Tag 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

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.

Xbox One: The full review (so far…)

It’s been a while since Microsoft released its latest console, the Xbox One, and with the Christmas rush out of the way it’s high time it was put through its paces.

Xbox OneOf course, the version of the Xbox One we have now is far from its potential and there are plenty of possibilities for the future, but at the same time, a lot of people have paid a lot of money for this console, so what did they get for their cash?

Features

Xbox One Launch
The vision of an all-in-One device is more attractive to some users than others.

The Xbox One is a gaming machine built for a connected future. Though I won’t get into the tech specs debate (may touch on that later), the key thing is that this is a considerable step up from the Xbox 360.

The increase in memory (eight times to be vaguely approximate) is the most noticeable change,boosting draw differences and the amount that can be going on on screen substantially.

Kinect 2.0 is a big improvement on the original and is pretty reliable – providing you pay attention when going through the setup process. There are a lot of optimisations and refinements to come with this, but to perform this well pretty much out of the box is a real plus.

The multimedia features of the box are one of the main selling points for some, since the console’s vision of being king of the living room actually seems to work in practice. Jumping between DVD, Netflix and games using voice commands is seamless and soon you will wish you had the same functionally in all of your devices.

The HDMI passthrough is the feature which still holds the biggest potential, since at the moment the much-touted TV services are very much US-orientated, but hooking up the Xbox 360 works pretty well (apart from the One having to be on to play it).

Games

Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.
Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.

The launch line-up was reasonable, and showcases what the console can do, to an extent. Forza Motorsport 5 (to give it its full, overly-wordy title) is a solid game. It looks beautiful, it plays smoothly and the drivatar system, which builds AI racers based on the drive style of your friends and other players, makes the competitive experience far more compelling.

There are some issues with multiplayer games at present, some of which are more the One’s fault than the games, but when you do get into a game it’s good fun, though you can’t help but feel some of the Top Gear humour seen in the single player could have been extended to give a selection of ‘party’ race types, which emphasise the sillier aspects of a game which is generally fairly stuck up.

Dead Rising 3 delivers more of what fans wanted and puts an impressive number of zombies on the screen, but doesn’t offer much in terms of story or anything which is particularly ‘next-gen’.

Ryse, heralded as the shiniest of the first party launch trio. Has strong visuals with somewhat lacking variety in terms of gameplay. The controls can be a pain as well, with a simple action, such as picking up and throwing a spear, being a pain.

Performance of third-party games is strong, although there’s no getting away from the fact that the PlayStation 4 handles them with greater ease. Battlefield is a strong example of how a tried and tested gaming experience can be taken forward, with the scale of 64 player battles undeniably impressive – it’s just a shame about all the bugs.

Interface

The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.
The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.

Which leads us neatly onto the not-quite-baked interface. Generally most tasks are intuitive enough, particularly when you use voice commands to bring them up, but delving through the menus can be a chore.

Luckily the ability to ‘pin’ games and menu items on the left hand side of the home screen is a great help to making your life easier, though it would have been nice to see the customisation taken a step further.

The biggest issue is that everything feels a bit slow, as everything is now its own ‘app’ rather than just a part of the UI which was running in the background. Plus there are a raft of basic menu options, particularly relating to friends and parties, which are just inexplicably missing.

When you work out how to get everyone into a party, turn on party chat (still baffling that the default is off with no option to change) and get that party into a game, things are fairly simple. The trouble is the combination of different invites and different places to do different things is dizzying and most players would have lost patience long before it became obvious.

It seems in their strive for simplicity, Microsoft have taken out a lot of the basic functions which were actually so commonly and easily used that they became second nature, making their disappearance cause to learn a whole new way of doing things.

It’s not dissimilar to the switch of the start button to the start screen of Windows 8, by no small coincidence, but it is frustrating when the logic isn’t obvious and it’s easy to feel as if things have just been changed for the sake of it rather than because it enhances the player experience.

Controller

Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.
Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.

Probably the strongest element of what the Xbox One has to offer, Microsoft kept thing similar but made a lot of refinements under the hood – perhaps an ethos they should have extended to the interface overall…

The controller feels sturdy, has a comfortable weight and feel and reacts precisely. The rumbles in the triggers, probably the most obvious change from the 360 iteration, go a long way to adding to the immersion and it will be interesting to see how it is used in genres such as survival horror to catch players of guard.

The D pad is leaps and bounds ahead of the 360s bloated mess, and the buttons generally are solid without being stiff. There have been some objections to the sharpness of the edges of the thumb sticks, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference.

Of course Kinect is also a controller, but with little on the table to prove itself just yet. The viewing angle is much improved and it works well in a more confined space but it can be fussy if you have something between it and you in the middle of the room, such as a coffee table.

Updates and tweaks will see this go from strength, but considering how little the first Kinect progressed from its release, you can be fairly sure that any change from how the new version is working now is fairly close to the peak of its potential.

