Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Leaked Xbox Series S trailer confirms resolution, SSD, ray tracing support and more specs

Following on from the overnight leak and subsequent confirmation of the Xbox Series S and its pricing, the full reveal trailer from which this information came from has also been leaked by those same people, detailing more specs of the lower powered next-gen console.

The Xbox Series S will be priced at $299 / €299 / £249, coming out in November alongside the Xbox Series X – separately, this is expected to be $499 from a parallel leak.

The console will be 60% smaller than the Xbox Series X, and all-digital with no disc drive, which we could already tell from the initial imagery. However, the trailer also tells us what the console can do.

Despite having a much lowered power compared to the Series X – reportedly 4 TFLOPs versus 12 TFLOPs – t will support a resolution of 1440p and 4K game upscaling. That will include ray-tracing support. There will also be support for up to 120FPS and variable refresh rates, as part of the HDMI 2.1 spec, and Microsoft's pushes for variable rate shading and ultra-low latency gaming.

The console's storage will be smaller than its bigger brother, at 512GB compared to 1TB, but it's expected that there will be support for the same plug-in SSDs of that machine, and also external HDD support for Xbox One games and older.

While this is another major PR blunder and leak from Microsoft, it's to their credit that they simply turned it around into an announcement. Of course, to then have even more details slip between their fingers is a further embarrassment, when the company has been in a tense (and frustratingly boring) standoff with Sony over announcing the release date and price of their respective consoles.

While long speculated, the two-pronged attack on the next generation is now confirmed, with Microsoft targeting both the high end and the lower end of the spectrum. It's a fascinating approach, with the Series S able to cater to people on a tighter budget, those without 4K TVs, or those thinking about picking up a secondary console to pair with a PS5, PC or something else. Let's see how it pays off.

Meanwhile, in the land of Sony, a regional GAME store claimed that there was a big PlayStation 5 announcement coming tomorrow

Source: WalkingCat


GAME say "PS5 announcement tomorrow", hint that pre-orders are about to open

GAME Guildford has tweeted that customers who have registered their interest in a new PlayStation 5 console should get their credit card ready and "standbye for updates". They say that a PlayStation 5 announcement is scheduled for tomorrow and that "things are about to kick off this week."

Well they did, but they deleted the Tweet. Good thing I took a screen grab.

 

Presumably Sony had very shouty words with GAME head office.

Residents in the United States can begin a new quest to secure a PlayStation 5 by registering for a pre-order direct from Sony. You will need to give them your PSN ID to sign up, but this does not mean you're guaranteed a console.

There will be a limited quantity of PS5 consoles available for pre-order, so we will be inviting some of our existing consumers to be one of the first to pre-order one from PlayStation. Pre-order reservations will be taken on a first-come-first-serve basis, so once you get an invite via email, we encourage you to follow instructions and act fast.

If you do pre-register Sony will decide if you do get a pre-order invitation "based on previous interests and PlayStation activities."

The first TV spot for the PlayStation 5 has also arrived with Sony try to describe to people what it will feel like to play games on their next-gen console, wrapping together things like 3D audio, haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.

It's quite a high concept video, showing a woman adventuring in a weird and mysterious world. The opening line says, "Welcome to a world where you can feel more," and this is a key part of Sony's pitch for the next generation. The DualSense controller features adaptive triggers to relay different pressures to your fingers, while more advanced haptic feedback is to be incorporated to add more nuance compared to the rumble motors found in the DualShock 4. 3D audio with advanced HRTF processing to simulate different ear shapes will also aim to make audio more immersive and spatial, regardless of whether you're hearing sound from a TV, set of headphones or an existing surround sound set up.

All of this is completely intangible to end users at the moment. Literally the only person to have ever touched a DualSense up until this point is Geoff Keighley – I'm obviously being quite hyperbolic there – with the Covid-19 pandemic preventing the wider games press from going hands on at trade shows or smaller private events, and no possibility of public demo booths for fear of the DualSense becoming contaminated and helping to spread the virus.

Source: Twitter


The Dark Pictures: Little Hope offers up a bewitching atmosphere with terrifying consequences

Supermassive Games' ambitious multi-game Dark Pictures project may have been slowed for a while by the horrors of real life, but the delay doesn't seem to have had any lasting effect on Little Hope, the second entry in the anthology series. Continuing in the same gameplay vein as Man of Medan (and Until Dawn before that), the second game transports players into a different setting and subgenre of horror, presenting you with an entirely new cast of characters to save or condemn depending on your choices. Having now played a demo chapter of the game, I can reveal that this entry is shaping up to eclipse its predecessor.

Dropping right into the middle of the story of Little Hope makes for a slightly odd first impression, as I had no prior knowledge of the new characters or the situation. Somewhat unintentionally, this lack of context only served to add to the air of mystery I could savour. The demo begins as two characters, student Andrew (played by film actor Will Poulter) and Professor John, find themselves in a derelict police station that looks and feels like it would fit right into the town of Silent Hill.

The trademark dialogue options and exploration mechanics return as expected and previous players will be able to jump straight into familiar territory, but it takes a while before a sense of what is happening develops. A sinister phone call to a disconnected landline swiftly transitions into an immersive vision of a 17th century witch trial and the scene is set for a spooky tale of doubles separated by centuries and a town cursed by the trauma inflicted on innocent women accused of satanic liaisons.

I've studied and written on this area, albeit with an English rather than American historical focus, and am hugely excited to see how this setting develops. It is a far more interesting theme for me than the nautical hauntings of Man of Medan and is a good indication of the ways in which the Dark Pictures Anthology series will appeal to fans of many different genres of horror.

As is to be expected given Supermassive's pedigree, Little Hope looks and sounds fantastic. The dark and moody setting is perfect for developing a sense of dread and unease, whilst the motion capture and facial animations successfully maintain the cinematic feel of their games. The sound design is a real stand-out alongside the visuals, and this really is a game that should be experienced while wearing headphones – if you can bear the tension and potential scares.

The horror aspect is certainly present here, with several effective jump scares and a QTE climax involving a grotesque, waterlogged monster. I deliberately failed this final section on a second playthrough and was suitably grossed out by the graphic death scene that followed – the things I do in the name of games journalism.

All of this will, of course, sound familiar to players of Supermassive's previous games. The continuity in mechanics does have some more negative aspects, however, as there is still no dialogue skip function to relieve some of the tedium of replaying the game. The demo was short enough that this wasn't so bad, but attempting to uncover all of the endings in the full game will have the potential to get repetitive.

Little Hope is set to be released across PC, PS4 and Xbox One on October 30th, just in time for Halloween, and the demo was hugely effective in piquing my interest. I am now looking forward to finding out more about the traumatic history of the town of Little Hope and seeing who will survive… and what will be left of them.


Xbox Series X price leaks, will cost $499

It's all gone a bit mad this morning with the official announcement of the worst kept secret in gaming, the Xbox Series S, the cut down version of the Xbox Series X. However, you may have missed that price of the Xbox Series X has also leaked out.

Windows Central kicked things off by leaking that the Series S would be $299 and the Series X will be $499. Microsoft have now confirmed the Series S and the price so it seems reasonable the source for the leak also has the price of the Series X correct. Both consoles are set to launch on November 10th.

Previously it had been rumoured that Series X was going to be $599. Alanah Pearce spoke on the Kinda Funny Xcast and said she had been sent an image showing a retail terminal that listed the Xbox Series X for $599 with a November release date.

The Xbox Series S is expected to be a lower powered version of the Xbox Series X, keeping many of the same attributes, such as the ultra-fast SSD storage and Zen 2 CPU, but compromising on the GPU side of things. Where the Xbox Series X is expected to deliver a native 4K resolution, higher frame rates and ray tracing, the cut back Series S is expected to sacrifice these to reach the lower price point for those buyers without a 4K TV or without as exacting demands from their games graphics, while retaining the minimal loading times and enhanced game worlds that the CPU could provide. However, Microsoft have yet to reveal the official specs for the console.

The full specs of the Series X be seen in the table below and they will allow the developers to take advantage of DirectX raytracing so lighting and sound reacts much more naturally.

CPU 8x Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/ SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU
GPU 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @ 1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
Die Size 360.45 mm2
Process 7nm Enhanced
Memory 16 GB GDDR6 w/ 320mb bus
Memory Bandwidth 10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s
Internal Storage 1 TB Custom NVME SSD
I/O Throughput 2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)
Expandable Storage 1 TB Expansion Card (matches internal storage exactly)
External Storage USB 3.2 External HDD Support
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-Ray Drive
Performance Target 4K @ 60 FPS, Up to 120 FPS

 

Writing on Xbox.com, Jason Ronald, Director of Program Management for Xbox Series X said, "Backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and the SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the Xbox Series X for each and every backward compatible game."

Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg, GM Xbox Games Marketing, recently announced that the Xbox Series X will be released in November, narrowing the release window from "Holiday 2020" to a specific month.

Source: Windows Central


Fall Guys to start using the same anti-cheat measures as Fortnite

People are awful, give them a cute fluffy game full of beans stumbling over each other, a joyous riot of silliness and they still want to cheat. Mediatonic's Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has a big problem with cheaters on PC and they have announced they are taking steps to tackle the problem, including the use of the same ant-cheat software used on Fortnite

This means they will be using Easy Anti-Cheat which is owned by Epic Games and used by around 200 other titles including Apex Legends, For Honor, and Hunt: Showdown.

Last week Mediatonic announced they want to spice up the action of Fall Guys with a little bit of added randomness. Now that the game has been out for a while people should be quite familiar with the various race levels, the intricacies of See-Saw, how to jump through hoops and grab tails. To combat this they have announced they are adding Big Yeetus, a giant swingy hammer, in random locations in levels.

Mediatonic have also wrapped up a campaign to raise money for Special Effect with an auction to create a branded in-game outfit for Fall Guys. In the end this saw a combined donation of $1 million by G2 Esports, Aim Lab, and streamers Mr Beast and Ninja. Special Effect works to enable those with physical disabilities to play a wider variety of games through custom game controllers and tools like EyeMine that allows for playing with eye-control. They also work with developers to build more accessible games in the first place.

Fall Guys has been an absolute sensation for the team at developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital, with the companies revealing that they've sold over 2 million copies on Steam in the game's first week. That's before you take into account however many people have been playing via PlayStation 4, where it was free on PlayStation Plus in August. That led to some major server issues around launch, as they shored up the servers and added capacity ahead of the weekend. Thankfully things have been fairly steady since then and the team are now focussed on creating content for the medieval-themed Season 2 and beyond.

Fall Guys is out now for PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.

Source: Twitter


Minecraft PS4 will get PlayStation VR update this month

Mojang Studios have announced that the PlayStation 4 version of Minecraft will be getting PSVR support later this month.

Although they didn't specify a date, what we do know is that this PlayStation VR patch will be available to anyone who owns a copy of Minecraft on PS4.

Based on existing tech to adapt Minecraft for VR platforms, developer SkyBox Labs have been optimising the experience for PlayStation VR users and, despite the current pandemic, they say this transition has been relatively smooth.

So, what does Minecraft on PSVR do? Well, according to Mojang, it does exactly what you'd expect, making the "pure full-fat" Minecraft experience fully playable in virtual reality without removing any content or features.

The aim here to dial up that sense of immersion, allowing users to witness their creations as if they were standing there themselves in Minecraft's blocky sandbox world. Mojang have yet to confirm whether PlayStation Move will be supported though they have confirmed Minecraft VR will come tagged with various comfort settings and adjustments as well as two modes: Immersive and Living Room.

