Master Chief Collection on PC?

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Remember the release of the Xbox One’s Master Chief Collection? Remember the countless updates, the public apologies and getting to play ODST for free? It was perhaps one of the worst releases for the Microsoft, up until it was finally fixed months later. Despite these bugs and endless updates, the game was praised for its sheer quantity of content and graphical updates.

It was a blast to play, and with it came tidal waves of nostalgia for fans of the series. There’s still nothing quite like encountering the Flood for the first time. Well, despite being available on the Xbox One for almost five years now, fans may get to relive that nostalgic feeling all over again on PC.

Next week, Microsoft has promised some exciting news on Inside Xbox, regarding the Master Chief Collection. According to Xbox expert and YouTuber Brad Sams, Microsoft has been developing the game, intending to make an announcement during this year’s E3.

Will they eventually bring it to the PC? Will gamers end up updating it numerous times through the delightful Windows Store? Well, it’s quite possible. Brad Sams is renowned for being correct with his reports, due to revealing the name of Halo’s next game, Halo: Infinity, before it was even announced at last year’s E3. He has reported on several reveals in the past, which are usually all accurate.

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The potential release of the Master Chief Collection on PC is a thrilling thought, and there’s certainly a market for it. Getting to replay Blood Gulch on PC? Cursing at Halo 3’s Cortana’s level on Legendary again? Sure, it sounds like a welcome idea. Microsoft has been very open to the possibility of sharing their games onto different platforms, so this seems like this is almost a given.

Are you interested in the possibility of the Master Chief Collection on PC? Think Microsoft is just announcing that they’ve fixed a different minor multiplayer bug? Want to play Reach again? Let me know in the comments.

Apex Legends? Drop Into Titanfall 2 Already

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Battle royale games! All the kids are doing it. They’ve been flossing their hearts off, they’ve been glued to streams of screaming adults on Fortnite, and now Respawn Entertainment has joined the fray, to help finally change their perception of the genre.

Apex Legends dropped on PC and consoles during the beginning of February, and it has already boasted over 50 million players. You honestly wouldn’t believe this comes from the same developers of Titanfall 2, but heck, Respawn have cracked the battle royale code with an engaging, exciting and ultimately fun free-to-play shooter.

But wait, we’re not here to talk about Apex Legends! Everybody has been doing that. Twitch has been on fire with the new game since streamers realised Fortnite isn’t the sole videogame in existence. No, the focus here will be on Respawn Entertainment’s underappreciated Titanfall 2.

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Titanfall 2? That’s correct, the sequel to 2014’s first game, Respawn Entertainment brought forth a game that expanded the universe’s lore, the gameplay and multiplayer aspects heavily. Under development for two years, the decision was made by the studio to expand on the franchise with a fully-fledged single-player campaign completely.

Basically, despite several accolades, I am under the firm belief that not enough people gave Titanfall 2 the time of day. If we are to examine UK sales though, it rings true. Despite EA expecting the game to sell approximately 10 million copies, they stupidly decided to stick its release slap bang in the middle of Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. You know, those two forgetful inclusions to their respective franchises.

During its release, Titanfall two fell behind one version of Skyrim, Fifa 2017 and Battlefield. Titanfall 2 had only reached a quarter of the original game’s sales, and for a new sequel that was released on three different platforms, that’s horribly disappointing. If anything, it was deemed a complete and utter financial disaster.

You can blame a bunch of factors. Heck, you can point at Todd Howard and then shake your fist, but EA’s release schedule was way off. They were under the impression that gamers would happily drop their cash on two new releases, but due to the marketing and sheer thirst for Battlefield 1, it completely eclipsed Titanfall 2.

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EA didn’t do much as a publisher to help drive sales, either. With Battlefield 1 impressing the suits with its sales figures, Titanfall 2 had a half-price reduction just one month after release on their digital platform. Despite two years of hard work, it honestly felt that EA pushed it away to one side, in favour of a generic WWI shooter (sorry BF1 fans).

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Sales improved ever so slightly, but Titanfall 2 soon made its way onto EA’s Origin Access program, allowing for a whole new range of players to give it a go. It’s been in the game vault for some time now, and with Apex Legends making such a huge impact, hopefully, others will look back at Respawn’s previous titles. Why should you play it though? Well, where to start?

The Titanfall series revolves around the idea of utilising huge, hunkering mechs to take down your opponents. Pilots can either traverse across maps by utilising a grappling hook, or by stylishly wall-running to their objective. Of course, Respawn added the ability of the grappling hook into Apex, but wall-running was not transferred, due to developers believing it would ruin the pace of the battle royale game.

When the time comes, pilots can jump into their mechs, which adds an impressive arsenal to their collection. Each mech is different, and in the campaign, pilot Jack Cooper is joined with the trustworthy BT-7274. Sidekicks are a dime a dozen in single-player campaigns and mostly 90% of the time, they’re completely useless. BT-7274 however, is one of the greatest buddies you’ll ever play with.

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Injecting the Titanfall mechs with personality is a stroke of genius, and you can tell that BT-7274 will be with you every step of the way throughout your journey, due to the simple protocols in his software; ‘link to the pilot, uphold the mission and protect the pilot’. On more than a few occasions, BT-7274 will make sure to prove his usefulness and reliability.

