The Last Of Us (TV Series): first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for The Last Of Us, both the TV series and the video game.

The Last Of Us is finally here! One of the television shows that I’ve been most keen to see over the past couple of years made its debut last week, and with two episodes under its belt, I think it’s a good time to share my first impressions of the show.

First of all, the narrative of The Last Of Us is just perfect for an adaptation like this. Video games have been notoriously difficult to successfully bring to the screen – but in my view, that’s because most previous attempts have been feature films, not television shows. A modern, serialised TV show is a far better option for almost all video game stories for one simple reason: length.

Concept art for The Last Of Us.

The Last Of Us was released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2013, and its main storyline took players anywhere from 16-20 hours, on average, to complete. There’s no way to condense a story like that into a film; even the longest works of cinema clock in around the three-hour mark. By choosing the small screen instead, Sony and developers Naughty Dog have played a masterstroke.

So before the show had even got started, it felt like there was a strong chance for success. If I’d have heard that The Last Of Us was going to be adapted as a film, I’d have been far less interested – because its complex, dark, and deeply emotional story needs more time to play out. And based on the first two episodes, it seems as though we’re in for a solid adaptation that doesn’t rush past or skip over key story points.

Pre-release still frame of Tess and Joel with a victim of the cordyceps infection.

I was worried that I’d find Pedro Pascal miscast as Joel, if I’m being honest. Although Pascal was solid in Game of Thrones, and I’ve enjoyed his performances in other titles, like last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – which you should really check out, by the way, as it’s a solid action-comedy – I wasn’t convinced that he was the right fit for this part. Pascal underwhelms me in The Mandalorian, his other big made-for-streaming series, but that’s more to do with the writing rather than the performance; The Mandalorian doesn’t give Pascal a chance to show his emotional range (nor any range at all, come to that) which is where he shines in The Last Of Us.

So I’m glad to have been proven wrong about that! The central pairing of Joel and Ellie is both the driving force of the plot of The Last Of Us and also its emotional core, and I think we’ve seen the beginnings of that in the show’s first couple of episodes. Again, this is something that builds up slowly, and the initial part of the story – the part that we’ve seen so far – put Ellie with other characters at first. But there’s a hint of good things to come in the pairing of Pedro Pascal and fellow Game of Thrones alum Bella Ramsey.

Pedro Pascal at the premiere of The Last Of Us.
Image Credit: IMDB

It’s not a stretch to say that The Last Of Us is one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Mechanically the game is solid, and its stealth-action gameplay is decent – but that was hardly innovative in 2013. What made the game special was its narrative; the game’s story was one I’d long felt was worthy of an adaptation like this. Bringing it to a new audience, as well as providing fans of the game with an adaptation worthy of such a remarkable story, was the challenge that befell HBO – and so far, it seems that they’ve risen to meet it.

Bringing the post-apocalyptic world of The Last Of Us to screen successfully required a huge financial investment – not only to secure big-name stars like Pedro Pascal, but to create intricate sets that reflect twenty years’ worth of decay, and to craft animation work that provides a sense of scale. HBO backed up the show’s creators with a decent budget, and as a result The Last Of Us recreates the game’s hauntingly beautiful world – with a few changes along the way!

The post-apocalyptic world of The Last Of Us is stunning.

I don’t know whether there will be a reason for the decision to change the time period in which the story is set other than perhaps an attempt to play on some kind of hidden early 2000s nostalgia… but maybe there will be more to it than that, we’ll have to see. In the original game, the infection broke out circa 2013 (the year the game was released) with the main story taking place in 2033-34. Perhaps the creators of the show hoped to use a kind of “look at what life could be like right now in an alternate timeline” thing, but if that’s all there is to it I don’t think it adds anything.

In a way, the show might be more relatable, not less, if it were set in the 2030s or 2040s, amidst the decaying remnants of today’s culture, rather than reflecting the way things were twenty years ago. There were what I interpreted as subtle digs at the George W Bush administration and the general post-9/11 culture of the United States in some of The Last Of Us’ scenes and dialogue, but this is something that, to be honest, has been explored in far more depth – and far better – in numerous other works, and again I don’t think it added anything of substance. However, I’m content to wait and see if the time period and other setting changes are going to be paid off later.

In the show, the outbreak occurred in 2003.

One thing that the show absolutely nails is its post-apocalyptic look. The faces of the characters are grimy and dirty from years of living in difficult conditions, the sets all show attention to detail with moss and mould, and every last element has been carefully crafted to simulate a world that is, for the most part, abandoned. CGI and animation work combine with practical effects and some very gruesome makeup to really sell the effect.

Two episodes in and I’ve already noticed multiple locations that look incredibly similar to the video game upon which the show was based. The flooded hotel in particular felt eerily familiar, and doubtless it would to anyone who played through The Last Of Us. There must be a temptation with an adaptation like this to shake things up and put the characters into different-looking spaces, but so far I’ve been struck by just how similar the locations have all felt.

The flooded hotel felt eerily familiar.

The series has made some changes, though, and one of the biggest ones that’s become apparent so far is the relationship between Tommy and Joel. In the video game, Joel was estranged from Tommy by the time of the main story, with Tommy having left to join the Fireflies – an anti-government group whose objective is to both end the military government and find a cure for the cordyceps infection. In the show, however, a big part of Joel’s motivation is to reunite with Tommy, who seems to be a resident of the Boston quarantine zone along with Joel and Tess. It remains to be seen how this change will impact the story, and whether there’s a deeper reason for it.

Another notable change came toward the end of the second episode, with the events that unfolded at the State Capitol also being quite different when compared to the video game – though this one was less impactful as it took the main characters to more or less the same place.

Tess and Joel at the Capitol.

I’m not any kind of “purist” opposed to changes like this, and if they serve the story well and create an engaging narrative, it should be fine. But I do think it’s noteworthy in any kind of adaptation – be that of a book, film, or video game – when narrative beats and characterisations are altered. The Last Of Us worked so well because it’s such a strong character-driven story… and I guess all I can say is that I hope that making changes to that story and its characters won’t have any ill effects or unintended consequences!

There are advantages to changing things up, though. While fans of the game should be confident that they’re familiar with the broad strokes of the plot, smaller changes and additions keep The Last Of Us fresh even for folks who may have played through its story multiple times. That’s a net positive, in my view, and never being quite sure what will happen next is almost always a good thing for a television show like this as it seeks to keep the tension and excitement levels high!

A new creation for the series.

The addition of a sequence set at the very beginning of the outbreak, following a scientist and military officers in Indonesia, was interesting, and the show seems to be making a bit more of an attempt than the game did to explain the origin of its cordyceps infection. Even if that sequence is all we’re going to see, I still think it was a good idea to include it. Changing the disease’s origin from “South America” to Indonesia is certainly an interesting choice, though, and again I wonder if this is something that will be paid off down the line.

The Last Of Us has a beautiful and understated piece of music as its main theme. The Americana-inspired tune is pitch-perfect for the series, and the short, modern title sequence is in line with a lot of other shows in the serialised space; shows from Star Trek: Picard to Game of Thrones have all used CGI sequences like this. I don’t think that The Last Of Us’ theme will become quite so recognisable and iconic as some others, but it’s a great piece in its own right.

Cover art for the original video game.

So let’s wrap things up! The Last Of Us is off to a great start. There are a couple of open questions; elements unique to the series or that have been changed from the source material, and I’m curious to see how that will play out as the story progresses. But overall, the show feels like a great adaptation. It’s easily one of the best video game adaptations that have been created so far, and certainly gives the Halo series on Paramount+ a run for its money!

For someone who isn’t a big horror fan, there were jumpscares and tense moments in The Last Of Us that were definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone as a viewer, but they were relatively few and far between in a complex, nuanced story that has plenty of other things to focus on. At no point did I feel I needed to switch off or skip ahead to get past a difficult or frightening sequence, and I think that’s to the show’s credit.

Above all, The Last Of Us is one of the most incredible and emotional stories that I’ve ever played through in a video game. Bringing that story to a wider audience and making it more accessible is a fantastic thing, and I hope that this series will succeed, bring in huge numbers of viewers, and introduce this wonderful story to a whole new group of folks – while still finding ways to keep it exciting and engaging for people who’ve already experienced it. Based on the first couple of episodes, there are plenty of reasons to think it’s up to the task!

The Last Of Us is broadcast on HBO and streams on HBO Max in the United States and is broadcast on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and HBO. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Why I can’t support Hogwarts Legacy or the Harry Potter series

This article deals with the sensitive subject of transphobia and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

When the Harry Potter books emerged in the late 1990s, I missed out on the craze at first. It was only around the time of the third book in the series that I was convinced to check them out; it had become an unavoidable phenomenon by then, and even though I was outside of the nominal target age range and had long since moved beyond kids’ stories, I felt that the Harry Potter stories were good fun and had a lot to offer. I even went as far as to pre-order a couple of the remaining titles, reading them as soon as they were available.

Although I was never “in” the Harry Potter fan community, I definitely held the books in high regard, and when the films came along I enjoyed those as well. Harry Potter became a point of pride, in a way, as a British person; in an entertainment landscape so utterly dominated by the United States, Hollywood, and American films and television shows, here was a distinctly British entertainment property that was taking the world by storm.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

When the Harry Potter film series came to an end at the beginning of the last decade, so too did my involvement with the franchise. I found the first Fantastic Beasts film to be poor, I wasn’t in a position to be able to see the Cursed Child stage play, and although I’d still have said that the films and books were decent, I was in no rush to go back and re-read or re-watch any of them. Harry Potter had come and gone for me – as indeed it had for most of its audience outside of the hard-core fandom.

The recent conversations around JK Rowling, prompted in large part by the upcoming video game Hogwarts Legacy, have dragged up the Harry Potter series for me, though, and it’s fair to say that my feelings have changed a lot since I first sat down to read the books more than twenty years ago. JK Rowling has leveraged the fame and money that Harry Potter brought her to go to some pretty dark places, and as a result I’m one of a growing number of people who can’t support, enjoy, or take part in the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts Legacy, or anything else related to it any longer. In this piece I want to explain, as best I can, why I feel that way.

Upcoming video game Hogwarts Legacy prompted this conversation.

First of all, I believe that each of us has an inalienable right not to be compelled, forced, or shamed into supporting a company, product, or public figure when what they say and do conflicts with our values and beliefs. This applies to conservatives who say they won’t support “woke” corporations and it applies equally to anyone who doesn’t want to lend their support to companies and individuals who express homophobic, transphobic, and other kinds of bigoted views. Whether we agree or disagree with someone about the importance of an issue, the fact remains that we all have the right to determine what’s important to us, where our values lie, and to try – insofar as possible in a corporate capitalist system – to avoid companies and entities that don’t share those beliefs and values.

This is the very definition of “voting with your wallet.”

It doesn’t have to be explained in such lofty philosophical terms, but this is basically what it boils down to. For some folks, JK Rowling’s transphobic public statements, her continued financial support for transphobic organisations, campaigns, and causes, as well as other decisions she’s taken and statements she’s made mean we don’t want to support Harry Potter, Hogwarts Legacy, or anything else in the franchise.

JK Rowling at the White House circa 2010.

Now I’d like to get into some of the reasons why I came to the decision to undertake what essentially amounts to a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy and Harry Potter.

I first started to feel uncomfortable with the way JK Rowling was treating the franchise when she began going back to the books and clumsily tried to insert characterisations and narrative elements that were simply not present – nor even implied to be present – in the original work. She seemed to be doing this for “internet points;” for the clout of being able to claim that she had actually created a series that was more progressive than it truly was.

What Rowling was attempting to accomplish with an unsubstantiated claim that, for instance, the character of Dumbledore was gay, was to award the Harry Potter series – and herself as its author – further prestige and recognition that was unearned. At a time when Rowling’s other endeavours were failing to come anywhere close to recapturing the magic (no pun intended) of Harry Potter, making very public statements about her only genuinely successful work was a way for her to retain a level of attention and relevance – and by keeping a spotlight on Harry Potter at a time when many of the series’ more casual readers and viewers were drifting away, it was a way to try to keep the cash flowing.

JK Rowling went back to the Harry Potter series and tried to arbitrarily insert character traits that didn’t exist.

Long before JK Rowling started down a path that would lead to overt transphobia, I think it was pretty obvious that she was someone who was struggling to let go of Harry Potter. By returning to the series to put out a sequel in the form of a stage play, signing another deal with Warner Bros. to make films based on the book Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and having the online forum/community Pottermore created, Rowling signalled both a desperation to stay in the spotlight and a cold-hearted greed as she sought to keep the money coming in.

But during this period, Rowling was more a figure of fun than anything harmful. Sure, it wasn’t great to see her trying to almost arbitrarily assign new sexualities and other traits to characters in the Harry Potter books, but it came across more as pathetic attention-seeking than anything malicious. Rowling saw that the LGBT+ movement was advancing, felt that the lack of open or even implicit LGBT+ characters in Harry Potter was hampering its ongoing success, and tried to remedy that in a pretty shameless way. It was sad, almost pitiable… but something I felt was, at most, worthy of being joked about.

JK Rowling with Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson in the early 2000s.
Image Credit: IMDB

JK Rowling’s very first public step down what we now know to be a transphobic path seemed pretty innocuous at first. I actually interpreted her Twitter post – in which she responded to an article by Devex that used the phrase “people who menstruate” – to be harmless wordplay. People who write a lot often like to play with words, as I can attest, and by sarcastically responding to the post it seemed, for a moment at least, that what she was doing wasn’t anything serious.

But over the following months and years, Rowling has clearly become increasingly transphobic.

Let’s define what we mean by “transphobia” so there are no misunderstandings. Someone who is transphobic has an irrational hatred toward transgender and gender non-conforming people. In this context we aren’t using “phobia” to refer to a fear, but to refer to dislike, disapproval, prejudice, discrimination, and/or hatred. And to be especially clear: if someone says they believe that transgender people, and trans women in particular, should be “treated with dignity,” but then refuse to even accept that transitioning is possible or oppose laws that would affirm someone’s true identity, they are transphobic. Saying they believe in treating people with “dignity” has become a buzzword in some right-wing circles, but if they can’t back up that word with any meaningful action, then it’s nothing but cover for something overtly harmful.

I hope we’re clear on our definitions now.

One half-serious Twitter post that may have been tone-deaf does not constitute transphobia, although it clearly hinted at a deeper dislike or disapproval of transgender and gender non-conforming people. But if that had been Rowling’s sole contribution to the debate, or if she had walked it back, apologised, or even simply ignored transgender issues thereafter, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But she didn’t – when faced with pushback, she doubled-down.

Although JK Rowling had begun to lose her status as the Harry Potter series slipped out of the mainstream cultural conversation, she was still someone who was held in high regard. She’d become far less important as Harry Potter began to be eclipsed by other, newer franchises, but if you had asked almost anyone throughout the 2010s about JK Rowling, chances are you’d have heard them say something positive about her – or at least about the Harry Potter series. This pushback that she got for her initial transphobic post was the first time since becoming a household name that she’d gotten any kind of major criticism in public – and it clearly had a huge psychological impact on her.

JK Rowling’s Twitter post from June 2020.

