The PlayStation price hike

There’s a phrase that seems to be appearing more and more often these days – at least in the increasingly left-wing social media circles in which I find myself after hours of doomscrolling. The “cost of living crisis” that we’re all feeling biting us in the backside is being reframed as a “cost of greed crisis,” as massive corporations continue to profiteer off the misery of ordinary people. It’s incredibly galling to see a company pleading poverty in public statements, then turning around to its shareholders and boasting of record-setting profits, but it’s something that we see more and more often these days. Corporations will claim they’re “suffering” through this crisis just like the rest of us – but they still seem to find the money to pay massive shareholder dividends and furnish their executives with eye-watering bonuses.

It’s through this lens that I view Sony’s PlayStation price hike. If you’ve missed the news, Sony is jacking up the price of PlayStation 5 consoles around the world from a recommended retail price of £449 to £470 here in the UK, and from €499 to €549 in the European Union. Similar price hikes are taking place in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and Latin America – although the USA seems to have escaped, at least for now.

PlayStation 5 consoles are about to get a lot more expensive.

This is unprecedented for a games console. As time goes by, consoles have always seen price reductions, not price increases, and as each generation of home consoles wears on there’s an expectation that manufacturers will lower the price, enabling more and more people to pick up the latest machines. Sony is bucking this trend in the worst way possible and at the worst time possible, throwing into chaos plans many folks will have had to pick up a PlayStation 5 in the run-up to the holidays.

At a time when many of us are suffering as a result of inflation, excessive bills, and other financial pressures, it’s incumbent upon corporations like Sony to try to minimise the damage. Sony doesn’t need to jack up the price of PlayStation 5 consoles now; doing so is pure greed and a desire to make already-excessive profits look positively gluttonous. It’s a reminder, if one were needed, that no corporation is ever a friend. Corporations’ loyalties lie with those who are already wealthy: the 1% who own massive stock portfolios and for whom there will never be a choice between going cold or going hungry. Sony has nailed its colours to the mast with this decision – but it’s hardly the only corporation to be using the current cost of living and inflation crises as a paper-thin excuse for profiteering.

Sony is jacking up the price of PlayStation 5s all over the world.

Sony has already demonstrated how anti-consumer it can be with the piss-poor launch of the PlayStation 5, one of the worst console launches ever. By failing to produce enough machines, Sony played right into the hands of touts and scalpers, ensuring that many players – and many children – were left disappointed and unable to acquire a console. Those who did either had to be exceptionally lucky to find a shop that had a console in stock or pay ridiculously-inflated rates to a scalper. Sony took no action whatsoever to prevent this, and for months after the console launched it wasn’t uncommon to see units on auction sites and private social media sales where prices were more than double the RRP.

In addition, most new PlayStation 5 games have seen a huge increase in price since the beginning of this new console generation. Games that used to cost $60/£55 now regularly go for $70/£65 – and that’s often just for the “base” or “core” version. Complete games, including pre-order bonuses, special editions, and the like can easily be in excess of £100. So players are being hit and hit again by Sony – and by other greedy companies in the gaming realm.

Different special editions are available for upcoming PlayStation title The Last Of Us Part I.

At the end of July, shortly before this PlayStation price hike was announced, Sony made another announcement. The corporation told investors and shareholders that it was predicting profits for the 2022-23 financial year of $8.4 billion. Let’s repeat that: Sony expects to make $8.4 billion of pure profit over the next few months – and they have the sheer fucking audacity to turn around a couple of weeks later and tell players that it’s getting too expensive to make PlayStation 5 consoles so the price has to go up. Two words for you, Sony: fuck off.

Earlier in the year, Sony also announced record-setting profits in both its film and music divisions, with Sony Pictures making a profit of $394 million in just the first quarter of the year and the corporation’s music division surpassing that, posting a quarterly profit of $471 million. This reminds us of something important, too: Sony is a massive corporation whose reach extends far beyond gaming.

A summary of Sony’s increased profits in the first quarter of this year.
Image Credit: Sony Group Corporation.

Even if we accept Sony’s claim at face-value – that manufacturing PlayStation 5 consoles and buying the required components has become more expensive – then Sony, as a massive corporation, can easily offset any increased costs with the record-breaking profits it’s been making in other fields. Music and cinema are just two examples shown above, but Sony also has many other profitable business divisions and subsidiaries, and by taking a tiny fraction of those record profits, Sony could have avoided passing the price increase on to the rest of us at a time when inflation and the cost of living catastrophe is really hurting a lot of people.

This is pure greed, there’s no two ways about it. Sony has demonstrated, in truly callous and uncaring fashion, just how little respect or care it has for practically everyone. And if you’re an American thinking that this isn’t coming your way: I wouldn’t bet on it. Sooner or later Sony – and perhaps other corporations in the gaming space, too – will increase your prices just like they have in the rest of the world.

Different PS5 editions.

We could talk at length about where inflation has come from, what’s causing all of these problems (and spoiler alert, it isn’t all Putin’s fault), and maybe one day we should. But for now, I think it’s enough to say that this price hike from Sony is about greed. Sony is a greedy, money-grubbing corporation that has chosen to screw over its own fans and players at a time when it’s already making more money than it’s ever made before. Sony will soon be paying out some of that money – your money – to shareholders in the form of dividends and to executives in the form of massive bonuses, all while the rest of us are barely keeping our heads above water with a huge storm heading our way this winter.

For some folks, a PlayStation 5 was something that, despite shortages, they were still hoping to pick up in the months ahead. For some parents, a PlayStation 5 seemed like a great Christmas gift. Sony is doing everything it can to hurt those people, forcing them to pay more unnecessarily at a time when people simply can’t afford it.

Profiteering is absolutely disgusting and Sony should be ashamed of itself.

PlayStation and PlayStation 5 are the copyright of Sony/Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence (except to corporate profiteers).

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass: thoughts and impressions

I’ve got to be honest with you right at the start: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass disappointed me before I’d raced a single lap… or even downloaded it. That’s because I was really hoping to see Mario Kart 9 this year; a brand-new game with new features rather than just an expansion pack for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The original version of Mario Kart 8 released for the Wii U back in 2014 (though I played a preview build at a press event in 2013; lucky me!) so I’ve been waiting to see what Nintendo would do next for a long time. This Booster Course Pass just felt underwhelming when it was announced compared to what I’d been hoping for.

With 2022 being the thirtieth anniversary of the Mario Kart series (Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES all the way back in 1992), and with Nintendo’s love of celebrating big milestones and anniversaries, again the timing for a new game felt right. But I guess Nintendo is sticking to the “one Mario Kart game per console” thing, and the Booster Course Pass is intended to throw players a bone and give the game a bit of a refresh as the Switch enters what must be the latter part of its life. I have no doubt that there’ll be a Mario Kart 9… but now it seems like it’ll be on whatever console Nintendo makes in the years ahead rather than coming to the Switch.

Pink Gold Peach in a promo image for the Booster Course Pass.

But the Booster Course Pass makes Mario Kart 8 Deluxe “feel like a new game,” right? That seems to be the cliché that a lot of folks have trotted out to describe the expansion pack. I’d answer that question with a firm “no.” An expansion pack like this refreshes the game, gives it a new lick of paint and shuffles things around, but the same Mario Kart 8 gameplay and visual style is still front-and-centre, even as new racetracks are added. For players who’d been getting bored of that, or who had drifted away from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in search of new experiences, this will be at best a shot in the arm; a temporary boost to bring them back for a while. But the novelty of the new courses will fade faster than it would had there been a brand-new game this year.

But is it fair to judge the Booster Course Pass by that standard? No expansion pack is really intended to be a wholly new game, and there are undoubtedly some fun tracks that have been added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe this time around. Not only that, but the format that Nintendo has used here is a fun one; tracks will be added in “waves” of eight at a time until the end of 2023. The total number of tracks added by the time the Booster Course Pass is complete will be forty-eight – doubling the number of racetracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The Booster Course Pass includes tracks from past Mario Kart titles.

I quite like the “wave” approach to the expansion pack. Building up the Booster Course Pass slowly over the span of a couple of years keeps the game feeling fresh for longer compared with dumping all of the racetracks at once in a single event. Your mileage on that may vary, though, and there’s nothing wrong with holding off on picking up the Booster Course Pass until late 2023 when the final wave of racetracks has been added. At a cost of £20 ($25 in the United States) it felt a bit steep at first for only eight additional racetracks; the value of the Booster Course Pass will feel a lot better when all forty-eight are playable!

So who is this expansion pack really for? I don’t think it’s necessarily the natural next step for the Mario Kart series in general, rather the Booster Course Pass is for people who’ve started to get bored of what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has to offer. Once you’ve played Rainbow Road, Toad Harbour, and GBA Cheese Land a hundred times apiece, this expansion pack shakes things up and provides some new layouts, new scenery, and a bit of a new challenge. For someone new to the Nintendo Switch and/or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’d say you don’t have as much to gain by picking up the Booster Course Pass at this stage, but it could be worth it later on. It just depends on how repetitive you begin to find the forty-eight courses that come with the base game!

The Booster Course Pass may feel like better value in a year’s time.

I’ve made a couple of lists here on the website of racetracks that I’d want to see in a future Mario Kart title, and two of my favourites have appeared already in the first couple of waves of the Booster Course Pass. As with racetracks across the rest of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, older tracks have seen more changes to both mix things up and to fit with the game’s anti-gravity, flying, and underwater mechanics that weren’t present in earlier titles.

Both Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge, which were tracks that debuted on the Wii, feel more or less unchanged in the Booster Course Pass. Both tracks were fantastic in Mario Kart Wii and make wonderful additions here. Their musical accompaniments are likewise neat, and both feel like a nostalgia blast! I have fond memories of playing these racetracks with friends during the Wii days, and replaying them in HD on the Switch has been a blast.

Coconut Mall is back!

Kalimari Desert and Choco Mountain have returned from the Nintendo 64, and the former in particular is one of my all-time favourite Mario Kart racetracks. Choco Mountain is a fun course, although I would say that its all-brown colour palette makes it feel a little bland, and that’s something that could’ve been worked on or adapted for this new version.

Kalimari Desert, though, is absolutely fantastic in the Booster Course Pass. It’s more linear this time around – each of the three laps follows a definite route, meaning players don’t have as much choice when it comes to taking risky shortcuts through the tunnel or over the train tracks. But the adaptations that have been made are fantastic and really showcase the course at its best. There’s something about the “American Southwest” aesthetic that I’ve always loved about Kalimari Desert, and seeing it brought into the modern day thanks to a visual and gameplay overhaul has been wonderful. Although the track also appeared on the 3DS back in 2011, this new version feels like the definitive take on Kalimari Desert.

Kalimari Desert is one of my favourite Mario Kart tracks… ever.

Mario Kart Tour is a crappy mobile game that is bedevilled by many of the pay-to-play and pay-to-win microtransactions that blight the mobile gaming scene. As a result I’m not familiar with most of its racetracks, so the inclusion of several in the Booster Course Pass has given me my first real opportunity to play them. At time of writing (wave two) there have been four racetracks from Mario Kart Tour added; there may be six more to come for a total of ten.

I’ve been lucky enough earlier in my life to have visited both Paris and New York – the settings for two of the Mario Kart Tour tracks included in the Booster Course Pass – and I have to say that New York Minute in particular really hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. There were some genuinely recognisable locations in Central Park and the downtown area that I vividly remember travelling to with friends years ago, and again I wasn’t expecting this brand-new track to give me the nostalgic feels in the way that it did! The music for New York Minute is one of the best in the game; the perfect jazz accompaniment to a beautiful racetrack.

New York City comes to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!

The Mario Kart Tour tracks also have fun and varied layouts, with each of the three laps taking different routes. I think this keeps things interesting and makes it a lot harder to just drive on “autopilot” even after playing each of the tracks a dozen times. The three other Mario Kart Tour tracks – Paris Promenade, Tokyo Blur, and Sydney Sprint – all hit a number of tourist attractions and key locations in their real-world settings, and it’s something both fun and a little different to race through a Mario Kart track based on a real-life locale.

Having first played Super Mario Kart in the early 1990s, not too long after it was released here in the UK, I’m a dab hand at practically all of the SNES courses that have been included in Mario Kart 8! The sole SNES inclusion in the Booster Course Pass (again, at time of writing after wave two) is Mario Circuit 3, and it’s perhaps the least-interesting from my perspective. Not much has been done to the course’s layout, and with Donut Plains 3 as part of the base game I guess it just wouldn’t have been my first choice. There are better SNES courses, like one of the Vanilla Lake tracks or possibly a Bowser Castle or Koopa Beach that might’ve offered a bit more diversity. That isn’t to say Mario Circuit 3 is bad, just that as an addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it doesn’t offer as much originality as some of the other SNES courses could’ve.

Though there’s nothing wrong with SNES Mario Circuit 3 per se, there are other SNES tracks that might’ve been more fun.

Rounding out the retro courses we have Toad Circuit from the 3DS, which is fine, Snow Land from the Game Boy Advance, which is a cute winter-themed track with an icy road, Waluigi Pinball from the DS, which is one of the most unique concepts on show in the Booster Course Pack so far, Sky Garden from the Game Boy Advance, which reminded me a lot of Cloudtop Cruise from the base game in terms of the way it’s been adapted, and finally Shroom Ridge from the DS – a racetrack with traffic.

There are two brand-new tracks, too: Sky High Sundae and Ninja Hideaway. I like food-themed tracks, so Sky High Sundae was a visual treat! It’s also one of the rare tracks to fully take advantage of Mario Kart 8′s anti-gravity racing feature, which is neat. Ninja Hideaway is a Japanese-themed track with a couple of flying sections that break up what is otherwise a pretty basic layout – albeit one with a fun aesthetic.

Sky High Sundae.

So that’s the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I’ve tried to judge the additional racetracks on their own merits as much as possible, and there are definitely some fun inclusions that make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth returning to for lapsed players and those who’d been getting bored of the same lineup over and over again.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that it would’ve been better for Nintendo to include these tracks as part of a new game: Mario Kart 9. There could’ve been transformational gameplay changes, perhaps some new drivers from both Nintendo titles and from games and series that have found success on the Switch in recent years, and while the visuals wouldn’t be significantly improved due to the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, changing things up from a gameplay perspective would’ve been worth doing. The Booster Course Pass adds a lot of content and a lot of value to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but a new game this ain’t.

For what it is, though, and for the price, the Booster Course Pass has plenty to offer. There are some fun tracks that I hadn’t played before as well as several blasts from the past that really hit the right nostalgic notes. I daresay the Booster Course Pass will keep Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at the top of the Switch charts now that we’re well into the second half of the console’s life – though whether it’s worth picking up now and trying out each wave of tracks as they arrive or whether it would be better to wait and pick it up in the latter part of next year is going to be up to you.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass is available as an expansion pack for an additional fee. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass, and all other titles and properties discussed above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Saints Row: Boss Factory – impressions

We’re about a month away from the release of Saints Row – the long-awaited reboot of the open-world crime franchise. In the run-up to the game’s launch, developer Volition released Saints Row: Boss Factory, which is the game’s character creator. I took a look at this free download (because you know I love freebies!) and I wanted to briefly share my thoughts today.

First of all, it’s nice to get a demo for once! Demos used to be commonplace in the games industry, particularly in the 1990s and early 2000s, but have more or less disappeared since then. Downloading and booting up Saints Row: Boss Factory felt like somewhat of a throwback to the days when game demos came on CDs attached to magazine covers!

Choosing teeth in Saints Row: Boss Factory.

I put Saints Row on my list of games to check out in the second half of 2022, and it’s been a project I’ve watched from afar since it was first announced. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Saints Row series is just a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” because over the course of fifteen years it’s carved out its own niche in the open-world space. But there’s no denying that, with Grand Theft Auto V wearing out its welcome and Grand Theft Auto 6 nowhere to be seen, Saints Row has the potential to fill that void for many players.

This reboot aims to tone down some of the silliness that has typified the franchise’s most recent instalments – and if you ask me, that’s probably for the best! Rebooting the series and taking it back to its roots feels like a good move, especially in an environment where many players are looking around for a new open-world crime experience.

There are a huge range of colour options in Saints Row: Boss Factory (and note the prosthetic arm!)

So for all of those reasons and more, Saints Row has been on my radar! But that isn’t really what prompted me to talk about Saints Row: Boss Factory. Sure, it’s nice to get a demo. And it’s a great way for Volition and Deep Silver to remind players that the game is coming up! But from my point of view, Saints Row: Boss Factory actually serves as a great example of what in-game character creators can look like in 2022.

Games like Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Fallout 76, and many more have put together great character creators in recent years. And that’s important because having a customised, personal character is a big part of what makes (some) video games the immersive experiences that players can get lost in. Speaking for myself, I love tinkering with a character creator, choosing every aspect of my character’s appearance, and really tailoring them to the gameplay experience I want to have.

For all the game’s issues, Cyberpunk 2077 has a stellar character creator.

One of the disappointing things for me about Cyberpunk 2077 (aside from the shocking state that the game was in at launch) was that, despite having an absolutely excellent character creator and seeming to bristle with hundreds of clothing and outfit options, the mandatory first-person perspective meant that you almost never got to see the face and body you spent so much time making! That was combined with the fact that, in order to get the best gameplay experience, every few minutes you needed to pick up some new article of clothing because it offered better armour stats.

But we’ve drifted off-topic! A good character creator can absolutely make a difference, and a bad or mediocre one can drag down a game. Just look at last year’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition as an example. The game used Mass Effect 3′s character creator – a character creator that was already limited even by the standards of the game’s original launch in 2012, so by 2021 it felt very basic with only a handful of different hair and other options. Remaking or expanding the character creator would’ve made Mass Effect: Legendary Edition so much better.

The character creator in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition was a bit of a let-down.

So that brings us to Saints Row: Boss Factory. The character creator is incredibly impressive, with customisation options for basically every aspect of the character’s face and body. Every race is represented – including hair styles – and players can make their character a male, female, cis, trans, or non-binary thanks to a huge variety of options.

Whether you’re trying to make a photo-realistic copy of yourself (something I always struggle with, for some reason!) or create the weirdest-looking creature ever glimpsed by mankind, I daresay you can do it with Saints Row: Boss Factory. I’ve had a blast messing around with all of the different options already, and if Volition has put as much care and effort into the rest of Saints Row as they have to its character creator, I think we’re in for a fun time when the game arrives next month!

Some of the skin tone options in Saints Row: Boss Factory.

One thing I loved about earlier Saints Row games that returns this time are the different voice options. There are eight different voices in Saints Row: Boss Factory – four masculine and four feminine – and they offer a variety of different accents and personalities to really bring a custom character to life. It must be one heck of a task to record all of the dialogue for the game eight times over, but this level of dedication is something special! I’d love to see other games, particularly role-playing experiences, offer something similar.

Most of the sliders in Saints Row: Boss Factory move a long way in both directions – meaning you get a lot of customisability for each individual feature. Not only that, but each one can be moved in tiny increments, allowing for anyone with the time and attention to detail to really nail each and every aspect of their character. It’s a lot of fun for someone like me – but in the right hands this powerful tool with so many different options should allow players to create basically any character that they can imagine!

Look at all of these different options just for one single facial feature!

So I think that’s it for now. Saints Row: Boss Factory has surely succeeded at getting me even more interested in Saints Row – which is due out in just over a month’s time. But beyond that, it’s another great example of what a character creator can (and should) be in 2022. Creating your own character and being in control of every aspect of their appearance is part of what makes video games the immersive and engaging experiences that they are, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with playing a set character, if the choice is there I’ll always opt to change up my character’s look.

Saints Row: Boss Factory was a fun little experience in and of itself, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the full game’s release.

Saints Row: Boss Factory is available to download now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Saints Row and Saints Row: Boss Factory are the copyright of Volition and Deep Silver. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

“My cash-grab is NOT a cash-grab!” exclaims man who’s definitely working on a cash-grab

Since I covered the announcement of The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered last year, I’ve left the project alone. I’m flat-out not interested in a game that’s been remastered or reworked for the second time in just nine short years, especially when the PlayStation 4 version is perfectly playable. I don’t seek out projects that I don’t like with the intention of crapping all over them; there’s more than enough negativity in gaming communities online that I don’t want to add to it.

But a widely-reported remark from a developer/animator (whose name I won’t share to avoid piling on) really pushed me over the edge. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered (or whatever it’s going to be called) is a cash-grab. It’s the second remake of a game that was released in 2013 at the tail end of the PlayStation 3’s life, and it’s being resurrected for the second time entirely as a cheap cash-grab by Sony.

The Last Of Us is being re-remade.

After sharing my initial thoughts back when the announcement was made, I was content to ignore this new remaster. I have no plans to buy it – especially not with a ridiculous £70 price tag (or close to £100 for the deluxe version) – so that was that. Comment made, time to move on. But for one of the senior developers to have the audacity to speak about the game in such a brazen and dishonest way… I just couldn’t let it lie.

The Last Of Us is a good game. It was a great way to close out the PlayStation 3 era for Sony, and it was the game that convinced me to buy my first ever PlayStation console. I consider it one of the best games of the 2010s, and even though its sequel struggled under the weight of a clumsy narrative that tried to be too smart for its own good, the original game hasn’t been sullied by that controversy and remains one of the best examples of narrative, linear, single-player adventures.

The Last Of Us is undeniably a great narrative experience.

But this second attempt to “update” The Last Of Us for a new console generation is motivated purely by profit. Sony is cheaping out; recycling a game that they already have rather than investing in something new. By reusing things like recorded dialogue and motion-capture performances, and by not having to pay a team of writers to come up with a new story, the project can cut costs compared to making a new game from scratch.

There are remasters and remakes that are absolutely worth your time. Resident Evil 2, for example, was remade a couple of years ago from the ground up, and updating a title from 1998 to bring it into the modern-day with a new engine, new voice acting, and so on was absolutely worth doing. It introduced the title to a crowd of new fans who didn’t play it the first time around – and for whom going back to a clunky PlayStation 1 title would be offputting.

The remake of Resident Evil 2 feels much more worthwhile.

The Last Of Us doesn’t have that excuse. Not only is the PlayStation 3 version still perfectly playable in its own right, the PlayStation 4 remaster is an iterative improvement, bringing sharper graphics and ensuring that the game can be played on both PlayStation 4 and new PlayStation 5 consoles. As I said when the project was announced last year, I can’t imagine it would be worthwhile to resurrect the game for a second time – not so soon after the first two versions were released.

New video game generations have offered diminishing returns over the years. There was a huge difference between games from 1980 to 1990, and from 1990 to 2000. But even by the turn of the millennium, things were slowing down. The difference in graphical fidelity between a game from 2000 and one from 2010 was less noticeable than it had been in previous decades, and the difference between a game from ten years ago compared to a brand-new game released today can be so small that it’s difficult to spot.

Is this image from the PlayStation 3, 4, or 5?

Grand Theft Auto V is the same game fundamentally as it was when it was released in 2013 – the same year as The Last Of Us – and it’s still going strong. There have been tweaks as the game was brought to new consoles, but those changes have been criticised for being incredibly minor. Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and many other games from the past decade likewise hold up incredibly well and are still a ton of fun to play.

The only reason for a project like The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered to exist is to be a cash-grab. That’s why it was dreamt up and that’s all it will ever be. It might be a good cash-grab – and with a game as good as The Last Of Us at its core it should be, provided the new team doesn’t screw it up – but it’s still a cash-grab. And I don’t want to claim that the people working on it aren’t working hard – I’m sure that they are. I’m sure a lot of energy and passion has gone into this cash-grab from the developers. As someone who worked in the games industry, I know how passionate developers can be, and even when a game isn’t great, good developers will still give it their all. That’s commendable.

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

But that doesn’t excuse trying to present a project like this as something it’s not. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered may end up being decent with pretty graphics and neat animation work that talented developers put a lot of time, effort, and passion into making. But that doesn’t make it any less of a cash-grab. I genuinely hope that it will be good – because I don’t want the reputation of The Last Of Us tainted by being associated with a sub-par remaster. But this isn’t a fundamentally new or even different experience; anyone who’s played the original game won’t need to play this version.

And that’s what makes it a cash-grab. It’s an attempt by Sony to, well, grab as much cash as possible for as little investment as possible. Without spending the big bucks that would be needed to create The Last Of Us Part 3, or any other brand-new game, Sony hopes to grind out a remaster that will save them some money but still rake in the cash from fans of the original game. And that strategy will probably succeed, if past experience is anything to go by.

For just $100, you can own the “Digital Deluxe Edition!”

Buy The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered if you want. Or don’t. If you haven’t played the game yet, it might even be worth waiting for the new remaster to get the most up-to-date and visually polished experience. It’s definitely a game worth playing… but I’m not convinced that this version will be, at least not for me – nor for most folks who’ve already played it.

But whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre, and regardless of how hard individual developers have worked on it, The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered is a cash-grab. Trying to pretend otherwise is either pure and selfish dishonesty or abject self-delusion.

The Last Of Us Part 1 will be released for PlayStation 5 on the 2nd of September 2022, and for PC at an unspecified later date. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We’re halfway through 2022!

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the entries on the list below.

The end of June marks the halfway point of the year, and I think that makes it a great time to take a step back. There are a lot of entertainment experiences that lie ahead over the next few months, and with the nights already starting to get longer it’ll be autumn and then Christmas before we know it! There’s a lot coming our way before we must bid farewell to 2022, though, so today we’re going to take a look at a few of the projects on my radar.

Since the vaccine rollout peaked last year we’ve seen an easing of pandemic restrictions, including in the entertainment industry. That bodes well for at least some of the projects that have been in development! While there are still regulations and guidelines being enforced on film and TV sets, it’s much easier for many productions to work than it has been for the past couple of years. There may be disruptions to come thanks to lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, though… so watch this space!

I’ve broken down my choices into three categories – films, television shows, and video games – and I’ve picked six titles in each category that I’m hoping to pick up and enjoy before the sun sets on New Year’s Eve!

Film #1:
Avatar: The Way of Water

I took a look at Avatar: The Way of Water when we got a brief teaser trailer earlier in the year, but suffice to say I’m curiously interested to see what writer-director James Cameron has to offer this time around. I never felt that the original Avatar was the genre-defining epic that its creators hoped it would be, and over the course of the past decade I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of Avatar has largely dropped out of the cultural conversation.

The Way of Water has a lot to do, then, to reintroduce viewers to a fictional universe that many haven’t revisited since 2009 or 2010. It also has the task of expanding the world of Avatar beyond the events of the first film, showing us more about the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, and this future version of Earth and humankind. There have been some clever technical feats that have gone into the production of this sequel – including gruelling underwater motion-capture shoots – so I’ll be interested to see if it all comes together when the film releases in December.

Film #2:
Jurassic World: Dominion

Technically Jurassic World: Dominion has already been released – but as my health prevents me from doing things like taking trips to the cinema these days, I’m waiting for it to become available to stream! The teaser trailer for the film, which was released back in December, looked great, and the prospect of a reunion of the main cast members from the first film – Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm – is a pretty significant draw.

There is always going to be the question of whether the premise of the original Jurassic Park – which was based on a novel by Michael Crichton – can really sustain a multi-film franchise. The first film was brilliant in both premise and execution, but was it a one-trick pony? I’m curious to see what director Colin Trevorrow can do to make dinosaurs both fun and intimidating once more! I’ve been trying to avoid reading reviews and spoilers for this one, and when it’s available to stream I hope to get a review written here on the website – so stay tuned for that!

Film #3:
Minions: The Rise of Gru

Despicable Me was a fun film that managed to be surprisingly heartwarming, and the franchise it spawned has gone on to become one of the biggest animated properties of all-time. The last Minions film was released back in 2015, and this sequel will reintroduce Gru – the antihero/evil villain from Despicable Me – as he teams up with his Minions for the first time.

There’s potential for a lot of fun, kid-friendly hijinks in The Rise of Gru, and I’m genuinely looking forward to another outing with the Minions. Steve Carell has been on top form in previous entries in the franchise, and the film will also feature Star Trek: Discovery’s Michelle Yeoh as part of a star-studded cast.

