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XB1 Games with Gold Review: Thief

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Recently I have started downloading a few more of Xbox One’s games with gold freebies as it’s a good way to play some titles that you may have considered buying at one stage. It’s also given me a chance to play a couple of different types of games that I wouldn’t normally go for. “Thief” is a perfect example as the game relies heaverly on stealth rather than the fast paced action or RPG that I normally play. As a result it can feel a bit slow but the stealth mechanics work well and provide a strategic element to gameplay as you need to make decisions about how you achieve each goal.

Read Brett’s review over at crowded brain for a more detailed look at ‘Thief’ as his thoughts echo my own. Personally I found the controls the biggest drawback as even after playing for several hours they don’t feel natural. His point about the enviorment and the ability to climb some objects but not others is also frustrating. Overall I think ‘Thief’ is a good place to start if you want more out of your membership as it  has a unique style of gameplay that is worth checking out.

Jono

The Elite Experience

It took 2 months on pre-order after the offical release date before I finally got my hands on an Xbox One Elite Controller. Microsoft has admitted the obvious that they underestimated demand after the announcement at E3. As a result most stores didn’t get enough stock to cover the initial pre-orders and gamers like myself have been waiting for months. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get better anytime soon with Microsoft confirming that shortages will continue into March. So considering this headache is the Elite worth the wait?

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Anyone considering spending $200 ($150 USD) on a controller is going to be a bit more than a casual gamer. The Elite Controller fits the bill as it offers an enhanced console experience with superior build quality to other comparable 3rd party options. It is noticeably heavier than a standard controller thanks to the additional metal triggers but it is not enough to make it uncomfortable. The interchangeable sticks, D-pad and paddles are easy to swap mid-game and the hair-triggers help improve reaction time with the ability to set them individually just another way to personalise your experience. Using the paddles takes a little practice before you start to see the benefit as you have to train yourself to stop using the normal buttons but once you do the change noticeably improves speed and eliminates the need to take your fingers off the sticks.

All of these features would be useless without that Xbox Accessories app that allows players to map buttons and change sensitivity. The app works with standard controllers but is a must for anyone with an Elite so they can map different buttons to the paddles. An added bonus here is the additional slot to save multiple configurations. Even without this the app is easy enough to use that I find myself pausing and making a few twicks to get a layout I’m happy with for each game.

Overall I can say that the Elite Controller is definitely worth it and really enhances your gaming experience. I previously have never thought about changing button mapping or stick sensitivity but find myself thinking critically about how I can use my new hardware to improve my game. If your a serious player with a bit of cash it’s a wise investment otherwise it might be a good idea for a present.

Enjoy
Jono

E3: Best of the rest

It’s been a few weeks since E3 but as promised here is my best of the rest, a closer look at some of the PS4, WiiU and cross – platform games announced  at this years expo. A quick disclaimer this list is based on my personal interest in gaming so will not see any sport titles making the cut. With out any further delay …

Final Fantasy VII Re-make

Platform: First on PS4

Release Date: Late 2016/2017

One of the headlines from Sony’s conference which grabbed a lot of attention. This full re-make of the iconic role-playing game first released in 1997 is still in the early stages but has fans excited. Information is vague but what we know is the game will feature new content to expand on the original however the inclusion of any new characters has been officially ruled out. Additionally, developers have not eliminated the possibility of expanding release beyond the PS4 but for now it’s all just speculation. This is defiantly one to keep track of over the next year or so.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Platform: PS4

Release Date: 2016

This Action RPG was my favourite exclusive from Sony, thanks to the stunning looking scenery, style of gameplay and a unique world. Horizon Zero Dawn see’s players take control of Aloy in a post – apocalyptic world fighting against  collection of monsters including robotic dinosaurs using a variety of weapons including a wicked looking bow. The clips from E3 and additional material from Sony also suggest some type of crafting system which has become a hallmark of a quality RPG.