Rowling’s initial beliefs about sex, gender, and gender identity may be understandable, to an extent, because of the era in which she was born and the society in which she was raised. Even when I was at school in the ’90s, “sex education” lessons entirely excluded any mention of homosexuality, and the idea that someone could transition from one gender to another was never even discussed in any health or even biology lesson. If transgender people were mentioned at all, it was for the sake of mockery; “trannies” were the butts of jokes and figures of fun, and nothing more.

Some people of my generation still cling to those beliefs even as science and society have moved on in leaps and bounds – but thankfully, better education, increased awareness, and more scientific and sociological research into sex, gender, and gender identity have already changed minds. Unfortunately, though, people are using JK Rowling’s public and vocal transphobia to try to push back against the societal acceptance of trans people – and even to attack legislation that protects trans rights.

A protest in the UK in January 2023.
Image Credit: Sky News

Rowling herself has become the figurehead of this movement, and the current Conservative government in the UK has been able to turn the question of trans rights into what is insultingly termed the “trans debate,” in part using Rowling and others like her as cover for some seriously harmful legislation that either seeks to block the advance of trans rights in the UK, or in some cases, actively rolls back pre-existing trans rights.

This is the real crux of the JK Rowling problem: her status and wealth have allowed her free rein to spearhead one of the worst and most aggressive anti-trans campaigns anywhere in the western world, lending undue legitimacy and standing to a point of view that is mostly shared by a bizarre coalition of religious fundamentalists, paleoconservative reactionaries, and internet trolls. At a time when LGBT+ rights were advancing across the board, Rowling stepped in and has actively worked to push back against those rights, scoring some successes as the current Conservative government and its allies use her and the people who support her as a shield.

The current Conservative government in the UK is keen to oppose and roll back trans rights.

This is why I can’t “separate the art from the artist,” as some folks have suggested. Because what JK Rowling is doing is still happening and is continuing to actively cause harm to trans people, I find myself in a position where I can’t support the Harry Potter franchise. Moreover, with Rowling retaining ownership of the franchise, any purchase of books, films, video games, and other merchandise gets her a cut of the proceeds – and as we’ve just been discussing, Rowling uses some of her money to provide financial support to transphobic campaigns, causes, and organisations. I feel that making any new purchase of Harry Potter merchandise, at this time, is akin to donating to such causes myself – something I would categorically never do.

Last time we talked about JK Rowling we touched on this concept, which is referred to in some academic circles as “the death of the author.” Taken from the title of an essay by French critic Roland Barthes, “death of the author” is primarily about discovering one’s own interpretation of a published work independent from the original intent of the author and who they are or were – but I would very strongly argue that it doesn’t apply in this case, and that separating JK Rowling from Harry Potter is impossible as long as she remains in control of the franchise and continues to monetise it.

It isn’t possible to separate JK Rowling from Harry Potter.

There are plenty of authors and other creators whose work I would also choose not to support under similar circumstances – but they’re either long dead, no longer actively involved in their franchise, or their franchise has been taken over and moved on. This is the key difference, and while there are many, many creative people who were unpleasant or even harmful during their careers and lifetimes, JK Rowling is continuing to cause harm to her targets right now.

I also found some of JK Rowling’s recent attacks on the Harry Potter fan community to be pretty distasteful, showing how little respect or appreciation she has for the people who quite literally gave her the position and power that she’s wielding. In her recent book The Ink Black Heart, Rowling clumsily inserts a character as a stand-in for herself, then makes that character the target of an angry and murderous mob stemming from an online fan community. The book, much like everything else Rowling has tried outside of Harry Potter, got mixed reviews and didn’t sell especially well. But the intent was there – and Rowling has shown her true colours, sneering at and judging the very people who made her who she is.

The Ink Black Heart got mixed reviews.

One interesting thing that has come out of this whole unfortunate mess that is to the overall good, I feel, is a reevaluation of JK Rowling’s work and the Harry Potter series in particular. While the setting of Harry Potter captured the attention of a worldwide audience, there’s a reason why it’s always still referred to as “Harry Potter” instead of its official title: “the Wizarding World.” The world of Harry Potter doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and without its titular characters and the admittedly engaging story that they were part of, it doesn’t feel as though there’s anything else of substance there.

Look at franchises like Star Trek or Star Wars – deep world-building created rich, lived-in settings in which characters could get lost, where their skills and talents mattered and could be applied to any number of roles in those universes. Harry Potter, in contrast, is both shallow and inconsistent; a cobbled-together mix of English folklore, tropes of the fantasy setting, and even elements and narrative beats directly plagiarised from other literary works. It invented practically nothing new, and its few original elements are actually its weakest points. As a setting and a fictional world, it doesn’t survive more than a cursory glance.

The “Wizarding World” is not a well-constructed setting.

And that’s totally fine. Not every author can be brilliant, not every fictional setting can be wonderfully rich and deep, and for its intended purpose and target audience, there’s nothing wrong at all with the setting of the Harry Potter books. But it does raise a wry smile when I hear people leaping to its defence, claiming it’s a unique and brilliant fictional setting comparable with the likes of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It isn’t… and it was never meant to be. JK Rowling simply doesn’t possess the talent to create something anywhere close to that level.

There are some deeply troubling and problematic depictions within the Harry Potter books, too. Goblins who run the Wizarding World’s banks – and who are set to be a major villainous faction in Hogwarts Legacy – clearly and obviously draw on anti-semitic tropes and stereotypes. The Wizarding World practices slavery, enslaving “inferior” house elves to do the bidding of witches and wizards. And when, in the books, a character tries to point this out and campaign against it, she’s ridiculed not only by her friends, but really by the narrative itself. Harry even takes ownership of a house elf at one point, sending him to complete tasks for him; his own personal slave.

Kreacher, Harry’s personal house elf.

JK Rowling also seems to delight in making fun of people with different body types, using “ugliness” and fatness as indicators of maliciousness and evil. And, of course, Harry Potter falls into the trap of racial stereotyping, with its tiny number of minority characters being deeply problematic.

It’s actually been good to see more and more folks taking a critical eye to the Harry Potter series in light of the issues surrounding JK Rowling. Some criticisms of the books at the time of their publication and in the years since had been written off or just ignored – and for folks who always felt uncomfortable with certain aspects of the stories or the ways in which they treated marginalised and minority groups, it must be cathartic to find more support.

Katie Leung as Cho Chang in The Goblet of Fire.

I won’t ask anyone to boycott or refuse to purchase Harry Potter merchandise or Hogwarts Legacy, because I don’t think it’s my place to do that. This piece wasn’t intended to change minds or convince people on the fence to adopt a certain point of view. It was more a way for me to get my thoughts in order and share why, as someone who talks a fair amount about the video games industry here on the website, I won’t be covering Hogwarts Legacy this year. Hogwarts Legacy could end up being a bust, at the end of the day – an overhyped, mediocre video game not worth all of this fuss and bother.

As I said at the beginning, we all have the right to decide for ourselves which products, companies, and public figures we want to support – and which ones we don’t or can’t support. For me, Hogwarts Legacy and the entire Harry Potter series now fall firmly into the latter category, and unless there’s a massively compelling reason to discuss the franchise in future, I hope that this will be the last time I have to comment on it.

A replica of the Hogwarts Express steam locomotive.

I would love to see greater acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming people. I myself am non-binary, and it isn’t always easy in the UK in 2023 to be open about that. People like JK Rowling have caused and are continuing to cause harm to trans women in particular, and unfortunately her very public attacks on trans folks have been seized upon by people and organisations with pre-existing anti-trans views and agendas to halt and reverse trans rights.

Hogwarts Legacy and the Harry Potter series may not be openly transphobic in terms of narrative, but because a cut of the proceeds go to someone who is, and who uses the wealth, fame, and status she has to contribute to these causes, I’m now in a position where I can’t support them. As a consumer in a capitalist marketplace, all I can do is vote with my wallet – so that’s what I’m choosing to do.

I’m done with Harry Potter.

This is not an easy subject, and for people who are much greater fans of Harry Potter than I ever was, all I can really say is that I empathise with you. I keep thinking how I might feel if this kind of controversy were engulfing something I deeply care about, like Star Trek, and whether I could realistically cut off the entire Star Trek franchise as a point of principle. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do in that situation – so I sympathise with any Harry Potter fan who feels that way.

I also don’t think that many of the “hot takes” floating around on social media on this subject are doing anyone any favours. Viral videos proclaiming that anyone who purchases Hogwarts Legacy must be transphobic and is automatically a “bad person” don’t help the discourse around this complex and sensitive subject, and such polarising language arguably pushes away just as many people as it converts to this cause. So I feel that, while passions are understandably high, we need to try to approach these conversations, and our interlocutors on the other side of the debate, with as much calmness as possible.

So that’s it. I hope you now have a better understanding of why I can’t support Hogwarts Legacy and the Harry Potter series.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five highly-rated games that I couldn’t get into

I recently saw a video on TikTok of all places where a player was talking about their list of games that, for one reason or another, they had tried but didn’t like or couldn’t get the hang of. I’ve lost the video now and can’t find it to credit the person, unfortunately – so if you somehow see this please don’t think I’m stealing your idea! But I liked the concept, so today I wanted to talk for a few minutes about five highly-rated games that I just couldn’t get into.

A note before we start: these games are, according to most reviews, thoroughly enjoyable. The fact that I’m personally not interested in them, or couldn’t get to grips with them, is not meant as an attack. Chances are you’ll find some or all of these games to be great – and that’s okay! All of this is just the subjective opinion of one person. While I will try to explain what it was that put me off or what I didn’t like about each of these titles, I recognise that all of them are held in high regard. The fact that I didn’t enjoy them or couldn’t get stuck into them is a personal thing and nothing more!

It’s someone who isn’t enjoying a game!

The first games console I owned in the early 1990s was a Super Nintendo, and even back then I remember struggling with some particularly challenging titles. Gaming has not always been accessible to everyone – and I’m not the most skilled player in the world by any stretch. There were also games on the SNES that I tried out but didn’t like or wasn’t interested in, as there were on every subsequent console I owned, too! At least in those days it was easier to re-sell or trade in a game that I didn’t like!

As gaming has evolved, it’s become easier than ever to get started with playing games – and there are more titles more easily accessible on more platforms than ever before. But despite the ubiquity of gaming today, and the myriad titles in every imaginable genre, not every game is going to be right for every player!

So without further ado, let’s jump into my list.

Number 1:
Star Trek Online
2010

Promo art for Star Trek Online.

I’m a huge Star Trek fan and have been for more than thirty years. At a time when the Star Trek franchise had stepped out of its prime timeline to make the reboot film trilogy, Star Trek Online came along and promised to return to that setting and take a look at events after The Next Generation era, around the turn of the 25th Century.

This is exactly the time period that I was (and still am) most interested to see explored, so Star Trek Online should have been perfect for me! The game has also brought on board many Star Trek actors, both series regulars and guest-stars, to voice versions of their beloved characters. Storylines would take players to different eras of Star Trek’s history thanks to missions that travelled through time, and almost every Star Trek race was present – with several major factions being fully playable, too.

Several Star Trek Online characters.

I tried Star Trek Online shortly after it launched, and I even paid for some of its in-game currency and cosmetic items like uniforms. But despite sinking somewhere in the region of 35 hours into the game, I just couldn’t find a way to enjoy it, and I quickly felt that I was playing it more out of obligation and hope rather than for any real sense of fun.

I just can’t get on with online multiplayer games for the most part. In titles like Fall Guys I can have fun, and I’ve played some racing games online too, but in a game with a story where I want to get immersed in a fictional world and enjoy interacting with characters, seeing hundreds of other players cutting about just rips me right out of it. There can’t be 16,000 “one and only heroes” who are all the best hope for saving the galaxy… that just doesn’t make sense. So for me, Star Trek Online’s genuinely interesting stories and missions clashed in a fundamental, irreconcilable way with its gameplay.

Number 2:
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
2018

Box art for Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

I followed the development of Kingdom Come: Deliverance for a while, and in 2018 it was definitely one of the titles I was most interested to try out. I’m a history buff (it was the subject I read at university) and the idea of stepping into a realistic recreation of the high medieval period was genuinely exciting. Kingdom Come: Deliverance seemed to be offering a unique experience; an action/role-playing game but without the fantasy elements that are often present in the genre.

I like to think that I gave Kingdom Come: Deliverance a fair shake when I was able to eventually get the game for myself. But to my disappointment, I found it punishingly difficult to the point that it was basically unplayable. One day we’ll need to have a longer conversation about difficulty in games, because this is a big topic, but for now suffice to say that Kingdom Come: Deliverance didn’t respect me or my time.

A fistfight is part of why I called it quits…

By denying players the option to freely save their game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance forced me to replay long sections with no good reason. And with no way to turn down the difficulty, I found myself dying over and over even in what was supposed to be the introductory area. Combine those two things together and I was already having an incredibly frustrating time. I put Kingdom Come: Deliverance down and simply never went back to it.

Difficulty settings are accessibility features, opening up games to disabled players and players with different abilities. Moreover, they’re commonplace and not that hard to implement – there’s no technical reason why a modern game can’t offer a way to change the difficulty for players who want or need an easier experience. I don’t have the time or energy to spend hours and hours practising one aspect of one game, and I don’t really have the ability or skillset, either. Kingdom Come: Deliverance was basically denied to me as a result – and that’s unfortunate, because I genuinely wanted to play it.

Number 3:
Marvel’s Spider-Man
2018

Swinging through New York City!

Although I’m not the world’s biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, Marvel has been unavoidable over the past few years. I wouldn’t have normally sought out a superhero title, but Spider-Man is widely considered a masterpiece; one of the best open-world adventures certainly of the last generation. So I thought I’d give it a shot.

Perhaps it’s because I have no real investment in the world of Marvel or its characters, but I found that I just couldn’t get into Spider-Man’s story. Several hours into my playthrough I’d done a handful of story missions and spent a bit of time enjoying the scenery – the game’s recreation of New York City really is a sight to see, and one of the most interesting and vertical cityscapes ever brought into the gaming realm. But despite a great setting, the game’s version of New York seemed to be filled with bog-standard open-world busywork and little else; most encounters consisted of beating up a handful of nondescript thugs and bad guys.

Promo screenshot of Marvel’s Spider-Man.

At first I thought I was going to have a hard time with the web-swinging mechanic that’s a big part of how Spider-Man traverses the open world, but after a little while – and more than a few false starts and mistakes – I think I more or less got the hang of it. Swinging is pretty forgiving, and at least in the denser parts of the city, there’s no shortage of things to grab hold of. It’s certainly an unusual way to navigate a game world!

The game’s story included a number of Marvel villains and characters whose names were familiar to me, but I feel that without that investment in either the films or comic books, I just wasn’t particularly interested to see where the story and its characters went. I didn’t actively choose to stop playing Spider-Man – the game is actually still installed on my PC at time of writing – but I put it down one day and just… didn’t pick it back up. I found other things to watch and play instead, and I feel no pressing need to return to Spider-Man and see its story continue.

Number 4:
Elden Ring
2022

Many publications picked Elden Ring as their game of the year, and it’s considered by a lot of folks to be one of the best open-world games and one of the best “Souls-like” games of all-time. But as I said above when discussing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it’s that punishing difficulty that I found to be offputting.

FromSoftware – developers of both Elden Ring and the Dark Souls series – use this kind of excessive, punishing difficulty as a selling point in their games and have for years, but I’m not on board with it at all. Granted I’m not the world’s best gamer, and that’s probably part of it, but I also see this style of gameplay being used to cover up game mechanics and design elements that aren’t great, and especially to pad out the runtime of a game that would ordinarily be a lot shorter. Think about it: the combination of very difficult combat encounters and a checkpoint system that can mean having to replay entire chunks of the game over and over clearly adds to the runtime of titles like Elden Ring.