This news comes as part of Sony's spotlight week for the PlayStation VR. For the next few days, they are teasing new game updates and announcements as well as a sale on major PlayStation VR titles. The sale is due to kick off tomorrow, Wednesday September 9th and will include the following games among others:

Despite having an extensive library of excellent titles, PlayStation VR hasn't been as prominent in 2020 as Sony might have liked. However, with the upcoming PS5 being backwards compatible with PSVR, it makes sense for them to continue pushing the technology. We'll hopefully hear more about how the headset and accessories will work with Sony's next-gen console in the near future.

Source: Official PlayStation Blog


Xbox Series S design and international pricing confirmed by Microsoft [Updated]

Update: Well, the cat is well and truly out of the bag, and Microsoft have now confirmed the Xbox Series S console, its design and $299 price point.

Update 2: They've also confirmed the UK price point of £249.99, and European price at €299.

Update 3: And now the reveal trailer has leaked confirming a number of Series S specs, from resolution to SSD size.

The long rumoured, speculated and leaked Xbox Series S has seemingly been fully revealed over the weekend, with a number of sources popping up to reveal the console's design and its all-important price point. So, let's get that point out of the way. How much will it cost? $299.

The Xbox Series S is a more compact design that the Xbox Series X, somewhere between the the proportions of an Xbox One S, but with the depth of an Xbox Series X. The biggest space saving seems to come from the lack of an optical disk drive. The design is sure to be polarising, with a white body and a circular black vent on the larger face.

Brad Sams broke the story, and while he only had a single image as his proof, this was followed up by a snippet of video, potentially from a presentation or reveal of the console. He was further backed up by WindowsCentral.

Windows Central also claimed that the Xbox Series X price would be a rather competitive $499, alongside the Series S $299. In both cases, Microsoft will also offer an Xbox All Access financing option, set at $25 per month for the Xbox Series S and $35 per month for the Xbox Series X.

And while all of this is kicking off, what has Microsoft got to say for itself?

The Xbox Series S is expected to be a lower powered version of the Xbox Series X, keeping many of the same attributes, such as the ultra-fast SSD storage and Zen 2 CPU, but compromising on the GPU side of things, reportedly only around the 4 TFLOP mark compared to the Series X's 12 TFLOPs. Where the Xbox Series X is expected to deliver a native 4K resolution, higher frame rates and ray tracing, the cut back "Lockhart" could sacrifice these to reach a lower price point for those buyers without a 4K TV or without as exacting demands from their games graphics, while retaining the minimal loading times and enhanced game worlds that the CPU could provide.

Source: Brad Sams, WindowsCentral


Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review

Back in 2012 a new fantasy RPG was released into the realms of gaming; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It had the feel of a single player game set in a fantasy MMO world with several different regions to explore, different ways to build your character, and a range of fantasy races depicted throughout, but it's also been defined by the financial troubles that eventually sank developer 38 Studios. Now, eight years later, THQ Nordic has brought the franchise back with a remaster called Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, potentially laying the foundations for this fantasy world to be revived.

Players are cast as The Fateless One, a person who has no pre-determined fate unlike everyone else in Amalur. Not only does this work to paint a target on your back through the game's narrative, it also provides the thematic reasoning for your ability to customise your character build. There are three main class types which fall into the Might, Finesse, and Sorcerer categories. Might builds will favour heavy armour and weapons, Finesse relates to a more rogue/stealth build, while Sorcerers are all about the magic. Depending on the fates you unlock and abilities you choose to invest points in, you can mix these builds together. In my own playthrough I decided on a pure sorcerer build, because who wouldn't want to shoot fire and lightning at enemies?

As your character levels up, skill points can be assigned to abilities such as sagecraft, alchemy, blacksmithing, dispelling, and mercantile. You kind of have to decide early on which ones of these you want to focus on before investing points, so they complement your character build. Your character fate style can also be changed to give access to different perks such as increased mana or better melee weapon damage.

The draw of Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is playing a fantasy game that really leans into its setting where elves, gnomes, humans, trolls, and so many others live in a world filled with lore. Areas with ruins tell their story, quest lines can explore relationships between the different groups of the world as well as hunting for treasure, and lorestones discovered in the wild that tell tales of the world coming to life. It is a colourful and varied world found in this game, and you are constantly running into things to do and people to help.

At the same time, it can feel a bit overwhelming in Amalur. Quests stack up quite quickly as you are sent from one place to another while completing other quests, and some can feel a bit repetitive – having to just go and retrieve something from a cave, for example. There is variety with the different factions, though. Join the Warsworn and fight to protect the world or join the Travellers and learn the art of stealth and thievery. At the same time, there is a hint of negative representation here playing into a stereotype that all Irish travellers are thieves.

The biomes found in Amalur are incredibly varied as well. You will start in a forested area but eventually break out into magical areas that are home to the elves, or into great plains and deserts where different factions and creatures live. Throughout the game you will come across new discoveries, and the world itself is vast. Thankfully you can fast travel if you do not fancy trekking from one side of the world to the other.

Those of you expecting a ground up remake with majorly updated graphics need to temper your expectations. There have been some improvements with textures and models, but you can very much tell this is an eight year old game that has had some spit and polish, and not something like Spyro Reignited Trilogy. That said, it does still look good and the world retains that fantasy charm about it. There also haven't been major changes to the gameplay, but there have been some tweaks under the hood. For example, the randomised loot that you find will be more relevant to your character build.

There were some technical issues while playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. The game crashed twice on my PS4, and hopefully this is addressed in a patch. The camera could be fiddly too and sometimes angle itself so you do not have a clear picture of the action, which is a pain when you are surrounded by enemies who are attacking quickly. In one dungeon I also noticed a group slain enemies T-posing above the ground briefly before all falling again. Well, it was either a bug or my PS4 is very, very haunted…


From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution Review

Charting the development, release and marketing of Sony's earliest console, Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution explores this defining period of video game history, as told by the people involved in its meteoric rise.

The third in a series of video game documentaries by Nicola Caulfield and Anthony Caulfield, The PlayStation Revolution aims to "explore the influence of the Sony PlayStation and how it took video game development and the way we experienced games to a whole new level". Four years on from its original Kickstarter campaign, The PlayStation Revolution is now out and has a story to tell.

The PlayStation Revolution starts by painting a picture of pre-3D graphics, showing the original console war between Sega and Nintendo in the early 90s. While we've all heard the story of Nintendo and Sony's failed collaboration many times before, the documentary retreads this familiar ground same path here talking to those who worked at Sony and Nintendo. There's also some excellent insight from current and past Sony staff about the decision to go solo and create the PlayStation.

From there, it's a deep dive into the technical side of the console, discussing the various elements of its internal hardware. This insight is interesting as it shows how Sony positioned themselves against the competition, but I feel it spends a little too long on the nitty gritty for my liking. There are a few points where the pace slows right down, prolonging what is already a very long documentary.

A very young Phil Harrison showing off the PlayStation.

The range of appearances in Bedroom to Billions is probably one of its strongest points, with industry veterans like Mark Cerny, Hideo Kojima, Jim Ryan, Katsuhiro Harada and many, many others contributing to the documentary. Hearing from these industry veterans about their involvement in the PlayStation is great, and I especially enjoyed the involvement of past Sega employees discussing the head-to-head sales fight between the PlayStation and the Saturn, a fight the former would quickly win.

The PlayStation Revolution primarily paints Sony and the PlayStation in a positive light, but the directors weren't afraid to criticise. The second half of the documentary focuses on the PS3, a console that was hard to develop for and got off to a slow start against the Xbox 360. It's clear to see in the documentary how much the development cycle of the PS3 would influence its successor and the mistakes that Sony regretted during that period.

Finishing on the success of the PS4, The PlayStation Revolution ties everything together by focusing on what could be the future of gaming and Sony's first foray into virtual reality with the PSVR. It's an interesting dynamic as the documentary starts with developers talking about how the original PlayStation changed the way they approached things and finishes with developers talking about VR has changed the way we experience games.

In particular, seeing Hideo Kojima discuss the power of VR as a concept is especially intriguing. Obviously, there's not even a hint that he's working on a VR game, but we don't know what he's cooking up after Death Stranding, so you never know…

Hideo Kojima discusses VR gaming.

I would have liked there to be some content related to the PS5, maybe just showing some new games with developers discussing the process of developing for it – this would have made sense considering Mark Cerny's involvement in the documentary – but it's likely that the timing with production and Sony's gradual drip feed of next-gen information simply couldn't align.

That said, it's probably for the best. One of my biggest problems with The PlayStation Revolution is its run time. At just shy of two hours and forty minutes, this is a long, long documentary to sit through. If, like me, you have an inherent interest in the subject material, then I don't see it being an issue, but to anyone with a passing interest it is an enormous demand to sit and watch something like this for so long. Truthfully, I think a bit of pruning could bring that run time down a bit without harming the message of the documentary.


Super Bomberman R Online Review

Having not paid a huge amount of attention to the announcement of Super Bomberman R Online, it came as something of a surprise to discover exactly what it was. This wasn't, as I thought, some extension of Super Bomberman R that had launched with the Switch despite the hugely similar key visuals, but instead an all-new Bomberman battle royale.

Taking cues from Nintendo's Tetris-defining Tetris 99, this is how you keep a small scale game small, while also turning it into a large scale one. 64 player Bomberman sounds insane and unwieldy, but what we've got instead plays on the strengths of what the series has done before, while opening it up to a new generation of players. It's a blast.

So Bomberman is a man who likes bombs, and likes placing them down on the ground with a short fuse where they will then explode, taking out blocks, items and players that get in the way. The ultimate aim has always been to blow up everyone else, while not blowing yourself up, and that remains as true here as ever.

The interesting new aspect to Bomberman Online isn't simply that it's online, but that it can now play host to 64 players in one instance, increasing from the series regular 8, and shattering the previous maximum of 10 in the iconic (and arguably never bettered) Saturn Bomberman. 64 tiny Bombermen running around on one screen sounds horrendous, and I'm sure it would be, but here you begin with 16 stages hosting four players in each, and a two minute action round. At the close of this round, four of the stages disappear, funnelling more and more players together until there's only one left standing.

To the game's credit, it doesn't have to do much more than that in order to be the best Bomberman game we've had in a while. Every stage of the action feels like classic multiplayer Bomberman, and it only gets more and more frantic as you head towards the final stage, with some intense mind-games and fraught encounters as you try to make it to the end.

As ever, it can be frustrating and fun in the same measure. The action starts out fast – this is certainly greatly tuned up from the opening portions of previous games – and only gets faster as you collect more pick-ups, but it feels more like an inevitable step for the series rather than forcing a frantic pace upon you.

Those pickups will be the key to victory, and the classic triumvirate of bombs, firepower and speed remain at the heart of Super Bomberman R Online. However, there's now character-specific limits to how far your diminutive avatar can go, with some only able to gain two extra bombs, but max out their speed, or vice versa, further balanced out by all-new character-specific abilities.

Super Bomberman R Online doesn't do a particularly good job of explaining this to you, leaving you to dive into the meta of character set-ups and potential abilities for yourself. There's also the addition of special characters, all drawn from Konami's wealth of series. Fancy playing as Snake or Raider? You can. There's also Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, and a Belmont signing in from Castlevania, with swords and whips intact and usable, utterly shaking up the way the game plays. It opens things up in an utterly new way, and while this is still a real Bomberman game, it isn't one that's resting on the franchise's laurels.

Super Bomberman R Online is all tooled up to be a multiplayer game that you'll keep coming back to, and it's old-school charms work surprisingly well attached to some new-school thinking. There's a Bomber Pass, with unlockables available as you increase in rank, and a grading system that has you trying to move up to the top tier of competition during that season of play.