No Man’s Sky

Platform: PS4 & Windows PC

Release Date: TBA

An open universe science fiction exploration game which promise to deliver an experience on a whole new scale. Players are introduced to a previously undiscovered universe to explore. The E3 demo gives us some idea of individual gameplay with resource gathering, interaction with alien species and space exploration key features. We still don’t have any ideas about any overriding story arc but it’s definitely a game I’ll be following during it’s continued development. Thankfully it’s coming to windows the same time as it lands on the PS4 so I’m not going to miss out.

Have a look at IGN’s exclusive look at No Man’s Sky this month.

Street Fighter 5

Platform: PS4 and Windows PC

Release Date: Early 2016

The next chapter of this icon arcade fighting franchise promise more of the same classic gameplay with a couple of new additions. Namely the inclusion of the ‘V-Gauge’ which allows players to use a variety of unique character techniques and skills like temporary power-ups or reversals. Street Fighter is always going to be a known quantity and fans of the series like myself can only be satisfied by this newest version.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Platform: PS4

Release Date: Early 2016

The fourth and final instalment of the Nathan Drake story finds the series protagonist is forced out of retirement for his most trying challenge yet. Gameplay follows the same third person shooter style of action adventure which fans of the series have come to enjoy. Not having played any of the previous titles before I can say the clip below does make me a little jealous as gameplay is varied and combines different elements in a fluid experience.

Sea of Thieves

Platform: Xbox One & Windows PC

Release Date: 2016

Growing up I was always a fan of the Monkey Island games due to their swashbuckling adventures, gameplay elements and Guybrush Threepwood’s comedic timing. As a result I always look at any new pirate themed game with interest and am generally disappointed as they often lack the same light-hearted approach that I enjoyed growing up instead focusing more on gritty realism. Straight away with Sea of Thieves its obvious that Rare is not going down this over done route and will likely be a bit more playful then games like Assassins Creed: Black Flag. That being said Sea of Thieves still raises a lot of questions regarding first – person melee combat and the presence of a story within the MMO format which I feel is a must for any open world game. This article from Godis A Geek goes through a couple of other features that I’ll be looking for over next year before I make up my mind.

ReCore

Platform: Xbox One

Release Date Q2 2016

Another Xbox One exclusive with limited gameplay details but it does have a unique concept in the presence of robot companions who have their own consciousness that can be transferred into different bodies through their blue core’s. The trailer also suggests that Joule, the game’s protagonist,will have access to a variety of weapons and abilities to use in combat. ReCore has some experienced developers on board in Marc Pacini and Keiji Inafune so the expectation is high. We will just have to wait and see if they deliver.

Star Fox Zero

Platform: Nintendo WiiU

Release Date: Q4 2015

Out of all Nintendo’s announcements this is the one that grab my attention and for the first time actually made me think about getting a WiiU out of nostalgia. Star Fox 64 was an old favourite of mine back in the day so the look and feel of the latest chapter immediately brought back memories, especially with the return of the old gang, Felco, Slippy and Peppy. The main difference between Star Fox Zero and it’s predecessor is the addition of the game pad which allows `players to see a cockpit view alongside the traditional rolling screen. Still not sure if it’s enough to convince me to pick up another console but who knows if the price is right.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

Platform: PS4, Xbox One and Windows

Release Date: October 23 2015

I’m glade to see Ubisoft are mixing things up a little with introduction of a female protagonist. Hopefully this acts to vary the gameplay as players are able to switch between the twins, Jacob and Evie. My main criticism of the franchise has been the repetitive experience which has not really changed since the first game despite the addition of era specific elements like pirate ships. The supposedly faster combat and other changes show that Ubisoft might be listening to fans but we will have to wait and see. I’m looking forward to this one partly because of the era as a scholar of Dickens I have an image of Victorian London and couldn’t give up any chance to explore this world.

I know there are other games that could have easily made this list but as I have said before games are very subjective and these are the ones that have caught my eye. Feel free to let me know what has got you excited from E3.

Jono

Why 2015 is the Year of Xbox One (Op-Ed)

Why 2015 is the Year of Xbox One (Op-Ed)#xtor=RSS-980.

I think Mike from Tom’s guide is spot on with this one. He raises some of the same points I made about Microsoft’s out performance of Sony at E3 last week. Especially focusing on the potential growth of the Xbox One in the backend of 2015.

Mike’s article highlights the strength of Microsoft’s exclusive titles which includes franchise favourites Halo 5, Gears of War ultimate edition and Forza 6. Others have been raving about the offerings from Sony but Mike has recognised the long wait for these titles will likely lose Sony the momentum during the end of this year. Additionally, he points out the up coming software updates including backwards compatibility and Windows 10 that will make the Xbox One far superior come Spring/Fall. Finally he touches on the Elite Controller as an added extra but with a focus on this year Mike doesn’t discuss the future potential of HoloLens or VR for either system.

Click on these links to read my own take on the Xbox vs PS4 battle at E3 or to look more in detail at some of those Xbox titles.

Jono

E3: My Games Wishlist

E3 2015 is done and dusted so I thought I’d look more in-depth at the games that really caught my attention and those I personally can’t wait to get my hands on.

Halo 5 guardians

Platform: Xbox One

Release Date: 27/10/15

A new Halo is always a big deal for the Xbox community and the first instalment on the new console will be expected to boast overall console sales just like the past. The small snippets of the story line have got fans like myself sitting on edge, is the Master Chief a traitor, is Spartan Locke friend or foe and the inclusion of Buck voiced by Nathan Fillion from ODST is a welcomed addition. At E3 we were given a glimpse of the campaign that diverges a little from the traditional formula as it seems more like ODST and Reach with two teams of Spartans led by Locke and the Master Chief made for drop in & out coop play. In addition 343 industries gave us Warzone a new 24 player multiplayer mode combining elements of PvP and PvE where two teams compete with the added fun of AI opponents in a crazy overload of Halo awesomeness. Suddenly the 27 of October seems so far away.

Forza motorsport 6

Platform: Xbox One

Release date: 15/9/15

Recently I have really got into playing Forza 5 as it has outstanding graphics and is perfect for gaming when you have time constraints. The 6th instalment promises much of the same running in 1080p it looks stunning and with an extensive list of 450 cars it’s perfect for car enthusiasts. However, the main development is the addition of meaningful racing conditions, this goes beyond the basic visual effect and includes real world experience as rain doesn’t just look pretty but actually make the track slippery and effects your handling. A subtle inclusion but one that will make it just that little more challenging for seasoned racers.

Fable Legends

Platform: Xbox One and Windows

Release date: 2015

This free to play cooperative title has been promoted before at Microsoft events as it demonstrates the capabilities of Windows 10’s cross-platform gaming as PC and Xbox users can play alongside each other. Legends offers gamers a different experience than previous titles as players can choose between the traditional hero game play without the exploration alongside possibly up to 3 friends or as the villain who plans the obstacles faced by our band of heroes like a strategy game. It seems like an interesting combination of different game styles and I’m looking forward to testing it out later this year.

Fable Legends hands on

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Platform: First on Xbox

Release date: 10/11/15

Crystal dynamics sequel to their 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider promises a lot with different combat options and more opportunity for discovery. Learning from the feedback after the previous title developers have incorporate a new ability for Lara to use her environment to create weapons and make choices as to how she will engage combatants. Most notably this includes the ability to avoid lethal engagements using items as distractions and finding other methods to take down the enemy. In addition crystal dynamics have stated their aim to make Lara the most realistic and humanised character in gaming by focus on the emotional impact of decisions and the storyline. We shall have to wait until November 10th to see if Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers.

Gears of War ultimate edition and Gears 4

Platform: Xbox One

Release date: 25/8/15 and holidays 2016

The other Xbox franchise also had its time at E3 with two announcements. Gears of War Ultimate Edition was unveiled and its more than just a remastered HD version of the 2006 original but more of a full rebuild. The Coalition has gone back to basics with new motion capture and animation to help bring the game into the next era of gaming. Beyond this the remake incorporates new game elements from more recent titles in the series including an enhanced  multiplayer. Even thinking about it gives me a pang of nostalgia.

