E3 Predictions Part 2: Sony

Sony has arguably ‘won’ the last several E3s with a combination of a focus on games (“this is for the players”) as well as pushing through announcements for games which have lingered on many fantasy wish lists (Final Fantasy 7, Shenmue 3, Last Guardian etc etc). In a change from our Nintendo Predictions, we’re going for a must, should, could approach to what we might see from the industry leaders…

Must: games. With a slew of long since announced games, Sony needs to start getting some out of the stable door. We know Kojima’s Death Stranding along with Last of Us 2 are some ways away so don’t expect to see much of them other than perhaps a teaser. Spider-Man, God of War and Days Gone look like the most likely 2017 into early 2018 games. Having previously announced them, Sony would be best to start delivering on their previous promises or may sour the excitement generated in the past. 

Should: support PS VR. Unlikely yet a move Sony should feel obliged to make. The initial 8 months of PS VR’s release has seen many missed opportunities. The most fun we had with the (now sold) machine were smaller, supplementary experiences such as Star Wars: Battlefront and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Unfortunately these experiences seem to have dried up and the wider multimedia possibilities of the headset have been largely ignored. Where is E3 in full 360 video? How about up scaling some of the less powerful VR games on mobile? Unfortunately, the trajectory for this machine is following that of PS3’s brief affair with stereoscopic 3D; one which may soon be over before it gets started.

Could: Sony is stuck between a rock and a hard place with Scorpio. No doubt, the brute strength of whatever Microsoft has cooked up has caught Sony off-guard; thinking PS4 Pro would be enough to rival the new Xbox. If Sony sticks with Pro and Slim, they risk standing still and being overtaken again by Microsoft. A true Scorpio competitor would take time to develop properly and would not be a great consumer-centric move; instantly causing bad feeling for recent PS4 Pro owners. So, what is the answer?

Switch. The early success of this console will not have gone unnoticed by either of Sony or Microsoft. A move which could a) compete with the space occupied by Switch b) steal Scorpio’s thunder and c) extend the life of PS4 is to release a hybrid home/handheld PS4. Let’s speculate for a minute…

Apeing the Switch set up, the hybrid (PS4 Go?) would have detachable joycon style controllers either side of a touch screen display. Completely download only, there is no BD drive – just internal memory and standard SD cards. The interface is 100% that of a home PS4. As well as using the detachable controllers, a Dualshock 4 can be synced when used in tabletop or docked mode. All of your existing downloadable PS4 games are available as well as streaming of PS Now. If you want to play a disc based game, you can remote play through your home based PS4. The console docks into a HDMI connected unit – similar to Switch – instantly transitioning between TV and handheld play. In addition, the introduction of PS One games available to download would be announced – ideal for on the go retro sessions. 

The probability of Sony announcing the above gets slimmer as we get further through the article. However, a hybrid home/portable console is the one thing they can do which will blow Scorpio out of the water as well as steal Nintendo’s unique selling point. It isn’t long until we find out! 

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Middle of the Year: Intentional Delay? 

First Up; this article is in no way a slight or troll of Monolith games. Got that out of the way – good!

In 2017, we have had an unprecedented number of high scoring and/or big release games. These include Resident Evil 7, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment, Yooka-Laylee etc etc. The trend for non- Q3 releases has grown over the last few years with the industry seemingly only pausing for E3 (unless SEGA release a console mid-conference) or that Wednesday in July we Brits call ‘Summer’. 

Last year, Call of Duty, Battlefield and Titanfall 2 all released close to each other – marginalising each one’s potential audience. Clever money got out of the way of these to avoid being cannibalised by other games – as seen in previous years as Rise of the Tomb Raider suffered at the radioactive jaws of Fallout 4. This Q3 will see the annual Call of Duty, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and the big one; Destiny 2 arrive. Any other FPS would be wise to get out of the way. 

Recently, much anticipated Rockstar game Red Dead 2 was delayed until 2018. Any other game, open world or nay, would struggle against this cowboy juggernaught (note to self: great potential anime series name). With Horizon: Zero Dawn and Zelda: Breath of the Wild dominating the open world ‘genre’ (is it a genre?) in Q1 and Red Dead – until recently – having Q3 secure, Monolith wisely pitched their Shadow of Mordor sequel in the end of Summer lull. This move worked for Metal Gear Solid 5 back in 2016.

However, now with Read Dead’s delay, the release date for Shadow of War has been delayed. Is this intentional having seen the opening in the seemingly more lucrative Q3 portion of the calendar? It is surprising it has taken 3 years for this game to surface – perhaps it had already been pushed internally to 2017 to avoid the open world fatigue of 2016. Some might call this a negative move for fans of the series yet this may prove a shrewd move by WB Games – giving this series the spotlight it deserves and – potentially – a wider audience. 

Either way, no one likes it when a game is delayed. We all know the quote from Shigeru Miyamoto. Whatever Shadow of War’s reason for delay, hopefully it will push Talion’s adventures from ‘critically acclaimed gem’ to a true AAA franchise…and give us longer to badger WB Games for a review copy 😉

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Goty Edition

Version reviewed: PS4

Recently discounted on all formats, with a stay of execution as the sequel has been delayed, this 2014 open world adventure is worth another look.

The premise of this game is work your way up through Sauron’s army to avenge the death of your (a ranger called Talion) family. It is like someone put the film Gladiator in with a Lord of the Rings box set in a blender. Before emptying the mushed up contents though, the designers Monolith threw Rocksteady’s Arkham series in too. The combat of this game, as well as controls and traversal, are straight out of Gotham City. As mentioned in this month’s pennilessdads podcast, the game has some loose links with the films but the strength of the game is not the iconic setting of Middle Earth.

Heavily borrowed fighting mechanics aside, by far and large the most fun is taking out the various levels of Sauron’s minions. Defeating a war chief leaves room at the top for an underling to take his place. Later in the game, you gain the ability to brainwash key members of the forces of Mordor and build your own army. Bugging out from a fight to quickly heal then return and finish off your foe is extremely satisfying and reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 5 which was released a year later.

It would be easy to recommend this package for Tolkien-ites however this is a game which should be compelling for most audiences. This does not include children however. Strong language as well as violent moments – much more adult than either of Peter Jackson’s trilogies – mean this is one for mature players. 

Despite the open world setting, the variety of gameplay missions (stealth, elf-shot bow challenges, brawl arenas etc etc) keeps you occupied between warchiefs. The main story never outstays its welcome and paced nicely. If you want to sink 40+ hours into it you can or you can simply whizz through the story missions. Again, the lore of Lord of the Rings is present yet – like Arkham – the licence enhances the excellent gameplay rather than becomes the main focus. For £11.99 on PSN recently this is essential! 

E3 Predictions Part 1: Nintendo

The easy thing to do here would be to list the much wanted F-Zero/Metroid/Pokemon MMO etc etc pipe dreams. A good place to start would be to rule out possibilities.

Firstly, there will be no new Zelda. Obviously Breath of the Wild dlc will be present but a stand alone title is out of the question. Speculation on the next Zelda is a story for another day but don’t expect Link to have any surprises at E3 2017. Secondly, anything with the word ‘Wii’ in it. Recent Switch releases like a Boy and his Blob have simulated Wii-mote pointer controls with the Switch joy con. As exciting as this precedent being set is, Nintendo really needs to distance itself from the zeitgeist of the Wii and all it stood for. 

Finally a Switch price drop is out of the question. Why would they with the console perceivingly selling like hot cakes?  The only related announcement may be for Wii U – still retailing at £240 in some places, only £40 less than a Switch – however we’d imagine this would be done stealthily without an online event to keep focus on the new console.

Time to rule some in. We know Mario Odyssey will be there as will Splatoon 2. But what about surprises from the house of Mario?

1. Online 

We’ve explored Ninty’s potential strategy for the virtual console component of Switch previously at pennilessdads. At this point, there are a few points to note. We already know there will be a free trial component including a NES and SNES game each month – which will include online features. If the virtual console service was going to exist in its Wii/Wii U/3DS form it would have been ready at launch. The expected rebranding as ‘Nintendo Classics’ moves away from the indication of retro releases remaining untouched. Expect the price to be considerably less than PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold subs. Voice chat on smart devices will be highlighted along with a possible UI update to facilitate a wider range of online features. 

2. Smash Bros for Switch

Following the success of Mario Kart 8’s port to Switch, expect more to follow. This is an easy win for Nintendo and would represent more value for existing Smash owners if the Switch version combines the Wii U and 3DS versions. All dlc would be included too along with the return of the Ice Climbers. The question would be timing. The Summer is already filling up (odd to say that about Nintendo..) with Arms and Splatoon 2 which would only leave the holiday season. Mario Odyssey is out around this time too. At best, expect a September – November dovetail between the two games. With the delay of Red Dead 2, there is room for other games to muscle in just before Xmas.

3. SNES Classic 

Much rumoured and following on from the in demand NES Classic of last year. This is another easy win for Nintendo but is not dead cert. They need to significantly increase Switch production – seemingly a reason the NES Classic was discontinued – yet this may distract. A curveball may be releasing the NES Classic content as a retro collection akin to Rare Replay on Switch. Another point to consider is; is the SNES as ‘retro-chic’ as the NES? Will the general public have as much nostalgia for a machine from the 90s as the 80s?

So there are the big 3 announcements we expect from Nintendo at E3. We’ve gone with conservative optimism yet it is worth noting that this is Nintendo’s to lose. Although not in the market lead, they have an awful lot of buzz surrounding them following a surprisingly positive Switch launch. No doubt Sony and Microsoft R&D are exploring their own hybrid, portable prototypes (Switxbox? PlaySwitchOn?). Nintendo should take a leaf out of Sony’s book though with the ‘year of dreams’ announcements. Just once it would be great for Nintendo to give us what we want; loan Metroid to Yacht Club Games, get SEGA on F-Zero GX 2, give us Mario Sunshine HD and solve world hunger. You never know…

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga Review

Version reviewed: Xbox 360

LEGO Star Wars – currently available free to Xbox Live Gold subscribers – combines the two games which started it all; allowing players to experience Episodes 1 through 6. In 2005, the original LEGO Star Wars, released to coincide with Revenge of the Sith, introduced us to the world of digital LEGO. I remember fondly playing that game on PS2 to try and discover the events of Ep3 before going to the cinema to watch the film. 

LEGO games have become their own genre, spawning countless sequels and even a toys to life game. The general gist is to play through the level, following a linear path, defeating enemies and collecting as many LEGO studs as possible. The formula 12 years later is familiar, at its heart basic yet akin to comfort food.

LEGO games, especially this one, shine due to the character and humour depicted by the pseudo plastic actors. More recent LEGO games have introduced voice acting whereas these earlier ones play out as comedic silent movies, poking fun at the subject material. Sometimes, in Star Wars’ case, surpassing the acting of the prequel trilogy of films…

With this game now being playable on Xbox One, and Star Wars being back in vogue, this is a great time to have this as a Games with Gold freebie. It goes some way to scratching that Star Wars itch until Battlefront 2 arrives later in the year. The game is great fun to recreate favourite scenes from the movies. It is superior to Star Wars Force Unleashed 2 which has also been available in May for Gold subscribers.

After the familiar story has played out, there’s still plenty to do. Going back to unlock obscure characters from the first 30 years of Star Wars is addictive. Different characters have different abilities and you’ll need to revisit story levels non-canon (for that level) characters to unlock everything. Multiplayer is also present though can create Mario Kart levels of falling out over teamwork or lack thereof.

If there is one complaint, it is the pace and structure of the combined package can feel strange. Like Vader going from space ninja in Rogue One to clunking tank in New Hope five minutes later, playing Episodes 1-3 as Jedi to then have to de-grade almost as pre-lightsaber Luke means the initial portion of the original trilogy does not feel as slick as it should. A solid package though and a great win for Games with Gold. 

Hoard Mode

The way we consume video games has changed immensely since the early 90s when I started. Writing this blog has forced me to reflect on my gaming habits or lack of as the case may seem…

Penniless Dads was created for many reasons but ultimately to look at the industry through the lens of a gamer who can no longer afford to keep up with new consoles and AAA releases. In the 90s, as a child it was a game for birthday or Xmas and that had to see you through unless you traded in. In the noughties – all grown up with a proper job and everything- I could afford a new full price game pretty much whenever I wanted. Now, supporting a family, my budget for me is £65 a month which has to cover clothes, social outings and, sometimes, video games. So, what does that get you?

Well quite a lot if you break down my spending habits in the last 10 weeks. Let’s explore what I’ve gained access to in this relatively short time frame. I subscribe to PlayStation Plus annually which is paid for with Xmas vouchers (12 games). In addition, I am signed up to a physical games rental service which gives me one rental a month for £3.99 (3 games). Xbox Live Gold has just had an offer for a month’s subscription for £1. That snagged me more (6 games). This also gave access to a 14 day trial of Xbox Games Pass (100 games). I actually bought some too! In the last 10 weeks, I’ve bought Snake Pass at £15.99, Resident Evil Bundle £11.99 (10 games) and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year for £11.99. That brings in a grand total of over 130 games (ignoring the backlog and EA Access) at my disposal for around the price of a AAA PS4/Xbox One release. That’s a lot of games. My usual playing time per week day is 30 mins which just about gives me time for 2 games of FIFA. I’ve got the week off so that gives me a bit more but I wonder: have we got too much? Would I had been better off simply buying a single game like Resident Evil 7 or Horizon: Zero Dawn? 

No one is ever going to play 130 games in 10 weeks nor would it be healthy to do so. As with most things, the cream rises to the top. The game I’d been waiting to go on sale – the critically acclaimed Shadow of Mordor – is what I’ve been playing most. I also managed a run through a few of the free games on Games Pass but most of the Resi collection remains in my download queue. Another way of looking at it is I’ve played through the games I’ve specifically paid for. Snake Pass being my main distraction prior to Mordor. Ultimately this is the price of being in this position in life. We play games after the iron is striking hot. Mordor is a bit extreme 3 years after release however the usual cost of being ‘penniless’ is playing the games a quarter after release. I wonder, if this approach of waiting for sales, scrambling at ‘free’ game subscription services like PS Plus or renting has contributed to the hoarding culture of digital content? 

With this pile up of content one wonders what our libraries will look like in another 20 years time. Will we have an unfathomable backlog? Is there a breaking point? This is before we even get started on Steam! 

Batman: The Telltale Series Review

Version reviewed: PS4

Following the now-familiar structure of other Telltale games, Batman: TTS is an episodic game telling a new story in a new universe. Players take the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne. As Batman, action sequences are experienced through quick time events whilst slower paced cerebral sections require crime scene investigation skills befitting of the Dark Knight Detective. In between crimefighting, Bruce Wayne must deal with a multitude of issues which push him to and beyond his limits. It is the tense decision making which ultimately makes the game so engaging. 

In Arkham City, towards the end – SPOILER ALERT – Batman must decide whether to save Talia al Ghul, Bruce’s love interest, or save Arkham City’s citizens. It is the choice which more than anything else in the game made me feel like Batman. In Batman: TTS these choices are a regular feature of each episode. In a great mechanic, choices as Bruce Wayne impact on Batman and vice versa. This helps create the fabric of an original story albeit one which riffs from the multitude of subject material on offer.

Without spoiling the plot, Batman: TTS treads familiar ground quite regularly. Early on in the story, Bruce meets district attorney-to-be; Harvey Dent. What happens next is obvious yet is played out in a previously unexplored way. Gotham the TV series, the Dark Knight trilogy and even Tim Burton’s 1989 film are drawn on as influences to the various threads of plot. When the game offers something original it is at its best but leads to some slight yawns when familiar elements show up. Reliving THAT double homocide again is a great example of this. There are only so many times we need to see those pearls hit the floor. However, a later detective scene at the site of a different double homocide leads to some thrilling revelations. 

This game was recently on sale and can be found pre-owned for approx £15. It is possible to Platinum it in one run through though returning to see the way alternative choices play out is alluring. The game is great to play socially too! I played through it with my wife (who doesn’t play games usually). Additional players can join in on smart devices to select dialogue choices with the game going with the majority vote. 

This game is essential for any comic book fans and thoroughally worth the price of admission. It feels like a greatest hits of Batman which is no bad thing. If you’ve never played a Telltale game before, this is a good place to start. Other series by the developer – such as Tales from the Borderlands – have been available on subscription services recently. I’m looking forward to giving them a go having had so much fun with Bats and Bruce. Maybe, she’ll play too!