It’s no secret that the Xbox One has struggled to keep up with its main competitor, the PlayStation 4, this console generation. Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox at Microsoft, and fans alike are keenly aware that, both in terms of sales and overall perception, team green are lagging behind.
Sea of Thieves was somewhat of a disappointment.
With Sony's planned absence from E3, the Xbox team really have a chance to shine next year. The jaded cynic in me realises they've always had the opportunity and never fully seized it, but I am feeling positive about the brand as a whole.
Exclusives have always been a sticking point, but more so recently as the likes of God of War and Spider-Man have gone unanswered by PlayStation's biggest rival. Microsoft acquiring new first-party studios should mean fresh exclusives are on the way, making it clear that Xbox are building towards a better future.
Game Pass is constantly being made more enticing, to the extent that I'm now fully behind the idea. Perpetually delayed exclusive Crackdown 3 sits firmly at the top of my most wanted list and is finally visible through the fog; what’s more, it can be played on launch day at no additional cost for Game Passers! I also discovered Forza Horizon 4, which is a lot more fun than a simple driving game has any business being, and State of Decay 2 is potentially the best zombie survival title that my abject cowardice has prevented me from exploring.
If it was more concrete, I’d mention Fable 4 here, but it isn't, so I won't.
Game Pass represents a great value proposition for Xbox fans.
Xbox is boring. That's not necessarily a bad thing, in that reliability often equates to being considered boring, but it's clear that the excitement felt when Microsoft entered the market just over 17 years ago, introducing their hulking, green monster, has long since dissipated.
Being the underdog has its advantages though, and the brand has cunningly been getting its ducks in a row by buying up fistfuls of studios, including the minds behind Forza Horizon, State of Decay and more recently Obsidian, who brought us Fallout: New Vegas way back when.
Potential is the biggest factor here, in that many of the studios have done good work in the past but, arguably, not consistently delivered (possibly with the exception of Playground Games). It’ll be interesting to see whether they can bring new ideas or if they'll be pigeonholed into developing more of what they’re known for, which could ultimately seal their fate in Microsoft's developer dungeon alongside Rare.
Hardware could make a splash at E3, but we can only hope Microsoft have learned from the cold reception to the Xbox One's introduction, infamously handled by former Head Don Mattrick, and bring us something exciting and memorable (for the right reasons) instead.
Crackdown 3 is the next big Xbox exclusive, set to launch 15 February 2019.
Ever since Xbox One’s botched E3 reveal and the whole ‘always online’ saga, it was obvious Microsoft would be playing second fiddle to Sony this generation.
Though disappointing for fans, the silver lining in lagging behind is that the Xbox team has had to be more creative in order to win people over.
Would we have seen all first-party releases, in addition to the occasional third-party title, as day one additions to Xbox Game Pass, or even a Game Pass at all, if Xbox had been the market leader? The sorely-lacking-by-comparison PlayStation Now service suggests not.
It’d obviously be great to see Xbox knocking out impressive games in the same vein as God of War and Spider-Man, but with the amount of studios Microsoft have been amassing I’m sure their equivalent, or at least something of a similar ilk, will be coming to Xbox soon enough.
More than optimistic, I’m excited about the potential of the next batch of Xbox consoles and the games that’ll grace them. As someone who often has to fight for control of the TV, the rumours suggesting we’ll be able to play games on our laptops or phones via streaming is something I’m especially keen to see more of.
Xbox One X has been offering players upgraded performance and visuals for over a year now.
I’m a relative newcomer to all things Xbox, my first Microsoft console being a delicious Xbox One bundle I picked up back in 2016. I’d had no real prior interest, being an avid PlayStation and Nintendo boy, but the online play and a chance to sample new franchises led me slowly to the green side.
With that in mind, do I see a bright future for Pippy Spencer and his band of silicone sailors? Yes, I really do.
There are so many positives to take from the last year or so: the incredible Game Pass service; the acquisition of fantastic new studios; backwards.funking.compatibility; frequently updated, superior UI and iterations on an already industry-leading controller.
Much like Sam, I enjoy the PS4 for its big budget exclusives, but it’s the more accommodating Xbox interface that has me turning that machine on every day for both games and entertainment. I should add that I buy all multi-platform releases on the base Xbox One, in spite of its lacklustre power, such is my preference.
That said, there’s no denying that Microsoft need to work on first-party games. I do, however, fully expect Ninja Theory to help close that gap, as I already believe Hellblade rivals God of War.
Forza Horizon 4 is the latest stellar entry in Microsoft's flagship racing franchise.
How are you feeling about Xbox going forward? Justified in your purchase? Perhaps looking to pick a console up for the first time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Don’t adjust your calendars, it definitely is 2018. Spyro’s currently setting the world ablaze, Crash reached all major platforms just a few short months ago, and Sir Daniel Fortesque recently reanimated for a spanking new MediEvil trailer. All that ‘90s nostalgia has us thinking on what old timers we’d like to see make a comeback next.
