Xbox Three

Unless the Switch does something remarkable, PlayStation 4 will be the best selling console of this ‘generation’ (a term which may become archaic if we get another iteration beyond the Pro/S/X). Microsoft however, need to be worried. The Switch has sold nearly 5 million consoles in little over a quarter whereas lifetime sales of Xbox One are around the 30 million mark – having had a three year head start at market. Undoubtedly part of PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch’s success has been down to a renewed focus on games. Wii U tried to invade TV (TVii) and social media which detracted from a modest yet critically acclaimed lineup. Microsoft’s initial focus on Xbox being the all-in-one box of tricks lost the generation before it had begun. The ship is still coming around but what can Microsoft possibly do to prevent finishing 3rd in the current console wars?

Firstly, Microsoft has already done a great job of reversing the PR nightmare which was Xbox One’s launch. Backward’s compatibility, Games with Gold and Xbox Games Pass have all been pro-consumer moves which have caught some ground with Sony. The Xbox One is a great console with some solid – yet un-unique – features. Unfortunately, the single most important asset missing from ‘the world’s most powerful games console’ are games. So, we decided to explore what we’d like to see to save Xbox from finishing below Nintendo.

Sony’s games-centric focus came to a head with the ‘year of dreams’ announcements like Shenmue 3, Last Guardian and the Final Fantasy 7 remake. There aren’t many of these left to go to – except Half-life 3. This phantom game – seemingly on permanent hiatus – is one of the only franchises which could be classified as on par with the above games. Microsoft would have to move heaven and earth to make Valve play nice but desperate times call for desperate measures. Other than Half-life, it is difficult to see any other series which would make the same impact from returning.

On the original Xbox – released in the wake of SEGA’s exit from manufacturing consoles – became an interesting breeding ground for what should have been the Dreamcast’s final wave of software. Games such as SEGA GT, Panzer Dragoon Orta and Spikeout were joined by ports like Shenmue 2 and Jet Set Radio. Although not defining series on the Xbox, they complimented the likes of Halo, KOTOR and Project Gotham (itself a spiritual successor to Dreamcast’s Metropolis Street Racer). SEGA appears to be open to resurrecting forgotten franchises which could be an opportunity for Microsoft to create a mutually beneficial partnership. Streets of Rage, Decap Attack and Kid Chameleon have all been dormant since the 16 bit era. Then there are series – although more recently reimagined – like Shinobi, Golden Axe and Phantasy Star which are ready for a reboot. Generating modern, innovative titles like these which carry names dripping with nostalgia would help Xbox rival a certain home/handheld console hybrid in terms of software. If Ultra Street Fighter 2 can sell near 500,000 units then imagine what Microsoft could achieve with some of SEGA’s long forgotten franchises!

Among Sony’s 1st party line-up are two types of games which are near – if not at – the pinnacle of their divisions. Firstly, in the ‘story driven’ adventure category, Sony has the likes of The Last of Us, God of War and Uncharted 4. The second are the ‘souls’ games. Sony has leant into their popularity with Bloodborne and Nioh. They read the tea leaves correctly with this type of game. However with Dark Souls now on its 3rd iteration, Sony has had plenty of time to get its ducks in order. Microsoft needs to play catch up and get engaging narrative driven games and tough-as-nails ‘souls’ games out in the wild. This means either directing 1st/2nd party studios or seeking timed exclusivity agreements by studios such as Platinum. 

In order to hit the short time frame Xbox One X has to work in, Microsoft would have needed to establish these deals around the time ‘Project Scorpio’ was announced. It is entirely possible PlayStation 5 could be announced in 2018 and an updated Switch SKU (Lite/XL/’new’) is expected by 2019. That gives Xbox One X around 18 months to catch up. 

Xbox veterans like Gears of War and Halo are no longer as relevant as they were in previous generations though both were forged in the fires of Microsoft’s push to be seated at the console war table. However, it is this kind of creativity Microsoft needs to seek out, nurture and capitalise on. Otherwise, it may be time for Xbox Gone. 

The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

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Transformers: The Last Chance?