A familiar sight to anyone who’s played a “Souls-like” game!

This is much more of a subjective thing, but I felt that, despite having decent graphics, Elden Ring actually looked pretty bland. A colour palette that was swamped by brown, khaki, green, and grey tones just didn’t impress me, and the game had a pretty drab and even depressing look to it as a result. Maybe there was a reason for that, but it didn’t exactly leave a good impression.

At the end of the day, I’d have given Elden Ring a shot if the game offered difficulty and accessibility options. There’s absolutely no technical reason why every game in 2023 shouldn’t be able to do this – and while it’s a choice the developers made, and will presumably continue to make in future titles, it’s one that is intentionally cutting off millions of potential players. I knew from the second it was announced that Elden Ring wouldn’t be for me because I knew that the company developing it would ensure it would be a game I would find inaccessible. And that’s kind of sad, especially if it really is as good and as immersive as people have said.

Number 5:
Grand Theft Auto V (Online)
2013

Promo art for the game’s online mode.

I played through Grand Theft Auto V’s single-player campaign and I had a decent enough time with it. The open world is great – or at least it was by the standards of games a decade ago; it’s definitely showing its age by now! But the game’s online mode was, for the same kinds of reasons that we’ve already discussed, just something I couldn’t get into.

Grand Theft Auto V also feels remarkably pay-to-win for a game that costs money up-front, and probably deserves more blame than it gets for normalising in-game microtransactions and pay-to-win elements in online multiplayer games that we’ve seen explode in the decade since it was released. Other titles such as Fortnite and Overwatch definitely contributed to this as well, and the less said about the FIFA series or Battlefront II the better… but Grand Theft Auto V was doing the pay-to-win thing before any of them.

Racing is one of a number of activities players can partake in online.

By 2023 I had expected to see the Grand Theft Auto series move on, releasing a new game. And no, the awful “remaster” of the Grand Theft Auto III trilogy doesn’t count! Obviously this wasn’t an issue in 2013 or 2014, but as Grand Theft Auto V was ported to more and more platforms, including the latest generation of home consoles, there’s a growing sense that Rockstar is milking it dry, and is unwilling to let it go. Development time and resources than could – and I would argue should – have been allocated to the next game in the series have been taken up by creating new missions and microtransactions for Grand Theft Auto V. That’s great for folks who are still playing – but some of us are ready for a new game!

At the end of the day, when Grand Theft Auto V became the highest-grossing entertainment product of all-time, I guess it’s understandable that Rockstar would struggle to let it go. But on the other hand, with all the money it’s made them, there’s more than enough to spend on developing a new game! We know that Grand Theft Auto VI is being worked on, at least, but it’s taking an awfully long time.

So that’s it!

Did I just lose my “gamer” credentials?

Those are five highly-rated games that, for the reasons discussed above, I just couldn’t get into. If one or more of your favourites made the list, well… just keep in mind it’s only the opinion of one person! We’re all allowed our own preferences, and while I tried to explain what it was that made these titles unappealing or offputting to me, it’s all subjective. I recognise that these games are all bestsellers and held in high esteem by many players… they just weren’t right for me.

We’re lucky that gaming has grown to such a point where there are so many different choices available to players. These games aren’t my cup of tea… but there are many that I’ve enjoyed over the years – and many more coming up that I hope to enjoy in the months and years ahead! Whether you want to play a quiet, casual game for a spot of relaxation or punish yourself with an impossibly difficult title, there really is something for everyone. And I think that’s fantastic!

So I hope this was a bit of fun – and please try not to take it too seriously, especially if I made criticisms of one of your favourite titles!

All titles discussed 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.

Looking ahead to 2023

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

As a new year gets underway, it’s a good opportunity to look ahead. There are some exciting-sounding films, television series, and video games that are currently on the schedule for 2023, and on this occasion I thought it could be fun to pick out a few that I find particularly interesting and preview them! I’ll share some of my preliminary, pre-release thoughts on ten of each.

On balance, I don’t think 2022 will be held in particularly high esteem in future in terms of its entertainment experiences. There were some good ones, but there were also plenty of delays and projects that just underwhelmed for one reason or another. Will 2023 fare any better? That’s still an open question… but there are certainly some big releases on the horizon that could potentially excel.

What does 2023 have in store?

It’s time for a couple of caveats! First of all, delays can happen at any time in the creative process, especially in a war-torn, pandemic-disrupted world. As a result, any or even all of the films, shows, and games that we’re going to talk about today could miss their intended release dates or release windows – and there really isn’t anything we can do about that! I’m firmly in the camp that says delays are almost always a net positive; while never fun, I’d rather creatives spent longer working on a project to finish getting it ready rather than launching it too soon. We don’t need to look far for examples of how wrong that goes!

Finally, these projects seem interesting or exciting to me personally for one reason or another… in my subjective opinion! I’m not trying to say that these are or will be “objectively the best” releases of 2023, nor should the exclusion from the lists below be interpreted as any kind of snub. I’ve just picked out a few projects that I find to be of interest, and if you hate all of my picks or I’ve excluded some of your favourites, please just keep in mind that this is only the opinion of one person!

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

Films:

I confess that I didn’t see a lot of films in 2022. I can’t go to the cinema any more due to my declining health, and while practically every major title made its way to a streaming platform last year, there were some I just wasn’t interested in or found that I didn’t have the right mindset or headspace for. That’s just the way it goes sometimes! That being said, there are some interesting films on the schedule for this year, and I shall be keeping an eye out for these ten in particular!

Film #1:
The Super Mario Bros. Movie

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the two trailers we’ve seen so far for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The film looks like it’s going out of its way to stay as true as possible to its source material, while at the same time putting a twist on Mario’s adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom. The “hero who has to save a princess” trope has been rather overdone – and feels pretty outdated in 2023 in more ways than one – so seeing Luigi being held captive by the villainous Bowser and Mario working with Peach feels like it should be a great change of pace.

The inclusion of an all-star Hollywood cast has proven controversial in some quarters, but from what I’ve seen of the film so far, I will be surprised if most folks aren’t won over by the time the credits roll. There will be some die-hard haters – as there always are in any franchise any time something is changed – but overall, I have high hopes for this one. This film could easily be the best animated film of the year – and one of the best non-Disney animated films of the decade!

Film #2:
Dune: Part Two

The first part of Dune was a surprisingly strong adaptation of a book that has proven to be notoriously difficult to adapt. I had a fantastic time with it when it was released at the end of 2021, and I’ve been meaning to go back and re-watch it for some time now. I was concerned that this sequel might not see the light of day if Warner Bros. didn’t feel the first part did as well as they’d hoped – but fortunately there was no denying the critical and commercial success of Dune in 2021!

The cast from the first film are all reprising their roles, and director Denis Villeneuve is returning to the big chair. Filming officially wrapped a couple of months ago, and Dune: Part Two is well into post-production at this stage. A November release is on the cards, and I’m really excited to see the story continue.

Film #3:
Knock at the Cabin

Director M. Night Shyamalan has an inconsistent track record, and I suspect his career has been more harmed than helped by acquiring an early reputation as the “master of twists.” But regardless, he’s back with Knock at the Cabin in 2023, a psychological horror film about a family who are confronted by four people who claim to be trying to prevent the apocalypse.

The film’s premise sounds interesting to me, and a cast that features Jonathan Groff and Rupert Grint feels like it has potential. I wouldn’t say my expectations for Knock at the Cabin are sky-high, but we could certainly be in for one of the more interesting titles in the horror genre this year.

Film #4:
The Little Mermaid

To be blunt, I wasn’t blown away by the visuals in the teaser trailer for The Little Mermaid. The CGI looks fantastic, but the fully live-action moments didn’t feel convincingly “underwater,” and actually looked pretty amateurish. Assuming that Disney can figure out a way to pull off those underwater sequences convincingly, though, The Little Mermaid should be a creditable adaptation of the 1989 animated film.

Visual criticisms aside, I feel hopeful that this new version of The Little Mermaid will introduce the story to a new generation. While the animated film is still perfectly watchable in its own right, there’s nothing wrong with updating things and recreating the film for a younger audience, and Disney has a pretty good track record at doing so by now.

Film #5:
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Is it a great idea to bring back Indiana Jones for another adventure? As a child of the ’80s, I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the Indiana Jones films… but Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already a let-down. Dial of Destiny could redeem the series, ending Harrison Ford’s turn with the famous hat and whip on a high note – or it could double down on the disappointment!

This film is definitely one I’m placing in the “interested in” rather than “excited about” category. I don’t really have high hopes, but I’d love to be proven wrong. At the very least, I hope Dial of Destiny will be a passable popcorn adventure flick. Whether it will truly live up to its illustrious forebears… well, I’m less hopeful of that. If it succeeds at bringing in a wad of cash, though, I think we can expect to see reboots, prequels, and spin-offs in the years ahead!

Film #6:
Asteroid City

There isn’t a lot to go on with this film, billed as a “romantic comedy-drama.” But the director, Wes Anderson, has pedigree, and has put together a diverse ensemble cast that rivals his previous pictures, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel. The full cast list is far too long to include, but some of the standout performers for me that I’m interested to see include Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, and Scarlett Johansson.

Though I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one, it could be a lot of fun! The setting is the mid-1950s somewhere in the American Southwest, and some kind of “stargazer convention” will be part of the plot, too.

Film #7:
Wish

To mark the company’s centenary, Disney is going to release Wish – a film all about the “wishing star;” the star upon which characters in other Disney films have made their wishes. The star itself is going to be a character of sorts, but the film will also introduce a new cast of characters, including Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose of West Side Story fame.

Wish will also bring back a hand-drawn animation style, something Disney hasn’t used since The Princess and the Frog more than a decade ago. While we haven’t seen just how the film will look, some concept art has been released that looks absolutely beautiful. Disney’s big animated releases are almost always fantastic, and I have high hopes for Wish.

Film #8:
The Haunted Mansion

The third Disney entry on this list, The Haunted Mansion is the company’s latest attempt to turn a theme park ride into a film! No one would deny that Pirates of the Caribbean set a high bar for that concept a few years ago, but other attempts haven’t always worked! An adaptation of The Haunted Mansion twenty years ago (that I’m fairly sure I’ve seen but can’t really remember much about) starred Eddie Murphy, but even he couldn’t salvage what critics regarded as a picture that was average at best.

Jungle Cruise may not have been 2021’s film of the year, but I enjoyed it for what it was, so there’s definitely room for another theme park adaptation. The Haunted Mansion could be great to watch around Halloween; a kind of lighter, child-friendly horror title that will be spooky… but not too spooky!

Film #9:
65

65 has an unusual premise – an astronaut accidentally travels back in time to the era of the dinosaurs, and must figure out a way to survive. Adam Driver will take the lead in this sci-fi action-adventure, and his presence alone should make it worth checking out. Driver’s performances as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy were outstanding, and his turn as a divorcee in Marriage Story was Oscar-worthy in my opinion.

That being said, I can’t help but feel that 65 could go either way! Its premise could make for a different kind of sci-fi title in a genre overrun by sequels and comic book adaptations… or it could turn out to be an overblown B-movie that didn’t deserve a leading man of such quality! Time will tell… but I’m definitely interested to see how it shakes out.

Film #10:
Napoleon

Ridley Scott will direct this historical epic that focuses on the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte. Scott has a great track record, with films like Alien and Thelma & Louise under his belt, but an earlier attempt at an historical epic – 1492: Conquest of Paradise – was not particularly well-received! Could this be a chance for redemption for the director in the genre?

The title role has gone to Joaquin Phoenix, and that feels like it could be an inspired choice. Backed up by a cast that features Ben Miles and Vanessa Kirby, I’ll be curious to see what Napoleon has to offer when it releases. The film will be an Apple TV+ exclusive, which is also a point of note.

Television Series:

2023 looks set to be another year where franchises, spin-offs, and continuations of ongoing stories dominate the television landscape. There are several big shows whose new seasons I’m eagerly anticipating, but it feels like there are fewer wholly original projects to look forward to. That being said, there were some great new stories in 2022 – so hopefully this year will bring along some surprises, too!

Television Series #1:
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Season 2

Strange New Worlds was truly outstanding in its first season, blending old-school episodic storytelling with modern serialised elements. As much as I like what Discovery and Picard have done with season-long story arcs, the approach used by Strange New Worlds should, in my view at least, serve as a model for the entire Star Trek franchise going forward.

The show’s second season wrapped months ago – and I will be positively stunned if we don’t get an announcement that a third season is being worked on sometime before Season 2 premieres this spring. I absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with Captain Pike, Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise!

Television Series #2:
Hailey’s On It!

Hailey’s On It! is a Disney Channel animated series that will feature Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho in its leading role. The premise sounds interesting – a young woman must step outside of her comfort zone and confront her fears in order to “save the world.” And with Cravalho leading the charge, I think there’s the potential for the show to be something a little more than just a distraction that parents can use to get a few minutes’ peace!

The animation style shown off in concept art looks fantastic, and while I wouldn’t normally say that I’m excited for a new Disney Channel cartoon, I feel hopeful, at least, that Hailey’s On It! could be the kind of kids’ show that has something to offer to a grown-up audience as well.

Television Series #3:
Star Trek: Picard
Season 3

After a decidedly lacklustre second season, my disappointment was compounded by the announcement that all but one of the new characters introduced in Picard will not be returning for the show’s final outing. Season 3 has a lot of work to do, then, to pull out a satisfying ending to what has been a troubled production. If the trailers and teasers are anything to go by, it just might be up to the task after all!

The return of main characters from The Next Generation feels bittersweet because of who had to be unceremoniously kicked off stage to make room for them. This season could be a roaring return to form, or it could drown in failed attempts to play the nostalgia card. I’m absolutely hoping for the former… but trying to prepare myself for the latter.

Television Series #4:
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Season 2

It isn’t entirely clear when The Rings of Power’s second season might be ready. Filming only started in October, and a series with such extensive post-production work may take a while. That’s not to mention that Season 2 is being filmed in new locations, and may even serve as somewhat of a soft reboot of a series that proved controversial in some quarters.

Despite that, however, I called The Rings of Power my favourite television series of 2022, so I’m incredibly excited to see what happens next. The first season ended with several massive cliffhangers for both individual characters and for the story as a whole, so it’ll be great to see the next chapter of this fantasy epic unfold.

Television Series #5:
Star Trek: Discovery
Season 5

Discovery’s fourth season ended on a high, with what is almost certainly one of the best episodes that the show has ever produced. I was concerned that the show would attempt yet another recycling of the old “the entire galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!!!” narrative framework that has been used four times now… but thankfully, based on the first trailer and comments from the show’s producers, it seems as though Discovery will finally be bold enough to try something different!

As a result, my excitement for Season 5 grew immensely! Although Season 4 dragged in parts, on the whole I think it marks a turning point in the show’s run, and the addition of some wonderful secondary characters to the cast has given new life to a series that is rapidly approaching its sixth anniversary and sixty-fifth episode. Season 5 could build on what Season 4 did, taking these well-rounded characters to new thematic and storytelling places.

