Talking Point: Used Games and Durango – An Advocate

Xbox One

A Catalyst for a Revolution…

The most exciting time for gamers everywhere is rapidly approaching… The dawn of a new generation of consoles. Sony have already set the date for their supposed PS4 announcement, leaving Microsoft as the only company yet to release any morsel of information regarding their next-gen system.

Speculation is running rife regarding the next systems: Will they render the pre-owned market obsolete? Kinect and Illumiroom included in the box? Will Blu-Ray be Microsoft’s format of choice? Will it even support physical media? But few consoles have received as much build-up as the newest entrant to the console war, Valve’s proposed Steam Box.
For those unfamiliar with the Steam platform, it’s the dominant digital distribution format for PC gaming and, as a result of dirt-cheap storage, has quickly become the definitive PC gaming platform. Steam is a mature and polished platform that fits well alongside the Xbox Live Marketplace and offers the majority of multi-platform releases and more besides. Looking for Far Cry 3? There it is… The Walking Dead? All 5 episodes… Skyrim? Arguably the definitive version, thanks to Valve and Bethesda’s support and encouragement of user-generated content and mods. It’s open and liberal, and that is one of its greatest assets in a world where both Microsoft and Sony appear to do all in their power to wrestle control away from consumers. As well as gaming, Steam has recently branched out into non-gaming apps, which sets it up perfectly for a future as the system behind a living-room based media hub and gaming platform, one which could be placed as a direct competitior to Microsoft’s Xbox.

Built on the Linux Kernel, the concept of the Steam Box is basically what the Xbox 360 has been since its release; a gaming optimised, TV connected PC. Even down to the components and modular format, not even the Xbox 360 has managed to achieve this level of parity with PC gaming, and with Steam already enjoying an established user-base and a vast library of games, Microsoft and Sony should be taking notes.

The prospect of plugging in your box for the first time, logging into your Steam account, and seeing all of your purchased games, saves and DLC waiting to be downloaded is tantalising. If you’re someone that purchases a lot of On Demand games via the Xbox Live Marketplace, then in generations past you may have resigned yourself to digging out that transfer cable and preparing for a long wait while the bits and bytes tediously transfer over to your new machine, once again making allowance for an industry that never quite seemed to be making the strides it was capable of. This is the reason why Valve’s arrival in the console market could be one of the most exciting things to happen to the Xbox, and gaming in general, for a long time. That’s not to say that Valve’s vision will thrust them to the forefront of the market, eclipsing the phenomenal success of the Playstation 2 or the Xbox 360 in the process, but with the Half-Life developer’s highly-publicised and ‘Google-esque’ vision of an asynchronous relationship between devices, it’s hard to believe that Microsoft and the other gaming Goliaths aren’t already making huge strides to nip this potential threat in the bud.

Valve’s open and forward thinking approach has to stir their competitors into action, and there are few companies better equipped to take advantage of this situation than Microsoft, with an incredible share of the PC market, their own mobile OS in Windows Phone 8, a presence on all major mobile operating systems with SmartGlass, (arguably) the most successful console of the current generation, and an online infrastructure that puts all others to shame. If Microsoft take a page out of Valve’s book and create a true cross-platform experience with Xbox on Windows, then so many doors will open for the company. Sure, an Xbox gaming experience is already a feature of Windows 8, but with Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride being among the standout titles, the service is hardly pulling up any trees. This will surely improve going forward, but with Steam making huge strides in this area, then it can only be a positive thing to have Valve jumping head-first into the console market and creating a gaming presence that will mobilise their competitors and pull the entire industry forward with them.

What the current Xbox experience is starting to do successfully centres around the evolving entertainment experience that has been gradually introduced over recent months. Xbox SmartGlass is a surprisingly polished application that allows users to browse their games, view achievements, see what their friends are up to, and even control their Xbox remotely. Rather than leveraging this application and functionality to the advantage of Windows Phone, SmartGlass has found a home on both iOS and Android, platforms that Microsoft has zero stake in. This willingness to support competitors’ operating systems is the opposite of the stifling Apple approach, and provides a huge amount of optimism going forward. It finally seems as if Microsoft have cottoned on to current trends and their strategy demonstrates that.

