Like most things with the blog, I’m late to my 2021 wrap up post. Last year was deja-vu from 2020. Still mostly working from home, covid still dominating and much of the focus was on staying healthy and following the rules with the big difference being covid vaccines and hopefully a path to living with covid thats a bit more normal than what we’ve had for the last two years.
I’d no big plan for 2021 apart from keeping my daily walks going while working from home. Thanks to Chris doing a virtual Lands End to John o’ Groats walk through the year I thought I could up my walks to do a little bit more each day/week.
Around the end of August I realised that if I’d been a bit more ambitious I could hit 2000km for the year so I upped the distance and also the pace.
Boom – 2000km hit by mid December. I find the walking essential as it clears my head, gets me out of the house and also helps with the ever constant weight battle – more on that next. Would love to get back to running but thats not an option at the moment. As for 2021, more of the same. Want to make 2000km again and maintain the pace.
As well as following covid rules and getting vaccinated as soon as it was available one issue I had was my weight. Through 2020 and then the first half of 2021 my weight was slowly creeping up. A weird weight loss at the end of 2019 had masked the gradual weight increase but hitting 91kg in July from a maintained low of around 83-84kg was the kick up the arse I needed.
Over the last 6 months I cut out some of the extra’s (bread!) I was having and coupled with the walking + pace increase has seen the weight drop back down to 83-84kg. Really pleased to get back down into that range. 2021 aim – maintain!
Not so good was sleep towards the end of the year. Through November and December I ended up averaging 4-5 hours sleep per night which is nowhere near enough and miles away from my normal of 7 hours. Can’t really call out a strong reason why although suspect work pressures/stress were the major contributor. Frustratingly the year ended badly with a real flair up of the chest illness I had a few years ago. So I’m back at the doctors and awaiting blood test results. It’s not stopped the walks although I have had to drop the pace a little but one by product is I can sleep all the hours. I wonder if the lack of sleep has ended up causing a relapse? Time will tell.
Thanks in part to covid and also the massive amount of money being invested due to streaming, TV now dominates film for me. There’s just too much TV to watch although I had a good go through the year in watching it all.
Surprising was how much the BBC and Ch4 dominates my watch time although many of the other networks you could lump together as Sky in the UK. Some shows that I watched and enjoyed through the year were:
Ted Lasso – season 2 was never going to live up to the season 1 hype but was still an enjoyable watch
The Expanse – season 5 and most of season 6….only one more episode left before it comes to an end! One of the best shows out there.
Line of Duty – another show that was never going to live up to the hype but still enjoyed it
Cobra Kai – a really easy but enjoyable watch
For All Mankind – best show on Apple TV+ – season 2 was excellent and a step up on the first
Vigil – enjoyed it especially the location spotting in Glasgow and the West Coast
Wandavision – outstanding – loved it
Loki – like a good season of Doctor Who with a bigger budget although the end underwhelmed
Great British Bake Off – classic season although still maintain Jürgen was robbed
The White Lotus – great to watch although not sure it landed the ending
This Way Up – cracking comedy/drama on Ch4
Showtrial – Another beeb drama that kept the suspense going week to week
It’s a Sin – stunning. If you watch only one thing from 2021 make it this. Joyous and sad at the same time.
Succession – essential, even just to hear another Fuck Off
Also binged Halt and Catch Fire from a few years back and highly recommend it. Next on the list of classics for me to tackle – The Soprano’s or The American’s…but I’ve got a few things from last year to finish off first.
As for films, Zack Snyders Justice League was surprisingly good, No Time To Die was a great end to Daniel Craigs Bond run and Dune was stunning…roll on part 2.
Games had a better year. Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite came out in the last couple of months and have been excellent. Most surprised by Halo after the delay in 2020 and the worries around the graphics and the studio. Returnal on the PS5 is a pretty stunning game to look at although I do struggle with the gameplay. I’ve got Metroid Dread to play plus a couple of PC and Xbox games but I’d say 2021 has been one of the best years for games in a long time…and 2022 is looking just as strong if not more so.
And finally a shout out to a simple game thats taken the internet, and Twitter, by storm – Wordle. A daily word puzzle that has no ad’s, no multiplayer, no in app purchase. I love it especially the sharing on twitter by fellow players and trying to work out their opening words/moves.
