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The Xbox One at One – Part One

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It has been a year since the release of the Xbox One and it seems time to review what the new platform has offered and how it fared. The list below are Xbox One titles that my family and friends purchased and played over the last twelve months as well as their respective review scores from IGN and Gamespot. There are a many things of interest to note.  Overall, Gamespot rates games lower than IGN but the ratings are consistent except for the freakishly low 6 for Destiny from Gamespot. I cannot explain why they alone seem to find that game lacking. Other than that anomaly however, the games all enjoyed high ratings and popular success. I cannot pick a loser in this bunch. Each delivered what it promised and looked great doing it.

Date Title IGN Rating Gamespot Rating
November 2013 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag 8.5 9
Battlefield 4 8.5 8
Call of Duty: Ghosts 8.8 7
Dead Rising 3 8.3
Forza Motorsport 5 8.8
February 2014 Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 7.8 7.5
March 2014 Titanfall 8.9 8.6
May 2014 Watch Dogs 8.4 8
Wolfenstein: The New Order 7.8 8
September 2014 Destiny 7.8 6
Forza Horizon 2 8.3 8
November 2014 Assassin’s Creed Unity 7.8 7
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare 9.1 8
Far Cry 4 8.5 7

What were our favorites? It depends who you ask. My kids loved Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare and expressed fleeting admiration for Forza Horizon 2. For me, standouts included Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Titanfall both of which are solid and beautiful examples of their genres. All of the adult gamers agreed that Call of Duty: Ghosts suffered from the same issue as many titles in that series, lag. In the case of Ghosts, the issue is so severe that we don’t bother playing it anymore. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare seems to be a bit better behaved but I haven’t played in a few weeks. For me the Forza games are always a big hit and Forza Motorsport 5 and Horizon 2 are both the best in their respective series.

But the true standout for us all and the biggest surprise for all us as well is Destiny. In terms of total playtime since its launch, nothing comes close to our focus on Destiny. With the “The Dark Below” DLC about a week away, the new content will keep us busy for a while.

Selling Games

Video games are emotional. More emotional than most might expect, it turns out. True, there is always high drama in the scripts of today’s games regardless of genre, but that’s not what I am referring to. There is the excitement and happiness that you see and hear watching my boys play Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare or their newest favorite, Dungeon Defenders. And as I was recently informed by my family, I too get emotional (and loud) occasionally (ok, often) when playing certain games.

The recent launch of Titanfall (See? I went five whole sentences before mentioning it this post) is waist deep in emotions both on the side of the players who are quickly abandoning in droves their old favorite, Call of Duty, and on the side of the creators – Vince Zampella and his colleagues at Respawn Entertainment. The history behind Respawn according to Wikipedia:

On March 1, 2010, Activision amended its report with the Securities and Exchange Commission to add notification that two senior employees of Infinity Ward were being fired due to “breaches of contract and insubordination”. This coincided with Jason West (Infinity Ward president, game director, co-CCO, and CTO) and Vince Zampella (CEO and co-founder of Infinity Ward) editing their profiles on the website LinkedIn to list Infinity Ward as a former employer as of March 2010. Reportedly, a meeting between Zampella, West, and Activision staff occurred on March 1, after which neither Zampella nor West were seen; this was followed by the arrival of security guards at the studio.[1][2] It was later confirmed by Activision that West and Zampella had been dismissed, and had been replaced on an interim basis by Activision CTO Steve Pearce and head of production Steve Ackrich.[3]

On April 12, 2010 the Los Angeles Times reported that West and Zampella were forming a new independent gaming studio known as Respawn Entertainment.  As of July 10, 2010, 38 of the 46 Infinity Ward employees who resigned from that studio following the firings of West and Zampella revealed through their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles that they had signed on with Respawn Entertainment.[7][8]

In his article in the New York Times last week, “Acquiring Status as Big as Their Robots, Titanfall the Game Turns Designers Into Stars“, wrote:

Video game designers may be the world’s most anonymous creative professionals, at least among the makers of mass entertainment. That’s because game players tend to extend their loyalty to favorite franchises or proven studios rather than to individual designers.

But this isn’t always the case. Vince Zampella and his colleagues at Respawn Entertainment, a new studio founded by veterans of the military shooters Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, have quickly become celebrities in the industry. Last week, they released the year’s most anticipated and talked-about game, Titanfall, a multiplayer science-fiction shooter that pits people and giant robots against one another in a crucible of frustration, accomplishment and exhilaration that players describe with the word “fun.”

The marketing dollars and prowess of Microsoft, which is betting on Titanfall to help its Xbox One console overtake Sony’s PlayStation 4 in sales, have something to do with the newfound fame for Mr. Zampella and Respawn. Yet the faith that players have in the work of these designers — on titles like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty and, especially, the billion-dollar Modern Warfare series — has played a much larger role in the hype. The success of Respawn and the excitement over Titanfall represent one of the few times that a new studio has garnered considerable attention based on the reputation of its designers for doing good work elsewhere.

But there is another side of games apart from the emotion of the competition  – the camaraderie, the teamwork, the team. Many of my favorite game experiences have been in multiplayer games, many of those online. Recent games include Titanfall, Call of Duty Ghosts, Minecraft and Borderlands 2. So there is a sadness that creeps over me when I learn that one of my friends has sold a game that we could potentially play again. This has happened to me a few times lately, so I decided to ask a few questions. These include “Have you ever sold or traded a game?”, “How much do you typically get for games?” and “Have you ever regretted selling game later?”

Some of my friends shared the questions with their friends and the results are not surprising. Many have sold games in the past and continue to do so. The main reason is often financial, but storage space being limited in many cases keeping the number of games low is just a good idea. I can sympathize on both accounts. New games are not cheap and with the ubiquitous season passes adding $50 to so many popular games, they aren’t getting any cheaper. There is definitely something to be said for not having to look at games that you don’t care for cluttering up your shelves.

I do not sell my games. There are a few reasons for this and I will list them to quell your unbridled curiosity, but I am not really interested in starting a dialogue about whether it is good or bad to sell your games. It’s a decision that each must make for him or herself.

Typically when I buy a new game, I am not the only one who will play it. I have three sons who each like similar games but in the past have shown interest in varied games as well. Thus the chance that a game that I have completed will be played by someone else is very good. I can completely appreciate wanting to recoup some of the cost of gaming by selling games that I think I will no longer play or ones that I think are just terrible. The problem as I see it is that terrible games are not worth much to GameStop or Walmart or on eBay. And games that I think are horrendous on occasion end up being a family cult favorite (yes I’m talking to you Looney Tunes ACME Arsenal). The games that are worth something to resellers are ones that we are still actively playing.

This has been on my mind for some time and I would have let it go, but a few of my friends sold games that we all had purchased recently. I was a bit sad that Dead Rising 3 was among them, but when I heard that both of my friends had sold Forza 5 I had to write. Forza? Why don’t you just break the disc in half and stab me in the heart with it? My favorite game and you sell it? No, it’s ok. Everyone has to do what they think is right. I’m just getting a bit emotional.

 

 

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.

Zombies and Titans

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The new consoles have been out for two months now and the gaming audience that eagerly awaited the new batch of games has now completed them. We finished the single player campaigns in Call of Duty Ghosts and Battlefield 4. We sailed the seas as Edward Kenway and retired a happy family man in Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag. We help break up slave trafficking as Adewale in Freedom Cry. Sure, we are still playing though the racing leagues and leveling up in Forza 5 (over 50 now) and nearing time to prestige in COD (many already have long ago), but we need something new.

Forza Car packs help keep up the interest, especially when they include sexy Alfa Romeos and Maseratis from the sixties, but new tracks would be appreciated as well. The COD Onslaught expansion pack is also a welcome addition with not only four new maps but also the excellent new chapter for extinction mode as well as a new weapon. It is a little frustrating, however, that the new maps are not accessible in squads mode.

Every gamer that I speak with has the same question, “Where are the new games?” It seems as though there is a dearth of new titles, yet there are many available as you can see by the graphic at left.

A few of the titles that I am looking forward to most have been delayed including Tom Clancy’s The Division. Many of us are pinning our hopes on Titanfall, which I have heard is as good as we would hope. Apparently, Titanfall actually has dedicated servers, unlike other games that promised them and didn’t deliver. The multiplayer and extinction game modes in Call of Duty Ghosts are excellent but suffer from incredible lagging at times. The lagging in multiplayer is especially pronounced. If you are lucky to be on the favored side of the server you can have a great experience and usually do well in scoring. If you are on the less favored side, it is frustrating and repetitive. Apparently, the situation may have been made worse by an update to the game prior to the release of the Onslaught expansion pack.

And the situation is even worse if you are looking for a four-player family-oriented game. There are a few great four player games for the Xbox 360, many of which we enjoy whenever we play as a group. Castle Crashers, Bomberman, Mad Tracks and 3d Ultra Minigolf are some our favorites. We have not even needed to purchase more than two controllers for the Xbox One and it is not just due to the improved Kinect sensor – until now there was not a compelling game for more than two players (on one console). Plants Vs Zombies is a big hit in our house. We not only have the various versions of the game on Xbox 360 and more importantly on the iPads, but we also have plush and lots of it. Pea shooters, zombies, you name it.

As you can imagine then, we are looking forward to the release of Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare with great anticipation. It appears that the split screen mode exclusive to the Xbox One will only allow two players on a single console. As we only have a single Xbox One, this means that we will not be able to play this game with four people either.

Even sports games like NBA 2K14, Madden 25 and NHL 14 do not offer four player local split screen gameplay. There is a useful list of all four-player games available for the Xbox 360 at this Gamespot forum. I have not yet found such a list for the Xbox One console, but IGN does have a complete list of available games as well rumored games on their website.

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