Tag Archives: Xbox 360

Five things you should already know about Gamescom | Opinion | Gaming

Gamescom 2014By now you may have heard that a European games conference took place this week, but if you haven’t had time to catch up on everything, here are the key facts.

1) Microsoft finally ‘beat’ Sony

Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Edition
The 1TB hard drive with this custom console will be the draw for those who to shop digitally

They love to say it isn’t a competition and pat each other on the back (well…Microsoft have paid a few compliments to Sony this year at least…), but really it’s war.

As we approach a year since the latest battle between Sony and Microsoft began – sorry Nintendo, you’re benched – competition is fierce as each console has hit its stride.

MS began their conference strongly with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, including a custom Xbox One console (above), which interestingly is missing Kinect, alluding to one of the many things about where Xbox One is now which differ from day one.

The last few months may have seemed to be backtracking, and they are, but they are also offering a slew of new and exclusive games both in the rest of 2014 and beyond, while Sony’s initial momentum, and impressive initial sales numbers, appear to be slowing.

Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn't as 'indie-ish'
Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn’t as ‘indie-ish’

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, a LOT of people have and are buying a PS4, but there’s increasing feeling that the console hasn’t perhaps leapt the industry forward as much as it could have, focusing on power (as usual) rather than innovation.

That could change when Morpheus, Sony’s answer to the imagination-grabbing Oculus Rift, properly launches, but for now the company is focusing on its game streaming service: Playstation Now, as well as system updates and indie games.

The lack of triple-A franchises shown off prompted many to award the win to MS, who, by comparison, filled their presentation to the brim with exclusives and as usual got the multiplatform games out of the way quickly so they could show only exclusive games for the rest of the show.

2) Exclusives = arguments

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft’s latest outing is proving to be the latest argument-bait online

Slightly controversially, Rise of the Tomb Raider (above) was announced as Xbox One exclusive, though unsurprisingly only for a limited time, and there was plenty from the big MS exclusives: Sunset OverdriveForza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The mention of Tomb Raider itself was fairly quick and painless, but it’s been the subject of a lot of internet debate since the event, with some PS gamers feeling scorned for being ‘denied access’ to a franchise they have put time into.

The first game in the series famously made the first PlayStation (while destroying perceptions female protagonists in games for a decade), so you can sort of understand why people are miffed, but are so much anger and tears really justified?

The debate calls back to discussions around the Destiny Beta, which had three extra days on Playstation, not to mention the final game having timed-exclusive DLC.

With Bungie having worked with MS for so long on the  Halo series, it seemed to some entitled people that they deserve to play Bungie’s games forever more, as if they aren’t a business.

The subject of what ‘exclusive’ really means as a term is already blurred as it is, expect further musings on the topic before the end of the year.

3) Watching pirated films is easy

Halo Channel
The Halo Channel is one way MS is bringing its video and gaming content together

A feature which wasn’t present during MS’s conference but did come out during the week was the fact that they are increasing the number of video formats which the Xbox One can play, opening up people’s ripped DVD and Blu-ray collections to be played using the device.

If you’ve downloaded them from the internet (legal or otherwise – for shame!) then you’ll be able to enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa without awkwardly balancing a laptop on top of you or scrambling for the right HDMI cable to plug it into the TV.

Since Xbox was always intended to be the ‘hub’ of the living room this enhancement makes sense, and is supposedly in response to players’ feedback, plus there’s plenty more system updates coming to the One monthly, unlike Sony who have only managed a handful of steps forward with their software.

4) You can’t escape Assassin’s Creed

It's easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good
It’s easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good

Not one, but two games, and lots and lots of trailers now plague the internet in the wake of Gamescom, giving both current and past gen gamers something to brutally kill people in with their hands.

The franchise appears to be drifting apart, not unlike the fancy pirate-y ships which serve as a key mechanic in new announcement: Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Unity, which was announced ahead of E3 earlier in the year, ditches the nautical side completely and focuses instead on co-op play as it’s key USP.

At a total of seven main titles and a handful of handheld and other games, the franchise is reaching the stage where it is at risk of growing stale if it stands still and so it makes sense to pursue to different styles (and largely different markets) with these two games.

Due to its popularity, it isn’t a series which is likely to fade away any time soon.

5) Online multiplayer isn’t going away, but neither is single player

Come September, become Legend (lag permitting...)
Come September, become Legend (lag permitting…)

There’s lots of games coming out in the next year, shocker I know, but people seem to be coming down on one side of the proverbial playstyle fence or the other at the moment.

The fear is that as MMO games begin to gain momentum on consoles, developers won’t spend time developing ‘proper’ single player games.

It’s understandable, since more players mean more money, and we know publishers in particular like money, but is it going to happen? No, no it won’t.

No matter how social you are as a gamer, there’s always times when people feel like being on their own, and gaming has always been one of the safest havens when you are in that mood and because of that passion, single player will continue to be an important part of console experiences for a long while yet.

The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail
The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail

Even if Destiny and The Division are a commercially success, they will never match the renown of something like Skyrim as it has to many stories which people can share and talk about, for Destiny these experiences will be few and far between.

Different people like different things, and gaming now is more diverse than it ever has been, plus technology and innovation has made the escapism you can reach when you are absorbed by an amazing game is second to none.

James Michael Parry

Six exciting things from E3 2014 | Opinion | Gaming

E3 2014We’ve been going on about E3 for years (seriously, it’s our most rambled about subject…) but this year’s show was something different and exciting – it wasn’t a disappointment.

After the tough time Microsoft in particular had last year, the general air of positivity to come out of this year’s show is genuinely astonishing.