The game also has more conventional options available to you beyond the 64 player survival mode, and if you hop into a Private Match you can customise things to take you back to the way things were. Standard Mode allows for up to 16 players, and drops you into a conventional Bomberman setup, with Revenge Carts lining up along the walls for the downed players to seek some revenge by dropping in extra explosives to the mix.

Besides that you have the option of Grand Prix mode, where two teams of up to three players aim to score more points than the opposition. There's two different rulesets; Basic Bomber is essentially Bomberman deathmatch, with your team earning points for downing an opponent, while Crystal has the teams trying to collect the most gems by exploring the map.

They're decent enough diversions, but they require you to have a bunch of Stadia-playing friends as the rooms are all locked behind access codes. Sadly there's no searching for a particular game type and hopping in. On top of that, you can't create a room if you don't own the Platinum Pass, locking away a fairly integral feature of the private multiplayer options.

One of the downsides to Super Bomberman R Online is the whiff of current and future microtransactions. While the current Shop tab is knowingly empty of content, it surely won't be long before there's an array of cosmetics available. There's also the possibility of more characters, which will need to be judged they don't alter the game in any meaningful way.

The other major downside is waiting times, which can be pretty lengthy while the game tries to find enough players. Its position as a Stadia exclusive at the moment probably doesn't help in this regard, and despite all Stadia Pro players getting the Premium Edition for free, you'll often find that spaces in your game have been filled with woefully stupid bots. Much like PUBG's recent bot faux pas, these bots are so far removed from the way a real human being plays, you might imagine that their code was created by a stray dog meandering into the Konami offices and licking a keyboard.


DIRT 5 Playgrounds mode lets you build towering time trials and wild Gymkhana arenas

If there's one thing I doubt many people anticipated about the DIRT franchise, back when the initial trio of numbered games hit the PS3 and Xbox 360, it's just how wildly experimental it would become. DiRT Showdown then morphed things into a destruction derby-athon, the success (or lack of success) of that game causing a bit of an identity crisis leading to the hardcore rally sim of DiRT Rally, but then that was followed by DiRT 4's impressive procedurally generated rally stages, and now we have DIRT 5 (now with a capital 'i') and its Playgrounds mode.

Simply put, it's DIRT meets Play, Create, Share. You're given a blank canvas, a ton of building blocks and sent on your way to create whatever the hell you want. From the brief period that we and others have had playing a pre-release version of this, it can lead to some truly wild and impressive multi-layered creations.

Anything you create or play in Playgrounds will conform to one of three game modes. Gymkhana is full of jumps, drifting and spinning, where you earn points for chaining these together and keeping your speed up. Then there's Smash Attack, where you have to race around to find and collect objects in the quickest time, and Gate Crasher, which is a time-attack through a string of checkpoints.

Starting off with a blank canvas can be quite daunting, not least if you don't really know which of the three modes you really want to make. Even so, it's easy to bolt together a carcass of a level, with building blocks of different sizes and shapes. Ramps, humps, slopes, curves are available in both dirt and asphalt, with things bolting together nicely. By default they snap together and can only be placed on top of each other, and rotating blocks happens in set increments, but each of these hand-holding elements can be toggled on and off as you see fit.

It can still be quite fiddly at times – rotational snapping takes a few too many taps of the D-pad for my liking – and that's amplified once you start to try and decorate your created arena with barriers, signs, arrows and more. The most unnecessarily tedious of them all is placing each individual points block you can crash through in Gymkhana. I'd love to be able to draw a trail of these and have them dropped in by the game instead of doing so one at a time.

Of course, some of this could come from having played on a console. The gamepad controls work well testing this on Xbox One X, but I can't help but feel that it's all going to be more intuitive and slick when diving into Playgrounds with a keyboard and mouse.

Still, even if you don't really fancy creating something, you can always to just play the ones that others have created. As I already said, there were some great creations uploaded over the last week or two as press and influencers got to grips with the tools available to them.

My favourites by far were the Gate Crasher levels that build up and up and up into the sky, looping in and around themselves with inventive layouts that just left me dismayed at my own lack of patience and creativity. While I doubt I'll really spend hours and hours creating the perfect Gymkhana course – to be honest, Gymkhana is not my favourite event anyway – I can't wait to see what the community creates with the launch of DIRT 5 in November (now that it's been delayed).


Horizon Zero Dawn PC update 1.04 addresses performance issues, patch notes here

When the Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition launched on PC it had some troublesome performance issues. "Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition brings Guerrilla Games' fantastic sci-fi adventure to a whole new audience, but PC players used to ultra-high frame rates will have to accept a step down in performance as they enjoy Aloy's journey," we said in our review. 

A new patch has been released for the PC version and it tackles these issues – slightly. "General improvement to CPU performance (depending on CPU/GPU speeds, this can result in a 1-10% performance improvement)," read the patch notes. I'm not sure a 1% improvement is going to help much, but it is better than nothing. Here are the notes.

Crash fixes

  • Fixed a crash that could occur when users would create a new game and their save game slots were full.
  • Fixed a startup crash related to temp folder.
  • Fixed an AI crash that could occur during combat.
  • Fixed an AI crash in the EventMessageHandler.
  • Fixed a crash related to WorldData sampling (the callstack would end in WorldMapData::SampleAtPixel).
  • Fixed a crash when users would instantly back out when changing sliders in the Settings menu.
  • Fixed a crash that would occur when having the "Greetings" option open in photo mode and then exiting.
  • Potential fix for memory corruption in AI routines which could lead to crashes.
  • Potential fix for a GPU hang caused by a threading issue.
  • Fixed a mismatch that would occur on Shader Model 6.0 and 6.1 hardware which could lead to a crash.

Performance improvements

  • General improvement to CPU performance (depending on CPU/GPU speeds, this can result in a 1-10% performance improvement).
  • Improved performance of camera cuts in cinematics and conversations.

Other improvements

  • HDR – Fixed colour banding issues in HDR mode.
  • Mouse Controls – Fixed an issue where mouse sensitivity was incorrect when framerate wasn't constant.
  • Aiming – Fixed an issue where Aloy was unable to shoot while being able to do a critical attack near a machine.
  • Cutscenes – Fixed an issue where geometry and textures would pop in after camera cuts.
  • Adaptive Performance – Fixed an issue where lighting glitches would occur when turning on Adaptive Performance.
  • Volumetrics – Fixed an issue which could cause blinking artifacts in volumetric effects, like fog.
  • Reverb – Fixed several issues where excessive reverb was noticeable in specific quests.
  • Visibility – Fixed an issue which could sometimes cause geometry to briefly disappear after streaming

Known issues

  • Some players are experiencing an out of memory error during the game optimization process.
  • Some players are experiencing graphical settings issues, such as Anisotropic Filtering or HDR not working correctly.
  • Some players are experiencing performance issues on specific GPUs or hardware combinations.
  • Some players are experiencing issues with Aloy's hair when the game is running above 30 FPS.

Source: VG247

 


Streets of Rage 4 patch 1.03 / 1.04 is out, here are the patch notes

Streets of Rage 4 has been patched on PC and consoles, PC players get 1.04, console players get 1.03 but both contain the same fixes. Here are the rather long notes!

 

[GENERAL GAMEPLAY ENHANCEMENTS]
  • Specials and star move can interrupt all hitstun state including air
  • Specials can interrupt hit freeze
  • Faster jump start for SOR4 characters
[SOR4 CHARACTERS: FIXES AND ENHANCEMENTS]

AXEL SOR4:

  • Improved move speed
  • Added better recovery on-air special
  • Added additional invincibility frames on grand upper start-up
  • Added grand upper on the ground (OTG) property
  • Improved grand upper that now travels farther
  • Added neutral special OTG property
  • Neutral specials have now less hit freeze
  • Pipe swings have now less recovery
  • Improved air special: all hits connect when OTG + ignore weight class
  • Lowered defensive cost
  • Rescaled damage on grand upper
  • Fwp special better hitbox
  • Buff charge kick wall damage
  • Infinite stun-lock fix
  • Special pipe goes farther

CHERRY SOR4:

  • Cherry can now jump cancel after uppercut combo and grab uppercut
  • Added 2 frames stun on punches
  • Cherry's flying punch from combo is now fully invincible
  • Cherry's charged flying punch is invincible before hit
  • Full invulnerability during fall is removed
  • Special forward is faster
  • Damage Buff
  • Back throw works in corners
  • Pogo kick can hit OTG
  • Cherry damages are rescaled on normal combo

FLOYD SOR4:

  • Floyd's attack x3 infinite is fixed
  • Neutral special life costs adjustment
  • Floyd can no longer reset his grab move counter by jumping
  • Special take less HP

BLAZE:

  • Reduced vertical speed on juggle neutral special
  • Reduced vertical speed on juggle back attack
  • Blaze's back attack has a high bounce
  • Jump cancel on combo kick 1st hit

ADAM:

  • Fixed Infinite loop
  • Added neutral special OTG property
[RETRO CHARACTERS: FIXES AND GAMEPLAY ENHANCEMENTS] AXEL SOR1:
  • Added invincibility on headbutt

BLAZE SOR1:

  • Hitting behind with flip kick

ADAM SOR1:

  • Combo feels more like the original
  • Added body hit property to his last kick in combo as in original SOR1
  • Infinite fix

AXEL SOR2:

  • Fixed Star Move not recovering green health

MAX SOR2:

  • Atomic drop recovery is now shorter and bigger aoe

SKATE SOR3:

  • Damage nerf on blitz

AXEL SOR3:

  • Infinite fix
  • Increased run speed (+10%)
  • Fixed Star Move not recovering green health

SHIVA SOR3:

  • Nerfed Blitz damage
  • Fixed hitbox on Star Move
[BOSS: FIXES AND ENHANCEMENTS]


Diva:

  • Bug fix Diva never going in phase 2.
  • Diva charge is slower.
  • No armor on kicks.
  • Electric area disappears faster.
  • Diva has longer preparation for snake bite.
  • Diva snake bite has less depth.

Commissioner Stage 2:

  • Balancing.
  • Commissioner has longer charge punch time + lower dash grab hitbox.

Estel:

  • Police attacks are easier to dodge.

Barbon:

  • Barbon kicks can hit another player after impact.

Shiva:

  • Smaller hitbox on palm moves.
  • Shiva double has a chance to align with the player (instead of being full random).

Commissioner Stage 7:

  • Fewer armor moves.

Riha & Beyo:

  • Beyo is a little faster.
  • No more armor moves for Beyo.
  • Armor finishes sooner for Riha's moves.
  • Less fire pond (lesser time and bigger cooldown).
  • Riha fire aoe moves are slower.

Max:

  • Throw aoe damage nerf.
  • Some AI fixes.
  • Can't combo the player anymore with 3 shoulder tackles.

Ms.Y:

  • Mr.Y is now harder to defeat
  • Elite Shadow reinforcements during the fight.

Mr. Y:

  • MrY stage 11 harder.
  • MrY stage 12 evades more.

Robot:

  • Mr.Y and Ms.Y final fight lasts longer (before the robot appearance)
  • Some robot hitboxes are smaller.
  • Legs positions have changed.
  • Twin getting into the robot regains full life.
  • Additional damages on the robot.
  • Fixed a bug preventing Mr.Y from throwing grenades.
  • Spider robot now has the same attacks in phase 1 & 2.
  • Fix a bug with Ms.Y not grabbing in stage 12 last fight.

