Gears POP! Level 6

I wanted to revisit my first take on Gears POP! given the rather harsh assessment offered by Kotaku, and my own worry that I may be a little too optimistic about what others saw as a mediocre game.

But, nope. I’m still enjoying it – and Kotaku is wrong.

At first glance, reaching Level 6 probably isn’t quite at the top of the enlightenment period to be able to safely dismiss Kotaku’s rather short-sighted take on the game, but there’s quite a bit of work that goes into getting to this level. I don’t doubt that the gloss of many casual gamers has started to wear off for Gears POP!, and so the competition I’m left with are either the true believers, or the late-to-the-party types, but having understood how many games and how many win-losses it takes to get to that stage means that there is a not-insignificant amount of respect for anyone competing at what I’d consider this ‘mid-tier’ level.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I am regularly loosing quite a few games – it’s about a 50-50 split, but the shine hasn’t quite worn off as quick like it has with Hearthstone. Perhaps it’s because I still get the drip-feed of delicious Xbox achievements, or perhaps I’m still just simply enjoying the game. In either case – from either a philosophical or a business perspective – I’m still playing it, and that means something.

I’ll be interested to see if other first party studios lean into some mobile development for Microsoft, or whether xCloud will pickup the mobile audience – but in any case, it’s definitely not a flop for me.

Fortnite

You would be living under a fairly large boulder if you have never heard of Fortnite, considering it’s regularly news-shattering impact, notably the 2019 win by 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (or his online alias, “Bugha”, which makes me think of the old Toyota Ad where various characters mutter one word: ‘Bugger’), who took home the US$3 million grand prize in the first Fortnite World Cup.

I feel like my early adoption of Fortnite was a sign of things to come. It came to market at a time when ‘PUBG’ was all the rage, and instead of trying to compete with the quasi-realistic shooter, it took things in another direction and just made them fun!

I don’t plan on rehashing the format of a Battle Royale, but it seems like there are a few new game modes up for grabs these days. For instance, my first game of the season was not a Royale as such, but rather a team death match with a score count. So, even when you died, you just respawned and got on with it. And it was as fun as classic Fortnite used to be.

Well played, Epic Games.

Break the Bank

Hitman 2 • Completed “Golden Handshake” • 20G • 0.67% of gamers unlocked this

Those who know me, know that I love the Hitman rebooted series – it was by far-and-away my Game of the Year for 2016, and the sequel was pipped-at-the-post for 2018 only by the exceptional masterpiece that was God of War.

What GoW doesn’t do, however, is keep up with a healthy drip-feed of content and love that IOI (which I now chuckle about since I started watching Ready Player One) have given the game ever since they wrestled control of it from Square Enix.

I have to say – if getting out from a big publisher can do this for Hitman 2, I have exceptionally high hopes to see what Destiny 2 can do once free from Activision.

But I digress. Today I want to talk about one of the newer missions in H2, set in a New York Bank. It’s tight, controlled, and offers up a ‘Hitman-lite’ experience when compared to the main game(s). But I have to say, as additional content, I am more than happy for this level of polish. Sure, it doesn’t have the sprawling environment of Sapienza, or the NPC-rich markets of Marrakech, but what it has is story. It has enough beats for 47 to make this feel quintessentially Hitman, and – above all else – it’s fun.

Without much effort, I was able to get through two of the main story angles, and with a bit of blind luck and random button-presses, I managed to clear a few more milestones as well. The mission itself asks you to kill the main bank boss and steal some data from either the safe or off three other bosses in the bank – and while my plan going in was to aim for the safe, as it turned out, I stumbled into those three executives without too much trouble – and so, I killed them, took their hard drives, and then put a bullet in the front of the bank boss lady’s head.

Just another day in paradise.

Which, ironically, is where Lucas Grey tells 47 that they are headed to next at the end of the level – right before the ominous TO BE CONTINUED splashed across the screen.

After XIII ended the game like that back in 2003, I’ve been a little bit scarred. At least give me a (The) Sopranos-style cut-to-black!

I suppose the difference here is, the fact overarching story told in cutscenes is very different than that told through either in-mission voiceover or through emerging gameplay. Hitman is a game where you can dive into a world and kill a target without needing to know all the nuts and bolts of their lives. XIII is an intensely narrative-driven action romp where context is essential.

Still, to be safe – just don’t do ‘to be continued’s’.