Seriously, game announcements were tumbling out of people’s mouths so quickly people’s eyes started to bleed from all the shiny new-ness…

And so what do we make of all of this? We make precisely six (totally not a random arbitrary number) things which we’ve decided to tell you a little bit about, in no particular order.

It’s like Crackdown on crack

CrackdownIt’s always nice to see a game resurrected from the dark corners of the past (OK, that may cease to be the case if they release an HD remake of phone game phenomenon Snake), and Crackdown brought a smile to many a gamer’s face when it exploded on screen – multiple times – at Microsoft’s conference.

The original game in the series proved a hit, but its sequel didn’t set the world on fire. Now MS are bringing it back, with the number three conspicuous by its absence and complete with the original voiceover announcer.

Destruction made up a big part of the game’s reveal, suggesting it could be a big part of the game, which could make reaching the highest buildings tricky, knowing how trigger happy the title makes you – here’s hoping the buildings respawn, or at least there’s something to bring them back, perhaps a weapon in the vein of Red Faction‘s nanoforge…

Lots and lots of Halo

Halo 5: GuardiansOver 100 maps. One hundred. That’s how many multiplayer battlegrounds are included with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

It seems ungrateful to complain, but we’ve never been much of a fan of re-releases. The plus side is that not only is this a re-release done well, the first to make us sit up and take notice since the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil.

All multiplayer modes, vehicles and quirks of each iteration are included, with both Halo 1 and 2 benefiting from a visual clean-up, but the Halo series isn’t just about multiplayer, unlike other shooters we could mention.

The clever way in which 343 have pulled this together is impressive. The release not only includes a Halo 5: Guardians Beta (and a TV series produced by Alien king Ridley Scott), but serves to tool up the protagonist of the new game as they begin their quest to find Master Chief following the convoluted events of Halo 4.

It is your Destiny

DestinyThough Bungie, developers of Destiny, may always be remembered as the team who originally gave the world Halo, they are going to great lengths to set themselves apart from their past with this new title.

There might be a few visual and gameplay similarities, but the ambition drives the genre forward into new territory. There’s a strong emphasis on coop play, though it isn’t essential for most of the modes, as well large, expansive worlds and exploration.

It might not be far-flung from the heights reached by games in other genres (Skyrim is no doubt a frequent reference point), but this is the first time on console where an MMO – or Massively Multiplayer Online – title has really captured people’s imagination.

Defiance caused a stir with its own route into the world in 2013, but failed to have the staying power demanded by a lot of players. Destiny has got an awful lot packed in, and though we haven’t had our hands on it yet, everyone who has agrees it’s an experience difficult to put across in words.

WiiU may have been down, but it’s not out

Super Smash Brothers WiiUNintendo has had a rough time the past few years, and with the release of the WiiU failing to reach the benchmark set by the Wii they were left feeling like Metallica after their unfortunate 2003 album St. Anger, treading water with a sad look on their faces.

Unlike Metallica (who, coincidentally, took five years to hit back with another, better album), Nintendo didn’t let the bad publicity around the WiiU stop them from doing what they are good at – making games.

So finally this year we are seeing the fruits of those efforts with more Super Smash Brothers, more Zelda and the already very tempting Mario Kart 8.

Thanks to this strong first party showing, something Nintendo can be relied on when they get their act together and focus on their core franchises, they have shown that they aren’t worth forgetting about just yet.

Colour comes to next gen

Sunset OverdriveLet’s face it, there’s a trend in media these days across the board to be gritty, realistic, dark and suspenseful. Don’t we all miss how it used to be? A giant ‘pow’ for every Batman villain foiled? (scroll down for more of that)

Apparently, we do, and our prayers have been answered in the form of another Xbox exclusive (or Xclusive…) – Sunset Overdrive. The beginnings of this game last year were just as colourful sure, but now we’ve seen some actual gameplay, and it’s looking even more fun.

The E3 reveal trailer began by a nice bit of fun poking at the FPS genre in general, and the fourth wall-breaking protagonist is a refreshing change of tact from some of the other new protagonists shown off through the week.

Focusing on momentum, there’s wall running, rail grinding, and a crazy array of weapons to take down mutants in a game which, clearly, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and, in an industry which is supposed to be about entertainment, all too often that gets lost in translation.

The Dark Knight rises (sorry…)

Batman: Arkham KnightWe all knew Batman was back, and in fact it almost looked like a misfire out of the gate when it was revealed the game had slipped from the end of this year to next almost immediately.

Luckily, we have nothing to worry about with series heavyweights Rocksteady back at the helm for their conclusion to the series Arkham Knight.

Despite showing up in the Sony press conference, the game is also making its way to Xbox One (as is GTAV, not that Sony would appreciate me pointing that out), and is looking very very good.

The Batmobile sounded like a bit of a gimmick when it was first announced, but the gameplay videos shown off for the game show how slickly it compliments the gameplay (and, as if on purpose or something, here’s some gameplay).

So, there you have it, some stuff like what you should get excited about. Sadly it won’t all be with us in 2014, but there’s a fair chunk of good stuff on the way. Expect more game reviews and stories going forward (for Xbox One at least) and possibly some video reviews too, once we’ve worked out how to bully the computer into editing.

For now, run along and play.

Dark Souls II | Review | Gaming

Dark Souls IIDark Souls III died. So many times.

It was to be expected of course, the original Dark Souls was notoriously difficult, and this sequel is reportedly even harder.

As a newcomer, I had heard tales of such dastardly game design, a system which teaches players how to play the game by punishing them with death at every turn. Foolishly for a time I thought this truth may have been exaggerated, but this quickly changed as soon as I took my first steps in the game.