Film #4:
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

I had a good time with Rian Johnson’s “whodunnit” Knives Out a couple of years ago, so this follow-up definitely holds appeal. Without wanting to give away any spoilers for the first film, suffice to say that I’m excited for one character in particular to make a return!

From what I can gather, Glass Onion isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is a follow-up; a film set in the same world and that will bring back at least one familiar face, but that will also introduce an ensemble cast of new characters and perhaps a new setting as well. Hopefully what results will be just as fun and dramatic as the original!

Film #5:
Hocus Pocus 2

I missed the original Hocus Pocus when it was released in 1993, and it wasn’t until years later that I finally sat down to watch it at the insistence of a friend. What I eventually found was a fun, even somewhat clever film; a light-hearted take on Halloween that’s just right for someone who isn’t a big fan of horror!

The sequel aims to bring back Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the three witches from the original for a new adventure that sounds like it will be a riff on the original concept. Keep an eye out for Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones, who will also be reprising his role from the original film. Hocus Pocus 2 might be just right for Halloween 2022!

Film #6:
Beast

Could Beast be “Jaws but with a lion?” Because the marketing material released by the studio makes it sound like that! I quite like a good thriller or monster flick, so maybe Beast will be a bit of fun. I don’t have especially high expectations; it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece. But it might just be entertaining enough to waste a little time.

Idris Elba is always fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing – see last year’s The Suicide Squad as a case in point! So at least on that front there’s a solid star in the leading role, and the film’s South African setting appeals to me as I used to live there. I’m curiously interested to see what Beast will have to offer when it’s released in August.

Television Show #1:
Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation

Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will be the third Lego Star Wars special released on Disney+, and the first two were fantastic! 2020’s Holiday Special was a barrel of laughs, and last year we enjoyed Terrifying Tales in October, a lightly spooky Halloween special featuring Poe Dameron. The trailer for Summer Vacation had me in stitches, so if the special itself lives up to its marketing then we’re in for a wonderful time!

Expect to see some cheeky marketing for Disney’s “Galactic Starcruiser” themed hotel (which hasn’t been doing particularly well) in a special that will star “Weird Al” Yankovic and will bring back Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, and other Star Wars characters.

Television Show #2:
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3

At time of writing we don’t have a confirmed premiere date for Season 3 of Lower Decks, but if it follows the same pattern as it did in 2020 and 2021 we might see it in late summer, perhaps mid-to-late August. Season 2 actually ended on a cliffhanger – which I won’t spoil – and I still have a few theories and ideas kicking around that I’ll try to get written up before the new season arrives!

Lower Decks took a couple of episodes to fully get going, but it’s been an absolute blast across its first couple of seasons. Consistently high quality has left the series with only a couple of boring or unenjoyable episodes, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion at the heart of the Lower Decks crew. It’s a Star Trek show through-and-through, and one I find myself getting surprisingly invested in. I’m hopeful for more of the same when Lower Decks returns.

Television Show #3:
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Although The Rings of Power is already (and prematurely, in my view) proving to be controversial in some quarters, I have high hopes for what will be the most expensive television show ever produced! A return to Tolkien’s world is, of course, hugely enticing, but The Rings of Power is aiming to be a spiritual successor to Game of Thrones, telling a multi-season serialised story set in the realm of high fantasy. With a massive budget to back it up, I couldn’t be more excited about that concept!

However, with a high budget and high expectations come dangers. The Rings of Power has a long way to fall if it fails to live up to expectations, and no matter what the producers and creative team try to do, the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy will be the yardstick by which this new series is measured. I hope it can compare favourably!

Television Show #4:
House of the Dragon

Take everything I said in the entry above, copy-and-paste it, and that’s how I feel about House of the Dragon as well! This Game of Thrones prequel is one of several projects currently in production, but as far as I can see the biggest hurdle it has to surmount is not its predecessor’s reputation as one of the best television shows of all time, but the deep disappointment practically all Game of Thrones fans felt at its finale.

Just convincing people to show up for House of the Dragon in light of Game of Thrones Season 8 feels like a big ask… but if the show learns from those mistakes and makes changes, we could be in for something genuinely exciting. The first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were some of the most tense, atmospheric, and exciting ever brought to the small screen, so a return to Westeros – and to the writings of George R R Martin – could be fantastic. Could be.

Television Show #5:
Star Wars: Andor

A prequel to a prequel (or should that be a spin-off from a spin-off?), Andor will follow Rogue One’s Cassian Andor in the years before the events of the film. We might get to see more detail about the early days of the Rebel Alliance prior to the Battle of Scarif, which would be interesting in itself, but more than that I’m curious to see what Star Wars can do with a genuinely different premise. In this case, we’re talking about a spy thriller.

Is there room in the Star Wars galaxy for stories that aren’t just about Jedi Knights, the Force, and lightsaber duels? The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett could’ve begun to show us what the Star Wars galaxy looks like away from those familiar elements, but chose not to do so. So it falls to Andor to potentially become the first Star Wars series to really broaden the franchise’s horizons and show us what’s possible. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe… I guess we’ll have to see!

Television Show #6:
Five Days At Memorial

When done well, a miniseries can be a great format for storytelling. Five Days At Memorial aims to adapt the true story of doctors and nurses working at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Based on a book from 2013, the miniseries will take a look at some of the events that transpired – including how patients were triaged when the hospital’s systems failed and supplies ran low.

Most controversially, some patients were euthanised by doctors at the hospital – leading to a legal case against them in the months and years afterwards. Hopefully the miniseries will be faithful in its adaptation and won’t try to over-sensationalise these difficult events. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.

Video Game #1:
Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova

You wait years for a Star Trek video game and then two come along at once! This year should see the release of Star Trek: Resurgence – a narrative adventure game – as well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, a kid-friendly adventure title based on the new animated series. With new episodes of Prodigy’s first season set to air later this year, the time is right for a tie-in.

I was disappointed (and a little concerned) that Prodigy kicked off its first season with no toys or tie-in products, but that is slowly being addressed. Supernova looks a little last-gen in terms of its graphics, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, but I’m still hopeful for a fun game that ties in with the show, and one that can appeal to the younger audience that the show has been targetting.

Video Game #2:
Stray

Stray has been on my radar for a while, and it’s finally due for release in July! Getting to play as a cat is already a huge part of the appeal, but it sounds as if Stray will have a genuinely interesting mystery at its core: what happened to all of the humans in its world? Players will assume the role of a stray cat in a cyberpunk-inspired city, and solving that mystery will be top priority.

I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a different experience with Stray. Many games do mystery, third-person exploration, and create atmospheric worlds, but Stray feels like it could offer something that I haven’t experienced before.

Video Game #3:
Grounded

If a game has been in early access for more than two years, should its “release” even count on a list like this? Regardless, I haven’t played Grounded yet – because I largely avoid early access titles – so I’m looking forward to seeing what the full release will have to offer. I loved Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and even visited the attraction at Disney World… could Grounded let me live out a long-held childhood fantasy?

There are survival aspects to Grounded that could either work exceptionally well… or feel annoying, depending on how good the rest of the game is and how much fun I’m having! But I’ve heard good things from players who’ve enjoyed the early access version, so I’m going to give Grounded a shot when it officially releases in September.

Video Game #4:
Return to Monkey Island

Despite loving the first three games in the series, I seem to have fallen behind on my Monkey Island adventures! The fourth and fifth games in the series ended up on my “pile” of unplayed games, and despite meaning to get around to them I still haven’t! Perhaps I should rectify that before Return to Monkey Island – the sixth game in the series – arrives.

Updated versions of the first three Monkey Island games proved that point-and-click adventure titles could still find an audience when they were released a few years ago, and there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy-adventure. I’m hopeful that Return to Monkey Island will deliver more of the same humour and excitement as the series did in its early days.

Video Game #5:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

After being on my radar for a while, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has finally set a release window. All being well we’ll see the weird-sounding game in September. I honestly don’t know what to expect from this one, as Gollum would never be the kind of character I’d have expected to build a game and a story around. However, there’s clearly more to his story than we saw in the films – or even the books – so this could be an interesting adventure!

With a renewed focus on the world of Tolkien and high fantasy thanks to the Amazon show and other fantasy films and TV shows, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could be a surprise hit. I don’t want to go overboard with the hype, but I’m definitely interested to see what the developers have come up with.

Video Game #6:
Saints Row

It does the Saints Row series a grave disservice to call it simply a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” even if that’s where it might’ve begun. This soft reboot of the series aims to take it back to its roots, setting aside at least some of the over-the-top hijinks of the third and fourth games in favour of a return to the gangland roots of the original Saints Row from 2006.

With no Grand Theft Auto VI on the horizon any time soon, Saints Row might just scratch that open-world crime itch for players who are getting tired of Grand Theft Auto V – but hopefully Saints Row can continue to carve its own niche and stand on its own two feet.

So that’s it!

Those are just some of the projects that we can look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. There are plenty more, of course, and I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way, too! Although 2022 has been much better than the past couple of years, there’s still the potential for disruption and delays, so keep in mind that any of the shows, films, and games listed above may not make their currently-scheduled launches. Such things happen, unfortuately!

I hope that this was a bit of fun and a glimpse at what lies ahead. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to research different upcoming projects to see what piques my curiosity, and as someone who takes an interest in the world of entertainment I’m always keeping my ear to the ground to see what might be coming up! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website for reviews, impressions, and write-ups of at least some of the projects we’ve talked about today.

Until next time!

All films, television shows, and video games listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, distributor, broadcaster, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys goes free-to-play: first impressions

I love Fall Guys – and I’ve had a blast playing the fun party battle royale title since it landed in August of 2020. Following a buyout by Epic Games it seemed inevitable that Fall Guys would eventually go free-to-play, and here we are! The new version of Fall Guys launched yesterday and I’ve had a couple of hours to jump in and have a play around.

First of all, some points to be aware of: Fall Guys is no longer available via Steam, although players who purchased it on that platform before yesterday will be able to continue to play the game – and it will presumably continue to receive updates in line with other versions. Secondly, the game is now available on Switch and Xbox… finally! And thanks to cross-platform play, players on PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox systems are able to play together.

Fall Guys has finally made it to Nintendo Switch!

I was confused by some of the pre-launch marketing, specifically the talk of a “season reset.” Fall Guys had introduced a lot of new content and new rounds across its first couple of years, including a winter-themed season and a sci-fi one. It wasn’t communicated very clearly, in my opinion at least, whether some or all of this content would be included as part of this “new Season 1,” or whatever it’s called. As it turned out, all of the rounds are available, which is great! The good rounds are still a ton of fun… and the annoying ones are still annoying.

I didn’t get off to a great start, as some kind of error prevented me from even getting to the game’s main menu. I saw something about this on social media from one of Mediatonic’s pages, and considering the increased player numbers as the game launches on two new platforms and simultaneously goes free-to-play for the first time ever, I guess a few bumps in the road can be forgiven! But I hope this issue – which persisted for quite a while – hasn’t had too much of a negative impact on new players and their first impressions of Fall Guys.

The error message that I received.

So first of all, anyone who’s played Fall Guys before (on the same account) will be granted a few freebies – including some new costumes and access to the first Season Pass. That’s nice, and a little bit of generosity from Epic/Mediatonic toward the game’s early adopters. But going free-to-play has, naturally, completely changed Fall Guys’ in-game marketplace. The original “kudos” currency is still present and can be used for some items, but there’s now a second premium currency that must be bought with real cash – and this second currency can be exchanged for other in-game items.

Fortunately, items unlocked prior to the game going free-to-play seem to have remained in my inventory, so I don’t feel a desperate need to shell out a lot of cash for in-game currencies and new items right now. But new players in particular will find themselves affected by the decision to lock many cosmetic items behind a paywall, and Fall Guys is definitely following the business model used by many free-to-play mobile games and Epic’s own juggernaut Fortnite in terms of the way in-game monetisation is handled.

Part of the in-game marketplace.

Too many reviews skip over microtransactions and in-game monetisation, but in my view it’s absolutely worth drawing your attention to this aspect of Fall Guys before we go any further. This is a game that’s very appealing to kids and young people thanks to a cute visual style, the lack of any violence or gore, and a fun party vibe, so parents and carers should be aware of what could lie in store. The original version of Fall Guys, as I noted in my first look at the game a couple of years ago, was very good about making its microtransations entirely optional and allowing simply playing the game to unlock boatloads of in-game currency and a plethora of new items. This new free-to-play version of the game feels more tight-fisted and stingy with its in-game rewards, and the emphasis from this point forward is going to be on those microtransactions and that premium currency.

Mentions of a “Season Pass” have also not eluded me, and it seems like this is another aspect of the game that is going to be monetised and heavily pushed. Paying for the game’s Season Pass – which, as noted, is free right now for players who bought the game prior to its free-to-play move – will unlock a lot of “premium” items and some in-game currency. It seems like these Season Passes will be a big part of the game going forward.

Fall Guys has added a purchasable Season Pass.

As with Fortnite, playing Fall Guys without spending a penny is possible, and none of the Season Passes, in-game currencies, and microtransactions could be described as being either necessary to complete the game nor as offering any kind of in-game advantage. But it’s worth being aware of the fact that this “free” game – like many, many others – could be a gateway to spending not insignificant amounts of real money.

While none of the purchases players can make today will offer any kind of in-game advantage, there’s always the possibility of that changing in future. Updates or changes to the game could potentially see some of Fall Guys’ rounds gated off behind a paywall, or the addition of power-ups, boosters, and the like that could potentially make the game a “pay-to-win” experience. I’ll do my best to keep tabs on things as Fall Guys progresses with its new business model – and I’m sure I’ll have something to say if any kind of pay-to-win mechanics begin cropping up.

So far, microtransactions don’t appear to be pay-to-win.

So that’s how things sit in terms of monetisation from my point of view. Fall Guys is to be commended for not including the dreaded randomised lootbox as part of its monetisation, but that’s a pretty low bar. A free game with dedicated online servers naturally requires some kind of revenue stream in order to be financially viable, and the fact that there are still unlockable items without spending money is a good thing. Monetisation doesn’t feel horribly aggressive right now when compared to some other titles, but it is still present and, speaking as someone who played and enjoyed Fall Guys in its earlier incarnation, monetisation and pushes to spend money feel like a much larger part of the game than they used to be.

But enough about that for now.

Fall Guys plays exactly the same as it used to now that it’s free-to-play, and for newbies I guess I’d describe its gameplay as “deceptively simple.” You can run, grab, jump, and dive – and those are your available moves. Using those moves you have to navigate a huge variety of different rounds – most of which only last a couple of minutes at the most – in order to qualify for the next one. It takes a bit of getting used to, but there’s never been a better time to get started thanks to the influx of new players! It’s a level playing field right now.

Skyline Stumble, one of many rounds in the game.

I won’t go into detail about every round in the game – but I have several lists here on the website of my favourites (and least-favourites), the most recent of which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Suffice to say that most of the rounds are an absolute blast, and the few that I don’t personally enjoy never ruin my gameplay experience because of how short they are and how infrequently they crop up in a game with so much variety.

There are a handful of new rounds that have been introduced alongside the free-to-play update, and the ones I’ve tried so far retain Fall Guys’ signature sense of wild and wacky fun. I can’t wait to get stuck in all over again and figure out my best strategies for approaching some of these new experiences!

Fall Guys will hopefully stick around for a long time to come.

So I don’t think there’s a lot more to say. Fall Guys has gone free-to-play but has retained its fun gameplay, and while there is a definite and noticeable push towards in-game monetisation, at this stage it doesn’t feel excessive. I hadn’t played much Fall Guys over the past few months, but this update gave me another opportunity to dive headfirst into one of my favourite games of the last few years. As I said when Fall Guys was brand-new, it takes something truly special for me to be interested in any kind of online multiplayer title, least of all one that could be described as a kind of “battle royale,” but Fall Guys really is that kind of exceptional, unique game.

I’m pleased to see that the game is now available on Xbox and Nintendo Switch; the latter platform in particular should be a natural fit for this kind of fun, kid-friendly party game. I’d been awaiting the game’s Switch release for a long time, and although I’ve only played on PC so far I hope to jump into the Switch version very soon.

Maybe we’ll see each other out there on the obstacle courses… but I should warn you, the gloves are off! I’ll shove you out of the way without a second thought for a chance at winning my next crown! Good luck and happy falling!

Fall Guys is out now for free (with in-game purchases) on PC, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Epic Games. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Why “announce” Fallout 5?

Xbox recently hosted its Games Showcase event – an addendum to Summer Games Fest, which has effectively replaced this year’s E3 industry event. The Showcase was generally pretty decent, with a focus being on games that will be released over the next twelve months. Some big games like Valheim and Redfall took centre stage, and there was news or updates about the likes of Grounded, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even Fall Guys – the latter of which is belatedly launching on Xbox (and Nintendo Switch) in just a few days’ time.

Having recently been gobbled up by Microsoft’s expanding gaming division, Bethesda had a lot to say about Starfield. Though the game has recently been delayed until the first half of 2023, the Xbox Games Showcase event provided a massive update on the game and showed players a first look at gameplay. That’s what we should be talking about; that should be the headline for Bethesda coming out of their big summer presentation. But it isn’t, at least not in a lot of publications.

Bethesda chief Todd Howard chose to drop the “announcement” – if we can even call it that – that Fallout 5 will be the studio’s next-but-one big project, and that news has grabbed headlines and stolen attention away from Starfield right at the moment when you’d think its marketing campaign should be beginning in earnest. I just don’t really understand why it was necessary to make this so-called “announcement” and confirm what most players and fans had already been assuming.

Firstly, if Starfield brings in rave reviews, massive player numbers, and goes on to be the success that Bethesda and Microsoft must be hoping for, then surely a sequel should enter the conversation. By stating now, before Starfield has even launched, that Fallout 5 will follow The Elder Scrolls VI as Bethesda’s next-but-one project, that seems to push any kind of Starfield sequel even further away. If decisions need to be made in future to change that around for whatever reason, some people are going to be left upset. There’s literally no upside to talking about Fallout 5 at this juncture.

The same could have been said, arguably, about The Elder Scrolls VI when that was similarly “announced” at E3 in 2018. With the game so far off, talking about it so soon seemed premature at best. In that case, though, there was a case to be made that the constant stream of re-releases for Skyrim, the fact that there had never been such a long gap in between Elder Scrolls games, the releases of not one but two Fallout titles, and Starfield being in active development all combined to make it worthwhile to make a commitment to Elder Scrolls fans that their series hadn’t been forgotten.

With Fallout, there just isn’t any need. Fallout 4 was released in November 2015, and that was followed up by the (disastrous and unplayable) Fallout 76 just three years later. Fallout 76 continues to receive attention and updates, some of which have been pretty substantial, so there isn’t that same feeling of abandonment that some Elder Scrolls fans had been feeling in the wake of a lack of follow-up to Skyrim. Though I’d still suggest that announcing The Elder Scrolls VI in 2018 was premature, at least there was a kind of logic to it – a logic that this “announcement” of Fallout 5 lacks.

The Elder Scrolls VI was also announced with a slick teaser – obviously no gameplay, but at least a look at a pretty landscape and a logo. Fallout 5 got no such fanfare, with the news of its planned existence seemingly being an off-the-cuff remark dropped haphazardly in an interview with IGN. Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Bethesda needs to help Todd Howard with his interviews so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again!

Starfield has been Bethesda’s biggest and longest project to date, having been worked on for at least a decade. Production officially began following the release of Fallout 4 in 2015 and ramped up in the wake of Fallout 76′s launch in 2018, so this has been a massive undertaking. The Elder Scrolls VI will be comparable in scale, and if it follows a similar timeline to Starfield it may not be ready until 2027 or 2028. If Fallout 5 likewise takes five-plus years in active development, we’re potentially talking about a release window sometime in the early/mid-2030s. So why on earth should we be talking about this game now?!

One of the reasons why video game corporations like sequels is that there’s a built-in fanbase. Fans of Fallout 3 turned up for Fallout 4; fans of Oblivion turned up for Skyrim… and so on. Starfield represents much more of a risk compared with the likes of a new Elder Scrolls or Fallout title, and as a result it needs to be handled carefully, marketed cleverly, and not overshadowed by the bigger and more illustrious franchises that its parent company owns.

The mere act of mentioning Fallout 5 – which had not been discussed by anyone senior at Bethesda or Microsoft prior to this – has completely stolen Starfield’s thunder coming out of the Xbox Games Showcase, and that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Bethesda’s mistakes and stumbles – some of which go back several years – have already meant that there’s a bit of a caveat in the minds of some players when they think about Starfield, so the game needs every boost it can possibly get. Being overshadowed by a new title, especially one that’s probably ten years away from being released, doesn’t help and has actually hurt Starfield at the moment players should be beginning to pay attention and, from Bethesda’s point of view at least, get excited for its launch next year.

Maybe this was just a mistake; a throwaway remark that Todd Howard didn’t really intend to make. If so, I guess it’s fair to say that we all make mistakes, these things happen, and to try to move on from it and refocus on Starfield. But it won’t be easy to do. There are already a ton of articles about Fallout 5 being “announced,” and that will lead to questions from fans and the gaming press drawing attention away from Starfield at what was supposed to be its first moment in the spotlight.

We could have spent today talking about the gameplay that was shown off, how things like jumping and jetpacking look like fun, and how incredibly excited I am to design and build my own spaceship! But instead we’re talking about a marketing screw-up and a game that, to be blunt, I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough to see! It was a mistake to even mention Fallout 5 this early, and if Starfield exceeds expectations and becomes Bethesda and Microsoft’s “next big thing,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a sequel planned sooner than expected. That could push back work on Fallout 5, upsetting fans. There was literally no upside to this at all, and the resultant reaction to Todd Howard’s statement has drawn attention away from Starfield at the precise moment when fans should have been excitedly talking about its gameplay reveal, new features, and the scale of the galaxy that Bethesda has created. What a mess!

Starfield will be released in the first half of 2023 for Xbox Series S/X and PC and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass. Fallout 5 has no release date scheduled. Starfield, the Fallout franchise, the Elder Scrolls franchise, and other titles and properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks. Some promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Diablo Immortal is a monument to everything wrong with modern gaming

Because the controversy surrounding Diablo Immortal’s notorious announcement was so long ago – four years ago, in fact – I guess I’d just assumed that the crappy mobile game had already been released sometime in the last few years. I was surprised when I began seeing ads for the game all over my social media pages, and even more surprised to learn that Activision Blizzard has only just finished pushing this absolute turd of a game out of its corporate anus.

Diablo Immortal could stand as a monument to everything that’s wrong about modern gaming and the state of the video games industry. It seems to be desperately chasing every cash-grabbing trend going, degrading a brand that has been part of the gaming landscape for more than a quarter of a century. It’s a contemptible title, one whose inevitable failure I will genuinely be celebrating.

What a piece of shit.

You may have heard this figure floating around during conversations about Diablo Immortal: $110,000. For those of us in the UK, that equates to over £90,000, and according to analysis done by Bellular News it’s the total cost of fully upgrading a player’s in-game character. This figure is based on the fact that many of the game’s upgrades aren’t able to be unlocked by gameplay and are only available via lootboxes.

There are some games out there that take the piss when it comes to how much they cost. Strategy games from developer Paradox Interactive are notorious for their expansions, DLC, and add-ons, the combined cost of which can push some of their biggest titles to well in excess of £300. Look at the likes of Europa Universalis IV or Cities Skylines as examples of what I’m talking about.

Promo screenshot of Diablo Immortal.

And then there are multiplayer titles that try to coax players who the games industry dehumanisingly and offensively refers to as “whales” into spending massive amounts of money on one-time-use items like ammo, power-ups, and other such fluff. Often the excuse is that players have the option to pay to “skip the grind,” as if the grind hadn’t been deliberately and intentionally built into the game in the first place in order to force as many players as possible into paying more and more money just to be able to play.

Diablo Immortal has taken on all of these money-grubbing trends, seeming to see it as a challenge to get away with as much egregious bullshit as possible. The result is that the game is completely drowning in monetisation to the point that simply playing and enjoying it on its own merit is impossible – something that, sadly, too many publications and self-proclaimed “journalists” and “reviewers” have refused to discuss in any depth. Many purported “reviews” of video games nowadays end up being little more than puff pieces; marketing material that may not have been bought and paid for, but that’s worth about as much as if it had been. The threat of revocation of access and a loss of freebies serves as an incentive for some publications to set their ethics aside – as some of the reviews for Diablo Immortal demonstrate. But I guess that’s something we need to talk about in more depth on another occasion.

There’s disagreement between professional reviewers and players about Diablo Immortal.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, corporations suddenly realised the potential that mobile gaming had as a platform. With the explosion in popularity of smartphones came a massive growth in gaming – though many players didn’t necessarily realise that they had been converted to become “gamers” for the first time! But it’s off the back of this particular trend that Diablo Immortal was belatedly conceived; the idea being to take an established brand with good name recognition and a solid reputation and shart it into a typical, done-before mobile game mould.

That’s what Diablo Immortal is. It isn’t a Diablo game like the previous entries in the series. It’s a mobile game with a Diablo veneer; a festering, rotting puddle of raw sewage that Activision Blizzard has attempted to cover up with Diablo branding. But everyone could smell the stink coming. From as far back as its announcement in 2018, the fact that Diablo Immortal was going to be nothing more than a trend-chasing cash grab was readily apparent to everyone from fans to industry watchers. The extent of Activision Blizzard’s piss-taking, and the absolute lack of shame that the corporation seems to have about it, may have caught some folks off-guard, but make no mistake: this was the inevitable, predictable outcome.

For the low price of just $110,000 you can fully upgrade this character!

Some folks have taken to calling the game Diablo Immoral, dropping the T, and honestly I wish I’d thought of that first because it’s so clever! It perfectly embodies the disgusting corporate approach to every aspect of this game, and the state it’s in as a result. Not only that, but it captures the sense that many Diablo fans have that this cash-grab is a corruption of the franchise they love.

The danger here is that Activision Blizzard’s plan will backfire. Rather than the Diablo branding for this shitty mobile title bringing in boatloads of cash, the appalling, predatory nature of its in-game lootboxes and microtransactions may actually end up harming the franchise and its reputation. With Diablo IV in the works, that could be disastrous.

How badly will Diablo Immortal hurt Diablo IV?

The acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft – which is still in the works and hasn’t been completed at time of writing – may mean that there’s less of a financial risk, but reputational damage on this scale can take time to recover from and can be a weight around the neck of brands and franchises for years. Look at Bethesda or BioWare as examples – recent titles that have been extremely underwhelming have led at least some fans and reviewers (myself included) to begin placing a caveat on any potential hype for new titles. So it will be with Diablo IV – sure, the game could be good, but do you remember how shitty Diablo Immortal was and how scummy its in-game marketplace was? That could well be the narrative going into the next major game in the series.

Perhaps Diablo Immortal was too far along in its development to have been extensively reworked or cancelled, but honestly, it may have been to Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s benefit to at least put the project on pause. After being hit by a major scandal recently, the last thing Activision Blizzard needs as this Microsoft acquisition goes through is more bad press. Yet here we are.

Activision Blizzard is facing a major sexual harassment lawsuit.

So that’s Diablo Immortal, I guess. A typical mobile cash-grab with the Diablo logo haphazardly affixed to it. Don’t be fooled by the branding or the expensive marketing campaign that’s seen ads for the game pop up all over social media: Diablo Immortal is a piece of shit. It’s garbage that doesn’t deserve to be associated with a franchise that has delivered a lot of enjoyment to folks through the past twenty-five years.

Do yourself a favour and wait for Diablo IV. I really wish this had been an out-of-season April Fools’ joke.

Diablo Immortal is, regrettably, out now for PC, iOS, and Android. Diablo Immortal is the copyright and unending shame of Activision Blizzard. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Halo (TV series): Season 1 review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Halo and several of the Halo video games.

Despite Paramount’s best efforts to keep the first live-action Halo series away from viewers in 95% of the world, I was recently able to binge-watch it. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going in; I knew of only a couple of the performers from their past work, and although there was supposedly a significant budget attached to the series, I can’t recall a single time that a video game has been successfully adapted in this way. And no, the “so-bad-it’s-good” Super Mario Bros. doesn’t count!

