Nobody likes the Nintendo Switch Online Service, so why do journos keep recommending it?

I’m not the type of person to rant about “ethics in game journalism” but it’s hard to avoid that the field is uncomfortably cosy with the industry, even compared to other types of enthusiast press. Most problems come down to an understandable bias; games journalists like games, and like their jobs. Nobody gets into playing, or writing about games, just to spend all day ripping things apart. Then there’s a professional bubble, in which buying, reviewing, and playing games for a living can create a disconnect from an ordinary consumer.  However, compared to other enthusiast press like home audio or photography, you’re less likely to find a thorough conversation about value in the gaming press.

The industry, and the press, have long recognised and benefitted from cultivating gaming as an identity, far beyond just a hobby, and while this came back to bite everyone on the ass with Gamergate, there are legitimate ethical implications in building a press that exists predominantly to enable and further PR hype. While journalists are often excellent at keeping the ad-men out of the room when reviewing the games themselves, wider industry practice is too often accepted uncritically. This is why I’ve found the coverage of Nintendo’s new Online Service to be so concerning.

Switch Online Logo

Paid online for consoles isn’t new. Microsoft made in mainstream on the original Xbox in 2002, with Sony joining two generations later for Playstation 4. Locking online play behind a paywall has always been a controversial choice, but a lucrative money spinner. Over the years Sony and Microsoft have eased the discomfort of the paywall by adding free games into the mix, with occasional new titles among old classics, or hidden gems that didn’t sell that well the first time around. While the Nintendo Switch has been working for over a year without a paid online service, as of this week, playing online on Switch requires a membership also.

Nintendo enters a market where its competitors were already seen as opportunistic but tolerable, with a lacklustre and lazy offering that nobody seems to actually like. This isn’t just my opinion; most reviewers covering the service express disappointment with its offered features, and frustration at their implementation.

So why are they recommending it?

Nintendo Switch Online Pricing

Let’s take just one of the most controversial aspects of the service, cloud saves. (Though, I would like to add, please read these reviews, and other coverage for yourself. The response has been similarly glum for the whole package.) Without paying Nintendo, the Switch has no way to back up save data. Coughing up cash unlocks cloud saves for some games, and if your  subscription lapses those saves are immediately deleted. Bye-Bye Breath of the Wild shrines.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well. The Metro describes this as “rubbing salt in the wound”, or put most evocatively by Tom’s Guide which stated;

“Saving to the cloud is certainly a major highlight of this service, but it really shouldn’t be. Nintendo is basically kidnapping your cloud saves and asking for ransom money in order to bring them back home safely. Keep in mind that this is also the case if you own a microSD card, as you still cannot back up data to that. And what’s worse is that the company is going to ask for that money every subscription cycle, and if you don’t pay up, your saves are as good as dead.”

Seems equivocal, right? I’d recommend reading the Tom’s Guide review, by the way, which is damning in its criticism of almost every aspect of the service, and then ends like this.

“Despite my burning complaints, Nintendo Switch Online is absolutely worth the $20 per year. Even if you don’t plan to play online, the ability to back up your data is incredibly important to your well-being. I’m not taking the chance that my Switch or game cartridge will drop dead one day, erasing all 160 hours of gameplay on my Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild save. Plus, the opportunity to play classic NES is quite appealing.

What Switch Online really has going for it right now is its price, as $20 for a year is a third of the price that competitors charge. Although it offers only a third of the content as competitors do right now, that may change once Nintendo works out the kinks.”

Nintendo Switch Online Free NES games

This is a common conclusion, overall a feeling a disappointment and a forced hand, but a recommendation because *shrug* waddayagunnado. And the only justification for this seems to be that Nintendo is pricing their service cheaper. In fact, not one review I read could come up with a better reason for jumping into the Switch’s online service beyond “the Switch REALLY needs a save backup system and this is the only way to get one” and “it costs less than Microsoft or Sony.”

And worse than that, are the outlets that are silent on the quality of the service almost entirely, saving their only coverage for drooling over the exclusive (and pricey) NES joy-cons, or showing gameplay of the virtual console titles. For these sites, the existence of Nintendo’s service means nothing except new content to produce.  

I think this is a problem.

What Nintendo has introduced here is a bad product. Nobody wants to buy it, none of the reviews I can find seem to express any genuine enthusiasm for it, and the only feature is offers that didn’t exist in Switch already, most people feel should exist in some form for free. This is all made worse by the fact that it has launched a year into the console’s life cycle meaning the entire service is based on taking things away, not adding to them.