A path filled with danger

Shortly after the opening cut scene, which sets up a story filled with light and dark, dead and living, good and evil, I found myself in a field. Grass gently blowing from an unsettling wind I heard a rustling. At first one, then more wild dogs appeared, pursuing me.

I turned to flee, but didn’t watch my step, and quickly found my way to a bottomless pit. From here, the fate of my character (Dave) did not improve dramatically (on the upside though, I did earn my first achievement).

Once you have got over the constant fear of death – as much as is possible for any vaguely rounded human being – the biggest thing to hit you about DSII is how open it is.

Death, is only the beginning

This is not an open world game per se, but it does leave the player to make their own way in the world, in what is often a very hostile place. A tutorial area introduces you to the basics, briefly, but once you are out of the woods and into Majula, the least prickly of the game’s areas, you are left to chose your own path.

Early on, I found myself taken down a passageway beneath a church. The journey seemed innocent enough, but when I reached the other side I was faced with a heavily armored warrior (possibly made of armor) blocking my path.

Dark Souls IIAfter countless attempts to slay him and escape with my life I succeeded, but alas, another of his company waited for me around the corner to put an end to my foolish optimism.

The game begins, as many RPGs do, by asking you to pick a class. Nothing out of the ordinary perhaps, would you choose the warrior, a sturdy all-rounder, or a specialist such as the swordsman?

In a universe which entertains both giants, dragons and magic there are many dangers and no character has any real advantage overall. In the end I opted for the magic-wielding sorcerer, equipped with a staff and the Soul Arrow spell, but with little else to hold the forces of evil at bay.

Do your homework

Another area where novice/incompetent (delete as appropriate) players may struggle is getting to grips with the game’s various items. Herbs may be familiar to the Resident Evil player within you (in fact the game as a whole has a feel reminiscent of Resident Evil 4), but countless other items require significant scrutiny to make sense of, even to understand the descriptions offered by the game.

Even harsher is the fact that if you miss one lone NPC you can miss the means to level up your character entirely, the realisation of which makes you all the more attentive and persistent to the mutterings of any character. You’ll eagerly press A after every line to see if there is more of the story to tell.

The currency of the game is souls – you are undead after all – and whenever you die those souls remain, waiting to be reclaimed when you walk over the spot where you once fell. These souls buy you items as well as levels and there will be times when you re-play areas to boost the number of souls you have.

Bonfires are one of the core mechanics, another one of the few things I knew about before picking up the pad, and they continue to be your small, warm corner of safety amid a land of horror.

Dark Souls IITransporting between them is painless, and you can power them up with the right materials. The trouble it isn’t always obvious where they are, meaning you can be drawn into an area not knowing what is effectively a save point is hiding behind a stray tree.

Not that you are ever safe, as even simple refuge has a sting in its tail – whenever you rest the basic enemies around that area immediately respawn.

The game is technically well put together, with great graphics even in the twilight of a hardware generation and particularly effective lighting affects, offering dynamic shadows which are key to some gameplay elements and brutal sound effects which offer a more realistic edge to the clanging steel of the likes of Soul Calibur.

Stockholm Syndrome?

Hard work has gone in to make you lose yourself in this world, to believe that all hope is lost and that you must embark on a quest for salvation for souls, whether it be a simple hollow man or a towering tree giant (hint: risk = reward).

For some the difficulty will be too demoralising, and at times it does slip into irritation rather than challenge, but in all the balance is struck well. If you fancy an even tougher challenge, and are, in fact, a masochist, then there is a covenant in Majula which offers to top up the difficulty.

The game has a lot to offer, but it like a treat surrounded and obscured by barbed wire: to reach its tasty centre you must suffer through its trials and earn it. I have never been a gamer who falls into RPGs with anything less than extreme difficulty, but, strangely, something about DSII has me longing for more, daring me to pick up the gauntlet once again, and it’s an experience done so well that I am more than tempted to try again…and again.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures Xbox 360 | Review | Gaming

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIt ain’t easy being yellow. Pac-Man first came chomping onto arcade machines back in 1980 and after a number appearances over the years, he’s back to set new records in chomping, munching and guzzling.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIn many ways, Pac-Man is a homage to the over-indulgence of society, constantly eating anything that moves, whether it be a tasty treat (cherries, lemons or, in this game’s case, hamburgers) or various enemies.

Since his 2D hayday Pac, as he is trendily known as, has developed a few new skills to help him with this 3D platforming adventure. The titular ghosts are as you might expect, each with their own move and colour coordinated appropriately so you can anticipate their attacks, although in some areas their over-enthusiasm to hurt you can lead them to charge at you, miss, and fall off the map to their death – despite floating in midair for the most part.

Design

Technically otherwise though, there’s little to complain about. The visuals look clean, bright and colourful – everything you would expect from this children-focused title – and the camera does a reasonable job of keeping up with your twists and turns.

That said, there’s little in the way of a tutorial, and some of the mechanics require fairly precise timing on button presses to pull off, which may be too much for younger gamers. The frustration of repetitive deaths is irritatingly present, since it is a platformer, but there are enough mechanics going on to keep things fairly varied.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures

Gameplay

The gameplay is very very similar to games like Mario Galaxy or Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, although sadly the game doesn’t have the imagination of the former or the style of the latter, making it feel like a bit of a copycat, attempting to cherry-pick the best elements of both.