Video game adaptations have been notoriously difficult to get right, but I think Halo offers a glimpse at what’s possible. By telling a story spread across nine episodes instead of condensing it to a two-hour film, there was more depth and more time able to be spent bringing the world and the lore of the long-running series into a new format. In that sense, I think we could hold up Halo as an example of why video game adaptations may work better on the small screen – and especially in the current media environment as streaming projects – than as feature films.

The Master Chief with fellow Spartan Kai.

I’m not particularly well-versed in the depths of Halo lore. I played the first game on the original Xbox when it was new, and I’ve played most of the mainline games now thanks to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. But I haven’t played spin-offs like the Halo Wars strategy games, nor read any of the books or comics that have been produced. So as I sat down to watch Halo, I wasn’t particularly worried about things like “canon” or consistency with what’s come before – and that was probably for the best!

Halo seems to exist in its own space; a standalone project, a reinterpretation of the stories shown in the games but without the pretence of being a prequel or direct adaptation. Many of the same elements exist in the world of Halo as did in the show’s source material – the Master Chief, Dr Halsey, the UNSC, the Covenant, and so on – but they’re being reinterpreted and used in different ways.

Dr Halsey.

In order to turn the Master Chief from a faceless everyman into a relatable protagonist, that had to happen. The Master Chief in the Halo video games basically exists as an excuse to blast aliens; a television series like this needs to have a fully-rounded character with his own thoughts, motivations, and feelings to guide the plot and to get us as the audience invested in his story. This was accomplished thanks to the help of the “Keystone” – a magical macguffin that began to give the Master Chief access to memories and feelings that he hadn’t had before.

The nature of the Keystone wasn’t readily apparent, and I liked the sense of mystery that brought to the table. Only the Master Chief and his Covenant-raised counterpart Makee were able to interact with the object, and that limitation gave legs to the story. While the Master Chief wanted to learn more about his family and the life he never knew, those around him all wanted – in slightly different ways and with varying degrees of maliciousness – to use him and his connection to it for their own purposes.

The Keystone was at the centre of the season’s storylines.

This was one aspect of Halo that I felt worked well – at least, most of the time. Aside from the Master Chief and, to an extent, his fellow Spartan Kai, everyone else that we met had their own agenda, their own biases, their own prejudices, and their own moral ambiguity. On the “good” side of the conflict we have the UNSC and its leadership – but in order to get ahead, practically all of them became morally compromised along the way. There’s a message there about how the military, politics, and power work that wasn’t lost… but wasn’t exactly subtle, either.

Through the eyes of Miranda Keyes we also got to see the way the UNSC’s power structure and chain-of-command operate. Despite being intelligent and well-qualified, she found herself cut off from information that she could have used to better perform her duties; cut out of the loop not only of the conspiracy involving her parents and the Spartan programme, but also without the necessary clearances and access to information that would have made part of her job – translating the Covenant’s language – much easier.

Miranda Keyes’ story showed us the realities of working with the UNSC.

I expect that some of the show’s mysterious elements – particularly the somewhat-disconnected events of the rebellion and mysterious portal on the planet of Madrigal – may have been quite different from what some fans of the Halo games were expecting from the series. Although Halo started with a bang thanks to a truly excellent battle sequence between the Spartans and a group of Covenant elites, there were definitely moments across the show’s nine-episode run where fast-paced action and combat took a back seat to these unfolding storylines.

As I found myself getting invested in the Master Chief’s story and wanting to learn more about where he came from and what happened, I actually enjoyed this aspect of Halo… but I can understand that it may not have been what everyone expected or wanted from an adaptation like this. What I’d say in defence of Halo is that it’s worth keeping in mind that the games were designed to be interactive and to be played through; the series is designed to be watched. A game needs more combat and action to keep players invested – if the series had been nine episodes of gunfighting and running around it might’ve been truer to its source material but it would almost certainly have been far harder to watch!

Learning about the Master Chief’s family and personal history was a big part of Season 1.

Halo did some interesting things with its battle sequences in terms of cinematography. The first-person perspective that was surprisingly close to how things look in the Halo games is something rarely seen on screen in this way, and it was done much better than it had been in projects such as 2005’s Doom adaptation. Halo integrated things like the Spartans’ heads-up display into its storytelling at key moments, with things like the low shield alarm signalling that a character was in danger. It generally worked well, and as a callback to the games it was something that I appreciated.

Dipping in and out of this first-person perspective was smooth enough for the most part, but there were definitely a handful of moments across the season where combat sequences felt a little jumpy and too quick; I ended up missing things and debating whether or not I should rewind parts of several episodes as a result. I fully agree that it wouldn’t have been desirable to show every battle and combat sequence entirely in first-person, though, and the series balanced this pretty well. The first-person camera could’ve ended up feeling like a complete gimmick; it’s to Halo’s credit that that isn’t the case.

An example of the first-person camera.

I suppose one of the big questions fans will be left wrangling with is whether this approach – the slowly-building character-oriented mystery with action elements – was the right one for Halo. For me, as someone who’s enjoyed this kind of story across multiple genres and in different ways, I found it enjoyable enough. But as I said at the beginning, I’m not any kind of Halo super-fan, and I could certainly entertain the argument that there wasn’t a need to completely rework the story and parts of the lore of the franchise.

It would have been possible, even with the caveat that video games are designed to be played and a television show is designed to be watched, to adapt the story of one or more of the games. A blend of the stories of Halo: Reach leading into the events of Halo: Combat Evolved has potential as an exciting story, but one with scope for at least some of the elements of mystery and characterisation that the series ultimately included. I’m not exactly upset about “what might have been,” but at the same time, I can’t help wondering. The first game in particular, the one that established the Halo universe, the Master Chief, and many other elements that Halo used in its first season, could have been brought to screen with a few tweaks rather than telling a completely new story.

A Covenant Elite.

I was only familiar with a couple of the actors before I sat down to watch Halo – I’d seen Natascha McElhone in Designated Survivor and Burn Gorman in Turn: Washington’s Spies and The Man In The High Castle. Both were fine performers who excelled in their roles in Halo, and it was neat to see them again. Burn Gorman in particular has a menacing style that made him perfect for the role of the villainous Vincher, and his scenes were delicious to watch.

Other standout performances from the cast that I’d highlight include Yerin Ha, who took on the role of young Kwan, and Kate Kennedy, who excelled as Master Chief’s Spartan ally Kai. There was a vulnerability in the way Kennedy portrayed the otherwise-invincible Spartan warrior, and the way Kai began to follow in the footsteps of the Master Chief was an interesting – and occasionally cute – sub-plot that I hope is expanded upon in Season 2.

I enjoyed Kai’s sub-plot.

Both Captain Keyes, played by Danny Sapani, and his daughter Miranda, played by Olive Gray, were fun characters. Sapani brought the right weight or gravitas to the role of the Master Chief’s commanding officer, but as the story unfolded I didn’t really get the sense that Keyes and Master Chief knew each other all that well. There were moments of exposition… but I think seeing some of their past, even if only via a flashback, would’ve done better at building up this relationship.

Of course, all attention was on Pablo Schreiber, who took on the challenging role of this adaptation of the Master Chief. There will always be some long-time fans who have a hard time adapting to a recasting or reinterpretation of a classic character, so right off the bat I have to commend Schreiber for being willing to take on the role! Master Chief has existed for more than twenty years at this point, and this was our first real exploration of his characterisation – and our first time seeing him with his helmet off!

Pablo Schreiber with the iconic Master Chief helmet.

The mysterious elements of Master Chief’s past worked well, and seeing him gradually explore his memories and come to terms with some new feelings and emotions was interesting – but more could have been made of some of those things. Because the Master Chief quite quickly left Kwan with his ex-Spartan friend for protection, one avenue to exploring those new feelings was pretty abruptly brought to an end, and while there were interesting aspects to his relationship with Makee, there were definitely aspects of this storyline left on the table as the curtain fell on the season.

As an acting performance, though, Pablo Schreiber did the best he could with the material that he had, and I found him to be a fun and convincing protagonist for the most part. The Master Chief’s arc across Season 1 has set the stage for a story that could branch off in several different directions as both humanity and the Covenant chase these artefacts and the titular Halo ring-world… so there’s scope, when the series returns, to see more.

The Master Chief as Season 1 drew to a close.

Halo felt like a thoroughly modern serialised made-for-streaming television show. In the wake of projects like Lost and Game of Thrones, studios and entertainment corporations have been looking at their properties for anything that could be adapted into a similar, multi-season epic, and Halo feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as the returning Star Trek franchise, some of the Marvel and Star Wars projects, and shows like The Witcher over on Netflix. In that sense, there’s not a whole lot of originality in the core concept; it’s a familiar framework that has been moulded to fit this particular franchise.

By choosing to riff on the Halo concept rather than remake or directly adapt any of the stories from the games, the sense of anticipation and mystery that was clearly intended to be a big part of the series absolutely stuck the landing, and I’m still curious to learn more about the magical macguffin that was at the heart of the story. However, some storytelling decisions split up key characters perhaps too early in the story, leaving the Master Chief and UNSC characters entirely disconnected from events on Madrigal after Kwan returned there. Of course it’s possible for future seasons to reunite these story threads and connect them – it feels like it’s possible that the same mysterious faction responsible for the Keystones may have created Madrigal’s portal, for example – but as things sit right now, we definitely have a series in two halves.

The main cast of Halo Season 1.

All that being said, Halo got off to a good start and I’m curious to see what will come next. Rumours of a shake-up over at 343 Industries/Paramount may mean that a new showrunner and producers are being brought in for Season 2, which will begin filming imminently at time of writing, so we may see a shift in the way the series is written and structured to take on board feedback from fans and critics from this first outing.

I give credit to Halo for ambitiously trying to bring a long-running franchise into a completely different environment. Adapting video games has never been easy and has rarely been successful, so make no mistake: this was a risk. For my money, it’s a risk that largely paid off, and what resulted was a decent season of television that has set the stage for more adventures in this surprisingly deep fictional universe. Were there elements both narrative and technical that were imperfect? Sure, but that doesn’t ruin what was a decently engaging drama. The mysteries kept me engaged, the performances from both leading and secondary actors were great, and moments of action, while perhaps spread a little thin, made sure that Halo didn’t forget its roots.

Halo Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in regions where the service is available. The Halo franchise – including the Halo television series – is the copyright of 343 Industries and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Sniper Elite 5: First impressions

I’m a total newbie to the Sniper Elite series, but I found myself swept up in the hype for the latest entry. With Sniper Elite 5 being available on Xbox Game Pass on release day, there was no reason not to give it a shot! The game was even available to pre-load (i.e. to download ahead of its actual launch) which is a time-saver on my slow internet connection. Although this isn’t a review of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft once again gets high marks from me for their subscription service!

First up, Sniper Elite 5 on PC seems to have a bug related to its anti-cheat software. This bug prevented me from launching the game after it had been installed, but luckily there was a simple workaround: right-click and then choose “run as administrator” in order to make it work. An easy fix, but unfortunately for Sniper Elite 5 it didn’t exactly get off to a spectacular start as a result.

Lining up a shot in Sniper Elite 5.

However, the game itself seems to be well-polished. I didn’t encounter any major bugs and only one visual glitch in the couple of hours that I’ve spent with Sniper Elite 5 so far. Considering that recent years have seen too many games rushed out the door to meet arbitrary release windows, the fact that Sniper Elite 5 at least on PC seems to be in a decent, playable state is good news. It shouldn’t need to be good news, but that’s a reflection of where the video games industry as a whole is right now.

I’d been dimly aware of the Sniper Elite series, but I’d never given it serious consideration until now. I’d seen pictures and clips online from time to time – especially of the franchise’s signature X-ray kill cams – but beyond that I kind of dismissed it. In shooter games I rarely choose to play as a sniper if I have a choice, and stealth missions have never been my favourites in any action or adventure titles. So for those reasons and more, past games in the Sniper Elite franchise just never seemed like “my thing.” I’m not sure what it was that Sniper Elite 5 did with its marketing to change my mind and convince me to give it a shot this time around; perhaps it’s simply the relative lack of big new games as a result of pandemic-enforced delays.

Taking cover.

Regardless, I was curious enough to give Sniper Elite 5 a go, and I’ve been having fun. For some reason I had it in my head that this would be a first-person game; perhaps the screenshots and clips I’d seen in the past left that impression, as first-person mode is basically required for sniping. But when not using binoculars or the sniper scope, the rest of the game takes place from a third-person perspective. That was unexpected for someone who (clearly) had no idea what they were letting themselves in for! I like the mix that this provides; third-person gameplay for stealth and action combines well with looking down the sniper scope from a first-person perspective.

Gameplay itself is polished, and both major sides of the game – sniping and third-person stealth/action – work well. Sniper Elite 5 has some neat level design with expansive open areas and isolated, hidden spots that are perfect for spying or lining up the perfect shot. So far I’ve only participated in a couple of missions, but I like what I’ve seen.

Whee!

In terms of graphics and visuals, Sniper Elite 5 looks decent. I wouldn’t describe any of it as being stunning or beautiful; for my money there are more visually spectacular titles. The use of a lot of green, khaki, and brown tones is period-accurate for World War II France, but perhaps that kind of colour palette doesn’t lend itself to being described in those terms. Graphically, Sniper Elite 5 could go toe-to-toe with many games of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 generation, but at least on my PC I didn’t feel it could offer much more than that.

This is a broader point that we should probably talk about in more detail some time, but the lack of availability for the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 has meant that many games are still being developed with the previous console generation – and its limitations – in mind. Sniper Elite 5 is playable on hardware that’s almost a decade old at this point, and that’s naturally going to hold it back. Every new console generation brings with it cross-gen titles like this, but the unique difficulties faced by new machines seems to have dragged out this period. By this point in the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5’s lifecycles, I’d expect to see more titles like Sniper Elite 5 ditching last-gen consoles in favour of new hardware.

Sniper Elite 5 looks okay… but visually it’s nothing to write home about.

Voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 isn’t spectacular. It has a stilted, almost wooden quality that reminds me a little too much of amateur dramatics clubs and drama classes at school! Ten years ago I wouldn’t have found that to be worth remarking on, but a lot of modern titles have put way more effort into their voice acting and scriptwriting. Even games that don’t rely on big-name actors or celebrities to bring their characters to life have still managed to sound pretty great and realistic; I find that the writing and voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 kind of snaps me out of the moment.

The saving grace here is that cut-scenes seem to be relatively few and far between, with long sections of uninterrupted gameplay in between. German characters all speak German (with English subtitles) at least by default, which I will admit is a nice feature and adds something to the realism of the World War II setting.

I’m not wild about the voice acting or scriptwriting.

If you’ve ever played a third-person stealth game, you’ll be familiar with the way gameplay works in Sniper Elite 5. There’s a well-implemented cover system, the player character can conceal himself by ducking down, lying prone, or hiding in bushes or long grass. Enemies have line-of-sight that must be avoided, enemies can become alerted to the player’s presence and raise alarms, and making noise or firing weapons can draw attention. Nothing on this side of the game felt particularly groundbreaking, but all of it felt polished and well-constructed. Even as someone brand-new to the series, playing Sniper Elite 5 felt natural and intuitive, and I didn’t have to scrounge around to figure out the controls or how to interact with the environment.

Sniping works basically the same way it does in any first-person shooter, but with a few added extras that some faster-paced titles overlook. Most sniper rifles (as well as binoculars) have different zoom levels, the player character’s breathing can be controlled to steady the scope, and different body parts on enemy targets – including internal organs – can be targetted to get different results. Each shot feels unique, and I would wager that the game offers a decent amount of replayability; going back and redoing a mission will almost certainly lead to different ways to take down targets.

The view down the sniper scope.

This brings us to one of the Sniper Elite series’ signatures: kill cams, and particularly X-ray kill cams that show the damage inflicted inside of a target’s body. These things are pretty gory – even by the standards of a World War II video game – but they can be turned off in the menu if players aren’t interested in that level of brutality. For me, I’m pretty desensitised to that kind of thing, but I can understand if the raw, visceral nature of these slow-motion sequences is offputting to some folks.

As a technical feat, I think the inclusion of these X-ray cams is quite clever. Not only does the game have to detect where a bullet hit an enemy and whether they’re wounded, killed, etc., but it has to show a ballistic path from the barrel of the gun all the way to the target’s body. Then it has to calculate precisely where in the body the bullet would enter, which internal organs would be damaged, and what that would look like, then render it on screen in slow-motion but without stopping or interrupting the main cycle of gameplay. Regardless of whether it’s “your thing” or not, as a feat of game design I find it to be very impressive!

An example of the game’s X-ray kill cam.

Weapons can be customised in Sniper Elite 5, and this adds an additional dimension to gameplay. The player character can carry several different weapons at a time – as well as grenades, binoculars, health packs, and the like – and each main weapon can be customised and upgraded. Not all upgrades are available from the start, needing to be unlocked as the campaign progresses.

It can be fun in any game to customise a weapon and get it working exactly the way you want it to! Sniper Elite 5 offers a lot of options in this regard, and balancing the trade-offs between a more powerful but slower and louder weapon versus a quick and nimble one with a shorter range and less power is all part of the immersion and the experience. It’s possible to customise the player character’s weapon differently for different targets and different missions, and when combined with a variety of different weapons to choose from, this is another way in which Sniper Elite 5 makes the experience feel different each time. Cosmetic changes to weapons also show up in third-person mode when walking around, and I always appreciate details like that!

Customising a sidearm.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Sniper Elite 5 at this stage. I may come back for an additional write-up/review once I’ve beaten the main campaign, but I’m not sure about that yet so don’t hold your breath! For now, suffice to say that I’m glad I stepped outside of my usual gaming niches to try something a little different. Stealth and sniping have never been my favourite aspects of action or shooter games, but Sniper Elite 5 manages to implement them in a fun way. Coming from me, that’s a pretty big compliment.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I paid full price for Sniper Elite 5 on one of the new consoles, especially given that its graphics and visuals are definitely last-gen by today’s standards. But considering I was able to get the game on release day (and even pre-load it) via Xbox Game Pass for PC, I honestly can’t complain.

So watch out, Nazis! Sniper Dennis is coming to town!

Sniper Elite 5 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Sniper Elite 5 is also available on PC and Xbox platforms via the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Sniper Elite 5 was developed, published by, and is the copyright of Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Knights of the Old Republic remake: a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II.

The remake of Knights of the Old Republic is one of the games that I’m most looking forward to at the moment. I’ve talked about this before, but in the early 2000s – when Star Wars had been damaged by two disappointing films – Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel did an awful lot to rescue the franchise’s reputation for me. After twenty years, a remake that brings the game into a new engine and in line with modern titles could be a great way to re-experience it – as well as for new players to experience it for the first time.

Today we’re going to look ahead to the Knights of the Old Republic remake and put together a wishlist; these are things that I truly hope the new version of the game will include.

It goes without saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will actually be a part of a new Knights of the Old Republic game. This is a wishlist from a fan – and nothing more. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started!

Number 1:
An updated combat system.

Revan’s red Sith lightsaber as seen in the teaser.

Even by the standards of role-playing games in 2003, KOTOR’s combat system was pretty “old-school.” That’s fine, and while turn-based combat isn’t my favourite way to play there was nothing necessarily wrong with the way the game approached battles and fights. But if KOTOR is being remade from the ground up with a view to being modernised for a new audience, I think a new approach is needed.

Turn-based combat feels clunky and slow, and it interrupts the natural flow of gameplay. Combat in the original version of KOTOR feels like a wholly separate event from exploration and the rest of gameplay with a noticeable transition, and I think a less rigid approach would be to the game’s overall benefit. Dropping the strictly turn-based approach in favour of a more fluid combat system doesn’t mean things have to be lightning-fast requiring the reflexes of a professional player! But a redesigned approach to combat would help the game feel like a more natural adventure and less like, well, a video game from the early 2000s.

Number 2:
A proper character creator.

KOTOR’s original character creation screen.

The original version of KOTOR had an incredibly basic “character creator” that only allowed players to choose from about a dozen pre-made portraits. There’s more to a character than the way they look, of course… but in a role-playing game – particularly a third-person role-playing game with cinematic cut-scenes and conversations that routinely show off the player character – being able to really customise the game’s protagonist is something I’d like the remake to offer.

Recent years have seen some truly remarkable character creators. Despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has an excellent character creator, with more customisation options than you can shake a stick at! There’s scope for the KOTOR remake to implement something like that, and doing so would go an awfully long way to improving the role-playing experience.

Number 3:
Additional character classes.

The original game’s class selection screen.

While we’re talking about the game’s character creation, it wouldn’t hurt to add in some new classes. The original version of KOTOR included three starting classes and three Jedi classes that were unlocked partway through, and I think there’s scope to either add some new ones or to perhaps let players pick and choose to create their own custom class.

Classes which combine stealth and combat or Jedi abilities with engineering/tech would be a lot of fun, and would mix things up to make every new playthrough of the game feel different and unique. Look to how the Mass Effect trilogy offers six main character classes as a basic example of what I mean.

Number 4:
A fully-voiced protagonist.

Dialogue options in the opening level of the original KOTOR.

In Knights of the Old Republic every character was fully-voiced – except for one. The player character never spoke, with their dialogue being shown during conversations and cut-scenes as text only. This may have been a creative choice, but I suspect it was done to save file space! Hundreds of lines of recorded dialogue take up space, after all! But this limitation doesn’t exist in the same way in 2022, so there’s no reason not to give KOTOR’s protagonist their own voice after all this time.

Some games have multiple voices available to choose from – the Saints Row series offered this option, for example – and the KOTOR remake could certainly go down that road. But even to just have one masculine and one feminine voice as options, like the Mass Effect games or Cyberpunk 2077, would be fantastic.

Number 5:
Redesigned levels.

The Ebon Hawk touches down on Tatooine.

This one was originally going to be “expanded levels,” but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better! However, twenty years of progress has been made in game design since the original KOTOR was released, so I feel there’s scope to redesign some of the game’s levels to reflect that and make the game feel even more immersive.

For example, the city of Taris could be populated with larger crowds of non-player characters to feel more like the dense urban jungle that the story portrays it as. The deserts of Tatooine could be enlarged to provide more of a sense of scale. Or the forests of Kashyyyk could be remade with a wider variety of plant life – like the version seen recently in Jedi: Fallen Order.

Number 6:
PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X only.

An Xbox Series X box.

And PC, of course! But what I mean is this: the KOTOR remake should take advantage of the latest generation of home consoles and not even try to be compatible with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 generation that’s now almost a decade old. By ditching last-gen in favour of current-gen only, the KOTOR remake will ultimately be a better, more enjoyable, and more visually impressive experience. And isn’t that the main reason to do something like this?

Fans are looking for a game that can take full advantage of two decades’ worth of improvements in technology; if the KOTOR remake tries to remain compatible with last-gen machines, that won’t be possible and at least some of its potential will have been wasted. Although there are still availability issues for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, those consoles are the future and more are being sold every day.

Number 7:
Don’t be shy when it comes to delays.

Cyberpunk 2077. Enough said.

We recently talked about delays when Bethesda and Microsoft announced that Starfield was being pushed back to next year. Without repeating myself too extensively: delays are a good thing! It’s infinitely better for both players and the developer and publisher of a game to delay it until it’s ready rather than trying to force it out too early to meet some arbitrary deadline. So far, we don’t have an official release date for Knights of the Old Republic… but when we do, there’s no need to stick to it if the game needs more time.

Having been burned by recent titles like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Cyberpunk 2077, more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. A game delay is never fun, but increasingly players understand why it has to happen. I’d rather play a good, bug-free KOTOR remake in 2026 than a bad, rushed, glitchy version in 2023!

Number 8:
No DLC or microtransactions. One complete story.

It shouldn’t cost a packet to play the full version of KOTOR.

Microtransactions in single-player titles are unjustifiable in my view, and I hope that the KOTOR remake avoids this irritating trend. I’m also hopeful that there are no day-one DLC packs, nor any “special editions, “ultimate editions,” etc. The game should be in a complete state at launch, with the full experience available to everyone.

It might be tempting to cut off certain cosmetic items – like lightsaber colours, for instance – and sell them as DLC or as part of a “special edition,” but I really hope this can be avoided. The original version of Knights of the Old Republic didn’t have any of that nonsense – let’s keep the remake free of it as well.

Number 9:
Remake Knights of the Old Republic II!

Could a KOTOR II remake be on the agenda?

Obviously the KOTOR remake is just going to be the first game – but if it’s successful I really hope to see a remade version of Knights of the Old Republic II as well. KOTOR II is probably my favourite part of the duology, with levels like Dxun and Onderon that are truly outstanding. Given the positive reaction to news of a KOTOR remake, could the team working on it be already considering their next move? I hope so!

KOTOR II is a semi-standalone story, and an incredibly fun one in its own right. It would be amazing if a successful and profitable KOTOR remake could be followed up a year or two later by a KOTOR II remake – especially if such a remake could restore some of the content that Obsidian had to cut from the original version of the game due to time constraints.

Number 10:
Set the stage for Knights of the Old Republic III!

The Ebon Hawk.

If remakes of KOTOR and possibly KOTOR II are successful, could a third game finally be in the works? After a twenty-year hiatus, that might be the longest gap in between releases in the history of the games industry… well, unless we count Shenmue III – but the less said about that the better!

Although the MMO The Old Republic made reference to events in the KOTOR games, nothing has been conclusively resolved. And without getting too deep into spoiler territory, both games ended in a pretty open way. There’s absolutely the potential to bring back main and secondary characters for a third entry… so I guess we’ll have to watch this space.

So that’s it!

Darth Revan as glimpsed in the teaser.

That’s my Knights of the Old Republic remake wishlist. I’m hopeful that the remake will be a fun update to the original game and I’m definitely planning to check it out when it’s ready. Knights of the Old Republic isn’t just one of my favourite Star Wars games – it’s one of my favourite games of all time! I can understand why some folks are wary of a remake after lacklustre projects like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition or Warcraft III: Reforged, and the games industry in general doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to remakes and remasters sometimes. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic.

Even if none of my “wishes” end up in the finished game, just having the opportunity to replay Knights of the Old Republic with modern graphics will be fun. The original game was made during the Xbox-PlayStation 2 era and it’s definitely beginning to show its age by now! So any upgrade will be greatly appreciated. I feel optimistic at this early stage that Knights of the Old Republic will get a decent remake. Whenever it’s ready, be sure to stop by the website for my thoughts and impressions.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Starfield: Why game delays are a good thing

If you missed the announcement, Bethesda Game Studios’ upcoming sci-fi role-playing game Starfield has been delayed. Originally planned for a November 2022 release, that has slipped back to “the first half of 2023,” which potentially means that the game is a year or more away. With Starfield having shown off a cinematic teaser and some concept art but no real gameplay yet, perhaps the delay was not entirely unexpected! Regardless, some folks are upset by this move, with some PlayStation super-fans even hailing it as a “failure” for Xbox. Obviously that isn’t the case, so today we’re going to use Starfield as an example of why delays really are a good thing.

First up, it’s never fun when a game I’m looking forward to receives a delay. I don’t think anyone is trying to pretend that a delay to a highly-anticipated title – particularly a lengthy delay of six months or more – is something that fans and players are thrilled about or want to see. Instead, I’d describe delays as “understandable.” Particularly in light of a number of recent titles that have been disappointing due to feeling like they weren’t ready to go on launch day, I think more and more players are coming around to that point of view.

Concept art for Starfield.

Increasingly, these kinds of announcements are treated with maturity and understanding by players – and you need only look to some of the comments and responses to Bethesda’s announcement about Starfield as a case in point. Yes, there are some folks who are angry or unhappy – toxicity exists within the gaming community, who knew? And there are the aforementioned PlayStation ultra-fans who are taking a victory lap. But many responses were positive, saying something along the lines of “if it needs more time, that’s okay.”

Failing to delay a game when extra development time is clearly required never ends well. A game’s reputation is largely set within a few hours of its release, and attempting to change the narrative once “it’s bad” or “it’s full of bugs and glitches” has become the overwhelming impression is nigh-on impossible. For every No Man’s Sky that manages to pull off some kind of rehabilitation, there are dozens of titles such as Anthem, Aliens: Colonial Marines, or Warcraft III: Reforged. It’s much better to launch a decent game out of the gate than to try to fix a broken mess after players are already upset.