STAGES / ENEMIES:

  • Galsia weapon hitbox nerf.

Stage 9:

  • Apple added in the changing room.
  • 1 apple upgraded to chicken.

Stage 12:

  • Less green life at the beginning.
  • Fixed pheasant and sparrow rising move not triggering properly.
  • Shorter electric vial time.
  • Steam hazards hitbox reduced.
  • Lots of enemies rising armor moves removed/nerfed.

Karate:

  • Longer parry recovery time.
  • Easier massive punch dodge.

Caramel and Candy:

  • Headbutt nerf: hitbox + hitbox depth nerf.
  • Lower hp.

DIAMOND / palettes:

  • Jump kick track less.
  • Slap is slower.

Dylan:

  • No armor.

Raven / palettes:

  • Slower kicks.
  • Slower knee while rising.
  • Turn toward the target when rising.

Taser Cop:

  • Slower start up.
  • Smaller hitbox height.
  • Less HP.
  • Bronze enemy is not armor anymore during his attack.
  • Donovan and palettes have a slower jab punch.
  • Lower nb of hits to destroy bikes : 3.

Big Ben / Gourmand:

  • Gourmand jump attack tracks less.
  • Gourmand doesn't do 2 hits anymore with air attack.
  • Armor removed on Big Ben fire attack.

Elite Cop:

  • Slower shield regeneration.
  • Slower attack.

Boss Rush:

  • Barbon clone bug fixed.

Signal R & D:

  • Faster walk speed before grab.
VARIOUS
  • In Battle Mode, special burst would be very annoying, so it is deactivated.
  • Enemies hurtbox while jumping on screen is bigger.
  • You can pick up an item that is in the air if it is in your character height.
  • All characters can hit at point blank.
  • You cannot charge a move while doing a charged move.
  • Forward specials are not triggered when pressing up or down.
  • Wall bounces increments the combo counter.
  • A character that is in « Body Hit » mode will collide more easily with other characters.
  • Nora palettes aren't armor anymore.
  • Donovan can hold a hammer.
  • Gold reinforcements on stage 10 boss.
  • Stage 11 more score items on the plane.
  • Stage 12 ninja floor changed a little (removed spike ball, added Big Bens).
  • Faster transition on stage 1_2.
  • Donovan with a hammer on stage 3_1.
  • Boss Rush MrY & MsY robot trigger threshold as in Story Mode.
  • Bikes are now breakable in Stage 6.
  • Walking upward in front of Roo makes spawn 3 vials.
  • Score : combo bonuses don't have a point limit now.
  • Better reinforcements spawn code preventing some reinforcements from spawning out of bounds.
  • Combo counters stay alive when hitting shields or guards.
  • Falling into holes breaks the combo.
  • Lowered Koobo control weapons number (2 flying at the same time).
  • Fixing Grenade throwers on roff throwing their grenades out of bounds.
  • Damage reduced on players when comboed by enemies.
  • Fixed a bug where you could infinite combo an enemy and refill his life.
  • Fixing pickup bug when several items overlap.
  • Weapons start flashing in red at 1/3 life (instead of 1/2).
  • Sledgehammer freeze reduced a bit.
  • Fixed input bug when canceling blitz by fwd special near a wall.
  • Fixed some scripting issues in 5-2 bar fight.
  • Better reinforcements spawning.
  • Throwing knives does 36 damage instead of 35 preventing some weird 0hp enemy situations.
  • Some K-washi shield issues fixed.
  • Retro Shiva boss fight reworked.
  • Added 10 frames of stun after vault jump.
  • Pummel moves fix preventing some infinite.

Source: Steam


Ratings board reveals you can get off your t*ts and on someone else's in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or the ESRB to you and me, has rated Ubisoft's forthcoming Assassin's Creed Valhalla and as you might expect from the series it is quite gory. Here is the text from the rating.

Players also use swords, axes, arrows, and siege weapons to kill multiple enemies (e.g., soldiers, mythic boss characters) in frenetic melee-style combat. Combat is highlighted by screams of pain and frequent blood-splatter effects. Some weapons allow players to decapitate enemies; zoomed-in sequences depict victims' bones, organs, and muscles getting damaged by players' blade.

There is also drug use, with "screen distortion/discoloration and impaired movements after players' character consumes mushrooms or inhales mushroom-based fumes." According to the ESRB one of the lines of dialogue is "I may still be buzzing from these mushrooms," which is a rather modern phrase, in fact it's first recorded use was in 1935 when it was used to describe a "pleasant sense of intoxication".

The game also includes sexy time albeit in a very prudish manner. A mission takes place in a brothel with topless women and you can "lay" with someone, but the screen fades to black before the characters get jiggy. Vikings were fond of a bit of man on man action so you can romance both male and female character, "A good plough-sword is a rare thing," apparently.

AC Valhalla follows Eivor as they leave Norway to seek a new home in England. Eivor can be either male or female and is heavily customisable. A returning element will be creating a village settlement that acts as the hub for Eivor and their fellow Vikings, which you'll be looking to grow through your time with the game, with the story centred around this element (and potential romances as well). A raven is to be Eivor's animal companion to help explore the world, replacing the eagles from previous Assassin's Creed games.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla should include these 5 fun Viking facts

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla will be out on 17th November for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia. It will also release on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. For the home consoles, there are free cross-gen upgrades, with one way using Smart Delivery on Xbox.

Source: ESRB


EA U-turns on UFC 4 in-game adverts after player backlash

Players of UFC 4 were greeted by the surprise introduction of advert overlays into the game over the weekend, sparking no small amount of backlash online and forcing EA to U-turn quicker than a UK Education Secretary dishing out dodgy A-level grades. EA have also promised not to reintroduce advertising into the game in future.

The weekend saw UFC 4 featuring adverts in and around replays in the game, an element which had not been present at the game's launch on 14th August, and coming several weeks after the typical review window for the game had closed. While advertising in games is hardly new – there's several technologies for  it is generally made more subtle in a full-priced release than in a free-to-play game.

However, where billboards in racing games and sidings in football games can be used as advertising space quite naturally, UFC 4's adverts cut across the actual game in a manner that was perhaps a little too close to broadcast realism for liking. It's quite excessive, especially when it's all for a single product.

EA decided to add full-on commercials in the middle of gameplay in a $60 game a month after it's release so it wasn't talked about in reviews from assholedesign

The Reddit threads garnered thousands of comments and tens of thousands of upvotes, forcing EA to respond and react.

EA's statement to the press reads:

Earlier this week, the team turned on ad placements in EA SPORTS UFC 4 that appeared during the 'Replay' moments in gameplay.

This type of advertising inventory is not new to the UFC franchise, though we have typically reserved displaying ads to specific main menu tiles or Octagon logo placement.

It is abundantly clear from your feedback that integrating ads into the Replay and overlay experience is not welcome. The advertisements have been disabled by the team and we apologize for any disruption to gameplay that players may have experienced.

We realize that this should have been communicated with players ahead of time and that's on us. We want to make sure our players have the best possible experience playing EA SPORTS UFC 4, so ad integration in the Replay and overlay experience will not be reappearing in the future.

Thank you for your continued feedback on EA SPORTS UFC 4.

Aside from this kerfuffle, the game has actually been a positive step forward for the franchise, incrementally building on the ideas of UFC 3 and removing strange game modes like Ultimate Team – for once there were fewer microtransactions in a sports game. In our UFC 4 review, Aran wrote:

"UFC 4 is an evolution over UFC 3. A much better and more cohesive online, a better system for advancing your created fighters, a career mode that has a bit more depth, and gameplay that opens up the series to more people, makes UFC 4 the game that UFC 3 should have been."

Source: Reddit, VGC


Dirt 5 release delayed to November, but PS5 & Xbox Series X versions still coming this year

The release of DIRT 5 has been pushed back from mid-October to the start of November, with the game now set to launch for Xbox One, PS4 and PC on 6th November. However, this will seemingly not affect the next-gen versions of the game, which are still planned to arrive on PS5 and Xbox Series X later this year.

The game was originally expected on 9th October, but this was nudged back by a week to 16th October before this latest delay. Unfortunately for Codemasters, they've had to push things back by another couple of weeks, which is putting them right in the mix with everything from Cyberpunk 2077 to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which are releasing in and around the next-gen console launches expected in November.

Of course, Dirt 5 was always a cross-gen game, with free upgrades and cross-gen ownership on both Xbox and PlayStation platforms but the hope would have been to get out ahead of the mad next-gen rush while still appealing to those who want to get an enhanced game on their shiny new console. The next-gen versions will both be enhanced with faster loading times and graphics modes to offer frame rates up to 120Hz on TVs and screens that support this.

There will be a sprawling career mode with 130 events, with nine race types and Throwdown challenges mixed in for good measure, but you can pick your own path through the career. As you race, you earn Stamps that can be spent to unlock the Main Event chapter ending showdown, but you won't have to take on every event in the career if you don't want to, meaning you can skip some modes you don't like so much. Alternatively, if you come up against an event you don't like the look of, you'll be able to enlist the help of some friends. The game will feature full on four player split-screen co-op throughout the career, with the best finisher in your group being used to set your progress.

It's all built with a story in mind, which will star Nolan North and Troy Baker (just like every other game in existence), but alongside them will be special guest appearances from W Series World Champion, Jamie Chadwick and YouTuber SLAPTrain in a Dirt Podcast by Donut Media that features throughout.

At the end of August, the company revealed the Playgrounds mode, allowing people to create an arena and share it online for others to take on.

You'll have bumps, kickers, ramps, loops, tunnels, rings of fire and so much more to play with as you construct arenas for three game modes:

  • Gate Crasher – A high-speed checkpoint dash through strategically placed gates. While it sounds simple, after adding loops and other obstacles, the challenge increases ten-fold.
  • Gymkhana – Create a high-skill, fast-thrills arena peppered with drifts, donuts, and trick objects placed with precision for the perfect challenge. Players are rewarded for speed and style.
  • Smash Attack – The ultimate four-wheeled hide and seek. Strategically position smashable objects and define a target score. Players must find and collect all objects in the fastest time possible.

Dirt 5 is being developed by Codemasters Chesire, the former Evolution team behind MotorStorm, DriveClub, and OnRush. Dirt 5 will be released on 6th November for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It will also release on PS5 and Xbox Series X later this year, with a Google Stadia release planned for 2021.

Source: Twitter


Something WipEout related is coming, but it's not a game

Nick Burcombe, co-creator of WipEout, has teased something to do with the franchise but has made it clear it's not a game.

He's also confirmed it's not the WipEout book that was mentioned a while back, adding that is "way cooler" than that. So, not a game, not a book, the complete selection of WipEout music tracks is already out on Spotify so it probably is not tune related, which leaves us wondering what it could be. Perhaps a documentary on the series, those sort of things pop up now and then so that's a possibility, or if we are really thinking big, what about an animated show on Netflix?

Although there's no plot as such to the game it does have plenty of elements that lend itself to storytelling, the WipEout competition would make a great hero journey. Set in the year 2052, the hero would compete in the F3600 anti-gravity racing league, signing up for the Feisar team and battling against Auricon, Qirex, and AG Systems. Sounds a great idea but sadly, no it's not that either, boo! In a later Tweet, responding to the idea of a Netflix show Nick tweeted "That's so wildly ambitious that I'm worried you'll be disappointed."

My money is on a documentary of some sort, of maybe an art print from the game. Nick does say the announcement is "Covid dependent" and will be revealed in 4-5 weeks.

The last time we saw WipEout on PlayStation was with the release of the Wipeout Omega Collection which remastered the old games for PS4 and PSVR. It scored 9/10 in our review.