Standard Pac-Man can double jump, dash forward with his trademark chomping noise – which can be chained together through multiple enemies – and ‘scare’ the ghosts with an overly dramatic “Boo!”, turning the enemies into the blue, vulnerable iterations which hark back to the original title.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThere are times when the game tries to take the character further, in the form of themed power-ups. Most of these are limited and some make movement an extra challenge, the camera doesn’t help here as when jumping (or bouncing) across platforms it isn’t possible to move the camera up to bird’s eye view so you can judge how far you need to go.

Collectables in the game are limited and the only explanation for what they do is offered through fleeting loading screens. One of the neatest is a homage back to Pac’s early days through arcade machines in the hub world, a school, which you can play with tokens once you have completed enough levels to unlock them.

Plot

Story-wise the game is based on the TV series of the same name, which sees Pacopolis (yup, really) attacked by ghosts after the seal on the Netherworld was broken by accident, releasing evil antagonist Betrayus and his ghostly army. Sadly we don’t get to see too much of Betrayus in the game until an underwhelming stand-off at the end, instead being subjected to increasing size and complexity of ghosts, which can largely be run past or ignored to clear an area.

The game is split across six zones, largely elemental (fire, ice etc.) and each has around six levels within it, each taking about 20 minutes to complete – unless you die lots of times on a frustrating floating platform section – making a 12 hour game in theory if you max out every level, but there’s not much to compel you to re-play.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThe game is fairly well put together considering its intended audience, though mum and dad might need to help out more often than not, and is fairly entertaining for a short spell, but don’t expect this game to push the boundaries in any way and certainly it won’t deliver the sort of memorable experience you might have got from something like Mario Galaxy or Banjo Kazooie.

Rating: 2/5

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

The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry

Eight games which define a generation | Opinion | Gaming

The seventh gen of gamingMany words have been written about the ‘blockbuster’ games of the so-called seventh generation of home games consoles, but, as we move into a brave new world in November, what will their legacy be?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 boasted the biggest launch day sales figure in history (now more than likely claimed by GTAV) and Skyrim undoubtedly boasted the most hours spent by borderline-obsessed gamers indulging their fantasy lives, but some games made a more definitive impact (for me, anyway).

The titles below are the ones which made a significant impact for me on either Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360. (Sorry Wii U owners, but the real party is still to come, and also since I never owned a PS3, apologies in advance).

Resident Evil 4 (Wii)

Resident Evil 4: Wii EditionUndoubtedly the most suitable and effective port of a game I have ever come across, Resi 4 had it all. There was a great, likeable protagonist, admittedly not the sort of guy you might want to go for a drink with, and an intriguing mysterious action/adventure (not survival horror) coupled with a drop of Japanese insanity to keep things interesting.

Whether it was the obsessive upgrading of my weapons – you never know when you might need an extra shotgun shell – or the cripplingly simple puzzles which I still couldn’t complete, there was fun to be had around every corner here, and on the Wii it took things a step further in terms of control and immersion.

Of course this wasn’t the arcade-machine-in-your-house that was Umbrella Chronicles, which was excellent, but flawed, but somehow there was something terrifying about the fact that you can’t move your character properly. It just added to the experience.

By the time you got to Resi 5 the magic had worn off, and the novelty of not fighting zombies but gunning down people infected by parasites unfortunately couldn’t sustain it through.

Guitar Hero III (360/PS3/Wii)

Guitar Hero IIIAs much as its predecessor pushed the envelope over the first in the series, it was this game which really made its mark and told the world was here to stay (well, for a bit…).

The inclusion of rock icons such as Slash for the first time attempted to bring an element of narrative to proceedings, with mixed success, and shook off the legacy of Harmonix, the first game’s developer.

Like many Guitar Hero titles, the tracklist was key to the game’s success, boasting classics such as Pearl Jam’s Even Flow, Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson and, most memorably, Through The Fire and Flames by Dragonforce – a fiendishly hard track unlocked at the end of the game during the closing credits.

There might not have been a huge jump forward from Guitar Hero II, but the style and execution was more polished, consistent, and fun.

The coop or head-to-head battles made for some entertaining late night entertainment, especially when arriving home at 2.00am at university, and there is the added benefit of being exposed to some excellent music from a variety of bands and years.

Rock Band 3 (360/PS3/Wii)

Rock Band 3Of course, by the time Rock Band 3 came along, the music game was on its last legs, but this title is as close to entertainment perfection as I think any game has ever been.

The addition of downloadable tracks, which began with the first game, reached a peak in this title as new songs were added every single week since launch for years after the game first came out. Plus there was the chance for content creators to share out their own music on the service, and often get more exposure than they ever could have any other way.

The implementation of the keyboard could have been smoother, but it was still fantastic, and opened up the possibility of you actually learning keyboard through a console, something for which I’m sure Rocksmith is most grateful.

The title gave the most diverse range of songs to date and became a classic party game overnight.

The notes runway, developed by Harmonix for the first Guitar Hero, reached its peak with every song playing out its own way – even including space for some improvisation.

The instruments were slightly hit and miss compared to rival title Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the travel version of the game’s cumbersome drum kit quickly made the entire package more accessible.

This game defined multi-instrument gaming to an extent that it has never been bettered since. Some might argue that it was the final nail in the coffin of the music game era, but to finish with an encore like this? Not too shabby.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360/PS3/Wii)

Call Of Duty 4: Modern WarfareProbably the most influential game on this list. It spawned an entire generation of modern military shooters, many of which carrying the COD moniker, and the twitchy-action and gritty fast-paced style of the game was aped just as often as the gameplay.

The nuclear destruction of the protagonist mid-campaign, a tragedy the player could do nothing to escape, was one of the most dramatic moments in video game history. To take such a bold step was something which, unfortunately they weren’t able to live up to in subsequent iterations.

