they extend the beta, there’s also the potential to add more content into the beta.

Halo 2

The other likely option that 343i could go with is adding content to MCC. Since that title is the cause of all these issues, I think this is a more likely option. As for what they can do to “make it right” I think they really have two or three good choices. First – they add in Halo: Reach to the collection’s multiplayer side of things. While Reach isn’t really a Master Chief game, the multiplayer has a bunch of good maps, as well as good Forge content. I think it would fit in well, since Halo 4 took a lot from Reach‘s multiplayer. The second option I think is adding in Firefight/Spartan Ops as another co-op option. I don’t know quite what this would entail, but I think that it would be pretty fun to do – especially if they add in Firefight for Halo 2: Anniversary. Finally, they could take other Halo 2 maps and update them to the Anniversary engine. There are plenty of worthy maps – Midship, Turf, Headlong and Beaver Creek all jump to mind right away. I think this is probably the most likely of their options, the framework is already in the game, it would just be a matter of building the maps – no different than a normal map pack.

The most important aspect of all this though is that if they do go with adding something to Master Chief Collection, I think it has to be free content. Maybe they can go about charging for it for people that didn’t buy the game at launch, but those of us that have been dealing with all the issues in the game since day one, I don’t know that 343i could take the public relations hit for charging more. I would think that it’s in Microsoft’s best interest to make this as close to what the fans are asking for as possible too, since Halo is traditionally their breadwinner. It’s been a series that moves consoles in the past – and the idea that Master Chief Collection is going to be one as well is really in jeopardy right now. We’re right in the Christmas shopping season now, and to have Microsoft’s biggest and best franchise in dire straights right now is the worst thing that Microsoft could have going. Sony has tied their horse to Destiny – which has had its own issues, albeit far less serious on a gameplay front – and with “The Dark Below” coming next week, that looks to be the better option. We’ll see exactly what 343 Industries does going forward, but regardless of their next move, they are far from out of the woods yet.

The Biggest Issue With The Master Chief Collection No One Is Talking About

Halo Master Chief CollectionMuch has been made about the issues that Halo: The Master Chief Collection has been facing since it’s launch on November 11. All across the web, outlets have been talking about the matchmaking issues – seemingly every week, as the patches just don’t seem to be doing enough. Hell, I’ve spent time talking about the issues and the patches on this very blog. I’m not going to discount those issues – matchmaking across the four games is probably the biggest selling point for long time fans. That said though, I have come across an issue that is just as big a problem, that isn’t getting nearly the same press.

I found it to be an issue as I was messing around in Forge over the Holiday weekend. I’m far from a Forge expert, but I was able to craft a map on Warlord that I was proud of – with a game type to go along with it. After I set it to be in my shared files, I figured out that the real issue. Those files being in my file share, basically limit it to only my friends grabbing it. There is no online file share, like there used to be one Bungie.net, for players to go to, search for maps/games, and download them to their Xboxs right there. It’s partially tied to the shift in focus away from Custom games more towards matchmaking. The sad part is that the Custom games community is the major reason that Halo 2 and Halo 3 were able to enjoy such long lifespans online. It’s been semi-rekindled over this last month with the issues for online with MCC, thanks to sites like halolobby.com. The issue is that because of the lack of a viable way to search for files, neither in-game or online, it limits how strong that community will be.

Halo 3

It goes beyond not having a search function – the current maximum for each filetype is 50. 50 is miniscule in the grand scheme of things – with Halo 3 Bungie realized their initial number was way to low, so they cranked it way up. Understandably, 343 hasn’t really said anything about dealing with this number quite yet, but I think ultimately they will need to. As more tournaments start to take place, each with various rules, and as Customs start spreading – mainly due to classic games from the previous Halo games – I think they’ll see players demand more room in their file share. With Forge as robust as it is now, the potential for Forge art is higher than ever before. For as much I have been down on the state of MCC, 343 did a great job with the new Forge available in Halo 2: Anniversary – the sky box maps are awesome, and the potential things that better map makers will be able to do are pretty crazy. Which just makes the lack of a search function even more mindblowing to me.

