Horse Haven World Adventures

If I’m perfectly honest, it was the Ubisoft name that convinced me to give Horse Haven a go, though I never would have normally picked this game out of a line-up.

At its most basic, it’s the same as any other world building game – upgrade here, farm this, nurture that. The hook here is, essentially, horses, which might appeal to my sixteen year old horse-loving niece, but for a thirty something bloke with a love for everything indoors? Not so much.

On it own, that isn’t enough for me to discredit Horse Haven because it operates as advertised. I don’t know how long the game has been around, but it’s operating in a market that is saturated with similar games, though, like the pull which originally roped me in, it’s the Ubisoft name which offers perhaps the greatest confident that the game will be supported longer-term.

Is it worth a go? Sure. If you are interested in the genre and want to see how the AAA developers do it, then this isn’t a bad one to pick up. If you’re done with the genre though, don’t expect anything new or exciting here.

Except horses. Lots of horses.

Hungry Shark

For those of you with a void in your life that can only be filled by stepping into the shoes (or fins) of a shark and eating fish and people alive, then have I got the game for you.

Hungry Shark is a little title out of a Developer you might have heard of: Ubisoft. But rather than flogging its Tom Clancy license or thinking up new world cities to stretch the Assassins Creed story to, it has this nifty little game that is all about controlling a shark as he, well, eats.

There is some other elements to this game that I haven’t quite worked out yet. For instance, I can’t quite understand what a Gold Rush is, and I suspect that there is different kinds of sharks to purchase or upgrade into. There were a few times I tried to eat things, in this instance a turtle as well as an eel, at which the screen popped up a notice that I needed a particular kind of shark.

I wonder if the same rules apply to five year old fussy eating humans as well. Do I need to upgrade to one that eats his vegetables?

Graphically, the game isn’t bad considering it is running on a mobile. The issues I saw were largely to do with frame-rate rather than textures, which is probably a conscious decision by Ubisoft to sustain visual fidelity over performance. It’s not necessarily distracting but it is noticeable, and while I’d like to be able to blame my hardware (I’m playing on an iPhone XR), I suspect that the results would be similar on most devices.

As it turns out, I picked up this game during what was an update to coincide with the Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’. If there was something special to do with that, then I completely missed it, but long-time players of the game might have a better idea what is and isn’t part of the update as opposed to the regular game.

All-in-all, a solid little time waster.

3/5 Stars

E3 2019 Thoughts

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Now that the dust has settled on E3 2019, I’m remiss in not providing a few thoughts on the event itself. While other years I’ve given a more prescriptive blow-by-blow on each of the publisher/company events, I’ve opted for a more overarching collection of thoughts for this year.

Xbox

Let’s be honest, with the absence of PlayStation, all eyes were on Xbox to deliver this year – and, to be honest, I walked away from the press conference pretty happy. While everyone was fairly excited to see what Xbox would show from Halo Infinite and the next Xbox, it was very much the filler content that floated my boat for the year.

So, let’s begin … (in no particular order)

Xbox Game Pass PC

This is exactly what I have waited for ever since Phil and Satya did the big pivot from Xbox as a product to a service. The PC market is positioned perfectly for Xbox, but the company has had so many missteps in getting it to the same standard and take-up as Steam, GOG, or new player, Epic, and I feel like this has been very much the failure of developer negotiations in getting products onto the market. Sure, the store is abysmal, but this is largely cosmetic, it can be fixed.

The only issue is, I still haven’t been able to try Xbox Game Pass on PC because I’m told my PC “Isn’t Quite Ready Yet”. I have all the updates, I have it up to snuff, and still, I can’t even get in the front door to try it out.

And, as it seems, I’m not alone.

I’ll give it time to cascade out, but it’s certainly a teething problem, and – failing that – a messaging problem. Xbox needs to get on the front foot with this.

Double Fine and Psychonauts 2

What an excellent, excellent purchase. Let me be clear: I have zero interest in Psychonauts. I never really had the nostalgia for it when it was first announced, and seeing the trailer for it this time around didn’t tickle my tits either, but bringing industry heavyweight Tim Schafer into the Xbox fold is absolutely a solid decision. While I might be poo-poo’ing Psychonauts, Double Fine are absolutely the bastions of great storytelling games, second perhaps only to Telltale (RIP), and I think this is a great score by Phil.