The main protagonist of the story, Jack Cooper, is thrust into the duties of his captain, who is killed by a mercenary group known as the Apex Predators. Now taking control of BT-7274, Cooper must make rendezvous with Major Anderson, who appears to have uncovered plans of a new deadly device, which has the destructive capabilities to dispose of entire planets! We haven’t ever heard of that plot before, right?

During Jack Cooper’s mission, gamers will experience some truly unique level design, which incorporates time travel, crazy platforming and a whole bunch of wall-running. Each level has a different objective, all unique to the last. There are numerous highlights, but one of those includes Cooper and BT trying to determine the whereabouts of Major Anderson.

Effect and Cause is the name of the fifth level in Titanfall 2’s campaign, and it incorporates gigantic flying beasts, killer robots, a whole bunch of clever exposition which is complemented by time-travel shenanigans. Unsurprisingly, things haven’t turned out very well for Major Anderson, but Cooper receives a new time travel device, allowing for the player to hop from the present to the past at a flick of a switch.

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It’s a clever mechanic, and inaccessible areas can be reached with time-travel trickery, allowing for Cooper to traverse across platforms across time! It’s a fantastic addition to the level, and you can have loads of fun by surprising enemies by sneaking back into the past and then surprising them in the present. It’s an excellent moment in the game, which in general hasn’t been lauded enough for its ingenuity.

It is around this point in the game, where you begin to realise that BT starts referring to Cooper as simply ‘Jack’. After Cooper has placed his trust in the mech, you can see their bond clearly evolving during the story. Of course, this means that you’ll now come to expect BT throwing you to your next objective at almost every opportunity. You’ll also start wanting to hug BT.

It’s refreshing to see such a bond between the player’s main character and sidekick, and videogames have always struggled to find the balance between useful and downright annoying. Some great examples are Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth, whereas others, such as Resident Evil 4’s Ashley should just be left with the evil cult that kidnapped her.

Unfortunately, Titanfall 2’s campaign could certainly be a little longer. It just feels that it comes up a little short, with average gamers finishing it within 5 hours. It’s much more rewarding on a harder difficulty, but the story just needs that extra chapter or two. Still, that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding. The level design is just magnificent, and the gameplay? Well, it’s always nice to have an FPS game with this much polish.

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These days, poor FPS gamers have buggy games shoved down their throats. Fallout 76 and Far Cry come to mind, but Respawn Entertainment have proven themselves with Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends. Titanfall 2 looks incredible, and it plays so smoothly on PC. It helps that the pace of the game never really falters, without tiring out the player. Take a hint, Bioware.

Here’s the thing, though. Another problem with current shooters is the inherent need for it to be a damn sandbox. It becomes really tiring going to point A to B and having to unlock certain areas before continuing. Far Cry has become one of the more recent offenders, offering nothing new to the table with its tired mechanics. Let’s make FPS games linear again. If Titanfall 2 can present gamers with an interesting and awesome campaign, why can’t other FPS games?

Still, Titanfall’s roots are the multiplayer modes. In this game, there are several different modes for gamers willing to test out their mettle in the online gauntlet. Some of the best multiplayer features are Attrition, a standard deathmatch mode with AI and Titans, and Frontier Defense, where four players must survive against five waves of lethal enemies.

Attrition was my most-played mode, with the game starting with a Titan meter for every player. Once that meter has been filled by completing objectives and obtaining kills, you can summon your Titan of choice. There’s quite a selection to choose from, and it’s all based on the player’s personal preference. Want to go in guns blazing? Go for Legion and get that Predator Cannon on the go. Want to snipe from afar and deal deadly amounts of damage? Northstar is your mech.

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It can all seem very daunting at first, and first-time FPS players may struggle to get to grips with the fast-paced action, but the game rewards those who put the effort in. Don’t be afraid of the load-outs, just find out what’s best for you and you’re ready to go. A personal favourite Titan would be Northstar, whose sniping capabilities made it easy to clear out the battlefield.

Frontier Defense is a decent alternative to those who struggle with some of the higher-skilled players seen in Attrition. Waves of enemies come in all shapes and sizes, with players having to fight off Titans and even Nuclear Titans, which are about as much trouble as you could imagine. Frontier Defense is a blast to play with friends and is recommended for newbies before they get their teeth into other modes.

Whereas Titanfall 2’s campaign is only 5 hours long, gamers can be expected to find themselves playing multiplayer for much longer. It’s just very engaging, combat is satisfying, and it’s a pleasant reminder of a bygone era of fast-paced, fun multiplayer. Sure, Call of Duty and Battlefield certainly has its fans, but Titanfall 2 just feels like a completely different breed.

You can obviously see the influence of Titanfall 2 on Apex Legends. Sure, it’s apparently set in the same universe, but it feels just as good to play. Perhaps Respawn will implement Titan drops into a new game mode, and heck, maybe one day that may even happen. I can only dream, right?

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Titanfall 2 reportedly sold at least 4 million copies on all platforms after a year of release. It’s a shame that such a well-produced game failed to capture the attention of most gamers. It does feel that EA failed Titanfall 2, but at least Respawn Entertainment has proven to the masses that they’re one of the best up-and-coming studios around right now.