Wipeout Omega Collection pulls together some of the series' most recent highlights and uses the power of the PlayStation 4 Pro to keep the franchise on the technological bleeding edge – and it does so in spectacular fashion. This feels like far more than a tentative step towards a fully-fledged new entry, proving that as long as there's PlayStation, there should be Wipeout.

Source: Twitter


Something for the Weekend – 05/09/20

September has arrived and we're still no closer to finding out either a launch date or a price for the upcoming consoles. I'm not sure what's more impressive; Sony's and Microsoft's determination not to blink first, or their respective marketing departments for being watertight with leaks!

In the News This Week

Giveaway

Teaming up with Gioteck, we've got a load of Nintendo Switch accessories to give away! Head on over to get your entries in before 11.59PM UK time on Friday September 11th, and I wish you all good luck!

Games in Review

We had another bumper-to-bumper week of reviews:

And then a solo hardware review:

Featured Articles

Kicking off the previews, Stefan went hands on with an intriguing title called The Signifier, a thriller set in a world of advanced AI and brain-scanning technology. He also looked at Monster Truck Championship, while Jonny shared his thoughts on Root, a digital version of the board-game that he absolutely loves.

Elsewhere, Alan fondly looked back at Shining Force III and how stumbling across a community project to translate the game reignited his love for the game and gave him the opportunity to finish the trilogy. And with another blast from the past (although not quite as far back), Jim looked back at the classic dungeon crawler Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the eve of Marvel's Avengers' release.

Last up, Stefan interviewed the creator of Lair of the Clockwork God about pretty much everything except his game, as What We Played featured Marvel's Avengers, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 & WRC 9.

Trailer Park

Scavengers gameplay revealed ahead of PC technical test weekend

Sable, Call of the Sea, GONNER2, and Per Aspera have new trailers

Your Achievements

Here's what you in our community has been up to this week:

  • Crazy_Del has been practising his golf swing in PGA Tour 2K21 and is not far off the Platinum – but that will have to wait as he's currently loving Marvel's Avengers and Tony Hawks!
  • hornet1990
  • It was the usual Fall Guys for Andrewww, who continued playing Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime in co-op, and a bit more of TLOU2.
  • tactical20 went back to Animal Crossing for the September bug hunting and fishing while waiting for new maps for Skater XL.
  • It was plenty of RDR2 for MrYd (as per usual), before rattling through Observation on PS Now and delving into Spellbreak, the new magic battle royale game. He might have mainly enjoyed it because he won the very first game I played!
  • And ron_mcphatty scooted off to Devon this week to grab two hours of sunshine, followed by two days of rain, soggy fish and chips and steam trains. Now he's back and playing Fall Guys some more.

Have a good weekend and I'll see you again soon!


How does Final Fantasy portray its strong female characters?

How many of us played Final Fantasy as a kid? For me, it was one of the first games series I was introduced to. I'd sit and watch my older brothers play, falling in love with the story, the characters, and the games themselves. I remember looking at Yuffie, from Final Fantasy VII, and thinking, "I want to be that cool one day." Whether I managed that or not is a whole different story. Looking back as an adult, I not only see how badass all the characters are, but how diverse, and well written their stories are, in particular; the women.

Naturally, there are character and story spoilers ahead!

Faris (Final Fantasy V)

Faris is a pirate captain initially perceived as male, but then later identified as female while she sleeps. Definitely not weird at all. We learn that Faris struggles with dysphoria, having been adopted into a very masculine culture, and feeling out of place when being perceived as feminine. She adopts masculine mannerisms, dresses masculine, and is perceived by most as male. As well as this, Faris gets particularly defensive about her emotions, and isn't very adept at expressing them either; two things that are very commonly portrayed as masculine traits in the medium. Again, we later learn that Faris is of royal blood, and was lost before being adopted as a pirate.

If those events hadn't have occurred, would Faris still struggle with her gender, or was it a product of her patriarchal surroundings? Of course, it truly could be either scenario that caused Faris's struggle. Despite this struggle, Faris does eventually open up to her friends, becoming particularly protective of her new-found sister, Lenna. When Final Fantasy V was released in 1992, gender identity was beginning to be explored publicly, though not widely within most media. While common terms such as dysphoria or gender fluidity aren't overtly used, we see clear examples of them in the game's story, spotlighting a previously unrepresented group identity and allowing them to see themselves appear in popular entertainment.

Tifa, Aerith, and Yuffie (Final Fantasy VII)

As I mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy VII was my introduction to the franchise, and one of my earliest introductions to gaming. The dynamic between Tifa and Aerith always intrigued me: two friends that very clearly fancied the same person, how could they manage that? It's not something that's been represented to have a civil or positive outcome; usually being reduced to cattiness and a falling out. To see the relationship hold, and the two women continuing to not only be friends but defend each other's lives really cemented the idea of unconditional love into my head. When Aerith dies, Tifa reacts strongly, very visibly mourning the loss of her friend, truly showcasing that unconditional love.

We've only seen part one of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but the cutscenes in this modernisation really expand this relationship between Tifa and Aerith. It takes away from the love triangle element that featured in the original, and focuses more on their similarities outside of Cloud. I honestly can't wait to see how this dynamic between the two of them evolves in the part two.

Yuffie is an optional character in the original game, but she wasn't any less influential because of that. At sixteen, she's the youngest in the party, and is shown to be loud, vivacious, and confident. Taking great pleasure in teasing the other party members, she livens the atmosphere, but still shows great sorrow in the game's darker moments. Because everything Yuffie did or said was loud and dramatic, I didn't exactly relate to her as a child, but I certainly admired her confidence and brashness, hoping that one day I'd have the ability to speak my mind as she did. Yuffie was one of the first female characters I ever witnessed being unapologetic in simply being herself; she truly helped shape my ideas of a strong woman at an early age.

Yuna, Rikku, and Lulu (Final Fantasy X/X-2)

Before Final Fantasy X, the relationships between the female characters were friendly enough, but never super close. Here we see Rikku and Yuna as cousins, and Lulu being a lifelong friend of Yuna. Despite the closeness, each of them have unique perspective and experiences; Rikku is proud of her heritage, but struggling with racism. Yuna is deeply religious, but struggling with her faith. Lulu takes the role of Mom Friend literally, and is Yuna's guardian.

Despite Rikku's personal fight against racism, she is seen as the light of the group, keeping the tone of the game relatively jovial. As well as this, Rikku also takes on the role of Yuna's protector. When Final Fantasy X was released in 2001, the idea of 'Girl Power' was widely established and being celebrated throughout media, however this hadn't been explored much within the realm of AAA video games. X's exploration of female friendships connects to this early 00s ideal thoroughly; each having a very distinct and separate personality, however protecting, trusting and loving one another anyway. This unconditional love within female friendship was revolutionary at the time, as it had only been first explored in media in the previous decade, and created a generation of girls that would protect each other as Rikku, Yuna and Lulu do.

Final Fantasy X-2 released two years later in 2003, focused heavily on Rikku and Yuna's journey after the events of the previous game, and specifically used fashion as a way to gain abilities and strengths. The game faced question from some fans in recent years due to the somewhat revealing , objectifying outfits in the game, whilst other female fans found the Dressphere system empowering. What I took away from this controversy, however, is that the player and thus the characters have the choice to wear revealing Dresspheres or not. The ability to choose what one wears and not be shamed for it is a fairly new part of feminism, that women could be multi-faceted, wanting to destroy monsters, save the world and enjoy fashion. For me, because of this, Final Fantasy X-2 was ahead of the curve with this concept.

Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)

Lightning, of Final Fantasy XIII, is one of the most cutthroat, no nonsense protagonists I've seen in the Final Fantasy series. She's seen to be assertive, dismissive and even somewhat aggressive to the other party members, and even to her sister, Serah. Throughout the game she grows and develops as a person, becoming more forgiving of mistakes and allows for others to be close to her. Despite her growth as a person, not much changes with her leadership abilities, as she is still often dismissive of anyone's opinions but her own. Lightning is a polarising character for me; she so quickly became a fan favourite, and even the face of the series due to her popularity, but I was never overly enraptured with her. I found her to be rude and stubborn, quick to anger and slow to forgive, which I wouldn't have minded if there were a backstory to explain her actions, but this was unfortunately lacking.

Throughout the game, we see her relationship with Serah strain under both the parental role Lightning takes on, and the distrust Lightning has, despite Serah idolising her older sister. There's a distance between the two characters though Lightning does eventually reconnect with her sister, Serah forgiving her past discrtions. Even so, I'm unsure if I'll ever be a fan of Lightning.


Even here, only looking at a few characters from the series, we see a wide variety of personalities, relationships and character growth arcs throughout the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasty XVI hasn't officially been announced, though there are rumours that the newest entry in this famed franchise isn't as far away as we may think. Square Enix may be focusing their energy primarily on the Final Fantasy VII remakes, but I still believe that FFXVI will emerge in the not-too-distant future, even if it is just a glimpse.

In the new games, I hope to see an even wider range of strong, diverse women. My biggest hope is to see the series better represent women of colour, as well as trans women, potentially taking the lead role. This increase in diversity would both allow for more inclusivity in the franchise, but also for more fleshed out stories with personal human depth to characters that hasn't been explored widely in this franchise.


Epic giving away Into The Breach, next week's free games confirmed

We've reached a point with the Epic Games giveaway bonanza where the Fortnite creators are now digging into their archives, giving players a second chance to land some great free games.

Given the sheer number (and quality) of the titles Epic have given away at this point, it's hard to complain. Especially when this week's freebie is Into The Breach. From the makers of FTL, this bug-hunting strategy game is a must-play. Just read out review to find out why!

Epic will be back to offering multiple games next week. The upcoming pair of titles include Railway Empire and Where The Water Tastes Like Wine.

Into The Breach will be available to download and keep from September 3rd to September 10th. See the list below for every game Epic has given away, tagged with some our past reviews:

