Forza Horizon 5 was released in November for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. It took a little while, but after spending quite a bit of time with the game over the past few weeks I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and share my thoughts!
Forza Horizon 5 is a big game. There are different kinds of races and events to participate in, ranging from multi-race championships all the way to smaller challenges and mini-events. The game’s open world is huge and offers varied terrains and scenery. And perhaps most importantly for a racing game, Forza Horizon 5 offers a veritable smorgasbord of cars to choose from.
What Forza Horizon 5 is not, though, is massively different from its predecessor. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 4 at all, you know the formula. This time around there’s more: the game world is bigger, there are more roads to drive on, more races and events to take part in, and so on. But it isn’t a fundamentally different experience – aside from the scenery changing from the quaint English countryside to the deserts, jungles, and beaches of Mexico, it’s basically an iterative instalment of the series. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for Forza Horizon 5; it’s a riff on the same concept, expanding it in some significant areas but without really breaking new ground. However, when the formula works, why shake it up too much? As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Horizon spin-off series has always taken a more casual approach than mainline games in the Forza Motorsport series, and that trend continues here. There’s a party atmosphere that runs through the entire game, with a handful of named characters who all take a very laid-back approach to running the titular Horizon festival. That feeling extends to gameplay, too. Races are organised seemingly haphazardly, and there’s a lot of fun to be had simply by exploring the open world, making your own fun, and driving some fancy cars at high speed!
Forza Horizon 5 is perhaps the most accessible racing game I’ve played – except, maybe, for Mario Kart 8. The game is geared up for fans of arcade racing, with a “pick-up-and-play” attitude that feels perfectly aligned with the aforementioned casual, laid-back approach taken by characters within the game itself. That isn’t to say that Forza Horizon 5 presents no challenge – not at all. But this is a game that allows players to tailor the kind of challenge or fun that they want to the way that they like to play. There are options to tweak practically every aspect of single-player gameplay, meaning Forza Horizon 5 would be a great introduction to racing games for a complete newbie – but a game that experienced racing fans can enjoy as well.
As a gamer with disabilities, I always appreciate games that go out of their way to be accommodating. In Forza Horizon 5, it’s possible to slow down single-player gameplay to give players more time to react or make moves. It’s possible to see a guide line on the ground or along racetracks pointing players in the right direction. And there are different levels of assistance; cars can be set up to brake automatically, for example, as well as change gears. Forza Horizon 5 also recommends specific cars for specific races, ensuring that players who aren’t familiar with cars or racing games won’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation.
None of these things have to be used, and they can all be turned off for players who want a more realistic or challenging racing experience. The game has pre-set difficulty options, but within those pre-sets it’s possible to tweak many different individual characteristics so players can get the kind of experience that they want. This really does open up the game to many different skill levels, and Forza Horizon 5 would be a great game for someone brand-new, a kid seeking a more realistic racer than the likes of Mario Kart, and everyone else all the way up to racing simulation fanatics.
Forza Horizon 5 also brings a lot of customisation options to the table. Every car (at least, every car that I’ve unlocked so far) can be customised. Cars can be repainted in every colour of the rainbow, and can have custom liveries applied – including advertising logos for famous brands. There’s already a bustling customisation scene, with players from all over the world sharing their custom creations for others to download and use in-game. I love a game with strong customisation elements, and Forza Horizon 5 absolutely delivers in that regard!
As I was getting started with Forza Horizon 5, I actually found myself getting a little emotional. As you may know, I’m non-binary – meaning that my gender identity falls in between male and female, and I prefer to use they/them pronouns. When setting up my Forza Horizon 5 character, the option to use they/them was present alongside male and female pronouns – something that was amazing for me, and for other non-binary players as well I hope. It’s still quite rare to see games offer this option, so it was an incredibly welcome surprise.
I’m not the world’s biggest car enthusiast. My knowledge of cars mostly comes courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the crew of Top Gear! But for people who know more about cars than I do, I reckon Forza Horizon 5 has a lot to offer. Although the game goes out of its way to be accessible and to have cars ready-to-race from the moment of being unlocked or purchased, there are still plenty of tuning options to fiddle about with. At the game’s uppermost echelons, where elite players are duking it out and races are won or lost by the millisecond, perhaps some of these things will make a difference. I’m not at that level – but some folks are, and there are tuning and customisation guides already for many of the game’s vehicles.
Although Forza Horizon 5 includes a lot of ultra-expensive supercars from manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Lamborghini, I think it’s great that the game offers classic cars, “normal” street cars, and even some novelty vehicles or cult favourites as well. For example, the game includes a classic Land Rover (a personal favourite of mine), as well as every nerd’s favourite car: the DeLorean! There’s a VW Camper available, a classic Mini, a Morris Minor, as well as a Hummer, and even a car taken straight from Hot Wheels! In short, there’s fun to be had with some of these vehicles, and while some may not be suitable for winning every race or clocking the fastest time, for having fun driving around the game’s open world I think some of these additions are absolutely fantastic!
Some racing games offer light-hearted fun, and for me, Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely that kind of game. I can pick it up for even just a few minutes at a time, hop into a race or two, and then put it down knowing I can do the same thing again later on. It absolutely can be more than that; players with the inclination can take it more seriously, spend more time on their vehicles, and really push hard to get the best lap times and reach the top of the various leaderboards. That’s not the way I personally play – but the fact that Forza Horizon 5 has plenty to offer to all kinds of players is a huge mark in its favour in my book!
I’m a subscriber to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass, so for me Forza Horizon 5 was available on release day to download and play at no extra cost. On that basis, I’m thrilled with the game. That being said, for folks who don’t like the idea of a subscription or who like owning games outright, I can absolutely recommend Forza Horizon 5 as a purchase. Game Pass is a great service, but I recognise that it isn’t for everyone. When I looked at Halo Infinite a few weeks ago I said that paying £55 for just the campaign felt a bit much, so getting the game on Game Pass made a lot of sense. But there’s a heck of a lot of value in Forza Horizon 5 for players of varying skill levels and with varying levels of interest in cars – so it feels like a solid buy.
I think that’s all I have to say about this one! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Forza Horizon 5 and I’m looking forward to jumping back in and getting into my next race. See you on the track!
Forza Horizon 5 is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. Forza Horizon 5 is the copyright of Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios, Xbox Game Studios, and/or Microsoft. Promotional images and artwork courtesy of Xbox and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.
I was blindsided by the recent announcement of Star Trek: Resurgence – a brand new video game set in the Star Trek galaxy. Though there have been a couple of crappy mobile games and the ever-present Star Trek Online, it’s been almost a decade since the last single-player video game in the Star Trek franchise… and that didn’t go too well!
On the whole, Star Trek as a franchise hasn’t been especially well-served in the video game realm, despite the fact that there’s always been a significant crossover between Trekkies and gamers. When compared to the Star Wars franchise, which boasts some truly excellent games, Star Trek titles have never really managed to cut through, and with only a couple of exceptions even the best Star Trek games have mostly been the preserve of existing fans.
Here’s hoping that Resurgence can change that! Early indications are actually pretty good: the game’s announcement came at the Game Awards, one of the biggest industry events outside of E3. Resurgence has been picked up by a number of gaming publications and websites, featuring on several lists of the “best announcements” made at the event. Because it’s been a while since there was a Star Trek game, I think that might actually work in Resurgence’s favour to an extent!
One of the main things that seems to have piqued the curiosity of many players is the pedigree of the developer: new studio Dramatic Labs. Dramatic Labs is a studio comprised of former writers and developers at Telltale Games, the studio behind titles like the incredibly well-received The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and the Batman adaptation. Many Telltale titles were exceptionally popular, with fans praising the quality of the writing and the unique branching stories that led to multiple narrative paths and several different endings.
I played through Telltale’s Batman game a few years ago and it was an enjoyable experience that was something different from many other titles. These narrative adventure games put storytelling and dialogue front-and-centre, allowing players to choose what to say at key moments and to influence the direction of the story through the choices they make. When I played through Batman it felt almost like an interactive film: a deep story, well-animated cut-scenes and sequences, but with many different moments at which I could choose what happened and which way the story would proceed.
The choices in games like these aren’t always obvious. In games like Mass Effect or Fallout, for example, there’s usually a “good guy” choice and a “bad guy” choice, sometimes with a neutral option thrown in for good measure. In Mass Effect you can, for example, choose to punch a news reporter or answer her questions, and in Fallout 3 you can choose to defuse a bomb or arm it and blow up a settlement. Both examples show how players can influence the story and shake up the game world, but in both cases it’s clearly telegraphed which are “good” and “bad” options. Telltale/Dramatic Labs titles don’t always make it so obvious!