In 1999, I remember playing the Gerudo Hideout in Ocarina of Time on N64 (spoilers ahead!) and having an epiphany. There’s a part of that (awesome) section of the (awesome) game where Link is thrown into jail and has to hook-shot out. For some reason after escaping for the first time I spent the next ten minutes hook-shot-gliding around. At this late stage of the game, I had already spent about 15 hours in possession of said hook-shot and the novelty had worn off. As I darted about avoiding Gerudo guards a nugget of hope entered my brain; what if someone made a Batman game like this. Fast forward ten years and Rocksteady Games (cue Hallelujah music and bright lights fall on their name) did – to great success. The silent predator sections of the Arkham games’ origins can be followed back to Link’s adventures in Gerudo Valley. Anyway, to the point. Over the years, I’ve had this kind of feeling a few times about different games but with Transformers. The High Moon Studios games a few years ago were a glimmer of hope yet resulted in our darkest hour (Rise of the Dark Spark). Who would we like to see do our favourite robots from 1984 justice? What kind of games would we like to see? 

Transformers: A Telltale Game Series

Obviously developed by Telltale. One of the reasons recent games have failed to feel like ancient, gigantic robots battling has been the limitations of their usual style; 3rd person shooters. Think of the epic forest battle in Revenge of the Fallen or the battle of Autobot City in Transformers the Movie (1986)! That kind of action can only been fully realised if in set pieces and quick time events. Imagine as well, the kind of choices you could face in a Transformers adventure game. Who do you give the Matrix to; Ultra Magnus, Hot Rod or Grimlock? How do you plead; guilty or innocent? There’s plenty of scope for games like this and with acres of source material to draw from, an original or existing tale could be told effectively through Telltale’s extremely popular style of games. 

Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers

Arkham Asylum and its sequels were inspired – among many influences – by Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel. Although the plot and tone is distanced from it, the spine of both stories is the same; the Joker sends Batman through the crucible of a night in Arkham. 

IDW’s recent, fantastic run of Transformers comics could be suitable inspiration for an Arkham-esque adventure. Recent storylines have seen Rodimus and half the transformers leaving their homeland in search of the Knights of Cybertron, Starscream ascending to leader of the planet after the Great War ends and even Deadpool-like breaking of the fourth wall as a certain Autobot experiments with suspect weapon technology. One day of the most revered IDW stories is Last Stand of the Wreckers. Similar to Arkham, a band of hardcore Autobot soldiers must infiltrate an overrun prison fortress with maximum security. 

Throughout the graphic novel, there are revelations which test the Decepticon’s loyalty to the cause, make the reader question how far the Autobots can legally go to eliminate their foes as well as what the notion of right and wrong is in a world where a species has been at civil war for millions of years. High Moon’s original game (War for Cybertron) dipped its toes into this – especially with some creative environmental storytelling – yet the later games (Fall of Cybertron and so on) lost their way. Platinum Games’ G1 inspired Devastation was another interesting false dawn. If a third person action/shooter is going to work, this would be the way to do it. 

Transformers: You Cannot Deny DESTINY

It was actually playing Halo 3 that a Bungie created Transformers game crossed my mind. Although decent games, the Halo lore and narrative has never grasped me. Enter Destiny. The mix of game modes would be an ideal fit for a franchise which has always struggled with an identity crisis. The story mode would be a standard run and gun adventure punctuated by sparrow/alt mode hopping in between. Expand to the meat of Destiny’s services and it gets a bit more interesting. 

Firstly, Patrol’s radiant quests would be an ideal fit for pop in/out gameplay taking out pockets of opposing Autobots/Decepticons. Imagine jointing two other comrades to take down Strike bosses (“it’s Starscream!”) or even a raid mode. I refer you back to the possibilities mentioned previously; Autobot City or Last Stand of the Wreckers. It would be an ideal opportunity to blend familiar Transformers settings like Earth and Cybertron with fan-favourites like Junk, Quintessa, Nebulos or Athena. That’s before we even get to PvP options – one of the more fondly remembered features of High Moon Studios’ series. 

Transformers: TITANmaster FALL

In the eighties the (quite quick actually) rise and fall of Transformers ended with an increasing number of ‘master’ gimmicks. One of these were ‘Headmasters’. The G1 cartoon’s fourth season – only 3 episodes long – introduced of smaller aliens/people controlling/working with larger Transformer avatars. Galvatron quite rightly chastised his Decepticons for allowing their bodies to be changed like this. 

