Microsoft’s Next-Gen Console Revealed As Xbox Series X

The Game Awards might be known for some big announcements, but Microsoft took it to a whole new level in the 2019 edition. 

A new console, the new console, called Xbox Series X for the time being, coming in holiday 2020, is not yet available for pre-order.

Microsoft says they want to give “more information” before opening the floodgates for orders, but their shock announcement at Thursday’s Game Awards took nearly everybody by surprise in any case.

In announcing Xbox Series X, formerly known as Project Scarlett, Microsoft have beaten Sony to the punch in announcing their next-generation games console.

Little is actually known about Xbox Series X, other than its distinct PC tower-like look and a new dedicated share button on the controller.

No price was revealed, but according to an article on Gamespot, Microsoft wants to be transparent about what gamers will be paying for before going ahead and allowing them to be first in line for purchase.

The design of the console is what’s got many gamers talking on social media immediately after the announcement dropped. Shaped like a Gaming PC tower, the console’s square footprint is roughly as wide as an Xbox One controller and around three times as tall. Featuring a disc drive for games and other media, there is little else to talk about in what is a very clean and modern looking form factor for the Xbox Series X.

The console will also feature an NVMe SSD and use super-fast GDDR6 memory as RAM.

But, that name though? Microsoft’s Phil Spencer hinted that the name may change prior to an official release, telling Gamespot “Series X gives us the freedom to do other things with that name so that we can create descriptors when we need to”.

Make sense? No, not really and it is one of the only points of confusion that has come out of the reveal.

In terms of the most important thing, the games, Microsoft already has some big titles to in the new console window, Halo Infinite and Hellblade 2 for starters. There is also the large lineup of Microsoft Game Studios development teams working on new titles and the work being done around the xCloud games streaming platform.

In short, we now have a name and a look at Microsoft’s flashy next-generation games console. There is much more specific information to follow, but for the time being, Sony has been beaten to the punch and that will see Xbox head Phil Spencer sleeping comfortably for the next night or two.

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Death Stranding Review: A Middle Finger To Convention

Death Stranding won’t be a PlayStation blockbuster for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, none of that really matters in what turns out to be an experience like few others in gaming today. 

Death Stranding is one of the most extraordinary games I’ve ever played. It’s also one of the more slow-paced, repetitive and lifeless gaming experiences I’ve experienced.

From the very get-go, Death Stranding feels and plays out completely different from what you’d want and expect from a modern-day videogame.

I had no idea what was going on or why, but there was something oddly freeing about having a massively open and incredibly lifeless world to step into. On the long treks and delivery missions, I had time to think and ask myself what the game is about. Once I got to my destination and connected the region to something close to a civilization, I felt like I had done something truly good and worthwhile.

Whilst it is far more than a simple trekking simulator, what Hideo Kojima has developed is a game that will divide the opinion of gamers unlike no other in this generation.

Some will love Death Stranding and will call it the breath of fresh air that gaming so desperately needs, whilst others will see Death Stranding as a product of boredom and monotony.

After more than 20 hours spent traversing the world, the meaning behind why you take Sam Bridges on this journey appears to be all about what amounts to doing something for your fellow man or woman. Your job is to deliver cargo, medical supplies and other important equipment across a broken, bare and empty world.

Then, once you get to the various destinations, connect them up to what’s called the Chiral Network to get that area back online.

The world you traverse is the UCA (loosely based on the USA) which has been left utterly decimated in the aftermath of a Death Stranding, causing creatures called “Beached Things” or BT’s to form some sort of realm between life and death. The game helps you discover what is behind this phenomenon, but players can’t simply fight these creatures as Death Stranding really forces an approach of working around rather than forcing the issue.

Most encounters with BTs result in you walking slowly, holding breath (the closer you get to a BT the more it hears your breath) and gently getting by a potentially dangerous encounter.

If you do trigger a BT, the ground turns to tar and you are forced to fight your way free before the demons wrap themselves around you and pull you down. Fail to do this, you’ll enter a “fight” of sorts with a single BT creature that is much bigger and obvious than the ghost-like figures that can be found in the first instance, and all you’ve got to do is kill it with a grenade to complete the challenge.

Once escaped, the tar disappears and you’re back on the trek again towards the delivery destination seemingly unharmed. I wish I could tell you what happens if you were to lose a battle with a BT, but after 20+ hours, the challenge in Death Stranding has been next to non-existent and I haven’t died a single time.

With me so far? It is all classic Kojima in so many ways, half the time it’s just flat out weird and all these moments of something close to combat all seem to be placed in the game for games sake, all in an aid to somehow further toward the story that is being told in cutscenes by some absolutely brilliant voice acting by the various stars involved.

Norman Reedus Heads A List Of Hit n Miss Characters & Story Telling

Played by Norman Reedus (the dude from Walking Dead), the character of Sam Bridges is one of the more dull protagonists Sony has ever had in its AAA PlayStation list of titles.

Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, Joel from The Last of Us and even Kratos in God of War seem to be far livelier and engaging than the experiences I’ve had with Sam so far.

Even the deeply emotional states Sam gets into (who could forget the first time we saw those tears dripping down his face in time fall) seem unexplained, forced and like the experience with the BT’s, just something Kojima and his team decided to throw into the mix.

The adorable baby strapped to Sam’s chest BB is connected to the BTs in some way and the story progresses forward to answer those questions. Fragile, a woman voiced by Léa Seydoux starts out as something of an unknown but quickly progressed into a character I found myself deeply caring about. You’ve also got the main villain Higgs (voiced by Troy Baker) and the annoyingly mysterious Die-Hardman (voiced by Tommie Earl Jenkins) just to name some of the many characters that play big parts in the game.

For the purposes of trying to not spoil it for you, the Death Stranding story is engaging, annoying, mysterious and worth seeing through to the end it seems. Classic Kojima again, you’ve got to be really concentrating for any of it to make sense.

Death Stranding Challenges The Status Quo

Yet, for all its flaws (and there are many in terms of challenge and story design), Death Stranding remains a game that attempts to hit on a deeper message and that’s where the strength and controversy of it sits.

How many have the patience to find out why Death Stranding is the enigma it is remains to be seen, and that’s why reviewing this game is difficult.

The aim of the mission structure is all about going at it alone, to help out an effort that is much wider than yourself. Some of the delivery missions, like the one where you’ve got to deliver a pizza, seem so basic that it’s understandable why as the game progresses many will lose patience.

But perhaps that’s what Kojima and his team wanted to challenge gamers on? Maybe gaming isn’t all about instant gratification, maybe gaming can deliver these sorts of Atypical experiences.

In an age where FPS, RPG and games come out all the time, where Battle Royale kings like Fortnite and Apex pit everyone against everyone else, what Death Stranding does is take a step back from the action, the competitiveness and the creativity to deliver a truly different experience.

In Death Stranding, players are all but alone in a massive open world that is on such a scale of emptiness, it makes even the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 look busy and full of life. How gamers react to that will differ, how they feel about being a deliveryman and little else will divide opinion.

What will also divide opinion is the message this game attempts to send. The importance of coming together and doing something to help a cause bigger than yourself, perhaps even one that doesn’t make sense or benefit you in any obvious way.

Unless this game takes a drastic turn from its formula in the next 10-20 hours, I reflect on my experiences in it with a lot of thanks.

Death Stranding is different and un-apologetic about every aspect of its gameplay, design and storytelling. It’s a game you’ll either get something out of or curse the day you ever spent the time playing.

And yet, Death Stranding really attempts to challenge gamers to find a middle ground.

MY RATING: 7/10  

Google Stadia Signals Potential Shift In Gaming Industry

Google Stadia is set to release in 2019 and could, potentially, be the cloud-based streaming platform for gamers that will change an industry at the peak of its powers.

With eyes transfixed, Google announced ‘Stadia’, a new streaming platform that will provide a revolutionary change to the gaming industry. Stadia isn’t a new piece of hardware to unbox (although Google did show off a controller), but it is a cloud-streaming platform that will allow gamers to play on any device that supports web browsing.

Stadia will feature the ability to play on phones, tablets, computers, and on TV’s, with Chromecast functionality also available.

Stadia is described as a ‘Netflix for gaming’ and requires a fast and reliable internet connection. Users simply open a new tab in Chrome, wait five seconds, and the process is complete. Gamers can use mouse and keyboard or connect the Stadia controller using Wi-Fi.

All the back-end work is done through Google servers, not like traditional gaming platforms where graphics and gameplay works through the internals of the hardware.

This is a big deal for gamers because it doesn’t force them into buying hardware, though Google gave no indication on the cost of games for Stadia nor the official controller.

Expect games to retail for a similar price as digital releases currently, but also, monthly subscriptions to the service are also likely (like Netflix) with varying packages on offer. Upcoming shooter Doom: Eternal is confirmed to be releasing on Stadia, but no other announcements about launch titles were given. 

Google promises 4K resolutions, but interestingly, Stadia features a built-in Google Assistant feature that will allow gamers to seek help in game (for passing a certain level or finding a treasure etc.) without having to switch screens.

Stadia will release in the US, Canada, Europe, and in parts of the UK later this year.

Far Cry 5 Promises to be a Mixed Bag

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I never played either Far Cry 4 or Primal. After completing and absolutely loving my time with Far Cry 3 back toward the latter end of the PS3 generation, somehow I managed to skip the next two instalments in the franchise.

What I remember about FC3 was its large, flush, and vibrant open world where the mixture of story missions and side quests ensured that there was always something worthwhile to do. Ok, climbing the communication towers to unlock different parts of the map became tedious quickly, but the in order to continue your adventure as Jason Brody battling the creepy villain Vaas, it was a rewarding necessity. The other memorable aspect to FC3 was its gunplay, where shooting wave after wave of enemies increasing in difficulty took up a large part of the mission structure. For some, this was fun, but for others, it became tedious.

Below is IGN’s 2012 review of Far Cry 3:

Far Cry 5 Moves to Hope County, Montana 

With the series moves to Hope County; a fictional setting based in Montana, this marks the first time that a Far Cry game has been set in the United States.

A religious and political thriller will tell the story of Joseph Seed, leader of the Eden’s Gate cult that has taken over Hope County. Your role is to stop Seed and his cult, which is pretty cut and dry for any shooter, but the wider-reaching religious and political elements of this game are sure to stir some controversy after the game launches on March 26.

If nothing else, the Far Cry games are fantastic at story-telling and creating a feeling of both enjoyment and discomfort for the player. This latest instalment promises to be no different. Buckle up and get ready.

Exploring the world of Hope County also promises to be as intriguing as the story mode itself. All the usual Far Cry adventures will be featured, from paragliding to off-road ATV adventures. Furthermore, activities like fishing and stunt racing also make their way to the game. Big rigs (trucks) will be welcome driving additions, but by far the coolest aspect to what FC5 has to offer is the ability to fly planes and helicopters, plus interact and use animals such as dogs and bears to your advantage throughout missions.

Will Far Cry 5 Become a Tedious Experience?

But with all the promise that FC5 has in its offering; some very big concerns remain heading into launch. My first concern is the nature of the missions. Just how many gunfight battles in large compounds are there going to be? Will players simply go from overthrowing one cult compound in Hope County to another? It is crucial that FC5 has variety in its missions, otherwise, the experience will stale quickly and gamers may not be compelled to see it through till the end.

Secondly, my other big concern is microtransactions. Reports have already surfaced that suggest Ubisoft will offer a quicker alternative through FC5’s story mode, with additional weapons, vehicles, and abilities being some of the rewards for real-world money transactions. Assassins Creed Origins, the last big release for Ubisoft, did feature microtransactions but not on the same level that reports surrounding FC5 have suggested. All this remains to be seen but given where the gaming industry has headed over the past couple of years, expect Ubisoft to try and milk as much out of gamers wallets as they can.

Final Thoughts

Far Cry 5 promises to be the best instalment of the famous franchise yet, but it won’t come without its problems and it certainly won’t get perfect reviews. But for one of the big releases in 2018 outside of some noteworthy counterparts, this is a game that will be worth taking a good look at on launch day.

REVIEW: Xbox One X Edges Microsoft Closer

I recently spent a week with the Xbox One X thanks to Microsoft. After all that time with the console, it still remains hard for me to justify the purchase when, really, you need so much more to truly take advantage of what’s in the box. Having said that, Sony’s PS4 Pro pails in comparison to the Xbox One X, and that in itself signals Microsoft’s first big win over it’s direct competitor for a long time. 

Some of the cheaper 4K monitors still retail for well over $500 in New Zealand. Add in another $750 for the Xbox One X, you’re looking at a $1300 investment at the very least to get everything you’ll need to get the best experience. But the counter to that is the quality you get as a result. Running with all the bells and whistles, the Xbox One X provides a premium gaming experience with some of the best graphics seen on a console ever.

It wasn’t until I went back to the standard PS4 that I realised just how much smoother games ran on the Xbox One X. In comparison, the likes of COD: WWII, FIFA 18, and Destiny 2 all seemed far more jerky and inconsistent in terms of frame rate running on the older systems.

By far and away, the game that showed off the extra perks that the Xbox One X has was Forza Motorsport 7 and Gears of War. Ironically enough, both Xbox exclusives. One of those games was also built for 4K from the ground up.

Graphically, Forza Motorsport 7 running on an Xbox One X doesn’t completely outshine Project Cars 2 running on a PS4, but the smoothness of frame rate is so precise that it makes for a more immersive experience. The tiny little details of sponsor names on the cars are much more vivid, and the range depth to landscapes are that much more detailed. Racing around Bathurst on Forza Motorsport 7 you can see the headlights of cars racing around the top of the mountain when you look back in the rear view mirror. On FIFA 17, the added smoothness to play makes you feel (just a little more) like you’re watching an actual broadcast of Premier League Football.

The strength of the Xbox One X is really in these smaller details, and if you’ve got the tech to take advantage of it, then go right ahead.

Some of the specs included in the box are:

  • 12GB GDDR5 graphics memory
  • 2160p frame buffers and 6 teraflops of graphical processing power
  • Wide Colour Gamut, HDR technology
  • Custom CPU @ 2.30 GHz, 8 cores

Games On Xbox One Are MASSIVE

However, there are some major drawbacks to purchasing the Xbox One X.

Firstly, the size of games with 4K built or patched in. 1TB of hard drive space was almost completely full with the handful of games Microsoft had pre-installed in the box. Add in a couple of apps including Netflix and Dolby Atmos, there was little room for anything else. There is the option for additional storage, but for such a pricey investment it would’ve been nice for Microsoft to include a larger hard drive. However, considering some of the specs inside what is the smallest Xbox ever made, with a power unit inside too, you can acknowledge a severe lack of room for much else.

REVIEW: Xbox One X Edges Microsoft Closer

Since the disaster launch of the original Xbox One back in 2013, Microsoft has slowly edged its way back into the fight. The new Xbox One X is another sign of that, but the problem remains in the mindset of most gamers, in that the Xbox One X is not the next generation console for Microsoft. It’s a mid-cycle upgrade, but it’s a damn good one at that. Microsoft needs more exclusives, and with Crackdown delayed until next year, there still isn’t that one blockbuster exclusive game this holiday season that will stand out to the gamer.

Sales for the Xbox One X have been good thus far, and much of that is down to the marketing from Microsoft. They’ve pitched it perfectly as an optional upgrade to the existing, standard version of their gaming console. The Xbox One X is the closest thing to a gaming PC for the console space, but it’s also the best looking console ever made as well. Both of those factors go a long way toward justifying the console, but the fact that 4K televisions are still not a part of most households is a big drawback. Yes, the experiences can be had on a 1080p display, but the real benefits can be found in 4K displays with HDR.

In conclusion, if you have the money and the available technology, the Xbox One X is the console that provides the most bang for your buck this Christmas.

 

REVIEW: Sonic Forces Wrestles With Differing Ideologies

Sonic Forces is a game that finds itself stuck between to generations and no real commitment to pick its desired pathway. 

The classic side scrolling style of Sonic makes its return during large parts of Sonic Forces. For the most part, it’s fun, but the games’ insistence on taking the more modern 3D approach hinders for half of the experience kept me feeling a sense of constant change. For some games that’s good, but Sonic Forces feels like it’s trying to cater to two seperate styles, the newer of which continues to just not feel like the Sonic we all know and love.

You could argue that Sonic Forces didn’t even need to be released, because what the franchise is known and loved for already released in the form of Sonic Mania earlier this year. So why Sonic Forces? Well, I wish I could tell you, but after sinking many hours into the game, that answer still isn’t clear.

Simple Yet Annoying Changes In Style Hinder Sonic Forces

Simplicity is the name of the game here, despite the constant change happening around you. Enemies are easy to beat, and you take turns between using Sonic and a custom made character, of which you design when first beginning the game. Boss battles can be tricky at times, but after a few goes, you quickly grasp just what it is you need to do in order to beat them. Story wise, Sonic Forces just didn’t do it for me, and I didn’t find myself asking myself what I was actually working toward whilst playing through the missions.

Stop the bad guy, that’s really all I knew throughout. Having said that, Sonic Forces isn’t built to feature a gripping story mode, the story is just an essential part to aid progression, and it’s a rather desperate attempt at that.

Some levels are fun, whilst others are downright annoying. The levels I particularly enjoyed were the side scrollers, but when the game forced me into playing behind the character, I found myself wanting to immediately put the controller down. That’s a shame, because if Sonic Forces just stuck with what it did well, the side scrolling, I’d be happy to keep on going and maybe redo some of the levels.

Sonic Forces Wrestles With Differing Ideologies

Whilst fun in patches, Sonic Forces could’ve been so much better if it stuck to what the franchise has always done well. It had all the tools to be better than it was, but it’s trickery with the formula keeps it from being a must have for fans of the famous hedgehog.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

REVIEW: Call Of Duty WWII Successfully Returns To History

Call of Duty WWII successfully grounds the franchise back in its roots and provides a more meaningful single-player campaign that’s worth the investment. 

Released annually, the COD (Call of Duty) series has often been criticised for it’s future-based, technological, over the top style, especially in recent years. Always fun, but totally out of the realms of what the series was originally – a shooter set in the middle of a historical world war.

With COD WWII, the series finally returns to Europe and follows several famous moments of the second world war, including the fight on Normandy beach and the Battle of the Bulge. That, in itself, is worth paying attention to.

A Campaign Mode With Meaning, Relevance, And Challenge

Emotional, gripping, and with the knowledge that these events actually happened. Those three aspects make up COD WWII’s campaign mode, one that is both fun to play and pushes the graphical standard of the franchise into uncharted territory.

From the very first mission storming up Normandy beach, playing the game makes you appreciate just how dire the circumstances were for soldiers that day back in 1944.

At it’s essence, this is very much the COD experience you’d expect, but it’s grounded in its realism. No longer does health automatically regenerate, you’ll have to rely on health bags scattered around the field or given to you by your fellow soldier. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually found myself (trying at least) to protect my character as much as possible. Added into that, now you can’t hover in mid air or run up walls either. Apart from small jumps, you are firmly locked on the ground during combat.

During the campaign mode you also get to experience an assortment of different vehicles… from tanks to warplanes.

Due to stellar graphics (the best seen in a COD game yet) and the knowledge that you’re taking yourself through some of the most historic moments in history; COD WWII’s campaign is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. It’s worth playing through more than once, especially when it comes to the Armoured Train mission!

Campaign Mode Rating: 8/10

Multiplayer Largely Unchanged But Still Rewarding

Short of some interesting new modes and the advent of divisions, COD WWII brings a largely unchanged multiplayer offering.

You have the choice of Infantry, Airbourne, Armoured, Mountain, or Expeditionary divisions in multiplayer. All are fairly self-explanatory and provide their own unique challenges, but some of the more experienced COD veterans will still have an advantage if they can earn enough XP to modify certain weapons. There is a new social space where players can upgrade weapons, join certain challenges, and modify their characters.

In terms of the maps, COD WWII seems rather lacking so far. With the exception of one large open map set in Gustav Cannon, others seem similar in terms of design and don’t offer much variety. New maps will be released soon, coming to PlayStation first, so hopefully more rewarding and challenging locations will be playable.

Like always, COD WWII multiplayer rewards you the more playtime you spend. Levels and XP rise per match, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to get used to the new upgrade systems. A new Gridiron mode will peak your interest, but as usual, the most enjoyment can be found in the traditional multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch and Free For All. The only difference is this time it takes place in real world, historically accurate locations from WWII.

Multiplayer Rating: 7/10

Call Of Duty WWII Gets The Tick Of Approval

COD WWII provides the realistic experience that the franchise has needed for a long time.

It’s campaign mode is stellar, and all the favourites of multiplayer and zombies mode are present. Zombies also managed to put a WWII take on itself, which is both terrifying and intriguing. Graphically, this is the best COD game so far, in fact it’s not even close. If you’re a fan of shooters, or even just a gamer wanting to pick up something interesting this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with this.

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in New Zealand.

GTA Online: Changing The Game For Rockstar

Some would argue that aspects to GTA Online have become a little over the top; but it’s success cannot be questioned. Not even in 2017, four whole years after launch. 

GTA Online is as playable and content packed as its ever been. Gamers still keep coming back for more. Similar to FPS shooter Destiny, GTA Online has amassed a cult following of loyal fans who spend hours upon hours of game time playing through all the modes, both new and old.

Some of the new online modes GTA Online will have to offer are Transformation Racing, which for the first time will allow players to switch between air, water, and road during the course of a single race.

The foundation of GTA Online’ success has come from periodic releases of new game modes.

GTA Online: Changing The Game For Rockstar

The concept of GTA Online was favourable to gamers and was met with a ton of positivity following its original announcement. When GTA V launched in September 2013 (can you believe it’s been that long!?), gamers had two weeks to get familiar with the game prior to the online component releasing.

In 2013, and perhaps even before then, Rockstar had seen the writing on the wall. Online was the future for gaming; developers could no longer just rely on a jam-packed campaign mode. Gamers finish the core single player component of a game quicker than ever, and with that, they want more ‘bang for their buck’.

GTA Online not only gave gamers just that, it changed the course for future Rockstar games.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy won’t be a DLC worth overlooking

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy appears to be an expansion that isn’t just another DLC, but a serious and credible title worth the price of admission.

Naughty Dog (the developers of the Uncharted series) have said that they’re keen to move on from Uncharted, at least for the time being.

Nathan Drake’s story spanned through four games, three of which were critically acclaimed. The ending of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End didn’t rule out a return to the series in the future, but it certainly all but ended Drake’s role.

And yet – in just a few weeks players will be able to re-enter the Uncharted world with The Lost Legacy DLC. All the early discussion about the game has suggested that it will be an enjoyable experience, too.

Focusing on two female characters, Chloe and Nadine, whereas originally, fans of the franchise predicted that Sully and Sam Drake (Nathan’s older brother) would be the two characters that would appear in any DLC.

Naughty Dog did the direct opposite, choosing not one, but two female leads.

A larger open world and a storyline that provides intrigue and suspense is what fans can expect from The Lost Legacy.

Concerns from the gaming community were around the length of the game, but with well over 40-minutes of gameplay in just one chapter, all signs point to a lengthy story mode at the very least. Uncharted’s multiplayer will also feature in the expansion.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy comes out on August 23rd.