Television Series #6:
Masters of the Air

Produced by the same team that created Band of Brothers and The Pacific, this new World War II drama will follow the stories of members of the United States Army Air Forces – the precursor to the Air Force. The miniseries seems to be following a similar format to its popular predecessors, with an expansive cast of characters, almost all of whom are based on real people. Masters of the Air is based on a biography of the unit that was published in 2007.

I’m expecting a tightly-focused story with plenty of character. CGI and visual effects have improved since Band of Brothers premiered, so I’d hope that the show will look fantastic and really succeed at bringing World War II to life on the small screen.

Television Series #7:
Shōgun

The second adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel has a lot to live up to! An earlier adaptation, made in 1980, was one of the most popular shows of the year, and with a troubled production that saw scripts scrapped and rewritten, new showrunners brought on board, and a shoot that overran by two months… let’s just say that Shōgun has work to do.

But the story, set in 17th Century Japan, is an interesting one, and there’s potential in this new adaptation to see it introduced to legions of new fans. A shipwreck sets up the story of a “fish-out-of-water” hero in an unfamiliar land, and the palace intrigue at the castle of the titular Shōgun could rival the very best drama series of the year.

Television Series #8:
The Last Of Us

Video game adaptations are notoriously difficult, but The Last Of Us has an all-star cast, a sky-high budget, and crucially, it seems to have won over many fans of the video game. The Last Of Us is one of the best video game narratives that I’ve ever experienced, and it feels like a natural fit for a serialised drama series; the story would certainly be far too long to condense into a film. So I’m hopeful that – finally – a video game adaptation will get the accolades it deserves!

Moreover, I’m really excited to be able to show this fascinating and unique horror-drama story to friends and family members who have no interest in gaming. The story of The Last Of Us is fabulous and absolutely deserves to find a bigger audience. There’s reason to hope that this adaptation will be up to the task.

Television Series #9:
Halo
Season 2

I enjoyed what the Halo series did in its first season, all things considered. It succeeded at bringing the long-running video game franchise to the small screen, adapting its story to fit the new format and making a few changes along the way. Some of those changes proved controversial – as such things always do – and I can certainly entertain the argument that there was less action than fans were hoping for.

But Halo will press on, potentially taking on board some of those criticisms, and it’s my hope that Season 2 will build on the accomplishments of Season 1 to progress the story in an enjoyable way. The first season had some great performances, clever cinematography that incorporated a first-person perspective during key sequences, and a mysterious story that will have kept even fans of the games guessing. I’m interested, and dare I say even excited, to see more.

Television Series #10:
Faraway Downs

I am joking. This is a joke. Nobody should ever be tortured into watching Faraway Downs. I can honestly think of nothing less appealing than watching an extended, reworked version of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia – quite possibly the worst film that I have ever had the misfortune to see. When I heard that Luhrmann was planning to use cut footage to expand Australia into a six-part miniseries I was flabbergasted. Who on earth would possibly want to see this? Was anyone asking for it to be made?

I’d rather trek to the bottom of the garden, heave the lid off the septic tank, and spend six hours staring unblinkingly at the festering sewage within.

Television Series #10:
The Three-Body Problem

China can often feel like a world unto itself; western productions struggle to cross over, and Chinese productions seldom attract mainstream attention over here. The Three-Body Problem is an adaptation of a Chinese sci-fi novel (or rather, the first part of a trio of novels) and is helmed by Game of Thrones’ showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss.

I haven’t read The Three-Body Problem, but the premise sounds absolutely fascinating to me. Benioff and Weiss have proven themselves capable when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen – at least, completed novels – so there’s reason to hope that The Three-Body Problem will be interesting and entertaining in equal measure. This one could easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of Foundation in the sci-fi genre.

Video Games:

There are some massive releases on the schedule for 2023 – several of which were originally promised for last year! If even one of these big titles succeeds, 2023 will already be a great year for gaming. Single-player games are definitely holding the line in an industry where online multiplayer continues to bring in the big bucks, so there are plenty of reasons to think that 2023 could actually turn out to be a fantastic year for the medium.

Video Game #1:
Tchia

I’ve been tracking the progress of this amazing-looking indie game for more than a year, and it looks like 2023 could be Tchia’s moment. Based on legends from the developers’ New Caledonia home, Tchia will see players take on the role of a young girl on a quest to rescue her father. In addition to platforming and action-adventure gameplay in an open-world archipelago based on the island of New Caledonia, the ambitious game promises to unleash players’ creativity – and even includes a playable ukulele!

There have been some fantastic debut games by indie studios in recent years. My game of the year in 2021 was Kena: Bridge of Spirits – and without wanting to raise expectations too high, at least part of me is hoping that Tchia might just reach that same high bar.

Video Game #2:
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
DLC: Booster Course Pass Waves 4, 5, and 6

You might think it a cheat to include a piece of downloadable content on this list, but it’s my list so that’s just tough! Although I was disappointed not to see a wholly new Mario Kart title in 2022, the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been a surprising amount of fun. Not only have racetracks from past games in the series been updated and made welcome returns, but wholly new tracks have been created, too.

The Booster Course Pass is only half-finished, and three more waves are planned for 2023. Specific dates aren’t known, nor is it certain which racetracks will be appearing, but I’m nevertheless excited to have more Mario Kart to get stuck into!

Video Game #3:
Star Trek: Resurgence

A narrative adventure game with a branching storyline sounds like a perfect fit for the Star Trek franchise. After years in which no new Star Trek games had been licensed for PC or home consoles, two have come along within a few months of each other; Resurgence is hot on the heels of last year’s Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, which I really must get around to playing!

The game is being developed by folks who used to work for studio Telltale Games, a developer whose games were often praised for their narratives. I’m hopeful that, after a drought of games for Trekkies who aren’t interested in the online multiplayer scene, Resurgence will be a welcome return to the video game realm for the Star Trek franchise.

Video Game #4:
Disney Speedstorm

Developers Gameloft worked with Disney and created my favourite gaming experience of 2022: Disney Dreamlight Valley. Having taken Nintendo’s Animal Crossing formula and massively improved upon it… could they be about to do the same thing by creating a Disney-based rival to the Mario Kart series? Maybe that’s expecting too much… but Disney Speedstorm looks like a ton of fun!

I like casual, arcade-style racing games, and I’m a pretty big Disney fan, too. Bring those two things together and I hope it’ll be a fun time.

Video Game #5:
Starfield

One of the year’s biggest releases has to be Bethesda’s Starfield – the company’s first foray into a wholly new world in a quarter of a century. An epic sci-fi adventure has been promised, with all of the hallmarks of past Bethesda titles: joinable factions, a huge mix of varied side-quests, diverse non-player characters to interact with, customisation of every facet of your character, and much more besides.

Starfield will also give players the opportunity to design and upgrade their very own spaceship, before setting off to journey to one of a thousand different planets across dozens of star systems. Starfield is ambitious, and while there are certainly things that give me pause – such as Bethesda’s insistence on reusing its outdated game engine – I can already feel myself getting swept along by a growing hype train!

Video Game #6:
The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria

I confess that I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this one. The game promises base-building and adventures in the Dwarven realm of Moria, set years after The Lord of the Rings as the Dwarves seek to reclaim their abandoned halls. It sounds as if the game will be set up for multiplayer – though the official blurb promises that it can be played solo, too.

There’s something about an underground setting that harkens back to the days of dungeon-crawler games, and the subterranean setting combined with the lore of Tolkien’s Middle-earth could make for a genuinely exciting title. I’m curious and perhaps a little hopeful of having some fun adventures deep underground!

Video Game #7:
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

The much-anticipated sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order is almost ready! The game – which I played through back in 2020 – is one of the best Star Wars experiences I’ve had in recent years, and it was left open-ended by the time the credits rolled. Finding out what happens next for Cal Kestis, the former Jedi padawan, is something I’m really interested in!

Jedi: Survivor seems to have taken the gameplay of Fallen Order and expanded upon it, giving Cal new weapons and abilities – and at least one new companion, too. I recently played through it for a second time, which seems to be perfect timing with the sequel coming up! I really can’t wait to join Cal and the crew of the Stinger Mantis for another adventure in a galaxy far, far away.

Video Game #8:
Forspoken

Unlike many action-adventure titles, it seems as though Forspoken will focus much more on magic and spell-casting – something that could be absolutely fascinating. Set in an open-world, the game will follow the story of Frey, a young woman from our world who finds herself transported into a mysterious realm where magic exists and must find her way home.

Forspoken hadn’t really been on my radar until recently, but I’m now genuinely looking forward to it.

Video Game #9:
Perfect Dark

Though unconfirmed at this stage, Xbox’s Perfect Dark remake/reimagining would be well-timed if it should be ready this year – because the original game on the Nintendo 64 was set in 2023! Perfect Dark was originally created by Rare, hot on the heels of their success with Goldeneye 007 on the same platform, and it was a ton of fun when it released in the year 2000.

I’m genuinely curious to see what a recreated Perfect Dark might look like. Could it kick off another first-person shooter series for Xbox… and, perhaps more importantly, for Microsoft’s Game Pass service? I think that’s a possibility – but my main hope is that the single-player campaign will be fun to play through!

Video Game #10:
EA Sports FC

Bear with me on this one, okay? I know football (soccer) isn’t everyone’s favourite thing, and I know that sports games – and especially Electronic Arts’ sports games – have been particularly scummy with their in-game gambling and monetisation. But for the first time since EA published FIFA International Soccer in 1993, the corporation won’t have the official license or naming rights from world football’s governing body. That could mean we’re about to witness a sea change in the series… or it could lead to nothing of consequence at all!

Nevertheless, I’m curious to see what changes – if any – will come about as a result of EA and FIFA going their separate ways. Will EA Sports FC be noticeably different from recent entries in the FIFA series? We’ll find out later this year!

So that’s it!

We’ve picked out ten films, ten television shows, and ten video games to watch out for as 2023 gets underway. There will be many surprises along the way, I have no doubt, and it’s possible that some of the entertainment experiences that I’m excited in right now will either end up being disappointments or won’t even make it out of the door this year. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get some exciting, dramatic, and just plain fun stories to enjoy between now and Christmas!

There are definitely things to look forward to. I’ll try to cover at least some of these titles with reviews, first impressions, and general commentary here on the website over the next twelve months. I hope that you found this interesting, and that it was a fun, positive look ahead to some of what I hope will be the entertainment highlights of 2023.

Until next time!

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

End-of-Year Awards 2022

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers may be present for some of these titles.

As we enter the final hours of 2022, it’s time to look back at the entertainment experiences that we’ve enjoyed – as well as a few that we didn’t enjoy all that much! I’ve cobbled together a few categories from the world of television, film, and video games, and today I’m going to hand out some highly-coveted Trekking with Dennis Awards to some of my favourites!

You’ll find a couple of titles from the tail end of 2021 on this list; I reckon anything released in December is fair game as those titles often get the short end of the stick when it comes to lists like these. Some outlets put together their “best of” lists way back at the start of December, which is far too early in my opinion! But we’re drifting off-topic already!

It’s time to hand out my End-of-Year Awards!

There are plenty of titles that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get around to this year – so for reasons that I hope are obvious they can’t be included. I’m only one person and I don’t have every minute of the day to devote to these pursuits, so the exclusion from this list of certain big titles shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of deliberate snub!

And as always, a caveat before we begin: all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. I may give an award to a production you vehemently hate, or talk negatively about something you enjoyed, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be a bit of fun. Feel free to disagree with any or all of my picks – but there’s no need to take any of it too seriously!

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

Best Television Miniseries/Limited Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Five Days At Memorial

Five Days At Memorial had the challenging task of dramatising a real-world event – and a gruelling one at that. I remember the harrowing news reports in 2005 showing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I could absolutely understand why some folks might feel it’s too soon to make a programme like this. But for my money, Five Days At Memorial did a good job at adapting the events at Memorial Hospital as delicately as possible, staying true to what happened while still making the story engrossing and understandable for viewers.

The fact that Five Days At Memorial shows what happened at Memorial Hospital from two very different angles felt a bit strange at first, but by doing so the series lends the events the challenging ambiguity that they continue to have. By refusing to come down on one side or another – to condemn as guilty or exonerate Dr Pou – Five Days At Memorial strikes the right balance. There was some choppy editing in some sequences that meant the miniseries didn’t feel as smooth as it could’ve, but other than that it was a very interesting look at a very difficult moment in the recent past.

🏆 Winner 🏆
1899

Netflix original 1899 is taking the crown in this category this year. The show goes on a wild and unpredictable ride, blending themes of mental health that resonated strongly with me with mystery and psychological horror. The multilingual series is, in my view, best enjoyed without being dubbed, as the different characters and the language barriers between them are key elements in the story at several crucial junctures.

I was first attracted to 1899 because of its setting – both in time, at the end of the 19th Century, and on a boat making a transatlantic voyage. But what I found when I got started was one of the most unique and different television productions that I’ve seen in a long time. 1899 may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it absolutely riveting all the way through.

Worst Television Series:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Obi-Wan Kenobi

After I’d enjoyed what The Book of Boba Fett brought to the table, I felt a pang of hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi might at least be passable. But it wasn’t to be, and the series was a horrible slog through the absolute worst kind of tacked-on story that used increasingly desperate nostalgia plays to try to recreate some of the magic that, frankly, Star Wars hasn’t had since the ’80s.

Say it with me, folks: it’s time for Star Wars to move on! The vast sandbox that is the Star Wars galaxy has trillions of inhabitants, millions of star systems, thousands of planets, and hundreds of factions and organisations – and tens of thousands of years of history that could explore any of them. For more than forty years, Star Wars has been laser-focused on the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of this wonderful setting, but it’s over. If Star Wars is to survive, something’s gotta change. Obi-Wan Kenobi proved that.

Best Television Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Halo

Halo wasn’t spectacular, but as the first real attempt to bring the long-running video game franchise into a new medium, it got a lot right. The story it told was a riff on the familiar story that fans will remember from the games, but there were important differences which not only kept the mystery going, but also gave genuine characterisation to the Master Chief.

In terms of cinematography, I liked the way that Halo incorporated some first-person sequences into its action-heavy moments. This could have easily felt like a gimmick, but the way it was done – and crucially, not overdone – made it feel like a throwback to the series’ source material while also mixing things up in the television space. Halo used a fairly standard format that would be familiar to anyone who’s seen a made-for-streaming television show in the past few years, with a slowly unfolding mystery, multiple storylines, and characters who grow and change over the course of the series. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, and I certainly get the argument that it wasn’t as action-packed as some fans might’ve wanted. But it was, all in all, a decent bit of sci-fi.

🏆 Winner 🏆
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power had a lot of work to do to impress me. It had to live up to the legacy of the trilogy of films from a few years ago. It had to show that it could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher, and other big-budget productions in the fantasy space. And, to be blunt, it had to justify its billion-dollar price tag.

Whether The Rings of Power managed to accomplish all of those goals in its first season is still arguably an open question. But it certainly laid the groundwork for what should be a television spectacular, and it was, on balance, probably the best show I’ve seen this year. When I was at a low ebb in the autumn and didn’t have the energy or headspace for watching many new things, The Rings of Power was the one show that I made time for. Sure, there were big battles and other CGI spectaculars, but there were also some genuinely wonderful performances that brought to life some incredible character-focused storytelling. I can’t wait for Season 2!

