Grand Theft Auto V (2014)
When a young street hustler, a retired bank robber and a terrifying psychopath find themselves entangled with some of the most frightening and deranged elements of the criminal underworld, the U.S. government and the entertainment industry, they must pull off a series of dangerous heists to survive in a ruthless city in which they can trust nobody, least of all each other.
There is little left to be said about Grand Theft Auto V which hasn’t been said before. There is a reason that this mammoth game is one of the best selling games of all time, why five years down the line it still features in the annual top game lists, and why it continues to be an absolute unit of a cash cow for parent company Rockstar Games.
Now I’m not interested in the massively successful multiplayer mode, instead it is the campaign which I want to gush about. Extremely late to the party, all I can say that this is once again a masterclass in merging story into an open world sandbox title. The seamless story/action transitions, the character switching, the seemingly endless amount of things you can interact with or do in the world is astounding. Sure, the gunplay could be seen as a little simplistic (even at the time of release), but mixed in with the rest of the elements, the cinematography, the exceptional soundtrack… well, everything just works.
Honestly, I can see exactly why GTA V sits with as high a metacritic rating as what it does.
Cities: Skylines (2017)
There isn’t a story blurb for this one, but basically Cities: Skylines is hands down the best city builder currently available on the Xbox. After the last Sim Cities dropped the ball in a horrible PR negative way, developer Colossal Order and publisher Paradox Interactive unleashed this modern city builder that quickly became a firm fan favourite, so much so that developer Tantalus Media was approached to produce a console port.
The end result is a magnificent city builder that works flawlessly with a Xbox game controller, one which is guaranteed to suck up MANY precious hours of your lifespan. Urban planning, zoning, districts, taxation, policies, road, subway and rail placement, public works – its an absolutely delightful time sink.
The game runs well, is particularly well supported with DLC, and in my opinion is an absolute must for anyone with an inkling of love for the city building genre.
Naturally, I’m completely in love.
If you are a long time follower (or perhaps just someone who occasionally checks in on this little corner of the web), you may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been blogging this year (or for that matter, much last year either). It’s not that I’ve stopped, or that I don’t feel like it, or that I don’t have content – it’s just that I started to rather enjoy playing games again, after quite a long period of not enjoying them all that much.
So yes, instead of banging out words on the keyboard, I’ve been digitally slaughtering and racing all manner of things instead.
The truth of the matter is that the quality of AAA games being released for current generation consoles these days is simply put, phenomenal, and as such I’ve had an absolute blast losing myself in their slick, well crafted worlds for more than just a short while now.
So exactly which titles have been keeping me away from this blog then?
Well, interrogating my Xbox Live profile (CraigLotter in case you want to look me up) and then extracting the biggest time offenders in order, the list currently looks something like this:
BioWare’s superb action RPG Dragon Age: Inquistion is probably the title which first brought me back into the gaming fold, with my time played clocking in at around 134 hours.
Then, the punishing Lords of the Fallen, my first taste of a Dark Souls type of difficult, measured combat Action RPG game, sucked up a good 19 hours or so of my life.
Ubisoft and Ivory Tower’s rather fun, online multiplayer arcade racer The Crew next stepped up and cost me just over 29 hours of racing around and exploring all the major landmarks of their digital version of the United States of America.
In a rather surprising turn of events (primarily because I haven’t been into wrestling since I was a teenager), Yuke’s rather fun, and pretty content-packed, wrestling title WWE 2K16 also stepped into the ring, did an Austin 3:16 on me, and managed to extract a further 72 hours from my evening leisure time!
Plus, I have no idea why I spent as much time on the colourful, Chinese mythology borrowing, frantic button masher (but graphically not so great) Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate as what I did, but this action beat-’em-up borrowed a full 19 hours of my life.
Then the strikingly brilliant, action-packed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor arrived, allowing me to hack away at hordes of orcs and trolls for a glorious 29 hours of unadulterated, slick, brutal head hacking action.
Ryse: Son of Rome backed this up with even more bloody, fast paced swordplay, allowing me to defend Rome against all manner of barbarians that were knocking at her doors (not to mention time spent in the Colosseum) for a good 14 hours or so.
One of the best Action RPG titles that I have ever played also jumped into the fray, with the sublime The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red weighing in with a hefty 105 hours of monster hunting, side quests, and of course daughter saving action.
Despite having played it before on the Xbox 360, I decided to replay the action excellent DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition from the insanely clever guys over at Ninja Theory. Pulse pounding hack and slash action accompanied by the crazed aggrotech sound of Combichrist – no wonder that smacked 6 hours off my life.
Staying with the slightly retro vibe, I also culled a further 6 or so hours from my time here on Earth by tackling the backwards compatible Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Decent enough game, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever willingly play a Xbox 360 title again – there’s just too great a jump in quality on the current generation consoles.