Verdict

Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.
Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.

The Xbox One is a machine which offers new experiences, but often at the expense of the old. The slick feeling of effortlessly breezing through things with voice commands is excellent, until you reach a point where you have to press a button on the controller and you wonder why.

The social side is where Microsoft has to do the most work. The Xbox LIVE community, probably Microsoft’s greatest success to date (at least in its gaming division), has been fractured with this new console release, in a way which wasn’t as significant when the Xbox 360 came along.

Online is undeniably where the future of console gaming lies, and online functions and integration are going to become increasingly important as time goes on.

More games will be online only, more will have integrated social functions, possibly supported by tablet devices, drawing on the benchmark set by the new version of Xbox Smartglass, and players are going to become increasingly impatient.

Some work needs to be done to plug the gaps and rethink the oversights, but by and large the Xbox One is well set for this future. Being future-focused brings the drawback that the current experience might feel like a bit of a let down.

Once more games come along, particularly Titanfall, Destiny and Watch Dogs, there will be a much more rich variety of things to do on the machine, but for now things can be particularly empty, especially if you are purely focused on gaming.

If you take the One as it is, it might not knock your socks off, but if you bear in mind the long-term and the potential of what Microsoft are clearly trying to create, then you will appreciate it a lot more.

For now, the key is getting together with people who you know. Even having one team mate playing with you, who you can rely on and communicate with, makes all the difference in most games, and multiplayer adds life and soul to otherwise clinical titles such as Forza.

Most importantly, enjoy it and try things out. If you haven’t unpacked Kinect yet then it’s well worth exploring, since it does add a lot to the user experience. In the words of Colonel Stars and Stripes whatever you do, try to have fun, otherwise, what’s the point?

To game online with This Is Entertainment, message gamertag ‘Decent Jam’ or visit the forums at http://www.oxm.co.uk.

James Michael Parry

Xbox One Hands On | Preview | Gaming

Xbox One LaunchThere’s only weeks to go before the biggest head-to-head of the year as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 go on sale to the masses. Ahead of all that excitement, indulge in some first impressions on what Xbox One has to offer after a special preview event.

The Box

Xbox One
That’s right, it looks like…a box. There’s a shock.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Xbox One is a big machine. Designed to be the hub of your living room, it’s size is reminiscent of the original behemoth which its grandfather was back in 2001.

This isn’t a drawback, providing you have the space, and Microsoft clearly seem to have compensated (possibly over-compensated) on cooling, which proved to be such an issue for the Xbox 360.

Power is something which is quite subjective, and in this regard, there’s no denying the One lags behind the Playstation 4 on paper and, as it turns out, in practice.

The debate is bringing the internet to its knees as we speak, so no need to recount it here. Briefly – the One is running games at less that 1080p native resolution, while the PS4 apparently manages it without too much bother. Suffice to say people are unhappy about that.

Xbox One Event - GAME Reading OracleIn reality, when you are engaging with these games, you are not going to notice the difference unless you immediately go from one to the other, and for many the gaming experience goes far further than just how pretty the game looks.

That said, Microsoft has a mountain to climb to fulfil its claims about what the machine can deliver in terms of using the cloud and being truly future-proof for the next 10 years.

Xbox One ControllerThe Controller

Although the basic design of the controller remains from the 360 era, there are a number of changes, updates and innovations within the new controller which push it to the next level.

Rumbles in the triggers are the most obvious change, but the subtlety of how responsive and precise the controller feels is probably the most important long-term improvement.

The balance of the controller remains virtually the same and the lack of battery bulge on the back gives you more space to stretch your fingers.

Jumping out to the guide with the Xbox logo is now more swift, with the screen zooming out to reveal a Windows 8-esque start screen. The start and home buttons have changed too, but it’s difficult to say how significant these adjustments will be until you are living day-to-day with the console because of one very big elephant in the room…

Xbox OneThe Kinect-y-ness

In fact, Kinect is no longer the black sheep for Xbox gamers, since it seems this time around the technology is going to live up the expectations set a few years ago when Project Natal was first announced.

So far we haven’t managed to get our hand on (well, actually NOT on) Kinect 2.0, but the various demos shown off so far definitely seem like more than smoke and mirrors.

The greatest change will be the interface. For some, this new Kinect is their first experience of the technology at all, since before it was dismissed as “foolish arm-flailing”. Now it’s in the box, there’s (almost) no getting away from it, and it definitely seems like the gesture control and even more so the voice control will be very popular.

The Gameplay

Xbox One Event - GAME Oracle Reading
Nothing like promoting a console by sticking a massive banner for its competitor right next to it.

Diving into the first-party and exclusive launch line-up for these games doesn’t feel Earth-shattering. These games are pretty, in fact in Forza 5‘s case they are astounding, but the gameplay is familiar.

The increase in scale possible with the technology is there, but it’s difficult to appreciate until the developers have begun to get their head around the technology properly. Of course the scope of these games is impressive, but also fairly safe.

