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Out of Sync

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I am feeling a bit out of sync gaming-wise. On Tuesday, while the entire gaming world played Titanfall, I was playing Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare. Also a great game, but not this week’s news. In fact, I was trying to catch up to my sons who are now level 20 or 30 in PvZ GW. Much like Titanfall, Plants vs Zombies is suffering from connection issues. Titanfall’s server problems seem to be from the crush of players trying to get on. The issues with PvZ seem more sporadic.

In any case, as a parent I am happy to see my boys playing Garden Warfare. It is a breath of innocent fun. It makes the transition from 2d to 3d while maintaining the spirit of the original. Although I allow my eldest son to play more mature games including Dead Rising 3, I appreciate that he prefers Garden Warfare. Dead Rising 3 is a sick but fun slaughterfest and there are few substitutes when you are in the mood for that type of game. But some scenes, especially those of the psycho boss battles include material that is truly deviant and I am happy that he did not play those sections.

My copy of Titanfall should arrive tomorrow and I will undoubtedly spend untold hours playing online. It seems as though the entire gaming world is turning on Call of Duty. Years of complaints about lagging, modding, cheating and unrealistic gun capabilities have added up and created a frustrated gaming population. Perhaps the situation is simply that there is an enormous audience of people who want to play the premier first person shooter and despite Battlefield‘s best efforts, COD ruled. Until now. Titanfall certainly has the developer pedigree and the right backstory, but it’s time to see how real the claims and hype truly are. I hope they don’t disappoint.

Titanfall Beta

Titan lineup

The Titanfall Beta will end tonight and we will all have to wait a few weeks for the game to come out on March 11. It has proven to be a big hit with my friends and colleagues. It has fared well in the inevitable comparisons to the Call of Duty series. This should come as little surprise as the game’s developer, Respawn Entertainment, was the developer of the Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 editions of COD (as Infinity ward), two of the series’ best loved games.

Unlike COD and Battlefield in which users benefit enormously from past play and specific experience with maps, weapons and combat techniques, Titanfall is easy to pick up and quick to advance. As there is no prone position and no auto-aiming, there is little camping and no quick scoping. For those of us who enjoy a “run and gun” style of play, this is huge. The increased mobility, both two and three dimensionally especially when combined with the enhanced speed make for a fun and thoroughly engaging experience. Playing with my twelve-year old son is also a better experience than online multiplayer COD as the audience is not as openly rude if you happen to forget to mute everyone. Although the game is non-stop action and is as violent as any other FPS, the inclusion of the Titans and the style of gameplay somehow make the killing less ultra-realistic and somehow by proxy less horrific.

For an excellent in-depth discussion of the beta and the game, please visit Gamespot’s Titanfall: The Pros Weigh In

The Calm Before the Storm

Bordelands 1000OK, its true. I have been a bit obsessed with Borderlands and Borderlands 2 and although they are fantastic games, I must admit that one cannot survive on badassitude alone. Mind you I am not stopping until my current character, the Mechromancer, is at least level 50. I have already played the Siren and Commando to levels 40 and 35. But I need something else. So why not play Grid 2? I have made it through four seasons and the game difficulty level certainly has stepped up. The competition online is always fun as well. I was really enjoying World of Tanks until the beta servers had issues last week and the game came to a screeching halt. It is back online now but all settings were reset and progress erased. And yes, there are several game apps that still keep my engaged, The Simpsons Tapped Out and the new Plants vs Zombies 2, not to mention Scrabble of which I am a true devotee. But it’s not the same.

But we all see the big wave coming. The new consoles, whichever you choose or especially if you get both, will start a spending tsunami as it will be difficult to decide where to spend your money first.

I have preordered an Xbox One, so my game selections are all for this console. Call of Duty Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Forza 5 and Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag are all must-haves, since I have played almost every iteration of those games and they are amongst my favorites. Certainly there are many advantages and improvements that the new consoles are touting and that game developers are all exploring to make full use of the new technology. Each game has so many improvements that you really need to visit each one’s website and learn more.

Yeah, I can’t wait to try out the enhanced character customization in the new Call of Duty and look forward to advances like the dual focus scopes, but what I am happiest about are the dedicated servers that hopefully will do away with issues that plague the current game. This new one really does look good.

Battlefield 4 has many new features including the new Commander Mode which allows players to oversee and support their team from a console, tablet or PC. The environments are so rich and complex and the level of multiplayer combat that can be achieved is staggering. I also welcome the Battlefield series’ dedication to be more realistic than its competition, although I must admit that the inherent difficulty that accompanies this realism is not always something I wish to take on. Then there are the destructible environments or what they call “Levolution” which allow players to dramatically change the playable space by destroying skyscrapers and splitting aircraft carriers.

I have spent more time playing games in the Forza series than any other and as a true car lover I am getting Forza 5 on day one. Apart from being a driving simulator, probably still the best one too, this game allows you to be a part of car culture in ways that no other even seriously tries. I love both the Grid and Dirt series, but they do not feature the ability to collect and augment your car collection. Where else can I see a car in a film or on the street and run home and recreate it exactly on the Xbox? Or buy a design that someone else posted? Where else can I see the detailed interiors and exteriors of the world’s most expensive and exclusive cars? And with the level of detail available using the new console, this game will be even better. Adding the Spa Francochamps track and bringing back Laguna Seca prove that Turn 10 knows its audience. Throw in the Top Gear exclusives for insight and humor and the Forzavista mode for pure car photography that borders pornography and there is no way that car lovers can NOT buy this game. Plus the reveal trailer shows racing through Prague. Did I mention that I was born there?

I have played all of the Assassin’s Creed games and thoroughly enjoyed each. My personal favorite being Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood mainly for its amazing locations and for Ezio Auditore, of course, who many believe is the strongest of all of the series’ characters. Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag features seamless transitions between ship and walk/run modes which results in much smoother gameplay. The new environments take full advantage of the new consoles graphic capabilities. The attention to historical detail, a mainstay of the series and what make it so unique, is illustrated in everything from the characters to their weapons and clothing, the towns and islands and the ships. Much like reading a good novel, playing a game in this series always encourages me to learn more about that point in history. I can think of no other game that can make that claim.

Now for me, playing those four games is a given, but one of the games I am most eager to try is Tom Clancy’s The Division. The plot line of The Division may be familiar but the execution seems to be top-notch. The trailers that have been presented thus far show this to be another strong contender in the now crowded open-world RPG sandbox arena. The graphics look fabulous as does the attention to environmental detail. The ability for players to join in and play together in various ways and from various devices, similar to Battlefield 4’s Commander Mode, is also enticing. The user interface is beautiful as is the way players gain information from the environment. Add to that the destructible environments, impressive lighting and particle systems and the ability to run through a post-apocalyptic New York City and you have another game that I must have on day one.

And I haven’t even mentioned TitanfallDestiny or Ryse, all of which look amazing. I will save those for another post. You know what we really need? Borderlands 3. Do I really have to wait until 2015?

The Multiplayer Experience

L1020022-1000The world of gaming is vast and offers a different experience depending on the type of game you play and with whom you play. There are so many fantastic single player games that are well-written and beautifully scripted that one can easily spend all of their time being the star of their own action film. But multiplayer games offer a different level of excitement and interaction.

I am a fan of the single player modes of the blockbuster series like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect and Far Cry. I nearly always play the single player first, although I play the multiplayer modes before finishing the single player experience. There are games such as Battlefield and especially Call of Duty, where diving into multiplayer sessions becomes a daily event. This was also true for me with Mass Effect 3 for a while, but as much as I love them, for some reason not with Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry.

Racing games are another situation completely. As I have mentioned in the past, I am an avid player of the Forza, Grid and Dirt series and even try my best at F1. In each of these, I spend countless hours playing both the single player and then the multiplayer aspects of the games. Forza definitely excels in this arena with the most robust and interesting variety of race types and locations in my opinion. I have also played many of the Need for Speed games although I always prefer the driving feel of the cars in Forza and the Codemasters games. The racing game you play decides much of the type of experience you can expect. The Codemasters games (Dirt, Grid, F1) are very popular with European and Australian audiences and it is often difficult to find enough players at times that someone on the East Coast of the U.S. may want to play. The intensity level of the competitors also ranges widely from game to game. Some games have loyal and dedicated followers who know the tracks and cars so well that newcomers will find it frustrating. I have also found that the level of sportsmanship you can expect to find varies greatly.

L1020027-1000Civility is also something that varies greatly from game to game. I play Facebook Scrabble with a dozen or so strangers at a time. Some of these players have been playing a non-stop series of games with me for years now. A few have proven to be the most polite and thoughtful people with the highest degree of sportsmanship that one can find. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the small-minded, bigoted and homophobic players that dominate the world of Call of Duty. As much as I enjoy this game, it seems to attract people, especially males, who seem to think it clever and amusing to display behaviors that on the street would get their asses kicked. Some sport in-game logos that refer to the N word and contain various homosexual put downs. The comments made by players in this game particularly almost always require me to mute players that I do not know. It is a sad realization of the stereotypes that non-gamers have of the gaming world. My sister is an avid gamer and owns all of the major consoles. She maintains that the Playstation audience is better behaved and less offensive than that of the Xbox community, even within the same game. I understand that the Xbox community is considerably larger and it makes sense that it attracts all types of players, but it is a sad fact that people (of all ages by the way) act this way in public.

There have been many times when neighborhood kids or family members drop in and we decide to all play a game together. This typically leads us to the realization that there are not many games that allow for three or four players on the same Xbox. There are arcade games, many of which are turn-based that allow for four players on the same box, but the total that allow for four on a screen are much less. We often play Castle CrashersSonic & SEGA All Star Racing or play a round of local combat training in Call of Duty. We used to play the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games often, but over time the guitar controllers have all become faulty. It is a shame because “getting the band back together” was really fun. Maybe it’s time to buy some new controllers.

If you know of great multiplayer games that allow for three or more players on the same Xbox, please let me know using the form below. If you have favorite multiplayer games (or games with multiplayer modes) that I have not mentioned, please send me your thoughts and I will follow up in the coming weeks. All comments welcome.

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