Last week at the 2019 Game Developers Conference (GDC), Google took to the stage to reveal their vision for the future of gaming. Google Stadia is a streaming platform which reportedly allows AAA games to be played in quality exceeding that of existing “box” consoles - like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One - on any device which can run Google’s proprietary Chrome web browser.
I don't want anyone to think that the burning, deep-seated rage I harbour for Google's incredibly annoying AMP project has flavoured my opinion on Stadia and it's ridiculous name in any way.
I’ve embraced this age of technology as much as I'm ever going to. I care not for the little pictures people use in place of words, and I refuse to learn how to conjure them myself, but, somehow, my games library is entirely digital. While I’m obviously not attached to the physical, I don't feel the need to switch to streaming when downloads provide more options and greater stability, along with much of the same ease of access.
Google certainly have the infrastructure to handle such a service, plus they now count numerous high-ranking games industry veterans amongst their ranks. Men and women, all far more intelligent than I, have devoted countless hours to the creation of something I couldn't even begin to understand - yet - that very same company believes forcing me to click an extra couple of times to view the webpage I'm looking for is progress. At best, it's a minor annoyance I face multiple times a day. At worst, it's motive.
There is no hell hot enough, nor Starburst yellow enough, for these people.
Just imagine that all of the Starburst are yellow...
Back in the day I was fortunate (?) enough to be sent OnLive, the conceptual prototype for a game streaming service that never really met its potential. Stadia, and, more importantly, the infrastructure powering it from one of the most powerful companies in the world, could finally realise that future.
The limiting factor for online services, as I'm sure everyone is already aware, are internet speeds. Finally, decades after the World Wide Web was first conceived, the data speeds many of us have access to are approaching levels conducive to this idea actually working.
Lag with OnLive was immense. We’re not talking the slight irritation of out-of-sync Rock Band, but literal seconds between input and on-screen reaction, to the point that Batman: Arkham Asylum’s revolutionary ‘freeflow combat’ was anything but.
If the reality lives up to the vision (especially the BOLD claim about hitting 8K/120 FPS), then Stadia could be something seriously impressive technically. If it’s also priced in a sensible fashion, without being plastered with ads, then it could be a great way to experience and discover a range of new games in the future.
Sony ended up purchasing OnLive and shifting it towards their PlayStation Now service.
Consuming media content via streaming services may be the standard for most people these days, but I don’t think it’ll ever be more than a novelty when it comes to gaming, at least for the time being. The ability to play AAA games in all their glory almost anywhere on almost any device sure sounds good, but I think we’re at least a decade away from it being an industry standard.
I live in a major European city and my internet is still patchy at best, so the idea of relying on that dodgy connection to play games uninterrupted is neither appealing or seemingly realistic.
I’m only likely to give Microsoft’s Project xCloud a try because I’m already established within the Xbox ecosystem and, I’m assuming, it won’t cost anything extra on top of Gold and Game Pass subscriptions to give it a whirl.
Personally, I can’t see Stadia, Project xCloud and whatever Amazon are cooking up being anything more than a fad - a passing interest for some that’ll eventually be dropped.
It’s taken longer than expected, but here we are: the big bastards of tech are entering the gaming fray, regardless of whether anyone wanted them to or not.
Google has the money. Google has many of the greatest technological minds working for them. Google has the browser history of half the world - yes, Mr. Townsend, you were policing the internet… It’s for these reasons and more that I think they’ve got a chance.
But - oh, yes - what if you have internet with all the speed of yours truly? Google is promising this won’t be a problem, but when large cheddars like Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot are describing it as “complementary” to existing devices, there must be a reason.
Also, what about those fellows that like owning real-world things to hold between their sausage fingers? I bloody love me Xbox Game Pass, but that won’t stop me from buying something physical that I’m genuinely interested in - the same goes for music and film, too, and there are plenty of folks in the same boat.