Best Web Series:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
How To Cake It

After a hiatus of more than a year, YouTube show How To Cake It made a welcome return this year. This time, there’s less of a focus on the kind of attention-grabbing, visually spectacular cakes that look like rocket ships or Princess Elsa or a completely different food, and I think that’s actually been a positive thing! Host Yolanda Gampp has branched out, doing much more of a variety when it comes to baking. Some highlights include flavoured cookies, baklava, and even popcorn.

As often happens when a web series takes an extended break, recent episodes of How To Cake It haven’t been doing the same numbers as the series used to get. But I hope that, as time goes by, it will pick up some of those wayward viewers – and perhaps bring on board a whole host of new ones, too. This new version of How To Cake It seems to be making more down-to-earth recipes that you or I might feel brave enough to attempt, rather than showing off impressive designs that only a master baker could create. For me at least, that’s a great thing, and I hope to see much more from Yolanda and the team in the new year.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Anti-Chef

If How To Cake It shows a master at work, Anti-Chef – as the name suggests – is the complete opposite! The show is a lot of fun, and Jamie, the host, isn’t shy about sharing his failures in the kitchen as he works his way through some very complicated recipes. Though he’s not a total newbie any more, many of the techniques in the recipes he challenges himself to try are very advanced, and the personal, relatable style makes me feel like I’m right there in the kitchen.

I love a good cooking show, and as much fun as it can be to see an experienced chef at work, it can be even more entertaining to see an inexperienced home cook tackling some of these recipes. Anti-Chef has given me a lot of laughs this year – but also some cooking tips and inspiration, too.

The Worst of Star Trek:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Most of Picard Season 2

I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to call out Picard Season 2, but I think it’s earned a place on this list. The first episode of Season 2 was absolutely fantastic, and if the rest of the season had been anywhere close to that level, we’d be talking about Picard as the best show of the year. But unfortunately things took a pretty sharp nose-dive after the second episode of the season, with Picard and his crew wandering aimlessly for much of the season in a present-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring or enjoyable in the least.

By the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the season finale, the damage had been done, and despite Farewell pulling out a decent ending, this disconnected, disjointed, overly-long story has to go down as one of Star Trek’s big misses – perhaps even one of the biggest missteps in the franchise’s history. There were individual elements in most episodes that I can honestly say that I enjoyed… but Picard Season 2 overall feels like a massive disappointment.

Star Trek’s Biggest Surprises:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Kobayashi
Star Trek: Prodigy

We ought to talk more about Prodigy here on the website – and I hope we will next year! But for now, the episode Kobayashi came out of nowhere in January to be one of the biggest surprises in the show’s first season. The Kobayashi Maru training programme famously tests would-be captains in a “no-win scenario,” and you wouldn’t think that premise would lead to such a genuinely heartwarming and wholesome episode – but as a longstanding fan, I really appreciated what Kobayashi brought to the table.

Without giving too much away, the Kobayashi Maru scenario plays out on the holodeck, and a cast of fan-favourite Star Trek characters all join in on the action. It’s a nostalgic treat – but it doesn’t overplay its hand, keeping a tight focus on the new characters introduced in Prodigy.

🏆 Winner 🏆
All Those Who Wander
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Strange New Worlds had an incredible first season, showing off a varied, episodic approach in which it wasn’t shy about trying out many different genres. All Those Who Wander draws inspiration from the likes of The Thing and Alien to create a tense, claustrophobic sense of horror aboard a crashed starship.

It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoiler territory – and of all the episodes in Season 1, All Those Who Wander has to be the most important to go into un-spoiled! Suffice to say that the episode takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone, but never crosses that line. It’s an intense experience, and one that shows just how incredible Star Trek can be when it throws itself into another genre.

The Best of Star Trek:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Coming Home
Star Trek: Discovery

Discovery’s fourth season plodded along, in places, and definitely teased us with mysterious factions and characters that ultimately turned out to be brand-new. But by the time the season finale rolled around, most of that was already settled. What we got was an incredibly emotional episode that saw Captain Burnham and the crew racing against time to reach an unknown, uncontacted alien race.

There were resolutions to disagreements between characters, several incredibly dramatic moments, and a storyline involving Admiral Vance at Federation HQ that showed off Starfleet and the Federation at their very best. Coming Home is, without a doubt, one of Discovery’s very best episodes.

🏆 Winner 🏆
A Quality of Mercy
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Captain Pike gets a visit from “the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come” in A Quality of Mercy – and the episode is incredible. In Discovery Season 2, when it became apparent that Captain Pike knew in advance that he was going to suffer a debilitating accident, an obvious question would be “why didn’t he try to prevent it?” And A Quality of Mercy takes that idea and runs with it.

In addition to a very emotional story involving Captain Pike – one that I, as a disabled person, found incredibly relatable – there’s also a wonderful callback to an episode of The Original Series, and moments for all of the main characters to get a chance to shine. Ethan Peck puts in a spectacular performance as Spock, and there was even time at the very end of the episode for one final twist as the curtain fell on one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.

Best Animated Film:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Minions: The Rise of Gru

The Despicable Me franchise is usually good for some fun escapism, and so it proved again with The Rise of Gru. There isn’t anything completely groundbreaking here; you know how the titular Minions behave by now. But stepping back in time to a ’70s setting allowed for some fun jokes, and the over-the-top villains that Gru encountered were a ton of fun.

There was still heart and emotion in The Rise of Gru thanks to Gru’s relationship with the villainous Wild Knuckles, and that did enough to ground what was otherwise a pretty wacky adventure. There were plenty of references and callbacks to other franchises for nerds like us to enjoy, and on the whole, I had a good time with the film. I’m not in a desperate rush to re-watch it, but it was good fun for what it was.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Encanto

After several years in which Disney has focused on live-action adaptations and sequels, Encanto came along like a breath of fresh air! It’s one of the best Disney films of the current era without a doubt, with a deeply engrossing and frequently emotional story that has an uplifting message. And thanks to a wonderful soundtrack by the phenomenally talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, there are some incredible songs too!

A setting inspired by Colombia was also something different for a major Disney production, and the company has done well at diversifying the peoples and places it depicts in its major releases. But that would have been meaningless had Encanto not been such a wonderful, well-told story – and I’m so very pleased that it was.

Best Live-Action Film:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

With the caveat that I didn’t see that many films this year, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely up there as one of the better ones! I genuinely couldn’t believe that this film existed when I first heard of its premise – Nicolas Cage playing a fictionalised version of himself and going on a wacky adventure. But you know what? I’m very glad that it does!

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could have ended up as a bargain-bin B-movie – or worse, it could’ve tried to take itself far too seriously. But instead it leans into a kind of self-deprecating humour as well as tropes of the action genre, coming across as light-hearted and just plain fun. Nicolas Cage is a good sport for taking part, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

🏆 Winner 🏆
All Quiet on the Western Front

Netflix’s reimagining of this classic German war film is absolutely brutal. If any film has ever come close to accurately depicting the true horrors of the First World War, this is it. The story follows a young conscript from Germany as he joins the army and is dispatched to the front line, and then jumps ahead to the closing days of the war.

Every version of All Quiet on the Western Front – and there have now been three adaptations of the original novel – have shown just how senseless and meaningless war can be, taking a very individualist, human look at warfare. This version hammers that home, and can be uncomfortable viewing. But it’s an incredibly powerful film – one that absolutely deserves to be in contention for some of the top awards.

The “I-didn’t-play-this-game-but-you-probably-should” Award:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Elden Ring

I wish I could say I was interested in Elden Ring… but I’m just not. The “difficult for the sake of it” style of gameplay that has come to be known as the “Souls-like” genre just isn’t my cup of tea, but by all accounts Elden Ring is one of the best examples of this type of game, and one of the best games of the year – if not the generation.

Taking the Dark Souls format into an expansive open-world setting, Elden Ring has won almost universal acclaim from critics and players alike, becoming one of the most talked-about releases of the year. For a single-player title in a gaming landscape increasingly dominated by the online multiplayer scene, I think that’s a fantastic thing, and even though Elden Ring isn’t for me, I still think it’s worth noting it as one of the most important releases of the year.

Best Browser Game:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Wordle

I wouldn’t usually dedicate much time to browser games on a list like this, but since I first played Wordle back in February or March, I don’t think I’ve missed a single day. The format is fun, with a single word each day to guess and only six chances to get it right. Wordle was snapped up by the New York Times and has since spawned dozens or perhaps even hundreds of clones – including variants that have multiple words to guess, and variants based on specific topics or franchises. There’s even a Star Trek-themed one!

Wordle blew up to become an internet phenomenon in 2022, and for a while it seemed like you couldn’t move for people showing off their Wordle results on social media. It’s become part of my daily routine – and my current streak is 77 wins in a row, going all the way back to the middle of October!

The “buggy piece of crap” Award:

🏆 “Winner” 🏆
Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (PC version)

The PC port of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the worst I’ve come across in recent years. I’d thought that the days of amateurish PC ports were finally over, but PlayStation Studios, Naughty Dog, and Iron Galaxy Studios showed me that I was wrong about that. In short, Uncharted is incredibly poorly-optimised for PC, with a piss-poor frame rate and weird visual and texture bugs that were incredibly offputting. The screenshot above shows off one such glitch.

It’s such a shame because the Uncharted series has always been a blast. The Indiana Jones-inspired games still feel like something different in the action-adventure space, even with the likes of Tomb Raider being reimagined for a new generation. The stories present here are great – but if I have to spend as much time battling bugs as I do enemies, I’m going to have a bad time. Other PlayStation titles – like Spider-Man and God of War – don’t have these issues, so I don’t understand how Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection managed to launch on PC in such a bad state.

Best Expansion Pack/DLC:

🏆 Winner 🏆
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

The Booster Course Pass has given Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a new lease on life – even if it’s not as transformative as a new entry in the series would’ve been. I was disappointed as the year went by and it became clear that there would be no Mario Kart 9, but the Booster Course Pass has definitely convinced me to dust off my Nintendo Switch and pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe again.

The “wave” approach to the DLC has been fun, too, keeping the game feeling fresher for longer when compared to dumping all 48 new racetracks at once. Don’t get me wrong, the longevity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still an issue, and I now have the additional concern that there will be fewer racetracks left to adapt whenever Mario Kart 9 eventually comes along. But in the short-term, the Booster Course Pass is proving to be great fun.

Game of the Year:

🥈 Runner-Up🥈 
Stray

Stray is absolutely adorable: a game in which you get to play as a kitty cat! I was sold on that premise alone, but what I found when I got stuck in was a genuinely enjoyable, well-paced, well-structured indie title. Stray has great graphics, with the movement of the main cat character in particular being incredibly realistic. There’s some wonderful art design in both the environments and the robotic non-player characters, too.

Stray is further proof that there’s plenty of life in the narrative, linear, single-player space, and that not every game needs to be forced into the open-world mould. But at the same time, it’s something very different. Not only is the idea of playing as an animal unique, but the game’s slow pace and focus on peaceful interaction with the environment instead of combat and quick-time events all make for a relaxing, yet deeply engrossing experience.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Disney Dreamlight Valley

If you’d told me a few months ago that my favourite game of 2022 would be an early access Disney title, I wouldn’t have believed it! But I’ve sunk well over 150 hours into Disney Dreamlight Valley since its launch at the end of August, and I’ve been having an incredible time. The game basically took all of my criticisms of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fixed them, then threw in dozens of new features I didn’t even know I wanted – and some fun Disney-centric stories with a diverse cast of characters for good measure.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is so much fun and has so much to offer, even in this early access form, that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s an interesting main quest, dozens of character-focused missions, the kind of home-building and design gameplay that players loved about titles like The Sims, and all of the fun of living another life in a fantasy land as you’d expect from an Animal Crossing game. There’s so much to love about Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I’m happy to crown it my favourite game of the year.

So that’s it!

At the first Academy Awards in 1929, Joseph Farnham receives his award from Douglas Fairbanks.
Image Credit: oscars.org

We’ve dished out awards to some of my favourite entertainment experiences of the year. The countdown is on to 2023 – there are just hours left until the sun will rise on a whole new year! Stay tuned in the days ahead because I plan to take a look at some of the things I’m most looking forward to between now and Christmas. Is that the earliest you’ve seen someone mention Christmas 2023?

I hope that this was a bit of fun. There were plenty of enjoyable films, television shows, and video games this year – despite the delays that still hang over the entertainment industry. Though I wouldn’t say that 2022 is likely to go down in history as one of the best-ever years for entertainment, I think we still got a wide variety of experiences, many of which were enjoyable.

So I suppose all that’s left to say is this: Happy New Year! Whatever you plan to do, I hope you have a wonderful 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:

The Halo TV Series

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Strange New Worlds Season 1

Star Trek: Discovery 4×13: Coming Home

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass

Disney Dreamlight Valley

Some great holiday sale deals for PC gamers

Important: All prices listed below were correct at time of publication. All of these holiday sales end around New Year; prices will no longer be accurate after that point. All prices listed below in GBP; prices and discounts may vary by region.

In 2019, one of the very first pieces that I put together for the website was a list of some of the best holiday sale deals for PC gamers – and with it being the most wonderful time of year once again, it’s time for a new list! All of these games are titles that I personally enjoyed – or that have excellent reviews and write-ups – and that I reckon are good value at their discounted price.

There are two absolutely amazing things about gaming on PC: firstly, it’s possible to pick up old and even out-of-print games from years past, and secondly, massive sales like these! There are usually two big sales times on PC – in the summer and around the holidays. Smaller sales come and go at different times of the year, too, so unless a new game is something you simply cannot wait for, it can absolutely be worth saving your pennies until one of the big sales rolls around! A PC may be more expensive to get started with (and take it from someone who built their own PC this year, some components can be very pricey!) but sales like these more than make up for it, in my view.

I built my own PC this year for the first time!

I’ll be looking mostly at Steam, Epic Games, and GOG on this occasion, though there are other digital shops on PC that may also be having holiday sales. Not every game is the same price on every digital shop, so it can absolutely be worth shopping around to get the best deals. Remember that these sales don’t last long – some deals will be gone before New Year. So be sure to act fast if you see something you’re interested in!

Without further ado, let’s jump into my list!

Deal #1:
XCOM 2
Steam: 90% discount, £3.49/Epic Games: 95% discount, £1.49

For less than the price of a coffee, XCOM 2 feels like an absolute steal! A turn-based strategy game about humanity’s attempt to fend off an alien invasion, XCOM 2 has an old-school feel in a gaming landscape dominated by fast-paced shooters and MMOs – and for a certain type of player, that’s just what the doctor ordered! I used to say that I prefer real-time strategy games to turn-based ones, but in recent years I’ve definitely come to appreciate titles like XCOM 2.

Deal #2:
Elden Ring
Steam: 30% discount, £34.99

For a game that was released earlier this year, and that recently won “game of the year” at The Game Awards, a 30% discount seems pretty good for Elden Ring! A “souls-like” game like this is absolutely not something I’m interested in, but I can appreciate the skill that went into crafting Elden Ring even if I have no plans to play it myself any time soon! Widely considered to be one of the best games of the year and one of the best open-world titles of the last few years, Elden Ring could be your thing – even if it isn’t mine!