Dead Rising 3 (admittedly in demo form) offers only a wall of zombies to keep players occupied. All individually animated and reasonably independent in terms of behaviour and reactions, though zombie mentality in general is more like a mob in any case.

These are all positives, but where the game is already showing itself up is with various animation and spacial awareness issues. For example there only seems to be one ‘finishing’ move with each weapon and the transition between play and these is abrupt.

Equally irritating is that when main character Nick is wielding a park bench, poised and ready to decapitate a would-be brain-muncher, you move around to get a better position and find the bench happily passes through a nearby lamppost.

Auto-aim for lobbing such items is also not quite in tune with the camera, rarely seeming to aim towards the zombie or group you are trying to exact wicked vengeance on.

Forza 5 on Xbox OneForza 5 looks great and handles beautifully, but is it breaking the mould and pushing the envelope as a racing game? No. Things like in-depth car customisation (beyond selecting a colour) or fine tuning of settings as you might expect in real cars – admittedly insanely expensive ones.

Of course these sorts of features may be added later or show themselves when the game comes out, but the point is – these games are the flagship titles for the console, they should be trying something different.

With Ryse: Son Of Rome Microsoft at least have an experience you can’t get anywhere else at the moment. Looks wise it looks solid, especially the particle and fire effects, but the gameplay isn’t as fluid as you would expect when you are controlling a highly skilled warrior.

The swordwork – although slightly overusing slo-mo – looks stylish but is overly simplified to either horizontal or vertical swipes and the control scheme despite being simple is difficult to pick up on a first try.

Try to use any more exotic weapons at your peril. Spears and siege weapons tempt you with their shininess (and often necessity in order to progress, at least in the multiplayer mode we played), but then proceed to not be picked up, not fired and not aimed where you thought they should be. Not to mention they are far too slow to be effective on anything but very long range targets which you couldn’t take out any other way.

Returning brawler Killer Instinct has all the style and production value you would expect but very little rudimentary logic in its control scheme (where on Earth is block?!), which makes it a frustrating challenge for first-time fighter fans.

In all it’s third-party titles like Battlefield 4 which over the spectacle that you might hope for from the launch of a console, which is why it’s a shame the hotly-anticipated exclusive Titanfall won’t drop until next year.

The Controversy

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he's left the company - oops...
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he’s left the company – oops…

Always online, then not, Kinect compulsory, then not. The One currently sits in an easy place as we approach what should be its shining moment.

Most consumers will be oblivious to the to-ings and fro-ings, getting the download from their local GAME staff member on the day, but for those well-invested in the brand, it’s been an uneasy few months.

The extremity both of the u-turns (perceived or literal) and the PR cock-ups from MS execs which often followed, has severely tested the fanbase, leading some to jump ship and many more to reconsider where they had placed their faith.

In the coming weeks and months the vision which MS tried to explain back in May will begin to come to life. How true it will stay to what was originally conceived remains to be seen.

Xbox OneThe Potential

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the One’s chances though, despite all the uncertainty.

The features originally talked about and then canned could well return. The quality and fidelity of both games and graphics will improve, and already they are looking pretty tasty – even if they aren’t blowing your socks off.

Most significant of all of course, is the service which binds everything together – Xbox Live. Microsoft have an opportunity to push the community aspect of what they have created over the past decade.

Friends lists expand and include Twitter-like followers, more interconnected play over different devices and better access to friends than ever before.

It’s almost a shame that cross-generational gameplay isn’t possible, even if it was on something simple like Bomberman or Uno, because there could be an opportunity to tap into the browser/tablet games market through Live itself that way.

Once multiplayer numbers are beefed up and the community divided into like-minded individuals so that the hardcore competitive people can play together while the more groovy laid-back types can take their time with things, for example, there is the makings of a truly powerful web of people.

On top of that there is the potential of ‘the cloud’, but it all seems t0o intangible and vague at the moment to get a real sense of how that could shake things up.

The Verdict

Look at it...sitting there...teasing us...
Look at it…sitting there…teasing us…

In all, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this console, but another, smaller number to be cautious about.

What’s key to remember though, is that it is early days, there is a lot of potential out there and even if the Playstation 4 does ‘win’ the war – i.e. get more players, more power and more games – it won’t take away from the fact that there are still some excellent experiences which are going to be only on Xbox One.

Besides if you wanted everything, with all its bells and whistles shining like the sun, then you would have switched to a gaming PC by now anyway.

Game on.

Read more about Xbox One on This Is Entertainment.

(An excellent reveal round-up from Mr Matt Lees here which we just have to share with you, thanks VideoGamer)

James Michael Parry

Why I will be buying an Xbox One | Opinion | Gaming

Xbox OneIt might be the Microsoft fanboy in me, but following the announcement of Xbox One, the company’s next generation games console, I found myself eager to get my hands on one.