I’m curious to see what some of the other achievements are for this DLC but I’m more than pleased for a solid first effort from IOI. I can’t wait to see what else they come up when they inevitably (shudder) ‘continue’ the series.

Quote

The 30 per cent store tax is a high cost in a world where game developers’ 70 per cent must cover all the cost of developing, operating, and supporting their games …

… there’s a rationale for this on console where there’s enormous investment in hardware, often sold below cost, and marketing campaigns in broad partnership with publishers. But on open platforms, 30 per cent is disproportionate to the cost of the services these stores perform, such as payment processing, download bandwidth, and customer service.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney on why Fortnite won’t be featuring on the Google Play Store.


See: James Batchelor (3 August 2018) “30% store tax is a high cost,” says Sweeney as Fortnite skips Google Playhttps://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-07-31-30-percent-store-tax-is-a-high-cost-says-sweeney-as-fortnite-skips-google-play

Sony (PlayStation) E3 2018 Thoughts

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Right, Sony. The behemoth that is console gaming. Expectations for PlayStation are at an all-time high this year, which is a terrible place to be if you’re presenting at E3. I think there is a far better result from studios, publishers and platforms that work their communication around lowering expectations – resulting in either met expectations or pleasant surprise.

I think after Andrew MK, having Gustavo Santaolalla play a spot of banjo to lead us into The Last of Us 2 is much more my vibe. I never platinum’d TLOU1, but one of my proudest trophies is completing NG+ on Hardcore difficulty.

If you ever needed to show a bit of gameplay to get you excited about a game – then Naughty Dog absolutely delivered. Oh my God. For the entirety of this footage, I completely forgot about my overwhelming hatred of Sony and their inability to let me change my username. Hell, I’ll play this game on someone else’s account – it’s just downright gorgeous.

The intermission style panel discussion with Sid Shuman and Ryan Clements interviewing Shawn Layden was a strange change of beat, but I have to admit – it was nice seeing them in-the-flesh, rather than just a disembodied voice in my ear or car stereo once a week via the podcast.

Importantly, Layden announced the introduction of a New Game Plus for God of War, which I didn’t realise I even wanted until he mentioned it – but now that he has, I am completely on-board.

I could take-or-leave any of the Call of Duty news, but I’ll absolutely take a bit of Black Ops for free with my PlayStation Plus.

And I’m still a PSVR virgin, so I’m just going to gloss over any news in that space.

One of the surprising titles from the conference was Ghosts of Tsushima, which looks like something that might struggle on my OG PS4, or it’s certainly going to cause it to sound like a jet engine taking off. I don’t think I’ve heard or read anything about this so I’m not sure if it was an announcement, or more meat-on-the-bones, but either way, I liked the look of it. Like? Maybe strongly like is a better phrase. You know … like ‘like-like’ but not ‘love-like’.

You get the idea.

Destiny 2 Forsaken is still appealing to me, but I think that it’s been dissected enough over the past few weeks, particularly from the core Destiny sites, so I’m not going to be able to add much more – particularly when it was little more than a short teaser. I suggest you would learn much more through reading Bungie.net than holding out for info at the E3 press conference. Needless to say – they better not kill-off Cayde-6 though. Don’t you touch my Nathan Fillion, Bungie!

Control looked incredible. I even texted a friend to comment that Xbox had nothing that came close to this visually during their press conference, but it’s quite possible that I’ve just bought into the hype of the presser – if anything I think Quantum Break probably fits that criteria – but gameplay alone certainly held up as a work of art. It’s only after-the-fact that I realised that Remedy is the developer, which is exactly why it had the QB feel!

I was concerned that this was going to be a PlayStation exclusive, but Sam Lake has since come out and confirmed that it’s coming cross-platform.

Resident Evil 2 … looks gorgeous … I don’t think I’ve ever actually played RE2 … If I cast my mind back, I’m not actually sure I’ve finished RE1 properly … but there is certainly enough aesthetic here to get me interested.

Trover Saves the Universe. What? Much like Seth McFarlane has turned every one of his creations into essentially ‘the same thing’, this felt very Rick and Morty – just with new characters. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not, I’ve only just really started getting into Rick and Morty (which I love), but I feel like you could grab yourself a cheap voice actor for a bit of variety and – if the material is good enough – it will hold up.

I can’t understand the deep-rooted love for Kingdom Hearts III but it was clearly enough to get coverage at both Xbox and Sony’s stage … so I guess this is now going to end up on my to-do list. What did appeal to me was Sony packaging them all together as part of the final package (though I assume that 1.5 and 2.5 are remasters).