So, if you like Apex Legends and heck, you’ve been one of the few to make it to the end of a match, then check out Titanfall 2. Are you getting joined with awful squads in Apex and keep dying? Heck, still give Titanfall 2 a go! Respawn Entertainment know how to produce a quality FPS game, and the underappreciated Titanfall 2 deserves your time. Sign up to EA Origin/Access today and get to grips with one of the best FPS games in recent years.

HISTORY OF X-MEN IN GAMING – PART ONE

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The X-Men made their first grand appearance on comic book stands way back in September 1963, and since then they’ve taken over the world by storm with some of the most significant characters and stories that the industry has ever witnessed.

It spawned successful action figure lines, several animated cartoon series and even a huge movie franchise that has led to box-office hits and unfortunately some of the worst superhero offerings that the genre has ever known. Here’s looking at you, Wolverine.

They’ve had it all, but for a long time, they’ve also made numerous appearances in the video game business. From arcade machines to mobile phones, the mutants have made an impact in the gaming industry. Due to my love of the uncanny mutants, I decided to tackle the long and arduous task of analysing and briefly reviewing almost every X-Men video game ever created.

I must be mad, right? Perhaps, but I’ve had the pleasure of growing up amongst some of these X-Men titles, and we’ve had quite the veritable cornucopia of mutants in video games. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the X-Men’s first ever foray into the strange and unique world of video games, with The Uncanny X-Men, on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

THE UNCANNY X-MEN – NES

It was the summer of 1989 when the X-Men first appeared on our tiny CRT television sets, and their first outing was rough. Released in the same year when the animated series pilot aired (Pryde of the X-Men), Uncanny X-Men was a multiplayer game that was published by LJN. A well-known American toy manufacturer and game publisher, LJN had produced several lines of Thundercats and WWF action figures and playsets.

Strangely enough, there is no record of the development team behind the game. Presumably, it was developed in Japan and then shipped to American audiences only. The title screen showcases several different playable characters, but that’s where the excitement begins and ends. Unfortunately, as it turns out, The Uncanny X-Men game is utter garbage.

The level design in the game is non-existent, and the game is slow and downright clunky. Enemies consist of floating blocks, robotic caterpillars and mysterious little orbs. The sprites naturally fit for a game developed in 1989, but then there’s no excuse for Cyclops resembling the Mad Titan, Thanos.

If you had no friends back in 1989, the game assists you with an AI character, which does nothing to help the player. I guess you can’t complain too much, because back then the concept of AI in video games was stuck in the Savage Land, but this adds to the misery of playing the game.

Perhaps this was just a pure cash grab for the upcoming mutant phenomenon, as this game is just a miserable reminder of how some licensed games were back then. Do not waste any time tracking down the first ever X-Men game. It’s mind-numbingly boring, and your ears will be pained by the horrible screeching sound of Cyclops’ optic blasts, too. You don’t need that in your life.

X-MEN: MADNESS IN MURDERWORLD

From the second gamers load up X-Men: Madness in Murderworld, they’re treated to a sweet little title screen and carnival music! Yes, it appears that some more care was taken with this Commodore 64 and DOS video game, which was developed and published by Paragon Software way back in 1989.

Recurring comic book villain Arcade (imagine Jigsaw – but a bit nicer) takes centre stage in the game, as he’s somehow miraculously managed to kidnap the leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier! It’s up the player to use their wits and expertise to save good ol’ Chuck, with the small team of Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops and…Dazzler!

Madness in Murderworld is a side-scrolling, awkward little video game which is extremely unforgiving. If gamers aren’t up to the task, losing a life means permanently losing a vital member of the X-Men! Of course, they would probably turn up again in the comics after dying, but this isn’t the point here. It’s life or death.

Combat in Murderworld isn’t fun, not even in the slightest. Engaging with an enemy is a headache, as players can only select specific mutant abilities by pausing the game. I was immediately thrown against a mutant-killing robotic Sentinel, and let’s say; it was a sad day for the mutants. The control panel for the game is a mess, and players will fumble over them continuously.

There are many different areas that the X-Men have to traverse through to find Charles Xavier, and in all honesty, at least there’s some sort of narrative here. There’s a decent enough range of characters to use, but it’s just too difficult and awkward to play. Paragon Software must have seen some success with the game though, as they attempted to improve on this formula with a sequel exactly one year later…

X-MEN II: THE FALL OF THE MUTANTS

The second game from Paragon Studios, Fall of the Mutants, was released in 1990 and was loosely based on the comic book story of the same name, by Chris Claremont. This time around, they had dramatically increased the roster, including Rogue, Psylocke, Havok and even Longshot, amongst others.

The game begins with an introduction from Uatu the Watcher, who was always synonymous with significant events in the Marvel comic book universe. After his brief introduction, Uatu lets you pick five different mutants for the game, and three different areas to choose from. You can visit Dallas, the Ice Age and the Galleria where you can fight the likes of dinosaurs, demons and…the Viet Cong.

Your end goal? To rescue Storm and the man with the cheapest mutant ability, in the history of the X-Men, Forge. No seriously, he can make machines with his mutant gene because of comic book logic.

Fall of the Mutants allows for gamers to explore a top-down map, where mutants can utilise their powers to get through obstacles, and also get handpicked for certain fights. The fight sequences are similar to the previous game in the series, but this time around, it’s a little more fluid. The backgrounds have a bit more detail for them, which is also welcome.

