Category Archives: Xbox LIVE

Why co-op gaming is the way forward | Opinion | Gaming

EvolveI’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.

Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Being Human

Left 4 Dead 2
Going it alone in Left 4 Dead (or its sequel, pictured) is a speedy shortcut to Dead City.

Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.

The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.

At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.

Getting it together

With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.
With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.

What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.

On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.

In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.

When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.

In your own little world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Many have lost hundreds of hours to Skyrim, an entirely single player experience, but will they lose more to the Elder Scrolls Online?

That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.

The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.

James Michael Parry

Titanfall Beta first impressions: Should you buy Titanfall? | Hands-on | Gaming

TitanfallYou might think that it’s all getting a bit robot-mad around here at present, but in my defence this is one of the most anticipated games of the year, particularly on Xbox One (though, of course, it’s worth pointing out you can play it on 360 and PC as well).

The Titanfall Beta began on Friday 14 February. So, “What’s it like?!” I hear you ask. In a nutshell this game takes the first-person shooter genre and adds another level to it, in this case the one I’m talking about isn’t the massive robots – although they do change up the gameplay considerably – but playing vertically.

Making your way around maps designed to allow pilots to take advantage of going up and down as well as side to side makes the experience incredibly refreshing. Plenty of other games have done this before, no doubt, but here the execution is excellent, lumbering titan-like strides ahead of even seasoned franchises with killer multiplayer like Halo.

Being a Beta, there is only some much which can be taken away, and as such my reactions are still held in check a little with the anticipation of the full whack we are due on March 11. That said, even with limited modes (just a standard deathmatch, king of the hill/conquest and Titan v Titan) the gameplay takes first place.

Graphical fidelity will be less than the full version of the game too, but still the game looks solid. It’s missing a few water effects which players may have become used to and other touches, which may be included at retail, but the animation is strong and not juddery considering the amount going on on screen.

TitanfallA lot of blabbing has been done over both resolution and also the number of players per side. Firstly, the frame rate, which I personally think is more significant to gameplay, does well despite the game being online-only and secondly, the number of players feels right for the size of the maps so far, particularly when all the titans are in play.

The feeling of being in control of a titan is so powerful at times that you quickly forget how vulnerable you are as a colossal, reasonably slow-moving target. Maneuverability feels quite familiar, in that the titan is an extension of its pilot – we aren’t talking Pacific Rim scale after all, the titans are the size of a two-story building.

Dodging and sprinting make a big difference, though it takes a while to adjust the bulk and avoid getting stuck on lampposts and other debris. It almost seems a shame that this game isn’t one of the umpteen titles being developed on Frostbite 3, as destructive environments would really push this title to the next level.

Of course, it would quickly become increasingly difficult for pilots, so perhaps that’s why developers Respawn decided to not go down that road.

The two maps available in the beta give a hint of the excitement to come, reportedly these only scratch the surface, as you would hope, and the loadouts system seems promising. The default loadouts alone give enough variety to keep the gameplay interesting, particularly since you select titan and pilot weapons, equipment and abilities separately.

One area which will be uncovered in the full version is how the narrative is woven into the game, since it is multiplayer only, but even without that set-up, the Beta is well served by its comprehensive but not overly-long tutorial training.

In all Titanfall will definitely be a game that all Xbox One owners should want at the very least, not because it’s the first exclusive which PS4 owners will really start to feel some jealousy over (and then buy on PC), but because it’s a game which begins to flex the muscles of the system and bring fresh ideas to the table.

James Michael Parry

Gaming: E3 Special – Microsoft Press Conference dissected

So, E3 (that’s Electronic Entertainment Expo for long) has finally returned once again to bring us a week of exciting gaming announcements. Microsoft were up first at 10.30 am this morning to a slightly delayed start, but talking piece of the conference is the very sleek, slim and new Xbox 360 (that black shiny thing you’re gawping at in the pictures).

Before all that though, there was plenty of Xbox-related goodness to get through. If you don’t fancy watching the feature-length event in full, which you can easily do online here at, allow me to break down the excitement into bite-size chunks.