For example, in the Batman game I mentioned, there are several points at which you have to make decisions that can have ramifications for the rest of the game but where the choice isn’t obvious. Choosing whether to save one character or another can end up creating a new villain to fight, or choosing to attend an event in costume as Batman can lead to a wholly different outcome than if Bruce Wayne attended without his disguise. These are just examples of the kind of branching narrative choices that Dramatic Labs is teasing us with in Resurgence.
We’re also promised third-person action sequences throughout Resurgence, and we saw examples of this in the trailer too. The official announcement also lists “shuttle piloting, phaser fights, tricorder scanning, stealth, and micro-gameplay mechanics” as things we’ll be able to do in the game. I’m not sure what “micro-gameplay mechanics” means in this instance; it sounds like it could be mini-games, and things like picking locks or computer hacking spring to mind as examples from other franchises. But it all sounds like a ton of fun!
From the trailer we got a glimpse of some of these systems in effect. There was a sequence with a character wearing an EV suit on what looked like the outer hull of a starship firing their phaser, a tricorder scanning sequence that looked like a lot of fun, and some sneaking around that was potentially representative of one of the stealth sections.
The idea of having two playable characters is fun, too, and we’ve seen a number of recent games do this to great effect. While we don’t know much at all about either of the playable characters, the fact that one is a senior bridge officer and the other is a non-commissioned engineer should mean we get to see two very different perspectives on the same story. Both characters should be approaching the situation from very different starting places, and that already sounds like something that could be a lot of fun. Aside from Chief O’Brien, we haven’t spent a lot of time with enlisted personnel before, and Resurgence might actually be the first time we’ve seen an enlisted crewperson as a playable video game character.
It was so great to see Spock in the trailer, and I felt that the voice actor did a creditable job at imitating Leonard Nimoy’s iconic performance. Whether Spock will have a major role to play in the story isn’t clear at this stage, but as one of Star Trek’s most legendary characters his presence should be interesting at the very least. Dramatic Labs has also teased that there may be other “fan-favourite” characters included in the game, but no details yet on who those characters could be.
Dramatic Labs promise that players will “make those similar tough choices that iconic Star Trek heroes have been forced to contend with.” This is emphasising the narrative choice aspect of the game, and reinforces what I said earlier about the difficulty of some of the choices in games of this nature. The story seems to involve two alien races “on the brink of war” – I didn’t recognise either of the alien races seen in the trailer. Resurgence sounds enthralling, and I’m really excited to get stuck in.
We need to set appropriate expectations, though, no matter how exciting it may be to finally get a new Star Trek game after such a long time! This isn’t going to be a sprawling adventure on the scale of something like Mass Effect, nor will it be an open-world title like Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a narrative adventure game, and that (hopefully) means that we’ll get a very strong and engaging story with a good degree of choice over how it proceeds. The third-person adventure elements look fun too, and I’m excited to try out things like phaser combat and tricorder scanning.
So keep an eye out for Resurgence when it arrives in the spring. Given the developers’ pedigree, I think Resurgence has the potential to appeal to fans of narrative titles and Telltale Games as well as Star Trek fans, and as long as the game is released in a bug-free state it has a lot of potential. Star Trek feels like a natural fit for a narrative adventure title, and it reminds me in some ways of games like Deep Space Nine: Harbinger and Hidden Evil from the late 1990s/early 2000s.
I’m trying not to get over-excited! I’ve been hoping for a new single-player Star Trek game for years, and hopefully Resurgence will be the first of many as the franchise continues to grow and expand. Regardless, I’m eagerly awaiting its Spring 2022 release! I hope you’ll come back when Resurgence is out for a full review.
Star Trek: Resurgence will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X in Spring 2022. Star Trek: Resurgence is the copyright of Dramatic Labs and ViacomCBS Consumer Products. The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.
The launch of the Xbox Series X earlier today marked the beginning of a new console generation – and thus the end of one too. That generation began in November 2012 with the release of the Wii U, and saw both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive a year later. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last eight years to have played a number of different games across all four major consoles, and while I need to say for the record that there are still plenty of big titles I haven’t got my hands on, there’s certainly enough to put together a list like this.
As we say goodbye to the current generation of consoles and jump headfirst into next-gen, let’s take a few minutes to look back at some of the best gaming experiences of the generation… in my subjective opinion!
But before we dive into the list, here’s a short recap of each of the major consoles. The Wii U came first, but was blighted by horrible marketing (even months after release, many gamers were confused as to what the Wii U even was, with many believing its clunky plastic controller to be nothing more than an accessory for the Wii). Nintendo began making losses during this period, and even laid off a number of staff. The console saw some very fun games, but I was one of less than fifteen million people who bought the machine – which in 2012 was clearly not good enough to cover Nintendo’s costs – making the console an expensive failure. For the sake of comparison, the original Wii sold over 100 million consoles, and the Switch is currently sitting at over 60 million a mere three years after release.
Next came the PlayStation 4. Only a few months earlier I’d bought a PlayStation 3, the first Sony machine I’d ever owned. I’d done so solely to play The Last Of Us, and I wasn’t disappointed! After the Xbox One suffered a rocky run-up to launch (we’ll come to that in a moment) PlayStation seized the chance to convert gamers to their platform after running behind for the entirety of the previous generation. And many folks who had previously been invested in Xbox made the switch – PlayStation 4 has almost certainly sold twice as many units as Xbox One, and that couldn’t have happened without Xbox 360 players jumping ship. PlayStation 4 has also had by far the better crop of exclusive games, and that’s another huge factor in its success this generation.
Xbox One arrived only a week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, but it was not a smooth road for Microsoft’s console. From the moment the console was announced it attracted the ire of gamers. First was its complicated always-online nature, which Microsoft had to backtrack on. Next was the issue of trading in games or sharing them with friends, with Xbox initially seeming to “lock” each disc to a specific user account. This was also something Microsoft U-turned on. Those fiascos were bad enough, but next came Kinect. Bundled with the system – and with no way to opt out – Kinect bumped up the price of the Xbox One at launch, making it $100 more than PlayStation 4. Looking back over several console generations, the cheaper machine usually sells better, and so it proved again. Xbox One also struggled with a lack of decent exclusive games to compete with those available on the PlayStation 4. Despite all of that, however, Xbox Game Pass (a paid subscription service which gives players access to over a hundred titles) definitely found a foothold as the generation drew to a close.
Finally, 2017 saw the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U had been Nintendo’s attempt to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market, the Switch saw Nintendo realise that its success with consoles like the Wii and the handheld DS and 3DS lineup was due to their appeal to casual players. A console deliberately less powerful than its two competitors, the Switch retained the motion controls that had proven popular on the Wii alongside a new gimmick: the console is a hybrid that can either be played as a handheld device or connected to a screen. After the disappointment of the Wii U, the Switch proved a success from day one, and eclipsed the Wii U’s total lifetime sales in a matter of months.
So those were this generation’s consoles. Now let’s look at some games!
This list is in three parts. The first part consists of titles that I consider to be incredibly important to the overall gaming landscape of the generation, even if they weren’t “my thing” and/or I don’t have much personal experience with them. The second part of the list contains a handful of titles that failed hard, and whose failures had an impact on gaming in some way. And finally the third part of the list is what you’re all here for – my personal top ten games of the generation.
Without any further ado, let’s get started!
As stated above, this section of the list consists of a few titles that, for whatever reason, weren’t necessarily something I enjoyed or bought into, yet were landmarks in gaming this generation. No “games of the generation” list would be complete without their inclusion.
Number 1: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – or “Pub-G” as some insist on calling it – was the first truly successful battle royale game. There’s debate over the origins of battle royale, and at one point PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds attempted to patent the format, but there can be no denying that this is the game that brought it to mainstream attention. By doing so it revolutionised online multiplayer gaming, and for a while was the most-played game in the world.
Considering how big battle royale titles still are, no end-of-the-generation list would be complete without PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though the game is still being played, it has arguably been eclipsed by some other titles in the genre it spawned – most notably Fortnite. In that sense it’s one of the most influential games of the generation… even if it isn’t one that’s enjoyed as much ongoing success.
Number 2: Fortnite (2018)
If PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds kicked off the battle royale craze, Fortnite took it to the next level. This title became a powerhouse in the gaming world; a phenomenon the industry hadn’t seen since Minecraft. And it’s a free-to-play game. Many of Fortnite’s biggest fans have never paid a penny despite spending hours and hours playing it, yet it’s managed to become one of the biggest and most financially successful titles in gaming. Ever.
Fortnite isn’t innovative with its gameplay, nor is it innovative in being free; mobile games in particular have used a free-to-play model for years. But Fortnite has taken the world by storm by refining those things and putting them with a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has widespread appeal, especially to younger players. For many kids, Fortnite has been their ticket into a brand-new hobby, and the importance of expanding gaming beyond where it was even a few years ago is immeasurable.