My effort from today:
Wordle 204 3/6
🟩🟨🟨⬜⬜ 🟩🟩🟩🟨⬜ 🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩
A strange year of virtually no tech purchases. Thanks to a power cut at home I needed to buy a new printer, and I hate everything to do with home printers so that was a real grudge purchase. Mid December and my iMac failed which turned out to be a failed logic board (maybe power cut related???) so that was an expensive fix too. The only notable new tech this year was the Oculus Quest 2 which I picked up late December. Not used it much but surprised by how good the visuals are and how easy it is to use untethered from a PC.
One area I did invest in was upgrading my NAS, not by buying a new one, but upgrading the RAM and replacing all the drives as I had virtually no capacity left. My Synology is almost 7 years old but still supports the latest software releases and with the extra RAM and faster drives, Plex and also a couple of docker images are running better than ever.
2021 saw no new Apple purchases – so still using the iMac from 2017, iPad from 2018, Apple Watch from 2018 and the iPhone from 2020. 2022 will be different though. Really want to move to a new Mac with an Apple processor and leave the Intel to PC’s. Will wait for iMac and Mac Mini updates in 2022 before making a decision but leaning towards the Mac Mini and another monitor rather than heading down the iMac route again. Also expect to pick up a new Apple Watch in September/October but still undecided on the iPad as it’s still doing everything I need it to do so might squeeze out one more year.
As for other tech, if I could lay my hands on a new PC graphics card I could be tempted into an upgrade. A new camera to replace my Fuji XT-2 is also on the radar as I’m a couple of generations behind…but thats an expensive 2022!
As before I don’t do resolutions but look for overall area’s to improve or focus on. One that stands out is simplifying both in and out of work. Juggling a lot and need to focus on the things that matter and drop the rest. Second area is on health and focussing a bit more on understanding me, my body and also my diet. That’s a challenge but the biggest improvement would be to have a more positive and normal year. Fingers crossed.
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.
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.
Back in 2005 I posted my bestest games (horrible title) from the last 20 years. A couple of months back I felt it was due a refresh so here are my bestest games from the last 30 years.
Flickr have stopped supporting their hover notes so instead the list is below. A few iOS games have crept onto the list as well as some 360 and PS3 updates but some classics have never really been bettered.
F-Zero – 1991 SNES – An almost perfect futuristic racing game. Time trialling was a real challenge. Wasted far too long trying to shave a few hundredths of lap times. Future F-Zero’s never recaptured the magic.
Portal 2 – 2011 – Xbox 360 – Follow up to Portal this was a great first person puzzle game that had a batch of single and co-op puzzles as you battled against GLaDOS.
Super Mario 64 – 1996- N64 – Never been bettered. Still enjoy firing up the emulator and tackling another couple of levels as it’s such a fun game.
Bioshock – 2007 – Xbox 360 – A first person shooter with an original story, stylish graphics and a way of getting in your head like no other. Loved it.
Ferrari F355 Challenge – 2000 – Dreamcast – One of the hardest console racers, not just of it’s time, but across the various consoles I’ve played. Looked great at the time but it’s sobering to think how 1 car and 10 tracks were enough to satisfy everyone. Now we want double the tracks and hundreds of cars.
GTA V – 2013 – Xbox 360 – Latest in the series and by far the best. Play as one of three characters, take part in heists and a truly massive world to roam around complete with multiplayer. It looks better than it should have on a 360 and I’ll probably pick up for the PS4 when it get’s re-released this year.
Head Over Heels – 1987 – Amstrad CPC 464 – A cracking isometric game that I played to death. Graphics were groundbreaking at the time and it was pretty humorous too with a great soundtrack and effects.
The Last Of Us – 2014 – PS4 – Action and survival game with a great story, graphics and music. Best game on PS3 and looks amazing remastered on the PS4.
Ico – 2011 – PlayStation 3 – I ignored this title on the PS2 finally picking it up on the PS3. Puzzle/platformer with each room viewed from a fixed point but a camera that focuses on your character. One of those games that doesn’t appear to offer much but leaves an impression that is hard to forget.
Fez – 2012 – Xbox 360 – A puzzle platformer that looks more at home on a SNES than current consoles and relies less on pixel perfecting jumping than puzzle solving at a more relaxed pace. A classic.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 – 2003 – PlayStation 2 – The best football game on a console. Local multiplayer only but it was the game of choice at the time for football fans and it was fantastic. Later versions added online but it was awful…and Fifa eventually took Pro Evo’s crown as it beefed up on gameplay and in particularly won online.