The event began with a immersive look at Call of Duty: Black Ops, Treyarch’s stab back after the Activision/Infinity Ward fallout debacle following Modern Warfare 2. The game looks great, with all of the series’ staples in place, but you can’t help feeling it’s more of the same. There was a nice touch though with the news that add-ons and DLC would be coming to Xbox 360 first for the next three years.

A packed Los Angeles Convention Center, or more specifically a theatre inside it, greets Senior Vice President Don Mattrick as he tells us that this year is the 10th year of Xbox and pushed home firmly the idea of making gaming simple.

Keeping up the momentum of his opening sermon, Mattrick ushers on Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, to talk about the new game Metal Gear Solid: Rising. which was teasered at E3 ’09. The presentation was brief but showed off the snazzy visuals and distinctly Japanese fighting style which allows you to slice through anything.

Then comes the first part of the grand plan of simplification as the retail name of Microsoft’s Project Natal: Kinect – which was announced yesterday – is casually thrown in by Phil Spencer, who becomes the audiences’ guide for the rest of the conference.

He also talks about games, making the bold statement that “everything you see and hear from now on is exclusive to Xbox 360”, which you feel would have packed more punch right at the start, but MGS: Rising denied them.

The first ‘Xbox Exclusive’ to be rolled out is the hugely anticipated Gears of War 3, which Cliff Blesinski, Project Lead at Epic Games, is over-eager (as usual) to show us. Blesinski throws out the big guns, literally, showcasing the four-player coop of Delta Team – complete with female squad members – fighting off the new Lambent-mutated Locust, including a very quick and deadly Lambent Berserker which now hops around manically. Largely it’s more of the same, but when the same was as good as Gears 2 and there is SO much more, you can’t help but be excited.

Next is Peter Molyneux (thankfully without Milo in tow), to show off Fable III in all of it’s samey-ness, though things look a little more exciting and fast-paced than before, and the prospect of ruling an Albion moulded and shaped by your choices is an intriguing prospect.

After a random trailer for Codename Kingdoms, which resembles 300 in game form, we are treated to a visit from Marcus Lehto from Bungie to show us some in-game footage from the campaign of upcoming title Halo: Reach. At first glance the game already retains the sense of scale and wonder which Bungie have kept all the way through the series and the visuals are looking highly polished – a criticism of ODST’s minor upgrade.

On top of the visual changes the Elites have returned as main enemies, leading to a fan-boy resurgence as your Noble-team Spartan-III silently assassinates one from behind, prompting a short but very satisfying animation. The scene ends with you being ejected into space amid a colourful battle, perhaps suggesting some space vehicle combat?

With the “blockbuster game” demos out the way, the second act is left for Microsoft’s answer to the market-dominating Wii – Kinect (already proving to be a spelling nightmare.) What follows is a fairly drawn out series of demonstrations which range from a re-hash of what we were shown last year (Milo has become an affectionate tiger now), to genuinely interesting – if a little niche – titles.

The in-house launch games are all very avatar-heavy, with names like Kinect Sports, Kinanimals and Kinect Joy Ride, and have a very thin veil over the fact that they are ripping off Nintendo’s Wii Sports (& Resort), Nintendogs and Mario Kart Wii respectively.

Luckily Harmonix turn up to save Massivesoft’s bacon with the groove-busting Dance Central (think Dance Hero) showing off what the hardware can do, albeit with practised professional dancers…mostly at least. The North American launch will be November 4, but the jury will remain out until one of the ‘real’ games developers implements Kinect into a traditional game genre.

There was a big push for the multi-media aspect of Xbox ownership during the presentation, including a deal with ESPN to show matches free to Xbox LIVE Gold members, though no news if this will make its way out of North America.

Once the executives were happy they’d pushed their new, strangely named, add-on enough, (not before fondling the inside of a virtual Ferrari a bit) they moved on to welcome back Don Mattrick to round up everything great about Xbox, before lifting the Xbox 360 which had been sitting in the middle of the stage the whole time to reveal a smaller, shinier, blacker version beneath.