Chris | Hogs of War
Hogs of War was essentially Worms 3D before Worms 3D was Worms 3D. Two or more teams of belligerent boars face off in a deathmatch with all manner of weapons and equipment, until only one team remains. But, like, in 3D.
If it was re-released now, Hogs of War wouldn't win any awards, much like it didn't when it launched almost two decades ago. The graphics were nothing to shout about, the controls were often clunky and the very idea was a completely unoriginal take on something that had been done before. Hogs of War was at the top of the bell curve in almost every way. I don't state this simply to rip it to shreds, rather to emphasise that, in spite of its shortcomings, it had something.
That something was, for me at least, the campaign. Expertly narrated by the late, great Rik Mayall, the story (filled with as many pork-based puns as the developers could pack in) was firmly tongue-in-cheek with a generous helping of silliness.
The only downside to a remake would be that Mayall couldn’t reprise his role.
Liam | MechWarrior 3050
After much deliberation, my pick goes to SNES action title MechWarrior 3050, a game that came into my possession one glorious Christmas morning way back when.
I can’t remember why exactly you were tasked with stomping around bases and shooting up the place, but I do remember being very impressed with the giant mech on the box and the game’s customisable loadouts. I wasn’t so impressed, however, with how hard it became after the opening level.
It was a problem that couldn’t even be solved with the help of a sibling, thanks to the game’s challenging and bizarre co-op system that saw control of a single mech split between two players, placing someone in charge of aiming and firing while the other person managed navigation.
I don’t know if I was just too young to handle the difficulty curve or whether it was a genuinely unforgiving game, but there’s a massive portion of MechWarrior 3050 that I never got to experience. That’s something I’d gladly remedy should an updated version ever be announced, provided it isn’t equally as hard and I find myself replaying the (admittedly awesome) first level over and over all over again.
Rob | International Superstar Soccer
Another week, another tough decision to make, folks. Many of the great series that I loved as a kid have either already been resurrected (Crash) or aren’t far off making their way back (Shenmue 3, Streets of Rage 4). One series I played more than any, mind, was Konami’s pre-PES arcade festival of football, International Superstar Soccer.
Eyeball destroying colours; fast, fun gameplay; players not belonging to the era; commentary so disjointed it was exquisitely bad - ISS was a most delicious arcade casserole. Whether you played the deep league and scenario modes solo, or enjoyed the gymnastic goalkeepers and banana shots against a friend, ISS provided what Arsene Wenger would describe as "top, top, top-top quality" to the video gaming fussball fanatic.
Unfortunately, though, the lean towards simulation by Konami meant an untimely end to the series not long after the new millennium began. In spite of how much I might enjoy the perfect passing and pace of Pro Evo, or the licensing and attention to detail of FIFA, my heart yearns for a return to the simpler, and ultimately more fun, days of ISS.
What game would you most like to see make a comeback? Got a preference between our picks? Let us know in the comments below.
Today marks the release of Fallout 76, the first game in Bethesda’s acclaimed RPG series (which is typically catered to lone wanderers) featuring online multiplayer. In itself that wouldn’t be particularly controversial, but the fact it’s compulsory has rubbed some Fallout fans the wrong way, despite it being promised that the game can still be enjoyed solo within its online environment.
Without online-only extras, I wouldn't have played Grand Theft Auto V on and off most weeks since it originally launched - Grand Theft Auto Online simply makes the game for me. Sure, there was multiplayer a-plenty in GTA IV, but, as any true fan would tell you, GTA Online is what’s made the game into the most valuable media property of all time.
At launch there wasn't really much to shout about, just a few race and deathmatch options, but over time it gradually grew and expanded, letting you start a biker gang, run your own club and even fit out your money laundering business with a mobile command centre.
Then there were heists. Almost a whole game mode on their own, these multi-part missions kept players entertained by taking them all across the map and even weaving in characters and storylines from singleplayer, which, of course, I was utterly oblivious to.
While there might have been more memorable moments to be found in singleplayer, it's the unique experiences of online which make me say I love playing GTA, and I'm sure Red Dead Online will have something interesting for us to knock our spurs against as well.
As you can probably already tell, I’ve no problem bypassing singleplayer modes in favour of heading straight online, so I say bring on Fallout 76 and more of its kind.
Grand Theft Auto Online
Some games would appear to lend themselves well to an online-only format, but there's always going to be something lost in the shift from singleplayer to multiplayer. Fallout 4-but-with-co-op (or insert game of your choice) sounds like a great idea as long as the story doesn't suffer. That's not to say the story in any multiplayer outing will inherently be subpar, it's just that the way you absorb it can be radically different when you're in a party.
Online titles are, by definition, meant to be a shared experience. While most don't require a group, or any measure of human interaction, a lot of players will want to socialise in the digital world and it's this specific demographic whose desires are being accommodated.
I've found the issue that will often arise, is that everyone has a different schedule and some are further in the story than others, so attempting to untangle a complex narrative whilst tackling missions in no particular order is akin to trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle using only the shapes of the pieces as a guide.
This is my sole gripe with the idea. As long as the gameplay is solid enough and the story is inessential, yet passable, I'm all for it.
The Elder Scrolls Online
How do you feel about franchises shifting their focus from singleplayer to multiplayer? Let us know below.
In last week's feature, Team PTC shared the games they'd like to have see on Sony's upcoming PlayStation Classic.
Sony recently revealed the full list of 20 games that’ll be included with the PlayStation Classic when it hits store shelves later this year. The likes of Tekken 3, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII are undoubtedly deserving of their places, but a few more questionable inclusions leave something to be desired.
Chris | Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
I was in love with Soul Reaver from the very start. The opening cutscene sees our hero, if the vampiric Raziel could be called such a thing, suffer an excruciating death at the hands of Kain, all for the crime of daring to grow wings before his master. Resurrected by an Elder God, Raziel is assigned the urgent mission of taking up arms against his former brethren and putting an end to his liege.
It was a gripping introduction and one that I must have watched at least a dozen times all in all. Kain, once the protagonist of the previous title, Blood Omen, is immediately thrust into the role of antagonist; there's no moral gray area here, he's a straight-up bad guy and Raziel becomes a much more likeable character because of it.
Not only was the narrative engaging, but the graphics were superb and the combat was smooth. Puzzles could be a little tricky at times, especially those which required you to switch between the material and spectral planes, but it was always rewarding to finally figure out how to beat a certain section and move on with the story (even if it was occasionally down to dumb luck).
Whilst I'm sure the years haven’t been kind to Soul Reaver, I’d be eager to deliver Kain his comeuppance all over again.
James | Command and Conquer: Red Alert
Now, I know what you're thinking: a real-time strategy game without the flexibility of a mouse and keyboard simply shouldn't work, so this pick should be buried before I even finish this sentence - but hear me out.
In the carefree days of the late ‘90s, multiplayer was in its infancy. The Multitap was scarce and even additional controllers were uncommon, so it fell to the humble link cable to bring players together. Red Alert (as the cool kids called it at the time) was a game perfectly placed to make the most of this technology, putting two warring bases and their associated armies at one another's throats in the pursuit of total annihilation.
The bread and butter of Red Alert is Skirmish, a mode where you pick a map, the number of teams (that's right, AI opponents!) and then it becomes a race to see who can be the first to build up their base and take control of the map.
It may well have been a somewhat paired down experience from the graphically superior PC version, but the end result was a hugely varied gameplay experience, based on an extremely simple mode. It brought weekend after weekend of enjoyment, provided you had a rich friend with multiple TVs and a big enough lounge to house an extended play session (understanding parents also helped).
Liam | Alien Trilogy
I never actually owned a PlayStation when I was younger, being the Nintendo fanboy that I was, but that’s not to say I had no experience with Sony’s first foray into the console market.
Whenever my uncle used to go away on trips, I became the proud (albeit temporary) owner of a PS One, along with a healthy selection of games. Most of what I played back then has now faded from memory, but what’s stuck is gold.
I was - and still am, despite my aversion to horror - a huge fan of the Alien films, so finding a game based on them amongst copies of Tunnel B1 and Firestorm: Thunderhawk 2 blew my prepubescent mind.
It may look tame by today’s standards, but walking the darkened corridors and listening out for bleeps on your motion tracker, Pulse Rifle in hand, was incredibly atmospheric. If things ever got too tough (or creepy) you could always whack in the old ‘1gotp1nk8cidbootson’ cheat and go to town on the Xenomorph bastards without worrying about ammo, health or even chronology.
If Alien Trilogy came bundled with the PlayStation Classic, then I’d definitely consider picking one up this winter. As it is, I think I’ll stick to the SNES Mini for my slice of gaming nostalgia.
Rob | Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Back in the day I really wasn’t much of a PlayStation player (I did borrow an old unit from a friend towards the end of the system’s life cycle, but it only worked if you turned it upside down…), so the announcement of the PlayStation Classic hasn’t particularly moved me.
That being said, I did play some fabulous sports titles on the system - most notably Pro Evolution Soccer, Brian Lara Cricket 99 and Jonah Lomu Rugby - but one title stands deck and trucks above anything else I quaffed.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was a fine example of sequeldom, boasting improved visuals, refined gameplay and an arguably better soundtrack (Chuck D, Bad Religion and Rage? Yes, please!) over the first edition. It also featured the master of freeform skateboarding, Rodney Mullen, this time around.
Supplementing the glorious arcade skating of Pro Skater mark one, version two added in the excellent manual system (where you ride your board on just two wheels), increasing the scope for ridiculous combos and high scores. Drop varied, beautifully designed levels into the pot and you have a casserole that’s just as delicious today as it was back then.
If you do pick that newish square grey box up this Christmas, I send my commiserations to thee. To leave out a game so very zeitgeist is a real bloody shame.
Which PlayStation classic would you like to have seen grace the PlayStation Classic? Let us know in the comments.
If you were too busy playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to concern yourself with Halloween last week, check out our discussion on favourite horror games for a few belated recommendations.