Railway Empire September 10-17, 2020
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine September 10-17, 2020
Into The Breach September 3-10, 2020
Hitman August 27-September 3, 2020
Shadowrun Collection August 27-September 3, 2020
God's Trigger August 20-27, 2020
Enter the Gungeon August 20-27, 2020
The Alto Collection August 13-20, 2020
Remnant: From the Ashes August 13-20, 2020
A Total War Saga: Troy August 13-14, 2020
Wilmot's Warehouse August 6-13, 2020
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP July 30 – August 6, 2020
Barony July 30 – August 6, 2020
20XX July 30 – August 6, 2020
Next Up Hero July 23-30, 2020
Tacoma July 23-30, 2020
Torchlight II July 16-23, 2020
Lifeless Planet: Premier Edition July 9-16, 2020
The Escapists 2 July 9-16, 2020
Killing Floor 2 June 9-16, 2020
Hue July 2-9, 2020
Stranger Things 3 June 25-July 2, 2020
AER Memories of Old June 18-25, 2020
Ark: Survival Evolved June 11-18, 2020
Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection June 11-18, 2020
Overcooked June 4-11, 2020
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection May 28-June 4, 2020
Civilization VI May 21-28, 2020
Grand Theft Auto V May 14-21, 2020
Death Coming May 7-14, 2020
Crashlands April 30-May 7, 2020
Amnesia: The Dark Descent April 30-May 7, 2020
For the King April 23-30, 2020
Just Cause 4 April 16-23, 2020
Wheels of Aurelia April 16-23, 2020
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments April 9-16, 2020
Close to the Sun April 9-16, 2020
Gone Home April 2-9, 2020
Drawful 2 April 2-9, 2020
Hob April 2-9, 2020
Totally Reliable Delivery Service April 1-8, 2020
World War Z March 26-April 2, 2020
Torment x Punisher March 26-April 2, 2020
Figment March 26-April 2, 2020
Watch Dogs March 19-26, 2020
The Stanley Parable March 19-26, 2020
A Short Hike March 12-19, 2020
Mutazione March 12-19, 2020
Anodyne 2 March 12-19, 2020
Gonner March 5-12, 2020
Offworld Trading Company March 5-12, 2020
Inner Space February 27-March 5, 2020
Faeria February 20-27, 2020
Assassin's Creed Syndicate February 20-27, 2020
Aztez February 13-20, 2020
Kingdom Come: Deliverance February 13-20, 2020
Ticket to Ride February 6-13, 2020
Carcassonne February 6-13, 2020
Farming Simulator 19 January 30-February 6, 2020
The Bridge January 23-30, 2020
Horace January 16-23, 2020
Sundered: Eldritch Edition January 9-16, 2020
Darksiders Warmastered Edition January 1-9, 2020
Darksiders 2 Dethinitive Edition January 1-9, 2020
Steep January 1-9, 2020
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair December 31, 2019
Hello Neighbor December 30, 2019
The Talos Principle December 29, 2019
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun December 28, 2019
Hyper Light Drifter December 27, 2019
FTL: Faster Than Light December 26, 2019
Totally Accurate Battle Simulator December 25, 2019
Celeste December 24, 2019
Ape Out December 23, 2019
Little Inferno December 22, 2019
Superhot December 21, 2019
Towerfall Ascension December 20, 2019
Into the Breach December 19, 2019
The Wolf Among Us December 12-19, 2019
The Escapists December 12-19, 2019
Jotun: Valhalla Edition December 6-12, 2019
Rayman Legends November 29-December 6, 2019
Bad North November 21-29, 2019
The Messenger November 14-21, 2019
Ruiner November 7-14, 2019
Nuclear Throne November 7-14, 2019
Costume Quest October 31-November 7, 2019
Soma October 31-November 7, 2019
Layers of Fear October 24-October 31, 2019
Q.U.B.E.2 October 24-October 31, 2019
Alan Wake: American Nightmare October 17-24, 2019
Observer October 17-24, 2019
Surviving Mars October 10-17, 2019
Minit October 3-10, 2019
Metro 2033 Redux September 26-October 3, 2019
Everything September 26-October 3, 2019
Lego Batman Trilogy September 19-26, 2019
Batman: Arkham Collection September 19-26, 2019
Conarium September 12-19, 2019
ABZU September 5-12, 2019
The End is Nigh September 5-12, 2019
Celeste August 29-September 5, 2019
Inside August 29-September 5, 2019
Fez August 22-29, 2019
Hyper Light Drifter August 15-22, 2019
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden August 15-22, 2019
GNOG August 8-15, 2019
For Honor August 2-9, 2019
Alan Wake August 2-9, 2019
This War of Mine July 25-August 2, 2019
Moonlighter July 25-August 2, 2019
Limbo July 18-July 25, 2019
Torchlight July 11-18, 2019
Overcooked July 4-11, 2019
Last Day of June June 27-July 4, 2019
Rebel Galaxy June 20-27, 2019
Enter the Gungeon June 13-20, 2019
Kingdom: New Lands June 6-13, 2019
City of Brass May 30-6, 2019
Rime May 23-30, 2019
Stories Untold May 16-23, 2019
World of Goo May 2-16, 2019
Transistor April 18-May 2, 2019
The Witness April 4-18, 2019
Oxenfree March 21-April 4, 2019
Slime Rancher March 7-21, 2019
Thimbleweed Park February 21-March 7, 2019
Axiom Verge February 7-21, 2019
The Jackbox Party Pack January 24-February 7, 2019
What Remains of Edith Finch January 11-24, 2019
Super Meat Boy December 28, 2018-January 10, 2019
Subnautica December 12-27, 2018

The Epic Games Launcher also hosts to a variety of free-to-play games including Dauntless, SMITE, Magic The Gathering Arena, and of course, Fortnite.

Source: Epic Games


Giveaway – Win a Nintendo Switch Gioteck gaming bundle

Want to expand your Nintendo Switch collection? Are your Joycon controllers starting to look a little worse for wear? Or do you simply need a reliable gamepad within arm's reach for whenever your player two decides to drop in? With this latest giveaway, we've got you sorted.

Teaming up with Gioteck, we're giving away a Nintendo Switch accessory bundle which includes their brand new headset as well as two controller options. Three lucky winners will receive the following: one Gioteck HC2 Decal headset, one WX-4 wireless controller, and one JC-20 controller (Gioteck's answer to Nintendo's Joycon). Each accessory carries a new "cubes" style, emulating the look of the mega popular Minecraft series.

As always, entering our competitions is simple – just complete the form below to enter in a variety of different ways, including via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

We'll be running the competition for one week with entries closing at 11.59PM UK time on Friday 11th September. The giveaway is open to residents of the UK only. Winners must respond within three working days of being contacted, and if they do not another winner will be drawn. Our usual terms and conditions apply, and decisions are final.
Win a Nintendo Switch Gioteck gaming bundle

We recently reviewed the Gioteck WX-4 wireless controller – here's what we had to say:

The WX-4 isn't what we'd call a "pro" tier controller, but that isn't what Gioteck is going for. This is a perfectly priced alternative that may not look or feel as fancy, but is a damn sight better than the majority of third party Switch gamepads out there.

Good luck!


What We Played #466 – Marvel's Avengers, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 & WRC 9

It's been a short week on the gaming front for me, not least thanks to driving 800 miles around the Highlands on a road trip which definitely blew some of the cobwebs out of my brain. I did of course take my Switch though, and continued to make my way through The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening which remains as fun and involving as it was when I played it back on my original GameBoy. Besides that I got to go hands on with Second Extinction – more on that next week – and I've been checking out Marvel's Avengers and Madden 21 too.

Aran has been playing Kingdoms of Amalur Re-reckoning for review. All his thoughts will come next week, but he can tell you he's playing a sorcerer build. Thomas Hughes has hammered THPS 1 + 2, and 100% all levels in a sitting, saying "it's very, very good". So good, in fact, that he gave it a whopping 10/10.

Jim recently got back into For Honor again for the umpteenth time following the recent combat design overhaul. "It's still my favourite fighting game and each time I go back, I like to dabble with a new fighter. So, I've been lopping off heads with The Highlander and his sword-handed claymore." Marvel's Avengers also went live earlier this week so he's been pouring some time into that too, saying "I've settled on juggling the campaign with some multiplayer missions. It's fun but those who are suffering from live service fatigue will have to grit their teeth if they want to play as their favourite Marvel superheroes."

Nick P got the platinum on Ghost of Tsushima which is his GOTY, so far. It's not all been about Samurai though, as he tells us "I've started Captain Tsubasa which is insanely fun and a lot more difficult than i expected. I've also started Marvel's Avengers but I'm not far into it so the jury is out, for now."

Jason has been playing some Rocket League, some Divinity: Original Sin 2, and some Avengers. "Rocket League is still an immense amount of fun, even if some elements of the community should take it less seriously. I'm mostly playing Divinity to scratch my Baldur's Gate 3 itch, which doctors say is currently incurable. Avengers is a game."

Gareth spent the last week continuing Pathfinder Kingmaker for review. Other than that, he played a bit of Beat Saber, some SoulCalibur 5, tried Street Fighter 5, and then lamented that the fighting game genre hasn't progressed in two decades. I would argue that it has regressed, at least in those two franchises.

Inexplicably, Tuffcub has played Destiny 2. He did apologise but I don't believe him, so we'll move on to Nic B, who when he isn't sucking at Fall Guys, has playing Magic the Gathering. "When I'm not doing that, I'm watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. Working my way through the box set with my girlfriend, who is the biggest Amy Santiago. It's great!"

Ade and his lady friend are still on with EDF 5, saying that "shooting giant bugs is surprisingly relaxing". He's also been playing Shing! for review; "it's good fun and has managed to add a lot of fresh ideas to the beat 'em up genre. I've also started On The Incredibles Lego with my son, probably the best Lego game I've played yet; it's surprisingly unshonky!"

Drea has been reliving her childhood by playing Legend of Zelda and Pokémon Shield, saying "it's much easier than I remember it being." Steve meanwhile finished Wolfenstein II main story "and what a ride that was. Gonna have a go at the DLC and postgame next. Aside from that I've had a week of pretty poor games up for review so you can all look forward to my trying to find the positives out of those."

Thomas Harrison-Lord playing WRC 9, for which the review went up for recently. "The long stages in New Zealand when using a steering wheel peripheral are a lesson in concentration and persistence." On the other side of the pond, Miguel has been playing and "LOVING" 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, but he's also been playing some FF14, a little Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga, a smidgen of Yakuza Zero, aaaaaaaand…Fortnite.

And finally, Tef has also hopped onto the Marvel's Avengers train. He thinks it's pretty alright, but that it feels confused as to what it wants to be. There's a good solid single player adventure here, but it's forced to live inside a live service game that riffs off Destiny and Anthem a bit too much. Aside from that, there was some Dirt 5 Playgrounds, which he'll talk about in future, and some other things that he can't quite remember a moment.


But maybe you can remember what you've been playing? Let us know in the comments below.


Microsoft leak the launch date for Immortals Fenyx Rising

The Microsoft Store has, once again, leaked details of a game and this time they have revealed that Immortals Fenyx Rising, or as it was previously known, Gods & Monsters, will be out on 3rd December 2020. They also revealed a pre-order bonus quest, you can read the full description scraped off the Microsoft Store below.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising brings grand mythological adventure to life.

Play as Fenyx, on a quest to save the Greek gods from a dark curse. Wield the powers of the gods to battle powerful mythological beasts in the air or on the ground, and solve ancient puzzles. The fate of the world is at stake–you are the gods' last hope.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising leverages the Smart Delivery technology—buy the game once and play it on either Xbox One or Xbox Series X when both the console and that version of Immortals: Fenyx Rising are available.

Pre-order now for the bonus quest, "A Tale of Fire and Lightning"!

Key Features

  • Wield the powers of the gods like Achilles' sword and Daidalos' wings to battle powerful enemies and solve ancient puzzles.
  • Fight iconic mythological beasts like Cyclops and Medusa in dynamic combat in the air and on the ground.
  • Use your skills and diverse weapons, including self-guided arrows, telekinesis, and more, for devastating damage.
  • Discover a stylized open world across seven unique regions, each inspired by the gods.

The Microsoft Store also had four new screenshots which you can view below.

We suspect Ubisoft were going to announce the release date during the forthcoming Ubisoft Forward event on September 10th at 11:00 AM PDT / 9.00 PM CST / 8.00 PM BST.

"You can see what's in store for games like Watch Dogs: Legion, Hyper Scape, and Rainbow Six Siege, as well as a much-anticipated update on our new IP, Immortals Fenyx Rising, formerly known as Gods & Monsters, and more yet-to-be revealed surprises," say Ubisoft. "If you still can't get enough, stick around after the main show to see deep dives into two unreleased titles, exclusive to this edition of Ubisoft Forward."

The game is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and Stadia, and versions for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have also been announced, but it is not known if these will also launch on December 3rd.

Source: Gematsu via Twitter


Scavengers gameplay revealed ahead of PC technical test weekend

A gameplay trailer has dropped for the intriguing looking PvPvE shooter Scavengers, with the further announcement that a technical playtest weekend will be held later this month from 18th-20th September.