Alongside SmartGlass, the Microsoft Surface demonstrates some brilliant examples of asynchronous multiplayer between tablet and console, and if they can improve upon this functionality while carrying it into the ‘Durango’ project, then it is clear that the entire Xbox experience is evolving in some promising ways that Steam simply can’t offer unless they decide to launch their own accompanying array of devices.

Ultimately, it seems as if this generation of consoles could be the most exciting yet. We’re at a crossroads of technology and innovation, and the industry could take any number of paths. While neither Sony or Microsoft are unlikely to be discarding physical media any time soon, the fact that we will have a console in the form of the Steam Box that relies entirely on digital downloads is an exciting and progressive prospect. We could also see the collapse of the pre-owned game market (if rumours are to be believed), although it’s doubtful that either of gaming’s top dogs will risk being the first to hinder their consumers in this manner and thrust themselves into the negative spotlight.

While it’s unlikely that the Steam Box will be the revolution it is claiming to be, it certainly seems as if its introduction will be the catalyst that inspires the revolution. It’s a true cloud experience in how it manages your games, saves and DLC, and while the Xbox 360 has taken some steps into cloud storage, the offering has proved very limited and clumsy. Microsoft will be unable to rest on their laurels after this increase and transformation in competition, and it seems certain that we will now see some massive strides forward in this area in order to fend off any challengers to their crown.

With every blow a company deals, the consumers edge ever closer to winning. Roll on E3!

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Review: Crysis 3

Crysis 3

Crysis averted?

With consoles dominated by simplified mass-market FPS titles – like Activision’s Call of Duty behemoth – the arrival of the Crysis franchise was a breath of fresh air.

Initially a PC exclusive that garnered a reputation as a hardware-crushing FPS for the hardcore gamer, it would be easy to assume that the incredible graphics that made Crysis famous would have been lost in translation whilst transitioning to the fledgling boxes of Sony and Microsoft, but like its predecessor Crysis 3 manages to be one of the best looking titles on the Xbox 360; locales are stunning, characters are believable, weapons are substantial and realistic, and the way Crytek has utilised light to complement their highly stylised aesthetic is a wonder to behold. Sure, the graphics are never going to come close to what a high-end gaming rig is capable of, but games like this make you question whether a new generation of consoles is really needed.

That’s not the only thing that successfully made the transition. Rather than succumbing to the simplified FPS formula laid out by the Call of Duty franchise, Crysis sticks to its guns with a reliance on thoughtful strategy and tactics that make it a true joy to play. The core mechanics focus on the Nanosuit and it’s various abilities, and it essentially makes the game a ‘Predator simulator’, as you tag enemies with your visor and activate the cloaking ability to silently stalk your prey before sending a well placed arrow into your target’s skull. If stealth isn’t your preferred approach, then the endurance ability – that reinforces your armour and essentially makes you a tank until your power depletes – affords you a more direct approach, and it’s the contrast between these abilities that makes Crysis 3 so diverse and accommodating for a number of play styles. Want to remain undetected and silently take down your opponents? The game will reward you. Want to play as a tank and use force to power your way through the map? Go right ahead. Sometimes the abilities can feel a bit unbalanced, as you play a highly-trained invisible combat machine facing off against a handful of mere mortals, but the limit on the length of time you can use these abilities means you’re constantly ducking in and out of cover to recharge and taking note of your surroundings so that you don’t find yourself feeling the heat once your energy supplies deplete and your cloak disappears.

Crysis serves up an impressive array of weapons, from the more conventional guns held by the CELL soldiers, to the more outlandish sci-fi offerings that the alien Ceph bring to the party. Each weapon has a number of options that can further customise your approach depending on your preferences and play style. The most notable weapon of Crysis 3 is the bow that you acquire early on in the story. This is an incredibly powerful weapon that takes down the majority of enemies with one shot or two shots and offers an array of ammunition, from electric arrows, arrows that explode on impact, or the more traditional Robin Hood style arrows. While the bow is a joy to use and superbly complements the stealth aspects of the game, it can be argued that it further unbalances the gameplay, leaving you to silently skulk round the map and take out your targets with a swift arrow to the knee. Regardless of any balancing issues, the feeling of being an absolute powerhouse is one of the most satisfying aspects of Crysis 3, and the levels are designed in such a way that the logistics of taking down your targets can be challenging and some serious thought is required.