As with any successful title, other games have tried to imitate Fortnite’s success, and in some ways we can assign some degree of blame to Fortnite for making lootboxes and microtransactions more acceptable. However, it isn’t only this game’s fault that companies continue to pursue in-game monetisation!
Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)
With so much focus on multiplayer this generation, The Witcher 3 really stands out as a comparative rarity. It demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that there is a market for well-made, expansive single-player games at a time when many companies seemed to be abandoning them. It’s widely considered one of the best games of all-time, not just of the generation, and the success of The Witcher 3 did much to demonstrate to the industry that single-player games could still be critically and financially successful.
As I mentioned when I took a look at a few great games that I haven’t played, The Witcher 3 is on my list and I hope to eventually get to it. Single-player fantasy role-playing games are exactly my kind of thing, but I haven’t got around to this one yet! As a standout title that really boosted the medium, though, I can appreciate The Witcher 3′s success from afar.
Number 4: Grand Theft Auto V – online mode (2013)
Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this generation, having initially been released on the previous generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the last seven years it has seldom dropped out of the top ten bestselling games, which is an incredible achievement. The success is largely due to its online mode, which has made developers Rockstar an insane amount of money.
Competitive online gaming really isn’t my thing, but no list appreciating the generation’s finest should ignore Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode. Taking the beautifully-crafted world of Los Santos and opening it up to players for jobs and heists together has been a masterstroke on Rockstar’s part.
I was, however, a little disappointed to see that Rockstar simply plan on porting the game to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I get that it’s been a phenomenally successful title this generation – but I had hoped for a new entry in the series (or a new title altogether) as the gaming world moves on. They see things differently, however, and given Grand Theft Auto V’s success and bustling online scene, maybe they’re right.
Number 5: Undertale (2015) and the whole indie scene
I chose Undertale as an example because it has been widely praised, but this entry also stands to represent titles like Dead Cells, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Shovel Knight, and many more indie titles that have wowed audiences this generation. Making a game as an independent developer is a difficult and often expensive undertaking, yet many of these titles – including Undertale – have been fantastic and received critical acclaim.
There’s a perception that all indie games are pixel-art 2D platformers, and while there certainly are titles which fit that description there’s also much more going on in the indie scene. Some of these games go on to inspire whole sub-genres, and as we go into the new generation its a great thing that there are so many independent, smaller developers out there. It keeps the games scene interesting!
Disappointments and Disasters
This section looks at a handful of controversial, disappointing, or outright bad games which nevertheless impacted the games industry this generation. Not every innovation or change to the way games are made comes from success, and some titles may be better-remembered for serving as bad examples than good games.
Number 1: Star Citizen (Unreleased)
How can a game that hasn’t even been released be one of the biggest disasters of the generation? Simple: it’s become the textbook example of how crowdfunding can go wrong in the gaming realm. StarCitizen’s troubled development began way back in 2012, before any of the current-gen systems launched. And it raked in millions of dollars in crowdfunding from eager gamers – only to miss release window after release window, while continuing to beg and scrounge money out of its remaining loyal fans.
At this point, in late 2020, the team behind Star Citizen have raised – and mostly spent – over $300 million. That’s an utterly insane amount of money for any video game, and if reports and rumours are to be believed, it’s still nowhere near complete. What happened with Star Citizen is basically this: a developer had a decent idea for a game, put together a small team, and began work. But as the crowdfunding campaign took off the developers began to promise more and more features, leading to more development time. More development time in turn meant they needed more money, which meant more crowdfunding, which meant more features were promised, and the whole thing has spiralled out of control to the point where the game is an overhyped undeliverable mess.
Star Citizen isn’t a “scam,” because I firmly believe there were good intentions behind it. But the developers needed someone competent to manage the project before it got unwieldy, and someone in charge to prevent it from ever getting so out of control. The idea of selling in-game content for an unreleased game is already pretty shady, but when some of that content can cost thousands of dollars I think someone has to step in and say that it isn’t acceptable. It’s still possible the game will see a release – one day – but even if it does it’s hard to imagine it will be anything less than underwhelming in the extreme for fans who’ve waited years and hyped it to oblivion.
Number 2: Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
Battlefront II saw the bubbling lootbox controversy boil over. Though it’s been over three years since its 2017 launch, the ramifications of that are still being felt as jurisdictions across the world move to regulate or ban in-game gambling. Electronic Arts has, for years, pushed the envelope for what gamers will tolerate in terms of in-game monetisation. And with Battlefront II they finally pushed too hard and too far.
The game itself is perfectly playable today, but only because EA ripped out as much of the gambling as they could before it hit shelves. Battlefront II also had poor timing, causing controversy in the Star Wars fandom at a time when The Last Jedi was already proving hugely divisive. The combination of the poorly-received game and film meant that Star Wars was in a dark place going into 2018.
Number 3: Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem (2019)
Oh, Bioware. How heroes fall! For a number of reasons that boil down to project mismanagement, both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were rush jobs, put together in months instead of years. And it showed. Andromeda was memed to death, and even though the worst of its bugs and visual glitches were fixed within days of launch by patches, the damage was done and the game’s reputation never recovered.
Anthem overpromised based on a trailer at E3 that was entirely fake. Players who did buy into the game found a half-finished and underwhelming live service experience, and promises of updates and more content weren’t enough to convince more than a few to stick around. As of late 2020, Anthem’s “roadmap” for further updates has been cancelled, and the game is essentially dead.
For a studio like Bioware, these failures feel so much worse because we know that they’re capable of producing some incredible games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and the first two parts of the Mass Effect trilogy are among my favourite role-playing games of all time, so to see the buggy overblown side-mission that was Andromeda and the live service failure that was Anthem is nothing less than a colossal disappointment. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for this once-great developer, however, with a Mass Effect trilogy remaster having been announced a couple of days ago.
Number 4: Fallout 76 (2018)
As above, a developer once revered for its amazing experiences churned out a buggy, underwhelming online multiplayer title. Fallout 76 came after years of declining quality of Bethesda’s own titles, which included port after port of Skyrim and little else. I could never get past the fact that this was a Fallout game with absolutely no non-player characters. The heart of any game like this is its story, and a story needs characters. Fallout 76 thus contained little more than a moderately pretty environment – one built on an ageing engine meaning even the game’s visuals were hardly spectacular.
After walking around, checking out the scenery, and battling a few monsters, there was literally nothing to do. The gunplay was also mediocre to poor, something the Fallout series’ VATS system had masked in previous titles built on the same engine. But with multiplayer there was no way to implement VATS properly, meaning the game’s shooting had to stand on its own… and it fell down.
The first of these points – the missing NPCs – was eventually addressed in an update. But Fallout 76 has been own goal after own goal from Bethesda, including crappy product tie-ins that got recalled, a $100 premium membership, and more besides. The game was a bug-riddled disappointment.
Number 5: Shenmue III (2019)
Shenmue III is one of the biggest disappointments to me personally. Other titles in this section have their problems, but when it comes to my most-anticipated games ever, Shenmue III had been at the top of the list since 2001. After a dedicated group of hardcore fans raised an incredible $7 million through a crowdfunding campaign, the only thing I expected from Shenmue III was that it would finally finish Ryo Hazuki’s story.
In 2001, Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger, with Ryo’s quest for revenge incomplete – and having just taken an interesting turn. But the failure of the Dreamcast – and the game’s lacklustre sales – meant no sequel was forthcoming. Yu Suzuki, the game’s creator, had always said that the Shenmue saga was an ambitious project, and that’s to be commended, but while I can’t claim to speak for every Shenmue fan, really my only expectation going into Shenmue III was that it would bring the story to a conclusion. If there was too much story to tell in a project this size, then someone had to come in and make cuts to all of the unnecessary fluff to make it fit. For some inexplicable reason, that didn’t happen. Fans raised millions of dollars to end on another cliffhanger. Does Yu Suzuki seriously think he’ll raise millions more to make Shenmue IV and Shenmue V to keep telling this story?
And that’s why it’s such a disappointment. It had one objective as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Fans donated their own money to make that dream a reality, but the developers blew it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dead, failed series to come back to life and finish its ambitious story. I can’t get over the truly awful decision-making that meant it didn’t happen.
Games of the Generation
Now we come to my personal top ten. I played and loved all of these games this generation, and while there are many more that could have made the list, when I whittled it down these are the titles which made the final cut. These titles are not in any particular order, so this isn’t a ranked list. All ten titles are very different, and thus they’re all my Games of the Generation!
Number 1: Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Originally released for the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 has since reappeared – in “deluxe” form – on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t particularly ground-breaking, simply refining and polishing the Mario Kart experience for the high-definition screens that became commonplace over the last decade. But that’s absolutely fine, because Mario Kart doesn’t need a radical overhaul; what keeps players coming back for race after race is that it’s pick-up-and-play fun.
The Switch version bundles the original game with its two DLC packs and adds a few new characters to the roster too. And that’s the way most players have experienced Mario Kart 8, since so few people owned a Wii U! It’s a shame that Nintendo chose to paywall its originally-free online multiplayer, and that decision deserves criticism as it’s awful to implement paid online features to a game that once enjoyed those same features for free.
Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun. Some will argue that the fun is best shared with friends, and though you could certainly make that claim I still find myself picking up the game for a quick race or two against the AI.
Number 2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
I played through Jedi: Fallen Order earlier this year, and I had a wonderful time. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the game the best Star Wars experience I’ve had in a long time, far surpassing some recent film and television attempts from that franchise! Cal’s journey from the shipbreaking yards of Bracca to, well, spoilers, was truly exciting.
This kind of linear, story-focused game has fallen out of favour with many of the bigger games publishers this generation. The rush to make every game an online experience (with recurring monetisation) has unfortunately seen less of a focus on titles like Jedi: Fallen Order; the Star Wars brand saw only the two Battlefront games in the years before its release. However, the success of this title both critically and commercially has already led to a sequel being developed – and hopefully demonstrated once again that there’s life in these kind of games!
Though I did encounter a few bugs and other issues during my playthrough nothing spoilt the experience. There were some great voice acting performances, interesting and varied planets to visit, a couple of neat cameos by characters from the films, and truly beautiful visuals that really brought the setting to life and truly immersed me in a galaxy far, far away.
Number 3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of South Park. Its social commentary can be biting and funny, but sometimes it goes over-the-top to say the least! However, while I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series since I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, the game South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to catch my attention early in the generation. I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did!
The game’s visual style is practically identical to the television series, and that alone makes it interesting. Animated shows have been adapted as games many times, but rarely is the appearance so remarkably similar. I think that’s what first captured my attention, but what I found when I played the game for myself was a surprisingly fun role-playing experience.
Not every joke landed, and a few moments in The Stick of Truth were just plain silly. But as an authentic South Park experience that really feels like playing through an extended episode of the television series it’s something unique – or it was until a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was released in 2017.
Number 4: Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)
Ori and the Blind Forest never pretends to be a AAA blockbuster. It’s relatively short, with an average playthough lasting around eight hours, but those hours are spent in a beautiful, artistic world. The levels are diverse, and are interesting and challenging in equal measure as protagonists Ori and Sein bid to save their forest home.
Words like “masterpiece” and “beautiful” are thrown around all too easily these days, but I genuinely feel that both apply to Ori and the Blind Forest. For a game about spirits and sprites it’s surprisingly emotional too.
In a generation where Microsoft and Xbox lagged well behind Sony in terms of the quality of their exclusive games, Ori and the Blind Forest was a rare win. It’s since been followed up by Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a sequel which builds on everything the first game got right. Both titles are available on Xbox Game Pass, and are well worth a play for anyone who likes 2D platformers.
Number 5: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)
As with Jedi: Fallen Order above, Uncharted 4 is a linear, story-focused game. This generation has been dominated by sequels, and Uncharted 4 brings to a close the tale of Nathan Drake which began on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. What I love about the series is that it feels like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, setting up a mythical-historical mystery for Drake and his comrades to uncover.
The first three games in the series were fantastic, but Uncharted 4 was a step up. Truly stunning visuals that pushed the PlayStation 4 to its limit really helped with immersion, and the swashbuckling story was perfectly-paced and well executed. Naughty Dog is a fine studio, and they refined this style of gameplay to perfection by the time of Uncharted 4‘s release.
The PlayStation 4 has had some amazing exclusive games this generation. Whether Uncharted 4 is the best of them will always be a matter of debate, but for me it has to be at or near the top of any such list.
Number 6: Minecraft (2011)
This one is a total cheat since Minecraft was released a full two years before any of the current-gen consoles. But it isn’t unfair to say that the game has enjoyed continued success this generation, which culminated in parent company Mojang being acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money for a game I initially dismissed as a scruffy-looking pixel graphics mud hut-builder!
Minecraft became the best-selling game of all-time, and a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It introduced the gaming hobby to millions of new players, including many children, and its ubiquity on practically every platform helped that immeasurably. Even nine years after its initial release the game is still being played and replayed over and over. The Minecraft brand has also been expanded upon, with titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft Dungeons set in the same fictional world.
Where I had the most fun with Minecraft is in multiplayer with friends, starting from scratch and building whatever we wanted. I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours were lost digging tunnels, mining resources, and planning how to build a castle with a lava moat or a city in the sky.
Number 7: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
The world of Middle-Earth has been ripe for video game adaptations ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas in the early 2000s, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor follows some truly outstanding games from years past. It took a step back from the books’ familiar characters, introducing players to Talion, an Aragorn-esque Ranger, as he takes the fight to Sauron.
What made Shadow of Mordor stand out mechanically as a video game was its revolutionary “nemesis” system. The game’s AI would track which Uruk commanders that Talion battled – and there were many! Those Uruk could not only become more powerful by killing the player, but defeating them was a key part of the gameplay experience. Orcs and Uruk could be promoted within Sauron’s army, and the aim of the game was to encounter and defeat them. Even now this gameplay mechanic is innovative, and it makes Shadow of Mordor a game with plenty of replay value.
Unfortunately the series was tainted somewhat by the in-game monetisation forced into its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. While most of that has since been removed, the reputation of both games suffered. It’s a shame, because Shadow of Mordor is one of the best and most immersive experiences set in Tolkien’s world, and is still worth playing today.
Number 8: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey took everything that had been great about 3D Mario games and condensed it into one phenomenal title. It dropped gimmicks from Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy and returned the series to a style much closer to the beloved Super Mario 64, which remains to this day one of my favourite games of all-time.
The level design was brilliant and incredibly varied, with water levels, desert levels, and even a voyage to the moon all on Mario’s agenda as he races to – once again – save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Hardly an innovative premise, you may say, but the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is in the gameplay rather than the story. There are very, very few titles about which I’d say something like that – so that should show you just how outstanding this game really is.
Despite being brand-new, Super Mario Odyssey gave me a hit of nostalgia and took me back to the mid-1990s when I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. It really does feel like an updated version of that classic game.
Number 9: Fall Guys (2020)
Fall Guys came out of nowhere this summer and surprised me! From the moment I heard the concept – jelly bean-like characters running obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout – I knew I had to give it a try. And despite my general dislike of online multiplayer titles, what I found was a truly fun experience.
Fall Guys makes it easy to jump into game after game, and because each round is so short, even losing doesn’t feel that bad. The different ways in which people play makes every round unique, and while it certainly has its frustrating moments the core gameplay is plenty of fun. A cheating problem plagued the PC version for a while, but an update brought in anti-cheat software and that issue has now all but died out, restoring the fun!
If you’d asked me at the start of the year – or even in June – what my top ten games of the generation were likely to be, Fall Guys wouldn’t have even been on my radar. And when I was putting this list together I was wondering if including it would seem like recency bias; ignoring older games in favour of one I picked up just a few weeks ago. But looking at it on merit, I had a lot of fun with Fall Guys, and I’m happy to include this fun, casual title as one of my top games of this generation.
Number 10: Subnautica (2018)
In the wake of Minecraft’s success many games attempted to recreate its survival and building/crafting features. Many of these so-called “Minecraft clones” were crap, but one survival game that took the genre to wholly new places was Subnautica. The game has an interesting story as players find themselves crash-landing on a watery planet and must explore, collect resources, and build their way to freedom.
Subnautica is one of the few games even in modern times to really get its underwater world feeling right. Many games are notorious for bad underwater sections or levels, and when the whole game is based around swimming and moving underwater, this was something Subnautica couldn’t afford to screw up! The skill and attention to detail that went into this aspect of the game really is incredible.
The underwater setting also made the game feel like something genuinely different in a survival genre that was full of samey titles. Subnautica managed to be something unique as well as plenty of fun, and that combination is greatly appreciated.
So that’s it. A few of the best games of the generation – in my opinion, at least. There are many, many titles that could have made this list, including games I’ve played but forgotten all about, and games that I didn’t get around to yet.
This generation has offered up some truly amazing experiences, and even as we begin the transition to new consoles, there will be more to come. Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite are both due in the next few months, and there will be a number of other titles released before production fully shifts to the new machines over the next couple of years.
On a personal note, this has been a generation where, for a number of reasons, I found myself playing fewer games than I had in the past. A combination of health, ageing, work, and other factors are to blame – if indeed blame needs to be assigned. Despite that, I had fun with all four of this generation’s major home consoles, something I can say for the first time as a generation comes to a close!
I have no immediate plans to purchase an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, so there won’t be new console reviews coming on the website any time soon. But I can save you the trouble: both machines will be iterative improvements on their predecessors, offering things like faster load times, better controller battery life, and so on. It will be several years before we see any significant improvement in game design or graphics, simply because most upcoming titles are cross-generation and will continue to be limited by the requirements of this generation’s hardware.
Hopefully this has been a fun and interesting look back at some of the highs (and lows) of this generation on the day we mark the official beginning of the next one.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, developers, and/or publishers. 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.
I haven’t exactly been the biggestsupporter of Microsoft’s strategy as we approach the new console generation. In particular, the company’s decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on Xbox One for the first couple of years of the new console’s life seems like a weight around its neck, and makes it a much harder sell at what was already a difficult time. But the leak/announcement of the Xbox Series S – along with its reasonable price at £250 – has definitely shifted my opinion.
The launch of a new generation of consoles is a fun and exciting time for enthusiasts with a suitably high budget, but for a lot of people it can be a moment where they feel left out and left behind. Technology moves on and new games are released, but only for those who can afford it. For players who’ve had to save up just to get a current-gen machine, it can be disappointing to see the newest and best titles be beyond their reach. It’s a position I’ve been in several times, and I know it’s not a nice feeling.
The Xbox Series S is a unique piece of kit. Though there have been cheaper variants of consoles – there’s even an Xbox One S available now – none were released simultaneously with the brand’s flagship machines, meaning that the beginning of a new console generation has always offered players a binary choice: pay up or don’t participate. The Xbox Series S offers players that budget option right from the start, and for many people who have been in the position of thinking next-gen will be unaffordable at launch, it’s undoubtedly a welcome surprise.
The Xbox Series S is not as powerful a machine as the Xbox Series X, and for some players perhaps the perceived downgrade will be a disappointment. But the Series S is still more powerful than the current crop of consoles, and for the market it’s aimed at, I think few will care about 1440p compared to 4K, a smaller, possibly slightly slower NVMe solid-state drive, and other minor differences. The processor at the system’s core is the same one used in the Series X, and while its graphics chip is a less-powerful version, it’s built on the same architecture as its sister console’s.
In short, the Xbox Series S is like getting a mid-tier gaming PC instead of a high-end one. And the PC comparison is apt, because compared to many PC gaming setups, the Series S blows them away. It would be impossible to build anything even vaguely comparable to the Series S for £250 or less, so it feels like a decent machine.
I recently took a look at Game Pass for PC, and the subscription service is also available on Xbox – where it offers over 100 games. The combination of the £8-a-month subscription with the cheap console is an incredibly enticing proposition for budget gamers, and one which is honestly hard to beat. It will likely be hard to beat for several years at least!
For less than the price of a standard Netflix subscription, players will have access to a huge library of titles, including every Xbox exclusive and every new game from a Microsoft-owned studio. Titles already on the service include: Dead Cells, Forza Horizon 4, all five games in the Gears of War series, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Kingdom Hearts 3, Minecraft, No Man’s Sky, the two Ori games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, State of Decay 2, Streets of Rage 4, The Outer Worlds, and Wasteland 3. Those are just some of the highlights, and it’s not unfair to say that Game Pass offers phenomenal value to console players. Combined with the low asking price of the Series S, I think it’s a steal.
There are still some concerns. The fact that Microsoft still plan on releasing games for Xbox One for the next couple of years or so means that realistically, buying an Xbox One S or even a preowned Xbox One is still a cheaper prospect. And I have to confess a degree of concern at the possibility of the Series S’s lower specs potentially holding back next-gen titles within the next five years or so. In short, if Xbox games have to be built with Series S compatibility in mind, will that slow the pace of game development considering that the Series S is comparable to a PC you could buy today?
The first of those points – that the Xbox One is still the cheaper option – may sway some budget gamers. In that sense, as I wrote once before, the biggest competition that the Xbox Series S/X will have won’t come from PlayStation – it’ll come from the Xbox One. But despite that, I think that players who don’t just want a console for the next couple of years could future-proof their gaming setups with a Series S. The low price still makes it a solid option, even if it’s possible to pick up an Xbox One for less money. The price difference between an Xbox One – even preowned – and the Series S won’t be that large, and when the Series S will be able to play new games for the next six-eight years instead of one or two, it ends up being better value in the long run.
If you couldn’t tell, I like this console. I like it far more than the Xbox Series X or the PlayStation 5! It fills a niche that no major company has tried to fill before, and offers players on a budget a way into next-gen gaming right from day one. There are a lot of people who fall into that category, and for some of them who may have felt next-gen was simply out of reach, they may now feel that they will be able to join in. Expanding the gaming hobby to more people is a great thing, and helping people who would have otherwise missed out or had to wait get a foot in the door is fantastic. I applaud this decision from Microsoft.
The Xbox Series S will be available in November. The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Xbox Game Pass for PC has been out for a little while now, and after weighing up the options I decided to finally take the plunge and sign up. In this article I’ll cover my reasoning behind becoming a subscriber as well as my initial impressions of the service and its Windows 10 app. This won’t be a fully in-depth review, it’s really just my first impressions of the service.
First up, I’ll explain why I became a subscriber – and why you might want to as well. In short: I wanted to play Forza Horizon 4 and Game Pass was the cheapest option. I no longer own an Xbox One – I gave mine away years ago – so the only way to get that game is on PC, which is my primary gaming platform these days. But the “standard” edition is £50, and with the game not available on Steam (where sales happen more often) I hadn’t felt committed enough to trying it out to spend that much money. It’s rare that I’ll pay full-price for a game these days, and as someone on a limited budget £50 is just too much.
Enter Game Pass. At time of writing, the PC version of Game Pass is still in its “beta” phase, and costs £4 per month with the first month for just £1. That seems like a pretty good deal – even if the price is set to double when the service fully launches at some point in the future. At £4 per month I could play Forza Horizon 4 for a full year, cancel the service, and still have a few pounds left over compared to buying the game outright – and also have access to dozens of other titles to play in that time. It seems like a solid deal, and that’s why I signed up.
In recent months I’ve been critical of Xbox, mostly because of some of their odd decisions in the run-up to the launch of the Xbox Series X. But I have to admit that for Xbox gamers, Game Pass is a great deal. It’s by far the cheapest way to jump head-first into current-gen gaming, and when the Xbox Series X releases in a couple of months, it’ll be the most economical way to get into next-gen gaming too. Even if the Xbox Series X is priced similarly to the PlayStation 5, Game Pass provides an incentive for players to at least consider Microsoft’s platform simply because of the number of titles on offer. We’re primarily looking at Game Pass for PC today, but the console version currently offers more titles than the PC version and is thus an even better deal.
Microsoft currently plans to launch all of their major first-party games onto the service, and besides Forza Horizon 4 you’ll find such titles as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Outer Worlds, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and even the brand-new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Upcoming titles I’m looking forward to include Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and I’m sure that there will be others. Although Xbox’s lineup of exclusives hasn’t been stellar this generation, Microsoft have made moves in that direction in recent years, snapping up studios like Obsidian and Ninja Theory who will now create titles exclusively for their platforms. Obsidian announced a new title a few months ago called Avowed, which looks to be their take on the fantasy/roleplaying genre and seems to have great potential. Avowed is just one title I’m following with interest from Microsoft, and guess what? When it’s released it’ll come to Game Pass.
So those are the key points in favour of Game Pass as I see it. It feels like a cost-effective way to play some of the newest titles, and even if there’s only one or two games on the list that you’re interested in, Game Pass can still be the cheaper option compared to buying them outright.
Now let’s look at the Windows 10 app.
This has been the least enjoyable part of the Game Pass experience so far. The app is very much a “beta” app, with a weird glitch that signs me out often and a small window that seems to constantly try to pop up only to immediately vanish. This happens every few minutes, and if I have the Xbox app minimised it flashes orange on the taskbar. It’s a minor annoyance, and one I’m sure will be fixed in future, but if you like perfect, seamlessly smooth experiences, the Xbox app for Windows 10 isn’t quite there yet!
However, signing in is a simple procedure – which is good considering how often it signs me out – and most importantly, downloads are at least as fast as those offered by other PC game launchers. The area where I live doesn’t have great internet; I don’t have fibre broadband or 5G or anything like that, so my downloads are never especially fast. But those from Game Pass are as fast as I get elsewhere, so from my perspective that’s about as much as I could have expected!
One other issue that I have is that the same notification keeps popping up every time I sign in. It tells me something like: “your Xbox Live Account is not the same as your Microsoft account!” even though they are both the same account, linked together. Not sure if this is an issue which just affects me or if it’s something everyone has to put up with at the moment!
This is an incredibly minor point, but in the past Xbox allowed players to upload custom pictures to represent themselves and their gamertag – as other platforms like Steam do. But the current version of the Xbox app for PC only allows you to choose from a set list of pictures. As someone who has no friends (on Xbox Live, not in real life!) it doesn’t matter all that much to me, but it’s worth pointing it out.
One thing I did like about the app is that is has a “Surprise Me” button – when clicked this recommends a random game from the Game Pass collection. It’s a bit of fun, and for someone unsure what to play next could even be useful! I don’t see myself using it all that often, but it’s a neat little inclusion.
I’m sure that Microsoft is working on the app behind the scenes to fix its issues and get it ready for prime-time. In a way, it makes sense for them to focus on the console market at the moment, with the launch of the Xbox Series X being imminent. Minor gripes with the PC version can wait while they focus on having as good a console launch as possible under the circumstances.
With enough time and attention, though, Game Pass for PC has the potential to go from strength to strength. At this stage I don’t see it as a Steam competitor – there simply isn’t a big enough library to say that. But it is something that PC gamers could use to augment their Steam libraries, as well as a way to save money on some impressive new titles.
The caveat with any service like this is that you don’t own any of the games, and they can in theory be removed from Game Pass at any time. Game Pass itself could also cease to exist at some point in the future, making replaying games more difficult. In that sense it’s less permanent even than a Steam library, which while wholly digital does at least have a degree of permanence in that you “own” the games you bought. As someone who grew up when renting games – and even consoles – was a big deal, however, that doesn’t bother me all that much.
Game Pass aims to position itself as “the Netflix of games”, and just like Netflix adds and removes content, so too will Game Pass. Most Netflix subscribers are happy with the deal – the subscription provides a huge amount of things to watch, and not owning them doesn’t feel like a particularly big drawback. The same applies to Game Pass – it’s a different, but not altogether unfamiliar – way of gaming.
If you’re someone with an unlimited budget for gaming and a full Steam library, perhaps you don’t need Game Pass. But for budget-conscious gamers looking to get value for money, it really feels like a decent offering. At its supposed full price of £8/$10 a month you’ll be paying £96/$120 per year, which is the cost of around two full-price games. But when you consider you get far more than two games included in Game Pass, from my perspective as someone on a low income that definitely seems like a good deal – provided there are two or more games currently included with the service that you actually want to play! For me it was Forza Horizon 4, but I’ll also surely check out The Outer Worlds and several others, and when my first month only cost £1 and I can now play Forza Horizon 4 immediately, it feels like I saved a packet compared to buying the game outright.
Game Pass isn’t going to totally revolutionise the way we play games – at least, not on current form. But for gamers on a budget it offers an inexpensive way into the hobby, as well as a way to complement an existing library of games for everyone else. Despite the issues with the Windows 10 app, I recommend taking a look.
This post was not sponsored; I purchased a Game Pass for PC subscription for myself and these are my genuine opinions based on my experience. The Xbox and Game Pass brands, as well as others mentioned above, are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
The blogosphere and the gaming world have been aflame today, following the announcement that Halo Infinite has been delayed. 343 Industries – the studio which acquired the Halo brand when original developer Bungie left the series a decade ago – made the announcement earlier, and it’s significant because the new game will no longer launch alongside the Xbox Series X. Well, unless that gets delayed too!
The general consensus is that this announcement is the worst possible news for the Xbox Series X and could ruin its launch. But will it?
I don’t think the Halo Infinite delay will prove to be all that significant for one major reason: the Xbox Series X was going to have an underwhelming launch anyway. The hardest of the hardcore Xbox fanatics will buy a console, and perhaps a few well-meaning aunties and grandpas will buy one for their relatives for Christmas, but the console most gamers are interested in and excited for is the PlayStation 5. And I’m not saying that as a PlayStation fanboy – for the longest time I was an Xbox guy. It’s just the reality of where most console gamers are right now.
Microsoft – as I’ve noted severaltimes already – has made the incomprehensible decision to launch the Xbox Series X with literally no exclusive games. Not even one. Halo Infinite is also scheduled for a release on Xbox One and PC, as are a number of other first- and third-party titles that Microsoft has shown off. The arguments in favour of buying an Xbox Series X this year were already nonexistent, so removing one non-exclusive game from its launch lineup will have no material impact on sales. I can practically guarantee that.
With all of the issues that are stacking up right now – including those of Microsoft’s own making – I’d argue there’s a pretty solid case for delaying the console’s launch until next year. In the current economic climate, I’m already expecting that fewer people than usual will be interested in a brand-new console for the inevitable £400+ price tag, and many fans – even those who are genuinely interested to play some next-gen games – may have no choice but to wait it out.
If the Xbox Series X launches alongside the PlayStation 5, all it will do is draw unfavourable comparisons. The lack of exclusive titles is a large part of that, and it’s not inconceivable to think that there could be hundreds of thousands of unsold units sitting on shelves or in warehouses come January. It feels like it’s going to be an expensive flop, and while it may eventually build up a solid user base a few years down the line, the Xbox Series X is already lining up to be the upcoming generation’s second- or even third-tier machine.
The Halo Infinite delay will upset some Halo diehards who were excited to see their favourite franchise get a new release for the first time in over five years. But in terms of the launch of the new console – where it wasn’t a system exclusive – it’s genuinely hard to see how it will have any impact whatsoever.
When considering the more general issue of game delays – and, incidentally, delays in other entertainment media as well – I’m all in favour of them. How many titles have been released just in the last few years that would have benefited massively from some additional development time? I can think of many, such as: Anthem, Fallout 76, Mass Effect: Andromeda, No Man’s Sky, 2013’s Star Trek, and WWE 2K20. All of these games released to negative reviews and underwhelming sales, so from that point of view, I fully support the delay to Halo Infinite – and to any other upcoming title that needs it.
I think Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good example of how to screw up a launch, and a great comparison to Halo Infinite. The Mass Effect series was already tarnished by the ending of Mass Effect 3, and was relying on Andromeda to be a semi-reboot of the series. Similarly, the Halo series has been experiencing gradually declining reviews, and while there isn’t one moment fans can point to on a par with Mass Effect 3′s ending that really upset the fanbase, there’s a sense that the series isn’t as good as it once was. Halo Infinite has billed itself as a soft reboot, aiming to return Halo to its roots and put some recent disappointments behind it.
When Mass Effect: Andromeda launched, it was a bug-riddled mess. It was mocked online, and the mockery and memes hurt its sales far more than the mediocre reviews the game received. Halo Infinite has already seen its trailer come under heavy criticism for its visuals, which many felt look decidedly current-gen – an odd criticism for a game that literally is a current-gen game as it will be released on Xbox One, but that’s beside the point. If Halo Infinite were to release later this year in its current form, it would have undoubtedly drawn criticism on a scale similar to Mass Effect: Andromeda. And that game killed the Mass Effect series, which was “put on hiatus” in the aftermath of its disappointing launch and underwhelming sales.
It’s clear that 343 Industries and Microsoft feel that Halo Infinite needs more development time to work on the issues it currently faces. And to them I say: take all the time you need. I’d rather wait a little longer for a better, more polished game than play a rushed, broken mess.
But I don’t agree that it will damage the reputation or sales performance of the Xbox Series X. That’s not because the game doesn’t matter to that console – the Halo series is one of Xbox’s few strong selling points, after all – but because behind-the-scenes business decisions have already condemned the Xbox Series X to second place behind the PlayStation 5. In fact if I were advising Microsoft, I’d ask them if they wanted to take this opportunity to delay the console as well.
Flip the issue on its head, and let’s think about it this way around: would Halo Infinite have been a massive help to the Xbox Series X at launch? Because that’s the fundamental assumption people are making when they say its delay will hurt the console, and from where I’m sitting that doesn’t feel true. If I don’t own an Xbox or a PC and – for some reason – have a desperate need to play Halo Infinite, my best bet is to pick up a cheap Xbox One S or a preowned Xbox One from 2013 and play it there. I don’t need to buy an expensive Xbox Series X to play a game that I could play on a console that costs less than half the price. And if I’m already an Xbox One owner, I’m in no rush to upgrade because every Xbox Series X game is coming my way, including Halo Infinite.
So at the end of the day, Halo Infinite’s delay should be good for the quality of the finished title. I’m all in favour of that. And it won’t have any material impact on the launch of the Xbox Series X – because that console is destined for a seriously disappointing launch anyway.
