Power Rangers Battle for the Grid

Ahh, Tommy. It’s good to see you again.

You have to admit, Xbox Game Pass is pretty good. For a game that I’d never pick up off the shelf at EB Games, for an IP that I grew up with and I love, this was a great way to quickly consume a rather mediocre game that seemed to focus on exploiting the Power Rangers IP rather than make a fully fledged game. I mean … even Injustice made a better mobile port for its games than the console version does here.

Mortal Kombat!

Make no mistake about it. This is Power Ranger Mortal Kombat, and it’s a ‘lite’ version at best. No difficulty changing, not really a lot of appetite to chase achievements and a fairly rudimentary game concept doesn’t really spark some Marie Kondo joy, so I’m happy to have had the opportunity to play it, but it’s a no from me.

Assassins of Kings

I knew about King Foltest only because he was one of the primary Gwent heroes in The Witcher 3, but I never really made the connection between ‘the card’ and ‘the character’, but it all makes perfect sense really when you think about the number of cards based on NPCs in W3 as it is, there was always bound to be a few nods to the earlier games littered throughout.

I’ve recently finished the Prologue to The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and it is an absolute banger. It places you front and centre of a battle with Foltest, as he seeks to reclaim his (illegitimate) children from a baroness named Maria Louisa La Valette, and in what culminates in a great little ‘taster’ to the world of the Witcher, you end up in the sewers, fighting soldiers and knights, and by the end of the level you are helping Foltest to escape a dragon.

Perfection.

Despite the fact that the game is just all-around solid, what pleases me the most is how similar it is to The Witcher 3.

I absolutely have the aspiration to crack on with W2 … but by God, I know the level of commitment it took to clear W3, so there is a little demon on my shoulder reminding me of that each and every time I hover my controller over the game.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve added another title to the pile of shame.

37.733 Miles

TT Isle of Man

I hate motorcycle games. Other than the fact that I’m not very good at them, there’s a good chance that there’s a deep psychological trigger for me reminding me that I’m not very good at riding the real thing either.

In either case, I’m a sucker for a free game and a few easy achievements, and so with one of this month’s Games with Gold being the TT Isle of Man, I put my metaphorical helmet back on and took to the streets.

To be honest, there’s not a lot different about TT Isle of Man from almost any other motorcycle racing game I’ve played – and I guess that’s not necessarily unexpected, but in an age where driving games like Forza can really innovate, I guess I expected … more.

After struggling through the rather bland and long-winded tutorial (it probably wasn’t that long, but boy it felt like it), I did a quick check of the achievement list to see what was a reasonable few challenges to tick off the list. The single lap of Snaefell Mountain seemed to be a reasonable result, thinking that – like other races – it would be a few minutes of bike-riding pain to earn a quick-and-dirty cheevo.

Twenty minutes into the ‘race’ though (and I used the term loosely – it became apparent a few minutes in that I had no chance of being any sort of challenger), and I regretted my decision. Bland environments, terrible compatibility between player and game and just an all-around insufferable achievement, and needless to say I’m glad that I did it and don’t have to do it again.

I’m sure there’s a niche motorcycle racing market out there.

I’m just not it.

From Pajitnov, With Love

I quite like Tetris. I think it’s one of the few timeless games that has managed to find its way into the hands of people from about three or four generations – and do you know what? It’s still just as fun as it ever has been.

I was a little surprised to see in the past week that EA’s Tetris Blitz would be ending in April this year, and instead the product had been licensed out to a new company, N3TWORK.

Um, excuse me? Rude!

There’s not many games that have stood the test of time on my iPhone. Even The Simpsons Tapped Out was taken off there some time ago, and Gardenscapes is only hanging on there by a single nostalgic thread. Tetris Blitz, however, has stayed on my screen for a few years now. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly religious-level of playing, but certainly once a week or a fortnight, I’d whip it out and see what kind of score I could get with the free boosts that I had collected, or, if the mood grabbed me, what kind of boosts I was willing to cash in on.

Do you know what I’m not willing to cash in on though? $8 of hard-earned money to be able to play Tetris on my phone without ads. GTFO, N3TWORK.