The big reveal

Everything you need in one box, so long as it's not playing your Xbox 360 games.
Everything you need in one box, so long as it’s not playing your Xbox 360 games.

First things first, Tuesday’s grand unveiling of the Xbox One could have gone more smoothly for Microsoft. With the gaming up in arms about the lack of games shown and in many ways the show raising more questions than it answers, the company have catching up to do at E3 to make themselves, and how their shiny new product actually works, crystal clear.

Despite the less than Oscar-winning presentation, one thing is clear – the Xbox One does far more than just play games. This is no surprise of course, the Xbox 360 has been moving to dominate the home entertainment sector for years, with countless partnerships with sports brands like ESPN and, in the UK, TV through Sky.

What is clear from the announcement event straight away is that Microsoft haven’t finished telling their story, and Tuesday’s show clearly wasn’t aimed at us (by which I mean geeky, hardcore gamer-type people).

The technology

The console's look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it's not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.
The console’s look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it’s not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.

Specifications shared so far are a clear step up from the 360, most notably the 8gb of RAM to keep lots going on at once.

There was a lot made of the fact that the eight core processor runs its two operating systems simultaneously, making it quick and easy to switch between the two, but I can’t see it being an every day feature, just as snap mode on PC isn’t at the moment.

Kinect is something I haven’t got around to this generation. There’s something which doesn’t really bother me about ‘flailing my arms around’ as my good friend Andy likes to say (read his top ten things to note about the Xbox One).

With Kinect 2.0 included as standard with all consoles though, it will be something which won’t be as forced as it will just be another gameplay feature rather than something which needs shouting about. Imagining the occasional squad voice command or casual gesture to flick through menus lazily makes me think of a few instances where I might make use of it.

The controller remains much the same as the 360’s, which is a very attractive prospect. I’ve never got along with the Playstation’s Duel Shock design, I’ve found it uncomfortable and awkward, and the addition of a touch-screen in the version 4 model doesn’t go far to change that.

Added sensitivity to rumble control could prove to be great for adding immersion and atmosphere to games, particularly tense moments in horror titles, and the supposed 40 innovations which are included under the hood are sure to make sure the controller has the responsiveness to keep up with the pace of modern titles.

The competition

Playstation 4 controller
Everyone loves a bit of competition, but Sony haven’t been too forthcoming, only showing off their new controller so far rather than the PS4 itself.

In terms of the other companies’ offerings, you might ask why I’m already so sure Microsoft deserve my money rather than Nintendo or Sony.

The simple answer is that they have all made money out of me in the past, and the difference between them most of the time is attitude. Sony are a solid company and make good products, but in terms of gaming they have never had iconic games or characters which I have really latched onto.

Nintendo have iconic characters in droves but have become something of a caricature of themselves. Not that a bit of Mario now and again isn’t good fun, but having grown up with it (endless secondary school lunchtimes lost to link-cabled fun on Game Boy Advance) it’s something I tend to prefer to just look back on with fond memories.

Microsoft have stuck to their guns in the past, and continue to do so with radical changes in the latest Windows release such as taking away people’s Start Menus (another thing which doesn’t really bother me).

With their consoles this proves to be no different, and the Xbox One appears to crap in more random and potentially unnecessary features than a Swiss Army knife. The reason I’m un-phased by this though is that I have started to get to grips with some of the multimedia functionality on the 360, and I believe it’s something which is set to grow.

Browsing a web page might still be a bit cumbersome without a keyboard to type in pesky web addresses, but the integration with Windows and Kinect should make the experience much easier than before and therefore less of a pain when you try to do something and then give up and decide to do it in half the time on your phone.

Smartglass returns too, and will most likely play more of an integral role in the machine than its trial run on 360, and there have been a lot of bold claims from Microsoft such as “lag-free” and “instantly”, which despite the obvious exaggeration suggest these sorts of basic interactions will be handled more quickly and easily before.

The unanswered questions

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.

It’s fair to say that the games focus the company are insisting the console has, which is ‘simply the best gaming console we’ve ever made’, still needs to be justified at E3.

Microsoft have given themselves a mountain to climb in terms of not addressing the countless pre-announcement rumours: always online, pre-owned and backwards compatibility to name the big three.

Luckily, the hard work done from numerous games journalists across the world has forced a little more information and clarity, but in terms of making it easy for the consumer they haven’t got off on the best foot.

For me, I can think of only one or two titles I’ve bought pre-owned this year and what secret plan Microsoft has in store at E3 for pre-owned will probably involve a fee of sort, but if it goes to supporting the people who spent the time making the game rather than flagging high street retailers who capitalise on high profit margins with inconsistent trade-in prices, it can’t be too bad.

Xbox OneLike many devices, the Xbox One may well work without the internet, but really the integration with ‘the Cloud’ among other things means that you will want to keep it plugged in all the time anyway to make sure everything is up to date.