Deal #3:
Star Trek: Hidden Evil
GOG: 25% discount, £6.29

Hidden Evil isn’t the best adventure game you’ll ever play, and it’s probably fair to say it isn’t the best Star Trek game ever created, either. But it’s a game I remember with a degree of fondness from the late 1990s, and its story is definitely strong, fun, and very Star Trek-y! Set shortly after the events of Insurrection, players take on the role of a human character who was raised by Vulcans (sound familiar?) as they serve aboard the Enterprise-E and unravel a mystery. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner lend their voices to the roles of Picard and Data respectively.

Deal #4:
Red Dead Redemption II
Steam & Epic Games: 67% discount, £18.14

Red Dead Redemption II is a masterpiece, a game that shows just how incredible interactive entertainment can truly be. It is, without a doubt, one of the best games I’ve ever played, and its story is dark, bleak, and deeply emotional in places. Red Dead Redemption II is set in a wonderfully crafted open world that recreates the look and feel of the United States at the end of the 19th Century. Gameplay takes place from a third-person perspective, but the addition of the “dead-eye” slow-mo targeting mechanic makes its signature quick-draw shooting feel like something different. An incredibly easy game to recommend – especially at a steep discount.

Deal #5:
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Steam & Epic Games: 50% discount, £19.99

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga doesn’t actually do anything new. If you’ve played a Lego game on any platform at any time in the past fifteen or so years, you know the formula by now: this is a light-hearted Lego take on a familiar story. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga polishes that familiar gameplay style, throws in plenty of humour, and makes the graphics look shinier than ever. Right now, this is the definitive Lego Star Wars experience!

Deal #6:
The Saboteur
GOG: 75% discount, £4.39

A stealth-action game set in World War II, The Saboteur’s unique selling point was its “black-and-white turns to colour” gameplay mechanic. In short, as players moved through the game and liberated different sections of Paris, the game’s monochrome aesthetic would give way to full colour. It was a gimmick, perhaps, but underneath that hides a genuinely fun stealth game and a decent recreation of World War II-era Paris.

Deal #7:
Civilization VI: Platinum Edition Bundle
Steam: 91% discount, £13.49

Six years on from its release, Civilization VI has racked up a number of expansion packs and additions that take the total price of the game to well over £100. It’s a bit much to pay that all at once in my view, so picking up this turn-based strategy game while it’s on sale makes a lot of sense. Civilization VI was one of my most-played games of the last few years, with its digital board game style being incredibly engaging! I’ve had fun learning the ins and outs of the different expansions and rule changes as they’ve been released, and when no two matches are the same, it really is a blast.

Deal #8:
Star Wars: Squadrons
Steam & Epic Games: 85% discount, £5.24

Of all the Star Wars games released in the last few years, Squadrons is probably the most niche. But if you’ve ever wanted to really feel like you’re in the cockpit of a starfighter in a galaxy far, far away… there’s literally nothing quite like it. A solid single-player campaign is let down by a multiplayer scene that never really saw huge numbers of players, but there’s plenty of replayability in Squadrons nevertheless. This is the game we dreamed we were playing in the ’90s when we picked up the likes of TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron!

Deal #9:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Steam & Epic Games: 75% discount, £12.49

I actually felt that Legendary Edition was a bit of a let-down; a remaster that didn’t do as much to the Mass Effect trilogy as I’d have liked to see. But for anyone who has never played this amazing trio of games, Legendary Edition is by far the best and easiest route into the Mass Effect universe. Forget my gripes with the way the remaster was handled – the Mass Effect trilogy is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever experienced. At such a steep discount, there’s no excuse not to get started with this single-player adventure. I have a full review of Legendary Edition which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #10:
Forza Horizon 4
Steam: 67% discount, £18.14

The Forza Horizon games are incredibly accessible and fun arcade-style racing games, and both Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Horizon 5 in particular are fantastic! With Forza Horizon 4 on offer with a bigger discount, that’s the title I’m picking for this list, and there’s so much to see and do in the game’s open-world racing festival – and more than 700 cars to race in – I’m pretty sure that you won’t get bored any time soon! Also the game’s open-world map is loosely based on the UK, which is neat!

Deal #11:
Disney Dreamlight Valley
Steam & Epic Games: 25% discount, £17.84

Disney Dreamlight Valley comes with the major caveat that the game is still in early access – and that it will be free-to-play at some point in the future. But for anyone who likes Disney or casual life-sim games like Animal Crossing, Disney Dreamlight Valley is a must-play. It’s my favourite game of 2022 and I’ve sunk over 100 hours into it since it launched. Two major updates have already dropped, adding new characters and quests, and there’s lots more to come before the game leaves early access. Check out my full early access review by clicking or tapping here!

Deal #12:
Control: Ultimate Edition
Steam: 70% discount, £10.49/Epic Games: 50% discount, £17.99

Control is a tense and exciting single-player action game set in a seemingly-abandoned government facility. It’s full of twists and turns, and despite its seemingly simplistic “office block” environment, once you get stuck into the story things get pretty wild pretty quickly! Control has one of the best and most mind-bending sequences that I’ve played through in any game over the past few years as it reaches its climax, but all the while the story of a woman looking for her long-lost brother keeps the story emotionally grounded. I’ve been meaning to go back and re-play Control… so maybe I will in the new year!

Deal #13:
Banished
Steam: 66% discount, £5.09

Banished is an incredibly fun town-building game, and one that I’ve sunk literally hundreds of hours into since its 2014 release. It’s deceptively simple, as managing your town, resources, and population isn’t as easy as it looks! Balancing all of the different things that the townsfolk need to stay warm, fed, and healthy is a challenge – but a truly entertaining one. It’s still amazing to me to know that Banished was created by just one person! I have a more detailed write-up of the game that you can find by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #14:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Steam & Epic Games: 50% discount, £15.99

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was my pick for 2021’s game of the year. It’s visually stunning, with an adorable cast of characters and some fun, surprisingly old-school adventure and 3D platforming gameplay. The titular Kena has a handful of abilities thanks to her magical staff, and each new skill that she learns makes a massive impact on the next section of the game. For a new studio’s debut release, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is absolutely fantastic. Check out my full review of the game by clicking or tapping here.

Deal #15:
Sonic Frontiers
Steam: 30% discount, £34.99

Sonic Frontiers was released less than two months ago, so its 30% discount feels generous considering the game’s positive reception by Sonic fans. There’s always been a question-mark for me over how well Sonic’s signature ability of incredibly fast movement can work in a fully 3D setting. In 2D platformers this was fantastic, but 3D Sonic titles haven’t always figured out a way to make it work. By all accounts, Sonic Frontiers gets it right – and is chock-full of callbacks and references to the franchise’s past.

Deal #16:
Two Point Hospital and Two Point Campus
Steam: 46% discount, £32.52

Steam is offering both of these critically-acclaimed “tycoon” games as a package deal, and honestly it’s a pretty good offer! There seemed to be a time when the tycoon genre was disappearing, but games like Two Point Hospital came along and revitalised it! Two Point Hospital feels like a spiritual successor to the much-loved Theme Hospital from the 1990s, and Two Point Campus is in a similar vein but, unsurprisingly, with a university instead of a hospital!

Deal #17:
Mafia: Definitive Edition Trilogy
Steam & Epic Games: 60% discount, £19.99

The Mafia trilogy was remade from the ground up over the past couple of years, and the entire trilogy is now available for purchase. Open-world crime games inspired by the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series, Mafia puts a new spin on the concept by focusing heavily on the mob and by stepping back in time. Some great storytelling, fun characters, and enjoyable action gameplay awaits!

Deal #18:
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Steam: 75% discount, £3.89

With Skyrim having long since worn out its welcome and The Elder Scrolls VI still years away, going back to re-play Oblivion might just scratch that fantasy role-playing itch for some of you! And there’s a whole generation of players who’ve grown up since Oblivion made its debut back in 2006 and who missed out on playing it first time around. Many of the elements that players love about Skyrim are on full display here – though some are a little less refined. But Oblivion has some wonderful stories and side-quests, and is well worth picking up at such a steep discount.

Deal #19:
Shenmue I & II
Steam: 80% discount, £4.99

I can never quite manage to properly explain just how utterly revolutionary Shenmue felt when I played it on the Dreamcast in the year 2000. A realistic modern-day setting, an intense murder mystery, fascinating characters… Shenmue was the first game I ever played that felt truly cinematic, as if its story could play out on the big screen. It’s a slow-paced game in some ways, with long periods of exploration and dialogue in between fast-paced quick-time events and combat encounters. But it’s one of my favourite titles of all-time!

Deal #20:
Call of Duty: WWII
Steam: 67% discount, £14.84

I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so I’m looking at Call of Duty: WWII for its single-player campaign. A relatively short but well-crafted affair, I think it’s worth it when the game goes on sale. Unfortunately the Call of Duty franchise has largely abandoned single-player in favour of multiplayer deathmatches, but WWII’s campaign shows that the developers can still create fun and engaging stories. Modern and near-future settings are currently in vogue for first-person shooters, so WWII feels like something a little different for players burnt out on those kinds of titles.

So that’s it!

I tried to pick a range of different titles, some of which may be more popular than others. I also tried to branch out a little beyond my usual games and genres to cast a wider net. There are plenty of fantastic games out there that, for one reason or another, just aren’t “my thing,” but I can still appreciate the work that went into them and that, for folks who like those styles of games, they’ll be great fun!

But at the same time, it’s nice to pull out some old and new favourites and show them off! When these sales roll around, it’s absolutely wonderful to think that someone is going to pick up one of these games and experience a fantastic story for the very first time. PC as a platform and its digital shops like Steam, Epic Games, and especially GOG are doing a great job at keeping older games alive – and that’s a wonderfully positive thing.

If money’s a bit tight right now, don’t panic! There will almost certainly be more big sales in the summer – if not before! I hope I’ve given you some inspiration for games to pick up, or at least that you had fun geeking out about some of these titles with me!

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.

Eight racetracks I’d add to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

It’s official: I’ve given up on seeing Mario Kart 9 any time soon. That game most likely won’t arrive until the Nintendo Switch’s successor console is released, which is a shame if you ask me! 2022 has been the Mario Kart series’ thirtieth anniversary, and with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe being just an extended port of a Wii U game released back in 2014, I felt that the time was right for a brand-new entry in the series. But Nintendo disagreed, and instead what we’ve had this year has been the Booster Course Pass – downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that’s slowly adding extra tracks to the game in “waves” of eight at a time.

Let’s set Mario Kart 9 and its associated disappointment to one side for now and focus on the Booster Course Pass. For the money, I reckon the Booster Course Pass is pretty good value – or at least it will be when all of the tracks are ready! Only half of the new racetracks have been released at time of writing, so your mileage may vary on how much value for money you think you’re getting!

As I said when I reviewed the Booster Course Pass, several of my favourites from past editions of the series have already been added. Racetracks like Kalimari Desert, from the Nintendo 64, and Coconut Mall, from the Wii, have been included in the Booster Course Pass already, and would likely have made a list like this if I’d made it a few months ago! But there are still plenty of racetracks from past iterations of Mario Kart that I’d love to see updated – so that’s what we’re going to look at today!

I’ve tried to pick tracks from different entries in the series, some of which I’m more familiar with than others. I haven’t invented any brand-new racetracks this time around; these are all tracks that have appeared in one or more Mario Kart titles. For obvious reasons, I haven’t picked any tracks that are already part of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the Booster Course Pass! And as always, my usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of these racetracks will be part of the Booster Course Pass in future. Finally, all of this is just the subjective take of one person! If I don’t include your favourite racetrack, or include a track you absolutely hate, that’s just the way it goes!

With all of that out of the way, let’s begin!

Trekking Cup:

Racetrack #1:
SNES Bowser Castle 2

We’ll start by going all the way back to the Super Nintendo! Super Mario Kart may seem rather basic by today’s standards, but it’s where the series began – and it was one of my most-played games of the mid-90s! There were three Bowser Castle tracks, all of which used the same basic aesthetic, and on this occasion we’re going to pick Bowser Castle 2, from the Flower Cup.

Bowser Castle 2 has the infamous “STOP” sign if players take a wrong turn, and that could be something fun as relatively few Mario Kart tracks have anything quite like it; a dead-end path that leads to nothing but lava! The track also splits into two roughly equal paths at one point, and has several hops over the lava. As we’ve seen with other older racetracks, Bowser Castle 2 could be adapted to incorporate anti-gravity or gliding sections.

Racetrack #2:
Tour Singapore Speedway

One of the surprise hits for me from the first three waves of the Booster Course Pass has been the inclusion of real-world cities. I talked extensively about New York Minute in my review of the Booster Course Pass as I think it’s one of the best racetracks in the game, but I’ve also really enjoyed what Mario Kart has done with Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and London. At time of writing there aren’t many more Tour-exclusive tracks that could be added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, so I’m picking Singapore Speedway this time.

Singapore would join Tokyo and Sydney to represent another non-European city, and while I’d love to see many more real-world cities represented as I feel it’s a fun concept, of the cities that Nintendo has chosen to adapt so far, Singapore feels the most interesting. As the world’s only real city-state, Singapore is a unique place – and I’m sure it’ll be fun to race through!

Racetrack #3:
N64 Frappe Snowland

I like the music that accompanies this winter-themed track, and I think it would be fun to see it updated. Out of 72 racetracks in the game (at time of writing) only five are winter- or ice-themed (six if you include the winter variant of the Animal Crossing track). So there’s definitely room for another snowy, wintertime track in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

As happened with Kalimari Desert when it was added to the Booster Course Pass, there’s scope to reimagine parts of Frappe Snowland, updating them for the Switch. The jump could be replaced by a glider ramp, an anti-gravity hill could be added, and the final part of the lap, with towering walls of snow, could become narrower or even change shape with each lap.

Racetrack #4:
Wii Moonview Highway

One of the few Wii tracks not to have been ported to another game, Moonview Highway is notorious for its difficulty. Some fans consider Moonview Highway to be one of the hardest tracks in the entire Mario Kart series – so perhaps some adaptations would need to be made to mitigate this before it could join Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!

Moving traffic is always a difficult obstacle in a racetrack, and has proven tricky going all the way back to Toad’s Turnpike on the Nintendo 64. But as annoying as they can be, moving vehicles keep players on their toes and ensure that every lap – and indeed every race – feels different. I also really like the theming of Moonview Highway; the night time setting, the rising moon, and the combination of city and forest sections make it a visually interesting and distinct racetrack.

Dennis Cup:

Racetrack #1:
3DS Shy Guy Bazaar

There are plenty of desert levels in the Mario Kart series (and several already in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) but for me, Shy Guy Bazaar has always been a little different. It picks up a vaguely Arabian-inspired theme, with some of the buildings and the main marketplace using that aesthetic. Most other desert tracks in the Mario Kart series take place across dunes or ruins, so having one set in the marketplace of a living town definitely makes Shy Guy Bazaar unique.

I have very fond memories of Mario Kart 7. When the game was released, I was working in a large office in a big city, and I had several colleagues with whom I’d play the game using the 3DS’ download play feature. It was great fun to take part in some very competitive races! Shy Guy Bazaar may not be Mario Kart 7′s best-remembered racetrack – but that’s just another reason to bring it back!

Racetrack #2:
Arcade GP Diamond City

Now we’re heading into some real uncharted territory! Beginning in 2005, Nintendo created a series of arcade machines based on the Mario Kart series, each of which featured a handful of new and unique racetracks. At time of writing, none of these tracks have made it to a home console, remaining arcade exclusives. That means relatively few players have had the chance to try any of these racetracks – and I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s high time to change that!