One of the benefits of having the large companies control gaming, is that they are less tied to marketing, or advertising, revenue. Sure, they still put ads in games, either as banner ads or as opportunities to recover a life or get some extra power – but they don’t put them up as a barrier between the player and getting into the game. They want you in their ecosystem to tempt you into micro transactions. Not to bombard you with cheap, crappy mobile ads.

N3TWORK, it seems, couldn’t give a toss what I think. Ads before a game, it is!

I have some other issues with the game, all of which are (allegedly) to be addressed in future updates, but I have to say, unless you don’t want iOS users switch over day-and-date you have your ‘full’ release, then be prepared for a multi-pronged onslaught between xCloud, Apple Arcade, Uplay Plus, and any one of a number of subscription services out to take consumer’s disposable income. You also need to try and deliver, at the very least, a like-for-like product.

Right now there is no Facebook Connect, no different game modes, and limited settings. I assume there is an Apple ID / iCloud connector somewhere working in the background … but I’m not convinced. I feel like this is something that could, and should, have been done prior to launch.

Perhaps I expect too much.

I’m going to keep the new Tetris on my phone for now – if only to hold out hope that it’ll get better. It’s a very thin, tenuous hope, but if Blitz is to be retired, well, it might be all I have.

Tetris has survived this long on my phone. There’s a very good chance that this’ll be the year it does not.

Blacker than Black

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege2020-1-19-23-10-2

For as long as there have been Tom Clancy video games, I have been in love with the franchise. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked Clancy’s style of writing because it is technically and character heavy, but his contemporary and near-future military setting has always appealed to me, as has the lore he built-out, first with the Rainbow Six series (assumedly with others’ input), and later with other franchises such as Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon. Truth be told, I take issue with some of the latter aspects of the franchise, only because I know they were created after his death … but I still love and cherish the setting, and so I play the games without complaint.

I’ve played quite a bit of Rainbow Six Siege on Xbox over the past few years since it was released, and now, going into its fourth year, I finally took the plunge and dived into the game on PC. I wasn’t sure if I’d already bought it or not, but from what I can tell, I simply had the cheapest, if not free-to-play, version on my PC, and so I lashed out with a heavily-discounted $15 purchase to grab the ‘Year One’ edition, which brings with it all the original operators and the full game itself. That, in itself, was probably unnecessary right now, as the main action in R6 is happening in an event called ‘Road to SI (Six Invitational) 2020’, and involves a deliberately crafted structure and course designed to simulate a real world military-sports event. Truth be told, it’s quite good fun, but if there was ever a game I wanted to bring across all my unlocks and perks and characters in, it’s R6.

Exhibit #813 when it comes to why games should have cross-save.

And so, I’m doing the slow crawl from Level 1 onward on PC. It’s served me well so far because people aren’t unnecessarily cruel and unusual in their ‘feedback’ (there are exceptions), but I think the value in the game comes from being able to undertake what I’ll consider ‘team-lite’ gameplay … going solo with everyone having the broadly-speaking same goal, rather than a more coordinated squad-based shooter.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® Siege2020-1-19-19-49-7

For Assault, I’ve been leaning heavily into Glaz, because I like his infrared scope, and for Defense I normally go Rook for his body armour. I’m a simple man with simple pleasures, though I suspect the Road to SI 2020 event would actually be a good time to experiment with other operators – considering they’re all unlocked from the get-go.

For now, I’m keen just to have the occasional game and build up my renown without too much exposure to the broader internet. The internet is typically a fairly average place to play games with people you don’t know … so I’ll try and stick to Terrorist Hunts and the odd multiplayer when there are challenges that require it. I’m not a ‘bad’ player, but skill and capability doesn’t seem to mean much on the internet these days anyway. The list of things that will have you labelled ‘a letdown’ far surpasses those that earn a ‘good job’.

Toss a Coin to your Witcher

If there was one thing I loved about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, it was Gwent. I don’t think I’m alone – I think everyone who played the game either loved, or didn’t really have any attachment to – Gwent, though from the people I spoke to … many, if not most, fell into the former camp.

