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.

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.

PAX Australia 2019

The sign at the entrance to PAX Australia has always said two simple words: “Welcome Home.”

While, for the most part, PAX can be a solitary affair, that doesn’t stop there being some sort of camaraderie in that isolation – a shared loneliness as it were. Sure, there are heaps of groups and likeminded gamers using the opportunity to get together for some face-to-face Dungeons and Dragons, or spending the time simply hanging out and playing some card games, but there’s also quite a few people ‘going stag’ and balancing their need to just chill out and enjoy gaming alongside their innate hatred of … well, people.

2019 was an absolutely crackin’ affair … but because of time, inclination and just general can’t be botheredness, I’m not going to write a post on it.

Instead – make the effort to book a ticket for PAX 2020. You won’t regret it.

An Apple a Day

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Make no mistake about it – we have entered the age of distribution and subscription. When it comes to distribution – we have Epic, Microsoft, GOG, and the powerhouse, Steam. As for subscription, it used to be Netflix sitting all alone up on the throne of subscription power, with the others’ all at the bottom of the hill, pointing and laughing. Well, these days, everyone has built their own hill and their own throne, and so now we are spoiled for choice with Netflix, Stan, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Ten All Access and we’re not that far away from NBC and others launching their own offerings to the market.

In the gaming sphere, we’ve been relatively infantile in discovering subscription. Humble Bundle was perhaps the first ‘big player’ on the scene, offering up a selection of games to keep for a monthly fee (which is still a great model). Xbox joined in next with it’s Game Pass, and then expanded the service to offer up PC games as well in the ‘Game Pass Ultimate’. Google has flagged its new Stadia service as, by-and-large, being a subscription model – though it will still have purchases available, and there’s no doubt PlayStation and Nintendo will both join the fray soon, or certainly as part of their next-generation offerings.

But this week, we have a new kid on the block: enter Apple Arcade.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying mobile gaming for a little while now, and while it has been pooh-poohed a lot in recent memory (I still remember the female gaming audience being considered less-than-real-gamers because they played were perceived as simply playing Candy Crush), the breadth of games, and the quality of them, has now reached a point where they are able to stand alone as a solid gaming choice along the likes of the contemporary platforms. Everyone raised an eyebrow when Fortnite was offered on mobile, though it managed to attract enough interest and, perhaps more importantly, numbers, to be able to offer up a very real and pragmatic alternative for playing a AAA title on-the-go.

It’s my own frugalness that sees me reluctant to spend money on a mobile game outright, given that I find it a risky purchase for something that I’m not sure I’ll have forever. Unlike my consoles, I can still pull out a PS3 and play any number of games I’ve bought digitally on that platform, likewise for the Xbox – which has been made infinitely easier since Phil Spencer pushed for backwards compatibility. As such, the idea of a subscription model for mobile gaming makes a lot of sense.

However – and this is the point of this post – I have two issues of note.

The first is the ability to have, and chronicle, a mobile gaming career. I know, I know, a lot of people ‘don’t care’ about achievements, but I am very much someone who likes to chronicle my gaming journey and keep track of what I’ve played. This is why I’ve made Xbox and Steam my preferred combination, because both platforms keep an excellent record of my gaming career. Game Centre on iOS has a long way to go before it can compete with Xbox Live or PlayStation Network – and that should be saying something. The latter took over a decade before it allowed for name changes (and even then it’s not really a long-term fix, instead relying on some sort of clunky workaround that, in practice, really just means they’ve masked your original PSN ID and started displaying some other new field), and about the same length of time before it had any meaningful phone app or web interface. It might be a personal preference, but this is what it boils down to: I don’t really like Game Centre. And for me, this is absolutely an underpinning element of my choice to use a gaming service. It’s why I’ve all but abandoned PlayStation for this generation with the exception of a few first-party titles, and a big reason why I’ve gone Team Xbox. On the sliding scale of platforms and gaming choice, iOS Game Centre certainly doesn’t come close.

The second issue I have with Arcade is the price. AU$8 per month (sorry, “$7.99”) is not cheap. There, I said it. For mobile gaming, I am most likely to spend $1-2 every few months as part of a microtransaction. What I won’t pay is nearly $100 a year on top of my $15pm Xbox Arcade, $10 Stan, $10 Ten All Access, and about $9 Netflix (depending on the exchange rate at any given day). I consume all of these services, regularly, and they are worth the expense, but considering I have this smorgasbord of content to consume, do you know what I don’t want? Another $8 on top of it for the ability to play 1-2 games for 2 minutes at a time.

Thus concludes today’s rant.

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.