Again, for the nineties, it wasn’t that terrible a game. It’s a definite improvement on Murderworld, and Paragon Studios paved the way for some of the most popular franchises we play today, such as X-Com and Civilisation, which was brought forth by the acquisition from developers and publisher MicroProse. However, nothing had compared to the next X-Men game, which ended up emptying the wallets of comic book readers in arcades all over the world.

 

NieR: Automata Review – Do Androids Dream of 2B?

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Originally released on the PlayStation 4 console in February 2017, NieR: Automata is an action RPG developed by Platinum Games, which received critical acclaim upon its release. Published by Square Enix Games, NieR: Automata is the sequel to Nier, and is the brainchild of the hugely talented and somewhat peculiar, Yoko Taro.

NieR: Automata kicks off the game with the female android 2B, who is chucked straight into a firefight between androids and robots. Sent by the remnants of humanity, androids are on a mission to help reclaim the planet Earth years after an invasion. She is joined by her helpful male companion 9S, and during their journey, they encounter unlikely friendships, shocking turns and gut-wrenching hardships.

It’s an unconventional piece of work, and it stands as being one of my most unique gaming experiences in some time. Throughout NieR: Automata, players will find that it likes to mix up the gameplay a little bit to keep things fresh. There’s third-person hack-and-slash, and top-down shooting mechanics, and those segments honestly feel like Ikaruga’s forgotten child.

In Yoko Taro’s second game in the series, players are thrown into a ridiculously deep storyline, that covers multiple themes; society, humanity and existence. It’s one hell of a ride, that can be repeated numerous times for different endings. Yes, that’s you’ve heard that correctly – NieR: Automata boasts 26 different endings.

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A substantial number of these endings aren’t even canon, but they do showcase that Yoko Taro likes to have a little fun with these characters. These endings can range from self-destructing 2B to offering a new perspective on a previous storyline experienced by a different android. There are around 3 important endings to the game, which allows for further insight into this weird little universe.

There’s a lot of joy to be had with experimenting in the game, and thankfully it’s not a chore to replay either. Thanks in part to Platinum Games, the combat is fluid and entertaining from start to finish. Switching up the gameplay style also helps, including exclusive elements which allow players to even hack their robotic enemies.

Various characters get to wield a variety of weapons, and their small Pods, which can shoot projectiles, allow for players to mix it up a bit. It may come as no surprise that the combat is enjoyable because we are talking about the same developers who provided us with the Bayonetta series.

It’s a lot of fun to revisit, but the beauty of the game cannot go understated. It’s simply gorgeous, and players get to explore a planet that nature has tried to reclaim. Now thousands of years into the future, greenery has covered cities. Small animals will often flock to some areas too, which helps build a tranquil atmosphere when no robots are involved.

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If you feel it necessary, 2B and other characters can mount some of these animals in the game. If you haven’t experienced drifting on a wild boar, well, you’re in a for a treat.

For example, the amusement park which 2B first stumbles upon envelops the screen with bright fireworks and a vibrant colour palette. The game brilliantly manages to mix in those darker tones in some parts, and there’s a certain feeling of dread when you’re greeted by some of the passive robots at the park.

Rust has taken over parts of this amusement park, and when 2B ventures down into the depths, the game decides to provide the player with endless android corpses, and a depraved robot with a twisted backstory. The robot’s design is terrific and haunting, and there’s much more where that came from.

The character design is superb, and 2B’s appearance alone has resulted in her being plastered across many gamers’ bedrooms. Her fashion sense is reminiscent of the popular Japanese Gothic Lolita style, and the camera often takes note of her short skirt. Still, it’s a strong look and it’s certainly helped shift copies of the game.

Yoko Taro’s discusses 2B’s design.

Whilst a lot can be said how NieR: Automata looks, its biggest strength might just be its soundtrack. Now having won several awards, it goes without saying that this is the best soundtrack that I have had the pleasure of listening to in years. It is simply phenomenal, and composer Keiichi Okabe has presented in the industry with one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.

Sure, it’s easy to cry hyperbole on behalf of this praise, but in all honesty, NieR: Automata’s music was one of the biggest things I took from my experience with the game. Composer Keiichi Okabe simply nails it throughout, as he perfectly ramps up the tempo for action sequences, whilst utilising more peaceful melodies which help reflect upon the quieter moments. In some cases, you really can’t separate specific moments from its music. It all fits so well.

Vocalist Emi Evans also provides NieR: Automata with her serene voice, which is added to a majority of the tracks. It’s all very haunting, and it fits perfectly into the tone of the game. Whilst I’ve never purchased a video game soundtrack on vinyl, now might be the time to change that.

Perhaps some gamers will have issues with trying to decipher its complex narrative, and that’s fine. It can be treated as a hack-and-slash visual snack, but it is fascinating to dive in deeper into Nier’s lore through multiple playthroughs and internet searches. Unfortunately for fans though, Yoko Taro has helped expand on the rich universe in unusual ways, exclusively to Japan.

Want to find out more about male androids? Well, there’s a stage play for that now. Thankfully, there are official translations of the novelisations available soon, but it’s a minor nuisance for fans who are so invested in the game.