The value of the service can not, and should not be assessed based on its relative price to Xbox Gold or Playstation Plus, it needs to be assessed on its own value, what it offers to Switch owners and Nintendo customers who are not, necessarily, Sony or Microsoft’s customers. It needs to be assessed without entering the presupposition that this service needs to exist, will exist, and that we are all inevitable its customers.

This is not an unavoidable problem. The PC gaming market reviews, and criticises intrusive DRM decisions, the Home Video press has been critical, over the years, of over abundant streaming services, poorly implemented digital copy services, or controversial advertising schemes in blu-ray players. Games don’t need to just be a platform for free marketing, they can take a stand, this might be the time to do it. I’m not suggesting all journos down tools and refuse to cover multiplayer Nintendo titles, but going forward, perhaps more critical assessment of the service’s value, and wether or not individual games justify the monthly cost. Anything other than the fatalistic coverage that sees Nintendo’s service as a done deal we just have to get used to.

We are faced with a problem now, while the gaming press is comfortable criticising games it will not extend its critical faculties to wider industry practices, and Nintendo is benefitting from a widespread decision to treat their online service as if it is an inevitability. This is bad for consumers, bad for the press, and if the Nintendo Switch Online Service ends up being as unpopular with customers as it seems to be for journalists, probably quite bad for Nintendo.

Lego Worlds – Seven Days Later

I’m still not ready to review Lego Worlds, I’ve been playing it for seven days straight, and I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface. (Normally this would sound like a good thing, but if you’d read my first impressions of Lego Worlds, you’d see I find the surface to be deeply flawed.) I promised myself I’d stick with the game until I unlocked the 100 gold bricks that unlock world creation, and so I will, but in the meantime it’s hard to forget how divided I am over the experience still.

I still hate the early game grind for gold bricks, but I blame myself a little more than I did last week. What seemed, at first, to be a ridiculous restriction nobody in their right mind could like, feels a little bit more subjective now. I’ve been streaming the game, so there are times I’ve had to force myself to stop hunting for gold bricks just because the audience is getting a little tired of it. In those moments the game starts to feel more fun. The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back.

The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back. Anyone can, if that like, stop and build in the Worlds you find. Questing isn’t essential unless you want to randomly find larger planets. I continue to believe the game disincentivises building, and presents a structured experience that isn’t reflective of the main body of the game, but it’s partly my own failing that I feel so uncomfortable removing myself from that structure and working with what it gives me.

Lego Worlds Xbox One

My worry is still that unlocking 100 bricks will take so long that I’ll have sunk a good fifteen hours into the game before I get there. Spending all that time on a treasure hunt just to unlock a free-form crafting mode intended to be the game’s centrepiece feels like a colossal waste of time, and brings back that paranoid feeling that maybe I’m playing the game wrong which we all know is impossible, but feels like a more realistic fear here than in most other games I’ve played.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the joy I’ve found in unlocking new characters and vehicles. The items are mostly a bust, as the game’s inventory UI is atrocious, but finding new cars and skeletons and stuff to bounce around with captures that toybox feel the game is going for.

I’m still going to push for the 100 gold bricks first. I’m in the 70s now and it seems silly to stop the quest so close to completion, but I’m wondering if I couldn’t have found a more satisfying approach right from the start. At times I feel a little cheated by the game, like in its quest to offer freedom, it accidentally led me to believe I had this huge limitation, that isn’t really a limitation, and that I’m free to dive in whenever I like. Then I start to build and remember that until I can make my own worlds, these spaces are just temporary and I’ll soon be hopping to the next.

The game never discourages me, and it’s the path the tutorials sent me on… Who am I to argue. Anyway, that’s where I’m at with it right now. I’ve still got a lot of gold bricks to grind through before I can free things up, so for now I’m basically holding on to the hope that the game changes completely for me once I’ve unlocked that world creation.

I Started Making My First Game

As you guys know, I’ve been working with ClickTeam Fusion lately, and after trying to find some good tutorials, I’ve been taking more of a project approach. Making a game from scratch, and research example for the specific techniques of game mechanics I need. I’m already finding the experience more challenging (and liberating) than just following the rote tutorials, but it’s a very satisfying process.

It hasn’t taken long for me to have my first project to a stage where it’s a very basic game in its own right.

At the moment, I’ve given it the almost certainly taken moniker of TinyAdventure, and it’s incredibly basic. The player controls a top down little person with 8 directional movement, score accumulates until you die, and every seven seconds the game spawns an enemy blob at a random location. The blobs don’t currently do anything, but running into one three times means game over. The longer you play, the more the screen fills up. Once you die, you’re taken to a high-score table, where you can restart the game if you choose.

