Gaming Subscriptions 1 – Xbox Live, PS Plus

I’ve been thinking about the various gaming subscriptions that can be taken up on consoles recently. One way or another all of these things are ways to get ‘free’ games, although some come with other benefits too. I’m going to look at a couple of services that I currently subscribe to on the Xbox One – namely EA Access and Xbox Game Pass – in another post in a week or so but the obvious place to start is with the different console’s generic subscription services – Xbox Live and Playstation Plus.20171104090820.png

Online gaming
I have had an Xbox Live subscription since the fairly early days in 2003. Back then I mostly played MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 2 online and I’ve maintained it for at least most of the time ever since. It’s always been a requirement for online gaming on Xboxes and over the years the service has got better and better with more and more features. Playstation Plus wasn’t birthed so soon or so smoothly. Sony first began with ‘Playstation Network‘ features instead – which basically meant that each game had it’s own online services and there were no centralised features (or cost, to be fair). Eventually though, they saw how successful Xbox Live had been as a cohesive idea and PS Plus was born in 2010. I’ve only had PS Plus on and off – mostly because there haven’t been many games that I’ve wanted to play online since the subscription was necessary for that. In 2017, it has to be said, the two services are basically as good as each other: you get online play, additional discounts on new games, a few others bits like online game saving and monthly free games.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.06

‘Free’ games
Of course you are already paying for the service so that games you are given aren’t free, but just ‘built into the price of the room’, if you will. But this feature is obviously the main draw for these subscriptions for anyone who either doesn’t do much or any online play or who only wants online play on one console. My experience over the years has been that the games that come with Xbox Live Games with Gold are far better than the Playstation Plus Monthly Games. Perhaps it all comes down to taste but for me, I always look at the PS Plus games with a big shrug, but I regularly play through the games that I’ve got from Xbox Live. A recent example would be Gone Home and I have also played plenty of them with The BoyTrials Fusion and Hydro Thunder being recent examples of that. Of course, none of these games are particularly brand new – Microsoft and Sony don’t want to risk sales on those games. But if you are looking to supplement your current games with some interesting bits that you may have missed then these might be perfect for your needs.20171104091128

Nintendo
As of now, playing online on the Switch doesn’t require a subscription but that is going to change sometime in 2018 when they get their act together. This subscription will be similar in some ways – online play, game discounts – but doesn’t have the same features like free games or online saves. There will be some retro games playable, which is a nice touch and the service will be around half the price of the other two, so fair play really. Time will tell how well Nintendo execute their plans but certainly I’ve had no issues playing online on my Switch up to now, either docked or undocked.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.16.19

Conclusions
Whether you want to get one or both of these subscriptions may well be a no brainer – if you want to play online they are required. If it’s more an open choice to you then really this pivots on the free games they give away. I’d advise looking at the games that have been available the past few months and decide if it’s worth it to you. If it’s a choice between the two services – I would recommend Xbox Live.

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This was the original Xbox Live logo – good memories!

Click here to purchase an annual subscription to Xbox Live from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to PS Plus from Amazon.co.uk:
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REVIEW: Gears of War 4

In Gears of War 4 you play as JD, the son of Marcus Fenix. After the opening act you seek out your father for advice and end up fighting alongside him for the rest of the game. He’s still the same Marcus, if looking a little older – grumpy and angry but determined and resourceful. JD, on the other hand, is more happy-go-lucky, less beaten down – he’s in this to help friends, not to follow orders. This difference is a great analogy for how this 4th instalment differs from the first 3 Gears – a bit brighter, a bit more fun – but every bit as good.14-10-2017_07-44-41

Always look on the bright side of life
When I say it’s a bit brighter, I mean that in tone but also literally. Gone are the drab grey corridors (at least for the most part) and in their place are bright scenes outdoors for huge chunks of the game. And it looks great! Whether it is picking your way through a settlement or outrunning a storm, the graphics have not just taken a jump from Xbox 360 to Xbox One but so has the ambition to open up the colour palette and create a vibrant world. The tone matches this. Without the oppressive weight of a war in the background of events, the first half of Gears of War 4 feels more like an adventure game than the series has so far. You have no idea what’s going on and are just following up leads trying to figure it out. Nonetheless, the latter half brings a lot more of some of the things we expect from Gears – gore and violence, namely! But even in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances and more and more difficult enemies your team of young characters (Marcus aside) remains essentially upbeat – cracking jokes and enjoying blowing stuff up. Ah, the folly of youth!14-10-2017_07-43-10.png