Though this was expected ever since the PS3 went slim last year, it still provoked the biggest response from the audience, and as an unexpected bonus, everyone at the conference was sent one free of charge – well done for them fending off the ash clouds to turn up maybe?

The biggest surprise was how quickly the company is shipping them out, claiming they will be available to buy later this week, and the unit includes built-in Wifi, something which surely should have been corrected already.

So, there you have it, all of the big news and excitement from the Microsoft camp. The Nintendo and Sony conferences are held tomorrow so expect the news from there in the next few days, if you haven’t been beaten into the ground with tweets about it before that of course.

James Michael Parry

Gaming: The Rise of Online Gaming

It’s no secret that the internet, as well as consuming many people’s lives, has revolutionised the way we play games together thanks to online multiplayer.

It all began back in 1973 with a little game called Maze War (well, it did if the internet is to be believed, check out the evidence) created by interns at NASA, which allowed players on local networked computers to chase each other around a virtual maze trying to kill each other. Today it’s an idea we might call a first-person shooter, making Maze War the creator of an entire genre.

Since then the game has been ported numerous times and is the reason why no one can copyright a multi-user 3D cyberspace, a principle which all modern online games use. The technology has moved on tremendously since then, of course, with simple ethernet computer linking to a worldwide web of computers all communicating across thousands of miles in an instant.

During the 1980s the home computer was born in the UK in the form of the Sinclair ZX80 (and later the ZX81 and Spectrum), making computer games more popular than ever and accessible to the masses.

It was 10 years before another major game brought us closer to online gaming as we know it today. In 1983 SGI Dogfight, a flight simulator, was created for Silicon Graphics workstation computers and networking was added the following year, allowing multiple stations to play over ethernet just as later versions of Maze War had done, but in 1986 support was added for UDP (User Datagram Protocol), which allowed the game to use the internet protocol suite.

However, since the data was sent in broadcast packets, it could not be played across the internet (which itself was in its infancy at the time). It wasn’t until 1989, when IP multicast capabilities were available, that it was possible for the game to be played online in the way we know it today, though due to hardware constraints the capability was seldom used.

Meanwhile, other companies were trying to get their head around this new technology, which led to the use of the X Window System, which meant a game could be ‘hosted’ on one computer and the screen transmitted through X Window, to the other players playing the game.

Xtrek, the first remote display game based vaguely in the Star Trek universe, and later Netrek (or Xtrek II) used this technology and the latter even combined the use of UDP and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol – a system still used today) to allow users to play online on servers.

Since then online gaming has become the norm, rendering the split-screen multiplayer classics of the late 1990s, such as Rare’s Goldeneye, almost obsolete, though it has taken some time for consoles to get internet gaming just right. While they were trying to find their feet, games such as Total Annihilation, Counter-Strike and Command & Conquer: Red Alert were being played at LAN (Local Area Network) ‘parties’ in wire-infested living rooms across the country.

But do we really miss the days of split-screen being cutting-edge? Mark Fletcher, an English Student at Leicester University, said: “Definitely. Nothing like cheering on Perfect Dark 64 by looking at your friend’s section of the screen!”

Online gaming’s dominance has also caused developers to put a greater emphasis on cooperative play, which isn’t well-received by everyone. Graduate Andrew Baker said: “As much as I enjoy online multiplayer I do still want a little one on one split-screen every now and then. it anoys me how a lot of things these days are co-op! What if I want to shoot my friend rather than work with him!?”

So, times have changed as they often do, but the next time you load up a game like Battlefield: Bad Company II to get virtually slaughtered for the 10,000th time, remember it’s because of games like Maze War that you have to do it alone in a dark room rather than in a room surrounded by people who laugh evilly when you accidentally blow yourself up.

