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#52Games52Weeks 1 – X-Men: Destiny

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Game: X-men: Destiny
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Activision

I can remember the exact moment I bought X-Men: Destiny. It was in January 2014 when shopping “up ‘anley duck” (a Stoke-on-Trent phrase for you there) that I found a PS3 copy of the game sitting in the bargain bin of CEX. I had read a report that morning that stated all unsold copies of the game were to be destroyed and how the game was going to be pulled from all digital stores because of a dispute between developers Silicon Knights and Unreal Engine 3 owners Epic. I thought to myself, “Hey, this game could be a collector’s item in a few years’ time” and paid £8.99 for the privilege of putting the game into my pile of shame. I’d never even open the box.

Until this week, that is – and I kind of wished I had left it shut.

The rocky road of development that X-Men: Destiny went down is well documented (Extra Reading: Kotaku – Building a Bad Game and a response to this article by then Silicon Knights head, Denis Dyack). The game was well into development before Marvel were bought by Disney and after the comic giant joined the House of Mouse, there were claims that the budget for the game was slashed. There are also reports from anonymous sources which claim to be ex-Silicon Knights employees that X-Men: Destiny was playing second fiddle to the development of the actually-better-than-the-original Eternal Darkness 2. There is plenty of hear ‘say about what went wrong with X-Men: Destiny but one thing is for sure – Something DID go wrong.

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I don’t agree with the 2/10 review scores the game received (I have played a lot of games far worse than X-men: Destiny). It’s linear, the combat quickly becomes repetitive and the visuals are as bland as David Cameron’s personality, but I don’t think the game is actually that bad. It’s the wasted potential that really lets this game down. For example, at the start of the game you get to choose a mutation – Shadow Matter, Density Control or Energy Projection. While this might seem like a huge choice to make, the only effect this has is on the combat, which is one of the weakest aspects of the game. Choosing to have a Shadow mutation doesn’t mean you will be ghosting in and out of shadows to get around obstacles. Having mastery over Matter Density doesn’t allow you to punch your way through walls. It just means there is a different visual effect on your attacks. What. A. Waste.
Then, there is the plot. The official press release for the game promises a “branching storyline that features a deep element of choice and gives players ultimate control of their destiny!”. To call this an outright lie would be wrong. The storyline, written by Mike Carey, the mind behind X-Men: Legacy, is an engaging plot for X-Men fans and there are some elements of choice. It’s just that these choices make so little difference to the game play and plot that you wonder why you bothered making them at all. During numerous junctiors of the game, you get to choose whether you side with Cyclops and the X-Men or Magneto and The Brotherhood of Mutants. Rather than a Telltale-esque decision that directs you down a branch of a story tree, these choices only effect who you will aligned with in the fights ahead. Pick the X-Men. Fight alongside Nightcrawler. Pick the Brotherhood. Fight alongside Pyro. You still head down the same enemy filled corridors, it’s just with somebody else. It’s like choosing between Strawberry and Chocolate Ice-cream and regardless of what you pick, getting Vanilla instead. More wasted potential.

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Even the top class voice acting (with a bunch of the cast of Wolverine and the X-Men reprising their roles, including Nolan North as Cyclops) and some impressive boss battles can’t save X-men: Destiny from mediocrity. Somewhere, along the winding road of development, X-men: Destiny fell off the wagon. What it could have been, and the potential of what it should have been, never materializes. After playing through the game twice, I can put it back on the shelf and can only hope that one day in the future, mediocre X-Men games become a niche and I can flog it on to a collector of rare games. Let’s just hope that the next 51 games are more interesting than this one.

If you would like to join me in attempting to play and complete 52 games in 52 weeks, let us know about your achievements on twitter by using the #52Games52Weeks hashtag.

If this is your first visit to the #52Games52Weeks challenge, check out the details here.


The #52Games52Weeks Challenge Week Zer0: The Brief

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A few days ago, I finally finished* Fallout 4 and earned the Platinum trophy. Yay. Go me. It’s a wonderful feeling, to “finish” something – to ring a game dry of every drop of enjoyment you possibly can and unlock that coveted Platinum trophy at the end of it. It’s a feeling I had missed during 2015, a year that had been so busy – with this site, with my new job, the arrival of my 4th child and getting married – that of the 62 games I purchased during the year, I only managed to “finish” 7 of them.

For myself (and for many more of you reading this I’m betting) buying games has become a more regular occurrence than finishing them these days. We all have our “pile of shame” – those games we have bought, started and not gone back too or, even worse, never even opened. Still wrapped neatly in their cellophane. The shame of it…

Well NO MORE!!! 2016 is going to be different. 2016 is going to be the year that I complete the games I buy. It’s going to be the year that I tackle that pile of shame, one game at a time, and I want to invite you to do it with me…

Allow me to introduce the #52Games52Weeks challenge. That’s right. I’m serious about this. For the next 12 months (and possibly beyond), I am going to “finish” a game every. Single. Week. It could be old, something I have been holding on to for years but have failed to find the time for, or it could be the new hotness. These games might be huge RPG’s I abandoned after a few hours or they might be short, story driven titles – I’m going to try and strike a balance.

My self-imposed rules:

·         I’m not allowed to buy a new game until I have finished one I already own.

·         A game is “Finished” when I have done everything I can do before the game stops being enjoyable – but I have to finish the main story path if a game has one.

·         I have to write about each and every game I play which will be published on a Friday. Every Friday.

Now, I am under no illusions that this is going to be easy. It took me 72 hours to “finish” Fallout 4 and, in real terms, that took me just shy of 2 months between work, family and doing those essential things like eating and sleeping. It’s going to be tough to complete a single game each week, but I want to invite you on this journey to complete as many games as you can this year, and every year after, rather than buying things we never play.

If you want to get involved, use the #52Games52Weeks hash tag on Twitter or Facebook and I will include your accomplishments on the weekly Friday post. Alternatively, just add a comment to the site and I can grab it from there. Spread the word, get your friends involved, have a competition to see who can complete the most games in a year. It’s about time we appreciated those games we own rather than covert those that are still to be released or are the flavour of the week.

52 weeks. 52 games. Let’s do this.

Join me on 15th of Jan for Week 1 of #52Games52Weeks – Xmen: Destiny

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The Six: Video game schools you REALLY wouldn’t want to go back to

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Today signifies the day that the kids of the UK have been dreading (and parents have been praying for) for the past 6 weeks. It’s Back To School day. The collective groans and grunts of dissatisfaction were heard from all corners of the country but it could be worse. In fact, it could be a lot worse as the attendees of these 6 video game schools will attest too. Read More

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Opine: The lack of a Star Wars Battlefront campaign isn’t necessarily a bad thing

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The Star Wars Battlefront reveal was fantastic. The in-engine trailer is the perfect aperitif to whet the appetite for the games November release but a few additional game details have made some feel like Sarlacc fodder, namely the lack of a single player campaign, opting for a multiplayer focus with “crafted missions” similar to those found in Titanfall.

Hearing the news that there would be no single player story campaign in Star Wars Battlefront initially left me feeling a little cold, sharing the same sentiments as above. Why cut out an entire demographic wedge of single player enthusiasts by not including a plot to the game? It didn’t make much sense but after sitting and mulling it over, there are few valid reasons why it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not going to try to apologise for the games lack of single player content (because I would have preferred its inclusion myself) but here are a few reasons why a lack of a campaign might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Firstly, the Star Wars fiction, at least the canonical universe, is in a state of flux. With everything but the films, the Clone Wars & Rebels TV series’ and the few stories confirmed via the HoloNet News retconned shortly after the transition from Lucas to Disney, there is very little left to base an original plot on that has not already been done before. Disney are being very precious about what is officially considered “Canon” and the last thing they will want is more story lines that they will want to retcon later. While Star Wars Battlefront might have been a great opportunity and platform to launch new characters and plots, I imagine the minds at the head of the Star Wars table are not keen on adding more plates to their spinning act – plates which are not necessarily going to be played by a large portion of Star Wars fans. Disney know how well Marvels “it’s all connected” Cinematic Universe is working, primarily because it is all relevant to each of its other entities. Potentially splintering Star Wars’ fiction and heroes after recently streamlining it seems counter intuitive.

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Secondly, The Force Awakens hits the silver screen a matter of days after the release of Star Wars Battlefront. The game is being used as a warm up for the 7th Star Wars film rather than a complement and a plot may spoil the secrets that the next film has up its sleeves if it was to include any meaningful and continuous plot.

Lastly, The Battlefront series has always been famous for a few things – the game play, the tight battles and iconic Star Wars locations – but not necessarily because of its single player content. The original game had a basic campaign which had you play through each of the games maps but with no story line to accompany it. The follow-up, Star Wars Battlefront II, did have a plot (that of a clone trooper in the 501st) but was constrained to the locations and battles of the Clone Wars, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. It appears that the new Star Wars Battlefront has free itself from the shackles of a single character narrative and will span as many locations and battles as possible across all of the canonical Star Wars universe. Gaming has change drastically since the last Star Wars Battlefront game released in 2005. Online multiplayer has become an almost essential aspect of most games before a large portion of the gaming community will consider a purchase. In a world where a Call of Duty title can sell tens of millions of copies and only ~30% of players ever complete the single player campaign over the space of several years (stats taken from Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 2) and less than 5% ever complete it on the “Hardened” mode, is it worth a developer’s time and money? Especially when the series you are working on is not exactly well-known for its campaign missions? It seems that DICE and EA think not.

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It’s a disappointment that Star Wars Battlefront won’t feature a dedicated original plot or single player campaign but I am more than willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt until it is released. We might look back in December and think “Wow. Can you imagine if Star Wars Battlefront had a single player campaign? What a mistake that would have been”.

Opine: Driveclub, Destiny, #GamerGate and the ever growing irrelevance of reviews

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It has been 7 months since Paul and I started PSGamer.co.uk and in that time, our team has written reviews for over 60 games. Our aim has always been to be informative, subjective, honest and entertaining but during the first few weeks of #GamerGate, while trying to decipher the situation for myself, I stumbled across the search for the mystical “objective review” which cause me to do some reflection. I became quite fascinated by what this actually meant and what it would look like. I didn’t think a review could be entirely objective (with the dictionary definition of “review” being “a critical appraisal of a book, play, film, etc. published in a newspaper or magazine”), a sentiment that many mirrored.

While jesting about Jim Sterlings 100% Objective Review, one #GamerGate supporter that had overheard our conversation in a bar joined us and said something which struck a chord with me;

Forget the ethics and the feminism, I only want objective reviews because in the world we live in, I can make my own mind up.

He went on to explain that his involvement in #GamerGate was on the peripheral and he was only contributing because he was against bias reviews (something he thought had become more common in recent years) and thought a lot of the other components of #GamerGate were, in his own words, “daft”. He explained that the only time he ever read reviews was when a game had not had a very good pre-launch PR campaign and the majority of games that he was interested in had almost daily trailers and developer live streams. He continued by saying that he was only interested in the facts and the technical performance of a game because he already knew what titles he would be considering and wasn’t interested in knowing whether a reviewer was upset by the sexuality of a character or if there were not enough females (he wanted to make his own judgements on such things). He was adamant that the current review process needed to change.

After a conversation that went on through the night, we parted as new friends who agreed to disagreed and have stayed in touch since and after many more heated debates about the subject, we finally agree on something – reviews shouldn’t be objective but they do need to change.

We have now a year into a new generation of console gaming and it is one that is drastically different from the last. Its landscape is filled with titles that are constantly evolving thanks to their connectivity and updates – something which PC gamers have been accustomed too for a while thanks to Early Access. Patches can change a buggy mess into a fully functioning game over night. Multiplayer modes can change regularly without the need for downloads and gameplay can be tweaked on the fly through hotfixes. While games are becoming a more fluid experience, often changing dramatically in the months after release, the same review system that became the standard in the 1980’s is still in use.

Destiny

Bungie’s recent space epic Destiny is a great example of how the current review system fails. Within the first week, a plethora or reviews for the game landed which were highly critical or less than complementary. IGN gave it a 7.8/10 stating “too many of the… other promises are left unfulfilled”. Destructoid were less forgiving with a 6.5/10 but hinted at a brighter future as long as “more social features are added, loot is improved, and new content keeps coming”. Giant Bomb, Polygon, Game Spot and The Escapist all gave Destiny 6/10 and all mentioned the need for tweaks and improvements. We gave it a 7.5 out of 10 because we believed it was “not the all consuming life affirming masterpiece we were so convinced it would be”.

Since these reviews were written, Destiny has undergone many changes. The loot system was revamped. New multiplayer modes were added into the rotation. Xur has delivered more unique gear each and every weekend. The first DLC expansion has landed. New strikes and raids are available. Have any of these reviews been update in the wake of these changes? No. Even though most of these sites published at least one Destiny related story per day for the month after the games release, the reviews have not been re-visited since they were posted. Any players that venture into Destiny will find that a lot of the original criticisms have been addressed by Bungie making these reviews unhelpful and in some cases, untrue.

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The same can be said about Evolutions PS4 exclusive DRIVECLUB. While some reviewers simply didn’t like the game, others enjoyed what they played but subsequently reduced their review score because of the hit-and-miss server stability and connectivity woes. Polygon originally give the game a 7.5 with a caveat that they had had minimal time with the online portion of the game. 7 days later, they reduced the score to a 5/10 stating “It’s a shell of the game it’s supposed to be. As such, we’re updating our Driveclub score until such a time as we have evidence that the game’s servers are consistently up and running.” 2 Months later and the game’s online components are now greatly improved and the dynamic weather, Photo Mode and Challenges have been added – but have Polygon revisited the review to update the score? No. Anyone who reads Polygons review will still be under the impression that the game’s online components are broken, which is not the case, and will have no information about the updated Weather or Photo Mode – and their review is not the only one that needs to be revisited (including our own).

These are only 2 examples of the many times that reviews have let down consumers in the past year. The Assassins Creed Unity reviews before and after the glut of patches, the LittleBigPlanet 3 reviews that didn’t take into consideration the huge Day 1 patch and so many more have been misleading – not on purpose but because the review is outdated shortly after they are published.

It is an almost impossible task for one site or publication to re-review each game in its library each time they have an update and this is an obvious difference between the evolution of gaming and the standard review format that has been around for 20 years. While games are now a more fluid entity, regularly changing via updates, reviews stick to the same formula that worked when a game would release and it would be a static product. Reviews are only true as of when the moment the author wrote them and unless they are updated they become discourteous and meaningless. The review process needs to change.

My #GamerGate friend has said on many occasions that he finds that watching a live stream is much more helpful than reading a review and the further into this new generation of consoles we get, the more games that become an evolving entity, the more relevant this will become. The notion of a traditional review will have to change – into what exactly, I am not sure – but when we get to the point that a developer can continuously add new content, tweak and change aspects daily or even when 2 players will have completely different experiences with a game (thanks to procedural generation), it is hard to see what use a traditional review will be. What the next evolution of critical appraisal will be will probably be decided by people far more intelligent and important than myself, but even across the ethical divide of #GamerGate it is obvious that change is needed in order for reviews to continue to be a useful in a gaming landscape that is ever-changing.

Opine: The Xbox One will “win” Holiday 2014 but has played its hand too early, PS4 to dominate 2015

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PS4 owners have become accustomed to hearing good news when it comes to console sales. For the past 10 months the NPD figures have shown Sony’s machine to be sitting on top in terms of month and total sales in the US and the same can be said about analysis of the state of play in the EU. Even though the PS4 has been dominant for the majority of the past year, the Xbox One has been seeing a change of fortunes as of late and it is now challenging the Wii U for second place in terms of total sales and the PS4 in the monthly sales arena. Microsoft have been making all the right moves by dropping the Kinect and optimising the UI, trimming the price, throwing in free games and releasing several holiday window exclusives – Sunset Overdrive and Halo: MCC. xbox-one-vs-ps4The Xbox One is finally building up some momentum and depending on how Black Friday pans out, the NPD results for the next few months may show a changing of the guard at the top of the monthly sales chart – but Microsoft have played their hand too soon and unless they get out their cheque book, the Xbox One will be resigned to third place by the end of 2015.

Up until now, this console generation has been dictated by two things – momentum and public perception. While Sony was getting their console into a position that potential customers could get behind by hitting all the right notes, Microsoft blundered their way through the Xbox One announcement, stumbled at the launch and made a general hash of their consoles first 3 months at market. DRM, Kinect requirement, Always Online, the same archaic indie game policies it employed for the Xbox 360. Microsoft and Phil Spencer have crossed these issues off the list, one by one, and the Xbox One is now not that much different from the PS4 (unless you are a fan of grass) and has been that way for months. Unfortunately, for Microsoft at least, the console had very little momentum behind it for the first 6 months of its life span. The “must have” console has been the PS4, not due to its exclusives (although it has had some fantastic exclusives this year), its UI or services, but because of the price, the momentum and that public perception that the PS4 is the “better” games console.

Microsoft have been desperate to change this perception and to put some momentum behind the Xbox One, pushing their exclusives with extensive advertising, making “accidentally on purpose” social media blunders and releasing press releases that the majority of gaming media outlets have dutifully regurgitated (even though a little investigation would prove they were nothing but spin) – and a portion of gamers have been lapping it up. In their desperation, Microsoft have made some moves that probably would not have made otherwise and it is going to cost them in 2015.

 

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-665x385First up, the release calender. The Xbox One is not light on exclusives titles that are slated to land in 2015. Crackdown, Quantum Break, Fable Legends, Halo 5, Psycho-Pass, Sword of Legends, Nero, Cuphead, Screamride, State of Decay and Super Time Force are joined by the timed exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Inside, Below, Space Engineers and Superhot. While that list sounds impressive, Sony are lining up a stellar year of console exclusives (which amounted to 44 exclusives when I wrote up a list) – Bloodborne, Tearaway Unfolded, Wander, H-Hour, Uncharted 4, Toren, The Order: 1886, OlliOlli 2, H1Z1, Until Dawn, Let It Die, Alienation, Shadow of The Beast, The Tomorrow Children, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Axiom Verge, VisionEck, Wild, Rime, Hellblade, Magicka 2, SNOW, Not A Hero, Ratchet & Clank, ABZU, Hollow Point, Persona 5, Project Phoenix, Alone With You, Runemaster, Salt & Sanctuary, Moonhunters, Bombshell and more are joined by the timed console exclusivity of No Man’s Sky, Broforce, The Talos Principle, SOMA, DayZ, The Witness, Skara and Titan Souls. One list is obviously more impressive than the other and this doesn’t even take into consider the exclusive console content the PS4 is getting for some of the biggest multiplatform games of next year such as Arkham Knight and Mad Max. The other thing to note is that the PS4’s exclusives are spread out through out the year with some of the titles, such as Bloodborne and The Order: 1886, are releasing almost unopposed. After a lacklustre final quarter of 2014 with only LittleBigPlanet 3 and the troubled Driveclub on offer in terms of notable exclusives, the PS4 is kicking off 2015 with a bang and is not relenting, with exciting exclusives mixed with niche appeal smaller titles releasing every month.

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Of course, there is a possibility that Microsoft have a horde of unannounced titles just waiting in the wings – except Mircosoft have already played their hand. In there desperation to make the Xbox One look like an attractive proposition, they have announced the projects that almost all of their first party studios are working on. Black Tusk are working on the next instalment of Gear of War, 343 are working on Halo 5, Lionhead have Fables, MS Studios are working on Phantom Dust and Crackdown (in collaboration with a third-party). The only first party studios that have projects which are still a mystery are Turn 10 (that are more than likely working on the next Forza), Rare (that we can only hope have been let out of Kinect-hell and are allowed to make the next Banjo Kazooie), Team Dakota (of Project Spark fame) and Mojang. The only way that Microsoft can expand their library of upcoming exclusives is to get out their cheque book and either buy more studios or fund some exclusivity. On the other side of the fence, SCESony have a lot of surprises to unveil. Naughty Dog’s team 2 (The Last of Us), Media Molecule, Guerilla (both Amsterdam and Cambridge), Santa Monica, C.A.M.P., Team Gravity, Bend, Foster City, London and Sucker Punch all have projects under way, at various stages of development, that are unannounced.

Microsoft are likely to “win” the holiday season of 2014. Their recent slew of exclusives, the temporary price drop (that will probably become permanent in January) and plenty of positive press means that the Xbox One is finally looking like a console worth investing in. Unfortunately, unless they have huge secrets up their sleeves (and we are talking Shenmue 3 or Half Life 3 proportions here), 2015 is set to be owned by the PS4. All of that positive momentum will dissipate as the consoles opposition step it up a gear and leaves the Xbox One in their dust.