Nioh 2 adds itself to the list-of-games-that-I-haven’t-played-the-first-one-of. The internet seems excited though, so it seems like I’ll be locked in a gaming room for the rest of the year to try and finish this off.

Not even touching Death Stranding. I wonder if I have to hand in my Sony fan card (which was already on its last legs – where was my username change, Sony?) if I admit to not really liking the vibe I get from Kojima’s latest foray?

And then, the title we’ve probably all been waiting for – Spider-Man. It’s so utterly, utterly disappointing that this isn’t coming to Xbox or PC, but business is business, and I think Sony have made a very sensible decision grabbing this one as an exclusive. If I ask my son who he likes more – Spider-Man or Batman – he comes back with a decisive Spider-Man, which nearly gets him disowned from the family every time, but I satisfy my rage by telling myself that Spider-Man is actually my favourite Marvel character and Batman my DC. It hasn’t helped the last few years in realising that the rights to Spider-Man were owned by Fox, but once again, I have become incredibly good at disassociation as I get older, so I will endure.

Let me just say, the gameplay for Spider-Man is A+. A PLUS. The city is beautiful, the combat is second-to-none and the library of characters looks to fill a comic-book lover’s wishlist. If I can find myself a limited edition Spider-Man PS4 Pro console, then there’s a not-insignificant chance that I’ll be throwing my money at whatever retailer is going to take it.

The post-conference chatter with Shuman and Clements essentially included a little more gameplay from Spidey, as well as the announcement of a new PSVR game from From Software.

If you listened to the internet, you would think that the Sony conference was terrible. Sure, the approach to focussing on 5-6 big games and the inclusion of a panel was a bit ‘different’, but it was a good example of quality over quantity (compared with Xbox’s focus on showing 50 games). And when it comes to quality, Sony certainly delivered. I won’t say that the quality on-show was necessarily better or worse than Microsoft’s – I think there’s been strong positives to take away from most shows this weekend. But, and I apologise for the wax lyrical, but maybe at some point the discussion can turn from ‘who won?’ E3 to just being about the general love of gaming and the communities which form around it. For all my pessimism in life, I don’t really play PUBG, but I do enjoy its success. Kojima isn’t really my bag, but I love that others love him.

In the wise words of Rodney King: Can’t We All Just Get Along? 

Congratulations to everyone at E3 2018, and I sincerely mean that. For every shooter, puzzler, platformer, strategy, collectable card game, platform, and engine that fills our gaming libraries with great content each-and-every day, thank you.

It’s a great time to be a gamer …

… even if we’re stuck with our twelve year old PlayStation usernames.

Ubisoft E3 2018 Thoughts

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For starters, I’m going to leave everything associated with Just Dance 2019 aside, because I think that it’s still a ridiculous title to lead E3 with. The only time I get a hint of enjoyment out of Just Dance is when costumed superheroes or dinosaurs try their best to hit the moves on the dance floor at things like PAX. My loungeroom, and my beautiful big coffee table which sits in the middle of it, are not dancing friendly. Heck, ever since Xbox Fitness died, I haven’t had a need to gesticulate in front of my TV for a long time.

No, instead, let’s get into the meaty stuff.

Beyond Good and Evil 2 is another of the titles that make me feel guilty for never finishing their predecessors. I am fairly certain I got the original as part of a Games with Gold Backward Compatibility title, or on PC (I can’t remember), but in either event, I haven’t had the inclination or the drive to get this over the line, and so the emotional attachment to the game just isn’t quite landing for me. Visually, it looks quite good, so I’m interested to play it – but this will probably be a 2020 game for me at the earliest, considering everything else I have in my backlog to get through!

I spoke a little bit about The Division 2 yesterday following Xbox’s conference – and I quite enjoyed the first game, but can completely understand its limited appeal. There is a big focus on games-as-a-service these days as everyone tries to be the next Destiny, but I don’t think the inclusion of ‘raids’ and free DLC is going to be enough to get anyone over the line. For me, I still have a swath of achievements I haven’t unlocked from the first game, so I’m not holding out any great burning desire to get back into The Division 2. Sure, it looks great – and the gameplay looks sensational, but it’s more of what made the first game good. I want to play it … but I just don’t know whether the investment is worth it. A story run might be the best I can hope for when it comes to the latest instalment.

I don’t even own a Nintedo Switch, so the new Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong DLC doesn’t float my boat … one day I’ll get a Switch (because I’m a sucker for Pokemon) but because of my long-standing love of achievements, the absence of a reward system, as well as known issues with the career setting on the Nintendo Network means that I’m holding out.

That, plus I grew up as a SEGA kid.

I like the look of Skull & Bones but I remain a little bitter that it doesn’t just pull all the piratey goodness out of AC4 and dump it into a new game on its own. The focus on naval combat is what gives me the most pause, because what I enjoyed most about AC4 was running around the island settings … complimenting the naval combat. If anything, what really gets me excited about Skull & Bones is the prospect of a really good collectors’ edition. Ship-in-a-Bottle Anyone? Ubi Collectables certainly know how to make me happy – and if they can’t do it with a great pirate setting, how can they do it?

I could do without the whole ‘working together’ aspect of piracy … I don’t like it as a general rule for most games, and 2018 had a fair amount of focus on online co-op gaming. Has nobody told these studios that playing online with people is a terrible idea?

Next up was Starlink, which is going to fill the gap that Skylanders and Disney Infinity have left in my collectable obsession. The inclusion of Star Fox in the Switch version is fairly inconsequential, seen as the series is coming to all platforms, but if you put that to one side (remember there was a Donkey Kong special crossover in Skylanders for the Wii U), then you can begin to feel the anticipation for the game. Time will tell if kids are on-board as this thirty-something adult is, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

I only played the main campaigns in For Honor, nearly a year ago when it had a free weekend. It’s not really my kind of game – well, online certainly isn’t anyway – so the news about an expansion doesn’t really float my boat. I think it’s good for those people who are obviously still passionate about it … I’ll be honest, I’m surprised it continues to have such traction in the gaming community – but I can appreciate that people thrive on variety, and For Honor certainly brings variety to the gaming landscape beyond the shooters and sports that fill the esport landscape.

Last, but certainly not least, was the close of the conference with some Assassins Creed Odyssey. I was a huge, huge fan of the series taking a bit of a break, and I think it helped AC Origins come back bigger, better and badder than ever. I have some concerns that the reintroduction to a yearly title might start to stretch the friendship, but for now I have to just take comfort in the fact that this entry actually looks pretty good! The focus on gender-selection at the start is a nice touch – I can’t imagine it’s entirely being begged for by the community, but I think any step towards equal representation is a good one.

Plus, if Mass Effect is anything to go by – female protagonists are actually more thematically believable.

Do you know what was missing from all of this? Splinter Cell. Walmart Canada really made me angry with this one – all I have been excited about out of this E3 was Splinter Cell, given almost everyone else had their titles on-show today, I was simultaneously disappointed and surprised not to see Ubisoft pull out a ‘one last thing.’

Will I get over it? Of course I will. If anything, I’ve been treated to a stunning variety of games that are going to fill up my library (and their prequels which I’ve never played), and they all signal a great future for game quality on the horizon.

But, you better believe I’m going to get back to Splinter Cell: Conviction this week to get my fix.

Square Enix E3 2018 Thoughts

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Huh. I mean … we’re all used to E3 having most of the surprises spoiled for us in the weeks leading up to it, but Square Enix were actually a touch underwhelming in their announcements today. I mean … they weren’t bad announcements, were they? It was just … well, expected.

Just Cause 4 is going to be all about the weather. OK. That’s good. But really, the Just Cause series has been all about having fun. Pretty much everything about JC3 (by the end of the DLC) was pretty much perfect in my mind. Rocket packs, tanks, and the standard epic destruction that the series is known for is more than enough for me – you could call the whole thing Just Cause Three-and-a-Half and I’d be happy.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is just an automatic win for me. I don’t really need to see the expanded stealth options or story … I just know that I’ve been happy with the remakes so far (the only thing nearest to God of War, in my view) and I’ll be happy to just throw my money at the screen.

Everything else seemed .. well … ‘so-so’. The Quiet Man looks like it’s about a deaf brawler, I still haven’t played any Monster Hunter: World to get excited about a crossover and both Dragon Quest 11 and Octopath Traveller hold zero interest for me.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing necessarily – but d’frent strokes and all that. And these strokes certainly didn’t appeal to this folk.

Here’s hoping Ubi and Sony can make up for lost ground today. Anything less than the ability to change PSN usernames and the PlayStation Vita 2, and I’ll probably Hulk-out.

Or not … time will tell.