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NieR: Automata shares weighty themes which are found in other popular Japanese media, such as Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Reportedly, Yoko Taro has cited Neon Genesis Evangelion as an influence, and that is clearly evident. Both display the same ideas, and they’re almost as bleak as each other. Of course, the parallels between the game and Ghost in the Shell are obvious, and the music also sounds similar.

Whilst the game tackles these heavy, underlying subjects, Yoko Taro likes to have some fun with some more unconventional ideas during the game. Want to make some money to purchase a specific upgrade? Well, you can sell sections of your heads-up display. If you’re desperate, for 28G you can even sell your operating system chip. Although it’s not recommended.

There are many moments littered throughout the game which will leave players wondering just what Yoko Taro was thinking, but that’s what helps make this game so distinguishable from the rest of the rubbish that gets released nowadays. It’s nice to be kept on your toes, and NieR: Automata just dares to be different.

NieR: Automata reminded me that video games can be art. It’s something I’ve always believed, but this video game is a strong argument for those who don’t believe the medium is more than cheap first-person shooters and pathetic iPhone applications. Yoko Taro has presented to the industry a weird and wonderful creation, and Platinum Games managed to bring his vision to life with exceptional gameplay.

If you do get the chance, check out NieR: Automata. It feels like it fell off the radar for some, but it needs to be experienced. Some gamers may not enjoy what Yoko Taro has offered out to the table, but I enjoyed every second of it. Apparently, work is already being done on a sequel, so here’s to seeing what’s next for our stupid, sexy androids.

Also, a word to the wise. The PC port hasn’t been updated since it was released. That means there are some framerate issues, display problems and a few glitches. This link below is a fan mod which should help clear some of those problems so you can go ride boars in full screen, on the highest settings.

https://steamcommunity.com/groups/SpecialK_Mods/discussions/3/1334600128973500691/

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Sonic Mania – Review

It may have taken them a long fifteen years, but Sega has finally released a Sonic the Hedgehog game that fans can be incredibly proud of. Developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, Sonic Mania is a true return to form for the blue speedball, receiving rave reviews almost everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, like the previous games, Sonic Mania revolves around stopping Dr Eggman (Robotnik) and collecting the Chaos Emeralds. As they attempt to thwart Eggman’s plans, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are thrown back into the past. Now it’s a race through time to save the day once again.

The game is similar in style to the original 2D platform games that the franchise is renowned for. Players are able to play as Sonic, Tails or even Knuckles in a variety of different acts. Some old favourites return with some grand redesigns, along with a small selection of shiny new zones.

Sonic Mania kicks things off with a stunning little animated short, and immediately this feels like a fresh start for the franchise. Known for his work on the recently cancelled Archie Sonic Mega Drive miniseries, Tyson Hesse lends a hand in animating this fun intro.

There’s a clear labour of love behind the game, as it’s even developed by a number of fans who are known in the community for their hard work on porting and creating their very own Sonic games. Once lead programmer Christian Whitehead approached Sega about this unique idea, the company decided to help publish it.

Thankfully, Sega made the right choice here. After so many previous pitfalls, Sonic Mania finally gets it right. It’s a superb piece of work, which can provide fans with hours of entertainment. Having recently finished the game, it’s safe to say that it should be recommended to those who have even fallen out with the hedgehog.

The zones have such a clever design to them, meaning that Sonic can traverse across any of the acts however the player wants. Due to the way some of them are designed, zones can be ended in various different ways. Don’t care for the water on a certain level? Get dry and travel to the highest parts of the map.

There’s a huge sense of nostalgia when Sonic is revisiting the old zones, but honestly, the new ones are where the game truly shines. For example, Studiopolis Zone showcases just how great the level designs are, and how the developers have managed to add their own flair to an old recipe. There’s so much detail to be seen as Sonic whizzes on by, so don’t hesitate to pause once in a while to admire the vibrant colours and unique designs.

If there’s any criticism to be made about the game though, it’s that we’ve seen some of these old acts before. The nightmare inducing Chemical Plant and Hydrocity zones make a return, along with that horrifying drowning countdown sound. It’s nice to revisit these zones with a fresh coat of paint, but there was a certain desire to see more new content, especially considering the fact they’re so well made.

Despite this minor criticism, it felt that Sonic Mania was severely missing its very own Ice Cap Zone, so no valid complaints can be made there. Bonus stages make a return again and unfortunately, there’s been no improvement here with collecting the blue spheres. There’s also the addition of the Special Zone, which can be accessed in hidden areas. Special Zones consist of chasing down a UFO, which is a welcome change of pace.

The enemies in Sonic Mania are pretty much the same as their predecessors, but there are a few surprise appearances throughout. Fans of the series will be happy to see a myriad of old faces, and some of the more keen-eyed gamers will notice references to forgotten games.

Players will notice the change in difficulty later into the game, and in one case the final boss in Oil Ocean Zone resulted in some short gameplay breaks. When all lives are lost in Sonic Mania, players have to start from the beginning of the first act. It’s not as harsh a punishment from the previous 2D games, but it’s suitable. Practice just makes perfect with these games.

