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
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!
This post is going up for the express purpose of appearing on my Facebook feed and thus appearing in the timelines of the people that I play FIFA with, in an effort to goad them just a little and in so doing, action our next FIFA with the Boys night.
This picture in particular will help with that goading goal:
In reality, we have played very little FIFA this year, and had even fewer FIFA evenings to boot, though in retrospect I have had a particularly good year in terms of palming in at least one trophy per get together. Not bad at all, and annoying enough to the others to legitimately paint a large target on my back. (Activity like this blog post, doesn’t help either :P)
While we are still playing FIFA 15 on the XBOX 360 for our evenings, there has been a shift in our play location, eschewing Ryan Lotter’s bachelor pad in favour of newcomer Michael Garret’s comfortable setup. Ryan is also playing less with us than before, with the slack being picked up by a capable Kurt Lehner – who is more than able to bag a trophy on the night if needs be:
(Note my inclusion in this winner’s photo once again).
Damen Oosthuizen still joins us whenever he can, Dean Stapelberg is a rarity (Karl-Heinz Storbeck even more so), and Evan Granger and Michael Garret continue their quest to actually win a trophy and not lose out by a single point or technicality as the case has been the last couple of evenings. (Terrance Brown for some inexplicable reason still refuses to fly down from Japan and join us for a game night)
The FIFA evening themselves continue their epic form in terms of length – we usually start around 19:00 and play straight through to 00:00 – ridiculous if you consider that I then still have to drive back to Gordon’s Bay and work the next day. Still, I am rather enjoying my victorious streak at the moment…
(There, job done. I now eagerly look forward to checking my inbox come Monday morning!)
So a couple of days ago I bragged about how I had snagged both trophies in our final FIFA boys night of 2014, going even so far as to let the competition know that I was now in serious practice mode – not to mention the fact that I then went right ahead and called them out for yet another session.
As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait…
One of the very first things to happen at Emily’s awesome birthday pool party on Sunday was the boys getting together and deciding that a FIFA night was to be held the very next evening, at Ryan’s pad, usual scoring rules apply. Heck, even Dean was on the cards for the night, and so come Monday evening I found myself driving straight through to Bellville following a stint in the Westlake office for the day.
Ryan whipped up some Sloppy Joes for supper, and then it was on to FIFA, with just enough time for the two of us to get in a moment’s practice before the rest of the horde started falling in. Dean, Damen, Evan, Ryan and myself made five, and so after some complicated tables and match-ups were planned and jotted down, it was down to the business of kicking a virtual ball around and scoring as many points as possible! (Without appearing overly selfish of course).
Amazingly, despite not having played FIFA in absolute years, Dean held his own, and was certainly not the dead weight that we all had imagined he would be – in fact, pretty much all but two games were particularly tight on the evening, and rivalries were pretty fierce right from the get go!
We finished up just after 23:00, well before we usually call things quits on nights like these (but hey, Sunday had been a long day and the wives were naturally a bit antsy of the short notice), and after a quick tally (no really, it was pretty quick thanks to my awesome tables), I revealed that I had in fact NOT retained both trophies despite all my prior bragging – in the end, Ryan once again scooping up the award for the player with the most win points (but by a really narrow margin), meaning no more glorious trophy for me.
However, not all was lost for me, as in the end I did walk away with the trophy for scoring the most goals on the night – only made possible by the final (and very one-sided) match where Evan and I defeated Damen and Dean by five goals to zero, four of which were scored by me. Those four were all that I needed to take the lead and thus walk away with the night’s Golden Boot! (Ryan was shattered – up until that point he had looked a sure bet to take home both trophies on the night!)
There was some controversy (we didn’t score one of Ryan’s goals on the basis of too much of a deflection – change of direction – that caused the keeper to miss the ball), many tight, tight matches (i.e. lots of edge of couch, dripping in sweat, tension), and of course, some fantastically worked goals – all in all making for yet another excellent night of FIFA on the Xbox!
My only regret? That none of my training seemed to make one damn ounce of a difference on the night! Sigh, back to the drawing board then…
I have to say, I’m thoroughly loved the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Whilst I certainly enjoyed the 2010 edition back in our own backyard, last year’s edition in Brazil seemed to be nothing but continued improvement upon improvement over the 2010 version. Exciting goal line technology, cool little innovations like the referee’s temporary line spray, and of course the SUPER exciting football itself!
So many big upsets, so many goals, and so, so many spectacular pieces of football mastery on display – plus, a very deserved Germany walking away as the ultimate champs!
Of course, watching the football over this period came with its own unique challenges: If I wasn’t away on a weekend out in Piekenierskloof, then this would happen whilst trying to watch the footie in my lounge…
Needless to say, Chantelle was rather pleased when the month of soccer was FINALLY over!
Somewhat related, 2014 also saw a lot of FIFA on the XBOX 360 take place, with a more or less formalized competition now in place for the likes of Evan, Damen, Ryan and myself. I’ve masterfully converted some old karate trophies into stunning football trophies, and every so often the guys will get together at Ryan’s place (being a bachelor has its perks), throw in some snacks, and battle it out in a two-on-two rotational basis which sees us recording points for every win and every goal scored.
Although I showed some early promise in the year, the damn trophies remained completely out of my grasp for absolute ages, with Ryan, Evan and Damen all taking turns in holding the trophies aloft and basking in the glory and bragging rights that comes with coming out on top after a long evening of digital ball kicking.
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However, my luck did eventually turn on the very last FIFA gathering for 2014 before everyone split off on their holidays, when I managed to capture not one, but BOTH trophies on the night! (Moment immortalized below – you can see that I take better photos with my camera than what Evan does…)
Anyway, for the longest time we’ve been sticking it out with FIFA 13 on the XBOX 360, but towards the end of last year Ryan picked up the new FIFA 15, prompting me to also pick it up a little while later (on a nice half price Christmas deal that XBOX Live was having). I know the new version of EA’s venerable football franchise totally kicks ass on the new generation XBOX One consoles, but seeing as that isn’t going to happen for quite a while in my household (not unless some money falls out the sky anyway), the updated team rosters, tweaked game play, AI, and animations will suffice on the 360 for now.
Some aspects of the new version do annoy me though – like the all too often messy scrambles initiated by silly ball physics – but overall FIFA 15 is a solid play and I have to say, I’m enjoying my season managing Norwich City in the Championship (top of the table baby!).
Of course, Ryan, Evan and Damen could construe this as practicing and thus call me out for cheating, but hey, I have to do what I have to do in order to retain those trophies! ;)
Now the challenge for this year I guess is to expand our group and get a few more faces involved.
Karl-Heinz, Dean, I’m looking at you…
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!
Please note that this item has since been sold and is no longer available for purchase.
Brand new, unused (though once opened out of curiosity. The game seal hasn’t been broken yet in case you’re wondering – I just wanted to see what was in the box) Skylanders Swap Force Starter Pack for sale.
I’m too old to make use of this and my daughter is too young, meaning it is just lying there and taking up space in my already cramped man-cave.
The box contains the XBOX Skylanders video game, a character poster, a Portal of Power, trading cards, sticker sheets, and of course 3 Skylander figurines, namely Blast Zone, Wash Buckler and Ninja Stealth Elf.
A great gift for kids, especially considering that we’re heading into Holiday season when these little people of ours need to be entertained! The stores are all currently retailing this one from anything between R750 and R900 (check Musica or Takealot.com if you don’t believe me) – but R450 will do the trick nicely for me to part ways with my copy.
Let me know if you’re interested. I can arrange for pick up points in Gordon’s Bay, Bellville or Westlake Business Park in Tokai.