Now that The Witcher series has dropped on Netflix, to mixed reviews, it’s little surprise to see The Witcher III concurrent players spike. Hell, even I re-downloaded the game, if not to try and recreate the series, but just to revisit what is being considered the well-deserved ‘game of the decade’.

Now that I have a little better context to the origins of some of the characters, I also considered another playthrough of the core game – that is if it wasn’t 90-plus hours long just to get through the main story, and without any real achievements worth cleaning up along the way, I admit that my appetite just isn’t really there for another hard slog.

(The Witcher 2 is another story though – I started this in the last 24 hours, but that will be something I’ll save for another blog post.)

What it is there for though, is Gwent. And so in addition to putting W3 back on the Xbox, my iPhone slogged through a few gig of download today to put Gwent back on my device, and already I feel a little more in love with the game than I did back when it first launched. It’s unclear how many quality-of-life improvements have been made to the game since it launched, but it certainly seems like an accessible, fun alternative to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering or the myriad of other CCGs in the market.

For a rather saturated market, I quietly hope that Gwent manages to stay the course. Almost all of the major CCGs have big corporate backers: Activision, Bethesda, Wizards, etc., and Gwent has CD Projekt Red which gives me some comfort – but at the end of the day, an unprofitable game is an unprofitable game, and so I fear its longevity is directly related to The Witcher‘s success as a franchise.

In the meantime, I’m going to have a red hot go at having some success this ‘season’ on Gwent to see where I land. Even if I play terribly, there seems to be more incentive to progress than something like Hearthstone, which just seems to mock my inadequacy rather than encourage me to do better. Let’s see if that feeling is the same at the end of the season than it is now.

End of Year Wrap-Up 2019

Imagine a world where you love video games, you breath video games, and you get so excited about a time when you had the ability to play them, stream them, and write about them with gay abandon – and then you had three kids, a full time job, a promotion, and the whole other raft of vicissitudes that come with contemporary life that you never quite manage to get any one of those elements ‘quite’ right.

Hence why there’s month-long delays in my blog entries.

Nonetheless, while I haven’t been writing, I’ve certainly been playing. Over the past month, I would struggle to say that I’ve necessarily ‘finished’ anything, though I have certainly been enjoying a good broad spectrum of gaming, largely thanks to the diversity offered by Xbox Game Pass. I wanted to spend a few minutes today going through some of the games I’ve played, if not just simply to update the blog, but also to offer myself some catharsis for my creative outlet that hasn’t been appropriately scratched for a while.

Insane Robots

I’ve actually been quite surprised how much I’ve enjoyed this relatively benign turn-based game, but between my son and I, I think we’ve sunk quite a few hours into this little title over the past 48 hours alone. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the game, you have an attack column, a defence column, and you have to juggle an increasing array of cards and power-ups to defeat robots. For a long time I’ve considered the phrase ‘easy to play, difficult to master’ a bit of a marketing furphy, but for the first time in a long time, I actually wonder whether this is the game that people have in mind when they think of that phrase.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I’ve tried to play Hellblade before, but ended up getting stuck in the section just after Senua’s long boat ride with credits. It seems to be a ‘heavy’ game, and while the structure of it is fairly good and the combat is fundamentally OK, I kind of want it to be over just so I can say I’ve played it and I never have to play it again.

Truth be told, the main reason I was keen to give this a go was that the sequel has been announced, and I don’t want to end up in another situation like Borderlands or Gears of War, where I’m a few titles deep into the franchise and well-and-truly left behind.

Ticket to Ride

This was quite boring. There, I said it. I know that some games are not supposed to be all action and excitement, but even a board game should give me a serotonin hit every now and then.

This game, however, did not.

The premise is essentially ‘owning’ a series of railway track routes across America (I believe there are other countries the further you play), working towarrds an end-goal where you’ve blocked your opponent from mastering the routes they’re after while at the same time acquiring your own. It’s slow, it’s clunky, and there’s not really any sensible logic around scoring, so as soon as I got something in terms of achievement, I was out of there.

