April’s Games with Gold Update

Microsoft announced April’s Games with Gold today, and it’s possibly the best set of games they’ve ever had. While they aren’t exactly free – you do need an active Xbox Live Gold subscription to get them, but they won’t cost you anything extra beyond that. So let’s go over the three games that I’ve actually played already.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

On the Xbox One front, the second half of April will bring with it Sunset Overdrive. It’s a Microsoft exclusive game, a third-person action adventure game with a pretty strong emphasis on irreverence and humor, without being juvenile. It’s a legitimately funny game, and has the gameplay to back it up. It’s a fun game at its core – the story is serviceable without being overbearing, and there’s enough side content to keep you playing. Collectibles, side-missions, item collection and upgrading all is there to keep you invested in seeing the game through to completion. It’s got a fun horde-mode style co-op mode as well. I loved playing it last winter – it was a great off-game from Destiny and Call of Duty and Dragon Age. It’s free for the second half of the month – it’s absolutely worth picking it up and playing it. It’s fun, bright, colorful and for a third-person shooter/action game has a fantastic switch up in movement away from cover based combat. Really glad that it’s going to be available for free for a wide audience.

 

Dead Space CoverOn the Xbox 360 front, the two games coming this month are both amazing choices. The first half of the month has Dead Space coming, and the second half brings Saints Row IVDead Space is one of those 360 games that I’ve talked about on here a couple times, since I consistently put it on my favorite games list from the console. It’s probably the best traditional style survival horror game to come out on the console, and I think still is arguably holding that title today. It takes the traditional setting, puts it into a Sci-Fi world, and inverts the main combat mechanic, putting players on their toes right away. Where it really excels is that the feeling of dread and tenseness doesn’t go away as you get more powerful – there really isn’t a point where you feel like you are golden against any enemy. You are always potentially near death, and that’s what I want out of a survival horror game.

 

Saints Row IVSaints Row IV is a little different story. It’s not the best game in that particular series, like I think Dead Space is. It’s not quite on the same level as its direct competitor – Grand Theft Auto – but it fills a spot in gaming that I think is super important. It, much like Sunset Overdrive, is one of those games that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It pokes fun at tropes across the gaming, and truly entertainment industry in general, spectrum. It’s a game that takes challenge out of the equation – you’ll be able to grab invincibility pretty early on in the game, and it changes the tone even further. It’s a game that you play because it is just inherently fun – you fly around, you jump like crazy, and the game just doesn’t give two shits about being serious about anything. It’s pure popcorn fun, and absolutely worth playing. With the 360 Games with Gold being available to play on Xbox One now, and starting the 28th of this month you’ll be able to pick up them on the Xbox One too, it’s even easier to get three games that are definitely worth playing.

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Game Burnout – How to Fight it

The worst time in gaming is the down time between releases – those couple weeks when the last new games you’ve picked up have either been beaten or the player count is starting to dwindle. Some games hold on for longer – I’m still knee deep in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and some games keep player counts up for a long time – Call of Duty and Halo both do that well. But almost every game has some point where the magic has run out and you need to put it down for a bit. For me, open-world sandbox games hit that point much faster than any other – Grand Theft Auto in particular for whatever reason. So with that in mind, I offer up how I’ve been fighting my burnout with Sunset Overdrive and Destiny – the two games that I’ve been at the wall with recently.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

Sunset Overdrive is one of those open-world games where the immediate freedom is kind of both the problem and it’s also the draw. It’s a little different in that the movement mechanics help keep the pace up, and having fast travel really helps. The biggest problem comes from the sheer number of collectibles – which is always the biggest hurdle for games like this. It’s a big part of what pulled me off of Crackdown and Prototype. I had to grind my way through them in Darksiders, but the sequel just couldn’t hold me. Sunset has the same issue going – there are a lot of collectibles to grab, and while I’ve been making it a point of getting them, it does pull me out of the story. Which is the problem, because Sunset does actually have a really engaging story – helped by the humor and creativity of the world. Games with tons of collectibles like this I find it helps to focus on grabbing them as soon as possible, focus on them, then take a break from the game for a bit. Leave it for a week – I did and I came back yesterday to it refreshed and interested in finishing the game more. Sometimes that’s all it takes to shake off those doldrums.

Destiny

As for Destiny, that’s a different beast. For me, the burnout comes from the repetition in the game. It was my biggest issue with the game, aside of course from the story issues, from day one. I suppose what most players have hit now is less burnout, and more that they’ve hit the “end” – we’ve reached level 32 with weapons all maxed out. We’ve run the raids, gotten all the gear we want, and found all there is to find. Which means more that we’re in a waiting pattern for the next DLC set – right now it looks like it’s going to be coming in April. There’s always the PvP to play, but the problem is that the PvP is a little unbalanced. So Destiny is a little different – the burnout is more likely to be in the middle of the game. That period right after you hit level 20 and are stuck looking for gear with light, or grinding out marks to buy high level gear. That’s the period of time that you have to slog through – but it is worth it, since the raids and Nightfall strikes are the best part of the game.

The other nice thing is that we are in a year where there’s going to be an incredible amount of games coming out. So if you’re suffering from a little bit of burnout this year, take a look at some games that maybe were under your radar, you might find a gem.

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 – November 17, 2014

It’s an interesting week for news this week. I mentioned yesterday there’s a big patch for Halo: The Master Chief Collection that hit and fixed a big chunk of the online issues. That’s not the only bit of pretty cool Xbox One news this week.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

XBOX ONE TURNS ONE
Tomorrow marks the One Year Anniversary for the Xbox One, and as such, Microsoft is celebrating with some pretty cool things this weekend. Today, they’re sending out emails giving personal summaries of our playing with the Xbox One – for example, I’ve been with Xbox Live since 2004 (thanks to Halo 2), and my Xbox One gamerscore is 11,404 across 499 achievements, both of which are in the top 1% on Xbox One. Microsoft is sending out plenty of emails like this this weekend – including unique player emblems that show off Year One, and a special background for players that also were there on Day One.

Sunset Overdrive Cover

SUNSET OVERDRIVE FREE SATURDAY
To go along with the Xbox One celebration this weekend, Insomniac and Microsoft are making Sunset Overdrive available for Gold members for free this Saturday. The game is free for that 24 hour period – and what I think is really cool, it’s actually the full game. Achievements will unlock, progress is saved and can be picked right up should you pick up the game later on – and the 8-player co-op mode is also available. It’s available right at midnight tonight, so queue up that download right away and play it a ton tomorrow.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V DRAWS CONTROVERSY – AGAIN
In what should be no surprise to anyone, traditional media has once again picked up on Rockstar’s long running franchise, this time the Current-Gen version’s ability to play in First Person. Because of the switch in perspective, the game does have a lot more impact to it – that’s hard to really deny. But as it has been for really the last 20 years or so, mainstream media continually likes to look for connections to real world violence that just aren’t there. Rockstar has never been shy about courting that controversy, and I think that this is no different.

The Modern FPS Genre – The Trendiest of Genres

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareI’ve been a fan of First Person Shooters for a long time, going way back Quake II on the PC. As I’ve gotten more cognizant of how the industry works over the years though, I’ve come to notice something about the genre that goes back almost to those early days. It’s easy to look at the games in the genre and say that they all look alike. The basic form and function of the genre really hasn’t changed much since Wolfenstein 3D all those years ago. What really defines the whole genre is the trends the games follow, which tend to come in waves. With the new console generation, this is actually a great time to look at the genre, since we’re getting a whole bunch of new shooters; they may be all different games and tones, but they all have the same basic new trend behind them.