Concept art for Starfield.

One game has done more than any other in recent years to soften attitudes in favour of delays and to remind players just how badly it’s possible to screw up a premature launch: Cyberpunk 2077. Despite receiving a significant delay earlier in 2020, Cyberpunk’s launch in December of that year was so catastrophically bad that the game ended up being forcibly removed from the PlayStation store, found itself widely criticised by players, and it even saw CD Projekt Red’s share price take a tumble from which it has yet to fully recover.

Starfield exists in a similar space to Cyberpunk 2077 – both are role-playing games, both include science-fiction elements, both are open-world titles, and so on – so many of the players anticipating Starfield have been burned already just eighteen months ago by a game that was released far too soon. Those players, perhaps more than any others, are inclined to understand the reasons behind this decision. And even folks who didn’t personally get caught up in the Cyberpunk 2077 mess are at least aware of what happened.

Cyberpunk 2077 needed a delay or two of its own.

In 2022, with so many games having been released too soon, the attitude from players in general has shifted. Where delays may once have been met with a louder backlash from those who felt disappointed, reactions today are more mature and understanding. That’s not to say toxic or aggressive individuals don’t exist or that there won’t be any criticism of such a move, but rather that the scale of backlash that delays receive is now less significant than it used to be.

At the end of the day, even the most aggressive critics of delays are still likely to buy a game that they’re excited for when it’s ready. It would take some serious self-harming spite to say “because you didn’t release the game in 2022 I’m never going to play it ever!” so from Bethesda and parent company Microsoft’s point of view, the longer-term damage is limited. That isn’t true for every company, though.

Bethesda is owned by Microsoft.

Delays have a disproportionate impact on smaller companies and independent developers, because a delay in those cases can potentially mean that there won’t be enough money to fund their project. If a developer only has enough money in the bank to keep the lights on and the computers powered up for a certain number of weeks, then there’s naturally going to be a hard limit on how far they can push back a release – and the income it brings. In those cases, more leniency can be required when assessing a game.

But when we’re dealing with Starfield, Bethesda, and Microsoft, that’s a non-issue! Backed up by one of the biggest corporations on the planet, Bethesda doesn’t need to worry about running out of cash, and from Microsoft’s point of view it’s infinitely better to ensure that Starfield gets all the time that it needs to be ready for prime-time. This is Bethesda’s first big title for Microsoft, their first new IP in years, and a game that has a lot riding on it for the success of Microsoft’s Xbox brand and Xbox Game Pass. Getting it right is so much more important than rigid adherence to arbitrary deadlines, so if release windows need to shift then from a business perspective that’s what makes the most sense.

Starfield is likely to be a big title for bringing in new Game Pass subscribers.

There are instances where release dates are announced that seem, even at the time, to be unrealistic. Bethesda’s 11th of November 2022 release date for Starfield, for instance, came eleven years to the day after another of their titles: Skyrim. In addition to getting the game out in time for the Christmas rush, there was also clearly something poetic or symmetrical about such a release date that was appealing to Bethesda. But they recognised that the release date wasn’t practical and changed it – good for them!

As consumers in this marketplace, I think we have a responsibility not only to call out and criticise companies when they get it wrong, but to at least acknowledge when a correct decision has been made. As I always say, I have no “insider information” – so I don’t know what condition the current version of Starfield may or may not be in – but if the developers, testers, and management at Bethesda have recognised that the game isn’t far enough along to be in with a realistic chance of hitting its release date, then the smart move is to announce a delay as early as possible. That seems to be what they’ve done, and I commend them for it.

Concept art for Starfield.

In an industry and a marketplace that is too demanding of its employees sometimes, delays can be incredibly welcome respite. I’ve talked before about “crunch” – a practice that I have some personal experience with having once worked in the games industry – and that’s another reason why delays can be a positive thing. Maybe Bethesda could have crunched the teams working on Starfield hard enough to get some semblance of a playable title ready in time to hit its planned release date – but if doing so would have come at the expense of those developers and their health, then I wouldn’t want to get Starfield this year.

Crunch is a bigger subject that we’ll need to talk about at length on another occasion, but if a delay like this one helps to minimise the stress and difficulty of working under such conditions, then suffice to say we have one more reason to be supportive.

I’m looking forward to Starfield, despite some missteps by Bethesda in recent years. If this delay means that the game will be significantly more polished, free from as many bugs and glitches as possible, then I’m all for it. If this delay means that developers and staff at Bethesda aren’t pushed too hard and overworked this year, then I’m all for it. And if this delay means that Starfield will be an all-around more enjoyable experience, then I’m all for it. Though there will be critics and a vocal minority of toxic “fans,” more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. Delay Starfield if necessary, and if it isn’t ready for the first half of 2023 then delay it again! All that really matters is that the game is in the best possible shape when it finally arrives, and if that means waiting a little longer, that’s fine by me.

Starfield has been delayed and is now due for release sometime in the first half of 2023. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, and the Microsoft Corporation. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Happy Birthday, Morrowind!

Depending on where you are in the world, today or tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The open-world role-playing game was one of a few titles in the early 2000s that genuinely changed my relationship with gaming as a hobby – and kept me engaged when I might’ve otherwise began to drift away. To me, even twenty years later it still represents the high-water mark of the entire Elder Scrolls series, and I’d probably even go so far as to call it one of my favourite games ever.

It can be difficult to fully explain how revolutionary some games felt at the time, especially to younger folks who grew up playing games with many of the modern features and visual styles that still dominate the medium today. But in 2002, a game like Morrowind was genuinely groundbreaking; quite literally defining for the very first time what the term “open-world” could truly mean.

For players like myself who cut our teeth on the pretty basic, almost story-less 2D games of the 1980s on consoles like the Commodore 64 or NES, the technological leap to bring a world like Morrowind’s to life is staggering. Considering the iterative improvements that the last few console generations have offered, it’s something that we may never see again, at least not in such a radical form. Comparing a game like Morrowind to some of the earliest games I can remember playing must be akin to what people of my parents’ generation describe when going from black-and-white to colour TV!

One thing that felt incredibly revolutionary about Morrowind was how many completely different and unrelated stories were present. There was a main quest, and it was an interesting one, but instead of just random side-missions that involved collecting something or solving a single puzzle, there were entire questlines for different factions that were just as long and in-depth as anything the main quest had to offer. It was possible to entirely ignore the main quest in favour of pursuing other stories, and that made Morrowind feel like a true role-playing experience.

For the first time (at least the first time that I’d encountered), here was a game that gave me genuine freedom of choice to be whoever I wanted to be – within the confines of its fantasy setting. There were the usual classes – I could choose whether to be a sword-wielding warrior, a sneaky archer, a mage, and so on – but more than that, I could choose which stories I wanted to participate in… and choosing one faction over another would, at least in some cases, permanently close off the other faction to that character. That mechanic alone gave Morrowind a huge amount of replayability.

To this day there are quests in Morrowind that I haven’t completed – or even started! That stands as testament to just how overstuffed this game was, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the amount of content in Morrowind eclipses both of its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. Morrowind offers more quests, more factions to join, more NPCs to interact with, more types of weapons to use, more styles of magic to use, and while its open world may be geographically smaller, it feels large and certainly more varied – at least in some respects – than either of its sequels.

I first played Morrowind on the original Xbox – the console I’d bought to replace the Dreamcast after that machine’s unceremonious exit from the early 2000s console war! But the PC version gave the game a whole new lease of life thanks to modding – and mods are still being created for the game 20 years later. There are mods that completely overhaul Morrowind’s graphics, meaning that it can look phenomenal on a modern-day PC, and there are so many different player-made quests, items, weapons, characters, and even wholly new locations that the game can feel like an entirely new experience even though it’s marking a milestone anniversary.

Although modding and mod communities had been around before Morrowind came along, it was one of the first games that I can recall to genuinely lean into and encourage the practice. The PC version of Morrowind shipped with a piece of software called The Elder Scrolls Construction Set as a free extra, and it contained everything players needed to get started with modding. I even had a play with the Construction Set when I got the PC version of Morrowind a few years after its release, and while I lack the technical skills to create anything substantial, I remember it being an interesting experience.

I followed a guide I found online and managed to create a companion for the main character, as well as added doors to a specific house so it could be accessed from any of the towns on the map! I also added a few items to the game, like an overpowered sword with a silly name. By this point, Morrowind and its mods were just good fun, and as I didn’t have a PC capable of running Oblivion when that was released a few years later, Morrowind mods were an acceptable stand-in!

Before Morrowind became overladen with mods, though, there were two incredible expansion packs released for the game. This was before the era of cut-content DLC or mini DLC packs that added nothing of substance, so both Tribunal and Bloodmoon were massive expansions that were almost like new games in their own ways. Both added new areas to explore, new factions, new characters, new items, and new questlines. While Tribunal was fantastic with its air of mystery, I personally enjoyed Bloodmoon even more. I like wintery environments, and the frozen island of Solstheim, far to the north of the main map, was exactly the kind of exciting environment that I’d been looking for.

So that’s it for today, really. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the anniversary of one of my favourite role-playing games, to celebrate some of the things that made it great – and continue to make it a game that I’m happy to return to and to recommend to fans of the genre. Regular readers might’ve seen Morrowind on some of my “PC gaming deals” lists around Christmas or in the summertime, and when Morrowind goes on sale on Steam, for example, the game-of-the-year edition with both expansion packs can be less than the price of a coffee. It’s also on Game Pass following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda – so there’s no excuse not to give it a try, at least!

In the twenty years since Morrowind was released, many other games have imitated its open-world layout, its factions, its branching questlines, and its diversity. Some newer games have bigger worlds, more characters, and so on… but Morrowind will always be a pioneer. It may not have got everything right, but it’s a landmark in the history of video games that showed us just how immersive and real a fantasy world could feel.

As one of the first games of its kind that I ever played, I have very fond memories of Morrowind. Often when I pick up a new open-world, fantasy, or role-playing title, I’ll find myself unconsciously comparing it to Morrowind, or noting that Morrowind was the first game where I encountered some gameplay mechanic or element for the first time. It really is an incredibly important game. So happy birthday, Morrowind! Here’s to twenty years!

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is out now and can be purchased for PC or via Xbox Game Pass. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the copyright of Bethesda Game Studios and Microsoft. Some images above courtesy of UESP.net. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Video game spotlight: Banished

This is the first part of a new occasional series that I’ll be running here on the website in which I’ll be taking a look in more detail at some of my favourite video games. It’s a lot of fun to review brand-new games and keep up-to-date with all the goings-on in the video games industry, but sometimes it’s nice to step back and just geek out about some of my all-time favourites!

If you’re a regular reader of my gaming content you’ve probably seen me talk about Banished before; it’s a mainstay on my lists of recommended titles whenever there’s a big Steam sale! But despite having recommended Banished on several occasions going back to the website’s first month in operation in 2019, this is the first time I’ve taken a deeper look at the game.

A recent town of mine in Banished.

Banished was released in 2014 for PC, and I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about it. The early- and mid-2010s were a mess for me for all manner of reasons, and my memory isn’t great even under the best circumstances! Suffice to say that I discovered Banished shortly after its launch, and for a relatively low price of admission when compared to titles in a similar city-building space, I thought it was at least worth a shot. The fact that I’m still playing it almost eight years later should tell you how I feel about it!

What astonishes me about Banished is that its developer – Shining Rock Software – is actually just one person. A single person managed to create this incredibly intricate and challenging game, one that exists in a pretty unique niche within the overall city-building game realm. I think that’s absolutely incredible, and well worth taking a moment to consider. Banished was a labour of love – and it shows. Maybe it doesn’t have the flashiest graphics or the most complex and numerous in-game mechanics, but it brings a lot to the table regardless. I’d still include Banished as one of my all-time favourite titles even if it had been put out by an entire studio backed up by a major publisher, but the fact that it’s an indie game made by a single person is just mind-blowing.

A market, crop fields, a mine, and houses.

I usually like to play games on the easiest mode available. Particularly with fast-paced titles like action games and shooters, I find that I just don’t have the reflexes, reaction time, or just the ability to play those kinds of games at that level. This should be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but as someone with disabilities, I really do believe that difficulty options are an accessibility feature that as many games as possible should include. I’ve been playing video games for more than thirty years; if I haven’t “got gud” by now, I’m not going to! But we’ve drifted off-topic.

Banished offers several different difficulty options that can be combined in different ways to customise the experience. The number of families (and individual citizens) that the town has at the start, the harshness of the weather, and whether disasters (like fires breaking out) are switched on or off all make an impact, as does whether the randomly-generated map has more or fewer mountains. Instead of just offering a standard easy, medium, or hard mode, Banished allows players to really tailor the kind of experience they want to have – and I think that’s something more titles in the city-builder genre should try to emulate.

The “New Game” menu.

I would call Banished a game that’s deceptively complex. Its relatively small number of buildings and resources makes it seem, on the surface, that it should be relatively easy to get to grips with. Harvest enough resources to keep your small population healthy, happy, and well-fed. That’s all there is to it, right?

But when you get stuck in, there’s so much more to it than that. Balancing your resources so you aren’t over-producing and wasting storage space while also making sure you don’t produce too little of something and run out is like walking a tightrope at times! I’ve ended up in some very sticky situations because I had slightly too much or too little of something important at just the wrong moment – and it can be fatal, in some cases, if you get caught out.

Harvesting a crop of wheat in Banished.

For example, it’s tempting to use all the logs your citizens gather to construct new buildings – especially at the beginning of the game when you don’t have many. But if you burn through your supply of logs too quickly and don’t have enough citizens assigned to chop down trees or work as foresters to replace them, come winter everyone will freeze because there won’t be enough firewood! Conversely, if you construct a woodcutter’s cabin and don’t keep a careful eye on how much firewood they’re making, they can easily chop up all of the logs you have meaning you won’t have any when you want to construct the next new building!

Banished isn’t a game you can set and forget. In order to truly succeed you need to be on top of your resources pretty much all the time. Even though there aren’t that many you need to manage, it’s a balancing act to stay on top of all of them at once. A single disruptive event can completely bowl you over if you aren’t careful, and when citizens don’t have the right balance of resources their health and happiness will drop, making them less productive. In the worst case they can die – starvation, cold, disease, and so on can all spell doom for the residents of your community!

A small cluster of buildings in a forest.

Take a recent game I played as an example! While building up my town I was constantly hampered by a lack of stone to construct new buildings. Even after building a stone quarry this problem persisted for a while, so I prioritised things like building new houses closer to the quarry so I could get more stonecutters. I constructed other buildings in what I considered to be descending order of importance, prioritising things like making sure there was enough food for a growing population, which meant adding new crop fields, fishing docks, and assigning citizens to those jobs. After a while, there was an outbreak of disease – the measles, in this case. But because I hadn’t constructed any hospitals, the disease ripped through the population! By the time I’d figured out how badly I was screwed, half the town was infected. I pulled everyone off their jobs to get a hospital built, which happened in the nick of time. Doing that, however, meant that there was less food as the harvest went to waste as winter set in and the crops were still in the fields!

All in all, the citizens of my town had a very bad time because of a combination of bad luck and bad management on my part! A lot of citizens ended up dying because there was no hospital, and the disease was only stopped because a few hardy souls managed to scrape together enough resources to build a hospital from scratch at the last minute. It took a long time to recover from that!

Official Trekking with Dennis Top Tip:
Remember to build a hospital!

Like many great PC games, Banished happily encourages modding. There is (or was) a solid modding community, with mods adding in brand-new buildings, gameplay elements, and visual overhauls to name but a few. Shining Rock Software was keen from the very beginning for fans and players to get involved and develop their own mods for the game, and there are some very popular ones that really transform Banished into something different. Playing the game without any of these is fine – wonderful, even – but if you’re ready for a different experience after playing the original version, mods like Colonial Charter give Banished a whole new lease of life.

Returning to the original game, though, there’s plenty to enjoy. There are eight different types of crops, eight different types of fruit trees, and three different types of animals for the town to take care of. These are all different – and the differences aren’t merely cosmetic, either. Some crops grow faster than others, or grow better in different conditions. Citizens are healthier when they have a varied diet – and that includes multiple types of crops, fruits, meats, and the like.

Citizens walking past an orchard in the winter.

The three different animals (cows, sheep, and chickens) all produce different resources for the town, too, and at different rates. Sheep will produce wool, which is great for making clothes, and cattle will produce leather – but you’ll get an awful lot more wool per sheep than leather per cow! Chickens will produce plenty of eggs! It can be easy to overproduce wool and eggs (in my opinion, at least) once you start building a lot of animal pastures – and this can eat up storage space that could be used for other goods!

There are many strategies that players have developed in the years since Banished was released. I play the game my own way, and I’m sure you can find a strategy that works for you either through trial and error or by looking them up online! The fact that there are so many different approaches to playing the game, and so many different recommendations and suggestions for how to get started, what to build first, and so on is testament to the fact that Banished truly is a complex and deep experience.

Pastures holding sheep and chickens near a market.

Banished is a game I can get lost in for hours at a time. Building up a small town, managing its starting resources, and then establishing a trading post to bring in different crops and herds is a ton of fun. Because maps are randomly generated, Banished feels different every time. Every game starts off in a different location, with a different combination of starting resources. There are some things I usually like to do first – my top tip is to make the first building you construct a school so your citizens will always be well-educated and thus more efficient – but other than that I like to play it by ear, see what resources I have in the immediate vicinity of my starting location, and then decide how best to expand!

If you haven’t tried Banished, keep an eye out for it when Steam sales roll around; in recent years it’s often been heavily discounted, meaning you can pick it up for the price of an expensive Starbucks coffee! Even at full price, though, Banished is a game I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys a richly-detailed and complex city-builder or strategy game. I would caveat that by saying that Banished isn’t a “casual” game that you can absent-mindedly play while distracted!

So that’s it for this time. After having talked about Banished on a number of occasions I wanted to give it its own full article here on the website. This “video game spotlight” series will hopefully be an occasional thing I do going forward, so keep an eye out for my take on a number of other titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years in future! Happy building!

Banished is out now for PC. Banished is the copyright of Shining Rock Software. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga and the nine mainline Star Wars films.

I had a lot of fun in the days when I owned an Xbox 360 with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. That game brought a lot of lightheartedness to the Star Wars franchise, and was also a surprisingly complex game, with many characters to unlock and collectables to find. Going back and replaying levels didn’t feel like a chore, making it a great game to play solo or co-operatively. I had high hopes when a new Lego Star Wars title was announced, and it’s finally here after several lengthy delays!

I’m not even going to attempt a thorough playthrough in time to write a review; it will take a long time to go through the game and truly experience all that it has to offer. But for now I thought it would be worth sharing my first impressions! I’ve spent just over six hours with the game over the past couple of days, and I’ve jumped into two of the game’s stories/campaigns. I feel that’s long enough to get a feel for how the game plays – as well as to spot any major flaws or problems!

Promo art/banner for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is split up into nine parts – one for each of the nine mainline films of the Skywalker Saga. On booting up the game for the first time, only three are available: The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, and The Force Awakens. Completing these unlocks the next part of that particular trilogy, and so on. It’s a neat way to organise it, and I liked that I was able to choose which trilogy I wanted to get started with. If the campaign had been entirely linear, with players having to unlock each film one by one, it would probably have been less enjoyable – and likewise, if all nine campaigns were unlocked from the start there’d be less to accomplish. All in all, this approach feels like it strikes the right balance.

I chose to start with The Phantom Menace – it’s my least-favourite film (well, tied with The Rise of Skywalker), but it’s often been my starting point when I go back to re-watch the mainline Star Wars films. As a film with a child-friendly atmosphere, it’s also one that I felt could translate well to the world of Lego! After spending a bit of time progressing through The Phantom Menace I hopped out of that campaign and loaded up A New Hope. It took me a second to figure out how to change campaigns on the fly, but it’s something the game allows you to do.

Qui-Gon Jinn with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jar Jar Binks.

As someone who hasn’t played a Lego game in years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to note that, despite major visual improvements, the feel of playing a Lego game is still present. There’s a cartoon silliness that doesn’t merely begin and end with the game’s visual style, it permeates many different aspects of the gameplay as well – and that less-than-serious take has been a hallmark of Lego Star Wars games (and Lego games in general) going back to the very first iteration. All of that is still present in The Skywalker Saga.

Half the fun of Lego games has always been in roaming around the environment, looking for things to destroy, studs to collect, and hidden collectables. I have no idea how many different things are hidden across the game – but in the few hours I’ve spent with it so far I’ve found dozens, and I’ve barely scratched the surface! What I love about these hidden collectables is that it isn’t just a case of wandering around until you find an obscure part of the map that’s off the beaten track; in order to find or unlock many of them you have to solve a puzzle, run through an optional extra assignment, and things like that. Not all of these puzzles are easy, either, despite the game being aimed at kids!

C-3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine.

The Skywalker Saga would absolutely be the perfect first Star Wars game for a younger fan. Of the Star Wars games released in recent years, it’s by far the easiest to get started with – and it’s also the most complete in terms of telling the classic story of the films. Some scenes and sequences are skipped over during the story, but so far I’ve found both of the stories that I’ve played to be surprisingly deep; there’s certainly more than enough context provided by the game that even someone unfamiliar with the films could follow the story.

One thing that surprised me at least a little was the diversity of environments on display in The Skywalker Saga. The Star Wars galaxy is huge, canonically speaking, and we’ve seen a huge variety of different locales and biomes on display in the films and TV shows. But because The Skywalker Saga is a Lego game and has a cartoon feel, I wasn’t sure how well some of that would translate. It was great to see that the different interior and exterior environments all look and feel distinct from one another; that’s something that really captures the sense of scale present in Star Wars.

Promotional screenshot showing an Ewok and AT-ST on Endor.

Speaking of diversity, there’s more than one type of level in The Skywalker Saga! In addition to levels which characters must traverse on foot, there are ship-based sections where players can pilot a variety of different ships from the Star Wars galaxy. I can’t remember if this is something that has been present in prior Lego Star Wars games, but it was neat to see it here. Being able to hop into everything from starfighters to submarines adds a heck of a lot to the experience, making it feel deeper and richer. Programming and developing different modes of gameplay is no mean feat, and even though we all might have our preferences when it comes to the kinds of levels we prefer, I’d say that The Skywalker Saga is significantly better for including these different styles of gameplay.

The Skywalker Saga is being pitched by publisher Warner Bros. as the definitive Lego Star Wars experience. It brings more characters to the table than ever before, as well as more levels based on all nine of the mainline Star Wars films. It’s hard to argue that – at least in 2022 – this really is as good as it gets for a fan of Lego Star Wars!

Promotional screenshot showing prequel-era Republic starships.

There are new elements that are clearly designed to modernise the familiar formula. The fact that it’s possible to level up your characters and give them gameplay upgrades is a nod to the way that this aspect that originated with role-playing games has become omnipresent in video games today. But none of that feels intrusive, and while it’s certainly possible to spend a lot of time chasing down enough studs or Kyber bricks to unlock the next upgrade, it’s also possible to have fun playing the game without paying too much attention to that side of it. I wouldn’t call these things entirely “optional,” but they’re inoffensive for players who aren’t interested or who just want to have fun playing the game.

Getting to grips with the gameplay felt easy enough. There are a few different moves and attacks that player characters can perform, and the nature of these will depend on whether the character is a Jedi, a gunslinger-type, a droid, and so on. There are ranged shots, melee attacks, jumps, and it’s possible to perform combos. Sometimes these combos will be required (enemies can block certain attacks) meaning it isn’t always possible to race through a level mindlessly hitting the X button!

Promotional screenshot showing Boba Fett.

I didn’t encounter a single bug, glitch, or graphical issue with The Skywalker Saga through my six hours of gameplay, and considering the state of some recent highly-anticipated games I think that’s pretty good! I played on PC, but the game is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.

The Switch version in particular holds a lot of appeal! Being able to play the game on the go is something I’m sure a lot of fans will appreciate, but it also just feels like a good fit in general for Nintendo’s family-friendly machine. I’m glad that The Skywalker Saga was able to get a Switch release; even more so that it was released on Switch at the same time as on every other platform.

Qui-Gon Jinn using the Force to lift a Lego object.

So I guess that’s it. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has been a lot of fun so far, and I can’t wait to jump back in and play some more! I’ll be curious to see how the Lego treatment works for The Rise of Skywalker; that film is tied with The Phantom Menace for being my least-favourite in the saga. The Phantom Menance managed to be fun, so I feel reasonably optimistic that, despite not enjoying the film, I’ll at least have fun with its gameplay adaptation!

I’d happily recommend The Skywalker Saga to anyone who enjoys either the Star Wars franchise or this style of kid-friendly gameplay. You won’t get a massive Elden Ring-style challenge out of it, and in terms of multiplayer you’re limited to playing with a single friend only (and I hear it works far better locally than online). But with those caveats, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is something I think a lot of players will be able to find enjoyment in. For kids, especially younger kids looking to get started with perhaps their first big Star Wars game, I think it’s a no-brainer.

So far, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has been great. For me personally, while I had fun with Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga during the Xbox 360 era, I don’t feel the same nostalgic pull to these games as some younger folks who grew up playing them as kids might. But even so, I’m having a lot of fun and I’m happy to recommend the game to anyone still on the fence.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the copyright of Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and/or the Walt Disney Company. The Star Wars franchise is the copyright of Lucasfilm and the Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Gran Turismo 7: hiding microtransactions is just plain wrong!

The video games industry is home to a growing number of incredibly shady and dodgy business practices. Microtransactions themselves qualify – especially things like in-game currencies, randomised loot boxes, and any microtransactions in games aimed at kids. But of all the corporate fuckery seen this side of the Star Wars: Battlefront II disaster, Sony and Polyphony Digital have to take the crown with Gran Turismo 7.

In case you haven’t followed the story, a quick recap. Gran Turismo 7 is the most recent game in Sony and Polyphony Digital’s long-running racing series. It was released on the 4th of March 2022, and in the weeks prior to launch, copies of the game were sent to many outlets for review. This is pretty standard – just like film critics get to see films ahead of time, video game journalists and commentators are often able to play games ahead of their launch. That’s how publications – and even some YouTubers nowadays – are able to get their reviews out before or just after a game launches.

Promo image for Gran Turismo 7.

But reviewers didn’t realise that the version of Gran Turismo 7 that they’d been playing was deceptive. And yes, “deceptive” is the right word – because there’s absolutely no way that this was anything other than intentional from Sony and Polyphony Digital. If you believe this was all an innocent mistake then I’ve got a bridge to sell you! Sony and Polyphony Digital essentially created a different version of the game for reviewers to play – a version of the game that hid the extent of Gran Turismo 7′s egregious microtransactions.

By doing this, Sony and Polyphony Digital hoped to score rave reviews for the game – a racing sim which, by all accounts, has thoroughly enjoyable gameplay. They fully intended to conceal just how heavily-monetised Gran Turismo 7 actually is, lest the microtransactions drag down the game’s review scores during its crucial release window. And do you know what? Their shady plot worked.

Logo for Sony’s PlayStation 5 console – home of Gran Turismo 7.

Gran Turismo 7 raked in rave reviews, including from a number of publications and websites that I read and would generally trust. It didn’t really occur to me that they’d all had the wool pulled over their eyes by a dishonest corporation and its equally despicable subsidiary. But that’s the reality of the situation: Sony and Polyphony Digital lied to reviewers, showed them a willfully dishonest misrepresentation of Gran Turismo 7, and hoped that they could get away with it.

Within hours of the game’s release on PlayStation 5 earlier this month, the microtransactions were switched on. An update a few days later then “rebalanced” the microtransactions to make them even worse – providing far fewer in-game rewards, making vehicles more expensive, and generally turning the game into a monetised mess that would give other microtransaction-riddled titles a run for their money. And all of this came in a game that Sony has the audacity to ask players to pay a minimum of £65 ($70) for.

Promotional art for Gran Turismo 7.