Fallout 76

F76 was $10 as part of the Black Friday sale, and so I figured ‘why not’. I’m glad I did actually, it’s quite good if you can ignore the plebs on the internet playing with you. The visuals are easily as good as Fallout 4, and the gameplay is solid. I actually enjoy the VATS real-time’ness, thing going on that is necessary as part of playing online, but there is a story there, and what seems to be a good variety of crafting and building that some small disturbed niche of the public enjoy when it comes to Fallout.

Pathologic 2

I finally worked out, kind of, maybe, perhaps, what the story here is about. I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing. You play a Doctor trying to resolve a plague-ridden city that is about to be annihilated, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’d like to give this a little more time, I really would, but let’s be honest. I have a whole range of competing priorities which means this title – which hasn’t managed to grab my attention – will probably get shelved.

Untitled Goose Game

2019’s breakout hit. I’m about three or four levels into this, and it’s pretty good. I don’t quite understand the fuss, it’s a good game, not a great game, but it is from Melbourne, so that pleases me. There’s a good chance I’m going to keep playing it just to give the boys the statistics they deserve for bringing this together and having the success it has had.

So, that’s the state-of-play as at the end of December 2019. It’s been a fairly big year for me personally and professionally, and so it’s kind of natural that gaming would kind of slip a bit.

That being said, I feel like I have the whisper of good sleep and better time management coming to me in 2020, so fingers crossed this might mean more games, and better quality time gaming.

Or I’ll just get myself a Xbox Series X and play the same old inane stuff I usually do.

Ho Ho Ho.

Idle Hands

I feel like I haven’t been gaming for a while, at least I certainly haven’t been writing about gaming for a while. Truth be told, much of my evening is spent trying to score just those few extra minutes of sleep that you miss when being the Dad of a teething six-month old.

This then, of course, opens up a new gaming repertoire. The late-night, bleary eyed game, one that it’s OK to fall asleep in, and still not loose a lot of story or substance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love idle clickers. My clicker-of-choice is, and remains, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms.

While it took me quite a while to work out how to play an idle clicker, something beyond the simple click-and-upgrade methodology, and learning about resets and the benefits that it entails has made the game far more strategic than I first envisioned. This means that I’m now paying more attention to things like individual hero DPS and things like race-relations, that is, which races have better buffs when aligned with others. Understanding these in a little more detail is more helpful than simply trying to leverage a guide that doesn’t take into account which quests you’ve completed and what your current buffs are, or what equipment you are using. It doesn’t take into account what point in the game you’re ‘stepping in’ on (there are a number of formation guides that have heroes in it that I either haven’t unlocked, or it assumes that I’m able to unlock them easily).

However, the thing that annoys me the most is the lack of cross-save. Right now, I have instances of Idle Champions across PC, Xbox and Mobile – all of which have varying DLC purchased and different levels of progress. Not being able to have a single source of truth is just outright annoying, and while I can appreciate the commercial benefit of allowing one to ‘double dip’ on players across platforms, it instead, to me, makes more sense to utilise the Destiny 2 and Bungie model, in which specific equipment or familiars, etc. couldn’t be used on a particular platform unless purchased on that platform. It’s not rocket science, it’s just good player-friendly practice, and it absolutely frustrates me when I can’t see it implemented any-and-everywhere.

That, plus the developers get to double-dip. I am certain that the CFOs of almost any major game publisher would salivate at the thought.

History tells me that this teething journey can go on for quite a while, and so while the rest of the world is twirling lightsabers with Jedi: Fallen Order, or flossing in Fortnite, I’ll be chipping away at my Torm’s Favour balance …

… or sleeping while my Xbox does it for me.

On the Road Again

I remember when I undertook the Achievement a Day challenge, with some fondness, needing to locate a selection of a games that I could play on the road without needing to take my entire Xbox console with me. Bear in mind, this is a couple of years – an eternity in tech – before xCloud or Game Pass for PC, where my options would have been a little better. Other than a few first party games and one or two iOS games, it was, largely, a case of strategically finding well-paced console games (such as the Telltale series’) and saving the others for emergencies (such as Christmas).

These days, I’m less attached to the Xbox ecosystem, though it still remains my platform of choice, but hitting the road across the last two weeks has forced me to re-examine my mobile game library, and find a few solid titles that I could enjoy while on a plane and in flight mode (which ruled out online titles like Hearthstone and Call of Duty Mobile), as well as something a bit ‘meaty’ to satisfy my gamer lust.