Halo 2 Anniversary Beaver Creek Forge

The final issue that I’ve found in Forge is a bit more specific a complaint, but still a major oversight. Within the Halo 3 Forge, there currently is no way to change the game type away from basic editing. At first glance that might not be the biggest issue – until you realize that means you can’t place any objective markers on maps. That means no new CTF variants, no Territories maps, and perhaps the biggest issue – no Grifball – in the game that started it! I don’t know how easy a fix this particular issue would be, but based around what we’ve seen so far I don’t see it being high on 343’s list quite yet. Ultimately, I would love to see them get matchmaking fixed and working the way it’s supposed to; but at the same time, they really do need to look at the file share issue. Not having one will limit the lifespan of the game, which is already in jeopardy due to the launch issues. Unfortunately, we’re still stuck in the same pattern – watching and waiting to see which issues 343 is tackling with each new patch.

Weekly News Recap – Week of November 24, 2014

Since it’s Thanksgiving week here in the states, the news front has been a little slow this week. Only a couple stories that I think are worth mentioning.

Halo Master Chief Collection

343 INDUSTRIES STILL TRYING TO FIX HALO
Last week’s big Halo: The Master Chief Collection patch that was supposed to fix the majority of the online issues ended up falling noticeably short of expectations. Matchmaking works a little bit better, but only if you’re not in a party. There were still plenty of UI issues, and the same Custom Game issues kept popping up. There was a second patch that came out yesterday, that was more focused on Matchmaking and Custom Games, but I haven’t seen enough to say if it works. Also this week Bonnie Ross, the studio head at 343 Industries, released a statement addressing the state of the game. The statement seemed to echo similar previous statements that 343 has released – they’re really sorry that the game is in the sorry state that it is, but they’re working hard to fix it. This is also the first statement to specifically say they are going to “make it right” for fans. I think they realize now that just fixing the game to the point it’s playable isn’t enough at this point – they are going to need to come up with something on top of what they have. Whether that extends to the Halo 5: Guardians beta in December, or amounts to more maps as free DLC, that remains to be seen. Personally, I’d like to either see the Halo: Reach maps get added in, or more Halo 2 maps get the Anniversary update treatment, mainly so we can Forge more maps.

BLACK FRIDAY DEALS HIT HARD THIS YEAR
As is always the case, this weekend the stores will be packed with people looking to get the best deal on the hottest gear this year. Gaming is no different. The deals this year for Black Friday look really solid, like and Xbox One bundle for $350. Considering that the price is expected to pop back up to the MSRP next year, now really is the best time to go find an Xbox One, and get it with a game. Each store has slightly different deals, but in general, games are marked down pretty well, and consoles are definitely much more affordable.

Destiny The Dark Below

DESTINY PREPARES FOR FIRST DLC
The first major DLC for Destiny is just over a week away, and Bungie has been laying the framework already to prepare for it. Last week they put in a pretty substantial patch that added in a number of little tweaks for Crucible maps, as well a few little fixes for the co-op game, like being able to hold 10 bounties at once. In general, the patch has been pretty successful, except for adding a really odd bug on the Xbox One – in party chat, the game’s frame rate takes a major nosedive. Bungie knows about it, and I expect to see a fix with next week’s patch. They also added in a nice little free gift for players that had either bought the Expansion Pass or pre-purchased the first DLC – a free, legendary tier Sparrow that has an added ability to do flips and spins. It’s a cosmetic thing, but it’s actually really awesome to see in action. I’m curious to see what the patch planned for this week will do, and since this was Thanksgiving, the weekly update was notably sparse. I think Destiny is in a really good spot going into the holiday – they are offering a free trial for players that get referred from friends, which should bolster the holiday numbers a little bit. With Halo having such major issues, and Call of Duty being the only real competition, I think Bungie might have a good holiday season this year.