Goldeneye 007 – 1997 – N64 – For me still Rare’s best game. Perfect Dark was good but always enjoyed Goldeneye more, maybe because it was first.
The Secret of Monkey Island – 1991 – PC – Still my favourite Lucasarts game. It was funny, captivating and great to look at. The music was also memorable.
Burnout Paradise – 2009 – Xbox 360 – Best of the Burnout series and the best open world racing game so far. Developed by Criterion it featured great challenges, a memorable soundtrack and an online party system that worked really well.
Super Mario World – 1990 – SNES – My first SNES game and probably the one I played the most (behind any multi player). The level design was perfect, so many shortcuts in the game – you really could play it any way you want. When it was complete there were still coin challenges to do. A masterpiece.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – 2007 – Xbox 360 – The best Call of Duty multiplayer for me. Great maps and some innovation with games modes made it really enjoyable. Later versions just never captured me the same way that Modern Warfare managed.
Forza 2 – 2007 – Xbox 360 – This was such a complete racing game. Lots of tracks and car’s so if you liked to race you were well catered for. Add to that a detailed tuning and setup option for each car which were a tinkerers delight. Finally a skinning engine that allowed for 1000 layers of graphics so artists could spend there time in that part of the game. With a marketplace to buy and sell setups and skins I had a friend who never raced but spent all his time creating amazing skins for cars….and made far more money than I ever did racing.
Elite – 1985 – Amstrad CPC 464 – Space trading epic. Almost 30 years since I played this and I can still remember what a pig it was to dock all while the Blue Danube played in the background. Just bought Elite Dangerous which will hopefully recapture the magic.
Tetris – 1985 – Gameboy – Has any other game sold a platform more then Tetris? The Gameboy was an essential purchase just to play this. Multiplayer at school with this (using cable to connect two machines) was amazing.
SoulCalibur – 1999 – Dreamcast – The reason I bought a Dreamcast. It’s graphics remained untouched for a couple of years, it’s fight mechanics were great and it had a lot of depth for a beat em up.
Halo 3 – 2007 – Xbox 360 – I love all of the Halo games but this stands out the most. First Halo release on the 360 and the graphics were great. Bungie also addressed the de-ranking issues that had plagued Halo 2, the multiplayer was deep and well supported with lots of downloadable content and it also coined the phrase ‘get out’. Probably my most played online game.
Left 4 Dead 2 – 2009 – Xbox 360 – A co-op first person shooter that was one of the first to really emphasise co-op so much so that you needed friends to get you through levels and there was a great feeling if you did manage to complete a level. The amount of enemies thrown at you was mental and every so often you’d hear one of your buddies shout ‘Tank!!!’ or ‘I’ve woken the witch……run!!!!!!’.
The Bards Tale – 1985 – Amstrad CPC 464 – Simple graphics but more of a text adventure, and the first role playing game I ever played – weird – I’ve hardly played one since although I completed this at the time and loved it for weeks.
Unreal Tournament – 1999 – PC – Came out at the same time as Quake III Arena and spanked it’s arse. The first FPS I played online and it’s something I’ll never forget. So fast, so addictive and the follow ups just never clicked for me as much as this.
Red Dead Redemption – 2010 – Xbox 360 – GTA set in the wild west, Red Dead Redemption was so much more. Lots of sub games, a great story and horses. Sunsets. Zombies!
Mercenary – 1985 – Amstrad CPC 464 – I played this on the Amstrad. Graphics are awful when you look at them but the plot and adventure was great and the sense of achievement when escaping the planet was massive. The overview map is fantastic and shows you the scale of the game which was ambitious for it’s day.
Fifa 12 – Xbox 360 – 2011 – Fifa has become the best football game on consoles and I could have picked almost any year, but Fifa 12 saw a big step forward in online play and the mechanics were refined more than any other yearly release too. Importantly, the online actually worked too unlike some other years which have been buggy upon release and sometimes taken 3-4 weeks to resolve.
Transport Tycoon – 1994 – PC – Another Uni favourite and was a massive time sink. Loved it.
Carcassonne – 2010 – iOS – A slick single or multiplayer iOS game based on the German board game. I’ve been playing this for 4 years and it’s still compelling especially with the droop feed of add-on’s released by the games developers, The Coding Monkeys.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 – 2008 – Xbox 360 – Geometry Wars was a small game available in PGR2. A year later and this full title was released. It’s a shooter which is fast paced and the screen gets very, very busy as enemies and explosions fill the screen.
Super Bomberman 2 – 1994 – SNES – Golden Bomber. I knew when to stop the roulette wheel…allegedly. If theres one game where I would expect to win before I start, this is it (and Pro Evo). Still love it to this day. Wasted sooooo many hours at Uni playing this. David and his speedy boots. Those were the days.
Wip3out – 2000 – PlayStation – The whole Wipeout series was great but the third edition was the best on the PlayStation. Where is Wipeout for the PS4?
Madden NFL 10 – 2009 – Xbox 360 – I’ve played Madden for years from early version on the SNES right through to current consoles. Madden 10 stands out as they made a number of improvements to gameplay which has been incrementally improved since. I’m also convinced that I played this version more than previous/future versions. A great game and very deep if you give it time.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – 1998 – N64 – Fantastic design, massive play area and it was great to play Zelda in a 3D environment.
Street Fighter II – 1992 – SNES – I loved it. So did Shakeel. Unfortunately for me I hardly ever won on this game – still kept coming back for more and might have thrown the odd pad or two.
Super Hexagon – 2012 – iOS – A twitch game that consumed many hours on the iPhone. Simple graphics and seemingly impossible at first but then you get better, figure out patterns, and it gets faster and faster and faster. A classic.
Uncharted 2 : Among Thieves – 2009 – PS3 – Stunning adventure game that looked and played great. Preferred this to Uncharted 3.
Sega Rally Championship – 1995 – Sega Saturn – A great game that saw some mighty local multiplayer games between me and Shak. Had much better feel than Daytona which was another Saturn classic.
Half Life 2 – 2004 – PC – A game to upgrade your PC for. I loved this more than the original. The set peices were far more involving, the use of physics blew me away. 10 years on and we still await Half Life 3.
Moto GP – 2002 – Xbox – Originally a demo for Xbox Live beta testers, Moto GP was a great showcase for Live. League racing and friendships made that are still there today. This took me back to F-Zero days – time trialling has never been so addictive and frustrating. Mugelllooooooo.
Super Mario Kart – 1992 – SNES – So simple yet deep. So easy yet hard. So much fun. None of the follow up’s captured the feeling from this title nor the fun.
Doom – 1993 – PC – My first FPS and it was such a step forward from what had come before.
Gran Turismo – 1998 – PlayStation – First of the series and arguably the best as the others that followed have added very few new idea’s. In it’s day nothing could touch it and it ate up so much time.
Descent – 1995 – PC – First true 3D game. Never has flying through passageways been such good fun. Played this so much at Uni. DESCENT!!!
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – 2006 – Xbox 360 – A first person shooter but this was far more slow paced and tactical. No game could offer gameplay like this – 8 mins of crawling around in bushes to then get shot and killed…or tens mins of sitting in a shed waiting for an attack. Online chat was legendary during this game but our group loved it. Blind siege was our online mode of choice.
Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past – 1991 – SNES – One of the few console games that I’ve played through to a finish. Got the puzzle/arcade balance absolutely spot on and kept me captivated from beginning to end. A game I was sorry to finish.
Command & Conquer:Red Alert – 1996 – PC – Classic strategy game. More came with better graphics but none were as much fun.
Battlefield 3 – 2011 – Xbox 360 – It was a close run things but this was my favourite Battlefield and moved the FPS genre forward. It brought massive destruction to environments, there was no where safe on the map really and the vehicles were great. Battlefield 1942 back in the day was great but this was the best version of Battlefield for me.
Project Gotham Racing 2 – 2003 – Xbox – The best online racer on consoles at the time. Despite the 30 fps and the dullish palette this is still my favourite online racer. Myself and David getting top 50 times in a Paris track is still a standout moment.
At around 2 hours of gameplay many will dismiss Monument Valley but they are fools. FOOLS! This is a 10 level puzzle game that is more akin to a living M.C. Escher image than a game. The premise is simple – guide Ida to the end of the level by sliding and rotating elements of the level to allow her to complete the path.
It looks and sounds stunning and is such a satisfying fun game. In many ways the length is perfect as repetition is removed unlike so many games that are longer just because they can be, not for any good reason. If it still sounds too short and the screen above doesn’t convince you, the developer has announced this week that more levels are coming. There are no excuses left – just buy it.
A PC favourite, FTL is a real time strategy game based on your spaceship. Maybe more a resource management game but you take part in a variety of quests, battles and make choices throughout the game with the aim to save the galaxy with you in charge of your spaceship. It’s tough, especially as when you die you start from the beginning again. Works so well on the iPad benefiting greatly from the retina screen and the touch controls.
This is really addictive and each play through is unique adding to it’s shelf life. You can also take charge of different spaceships, again extending the game. Out of all the games on this post, I’d buy this one. Love it.
I had zero expectations for Hitman Go, expecting an arcade game or first person shooter but what Square Enix has released is a great looking turn based strategy. You control your agent, dictating which path he takes through a level solving various puzzles as you go.
The game is a looker and can be viewed from any angle and it’s great to see some of the big game developers developing unique mobile games rather than rushing out a crappy port. One note of caution is that there is an element of in app purchasing for hints and unlocks but they aren’t needed to play the game and it doesn’t get in the way when I’m playing. An impressive game which will take some time to complete.
Hearthstone is a card collecting 1 vs 1 battle game. Collect cards and play friends or strangers in a number of different game modes. Presentation is fantastic and it’s a very addictive game. There is in app purchasing but it doesn’t blight the game and to be honest I’ve not needed to spend any money on the game. Excellent game and you can play against PC p;ayers too.
Final game worth trying is Dungeon Quest. Don’t let the free and IAP tag put you off. This is a great little Diablo lite dungeon crawler that supports various classes and plays really well. Great for blasting through a few levels if you’ve got 20 mins to spare.
Hopefully there’s something in that list to tempt you and after months of meh, it’s a great time to game again on iOS.
Great post from Thomas Baekdal that has gained a lot of attention on Twitter and other blogs on In-App Purchasing and how it has destroyed, not just destroying, gaming. Many have focussed on the fact it has ruined iOS as a gaming platform. Looking at the top grossing app’s today it’s galling to see just how large some of the IAP options cost.
The screens above are from just a few of the top grossing games on the iPad. The amounts are horrific when you consider a PS4 or Xbox One full price game is around £49.99. Hard to see how this will change though. I don’t buy into the freemium games model and refuse to start a game that relies on IAP as a way to play. I’m sure many gamers are the same but it looks like the majority of casual gamers see it as a legitimate way to play.
What’s worse is the creep of IAP into full price gaming. Forza 5 for example has some shocking IAP’s for a full price game. I don’t think gaming on iOS or Android is finished, rather there’s a need for Apple and Google to make a stand against some of the ridiculous IAP offerings that developers are allowed to make. I also think the industry as a whole should be marking down these titles – use the app store reviews to mark these titles as 1 star, game review sites should be warning people accordingly too. Ultimately though it’s only by not handing over cash so readily that we will see a reverse in this trend. Wake up people.
tl;dr – The Xbox One is a good console marred by frustrating usability issues and a lacklustre set of launch games. Wait 6 months, let some of the issues get addressed and choose between a PS4 and Xbox One after E3 in June 2014.
It’s been over three weeks since the Xbox One launch, the start of next gen console gaming (sorry Nintendo) in the UK. This time I’ll be smarter I said. This time I’m only buying one console (I had the 360 and PS3) as my gaming time has reduced and the first party titles will dictate the platform, not the hardware.
On paper, and from initial reviews of hardware and games, the PS4 is superior from a hardware perspective. Third party games on the PS4 look better and also perform better however looking at launch titles, the only first party game I wanted to play was Forza 5 and looking ahead, Titanfall and Halo 5 are also must haves. Coupled with the 360 being my console of choice for the last few years, Live being a far superior online experience and most of my gaming buddies plumping for the Xbox One, the choice was obvious and the Xbox One was ordered. While I’m not regretting the choice, the Xbox One is unbelievable in so many area’s.
The Xbox One gets off on the wrong foot straight out of the box. The hardware is big, boxy and can be best described as industrial. Even ugly. The console is big and the power pack is external…and surprisingly it’s bigger than the 360’s power pack too. Bitten by the red ring of death, I think Microsoft have greatly increased their engineering tolerances with the One.
Also huge is the Kinect 2. Not just the camera and sensor itself, but the cable connecting the Kinect to the Xbox One. It’s so thick! It’s as if Microsoft found a job lot of RGB scart cables and decided to repurpose them. Worse, Microsoft are using a proprietary connector for the Kinect, which is really just USB 3, to stop you plugging it into a PC. That’s the only reason I can see and smacks of the same attitude when the original Kinect was launched.
Thankfully the Xbox One pad feels great in the hand. It’s seen small improvements over the 360 pad and is really comfortable. Rumble in the triggers is a really nice addition and thankfully they haven’t tweaked the layout too much. The dpad is much improved and even the addition of ridges on the sticks really helps.
Switching on the Xbox One and it’s pleasingly silent, well my second box was, more on that later. With it tucked away under the TV the offensive design is hidden from my eyes and instead I’m left with a powerful console that promises much. Microsoft are focussing the One not just on games, but as your entertainment hub. While this sounds good in principal and the demo’s of the voice controlled TV channel switching are compelling, in practise the UK isn’t supported at launch and even without the voice and channel integration, the Xbox One doesn’t play well with 50Hz UK broadcast signals. Oh dear.
Before going on to the operating systems and games a word on the hardware. After a couple of hours a noisier than expected fan was becoming annoying. I thought this was the Xbox that was silent? Over the launch weekend it didn’t get any better so after seeing an MS rep asking people with noisy fans to get in touch I raised a support call. 10 minutes of chat and troubleshooting (which involved rebooting the Xbox – that was it) and I was to raise a ticket and a new Xbox would be dispatched. The new one is certainly a lot quieter but with a few reported cases of really noisy drives it’s disappointing that hardware issues continue to affect Microsoft consoles. My pad also disconnects but not consistently. Sigh.
Setup and OS
Switch on the Xbox One for the first time and you’ll be asked to download the day one patch. At 500mb it’s not too bad but once downloaded it takes a few minutes to install. With that done the home screen is finally launched. Well this is different but familiar at the same time. Random tiles placed around the screen with no order to it. Move right to the store or left to your pins. Microsoft hasn’t learned from Windows 8 and instead has extended tiles to the Xbox platform and rather than touch is hoping that voice commands will be used to drive the console.
Are they insane?
To be fair, navigating around via the pad is fine. The pins make sense although I’m sure they will get quite messy over time as more games and app’s come out. However it is a quick way of getting to a new demo for example which in the latest 360 dashboard is a navigation nightmare. By reducing the UI to 3 top level screens it’s also made it quicker to jump to various app’s and features, with the home button on the pad always taking you home.
Navigating via Kinect isn’t as successful. You can use voice commands or gestures to swipe and select. This doesn’t feel comfortable at all and is still pretty inaccurate. When voice works it works really well. The One is always listening so saying Xbox followed by a command will, as long as your voice is recognised, launch that action. So ‘Xbox record that’ will record a 15 second game clip, ‘Xbox Go Home’ will take you back to the home screen and ‘Xbox Snap [app]’ will snap an app to the right of the screen. Some of the phrases don’t make sense to me though. ‘Xbox show my stuff’ takes you back to the Home screen. Show my stuff is the best they could come up with? ‘Xbox On’ will wake up the Xbox, ‘Xbox off’ will switch off the Xbox. Actually, no – it’s ‘Xbox turn off’ to switch it off – why not turn on and turn off – why the difference? Why is there no ‘Xbox Eject’ to eject a disk? ‘Xbox Mute Chat’? ‘Xbox Screenshot’? It all feels a bit rushed and for me I have real difficulty in getting voice to work reliably. I’m Scottish. Cue Burnistoun.
Trying to get voice commands to work while friends are listening and shouting 11 clearly doesn’t help. Funny, but irritating. Navigating a UI via voice which only works every third or fourth attempt leads me to never trying voice and relying solely on the pad for navigating around the UI. A UI that has been developed to encourage voice and gesture not control via the pad. This doesn’t feel like a step forward, more like a design that forces you to use voice even when it isn’t reliable. Frustrating.
The dash performs quickly enough although it can stutter from time to time and some app’s can take a while to launch. A real step forward is that the One can multitask and while this is a benefit I’m sure some of the stutter and slower launches are down to the app’s or games that are currently running in the background. The multitasking is best seen with Snap. You can snap an app, web browser, party to the right hand side of the screen while your game or video is displayed on the rest of the area. This is handy but on first use it can be tricky to get rid of the snapped app – say Xbox Unsnap or press B and the snap will be removed.
I was surprised at how apps work on the Xbox One. Want to play a Bluray movie? Download the Bluray app. Same for music cd’s – there’s an app for that. You’ve recorded a game clip and now want to share it with the world – download Upload Studio. Third party app’s, games, demo’s etc are expected in the store but not some of these app’s which I see as core functionality. A strange decision from Microsoft.
One final point to touch on is the boot time for the Xbox One – it’s long. You have two options regarding power management. You can select a standby mode where updates are downloaded while the One is switched off but the reality is that the console isn’t really off – it’s in some sort of low power mode. The advantage is that boot times are far reduced, around 15-20 seconds but I don’t want my Xbox to be on all the time especially as updates aren’t that frequent so I opt for the full off option and that means boot times are around a minute. Ouch.
The Xbox has always offered the best online console experience. Matchmaking was better, party chat saved many of us from the inane drivel from countless Americans and with everyone having a headset it made for a more collaborative experience in comparison to the PS3. How would Microsoft improve Live for the Xbox One?
Parties are now difficult to setup and manage compared to the 360. It is bizarre that on joining a party you then have to go into party options and enable chat. WTF? I joined a friend on Fifa last night after receiving a party invite and it involved so much faffing about while I was playing another match that I was almost dropped from the game. He even felt the need to send a message in case I’d missed the party invite as thats been the norm over the last couple of weeks but getting that message wasn’t easy either. For me the biggest step back is around Friends.
The Friends application shows your Friends and your Followers. Followers are new, so like following someone on Facebook rather than friending you can keep up to date with what they are playing and doing on their Xbox. For me though the main point of the Friends app isn’t to see what my friends have been playing over the last few hours but to quickly see who is online and then making it easy to start a party with a few of them. However Friends starts by displaying notifications, not who is online. So it’s a list of crap like Cheesy was on his dash. Cheesy played Forza 5. Cheesy won a race. Cheesy is playing Battlefield 4 and so on. But is he online? Thats all I want to see. So I have to select Friends, wait for that to load and then I can see who is about. Microsoft is promoting notifications so again this has moved front and centre of the application but for me it’s step back.
There is also no notification that a Friend has come online. I’m assuming they have switched of these notifications as you can now have 1000 Friends, so if you do have that many there will be constant notifications as you are playing a game or watching a movie. But it now means that we could be playing a game and have no idea that a couple of friends have come online and we should invite them in to the game. Compare to the 360 – a friend comes on and we can quickly and easily send them a party and game invite as we know straight away that they are on Xbox Live. At least give the user an option to disable notifications if they are annoying.
It says a lot that the easiest way to invite friends and create parties is via SmartGlass which is an app for your iOS, Android or Windows tablet or smartphone for controlling your Xbox One. Well done Microsoft. Well done.
The one fear I did have, using Skype for voice over Live, has proven to be unfounded. The quality is a step up from the 360 and it hasn’t failed once. Well done Microsoft. Well done.
So far, so average. Surely the launch games will lift the mood? The launch games were fairly disappointing to be honest. The one true next gen game looked to be The Division which was put back until 2014. With Titanfall also not due until March it was left to Forza 5 to be the main launch title on the Xbox One.
Forza 5 looks and sounds great. 1080p, 60fps and the tracks and cars (interiors too) look gorgeous. The handling is great and the new force feedback triggers really add to the game. However so much feels missing compared to Forza 4. It feels like tracks have been halved as the list of missing tracks from Forza 4 is extensive – Nurburgring, Nurburgring F1, Road America, Suzuka, Maple Valley, Mugello, Sunset, Camino and Fujimi. Worse is the grind and payment model that has been added. Car rewards that permeated the previous game have been removed, or so it seems so far. Cars have to be bought using in game credits or tokens and while credits are earned at a steady rate, you need to own a car to play it online and earn more credits and you start with one or two cars only. If the game was free and being funded by in game purchases I would be more comfortable with the model but Forza 5 is a full price game with a ridiculously expensive method of purchasing content built in.
The first online challenge was only available if you bought the first downloadable content at £7.99. For 6 cars. Fuck off Turn 10 and Microsoft. I won’t be buying tracks either as I’m sure thats why so many have been dropped. While they have retained the great tuning and livery editors they have removed the auction house. Again, I’m not sure if this was all to meet the Xbox One release date and we’ll see those features added but it’s a strange omission. Forza 5 – a good enjoyable game marred by grind and in app purchase issues. Thankfully some of those issues may start to diminish as the first patch due soon will increase credits you can win at each race, reduce the price of cars and add a couple of game modes. Add in a track or two for the next patch and all will be well. One special mention to the day one patch you get when running Forza 5 for the first time. It’s 6GB in size. That is ridiculous and hopefully it’s a sign that the console release date was brought forward and it’s not a sign of things to come going forward.
The two other games I picked up were Battlefield 4 and Fifa 14. Battlefield looks great (not as great as PS4) but has been marred with bugs, admittedly across all platforms, so it’s still early days. I’ve been impressed with the maps though and it looks significantly better than the 360 version.
Fifa 14 feels like a 360 game with better animation. Stadiums have improved as has the overall presentation of the game but on the pitch it feels quite different, more realistic, a more fluent game than the previous versions. Corners and free kicks are noticeably different too – more than one defender challenging for a header for example. Small differences but they all add up to a more enjoyable experience. The crowds in the stadium are excellent and audibly react to the game. Nothing beats silencing a home crowd by scoring in a game. So not a huge step up but it has made a great game even better.
A final concern with these first releases is pricing. The next gen platforms has seen games move to a £50 – £60 RRP price which has meant Fifa 14 costing £47 on Amazon for example. That feels steep, but not as steep as the digital pricing for games. Both new platforms allow you to purchase and download games digitally. However with Fifa being priced at £55 on the Xbox One and £60 on the PS4 why would anyone bother? Some of the games come in at around 40GB too so its not a trivial download. One bizarre price is Angry Birds Star Wars – £35 on the Xbox One. £34 – £33 more than the iOS and Android prices…for the exact same game! Unbelievable and hopefully sales have reflected the ripoff pricing. Microsoft tweaked the pricing for launch titles in the last week…upwards. The reason – digital content pricing is subject to change. No shit.
The Xbox One is a good console marred by frustrating usability issues and a lacklustre set of launch games. Over time I’m sure the UI will improve as will Kinect voice commands and much of the frustration in using the One day to day will disappear. The PS4 seems to be more powerful/easier to program for than the Xbox One and that is something Microsoft will have to address going forward. Stating that ‘the power of the cloud’ gives the Xbox platform an advantage reeks of bullshit.
Due to the lack of true next generation games I’d recommend holding off from buying either the Xbox One or PS4 right now as there is nothing that jumps out as being a must have title. That hasn’t stopped both consoles selling out and there is no doubt there is an appetite for next gen machines….there’s just not much to do with them right now. Let 2014’s E3 take place and decide on a platform based on the games that are out and are announced. If you are desperate for one right now and don’t have any allegiance to a platform then try and get the PS4. Good luck and happy gaming – there’s lots to look forward to.
Next gen (sorry Nintendo) is finally here with the first reviews of the PS4 which is out in America this Friday. The Polygon review is gorgeous to look at as well which is a bonus but others are rolling out today including Joystiq and Eurogamer.
Looks like the PS4 hardware is great but what isn’t is the initial game selection. Roll on next week when the Xbox One hits the UK.
Four weeks from now will see the new consoles available in the UK from Microsoft and Sony. I’m looking forward to seeing what both offer and to wet the appetite both companies have started their advertising blitz.
Perfect Day and focuses purely on games and people playing them. It’s a core theme that Sony has been consistent on throughout the year and pushed again with a UK ad to celebrating 20 odd years of the PlayStation.
Microsoft focus on the different capabilities of the console. Games first but then watching TV and movies and Skype chats with friends. Much better than their showing at E3.
The adverts highlight the clear difference between the two. Sony is all about games and Microsoft is games first but so much more…but more that a lot of people will not be interested in. Despite the missteps from Microsoft over the last few months there really isn’t that much between the two new consoles.
If I had to decide based on the adverts above I’d be picking the PS4 as it focuses on the games and for me thats still what a console is all about. Ironically though the first party games on the PlayStation look to be weaker than those on the Xbox and online which is important for me still looks to be better on Xbox.
Both adverts also show that Titanfall and Driveclub were both expected to be launch title exclusives that have missed their date. Shame, although for Driveclub it may be a blessing as Forza 5 looks so much better.
So four weeks from now I should have an Xbox One and at the moment I’m picking up Fifa and Forza only. I’ll decide on Battlefield or COD nearer the time. At the start of the year I said I wouldn’t be buying a PS4 but I can see that changing over the next 12 months as there are loads of indie games that look to be Playstation only. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything new in consoles so it’s great to say there’s less than a month to go. Can’t wait.