Diamond City has a fun look – at least based on what I’ve seen of it. A Wario-themed near-future city with some Japanese elements, the racetrack is at least superficially different from others set in big cities. The layout is more than just a simplistic oval, with a tight turn at the beginning, and there are plenty of places where anti-gravity, gliding, or even underwater sections could be included.

Racetrack #3:
N64 Unfinished Town

If you thought we were getting into some weird territory with the arcade version of Mario Kart, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! This racetrack was seemingly abandoned during development on Mario Kart 64, never making it into the final game. However, thanks to the tireless work of modders and data-miners, the track’s existence was confirmed, and a playable version has even been recreated from files that were uncovered.

The racetrack known simply as “Town” is actually pretty basic from what I can tell, following a fairly straightforward route through a generic town setting. Had work on the track continued, perhaps more theming would have been added! The concept remains interesting, though, and as a slice of Mario Kart history, I think it would be incredible to finally allow this unfinished track to see the light of day in an official release.

Racetrack #4:
GCN Rainbow Road

In true Mario Kart style, we finish with Rainbow Road! The version from Mario Kart: Double Dash has yet to be remade, and I think it would be great to bring it back here. Like other Rainbow Roads it’s a difficult racetrack, but one whose verticality could lead to a truly excellent reworking that would really showcase Mario Kart 8′s anti-gravity feature in particular.

There are already four Rainbow Roads in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – so what’s one more? The tracks are all different enough from one another to be distinct, so there’s no harm in including this version of Rainbow Road. With only four tracks from Double Dash in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at time of writing, bringing back another from the GameCube era would be no bad thing, too.

So that’s it!

I think we’ve picked some different racetracks that would make for fun and exciting additions to the Booster Course Pass – although I’d be happier, in many ways, if they’d be part of a brand-new game instead! But in lieu of Mario Kart 9, the Booster Course Pass is definitely filling a gap, and has convinced me to pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe all over again. I suppose in that sense it’s achieved its aim!

This time, I tried to pick racetracks that haven’t gotten as much attention, or that haven’t been remastered or made many appearances outside of the games in which they originally appeared. I’d be happy to see any of these tracks return to the Mario Kart series – and if none of them make it into the Booster Course Pass then maybe they’ll crop up in a future title!

I’ve been having a good time with Wave 3 of the Booster Course Pass. The track Merry Mountain in particular is just what I want to see at this time of year, and it’s been a blast racing through that Christmassy village! London – the place where I was born! – also features in Wave 3 as one of the more interesting (and longest) city tracks shown off so far, and it’s been a blast to replay racetracks like Maple Treeway too.

So I hope this was a bit of fun; some fantasy racetrack additions from a long-time Mario Kart fan. I certainly had a good time going back to replay some of these tracks or just looking at gameplay videos. What better way to celebrate Mario Kart’s thirtieth anniversary?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and the Booster Course Pass are out now for Nintendo Switch. The Booster Course Pass will add more racetracks in three “waves” across 2023. The Mario Kart series – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Nintendo. Some screenshots courtesy of the Super Mario Wiki. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Where Cyberpunk 2077 actually failed

Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Cyberpunk 2077, minor spoilers may be present for some of the game’s missions.

Thanks to a combination of a sale and a rather generous £10 voucher courtesy of the Epic Games Store, I was able to buy Cyberpunk 2077 for just £15 – that’s about $17 or $18 for my friends in the United States. For that price, it’s actually pretty easy to recommend CD Projekt Red’s role-playing shooter, despite the game’s reputation and its shockingly bad launch two years ago.

By the time I got around to fully playing through Cyberpunk 2077 earlier this year, most of the game’s most egregious bugs, graphical issues, and other glitches had been fixed, at least on PC (which is the platform I played on). So from that point of view, I think I got the best possible Cyberpunk 2077 experience – and certainly a far, far better experience than the poor souls who picked up the game on launch day for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles! Although I did encounter a handful of bugs during my 60-hour playthrough, none were what I’d call game-breaking, and as of late 2022, the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077 is probably comparable with the likes of the launch versions of Skyrim or Fallout 4 in terms of bugs and glitches – a low bar, perhaps, but one the game is finally on the cusp of clearing.

Johnny Silverhand.

As I’ve said before on more than one occasion: Cyberpunk 2077 was released far too early in an unfinished state. It took well over a year of additional development time to knock the game into shape – and that work is still ongoing at time of writing, especially for the console versions. The “release now, fix later” business model that we’ve talked about at length here on the website really screwed Cyberpunk 2077 – and the fact that CD Projekt Red lied about the game’s condition in the weeks leading up to its launch is not something players will ever forget.

But for me, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t disappoint because of its bugs, glitches, and graphical issues. By the time I got stuck into the campaign, most of those – and certainly the worst and most obvious ones – had been patched. In fact, I’d argue that the bugs and glitches became a distraction that arguably shielded the game from what I consider to be its real flaw: it’s just not that good.

One of the many bugs that plagued Cyberpunk 2077.

I realise that’s a horribly subjective statement, so let me try to qualify. Cyberpunk 2077 has a genuinely interesting and entertaining story. It has fun characters with some great voice acting, a world that feels dense and lived-in, and an interesting visual style that blends a kind of ’80s retrofuturism with East Asian influences and then sets it all against the backdrop of a dark corporate dystopia. As a narrative experience, Cyberpunk 2077 was genuinely enjoyable for me, and I found myself getting stuck into its story.

But in terms of the mechanics of its gameplay, Cyberpunk 2077 is sorely lacking. Far from being the genre-redefining epic that CD Projekt Red’s out-of-control marketing seemed to be promising, the game is comprised entirely of systems and mechanics that have been done before – and in many cases, done far, far better – by other titles.

An atmospheric view.

Compare Cyberpunk 2077 to Fallout 4 and it comes up short. Heck, compare it to Fallout 3 and, at least in terms of quests and characters, it feels much the lesser title. For a game that seemed to be promising the moon, Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t even make it to the launch pad. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter… but that’s it. It’s never going to be anything more than that – because it never tried to be.

Let’s start with the game’s mandatory first-person perspective. Many games are first-person only, and it’s a creative choice that I respect. But in practical terms, what that decision has meant is that Cyberpunk 2077′s character creator – which is one of the game’s better elements – is basically useless. It’s only right at the very end of the game, literally in one of the final missions, where it’s even possible to see the player character for any length of time.

This was “my” V. Not that I ever got to see her face…

This feels like such a waste because of how good the in-game character creator actually is. There are so many options to customise every aspect of a character’s appearance – but then Cyberpunk 2077 makes it so that even cut-scenes are from a first-person point-of-view, rendering all of that work essentially pointless for the bulk of the game.

Sticking with the player character’s appearance, we have costumes, outfits, and armour. Once again, the first-person perspective is limiting, meaning that players can only really see their outfit in the pause menu, but that’s not the worst of it in this case. Because Cyberpunk 2077 employs a very outdated sliding scale for its items, including clothing and armour, as the player character levels up, there’s a constant need to change clothing to get better armour stats.

Cyberpunk 2077 has a great character creator; one of the best around.

Failing to improve your armour – which is basically done by throwing together the most random and mismatched outfits – can lead to being instantly killed in some missions or when facing off against particularly difficult enemies. During my entire playthrough I don’t think I stuck with the same outfit for more than a few minutes; I was constantly searching the bodies of defeated enemies and picking up the pieces with the best armour stats and just throwing them on.

This renders the in-game clothing shops pretty impotent, and while it’s possible, I suppose, to keep going back to the same shop and buying better versions of the same pieces of clothing if you were really attached to a specific look, doing so is pretty pointless when you consider that you hardly see the outfit anyway. With outfits and costumes being so random, a pretty big part of the role-playing side of the game felt like it disappeared, at least for me.

An in-game clothes vendor.

I love being able to customise my character and choose how they look, but the way Cyberpunk 2077 handles this feels like it’s straight out of a role-playing game from 2000, not 2020, leading to much less of an immersive experience. Throwing together a random, mismatched outfit just to get the best stats feels very video-gamey and breaks the immersion of the role-playing experience.

Sticking with the theme of outdated game mechanics, Cyberpunk 2077 was a surprisingly linear experience for a game that bills itself as “open-world.” In my 60+ hours with the game, I completed 90% of the available missions and side-quests, as well as the main story – and most of the missions and questlines don’t offer much by way of replayability. There are no factions to join, as there are in other open-world games like Skyrim, for instance, and once the player character is sufficiently leveled up, all the game’s missions are available to play.

A list of completed missions.

Although there are different basic play styles – utilising stealth, hacking and tech powers, and weapons in different combinations and to different extents – the missions themselves are linear, with one beginning and one end point. The final act of the game offers a branching storyline, leading to four potential final missions and four different epilogues. But again, each of these missions are pretty linear once they get going, and any player who’s paid attention to more than a handful of side-missions will be able to experience all of them; Cyberpunk 2077 even has a mandatory save point before kicking off the final act, making it easy to go back and try out each of the different endings.

Story missions in Cyberpunk 2077 are fun and engrossing, and the characters feel real and well-rounded, with their own lives and motivations. This gives the game a boost, and even while playing through some bog-standard gameplay, the story was decent enough to elevate Cyberpunk 2077 to something a tad more entertaining. But the same can’t be said for all of the side-missions.

Most of the game’s main characters are fantastic.

Practically all of Cyberpunk 2077′s side-quests follow the exact same formula: go to a location marked on the map, defeat either one overpowered enemy or a handful of normal ones, and receive a check mark on the quest list. The stories that set up some of these missions feel like they have the potential to be interesting on the surface, but when the way that’s communicated to the player is through in-game text messages that are easy to skim or just skip altogether, it makes a mission structure that’s already pretty flimsy feel downright disappointing.

These missions are your typical open-world busywork; padding to give Cyberpunk 2077 a boost to what would otherwise be a pretty meagre runtime for a game of this type. There are a few side-missions that, thanks to some creative voice acting or a particularly interesting premise, manage to feel a little more exciting or entertaining, but even these are pretty basic in terms of what there is to do. If the quest isn’t to kill a specific enemy or clear out an area, it’s basically “go to location, press button to interact with an item, the end.”

One of the game’s side-missions.

Because enemies don’t level up with the player character, many of these missions – despite being nominally “available” to play as soon as the prologue is complete – result in immediate death, even on the lowest difficulty setting. It was incredibly frustrating to stumble upon a side-mission – which in-game text seemed to suggest was urgent – only to die over and over again in a single hit.

Cyberpunk 2077′s open world feels lived-in, so the fact that these scripted missions could be ignored for weeks and weeks’ worth of in-game time sticks out like a sore thumb and further damages the sense of immersion. If I’m told that a dangerous killer is on the rampage right now, my first thought shouldn’t be “oh well, I’ll leave them to it for a fortnight while I do other things and level up; they’ll still be here when I get back.” That’s just so… video-gamey.

An example of an impossible side-mission.

One of Cyberpunk 2077′s selling points before its launch was the different “life paths” that players could start from. Three options were available, with players able to choose what amounted to their character’s “origin story.” However, having toyed with all three, the impact they had on the game itself was minimal. A short prologue was different for each life path, but once that was over, the main game played out in identical fashion. There were a handful of different dialogue options, and one unique “mission” – which, as above, was something incredibly basic. But that was it.

In a role-playing game, I can’t excuse that. The point of offering a choice like this is to give players a fundamentally different experience; a reason to return to Cyberpunk 2077 and do things differently next time. But as with other aspects of the game, this was incredibly short and incredibly linear, offering the appearance of a choice while providing what amounts to the bare minimum.

The much-vaunted “life paths” were basically meaningless.

One other point where a false choice was presented really came to bug me. At the start of the game (after the prologue, at least) V has their own apartment. And this apartment had very limited customisation options, but there were a couple of aesthetic choices that players can make to mix it up. But throughout the game’s open world, other apartments are available to purchase, and V can then use them to rest, store weapons and items, and so on.

But there’s no way to make these properties V’s home. None of them can be customised at all, which is bad enough, but at several points in the game, V will be forced to return to their default, beginning-of-the-game apartment in order to do things in the story or side-missions. It’s as if the game is incapable of recognising that players might want V to move to a nicer part of town (or a more central location). There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to choose which apartment to make V’s primary residence. Again, this just feels like a break in the immersion and a let-down.

One of the apartments that can be purchased.

So to me, that’s where Cyberpunk 2077 falls short. It fails to live up to the hype in a massive way, and players who were initially disappointed by the game’s awful condition at launch have found, when the dust has settled, a game that simply doesn’t do what they had been expecting. The bugs, glitches, and other problems that Cyberpunk 2077 had may have actually covered up some of these problems, drawing flak away from the real disappointment – the gameplay itself.

I’ve played far better open-world games, far better shooters, and far better role-playing games than Cyberpunk 2077. Games from literally twenty years ago, like Morrowind, or almost a decade ago, like Grand Theft Auto V, brought to the table many of the same elements that Cyberpunk 2077 tries to use – and despite being so late to the party and having seen what other titles in the same space can do, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t improve on them in any meaningful way. In some ways, some of Cyberpunk 2077′s in-game mechanics are actually worse than other titles in these genres.

Shooting and combat in Cyberpunk 2077 are nothing special.

Where Cyberpunk 2077 finds a redeeming feature is its main story. The stories of V, Johnny Silverhand, Jackie, and the intrigue at the Arasaka Corporation are genuinely fantastic, and the scripting and voice acting that brought it all to life were fabulous. But even here, Cyberpunk 2077 falls short – literally, because the main quest itself is a relatively short affair. I reckon the main quest might’ve taken me about 18 hours, all told, spread across a prologue and two main “acts.” Distracting myself with side-missions took up the rest of my time.

The main quest also has a rather abrupt feel at points. Without getting into spoiler territory, there are a couple of points toward the middle and end of the game where it feels as if something has been cut out – or more likely, something should have been added – to give a bit more detail to the events that were unfolding. The story itself was fantastic – but on these occasions, the way in which it unfolded just felt rather brief.

The Arasaka Corporation was a big part of the game’s main story.

As I said before Cyberpunk 2077 was even launched: this was a game that was massively and catastrophically over-hyped. By promising what seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime, genre-busting experience, CD Projekt Red spectacularly – and stupidly – overplayed their hand. Had expectations been reined in and kept in check through 2018, 2019, and into 2020, players would have had a more reasonable and realistic picture in their minds of what to expect from the game. The bugs at launch, the overall appalling state that the game was in, and CD Projekt Red’s outright lies would still have harmed the game immeasurably – but at least when the dust had settled, players would have known what they were getting into.

There are some games I’m happy to go back and replay over and over, and some open-world games from years past that are so overstuffed with content, missions, and characters, that even years after their release I still haven’t been able to see and do everything. Cyberpunk 2077 is in neither category. I’m glad to have played it, and in terms of story it’s certainly one of the better games I’ve played in recent years. But its story is a one-and-done, surprisingly linear affair – and when the side-missions that comprise the rest of the game are so incredibly basic, going back and replaying them all feels more like a chore than anything I would actually enjoy.

Promotional art for Cyberpunk 2077.

