Xbox Live August Games with Gold

Sunset Overdrive Xbox BundleAugust is just a few days away, and that means a new set of “free” games coming to Xbox Live. This month’s set has a few really solid games available, especially on the 360 front. It’s also the last month before the big new games start coming out – which is the perfect time to pick up a couple of these games and go through them.

On the Xbox One, the two games are Warriors Orochi 3 and WWE 2K16. I think the WWE one might be the more fun pick, but that’s maybe because I like the WWE games. Since 2K has taken over the series, the mechanics have gotten a bit more stable and while the source material is still as goofy as ever, the games are pretty fun. The character creator suite is actually pretty solid – you can make some close recreations of older wrestlers, or just total abominations. The achievements aren’t particularly crazy, and there’s still people playing online to get those ones taken care of.

What I’m really excited by are the Xbox 360 options – Spelunky and Beyond Good and Evil HD. Spelunky is one of the earlier examples of  modern rouge-like dungeon crawlers. It’s one of those games that I remember seeing explode over the internet, but for whatever reason I just never picked up. Now that it’s free, it’s definitely on my radar again. The same applies to Beyond Good and Evil – I very clearly remember when it came out back in the day, but it just never appealed to me. However, I totally understand the reverence that the game has garnered over the years. There’s a reason that the sequel, which has been seemingly in development for ages, is so highly anticipated. Since we’re still waiting, now might be the best time to pick up the re-released HD version.

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E3 2016 – Microsoft Press Conference Thoughts

E3 LogoAs they’ve done the last couple years, Microsoft opened up the week proper on Monday with their press conference at E3. They’ve done a really good job of rebounding after the tepid response to the initial Xbox One launch and marketing, mainly by focusing a lot more on games during these big showcases. This year though, they took a bit of a chance by also talking hardware – which has worked against them in the past. I think ultimately it was a really solid show though – the new games they showed off hit all the major points, big exclusives, some good third party support, and a variety of genres and tones to play. Let’s talk a couple high points.

Before we get to the games, let’s get the more “boring” stuff out of the way. The hardware talk this year was a good mix of platform upgrades for Xbox Live and cross-network play, as well as actual hardware like the new custom controller shop and upgraded consoles. It’s easy to look at some of these announcements and not necessarily be excited, perhaps because of all the flash around the games this week; but I really think that some of what Microsoft is working on is a legitimate game changer. The new Play Anywhere idea in particular is a really cool idea – buy a game once on Xbox One, and you can play it on Windows 10 PC at no extra cause. Progress and achievements all carry over thanks to the Microsoft Cloud. With all of the big exclusives that Microsoft talked about Monday all being part of the program, I definitely see Play Anywhere the first step in gaming trying to really break down those platform/console walls. The Xbox Live upgrades are all welcome ones – I like the addition of clubs, it lets existing communities begin to group up and play together easier; I wonder how much of that is in response to PlayStation doing the same thing a couple months back. The addition of LFG right into the basic Xbox Live service is another really cool idea – no more random matching, you want a group to play the raid in Destiny, you put it up and go. The last addition – Arena – is a little trickier to me. I like seeing competitive gaming becoming easier to get into, and the more options there are to play in tournaments, even as an amateur is a really cool idea. I just wonder how smooth the implementation will go. The most exciting hardware news though is the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio, the two new versions of the Xbox One that Microsoft is releasing. Xbox One S should be a good way to try and get new players moving to the console – HDR gaming, 4K video and up to a 2TB internal hard drive is a great combo. Add in it’s a smaller footprint, and it’s a solid all around console. I don’t think that current Xbox One owners need to upgrade – not yet. But it’s a good way to get new people on board. Project Scorpio on the other hand does look like it could be a good upgrade point. All we really know is some specs for it – 6 terraflops of computing power, true 4K display and support for VR tech all sound like a pretty sizable upgrade. Pricing will be a big question – especially since you’ll pretty much need a 4K TV to really see the difference. But it’s still a year out – TV prices can change a lot in that time – and everything will be compatible, across Xbox One, Xbox One S and Scorpio. It really feels like Microsoft is trying to go from being one console, to a full console family. It’s a risky move for sure, especially knowing that PlayStation also has an upgraded PS4 coming.

Sea of Thieves

All of that is great, but what we really watch E3 for is the games. Microsoft has certainly lost a bit of third party support in the last couple years – Destiny and Call of Duty both are PlayStation first titles. But Microsoft has been, to me at least, showing a really good focus on trying out new IPs from their exclusive developers. We saw four games that are part of franchises – Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, State of Decay 2 and Halo Wars 2. Every other exclusive was a new IP – including some games that I could easily see being heavy hitters. Of those sequels, I think Forza is the one that I’m most interested in – I never really got deep into Gears, I never played State of Decay and I’m not a big fan of RTS games. Forza Horizon 3 though looks gorgeous, as Forza games always do, and having four player, cross platform co-op play is really cool. I like the setting of Australia – it’s different from just about any Forza yet. The new car classes also look to help break up the gameplay.

We Happy Few Logo

For me, the most exciting games I saw, exclusive-wise, were new ones. First, we saw We Happy Few, from the team behind BioShock. It looks dark, it looks heady, it looks frightening, but overall it looks incredible. It’s going to be in the Game Preview program starting July 26, so the wait isn’t long. The other game that really got me pumped up was Sea of Thieves – I was interested last year when Rare announced it, but seeing it in action solidified it. Persistent online world, with a huge emphasis on co-op group play, and you get to be a whole pirate crew? Count me in. I love how colorful it looks too – a lot of big name games are always so washed out and trying to be dramatic. Sea of Thieves though uses the bright color palette to make the whole world feel a lot more alive. Microsoft also has the ID@Xbox program, which is where We Happy Few comes from, as well as Inside, the new game from the creators of Limbo, which looks incredible as well. And of course Cuphead is on the way from that same program as well.

Third party games also got shown during the conference, and it was a pretty good mix I thought. Final Fantasy XV got a demo of a massive fight against Titan – that honestly was underwhelming. I think it was just because the actual fighting shown was sloppy, but I came away unimpressed. Battlefield 1 showed the same gameplay trailer as the day before, as well as announcing that EA Access members on Xbox One can play the game a week early on October 13. While Minecraft isn’t technically a third party game, I still think of it as one – and I really like the move they’re going with. They’re adding in cross-network play, right now focused on the mobile versions with PC, but console support is coming. That’s the one real feature that I think Minecraft really is tailor-made for. Tekken 7 was shown, with Akuma appearing, and it looked solid. Nothing crazy for a Tekken game. Scalebound, the new game from Platinum games got a co-op gameplay demo, and it continues to be a game that confuses me. The idea behind it is awesome – hack and slash Platinum goodness, with a giant dragon as back-up. But the tone of the game just keep catching me off guard – it’s got a lot of levity and almost some degree of self-awareness about it. I wonder how much of that is the Japanese influence in the development, but it’s not something that I think would keep me from buying it. I think the big surprise came from Capcom though, with a really slick trailer for Dead Rising 4. It looks a lot like a return to what got the franchise started – Frank West, and a mall full of zombies.

I know that a lot of media has been down on the Microsoft show – especially after the Sony show, which I missed. And maybe it’s because I’m primarily an Xbox guy first these days, but I don’t know how you come away from that show and not go, “Microsoft has some really cool stuff coming in the next year or so.” Maybe it’s because they took time to show hardware, which is always kind of boring to hear at big events. Maybe it’s because PlayStation 4 has just been doing everything right over the last few years, while Xbox One has had a couple hiccups along the way. Whatever the reason, I think it’s another bit of that kind of negativity and pessimism that surrounds gaming in general lately. Was Microsoft’s show flawless? Not at all. But I came away from it excited to be an Xbox One owner, and ready to see what the next year brings.

Xbox Games With Gold – Goat Simulator/Super Meat Boy Thoughts

A new month brings new “free” games with the Xbox Live Games with Gold program. I grabbed the two new ones available for the first half of June: Goat Simulator and Super Meat Boy, and thought we’d talk a little about them.

Super Meat Boy

Let’s start with the Xbox One title, Goat Simulator. If you aren’t familiar with the premise, you are a goat, placed in a world that is nothing really more than a physics playground. There’s no plot, there’s no real objective outside of maybe getting a good score. It’s just a pure silly, fun time killer. The achievements are quick and easy, outside of the time on the collectibles and the nightmare that is flappy goat. The humor in there is definitely not going to be for everyone. But since it’s a free game, and outside of the flurry of FPS launches last month, we’re in the slow period of summer. There really isn’t any reason to not grab it, mess around for a few hours, and then clear it out. That’s what I’ve done at least.

On the other hand, the Xbox 360 game available right now is a longer burning game. Super Meat Boy is one of the best examples of why the Xbox Live Arcade was such a big part of the 360. It’s a throwback to when games were hard – really hard. It’s a platformer, with some light puzzle elements, and demands your precision to beat it. I played through the Light World levels over the weekend, along with a couple Dark World levels and Warp Zones. If you don’t have much in the way of patience with games, skip this one. Super Meat Boy is hard – and while the downtime between failures is small, the frustration can ratchet up really quick, especially when you know exactly what to do and just can’t quite nail it. It’s a leaderboard chaser’s dream game too though, as you keep shaving milliseconds off your time on each level. I think this one is a pretty tough sell across the board – if you don’t have the patience, or the thumbskill to beat the levels, all that Super Meat Boy is going to do is frustrate the hell out of you. It is a phenomenal game though, bringing the retro feel and also pulling in some dark humor as well.

Ultimately, both games offer up very, very different experiences. One is possibly the most casual game I’ve played outside of Minecraft, while the other is one of the most intense games out there. They’re both great at what they do, and since we’re in a bit of a slow period right now, very much worth picking up to play for a week or two. With E3 right around the corner, it also might not be a bad idea to play them as a bit of a palette cleanser before the summer cleanup season that always rolls around.

Xbox One Games with Gold – Thief

ThiefA new month brings new free games to Xbox Live. This month, I’ve actually played through one of the available games – it was actually one of the first Xbox One games I bought: Thief. I wrote about it way back when it came out, but now that it will be free for a month, I thought it might be nice to revisit my thoughts on it.

Ultimately it’s an alright game – since it’s free, there really isn’t a major reason now to not pick it up.  I do think it’s worth playing, if for no reason other than there really is only one other game like it out – Dishonored. Both games are very similar, probably because Dishonored drew pretty heavily on Thief‘s classic games as inspiration. When the series returned, it had to be a no brainer to look at Dishonored and pull from that game’s successes. There’s enough differences between the two where they definitely feel different – Thief takes place in a more open world setting than Dishonored, but there are pretty clear parallels than can be drawn.

Of course, just because it looks and plays similarly to a great game like Dishonored, that doesn’t mean that the return of Garet went flawlessly. Being truthful, Thief has some pretty noticeable shortcomings. The story is pretty flat – I don’t really remember the point looking back at it now. The gameplay itself tries to push you towards the non-violent options, which is good because combat was pretty poor. I remember having some sizable gripes with the controls too – the felt rather clunky. I also think it had a wonky difficulty curve to it – some parts I remember being very challenging, and others were breezes.

At the end of the day what I think Thief is is a good example of where “next-gen” games were back early last year. It was still trying to balance both being on Xbox One and on Xbox 360, and it shows. But it’s free. It’s worth at least running through once, getting some easy gamerscore and then clearing it off your hard drive. If it were merely on sale, I’d say pass, but $0.00 is zero pressure to be good.

Xbox’s Ultimate Game Sale Has Killer Deals

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

Starting this past Tuesday, Microsoft started their annual Summer Ultimate Game Sale on the Marketplace. It’s become a bit of a summer tradition for the Marketplace, especially since the Summer of Arcade has more or less been phased out. And just like that event, the Ultimate Game Sale is a fantastic part of the gaming year.

It’s no secret that the summer months are the slowest period in gaming. There tend to be far less major releases, instead supplanted by the major conventions all around. The Summer of Arcade used to highlight new smaller games during that slow period, making sure we had great games in our hands all year round. The Ultimate Game Sale does that same thing, just with a larger variety of games. And this year the selection is pretty damn awesome. There are plenty of awesome games that are marked way down – including some of the Deluxe editions of those games. Highlights include Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield: Hardline, Mortal Kombat X, Borderlands The Handsome Collection and Diablo III. Add in this week’s Deals with Gold, which focus primarily on Destiny and its expansions and that’s a pretty hefty amount of triple A titles at really affordable prices. If you’ve been waiting to look at some of these games, this week is probably the best time so far to look into them.

Weekly News Recap – Week of February 16, 2015

There were a couple interesting bits of news that I saw floating around this week. Here’s a couple of the more intriguing ones.

The Order: 1886

GAME LENGTH IS ALL THE RAGE
Talk about game length has been all over the blogs this week – every sight has been talking about it thanks to the reviews of The Order: 1886. Since it’s apparently really short, it’s been provoking a lot of thought about the length of games and the value of games. I wrote a post this week with my thoughts on game length – short version is that I don’t necessarily think it’s the be-all and end-all determining factor for value.

Rock Band 3 Cover

BLOOMBERG POTENTIALLY BREAKS BIG GAME NEWS
This week there was also a report over on Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, so take that for what its worth, saying that Harmonix is planning on bringing Rock Band up to current-gen. I think we were all thinking that when they announced the return of DLC back in January, that it was a way to test the waters – and the survey they sent out in their newsletter definitely got me thinking we will see something big Rock Band related this year. Harmonix has also been really pushing their presence at PAX East, which has me thinking that we might not have to wait till E3 to see what they have in store.

Destiny

ULTIMATE GAME SALE IS STILL GOING ON
This week has also been the Ultimate Game Sale over on the Xbox Live Marketplace. There’s some pretty good deals on big games if you haven’t picked them up yet – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, and Shadow of Mordor are all marked down pretty substantially. There are also some special weekend only sales that just went live today. Generally these Ultimate Game Sales tend to be pretty awesome – I’ve picked up a fair share of my digital games through them over the years, so I really recommend looking at the deals this weekend. You never know what might pique your interest.

Christmas Network Difficulties – What They Really Told Us

If you were like many gamers last week, you probably tried to hop online to play some new game you might have gotten for Christmas; only to wind that hackers had DDoS’ed the networks of both major home online consoles. They were both down for two days before the engineers were able to get the networks reliably working again. This isn’t the first time the networks were taken down, by apparently the same group this year. And while this really is getting old, I think it’s becoming a sad part of playing games in the current console world.

It’s a part of having all the awesome new potential that the new online only consoles have. We now have to put up with consumers with technical skills that can take down the network for everyone, with little to no consequence. There’s no real way to truly combat them either, without really restricting a bunch of the freedom we have. I think what this has shown has just reinforced my thoughts on “gamers” across the board.

At their core, gamers are good – we like playing the games, want to share our experiences and find communities to play with. However there are plenty of other people within the communities that have other motives. If their goals aren’t being met, than they see it as a failing of the companies we support, and as a result they have to take in their own hands to “fix” it. That could amount to complaining about the ending of a game (Mass Effect 3) to taking more unscrupulous methods, like this past week’s attack. Ultimately, it’s really unlikely that these attacks will actually amount to any changes. Microsoft and Sony both have their courses set – any attack that they think would legitimately worry them would be dealt with much more aggressively than the recent DDoS attacks. The attack on the Sony executive’s plane is an example – the consequences of that attack will be much more dire than anything that comes of this DDoS attack. These gamers are the incredibly vocal minority – entitled, spoiled and loud – and as a result they get press time with their attacks. It’s like the GG fiasco earlier this year – change scares them, if it’s not the change they want, so they attack it.

There’s no real way to counter them, other than just suffer them gracefully. Unfortunately it’s part of life these days – hopefully in the new year there’s a better community spirit to counter these pointless outbursts.