Girls just wanna have fun
This all plays into the other thing I think is significant as Gears 4 moves the series forward – it just feels like it’s more fun! The more free-spirited cast of friends that make up your team face their battles with a sense of adventure that the older band of brothers from the first set of games could not, due to the war they’d all been fighting for too long. The makeup of the team is also key for one other reason: Kait. The inter-team relationships in Gears 1, 2 and 3 are all very macho and chest-thumping. With a woman in the team that would never work and as a result those relationships are more complex and emotional. There’s a developing connection between Kait and JD, Del is allowed to doubt himself and the team’s capabilities and Marcus even is brought out of his shell by her presence – we see more of his inner feelings here than in three entire games in the original trilogy. Where this makes the game more fun is that for the most part it is actually Kait who pushes the story along – it’s her goal that is the team’s main ultimate goal throughout most of the game. She’s determined, violent and reckless. It’s a huge amount of fun being along for her ride – and trying to keep up, frankly.14-10-2017_07-41-07

Coming around again
I’ve highlighted the differences between previous Gears‘ games and this 4th one so far but it is worth noting that it remains very similar in many ways. This is ultimately a flaw that, despite everything I’ve already mentioned, prevents this entry from quite surpassing its forbears. What always made the Gears of War series great was the gameplay – the cover system, the active reload and the sheer violence of the combat were off-imitated but never bettered by other video games. So much of Gears of War 4 has been injected with this spark of newness but the gameplay has remained more or less identical. Or course, that means that it is great! But I couldn’t help but feel that there should have been at least some small but significant changes to the core gameplay. There are a couple of sections and set plays that employ different techniques, in fairness – I enjoyed the way a small-scale form of the Horde mode, where you must survive against waves of enemies, has been massaged nicely into the single player campaign. Ultimately, the gameplay is still brilliant – but in a game where the stale has been replaced with the fresh, it feels slightly like a throwback.14-10-2017_07-45-46.png

Verdict
When a game’s only significant flaw is that it’s similar to it’s very illustrious predecessors you can expect it to be good! Gears of War 4 doesn’t change the overall script of the series but injects a youthfulness to an arguably ageing beast. The results are just as good as ever and frankly, just a little bit more fun. Recommended to anyone, whether you’ve played the original trilogy or not.14-10-2017_07-43-54

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Click here to purchase the game from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Currently, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End stands atop my All-Time Top Games list. So, obviously, I was looking forward to more of it with this not-quite-a-full-game-but-more-than-an-expansion addition of Lost Legacy. But that said, a major part of what I loved about 4 was the storyline – could the switch away from Nate and Elena be the downfall of the series? Well, I’m very pleased to say it isn’t – based on first impressions this is going to be another entry in the Naughty-Dog-can-do-no-wrong list of games.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171018223610

Gameplay wise it’s very very similar to Uncharted 4. It is very much an expansion from that point of view. In fairness, that means the gameplay is great so it’s hardly a complaint! By now everything you do from climbing to hiding to shooting has been honed to perfection and that all remains here.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023080003

I’m still too early in the game to say what the story is going to hold but what I have been enjoying early on is the banter between Chloe and Nadine. Although you only play as Chloe it feels much more like a pair of characters on an adventure. Before it was very much Nathan‘s story and the other characters, as fantastic as they were, just came along for the ride. Whether it was Sully, Elena, Chloe herself – they were very much just sidekicks. In Lost Legacy you feel like you’re one half of a team.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023212344

Essentially, for me, this game will be as good as it’s story. I only have an issue with it’s similarity to Uncharted 4 if it doesn’t deliver a memorable experience. Time will tell! But for now, if you’ve enjoyed the previous Uncharted games – this one doesn’t look like it’ll let you down.unchartede284a2_-the-lost-legacy_20171025201738.png

 

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

 

REVIEW: Sonic Mania

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 12 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes

When I was deciding whether or not to get this game every single review I found said essentially the same thing: ‘if you’ve been waiting for years for a Sonic game to be as good as the original ones on Sega Mega Drive, then this is it’. But the thing was – I hadn’t been waiting. I did enjoy Sonic games back in the day, more so than Mario games as I enjoyed the wild speeds that Sonic got to, but in 2017 I wasn’t bothered about a trip down memory lane. I just wanted to know if this was a good game that I’d enjoy playing right now. Well, ultimately, I took the plunge and I am happy to say – Sonic Mania is great! You’ll enjoy this whether you are looking to recapture your youth or just to play a fun platformer right now. Sonic is back!2017092918161000-1628E0CE3F839127054B0EE36E28E52A

Speed speed speed
My favourite part of this game is still the rush of the speeds that Sonic reaches. Sure, there are sections where more care is needed and these sections are still good. But parts like that exist in every platformer. What Sonic has that is unique are those sections where you are just flying along, on high alert for a need to jump or change direction at any moment; bouncing off walls, taking out enemies and trying to reach 100 coins for a spare life.2017092918161400-1628E0CE3F839127054B0EE36E28E52A