Project Scarlett

AMD, Zen 2, Radeon, they are all really nice technical words but do you know what had me at hello? Four times more power than the Xbox One X. To be honest, there was just a lot of tech-specs dropped here as part of an effort to showcase how beastly this machine is going to be, but no hardware was on offer, and other than the announcement that it will launch with Halo Infinite, we didn’t really get any other insight. This was a puff piece through-and-through, so I suspect that we’ll be waiting until E3 2020 before we see anything of substance, and even then – I don’t doubt that it’s going to have to go up against the PlayStation 5, Google Stadia and whatever Nintendo pulls out of its back-pocket in the next 12 months.

xCloud

Since Google Stadia’s announcement, I’ve been lamenting the state of Australian internet, and looking longingly at xCloud with the same level of lust that is normally reserved for everyone who doesn’t live in California within arm’s reach of the Facebook-Google-Apple wi-fi signal.

But then, Phil said something that excited me.

Not only was xCloud based on the whole premise of being able to stream direct from Azure, but hand-in-hand, they were bringing streaming from your home console to your devices.

Now, this is something I’ve done quite a bit console to PC, and one of the main ways I played games on PS4 was via the Vita, particularly in the early days when the graphics were able to withstand transmission through my cheap-as-chips router, but if Microsoft can deliver the same PC experience to, say, my mobile phone, this will seriously open up my gaming options. Right now, I’m confined to a few hours in the evening once our evening TV viewing is finished and the kids are in bed. The odd exception being a small, narrative, or family-friendly title that I might be able to play on a Saturday morning or briefly before dinner. For me, this was perhaps the single-most exciting outcome from the Xbox press conference, and it immediately elevated Xbox to my platform-of-choice (as if it wasn’t already).

Elite 2.0

If xCloud was announcement No. 1, the series 2 Elite Controller was an immediate second. Imagine a world where I can play my Xbox games, on my Elite Controller, using my phone screen! Graphical snobs might turn their nose up at the idea, but I am absolutely on-board with this utopian future for gaming. Sign me up!

Cyberpunk 2077

Keanu Reeves is the Mic-Drop of E3. What an excellent ambassador for Cyberpunk, and he led that snippet of Cyberpunk like a seasoned professional. I love it when AAA Actors get involved in gaming. LOVE it.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

I love the look of Fallen Order, and I think that a lot of the hate surrounding it embodies everything that is wrong with gamer culture at the moment. It looks like a fun game, echoing the best parts of the Jedi Knight series, with a great actor in Cameron Monaghan, and what looks to be a nice (force?) balance between gameplay and story. This isn’t necessarily a day one purchase for me (because the story will largely be timeless), but I’ll be absolutely giving it a go when it gets a price reduction!

Elden Ring

I want to be excited about Elden Ring. But I was also excited about Sekiro and, much like every other Soulsbourne game, I sucked at it, so I feel like this will be very much more-of-the-same. Time will tell, but George R R Martin doesn’t quite hold the same appeal to me as he used to … sad to say, the Game of Thrones gloss has worn off.

Minecraft Dungeons

OK, this is completely inappropriate for a man of my age, but I am in love with the concept for Minecraft Dungeons. Minecraft-meets-Diablo? Absolutely on-board with that … and considering it’s coming to Switch, is it possible that I might be able to get some Xbox achievements on-the-go (in addition to my new xCloud collection?) … so much yes.

Blair Witch

I can’t imagine a time when I’m going to play this and feel comfortable playing it … which I suppose is the point, isn’t it … but the trailer gave me uncomfortable feelings in much the same way the original movie did, so it will be in a well-lit room with lots of people around me before I give this a go.

Borderlands 3

Yeah. Maybe best distance yourself from Randy Pitchford, Microsoft.

CrossfireX

This looked interesting, and I hadn’t heard of it – despite being touted as having 650 million players – but me and F2P titles traditionally haven’t had a good history … and considering Destiny 2 is being opened right up this year with a F2P base game, then I think this will be a hard sell to compete for my time.

Gears 5

My yearly reminder to finish a Gears of War game. Any game.

Halo Infinite

Pretty much just a short story trailer, but I did enjoy the concept. Still … I can’t bring myself to the same level of attachment with the Halo franchise that everyone else seems to have, so it’s very much going to be a wait-and-see. Perhaps, just perhaps, the 343 guys can develop something that blows Destiny out of the water, and if that’s the case, then I’m all-in.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Yes please! I have a ‘Microsoft Flight’ hole in my heart since the more arcade spin on flight went the way of the dodo, and so this looked to be a welcome return to the fray. I’m not a hardcore sim guy, but I do appreciate a well developed game that allows a novice like me to play with my aerospace engineering friends. Day one purchase for me.

Twelve Minutes

I love the look of this game. Love it. This is my kind of story-telling, and I think it will prove to be as good as it looks. Annapurna Interactive have gone with a simple aesthetic and sold a solid story and gameplay mechanic here – and I am willing and able to be signed-the-hell-up.

Wasteland 3

I suck at Wasteland. I just suck. Not quite Dark Souls-level suck, but I’m just no good at it. Perhaps this will be more like Pillars of Exile rather than the original Wasteland, time will tell – I’m not quite about to write it off, I’ll give it a go, just setting my expectations low.

The addition of LEGO Speed Champions to Forza Horizon is perhaps the single greatest match-up next to Hot Wheels. I’ve been watching a bit of footage on Mixer the last few days and loving every minute of it, not only have they rendered the LEGO Cars and plopped them into the world, but they’ve fully realised a whole LEGO Environment, complete with little flowers and trees that fall apart when you race over them. In the absence of a pure LEGO Racing game, this is almost perfect – and, to be honest, when you can deliver this package so perfectly by DLC, who needs a full standalone experience.

Square Enix

To be honest, I think everyone was really just watching this for the Avengers trailer (more on this in a moment), but the presser wasn’t completely void of other content. I didn’t get the same Marie Kondo spark-of-joy out of Square that I was hoping for, but a few thoughts nonetheless …

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I probably should get back to the original and at least try and finish it. I don’t know … I’m still on the fence about this – I just don’t think I’m compatible with Final Fantasy, and the only element that I love – turn-based combat – is going away with the remake. I’m not convinced.

Avengers

OK … great game … but seriously, how hard is it to have scored the license off Disney to use the actor’s likeness? I think the foreshadowed content release that Square are planning will ultimately be the saviour for this game, and it might actually hold up considering we’ve essentially reached the end of the main MCU Avengers story line (for now) … so I’m really just going to play this to fly around as Iron Man, but will secretly hope for so much more.

Final Fantasy 8 Remaster

OK.

Romancing Saga 3 and Saga: Scarlet Grace

I’m bundling these together because the news here is, essentially, that both games are being released from the Japanese-only shackles … but I think this is news that will excite a niche that … well … isn’t me.

Outriders

Cooperative Shooters interest me far more than competitive shooters, and so this interests me – but it’s so far out that it still feels a bit pie-in-the-sky. I’ll wait for the ‘more information’ to come out later this year.

Look, there was a few other smaller snippets of content, but considering I don’t play Kingdom Hearts and already have a full-plate of mobile games on-the-go, there wasn’t a lot else here for me. Nonetheless, I was happy they turned up, which is more than I can say for some other Japanese-centric studios/publishers/console manufacturers.

Ubisoft

Truth be told, Ubisoft have really delivered most of the AAA games that I’ve played lately. That probably has more to do with having the Tom Clancy license than anything else, but I’ll give a special little nod to Rayman here as well.

The announcements at Ubisoft were very muted, considering that most of it had been leaked ahead of the press conference, but it’s a good chance to take stock of what was announced, now that they got to put their own spin on it.

Watch Dogs Legion

I platinum’d the first Watch_Dogs on PlayStation, completed it again on Xbox, smashed through the story mode on WD2 and now I’m chomping at the bit to get to Legion. I love the Watch_Dogs series, and it plays deliciously into my own love of the hacker culture (though I’m not nearly as cool as any of the protagonists), so I’m absolutely on board with a post-Brexit London setting. I think it’s perfect … I hope more games (looking at you, GTA) turn to London for their inspiration in coming years.

Gods & Monsters

In the absence of Zelda on Xbox or PlayStation, I’ll take this. I’m yet to see how it will be delivered – is it more a standalone title, or game-as-a-service? – but colour me curious. It was touted as a ‘storybook adventure’ which makes it seem close-ended, which is probably quite refreshing for a game these days, so we’ll wait-and-see.

UPlay Plus

I’m not sure if this is coming to console or not, or just PC, but $US15 ($22) a month gets access to the Ubisoft library. I think this is probably the sexiest of the subscription deals (second only to Xbox Game Pass) but I think I’d be better-off just buying the games outright and playing them. That’s if I can find some free time to play the games that I already have.

Roller Champions

I have no idea what market this is catering for, but from what I hear it’s all in a bit of fun, so I’ll just leave this as a floating thought for the time being.

Rainbow Six: Quarantine

Three-player, PvE Coop. Yes. Yes. Yes. Surely this has to be better than the toxic cesspool of misery that Siege has become. God, I hate people. If I have to play with them – then at least having them on my side is the way to go.

Just Dance 2020

I have nothing to add here other than this is coming to the Wii, and I think that is hilarious. Heck, I still have my Wii plugged in … maybe it’s time to give it a dust-off?

Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad

OK, I liked the look of this, but do you know what I’d like more? Splinter Cell. C’mon Ubi.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Another reminder that I’m now about three or four games behind in the series.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint

Once I worked out how to play Ghost Recon, I couldn’t keep away. I am absolutely on-board with this new outing, this time in a more politically-friendly, Just Cause-esque fictional SE Asian island. I’m OK with that … the setting of Bolivia didn’t really add or takeaway from the Wildlands story, so this setting should only further make a good game, great.

Overall Thoughts

Despite all the good games announced, there was actually very little that looked to be on-the-cards for 2019. Almost all of the big announcements touted a 2020 release date – which is either the industry’s new attempt to stop needing to make second ‘delay’ announcements, or it will be 2025 before we see half of these. I think the lesson here is that we just need to enjoy the content that we have now, and hope to find a few little nuggets of gold along the way.

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.

House Party

Assassins Creed III • PlayStation 3

While my heart wants to push ahead with Tomb Raider, my head tells me that I should finish AC3 before moving onto Black Flag on the next-gen, so I went back to Conner for a mission-or-two this morning to try and push ahead the story.

I didn’t think I’d get a trophy, but this one was pretty quick to pop after starting up for saving an ‘artisan’ and having them settle on the homestead. Whoo-hoo(!). I have a night on the PS3 tonight, so hopefully I’ll be able to finish a few sequences on the head and get this title out of my PlayStation library.

What a Trip

Far Cry 3 • PlayStation 3

It’s done. I finally managed to kill Hoyt, save my brother and then get to the end. There is a great sense of achievement in finishing FC3, particularly given it’s lengthy campaign and replayability. I also noticed Sony put FC3 Blood Dragon up on special this week, so there’s a good chance I might do another run through on the PS3 before the PS4 comes along.

I’m going to spoil my ending now, as it’s good to talk about. Naturally(!) I chose to kill the girlfriend and be with Citra, which leads to a completely unnecessary first-person sex scene and Jason’s untimely murder. It gave me a flashback to FC2, in which you are guided to, ultimately, blow yourself up. Ubisoft really must have a need for some therapy with the way they focus on self-harm in these games (even healing yourself my pulling a bullet out of your arm with a knife reflects some serious personal issues), but I wanted to go the ‘path less travelled’ for my ending, but I’m sure YouTube can offer me the alternate ending anyway (there is no trophy penalty, you get this gold ‘complete’ trophy for either scenario).

So, with a small collection of trophies still yet to grab in this game, I don’t think I’m done with it just yet. Well done, Ubisoft – you’ve managed to salvage a franchise that had turned incredibly drab into a lush, engaging experience.

Higher Than a Kite

Far Cry 3 • PlayStation 3

I had a bit of an open offer to game-it-up tonight, so I have spent a large portion of the evening on FC3. I was hoping I would be able to finish it around midnight and have a great story to tell you, but this is a game that keeps on giving!

I’ve killed Vaas, sent my friends off the island, and now I’m on the final stages of hunting down Hoyt. I thought that this might be a quick activity, but this seems to be another chain quest, opening with a game of poker, and then a stealth mission to infiltrate a base. At this point (which is now) I thought I better call it a night – God knows how much more goodness Ubisoft have crammed into this game, but it’s certainly value for money (extra so as it was part of a free PS+ subscription)! This trophy pops after a fantastic squirrel suit jump onto Hoyt’s island. Hopefully I’m close enough to the end to be able to knock FC3 (the story at least) on the head and move onto AC3 or Tomb Raider.