As for backwards compatibility, this has been clearly confirmed as not possible due to the differences in architecture, but really how often do you play old games on a new console anyway?

The vast majority of the launch presentation may have oversold the TV aspects of things, but it will still be games which drive the console along, and already there are some attractive reasons to get in early to the party in the form of Battlefield 4 and Xbox exclusives aplenty.

Being late to the party with the 360, this time I’m reserving my place at the start of the queue.

Of course, you can fully expect to find me eating these words after E3, be sure to pop back then for a, hopefully, fully formed impression of what the console has to offer.

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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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).

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  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.

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  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…

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  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.

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  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).

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  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.

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  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?

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  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?

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  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

Windows 8 Review: Is it really worth upgrading? | Technology | This Is Entertainment

Look how colourful and right-angle-y it is...Fans of sweeping curves and a sleek, minimalist, colour scheme might think twice about Windows 8 – but that’s the point.

Apple has dominated the ‘cool’ factor in the computer industry for years, and Microsoft is well aware it can’t compete directly, so what it has done with 8 (and the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows phones, lest we forget), is make a visual statement of its own.

Right angles are nothing new – think back to Windows 95 and remember the blockiness of edges – but to follow a design concept all the way through has taken courage on Microsoft’s part. The result is ‘Metro’, or what was referred to as ‘Metro’ until they decided to do away with a name altogether, a regimented yet customisable layout in bold colours.

Of course, appearances are always just the tip of the iceberg, and since consumers willing to give 8 a closer look are not likely to be convinced by style over substance, the OS needs to have the talk to accompany its fancy new trousers.

The functionality of how the system works changes from the outset, with an immediate link to your Windows Live ID or Hotmail login (though local logins are still available, if you can find them). From here the first thing desktop fans will notice is the missing start menu.

The multi-coloured and multi-tiled start screen stands proudly in its place, luckily still connected to that Windows key on your keyboard which you may be fond of. The first few hours spent with Windows 8 will most likely be spent getting to grips with where the start menu items you know and love have run off too.

At first the logic is frustrating, but soon you find yourself being able to combine the functionality of multiple programs with ease and the benefits of 8 start to shine. Menus are hidden on virtually on every side of the screen, with the most useful being the ‘Charms’ menu on the right, which gives you instant access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings, most of which adapt and change depending on what you can see on the main window.

Fancy pictures I know...A handy example of the functionality is that you can set a picture as your lock screen and in the same breath share it with your admirers online. Depending on how connected you are with your online world makes a massive difference to how helpful you will find many features of 8.

What 8 really gives you is a strong starting point. At present, the App Store is limited – particularly for third party sites and software, Facebook and Google are conspicuous by their near-absence. Also Microsoft’s own services are still struggling to pull together, in the long run the ‘live’ brand will cease to be and the consistency of the own-brand offerings will mean they all tie together seamlessly.

Admittedly, the first party apps on show so far, whose instant updates make up many of the almost uncomfortably transfixing ‘Live Tiles’, are impressive, and the system itself is quick and responsive.

That said, it’s clear that the interface was designed for touch input. Navigating around with the mouse can be clunky, occasionally needing pinpoint accuracy to make something appear and then not immediately sink into the background once more.

After the initial setting up, customising, and getting used to not having the one-stop-shop of a start menu, you quickly find things begin to make sense. The programs which you would have used on the desktop before are still there, but the Windows 8 interface mops up all the other bits and pieces which can take time like checking email, messaging, or stalking people on Facebook (now you can do Facebook, Twitter and others all from one screen).

At the current upgrade price of £25 from Microsoft it’s difficult to say no. Make full use of the compatibility program on offer, which automatically determined if programs will need to be re-installed, to minimise fuss, and perform a full back up – just in case.

The infrastructure which Microsoft has put in place is one which strives on its simplicity, and provides a platform to build on with more of a lean towards user-friendly operation than ever before. Once more big names get on board with apps of their own it will undoubtedly be a far more flexible experience, but right now is the perfect time to give it a try and get used to it before you have too many complicated new toys to play about with.

James Michael Parry

And now for a nonsensical trailer…

Gaming | E3 2012 Debriefing – What does it mean for Xbox 360? | This Is Entertainment

Oooo greenGoing into this years Electronic Entertainment Expo (that’s E3, technophobes), there were no illusions that the current console generation is approaching its end.

Nintendo is on the eve of announcing a release date for its new WiiU, revealed last year, and the speculation about the PS4 or Xbox 720 has reached boiling point. Luckily the signs that this generation wasn’t just a giant waste of time are there in the form of Nintendo‘s ‘Pro Controller’, which looks suspiciously like an Xbox 360 pad. Before all that excitement of shiny new things though, we need to be entertained in the meantime – so what’s left for 360 players?

A cynic would say we are at the bottom of the barrel, scraping together sequels to drag out the life of a console which is past its sell-by date. Ever the optimist however (hmm…) I thought I would take some time to contemplate before dismissing this year’s E3 offering as disappointing and think about what it means as we creep ever closer to the next generation.

Microsoft‘s conference this year wasn’t surprising, it wasn’t unexpected, what it was was logical. What makes the Xbox an effective games console is that it’s no longer just a games console, it has diversified into the multi-media hub which MS always envisioned.

The harsh reaction to the latest changes to the dashboard earlier this year gave a pretty clear message from those who would happily call themselves ‘gamers’ however, so it remains a fine line MS must tread to keep everyone happy – from the hardcore Halo fans who dress up as John 117 on the weekends to the working mums who just jump onto Your Shape for 15 minutes every Tuesday morning after Loose Women.

Get your Spartan onTo address these concerns, MS‘s E3 conference began by taking things back to the console’s roots, with a new instalment in their flagship franchise. In the hands of a new developer, 343 Industries, the game offers a fresh breath of life into a series which began at the original Xbox‘s inception back in 2001. There are new enemies, new weapons, new locations, but still the familiar touches which make the series what it is, including its protagonist Master Chief (who is John 117, if you were scratching your head earlier).

Next to be flaunted were (among others) a new Splinter Cell title subbed ‘Blacklist’, which seemed to throw away even more stealth than its predecessor, Tomb Raider, which still featured Lara Croft making odd sexual noises and a new Gears of War (Judgment – missing an ‘e’), this time with Damon Baird in the spotlight. Plus there were three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Xbox exclusives, but very little was revealed about them other than the names: Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter.

In terms of numbers of games at least, things were going well, and the 360 has always been at home with action-heavy gun-dominated titles like Gears and Halo. “…but what about innovation?!” I hear you cry.

Can you watch two screens at once?Xbox Smartglass, technology which allows you to use the smartphones and tablets you already own to control your 360, was undoubtedly the biggest innovation. While convergence of technology is nothing new, utilising products consumers already own is a masterstroke. The only problem is what about the people without these add-ons, are they going to get left behind as a brave new world comes along to slide its shimmering glass surface across their face?

With another console not a million miles away, this is software which will make the jump, and in many ways ease the transition between today’s gaming world and tomorrow’s. There are undoubtedly tons of things which can be done with touchscreens, but like the possibilities presented by Kinect, it will take a long time for them to be used effectively, and most importantly to enhance the experience rather than intrude on it.

After a few more services, including the shrug-worthy Xbox Music and marginally more interesting film and TV deals, featuring copious amounts of American sports which all have their own acronyms, it was time for more games.

Resident Evil 6 looked the part, albeit with plenty of potential to stray down the path away from its roots, something so commonly picked up on these days that it practically becomes a given. There was also a good show from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who notably mocked Smartglass‘ drive for interconnectivity, and surprisingly the pair proved to be the more civilised and fitting ‘celebrity’ guest appearances compared to the shocking performance from Usher in conjunction with the inevitable Just Dance 3. Jaws across the auditorium must have been on the floor for all the wrong reasons.

The grand finale was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was the least surprising sequel of the day, but the footage shown was undeniably impressive, causing those who had sworn of ‘COD’ for life to sheepishly reconsider.

Here boy, walkies!The surprise of the week really came from Ubisoft‘s conference in the form of the gritty criminal underworld of the Watch Dogs, an original IP which nods to both Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand masters of GTA themselves, Rockstar Games, were dutifully absent as usual, and no more was heard about the upcoming GTAV.

In all it was a business-sound case from MS, with enough games in the mix (predictable but present) to keep gamers occupied which they put the final touches on their new platform, sure to be revealed this time next year. The amount of services may seem dizzying, but with so many new partnerships and deals announced, it’s a safe bet the 360 will be around for a few years yet, even after its successor is released.

Now all we have to do is wait…in the meantime, have a listen to what industry veteran and passing colleague of This Is Entertainment Jon Hicks (@MrJonty) from Official Xbox Magazine, has to say about it all – and happy gaming.

James Michael Parry

pictures courtesy: gotgame.com, archetypegamer.com, openthefridge.net, monstervine.com

Gaming | Mass Effect Demo first impressions | This Is Entertainment

Save the Earth..like that's never been done before....The first teasings of Mass Effect 3 have now been released in the form of a single and multi-player demo. Generally released on Tuesday (specifically designed to wreck relationships across the globe), the demo is now available through the Xbox UK Facebook page, but the multiplayer servers aren’t currently online.

While the nature of Mass Effect as a series means everyone’s playing experience differs, which is in fact one of it’s most appealing features, the demo does contain single player story content and therefore everything that follows is spoilerific, you have been warned.

What immediately hits you is the scale that this game will take, with the title screen (above) depicting the Reaper assault on Earth. These 50,000 year-old tin openers – or mechanical apocolypse-bringers, if you prefer – intend to destroy the entire galaxy with the help of the Mass Effect relays, which were left scattered around as bait for sentient species to go zipping around the cosmos.

Now they are back to claim their bounty, and the story begins with Shepard grounded on Earth after being stripped of his (or her) Commander status following the events of Mass Effect 2.

The first of many choices you must make as a player in the game (apart from your Shep’s gender), is what ‘style’ you would like to play. The game asks you to ‘Choose Your Experience’, between ‘Action’, ‘Role-Playing’ and ‘Story’.

‘Action’ cuts through the pesky story nonsense, gives you a ‘generic’ character profile and cuts straight to the shooting, treating any decision-making as a quick and easy cut scene and allow you to adjust combat difficulty as you see fit.

‘Role-Playing’ is the traditional, and some might say real, Mass Effect experience which BioWare intended, while ‘Story’ cuts down on the action to a minimum and keeps all the initial customisation options, but levels up your character as the story dictates.

Presuming you want to customise, the demo gives you all the options you might fancy, including who Shepard has lost from his team up to now, decided between ME1’s fallen comrades or ‘Several’ – suggesting there will be a significant effect on Shepard’s mental state depending on the amount of loss which has been suffered, which doesn’t show in the demo, but certainly will have implications in the full game.

As you jump into the action, The Alliance is tracking a large unknown threat approaching Earth. Soon there is news of the UK being under attack, and sure enough the Reaper invasion shown in the teaser trailer spans out as far as the eye can see.

For now Shepard has to get back to his ship, which means a bit of a trek with series regular Admiral Anderson. The interface is all familiar, albeit with some spit polish, but the health bars of both you and your enemies has now been split into sections rather than a continuous bar, meaning you can’t just hide to recover any longer – choosing your battles has never been more important.

The combat movement is far more fluid than ME2. Unfortunately it still fall short of the smoothness of Gears of War, but Shepard now has the ability to roll, dash between cover and, most addictively, deliver an instant-kill ‘hard’ mêlée attack which has your omni-tool sprout a large glowing blade to impale evil-doers.

Get your skills onPowers and abilities have been inevitably tweaked (the Adrenaline Rush is now a shadow of its former self at level 1) and the points trees are more complex. Instead of having three linear levels and then one specialisation at the end, the player can now customise three out of six Ranks, choosing between two variations. For example, at Rank 4 Disrupter Ammo can either have its damage enhanced, or you can make it available for the rest of your squad at 50% effectiveness. This allows for more personalisation of skills as you progressing, making a big impact on your combat effectiveness at later levels in the full game.

Combat too has taken a more stylised turn. Thanks to the improved mobility controls, it’s now easier to flank and outrun enemies, so BioWare has hit back with enemies with turrets and riot shields as well as meatier husks and even giant user-driven mechs.

Other little touches just throw up questions. There is also a ‘Weight Capacity’ statistic thrown in here and there but no sign of an inventory at present, perhaps something held back from the demo? There is also none of the detailed weapon customisations on show here, suggesting that these were added later on in the development process. Also the Bypass mini-game seems to have gone, what about hacking?

The feeling of the game really takes shape in the second section of the demo. Set later on in the game, the sequence depicts a visit to the Salarian homeworld to transport a Krogan female. It’s an action mission through and through, but you are bumped up to level 12 so you have a wide selection of powers at your disposal from both you and your team.

Powers play a much bigger part in combat than before, dealing some serious damage and deploying more quickly. Armour and barriers aren’t as easily taken down by straight-forward shooting, so some tactics are needed to take enemies down without you or your squad-mates taking too much damage.

Your companions are, as always, what brings the richness to the Mass Effect universe, and even the short selection shown by the demo oozes character. From Admiral Anderson’s trouble facing the reality of Earth’s destruction, to Mordin’s frantic but calculated orders shrieked to you amid a firefight, there is plenty here to make you think of them as real.

With just under a month to go until release on March 9 (in Europe), the game will be being polished up since this demo was submitted for verification, so we might still see tweaks and changes. (As for the multiplayer component, this should go live on Tuesday if not before, and there will be a separate update then if there is enough to say.)

For now, appetites should be thoroughly whetted.

Released 9 March

Don’t forget to check out our other Mass Effect articles, back in 2010 we spoke to Shepard’s voice actor Mark Meer while the game was in full swing, and then again last year when things were starting to wrap up. Plus the game features in our most anticipated games of the year, take a look.

James Michael Parry

Believing the hype – Part 3: Most anticipated Xbox games of 2012 | This Is Entertainment

With the next Xbox possibly around the corner, 2012 could be the last hurrah for the 360, but will it be its biggest yearever? Ahead of a distinctly Xbox-themed week, here are a few of our most anticipated titles for Xbox 360 this year.