Unfortunately, a small number of glitches hindered my progress throughout the game. So far, Sonic has managed to completely skip an act one boss, and also get himself perpetually stuck in the spinning motion during a boss fight, presumably for the rest of his life. This can be put down to the fact that the game is brand new so glitches like this can happen. Hopefully, these get fixed though, as other players are having issues.

The sprites have never looked better either, and they’re completely fluid no matter what Sonic is doing.  The same applies to the enemies and especially the boss battles, and Eggman’s creations are meticulously put together brilliantly. Hard work and dedication has been spent on bringing this game to life, and people familiar with sprites will end up blushing during the game.

Of course, Michael Jackson isn’t around to help contribute to the music in Sonic Mania (was he ever?), but it is without a doubt the strongest soundtrack in around 20 years. Whereas Sonic Adventure 2 had some decent songs, Sonic Mania provides some solid remixes and fresh tracks that fans will be already adding to their personal playlists.

Sonic Mania took around five hours to complete, but thankfully there’s an awful lot of replayability here. There’s a Time Attack mode, allowing players to finish the zones in the fastest time possible. Competition Mode makes a welcome return (first appearing in Sonic the Hedgehog 2), where players can race to the finish line.

As is the case with all Sonic games, players aren’t truly finished until all the Chaos Emeralds are collected. Medallions can also be acquired in the game, unlocking special features for different characters. Some will even notice that playing as Knuckles results in a different layout for one level.

For those who fond of the original 2D games, it’s certain that they’ll fall in love with Sonic Mania. It’s even a great starting point for the younger player, who will enjoy the fast-paced action. Considering just how cheap it is, Sonic Mania is great value for money, and it deserves to be played. Hopefully, Sega picks these developers once again, and we’ll see more of this sort of thing.

Sonic Mania is available on all platforms, and it’s a downright bargain. Although I claimed that there have been no well-reviewed Sonic games in fifteen years, I’ve admittedly left out the Sonic & All-Stars Racing games, which deserves recognition for being amazing. Sorry about that.

Loot Box City: Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

The sensitive subject of loot boxes was reviewed last week in a post regarding Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, and it appears that their model might be the new standard for video games. One bizarre example of this is the unnecessary inclusion of loot in the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game, which has raised important discussion amongst gamers.

Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros., the sequel to Shadow of Mordor was eagerly anticipated by a number of fans, due to the unique ‘nemesis’ system the game employed. However, the sudden implementation of loot in a single-player game has rightfully agitated and confused players.

This time around, Monolith Productions will allow players to purchase loot boxes which can contain a variety of XP boosts, flashy gear and even orcs. It’s a surprise to see that they can somehow fit huge orcs into small little boxes, but regardless, these digital items can be purchased with real money without any guarantee of winning specific items.

The whole scheme stinks of greed, but it brings up an important question regarding this industry. Are some developers and publishers enabling gambling for gamers of all-ages with this new model? And is it a fair system if it allows developers to continue producing free downloadable content after release?

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of companies that have absolutely no issues with this new structure, and one of the most egregious examples of this is showcased in the multiplayer game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in which skins are gambled with players all around the world.

Video game developers Valve introduced this new program a few years back and countless players have wagered items on several third-party websites, where ridiculous amounts of money have been exchanged. There’s hardly any regulation from Valve, who are allowing players of any age to take part in this shady gambling scheme.

Thankfully, a few publications have already picked up on Valve’s new business model, and the sheer level of profit is currently unprecedented. Unsurprisingly, some of these third-party sites really abuse the system, which is addressed by popular Youtuber h3h3productions, in this informative and entertaining video below.

It certainly feels like Valve is mostly to blame for this recent surge of ‘gambling’ though, as they first introduced a similar arrangement in their multiplayer game Team Fortress 2. A game which was renowned for having some of the best balance for a shooter was abruptly tarnished by digital hats, crates and an assortment of new weapons.

For some, including myself, it was enough to stop playing a game I had engaged with almost every day. New weapons were effectively changing the way people played, and this new fascination with cosmetic items in Team Fortress 2 felt a little peculiar.

Whilst Team Fortress 2 opened the floodgates, it was Overwatch which really put a strong focus on loot boxes, thanks to their seasonal events. As has previously been addressed, their loot boxes haven’t been well-received by a number of players. However, Blizzard Entertainment is making some positive changes, so it’s not all terrible over there.

There are other games that attempt the same model of Overwatch, and that means we shift our focus towards the massively disappointing Gears of War 4. The Coalition provided gamers with the option to buy ‘Gear Packs’, which can help with progressing through Horde mode, whilst supplying fans with special skins.

Not content with people buying the game and the season pass, The Coalition even announced a $100 loot box package which gamers could purchase! In addition to this, they restricted exclusive content for some weekends only, because they still want money from the few people that still bother with the game.

You simply can’t justify the pricing of a loot crate package costing around $100, and thankfully the questionable actions of some of these developers have already caught the interest of government bodies, such as the UK’s Gambling Commission.

With new regulations coming into play, it’s clear that there’s a growing problem here. It seems to be raising eyebrows everywhere else too, with Chinese gaming regulations forcing Blizzard Entertainment to reveal the drop-rates of their loot in Overwatch. The country already has issues with gaming addiction, so adding gambling into the mix is one hell of a nasty concoction.