Halo Infinite is the copyright of 343 Industries and Xbox Game Studios. The Xbox Series X and Xbox One consoles are the property of Microsoft. Header image and Mass Effect: Andromeda promo screenshot courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A couple of days ago, Microsoft showed off another collection of games coming to the Xbox Series X. The console will launch later this year – barring any last-minute delays – and will be facing very stiff competition from Sony’s PlayStation 5. In fact, Xbox seems like it’s repeating some of the same crucial mistakes which left it lagging far behind PlayStation’s sales numbers this generation – and the only way to salvage that, at least in the short term, may be to massively undercut Sony’s new console and sell the Xbox Series X at a very low price.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom from Microsoft’s second attempt at showing off gameplay – I like the look of Avowed, the upcoming game from Obsidian, for example – but generally the reaction to what they showed was muted and underwhelmed. The most stinging criticism was reserved for Halo Infinite, particularly in the graphics department. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, games already look pretty good on current-gen consoles in 2020. And if “better graphics” is basically all a new console has to offer, then those graphics need to be outstanding in order to win people over. Microsoft has shot itself in the foot in that regard by making every Xbox Series X title – including Halo Infinite – also available on Xbox One, at least for the first year or so of the new console’s life. What this means in practice is that any new title is constrained by the system requirements of the original Xbox One – hardware which is now seven years out of date.
Many commentators have said that Halo Infinite looks like a current-gen title. But it is a current-gen title – it’s literally going to be released on the Xbox One, which is a current-gen machine. Everything in Halo Infinite from the ground up has had to be built with that limitation in mind. Even being “enhanced” for the Xbox Series X, Halo Infinite could only go so far. And as I said, when graphics already look decent on current-gen consoles, it’s already a difficult task to show off how much better a game could look on a newer device. That’s without deliberately limiting that game by making it compatible with machines that are now seven years old.
The Halo series has been Xbox’s “killer app” since the first days of the original machine in 2001, but its star quality has been in decline since Bungie left the series a decade ago. The generally average-looking graphics that the newest entry in the series offers, combined with its simultaneous release not only on Xbox One but also on PC, will leave many gamers scratching their heads. Why exactly should I buy an Xbox Series X this winter?
I literally cannot see a reason. Games are what sell consoles – good, pretty, exclusive games. Many of the titles that will be available will be good; Avowed, as mentioned, looks like it has great potential, and I’m also looking forward to Grounded. While some of these games will be designed to take advantage of the Series X’s features to look shinier and prettier, line them up side-by-side with the Xbox One versions – which will look good, as games on that system already do – and if folks struggle to tell the difference, how does Microsoft intend to convince them to spend several hundred pounds (or dollars) on a new system? When none of the games are exclusive and can be played on the older system, if I’m a gamer who already has an Xbox One, what’s the point in upgrading?
In that sense, Microsoft is now having to compete not only with Sony, but the Xbox Series X is competing against the Xbox One – and there’s a clear winner in that regard. Exclusive games can shift millions of systems – I’ve known many people over the years who’ve picked up a console because one game in particular enticed them, and I’ve even been in that position myself. Launching a console with zero exclusive games, and with all of its games also available on the previous generation console seems absolutely bonkers – and I have no doubt Microsoft will see a lacklustre launch for its new system.
The only possible saving grace at this stage is to massively undercut the PlayStation 5 – if the Xbox Series X can be £100-150 cheaper, suddenly it seems a little more enticing. £100 could score two new launch titles, or almost a year of GamePass, the subscription service which is one of Xbox’s few genuinely appealing offerings. Price can play a role in console launches, and it’s no coincidence that the consoles which had the strongest launches in the last two console generations – the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 4 – were both the less expensive option compared with their competitors.
I primarily play on PC. In fact one of my projects over the next few months is to make some upgrades to my gaming setup so I can enjoy things like ray-tracing and perhaps even higher frame rates. So I wasn’t going to be a day-one console buyer this generation regardless of how the new lineup looks. But if I were, I can’t see any reason to buy an Xbox Series X at launch. The only thing that might be able to sway me is price, because if I could make such a significant saving that I could get a year’s subscription to GamePass, and thus access a large library of titles from day one, that’s not a bad offering.
Maybe Xbox will surprise me, and it will turn out that this policy of having no exclusive titles will be a masterstroke, bringing more people into the Xbox brand. I’m just having a hard time seeing how it’s supposed to appeal to a gamer looking for a new console – and as someone who owned all three Xbox consoles in the past I want to see them do well. In fact it’s arguably a necessity – if Xbox fails, there’ll be far less competition in the home console market. Monopolies rarely end well for consumers, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to see at least two companies making a go of it.
At the end of the day, I’m simply not convinced that Xbox has the best approach. PlayStation’s offering for the imminent console generation just seems far more appealing, and unless Xbox can find a way to offer their new machine at a much lower price, I’d expect a clear majority of people who plan to get a next-generation console this year will opt for a PlayStation 5. I know I would. And I’ve always been an Xbox guy.
The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are scheduled to launch in time for Christmas 2020. All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their parent companies, studios, developers, publishers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
With the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 set to launch in just a few months, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the current offerings from Microsoft and Sony and see which was better – subjectively speaking, of course. This has been the second console generation with what I called a “two-plus-one” set of home consoles: Xbox and PlayStation fishing in the same pond, and Nintendo doing its own thing off to one side. This began last generation, when Nintendo stopped competing directly with Xbox and PlayStation and began to reposition itself as a family-friendly, casual-gamer brand. As Nintendo’s consoles have been different, gimmicky, and have a focus on unusual and unique ways to play, I’m setting them aside and just looking a Xbox and PlayStation in this article.
Although exact sales numbers have been hard to come by, PlayStation has been by far the biggest seller this generation. The various PlayStation 4 versions – including the PlayStation 4 Pro – have easily outsold the Xbox One by two-to-one or more, and it isn’t unfair to say they’ve been absolutely dominant. The previous cycle – where the Xbox 360 faced down the PlayStation 3 – couldn’t have been more different. Xbox was dominant then, and it just goes to show how quickly things can change in a fast-moving industry, not to mention how a poor launch can scupper a console’s chances.
The Xbox One’s launch in 2013 could hardly have gone worse for Microsoft. The biggest problem was the always-online nature of the console, which was incredibly controversial and offputting for many gamers. It wasn’t simply a case of always needing to be connected to the internet – which for many people even today is difficult in many regions – but that basic things like lending a game to a friend was incredibly complicated. The initial suggestion was that the Xbox One would need to register every game a player used, and it was unclear at first if two people who each had a separate Xbox account on a single shared console would need two separate copies of the game in order to play. Microsoft talked about a system where players could nominate someone from their friend list to share the disc with, but this raised the spectre of Xbox gamers being unable to trade in old games. The whole thing was a horrible mess, and Sony made a funny video in response, pretending to show in detail how game-sharing would work on PlayStation 4: one person hands the disc to another, and that was the end of the video.
As an aside, most of the big games companies have been looking for ways undermine game trade-ins for a long time. When a shop like Game in the UK or Gamestop in the US buys and then re-sells a title, none of that money goes back to games companies, and they have long felt that the practice cuts into their sales and profits. With physical game shops almost certainly on the way out as gaming moves to an all-digital future, they won’t have that problem any more. For people on low incomes, including younger people, being able to buy games more cheaply second-hand can be a lifeline, and even if most of us are okay with the switch to digital games, a lot of people are going to lose out. But we’ve drifted off-topic!
The Xbox One was initially bundled with the now-abandoned Kinect device, and those first Xbox One consoles required Kinect to be connected at all times. Not only did this have the effect of raising the price of the Xbox One – $499 in the US or £429 in the UK – but there were also pretty serious privacy concerns, especially from some parents’ groups. The Kinect had a front-facing camera, and some people were uncomfortable at the idea of an always-connected, always-online camera in their living room 24/7.
The price issue was huge, though. By tying itself to Kinect – and refusing to release a no-Kinect option – the Xbox One’s price was inflated. The PlayStation 4 was able to come in a hundred dollars cheaper and massively undercut Microsoft – in a similar way to what the Xbox 360 did to the PlayStation 3 in the previous generation. The PlayStation 4 was initially priced at $399 in the US and £349 in the UK; a pretty substantial saving.
Microsoft did later backtrack on some of the internet requirements, but even at launch the Xbox One still required a one-time internet connection in order to complete its setup procedure. It was a climbdown from the always-online requirement, but Microsoft still managed to force internet connectivity in there somehow!
I’ve been lucky this generation to have played on both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. I even bought an Xbox One at launch – despite the issues mentioned above. However, I didn’t have a particularly good time with the machine. While I did have a few games- including at least one exclusive, Ryse: Son of Rome – the console ended up getting used more for watching DVDs and streaming. And I guess that sums up Xbox this generation in a way, as Microsoft aimed to make the console less of a gaming powerhouse and more of an all-in-one multimedia centre.