Gears 4 the first game in the franchise since Microsoft took over the rights shows more of what we expect, chainsaws, weird creatures and a post apocalyptic setting. Still scarce on details all we really know about Gears 4 is that the gameplay looks similar to the other titles in the series. It’s still far away but any new chance to saw through your enemies can’t easily be passed up.

Rare Replay

Platform: Xbox  One

Release date: 4/8/15

This collection of 30 classic Rare games is a steal for the $30 price tag. Many of the games pre-date my  gaming experience  but classic 64 titles like Banjo Kazooie, the sequel Banjo Tooie and Perfect Dark are enough for me to jump on board. Adding  some Xbox 360 up dates to those series alongside a host of other games to explore for the first time and I’m counting the hours of game play. The only disappointments are the absence of GoldenEye and Diddy Kong Racing due to legal restrictions. Click here to see the full list.

Star Wars: Battlefront

Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC

Release Date:

A self professed Star Wars tragic I have been looking forward to this one since Battlefront 2 was released years ago. One of my absolute favourite Star Wars games because it allows players to jump into the epic battle and key events of the films like no other game. Gameplay follows the same basic format as the earlier titles in that it is primarily a third person shooter with different class options and you need to complete a series of objectives in order for your side of the Star Wars conflict to gain victory. It doesn’t look like there are any real changes to this basic formula but the new Battlefront takes advantage of the next generation consoles through new game modes and refinement. Personally I can’t think of a better way to get in the spirit before the release of The Force Awakens.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC

Release Date: Q4 2016

Details are still scarce about the new Mass Effect but we learnt at E3 that the game is set outside the milky way in the Andromeda galaxy long after the events of Mass Effect 3. This means that developers have the freedom to imagine a new host of planets and new alien species without being restricted by the previous games. Despite this scope for innovation its clear that this next chapter will maintain most of the elements we have come to expect of the series as the game will still follow a human protagonist leading a team made up of different specialists. Beyond this we also know that Mass Effect Andromeda will use the Frostbite 3 game engine behind Dragon Age Inquisition which promises a rich experience. I’m very excited about this one as I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing through the previous titles multiple times, I’m just shattered its such a long wait.

Check back later as I preview the best of the rest from E3

Cheers

Jono

The way to Ryse

Since Ryse: Son of Rome has been on the Xbox One from day one this is not going to be a full review rather a few observations which could have taken the game to the next level. Don’t get me wrong Ryse has excellent graphics and decent game play with a well thought  model for combat, however despite the best efforts to keep this varied it does get repetitive. Even so it is well worth getting especially for the $29 I picked it up from JB Hi Fi for in January as it is engaging and easy to  jump straight in.

My major criticism of the game is the blatant and unforgivable historical inaccuracies starting with the inclusion of the Colosseum despite the games setting during the reign of Nero. The Flavian Amphitheater as it is called was commissioned under Nero’s success Vespasian and completed by his sons during what is called the Flavian dynasty.  It was an obvious attempt to work to the average persons preconception of Ancient Rome, however the success of HBO’s ROME demonstrates that this isn’t necessary.  Other inaccuracies include the over simplification of military structure where a Centurion who commands 80 men out of 5000 would have direct and regular access to the legion commander, not to mention the idea that a general’s son would every be a traditional legionary.

These are just a couple of examples but perhaps something slightly more relevant would be the story line.  Considering the richness of Roman history it is amazing that the developers tried to create some fanciful notion of a British threat to the heart of the Empire when they could have just tapped into real events. Endless civil wars and large scale conflicts with Carthage would have made a good place to start.

Ryse could have been a great opportunity to immerse gamers into the world of Ancient Rome and perhaps would have worked better as an action RPG. Imagine the possibilities of playing through the civil war as Marcus Agrippa and experiencing the end of the Republic from next to Augustus as the Imperial era began.

6.5/10

Join the Inquisition

It took some time but Dragon Age Inquisition is now a fact of life and it is a contender for game of the year, but is it everything that fans like myself could hope for? Bioware have a strong history in creating a winning RPG dating back to Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and setting the bar with the hugely successful  Mass Effect series.

However, Dragon Age has often been the unfortunate second son with handed down features from their earlier success. In Origins this was only too apparent if you compared the level up structure with KOTOR as both had points for attributes with a skills option and trees for up grading a huge range of feats, hell even the page looked the same. With Dragon Age 2 the game started to borrow more from Mass Effect with the addition of spoken dialogue in the form of a wheel at the bottom of the screen. Regardless of these short cuts the series has established a loyal following due largely in part to game play but more substantially to the storyline with a huge array of possible outcomes based on the players actions and elaborate world of Thedas. Even the repetitive dungeons with their brick walls, the wimpy voice acting and the heavily  restricted world of Dragon Age 2 couldn’t kill of the hunger of diehard fans like myself.

Along came inquisition which was a driving force behind my recent purchase of an Xbox One, I’d even spent months completing the previous games for the 5th and 4th time respectively. So to say that I had built up expectations would be a slight understatement. Thankfully it lives up to the hype. To start Thedas looks great from the cinematics to the different textures of  environments the game builds on one of the strengths of Dragon Age 2. This task is made more difficult by the scope of Inquisition which brings you in touch with more of the people that make up Thedas than every before as you recruit people from Ferelden, Orlais, the Imperium  and even a Qunari. Throughout the unfolding story you find yourself revisiting familiar places like Redcliff and Haven that are now more detailed but you also journey in to Orlais which has its own specific brand of style.

Game play is where the team has done the most to shake up the franchise as they have responded to the criticism of its of the sequel by creating a more open world experience. This is not to dissimilar from Skyrim with each new area heavily laden with  side quests, resources, collectibles and secret areas. However, Dragon Age brings its familiar party system to combat with the addition of the new tactical mode which brings a more strategic element to game play especially helpful if trying to pass the higher difficulty levels. If this was all Inquisition had to offer the game would be a disappointment as it would become a highly repetitive experience but thankfully it well balanced with regular progress through the story in familiar style dungeons. Throw in the war room and the developing relationships with your party members and there are in fact multiple ways to experience Thedas which keep the game fresh.

Inquisition builds on elements from the earlier games in the series and learns from the genre to satisfy almost everything I could have wished for. But it isn’t perfect as there are little areas for improvement that don’t effect the overall game play experience while being a constant source of frustration. To start the voice acting could still use work, especially for a male Inquisitor who I still found a little wimpy and more than two options would also have been greatly appreciated. Considering the amount of customizable element in your characters face this seems like it might have been sacrificed for time and money. On the same point I would like to see more of the in game customization options available in Origins as the huge variation in character builds was something that kept me coming back for more.

Despite these little criticisms Dragon Age Inquisition is a must for anyone who likes action RPG and might change the future of the genre. Now if only I can complete a few play throughs before Mass Effect later this year.

Storyline 9/10

Game play  9/10

Graphics 9/10

Happy gaming

Jono

Xbox One: First Impression

Being an early adaptor of both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360 I might seem like a loss of confidence that I have only just got my hands on an Xbox One in the last month, but growing up does place other demands on both my time and wallet. So with the arrival of school holidays and some good budgeting I was finally able to pick up my new toy complete with 7 games and Kinect. Keen to jump straight in after the long wait I’m only now getting the chance to go through my first impressions.

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Set up was easy and in no time I had downloaded all my apps, fixed up my profile and organised my home screen.  I was generally surprised at the list of Australian apps available including SBS on demand and 7 Plus however the absence of ABC iview and Foxtel are cause for disappointment.  Yet, for me research has always helped me stay level-headed as I was already aware of this short coming and knew that both developers had made commitments to change this in coming months. Besides connecting my 360 using the HDMI in socket was an easy solution since I don’t even have to switch source.

My only real gripe with the Xbox One is the requirement to install games on the hard drive rather than play them from the disk. Wanting nothing more than to give into nostalgia with the Master Chief Collection this expected delay was still frustrating. Unfortunately, no matter on your choice of new gen console this is a necessary evil as read speeds are too slow for the amount of data required by games. Considering this it would have been nice to have larger internal storage but with the price of 2TB external hard drives it is only an annoying inconvenience.

Finally, lets talk about Kinect which for many remains a take it or leave it extra. This especially true for hard-core gamers since voice commands require the 7th core of the processor and decreases what is available to game developers which has recently been changed. In addition space continues to limit the use of Kinect as someone with a console in their bedroom like me in my younger years will only ever get to use voice commands.

This all being said I love the “Xbox On” feature as it has quickly become second nature to use the command as I walk into the room knowing that I won’t even have to touch the TV remote. This is ideal if I’m only planning to watch Foxtel on the 360 as I can follow-up with “watch TV” and go straight to my old 360 remote without touching anything else. Unsurprisingly, Kinect still has problems with my accent which can quickly become frustrating. Yet, it is in apps like Xbox Fitness where Kinect really comes into its own as it tracks how accurately you are following the exercises and creates a score to motivate your competitive instincts. Until now my fiancé had only ever used the 360 to watch TV but has found this combination of features on the Xbox One an easy way to complete a 10 minute workout before work.

These are just some early thoughts so keep watching as I will be touching base soon on some of the other aspects of the Xbox One.

Cheers

Jono

iSheep

Apples most recent releases the iPhone 5 and iPad mini depicts a movement away from their previous willingness to innovate and capture new consumers. In fact, both these products demonstrate Apples complacency in the mobile market place and their reliance on maintaining their current users. These products are both good commercial performers and have the stereotypical build quality that the world associates with Apple.  In fact both are highly competitive pieces of technology in terms of their physical specifications and performance with other devices but their existence shows an alarming trend for Apple Fan-boys.

Simply that Apple have begun to follow the lead of their competitors rather than provide the innovative leadership which brought them success with the original versions of the iPod, iPhone and eventually the iPad. In the case of the iPhone 5 the major change for consumers was a larger 4′ screen and a slimmer design. These changes were clearly following the lead of Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy which had already gained significant market share before the 5 was announced.  In the same way Apple’s release of the iPad mini was reacting to the success of other small tablets in the market place like Amazon’s kindle line and other Android tablets.

Despite this both products have been successful and continue to add to Apple’s bottom-line.  However, it would be interesting to know how many of these sales is due to the familiarity of IOS and existing costumers upgrading to the latest phone from an older model. this represents a logical reason to explain some of Apple’s more recent success as people familiar with an iPhone but not already iPad users could easily have considered purchasing the more affordable mini.

By no means is this doom and gloom but this strategy is unlikely to capture new uses for the Apple ecosystem and seems to focus on maintaining their existing costumer base with the expectation that they will buy new products when they are released.  It’s obvious that these thoughts have been plaguing shareholders from the last 6 months of constant falls. After-all if the mobile industry has shown us anything it is that companies find it hard to stay on top for long. The clear example is Nokia which  dominated the market as people went from snake to snake 2  and then Motorola made a dent with the V3 which introduced a bit of slick style to the game, even more recently RIM’s  Blackberry had a clear advantage in the business sector and now has less than 3% of the market share.

Apple’s rumored upcoming releases could provide us with a statement of the company’s future direction. The much hyped iTV has been in the works for what seems like forever and the question is has the delay meant other companies have made the first move. Already smart TVs are becoming common place and the Xbox 360 is the most dominant living room accessory with 77 Million units sold compared to Apple TV’s 7 Million, while products have clear differences Microsoft are pushing the towards Steve Jobs vision of a single device in the living room with the up coming Xbox One. In this setting will the next big Apple release be an innovation or just a sheep.