Review: Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360)

New survivor Rochelle is attacked by a Jockey, complete with The Joker-style manic laughter, while Ellis minds his own business (pic: GP)

Everybody loves killing zombies. Something about fighting off the hordes of the undead gives a certain satisfaction you just don’t get from killing Minion #367 or slaying a mythical beast. Perhaps it’s because we relate to the characters in games like Left 4 Dead – the whole world has gone to pot so they are forced to kill everything in sight as a last resort, a final act of desperation, for survival.

Valve’s original zombie-shooter raised the bar in terms of what can be achieved in the genre, and they were rewarded with countless Game of the Year Awards. The game’s intro movie entranced the imagination of players as they watched a Hunter, the hoody-wearing ‘special’ infected, pounce across a road to attack Lewis thinking “I hope I can do that”.

Sure enough the team didn’t disappoint and the multiplayer aspect in particular demonstrated a whole new level of cooperative gaming, clocking thousands of hours of play time on Xbox LIVE.

With the sequel then, the bar was set rather high. Luckily there were issues with the original which needed to be addressed, and Valve tackled these in spades, countering complaints about the lack of campaigns playable in Versus mode by making all five stories playable this time around.

On top of the new levels there are new special infected to play around with: the Charger, a Tank-esque figure who can knock down an entire team like bowling pins and pummel one unlucky survivor to the floor, the Jockey, who piggy-backs survivors and drags them away from the team, leaving them open to attack, and the Spitter, who produces a highly toxic acid from it’s mouth which can cripple a team in seconds.

Choosing not to continue the story (actually you’re right, what story?!) from the original L4D by changing the setting to the southern states of America, the new survivors – Nick, Ellis, Rochelle and Coach – begin their story in Georgia, not even knowing each others names and attempt to find their way to New Orleans in hope of rescue by the military.

On top of the standard campaign, which is more amusing (and frustrating) online, and versus mode, the game also offers ‘Realism’, ‘Survival’ and ‘Scavenge’. ‘Realism’ is for the seasoned L4D player, taking away all the pop up hints like “Don’t shoot team mates!” and not highlighting weapons, items or off-screen players, making the special infected all the more deadly.

‘Survival’ is similar to the free add on for the first game, which sets up the four survivors in various locations from the campaigns and challenges players to stay alive for as long as possible, with as much petrol and pipe-bombs as you can throw.

‘Scavenge’ sees you collecting fuel to power light generators or getaway vehicles and works much in the same way as ‘Survival’ except there are rounds, with both teams getting to play as the special infected and the survivors, forcing players to exploit the new specials abilities, such as using the Spitter to cover the fuel pouring area in acid, or splitting up the survivors by driving one away with the Jockey.

The biggest change is the weaponry. If you ever wanted to swipe off the head of a zombie with a cricket bat (á la Sean of the Dead) you can thanks to the shiny melee weapons. Totalling eight in all, the list is topped by the deadly chainsaw, which can plough through dozens of gruesome infected before it runs out of juice.

The array of main weapons available has also been boosted, now letting you deal death with an array of FPS classics such as the AK-47 or Desert Eagle, but the jewel in the crown is the grenade launcher. Ridiculously powerful, but painfully slow to reload, the launcher sends body parts flying with precision and can quickly dispatch the fearsome Tank.

As if that wasn’t enough, incendiary and explosive ammo are now available, good for one clip per gun when activated. The explosive ammo is a little lack-lustre, merely causing rounds to occasionally clip infected standing nearby. The power of fire on the other hand is devastating, creating one-hit-kills and lighting up the horde like a Christmas tree, well…maybe a pyromaniacs Birthday party…

The campaigns are as fresh and engaging as their predecessors were first time around, and the implementation of weather and other environmental effects is particularly well done. In ‘Dead Center’ you have to escape the building while it’s burning down around you, with flames and smoke everywhere making it difficult to see and almost impossible to find the way out. This is taken even further in ‘Hard Rain’ where the second half of the level sees you re-tracing your steps while a storm rages slowing movement and covering the sounds of the infected’s approach, creating a tense and genuinely terrifying experience.

