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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.

Expectations

In my last post, I mentioned that “what you get out of the experience depends greatly on what you are expecting.” I have found this to be especially true in the case of the most recent three games I purchased.

Before I buy a game I read reviews and view trailers and gameplay samples. All three of these popular games are favorably reviewed, but much like any piece of art or entertainment, the mood of the audience greatly affects the way the piece is experienced. To illustrate, I will use the following three games: Forza Horizon 2, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel and Destiny and myself, my family and friends as the audience.

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Forza Horizon 2

To be completely honest, the first Horizon did not blow me away. While I am a huge fan of the main Forza series, I have always preferred driving games that focus on the realistic experience of driving as opposed to those that concentrate on the nightlife, street racing and party car culture. While I much preferred the original Horizon to any of the Need for Speed titles that I own, I still liked the on-track Forza 5 better. My sons, however, have always liked driving open world games, especially ones that allow the user to drive almost anywhere. That’s why they liked Test Drive Unlimited 2 and Driver San Francisco (though in truth its world is not entirely open). They all like Horizon 2, especially like the barn finds.

The new Horizon improves on the first in every way. The resolution and attention to detail both in the cars and the environments are impressive. The art direction, lighting and weather systems help elevate this game greatly in terms of its style and mood. In fact this game comes very close in depth of mood to my favorite of all – Colin McRae’s original Dirt. The gameplay is smooth, the handing is realistic and completely adjustable to match the user’s skill level. Horizon 2 takes all of Forza’s best features, the handling of the cars, the ability to make the game as easy or challenging as desired and allows you to drive some of the most exciting cars in beautifully crafted southern European settings. I mean who wouldn’t want to drive a vintage Ferrari through Tuscany?

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Borderlands The Pre-Sequel

Those of you who have read my posts before know that the Borderlands series is one of my personal favorites and I often mention its humor and its bravery in what the developers chose to include. So it is surprising that I have spent little time with the game thus far, something telling in itself.

How is it possible that the sequel to my favorite game is out and I am not playing it? Here it is: I am more interested in playing Destiny. Really? Destiny? A game made by the same studio that created the Halo series that I knock for not having a soul? Yes, things seem to have changed.

My sons also awaited the release of this latest version eagerly and have played more extensively than I. They defend the game and say that I need to give it another chance. I will do that, but I am not alone in feeling sluggish about this title. Some of the people I game with most often have echoed the sentiment.

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Destiny

So what is it about Destiny? The simple truth is that while it’s not a game that aspires to make you laugh, there are beautiful, quiet moments as well as intense firefights and overall, it is a great, solid game that keeps you coming back.

I have not played Titanfall since getting this game. I love Titanfall and have regenerated many times. In Destiny, I am on my third character, with a nearly level 28 hunter and a level 25 warlock and somehow even going through the story mode three times is not boring. I have assembled my own personal strike team and we play every chance we get. We are very much looking forward to the newly announced downloadable content pack, The Dark Below due to come out December 9th, regardless of the fact that as Xbox players we will not get access to all of the new material. Please see Destiny‘s New DLC Kinda Screws Over Xbox Players for details.

The Destiny season pass also includes the second scheduled DLC pack, House of Wolves, which should, along with special events like the Queen’s Wrath and Iron Banner, keep the game fresh and in active rotation while other new titles are released. Considering that the competition includes the well-reviewed Sunset Overdrive, not to mention Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, gamers everywhere will have their hands full and so will we.

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.

Titanfall Beta

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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

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.

Lava Lobsters vs the Xbox One

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Now that both new gaming platforms are out and the dust has had a chance to settle, I would like to give my early impressions. While some are focusing on the PS4 outselling the Xbox One worldwide and on the various hardware issues both platforms have had, I have not experienced any hardware issues with our new Xbox One. In fact, we love just about everything about it. The voice command and greatly improved Kinect are both welcome additions. Thus far, I have played Call of Duty Ghosts, Forza 5, Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag and think that each is well worth adding to your collection.

The first thing you notice are the graphic improvements in every game. Each has its own style and focus and collectively do a good job of illustrating the capabilities of the new technology. The next generation of games such as Tom Clancy’s The Division and Titanfall will undoubtedly take the graphic development even further.

We installed our new Xbox One in our main TV room where we have been playing our Xbox 360 Slim. Both Xboxes are hooked into a surround sound amplifier and the FIOS signal is now passed through the Xbox One. We also have an older white Xbox 360 in the playroom next door. I have been wondering over the past few weeks how the systems would be used now and what my boys would prefer. Thus far, the 360s are still getting a decent amount of use thanks mostly to Minecraft and BattleBlock Theater, neither of which are currently available for the One. When we have had a chance to play together, which has not been that often with the holiday activities, we have concentrated on COD Ghosts. We really are enjoying the online Squads mode. It is perfect for playing with kids (and adults who just don’t need the language, general offensiveness and getting their asses kicked in the standard multiplayer mode).

On my own I have completed the COD Ghosts campaign and am well into the Battlefield 4 campaign. I have made solid progress in Forza 5 and am now at level eleven. I am deep into the world of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and am really enjoying the experience. Except for a few minor control issues that are most likely more my own fault than that of the game, this latest installment is the best by far. The seamless transitions from land to sea and back, as well as the sheer fun of controlling your ship and fleet – including hunting and diving – it’s a deep and multi-layered world of pirate fun.

While I am very impressed by the graphics and improvements in the interface as well as in the handling and control overall, the most welcome improvement by far, is the load once and flip back and forth ability of the interface. With the previous system, the idea of jumping into a game for ten minutes or less was a bit of lie that we told ourselves. By the time the system booted and you logged in your now bloated player profile and then loaded the game, your ten minutes were now two. But you wanted to play your ten minutes anyway and that’s why you were late to whatever appointment you had.

No more of that. Now you walk into the room and say “Xbox On.” The system loads quickly, recognizes your face and loads your profile – a feature of which I never tire. Once you start the game and it loads, dropping out to the main menu and performing actions like watching television in a split window are instantaneous and at any point you can drop back into the game without the need to refresh or reload anything. This is a profound change to the way you can play and perhaps because it is less glamorous than other new features, has not received much press.

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My oldest son recently made a new friend who is not a gamer. Yes, there are some 12 year olds that don’t play any video games. He is not without his own obsession, however, and now my son has caught the same bug – fish and aquatic life. His new friend has ten or so salt water tanks with various species of fish. He is focused on his hobby and very knowledgeable. My son, being he sponge that he is, is absorbing all of the new information and diving in, if you will pardon the pun. He now has three tanks in his room, albeit all are fresh water. Two tanks have various goldfish and the third contains the Lava Lobster in the photo at the top of this post. The image below is one of the first two lobsters that he acquired. These were Mexican Mini Lobsters and unfortunately, both have passed. It is not due to a lack of effort as my son has pleasantly surprised me with his dedication and concern for the new biomes he has created.  The Xbox has little to fear of his losing interest. He is still playing games, but there is a balance developing and most surprisingly it is coming from within him

 

Waiting for the One

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I preordered an Xbox One and have been somewhat patiently waiting on its release. In the meantime I have been playing way too much Borderlands 2 trying to get a third character to level 50 as well as getting back into the driving groove with Forza 4 in preparation for the new version. Its only a few weeks away now and the past week has been resplendent with news about the limitations of some of the new games. The Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty Ghosts was pre-released and the news that it ran on the Xbox 360 at 720p instead of full 1080 HD while the PS4 is somehow able to accommodate the full resolution did not go over well. For more on this story, please read Infinity Ward’s explanation of the difference between the consoles at Twinstick Gaming. Then came the news that Ghosts had already been hacked. Not even officially released and already hacked. We were all hoping to get a few months of decent play out of it before it was compromised, but I guess we will have to rely on patches from the developers. To read the full story about how the hack was uncovered, please read John Heatz’s post Call of Duty: Ghosts already hacked. Today, it came out that the hugely anticipated Titanfall will only be available for the Xbox but that it too will run at 720p. You can read more about Titanfall at Twinstick Gaming’s blog.

While all of this news is a bit annoying, I cannot really appreciate the way in which some people are reacting. I have read gamers who are cancelling their pre-orders (for both the Xbox One and the PS4) complaining that none of the upcoming games look all that enticing. Really? Maybe we are all getting a bit jaded. I have pre-ordered Battlefield 4, Call of Duty Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV and Forza 5 and am looking forward to each regardless of the news. I would like to judge them for myself. I bet that my reaction will not be one of disappointment – most likely will be more of the “You have to come over here and look at the detail on this” variety. I can almost feel my wife’s humoring me when I ask her to come over and examine the carbon fiber on another of Forza 5’s supercars.

Then I hear people say that the Xbox One costing $100 more than the PS4 is a deal breaker. No one wants to pay more than they need to but this thinking seems ridiculously short-sighted to me. Over the life of my consoles, I have purchased hundreds of games. Many were at reduced prices, but I don’t really want to try to calculate how much I have spent on them in total. Needless to say that the $100 difference is inconsequential at best when you look at the whole picture.

In the end, all of this is talk anyway. The consoles are moving forward and there will be less and less marketed to and available for the current generation of consoles. Upgrading will be the price of entry just to keep playing. With hopes set so high and wish lists so long, there are bound to be disappointments. But this is just the beginning. I wish I could remember whether there was this much chatter when the 360 launched. Social media and the further expansion of the Internet probably also play a big role in making the rumors and news circulate so quickly.

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