When the Battlefront II debacle exploded in late 2017, it felt like a turning point. Electronic Arts had pushed too hard and too far, and the result was a backlash that seemed, for a time anyway, to genuinely frighten some of the biggest corporations in the industry. Governments began looking at lootboxes and microtransactions in a serious way for the first time, and legislation was passed in some jurisdictions that has meant some games have had to be adjusted or even pulled from sale entirely.

There was a chance, back then, for the campaign against microtransactions and these kinds of awful, anti-consumer business practices to really have an impact, and for players to fight back and demonstrate to corporations that there are limits to how far we can be pushed around. Sadly, though, with other news stories taking up airtime, the issue fell away almost as quickly as it burst onto the scene. In the months and years since, corporations like Sony have slowly ramped up their microtransactions and other in-game monetisation plans, leading us right back to a very familiar situation.

What Sony and Polyphony Digital did with Gran Turismo 7 is worse than what Electronic Arts did with Battlefront II. Yes, really.

It should go without saying that what Sony and Polyphony Digital did is wrong. Categorically and unequivocally wrong. They lied, misrepresented their game, and arguably mis-sold a product in such an egregious and disingenuous way that it could very well fall under the legal definition of “false advertising.” Sony has never been a consumer-friendly company, make no mistake about that, but even by their standards, this is a new low.

There’s also egg on the face of a lot of reviewers, commentators, and publications – many of whom should know better than to take a company like Sony at its word. Pre-release review copies of Gran Turismo 7 still contained things like in-game currencies and the in-game microtransaction marketplace, and some reviews even made note of these things, with some particularly pro-Sony publications optimistically suggesting that the microtransactions wouldn’t be all that bad or would be “totally optional.”

Great reviews from critics, but players are making their voices heard.
Source: Metacritic, 31.03.2022

Too many publications, websites, and even social media channels and YouTubers now work hand-in-glove with corporations like Sony. Their refusal to think too critically about the obvious microtransactions and willingness to give Gran Turismo 7 excellent reviews in spite of that is testament to that. There’s a twofold fear that many professional journalists and the outlets that employ them have – on the one hand, they fear that being late with their reviews will lead to fewer clicks and thus less money, and on the other they fear that being too critical of a company’s latest title will cost them in the long run, whether that be in terms of access to review copies in future, or just in terms of what can be a profitable business relationship.

So while I’m happy to place the blame for this on Sony and Polyphony Digital, because they are the ones who lied and misrepresented Gran Turismo 7, there are quite a few reviewers and gaming publications that need to take a long look in the mirror. They are not completely innocent parties to this either, and clearly something has got to change in terms of the working relationship between the games industry, the people who cover it, and the players themselves.

More promotional art for Gran Turismo 7.

To deliberately conceal the extent of Gran Turismo 7′s microtransactions is disgusting behaviour from Sony and Polyphony Digital – but it’s more than that. It’s an admission from the corporation that they understand how unpopular and unwarranted microtransactions are in a game of this nature. At a minimum of £65 ($70) for the price of admission, many players would quite rightly expect to be able to play the full game and unlock all of the vehicles on offer.

I can’t help make a comparison to last year’s Forza Horizon 5, a game I got via Game Pass and thoroughly enjoyed. Simply by playing Forza Horizon 5 and completing races and missions, I unlocked new vehicles and in-game currency to buy other vehicles. After around 45 hours, I’d unlocked almost 100 different vehicles from trucks and four-wheel-drive cars all the way to supercars and hypercars. In Gran Turismo 7, you’d be lucky to have acquired enough in-game currency for one single vehicle after that length of play time – and the obvious reason for that is to essentially force players to pay for microtransactions.

Forza Horizon 5– last year’s big racing title – didn’t have this problem.

For me, this is beyond the pale. Sony and Polyphony Digital owe their players an apology. Moreover, they need to strip as much of the microtransaction marketplace from Gran Turismo 7 as possible – just as Electronic Arts did when the Battlefront II debacle threatened to overwhelm them. The only way to make this right in the long-term is to abandon this microtransaction model. If the game was free-to-play, it would be a different conversation – though hiding aspects of the monetisation or the prices would still be wrong. But in a game asking £65 ($70) up front from players, there was no justification for any microtransactions to begin with, let alone ones as egregious and interfering as those present in Gran Turismo 7.

Lying to reviewers and commentators will have consequences. Many publications have been burned by this, with angry players turning up to leave comments on reviews pointing out that there are particularly aggressive microtransactions in the game that they should’ve been warned about. Hopefully that will mean some of these journalists will think more carefully about how they review games like Gran Turismo 7 in future – but the reality is that it will probably just mean that players will have an even harder time knowing which reviews can be trusted.

Box art for some of the editions of Gran Turismo 7.

There was no need for Gran Turismo 7 to spend its first few weeks embroiled in controversy. This was an own goal from Sony and Polyphony Digital; a PR calamity that did not need to happen. Microtransactions shouldn’t have been present in the game to begin with, but if they were the corporation needed to be honest and up-front about that – doing whatever possible to provide a justification for their existence. Lying and covering up the microtransactions is something I regard as a tacit admission that Sony and Polyphony Digital understand that they shouldn’t have put them in the game to begin with.

This is the worst example of microtransaction misbehaviour in several years, probably since Battlefront II. I hope that lessons are learned from it. It would be great to see some collaboration between reviewers and publications in future – refusing to review a title or award it a score until the full extent of its microtransactions are known would be one way to shut this down and prevent another corporation from trying to get away with this despicable misbehaviour.

Sony Interactive Entertainment is the publisher of Gran Turismo 7.

So that’s where we’re at. If you bought Gran Turismo 7, you have my sympathies. We’ve all bought games over the years that were disappointing for one reason or another, but it can be particularly frustrating to look at a game that had so much potential to be great, but which was ruined by some corporate-mandated nonsense that really just spoilt things.

That’s really how I see Gran Turismo 7 – it’s a game that had potential, a title with seemingly excellent racing gameplay, but one that has been soiled by the truly awful way that Sony and Polyphony Digital chose to treat players. Don’t despair, though, because there are plenty of other racing games out there!

Gran Turismo 7 is out now for PlayStation 5. Gran Turismo 7 is the copyright of Sony Interactive Entertainment and Polyphony Digital. Some images used above courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Hogwarts Legacy

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers present for some of the entries on this list.

I confess that I was excited for Hogwarts Legacy when it was announced a couple of years ago. I wasn’t aware, at that time, of J.K. Rowling’s harmful and hurtful transphobic stance, and when the game was announced I felt that it had potential. Fast-forward a couple of years and a recent gameplay reveal video has got a lot of fans excited. I would probably have been among them a few years ago; while I was never really “in” the Harry Potter fandom, I enjoyed the books and films generally speaking. But I can’t support Hogwarts Legacy – nor anything else in the Harry Potter series any longer.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t have anything besides Harry Potter. She’s had limited success with the other titles she’s tried her hand at, so it’s the Harry Potter series that keeps her relevant – and it continues to be a major revenue stream for someone who’s already a billionaire. Any time the Harry Potter series gets attention, it amplifies J.K. Rowling, increasing her platform, her reach, and ensuring her harmful transphobic views are amplified, spread worldwide, and discussed at length. Moreover, it brings in money for her, some of which she donates to anti-trans activists and groups. I don’t know exactly what cut of the proceeds she’d get for Hogwarts Legacy – but it’ll be significant. If the game sells millions of copies she could easily rake in several million pounds from it.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

For some folks, Harry Potter is their biggest fandom and a huge part of their life. If you’re in that category, I hope you won’t consider this a personal attack. I know that J.K. Rowling’s statements have upset a lot of people, many of whom continue to consider themselves fans of the series. If Harry Potter meant a lot to you and you can’t abandon it, that’s your decision and I’m not interested in trying to change your mind.

I’m not going to re-hash all of the arguments surrounding J.K. Rowling and her transphobia here. I don’t have the time nor am I in the right emotional headspace for that. You already know what she’s said, why people like me find it incomprehensible and harmful, and reiterating all of those points would just lead to all of us getting upset all over again. Instead what I want to do today is offer up a few alternative games, titles that are just as interesting and exciting as Hogwarts Legacy but with hopefully less bigotry.

So without further ado, here are a few games you could substitute Hogwarts Legacy with if you’re looking for something fun to play but feel unable to support J.K. Rowling. Let’s jump into the list, shall we?

Game #1:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

A game set in an established fictional world, but taking place hundreds of years prior to the events we know and love? That sounds an awful lot like Knights of the Old Republic! I can never fully put into words how much this game blew me away when it was released in 2003. After feeling disappointed with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Knights of the Old Republic went a long way to restoring my faith in Star Wars in general – and one of its story twists is perhaps the greatest that I’ve ever played through in any video game.

Knights of the Old Republic sent me off on my very own Star Wars adventure, and included all of the elements that a story needs to feel truly authentic. Whether it was Jedi Knights, beeping droids, or visiting familiar worlds like Tatooine or Kashyyyk, it was an incredible ride from beginning to end.

If you don’t mind waiting a year or two, a full remake of the game is in the works!

Game #2:
Red Dead Redemption II

It took me a while to get around to trying Red Dead Redemption II, but when I played through it last year I finally understood why everyone considers it to be a masterpiece. It’s a dark, bleak, yet incredibly beautiful experience, one which recreates late 19th Century America in a way that feels incredibly real. Characters feel like actual people with thoughts, desires, and motivations, and the narrative contains some incredibly emotional sequences that left me in tears.

Red Dead Redemption II is also one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played. Its open world has been crafted to perfection, and is packed full of minor details that make the experience an incredibly immersive one. I literally had dreams about Red Dead Redemption II while I was in the middle of the story, and there were times last year where I would want to just drop everything I was doing to get back to playing it!

Game #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is another visually beautiful game, so much so that at one point I had to put down the control pad and just stare at the amazing scenery! It’s also an incredibly fun adventure game that I felt recaptured the feel of older 3D platformers. It wasn’t always an easy experience, as there was relatively little hand-holding, but it was incredibly fun and incredibly rewarding.

Considering that Kena: Bridge of Spirits was the debut game from brand-new developer Ember Lab, I’m even more impressed! I crowned it my “game of the year” for 2021, and with good reason. It was one of the best gaming experiences that I had last year, and even though I have a growing list of unplayed games… I’m sorely tempted to go back and revisit it!

Game #4:
Control

If a supernatural adventure is what you’re after, look no further than Control. I found the game to be incredibly atmospheric as protagonist Jesse explores a hauntingly bleak world. I definitely got sucked into the spooky world of Control, and this could make for a really fun game to play around the Halloween season thanks to the supernatural tone and some spectacular level design.

Control is also an incredibly accessible game, with lots of different options to customise and tweak the experience. One of my favourite parts of Control were the full-motion video sequences, presented in-game as recordings and clips to collect as Jesse explores deeper into the heart of the ancient and deeply unsettling building. These little snippets of lore, presented in a fun way, added so much to the experience.

Game #5:
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

It’s been a few years since I played Dragon’s Dogma, but if I recall correctly the game has a surprisingly deep and rich magic system – something you might be looking for in an alternative to Hogwarts Legacy. Dragon’s Dogma always felt like a second-tier game; the kind of title that didn’t quite break into the uppermost echelons of gaming. But it was a fun time nevertheless, and a fun adventure to play through.

The Dark Arisen version – which is available for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 – combined the base game and all of its DLC into a single package, and as a slightly older game (Dragon’s Dogma was originally released in 2012) it can be picked up quite inexpensively either second-hand or during Steam sales.

Game #6:
Elden Ring

Elden Ring is categorically not “my thing.” These kinds of difficult-for-the-sake-of-it games are simply unenjoyable for me, and as a result I have skipped Elden Ring. But I’d be remiss not to include one of the biggest releases of the year on a list like this, and many fans of the Souls-like genre have hailed it as an instant classic and the new benchmark for future titles to live up to.

Elden Ring uses an open world, it has magic, fantasy elements, and monsters to fight. It was originally billed as a game with input from A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, though he appears to have made a limited impact on what seems to me to be another Dark Souls-inspired title. If you’re into games with punishing levels of difficulty, Elden Ring could be the one for you.

Game #7:
The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim

So you want to enrol in a special school to learn how to wield magic while at the same time exploring the world and going on adventures? Then why not join the Mage’s Guild in Skyrim? Or, come to that, why not do the same in Oblivion or join House Telvanni Morrowind as well? The entire Elder Scrolls series is set up perfectly for players who want to create mages, witches, necromancers, and all other kinds of magic-using characters!

Skyrim is certainly showing its age by now, even if you pick up one of the special enhanced deluxe anniversary editions that have been released endlessly over the past decade. But it’s still a beautiful game that’s fun to play, and many of its questlines and stories have a magical side that might just make up for skipping over Hogwarts Legacy.

Game #8:
Jade Empire

Jade Empire is a fun BioWare adventure game that I feel doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, it tends to be overlooked. Its Chinese-inspired setting is really interesting, though, and the game is populated with fun characters. There are magical elements to the game, too, although there’s a pretty big focus on martial arts-inspired combat.

Jade Empire tells a fun story, and I found it easy to get lost in its world when I first picked up the game on the original Xbox. If you’ve played other BioWare titles before then the format will be familiar – but the setting and the story are unique. I’ve always hoped that BioWare would revisit the world of Jade Empire… maybe one day!

Game #9:
GreedFall

GreedFall is another game that can feel overlooked, perhaps a game that didn’t quite break into the top tier when it was released a couple of years ago. It can feel like a title with some heavy-handed themes as it looks at the issue of colonialism – not always perfectly, I should say – but laying atop some of those deeper themes is a fun adventure in a well-constructed, lived-in world.

There are magic spells in GreedFall, with an entire character class built around the use of magic. The game’s character creator is pretty basic, but if you can look past that limitation the actual customisation options are quite extensive. It’s a fun game, and well worth a play especially considering that it doesn’t ask full price.

Game #10:
The Last Of Us Part II

I honestly didn’t expect to be putting The Last Of Us Part II on any list… ever! I didn’t enjoy the game’s story at all, as I felt it tried to be too smug, too clever, and the way in which it hacked away at some of the most basic fundamentals of storytelling – the need to have a clear protagonist and antagonist – meant the whole narrative collapsed. But if you’re really looking for a game to throw up a middle finger to a transphobe, The Last Of Us Part II could be right for you!

Despite my story complaints, the gameplay in The Last Of Us Part II is excellent. Its third-person stealth/action style is an iterative improvement over its predecessor, but it’s well-executed and feels very smooth to play. There’s also a sense of scarcity, with ammunition and supplies being hard to come by. This makes for an experience that requires a lot of thoughtful planning; rushing in guns-blazing usually doesn’t work.

As one of the few games I can recall to feature a transgender character in a major role (voiced by Star Trek: Discovery’s Ian Alexander) I felt it was worth including The Last Of Us Part II on this list.

So that’s it!

Those are ten games that I think could be worth playing if, like me, you plan to skip Hogwarts Legacy when it’s released later this year. I tried to look at titles that are in the third-person action or action/adventure space, as well as titles with magic or supernatural elements. There were plenty of other games that I could’ve included if we broadened those criteria, though, so this is by no means an exhaustive list!

I had a conversation with a friend recently, and they expressed the opinion that they would play Hogwarts Legacy as there aren’t a lot of games that would give them a similar experience. While it’s true that Harry Potter and the Wizarding World are somewhat unique, there are plenty of games – as well as novels, films, television shows, and other entertainment experiences – that draw on many of the same themes and use the same kinds of storytelling elements. Hogwarts Legacy, just like the rest of the fictional setting that J.K. Rowling created, is not irreplaceable.

That being said, I’m not here to try to force anyone to play or not play a particular game. I just wanted to contribute something positive to the overall conversation surrounding Hogwarts Legacy, and perhaps show off a few titles in a similar genre or similar space that players who are weighing up their options could consider as alternatives. If that applies to you, I hope you at least found my suggestions interesting! And if you still plan to go ahead and play Hogwarts Legacy, I genuinely hope you have a good time with the game.

Hogwarts Legacy is the copyright of Portkey Games and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Harry Potter and the Wizarding World are trademarks of Warner Bros. Entertainment. All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Grand Theft Auto 6: a wishlist

If you haven’t heard that Rockstar just confirmed the worst-kept secret in gaming – that Grand Theft Auto 6 is in production – then you must be living under a rock! The news has been everywhere in recent days, and even made it into mainstream (i.e. non-gaming) news outlets here in the UK. It makes sense: Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best-selling entertainment products of all time, eclipsing films, television shows, and even entire franchises. What comes next is going to be of interest to a great many people.

It’s been eight months since I last looked ahead to Grand Theft Auto 6, and with the game’s official announcement doing the rounds I thought it could be fun to put together a short wishlist of things I’d personally like to see the next entry include. It goes without saying that all of this is subjective – I don’t have any “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that the next Grand Theft Auto game needs to have any or all of these features. It’s just a bit of fun from a sometime fan of the series – and given that we know next to nothing about what the game will actually look like, why not throw some ideas of my own out there?

So without any further ado, let’s jump into my Grand Theft Auto 6 wishlist!

Number 1:
A proper single-player campaign.

A single-player mode is an essential part of the Grand Theft Auto experience.

At this stage there’s been no indication that Grand Theft Auto 6 will go all-in on its inevitable online mode… but I’m still wary. Grand Theft Auto V didn’t become the second-best-selling video game ever because of its single-player campaign (Minecraft is number one, in case you were wondering). It was the online mode that kept fans coming back – and crucially from Rockstar’s point of view, kept them spending money.

There has to be a temptation to skip the single-player campaign altogether, or else direct the vast majority of development time and resources into Grand Theft Auto 6′s online mode. I hope that some senior folks at Rockstar are pushing back on that!

Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode has been crucial to the game’s success.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that less than one-third of players have actually completed the Grand Theft Auto V single-player campaign. Rockstar’s other big release, Red Dead Redemption II, has comparable figures for completion too, so it seems that a significant number of players either don’t make it to the end of the campaign or, more likely, only turn up for the multiplayer online mode.

Despite that, Grand Theft Auto 6 would lose something significant without a decent, long single-player campaign – and I don’t just say that because it’s the part of the game that I’m most interested in! There’s still a lot of people interested in single-player titles, and Rockstar has demonstrated time and again its ability to write truly excellent stories. Moreover, a lot of people would want to play the game in single-player mode to learn the ropes before jumping into multiplayer, or just for fun in between multiplayer sessions. There are plenty of reasons to make sure that Grand Theft Auto 6 retains a solid single-player mode.

Number 2:
A customisable protagonist.

Despite its faults, Cyberpunk 2077 has a great character creator.

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Grand Theft Auto 6 will include – shock horror – a girl as one of its protagonists. Cue the usual outrage from sexist morons and Twitter trolls. But I’d like to see the game go further than that, and use the character creators from games like Cyberpunk 2077 and the Saints Row series as inspiration, allowing players to craft their own, fully customisable protagonist.

A customisable character could be male, female, non-binary, trans, or anything else players want them to be. With a relatively small amount of effort, it should be possible to craft a story that a custom character can slot into, and I’ve long felt that a custom character can make a game feel more immersive. Rockstar has allowed a limited version of this in Grand Theft Auto Online – but I’m thinking bigger!

I’m thinking of a massively expanded version of the current Grand Theft Auto Online character creator!

With Rockstar’s resources, the company could build the best character creator that any video game has ever seen. Grand Theft Auto 6 could set a high bar and become the new gold standard that other games would be compared to. Maybe I’m getting over-excited, but I think there’s a lot of potential for a truly outstanding character creator considering the amount of money that Rockstar has at its disposal.

The Grand Theft Auto series is known for its sense of humour and sarcastic style, and that could absolutely carry over to the character creator too! Making incredibly silly-looking characters, or replicating the appearances of famous figures could all become part of the fun. And it would be an easy way for Rockstar to include trans and non-binary people – allowing us to feel represented in the new game.

Number 3:
Multiple protagonists.

The trio of playable characters in Grand Theft Auto V.

If a custom character creator is off the table for whatever reason, then I hope that Grand Theft Auto 6 won’t abandon the multiple protagonist approach that worked so well in its predecessor. Being able to unlock different characters, then switch between them on the fly, added a fun element to gameplay, and with each character being different and coming from a different place, there was scope to tell three very different stories that ultimately came together.

My preference would be for a custom character, I think. If handled properly, and if the character creator was well-built with plenty of choices and options, that would be the best way for Grand Theft Auto 6 to truly represent as many different folks as possible. But a group of three or four main characters, including at least one female protagonist, would be a good option too.

How about we play as a female character for once?

That being said, I can already predict that there will be a backlash from so-called “fans” in the gamer community if Rockstar shows off a female protagonist or a group of protagonists that include people from different backgrounds. “Grand Theft Auto 6 is going woke” will be the familiar, disappointing cry from too many people.

A custom character would get around that, in large part, and that’s another good point in its favour. But there’s still something appealing about having multiple playable characters, as I feel that was a feature that worked well but went underappreciated in Grand Theft Auto V.

Number 4:
Way more clothes and other customisation options.

Grand Theft Auto 6 can do better than this!

Continuing a trend from the entries above, I’d love to see Grand Theft Auto 6 offer players a lot more outfits, weapon mods, vehicle designs, and the like. Red Dead Redemption II offered a pretty wide range of outfits and some gun modification options, but I’d like to see this expanded in a big way for Grand Theft Auto 6. Again, Rockstar can look to games like Cyberpunk 2077 for inspiration – despite the myriad problems with that title, there’s no denying it has a lot of customisation options!

Part of the fun of an expansive open-world title like Grand Theft Auto 6 is getting lost in the world and feeling like you’re participating, living out an alternate life. How your character appears is a big part of that, and being able to change up the protagonist’s style – going from street to preppy to old-fashioned and beyond – is a big part of that. Making my character look the way I want them to look is all part of the immersion.

Customising a rifle in Red Dead Redemption II.

This can extend to vehicles and weapons, too. Red Dead Redemption II allowed for a degree of cosmetic weapon customisation, and that was great, but that title was set in the 19th Century and thus the cosmetic options were somewhat limited! But for a game with a more modern setting, it should be possible to have cars and guns in every shade of the rainbow for starters, and with plenty of designs, logos, and more to add to them and fully customise them. Forza Horizon 5 offers a pretty extensive vehicle customiser, and it never ceases to amaze me to see the creative designs that folks in that game have come up with!

So let’s think about adding plenty of different clothes in a variety of styles and from a variety of fashion trends! Depending on when and where the game is set there could be limitations on this, and that would be understandable, but I’d still like to see an extensive range of clothes, vehicle designs, weapon skins, and the like so I can really get stuck in and make my character stand out!

Number 5:
A brand-new setting.

Grand Theft Auto Reykjavik, anyone?

I’m kicking myself for not taking a screenshot because now I can’t find it, but I saw a poll on social media within the last couple of days asking participants where they’d like Grand Theft Auto 6 to be set. Vice City – the franchise’s Miami analogue – put in a creditable showing, but by far the most-requested setting was “somewhere new.”

Grand Theft Auto V was successful by reimagining Los Santos – a city that had first appeared in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2005 – but I’d like to see the next entry in the series pick a brand-new setting to explore instead of returning to somewhere that fans of the series have already been. The franchise should also avoid, in my opinion, settings that would be too similar to its recent Los Angeles stand-in, so I’d recommend avoiding coastal, tropical cities.

I wouldn’t take Grand Theft Auto back to Vice City this time if it was up to me!

I also believe that the Grand Theft Auto series works best in an American setting. The series is geared up for America, and trying to transpose it and set a new game in Asia or Europe would, in my view anyway, take away something significant that defines what Grand Theft Auto is. I know there was that London spin-off in the days when Grand Theft Auto still used a top-down perspective, but every other title has been set in the United States.

There are several really interesting choices for cities that a new game could be based on. A Washington DC analogue could look at things like power and corruption, or the game could hop over to Chicago for a story about the mob. A city based on Detroit could look at the decline of America as a manufacturing powerhouse and what effects that has had. Or Grand Theft Auto 6 could show us an updated, modern-day look at Red Dead Redemption II’s Saint Denis – a stand-in for New Orleans! Those are just a few interesting ideas, and it could be really neat to see any show up in a future game.

Number 6:
A different time period.

Back to the eighties or nineties?

Some of the best-loved Grand Theft Auto games didn’t use a modern-day setting. Vice City was set in the 1980s and San Andreas was set in the 1990s, and both games are well-remembered – despite being soiled by a recent sub-par remaster. In addition, Red Dead Redemption II took Rockstar’s signature open-world concept all the way back to the 19th Century and proved it can still work! So there’s a lot of potential, in my view, for the next Grand Theft Auto game to step out of the modern day.

There’s a lot of eighties nostalgia floating around at the moment, with films like Ready Player One and TV shows like Stranger Things cashing in on that, so that’s one possibility. It would also be interesting to step back into the 1990s and re-live the turn of the millennium all over again! There’s a lot of potential in taking advantage of a distinct time period or moment in time, and Rockstar has already demonstrated an ability to do so with past titles.

How about the seventies?

Grand Theft Auto 6 will have a difficult task to distinguish itself from its phenomenally-popular predecessor, and one way to immediately change the look and feel of the game and make it distinct would be to set it in a completely different decade. Combined with a setting that would take players away from the palm trees and beaches of California (sorry, San Andreas) I think an earlier time period could be an exceptionally interesting way to draw a line under Grand Theft Auto V and demonstrate that the new game has something very different to offer.

Somehow, Grand Theft Auto 6 has to do things that its immediate predecessor couldn’t offer. That realistically means that the new game needs either a brand-new setting or a time period that the series hasn’t visited in a while. Ideally, Grand Theft Auto 6 will offer both.

Number 7:
Cameos are fine, but let’s have new characters and a new story.

Claude from Grand Theft Auto 3 (right) had a cameo in San Andreas.

There’s going to be a huge temptation for Grand Theft Auto 6 to be an overblown sequel, stuffed full of callbacks, references, and nostalgia plays for Grand Theft Auto V – and other entries in the series. Depending on when and where the game is set, this could mean the return of familiar characters.

Cameos and the occasional reference are okay – and good fan-service in some respects – but I hope that the new game’s story will be able to stand on its own two feet. Grand Theft Auto isn’t a series that needs this kind of backwards-looking nostalgia, and every game thus far has been a distinct, standalone title. Because of the success of Grand Theft Auto V, though, there may well be some senior figures at Rockstar who aren’t prepared to fully let go.

Number 8:
Visual and gameplay improvements.

There have been some visually amazing games in recent years.
(Pictured: Kena: Bridge of Spirits)

Grand Theft Auto V is now almost nine years old, and was originally released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Updates, patches, and new versions have certainly kept things fresh, but the game is now showing its age. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were decent consoles, capable of producing some excellent games, but with the technological improvement of two full console generations, there’s scope for Grand Theft Auto 6 to be bigger, prettier, and a better all-round experience.

Realistically this means that Grand Theft Auto 6 has to be an Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 exclusive – trying to make a game that could also work on last generation’s consoles might be tempting, especially given the perennial problems of shortages and stock availability that have plagued the new consoles since launch. But going down this road will be a massive mistake – as Cyberpunk 2077 developers CD Projekt Red found to their cost.

Cyberpunk 2077 looks good (when it works).

Cyberpunk 2077 was crippled at launch by a catastrophic litany of bugs and glitches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One specifically, and a big part of the reason why that happened is because the game is right at the technological limit of what those machines are capable of. If Grand Theft Auto 6 is going to be the game that fans are expecting, it needs a world at least as big and dense as Cyberpunk 2077′s. That means it needs to be built from the ground up with new hardware in mind.

Part of the appeal of Grand Theft Auto games is how silly they can be – so I don’t necessarily think that Rockstar needs to implement a realistic physics system or anything like that. But there are some areas where the standard open-world gameplay could be improved, and in addition to next-gen graphics it would be great if the game could feel like something new as well.

Number 9:
Proper difficulty and saving options.

Examples of difficulty settings present in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.

Most Rockstar games don’t offer proper difficulty options. This was a complaint I had with Red Dead Redemption II as well as Grand Theft Auto V – and as I’ve said on several occasions, in 2022 there’s no excuse for not providing players with the option to change the game’s difficulty. This is such an incredibly basic feature that has been part of so many games going back decades that it amazes me that Rockstar didn’t bother with it.

