Gaming On, Not Over, in 2016

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: Well, here we are a nice new shiny year. It’s that time of year where gamers reminisce about how good the past year’s games were and look longingly into the future at the games that are scheduled to grace our screens. 2015 was a pretty good year for me gaming-wise. While I didn’t play as many titles as prior years, the games I did play, for the most part, were pretty damn good. From Fallout 4 to Witcher 3, from Rise of the Tomb Raider to Forza 6, even the smaller indie games had some big hits like Ori and the Blind Forrest to Life is Strange. It’s fun to look back on all those games and think about how incredibly lucky we are to be part of gaming right now. Sure there are some things and practices that I may not agree with, but for the most part if we don’t like them we can leave them be.

I don’t want to start 2016 off with a negative article though, so let’s ignore all the bad stuff this week. Looking forward to the year to come in gaming of the games that we know about so far, what is the one game that pops to the front of the list that you are really excited to play? Obviously we don’t know all the games that are coming out this year, Bethesda showed us last year that we’ll never truly know all the games coming out during the year there will always be surprises. But are there any announced so far that have you really excited?

Nicholas: Perhaps this might surprise you but perhaps it is fairly obvious, but for me, the stand-out game that I’m most excited for in 2016 are the re-releases of Pokémon Red & Blue to mark the 20th anniversary of their release. I can still remember the day that I played Pokémon Blue at my cousin’s house some 19-20 years ago, and I was absolutely hooked from the get-go. I remember asking Mum to buy me my own copy when she picked me up that afternoon, and within the next week I had it to myself. Twenty years later and it’s still arguably one of my most loved franchises, and I’m really excited to play through the games that sparked such a massive fascination two decades ago.

How about you though? What’s the game you’re most looking forward to from the list that have been announced so far? To take it further, what is it about that particular game that you’re most excited for? To put a spin on it, perhaps the game can be something from 2015 that you just haven’t gotten around to starting yet?

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Andy: I do have a couple games from 2015 that I have yet to play. Most notably Rise of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but while I will play them in 2016 neither of them are at the top of my “Gotta Play” list. I am looking forward to a few games this year, but if I had to boil it down to the one game I would have to go with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. From the moment I first played Deus Ex: Human Revolution I was hooked, I loved the world, the ideas behind it and I really enjoyed the story. The funny thing about Human Revolution though, is somehow I did not know it was part of an existing series. I stumbled across it in the used games section at GameStop and liked the cover so I tried it. It turned out to be one of my favourite titles that year, so I am excited to go back to that world this summer.

The second game I am looking forward to, is just right around the corner with a February release date. That being Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. This is a game I never would have looked twice at, but the first one was put into the Vault as part of the EA Access subscription last year and I needed something new to play so I tried it. I am not the least bit ashamed to say that I loved every minute of it. I actually enjoyed it was more than I ever thought I would. The gameplay was fun, really easy to learn, quirky characters, well designed maps and it was something I didn’t have to invest a big chunk of time in per gaming session. It took a little bit to convince a couple friends to play it, but once they started it was even more fun. So, those two are probably the two games – so far – that I am really looking forward to playing.

Do you have any others that you’re really excited for? And to follow our pattern of talking about hype machines are there any games releasing this year that you want to get excited about, but have a weird feeling about so you are curbing your excitement for it? I can think of a game right off the top of my head that I want to be excited for, but I am just really apprehensive that it could be a flop and a victim of its own hype machine. What about you?

Nicholas: Certainly. As I scroll through the list of announced releases for 2016, one of the games I’m really looking forward to trying is DiRT Rally. It’s been a while since Codemasters made a proper rally game that wasn’t muddled with celebrity endorsements and OTT American themes, and this looks to change that. The feedback from gamers on the PC has been positive, so I’m hoping the console version translates the same. Assetto Corsa is another racing game I’m keen for, which is a simulator racer much like Project CARS. The coverage about it, again from PC gamers, has been positive, although I’m just hoping I see more longevity than PCARS did in my console. Aside from that, and for a bit of fun, the upcoming LEGO Marvel’s Avengers is on my radar too. I’ve always wanted to get into the LEGO franchise and I’m thinking this will be the title that I actually make that happen.

