Tag Archives: Microsoft

Xbox One S All-Digital Console: What Are Microsoft Thinking?

Okay so let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. The Xbox One S All-Digital or The Xbox One SAD as people have begun calling it. Right now that niggle is out of the way, I have a perfectly reasonable question regarding this new console – what’s the point?

For those not in the know, allow me to give you a quick catch up.
So Microsoft are set to release a new version of their Xbox One S console on the 7th of May. This new version is exactly the same as the previous console except for one detail, it will not have a disc-drive.  Meaning, the new console will be digital only and it comes with a price tag of £199.99, let’s just call it £200. Or $249.00 for our American cousins.

Xbox One S 2

So back to my question, what’s the point?
First let me address that price. £200 for an Xbox One S? Just off a quick interwebs search and I found a few deals on the “normal” Xbox One S with the same sized 1Tb hard-drive for around the £180-190 mark with a game, either Battlefield V or Forza Horizon 4. For a few extra £s you can buy the same console with three games. The new digital only console comes with copies of Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. Three games can’t be bad… or can it? Well yes as the games are pretty old relatively speaking. I mean Forza Horizon 3 when Forza Horizon 4 is the latest in the franchise? Plus both Minecraft and Sea of Thieves are available via Microsoft’s Game Pass program… along with Forza Horizon 4. 

If you’re going digital only, you’re gonna go with Game Pass because it’s a really cost effective idea. So those three bundled games are meaningless.

There are some great deals on Game Pass as well if you look around. Suddenly the three games don’t seem all that impressive. Add on to the age old point that digital games cost more than physical (currently £60 for the digital version of Red Dead Redemption II or £30 for the physical) and that you can’t trade in digital games, that all equals a very expensive past time in the long run with you paying (sometimes) double for games.

Expensive

Then let’s not forget that Microsoft have removed hardware here, the disc-drive. That means more than just losing the ability of physical gaming as there goes the Blu-ray player too. Less hardware for more money? So when you look at it, you’re really paying more for a console that offers less options and more restrictions. Plus with less hardware – wouldn’t that mean lower production cost… so why isn’t the console cheaper?

Then onto my biggest point. A few days ago and Sony officially announced the PlayStation 5 is on the way. No official release date yet but most people seem to think it’ll be 2020. Surely with Sony already giving the word on their new console, Microsoft can’t be far behind. With the new generation of consoles creeping up on us… who the hell would fork out £200 on a restrictive console that limits your options when they could put that money toward a shiny new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Whatever? But if you really, really, really want to by a Xbox One S right about now, just buy the normal model with the disc drive. At least you’ll have the option of both digital, physical games and a Blu-ray player thrown in.

Xbox One S Bundle

I believe there is a rumour going around that the new Xbox will come in two flavours – one with a disc-drive and one without. So the reason for this new digital only Xbox One S could be to test the waters and see how popular a digital only console could be. But are they not leaving it a tad late? If this console had been released 3-4 years ago, yeah I can see how they may get some great numbers to draw some intel from. But this close to the launch of the next gen?

I seriously do not understand Microsoft’s marketing here, it makes no sense to expect people to pay £200 for a console without the disc-drive when they can buy the same console with one for around the same amount of money that is capable of doing the same job and then some… plus play Blu-rays too. It’s like having the option of buying two cars. One for 35k with everything you’d except being included and then the second car, same make and model also coming in at 35k but without a fuel tank.

If you really want a digital only Xbox One S, then just buy the normal console and don’t use the disc-drive for gaming. It works out about the same price and at least you get a Blu-ray player thrown in too.

You know, that SAD moniker actually makes a lot of sense.

State Of Decay 2: First Impressions

I very rarely pre-order games, I fail to see the point as they are often over priced and I prefer to just wait a while for the hype to die down and get the game at a lower price later. However, there is one game I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced a couple of years back that I just had to pre-order. State Of Decay 2. Thankfully State Of Decay 2 was being offered at a low price at launch anyway, much like the previous game as it was a low budget/indie game. Plus the fact that I’ve gone for the Ultimate Edition and one of the bonuses was that you get to play the game four days early too…so I had to jump on this one.

I thought I’d just play the game and offer my first impressions as I play. But before I get to that, I just want to quickly cover what State Of Decay is for those not in the know.

The Original

State of Decay

Developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox 360 and Windows. State Of Decay is a zombie survival horror/action game that has a hell of a lot of enjoyment hidden within its basic premise. You’ve played zombie survival games before…but not like this. If there is one thing that amazed me about the game at the time is just how much it has packed into it considering it was originally an Xbox Live Arcade game, which itself was a platform Microsoft used for smaller downloadable games from both major publishers and independent game developers.

Not that I’m saying that Xbox Live Arcade games were poor as they often had plenty of great hidden gems – but more a case of the games the platform offered were just smaller, rougher games over the big AAA titles that were being released by bigger studios. State Of Decay broke the mold – it was a big (for an indie game) open world marvel that really pushed indie games to the limit. Just as a quick visual example – CastleStorm was a game released on the Xbox Live Arcade and it looked like this…

CastleStorm

The game itself is pretty fun to play, but its a simple 2D action game and there were a lot of them on Xbox Live Arcade. Then State Of Decay, released the same year looked like this…

State of Decay action

State Of Decay actually starts pretty slowly and dare I even say, its rather dull really. For the first several minutes of the game, you are just walking around hitting zombies with a stick. Then you get to meet some survivors hiding away in a ranger station and the elements of scouting locations and searching buildings for weapons and supplies is introduced. This is followed by a mission where you rescue a fellow survivor who then joins your team. The game really starts to open up as you make your way to the first safe-house in the game and then the whole base building element is introduced.

In short, State Of Decay is an utterly engrossing game that has a hell of a lot of gameplay when you really get into it. Individual characters have specific skills and traits that can help grow your community through the game. Base skills level up the more you use them, run a lot and your cardio increases, use guns and your firearms skill will improve, fight zombies using blunt, sharp, heavy weapons to increase your skills with these. You slowly but surely begin to build stronger and stronger characters the more you use them…you grow attached to them too and fight hard to ensure they survive as when a character dies in State Of Decay, they stay dead – there’s no checkpoint saves, no reviving. When you lose one of your best, leveled up members of the community you have built up over several hours of gameplay…they are gone for good. Its this element that really makes you care for your characters, do you send out a lesser character to clear out a zombie infestation and just hope they can handle it or do you risk one of your better peeps who have the skills to fight off a zombie horde but could die losing all the work you have put into them?

State of Decay action 2

Your base can be uniquely created with specific rooms such as a bedroom for your survivors to sleep in, a library where you can learn new skills, a garden so you can grow your own food and a kitchen to cook it in. How about building a workshop so you can maintain your cars and even build weapons, plus several other rooms to build. Some rooms work in conjunction with others; build a library and a workshop to unlock more advanced weapons and upgrades for example. Each room can be upgraded and some will require a specialist to get the most of of them. The base building is brilliant and adds a lot of depth and strategy to the game as you safe-house only has limited space so you have to pick and chose what to build. You can’t have everything all at once. You have to balance your resources such as building materials, ammo, food and fuel to get the most of your you continuity along with dealing with morale issues and other problems. And I use the word ‘continuity’ because that’s exactly what you end up building, a continuity of survivors all fighting to stay alive.

The game has driving, shooting, fighting, base building, scavenging and so much more. All wrapped up in a beautiful little indie package that really has the gameplay value of a title made by a worldwide famous software house that knocks out AAA titles regularly. In fact, State Of Decay puts a lot of big budget, massive releases to shame.

State of Decay stats

Not that the game doesn’t have its problems as it does. The graphics are okay at best, there are frame-rate issues and I’m about to use a word I desist using…overall the game’s look and style is very ‘janky’. There are clipping problems, zombies will sometimes just appear from nowhere or walk through walls of a building, etc. There are problems but they’re also mostly forgivable given the low budget and indie team that made it. The game is rough around the edges but still one of the finest zombie survival games I have ever played. In fact I’m going to say it – State Of Decay is THE best zombie survival game I have played so far.

But I’m not here to drone on about the first game. I put this article together to take a look at the sequel. So lets get into it. Just as a quickie – I am going into this one blind, I’ve not read about the story, I don’t know any of the characters and I have avoided looking at any gameplay footage and reviews – all I have seen of the game was the E3 reveal trailer from 2016. I have not played the game yet and I really am just going to just play a few hours and give my first impressions.

So what follows is going to be as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. There could be spoilers ahead as I write up my experience so there’s a pre-warning for you there.

The Sequel

I’ve waited two years to get my hands on this one and now I finally have it four days early thanks to the Ultimate Edition. I’ve been looking forward to this all damn day, I even booked the weekend off work so I could get some serious State Of Decay 2 playing done. So lets crack on…

I suppose the first thing to do is check out the co-op mode, yes State of Decay 2 features a co-op option where you and three friends can fight of zombies together. I have managed to get my bother to join in for this one so lets bash some undead.

Well right of the bat, it looks ten times better than the previous game. Much more colour and detail. Looks like I’ll have to play through the tutorial before I can do co-op though. Just have to make my way to a camp to find help, bludgeoning a few zombies along the way. All good so far made it through the tutorial and now I get to chose which one of the three maps I want to start on. And off we go, got a car and now just driving off over the horizon as the title appears.

Well the car has run out of gas, that’s another new feature in the sequel – you now have to worry about gas consumption. Now the game starts proper and I’ve teamed up with my brother for some co-op. The map is really well detailed, just saw a lizard run across my path on the way to the first safe house. The game does look really nice, not exactly GTA V level of detail but a massive step up from the first game. The menu seems a bit cumbersome compared to the original, but I think I must need to get used to it. The same basics are there such as the base building and resource management, etc but everything is different enough to slightly confuse me after playing State of Decay so damn much, as I say, its just a case of getting used to the new interface. The controls have been slightly tweaked to over the first game and I keep pressing the wrong buttons. But managed to make it to the first safe-house. Its all very familiar and yet new at the same time. Looks like we have our first mission to so some surveying.

And off we go out to venture into the unknown for the first time. Really loving the graphics so far and the views are really quite lovely to look at too. There is a tethering system in place so you can’t wonder off to different areas of the map – that’s a bit disappointing but the range you are tethered to each other is still pretty large and I’m not sure if you really want to be leaving your companions behind anyway as this is the kind of game where you need to stick together. But I’m able to go off and explore one area and numerous buildings while my brother does the same elsewhere. The tethering is not too restrictive to be fair. Well after a few diversions and a bit of exploring, we finally made it to the surveying spot, pretty much the same as the original game. Look around and reveal locales, searchable buildings, vehicles and special zombies.

Back home after a spot of scavenging and can now build a medical bay at the base. Just been introduced to a neighbour and it gives you the option of working with him or not. Could prove interesting further in the story, stay friendly with neighbours and build up some trust…or don’t and who knows what they may do in the future. Yeah this is pretty much what I was expecting so far – State of Decay with a tone of refinements. The character development is still there, the base building is too. So it looks like building a community from the first game is back but with several more options to explore and play around with.

The characters themselves feel much more emotive and animated. The combat seems to be the same as before but with a load of new animations and gruesome finishing moves. This is exactly what I wanted from a State of Decay sequel. They haven’t messed with the winning formula too much and improved on the areas that needed improving. I’ve have only just scratched the surface on this one, done a few story missions, need to get to grips with the new interface and menu system. But overall I’m well pleased. It’s now almost 3 AM and probably a good time to get some sleep. I can definitely see myself getting lost in this game just as I did with the original – I must have sank hundreds of hours into that on the 360 and then again on the Xbox One. This was just a little taster of what the game has to offer in the opening couple of hours, I’m sure there is so much more to see and do and I’m really looking forward to it too.

Just as a quick aside. I’ve not read any reviews of the game myself, but I do know that its getting a bit if a bad rep for bugs and glitches. I have to say that me and my brother never really experienced any on the couple of hours we played. There was one instance of a frame-rate drop for a couple of seconds and that was all. Nothing worth worrying about anyway.

Yup, really happy with this one and I may do a more in-depth and proper look at the game later. I’ll be playing it a lot more over the next few days and I think the co-op will be a damn good laugh too. Well done Undead Labs, I’m well happy with the game so far.

The Ultimate, Rare developer.

Growing up in the 80s and being a gamer, there are many games that instantly spring to mind…

Jetpac, Atic Atac, Lunar Jetman, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde and Knight Lore are just a handful of games I fondly remember.
Great “old school” games and all made by one specific developer.
Ultimate: Play The Game.

U logo

I adored many of these games and this was also probably my first recollection of knowing the developer through their games instead of just knowing the games.
I recall often looking for that Ultimate logo and genuinely getting excited to play their next title.

Ultimate became infamous for their fan friendly approach and would often give away merchandise for free to anyone that wanted it, all they had to do was ask.

Ultimate were unstoppable in the early 80s and would go from strength to strength. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s just look back on Ultimate and their influence in the 80s.

Founded in 1982 by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper who were ex-arcade game developers. Most of their games were made for the big computers of the time like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, MSX and Commodore 64.
The Ultimate name became synonymous with quality and many of their games were quite revolutionary.

In 1985, the Stamper brothers sold the Ultimate name and back catalogue to game publisher and developer; U.S Gold. This was a darker time for Ultimate as the game’s quality was dropping and they would often overuse the same gaming concepts over and over. The high standard and quality just was not there anymore.

In some of the later Ultimate games, you would often find the name Rare Ltd. appearing in the credits. Rare Ltd. was another company Tim and Chris Stamper had set up to develop for under the Ultimate name, but not be subject to any Ultimate takeover. Meaning that even with the Ultimate name being sold to U.S Gold, the Stamper brothers had another company of their own to fall back on and using the Rare Ltd name, they started one of the most successful partnerships in gaming history…

Rare LTD

Rare Ltd began developing games for Nintendo’s NES system and released their first title for the NES, Slalom in 1987. Teaming up with Nintendo proved to be a great success and would span 3 generations of gaming consoles.

Rare Ltd. would continue developing for the NES and even produce Gameboy ports with games like; Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am, Captain Skyhawk, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll and Battletoads.

Then in 1989, Rare Ltd. bought back all the rights previously sold to U.S. Gold.
With the release of Nintendo’s SNES, Rare Ltd. cut back on their development for the machine initially and only produced a few Battletoads games. But they were not busy developing for the SNES as Rare Ltd. invested their profits made from the NES era into purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics (SGI) workstations.
Rare Ltd. impressed Nintendo with their progress of 3D graphics on the SGI systems and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 49% stake in the company which turned Rare Ltd. into a Nintendo second-party developer.
At this time, Rare Ltd. had another alteration.

Rareware

Now developing under the name Rareware.
By this time, Rareware had such a strong relationship with Nintendo that Nintendo readily offered up any of their existing IPs for Rareware to make a whole new game on. The Stamper brothers asked for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Country is what we got. The game showcased Rare’s 3D graphics advancements thanks to those SCI workstations and went on to become a huge success, in fact Donkey Kong Country became the second best selling SNES game of all time.
Donkey Kong Country spawned two sequels and various spin offs.

But Rareware did not just stick to Nintendo’s machines and in the late 90’s they developed a CGI based beat em’ up; Killer Instinct for arcades.

Soon after the release of Killer Instinct, Nintendo relased their next home console, the N64.

Rareware would continue the successful partnership with Nintendo on this machine too with; GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps and even build on their Donkey Kong games with Donkey Kong 64.
Rareware also made a spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007 with Perfect Dark as well as release sequel Banjo-Tooie.
Rareware and the N64 was a perfect match…but it was not to last.

As they year 2000 began, Microsoft visited Rareware and eventually paid $375 million to own 100% of the company which became a first party developer for Microsoft and another new name and logo.

Rare

Now just called Rare and releasing their first game for Microsoft’s Xbox in 2003; Grabbed by the Ghoulies. In many fan’s eyes…this was the start of the decline of one of our favorite game developers.

Rare’s relationship with Microsoft just was not as successful as it was with Nintendo previously. Releasing remake; Conker: Live & Reloaded for the Xbox along with launch games for the Xbox 360; Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero and Viva Piñata relased a year later. These games were just not up to standard and met with fairly low sales.

By the end of 2009, Microsoft “restructured” Rare and they started to develop games for the Xbox 360’s Kinect, with their first game being; Kinect Sports and later the sequel; Kinect Sports Rivals.
Under Microsoft, Rare had been put on the back burner and have become a shadow of their former self.

Nowadays, Rare “rarely” develop games anymore, but they do have a new title called; Sea of Thieves for the Xbox One which has yet to have a release date.
Can this be the game that gets Rare back on form? We will have to wait and see.

But before then, there is something coming from Rare very soon…
August this year sees the release of this.

rr

Rare Replay: A celebration of Ultimate/Rare with a compilation of 30 games from their library. With the exception of obvious licensing issues (007, Nintendo IPs, etc) pretty much every Ultimate/Rare game is included here.

Jetpac (1983)
Atic Atac (1983)
Lunar Jetman (1983)
Sabre Wulf (1984)
Underwurlde (1984)
Knight Lore (1984)
Gunfright (1985)
Slalom (1986)
R.C. Pro-Am (1987)
Cobra Triangle (1989)
Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll (1990)
Digger T. Rock: Legend of the Lost City (1990)
Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship (1990)
Battletoads (1991)
R.C. Pro-Am II (1992)
Battletoads Arcade (1994)
Killer Instinct Gold (1996)
Blast Corps (1997)
Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
Jet Force Gemini (1999)
Perfect Dark (2000)
Banjo-Tooie (2000)
Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003)
Perfect Dark Zero (2005)
Kameo: Elements of Power (2005)
Viva Piñata (2006)
Jetpac Refuelled (2007)
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (2008)
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)

Now you may have noticed that I didn’t go into detail on any of the games. Well that is due to the fact I have pre-ordered Rare Reply and I intend on playing each of the 30 games and doing an Ultimate/Rare retrospective, look at the Rare Reply as a whole collection and offer my views of the games to see how/if they have held up today.

This is going to be my celebration of Ultimate/Rare.

So here we go folks. 30 classic Ultimate/Rare games to work my way through in my Rare Replay retrospective.

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