Online, this game is a triumph and promises countless hilarious and irritating moments, often at the same time. It doesn’t re-invent the genre or poke at the boundaries like Modern Warfare 2, but Valve have lived up to their pedigree and provided a sequel that surpasses the original Without Xbox LIVE though, there wouldn’t be much of a game, so if you’re online play-challenged then give this a miss, for anyone else who owns an Xbox though it’s a crucial purchase. Lock and load.

James Michael Parry

Xbox LIVE Update: Social gaming revolution or shameless franchise spamming?

The modern world is all about sharing. Whether it’s your best friend uploading those potentially career-damaging drunken photos of you to Facebook or your brother ranting about the state of the economy on Twitter, everything has something they want to say.

Microsoft’s latest addition to the already jam-packed NXE (New Xbox Experience) will bring these household names direct to your Xbox, along with the likes of Zune, a video downloading service, and, the sophisticated Spotify, which lets you stream music direct from the internet.

The icing on the cake for sports fans is the Sky player, which will allow you to subscribe to Sky packages through your Xbox and enjoy the latest football match with all your friends’ avatars from around the world.

While it may all sound exciting in theory – in fact the round of applause from E3 has only just died down – it only goes further to hammer home the stereotype of the near-institutionalised computer games fan, hiding away from the world in a dark room out of touch with the real world.

Of course this is nonsense in this day and age. Gaming is more diverse than ever before, with the average UK gamer aged around 28 years old and over 59% (26.5m) of all 6-65 year-olds playing computer games, in no small part due to the user-friendly nature of the Wii.

Microsoft’s vision is to fight back by turning the Xbox 360 into a multimedia super entertainment centre. The vision falls short in reality though as the update itself (after a lengthy download) doesn’t ‘wow’ right away, just causes Facebook and the like to feature in the dashboard menus, prompting another download each time one of the applications is selected.

Sadly the lack of integration doesn’t end there, with each application being treated almost as a separate game rather than part of the dashboard, meaning you can’t have any part of Facebook or Twitter running in the background, so if you wanted to share with the world that you’d just nailed the ‘Seriously 2.0’ achievement on Gears of War 2 you’d have to exit out of the game.

Teaming up your happy-go-lucky avatar with your real self is a little unnerving at first as well, but once the update is released worldwide you’ll be able to add friends to Facebook from Xbox LIVE and vice versa, as well as all the usual Facebook features such as viewing photos and spying on your enemies from your primary school days.

Being keyboard-less on the 360 is one major drawback for the text-heavy knitting circle Twitter and though you can splash out on a ‘Messenger Kit’, you might find it easier to dig out the laptop to tweet away than navigate through the swarm of menus to share your thoughts through Xbox LIVE.

For music fans offers a colossal range of music from almost any artist imaginable, though you need to pay to sign up to the premium version of the service to unlock the most useful content, such as the ability to play just your ‘loved’ tracks, making endless CD burning for summer BBQs a thing of the past.

Zune, the least well known of the new additions, jazzes up the already popular Video Marketplace to offer a wider choice of films, though the choice is currently fairly limited. As well as feature films, Zune also highlights the best bits and bobs from the web to keep you entertained when you fancy a break from failing to beat ‘Scatterbrain’ on Expert for the 18th time.

Sky Player is the most illusive inclusion to date, with Xbox LIVE’s message stating it will be rolled out on October 27 and that users won’t need a Sky dish to access content. What it does reveal is that there will be plenty of on-demand movies available, possibly creating a bit of competition between Sky and Zune to control the download rental market.

The features are determined to show of their usefulness to gamers but for those without a lightning-fast internet connection even updating Twitter can be a strain, making the prospect of downloading a feature length full 1080p HD film a daunting prospect, though luckily you don’t need to wait for the download to finish before you start watching.

There’s masses of potential here, and now Microsoft has these big companies on board things will only become more refined and sleek but at the moment all the new features seem very tacked-on, giving more of a sense of bewilderment than appreciation of a revolutionised multimedia interface.