With regards to the hype machine, games I’m looking forward to but those I’m hoping don’t be a flop, the one which comes to mind immediately is the new Hitman title. I quite enjoyed Hitman: Absolution and I’m excited to have a new stealth game on my Xbox One, but what’s got me hung up is the episodic way that the publishers are releasing the game. You know my feelings on episodic content from my review of Minecraft: Story Mode, and while I’ll let it slide for small Telltale games, it’s not a business model that I’d like to see AAA franchises take.

So that’s some of the games I’m looking forward to this year. There are others like The Division and Deus Ex that I’d like to try too, but which aren’t ‘must have’ on my list right now. How about yourself? What games are you excited for, but somewhat hesitant about? Going further, are there any games which haven’t been announced that you’d like to see be released this year?

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Andy: For me, the one game that has been announced that I am excited for, but really worried about is The Division. As much as I want to jump onto the hype train and ride it to release, there is a voice in the back of my head that is screaming at me not to get too excited. They have already drastically cut down the size of the map and the number of Dark Zones. Then just last week they announced you wouldn’t be able to trade weapons. It’s now coming across as they hyped it up and are then slowly taking pieces away right before launch. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a graphics downgrade as well in the next couple weeks ala Watch_Dogs. I want to be wrong on that, I want to really like the game but in this case I am really tempering my expectations for it.

In regards to Hitman I have already moved on from it. I enjoyed Absolution as well, but no matter how hard I try I just cannot support a AAA title with a release schedule like they are trying to do with it. I will be one of the many gamers who will simply wait for a disc release with all the intended content on it and then decide if it warrants a purchase or not. The idea of purchasing a AAA game and not having any idea when the rest of the content will be released, or exactly what that content will include, just doesn’t work for me. I hope it’s not a success because if it is other developers/publishers will jump on that and we’ll be paying for full games without having the full title.

As for games that haven’t been announced yet, can I say Fallout 5 yet or is it too soon? OK, aside from that there are three games that I hope are announced/released this year. The first is one that is basically a give me type of pick. Forza Horizon 3, it seems like Turn 10 has fallen into a good release schedule for Forza games where they alternate between Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon. I loved FH2, especially the addition of the Bucket List challenges. The next two are from the same developer so I think only one of them will see 2016, but I would be pleasantly surprised if they both dropped. They would be Mafia 3 (which has been rumoured for a while now) and the next instalment in the Red Dead series.

We seem to be throwing the same question back and forth this week, which is pretty understanding given the topic at hand. So, I may as well keep the theme going. I assume there are a couple of games that you are hoping to hear are going to be released this year?

Nicholas: It’s interesting that you mention Forza Horizon 3. I really (read: really) loved the original Horizon, but the sequel seemed too same-y to me. If Turn10 release a FH3, which let’s face it, is going to happen, I’d like it to be different enough that it isn’t the same formula in a new location. I’d like to see a new street-racing title something akin to Juiced 3 perhaps. We’re seeing a steady drop of simulation titles and we aren’t short on arcade racers either, but it doesn’t feel like there are enough ‘street’ racing games, and that’s what I’d like to see this year. Need For Speed just didn’t hit the mark – it was too fast, too drifty, and not like the street racing games of the mid-2000s.

Moving away from street racers and shooters though, I’d love to see a new 3D Mario title. Dare I say I was disappointed with the release of Super Mario Maker, part because I don’t like games that I have to build myself, but mostly because it was another side-scroller. With some of the classic titles I’ve been playing on the Virtual Console, it’s made me think about Super Mario 64 and how I’d love to see another type of game for the Wii U. Perhaps I’m being ambitious if the NX is on its way, but I do want to see a new Mario game sooner rather than later.

So far we’ve been talking about games we’re either going to get or games we’d like to see, but how about if we go down a different route. So often we see hardware companies talk about new peripherals or software updates. Are there any dashboard changes/functionality that you’d like to see, or perhaps a piece of hardware that you’d like to see released in 2016 that would enhance your gaming experience?

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Andy: I swear I must be in the minority of gamers or something. Maybe it’s partly because I have gamed for so long that all these extra bells and whistles that are part of the gaming ‘experience’ now are lost on me. I am not an ‘app’ person on my gaming console, heck I don’t even use apps on my phone. I remember when I first saw there was an NHL app, and downloaded it thinking about how awesome it would be. I don’t think I ever loaded it up more than three times. I have the Netflix app on my Xbox One and think I have maybe watched three movies and the entire run of ‘Breaking Bad’. Other than that it takes up memory on my hard drive. I have the Hulu app as well and have watched one television show and then never used it again.

I am also part of the Xbox Preview Program where I get the new updates before everyone else. I find myself doing the “quests” and surveys about the new features and more often than not there is a question like, “How often do you think you’ll use this feature?” My answer is almost always “never” or “infrequently”. I guess if they are doing these updates and adding new features then some gamers are using them and benefitting from them – I’m just not one of them. It’s not to say they are bad additions, they are just things that I don’t need/want on my console.

When I bought my Xbox One it was purchased to – and I know this is shocking – play games. Period, that’s it, end of story. All I want is party chat so I can talk to my friends, an achievement tracker and a console that plays the games I want. I have that, so I’m happy. Heck, I even have the Kinect for my Xbox and the only thing I use that for is saying “Xbox On” “Xbox turn off” and “Xbox record that.” I also have the Xbox One Elite controller and think it is amazing, I seriously doubt I will ever use another controller. Beyond updates making the interface faster and more responsive, decreasing load times and refining the gaming experience I just can’t think of anything I would label as a must have. I think anything they add will just take up additional hard drive space on my console. If it doesn’t take away from my experience than I’m OK with whatever they add, I’m sure someone will appreciate it and use it. Those types of things just aren’t my cup of tea.

As we close out another award winning article, are there any features you’d like to see added to take your gaming experience up a notch or two? Or maybe even just a simple tweak or two of a feature that’s already there, but hasn’t realized its full potential yet? Sort of like Pokémon when you think about it. Any current features that need to evolve?

Nicholas: I’m very similar to you in that my console is used for playing games and DVDs only. I haven’t played online or been involved in a party chat since the release of Titanfall and I’m not sure I’ll do it again anytime soon. Much like the Xbox 360 and all the Nintendo consoles before it, gaming consoles have always been about playing games for me, and all those additional features might as well be missing as far as I’m concerned. Being a single-player gamer and not being interested in streaming, it does make all the changes and updates to the Dashboard seem very unnecessary.

All that said though, if there was one feature I’d like to have, and one that I’ve actually wanted, it’s the ability to stream music from a device like my mobile. All my songs are stored on my mobile and it would be great if I could Bluetooth or sync my Note 4 to my Xbox One and have the music playing in the background of whatever game I was playing. I liked how the functionality was there with the Xbox 360 (if it was saved on the HDD) and it’s a shame it wasn’t brought across and enhanced. Going further though, if this was implemented I’d like for games to be smart enough to cut the music off in-between cut-scenes or when there was some dialogue happening from a narrator (that is, whenever in-game music would usually be droned or cut out). I just felt like that was the only thing missing from the Xbox 360 functionality.

We’ve spoken so many times about how 2015 was a great year for gaming, and I’m confident 2016 will be the same. Here’s hoping I enjoy Pokémon Blue in a few weeks’ time as much as I did 20 years ago, and I’m hoping the new Deus Ex is as great, if not greater, than Human Revolution. Here’s to the next eleven months ahead!

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.