I’m not entirely convinced I managed to meet that brief.

For the most part, my gaming life over the past few weeks has consisted of Gears POP! and Tetris Blitz, bath staples on my mobile, but other than the occasional path towards an achievement on Gears, the pair don’t really offer much substance. Recently, I’ve been considering a play through of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on iPad considering I haven’t really managed to ever finish it, but that takes away from the excellent backwards compatibility option available to me on Xbox, or the comfort offered by playing on PC. But, still, as history tells me, it might also be the only way I’ll ever get the game finished. I haven’t made a decision about the best approach to take – but it’s food for thought.

What these past few weeks have highlighted to me though is the need for me to shift back to PC over Mac. It’s a hard thing for someone like me to say, considering I’ve had the same Mac since 2012 and it runs better than any PC I’ve ever had. It is exceptionally hard for me to point to a PC, or more specifically a laptop, manufacturer, and say that they build machines ‘as good as’ a Mac – but it’s also been a while since I’ve really tested the market. Dell, including Alienware, look awfully tempting these days.

The reason for the shift back to PC is simple. Well, it’s two reasons really. (1) my existing game library is huge and in desperate need for some love; and, (2) Game Pass for PC is increasingly awesome. Imagine being able to smash through some AAA new games like The Outer Worlds while on the road for a week.

It sure beats Tetris Blitz.

I hope to be a little more active on this blog. I had a brief hiatus while I attempted NaNoWriMo for this month, but to be honest, taking so much time away from my family and on the road just made it too hard to land, so I think – unless I can write 30,000 words in a week – I’ve probably failed for 2019.

And that’s OK. There’s plenty of other writing and gaming to keep me busy!

Call of Duty Mobile

Make no mistake about it: I love Call of Duty. I’ve never really loved either the historical or the futuristic war settings, though I did find the game-play fun, but my passion has always been in the Modern Warfare era. Part of this has to do with my own interest in the military and contemporary warfighting, but I also find the stripped-down mechanics of run-and-gun to be the most well-rounded, and perhaps well-grounded, in the real-world.

While today is the launch day for the reboot of the Modern Warfare series, I wanted to spend a few moments talking about the quiet sibling of the COD series, Call of Duty Mobile. I’ll be honest, it’s probably not something that I expected to enjoy quite as much as I had, but after my first few wins, well, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve become a little enamored with the game – to the point where I’m now consistently winning Battle Royale’s and multiplayer games at a fairly regular rate. I mean … I don’t want to tout myself as the Ninja of Call of Duty Mobile … but I’m the Ninja of Call of Duty Mobile.

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It’s a measure that’s somewhat imperfect, but judging by the usernames playing in-game, it seems that COD Mobile has a fairly healthy playerbase in Japan and the East more generally – with a solid mix of Russian, Chinese and Japanese names and characters littered throughout the players in each game lobby. I can’t say I’m surprised, given that Chinese mammoth, Tencent, are the parent company for the COD Mobile developer, TiMi Games, but when they’re pumping out games of this quality for mobile devices – well, I’m happy to play with anyone from anywhere.

There are some delightful nods to the COD maps of yesteryear throughout the game, including Nuketown, and while I might not remember the names of each of them – I certainly remembered the layout. TiMi have done a good job of pulling two or three of the more popular maps and wrangling them for mobile.

The other thing I’ve done in-game was to lower the graphics settings to Low. I’m not sure that it’s entirely necessarily, but at the same time, I don’t want to add complexity to the data connection, which is already questionable at the best of times. Thanks, Australia(!) I can tell you from experience, it’s bad enough being trapped out in the open waiting to reconnect during a normal multiplayer game, but being killed while you’re waiting is just down-and-out embarrassing.

I haven’t spent a single cent in-game yet, and I’m happy with the experience so far. Oh, who am I kidding – I love it! This is a welcome addition to my mobile gaming repertoire, and far surpasses some of the other behemoths in-play at the moment such as PUBG and Fortnite.

Now, all we need is some sort of added cross-save benefit for the ‘main’ COD game.