Red Dead Redemption II had a feature where, after failing a specific part of a mission 3 times, it would be possible to skip ahead to the next checkpoint – and this is the only reason I was able to make it to the end of the story! But Grand Theft Auto 6 needs to do better. Difficulty settings are an accessibility feature, allowing players with disabilities and players of different skill levels access to a game. Rockstar needs to realise this and act accordingly.

Games that are too difficult aren’t fun for many players.

Also, if I save a game in a specific location, I feel like my character should still be there when I load up my save file later on. I can’t count the number of times in Red Dead Redemption II where I loaded up my save and then had to figure out where I was, where my horse was, and where my next objective was, all because the game seems to pick arbitrary locations for the player character to be when loading up a save file.

Grand Theft Auto V had a “quicksave” option which got around this – but past games in the series have relied on players returning to a safe-house or other specific location in order to save progress and load up save files. This wastes time and is an inconvenience – one that modern game design allows practically all titles to get around. So a decent save/load option, please!

Number 10:
A simultaneous PC release.

Don’t leave out PC gamers!

Grand Theft Auto V was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2013, but didn’t come to PC for almost eighteen months. Red Dead Redemption II likewise didn’t arrive on PC for more than a year after its debut on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. But with PC gaming having grown ever more in just the last few years, it would be a mistake to leave PC players behind.

With the game having taken so long to develop already, what’s an extra few months if it means a PC version can be released alongside consoles? It would make so much sense to bring the game to all three platforms simultaneously, making for a bigger and bolder launch than either Grand Theft Auto V or Red Dead Redemption II enjoyed. And yes, I admit that this one is pure bias – my primary gaming platform these days is a PC!

So that’s it.

Remember when Grand Theft Auto looked like this?

That’s as close as I can get to describing my “perfect” Grand Theft Auto 6! It took me well over two years from Red Dead Redemption II’s PC launch to finally get around to playing it, so don’t expect an instant review here on the website the second the new game is out! But I daresay I will pick up a copy – provided it has a single-player mode, at least – and share my thoughts and impressions.

Rockstar has previously announced games fairly close to their expected release window, so I wouldn’t be stunned to learn Grand Theft Auto 6 is currently gunning for a release before Christmas – but take that with a grain of salt. There’s been online chatter and rumours suggesting late 2023 or early 2024 as possible release windows, so I guess we’ll have to watch and wait for more information.

I’m curious to see how Rockstar will follow up one of the biggest games of all time. Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut, clocking up sales for almost nine years and hardly ever dropping out of the top-ten or top-twenty bestsellers and most-played games lists. Rockstar will be hoping that Grand Theft Auto 6 can recapture the magic this time around, and will bring its significant financial resources to bear to ensure it happens. As for me, I’ll be happy if the game is fun – and if it meets some or all of the entries on my wishlist, I daresay it will be!

Grand Theft Auto 6 is currently in development and is the copyright of Rockstar Games and/or Take-Two Interactive. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Microsoft buys Activision Blizzard

Well that certainly came out of nowhere! Microsoft has opened its wallet once again, this time buying up massive video games publisher Activision Blizzard for a whopping $69 billion. Nice.

After receiving criticism during the previous console generation for the lack of exclusive games on its Xbox One system, Microsoft has stepped up in a big way in the last few years. Early moves brought on board companies like Obsidian and Rare, and then last year came another shock announcement: the acquisition of ZeniMax – the parent company of Bethesda. All of those laid the groundwork for something big, and Microsoft has now added Activision Blizzard to its lineup, bringing on board hugely popular games and franchises like Call of Duty, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and even popular mobile game Candy Crush.

Microsoft will soon own Candy Crush!

At almost ten times the price of its Bethesda purchase, Microsoft clearly has big plans for Activision Blizzard and its games. Even by the standards of other corporate takeovers, $69 billion is a lot of money – an almost unfathomable amount. As Microsoft looks to expand its Xbox and PC gaming platforms, though, it makes a lot of sense to bring on board a company like Activision Blizzard.

Keep in mind that Microsoft is currently pushing hard to take gaming as a whole in a new direction, pioneering a subscription model based on the likes of Netflix – indeed, Game Pass was originally pitched as the video game equivalent of Netflix. Though on the surface the company seems to be taking a two-pronged approach, with its Xbox home console family and PC gaming being separate, in many ways that isn’t really the case any more. Microsoft’s goal is to bring these two platforms as close together as possible, offering most games to players regardless of their chosen platform. One need only look to two of the biggest releases of the past year as an example: both Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 came to both Xbox and PC, despite originally being franchises that were exclusive to consoles.

Forza Horizon 5 was a massive title for both Xbox and PC – and came to Game Pass on release day.

Let’s step back for a moment. My initial reaction to this news was disbelief! But after double-checking my sources and confirming that this was, in fact, not some kind of elaborate prank, my next thoughts were of the Activision Blizzard scandal, and how from Microsoft’s point of view this may not have been the best time to announce this acquisition.

There’s no denying that Activision Blizzard is a tainted brand in the eyes of many players, with the severity of the sexual abuse scandal cutting through to make the news in mainstream outlets when it broke last year. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, the scandal is part of the reason why Microsoft may have felt that the timing was right – Activision Blizzard shares had lost basically a third of their value over the last few months (down from almost $100 per share to below $65 prior to the acquisition announcement). Microsoft arguably made a savvy deal in some respects.

Activision Blizzard is a company embroiled in scandal right now.

There also seems to be a sense from at least some quarters of the gaming press and gaming community that Microsoft is “swooping in” to save Activision Blizzard from the scandal, perhaps even preserving the jobs of some employees or protecting games and franchises from cancellation. I didn’t really expect this reaction, and while it’s safe to say there’s been plenty of criticism to balance out some of the positivity, overall the mood of players seems to be more in favour of this acquisition than opposed to it.

We should talk about exclusivity before we go any further. Despite the hopeful – almost desperate – claims being made in some quarters, Microsoft isn’t going to publish Activision Blizzard titles on PlayStation forever. Once the deal has gone through and existing contracts have been fulfilled, expect to see all of Activision Blizzard’s new titles and big franchises become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.

Starfield is a highly-anticipated Bethesda title – and it will be an Xbox and PC exclusive following Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda.

This is exactly what happened with Bethesda. Some players clung to the argument that Microsoft somehow wouldn’t want to limit the sales of some of these games to Xbox and PC players only, with some even going so far as to claim that we were witnessing the “death of console exclusives.” That hasn’t happened (to put it mildly) and we’re now expecting massive games like Starfield to become Xbox, PC, and Game Pass exclusives.

When Microsoft first jumped into the home console market in 2001 with the original Xbox, a lot of games industry critics and commentators argued that the company would open its wallet and spend, spend, spend in order to compete with the likes of Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. Microsoft certainly made some sound investments in games early on, but it’s really taken almost twenty years for some of those concerns to be borne out – and by now, the gaming landscape has so thoroughly shifted that it doesn’t feel like a bad thing any more.

It’s been more than two decades since Microsoft jumped into the home console market.

When Microsoft announced the acquisitions of the likes of Oblivion, Rare, and even Bethesda, there was still a sense that the games industry was pursuing its longstanding business model: develop games, release them, sell them, turn a profit, repeat. But now I believe we’re actually in the midst of a major realignment in the way the entire games industry operates – a realignment that’s shaping up to be as disruptive as Netflix’s emergence as a streaming powerhouse in the early 2010s.

Microsoft isn’t making all of these big purchases just to make games and sell them individually. That approach will remain for the foreseeable future, of course, but it isn’t the company’s primary objective. In my view, this is all about Game Pass – Microsoft’s subscription service. Microsoft has seen how successful the subscription model has been for the likes of Netflix – but more importantly for the likes of Disney with Disney+.

Disney+ is both an inspiration and a warning for Microsoft and Game Pass.

As streaming has become bigger and bigger in the film and television sphere, more companies have tried to set up their own competing platforms. In doing so, they pulled their titles from Netflix – something we saw very recently with Star Trek: Discovery, for example, which will now be exclusively available on Paramount+. Microsoft is not content to simply license titles from other companies – like Activision Blizzard – because they fear that a day is coming soon when other companies try to become direct competitors with their own platforms – muscling in on what Microsoft sees as its turf. If Sony gets its act together and finally manages to launch a Game Pass competitor on its PlayStation consoles, Microsoft will be in an out-and-out scrap, and pre-empting that fight is what acquisitions like this one are all about.

If Netflix had had the foresight to use a portion of the money it had been making in the early 2010s to buy up film studios or television production companies, it would have lost far fewer titles over the last few years, and wouldn’t have needed to pivot so heavily into creating its own content from scratch. I think that the Activision Blizzard deal is one way for Microsoft to shore up its own subscription service ahead of a potential repeat of the “streaming wars” in the video game realm.

The official announcement image.

So it isn’t just about “more games for Game Pass” – this deal is about Microsoft’s vision for the future of gaming as a medium, and also their concerns about other companies trying to elbow their way in and become serious competitors. Spending $69 billion may be a huge financial hit up front, but if it pays off it will mean that Game Pass will remain competitive and profitable for years – or even decades – to come. That’s the attitude that I see through this move.

And I don’t believe for a moment that Microsoft is done. Activision Blizzard may be the company’s biggest acquisition to date, but it won’t be the last. When the deal is done and has officially gone through – something that most likely won’t happen for at least twelve months – expect to see Microsoft lining up its next big purchase, and it could be yet another games industry heavyweight. There have been rumours in the past that Microsoft had considered making a move for Electronic Arts, for example… so watch this space!

Could another big purchase be on the cards in the next couple of years?

As a player, these are exciting times – but also turbulent times. I increasingly feel that it’s hardly worth purchasing brand-new games, because several massive titles that I’ve spent money on have ended up coming to Game Pass. In the last few days the Hitman trilogy has arrived on the platform, Doom Eternal landed on Game Pass last year, and even Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is now on the platform less than a year after its release. What’s the point in buying any new games any more? Let’s just wait and it seems Microsoft will eventually bring them to Game Pass!

This is, of course, an attitude Microsoft wants to foster. If Game Pass is an appealing prospect, players will stop buying games. Once they’re “locked in” to the Game Pass ecosystem, Microsoft thinks it’s got them for the long haul. This is how Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming platforms view their audiences, too: once someone has been hooked in, they tend to stay hooked in. That’s why they put the majority of their time and energy into recruiting new subscribers rather than ensuring current subscribers stay signed up.

This is all about Game Pass.

So it’s an interesting moment in gaming, and one that has the potential to herald an entirely new chapter in the medium’s history. People who decry the death of buying individual titles increasingly feel like they’re on the losing side; relics of an era that’s rapidly drawing to a close. Subscriptions have basically become the norm in film and television, with sales of DVDs, Blu-rays, and the like in what seems to be terminal decline. Television viewership, along with cable and satellite subscriptions, are likewise declining.

And who really feels that the death of broadcast television is something to mourn? Subscription platforms offered viewers a better deal – so they snapped it up. If Game Pass can do the same for gaming, more and more players will jump on board.

The Call of Duty series will soon join Game Pass.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been a subscriber to the PC version of Game Pass for almost a year-and-a-half. In that time, my subscription has cost me £8 per month ($10 in the US, I think). Call it eighteen months, and that’s £144 – or roughly the same amount of money as three brand-new full-price video games. In that time I’ve played more than three games, meaning Game Pass feels like a pretty good deal. If Microsoft continues to splash its cash on the likes of Activision Blizzard, bringing even more titles to the platform without asking me to pay substantially more for my subscription, then as a consumer I gotta say it’s worth it.

One corporate acquisition on its own does not irreversibly shift the gaming landscape. But we’re on a trajectory now that I believe will see gaming move away from the old way of doing business into a new era where subscriptions will be a dominant force. There will be advantages and disadvantages to this, but I don’t see it slowing down. As the likes of Sony and even Nintendo try to compete with Game Pass, if anything we’re likely to see this trend speed up.

Watch this space – because this certainly won’t be Microsoft’s last big move.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some promotional screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Forza Horizon 5 – video game review

Forza Horizon 5 was released in November for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. It took a little while, but after spending quite a bit of time with the game over the past few weeks I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and share my thoughts!

Forza Horizon 5 is a big game. There are different kinds of races and events to participate in, ranging from multi-race championships all the way to smaller challenges and mini-events. The game’s open world is huge and offers varied terrains and scenery. And perhaps most importantly for a racing game, Forza Horizon 5 offers a veritable smorgasbord of cars to choose from.

What Forza Horizon 5 is not, though, is massively different from its predecessor. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 at all, you know the formula. This time around there’s more: the game world is bigger, there are more roads to drive on, more races and events to take part in, and so on. But it isn’t a fundamentally different experience – aside from the scenery changing from the quaint English countryside to the deserts, jungles, and beaches of Mexico, it’s basically an iterative instalment of the series. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for Forza Horizon 5; it’s a riff on the same concept, expanding it in some significant areas but without really breaking new ground. However, when the formula works, why shake it up too much? As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Horizon spin-off series has always taken a more casual approach than mainline games in the Forza Motorsport series, and that trend continues here. There’s a party atmosphere that runs through the entire game, with a handful of named characters who all take a very laid-back approach to running the titular Horizon festival. That feeling extends to gameplay, too. Races are organised seemingly haphazardly, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply by exploring the open world, making your own fun, and driving some fancy cars at high speed!

Forza Horizon 5 is perhaps the most accessible racing game I’ve played – except, maybe, for Mario Kart 8. The game is geared up for fans of arcade racing, with a “pick-up-and-play” attitude that feels perfectly aligned with the aforementioned casual, laid-back approach taken by characters within the game itself. That isn’t to say that Forza Horizon 5 presents no challenge – not at all. But this is a game that allows players to tailor the kind of challenge or fun that they want to the way that they like to play. There are options to tweak practically every aspect of single-player gameplay, meaning Forza Horizon 5 would be a great introduction to racing games for a complete newbie – but a game that experienced racing fans can enjoy as well.

As a gamer with disabilities, I always appreciate games that go out of their way to be accommodating. In Forza Horizon 5, it’s possible to slow down single-player gameplay to give players more time to react or make moves. It’s possible to see a guide line on the ground or along racetracks pointing players in the right direction. And there are different levels of assistance; cars can be set up to brake automatically, for example, as well as change gears. Forza Horizon 5 also recommends specific cars for specific races, ensuring that players who aren’t familiar with cars or racing games won’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation.

None of these things have to be used, and they can all be turned off for players who want a more realistic or challenging racing experience. The game has pre-set difficulty options, but within those pre-sets it’s possible to tweak many different individual characteristics so players can get the kind of experience that they want. This really does open up the game to many different skill levels, and Forza Horizon 5 would be a great game for someone brand-new, a kid seeking a more realistic racer than the likes of Mario Kart, and everyone else all the way up to racing simulation fanatics.

Forza Horizon 5 also brings a lot of customisation options to the table. Every car (at least, every car that I’ve unlocked so far) can be customised. Cars can be repainted in every colour of the rainbow, and can have custom liveries applied – including advertising logos for famous brands. There’s already a bustling customisation scene, with players from all over the world sharing their custom creations for others to download and use in-game. I love a game with strong customisation elements, and Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers in that regard!

As I was getting started with Forza Horizon 5, I actually found myself getting a little emotional. As you may know, I’m non-binary – meaning that my gender identity falls in between male and female, and I prefer to use they/them pronouns. When setting up my Forza Horizon 5 character, the option to use they/them was present alongside male and female pronouns – something that was amazing for me, and for other non-binary players as well I hope. It’s still quite rare to see games offer this option, so it was an incredibly welcome surprise.

I’m not the world’s biggest car enthusiast. My knowledge of cars mostly comes courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the crew of Top Gear! But for people who know more about cars than I do, I reckon Forza Horizon 5 has a lot to offer. Although the game goes out of its way to be accessible and to have cars ready-to-race from the moment of being unlocked or purchased, there are still plenty of tuning options to fiddle about with. At the game’s uppermost echelons, where elite players are duking it out and races are won or lost by the millisecond, perhaps some of these things will make a difference. I’m not at that level – but some folks are, and there are tuning and customisation guides already for many of the game’s vehicles.

Although Forza Horizon 5 includes a lot of ultra-expensive supercars from manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Lamborghini, I think it’s great that the game offers classic cars, “normal” street cars, and even some novelty vehicles or cult favourites as well. For example, the game includes a classic Land Rover (a personal favourite of mine), as well as every nerd’s favourite car: the DeLorean! There’s a VW Camper available, a classic Mini, a Morris Minor, as well as a Hummer, and even a car taken straight from Hot Wheels! In short, there’s fun to be had with some of these vehicles, and while some may not be suitable for winning every race or clocking the fastest time, for having fun driving around the game’s open world I think some of these additions are absolutely fantastic!

Some racing games offer light-hearted fun, and for me, Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely that kind of game. I can pick it up for even just a few minutes at a time, hop into a race or two, and then put it down knowing I can do the same thing again later on. It absolutely can be more than that; players with the inclination can take it more seriously, spend more time on their vehicles, and really push hard to get the best lap times and reach the top of the various leaderboards. That’s not the way I personally play – but the fact that Forza Horizon 5 has plenty to offer to all kinds of players is a huge mark in its favour in my book!

I’m a subscriber to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass, so for me Forza Horizon 5 was available on release day to download and play at no extra cost. On that basis, I’m thrilled with the game. That being said, for folks who don’t like the idea of a subscription or who like owning games outright, I can absolutely recommend Forza Horizon 5 as a purchase. Game Pass is a great service, but I recognise that it isn’t for everyone. When I looked at Halo Infinite a few weeks ago I said that paying £55 for just the campaign felt a bit much, so getting the game on Game Pass made a lot of sense. But there’s a heck of a lot of value in Forza Horizon 5 for players of varying skill levels and with varying levels of interest in cars – so it feels like a solid buy.

I think that’s all I have to say about this one! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5 and I’m looking forward to jumping back in and getting into my next race. See you on the track!

Forza Horizon 5 is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. Forza Horizon 5 is the copyright of Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios, Xbox Game Studios, and/or Microsoft. Promotional images and artwork courtesy of Xbox and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How long is too long?

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for Dying Light 2, Red Dead Redemption II, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

I’ve talked a couple of times about video game length here on the website, and specifically about how some games can feel too short to offer good value at their price point. Games which cost £65 or $70 but only last five or six hours routinely get criticised for being too short, but my argument is that they’re really just priced incorrectly – had a six-hour game cost £25 instead of £65, it feels like a better price point and thus better value.

Take Ori and the Blind Forest or Kena: Bridge of Spirits as examples – relatively short games (under twelve hours) yet priced around the £30 mark. Both games felt like great value at that price point, and no one seemed to argue that they were somehow “too short.” In my review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits I even argued that padding out the game much beyond the 12-hour mark would’ve been too much.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was the perfect length for the kind of game it wanted to be.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve seen a different argument arise online, particularly in relation to upcoming action-horror game Dying Light 2. Developer Techland recently claimed that total completion of the game is expected to take in excess of 500 hours – longer, they say, than it would take to walk from Warsaw in Poland to Madrid in Spain. That’s a distance of 2,631 kilometres, or 1,634 miles.

Long-distance hiking aside, I’ve seen a lot of folks online actually criticising Techland and Dying Light 2, proclaiming that its length “isn’t a selling point,” or that the game is “too long.” Having tackled a similar argument before with games that were said to be too short, I wanted to take a look at this and consider whether a game can indeed be too long.

This recent boast from the Dying Light 2 developers hasn’t gone down well with everyone…

In 2020 I spent in excess of 120 hours playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the longest I spent in any single game in 2021 was Red Dead Redemption II, which took me 103 hours to complete the main story and the epilogue. I’m not a completionist who has to get every single achievement and discover every single hidden item or collectable. According to Red Dead Redemption II’s in-game progress tracker, after my 103 hours I’d completed 84% of the game.

However, the remaining 16% was – for want of a better term – fluff. It consists of collectables, travelling to obscure locations, catching at least one of every fish… in a word, boring nonsense that I had no interest in! Likewise with Animal Crossing: New Horizons – after 120+ hours I felt I’d done everything that the game had to offer at least once, and I had no real interest in continuing to dig up fossils or buy random junk from the shop to keep playing.

After more than 100 hours, I’d completed 84% of Red Dead Redemption II.

Games have a natural lifespan, just like any other entertainment product. That length will depend on what the game has to offer, how repetitive some of the tasks and missions are, and many other factors. If Red Dead Redemption II had offered another 103 hours’ worth of proper story missions, I daresay I’d have kept playing because I found the story to be engrossing – but I wasn’t going to spend that time in a fairly static endgame world where all of the missions were complete and all I had left were collectables to find and minor tasks to perform. That doesn’t hold my interest.

For some folks, though, it does. Some games encourage players to keep playing over and over again, and in some quadrants of the gaming community, it isn’t uncommon at all to find players who’ve dedicated literally years to a single game, sinking thousands or even tens of thousands of hours of playtime into titles like Minecraft, EVE Online, or even the aforementioned Animal Crossing series.

EVE Online is well-known for having very dedicated players who play for years and years.

But statistics would seem to suggest that those kinds of players – and those kinds of games – are comparatively rare. For example, in Red Dead Redemption II, most players have unlocked the achievement or trophy for completing the game’s first chapter. Yet on all platforms – Xbox, Playstation, and PC – barely one in three make it to the end of the epilogue and see the credits roll. Red Dead Redemption II has been out for more than three years, so there’s ample time for most players to have progressed that far if they’d wanted to – but it seems that the game’s length sees more and more players drop out as the story goes on.

I like a long story. I’ll happily watch a television show with seven seasons or something like the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings films. And I enjoyed my time with Red Dead Redemption II. But perhaps players who seek out these very long experiences are in a minority – achievement stats for a number of big titles would seem to bear that out.

Scarcely one in five Steam players who started Red Dead Redemption II actually managed to finish its story.

I mentioned the length-versus-value debate at the beginning, and I think a variation of this argument comes into play for long titles just as it does for short ones. If a game is unnaturally “long” because it’s padded out with repetitive fetch-quests, a massive open world that takes ages to traverse, and hundreds of hidden collectables that make no impact whatsoever on gameplay and story, then a developer shouldn’t be bragging about length. That isn’t a long game – it’s a bloated, padded one, and one that probably won’t be much fun for 80% of the time!

This is what I think people were getting at with the Dying Light 2 situation. While some folks may feel that any game can be too long to be enjoyable, the real criticism seems to be that players are concerned that the developers of Dying Light 2 are making a nonsense brag based on how the game world is going to be stuffed with minor, inconsequential fluff. Tasks like shooting 200 pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV aren’t actually a lot of fun for most players who wanted to complete the entire game, and while finally unlocking that last achievement or trophy may provide some folks with a brief hit of dopamine, the frustration of having to track down 200 obscure, hard-to-reach locations across a large open world probably wasn’t worth it.

Shooting pigeons was a minor task in Grand Theft Auto IV.

So is Dying Light 2 “too long” at 500 hours? Until the game is in reviewers’ hands and we can find out how many of those hours are spent on fun, interesting, or original quests, I don’t think it’s possible to say. Some people may argue that 500 hours will always be too long, and for them that may well be the case. Aside from Civilization VI, I can’t think of any game in the past decade that I’ve spent much more than 100 hours playing – so I guess I’m part of that crowd as well.

In principle, though, I don’t think 500 hours has to be too long for Dying Light 2. But it depends what the game has to offer by way of story, exploration, and engaging gameplay. If the bulk of players’ 500 hours is spent chasing boring collectables or slowly trudging across an open world that’s too large for the game’s mediocre level of content, then yeah, I’d agree that it’s too long and has been overstuffed with meaningless fluff. But if there’s a long story that manages to hook players in and keep their interest, then it’s a whole different conversation.

At the end of the day, we all want different things from our games. Folks who have busy lives and other commitments might feel the need for a shorter game, or a game that they can dip in and out of easily. Players with more free time or who like to stream their gameplay on Twitch might prefer longer, open-ended games that are chock-full of collectables. We all like different things, and there really isn’t an answer to a question like this that can satisfy everyone. If you think Dying Light 2 is going to be too long for you to enjoy… don’t play it, I guess. There are plenty of shorter games out there to take your interest instead. For my two cents, I’d rather see a game have too much content than too little, and be too long rather than too short – especially if it’s charging me £60 or $70!

Dying Light 2 will be released on the 4th of February 2022 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, and PC. All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking ahead to 2022

Happy New Year! As we mark the first day of 2022 (and recover from the last night of 2021) I thought it could be fun to look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences that lie before us this year. There are a plethora of films, games, and television shows on the horizon, and there are sure to be plenty of surprises and new announcements to come as well. On this occasion I’ve picked out ten films, video games, and television shows that I’m personally looking forward to in 2022.

The ongoing pandemic has caused a number of delays, and while most of these titles feel like a safe bet, it’s still possible that additional disruption will mean that we won’t see them all before the end of the year. The further out we get, the more likely such changes are – so titles which are currently aiming for a November or December release could end up slipping back to 2023.

Let’s jump into the list!

Film #1:
Morbius

Up first we have somewhat of a rarity: a Marvel film that I’m actually slightly interested in! Morbius will star Jared Leto as a mad scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a vampire. The film isn’t actually part of the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s being produced by Colombia and Sony – the latter company having the license to Spider-Man.

From my point of view, the fact that the film isn’t part of the MCU is no bad thing. Keeping up with every Marvel project increasingly feels like a full-time job considering the shared nature of the universe and the frequency of crossovers. So perhaps Morbius will be able to be enjoyed as more or less a standalone piece. I know nothing about the character or comic book source material – but I’m hoping it’ll be a fun, action-packed, slightly spooky adventure.

Film #2:
Lightyear

I was surprised by the trailer for Lightyear – the film looks so much more fun and interesting than its premise alone would have suggested! An “origin story” for Buzz Lightyear, the film purports to show us why Buzz Lightyear figures were so popular in the world of Toy Story! I noted many different visual and thematic elements from mid-century, retro sci-fi; kind of similar to the theme of the Tomorrowland park at Disneyland.

Chris Evans is set to take on the title role, and I’m genuinely looking forward to Lightyear. The film seems to have an element of mystery to it, and from the trailer it looks set to be an exciting adventure with a fun visual style. Check out my full thoughts on the trailer by clicking or tapping here.

Film #3:
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage is going to play an exaggerated, fictionalised version of himself in a film that looks set to be hilarious – and full of meme potential! I honestly thought this was a joke when I first heard about it, but the trailer already had me laughing out loud. Cage has developed a self-awareness, leaning into his reputation for making B-movies, and I think the result can only be hilarity.

In short, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is either going to be great… or it’s going to be one of those “so bad it’s good” films. There’s simply no in-between! Oh, and The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal is also in it alongside Cage.

Film #4:
Moonfall

Disaster films are somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re usually so far-fetched and over-the-top, but they can also be dramatic and exciting; perfect popcorn fare and a fun way to kill a couple of hours. Roland Emmerich has directed some fun ones: 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow spring to mind first and foremost. So I’m very curious to see what his latest sci-fi/disaster flick will be all about!

The premise sounds bonkers: the moon gets knocked out of orbit and is on a collision course with Earth. The film promises that the moon “is not what we think it is” … so let’s find out what the moon really is, I guess!

Film #5:
Avatar 2

The first of four planned sequels to 2009’s Avatar is scheduled for release in December this year. After more than thirteen years, James Cameron has quite a task on his hands to get people re-engaged with the fictional universe that he created, but if anyone can pull it off it’s him. Despite being an enjoyable film in its own right, Avatar never quite succeeded to the extent Cameron (and 20th Century Fox) hoped, failing to really break into the top tier of sci-fi franchises.

Avatar 2 is the first of four opportunities to change the narrative. There’s always room, in my opinion, for new sci-fi, and Avatar had some successes with its world-building. There are open questions left over from the first film – and although I’m by no means an Avatar superfan, I’m curious to see where the story will go next.

Film #6:
Untitled Super Mario Movie

The Super Mario Bros. film that was a shock announcement at a recent Nintendo Direct broadcast still doesn’t have an official title, but it’s targetting a release around the holiday season (I know we’re still processing Christmas 2021, but still!) Featuring an all-star cast including Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Jack Black as Bowser, this has the potential to succeed where the 1993 version… didn’t.

Nintendo seems to have invested a decent amount of money into the project, and with a story and animation style that will hopefully be closer to the video game series than the 1993 attempt, this could be the unexpected hit of Christmas 2022!

Film #7:
Uncharted

The adaptation of the Uncharted video game series will star Spider-Man’s Tom Holland as adventurer (and discount Indiana Jones) Nathan Drake – and if you’ve been a regular around here for a while, you might recall that it made my list of films to watch in 2021 last January! But after being delayed, Uncharted looks all but certain to get a release this year (one way or another).

I had fun with the Uncharted video games on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. I’m cautiously interested to see how well the adaptation will work – condensing the story of even one video game into the runtime of a single film can be tricky. But I think there’s the potential for a solid action flick if all goes according to plan.

Film #8:
Jurassic World: Dominion

The legacy of Jurassic Park continues with the third entry in the reboot Jurassic World series, with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprising their roles. Details of the plot are sparse at this stage, with director Colin Trevorrow keeping a lid on things, but if the story picks up in the aftermath of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom then we can expect to see dinosaurs roaming free – and not just in their island park!

A lot of fans are excited for the return of the original trio of characters: Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm will all be making appearances in the film. An extended trailer (called the prologue) was recently released, and it’s well worth a watch!

Film #9:
Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery’s Philippa Georgiou) stars in this very weird-looking film about a woman who can cross over to infinite parallel universes. Evelyn seems to be tasked with saving the entire multiverse from an unknown threat, travelling to different realities and exploring different versions of herself and her own life.

The trailer was chaotic, and the plot may be tricky to follow, but Everything Everywhere All At Once looks like a wild, bonkers ride. It could be a ton of fun, so it’s one I shall watch with interest!

Film #10:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2

2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog exceeded my (admittedly rather low) expectations, and in a pandemic-disrupted year was actually one of the few cinematic highlights. Following its success will be no easy task for this sequel, but there’s definitely potential in this return to the universe of Sega’s cute mascot.

The stars of the first film (including Jim Carrey) will be returning, and the addition of other characters from the Sonic franchise looks set to expand the fun.

Video Game #1:
Six Days In Fallujah

Six Days In Fallujah is a controversial game. It intends to depict, in as realistic a manner as modern games engines will allow, the Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in 2004. I was surprised to see the extent of the backlash that the game’s announcement received last year, not just from the expected sources like right-wing politicians, but from some games commentators and gaming outlets too.

In short, I think that it’s important to create art, particularly when the subject matter it tackles is difficult or controversial. It’s possible that Six Days In Fallujah will add nothing to the conversation around the Iraq War, but it’s equally possible that we’ll get something more than just mindless shooting. Video games can be art, and art can and should tackle difficult and complex topics. To see my full thoughts on Six Days In Fallujah, click or tap here.

Video Game #2:
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was a surprise announcement at last year’s E3, but with the Avatar sequels kicking off this year it makes a lot of sense to have a video game tie-in of some kind as well. Frontiers of Pandora doesn’t seem like it will be a direct adaptation of either the first or second films in the series, but rather a standalone title.

The world of Avatar seems well-suited to a video game adaptation, and with Ubisoft’s resources at its back there’s potential in this title. Taking on the role of a Na’vi warrior sounds like fun, and I’m definitely going to check out Frontiers of Pandora when it’s ready.

Video Game #3:
Mario Kart 9

At this stage there’s been no announcement of a new game in the long-running Mario Kart series. But Mario Kart 8 was released almost eight years ago, and with 2022 being the series’ 30th anniversary, the timing feels right for a new game. Nintendo loves to celebrate anniversaries with big releases, after all!

Mario Kart 8 has been one of the Switch’s big sellers since the console’s launch. But the game has a limited roster of tracks and playable characters, and after such a long wait in between titles, a growing number of players are looking for something new. 2022 would be a great time to launch Mario Kart 9 – so watch this space.

Video Game #4:
Stray

Stray is a game that lets you play as a cat. Do I need to say more? Publisher Annapurna Interactive has a great track record, having released wonderful and emotional narrative journeys like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home. Indie developer Blue Twelve Studio has been working on the game for a while, and its unique premise and beautiful setting have already piqued my interest!

The game entices players to unravel an ancient mystery and figure a way to escape a decaying cyberpunk city populated by robots. The stray cat at the centre of the game will have their own robot companion, too. This game looks adorable – but it also has an unsettling, otherworldly feel that could make for a fascinating and unique adventure.

Video Game #5:
Star Trek: Resurgence

I’d been desperately hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years; it’s been almost a decade since the last one failed miserably. With Star Trek being back on our screens in a big way, I’m glad that ViacomCBS is finally licensing video games again. Resurgence is the single-player story-driven game I’d been hoping for – and the trailer looked great!

New developer Dramatic Labs has pedigree – many of its employees used to work for Telltale Games, whose narrative adventures were highly-praised. Telltale worked on a number of adaptations, including Batman and Game of Thrones, so Dramatic Labs seems perfectly positioned to bring a brand new Star Trek game to life. I’m really rooting for Resurgence to be a success.

Video Game #6:
Starfield

Starfield has been in development for almost a decade. Bethesda had ideas for space-themed games going all the way back to the 1990s, and even pitched a Star Trek game at one point, so in a sense Starfield has been a very long time coming! At 2021’s E3, the company was finally able to announce a release date, and while details about the game are still sparse, we have begun to learn a little more about some of the factions and locales.

Bethesda chief Todd Howard has literally promised players “Skyrim in space,” so Starfield has big shoes to fill! After Bethesda has stumbled in recent years with the likes of Fallout 76, the game also has a lot of work to do to rehabilitate the company’s image. Anything less than an exceptional game could leave the Microsoft-owned studio in trouble. I want to be excited for Starfield… but I’m trying to avoid boarding the hype train.

Video Game #7:
Saints Row

I initially wrote off the Saints Row games as being “Grand Theft Auto knock-offs,” but the truth is that they’re so much more than that. The setup is unquestionably similar – players take on the role of a criminal in an open-world city – but developers Volition brought a distinctly comedic style that made the original Saints Row and its sequels stand out.

Saints Row is a reboot, one which will supposedly bring the game back to its roots. Given that Rockstar seemingly still has no plans to release Grand Theft Auto 6 any time soon, Saints Row could be the game that scratches that open-world itch.

Video Game #8:
Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown

It’s been almost a decade since the last Test Drive game was released, so Solar Crown is coming late to the party! But following on from the success of other open-world racing games (like Forza Horizon 5, for example) it could be well-placed to take the racing crown this year.

Solar Crown is set in Hong Kong, and developers KT Racing have promised a 1:1 full-scale recreation of the entirety of Hong Kong island. That sounds incredibly ambitious, but I’m hopeful that they can pull it off. The result could be one of the best racing games in a long time.

Video Game #9:
Pharaoh: A New Era

I adored Pharaoh in the early 2000s. An Ancient Egyptian-themed city building game, it had all of the micromanagement you’d expect from a game of that type, but with additional features derived from its setting. For example, the Nile river could flood – so making use of flood plains became an essential gameplay element.

Pharaoh: A New Era aims to bring the game into the modern day, updating its graphical fidelity but retaining the original game’s trademark visual style and gameplay. I think it has a lot of potential to be a wonderful nostalgia trip for me – and if you missed the original twenty years ago, it could be brand-new fun for you!

Video Game #10:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order II

At this stage we don’t know whether Jedi: Fallen Order II is even in development – though it’s heavily rumoured to be well underway. It’s a possibility for 2022, though, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed waiting for an official announcement. After the disappointment of Battlefront II and The Rise of Skywalker, Jedi: Fallen Order did a lot for the Star Wars franchise. It was an engaging story with some great characters – most of whom should be returning.

I’m really interested to see where Cal Kestis and his friends will go next. What adventures lie in store for them? And will we find out their ultimate fate – perhaps explaining why Cal and the others played no part in the Rebellion or the events of the Star Wars films? So many questions… but I’ll settle for another fun Star Wars adventure, even if it doesn’t answer all of them!

TV Series #1:
House of the Dragon

Despite being underwhelmed by the first trailer (and bitterly disappointed by the final season of Game of Thrones) I’m nevertheless curious to see what House of the Dragon will bring to the table. The new series has the not insignificant challenge of proving that Game of Thrones wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and that Westeros truly can be expanded into an ongoing franchise.

Honestly? The jury is still out. The television landscape has changed immeasurably since Game of Thrones’ 2010 debut, and in the big-budget high fantasy genre, House of the Dragon will face some serious competition. There’s potential in the series… but right now, I can muster curious interest rather than outright excitement.

TV Series #2:
Star Trek: Picard Season 2

After a longer-than-planned pandemic-enforced break, Picard will finally be back on our screens before too long. It isn’t clear yet whether Discovery’s unexpected mid-season break will delay Picard Season 2 from its planned February premiere, but that seems likely. Regardless, time travel and old adversaries are on the agenda for Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of La Sirena.

I confess that time travel stories aren’t always my favourites in Star Trek, so I’m perhaps less excited for Picard Season 2 than I hoped I might be. But a chance to spend more time with Picard himself, especially after the wonderfully complex presentation of the character in Season 1, is something that I’m truly looking forward to.

TV Series #3:
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

There’s a lot of Star Wars content to come this year! Obi-Wan Kenobi is taking place in between the prequel and original trilogies, and will see Ewan McGregor reprise his role as the famed ex-Jedi. What adventures will he be able to have during his exile on the planet of Tatooine? And will those adventures feel natural or tacked-on? I guess we’re about to find out!

McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi was definitely one of the better elements of the prequel films. I’m not sure I’d have chosen to make this series if I were making the big decisions for Disney and Lucasfilm, but I hope to get a fun action or drama series that respects the boundaries of the original 1977 film and doesn’t tread on its toes.

TV Series #4:
Amazon’s Lord of the Rings

This series made my list last year, as I had originally expected to see it in 2021. Amazon has found some success with its adaptation of The Wheel of Time, but in a sense that show feels like an appetiser before the main course! Few other properties have such potential to bring in audiences as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and there’s going to be a huge amount of interest in what is going to be the most expensive television series ever made.

With so little information about the characters or plot, it’s hard to know what to expect. The series isn’t going to be a new adaptation of any of the familiar books, instead drawing on a period in Middle-earth’s Second Age, millennia before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Amazon appears to be greatly influenced by Game of Thrones in the way the show’s casting and production have been handled; hopefully that’s a good thing!

TV Series #5:
Star Wars: Andor

A prequel to a prequel, Andor will focus on the character of Cassian Andor who was first introduced in 2016’s Rogue One. A Star Wars story that steps away from the Jedi and the Force is something I’ve been hoping the franchise would do more of for some time, and I feel that Andor could be a good vehicle to show us more about the Star Wars galaxy away from space magic.

The series may also show us a bit more about the early days of the Rebel Alliance, something we glimpsed in Rogue One. As a standalone piece it could be an interesting and dramatic spy thriller – and I’m hopeful that it’ll be entertaining at the very least.

TV Series #6:
Foundation Season 2

Season 1 of Foundation may not have been perfect, but it broadly succeeded at adapting a fairly dense work of sci-fi, bringing it to the small screen in an understandable way. Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance, and this complex story with some pretty deep themes ended up as a thoroughly enjoyable season of television.

We already knew that Apple TV+ had greenlit a second season of the show, and production has already begun. If Foundation can do more of the same, it’ll be a fine addition to this year’s television lineup.

TV Series #7:
The Last Of Us

The Last Of Us is one of the finest video game stories I’ve ever played through. It’s a vivid, dramatic, and occasionally harrowing story of a road trip across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States. Its central conceit of mushroom zombies may sound silly, but the cordyceps infection serves as the backdrop to set up an amazing character-focused story. And now it’s being adapted for television.

A TV show will suit the long and complex narrative far better than a film ever could, so in that sense I think the right decision has been made. I don’t know whether the story will be broken down into seasons or whether The Last Of Us will try to tell the entire story of the game this year – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

TV Series #8:
Tokyo Vice

I’ve been greatly looking forward to this adaptation of a true story. Journalist Jake Adelstein spent part of his career in Japan working on crime stories in Tokyo, and his book told the true story of working for a large Japanese newspaper and the various cases and investigations he was part of.

HBO has a great track record when it comes to these short-format miniseries, and I think that Tokyo Vice has the potential to be 2022’s answer to the likes of Chernobyl – a true story adapted in a dramatic and exciting way.

TV Series #9:
The Wheel of Time Season 2

Amazon’s second high fantasy series on this list already has a full season under its belt. I enjoyed The Wheel of Time’s debut season, even though the story was quite cluttered and may have been hard to follow for some viewers. With more than a dozen books in the series left to adapt, Season 2 has its work cut out to keep up the pace.

The Wheel of Time had some great moments of characterisation and some well-crafted visual effects. Combined with a strong story I feel that the series is off to a good start – even if not every critic agrees. With Amazon’s own Lord of the Rings adaptation coming this year, Season 2 will be drawing comparisons to that show whether it wants to or not. Time to step up!

TV Series #10:
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

More than three years after Ethan Peck and Anson Mount won the hearts of Star Trek fans during Discovery’s second season, the highly-requested “Captain Pike show” is finally going to be broadcast! Strange New Worlds has promised Trekkies a return to a more episodic format, and the show could be the one to finally hook in the remaining holdouts who have been unimpressed with the franchise’s recent output.

This isn’t a ranked list, but Strange New Worlds is probably the show I’m most looking forward to this year – assuming it will be available to watch here in the UK. ViacomCBS doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to making its shows available outside of North America! But if that hurdle can be surmounted, I have high hopes indeed for Strange New Worlds.

So that’s it!

As we look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences of 2022, there’s a lot to be hopeful for. As a Trekkie, 2022 is arguably one of the biggest and most important years for the franchise in a very long time. Not only are there new and ongoing shows, but a brand-new video game and an increase in merchandise too. All of these things will hopefully cement Star Trek as ViacomCBS’ main franchise, securing its future in the longer term. I’ll be doing my best to support Star Trek this year – as long as ViacomCBS does its part too.

I hope you had an enjoyable New Year’s Eve! Now that the holiday season is more or less over, things can start to settle down and get back to normal. I adore the Christmas season, but it’s also nice to be able to unwind after what can be a stressful time of year.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!

Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!

Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Best Documentary:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill

There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.

Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.

Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.

Best Web Series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling

I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.

Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.

On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Tasting History with Max Miller

There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.

I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.

Best TV Special:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!

Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!

Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Grand Tour: Lochdown

As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.

The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!

I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.

Worst TV Series:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Rick and Morty Season 5

After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.

Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.

Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.

Best TV series:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Foundation

The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.

Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.

Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.

The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.

Worst Video Game:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.

And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.

Best Video Game:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Road 96

Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.

Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.

Worst Film:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.

Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.

I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Best Film:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Raya and the Last Dragon

I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.

Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.

Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Dune

I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.

Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!

Most Exciting Announcement:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
Wicked

Picture Credit: Wicked the Musical London.

I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!

A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!

🏆 Winner 🏆
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!

So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!

Best Star Trek Episode:

🥈 Runner-Up 🥈
There Is A Tide…
Discovery Season 3

There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.

It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!

There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.

🏆 Winner 🏆
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.

It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.

Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!

So that’s it!

We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.

As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.

So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:

Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales

Rick and Morty Season 5

The Wheel of Time

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Raya and the Last Dragon

Wicked

Knights of the Old Republic Remake

Discovery 3×12 There Is A Tide…

Lower Decks 2×10 First First Contact

A handful of older films, games, and TV shows that I enjoyed in 2021

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.

At this time of year, practically every outlet – from dying newspapers to new social media channels – churns out list upon list of the best entertainment products of the year. The top threes, top fives, top tens and more of 2021 abound! I have something similar in the pipeline, but today I wanted to take a look back at a handful of films, games, and TV shows from previous years that I found myself enjoying in 2021.

I have long and seemingly ever-growing lists of films, games, and TV shows that I keep meaning to get around to! I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad, for example, nor played The Witcher 3, despite the critical and commercial acclaim they’ve enjoyed! I also have a huge number of entertainment properties that I keep meaning to re-visit, some of which I haven’t seen since we wrote years beginning with “1.” In 2021 I got around to checking out a few titles from both of these categories, and since there are some that I haven’t discussed I thought the festive season would be a great opportunity for a bit of positivity and to share some of my personal favourite entertainment experiences of 2021… even though they weren’t brand-new!

Film #1:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)

We’ve recently marked the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnum opus. The passage of time has done nothing to detract from these amazing films, and this year a 4K Blu-Ray release has them looking better than ever before.

The early 2000s had some serious pitfalls for film and television. CGI was becoming more mainstream and many filmmakers sought to take advantage of it, but just look to the Star Wars prequels and how outdated the CGI in those titles is; it hasn’t held up well at all. The majority of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings were practical, and combined with clever cinematography even incredibly dense and complex battle sequences still look fantastic two decades on.

Though I don’t re-watch The Lord of the Rings every single year without fail, I’m happy to return to the trilogy time and again – and I almost certainly will be for the rest of my days! The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Middle-earth was one of the first fantasy worlds I encountered as a young child; I can vaguely remember the book being read to me when I was very small. The conventional wisdom for years was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable – but Peter Jackson proved that wrong in some style!

Film #2:
Despicable Me (2010)

I spotted this while browsing Netflix one evening, and despite having seen at least one film with the Minions, I hadn’t actually seen the title that started it all. I have to confess that I didn’t have particularly high expectations, thinking I was in for a bog-standard animated comedy. But Despicable Me has heart, and there were some genuinely emotional moments hidden inside.

The Minions got most of the attention in the aftermath of Despicable Me, and can now be found on everything from memes to greetings cards! The critters are cute, but they’re also somewhat limited – and I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really expect too much from Despicable Me except for maybe a few laughs and a way to kill an empty evening. I was pleasantly surprised to find a much more substantial film than I’d been expecting.

There were still plenty of laughs and a ton of cartoon silliness to enjoy and to keep the tone light-hearted. But there was a surprisingly emotional story between the villainous Gru and the three children he adopts – especially Margo, the eldest. I can finally understand why the film has spawned four sequels, fifteen shorts, and a whole range of merchandise!

Film #3:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The Final Frontier has a number of issues that I’m sure most of you will be aware of. It arguably suffered from a little too much involvement from William Shatner, who sought to put Captain Kirk at the centre of the story at the expense of others. But The Final Frontier has some truly great character moments, including one of the final times that Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy would be together before The Undiscovered Country brought an end to Star Trek’s original era.

The film has some truly funny moments, too: the scene where Uhura catches Chekov and Sulu pretending to be caught in a storm being one, and Scotty’s moment of slapstick being another that never fails to win a chuckle. The Undiscovered Country was a great send-off for Star Trek’s original crew, but it was quite a heavy film with a lot of tense moments and high-octane action. The Final Frontier brings more light-hearted moments to the table, and that’s something I can appreciate when I’m in the right mood.

There are some exciting sequences too, though. The shuttle crash is a very tense and dramatic moment, and the final confrontation with the entity at the centre of the galaxy, while silly in some respects, does succeed at hitting at least some of those same dramatic highs. Though I wouldn’t suggest that The Final Frontier is anywhere near the best that Star Trek has to offer, it’s well worth a watch from time to time.

Game #1:
Control (2019)

Though hardly an “old” game, I missed Control when it was released in 2019. It had been on my list for a couple of years, and I was pleased to finally get around to playing it this year. The game had a far creepier atmosphere than I’d been expecting, with protagonist Jesse having to battle an unseen enemy called the Hiss.

One thing I really admire about Control is the way it made incredibly creative use of some fairly plain environments. The entire game takes place in what’s essentially a glorified office building, and rows of cubicles or the janitor’s workspace could, in other games, come across as feeling bland and uninspired. But Control leans into this, using the environments as a strength, juxtaposing them with incredibly weird goings-on at the Bureau of Control.

I also liked that, for the first time in years, we got full-motion video sequences in a game! FMV was a fad in gaming in the early/mid-1990s I guess, primarily on PC, and titles like Command and Conquer and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy made use of it. It had been years since I played a game with FMV elements, and it worked exceptionally well in Control – as well as being a completely unexpected blast of nostalgia!

Game #2:
Super Mario 64 (1996)

Despite the serious limitations of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch, which I picked up last year, I can’t deny that it’s been fun to return to Super Mario 64. One of the first fully 3D games I ever played, Super Mario 64 felt like the future in the late ’90s, and even some titles released this year, such as Kena: Bridge of Spirits, owe parts of their 3D platforming to the pioneering work that Nintendo did with this game.

Super Mario 64 is and always has been good, solid fun. There doesn’t need to be an in-depth, complex story driving Mario forward to collect stars, because the game’s levels and bosses are all so incredibly cleverly-designed. Jumping in and out of different painting worlds is relatively quick and feels great, and the sheer diversity of environments is still noteworthy in 2021. Mario goes on a journey that takes him through snowy mountains, a sunken shipwreck, sunlit plains, cities, clouds, and more.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The way these games have been adapted for Nintendo Switch isn’t worth the asking price. But even so, going back to Super Mario 64 has been one of my favourite parts of 2021, a chance to reconnect with a game I played and loved on the Nintendo 64. If you’ve never played it, track down a copy and give it a go. You won’t regret it.

Game #3:
Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

I’d been meaning to get around to Red Dead Redemption II for three years – but I’d always found a reason not to pick it up (usually it was too expensive!) It took forever to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve had a fascination with America in the 19th Century for as long as I can remember – I guess partly inspired by playground games of “the wild west” that were fairly common when I was young. I even had a cowboy hat, toy gun, and “Davy Crockett” hat when I was a kid!

Red Dead Redemption II transported me to that world in a way that I genuinely did not think was possible. Films and TV shows can do a great job at pulling you in and getting you lost in a fictional world, but the interactive element of video games can add to that immersion – something that was absolutely the case with Red Dead Redemption II. The amount of detail in the game’s characters and open-world environments is staggering, and having finally experienced it for myself I can absolutely understand why people hail this game as a “masterpiece.”

I wasn’t prepared for the many emotional gut-punches that Red Dead Redemption II had in store. In many ways the game tells a bleak and even depressing story, one with betrayal, death, and many examples of the absolute worst of humanity. But every once in a while there are some incredibly beautiful moments too, where characters sit together, sing, play, and revel in their bonds of friendship. Red Dead Redemption II gave me the wild west outlaw fantasy that my younger self could have only dreamed of!

TV series #1:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69)

I’ve re-watched quite a lot of The Original Series this year, probably more episodes than I’d seen in the past few years. Because of its episodic nature, it’s easy to dip in and out of The Original Series, firing up an episode or two to spend an hour with Captain Kirk and the crew without feeling the need to commit to an entire season of television.

The Original Series started it all for Trekkies, and I’m always so pleased to see that modern Star Trek hasn’t lost sight of that. In this year’s episodes of Lower Decks and Discovery we’ve gotten many references and callbacks to Star Trek’s first series, keeping the show alive and relevant as we celebrated its fifty-fifth anniversary – and the centenary of its creator, Gene Roddenberry.

Though dated in some ways, many of the themes and metaphors present in The Original Series are still relevant today. Society has changed since the 1960s, but in some areas we’re still fighting the same or similar fights for acceptance, for equality, and so on. The Star Trek franchise has always had a lot to say about that, being in some ways a mirror of society and in others depicting a vision of a more enlightened, optimistic future.

TV series #2:
Fortitude (2015-18)

I went back to re-watch Fortitude this year, for the first time since its original run. The series starts very slowly, seeming at first to be little more than a murder-mystery in a different setting. But it builds up over the course of its first season into something truly unexpected, crossing over into moments of political thriller, action, and even horror.

There are some truly shocking and gruesome moments in Fortitude, and it can be a harrowing watch in places. But it’s riveting at the same time, and I managed to get hooked all over again by the complex characters, the mysteries and conspiracies, and the bleak but beautiful arctic environment.

Fortitude featured some star names among its cast, including Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, and Dennis Quaid – the second-most-famous Dennis to be featured on this website! Although it was fun to watch it weekly during its original run, Fortitude is definitely a show that can be enjoyed on a binge!

TV series #3:
Family Guy (1999-Present)

Family Guy’s sense of humour sometimes runs aground for me, dragging out jokes too long or failing to pay off neat setups with decent punchlines. But with the full series (up to midway through Season 20 at time of writing) available on Disney+, I’ve found myself putting it on in the background a lot this year. The short runtime of episodes, the lightheartedness, and the way many of the jokes are often disconnected from whatever nonsense plot the episodes have going on all come together to make it something I can dip in and out of while doing other things.

There are some insensitive jokes, and some entire storylines in earlier episodes have aged rather poorly. But Family Guy seldom strikes me as a show punching down; it satirises and pokes fun at many different groups. In that sense it’s kind of halfway between The Simpsons and South Park; the former being more sanitised and family-friendly, the latter being edgier and meaner.

I rarely sit down and think “gosh, I must watch the latest Family Guy episode.” But if I’m in need of background noise or something to fill up twenty minutes, I find I’ll happily log into Disney+ and put on an episode or two.

So that’s it.

There have been some great films, games, and television shows that were released in 2021. But there were also plenty of entertainment experiences from years past that, in different ways, brightened my year. As we gear up for New Year and for everyone’s end-of-year top-ten lists, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or just a relaxing day yesterday! I did consider writing something to mark the day, but I found that I had remarkably little to say that was different from the piece I wrote last year. 2021 has been “2020 II” in so many respects, unfortunately. However, unlike last Christmas I will be able to visit with some family members – I’ll be seeing my sister and brother-in-law later this week, which will be a nice treat! So here’s to 2021’s entertainment experiences – and as we enter the new year, it’s worth keeping in mind that we don’t only have to watch and play the latest and newest ones!

All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, developer, network, publisher, studio, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Winter sale deals for PC gamers

Important:

ALL SALES DISCUSSED BELOW HAVE NOW ENDED.
Prices listed below will no longer be correct.

Check back in June/July for my picks from 2022’s summer sales.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas or Hannukah – it’s time for some of the biggest sales in PC gaming! Steam, Origin, GOG, and Epic Games all have major sales right now, and there are some steep discounts and great deals to be found.

PC gaming can be incredibly expensive to get started with, especially with sky-high prices for graphics cards and other components at the moment (thanks, crypto-miners). But huge sales like these go a long way to making up for the high cost of entry in my opinion! Steam sales have rightly acquired near-legendary status among gamers, and consoles really can’t compete with the steep discounts on offer.

So this time, for the third year in a row, I’m going to pick out a few of the best deals and discounts – and maybe give you a few ideas for games to play over the holidays and into 2022!

Deal #1:
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
GOG, 19% discount, £6.79

Elite Force is one of the rare Star Trek video games that broke through to players outside of the existing Star Trek fandom. For a time shortly after its release in the year 2000, the game was a must-play in the budding multiplayer first-person shooter space on PC. It was the first FPS that I played at a LAN party shortly after the turn of the millennium, and I had a blast with Elite Force.

The game has a solid campaign, too, with players taking on the role of an ensign aboard the USS Voyager. Elite Force brought back most of the cast of Star Trek: Voyager to voice their characters, further adding to the sense of immersion. And the campaign’s story is very Star Trek-y, as the USS Voyager is sucked into a void in space. GOG also has discounts on a few other Star Trek games, so check out the likes of Away Team and Hidden Evil too!

Deal #2:
Red Dead Redemption II
Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £27.49

After more than 100 hours across three months, I finally beat Red Dead Redemption II just a few days ago. The game is both beautiful and incredibly bleak, with an emotional story that will leave you jumping for joy and wallowing in melancholy. Stay tuned for a full write-up in the near future, because I’ve got a lot more to say about this one!

Rockstar Games took their open-world format and applied it to the late 19th Century, crafting a visually gorgeous rendition of the American Midwest and South in that era. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan – an outlaw who rides with the Van Der Linde gang. Expect the usual chaos and mayhem as Arther robs banks and gets into shootouts, but be prepared for emotional gut-punches too. Red Dead Redemption II is a long game, but if you get stuck into it you won’t want to stop playing when it’s over.

Deal #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Epic Games, 25% discount, £23.99

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is almost certainly my favourite game of 2021. The adorable adventure game plays like a wonderful homage to older 3D titles while simultaneously making full use of decades’ worth of graphical improvements to look absolutely stunning. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was already competitively-priced, so to be able to snap it up at a discount feels like a real bargain!

One thing I admire about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is that it doesn’t hold your hand. You’re given all of the gameplay tools to navigate an area and then left to do so – there are no arrows pointing where to go nor a barrage of pop-up tips. It also features the Rot: adorable little critters who help Kena on her journey to the Mountan Shrine. You can read my full review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #4:
Cyberpunk 2077
GOG/Epic Games/Steam, 50% discount, £24.99

I haven’t found many nice things to say about Cyberpunk 2077, the game which ended up being a crushing disappointment to many players who jumped aboard an out-of-control hype train. Even today, a year on from one of the worst game launches of recent times, it’s still not in a particularly good state – and as I’ve said more than once, the actual game hiding underneath the bugs and glitches could be described at best as being “above-average.”

But Cyberpunk 2077 has an interesting story, and when it works there’s no denying its dense cityscape is a sight to see. With a reasonable discount it feels like an acceptable buy, and with further patches to come in 2022, this could be a game worth picking up now with a view to playing in six months’ time once more development work has been done. Just remember to set appropriate expectations: Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a genre-redefining experience that pushes the boundaries of what video games can be. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter.

Deal #5:
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Steam/Origin, 63% discount, £12.94

Jedi: Fallen Order is the single-player Star Wars game that fans had been asking for for almost a decade, and served as a great palate cleanser after the controversies around Battlefront II and even The Rise of Skywalker. A fantastic story-driven action-adventure, players take on the role of abandoned ex-Padawan Cal Kestis in the years between Revenge of the Sith and the Original Trilogy.

Jedi: Fallen Order has a unique and engaging story, one that really pulled me in and made me feel like I was living through my own Star Wars adventure with Cal and the friends he met during his journey. The game is tightly-focused on lightsaber combat and a handful of Force powers, allowing less choice than some titles but honing to perfection those elements it chooses to include. Origin also offers Jedi: Fallen Order as part of a bundle with Star Wars Squadrons and Battlefront II – which could be a good deal if you haven’t played any of those titles!

Deal #6:
Shenmue I & II
Steam, 75% discount, £6.24

Although the Shenmue saga’s third entry, which was funded primarily by fans, didn’t accomplish the goal of concluding the story, the first Shenmue in particular is one of the best games that I’ve ever played and I’ll happily recommend it to fans of single-player titles for as long as I live! Originally released on the Dreamcast, Shenmue and Shenmue II follow the story of martial artist Ryo Hazuki following the murder of his father. The quest takes Ryo from his native Japan to Hong Kong and beyond.

For younger gamers who’ve grown up with 3D environments, open worlds, and the like, it’s difficult to fully communicate how revolutionary Shenmue felt when I first played it in the year 2000. It was the first game I felt was truly cinematic, and that told a story that could’ve been from a novel or a series of films. Shenmue was the game that showed me what video games could be – and it will always be special to me for that reason. Oh, and the first game has some Christmassy elements, so it’s great to play at this time of year!

Deal #7:
Fall Guys
Steam, 50% discount, £7.99

The only online game I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed from the past few years, Fall Guys is an obstacle course battle royale; a cute cartoony version of the likes of Total Wipeout. It’s an absolute blast, and there really isn’t anything quite like it on the market. Despite a recent buyout by Epic Games, Fall Guys is currently only available on Steam and PlayStation – with Xbox and Nintendo Switch versions both suffering long delays.

Fall Guys’ reputation may have been tainted by a cheating problem that plagued matches early in its life, but that was fixed a long time ago. The addition of new rounds offering new challenges has kept the game fresh, and if you’re sick of the usual shooters and third-person action-adventure games, Fall Guys could be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for!

Deal #8:
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Steam, 70% discount, £3.89

A few weeks ago, Skyrim hit its tenth anniversary, and next year Morrowind will celebrate its twentieth! With The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, it could be a great time to either get back into Morrowind or to pick up the game for the first time if you missed out when it was new. Morrowind is by far my favourite Elder Scrolls game, and I think even Skyrim players will be surprised at just how much there is to do.

Morrowind has more NPCs than Oblivion or Skyrim. It has more weapon types, more magic spells, more factions to join, and two expansive DLC packs that add even more to a base game already overstuffed with content. Its text-only interface may be offputting to some players, but if you can look past that limitation you’ll find what I consider to be one of the finest role-playing games ever created.

Deal #9:
Super Woden GP
Steam, 50% discount, £5.14

Super Woden GP is a very old-school racing game with an isometric perspective. It’s a lot of fun, a throwback to the days when racing video games seemed to be based on the games kids would play with toy cars! Super Woden GP includes over 70 real-world cars and a varied mix of tracks. There’s no first-person view, and this isn’t a simulation experience by any stretch. It’s just good old-fashioned racing fun.

There have been some great racing games this year. Forza Horizon 5 is just one example! But if you want something a little different, a game that has more of a classic feel, Super Woden GP is definitely a title I can recommend.

Deal #10:
Mafia: Definitive Edition
Steam, 50% discount, £17.49

Developers Hangar 13 could show Rockstar a thing or two about how to truly make a “definitive edition!” This remake of the first Mafia game from 2002 truly transformed the game and brought it fully into the modern day. When I first played Mafia on the original Xbox I thought I was getting “Grand Theft Auto III in the ’30s,” but that doesn’t do the game justice. It’s an amazing story-driven action game in its own right.

2021 has been a year of disappointing “remasters” that, for the most part, have ended up feeling like barebones reskins or just repackaged re-releases. But Mafia: Definitive Edition, which came out in September 2020, is in a completely different league. If you missed this game the first time around, or if you haven’t played it since the early 2000s, it’s absolutely worth a buy.

Deal #11:
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Steam, 50% discount, £14.99

Since we’re talking about great remakes, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is another fantastic release. Comprising the first six games in the Halo series, all you’re missing is Halo 5 – and if you’re planning on playing Halo Infinite at some point soon, it’s definitely worth getting reacquainted with the long-running sci-fi shooter series.

The first couple of Halo games, which came out on the original Xbox, were certainly beginning to show their age in terms of visuals, so the overhaul was greatly appreciated! I have fond memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with friends – both co-operatively and competitively – so for me this one can be a bit of a nostalgia trip. For the price, getting six great first-person shooters feels like a steal, so this is an easy one to recommend.

Deal #12:
Control: Ultimate Edition
Steam, 70% discount, £10.49

I played through Control for the first time earlier this year, and I had a blast! It’s a spooky game in some ways, with the malevolent Hiss an ever-present and very unnerving adversary. Control has a very clever design, making creative use of what might otherwise be fairly bland office environments to tell a genuinely engaging and interesting supernatural story.

I found Control to be one of the most accessible games I’ve had the good fortune to play. With various modes and options to cater to players with differing abilities, Control went out of its way to be as open as possible. That’s something I feel more titles need to do as we move into the new console generation.

Deal #13:
Road 96
Steam, 20% discount, £13.56

Road 96 is a unique narrative experience that feels as if it was inspired by recent events! Taking place in a fictional country that resembles the American Southwest, players must make it to the border and escape from the authorities – undertaking a road trip and meeting dozens of interesting characters en route, each with their own stories to tell.

It’s a clever game with a great soundtrack and a neat premise, very heavy on story. Road 96 also has an artistic visual style that adds to the experience. If you’re in the market for something different, a single-player game that isn’t just about shooting, Road 96 might be the indie game for you!

Deal #14:
Banished
Steam, 66% discount, £5.09

Banished is a non-violent town-building game in which you have to carefully manage limited resources to keep the population healthy and happy. It’s almost deceptively simple but very tricky to master – even with all the hours I’ve logged it’s still a challenge!

I can’t get over the fact that Banished was made by one single person. Even if it had been made by a whole studio I’d still heap praise upon it, but the fact that this entire complex experience was put together by a single developer never fails to amaze me. There are some fun mods for Banished that the fan community has made in the years since its 2014 launch – some of which add whole new ways to play. For such a low price it’s an absolute steal!

Deal #15:
Jade Empire: Special Edition
Steam, 75% discount, £3.74

If you’re a fan of BioWare’s games, make sure that you didn’t miss out on Jade Empire! Released as an Xbox exclusive in 2005, Jade Empire is a role-playing game set in a world inspired by Chinese legends. It blends martial arts and magic in a truly fun and unique experience. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I feel Jade Empire gets somewhat overshadowed – but it should be hailed alongside those games!

All of the trademark BioWare elements are here: well-written characters, a story with multiple endings, building up a group of characters and taking them on a journey. If you’ve played any other modern BioWare title the gameplay will feel familiar – but the story is well worth experiencing for yourself.

Bonus:
Epic Games Coupon
Epic Games, £10/$10

This one isn’t a game! But for the duration of the holiday sale, Epic Games are offering a coupon with a value of £10, $10, or the equivalent in your local currency to spend on games priced over £13.99 or equivalent. The coupon is valid even for titles which are on sale provided they’re priced above £13.99, so it can be a great way to stack up the discounts. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 would be £14.99 on Epic Games, or Red Dead Redemption II would be £17.49.

So that’s it!

We’ve picked out fifteen deals from the various PC digital shops and their big winter sales. There are a ton more games on offer at this time of year, so have a browse and maybe treat yourself to something new to play over the holidays! I know that’s what I’ll be doing!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Halo Infinite: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Halo Infinite, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and other iterations of the Halo franchise.

After the longest gap in between games since the franchise began, Halo Infinite was finally released last week. I haven’t yet completed the campaign, but I’ve spent a couple of hours with the game so far – enough time to give you my first impressions and initial thoughts about Halo Infinite.

First up, make sure you choose the right version when you go to download it! I have Game Pass for PC, and on the homepage of the Xbox app there was a big Halo Infinite icon, so I clicked it and it began to download – taking hours on my painfully slow internet connection. When it was done I booted up the game… only to find I couldn’t play the campaign, just the multiplayer! The campaign is a separate download, so I had to wait another few hours for that. Not the best start – and this should really be made clearer on the Xbox app.

Promo art for Halo Infinite.

When I was able to load the campaign, I immediately encountered an issue with the audio. I usually play games with headphones on, but although my headphones were plugged in there was no audio. After some investigating, the only way I could find to fix it came from someone else who’d had a similar problem and shared their solution on a forum – I had to go into my PC’s sound settings and change my headphone settings. Something uncomplicated but stupidly obscure; how this person figured it out I’ve no idea! It worked fine after that – but again, Halo Infinite made a poor first impression as a result.

The game opens with a cut-scene showing the Master Chief being thrown into space by an alien monster – the leader of a villainous faction called the Banished. This villain, and a couple of other Banished leaders who we’re also introduced to in cut-scenes across the game’s opening act, all feel quite generic. The vocal performances were hammy and over-the-top, and I don’t really get the impression that the leaders of the Banished are anything other than “evil for the sake of it” kind of villains. By default this makes the game less compelling and less interesting!

The game opens with Master Chief getting beaten up by this guy.

I haven’t played Halo 5; it wasn’t included as part of The Master Chief Collection when that was released on PC a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t been released as a standalone title. But the pre-release marketing and chatter about Halo Infinite seemed to indicate that the game was some kind of soft renewal of the franchise and would be a good jumping-on point for players unfamiliar with the world and lore of the Halo series – a series which, lest we forget, has recently passed its twentieth anniversary. Based on my first couple of hours with the game, I have to disagree with that.

Halo Infinite feels like an unapologetic sequel. We don’t find out why the Master Chief happened to be aboard that starship, and pretty quickly as he retrieves not-Cortana from a nearby Halo ring the game seems to reference events that took place in Halo 5 – something about Cortana going rogue and needing to be deleted. At this point I feel pretty lost with the story, with Master Chief blindly shooting his way through waves of enemies without any readily apparent goal or purpose.

I didn’t play Halo 5 so I feel a bit lost with the story.

I took a decade off from the Halo games after Reach, and it was only when I got The Master Chief Collection on PC that I played the fourth game in the series and the ODST spin-off. So I’m not the world’s biggest Halo fan by any stretch, and maybe big fans of the franchise are having a whale of a time – if so, that’s fantastic. I don’t want to detract from anyone’s enjoyment by being an old sourpuss! But Halo Infinite’s story appears to rely heavily on what came before, so for new fans or for folks who’ve been out of the loop, maybe The Master Chief Collection would be a better way to get started.

I found a couple of very odd graphical bugs during my relatively short time with the game, too. During the second mission, when Master Chief has arrived at the Halo installation, doorways appeared to glitch out: they’d appear to be solid even after “opening” and it was possible to just clip through what looked like a solid, graphically buggy door. Then shortly after, every alien of a particular kind (I think the Elites) were also completely bugged, and they ended up looking all stretched out and just broken. It’s hard to put into words, so see the screenshots below (click or tap the images for a larger version):

All of this kind of added up to mean that the game left a weaker-than-expected first impression. I’d been excited for Halo Infinite; the prospect of a franchise I remember with fondness from the days of the original Xbox getting a soft renewal and a new coat of paint was something I found genuinely appealing. I want to like Halo Infinite – but the somewhat dense backstory, a villain who feels silly at best, and a handful of bugs and glitches that should really have been fixed before launch have definitely got in the way of that.

So that’s the bad stuff out of the way. But my experience with Halo Infinite so far hasn’t been entirely negative by any stretch. There is definitely a good game at its core, one with some truly exciting and fun sci-fi shooting. The guns that I’ve used so far have been varied, ranging from standard rifles and pistols to Halo staples like the Needler. Halo Infinite’s gunplay is fluid, the environments so far have been well-designed, and were it not for those few bugs and issues that I’ve encountered I’d be giving it a ten out of ten for its gameplay.

Halo Infinite has great gunplay.

As a multiplayer player-versus-player online shooter, which is what many folks come to Halo for, I think that bodes well. I can absolutely see it being a game that keeps players hooked well into 2022 and perhaps even beyond that, as there seem to be teases of a lot more multiplayer content to come. And that’s great… for people who like that kind of game. As someone who came to Halo Infinite for its campaign, I feel underwhelmed more than anything else. Halo Infinite’s campaign isn’t exactly bad, it just isn’t as good or well-written as I’d hoped it would be.

So far, in addition to the Master Chief I’ve met two major characters: a pilot and not-Cortana – an AI named “the Weapon.” Both characters seem interesting, and I’m definitely curious to see how their stories progress as the game goes on. The voice and motion-capture performances for both characters have been great so far, with some of the Weapon’s facial expressions in particular being extraordinarily well-animated. The Halo games have come a long way from their 2001 origins in that respect. Were it not for those graphical bugs I encountered, I’d say Halo Infinite makes the franchise look better than ever.

Not-Cortana… a.k.a. the Weapon.

So I guess I need to read a synopsis of Halo 5 or something… get myself caught up with all of the story that I missed (and all the other story that I’ve forgotten about!) Maybe then I’ll have a better time as I progress through the campaign. Halo Infinite has potential, but I guess what I’d say is that I’m glad I picked it up as part of Game Pass; I’d feel far less charitable about its flaws and shortcomings had I paid £55 for it.

If you’re only interested in multiplayer, I think Halo Infinite will be a fine shooter going through 2022. Of this year’s big first-person shooter releases, there’s surely no question that Halo Infinite is the best choice by far. Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard can’t compete, not by a long-shot. If you’re interested in the campaign, though, I think Halo Infinite isn’t as much of a soft reboot or fresh start as I was expecting – so make sure you’re caught up on what happened in previous games before you jump in.

Promo screenshot.

The bugs are disappointing, but so far they haven’t been so overwhelming that I felt the need to quit the game. Hopefully these issues can be patched out in the days ahead. There don’t seem to be as many reports of similar issues affecting the Xbox One or Xbox Series S/X version of the game, which is positive news for those of you using those platforms.

So that’s it, I guess. An unspectacular start, but not a terrible one. Halo Infinite could certainly do a lot worse, and in a first-person shooter market that increasingly only caters to the multiplayer crowd, it’s nice to see that Microsoft and Xbox are sticking with single-player campaigns. It’s also great that Halo Infinite got a simultaneous release on PC, and a day-one launch on Game Pass. Microsoft has become quite a player-friendly company in that regard, and I have to respect that.

If you already have Game Pass, it’s hard not to recommend Halo Infinite – you might as well give it a shot, at least. And its multiplayer mode is currently free-to-play for everyone, Game Pass subscriber or not. For £55/$60 though, the campaign alone might not be worth it. You’re probably better off signing up for Game Pass just for a month, beating the campaign, and then cancelling your subscription!

Halo Infinite is out now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Halo Infinite is also available via Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. The Halo series – including Halo Infinite – is the copyright of 343 Industries, Xbox Game Studios, and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s get hyped for Star Trek: Resurgence!

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.

I was blindsided by the recent announcement of Star Trek: Resurgence – a brand new video game set in the Star Trek galaxy. Though there have been a couple of crappy mobile games and the ever-present Star Trek Online, it’s been almost a decade since the last single-player video game in the Star Trek franchise… and that didn’t go too well!

On the whole, Star Trek as a franchise hasn’t been especially well-served in the video game realm, despite the fact that there’s always been a significant crossover between Trekkies and gamers. When compared to the Star Wars franchise, which boasts some truly excellent games, Star Trek titles have never really managed to cut through, and with only a couple of exceptions even the best Star Trek games have mostly been the preserve of existing fans.

A new Star Trek game is warping onto our screens!

Here’s hoping that Resurgence can change that! Early indications are actually pretty good: the game’s announcement came at the Game Awards, one of the biggest industry events outside of E3. Resurgence has been picked up by a number of gaming publications and websites, featuring on several lists of the “best announcements” made at the event. Because it’s been a while since there was a Star Trek game, I think that might actually work in Resurgence’s favour to an extent!

One of the main things that seems to have piqued the curiosity of many players is the pedigree of the developer: new studio Dramatic Labs. Dramatic Labs is a studio comprised of former writers and developers at Telltale Games, the studio behind titles like the incredibly well-received The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and the Batman adaptation. Many Telltale titles were exceptionally popular, with fans praising the quality of the writing and the unique branching stories that led to multiple narrative paths and several different endings.

The bridge of the USS Resolute.

I played through Telltale’s Batman game a few years ago and it was an enjoyable experience that was something different from many other titles. These narrative adventure games put storytelling and dialogue front-and-centre, allowing players to choose what to say at key moments and to influence the direction of the story through the choices they make. When I played through Batman it felt almost like an interactive film: a deep story, well-animated cut-scenes and sequences, but with many different moments at which I could choose what happened and which way the story would proceed.

The choices in games like these aren’t always obvious. In games like Mass Effect or Fallout, for example, there’s usually a “good guy” choice and a “bad guy” choice, sometimes with a neutral option thrown in for good measure. In Mass Effect you can, for example, choose to punch a news reporter or answer her questions, and in Fallout 3 you can choose to defuse a bomb or arm it and blow up a settlement. Both examples show how players can influence the story and shake up the game world, but in both cases it’s clearly telegraphed which are “good” and “bad” options. Telltale/Dramatic Labs titles don’t always make it so obvious!

Firing a phaser in the trailer.

For example, in the Batman game I mentioned, there are several points at which you have to make decisions that can have ramifications for the rest of the game but where the choice isn’t obvious. Choosing whether to save one character or another can end up creating a new villain to fight, or choosing to attend an event in costume as Batman can lead to a wholly different outcome than if Bruce Wayne attended without his disguise. These are just examples of the kind of branching narrative choices that Dramatic Labs is teasing us with in Resurgence.

We’re also promised third-person action sequences throughout Resurgence, and we saw examples of this in the trailer too. The official announcement also lists “shuttle piloting, phaser fights, tricorder scanning, stealth, and micro-gameplay mechanics” as things we’ll be able to do in the game. I’m not sure what “micro-gameplay mechanics” means in this instance; it sounds like it could be mini-games, and things like picking locks or computer hacking spring to mind as examples from other franchises. But it all sounds like a ton of fun!

Scanning with a tricorder.

From the trailer we got a glimpse of some of these systems in effect. There was a sequence with a character wearing an EV suit on what looked like the outer hull of a starship firing their phaser, a tricorder scanning sequence that looked like a lot of fun, and some sneaking around that was potentially representative of one of the stealth sections.

The idea of having two playable characters is fun, too, and we’ve seen a number of recent games do this to great effect. While we don’t know much at all about either of the playable characters, the fact that one is a senior bridge officer and the other is a non-commissioned engineer should mean we get to see two very different perspectives on the same story. Both characters should be approaching the situation from very different starting places, and that already sounds like something that could be a lot of fun. Aside from Chief O’Brien, we haven’t spent a lot of time with enlisted personnel before, and Resurgence might actually be the first time we’ve seen an enlisted crewperson as a playable video game character.

A familiar face!

It was so great to see Spock in the trailer, and I felt that the voice actor did a creditable job at imitating Leonard Nimoy’s iconic performance. Whether Spock will have a major role to play in the story isn’t clear at this stage, but as one of Star Trek’s most legendary characters his presence should be interesting at the very least. Dramatic Labs has also teased that there may be other “fan-favourite” characters included in the game, but no details yet on who those characters could be.

Dramatic Labs promise that players will “make those similar tough choices that iconic Star Trek heroes have been forced to contend with.” This is emphasising the narrative choice aspect of the game, and reinforces what I said earlier about the difficulty of some of the choices in games of this nature. The story seems to involve two alien races “on the brink of war” – I didn’t recognise either of the alien races seen in the trailer. Resurgence sounds enthralling, and I’m really excited to get stuck in.

Players will have to make some pretty tough calls in Resurgence

We need to set appropriate expectations, though, no matter how exciting it may be to finally get a new Star Trek game after such a long time! This isn’t going to be a sprawling adventure on the scale of something like Mass Effect, nor will it be an open-world title like Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a narrative adventure game, and that (hopefully) means that we’ll get a very strong and engaging story with a good degree of choice over how it proceeds. The third-person adventure elements look fun too, and I’m excited to try out things like phaser combat and tricorder scanning.

So keep an eye out for Resurgence when it arrives in the spring. Given the developers’ pedigree, I think Resurgence has the potential to appeal to fans of narrative titles and Telltale Games as well as Star Trek fans, and as long as the game is released in a bug-free state it has a lot of potential. Star Trek feels like a natural fit for a narrative adventure title, and it reminds me in some ways of games like Deep Space Nine: Harbinger and Hidden Evil from the late 1990s/early 2000s.

I’m trying not to get over-excited! I’ve been hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years, and hopefully Resurgence will be the first of many as the franchise continues to grow and expand. Regardless, I’m eagerly awaiting its Spring 2022 release! I hope you’ll come back when Resurgence is out for a full review.

Star Trek: Resurgence will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X in Spring 2022. Star Trek: Resurgence is the copyright of Dramatic Labs and ViacomCBS Consumer Products. The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Cyberpunk 2077 – one year later

It’s been exactly a year since Cyberpunk 2077 launched to critical derision, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at the game’s progress, lack of progress, and future prospects. On the 10th of December 2020, after several delays, Cyberpunk 2077 was released by CD Projekt Red – but that really isn’t the beginning of the story, and we should briefly step back and consider the absolutely ridiculous hype bubble that had grown around the game.

Here’s my two cents: no matter what state Cyberpunk 2077 had been in a year ago today, an awful lot of players would still have found it to be a disappointing experience. CD Projekt Red’s marketing team didn’t just passively sit by and allow the game’s hype to get out of control in the weeks and months before its launch, but they actively contributed to the problem.

How is Cyberpunk 2077 doing one year on?

For a bit of background, I worked for a time in the video games industry, specifically on the marketing side of things. While it’s natural for a publisher to want to see excitement around a title, care must be taken at an early stage not to allow the hype to get out of control. In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red’s marketing team seemed incapable of saying “no” – they weren’t doing a good job of managing players’ expectations, and the result was that many players built up a vision in their minds of a once-in-a-lifetime experience; a “perfect” video game. Cyberpunk 2077 was never going to live up to the hype that had been built up, no matter how good it might’ve been. At the end of the day, it’s just another video game.

I could see this hype bubble inflating, growing ever larger and slipping far out of CD Projekt Red’s control. In October 2020, a couple of months before the game’s launch, I wrote an article here on the website titled Cyberpunk 2077 and the dangers of hype in which I expressed exactly this opinion. No matter how good the game might ultimately be, I argued, CD Projekt Red had allowed the game’s hype bubble to get far too big. By allowing prospective players to set incredibly high expectations and refusing to lift a finger to rein in those expectations, the game’s publisher was setting up players for disappointment – as well as setting up the game for negative reviews.

I wrote this article back in October 2020 – before the game’s disastrous launch.

I couldn’t have known then, of course, how bad Cyberpunk 2077 was lining up to be. A last-second delay from November to December should’ve rung alarm bells, but with the pandemic causing all kinds of disruptions last year it wasn’t a huge shock. CD Projekt Red had a great reputation as being a player-friendly company, so if they said they needed a few extra weeks to give the game a final spit and polish, most players were willing to believe that that’s all it was.

Despite my scepticism of Cyberpunk 2077 being everything it was hyped up to be, I was still expecting to see a decent game in December 2020. When the dust settled, I felt sure there’d be a rock-solid role-playing first-person shooter under the hood, even if the game’s loftier promises of redefining what a single-player game could look like didn’t come to pass. To say that I was stunned by the state of the game at launch, and the reaction to it from players, would be an understatement!

Pre-release promotional artwork.

In early December 2020, CD Projekt Red could do no wrong in the eyes of players. The Polish studio’s previous title had been the critically-acclaimed The Witcher 3 in 2015, a game widely hailed as one of the best titles of the generation. With policies and practices that many folks felt were player-friendly, and a good social media team to boot, the company had one of the best reputations in the industry. That evaporated overnight, and a year later the company’s reputation remains in the toilet.

Players will put up with a lot of things – many scandals in the games industry, even very serious ones, usually end up disappearing without a trace by the time a publisher has the next AAA title ready to go. But one thing players can’t abide is being lied to – and CD Projekt Red lied about Cyberpunk 2077.

CD Projekt Red – developer and publisher of Cyberpunk 2077.

The game was not fit for purpose on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – and even today, a full year later, it still performs far worse on those machines than it does on high-end PCs and the newer generation of consoles. CD Projekt Red knew this – because at some point during Cyberpunk 2077′s development, a decision was clearly made to prioritise next-gen consoles over what were then the current-generation machines.

CD Projekt Red had a choice during development: scrap the current-gen version and go all-in on next-gen and PC, or scale the game back so that performance on older hardware would improve. They chose to do neither, doggedly (and stupidly) pushing ahead with a plan to release the game on hardware that, even under the best possible conditions, can’t really handle it. This problem has been lessened by the extra year of development time since release, but it hasn’t gone away. Bugs and glitches remain on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and actions taken to mitigate the game’s performance issues have meant that players see things like fewer pedestrians, less traffic, and get shorter draw distances. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players have ended up with a worse version of the game no matter how you look at things.

Cyberpunk 2077 was almost unplayable on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One when it was released.

I don’t believe for a second that CD Projekt Red’s management was blissfully unaware of the game’s impending problems this time last year. Their excuse that most developers were working on PCs so no one knew about the bugs and performance issues on home consoles is ludicrous in the extreme – and if anyone out there believes it, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. No, they knew full well that the game was not in a fit state for launch, but they went ahead and launched it anyway. And then, when things understandably went sideways, instead of coming clean and admitting they made a mistake, CD Projekt Red lied about it.

Cyberpunk 2077 is barely ready for release today, let alone a year ago. It needed many more months of development time to even get to this point, and I would argue that if it had been released today it would still have received criticism for its bugs, glitches, and other issues – especially on those older consoles. Not to mention that the overinflated hype bubble we discussed would have burst as players came to find a game that has some decidedly mediocre gameplay elements; things that other titles did better years ago.