It’s new console’s season. First up is Microsoft’s Xbox Series X launched on Nov 10th. I got mine the day after (thanks Amazon!) and so the following are my impressions after a few weeks. So in no particular order:
The console was really easy to setup. Plugged it in and used the iOS app to setup and transfer settings from the One X. Within a few minutes I was logged in and downloading games.
Front end is fast but exactly the same as the dash released in October for the One X. Takes away some of the new when it looks and feels the same.
I had games on an external hard drive ready to transfer so copied a couple over to test the console. Sea of Thieves was much much quicker to load. It was also much smoother – 60fps and in 4K.
Foran Horizon 4 was a bit more complex as it needed an 80GB update – new textures clearly leads to a download of the whole game? Like Thieves the game loaded more quickly and throughout the game you saw the speed of the Series X SSD. The game now runs at 60fps at 4K and looks really good. Sharp and much better textures…but when you are racing around the countryside some of the improvements are hard to pick out.
Downloaded Dirt 5 as I wanted to play an actual new game. Certainly a great looker and some nice touches in single player but…pop up in surprising places and the multiplayer is really weak. Hopefully updates will rescue this from mediocracy.
The Series X is whisper quiet – really impressive. Under load you can hear it slightly but compared to other consoles it’s nothing. However it’s a great room heater…this will be interesting in the summer.
The internal SSD really does deliver on 2 fronts – quick loading of games and quick resume. The loading isn’t really a surprise if you’ve upgraded your Mac or PC from HDD to SDD but the quick resume is surprisingly good. Across old and new games it only takes a few seconds to resume a game, no loading menus – straight back to where you left off.
I really like the design of the Series X. I have it standing next to the TV rather than underneath on it’s side. Yes it’s big…until you stand a PS5 next to it which makes it look svelte.
I also loved the packaging from Microsoft. Easy open stickers, a premium box and it added to the new console experience. However I’ll never see that box again until I replace/sell it.
The controller has seen little change. A share/capture button and a slight sculpting here and there. It was always preferred over the DualShock but I use an Elite now so nothing really lost….but Microsoft played safe with the controller and it’s now behind the Sony counterpart.
I’ve had no lock-ups or crashes but I did get a strange load once where it booted in 640×480. It said my TV didn’t support anything higher too…which was weird as I’m using a new LG CX Oled which supports all the new consoles features. No matter what I did I couldn’t get it to work…until I switched it to a different HDMI port and all was well. Swapped back and again all was well so I’ll put it down to a weird HDMI handshaking issue.
Back to the dash – again it feels like Microsoft have played safe compared to PS5. There’s nothing much new in the dash, just a tweak to how games and apps are listed. PS5 has a concept of shortcuts which is an interesting way of getting to game content more quickly.
Much has been made of the power of the Series X but some of the initial third party games have seen stutter and frame drops. Rumours of tooling getting to dev’s late and a rush to meet console release but I’ve seen none of it as the TV I have has VRR – Variable Refresh Rate – which masks/hides the issues. I wonder how many dev’s are going to assume that users have VRR as standard going forward?
In low power mode (console’s off but will do updates and downloads) the fan is always on. You can’t hear it until you put your ear to the console but put your hand over the top of the console and you’ll feel a constant cool flow of air. Wonder if the noise will increase over time due to dust/wear?
New first party games are an issue. Halo being put back to Fall 2021 has meant there is little new from Microsoft on the Series X. However Game Pass is such good value for money that there is plenty to play on the console including Destiny 2 which has just been updated for the Series X.
Old games really do fly though – Halo 5 is silky smooth and I’m loving diving back into multiplayer.
Overall I’m really happy with the Series X. Hardware, power and design are all top notch and easily beat the old console. However stock seems to be an issue and as there’s no must play Series X game I’d say wait for stock levels to get better and don’t pay over the odds for it. When you do pick one up though you’ll be rewarded with a cracking console, a Game Pass stocked with games and a pretty full looking first party games list coming out over the next 2 years. However those first party games really need to deliver and show there’s more outside of Forza, Halo and Gears of War.
Apple Arcade launched with iOS 13 and I’ve come to the end of my free trial month. It’s been much talked about…will it change mobile gaming? Will the quality of games encourage sign-ups? Is it just Apple trying to grab another slice of service revenue?
Apple Arcade promised 100 games at launch but like many products Apple launch now the details were opaque. On day one there were around 70 titles and after a couple of days they added another 3-4. Since then they’ve dropped around 5 new titles every week and on Friday 8th Nov they’ve hit 100. Impressive considering the variety of titles available.
While cloud saving meant an easy shared gaming experience on iPhone and iPad Pad, Arcade extends that to Apple TV and the Mac. For some games this works well and means you can continue that favourite game wherever you are.
However the platforms can offer really different experiences. iOS is driven by touch unlike the other two. There are games like Mini Motorways that while you can play them on the Mac or Apple TV just aren’t as good and that’s purely down to the interface. Conversely Sayonara Wild Hearts shines on the Apple TV when used with a controller while on iOS it feels a different game as the touch controls are lacking.
Of course you can pair a controller with iOS and with 13 now supporting Xbox and PS4 gamepads Apple are finally taking gaming + controllers seriously, but you are more likely to pair a pad on the Apple TV and Mac.
Apple Arcade costs £4.99 a month. £60 a year. One full priced digital title on Xbox or PS4 costs £60 so do you get value for money? Yes. Will I have the same opinion in 6 months time? Not so sure.
Today’s mobile games are full of in-app purchases, adverts or a grind of some sort to get more coins to unlock some special move or worse multiple in-app currencies to unlock various things. I’m looking at you Mario Kart which is so unlike a Nintendo game it hurts. Apple Arcade games guarantee no in-app purchasing. No adverts. No grinding either – just a clean experience which is far from what we see in mobile gaming today.
Value would also be questionable if Arcade was all full of the one type of game but the initial launch is packed with a variety of genres and each type has one or two hits in their category. There’s no doubt there’s a few stinkers in there. Sonic Racing is surprisingly poor and there’s a couple of other games that have been written with microtransations in mind and had them quickly stripped for Arcade.
The main challenge around value is how many titles keep coming to Apple Arcade? How long do existing titles stay in Arcade? Arcade’s value would diminish if Mini Motorways or Grindstone which have a lot of repeatability disappeared from the service after 9 months. While thats an unknown we are seeing great new titles like Guildlings appear more than 6 weeks after Arcade launched so I’ve a good feeling that we’ll see more enjoyable titles into the new year.
One other aspect of value is to the developers. There’s not been much said on how developers are rewarded for titles in the Arcade store. Does it depend on number of downloads? Number of plays? Paid up front? Hopefully the first developers and studios making games for Arcade are being rewarded by Apple – they’ve certainly got the money to ensure developers get what’s due but the App Store shows it’s often a race to the bottom.
All the above doesn’t matter a jot if there aren’t games worth playing. Some of my favourites so far:
What the Golf – You think you are getting a golf game set in weird places, instead you are getting a more anarchic version of golf that’s so much fun. Love this.
Assemble with Care – A short but beautiful game in which you fix objects. Reminds me of The Reassembler with James May.
Grindstone – First class puzzle game. Simple at first but the more you play the more complex it gets where you have to apply more strategy to get through the round. First Apple Arcade title to get an Edge 9.
Super Impossible Road – I loved Impossible Road and this is a deeper version of the original that first came out on the PS4 a few years ago. It’s now on iOS and it’s very good. Has a career more and multiplayer too so a lot more depth.
Mini Motorways – Follow up to Mini Metro swapping trains for cars. It’s got a bit more complexity and while good, I’m not enjoying it as much as Mini Metro.
Where Cards Fall – It’s a puzzle game but relaxing at the same time. You play a character looking back on his life so far and it does make you think about events in your life too.
Guildlings – Only just out but a really enjoyable RPG/puzzle game. Seemingly short again but this is Chapter One so more planned in the future.
There are so many that I’ve yet to try out of the 100, but also worth a shout are Sayonara Wild Hearts and Frogger in Toy Town. Frogger was previewed at an earlier Apple event and looked a bit rough but the gameplay gets quite tricky at times and the graphics are really well done.
Should you subscribe?
For me Apple Arcade is well worth the £4.99 a month it currently costs. Should there be a dearth of new titles or favourites disappear then I might have second thoughts but so far it delivers a great gaming experience thats free of adverts, in app purchases and the grinds that have killed much of the good in mobile games.
There’s a definite focus on smaller more unique games compared to AAA titles seen elsewhere but it also introduces, for me anyway, games that I might not have bought had they appeared in the normal App Store especially if the developers were forced to cram in adverts or IAP’s. I’m looking forward to seeing what other titles land over the coming months and whether Apple can keep up this strong start. The games so far have been a nice contrast to what we usually see on the App Store or on the major consoles. Well played Apple.
August 1993 and the UK saw a new type of gaming magazine. Edge was a serious look at the gaming industry and focussed on technology, the studios and in depth stories on the development of games themselves. I loved it and have blogged about Edge a fewtimes over the years.
I’m still a subscriber and enjoy getting a physical copy each month. It’s read cover to cover and joins the full collection of Edge magazines that I’ve been close to ditching a couple of times but glad I held on to them even if the shelves storing them collapsed recently. They do weigh quite a bit.
Edge launched at a key time. The first PlayStation came out a year after launch in 1994 and a few years later saw the launch of the PS2, Gamecube and the first Xbox. It was a golden age with lots of hardware and game studio changes and Edge was often the first to break stories, have exclusive game previews and conduct interviews with developers that no one else could get.
The internet quickly changed the magazine market but Edge has survived mainly thanks to it’s original content. In the past I’d decide game purchases based on Edge reviews but not anymore. Games are often out for 4 or 5 weeks before a review will drop through the post. They are still a great read and the rare Edge 10’s still something to covet but they don’t make or break a game anymore. Looking back at issue 1 feels like ancient history – they had 2 pages dedicated to format charts and Syndicate was number 1. Rise of the Robots was previewed, just one of the many games that looked amazing but was actually terrible. Issue 3 was previewing VR which took some 23 years to land in anger – you can’t say Edge wasn’t ahead of it’s time. It was also when import games were king and paying £80 – £120 for a game wasn’t unheard of as it would take 6-9 months to land in the UK.
One last noteworthy aspect about Edge is the covers. Some of them have been amazing featuring exclusive art, use of different finishes and in pre-internet days and sometimes still today would reveal a new piece of hardware or preview of a game. Don’t get me wrong, some of them have been awful but they give a great visual history of the last 25 years of gaming. Click on the image to the right to see all 323 covers or visit my Edge Magazine Covers Flickr album to see them in detail.
Hard to believe that 25 years have passed since that first issue. I’ll also confess that I didn’t buy the first one and had to order a back issue after a few months. So glad I did! It seems unlikely with the pace of change, but here’s to another 25 years of the worlds best gaming magazine.
August 19th 1993 saw the launch of Edge Magazine. An adult look at the future of games and I loved it from day one. 23 years later and they’ve just launched the 300th edition…and I still have all of them. I almost ditched the collection when I moved house over 10 years ago but I’m glad I held on to them. I scanned the covers a few years ago and every year update it with the latest covers. All 300 Edge Magazine covers can be found in this Flickr album.
Issue 300’s cover pays homage to issue 1 but is fairly dull compared to someoftheirbettercovers. Edge over the years focussed on design and substance unlike so many of their competitors. Arrogant, controversial but always pretty bang on from my perspective.
What’s caused most debate is the game reviews. Edge score out of 10 and over the years there have been precious few 10’s awarded.
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Edge have also awarded some retrospective 10’s over the years as well.
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One of the repeated debates has been on publishing a score. How many people don’t buy a game because it got a 7 but it was still a great game? I’ll hold my hand up and say a 6 or 7 has put me off a game or three despite reading the review and thinking thats sounds great. I’ve also played and really enjoyed lots of games that got a 6 or 7 proving the text is more important than the score. Despite Edge talking about removing the scores they still publish them while other gaming sites now no longer put a score on a game and the reviews are better for it.
Despite online being the place to get up to date info and paper magazines always being behind, Edge interviews, features and their unique perspective on the industry still make for a must read. Hopefully they can maintain an audience going forward and they are around for a few more years…I need my monthly Edge fix.
It’s been over a week since the Playstation VR came out. I picked one up on day one thanks to a very early pre-order on Amazon along with a couple of move controllers, a camera and a copy of Rigs. I’d been really looking forward to this as the Oculus and Vive were just too big a purchase alongside a gaming PC and VR is of real interest to me. The Playstation VR is the affordable way to get into VR…but how good is it?
Opening the kit is the first surprise. Sony really have pulled out the stops and made it a treat to unbox. You lift open the main lid and there’s a box inside. Inside that box there are smaller boxes holding cables. Lift those off and you finally get to the headset itself.
It felt like opening a Russian doll crossed with tetris. What was also slightly surprising was the amount of cables. A bit unexpected but Sony had done a good job of numbering them all to make installation pretty straightforward.
The headset itself looks fantastic. It looks like something from the future in contrast to the Vive/Oculus headsets which are a bit more utilitarian. More importantly they’ve made it the most comfortable of the VR headsets to wear.
The band on top of your head supports most of the weight and hence for me feels more comfortable than the other headsets. It also works better for glasses wearers like me. You press a button on the front of the headset to move the screens forward and press in a button on the back of the headset and then pull forward to extend the headband. You then place the headset on and press in the front button to bring the screens over your eyes/glasses and then use an adjustment screw to tighten the headband.
It sounds harder than it is but it’s very comfortable to wear.
The cables are unavoidable really as it’s an add-on to the PS4 and the bandwidth required to get data to and from the headset is more than wireless can cope with right now but there’s no getting away from the mess it makes. There is a audio out and some controls close to the headset so you can easily control volume and plug in some buds of your choice.
The camera and headset tracking leaves a little to be desired. The camera and move controllers are 6 year old tech and it definitely shows in comparison with the Vive. I found during use that the tracking would lose alignment especially during daytime so curtains closed/lights out are the way to go to try and improve reliability.
The most important factor of any VR headset is screen quality and performance/framerate. The screens are pretty good given the price. Not up there with the Vive but good enough. I’ve found watching a video on the Playstation VR pretty jarring but gaming is generally OK. Coupled with the comfort of wearing the headset then most folk should be OK when gaming with the Playstation VR.
Despite some worries a couple of months ago I thought the launch lineup of games was really strong coupled with every headset having a demo disk so you can try a variety of games easily on day one. One tip – download the demo disk from the PS store as it’s the American version so has double the amount of demo’s compared to the UK disk. Anyway, some thoughts on my pre-orders:
Rigs – 3 vs 3 sports game in an arena where you are in a mechanised rig. Graphics are clean and detailed enough and frame rates excellent. I really enjoyed the game and reminded me of a VR version of Speedball.
Thumper – This is a fast paced rhythm game with great graphics and looks stunning in VR. Probably my favourite game of the launch titles.
Rez Infinite – A great looking and sounding game, if you liked Rez from 10-15 years ago you’ll love this in VR.
Driveclub – I loved Driveclub and was looking forward to playing this in VR but for me it was unplayable. Choppy and poor graphics and some real frame rate issues for me. Left me spinning!
I also enjoyed Battlezone and felt the graphics were well realised and fitted the style of game but that £50 was a bit steep for the game. In fact if there was one criticism of the launch titles it that some had a demo like feel to them so the pricing was a bit steep.
On my first nights play I ended up being physically sick. This was unexpected as I’d had no issues with the Oculus or Vive or with any motion sickness with games previously. Third corner on Driveclub left me feeling terrible so I instantly switched off, grabbed a sugary drink and waited for the feeling to wear off. It didn’t and 15 minutes later I waved goodbye to my dinner. I do suffer from migraines from time to time and do have some other health issues at the moment so wasn’t too put off.
The next day went a lot better, probably because I stayed away from Driveclub, but after just an hour I was left with a sore head and pain in my eye similar to a migraine kicking in. I tried one more session the following day with similar results.
Clearly the Playstation VR didn’t work with me.
I had checked the calibration, ensured it was setup properly but there’s just something about either the headset or me that was causing issues. After three attempts and having similar results each time without much sign of improvement I decided to return the Playstation VR to Amazon for a refund. I wasn’t prepared to train my brain or persevere to get to a point where it worked and in the meantime be repeatedly sick.
The Playstation VR is a great VR platform. Not as good as the Vive, comfier than the Oculus but importantly has a great launch lineup with the hardware available at an affordable price. Despite it not being for me I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to other PS4 owners.
I come to. Looking round I can see a ship, some spare parts and strangely coloured fauna. I also hear warnings but I want to explore.
I wander around not knowing where I am or what I’m supposed to do. I find an orb which will help me…or will it?
So I guess it’s helping, I need to mine stuff and fix the ship and keep my life support going and so many other things….but I just want to explore. I guess I can mine and explore.
I see a lifeform. Some sort of cross between a beaver and an antelope? I move closer and it runs away. I start mining as there’s lots to fix. God I wish my suit could carry more.
After 20 mins I have the ship repaired but I want to see more of this planet before leaving for sunnier shores. It’s massive and so much seems untouched. I’m seeing lots of new species but not making any discoveries like I expected. I’ve also upgraded my mining laser to a gun. Fight time.
Or so I thought. Mining with the gun is difficult, not a great upgrade. I’ve also attracted the sentinels. Fight or run? Fight of course…then run and hide as they bring in reinforcements.
I scrap the gun and go back to the mining laser as I’ve one last bit of fuel to get…and I guess thats whats marked in the distance. It’s quite a harsh planet so it’s on the limit of my suit surviving and about 3 minutes away. I finally get there, get the fuel and head back to the ship. On the way I fire up my jetpack for the first time. Woo-hoo….then ouch as there isn’t much but time.
With the fuel onboard the ship I can finally take off. I say goodbye to the planet and head for the stars….or asteroids. There’s so many of them. But there’s a space station, lets head there.
Landing was easier then expected and trading looks like the best way to make a fast buck. So many ships too, maybe I can buy a bigger one to get more gear slots. I tried a few and although they are for sale I don’t have enough credits. On to a new planet.
This one is more friendlier and has all the parts and fuel I need to enable a warp drive. It takes another hour or so to get everything I need before I fly off…time for warp. Who knows what the next system will hold for me.
Error, contact Sony with this crash.
What? Elon Musk was right. We are living in a simulation.
That was my first 3 hours with No Man’s Sky which was revealed to the world at the end of 2013. At the time I loved the concept. Everything procedurally generated, a whole universe to explore and so many elements that appealed to me – space travel, trading, on and off planet fighting, stylish graphics and the trailer featured music from 65daysofstatic. This had come out of nowhere and promised so much. Give it to me now!
No Man’s Sky revealed to the world at the end of 2013
It stole the show at VGX and at the next E3 the updated trailer and the hype increased. It was now a PS4 and PC exclusive. Sony were pushing it hard, but it seemed to be promising almost impossible things.
Sean Murray is the face of Hello Games, developers of No Man’s Sky. While the video’s promised so much, could Hello Games, whose history included Joe Danger on iOS (and other platforms) and whose team size in 2014 was…4…really deliver this game? By 2015 the team had grown to 13 but it still seemed tiny compared to the teams delivering COD, Battlefront etc. Hundreds of developers all working on delivering a game that looks great, has atmospheric audio and has a compelling story…with very little bugs that get in the way of the game.
That was my biggest fear throughout the development. I loved the concept and each demo only convinced me more, but interviews with Murray and the team were vague, almost evasive at times. Were they keeping the game a surprise or was there a reason why not much was said?
Roll on to 2016 and we finally get to play No Man’s Sky in all it’s procedural goodness including procedural music from 65daysofstatic. Does it deliver on that early promise?
Apart from reading early interviews and watching the big show video’s I’ve kept away from what No Man’s Sky really is. I wanted to be surprised. There were four video’s released in the run up to launch that showed what the main focus of the game is – Explore, Fight, Trade and Survive. That was enough for me although I did wonder….what is the story?
In the first few days of playing the fighting aspect has been seen the least with explore, trade and survive taking priority in that order. I’m up around 10 hours of playing and I’m still enjoying it which is unusual for me as multiplayer is king and No Man’s Sky has no multiplayer at all.
The planet variety so far, even though I’ve been to only 7 planets, has been excellent. Unique species, fauna, environments. One almost dormant planet, another really harsh with cold nights. I’ve also seen and done so little in the grand scheme of things, that’s whats keeping me coming back for more.
Graphically it’s been good on the PS4 although it does kick in the fans more than other games. You see a bit of pop on planets as you fly around and even when running or using your jetpack but nothing that destroys the game. The audio is also decent but on the slightly repetitive side. Maybe that will change as I visit more planets.
On my second go I found some buttons and options that I’d totally missed first time round. On the multi-tool, triangle swaps between gun and mining laser. Doh! Pressing L2 analyses the environment so you can discover and upload species for credits. Tempting to fly back to my starting planet but instead I’m sticking with this new system and trying to max out each planet. One was pretty barren with not much to mine but the next one was much colder and has a lot to see and do…and earn.
Also starting to see some story elements unfold which I won’t mention here to keep it spoiler free. The game is doing a nice job of adding in some backstory and prodding you to move on, but it seems you can take things at your own pace.
There are a few niggles though. The controls are a bit…weird? Sprint on R3 seems wrong and there’s no options to control turn speed. It’s so slow and can be a bit frustrating. Not sure if thats a console specific issue and you get some more flexibility on PC? Your height in the world also seems low. Maybe it’s just me but there have been a few times already where I feel like I’m looking up at everything. I guess alien worlds will mean lots of different heights?
One other issue is that it is a bit crashtastic. I’ve had two already and Hello Games have posted on launch issues stating they are working on it and have brought in a large QA team to help. They’ve also posted some help for those stuck. You can theoretically get stuck on a planet with no fuel, but you can go back to an older save to get you out of a pickle. There’s also a sameness to some of the bases found so far. Nothing disastrous but hopefully something that changes as I journey across the universe.
Something that’s clear from reading forums over the last couple of days is that there are many not happy with the game. It doesn’t deliver what Hello Games promised, it shouldn’t be a full price game which is bollocks (due to team size?), it has no multiplayer which has been promised/hinted etc etc. They are delusional. The game lets me land on a planet, roam around for hours finding…stuff…and then lets me take off and visit any of the stars I can see in the sky. Any! Thats fucking awesome as long as you aren’t a Greenpeace member and are quite happy raping planet after planet for your capitalist gains.
I have been wondering why this game appealed to me so much from the first showing back in 2013? Why would I get a kick out of travelling across a universe in a solo adventure? I think back to when I was a kid with my Amstrad and three games that I loved that in some ways No Man’s Sky pay homage to.
Elite is know by everyone. It was the daddy of space adventuring and everyone who had a computer at the time gave it ago…and many probably gave up when they couldn’t dock. What a bastard introduction to the game made much more easy when you upgraded to the auto dock. But that sense of scale, with such simplistic graphics, stuck with me for a long time.
Mercenary was another science fiction title that I loved. You started the game having crashed on a planet and the goal was to escape the planet. You had to trade, upgrade to better ships and fight. Spot the similarities? It was one of the few games that I felt compelled to complete a few times as there were different ways to succeed. Graphics so simple but your brain filled in the rest. The final game that No Man’s Sky reminds me of is Captain Blood.
This was a great looking but bit of a weird French game that involved talking to different alien races, flying to different planets across the solar system and trying to find clones of Captain Blood. I never really got into it but loved the concept.
So tie those gaming memories together with the likes of Star Wars and the possibilities of a massive sandbox environment with a story makes for a compelling game. That was always the promise and Hello Games have delivered. I’m sure there will be frustrations along the way and so much still to discover, like space combat this morning and the joy of mining asteroids – who knew! And the best bit is it’s my game, my planets, my story. Congratulations to Hello Games in delivering a game that does meet the hype. Onwards.
Gaming is blighted with formulaic bug ridden titles that are often just a series of tweaks on last years version of the game or an update that borrows from it’s competitors often degrading what made it great in the first place.
Rocket League on paper sounds awful. Football with cars in an up to 4vs4 arena. The cars are rocket powered too and with that description it sounds pretty rough. You know what – it’s pretty damn fantastic.
It’s out on PC and PS4 for £15 and if you are a PS+ subscriber it’s free through July. You can play offline but the main game is all about online multiplayer and we flew through 3 hours of gaming last night. The telling factor was it had that ‘one more game’ addictiveness. Despite racking up (many) losses we still came back for more ending the night with a great win. It has a very accurate physics model and although it’s easy to pick up and play there’s a real depth to the play that requires skill that will take time to develop.
Rocket League allows you to customise your car type, colours, boosts, wheels etc but most telling is that it doesn’t make you a better player. There’s hardly any difference between the vehicles so it’s really player skill and lag that make the most difference to winning or losing a match. Alongside the customisation there’s support for Twitch and a replay editor and it’s already got a large and vocal community.
Rocket League reminds me of Grifball in Halo 3 and is a great online game. If Psyonix can keep the servers up (straining a bit due to popularity) then they’ve got a hit on their hands. This was totally under the radar for me which makes it all the sweeter. Enough typing, back to the game – I’ve got flying to master.
Railroad Tycoon. Transport Tycoon. SimCity. SimCity 2000. Classic city or transport building games that I have fond memories off. The latest SimCity was a bit of a mess when it came out in 2013 and it was a full year before an offline and single player mode was introduced. So much potential ruined by EA. Step forward Paradox Interactive who recently launched Cities: Skylines. I bought it a week ago and it’s got me hooked.
When you start building your first city you feel a bit overwhelmed. There’s lots of road options, you need power, you need (clean) water and sewage disposal for your city to grow. However that feeling quickly passes and you soon realise that there’s a really rich toolset at your disposal to build whiter you want. Straight roads, one way systems, curved roads, roundabouts, tree lined suburbs – it’s all there.
The initial build area feels quite constrained but you quickly get the opportunity to expand and before long you realise there is a massive build area that you’ll do well to fill no matter how big your city grows too or how extended you want to make it. What helps is that the game, certainly at first, isn’t that hard. If you make some fundamental mistakes it can be costly to rip up and start again but generally the money will flow in and the transport and building options will unlock pretty easily…which is great! Instead of fearing money and the game getting tricky you are left to use your imagination and built the city you want.
There are many ways of influencing finances. Taxes, loans, budget tweaks and something I haven’t seen before – districts. You can split your city into districts and apply policies to those. So encourage green policies in one area and heavy industry in another, banning heavy transport near houses to help with the traffic flow through the city. It add’s another level of detail and greatly increases the feeling that you are in charge. The districts, like the city itself, can be named to whatever you like as can routes and even stores.
Graphically I’d say Cities: Skylines does enough. It looks good, is quick to move around the city and while most of the time you spend fairly zoomed out, you can drop right into the city and see what your individuals are doing, the routes they are going and the mess that your traffic is in – more of that later. What is captured is the feel of a city. There is loads happening at any one time and suburbs can feel quite sedate whereas heavy office and shopping areas feel really busy.
There’s also a lot of thought in the traffic/transport side of things. Bus routes, metro’s, train, ferry and airports plus policies that can be applied that affects traffic. With the various road types it leads to a lot of options and a chance to apply a lot of traffic management to your city…and you’ll need it as your city grows.
One thing that is missing are disasters – you won’t see a cyclone rip up your city or an earthquake. What you will have to get used to is destroying what you’ve built to make it better. Small early roads and buildings will need to make way for motorways and train lines and while this does replicate the growth of major cities it can make for some painful decisions.
For all thats good, there’s a fair bit of admin to do. Clearing out old buildings, water and sewage pipes…it can be a bit repetitive. There are ways around some of the pain but in many ways it’s a necessary evil.
It’s not as big an evil as traffic. With a game that gives so much control over traffic it’s frustrating that it seems to suffer from an over reliance on getting it absolutely right. If you are seeing bodies piling up, fires not being out out, an increase in sick people yet you’ve got an abundance of fire stations, cemeteries and hospitals then take a look at traffic. If you zoom in close you will see essential services stuck in pile ups of traffic and even with three lane roads there seems to be a build up of traffic in one lane. Hopefully this is a bug that will be fixed over time as traffic seems to be the biggest problem with the game right now.
There’s a mod for that
One thing I’ve not mentioned is the extendability within the game. You can enable mod’s that unlock all territory, gives you infinite money and there’s are loads being added all the time via the Steam Workshop. A few favourites are:
Extended Road Upgrade – This mod adds two new road building tools that allow you to upgrade between one- and two-way roads and to change one-way road directions, without having to demolish and rebuild the road.
Mod’s just don’t affect gameplay, you can also download new buildings and graphics to change the look of your cities. Imagine where this will go if you could download a Halo set of graphics…or Game of Thrones.
As well as creating your own starting maps you can also download a great number via Steam…and the game has only been out a couple of weeks.
There’s also a tool to create your own height maps for the game – http://terrain.party. This is all thanks to this Reddit thread. The community already around this game is very good and a few good places to visit (apart from the publishers own forums) are:
Despite the flaws Cities: Skylines is a fantastic game and thanks to the large and active community and the steady flow of mod’s it’s got a long future ahead of it. If you are at all interested in management or simulation games then this is well worth a punt. It’s great for Paradox Interactive that they’ve not only built this superb game but it’s selling well and creating a great buzz. So long SimCity, you won’t be missed.
Some really nice games out for iOS at the moment. A couple that I’m really enjoying are:
It’s not like iOS gaming needs another endless runner but if it looks and plays well who can complain? It costs £1.49 and is very addictive and although I thought it was quite shallow there is a lot of subtle tricks and techniques to learn. You can find out more at the Alto’s Adventure website.
F-Zero and Wipeout are two of my favourite games of all times. AG drive gets pretty close to the feel of each of them but with no weapons. It’s fast paced and looks really good on the iPhone…not so sure on the music though. Lots of tracks, customisable ships and some good challenges as you start to rank up. £2.99 and it could be yours. I’d love a second version that had weapons and allowed custom soundtracks…or maybe a future update?
What’s nice is that both games are ad free and have no in-app purchasing. How refreshing.