Where does that leave us, then? The proper answer: we won’t know until it releases. My answer: it’ll probably be for casual shit until broadband speeds and reliability improve, and the fancy wi-fi controller will probably cost £100 or something ridic. Next.
Stadia controllers connect via wi-fi to communicate directly with the server and negate input lag.
Are you sold on streaming with Stadia? Let us know in the comments below.
We’ve all heard the buzz phrase, but what exactly does ‘game as a service’ mean? It’s a burgeoning trend whereby games, be they free-to-play or premium, are specifically designed around maintaining a devoted player base. That following will then, most likely, be asked (or required) to devote their time and money to this one monopolising title for the foreseeable future.
Are these screens from Anthem or Destiny? ... It's Anthem, but you probably couldn't tell.
My experience with service games extends to probably the model’s two most (in)famous perpetrators, Destiny and The Division, both of which I’ve actually quite enjoyed.
That isn’t because I love the grind, but because I treated them as disposable entertainment, engaging only with elements I felt like on the odd occasion I fancied.
Destiny may have been lacking in the story department, but Bungie’s solid gameplay and dry humour made up for that, allowing me to sink dozens of hours into the game without the pull of a traditional narrative to keep things moving.
I did much the same with The Division, though the atmosphere played a bigger part in bringing me back there. I enjoyed hunting down snippets of story away from campaign missions, which served to expand the in-game vision of the future by offering snapshots of life before, during and after its deadly outbreak.
I never touched the endgame for either, but I still feel like I got my money’s worth. I also don’t think the significant number of hours required to max out titles like Destiny or The Division is any worse than huge single-player games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which also want to monopolise your time.
Single-player games increasingly offer recurrent play and spending opportunities; does that put them in the same boat?
I'm not against paying for a promise; I can see the value of pre-order bonuses and season passes, and I've even seriously considered chipping in on a Kickstarter project on at least one occasion. It's the untrustworthiness of those making the promises which often turns me off. EA might say they have plans to support Anthem forever, or that they won't ruin Star Wars, but what reason do we have to believe them?
One solution would be to wait for a 'complete' release and buy into a product rather than a service, but that comes with its own downsides. You'll miss out on limited-time events, members of your friend group may have moved on, plus, even if they haven’t, the general player base is almost sure to have dwindled. The probability of these (and other) issues cropping up steadily grows closer to certain as more and more time passes.
As long as the price of the base game reflects the amount of content at launch, with every expansion following suit, I'm all for the concept. The problem is, outside of a select few free-to-play titles, that’s rarely the case.
Warframe is one of few service games to execute the model in pretty much unobjectionable fashion.
Short answer? It doesn't really work for me. One of the biggest things that makes games as a service work for publishers in particular is continued engagement, and, as far as that goes, I'm not the target consumer.
With news that The Division 2's physical sales are a mere 20% of its predecessor, there's a clear indication (amongst other factors) that the importance of getting involved at the ground floor is on the decline for titles focused around ongoing live experiences.
High profile games like No Man's Sky and Destiny have seen huge improvements in critical and audience reception since their launch, both proudly flying the “it’s good now” flag. The fact that publishers seem to rely on this gradual build is disconcerting, and audiences are beginning to not have the patience or faith in these titles as we're increasingly seeing first week sales miss expectations (Fallout 76).
The biggest problem for me is that I don't have enough free time in my week to give several hours a day or more to one game - let alone multiple - and when the initial experience is so underwhelming, why should I?
Despite positive press, sales figures seem to suggest that The Division 2 could be barren.
Does Destiny dominate your free time? Anthem annihilate your wallet? Whether that's the case or you think service games are a plague, be sure to let us know in the comments below.
From terrible twosomes to peachy pairs, videogames have hosted a wide variety of iconic duos. These are our picks of the bunch.
Liam | Master Chief and Cortana - Halo
Nobody likes backseat drivers, but when you’re working for the UNSC, beggars - or rather, children stolen from their families and secretly raised to be unstoppable super soldiers – can’t be choosers. An AI living in your head might not sound like the most appealing idea, but in Halo it makes perfect sense.