Sure, there might be some gamers who are not personally affected by this, but it doesn’t change the fact that gambling is wrong on a fundamental level. It can deeply affect people in different ways, where younger players are more susceptible to such habitual, nasty habits.

For instance, studies from a leading UK survey company in 2015 have shown that 11% of respondents aged 11 to 15 years have gambled in online games, with 2% of them having done so in the past week. The number seems to be slowly expanding, which is a worrying sign.

It’s normalising gambling, which can lead to problematic issues further on in life. Young people can often feel rewarded for betting their money on these digital items, and that can have a hugely negative impact, leading them to believe it’s a completely normal activity without any risk involved.

Loot boxes appear to be replacing season passes and paid downloadable content now, and Overwatch is clear proof of that. These crates have paid the way for free content since its release, and even EA are now adopting the same model for their upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront sequel.

It’s amusing because EA’s season passes for the first Star Wars: Battlefront completely split the user base in half once substantial content was eventually released. The price of the pass also felt extortionate for a game that wasn’t even finished. So, in all honesty, the idea of scrapping passes is a welcome one.

 

source – kotaku (au)

Season passes need to be fine-tuned though, as gamers have been fooled into buying season passes by the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Gears of War 4, to name a few. For all the astounding work that CD Projekt RED has provided us with The Witcher 3, we’re still being supplied pathetic offerings from other companies.

Still, loot boxes just aren’t the answer to resolving this complicated problem with video games. Sure, some developers may vehemently disagree due to the sheer profit they’re making, but luckily gamers are beginning to stand up against loot. The exceptional PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has also recently introduced crates which have to be paid to open, and players are already showing their clear disdain for it.

It’s a massive shame that this is happening because PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has just become one of the most-played games on Steam, and despite this resounding success, the developers Bluehole still feel the need to slap loot crates into the game. Of course, servers are expensive and they need to be maintained for such a growing community of gamers, but there must be other ways to help finance further support for it.

So far, few games have managed to do it correctly. It’s possible, and that’s been proven with the original Mass Effect franchise and The Witcher 3. Significant downloadable content for those games has ultimately been worth the gamer’s time and money. Heck, even Nintendo, who are relatively new to the concept of DLC, have managed to set a decent standard with Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

There is a way to give gamers cosmetic items without having to find them in countless crates, and Titanfall 2 accomplishes just that. The game allows players to purchase specific skins and attributes for the entire roster, and so far it looks to be working. It’s all affordable, and obtaining unique animations keeps those Titanfall 2 devotees happy.

Loot boxes are soon becoming the new way to finance games after their release, and we’ll be seeing much more of it from the industry in years to come. If you don’t like it though, and you believe it’s supporting a form of gambling, then vote with your wallet.

Sure, your online character might not look as cool as the others, but then you’ll be happy with the knowledge that you didn’t waste your money on gambling for superficial items, so there’s that.

Overdone?

Now surpassing a staggering 30 million players worldwide, Blizzard Entertainment’s massive online shooter Overwatch has seen some of the strongest support in the industry today. It’s a magnificently polished video game, but now a year after its release has the game actually maintained gamer’s interest?

A thread I recently discovered on Reddit appeared to suggest otherwise. The question was posed to gamers whether they were still playing, and out of approximately 1,300 comments, the majority had stated that they had drifted away from the game. There were a number of reasons for this, such as users complaining that the game had grown stagnant, to the toxic community and timed events ruining Overwatch.

It was a surprising discovery and of course, it goes without saying that this is but a tiny fraction of gamers that have touched Overwatch. Blizzard’s colourful and entertaining shooter is loved by millions, but why do some gamers, including myself, feel completely burned out with the multiplayer game?

There might be a few reasons for this, but we’ll engage with the topic of loot boxes first. To continue free support for the game, Blizzard implemented a loot box system that allows players the opportunity to win new skins, emotes, sprays and voice lines for all characters. They all differ in rarity, and boxes can either be purchased in bulk lots or acquired by completing arcade modes and levelling up.

The loot box system was a welcome idea at first because it allowed us a new way to gain fancy items for favourite characters. These boxes are set to have random drops and if players are lucky enough, they’ll even discover a rare ‘Legendary’ skin inside one! Blizzard appeared to get the system correct, unlike other games that adopted the same method, such as the atrocious Gears of War 4.

However, when Blizzard decided to kick off their first season event for Overwatch, loot boxes quickly became a topic of concern with fans. Whereas all previous items could be purchased via in-game currency, the Summer Games event contained items which could only be found in loot boxes.

With the introduction of 112 items, players had to act quickly if they wanted the desired item, due to the timed exclusivity of the content. It was actually a decent first event, and it was clear that this was Blizzard simply dipping their toes into the ‘loot’ waters.

Blizzard listened to the community’s complaints regarding the exclusive skins, and following events were changed so gamers could purchase whatever item they could afford. Since then, there have been at least five different events with their own unique items. Some of those have been incredibly entertaining, such as the Halloween Terror and Uprising events.

Something started to happen with every new event though, and the community soon realised the exponential number of rare items that were getting included. Whereas the first event began with six legendary skins, the latest Anniversary event boasted a surprising eleven legendary skins, and 24 ‘epic’ emotes!