The story that drives Crysis 3 – while not revolutionary – serves its purpose well, pulling you through the campaign and providing enough of an emotional pay-off so that you feel invested in the characters and the stakes that they face. Prophet and Psycho are the stars of the show, with Prophet (the main character) struggling to maintain his humanity whilst buried deep in the Nanosuit, and Psycho struggling to come to terms with his own humanity having been forcibly removed from his Nanosuit. Crysis feels like the typical sci-fi premise of Halo (super soldier is the last hope for a world threatened by a great evil) combined with the cinematic set-pieces that made Call of Duty such a phenomenon, and whilst the plot of Halo became so convoluted that the majority of gamers had lost interest in the narrative by the third installment, Crysis 3 succeeds as a standalone story in its own right; even if you have no prior knowledge of the Crysis universe, you’ll have no trouble whatsoever jumping in to Crysis 3, understanding the story, and enjoying the various twists and turns the game throws at you. If you’d like to delve deeper into the back story, then Crytek has provided a cut-scene in the opening menu that will bring you right up to speed with prior events.

One of the biggest complaints about the game’s campaign is its length; the single player story can be completed, from start to finish, in around 6-7 hours and this is a significant concern for game that will set you back around £40. However, the concise nature of the campaign ensures that Crysis 3 never outstays its welcome; the conclusion is epic and satisfying but leaves you wanting more like any successful entertainment always should.

Crysis 3 justifies its price tag by supplementing the campaign with comprehensive online multiplayer offerings and, while it’s unlikely that the Call of Duty faithful will jump ship, the wealth of options and modes that Crysis offers is sure to maintain a healthy following well into the future and provides a unique Nanosuit enhanced approach that other FPS games simply can’t replicate. The standout gameplay mode has to be Hunters, where two players are given the game’s trademark bow and the simple objective of taking out the other players within a set time limit. Each player the hunters manage to take down respawns as a hunter, which leads to a frantic game of cat-and-mouse, where an ever increasing number of hunters silently stalk their prey while the vulnerable soldiers grow increasingly paranoid and spray bullets frantically into thin air hoping to take down one of their Nanosuit-equipped adversaries. Matches like this culminate in either epic holdouts or mass slaughters, which is a great turn of pace from the campaign and a great addition to an already stellar offering.

For a game as polished as Crysis 3, the shockingly stupid AI on offer is somewhat of a surprise and is a major point of contention. Rather than investigate the source of the arrow that just penetrated their buddy’s skull and begin searching for the invisible threat that has already plagued their other strongholds, they will merely investigate the fresh corpse of their colleague. This made some areas of the campaign incredibly easy to conquer and served only to the already vast gulf between Prophet and the CELL soldiers.

Conclusion

Crysis 3 is a polished and accomplished FPS that warrants its place among the Xbox 360’s top shooters. While the game is unbalanced and only offers a significant challenge on the higher difficulty settings, the quality of the visuals, the diversity it offers, and the focus on tactics and strategy makes this an absolute joy to play and a refreshing experience when compared to other titles in this genre. Despite its notable shortcomings, Crysis 3 oozes production value, and the cut-scenes and cinematic set-pieces only serve to remind you that this game is amongst the best examples of the FPS genre.

If you’ve never played a Crysis game before, now is the perfect time to do so.

8/10

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Halo Prices Slashed In Xbox Live Sale

Halo 4

Four Halo classics receive price cuts…

Microsoft has slashed the prices of four Halo titles as part of their Ultimate Xbox Live Sale which encompasses over 60 titles.
If you’re yet to indulge in the critically acclaimed 343 Industries debut, Halo 4, then the £24.99 price should prove irresistable (compared to the usual RRP of £49.99).

Also making the cut are Halo 3 and Halo Reach at a drastically reduced £8.99 each. Slightly less attractive is the antiquated Halo Wars at £19.99.

You’ll have to be quick though, as these prices are for today only and will return to their regular extortionate rates tomorrow.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Telltale Tease Walking Dead Content

The Walking Dead

Writer Gary Whitta teases additional episode…

Telltale Games is set to release additional Walking Dead content, but it’s not the second season.

During an interview on IGN’s acclaimed video game show, ‘Up at Noon’, Gary Whitta announced “You won’t have to wait for season two to play more Walking Dead”, and the additional content “will make the wait for season two slightly less agonising”.