We’re into December at time of writing, and Cyberpunk 2077 may well go on sale at a pretty steep discount in the days or weeks ahead. If you can pick it up at a low price, as I did, it’s definitely worth playing now that CD Projekt Red has actually had more time to finish developing it and bashing it into a playable state. For full price though, I think it’s a much harder sell – but if you buy a physical copy, I suppose it’s possible to trade it in or sell it on once you’ve beaten it, so that option could be a good one.

Despite the controversy that will forever define Cyberpunk 2077, I didn’t hate it. There was some great storytelling, some wonderfully realistic characters, one of the best character creators in any modern game, and an immersive world that could be fun to just drive around in, soaking up some of the scenery and checking out this dystopian vision of the future. But considering the way the game actually plays, Cyberpunk 2077 was pretty average.

And for a game that had promised so much and been hyped to oblivion for close to a decade, “average” isn’t good enough.

Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, Playstation 4 & 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Project Red. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Brokénmon

I’m not any kind of Pokémon fan. I haven’t played the card game, watched the cartoon, nor have I tried any of the 100+ video games in the series and its various spin-offs. But as someone who watches the games industry and its shenanigans, I feel compelled to add my two cents to the conversation surrounding the latest entries in the long-running series: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.

If you didn’t know already (and you didn’t gather from the title of this article), Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet have become the latest games to fall victim to one of the worst trends in modern gaming: the dreaded “release now, fix later” business model. To put it bluntly, both games (which are 99% the same game, but Pokémon as a series has been intent on ripping off its biggest fans since the first titles were released more than twenty-five years ago) are buggy messes. Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are unfinished at best, and players have found what is arguably the worst experience ever in the long-running series.

The three starter Pokémon – which I’m told are all new for Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.

Today we’re talking about the Pokémon series. But this “release now, fix later” approach has been tried by many different companies over the last few years, and after every big blow-up I think – and hope – that this will surely be the last one. Whether it’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, Cyberpunk 2077, or even 2013’s Star Trek, every time one of these unfinished messes is pushed out too early by a corporation that should know better, I hope that we’ll finally see the back of this truly irritating trend. But it just keeps happening!

Pokémon is one of the biggest names in gaming, and certainly one of the biggest franchises on Nintendo hardware, so you’d think that The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, and developers Game Freak would want to ensure the highest possible quality. With Pokémon Legends: Arceus released just this January, and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl released last November, it’s not like there’s been a dearth of games in the series lately, nor is Nintendo exactly struggling for money; the company has sold almost 90 million Switch systems and made a quarterly profit of just over $1bn in the three months up to the end of June.

An excerpt from Nintendo’s most recent financial statement.

Why bring up the financials? Well, it’s simple: there was no need to rush this game out of the door. A few weeks or even a few months of extra development time could have solved many of the issues that players have been complaining about, turning a disappointing experience that will be forever tainted in players’ minds into a perfectly creditable new entry in this long-running series. I don’t claim to assess Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet from the point of view of a fan, so I can’t tell you how well-received the new setting, new characters, and new critters might’ve been. But as someone who used to work in the games industry, I can tell you this: it’s very difficult to recover from a bad launch, and it’s nigh-on impossible to change opinions about a game after it’s already out in the wild and criticism is spreading.

And I don’t understand how corporations in the games industry consistently fail to learn this lesson. Very occasionally a title like No Mans Sky will take a disastrous launch and turn it around, but even then, that game forever comes with a caveat in the minds of many players – and many more will forever choose to skip it in favour of other titles that weren’t released too soon. And for every No Mans Sky there are dozens of Anthems and Aliens: Colonial Marines that never win back the support of players. And the jury’s still out on 2020’s most notorious mess, Cyberpunk 2077.

Promo image for Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.

So why did Nintendo do this? There was no need and no benefit to releasing an unready game – and plenty of dangerous consequences. As a brand you have to say that Pokémon feels rock-solid, but it only takes one or two rotten releases to turn fans away, and while Pokémon was a unique proposition when it launched in the 1990s, other games and series have since come along and could pose a challenge. The history of the games industry is littered with once-celebrated franchises that are now either entirely dead… or worse, relegated to nothing more than crappy mobile releases.

Nintendo needs to learn lessons from this, as do The Pokémon Company and Game Freak. While internet connectivity makes it technically and logistically possible to launch a game in an unfinished state and patch out the bugs and glitches later, it’s been proven time and again to never be a good idea. Once the narrative sets in that “Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are buggy and unplayable,” it becomes very difficult to change – and once a game is routinely picking up 0/10 or 1/10 scores from players, that’s more than enough to cost sales.

A player character in an out-of-bounds area.
Image Credit: Beta Brawler on YouTube

But there’s also a lesson for us as players and consumers, too. The most important takeaway should be this: pre-ordering is never a good idea. I’ve lost count of the number of games that were released to poor reviews or in a disappointing state, and when there are so few benefits to pre-ordering – especially for digital games where scarcity isn’t a concern – there’s just no need to do it. It’s better to wait and see how well a game is received – especially if, like me, you don’t have a huge amount of disposable income to spend on video games.

That’s before we consider the advantages of waiting. Obviously if a game is released in an unfinished state, waiting even just a few weeks can mean the difference between an awful experience and a significantly better one, but it’s also possible to see significant price drops or sales. Games that don’t perform well at launch can be heavily discounted within a very short span of time. Even the Nintendo eShop has sales from time to time, so unless you’re the hardest of hardcore Pokémon fans, it can make a lot of sense to wait and exercise a little patience and caution. Perhaps it’s too late to do that with Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet (though I hear rumours of Nintendo issuing refunds to some disgruntled players) but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for future releases.

A visual bug in Pokémon Scarlet or Pokémon Violet.
Image Credit: Beta Brawler on YouTube

It’s unfortunate that the games industry has worked itself into such a rotten state that we have to say “be cautious” even about games that we want to be excited for – but that’s the reality of where we’re at. Corporations have continued to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and while some games – like Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet – generate a degree of backlash as a result, the sad fact is that this will happen again, perhaps as soon as next week. Even companies with good reputations – like Nintendo or CD Projekt Red – can get themselves into trouble, and we shouldn’t be afraid to call them out for it. It’s poor behaviour, and while Nintendo is definitely getting a kick in the wallet, it likely won’t be enough to dissuade the company from misbehaving again.

For Pokémon fans who feel let down, I feel ya. I’ve been there too – and unfortunately, so have most players at one time or another. It’s never a pleasant feeling when a game we’re hyped or excited for turns out to be a disappointment, and it’s even worse in a case like this where just a little extra development time would, in all likelihood, have resulted in a much better product.

Definitely steer clear of Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet for now. I hope that Nintendo and Game Freak get their acts together and patch out as many of these bugs and glitches as they can as quickly as they can – but for now, it’s one to avoid.

Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are out now for Nintendo Switch. The Pokémon franchise – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, and/or Game Freak. 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.

Disney Dreamlight Valley: early access review

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Disney Dreamlight Valley.

I don’t usually go for “early access” titles. Some developers and publishers really take advantage of early access, pushing out incomplete games and getting players to effectively pay full price to do the work of a quality assurance team, and just in general, I’d rather wait until a game is ready for prime-time before sinking my energy and money into it. A title has to be something truly exceptional to attract my attention while it’s still in early access. Enter Disney Dreamlight Valley.

At time of writing in November 2022, Disney Dreamlight Valley still has some of the issues that make early access titles so offputting – major missing features, an incomplete story, and some bugs, glitches, and areas where more development time is needed to give the game some polish. But despite that, I’ve sunk more than 100 hours into the game since it launched in early access back in August, and I’ve been having a whale of a time!

The title screen as of the most recent update.

Disney Dreamlight Valley blends the customisation and design gameplay of titles like The Sims with the casual life-sim gameplay of the likes of Animal Crossing, combines those with some simple but fun nonviolent puzzle-solving gameplay, and then also throws in character-focused storytelling that can absolutely compete with any narrative game on the market – at least if you’re a Disney fan! The game’s characters, all of whom are lifted directly from Disney’s extensive back catalogue of blockbuster films, feel real and feel fun to engage with, and the game has so much to offer to kids and adults alike as a result.

As expected, recent titles like Frozen and Moana feature in a big way, but Disney Dreamlight Valley also happily incorporates characters from titles that are almost certainly less well-known nowadays (especially among younger players) like The Sword in the Stone. In fact, the very first character that players will meet upon starting a new game is Merlin – a storytelling decision that I find incredibly bold.

Mickey Mouse, a player character, and Merlin.

Unlike in games like Animal Crossing, where villagers can feel flat and repetitive after a while, the characters in Disney Dreamlight Valley feel much more complete. Partly, it must be said, that’s because they’re all familiar characters from films that most players will be familiar with, but a big part of the way they come across in the game is down to some creative quest design and some pretty good writing. Characters will also interact with one another, stopping for a casual chat that players can overhear while wandering around the valley or participating in other quests, and this small detail goes a long way to making Dreamlight Valley feel like a real place and its inhabitants like real people.

As an early access title, there are of course areas with room for improvement. But I have confidence that developers Gameloft will take player feedback on board and implement changes and fixes as they have done already. Improvements have already been made, for example, to the in-game photo mode, to the impact weather can have on the game world, to certain character interactions that players generally weren’t happy with, and much more besides. One of the advantages of early access is that developers have an opportunity to get feedback from real players – and Gameloft has certainly shown a willingness to change, adapt, and tone down different elements of the game in response.

Promo screenshot featuring Ursula.

Disney Dreamlight Valley feels like it’s also taken on board feedback and criticism of other titles in the casual life-sim genre, particularly 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Complaints and criticisms about that game and how difficult it was to play long-term when compared to other Animal Crossing titles abounded, and while Disney Dreamlight Valley is still very much incomplete – multiplayer and cross-platform play have yet to be added, for example – other criticisms that I and others levelled at New Horizons simply don’t apply here. Crafting, for example, is so much easier and smoother in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and the simple fact that tools don’t need to be replaced every five minutes is fantastic!

Characters feel dynamic and respond in real-time to events in the game, and each character has their own series of quests to play through in addition to the main storyline. While there’s a case to be made that exhausting all of the quests should bring the game to an end, there are still “daily duties” – mini-quests that can involve some or all of the game’s roster of Disney characters. Moreover, when the main quests and character quests have all been completed, Disney Dreamlight Valley remains fun to play as an Animal Crossing-esque casual life-sim game; there’s still fun to be had. Racing through certain questlines is not how the game is intended to be played, and several quests have natural timers – plants that take time to grow, or objectives that can only be performed at certain times of day, for instance.

Crafting in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

Although the in-game economy works relatively well at the moment, there are potentially things that could be reworked or rebalanced in future. The titular “dreamlight,” for example, that players accumulate as a reward for accomplishing tasks and finishing quests has a limited number of uses – and when all of the different areas of the map have been unlocked, I found myself simply accumulating dreamlight by the boatload with no way to use it or spend it.

Likewise, the in-game “coins”, while slow to acquire at first, soon build up, and I found that getting a moderately decent crop farm going soon racked me up over 2 million coins – and although there are things to spend those coins on, I’ve hardly made a dent in a money vault that even Scrooge McDuck would be envious of!

Scrooge McDuck in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

While we’re on the subject of currencies, it’s clear that when Disney Dreamlight Valley exits its early access phase and goes free-to-play that a significant focus for the game will be on recurring monetisation and in-game microtransactions. Gameloft and Disney have not promised that all characters and story content will take the form of free updates, either, so there’s a risk in the longer-term that Disney Dreamlight Valley will turn into one of those titles that can be quite a money-sink. For parents of younger kids, that can absolutely be an issue, and it’s worth being aware of at this stage. While Disney Dreamlight Valley is currently quite generous with its various in-game currencies, one in particular – “moonstones” – is clearly being readied to be sold.

Moonstones can be earned in-game at time of writing, and are used to purchase cosmetic items like furniture, clothing, and motifs that can be added to custom designs. Players are also required to spend a large cache of moonstones in order to unlock more items for purchase via a kind of “season pass” that, once again, feels like it will be the target for future monetisation. Free-to-play games and ongoing “live services” require a source of income, but again it’s worth being aware even at this early stage that this is the model Disney Dreamlight Valley plans to adopt.

In-game monetisation is planned in future.

Character customisation is fun in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I feel that there are a decent range of options including different body types, hairstyles, and so on – with some extras that can be unlocked in-game that weren’t available right at the start. There’s also a huge range of different types of furniture – many pieces of which are lifted from or inspired by modern and classic Disney films. And while there are plenty of clothes to choose from, I think I’d like to see a few more outfits and costumes that allow players to dress up as their favourite Disney characters. Some of the clothes feel a little too “generic” to me, and some of the costumes and outfits are more “inspired by” the films rather than directly taken from them. So that’s an area that I’d like to see improved upon! To give one example that may be more relevant to some fans than others, while Disney Dreamlight Valley includes a decent approximation of Princess Anna’s dress from Frozen, there really isn’t a good facsimile of Elsa’s dress from the same film, despite it being one of the most iconic of modern Disney Princess costumes.

But for the creatives among you, Disney Dreamlight Valley offers a pretty extensive customiser, allowing budding designers to create their own Disney-inspired outfits. The game includes a range of blank clothes – tops, dresses, hoodies, and even Mickey Mouse ears – that can be customised with patterns, designs, and much more. These designs are unlockable through gameplay, so the more time players invest in Disney Dreamlight Valley, the more options there will be when it comes to making fun outfits. Although I have the imagination and creativity of a colour-blind slug, even I managed to create a few fun designs with an intuitive and easy-to-use customiser.

Customising a dress in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

So that’s all there is to say for now! I may take another look at Disney Dreamlight Valley in the months ahead, perhaps when it’s ready to leave early access and go free-to-play. If you have Game Pass either for PC or Xbox, Disney Dreamlight Valley is incredibly easy to recommend. At £35/$30, there’s more than enough content to justify the price in my view – and coming in at less than “full price” is fair for a game that is still in early access and has a few issues as a result. However, despite being in early access, I found my 100+ hours with Disney Dreamlight Valley to be remarkably smooth and free from major bugs; there have only been a couple of occasions on which the game crashed, and thanks to a frequent auto-save, I didn’t even lose any progress.

There are anecdotal reports from folks who play on Nintendo Switch having a worse time with more frequent crashes and finding the game to be a less stable experience, but as I’ve played it on PC I can’t speak to that – however, it’s worth being aware of that and checking out other reviews if you plan to play on Switch.

Remy from the film Ratatouille.

For my two cents, Disney Dreamlight Valley is probably the most fun gaming experience I’ve had in 2022. For anyone who’s a Disney fan there’s a lot to love – familiar and new friends to meet and hang out with in a game that blends both narrative storytelling and casual life-simulation. I haven’t seen some of the newer films from which some characters were taken (Remy from Ratatouille and the titular Wall-E were both new to me) but even with that limitation, I had a whale of a time.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is also one of the best early access games that I’ve played – speaking for the PC version, at least. Despite a persistent issue with cloud saving (which I’ve been repeatedly assured is being worked on) the game is largely bug-free on PC, runs smoothly and plays exceptionally well. Were it not for the incomplete story and some impassable doors, you’d hardly realise that the game was in fact still in early access!

So there we go. I’m happy to recommend Disney Dreamlight Valley at this time. Check back when the game leaves early access and I’ll try to share my updated thoughts!

Disney Dreamlight Valley is out now – in early access – for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Disney Dreamlight Valley is the copyright of Gameloft and the Walt Disney Company. Some screenshots used above are courtesy of Gameloft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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.