Who’s the boss?
All that said, Sonic Mania still has great variety in what it asks you to do. Just running along at supersonic speeds wouldn’t be enough to engage for 12 hours but the game is well balanced between that and everything else. There are lots of more standard platforming sections, many enemy types to learn how to defeat but the boss battles are where the game really gets creative. Each zone that you play through has two levels and the first boss is typically fairly standard but then in the second you’ll be going up against Dr. Robotnik himself and these are usually tricky, sometimes in the extreme. This can be pretty annoying on occasion, as I found that a few times I needed a few of my lives just to figure out what was going on in the boss battles. There are checkpoints through each level that you return to if you lose a life but if you lose all your lives you go back to the beginning of the zone. As such, losing the final boss battle in a zone means that you have to start right back at the beginning and go all the way through the two levels again. Of course this was standard fare in the 1990s games that Sonic Mania is paying homage to but it seems a little odd compared to more modern games which give us an easier ride with convenient save points most of the time! It’s all worth it though as the boss battles are usually the most fun sections. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find myself playing Puyo against Dr. Robotnik for example!!2017091813390200-1628E0CE3F839127054B0EE36E28E52A

Handbrake
So what is holding Sonic Mania back from perfection? Well, sadly, most of what lets this game down is tied up it it’s efforts to pay tribute to the original games. It’s aspects like the lack of proper cut scenes to really explain the story or the frustrating saving structure described above. I don’t really want to criticise the game for these things as without this fealty to the original Sonic games there’s a very good chance Sonic Mania would never have existed. It is here with us now because a few people who loved the original games were determined to bring them back to life. So it’s not perfect, but it’s almost more lovable as a result.2017100513432100-1628E0CE3F839127054B0EE36E28E52A

Verdict
This is a cracking game. If you are just looking to recapture your youth then you’ll find that here – Sonic Mania is everything that you remember was great all wrapped up in a great modern package. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a fun 2D platformer full stop then this will also hit the spot. I’d venture to say that Sonic Mania is my favourite 2D platformer ever in fact – even beating out all those Mario games from past and present. It’s fast and fun and it’s a bargain. Recommended to anyone.

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First Impressions: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Early in 2017 I played through a 10-hour trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda courtesy of EA Access and really enjoyed it. I put it right on top of my want-to-play list and was eagerly looking forward to playing it.

But then I read the reviews…

Man, people really have their hate on for this game! I won’t bother to go into the specific issues highlighted in Andromeda‘s lacklustre critical reception as I expect that won’t be news to anyone reading this all these months later. At the time however, it was news to me – other than the occasionally odd facial animations I didn’t notice any of the various problems the game had. That said, the reviews and comments did scare me off paying full price for it at the time and it had kind of drifted off my radar over the months since it’s release. Just lately however, it was come up on the EA Access Vault to play for free (well, for the money I’ve already paid, you know), why not give it a go, I thought!26-10-2017_14-22-06.png

Well, I can say that I am still enjoying it! Perhaps all the biggest issues have been patched over time but I have still to have any issues with it. I’m pleased as I have loved the Mass Effect series so far and there’s a chance that this will be the last game under that banner now after the team that made it has been disbanded.26-10-2017_14-32-09.png

Mainly, it feels really solid. There was a significant step up between Mass Effect 2 and 3 in terms of how visceral the games felt to play and this one continues that trend. Movement feels quick and natural, the gunplay feels violent and so far (at around 15 hours I am barely scratching the surface of a game of this magnitude) I am enjoying the story and the characters as they develop. It looks great as well, as you’d expect. All of that combines together in a really complimentary way to immerse you into it’s world. You are the Pathfinder!26-10-2017_14-32-34.png

Early indications are good, and given that this game is so cheap now (probably the cheapest way is an EA Access subscription, if you have an Xbox One) I would definitely advise anyone interested to go for it. Even if, ultimately, Mass Effect: Andromeda can’t hold up to its early promise, this is certainly not the bad game many said it was when it first came out.26-10-2017_14-31-58.png

 

Click here to purchase an annual subscription code for EA Access from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase the game on disc for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase the game on disc for PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download key for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download key for PC from CDKeys.com:

REVIEW: Gone Home

  • Released: 2013 on PC, 2016 on consoles
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 3 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

This review will be fairly short by necessity; almost anything I could say about Gone Home will be a spoiler – it’s a game without any filler and a focus on the narrative that slowly develops over the 3 hours you spend in the ‘home’ of the title. But my main feeling after completing it was simply: I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.16-10-2017_20-53-37.png

Gone Home had great reviews upon release and has continued to be held in high esteem in the industry as more games that were heavily influenced by it have come out. As such, when it appeared on Xbox Live Games With Gold, I jumped at the chance to play through it. In many ways I am pleased I did but that is mostly from an ‘appreciation’ stand point, not because I actually enjoyed it. 16-10-2017_20-53-56.png

The set up is that you arrive at this house in the middle of the night to find no one there and a few things that seem odd – random notes from other characters, messy rooms etc. What on earth has gone on here? It’s your job over the next 3 hours to find out. What Gone Home does really well is immersion – it’s a great job of making you feel like you are really there. Quite a lot of the house is interactive in a way that feels real – light switches all work for example, and more or less everything strewn around loose can be picked up and looked at. The subtle highlighting of things that you can interact with once you get close to them does a good job of preventing you ending up randomly just trying to press on everything without breaking the spell. Everything is worth investigating but not everything is a clue – the balance is just right to keep you interested without only allowing you to interact with clues, which again would break the spell.16-10-2017_20-53-04.png

Unfortunately, I ultimately found that all this digging didn’t really end in anything. The story moves along well as it reveals itself in bits and pieces but there was a lack of anything in particular to do or any real drama of any kind to reward your efforts. This burgeoning ‘walking simulator’ genre of gaming has caused a few arguments about whether they are actually ‘games’ at all due to their lack of things like winning/losing etc. I don’t have that issue with Gone Home – there is plenty of, admittedly simple, puzzle solving and the interactivity is enough in that sense for me to consider it a game. But without the inherent drama of the player achieving something significant these games need to give us something else more akin to what we experience in movies – emotional responses to great stories. Gone Home‘s resolution however, is basically that all the things you feared would happen.. didn’t. My emotional response was less ‘oh wow!’ and more just ‘oh’.16-10-2017_20-53-47.png

Verdict

Wonderfully imagined and put together game but it needs more drama to really elicit the response it is aiming for in the player. But this is a reasonably new genre of games and Gone Home is an admirable start.

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Forza Motorsport vs Gran Turismo so far

This autumn the new Forza Motorsport game and the new Gran Turismo game came out within a couple weeks of each other. For me, these two have been the best car racing series’ in gaming and my favourite iterations of each – Forza Motorsport 6 and Gran Turismo 4 – are right near the top of my All-Time Top Games List. I have every intention of playing both of the new releases – Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport – a whole ton in the coming weeks and months so I thought it might be fun to have a quick look back at what has come before in each series.20-10-2017_07-37-29.png

Beginnings
It was Gran Turismo that was first to the party. I never played that much of the first two on PS1 (too much time playing Crash Team Racing!) but then on PS2, Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec and the subsequent Gran Turismo 4 really set the bar high for racing games on consoles. They were driving simulations – all roll bars and gear ratios rather than just throwing the cars round the track – but not to the extent that the realism ever took over from the fun factor. They both, and GT4 in particular, had a ridiculous myriad of races to take part in and countless cars for you to enjoy. Far far too many hours of my life were sunk into repeatedly doing 1m19s around Tokyo 246 in the Formula car in GT3 and I loved every minute of it.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171020214024

New kid on the block
Xbox then saw the success of these games and decided that they needed to compete and thus Forza Motorsport was born. To begin with it was very much in the shadow of the Playstation‘s more established racer but it was still an excellent game and introduced something key; thanks to the Xbox controller having proper triggers the accelerate and brake buttons were now properly analog. This meant it was easy to use some throttle or some brake where the Dual Shock 2 made this very difficult with it’s face buttons. This was an advantage that Forza Motorsport would run with into the next generations of consoles.20-10-2017_07-37-57.png

New generations
Since that time, Forza has been king. The Gran Turismo series faded into missed release dates and muddled gaming on the PS3 where Forza Motorsport has gone from strength to strength through Xbox 360 and now Xbox One. Each new iteration building on the solid gameplay they started with whilst adding new features and refinements. Other than a brief blip for Forza 5 (maybe this was rushed out as it was the first on the Xbox One?) every Forza has been better than the one before to the point that Forza Motorsport 6 is currently my favourite racing game, of any kind, ever. Combining the fantastic gameplay with a clear love for cars and racing not seen in any of these games since Gran Turismo 4, it seemed to have more or less perfected the genre.20-10-2017_07-37-01.png

So where do we go from here?
So what more can there be? Well, for Gran Turismo there is a much needed return to form to aim for as it steps up onto PS4 for the first time. I’ve only briefly played Gran Turismo Sport so far but some of the very early signs are good; the handling feels more solid than it did in GT5 and GT6 and there seems to be an injection of racing lore into the game which may stop it getting stale and boring as quickly as those last two titles did. I just wonder if the lack of content, both offline and online, will count against it. For Forza, I have so far only played the demo of 7 but again the early signs are good – it feels like more of the same from 6 but with the addition of new racing series like the trucks and dynamic weather effects. If either of these can reach the heights of their predecessors remains to be seen – stick with me here on this blog for more soon!gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171020214155.png

Click here to purchase Gran Turismo Sport on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase Forza Motorsport 7 on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download key for Forza Motorsport 7 from CDKeys.com: