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Next-Gen is Now-Gen

Written by Mike Holmes on the 22nd of November 2013 at 11:54

In the wee small hours of this morning, gamers finally got their hands on their shiny new Xbox Ones as Microsoft finally launched their latest console up and down the country (and in 12 other territories). The excitement looming ahead of next week's PS4 launch is also palpable, and the great console war continues to rage on with both new systems launching within a week of each other.

The launch of the next-gen consoles has been too long in coming, and people are happy that something new has arrived. The current/last cycle has gone on for what feels like forever, and it's good to finally be able to look forward, knowing that developers have more flexibility when it comes to the games they create. I wonder how much compromise we've been subjected to over the last couple of years, with devs squeezing every last drop out the 360 and PS3.

Myself, I'm loving the increase in firepower, the new controllers, the refreshed visual sheen. I'm waiting until next week before I get my hands on my new PlayStation 4. I'm still undecided between Killzone and Battlefield 4, but either way I'm grabbing a snazzy shooter at launch and am looking forward to the buzz of getting a new fancy bit of kit, taking it home, and setting up ahead of a late night session.

The Xbox One that's been sitting in the office is proof that a new console can be a breath of fresh air. It doesn't really do anything that my PC can't manage already, but that hasn't stopped me thoroughly enjoying my first week on the new machine, even if I have had many late nights and early mornings as I've aimed to hit the respective embargoes for each game I've reviewed.

To see which of the Xbox One launch games I enjoyed the most, head here:

So the Xbox One is here now, and in just a few days the PS4 is set to follow. Much talk has been about which is going to be the best. I'm not sure there's going to be much in it if I'm honest. The main thing is that it's good for business. It's good for gamers. It's good for developers. Whichever side of the divide you're on, it's good times. Exciting times.

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Launch Title

Written by Mike Holmes on the 26th of October 2013 at 18:18

The recently announced delay to Watch Dogs has left me with a conundrum. What game do I want to pick up for my next-gen console when I pick it up at the end of next month?

I was really looking forward to getting my hands on a new IP for a new generation, and in recent years Ubisoft has proven that they're able to create decent open worlds. Watch Dogs ticked all the boxes and I was planning on picking it up come launch night.

I've already got my pre-order down for Destiny, but that's not out until next year, so unless I want to play something indie on launch day I need to make a decision and get a deposit down on something. I'm thinking Killzone: Shadow Fall. Petter Hegevall's excellent recent preview (
+new+generation/) does a great job in painting a picture, and it sounds like the series is getting the true next-gen treatment. I've played it a little myself, and was impressed with what I saw.

The other options are Call of Duty and Battlefield, and while both look decent, something about Killzone makes me think that'll be the better, more enjoyable option. There's always FIFA 14 if I want something more sporty, and the next-gen version is a definite step up over the current iteration.

Which ever way I go, I've got a few weeks still to decide. We've waited for what feels like an eternity for these new consoles to arrive. Best not make a mistake at the first hurdle.

Bundle Overload

Written by Mike Holmes on the 4th of October 2013 at 10:18

There's a lot of bundles flying around at the moment, and I'm trying to decide if it's a good thing or not.

On one hand it means that gamers have the chance to sample loads of games (whether they're any good or not is an entirely different matter), and at the same time boost the coffers of developers that are often struggling to make a living. They also give these smaller devs exposure, however fleeting it may be. On the other hand the price that these bundles are bought for is often next to nothing, and it's hard to imagine the developers getting well paid for their toil. Sure gamers can name their price, but I'm not sure that many people ever venture further than the minimum required to unlock access to all the treasures held within.

There's also an issue of quality control, and with increasing amounts of bundles finding their way to market, many of the games that are being sourced to make up the numbers aren't really worth your time, even if they are dirt cheap.

So there's positives and negatives. I like the fact that money gets pointed towards worthy causes, and charities are often the beneficiaries of a percentage. I like that indie devs and small studios get paid when they otherwise might not. It's good that games are reaching an increasingly large audience.

At the same time, the sheer numbers of bundles out there is making it a minefield, and one where the quality of offerings is diluted by the sheer amount of games being included. That alone cheapens the value of these collections. Sometimes you might buy a bundle just to get one game, a cheaper alternative to buying direct, or via Steam or Desura.

Then there's the increasing amounts of games being put forward by major publishers (for example, Nordic Games just released a bundle for the Humble Weekly Sale that includes Darksiders II). EA's decision not to take any of the money made during their recent Humble Bundle is to be commended (even if, at the end of the day, they took the hit to entice people onto their PC platform, Origin), and I daresay that the publicity offerings like that give to the bundle market in general is a positive one - people enjoy value and will carry on seeking it out if they find a place that'll offer it. However, premium titles at bargain basement prices will also drown out the bundles that feature lesser known titles. Previously an arena for indies, the bundle scene is increasingly asking these smaller studios to compete against the major players.

Bundles have been around for some time now, but in recent months we've seen an explosion of different, competing offerings. At first I was delighted, and snapped up more than a few, but more recently my interest has cooled somewhat. Like most people, for me there's simply not enough time to play all the games that are being released in these collections. On more than one occasion I've spent a negligible amount of money on a bundle of games that I've spent a negligible amount of time exploring. The price was what enticed me through the door, but as a consequence of the growing number options now available to bundle fans, I've found that a cheap ticket doesn't always guarantee a fun ride.

Gamescom Blog

Written by Mike Holmes on the 23rd of August 2013 at 18:06

I've been watching events unfold in Cologne from afar. While the rest of the Gamereactor team has been on the show floor at Gamescom, taking with devs, trying out games, searching out the latest scoops, I've been watching it all unfold from my desk. It's been a long week for all of us. But a good week (though I dare say my colleagues drank more beer and ate more sausages than I did).

This Gamescom was, for me, all about two different ends of the spectrum; the next-gen consoles that are coming later this year and the indie devs that are finding themselves more and more important in the grand scheme of things. What was perhaps more interesting for me personally was seeing how the two are starting to intermingle, evidenced by the increasingly elevated status of indies when it comes to the plans of the major platform holders.

During our hour-long indie special (which you can see elsewhere on the site) we've heard devs talk about how it's a pleasure working for Nintendo (who didn't really figure this year), and we've seen first hand just how important Sony thinks smaller, more focussed games will be for the fortunes of their console. There was a plethora of announcements during their pre-Gamescom press conference, with new games revealed and exclusive debuts unveiled. It promises to be an exciting time for indie developers, who seem to be flocking to the banner hoisted up by Sony above the Playstation 4.

As a PS Vita owner, it was a particularly satisfying week. The price cut announced on Tuesday will no doubt draw more people to the handheld. The reduced cost of memory cards is also long overdue, and we can expect to see an increase in the amount of digital downloads made by gamers as a result. A demonstration of remote play between PS4 and Vita was also welcome. It's an idea with lots of promise, and the demo with Assassin's Creed IV made me hopeful for the future of the handheld. It might not have done wonders on its own, but backed up by the PS4 and a price cut, the future is looking bright. Most important was the calibre of games that were revealed. Murasaki Baby looked great, and we already knew that Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was coming, but there were plenty of highlights on offer. Borderlands 2, Helldivers, Football Manager 2014. The list goes on and on.

Microsoft had a couple of tricks up its sleeve, highlighted by the announcement that they'll be handing out dev kits (two of them, no less) to every indie developer who registers with them. The importance of the work that they've already done in bringing smaller games to a wider market through Xbox Live Arcade and XBLIG can't be underestimated, but it's also apparent that they've not moved with the times in many respects. Developers like Phil Fish (if he's still a developer - he recently announced he was stepping away from the industry) have been outspoken in their condemnation of Microsoft's recent indie-centric practices (or lack of them). Whether their latest move will be enough to dent Sony's momentum remains to be seen. I suspect they've done enough to attract a decent following of devs, but doubt they'll be best in class when it comes to nurturing and developing the talent of the future.

Then there was the games. Writing about them and playing them are entirely different things, but hearing about the expansions to Diablo III and Xcom had me excited. South Park sounds like it'll be a laugh, and Destiny always has my attention. One game I am really looking forward to is Titanfall, so it saddened me to hear that Rasmus didn't think it was all that when he got hands-on with it earlier in the week. I wish I had been there, to see for myself, but alas someone needs to keep things ticking over at home.

And that's where we are today, friday evening, still sitting in front of the monitor (although I think I'm going to crack open an alcoholic beverage in the not too far distant future). The team are on their way home, likely exhausted and in need of weekend of rest, and I'm signing off for the week. It's been a long week, but a good one. We hope you enjoyed the coverage. Keep an eye out for more Gamescom stories and interviews coming in the days and weeks ahead, and head to our dedicated Gamescom page to see all of the week's content conveniently located in one place. It's been a pleasure, but now I'm off to get mildly drunk and, if my eyes stay open long enough, get back to playing Europa Universalis IV.

Gamescom Blog

Time for F2P?

Written by Mike Holmes on the 25th of July 2013 at 13:41

More and more often developers and publishers are giving us stuff for free. Im not complaining too loudly, we all love free stuff, I'm no different in that respect. The only problem is that these games are often far from free, and the price of admission is usually your most valuable commodity; your time.

We're baited through the door with the promise of free content, free action, free adventures. But often sticking around and getting to the good stuff eludes us, because the investment in time is too large, it takes us too long to get there. The grind brought about by free-to-play MMOs, which are increasingly adopting the model as a way to draw in new players, often requires huge investments of time and energy. It's difficult to call out publishers when they're offering free content, even if the path to the good stuff is a convoluted one.

If you're one of those players who'll happily grind their way through to the completion of a game without paying a penny, you're deemed an acceptable loss. Sure the publisher would prefer to get paid, but often they're happy that there's another player on their servers. They're all looking to achieve a critical mass of users, where a larger community attracts larger numbers of players.

There are other ways that the model is implemented. I recently downloaded Sonic Dash to my iPad. It's now free, presumably after selling an underwhelming amount of copies through the App Store, but the way it's been presented is a little overwhelming. Adverts pop up, and bought credits can be used to cheat death. Of course, if you're thick skinned you can play through the distractions, but for many it'll be a frustrating barrier to entry. I include myself in that bracket. I have too many good games to play to spend time dismissing adverts and closing down superfluous menus. You might think you're getting stuff for free, but when there's adverts involved, there's something else going on.

The old saying - if you're not paying, you're not the customer - springs to mind.

MMO shooters have a different way of operating within the free-to-play arena, and it's just as absurd. In Ghost Recon Online you have to pay for grenades, for example. Dust 514 asks you to regularly top up your kit with exotic weapons and vehicles.

One of my personal favourites is the model implemented by games like Marvel Heroes and League of Legends (both, incidentally, inspired and influenced by old Blizzard games), whereby players pay for the character they like, and then play through the content, occasionally earning enough in-game credit to supplement their purchase. That said, games like Planetside 2 do it best, where the base game is free, but buffs and new equipment can be purchased at will. If you spend enough time in a game like that, sooner or later you're going to want to try some new equipment, and you're hardly going to begrudge paying for it because of the unintrusive way the free-to-play's been implemented (at the end of the day though, even here levelling up is still a bit of a grind).

I'm glad it's flourishing as a payment method. The only thing i'd like to see more of is packages where you can spend what you would on a normal game, and get something that's more complete and less grindy. I'd have no problem paying £40 for a complete version of Planetside 2, or maybe even Dust 514. That the latter offers packages of a value that is twice that number, that still don't feel like the finished product is for me a problem. From time to time it still feels like the payment model can punish players too much for playing for free, and take too much money from those who are prepared to put their hand in their pocket. At the end of the day even free players are investing something, something far more valuable than money, and until some studios recognise that symbiotic relationship more acutely, we're still going to run into the occasional daft implementation of a free-to-play financial model.