Thankfully the Japanese version of Season 4 retconned this so the Headmasters were smaller Cybertronians outcast on the planet Master. Anyhoo, the Headmasters – recently rebranded in a new toy line by Hasbro as ‘Titan Masters’ have got huge scope for a multi-scale adventure. It would be awesome to take on larger transformers in your titan-sized transector avatars before going in for smaller, different (possibly puzzle, stealth, exploration?) gameplay sections as a Titan Master. Why on Earth not? 

And finally…

Transformers: Dimensions of Infinity

I’ll admit it; sadly, toys to life is dead. Although profitable and well, fun, they do not seem to have earns the likes of LEGO and Disney enough £££. Sales of Skylanders are dropping off too. Hasbro has seen great growth with their resurgent Transformers brand over the last ten years however the recent movie Transformers: The Last Knight has shown signs the boom is too tailing off. A romantic view would be Transformers could swoop in an save toys to life though admittedly unlikely. A Marvel Heroes Omega style character collection game would be an ideal fit. There have been softer, mobile-centric Transformers/toys to life integration but nothing which could be described as a killer app. Surely there is some way of marrying the two.

Where would you like to see Transformers go? Any of these? Somewhere different? Or is it time for them to head to the scrapyard? 

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Destined?

I’m going to buy Destiny 2. There are some games that I always want on my HDD ready to jump into. That’s Destiny. I’m going to buy it digitally – at full price. Not many games can demand that decisiveness of purchase. My modest gaming budget for September into October is going to Bungie. Judging by how many hours I spent on the original, it will be a wise investment. 

Last week, the first Destiny 2 gameplay was revealed. This footage wasn’t for me; this trailer would be to get new players in. My mind was made up already. What could they possibly show me? Then I watched it. The familiar sight of the Tower being decimated – loot and all – wipes the slate clean for new guardians to join the fight whilst at the same time drawing a line under Destiny 1 for existing players. The horrowing sight in the linking corridor to the Speaker’s area got me. This trailer was for me. The attention to detail of the robot I’d passed thousands of times (usually to find Xur, not the speaker) still sweeping diligently amid the chaos yanked on the memories of hundreds of hours of play. That’s Destiny. 

Before Destiny, games had hype and noise around them but I remember something being different about it. I had been very passive towards it in the build up. ‘Online’, ‘co-op’ and ‘shooter’ were not in my vocabulary. Although Halo had grabbed my attention briefly it had been more out of curiosity. September 2014 – I remember watching let’s plays of the game pre-release and something hooked me. It looked fun. I’d played Halo because I felt it was part of the rite of passage as an advocate of the medium but Destiny looked fun. I didn’t have any idea what I was watching until after I’d bought the game a few weeks after release. The footage was of a warlock sliding, shooting and – storming the moon. More and more footage was watched before I finally took the plunge. 

At this point in life, my first born was nearly one and although not as penniless as I am now (it really hits you after child number 2 FYI) time to play games was in decline. No longer could I get away with sneaky PS4 sessions whilst she slept on me. Now she could talk and wanted to do stuff. Destiny’s loop of short jump in, jump out missions, familiar strikes and I’ve-only-got-5-minutes-let’s-do-a-patrol fit my new lifestyle perfectly. It was comfort food. How many times did I – along with 2 other random guardians – take down Sepiks Prime? It was familiar, easy to slot into mid game – comfort food. Put any seasoned Destiny player into those original strikes and I guarantee they will know immediately what’s going on and what they need to do. That’s Destiny.

Destiny 1 and all it’s add ons sucked me back in twice again over the last 3 years. No other game has seen me return to it so often. My recent ‘lost weekend’ (read: month) with Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminded me of each time Destiny pulled me back, thrusting a rocket launcher into my hands. It will be interesting to see if Zelda: BotW has the longevity Destiny had. It never bothered me the complaints about the story or my robotic companion. Destiny is the best gun play in any game. Any FPS which doesn’t follow the control scheme or make that satisfying pop of sparks when you make a Fallen headshot seems wrong.

Hiding behind those boxes on Mars. Pegging it through the Dust palace. Bugging out as the last guardian standing. Geeking out over Firefly alumini voice actors. Sitting down when a mission’s complete. Having your phone next to you to figure out exactly how you get the things to make your things better. As Cade 6 told us in that first trailer, that’s all gone now…

I can’t wait to do it all over again. That’s Destiny.