It’s unclear exactly what was meant by this statement, but surely anything that extends the experience of this year’s ‘Game of the Year’ is a welcome addition.

Whitta concluded: “I can tell you what you already know, which is season two is coming. There’s not much to say because it really is very early… It’s a way off”.

“But, knowing that it’s a way off, and knowing that people are hungry for more Walking Dead… There may very well be more Walking Dead from Telltale before season two. We may have a little something extra for you between season one and two.”
Could this be an additional episode that bridges the gap between two existing episodes? A prequel? Or content that follows the story from a different perspective? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Square Enix Announces Murdered: Soul Suspect

Murdered: Soul Suspect

“The Hardest Murder To Solve Is Your Own.”

Square Enix, the floundering Japanese video game publisher / developer, has taken a break from releasing rehashed versions of the oft-criticised Final Fantasy XIII to announce the upcoming title, Murdered: Soul Suspect.

Not much is know about the game besides its 2014 multi-platform release date and that it “takes players into a whole new realm of mystery where the case is personal and the clues just out of reach”.

Sound like your bag? Then “Hunt for leads at http://www.murdered.com, http://www.facebook.com/murdered and http://www.twitter.com/murdered and find out how you can bring your killer to justice.” So your character is dead and it’s your job to solve your own murder.

Well… At least it beats another Final Fantasy XIII, although a 2014 release date for a current-gen title has surely missed the boat?

Check out the trailer below:

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

5 Things We Learned From The PlayStation Meeting

Playstation 4

The Future of Gaming and a Lukewarm Response to Microsoft’s Competitors…

Last night saw Sony finally lift the curtain on their next generation PlayStation console and – while a number of questions were answered – fresh speculation has arisen alongside some exciting new features, services and games. Here are some of the things that we learned and what we think they mean for the next Xbox…

1. Microsoft need a quality cloud-gaming offering

When Sony acquired the popular cloud-gaming service, Gaikai, it was clear that the service would play a key-role in their next-gen plans. Last night we saw a glimpse of exactly what this means for PlayStation 4, and it seems like Sony are finally tailoring the experience to their core audience rather than pandering to the casual market. Playing a game while it’s downloading? Taking your games with you on any device? This is exactly what gamers have been asking for and Sony were listening.

It is now crucial that Microsoft have a console that is equally focussed on a cloud experience and provides some similar or equally compelling functionality. Thankfully, due to Microsoft’s background in technology and the internet, it’s almost certain that this will be a big talking point of their own console announcement and their inevitable E3 demonstration.

2. Sony are desperate to make up lost ground

A revamped Xbox 360 inspired dashboard? Remote play on the Vita? A camera (the PlayStation 4 Eye) that shares more than a passing resemblance to Microsoft’s Kinect? All of this seems like an attempt to cover all bases from a company that simply can’t afford to fall behind in the next console war.

Sure, they provided some really unique and compelling features of their own, but their hopes seem pinned on adding to the PlayStation faithful by negating the selling points of their competitors. Want a Kinect? Well we have that AND Uncharted. Want to play your games from the comfort of your bed? We can do that too!

3. Microsoft’s partnership with Facebook is probably not just skin-deep

It’s no secret that Microsoft and Facebook currently have a pretty close relationship, formed partially from a shared agenda against Google. With a lot of Sony’s announcement focussing on social and sharing, even down to including a dedicated ‘share’ button on the DualShock 4 controller, it’s likely that Microsoft have been leveraging their relationship with Facebook to create something for the 720 that is an equally stellar offering for those wishing to make their gaming a more social experience.

4. The best is yet to come

It’s safe to say that some of the games demoed last night were not the console-shifting AAA titles that gamers have been clamouring for. Knack was almost an embarrassing start, not from the an actual gameplay perspective, but from the fact that they had just hyped up the quality and power of their chosen components, only to use a cartoon to give us our first impressions.

In contrast, Killzone: Shadow Fall’s visuals were impressive, but it’s not a franchise or experience that will have potential buyers salivating come launch. With E3 coming up, it’s safe to say that the biggest draws are multi-platform titles that are being kept under lock and key until the Xbox 720 is unveiled and gaming’s goliaths all convene at the Los Angeles Convention Centre this June.

5. The stage is set for Microsoft

While the future of PlayStation looks promising, nothing from last night’s meeting even remotely resembled the kind of earth shattering statement that would set social networks a light and keep the media buzzed for a considerable amount of time. Sure, gaming communities will discuss each point in depth, but the majority of people weren’t even aware that a PlayStation event was taking place last night.

The stage is set. With both competitors now a known quantity, Microsoft can react accordingly, if they can provide one announcement that shakes the video game industry to its core, then the spotlight will be firmly on them. How can they do this? Move the Xbox experience into the cloud, build on the incredible Xbox Live service, announce some triple AAA titles attached to established IPs, and maybe – just maybe – provide at least one unconventional gaming experience that offers more than just combat mechanics and fetch quests.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Talking Point: What the Steam Box Means for the Future of the Xbox

Steam

A Catalyst for a Revolution…

The most exciting time for gamers everywhere is rapidly approaching… The dawn of a new generation of consoles. Sony have already set the date for their supposed PS4 announcement, leaving Microsoft as the only company yet to release any morsel of information regarding their next-gen system.

Speculation is running rife regarding the next systems: Will they render the pre-owned market obsolete? Kinect and Illumiroom included in the box? Will Blu-Ray be Microsoft’s format of choice? Will it even support physical media? But few consoles have received as much build-up as the newest entrant to the console war, Valve’s proposed Steam Box.
For those unfamiliar with the Steam platform, it’s the dominant digital distribution format for PC gaming and, as a result of dirt-cheap storage, has quickly become the definitive PC gaming platform. Steam is a mature and polished platform that fits well alongside the Xbox Live Marketplace and offers the majority of multi-platform releases and more besides. Looking for Far Cry 3? There it is… The Walking Dead? All 5 episodes… Skyrim? Arguably the definitive version, thanks to Valve and Bethesda’s support and encouragement of user-generated content and mods. It’s open and liberal, and that is one of its greatest assets in a world where both Microsoft and Sony appear to do all in their power to wrestle control away from consumers. As well as gaming, Steam has recently branched out into non-gaming apps, which sets it up perfectly for a future as the system behind a living-room based media hub and gaming platform, one which could be placed as a direct competitior to Microsoft’s Xbox.

Built on the Linux Kernel, the concept of the Steam Box is basically what the Xbox 360 has been since its release; a gaming optimised, TV connected PC. Even down to the components and modular format, not even the Xbox 360 has managed to achieve this level of parity with PC gaming, and with Steam already enjoying an established user-base and a vast library of games, Microsoft and Sony should be taking notes.

The prospect of plugging in your box for the first time, logging into your Steam account, and seeing all of your purchased games, saves and DLC waiting to be downloaded is tantalising. If you’re someone that purchases a lot of On Demand games via the Xbox Live Marketplace, then in generations past you may have resigned yourself to digging out that transfer cable and preparing for a long wait while the bits and bytes tediously transfer over to your new machine, once again making allowance for an industry that never quite seemed to be making the strides it was capable of. This is the reason why Valve’s arrival in the console market could be one of the most exciting things to happen to the Xbox, and gaming in general, for a long time. That’s not to say that Valve’s vision will thrust them to the forefront of the market, eclipsing the phenomenal success of the Playstation 2 or the Xbox 360 in the process, but with the Half-Life developer’s highly-publicised and ‘Google-esque’ vision of an asynchronous relationship between devices, it’s hard to believe that Microsoft and the other gaming Goliaths aren’t already making huge strides to nip this potential threat in the bud.

Valve’s open and forward thinking approach has to stir their competitors into action, and there are few companies better equipped to take advantage of this situation than Microsoft, with an incredible share of the PC market, their own mobile OS in Windows Phone 8, a presence on all major mobile operating systems with SmartGlass, (arguably) the most successful console of the current generation, and an online infrastructure that puts all others to shame. If Microsoft take a page out of Valve’s book and create a true cross-platform experience with Xbox on Windows, then so many doors will open for the company. Sure, an Xbox gaming experience is already a feature of Windows 8, but with Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride being among the standout titles, the service is hardly pulling up any trees. This will surely improve going forward, but with Steam making huge strides in this area, then it can only be a positive thing to have Valve jumping head-first into the console market and creating a gaming presence that will mobilise their competitors and pull the entire industry forward with them.

What the current Xbox experience is starting to do successfully centres around the evolving entertainment experience that has been gradually introduced over recent months. Xbox SmartGlass is a surprisingly polished application that allows users to browse their games, view achievements, see what their friends are up to, and even control their Xbox remotely. Rather than leveraging this application and functionality to the advantage of Windows Phone, SmartGlass has found a home on both iOS and Android, platforms that Microsoft has zero stake in. This willingness to support competitors’ operating systems is the opposite of the stifling Apple approach, and provides a huge amount of optimism going forward. It finally seems as if Microsoft have cottoned on to current trends and their strategy demonstrates that.

Alongside SmartGlass, the Microsoft Surface demonstrates some brilliant examples of asynchronous multiplayer between tablet and console, and if they can improve upon this functionality while carrying it into the ‘Durango’ project, then it is clear that the entire Xbox experience is evolving in some promising ways that Steam simply can’t offer unless they decide to launch their own accompanying array of devices.

Ultimately, it seems as if this generation of consoles could be the most exciting yet. We’re at a crossroads of technology and innovation, and the industry could take any number of paths. While neither Sony or Microsoft are unlikely to be discarding physical media any time soon, the fact that we will have a console in the form of the Steam Box that relies entirely on digital downloads is an exciting and progressive prospect. We could also see the collapse of the pre-owned game market (if rumours are to be believed), although it’s doubtful that either of gaming’s top dogs will risk being the first to hinder their consumers in this manner and thrust themselves into the negative spotlight.

While it’s unlikely that the Steam Box will be the revolution it is claiming to be, it certainly seems as if its introduction will be the catalyst that inspires the revolution. It’s a true cloud experience in how it manages your games, saves and DLC, and while the Xbox 360 has taken some steps into cloud storage, the offering has proved very limited and clumsy. Microsoft will be unable to rest on their laurels after this increase and transformation in competition, and it seems certain that we will now see some massive strides forward in this area in order to fend off any challengers to their crown.

With every blow a company deals, the consumers edge ever closer to winning. Roll on E3!

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

2012: My Top 5 Gaming Obsessions

2012 was a great year for video games, with indie games finally taking their rightful place amongst AAA titles, the launch of the first ‘next-gen’ hardware, the return of some great IPs and the introduction of some brand-new ones.

While not all of the following titles can be considered 2012 releases, these are the 5 titles that took the majority of my free time throughout the last 12 months…

Pullblox / Pushmo:

Pushmo

I’d heard some fantastic things about this title. A Nintendo published, download only, 3DS exclusive certainly peaked my interest, so I added it to my library never expecting much to come of the purchase. Having sunk more hours into this title than I ever imagined, it’s clear to see why this game has become such a hit.

Pullblox feels like Tetris for a new generation, a simple, block-based puzzler that fits perfectly into the Nintendo aesthetic with its colourful style and unique mascot. The learning curve is spot on, with early levels easing you into the concept, while later levels crank up the difficulty until you find yourself spending a significant amount of time trying to discover the unique combination of blocks that will allow you to progress.

For a platform that is still trying to find its feet after a slow start, Pullblox is a promising sign of things to come. A company that once showed no interest in online and digital distribution has now provided one of the best gaming experiences I have ever ‘pulled out of the air’ and kept it away from Apple’s monopolising App Store in the process.

If you own a 3DS, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

Mass Effect 3:

Mass Effect 3

The final chapter in one of my favourite video game series of all time. There’s not much to say about this game that hasn’t already been covered in my previous love letter to the franchise, so take a look at that article for a full run down of what makes Mass Effect so special to me.

The final installment of this saga was met with significant criticism once gamers started reaching the controversial ending. I did not share the opinions of most gamers and found the conclusion to be as satisfying as could be expected, considering the intensity of the experience I had spent over 60 hours immersed in. I’m sure Bioware felt like they had written themselves into a corner due to the complexity of taking every possible combination of player responses and weaving them into a compelling narrative and finale; the fact that they managed to pull this off is a real accomplishment.

Mass Effect 3 really does feel like the culmination of all the decisions I had made in the two previous installments; species I had rescued from extinction made their presence felt, the team members I recruited in Mass Effect 2 continued their fiction, some of my favourite characters uttered their last words, while others I hadn’t seen since the first game made a surprise return. Mass Effect 3 brilliantly concluded Bioware’s science fiction masterpiece, living up to the incredible track record of a series that has become a staple of the modern console generation.

Mario Kart 7:

Mario Kart 7

The Mario Kart series has evolved very little since its introduction, but in spite of this, the franchise never feels tired. A refresh in graphics, a couple of new characters, and some fresh tracks thrown in with some old favourites is all it takes to rekindle my love for the karting classic all over again.

I downloaded Mario Kart 7 from the e-shop to replace Angry Birds and Doodlejump as my main commute activity, but I quickly found myself turning to the turquoise handheld for my gaming fix over the grander experiences provided by the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. In spite of all the criticism aimed at Nintendo regarding their inability to adapt and evolve with the rapidly evolving climate of the video game industry, their ability to craft colourful, exciting and genuinely entertaining games has never waned, and the popularity of their characters continues to transcend the medium like few characters ever will.

One of the best aspects of modern Mario Kart games is their willingness to combine old with new, and Mario Kart 7 doesn’t disappoint. Classic tracks, like Kalimari Desert, or Koopa Beach, feel as fresh as they did when I first experienced them on the Nintendo 64, while new tracks, like Maka Wuhu and Rock Rock Mountain, are immediately placed among the best the series has to offer. Some tracks even eschew the traditional three lap structure in favour of one long course that continually throws up new twists, turns and surprises that never allow you to get accustomed to the design.

The thing I really admire about Nintendo is their reluctance to churn out lacklustre titles. Regardless of their console’s performance, they will not rush a Mario game to market just to boost sales, and that is something to be commended. Mario Kart could have been rushed and thrown onto shelves in time for the the 3DS’ launch to guarantee a quick buck, but they didn’t. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever having a bad experience in a Mario Kart game. Nintendo’s insistence on perfection and polish has allowed Mario Kart 7 to live up to its predecessors as one of the best in the series.

Sure, the game has its flaws. I wasn’t impressed with the limited character roster (No Waluigi seems a strange choice) and some inclusions left me perplexed (Wiggler… Really?). But it would be harsh to hold these small issues against a title that continues to dominate my commute and the kart-racing genre that it helped pioneer all the way back on the Super Nintendo. Sega have had their shots at wrestling the karting crown away from Mario, and Rare came very close with Diddy Kong Racing, but none have ever managed to pull-off the balance of accessibility and challenge that Mario Kart accomplishes.

Combine the tried and tested Mario Kart formula with some incredible new tracks and the pick up and play nature of the Nintendo 3DS, and you have the perfect companion for any frequent flyers.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

An Elder Scrolls game can be a daunting prospect; a vast map, a complex skill tree, and a list of tasks, missions and side quests that can keep you occupied for 50+ hours before even setting foot in the main story missions. But those that allow themselves to become truly enveloped in Skyrim’s rich Nordic world are in for an exceptional experience.

The fact that I have invested so much time in this game and still feel as if I’ve barely touched the surface, is a testament to the depth and diversity Bethesda has managed to achieve. My adventure to date has seen my character battle trolls, defeat giants, build his own complex, adopt a child, slay dragons, and join a noble guild of warriors. The wonderful thing is that your time with the game may differ entirely from the experience that I had, and the same guild of warriors that I joined may end up being your most bitter of rivals.

As well as being thematically brilliant, Skyrim is also a technical marvel amongst the current generation. I’m genuinely amazed that a world with so much scope and detail can still be as beautiful as Skyrim while existing on a solitary disc.

It’s games like this that push a generation forward, and I can’t wait to spend another 50 hours in this gargantuan masterpiece.

The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead

The art style, the format, the story, every aspect of this game makes it truly timeless and one of the defining examples of video games as art. While the television series will tarnish and date as the years roll on, this game will continue to thrive as a great example of its medium, alongside Robert Kirkman’s phenomenal comic book series.

It’s safe to say that the characters are what makes this game truly special. Some characters you’ll love and form meaningful friendships with, others you’ll hate and abandon at the first opportunity, but there’s one particular character, a little girl named Clementine, that you’ll want to do absolutely anything to protect. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is one of the greatest relationships ever to grace a video game, and combined with the incredible conversation and choice mechanics that ensure no two playthroughs are identical, The Walking Dead provides one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had on a games console in a long time.

Mass Effect garnered a lot of praise for its choice-based gameplay, but whereas those decisions were blatant black and white morality choices, with a clearly defined ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ option depending on which achievement you’re gunning for, The Walking Dead has no such distinction. Telltale opted for the ‘14 shades of grey’ approach, with a conversation tree that features no obvious right or wrong answers, and no easy decisions. Each action you take throughout the five episodes has consequences that can drastically alter the fate of your group.

I won’t risk spoiling the climax for those that are yet to experience this masterpiece, but once the credits rolled and I had set the controller to one side, it felt like all the air had been sucked from the room. The finale is like a swift shot to the gut that stays with you for weeks, maybe even months after the experience is over. Even Dave Fennoy, the voice of Lee Everett throughout, was brought to tears while recording his lines of dialogue for the game, and that speaks volumes for the impact this game has managed to have on people. Few films are able to keep the discussion prominent months after leaving the theatre, few books can leave you genuinely breathless in their final moments, and very few games leave you with such an incredible emotional response as The Walking Dead.

This is a beautiful game.

An honorable mention goes to another incredible Bethesda game, Dishonored. While this game was one of my favourite of 2012, it was just far too short to be considered a true ‘obsession’. By the time I had really sunk my teeth into the story, it was over, so it never consumed as much of my time as I would have liked.

J.J. Abrams’ Super 8

Super 8

Spielbergian greatness?

Having spilled my thoughts into the web regarding J.J. Abrams’ appointment on Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought I’d finally sit down and invest some time in Super 8. From the moment that the Amblin banner hit the screen, the film oozed Spielberg sensibility in every frame. The film felt like a delicious mixture of E.T., The Goonies and Jurassic Park, with the late 70s / early 80s setting adding to the feeling of Spielbergian homage that Super 8 exudes. It feels like the kind of film that we all grew up watching, the kind of film that fed and moulded our imaginations as children, the kind of film that portrays children accurately without patronising them or making them seem wise beyond their years. Watching Super 8 can remind even the hardest of souls and coldest of hearts how it felt to be a child experiencing that same sense of adventure, and that is a wonderful accomplishment. But while this film revels in its sheltered position under the Amblin umbrella, it never quite reaches the heights of that company’s fabled legacy. The story centres on a group of children that witness a colossal train-wreck whilst filming their own zombie movie, and an unknown terror is unleashed. This ‘threat’ is treated to its own fiction and back story, but the payoff doesn’t have the emotional impact that is required because we are never given an opportunity to fully bond with the creature. Sure, it’s a great film, but it never becomes greater than the sum of its parts, it is merely ‘the sum of its parts’. That being said, Super 8 plays out like a shameless love letter to the Spielberg / Lucas school of film, and no doubt was one of many catalysts that led to J.J. being inducted into this pantheon of elite directors. It fills me with even more confidence than I previously had for the upcoming Star Wars films. Super 8 demonstrates J.J.’s ability to balance spectacle and grandeur with incredibly intimate character driven stories, and few films are as character driven as the epic Star Wars Trilogy. I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself that I recently stumbled upon. It is a quote that fills me with optimism for the future of Star Wars: “It was absolutely the first film that struck a cord and that resonates to this day. I think it’s because everyone relates to being stuck in your life and feeling like something extraordinary is just around the corner. To have something scary and tragic happen, like what happens to Luke’s aunt and uncle, is such an engaging story that could take place on a farm in the middle of the U.S. and be just as compelling. And the fact that he ends up being the key to preventing this galactic takeover is kind of an amazing wish fulfillment. I think this taps into a universal desire that we all have to find meaning and purpose that is larger than what we ever could have imagined.” @jordanmarsden

February 20th: The Future of Playstation

Dualshock 3

The next generation of consoles is coming… Sony has announced a Playstation event for the 20th of February, and fans can expect to “see the future” according to a teaser video released by the Japanese company.

Could this be the announcement for the next Playstation (codenamed ‘Orbis’)? With companies opting to hold their own events for the launch of new hardware, in order to avoid sharing the spotlight with their competitors, it’s safe to say that February 20th will see Sony finally unveil the highly anticipated successor to the Playstation 3 and gain a significant head start on rivals Microsoft in the process.

Saying that, a pre-E3 announcement from Microsoft is almost a certainty, ensuring that the next few weeks are an extremely exciting prospect for fans of video games and technology in general.

Draw your own conclusions and be sure to check out Sony’s teaser video below: