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.

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.

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.

Cloud Crash

One word: Yikes.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played Borderlands 3 yet, and while I’m sure as a game on its own it’s worthy of all the praise it’s getting, I’m also a stickler for doing things in order, and so once I’ve cleared Borderlands 1 and 2, and yes I know there’s a Pre/Sequel in the mix there somewhere, then, and only then, will I pick up the third incarnation.

(Second disclosure: this philosophy also works for the Gears of War series, but I did play a round of multiplayer last night just to grab an achievement for a Microsoft Rewards challenge – I’m still a Gears’ story virgin).

More importantly though, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk about the cloud. It seems in this instance that the issue with the Borderlands 3 saves is unique to Epic Games and the PC version, but that being said, the other services are not without their own flaws. It’s taken nearly two weeks to finally get back into Gears POP! after Xbox Live failed to let players connect, and who could forget the great Sony outage a few years ago that saw them shower us all with ‘We’re Sorry’ stuff.

The cloud is brilliant, but not perfect. Xbox, I’m my humble opinion, is the closest to the most successful cloud provider in the gaming space so far – given that I have come back from over twelve months off a game and be able to pick up where I left off. PlayStation relies on a subscription to PS Plus, and because I’ve let that lapse, I’m fairly certain my save games have gone as well.

Kiss those Vita saves goodbye.

I’m not sure how Nintendo’s service works, but in general, what we’re seeing here is an absolutely glaring need to ensure that cloud services don’t just form an ‘added extra’ to your platform, but are integral. Microsoft, to their fault, were not backward in their cloud first marketing when it came to the Xbox One, and while they were ahead of their time and that message didn’t quite land up against the more robust PlayStation offering.

Now half a decade later we see what that looks like when played out in living rooms …

… and the cloud.

God help Stadia.

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.