By all means, fans don’t need all of the items, but if collectors wanted all of those sought after skins, they would have to spend 33,000 of their hard earned credits. If they wanted the superb dancing emotes, at the cost of 750 credits each, it would set them back 18,000 altogether. Sure, some of us tried their luck with loot boxes, but then the drop-rate for the experience was exasperating.

In some instances, users were finding that the money they had spent on loot boxes resulted in severely disappointing results. Some of the wilder players that were spending upwards of £50-100 on boxes were finding that they only won three legendary skins in approximately 50 boxes. The whole event felt like a joke to those who wanted to collect the majority of the content, and you couldn’t blame them, as it was all brilliantly designed.

Of course, Overwatch’s skins and various offering are not essential to the enjoyment of the game. Unlike Team Fortress 2, they’re purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay, but the drop rates of loot boxes have still raised important discussion online. Has it been a fair system? Is Blizzard getting a little too greedy with how much-timed content they’re putting out?

It’s a tricky subject. Overwatch’s lead designer, the great Jeff Kaplan, has insisted that these events aren’t intended for gamers to manically collect everything in such a short amount of time. If they have a favourite character, then they should simply focus on getting their new accessories.

That’s a fair point of course, but then I didn’t acquire a skin for my favourite character until the last few hours of the timed content. Standard duplicates were constantly being found in the majority of my loot boxes, and it really soured the entire experience.

Despite how exhausting the loot boxes became, Blizzard Entertainment has actually listened to their community in regards to their events. There are some actual improvements on the way, with drop rates set to increase and the possibility of old skins making a return. That’s fine, but I can’t help but feel that those susceptible to gambling habits have been badly affected by Blizzard’s system so far.

It’s great that Blizzard listens so well to the community, but then that leads us to one of the more important reasons for not continuing to play Overwatch on a regular basis. The community in the game, especially in competitive mode, can be completely and unnecessarily toxic.

Sure, competitive gaming is notorious for bad behaviour, but then due to the anonymity, the desire to win, team gameplay and the dislike for some characters – people can get real nasty in Overwatch. It’s a massive shame, and I’m almost certain that almost everyone who has played competitive has experienced toxic behaviour in some form.

It’s disheartening to have someone yell down a microphone because they’re not happy with the state of the team or a character, or even if someone makes a simple mistake. Their ranking in competitive is so damn important to their lives that they will berate anyone who ruins their chance of climbing up the ranks.

Competitive mode on Overwatch has shown me just how fickle some people can be with video games, and on occasion, I’ve received abuse for not picking the character they want you to be. When you have teams consisting of 6 players, apparently there is just no room for error. Here’s a handy tip for those who suggest you be a healer, go to the character select option and pick Mercy. It’s as simple as that.

Judging by people’s opinion of the community, levels of toxicity are almost up there with League of Legends. In my countless hours of playing Team Fortress 2, there was hardly any abuse thrown around. Players were there to have fun, which some people appear to forget about during Overwatch.

Sure, it isn’t the only game to suffer from hateful players, but then the objective based gameplay just easily angers some folk. And to those who solo queue, you are some of the bravest souls who play Overwatch. Personally, the toxicity has completely put me off competitive, because it’s just not a nice environment to be in.

With so many playable characters and their whole host of abilities, tweaks are regularly needed to help balance gameplay in Overwatch. Unfortunately, some changes have affected the viability of certain characters in the game. The tank class has gone through some of the worst changes recently, with Roadhog mains getting the worst treatment to date.

Several changes have often had a number of negative effects, and players will remember that one time when Bastion became completely invincible for a short period of time. It’s weird that this is happening though, as Blizzard seems to regularly ignore the problems that testers raise. Mostly everybody cried about the Roadhog alterations, but nothing was done.

It certainly isn’t the worst thing that ever happens to Overwatch gamers, but in the past, one of my most played characters D.Va received a decrease in armour and a change to her damage. Suddenly, one of my regulars received an undesirable nerf that negatively impacted the way I play. These fluctuations for the game’s roster aren’t completely game-breaking, but it’s a slight annoyance that has occurred on numerous occasions.

Don’t get me wrong, Overwatch is a brilliantly made game. It has some of the best designs I’ve ever seen in a game, but it’s just not grabbing me the same way it used to. Unlike some users in the aforementioned Reddit thread, I don’t agree that the game is poorly made. Perhaps updates could extend to a little more than just a new hero or map every once in a while because entirely new modes might pique my interest again.

Blizzard has done a superb job with building a rich universe within Overwatch, and they have also provided us with some of the finest animated shorts as well. It begs the question though; where is our single-player mode? The interesting lore they have built upon needs to be made into a fully functional campaign.

Unfortunately, they have absolutely no plans for that anytime soon though, which is a shame considering how well the Uprising story went down with fans. The entire history of Overwatch could be explored and surely knowing Blizzard’s skills, it could be turned into an engaging story mode.

It’s a damn shame that I’m not finding myself returning to the game regularly, but then some of the points made earlier showcase why the game is currently collecting a thin layer of dust right now. It’s a solid piece of work, but the toxic community, the loot boxes, the nerfs and buffs and lack of any substantial update just isn’t bringing me back anytime soon.

At the moment, I’m currently finding myself enjoying Titanfall 2’s crazy multiplayer modes and the new season of Diablo 3. Sorry Overwatch, I do like you; we’re just taking a break right now.