Mass Effect 3 – March 9

The conclusion to the biggest space opera of the decade draws ever closer, with the fate of Commander Shepard being revealed. The best part of this game is the fact that every player’s story will finish differently, as a result of countless decisions made through the previous two titles (presuming you played them, and if not, shame on you). Endless possibilities beckon, did you punch the journalist in the face? Did you release the space beast in ME1? Did you save whats-his-face’s wife? There’s new features, such as an added element of danger to the omni-tool with an added melee blade, and even slicker combat style with everything polished up from ME2’s leap forward. There might be a slightly uneasy multiplayer mode added, but with BioWare pouring everything into this final instalment, and with no Mass Effect 4 on the way meaning no loose ends to leave open, they will be sure to end Shepard’s story out with a bang.

Max Payne 3 – March

A sequel which has been a long time coming, and from a new studio, the new Max Payne title keeps the spirit of the first two games with a more gritty edge – courtesy of Grand Theft Auto Kings Rockstar Studios (though admittedly a different branch to that creating Grand Theft Auto 5, also due this year, but the story is from the same lead writer). Always a broken character, Max is older, boozier and has a penchant for head-shaving in this game, which is set a few years after the events of The Fall of Max Payne. The signature bullet-time returns, with 360 degree shooting, as well as Max’s trusty painkillers. There’s also multiplayer on the cards, and with Rockstar calling the shots it’s sure to be something special, expect unusual game modes and there’s even dynamic maps which change in-play to contend with. With third person shooters quieter this year with no new Gears of War title, Max could well fill the void and deliver an out and out shooting-fest with real character.

Aliens: Colonial Marines – 2012

Almost 30 years after the release of James Cameron’s film, the dreams of xenomorph fans across the world could well be answered in the form of Colonial Marines. While it may have lost its original squad-based shooter dynamic, the game is shaping up to deliver as strong an alien playing experience as well as letting you fill the shoes of machine-gun and flamethrower-toting marines. There’s no heads-up display, which should make for a more immersive experience, but there is some relief in the form of the signature gun-mounted motion-tracker. There’s new alien types available too, as well as the classic xenomorph and the face-hugger, there are ‘runners’ which are faster, scout-style aliens, and you can be sure the queen will make an appearance at some point. The game is set on planet LV-426, the same place where the Aliens film is set, but some time after, and it’s been confirmed the crashed ship from the first film will feature, suggesting plenty of fan service. There have been concerns about the ‘meaty-ness’ of the Aliens’ acid blood, but this is a franchise dear to the hearts of many, which should be ecouragement enough for developers Gearbox to get it right. The developers have a reasonable back catalogue – if you omit the misstep that was Duke Nukem Forever – having contributed to the Half Life series as well as Brothers in Arms and Borderlands, putting the game on course to deliver the experience fans have been waiting for.

BioShock Infinite – 2012

From the depths of dystopian Rapture to the blinding heights of Columbia, BioShock Infinite will make you long for darkness. Another broken society, Columbia isn’t empty of life bar crazed slicers, but a functioning(ish – it has descended into warring factions) city with people milling around. One of those inhabitants is Elizabeth, who protagonist Booker DeWitt is trying to rescue from the city, which is a metropolis flying high above the Earth. Instead of walking around through corridors, you glide through the city on ‘skyrails’, as Elizabeth follows along behind. Reportedly an interactive AI, Elizabeth reacts to your actions, behaving differently depending on what you do. If designer Ken Levine is to be believed, then it should offer the most developed player to AI relationship in a game. Elizabeth isn’t just a follow-along companion though, since she has the power to reach through the fabric of space and time, but exactly how that will work is anyone’s guess. The game is far removed from the events of Rapture, with no Adam or Big Daddies to worry about, but Levine won’t confirm if and how the games are linked. Once everyone has worn out Skyrim, this is the game they will be moving on to for single player storytelling – something Irrational Games are known for.

Syndicate – February 24

The result of a genetic splicing experiment between Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Crysis 2, Syndicate could be the near-future set game of the year. In 2069 the world is controlled by corporations and business, and in the game, a re-boot of a 1993 strategy game in little more than name, you work for a syndicate – which the world is comprised of – and go around carrying out contract killings and other missions to protect the company. The real intriguing point is the Dart 6 chip, which allows you to hack into enemies and control them, causing them to shoot themselves or tell you everything you need to know, as well as more combat-based hacks, such as redirecting projectiles. The big feature is four-player coop, surely a standard in a squad-based game like this, and there are plenty of powered-up-hacker scenarios you can imagine being great fun with a few friends. The competitive multiplayer won’t hurt either.

What, no Halo 4?

That’s right, we aren’t too excited about Halo 4. It may be the game that made the Xbox, but that was a decade ago now, and we are begging for some new innovation. It might be that new studio 343 can come up with some fresh new ideas to re-invigorate the series, but for now it’s a franchise which is struggling to remain relevant, thought the multiplayer matchmaking is still something to be envied – DICE take note.

Stay tuned for more gaming news in the coming week.

James Michael Parry