Cortana’s super intelligence compliments the Master Chief’s raw power perfectly, giving him (and the player) the means to pull off humanity-saving acts of heroism that might otherwise have proven impossible.
The two serve as a reassuring presence during some of the series’ darker moments, making light of heavy situations with pithy one-liners and quick-fire solutions. Halo just isn't the same whenever the Chief and Cortana are apart.
That being said, there was also a sombre undertone to their relationship, stemming from a realisation that, eventually, their adventures together would have to come to an end. Their story arc helped to humanise two decidedly inhuman characters and raised the narrative bar of the original three games, allowing it to reach the same lofty heights as the genre-defining gameplay.
Chris | Ico and Yorda - Ico
Escort missions have a bad reputation. Games generally have you engage in an immersive power fantasy, and there's little that’ll pull you out of that mindset quicker than having to babysit some mere mortal. Ico - the eponymous protagonist of Ico - is no deity, soldier or even man: he’s just a boy. This puts Yorda, your escortee, on relatively equal footing and that results in an immediate feeling that you need one another to survive.
Despite being two strangers with a language barrier, they work together. Yorda is unable to defend herself from the shadowy creatures sent to kidnap her, meaning Ico has to do all of the legwork when it comes to combat, but without her to open doors around the castle he’d be trapped.
A profound innocence sits at the core of their companionship; both were wronged by those who owed them a duty of care, but upon meeting, whether by serendipity or fate, they show only compassion for one another.
The story of Ico and Yorda is not one of hopelessness or despair, rather it’s one of friendship. Specifically, a strained and forced friendship, born out of necessity and probable to be short-lived (unless someone learns to pick up a damn stick and wave it around a little).
James | Banjo and Kazooie - Banjo-Kazooie
While the game in general might be, *ahem*, inspired by the exploits of a certain plumber in Super Mario 64, there's no denying the personality of the dynamic starring duo of 1998's Banjo-Kazooie.
Banjo the bear and Kazooie the bird (a red-crested breegull, if you were wondering) are a classic buddy pairing of straight man and comedian - or comedienne, in this case. Wise-cracking Kazooie continually raises a smile, picking on poor Banjo and generally being cheeky to everyone she meets.
More importantly, the pair compliment each other in gameplay terms, offering unique moves both specific to themselves and to execute in tandem. Then, in sequel Banjo-Tooie, they’re further characterised and diversified when allowed to split up for a bit.
The fun, whimsy and excitement of the world they find themselves in only adds to their endearing nature as well, all in a stylised fashion which dynamically emphasises the many contrasts between them.
Memorable, fun and exciting throughout, Banjo and Kazooie are the heroes we need right now (just not in a Nuts 'n' Bolts sequel, thanks).
Rob | Link and Epona - The Legend of Zelda
Football had Shearer and Sheringham, Hollywood had the two Kevs - Lord Costner and Reynolds - gaming had Link and Epona. The 90s were tickety-boo, weren’t they?
Many would argue that the ‘real’ duo in Ocarina of Time, a game I first played back in 1999, were everyone’s favourite left-handed Aryan, Link, and most folks’ least favourite fairy, Navi, BUT HEY, LISTEN - you can’t beat a fox hunter’s best friend, alright.
So, alas, join me in climbing aboard the steed of nostalgia, destination: Lon Lon Ranch. It’s almost impossible to come away from this area untouched by the emotional double-whammy that accompanies a horseback race win, stranded between disappointment - thanks to that sore-losing bastard, Ingo - and sheer glee, as you hurdle the corner fence to freedom.
Back in ‘99, before widely available internet guides, figuring out this naughty trick was some kinda something. The best part was yet to come, though, of course, as Epona not only saved Link’s legs, but proved to be an integral part of the journey. The old gal jumping the broken bridge leading to the desert is another classic gaming memory pour moi.
It says everything that my main gripe with Breath of the Wild was Nintendo locking Epona behind an amiibo, which still aggrieves me to this day...
Which gaming dream team of two are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.
Last week, during the Pokémon 23rd anniversary celebrations, a Nintendo Direct presentation revealed the series’ eighth generation of games. Scheduled to hit Switch late this year, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield whisk players away to the new Galar region, where they’ll encounter countless new forms of pocket monster.
James | Scorbunny
While there's no question an element of a starter's appeal is its final evolution, which are under wraps for now, the base trio this time around are at least a more crowd-friendly bunch than those seen in Pokémon Sun and Moon (poor Popplio).
Nevertheless, as we're going to be pitting these pocket monsters in bloodthirsty battle, it's clear to me that Scorbunny is the only one of the three with any fight in it - perhaps literally. Sobble looks like a tadpole with all the charisma of Eeyore, and Grookey?! Did they just smash together the words "grass" and "monkey"? Oh Pokémon, I haven’t been more disappointed in you since Trubbish.
Plus we've already had Froakie and Aipom as starters; at least other rabbit-inspired ‘mon have been wild ones, so Scorbunny doesn't feel as derivative.
Finally, the fun inherent to a fire-type can't be ignored. Who doesn't love a bit of recurring burn damage? It's not like you get recurrent wet damage every turn!
Liam | Grookey
Choosing a starter Pokémon is all about forward thinking - they may be adorable little blighters now, but what sort of monstrosity are they going to turn into down the line?
You couldn’t really go wrong with the original trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle – all of whom had badass evolutions – but my recent experience with Pokémon Moon’s Litten, namely the part where he morphed into some awful human-cat hybrid, has taught me to proceed with caution.
Out of the Sword and Shield starters I’m especially concerned about Scorbunny. It already looks weird as is, but I can see its final evolution being the stuff of nightmares, similar to the were-rabbit from Wallace and Gromit.
Grookey gets my vote, simply because he’s the cutest (for now) and I’m a big fan of grass-type Pokémon, particularly with starters. Sobble may have the (admittedly cool) ability to turn invisible, but would you really want a Pokémon that’s going to go missing?
Chris | Grookey
Having never played a Pokémon game and knowing very little about the franchise (you kidnap woodland creatures and force them to fight for sport?), I assumed that I didn't really have a dog in this fight. That was until Sam ranked my choice of starter as last.
We're all entitled to our opinions, but do you trust those held by a man who thinks that Knack wasn't actually that bad? A man who once made a woman cry because he was in a bit of a rush? That doesn't seem wise.
James would have you believe that Scorbunny is the obvious choice. He’d also have you believe that Rockstar's open-world epics are anything but, and that LEGO is terrible in all of its forms. Clearly, this is a man barely hanging on to the cliffs of reason, as each crashing wave loosens his grip and saps his sanity.
These are not the people you want making decisions for you. Now Liam - there’s a smart lad! Only a master tactician would understand the true value of good turret placement, and, as an RPG aficionado, Liam is not only my favourite member of Team PTC, but the only one worth listening to.
Other than me, of course. That’s why Grookey is the one.
Which new Pokémon is your choice of starter? Let us know in the comments below.
With the release of great titles like The Surge and Vampyr, increasingly prolific publisher Focus Home Interactive have been distancing themselves from the somewhat derogatory ‘Eurojank’ label often applied to their catalogue in previous years – so called due to a comparative lack of polish when held up to American and Japanese contemporaries. Now, in collaboration with relatively unknown French developer Asobo Studio, new IP A Plague Tale: Innocence looks set to be the final nail in the coffin for that particular adjective.
Whilst A Plague Tale is firmly rooted in reality, this particular mystery feels like it could play out in a number of... interesting ways, though it’s important to note that’s only based on speculation at this stage.
That being said, there’s definitely an element of whimsy to the visuals which is cause for our thoughts to drift towards the fantastical. In Asobo’s rendition of medieval France, the sun shines that bit brighter on lush forests of vibrant green, whilst dark areas are deeply black and weak light sources serve to highlight the grotesque. Everything is idealistically implemented, which could feel jarring or false, but transitions between extremes are gradual and really help in envisioning things from the naive perspective of an inexperienced leading duo.
Simple moments of visual splendour can spur you on during what seem like hopeless times, but little Hugo is the real driving force on that front. He’s charmingly innocent and polite, at least as far as you could reasonably expect, but those features won’t do him much good now. Factor in his sickness and you’ll quickly grow attached to the boy, which is fortunate, as the early stages of A Plague Tale might otherwise feel like an escort mission.
You’ll need to instruct Hugo to wait and follow as your situation dictates, keeping him hidden from armed guards whom he’s otherwise helpless to resist. Leave him unattended for too long though and he’ll become scared, potentially attracting unwanted attention, so you’ll need to plan and execute stealth maneuvers efficiently.
Once again small touches make all the difference here, as Amicia physically reaches out upon recalling Hugo, taking him by the hand in an effort to both calm and guide him. Frequent contact between the two makes it abundantly clear that Amicia, and by extension you, don’t just bark orders but help him through genuine concern for his well being.
Hugo can be independent though, solving many an impasse by crawling through tight spaces or travelling alternate routes off-limits to Amicia, ultimately manufacturing her safe passage. These situations are generally spelled out through the game’s heavily accented dialogue, authentically delivered by an appropriately-aged cast, which helps to keep the pacing snappy during what is, thus far, a linear adventure with a stark focus on narrative. In this day and age that’s quite refreshing, though it doesn’t mean there aren’t light puzzles to solve and optional areas to explore, which often house an array of collectibles and crafting materials.
Those materials can be used to upgrade equipment at workbenches, most notably to allow your sling - powered by rocks found within the environment - to deliver lethal headshots to exposed domes. The sling takes a brief-but-satisfying moment to reach full speed as you spin it up and align a shot, but can’t be too heavily relied upon as it’s noisy enough to give away your position. In these situations, you may want to throw your makeshift ammunition by hand to create a distant distraction.
During certain set-piece moments this choice of approach is taken out of your hands, as you run from crowds of enemies – be they human or rodent – in tense chase scenes and face a scripted boss encounter, requiring you to utilise Amicia’s dodge and backstep moves in a close-quarters skirmish.
Rats can’t be so easily avoided, infesting the screen thousands at a time as they frantically scuttle over one another in a desperate effort to devour anything flesh, glowing red eyes illuminating the dark all the while. They’re reminiscent of the Locust from Gear of War, telegraphing their arrival as the ground rumbles before they burst through to the surface, only there’s no simple means of dispatching them here.
All you can hope to do is avoid the swarm, keeping them at bay with light sources which are often quick to burn out, or, failing that, distracting them with meat - be it living or dead. They’re a plague in every sense of the word, made all the more vile during a fleeting trip below ground through one of their gnarled, oozing nests.
These finer environmental details are easy to appreciate, as A Plague Tale looks outstanding across the board; lighting and textures are a particular highlight though, even at lower graphics presets. Sound is similarly fine-tuned, with audio reverb switching as you transition in and outdoors during conversation, plus an evolving orchestral soundtrack.
The lasting impression of our time with A Plague Tale: Innocence is just how much of themselves Asobo Studio have poured into the game. It’s clearly a passion project from a developer that’s very reliably, but perhaps uninspiringly, been entrusted with handling a variety of ports before now.
Mechanics and relationships begin to develop in meaningful ways during the opening chapters, leaving us eager to see how they’ll continue to blossom in what should be the game’s remaining ten-or-so hours. The complete journey seems set to be a harrowing one, poised to deepen the siblings’ already developing scars, so we can’t help but anticipate trying to assist them in emerging unscathed come A Plague Tale’s release this May.
A Plague Tale: Innocence launches 14 May on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.