The lack of decent exclusives has harmed Xbox immeasurably this generation. A number of PlayStation 4 exclusives are regarded among the best games of the last few years: titles like God of War, Uncharted 4, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Bloodborne, and even remasters like The Last of Us, Shadow of the Colossus, and Uncharted 1-3. Xbox simply has very little in response to these outstanding games. The few Xbox exclusives that there have been this generation – and there haven’t been many memorable ones – were average at best. Titles like Sea of Thieves and even the venerable Halo series didn’t come close to accomplishing for the system what Sony’s lineup did for the PlayStation 4.
Before this console generation kicked off in 2013, I’d only played a handful of games on any PlayStation system. Throughout the life of PlayStation as a brand, I’d always had a different console. When the first PlayStation debuted I had a Nintendo 64. When the PlayStation 2 was out in the early 2000s I had a Sega Dreamcast and then an original Xbox. And in the PlayStation 3 days I was an Xbox 360 and Wii owner. It was only when I really wanted to play The Last of Us in 2013 that I treated myself to a PlayStation 3 – the first console in the PlayStation family that I ever owned. I only played a handful of PlayStation 3 games, though, because the current generation of consoles launched a few months later.
Nowadays my primary gaming platform is PC, and that’s been the case for a while actually. Digital distribution via platforms like Steam and the Epic Games Store is just so convenient, and while it’s possible to buy console games as a download too, I like having a powerful, customisable machine that isn’t just useful for gaming. But a couple of years ago I picked up a PlayStation 4, hoping to play some of its tantalising lineup of exclusives. While in terms of the way the consoles work and the graphics put out the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are almost inseparable, in terms of gaming experiences I enjoyed what PlayStation had to offer way more. I no longer own my Xbox One, having given it away several years ago.
Though I’m not a VR gamer, it’s worth adding that PlayStation tried very hard to make virtual reality mainstream this generation. The PlayStation 4’s VR kit is by far the most successful VR platform at the moment, and has helped take what was a niche idea much further than anyone thought possible.
Both in terms of my personal experience with these two consoles, as well as in terms of objective sales data, the PlayStation 4 has been by far the better and more successful offering this generation. And as I mentioned a few days ago, with Xbox looking set to repeat some key mistakes this time around, especially in terms of exclusive games, I don’t see that changing when the next generation of consoles launch either.
The Xbox brand is the copyright of Microsoft, and the PlayStation brand is the copyright of Sony. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
In the absence of any news at all about the PlayStation 5, Xbox has had the floor to itself when it comes to marketing for their next-generation console, the awfully-named Xbox Series X. They announced the console back in December, and its design, controller, and even its specifications have all been shown off. The next thing Microsoft had to do was show off gameplay, which they finally did in a trailer which was released alongside a scaled-down promotional event.
The trailer has not been well-received, with its like-to-dislike ratio on YouTube skewing very negative, and I think that there are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that the trailer promised “gameplay”, and much of what was shown was not actual gameplay, but concepts and “in-engine footage”, which is industry code for pre-rendered visuals. There can be a world of difference from CGI created using a game’s engine and how a game actually looks when being played – something gamers are ever more aware of in an age of shady marketing.
So for Xbox gamers who wanted to see how good games might actually look on the Xbox Series X, the trailer didn’t deliver, at least for a significant amount of its runtime. But there is another issue, a bigger issue which speaks not just to Microsoft’s current strategy but to the pace of development in the games industry overall.
Games on a current-gen console can look pretty good. Even titles that are five or six years old can still look absolutely amazing – many people cite The Witcher 3 from 2015 or 2018’s Red Dead Redemption II as being among the most beautiful games ever made, and I’d add into the mix titles like Project Cars, which was released in 2015, as being another example of a game that is still visually stunning. These titles and others were, as all big-budget titles have been this console generation, limited by the available hardware – in Microsoft’s case, the Xbox One, which was released in 2013. Any game had to be able to run on 2013 hardware efficiently, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to be sold. So all of the titles mentioned had that limitation and still managed to look fantastic.
I was struck when writing an article earlier this week by two screenshots. The screenshots were from games released only a decade apart, both in the same franchise, and the difference in what was capable is truly remarkable. The first screenshot was taken from Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on the SNES, a game from 1993. The second was from Knights of the Old Republic, a 2003 title for the Xbox and PC. See the difference for yourself below:
What’s immediately apparent is how far games had come in such a short span of time. Not just the visuals, though that’s a huge part of it. But Super Star Wars was 2D, with no voices and only text. It was a fun game, but it was just a game. And this is partly my own bias showing, as Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favourite games of all time, but that game feels cinematic; it’s a beautiful 3D world which the player can explore, fully voiced by some pretty great actors, and it drags the player into the story in a way the older title just… didn’t. In short, it was leaps and bounds ahead of Super Star Wars and came a mere ten years later. Many of today’s games – even the big-budget, AAA titles – could have been made ten years ago and wouldn’t feel terribly out of place.
The change from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was probably the smallest ever, especially in graphical terms. To stick with Microsoft, as they’re the subject of this piece, games produced in the latter part of the Xbox 360’s life, like Mass Effect 2, for example, still hold up today as being perfectly acceptable in terms of how they look. In fact, if Mass Effect 2 were released today, I’d be perfectly happy with a game that looked like that even in 2020 – and herein lies Microsoft’s challenge, and the groundwork for their undoing.
For a variety of reasons, the pace of advancement in computing has slowed. Where processor speeds rocketed up through the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, the rate of change has slowed. Modern CPUs and GPUs are still better and offer more by way of performance than their predecessors, but the change is less noticeable with each iteration than it used to be. There’s also the general lack of a major new feature or way of playing compared to the introduction of 3D worlds, or even the creation of new genres which means that a new generation of consoles in 2020 lacks a “killer app” – something brand-new that the current generation can’t offer.
In Microsoft’s case this is compounded by a strange decision to make all Xbox Series X titles also available on the current Xbox One during the new console’s first couple of years of life. To reiterate the point I made earlier, every single title is thus limited by the system specifications of 2013’s Xbox One. In order to remain compatible with that console, a game is constrained in what it can do and how far it can push boundaries.
That combination of factors has come together to make the Xbox Series X an underwhelming prospect. In addition, many of the games scheduled to launch alongside the console are from franchises that have been around for a long time. Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Forza, and many others are all game series that that players are familiar with, and that combination – the similar visuals and the familiar games – makes the Xbox Series X feel like nothing new. And with all of its titles supposedly available on Xbox One, I’m left wondering – as many people seem to be – just why anyone would bother buying an Xbox Series X, especially at launch.
The new console offers a barebones upgrade in terms of graphics, which is even less noticeable compared to the Xbox One X, and no unique titles or ways to play. That just doesn’t seem like good value – or offer any value at all. About the only thing that the Xbox Series X claims to offer that’s new is the ability to output 8K visuals – but there are very few 8K screens right now, and no games that run natively in 8K. While that might be great future-proofing, as of right now it represents a big dose of nothing.
The only other changes and improvements on offer are minor quality-of-life things: the battery life of the control pad, the reduced loading times thanks to switching from a hard drive to a solid-state drive, and perhaps a shinier interface are really all the Xbox Series X has to offer. In a previous console generation, if you were to stack up a Nintendo 64 against a Nintendo GameCube, or a Sega Saturn against a Dreamcast the differences are immediate and obvious. Nothing in Xbox’s “gameplay reveal trailer” looked any different to what’s already available, and while we don’t yet have the console in our hands to confirm this, I would bet good money that an awful lot of consumers would genuinely struggle to tell the difference between an Xbox One X and an Xbox Series X version of the same game. I will be really interested to see a side-by-side, frame-by-frame comparison when the new console launches!
I really do sympathise with Xbox fans who feel let down. And in a way, even though this console generation has dragged on to become one of the longest, if there really isn’t much to gain from creating new consoles, there’s an argument to be made that companies should wait and continue to make the most of what’s already available; trying to force what looks to be a pretty minor upgrade onto gamers seems, at least on the surface, to be rather anti-consumer. I’d wager that’s the main reason why a lot of people came away from Microsoft’s trailer unsatisfied: none of the titles on offer or the graphics shown off feel better than what’s already available – or even any different – and the end result is that people feel as though they’re being asked to buy a very similar product to what they already have to access these samey titles.
Nintendo realised a long time ago that the value of a new console is tied to innovation and doing things differently. By focusing less on graphics and raw power, two of Nintendo’s three most recent consoles (the Wii U being an exception) have been wildly successful by offering players something genuinely different to what was already on offer. Xbox doesn’t do that, and when all the Xbox Series X has to offer is an increase in power and graphical fidelity, it’s no longer good enough for its games to look “great”; they need to look significantly better than those titles that are already available. The verdict from the trailer is that they simply don’t.
The Xbox Series X and Xbox One are the copyright of Microsoft. The Xbox Series X is due for release before the end of 2020. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.