Now I’ve been playing EA Sport’s FIFA football franchise for literally most of my life, and pleasingly the FIFA 17 entry didn’t disappoint one bit, with the Frostbite engine powered “The Journey” story line mode being a particular highlight for me. While I did play a bit of offline season mode, in the end I finally succumbed to FUT, which is probably then the reason my play time now stands at around 76 hours of digital soccer action.
All of which then brings me to the current game that looks like it might be keeping me busy for a VERY long time to come.
Hi-Rez Studio’s F2P objective-driven, competitive team hero shooter Paladins has unreservedly dragged me into the world of online competitive shooter play. First person shooters have never been a genre that I have particularly enjoyed, but there is definitely something about this particular, rather frantic and fun title that has thoroughly entranced me.
After plus minus 21 hours of shooting other people with a variety of heroes (though that said, with a perfectly average win ratio of around 50%), I’ve at last unlocked the Competitive mode which now means that hopefully I get to play with people who take the matches a little more seriously.
(And no, I’m not quite sure why this matters to me all of a sudden).
So, carefully tallying all those casually dropped figures amounts to about 530 hours spent playing games on my Xbox One, or roughly 22 full days if you prefer it more harshly put that way.
Right. No wonder my blogging has suffered more than just a little bit then! ;)
Most Xbox One games and apps don’t actually have a quit menu item any more. This usually isn’t a problem thanks to Xbox One’s clever way of handling game/app switching, allowing you to go out of a game to the dashboard to do something else, and then hop right back in at the exact point that you left off!
However, sometimes this clever system does go a little wrong (if you’ve left it for too long for example), and you jump back in only to find the game asking you to reconnect the controller and press ‘A’ to continue. Sadly for you though, this isn’t working, leaving you with a game that is stuck and no way of getting it to work again. (Remember, you can’t jump out to the dashboard and click on the game to relaunch it, as it will just switch to the frozen version currently in memory.
So, the ability to quit an active game is pretty important then. Unfortunately, the method of achieving this is not instantly apparent from Microsoft’s Xbox One UI, so after a little Google search, I’m jotting this down here so that I don’t forget.
To exit a game or app on the Xbox One, hit the middle Xbox button on your controller so that you are in the dashboard. Use the left stick to make sure that the large, central tile on the home page is highlighted (should have a white border around it), and once it is, tap the ‘Menu’ button (the small one marked with the tree stripes to the right above the Xbox button) to bring up a context menu. At the bottom of the menu you should spot the ‘Quit’ menu command.
Selecting that will shut down the currently active game, allowing you to start it up again from scratch.
Related Link: Xbox One
I upgraded relatively late from my PS2 to a Xbox 360, only picking one up in December 2009 – which coincidentally is still running strong. Similarly, it was only in 2012 (again December) that I finally signed up to Xbox Live Gold properly.
So with that sort of late adopter history to bear in mind, it made sense for me to hang back a bit for the Xbox One upgrade – and now a full year after it’s South African release, I found myself crippled with an severed tendon above the knee and at the beginning of December month – so naturally I ordered a Xbox One to keep me company!
Given the way that I play games, i.e. I buy, install, play, delete, I worked out that the 500GB version of the console will work just fine for me, and as such, spotted that Takealot were selling the FIFA 16 bundle console for R5,499.
Pleasingly, the delivery was pretty swift, and luckily for me, Ryan was on hand for a visit, meaning that he could set the thing up in the lounge while I dutifully watched from the chair that has been my prison for over a month now.
In all honestly, I’m kind of underwhelmed with the Xbox One experience – I guess I was just expected a much bigger jump in terms of speed, graphics and snappiness, but to be fair, the Xbox 360 had gotten pretty awesome towards the end of its duty, and so maybe I’m still a little blinded and can’t see just how awesome the new generation actually is.
That said, other than the exceedingly slow download/install speeds (a recognised problem for the console), it does everything that I want (even if it is not the prettiest of boxes to look at), and now thanks to the brilliant Xbox 360 backwards compatibility mode, I have a pretty decent library of games to tackle.
Oh, and the four free games a month courtesy of my Xbox Live Gold subscription helps as well.
Cool. As always, my username is CraigLotter, if you’re keen for a bit of FIFA 16 battling…
(I’m far too bad at shooters and fighting games to put out any sort of challenge on those fronts!)
2012 saw the release of the troubled Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning RPG game from Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, which despite some big names attached to it (R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane, Grant Kirkhope, Ken Rolston), and more than just a few high ranking review scores achieved on release, didn’t seem to get much traction with gamers.
It’s currently on sale from the XBOX store as a digital download for a mere R89, and as a lover of bargains I immediately grabbed it, seeing as it’s always been somewhat lurking on my list of games that I eventually need to get around to experience one day.
After downloading the game and booting it up, every time I tried to start a new game the XBOX would just hang and then completely freeze on the loading screen.
Annoying, but thankfully something that Google quickly turned up a cause for.
It turns out that if you buy the digital download version like I did, then you most definitely must NOT download the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Online Pass as well (it’s listed as being free on the main Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning page).
The digital download version already has this bundled in, and so if you install the standalone online pass – well let’s just say the system doesn’t really handle that at all very well!
To fix the issue is relatively simple – just delete the downloaded Online Pass.
To do this, from the main XBOX 360 dashboard, head to the Settings menu, select System, select Storage, and then pick Games and Apps. Scroll down to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and press A to enter the menu. Select the item marked House of Valor and delete it.
Fire up Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and voilà, you can happily start a new game, craft your hero, and proceed to slaughter monsters left, right and center!
Officially kicking off way back in July 2013, Microsoft’s Games with Gold programme has since then steadfastly been rewarding gamers who fork out their monthly XBOX Live subscription with two or more free games a month – a pretty decent reward in my book.
Some months are certainly better than others in terms of the free games being given away, but if you are an XBOX 360 owner with an active XBOX Live account in April 2015, then you’ve most definitely got some pretty decent freebies to look forward to!
(To be fair though, March 2015 was pretty damn good too – the superb Tomb Raider (2013) from Crystal Dynamics was available for the first half of the month, followed up by the excellent BioShock Infinite (2013) the latter!)
To celebrate the Games with Gold programme as a whole, Microsoft is giving away an unprecedented four free XBOX 360 titles for April, three AAA releases and one hit indie title.
This is the list as it stands right now:
The big 2015 Game Developers Conference (GDC) is currently on the go at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Legendary game creator, founder of the Final Fantasy series and later the Mistwalker game studio which produced such gems as Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey and The Last Story, Hironobu Sakaguchi is (deservedly) being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 15th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.
To mark this big achievement, Mistwalker is celebrating their boss’ big win by giving away free energy and items to all players of their current mobile gaming smash hit, Terra Battle (a personal favourite of mine at the moment).
You’ve got until 12 March 2015 to redeem this gift, so hurry up and launch Terra Battle, go to Options and click on Enter Gift Code. Enter the case sensitive gift code cyrkrnHAjfmjYDYf and submit! (Needless to say, it is a one use only kind of thing.)
In return, you’ll be gifted with 5 energy, 2 animations and 10 serenity shoots – just enough to upgrade Bahamut if you were lucky to snag him during his latest special arena appearance!
Related Link: Terra Battle on Google Play
I joined the XBOX 360 game quite late, purchasing my first (and only to date) XBOX 360 console back in December 2009. I very quickly purchased an official Microsoft Charge and Play rechargeable battery pack for my wireless XBOX 360 controller, and this evening as I was about to play some Gears of War 3 online co-op with Ryan, it became quickly apparent that my very long lived rechargeable battery pack has indeed now finally gone the way of the dodo.
I certainly can’t complain though. This battery pack was the power source for my primary controller for just short of five years, an achievement that for some or other reason makes me rather proud, not to mention the further bolstering of my faith in rather purchasing genuine manufacturer-produced add-ons instead of generics whenever possible.
However, that said, I am now in the need of a hasty replacement, and seeing as I’m pretty sure that my XBOX 360 will be upgraded to a new generation console sooner than later, this time around I don’t necessarily need a solution to last quite as long.
In other words, generic solution time.
A year ago (July 2013) my order with Loot.co.za for a Nitho Charge and Play Kit for the 360 was cancelled due to stock shortages, so I guess this time around I’ll need to hold thumbs that they can actually sell me something that they advertise on their site!
Finally. I like Microsoft’s Games with Gold initiative which rewards XBOX Live members with two free games every month. It certainly introduced me to a number of titles I might not otherwise have tried, and it definitely laid the groundwork for further digital game purchases from me.
However, it has more often than not felt like a very lacklustre, half-hearted baby brother to the way more exciting rival Sony’s PlayStation Plus programme, primarily because the free games given away by Microsoft are either ridiculously outdated, or deemed to be cop-outs thanks to their lighter Arcade status.
But all of a sudden Microsoft seems to really be taking it up a notch again. April 2014 Games with Gold saw the usual combo of an Arcade and AAA title release, the first being Deadlight (2012), followed by Hitman: Absolution (2012). May 2014 Games with Gold followed that good offering up with Dust: An Elysian Tail (2012), and the super silly but fun Saints Row: The Third (2011).
And now for June 2014 Games with Gold (in which XBOX One now also joins the party), Microsoft is giving away on the XBOX 360 platform three excellent titles: Dark Souls (2011), Charlie Murder (2013) [Arcade], and lastly, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (2011).
At this rate I might even become interested in gaming again!