Looking back first though, I think that the major trend of the last wave of shooters really can be difficult to pinpoint. There was a big influx of 3rd Person Shooters that were really popular with the Gears of War series and the Mass Effect games. With those games, it was incredibly important to have a good cover system in place. That idea sneaked into FPS games as well, especially in the Call of Duty and Battlefield games. As those games added in the ability for weapons to penetrate certain materials, picking and choosing cover became a part of the game; as was recognizing what cover you could be behind and be protected, but also shoot over (head-glitching). That said though, I think the major trend really can be traced to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, both in multiplayer and single player capacities. That was the game that really started the trend of huge set pieces during the campaign – something that has become sort of a calling card for the franchise now. In the multiplayer though, it was the first game to have the custom class system. It gave players the ability to tweak how they would play the game – they weren’t reliant on weapon spawns on the map, or forced into playing a specific class. It was super popular, and it wasn’t long before we saw that system creep into other major shooters too. Halo adopted it with Halo: Reach, letting players set up their grenades, weapons and armor abilities, which would continue in Halo 4. And while Battlefield 3 still had the traditional class system that was present in the series since day one, it did allow for a bit more customization within those classes, which is definitely more prevalent in Battlefield 4. Because of the degree of flexibility that the custom classes offer shooters, I really don’t see this leaving the genre, even though there has been a bit of a demand for a return to a more classic arcade/arena style shooter.

Titanfall

As the next batch of shooters gets closer and closer this fall, I think it’s become pretty apparent what the trend will be for these “next-gen” experience shooters. It started with Titanfall and now that we know more about Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Evolve and even Sunset Overdrive, I think it’s pretty easy to see that this trend is pretty solidly set in. It looks like the name of the game with shooters this gen will be movement. Titanfall added it to increase the vertical nature of the combat, mainly to ensure pilots had a chance against the Titans. Wallrunning and double jumping all over the map really adds a dynamic to the action that was missing in previous shooters. As the game did well early in the year, I was waiting to see if the other shooters were going to follow suit, and sure enough, in their own different ways, they have. Advanced Warfare uses the Exo-Skeleton suit to add in a quick dash to jumps, in any direction, as well as a double jump, bring verticality into the Call of Duty formula. I’m sure that there will still be some amount of traditional cover combat in the game, but I really hope that the general flow of combat is much more fluid and involves more dynamic combat. Destiny has movement tied directly into the leveling of your Guardian. Each class has a different manner of adding in a double jump, with different mechanics as to how they actually work. That ability to get up above the enemy is important not only in the PvE story, but will definitely impact how matches flow in the Crucible. Even with Evolve being delayed till next year, we’ve seen plenty of gameplay footage showing off all sorts of different aspects of the action. Both the Monster and the hunters look to have plenty of aerial options to not only move around the huge maps, but also for combating the other side. Finally, even though Sunset Overdrive is a 3rd person game, and not exactly a traditional style shooter, they’ve taken the idea of movement and motion to heart. Wallrunning, jumping, sliding and grinding all play into not only how you move around the world, but also the action as well.

Shooters tend to be generally the most popular games every year, and while this year isn’t as much about Call of Duty VS. Halo VS. Battlefield, it’s still a stacked lineup of shooters this fall. It’s still really early in this generation of games, way too early to tell if this emphasis on movement will stick around the whole generation, but it definitely has infused a sense of energy into the genre, which I think kicks the fun level up a couple notches.

The Times They Are a Changin’

DestinyOver the last few years, the gaming world has settled into a pretty predictable pattern. E3 hits in June, the summer is devoid of major releases, then the floodgates open in the fall. We’ve seen a new Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo game every year since 2011. On top of that, Battlefield has had two major entries, plus continuous DLC; Borderlands 2 has been supported since 2012 and there’s always the yearly entries in the various sports games. This is the first year where we’ve really seen indie titles start to make major waves – especially on the console front. Every year though I see the same arguments online about the yearly releases, and it’s always Call of Duty that gets the blame. The titles are seen as cookie cutters, there’s limited or no innovation, they’re packaged for the lowest common denominator – I see these sort of statements all the time on YouTube and Twitter about the franchise.