James Michael Parry

This Is Entertainment’s comprehensive E3 Summary: Part 3 – Microsoft

Here it is then, the one you’ve all been waiting for, at least I hope so! After watching Microsoft’s mammoth E3 press conference in full I’m going to digest that down as much as I can to get you all clued up on the latest and greatest information.

You may have heard a few things blowing around on the internet, so first let’s answer a few quick questions:

– What do you mean there’s going to be Metal Gear Solid on Xbox 360?!
– Well the creator of MGS announced the next title: Metal Gear Solid – Rising, will be coming to 360, but there’s little chance MGS4 will make it over as well, sorry about that! Don’t rule out MGS1 on Xbox Live Arcade though…

– I hear Microsoft is partnering up with enough different companies to be declared serial bigamist of the year?
– That’s right, well, the partnering part at least, not sure what you’re going on about…MS announced partnerships with Facebook, Twitter, Sky, AND Netflix. (more on some of these later on)

– So Xbox is trying to be some sort of all-in-one box of entertainment then really?
– That’s the idea. They’re pushing all possible avenues to bring gamers full 1080p HD video with instant streaming, music, social networks, everything you could possibly want bar going and getting you another beer from the fridge basically.

– Halo Reach? ODST? WHAT IS GOING ON?!
– Calm down! Yes there are now officially two Halo games in the works over at Bungie. Halo 3: ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) is an add-on to Halo 3 which will include 3 Halo 3 multiplayer maps and a 10+ hours campaign focusing on the ODST troops around New Mombasa, set between Halo 2 and Halo 3. Halo Reach is a “top” secret Halo project Bungie have been working on. My reliable sources tell me that from the name it would suggest it has something to do with the first Halo ring over Reach, which was destroyed in the first game and was a pivotal moment in the war. Not much official info on it exists just yet, but it’s due out late 2010, for now, just check out the teaser trailer:

– What on EARTH is this Project Natal thing?
– That’s a very interesting question. In a nutshell it’s some fancy new technology which lets YOU be the controller, including facial and voice recognition and full motion capture without the need for any strange suits or anything. It’s essentially MS’ answer to the Wii’s motion capture, but done in true MS style…they had to go one better. If it really works like it claims to then it genuinely a big step forward in potential for MS, but the videos seem a little contrived to be convincing, take a look for yourself:

Also, you can check out a blog post on Natal from a good friend of mine, Andy Hemphill:

Now, I think it’s time we had a look at what’s the most important thing about a games console, aside from the fancy deals and new technology, which is its games.

The first game to take the floor was Tony Hawk Ride, which uses a skateboard controller to track the gamers motion and movements on the skateboard, and let them have more control than the plethora of Tony Hawk titles of years gone by. The man himself was there to show it off, just the first of MS’ star guests of E3, but despite the ‘bigging up’ it still could be an excellent and innovative game.

Next up was a biggie: Modern Warfare 2. So major it made the cover of the latest OXM, the game is the sequel to the phenomenally successful Game of the Year that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The trailer, which you really should have seen by now (but here it is if not), was impressive enough, but the gameplay shown was the most interesting element. It sees a new recruit, codename ‘Roach’, following COD4 hero ‘Soap’ McTavish in a snowy blizzard through which the player must claim an icy rock face to the next encounter. The weather plays a massive part, marking the shift between stealth, as you sneak around stealthily before the blizzard clears and colossal frantic fire-fight takes place. The game looks outstanding and the single player was a personal high point so it’s good to see that Infinity Ward haven’t relied on the predecessors ridiculous success on Live.

Joyride, a FREE XBLA game, will be the first racing title to use your avatars for some funky Mario Kart-esque action. The game certainly gives a decent platform for UGC, and while you do have to pay to get the best tracks and cars, only one of you’re friends has to have bought them to play them with you, which is a neat idea.