The execution of the gameplay is undeniably one of the most well-produced of the generation, and still holds up well today. Campaign mission ‘All Ghillied Up’, a flashback featuring the player taking control of series regular Captain Price on a stealthy sniper assignment, remains one of the most tense and memorable missions for a first-person shooter.

Although the multiplayer wasn’t for everyone, it undeniably set the standard with its level design and perks system, even pushing the envelope in terms of Downloadable Content, something build upon significantly in later games.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360/PS3)

Battlefield Bad Company 2What Modern Warfare did for shooters in general, Bad Company 2 did for vehicle combat.

Battlefield has always been about team play and the epic scale of war, and this title created a feeling of immersion within vehicles which I had never experienced before.

Not that it was the height of realism, but the map design and balance of different vehicles made it an incredibly compelling multiplayer experience. Flying vehicles were tricky, and arguably are still a little fiddly even now, but definitely good fun.

More impressive than the gameplay aspects though, where what developers DICE did with their new engine, Frostbite 2, which offered destruction even more impressive than that seen in Red Faction: Guerilla.

Buildings and scenery crumbled under the might of tank shells, with wood splintering, concrete disintegrating and the ground developing huge holes.

On top of that you add some of the most entertaining game modes out there for online multiplayer and you had a fantastic game. The only thing which pushed it that little bit further was the DLC expansion, Vietnam.

More than just DLC, the addition added new maps, vehicles and weapons to completely change the tone of the game within its own digital playground. Most importantly of all, it pushed the fun factor up to 11.

Left 4 Dead 2 (360)

Left 4 Dead 2In terms of multiplayer re-playability, there’s little which stands in the way of L4D2.

Although the game came out a little close to its predecessor for comfort, it managed to bring most of that game along with it through a number of DLC updates (which, admittedly, took some time).

The AI is what really impresses me about this game, as each of the special infected act differently and never fail to catch you out, no matter how many times you have played a particular level.

The feeling of panic as the horde rush mindlessly towards you far outstrips that of your average horror game. The sheer number of infected is overwhelming, not perhaps in the way as they are in Dead Rising, but because of their speed and relentless nature you quickly find yourself flailing wildly to escape.

The AI director, who silently changes the game behind the scenes to make a different experience each time, acts as an evil torturer at times, gifting the odd health pack before hitting back with a world-ending Tank.

Being a Valve game, the attention to detail is excellent and the level design is second to none – every time you play a game you find a different aspect jumps out at you (not literally, mostly).

It might have taken some time to become the game it is today, but that’s Valve, and there’s no doubt that it is the crowning glory of asymmetrical multiplayer.

Grand Theft Auto IV (360/PS3)

Grand Theft Auto 4It might be the fifth iteration which is grabbing all the headlines for its billions of sales, but it’s the fourth instalment which really put the franchise on the map.

After swinging between realism and caricature for years with various games on the PS2, Rockstar decided to go all-out with the vast expansion of its world.

Comedy clubs you could visit, bowling, drinking, and a plethora of other sights were on show in what was the biggest and most detailed parody of New York City that has ever been created.

From the ‘GetALife’ building to the Statue of Happiness, the parody is flawless, mocking American culture at every turn. All to the effortless soundtrack of the Liberty City radio stations, which take things even further.

While the gameplay might not be the best aspect, in fact many aspects such as driving or combat are done far better by even similar games released around the same time, but it’s the overall convincing nature of the game’s world which makes the title truly compelling.

The story wasn’t anything ground breaking, but it fitted in with the game’s world well, offering insights into the life of Niko Bellic. How the player chose to make that character act is another story.

Mass Effect (360)

Mass EffectMass Effect undeniably has the greatest story of any game I have ever played. Not least because it’s a story I wrote (sort of).

As the first chapter in the most exciting and varied piece of interactive story-telling in history, Mass Effect claims the crown over other RPGs (or, later, ‘action RPGs’) by making the player the centre of that universe so completely that they believe it has been created just for them.

The decisions you make throughout the story continue to shape the universe for years afterwards, cutting out entire characters from the subsequent games or changing alliances between races.

The controversy of the ending was inevitable with so much scope, but I believe that, all things considered, developers BioWare did well.

It’s one thing to create characters people love and care about, it’s another thing to feel like you really know them, love them, miss them when they are gone.

Garrus remains one of my favourite characters of all time, in any media, purely because of the journey he has joined my version of Shepard on. The emotional investment with this franchise, for me, is something which I haven’t experienced since Star Wars.

Is this what it's all about, or is there more to it?
Is this what it’s all about, or is there more to it?

In the end, it is the experiences we have all had with these games, more than the games themselves, which will ‘define the generation’.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration or a grandiose statement to make to suggest that this is the most variety we will ever see in any generation of gaming ever.

The difference between the games which began it, like Perfect Dark Zero, and ended it, the likes of Watch Dogs and plenty more still on the horizon, is vast. The one thing which they do have in common, is the player, and for me, this next chapter of gaming remains just as interesting and exciting because of the new types of experience it will inevitably bring.

So there you have it, my not-quite-top-ten. Which games would you choose?

James Michael Parry

BioShock Infinite | Review | Gaming

Bioshock Infinite

Nothing like a man with a gun on the box to say "shooter".
Nothing like a man with a gun on the box to say “shooter”.

It took me an embarrassing three years to complete the original BioShock, so with this new title I vowed not to get sidetracked.

Luckily the bright and colourful land of Columbia is a far more compelling and addictive setting than the murky and often spine-chilling corridors of Rapture.

A (sort of) simple tale, well told

BioShock Infinite is a game about Elizabeth. More than just a plucky young sidekick, Elizabeth is a well-educated teenager who has led a sheltered life in captivity. You, as American Booker Dewitt, must rescue her.

Don’t go thinking this is all cliché and sunshine though. First off, Booker’s motives are hardly pure – something he is up-front about from the beginning – and Elizabeth is hardly a helpless damsel in distress.

Gifted with the power to manipulate the universe through ‘tears’, doorways through space and sometimes time, Elizabeth can control reality as “a sort of wish fulfilment” (as she puts it), giving you access to munitions, provisions or even escape routes.

Your first introduction to Columbia is too good to be true. Wandering around this bright and bountiful place, a floating city filled with happy people, cheerful acapella groups and celebrations in the streets, your Spidey sense starts tingling immediately.

Getting your hands dirty

The skyhook (left) serves as transport on the skyrails as well as a brutal melee tool.
The skyhook (left) serves as transport on the skyrails as well as a brutal melee tool.

The game’s turning point, marking its inevitable slip into violence, couldn’t be more abrupt, and the bodycount grows from there. Luckily Booker is a war vet and has no trouble taking lives, which is more than can be said for your sheltered-life-d companion.

The gameplay will be familiar to BioShock players, but to a 2013 audience can be a bit clunky and slow, particularly aiming, which is relegated to a click of the right stick. The reason for this is that the left trigger is home to vigours, the Columbia incarnation of plasmids which grant special powers such as electric shock or the ability to posses enemies.

The vigours are what make this game different from other first-person shooters you might find lying around in the bargain bins across the country. As it does with its entire philosophy, Infinite commits entirely to making vigours work. Though limited to eight options, they can be upgraded and all have a secondary function – which generally grants the ability to lay traps – introducing a raft of different tactical options.

On the flipside are the guns, of which there are a reasonable selection, but since you can only carry two at a time you’ll find yourself getting comfortable with a pair and sticking to them. These can also be upgraded, and after a little while through the game you’ll find the majority of enemies a pushover.

Tried but not too trying

In fact, the difficulty (on normal at least) seems far easier than your standard modern shooter. It might be that the pace is slower than fans of Battlefield or Call of Duty multiplayer are used to, but the ease at which you can breeze through enemies at times borders on disbelief.

One aspect which gives you opportunities to try and do things differently are the skyrails. Huge rollorcoaster-esque monorails carving through the sky, you can zip along the rails and leap off onto enemies. They also provide a handy escape route if you do find yourself swamped. These, coupled with Elizabeth’s ability to call in a bunch of health kits from another reality, come in handy for staying out of trouble.

The story is a complex web, and something worth experiencing rather than explaining, but needless to say it is worthy of its widespread critical acclaim with equal parts pondering speculation.

An old-school spectacle

Bioshock Infinite
The water above looks stunning, but it doesn’t all look quite so shiny.

Visually the game is wildly inconsistent. In general it is stunning, beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you look too closely you start to see the paint peeling in the form of low-quality textures and awkward animations – a sign that the next generations of consoles has a lot to offer.

The water effects in particular show this the most strongly in the opening scene when you see beautiful rain speckling on a rock next to the ocean, which, by contrast, looks like an odd collection of sprites leaping for freedom.

There are some missed opportunities, such as a fairly limited selection of enemies with few specific tactics needed, and less time having fun on skyrails than expected (though a scripted, literally ‘on-rails’ section would have been woeful).

From the mind of Booker Dewitt

Characters are the real strength which Infinite builds its legacy in. You wonder if it would have been as successful if Elizabeth had been a young man instead of a young girl, but you quickly dismiss these concerns as having little significance and enjoy yourself.

Elizabeth reacts quite believably to situations, investigates areas with you, and has the good sense to keep out of your line of fire in a firefight. There was one awkward moment when she entirely disappeared and didn’t shop up again until I loaded a new area, but its easy to forgive these glitches when her company is such fun. The journey between the two characters is as rich as their overall adventure and by the end you have respect and admiration for both of them.

Not to be missed?

Unashamedly ambitious and engaging throughout, Infinite is the icing on the cake for developers Irrational Games, who have worked up to this greatness from the already impressive heights of the original game back in 2007.

This is a game which should be played for the experience, and if you really want the challenge there is not only hard but ‘1999 mode’ on offer, the latter of which strips everything back to give a pre-millenium feel.

If you haven’t played BioShock, then you can enter this world without missing much, but if you have then there’s more on show here, as well as a couple of nods back to the past (as well as countless parallels).

A title filled with excitement and wonder, Infinite is a game to remind you why you got into gaming in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Pictures courtesy GamesPress

Playstation 4 First Look | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

Playstation 4 announcementThe official announcement of the Playstation 4 (or PS4, if you’re cool) late on Wednesday night marks a step forward in console gaming, as gamers begin to take ‘next gen’ seriously.

The contenders

We might already have the WiiU, but most have been waiting for the big boys to show their hand. Sony has kicked the sales race into top gear by teasing the industry with the PS4, not even showing onlookers what the console itself looks like.

Is this a masterstroke piece of clever marketing to get people like us overly speculative about the whole affair? or simply because the final look isn’t quite nailed down yet? or perhaps something which is considered to be important?

What’s in a name?

The name ‘PS4’ was widely rumoured to be scrapped for the more minimalist and Apple-esque ‘Playstation’ ahead of the reveal, due to ‘4’ being an unlucky number in Sony’s home country of Japan, but in the end Sony went for the smart option, which is easy for consumers to follow.

There’s plenty of new Xbox names knocking about too (Nextbox, Xbox 720, Xbox Infinity, Xbox Loop, Xbox 8) but really everyone is just waiting for some information to see how the two companies stack up against each other.

Playstation4 announcement (Power!)A numbers game

Throughout the announcement the word ‘power’ was mentioned frequently, to an almost dizzying extent at times, and winning the specs race is clearly high on Sony’s priorities.

The system boasts 8gb of RAM, a ‘specially optimised’ processor and dedicated high-end GPU – also tailored for the console. Undoubtedly there is a lot of power knocking about, and having a second processor to download games while you play another one is definitely a time-saver.

More than just a pretty (old man’s) face

What Sony don’t seem to realise is that though power is handy, gamers aren’t going to be impressed simply by shinier graphics. From the games which have been shown so far, most appear to have a high level of graphical polish, but what gamers are really reaching for are innovative and original gameplay experiences.

Enter Halo creators Bungie with Destiny, an always online massively multiplayer game which, following an exciting reveal of its own a few days earlier, has some big ideas about what gamers are looking for. The game promises a lot, including some exclusive PS4 content (did that sting Microsoft?), but to justify always-online it has a long way to go to compel gamers (especially in the UK).

Other games, with only a handful of exclusives, refused to raise excitement levels much, other than Watch Dogs, which continues to look promising (but has since confirmed as multi platform and multi-generation).

Playstation 4 controllerNew hardware

The controller is the closest we got to the console itself, with a fancy touchpad and a share button being the only noticeable additions to the look and feel. There is a big push to using the PS Vita as a controller, which is a more pocket-sized alternative to the lap tray-esque WiiU controller, and the aim is to have all PS4 games stream-able to the Vita.

There is also a lot of cloud-based action with the PS4, thanks to recently acquired expert company Gaikai, and there does seem to be a few nifty innovations there, but nothing we haven’t already seen in a more basic way on other platforms before.

Play(station)-ing it safe?

In all there’s a lot to love about what the PS4 will be able to do. The biggest benefit will be one we never see, as the architecture of the console makes developing games much easier than before, but there is sure to be more reveals to come as the sparring between Sony and Microsoft ramps up over the coming months. Strap yourselves in games fans, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Below an amusing round-up from Matt Lees (@jam_sponge) at VideoGamerTV:

James Michael Parry

13 for 2013: Our most anticipated films, music, gaming, technology and cyberculture | Entertainment | This Is Entertainment

The fun and games of 2012 is behind us, so it’s time to stop doing Gangnam Style, put down your ‘New’ iPad and think about all the exciting things which will clamour for both your attention and your wallet this year. Here are 13 things we are really looking forward to:

  1. Ingress (Available Now)

Screenshot_2013-01-03-07-50-32It might seem strange to start with something which you probably haven’t heard of, but its mysterious nature is what makes it interesting. Currently search giant Google is beta testing an augmented reality app, which calls for users to investigate the world around them using their phone as a scanner.

Using the software from the Google glasses demo released last year, the team have come up with a narrative based around CERN’s Higgs Boson experiment. To request an invite for the beta go to the Ingress website (but expect to wait a few weeks). Expect more on the site in the coming months as we delve deeper into the mystery.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. DmC: Devil May Cry (11 January)

dmcWhile the obvious candidate for the crown of ‘anticipated game of the year’ is Grand Theft Auto V, we decided to avoid tackling Rockstar’s media-teasing monstrosity and talk about some of the smaller hitters, beginning with DmC, a reboot of Devil May Cry.

Danté is back, now with a harcore-fan-outraging new look, and a more user-friendly play and combat style. Developers Ninja Theory haven’t held back in taking the series’ ingredients and throwing them in a blender to make a more dynamic and edgy game, not that it’s tricky to make a demon hunter who is half angel and half devil look edgy. What we’ve seen so far looks impressive, though the team have an uphill struggle to convincingly gain ground in the third person slash-’em-up arena.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (21 January)

Wolf's LawAfter a stunning debut album from the Welsh three-piece, they are due to strike back this year with their second album. The band perform amazingly well live, and their songs have that element of originality mixed with a few familiar pop tricks which make them compulsive listening.

Lead vocalist Ritzy’s voice is immediately striking and the synergy in the group is second to none. First single ‘The Ladder is Ours’ picks up where the first album left off and drives the band’s music forward. Expect some well received live performances on the back of this CD later in the year.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Bad Religion – True North (22 January)

True NorthHardcore punk rockers Bad Religion continue to churn out albums at an alarmingly consistent rate and this latest effort is looking to be no exception. First single, ‘Fuck You’, has all the uncompromising energy and attitude you could expect from a punk band who have been making music for over 30 years.

Title track ‘True North’ reveals more, and gives a sense of the overall tone of the album itself, somewhere between the blisteringly quick songs of early days with albums like Incomplete and the philosophy of The Process of Belief.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Windows Surface Pro (28 January TBC)

Windows Surface ProWe’ve already waxed lyrical about Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, and what more could you want? Windows 8 in a handy portable package of course. The RT version of the Windows Surface tablet has been out for a few months and has sold “modestly”, but many IT enthusiasts are holding off for the full ‘Pro’ version, which runs standard windows programs as well as Windows‘ own tailor-made apps.

With boosted specs and plenty of positive reviews of the RT version already circulating, this could be the technology purchase of the year (well it’s less likely to be replaced in a few months like a new iPad might in any case).

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. New(ish) gaming IPs: Remember Me (May 2013) and South Park: The Stick of Truth (March 2013)

Remember MeDespite the Xbox 360 nearing the end of its life (see point 11), there are still new IPs coming to the console which look promising. South Park: The Stick of Truth, though not entirely new since it is based on the South Park cartoon series, is the first which cartoon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been directly involved with throughout (reportedly because they were sick and tired of bad South Park games). The game riffs on the classic staples of turn-based RPGs and is sure to have plenty of the sort of laughs and cultural references the TV show is known for.

Remember Me is Capcom’s take on manipulating reality by changing people’s memory in the near future. The game features a protagonist called Nilin, a ‘memory hunter’ who has lost her own memory and is on a quest to get back what she’s lost, while forcing people to kill themselves through memory manipulation along the way. The game is being handled by newcomers Dontnod Entertainment, but reception to the game so far has been promising, so hopefully this won’t be a case of all shine and no substance like fellow near-future jaunt Syndicate was last year.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Star Trek into Darkness (17 May)

Star Trek into DarknessZachary Quinto and Chris Pine reprise their roles as Spock and Kirk as we go Star Trekking once again, this time with the help of Sherlock Holmes, well, Benedict Cumberbatch. Star Fleet is under direct attack this time around, and Cumberbatch, who plays an unknown character who may or may not be linked to classic Trek film The Wrath of Khan‘s Khan.

The first teaser trailer shows all the destruction and drama you have come to expect from J.J. Abrams’ reboot, and with the acting talent in the mix it would be difficult to not make this the cinematic spectacle of the year. At least unless a bunch of superheroes turn up…oh…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Man Of Steel (14 June)

Man Of SteelZack Snyder directs the latest in a long line of Superman films, but this time, for the first time ever, Superman himself is British. Jersey-born Henry Cavill, who you may have seen in The Tudors TV series or 2007’s Stardust, dons the red boots in a familiar tale, retold.

Not much to get excited about you might think? But with Christopher Nolan on Producer duty, the studio must be keen for some of his success with The Dark Knight Trilogy to rub off on Man Of Steel.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Comic book films return (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (4 Oct USA), Kick-Ass 2 (19 July), Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8), Iron Man 3 (26 April), The Wolverine (26 July))

Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Kick-Ass 2Superman isn’t the only superhero doing the rounds this year of course, there are a bunch of sequels on the way to astound and delight us all. Of these the most exciting is Kick-Ass 2, which sees Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist all return, with original actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Morentz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, for another round of crude and comic caped action.

This time Red Mist is seeking revenge, as teased at the close of the first film and Jim Carrey also makes an appearance as Colonel Stars and Stripes. With so many dark and ‘mature’ style superhero flicks flying around it’s good to have something like this as an antidote.

(No Kick-Ass 2 trailer just yet I’m afraid, but Iron Man is shaping up nicely too).

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. Reading Festival 2013 (23-25 August)

Reading Festival 2012With organisers Festival Republic kicking off the hype train early this year, we already know that Eminem will be one of this year’s Reading Festival headliners. Also in the mix are Alt-J, Deftones and Sub Focus.

The event always pulls in some of the greatest acts in the world for the year and the atmosphere is difficult to beat for a full weekend festival. Plus following the re-jig and re-brand last year things will be running even more smoothly, leaving more time for drinking and moshing than ever before.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. The next Xbox (Q4 TBC)

The next Xbox?The Xbox 360 has now been on shop shelves for seven years, with hardware older than that, and in some places it’s beginning to creak at the seams. The lack of big game release dates after May this year leans heavily towards a hardware reveal at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, after a decidedly by-the-numbers affair last year.

The gaming community are beginning to cry out and despite manufacturer Microsoft’s claims in 2010 that the console was only half way through it’s life cycle, the clock is ticking. The time makes sense for the company too, since they won’t want to risk falling behind rival Sony‘s next release, which is still unannounced.

At present no concrete news has come out about the next Xbox console, despite rumours being rife, but whatever happens it is likely to slot effortlessly into its parent company’s efforts with Windows 8. The question is, will they strike while the iron is hot?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 December)

The Desolation of SmaugAfter the success which Peter Jackson had with the first instalment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, we have our fingers firmly crossed he can keep up the momentum for a further two films. The subtitle for this year’s film, The Desolation of Smaug, would suggest this is the chapter in which Smaug is vanquished, but what does that leave for film three?

The multi Oscar-winning director is doing it for the love at this point, so it’s hard to see him making a misstep at this stage, but the real draw for this next film is the returning cast, all of whom shone in part one. How can you say no to more Gandalf?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  1. The digital entertainment tipping point (TBC?)

The final point in our list is more speculation (speculation you say? On a blog? Outrageous!) around the subject of digital distribution. It might not be something to look forward to if you are keen on polishing the boxes on your CD shelf, but the digital revolution is happening right now. In music in particular the market is struggling to cope, as consumers begin to buy songs online through the likes of iTunes more and more.

The BBC recently reported that in 2012 CD sales fell by 11.2% overall, with sales of physical copies down 20% to 69.4million, compared to a rise or 14.8% for digital, bringing its total up to 30.5million. Surely the day we see digital in the majority isn’t far away?

In gaming and films too things are changing, as more people stream or watch films online, sometimes through games consoles, and various on demand services such as Netflix providing access to thousands of films without the bother of popping down to Blockbuster. Games on demand on Xbox remains uncompetitively priced, but avenues such as Valve’s Steam platform are proving more popular than ever before.

The interconnected nature of technology is making viewing entertainment easier every year and this year could be the time when we start to see the digital future really come into its own.

A Digital FutureJames Michael Parry