That said, this year has had a different vibe about it, really ever since it got started. We had a weak fall/holiday last year thanks to the new consoles releasing. This year started with a major release’s hype train in full swing for Titanfall’s March release, and anticipation of a really stacked E3. Expectations were definitely high going in, and all three consoles had really strong showings, setting the table for a really busy, hugely anticipated fall/holiday/early 2015 release window. What I think we should pause and look back at when we look at 2014 is that this was the year that indie and new IP games really shined. Titles like Speedrunners, Sportsfriends, Guacamelee, 1001 Spikes, Towerfall Ascension and more all were standouts of the summer.

Advanced Warfare Cover

Going into this fall, at least right after E3, I had three games that I knew I would be playing day one – Destiny, Sunset Overdrive and Evolve. Since then, Evolve has been delayed, but the other two games, both brand new IP’s, still are set to come out this fall. I’ve talked a lot about how excited I am for Destiny, but Sunset Overdrive looks like it’s going to be just as fun, in a totally over the top, crazy way. While this fall does still have the familiar faces – Call of Duty, Halo, and Assassin’s Creed all have new entries – those titles aren’t the focal point of the season. Normally, Call of Duty would be dominating the headlines and leading the fall schedule, but to me, Advanced Warfare feels very much like it’s way under the radar. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but the Gamescom reveal had all the bombast that the franchise is known for, and actually did its job – it got me more excited for the game than anything else did. I totally expect to see Sunset Overdrive, Destiny and Evolve all become franchises for the next few years to come, but the fact that they’re proving that new IP’s can not only survive in the craziness of the fall, but in fact thrive in it, is a really good sign going forward. Hopefully they’ll do well enough and will help convince publishers to take a risk here and there.

Gamescom 2014: News and Notes from Germany

Earlier this week I talked about the new Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer news that came out of Gamescom. Yesterday I shared a couple trailers that really impressed me from the show. Today I want to hit a couple of the headlines that have come out from various publishers.

Tomb Raider Logo

First off, Microsoft dropped the news that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be an Xbox One exclusive for the Holiday of 2015. During their press conference, that was all they would say on that bit, and as a result, the fanboys (both Tomb Raider and PlayStation) got a little over reactionary as they are wont to do. However, as I think most cool headed people thought, it was revealed that it was only a timed exclusive, giving Xbox the edge on the Holiday launch window, but the series isn’t leaving the console that it saw its start on. Other than that, no new info on the game though.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

Microsoft also announced a few new bundles for the Xbox One at their press conference. First the announced a FIFA 15 bundle that will only be available in Europe. This is most likely a parallel to the Madden 15 bundle that is available in the States, pairing the console with the most popular sports for those regions. Second was a bundle with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, featuring a custom paint job on the console and controller, the “Day Zero” edition of the game digitally, and what I would think is the main selling point, a 1 TB hard drive. Since players have to instal any Xbox One game, even with physical copies, that extra hard drive space is a great addition. Finally, Microsoft announced a Sunset Overdrive bundle, which features a really crisp looking white console, along with the Day One edition of the game.

Switching gears to Sony now, we learned a little bit more about that really cool feature they announced at E3 with Far Cry 4 – the ability to play with a friend who doesn’t own the game. Essentially, the player that owns the game sends an invite out, the other player then accepts it and can access the first player’s PlayStation. They can then play the game on their console by streaming the video from the first console. They are basically taking over the first player’s console – meaning the first player can’t really use it while they’re playing. It’s a neat idea, but I want to see how well it really works in practice before I start heaping praise on it.

Silent Hills Norman Reedus

Sony also had what might be the coolest announcement in years. The game itself is a pretty big deal, but coolest part of it was how they went about doing the announcement. They told everyone about a new “Interactive Teaser” in the PlayStation store and told them to go play through it to see the new game. It’s an innovative way to use the online store’s capabilities to get fans around the world involved. As for the actual game, at the end of the teaser it’s unveiled as being an announcement for Silent Hills, a new entry into the classic survival-horror series, being developed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro and the main character will be played by Norman Reedus. While it’s still really early, it’s hard to not get a little excited for this one – I fully expect a very unsettling and creepy game from this team.

There’s a lot more news to hit that’s come out from Gamescom, and I’ll hit a few more game-specific stories tomorrow.