Scavengers combines elements of PvE sandbox games and class-based PvP games, dropping squads of three into a frozen wasteland and tasking them with collecting data about mysterious asteroids while surviving the wilderness and other players.

Players can choose from a range of Explorers, each with different abilities and weaponry, using team tactics today overcome human and AI adversaries. A big part of the game will be tracking people through the snow, surviving and manipulating the wildlife, and just trying to stay warm. That'll be easier said than done, when the game takes place in a huge 9km2 map, the world and the AI powered by SpatialOS technology from Midwinter's parent company Improbable.

Planned for release in 2021 on PC and current-gen consoles PS4 and Xbox One, Midwinter Entertainment are building up to a Closed Alpha and Closed Beta test later this year with the playtest weekend later this month. To be part of the test, running from 18th-20th September, you can sign up at www.playscavengers.com.

Source: press release


Lair of the Clockwork God Interview – Dan Marshall on AA batteries, razors, Xbox names & dinosaur games

Easily one of this year's wittiest and most infuriatingly clever games, Lair of the Clockwork God is out for Switch and Xbox One today , and PS4 when "business reasons" have been sorted out. Blending together the trappings of a classic point and click adventure, replete with snarky dialogue and plenty of offbeat inventory management and item combining, with an indie darling platformer, it sees Ben and Dan having to save the world from all of the apocalypses. Yes, all of them.

It's great, having received glowing reviews from critics and gamers alike, and now it's no longer trapped behind needing to boot up a PC. There's even a short visual novel that's bundled in for good measure, offering another little dose of comedy gold.

So with that in mind, I sat down to chat with Dan Marshall about pretty much everything except the game that he's trying to promote. Early topics in our meandering natter included how he's been trying to eliminate AA batteries from his life and has a keyboard with a little solar panel in it (which in turn meant that he's had to rearrange his office so he's sat by the window to give it reliable power), and his old school razor. Obviously.

It's not just that it's massively cut down on plastic (the original motivation), but it also gives him a better shave, and above all of that, "It feels cool," he said. "You know that bit in Predator where he's shaving in the jungle and you can hear it scraping with this amazing Chrrrrk! noise? He's shaving with a machete in the jungle, and it feels like that, because it's just you and a raw bit of metal."

But… Lair of the Clockwork God, right? It's a point & click adventure that's jumped into an era where point & click adventures are far from common by way of an indie platformer.

"Basically this is a platformer, but it has the sensibilities of a point & click adventure game. I think that sort of makes sense, but you know, I don't even know if people remember what point & click games are anymore. There was Thimbleweed Park, and everyone went 'Oh brilliant, a proper point & click game', but that's the last one I can really remember doing big numbers. Jenny LeClue did big numbers, but that was in the last six months or so, so you go back to Thimbleweed Park which was actually quite a long time ago now."

Clockwork God has, in many ways, followed the path that the genre as a whole has, of trying to take the idea of the point & click and mould it into or fuse it with something else. For Dan, that started with the simplification of inventory management and world interactions being reduced to a single click on objects. Clockwork God goes back to the original form in some ways with an interaction wheel, but forges ahead in others, with that platformer hybrid.

"The core of all the problems in development were caused by, I'm going to say, gravity," he laughed. "In point & click adventure games you don't really need gravity, because you've got that slightly 3D space to work in, you've got depth to the screen that you haven't got in a platformer, so you've got a design issue there where Ben can basically walk past everything and his interaction wheel will become available. Then there's things clipping through the floor, things breaking and whatever is always the downside of platforming. Physics and all that.

"I don't know why, but gravity's always going to cause problems. Anything where you can jump is immediately setting yourself up for a handful of different issues."

So, does he have a renewed admiration of Shigeru Miyamoto? "Oooh, yeah! I mean… Jump Man. You've immediately set yourself up."

Lair of the Clockwork God is coming to console by way of Ant Workshop, handling all the tasks of porting it to console, filing the various bits of paperwork and shepherding it through certification.

"I love making games," Dan said. "It was my hobby, my passion, and now it's my job, but i like dreaming up stupid worlds and making fun interesting things happen, and as part of that I can just about bear putting together main menus – they're incredibly boring. Making games so that they save data and load it in is also incredibly boring. I can just about cope with those for the sake of the thing as a whole, but what I could not even begin to be bothered with is to do all the code to make it work on console.

"Changing all the icons so that they're PlayStation icons? That is not fun work. That is not for me. A lot of people see that as a really fun challenge, and optimising is as well – obviously it runs really well on PC, but it's not going to necessarily run great on Switch, so how do you make that happen, working out where the problems are in the code, where the code's slowing you down, and all that sort of stuff. It's not something I get any enjoyment out of.

"Also, last time I heard, passing certification on any console, let alone on three of them, is a big hassle. THere's all these rules like, if you've holding down the X button on controller 2 and turn off controller 1, does it break the game? All of these rules you've got to follow, and obviously Tony and Ant Workshop know all those rules. They know what they need to do in order to pass certification. With me it would be a constant back and forth because of something I've forgotten or didn't read properly in a document."

So… with the game coming to consoles, obviously the burning question on everyone's lips is if there will be free upgrades to next-gen?

"Oh! Shit. That I don't even know. Doesn't it just… my understanding was that it just automatically works?" Dan replied. Once I assured him that this is actually the case, he continued, "Oh good… well then yes, of course it will work, but if I could charge as a satire, I would. If I could charge £99.99 for a next-gen upgrade, then I would. I think I would think it's a really funny joke, until I actually come to doing it, and then I would think it was stupid and stop."

One equally banal question about ray tracing, he said, "Do you know what? I was thinking the other day about one of the stupid things I ran out of time to put in. You know how every game comes out on PS4 and Xbox Whatevertheyrecalled, and about three weeks later they release a photo mode. I assume it's some marketing thing? Because why is a photo mode not in there at launch? It's not a massively complicated thing to be doing.

"I did have this idea of doing a photo mode for Clockwork God, so you can just slap a load of filters on top of it, but it's just this pixel art game. So all the screenshots are going to look exactly the same, but with these filters. That was a cut thing I thought I would do… maybe I still will? Sounds like fun."

Obviously every game developer right now must have an opinion on the next generation, but outside of being wowed by Ratchet & Clank and having to console himself over the fact that he's just one person and Insomniac is hundreds, Dan does have some thoughts on the next generation.

"You know what, given that it's my job, I don't really know anything about it. I can't get enthused about flat statistics. […] I feel like I couldn't even tell you what the new Xbox is called; I've got so confused with Xbox titles. […]

"This is probably a bad analogy, but the Microsoft console naming comes across a little bit like government COVID advice. I had a handle on it at the start, but then they kept on dripping more incremental nonsense at me, and now I genuinely couldn't tell you what bubble I'm in. I genuinely don't know how many people I'm allowed to meet with and from what households now, in the same way I couldn't tell you what the last three iterations of Xbox were called."

Looking to the future and what he's taken away from making and marketing the game, Dan said, "I think, weirdly, the thing I've learnt about making Clockwork God is that just because you've made an amazing game doesn't mean it's going to sell amazingly well." Certainly a lot has changed since he broke onto Steam with Time Gentlemen, Please! in 2009, and just as much since The Swindle in 2015, in terms of indie devs be able to grab the spotlight. "I feel like if Clockwork God had come out five, six, seven years ago, I would have made a lot more money out of it, just on Steam, than I have done in 2020."

Anyone that follows him on Twitter will know that he's been banging on about the game's positive reviews on Steam, about the need for gamers to follow through on buying games they put on their Wishlist, and so on. There's still plenty of Twitter-y witticisms, but a lot of necessary self-promotion as well. "It does feel like I've been banging this drum since February," he said, "and hopefully now that the console versions are coming out, I can shut up a bit and it'll have a much bigger audience."

Somewhat philosophically, that could be down to the genre and style of game and how people consume their media these days. It's something that's feeding into what he's working on next:

"The thing I'd been thinking about for the entire development of Lair of the Clockwork God was making a The Swindle spiritual sequel. That idea was going round in my head, and I was having amazing ideas for how it was all going to hang together, but I was so burnt out that I just couldn't do it.

"But looking at it from the point of what's going to sell better, what's going to look better? Something that's procedurally generated; something that's funny; something that people will play on Twitch. Fall Guys is doing amazingly well because people are just sharing their stupid pratfalls. It's that kind of virality you're looking for. No-one's going to share them solving a puzzle in Clockwork God compared to them falling over funnily in Fall Guys."

"So I spent a bit of time thinking, and I like the idea of playing as a dinosaur – I've never really done that before. What would it be like not to control a human, but a wild animal where you don't have total control? Then I saw one of my kid's toys – this is true, it sounds like one of those lies that people tell, but my kid's got a Jurassic World toy and it's like a little dinosaur with a big head, and it's amazing. I saw it on our bathroom floor, and I was like 'That's it!'"

"A dinosaur skittering into a load of humans and sending them tumbling is immediately shareable and interesting. So the thing I've learnt is to make something that's got that little bit more virality to it, a little bit more randomness to it where people can play with the game."

My disappointment at not getting a The Swindle sequel aside, I'm looking forward to seeing how that comes together, and Dan has been sharing both exciting updates about leaping and roaring and extremely boring updates about ladders and refactoring on his Twitter.

But while he's busy working on exciting new dinosaur games, that just means there's plenty of time to enjoy his most not-so-dinosaur-filled game, Lair of the Clockwork God, on more platforms.


Thanks to Dan for chatting with us, and apologies to Dan for having to butcher our 50-ish minute chat to fit this still very big article. Lair of the Clockwork God is out today for Switch and Xbox One, and sometime soon for PlayStation 4 with a capital 'S'.


[UPDATE] Apex Legends was having server issues

UPDATE: It seems the servers are back now!

Original story below…

Clearly it's Server Issue Day, Fall Guys has thrown a wonk and now Apex Legends is having troubles. The official Apex Legends account has not mentioned anything but the EA help account has confirmed there are problems.

 

Season 6 of Apex Legends went live at the end of August, bringing with it a whole new character, major changes to one of the game's two maps, a fresh twist on the looting gameplay and a load of extra tweaks and bug fixes that were listed in the patch notes, if you want to read them then click here. 

The new character is Ramya 'Rampart' Parekh, a British Indian private business owner who brings modded shields and her minigun named Sheila to the Outlands. Her passive ability gives her increased magazine capacity and faster reloads with LMGs and her minigun, and longer overheat times with the L-STAR. Her tactical Amped Cover ability lets her place crouch-cover walls that amp up outgoing shots. Finally, her ultimate is the Emplaced Minigun "Shiela" lets her place a mounted machine gun that anyone can use, with up to 3 miniguns to be deployed at once.

World's Edge has been updated with the thematic tage over by Hammond Robotics continuing. This has made changes to the Dome, Drill Site and some other points of interest, including the removal of the train that previously ran around the map.

The gameplay will also be shifted by the introduction of crafting. You can find materials at loot bins and material stations, and then take these to a Replicator that give you a choice of eight pieces of loot to craft, so long as you have enough materials. Loot rotates on a weekly or daily basis.

There's also the new energy-based Volt SMG, changes to the Armour Meta, an increase to the Mozambique magazine size, and plenty more.

Source: Twitter


UPDATE: Fall Guys is back online #StableBeef

UPDATE: It seems things are back to normal again!

Original story below..

Uh oh, Fall Guys is having server issues again, the game was offline earlier this morning and was meant to be back online around an hour ago, but the problem they thought they had fixed seems to be still present.