Teaser trailers for Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction mark the emphasis of MS’ focus on ‘Only on Xbox’ titles this E3, and admittedly come of impressively for it. Conviction in particular looks to break free a little from the traditional Splinter Cell format, as Fischer takes off his tri-goggles and dons a distinctly Bruce-Willis-in-Die-Hard attitude as he tries to find out who killed his daughter. A couple of slick design features make this release stand out, namely super-imposing credits and objectives on the landscape of the levels, immersing you in the world while keeping the real-time narrative going, and a refreshingly tasteful use of slow-mo.

Not to be left out, Epic Games, the kings of Gears of War, demoed their old-school 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, which showed a nice level of depth, ironically, for the genre through Xbox Live Arcade.

Halo was always going to get some hype, and the play-through of ODST delivered everything fans of the series have been waiting for, complete with ill-fated TV show Firefly voice actors, which is always a plus.

Natal proved to top off what was near to being a continuous round of applause for most of the press briefing, but where can I hear all this news for myself I hear you ask? Just head over to Gamespot to check out their full press conference video, but be sure you have two hours to kill!

The year looks set to be a good one, and if MS delivers on what it has promised then it will certainly give Nintendo some sales figures to contend with by the time the Christmas spending spree begins.

Xbox LIVE: The Past, the Present and the Future

Online gaming is no longer just a novelty, it’s a phenomenon, and in the console world if there’s one platform that shines brighter than all others it’s Microsoft’s Xbox Live.

The service launched back in 2002 and had amassed 10 million users by February last year, but will its ‘golden age’ last? What makes it so successful? Where will Live go from here?

It’s difficult to work out exactly how many people log on, since Microsoft keeps such information pretty close to the chest, but since it reported a rise from eight to 10 million users in only a few months, it’s clear there’s potential for further success.

But what about the other side? There have been hacking issues, deleted accounts, glitches and cheaters who upset the online status quo for their own personal gains. spoke to Gary Shaw, the Managing Director of unofficial troubleshooting site Xbox Live the Guide, who believes cheating is a serious issue:

“Cheating has been around since games were invented and it will never go away. I’m firmly from the ‘you’re only cheating yourself’ camp. If it’s not a genuine win when playing PES [Pro Evolution Soccer] or ‘winning’ COD [Call of Duty] with a rapid-fire mod… well… have you really won anything?”

The effect of cheating is that is creates more cheaters, since more people exploit the glitches in games that they see others doing. Colin Miller, a professional Games Journalist, believes that if cheating is allowed to continue it can cause other issues: “The main problem is that it leads to more ‘rage quitting’. I have quit quite a few games of COD: World at War myself after seeing cheaters shooting other players whilst hovering in thin air. It’s annoying for players when you spend all that time waiting to join a decent match and then that happens.”

The introduction of the ‘New Xbox Experience’, or NXE, in November last year led to an increased focus on the social side of gaming, allowing gamers to form ‘parties’ and jump from game to game together.

These benefits were generally well-received, with some even going as far as saying it felt like playing a brand new console, but according to Helene Wilson, EMEA Xbox MVP and webmistress of, there is a down side to relying on ‘party’ based gaming:

“Although [it’s] great to have it so we can chat whilst all playing different games and from wherever we are, it’s taking away to a certain extent the ability to make new friends. If you are in a Party Chat and someone comes into a lobby, how are you meant to hear them?

“It’s a great feature for people who love to be in a small group, but not so good for new people to Xbox Live who may be looking to make friends.”

Despite this, Xbox Live remains significantly more developed than it’s equivalents on other consoles. The Playstation 3’s ‘Playstation Network’ (PSN) recently announced over 20million members, a significant amount in the two and a half years it’s been up and running.

The key difference between their successes is money. A silver subscription to Xbox Live is free to Xbox owners, but it requires a monthly fee of £4.99 in order to upgrade to a gold membership and access its best features, particularly multiplayer, while Sony’s PSN remains entirely free.

Talking to Edge magazine about the financial worth of Live in 2007, Aaron Greenberg, the group product manager for Xbox and Xbox Live, said “You’re creating your friends list, messaging…. instant messaging, you get a good 80% of the Live experience for free…we feel our multiplayer offering is good value at 50 bucks (£39.99) a year.”