We will keep an eye on things and let you know when the all clear has been sounded. Perhaps the server issues are being caused by the new Big Bad in Fall Guys, a randomly appearing hammer called Big Yeetus.

Mediatonic want to spice up the action of Fall Guys with a little bit of added randomness. Now that we're a month after the game's initial release (well, we will be on Friday), people should be quite intimately familiar with the various race levels, the intricacies of See-Saw, how to jump through hoops and grab tails. Adding Big Yeetus, a giant swingy hammer somewhere random could add just a little extra something.

Earlier this week, Mediatonic wrapped up a campaign to raise money for Special Effect with an auction to create a branded in-game outfit for Fall Guys. In the end this saw a combined donation of $1 million by G2 Esports, Aim Lab, and streamers Mr Beast and Ninja. Special Effect works to enable those with physical disabilities to play a wider variety of games through custom game controllers and tools like EyeMine that allows for playing with eye-control. They also work with developers to build more accessible games in the first place.

Fall Guys has been an absolute sensation for the team at developer Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital, with the companies revealing that they've sold over 2 million copies on Steam in the game's first week. That's before you take into account however many people have been playing via PlayStation 4, where it was free on PlayStation Plus in August. That led to some major server issues around launch, as they shored up the servers and added capacity ahead of the weekend. Thankfully things have been fairly steady since then and the team are now focussed on creating content for the medieval-themed Season 2 and beyond.

Fall Guys is out now for PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.

Source: Twitter


The Witcher 3 is coming to PS5 & Xbox Series X with ray tracing enhancement and free upgrades from current gen

As if CD Projekt Red didn't already have enough of their plate, they've also announced that they're working to upgrade The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the next-generation of PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and PC hardware. This will bring a bunch of visual and technical improvements, including ray tracing and faster loading times across the base game, expansions and various other bits of extra content. Maybe people can stop banging on about visual downgrades now?

The next generation release of The Witcher 3 will be available as a new release of the game for PC, Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, but it will also be a completely free upgrade for current owners of the game on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

The only thing we now have to wait for is a release date, but we shouldn't really expect this to happen right away. As I said, CDPR are pretty busy right now with a little game called Cyberpunk 2077. After several delays, Cyberpunk 2077 game will be launching on the eve of the next-generation in November for current systems PS4, Xbox One and PC. CDPR have promised enhancements for next-gen for that game, also with free upgrades to PS5 and Xbox Series X, but have cautioned that the enhancements will be coming some time after launch.

Curiously, this announcement comes with CDPR having previously said that a new The Witcher game is planned and will enter development after Cyberpunk 2077's release. This new game will not be a direct sequel to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt but will part of the universe, which could mean that Geralt will not be the main character.

Still, it absolutely makes sense for CDPR to return to The Witcher 3 and spruce it up for next-gen. The recent Netflix series saw the game shoot back to the top of the charts, and a second season of the show is in the works, hopefully for 2021, as well as a prequel series. All of these things will continue to spur on interest in the game, and if CDPR can also generate some fresh buzz with next-gen enhancements, it will surely appeal to even more people.

In our original The Witcher 3 review, Aran said:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the most engrossing games I've had the chance to play. The story and characters are well worth the experience alone, and the world expertly draws on the desire to explore with its massive scale. You never know what will greet you or beat you just a few seconds down the path, and that's what is exciting about this game. […] CD Projekt Red haven't just created a great game but a modern gaming masterpiece.

Source: press release


Marvel's Avengers Day One Review

Marvel's Avengers is a strange game to get your head around, even after months of teasers, previews, and War Table deep dives.

The good news is that it does exactly what it says on the tin, bringing together Earth's Mightiest Heroes. However, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have gone about this in a way that won't appeal to a lot of gamers, despite the overwhelming allure of the Avengers name.

The best way to describe Marvel's Avengers is as an ultra glossy action RPG brawler in which its six playable superheroes can inhabit the same spaces despite being markedly different in how they feel to play. You have up to four Avengers in your squad at a time, so one of you could be Iron Man soaring above the battle as Hulk bulldozes entire enemy waves, while Captain America and Black Widow weave in and out to take down high threat targets.

In trying to cater for every character (and without making some way more fun to play than others) Crystal Dynamics have pulled off a crazy balancing act here and one that is mostly great to watch in its execution. That said, the game's story, repetitive mission designs, and live service model are all things to consider before enlisting into the Avengers Initiative yourself.

Let's start with how Marvel's Avengers plays. To create parity between the six launch heroes, each has a potent blend of melee and ranged attacks as well as a trio heroic abilities, such as Hulk's Thunderclap, which recharge over time. Light and heavy combos, dodges, rolls, and counters all lend depth to the combat system, but you can certainly get away with button bashing on the lowest difficulty tier.

Each Avenger is easy to pick up and play initially, though you will be able to expand and customise their movesets over time as you rack up experience, unlocking new combos and traits. This isn't the kind of skill tree you'd obsessively pore over in a hardcore RPG, yet there's room to experiment, even if your gradual goal is to eventually fill out every branch.

The combat here feels crunchy, firing up the rumble motors inside your gamepad with each heroic leap, punch, or throw of Captain America's vibranium shield. Damage numbers pop, status effects trigger, and although Marvel's Avengers can seem a little chaotic at first, it slowly morphs into a more advanced action RPG as you progress.

Levels vary in shape and size, depending on whether you drop into a multiplayer session or explore the game's tighter, more linear single player campaign. With more Avengers in tow, environments begin to open into small hubs with various points of interest to explore. Navigating them is simple enough, whether flying with Iron Man and Thor, or bounding across terrain as the rest of the game's cast.

For some, the turn-off here is how Marvel's Avengers treats progression. Make no mistake, this is a live service game and as such Crystal Dynamics expects players to grind away for gear and cosmetics by running the same missions over and over. Some may find themselves satisfied by wrapping the story campaign then dabbling with some multiplayer, but Avengers is designed to try and reel you in with daily challenges, battle passes, and other hooks that have become far too familiar.

On top of that we have the promise of more playable heroes coming soon with Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, and Spider-Man on the way, each of which will add a new narrative beat to the game world. With the core game now established, it's easy to see Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics continuing to build on this foundation in the way Bungie built up Destiny over the years. The potential here is massive.

Let's rewind a bit and talk about the story. Although spread across the entire game, its storytelling efforts have been mainly focused on the single player campaign. Earth's Mightiest Heroes have disbanded after the fallout of "A-Day" – a celebration event which goes terribly wrong when the Avengers' helicarrier explodes, showering San Francisco with a "Terrigen" mist. Those who weren't killed develop superpowers, these "inhumans" now outlawed by AIM, the world's newly self-appointed protectors. Nothing shady about them, at all.

Overall, the story suffers from a weak antagonist, dull renditions of the Avengers themselves, and a disappointing lack of supervillains, though it's still entertaining to play through. Having Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel) be the lead character instead of the characters the game shares with the MCU Avengers was a great choice. As an Avengers megafan herself, her giddy interactions with the main cast are cute, paving a very different kind of hero's journey as she explores her stretchy new powers.

As for looks, there's no questioning the graphical fidelity of Marvel's Avengers. Characters are highly detailed and animate well (again, Kamala and her stretchiness is a real highlight) sporting large, open environments teeming with mobs of enemies and a barrage of visual effects.

It's more the art direction that some will have issues with. Crystal Dynamics have leaned towards the recent MCU blockbusters for inspiration, though stopped short of having Disney's film stars lend their likenesses. While this game's version of the Avengers look absolutely fine, a bolder, more comic-inspired style for the game feels like it would have worked much better and felt more distinctive.


Monster Truck Championship is the sim-smashing racer for big wheelers

Kids and grown ups love it so, the happy world of monster truck racing, freestyle tricking and car crushing. There's millions of fans of monster trucks around the world, of the glorious excess and borderline stupidity of these gigantic vehicles, and it's for those fans that Monster Truck Championship is being created.

Pitched as the first monster truck simulation out there, you hop into these, well… monstrous trucks and take them racing and freestyling across a handful of different events.

One thing it absolutely captures is the wild bounciness of a monster truck's suspension and the four gigantic tyres. The motion of the cab under heavy braking and when bobbling over the terrain maybe isn't quite as dramatic as you might expect from watching monster truck events on YouTube, but there's a definite floatiness to the truck handling that would be despised in any other racing game, but feels spot on in Monster Truck Championship.

It does mean that, while the game aims to be the biggest, brashest sim racer out there, it feels light and arcade. You can really throw these trucks around. Literally. That's actually half the game, with Freestyle and Destruction events being a space where you'll leap off trick ramps and crash down onto cars, campers and portaloos.

But first let's talk about the racing. This comes in two forms, with straight up head to head races around twisting, jump-filled dirt tracks, bumping wheels with up to seven other racers. You'll have your work cut out to get to the front and stay there, partly because the races seem to fall back on the old racing game trope of having one really good AI driver and a bunch of less good ones behind, but also because of having to deal with the undulations of the track. It's slower paced than rallying, but has some of the same characteristics; getting your angle and speed wrong over a leap will see you careening off to the side and losing a bunch of time as you try to keep it out of the barriers. One of the two tracks in our preview demo also had a joker lap route, a la Rallycross.

It's easy to get things a little bit wrong, as I said, and taking a jump badly, only getting two wheels onto a jump ramp, or simply smashing into a wall can lead to damage for your truck. I had a race where I came crunching down on my two right-side tyres and spent the rest of the race listing heavily to that side, dealing with some wonky steering throughout.

The style of racing you'll more commonly see with monster trucks in the real world comes from the Drag Race events, with two trucks going head to head through mirrored courses in a stadium, the winner going to the next round in the bracket, leading up to the final. Here, every element has to be perfect. You need to get your revs just right and react within a flash to the countdown to launch yourself into the short and sweet course, and then try not to lose time through the hairpins and corners on the way to the finish line. It's much more technical, the margins for error feeling so much smaller.

Of course, what those two race types miss out on is smashing stuff, and that's where Freestyle and Destruction come in. Essentially riffing off the same concept, the idea in both is to string enough tricks together to earn points and multipliers, a bit like a very large and bouncy Tony Hawk's Pro Monster Truck Freestyler. Of course, you don't get to crush things in THPS, while you do in Monster Truck Championship. The difference in the two modes is the emphasis that they put on each side, with jumps and tricks a bigger part of Freestyling, and smashing stuff more prevalent in Destruction.

It might look like dumb fun, but if anything, these are both more challenging and technical than the Drag Race events. They're certainly showy, but you need real control if you're going to use your time effectively to get tricks to string together and build up a multiplier. There's big jump ramps leading over to rows of cars, there's scooped ramps that can let you do a quick little flip, and even mechanical ramps that will flick up and send you spinning through the air in truly spectacular fashion. Each big trick in Freestyle is accompanied by a slow motion cut away to the side for effect.

However, keeping with its sim aspirations, you don't have any air control to help you massage the truck's arc through the air and positioning. It all has to be done through managing your speed and angle as you head to a jump, and with the time constraints, it's quite easy to hit one at just the wrong angle and head off target, land awkwardly and off balance, or simply end up on your back like an unfortunate tortoise. Unlike that sorry tortoise though, you can just hit a button and reset.

It will take more playing time to really judge Monster Truck Championship on its simulation credentials – it's not like it really has any other sims you can compare it to – but what it has going for it is that it's still easy to pick up and play, and that the very nature of monster truck racing is so forgiving. You'll need to learn finesse and control to master the handful of disciplines here, but until you do, it's still fun just bumping your way through races and crushing more defenceless caravans than an average season of Top Gear.


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