The content of Xbox Live isn’t just limited to games though. Video on demand and other digital distribution has been increasingly utilised in the past year, with film studio Pathé being the latest to sign up only a few weeks ago. The studio, responsible for Oscar triumph Slumdog Millionaire, joins Universal Studios, MGM and Paramount, who are all already providing films for Live.

Video downloads still have some way to go to reach the popularity of DVDs, which had sold over a billion units in the UK by 2007, but Shaw believes attitudes differ between America and Europe: “I think if you live in the states it’s been great. Outside of the US though seems to have been forgotten about. Sure we’ve got a line up of movies but it’s not to the same extent as our cousins over the pond.”

Another major part of the success of Xbox Live is downloadable content (DLC) for games. Almost every week there are reports of download records being broken, the latest being for Xbox exclusive downloadable episode ‘The Lost and the Damned’ for Grand Theft Auto IV, which became the fastest opening day money-maker on Live, retailing at 1600 Microsoft points (around £14).

There have been numerous controversies and problems with DLC in the past, such as the infamous horse armour for Oblivion, which caused an uproar on release when developer Bethesda charged 200 Microsoft points (about £1) for something which most gamers agreed would have been an unlockable secret in days gone by.

This begs the question of what qualifies as ‘good’ downloadable content, just as ‘The Lost and the Damned’ made us wonder if there should be a limit on how much developers can charge for DLC.

Andrew Hemphill, a Freelance Entertainment Journalist and Sub Editor, believes the quality of DLC can often depend on the individual game: “It’s a very mixed bag, while some of it is priced correctly, there are far too many developers placing a massive tag on their DLC- I shouldn’t have to pay £10 to download three maps for COD 4 for example- that’s extortionate. It should be capped.”

Some would like to see DLC pushed even further though, Wilson said: “I would like to see in the future all games being downloadable to the hard drive or to some kind of server for consoles, the way they do for P.C. Not only does this eradicate the stack of boxes and reduce the need for storage, but it would also get rid of scratched discs and be much easier to find the game you are wanting to play.”

Another issue which had left the gaming community throwing their pads across the room is ‘pay-to-unlock’ content. This is content which is included on the retail disc and is merely unlocked by paying the Microsoft points.

A chief example of this comes from EA games who publish both Burnout Paradise and Skate 2, both of which have downloadable codes to unlock all the secrets in the game. For some gamers this has already started alarm bells ringing, since players are being offered a choice to pay for little more than a cheat code.

Recently action horror hit Resident Evil 5 released its Versus mode amid a wave of allegations due to the download’s filesize being a meagre 1.5megabytes (about half a song’s worth of music), since it was widely claimed the content was already on the disc. Capcom responded stating that the structure of the mode wasn’t on disc already, but brought together content from all over the disc and bundled it up with only a bit of new code.

The fact of the matter is that Xbox Live works, and with new releases on the horizon, both retail and DLC, there’s plenty of scope for the service to increase in popularity, but what else will change?

Miller believes Live will embrace the social element: “with the fact you can access your account from any computer, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a bit more of a social network, like a gaming version of facebook.”

Hemphill sees it taking advantage of advances in web technology: “As high-speed internet connections become more popular, I can see an expansion in video and game downloads being forthcoming and possibly entire games being downloadable over the service.”

Wilson envisions a virtual world in your living room: “Touch, speech and movement sensitive controls and I would like to see an Xbox Live radio, web browser and perhaps a place to see how many lobbies are open on a game without having to put your disc in.”

Shaw thinks of the economics of the service: “People ask why Xbox Live isn’t free. I think it would ruin the service. It needs money to make sure it evolves. Although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to reduce the subscription price a bit or at least offer some sort of discount for gamer families who have to fork out a gold subscription for every child/parent in the house.”

The future economic and global success of Live will depend on the continued communication with its members and responding to their requests for their service, since without them, Live could not exist.

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