Like I said, basic, but all the elements are there. An open-ended structure, a goal to obtain the highest score, a lose condition, some element of saving one’s progress, and the ability to start again. What I want to do now is iterate gradually, by playing the game and seeing what feels unsatisfying and add things one at a time. Immediately, the biggest problem is obvious. The game is incredibly easy and can last for ages without the player ever moving. I’d like to change this by adding blobs that pursue the player next. That would already be a dramatic change.

If you’d like to try the game, it should run on most versions of Windows and there’s a link here:

Let me know what you think!

Lego Worlds Is Kind of A Mess

Lego Worlds seems like a no-brainer. Everyone loves Minecraft, Minecraft is a bit like Lego, make a Lego game a bit like Minecraft and watch the dollars roll in! Except I’ve been playing it for a couple of hours now, and it feels like a directionless sprawl of empty content. I’m going to stick with it and give it time to grow on me, but here are the current concerns I’m having.

Creating your own world is locked behind a HUGE progress wall.

This is the biggest issue. Lego Worlds is, at its core, a procedurally generated construction game. Picking a seed and generating a random world and then setting out to shape it is fundamental to the genre, but for some reason, Lego Worlds places this central feature behind a sort of loose, randomly generated campaign to collect Golden Bricks. You don’t get to just make a game of your choosing from scratch until you get 100 golden bricks. I’ve been playing for a few hours now, and I have 20. Assuming this pace continues, one would need to play Lego Worlds for the length of some games’ entire campaigns just to unlock the ability to make your own worlds.

Prior to this, you have to gradually unlock larger and larger procedurally generated worlds that will usually be conceived around a theme (Junkyard area or Prehistoric, for example.) Each of these worlds will feature quests you need to undertake to get your precious Gold Bricks. Which leads me to my next point…

Gameplay prior to finding 100 Gold Bricks neither requires nor rewards, creative building.

Sure, there’s plenty of game to play before you can create your own worlds, and as you unlock larger maps the variety increases. A play could easily just plant themselves on a map they like and go at it. The problem with this is that free building on one of the maps the game makes for you means getting off the road to progression and delaying unlocking future features. It also goes against what the game itself seems to be pushing you to do; unlock new tools, get new gold bricks, rank up. You can start using your skills immediately, but it means consciously taking yourself out of the gameplay loop established. It’s awkward and the knowledge that you’re prolonging your stay in a limbo between tutorial level and full access to the game’s features is a miserable experience.

Worse still, none of the quests needed to progress really require much building. Occasionally you will be asked and encouraged to build something creative to progress but more often than not most quests for bricks involve leading a bunch of cows to a lonely woodsman or give monkeys fruit until they cough up the bling. You can hunt down chests or more lucrative quests, but progressing faster means hopping from world to world, leaving behind any builds, and reinforcing the idea that each world is essentially transitory and unimportant. You never really feel like you inhabit any of these spaces.

Ultimately you’re left with the worrying question of who would like this setup? People who want to build will feel frustrated and delayed. People who like the early gameplay loop are investing all their early game time into unlocking a game mode that abandons this structure. It feels symptomatic of a game that wanted to be one thing but decided very late in the show that it needed to be something else.

Even if you choose to build, you won’t have a lot of bricks for a while.

You can build brick by brick as soon as you finish the first tutorials. Technically it is possible to let loose and build away, even if you don’t find the game’s progression structure and limited early worlds off-putting. You probably won’t be building too much of interest, however, because the early selection of bricks is incredibly small, and quite an odd arsenal. You are given, for example, a smooth circular tile, but no variety of decent sized rectangular bricks. If you’d like more, you need to find them by hunting down little monsters who appear randomly, or by finding hidden chests. Doing so will allow you to unlock the vast array of Lego bricks available in this game… one at a time.

It’s a baffling choice that seems to conflict with everything the game sells itself on and is totally at odds with the more limited early levels. Restricting space might make sense, restricting bricks might too, restricting both leaves you scratching your head, wondering exactly what fun develop Traveller’s Tales expects anyone to have.

It has Minecraft stuff in it… but in a really half arsed sort of way.

TT shouldn’t need to pretend Minecraft has had an influence here, we’re seeing Mojang’s monster influence all kinds of established franchises lately. (See Dragon Quest Builders, another game that tried to be Minecraft but not enough.) It’s hard to move into the Procedurally Generated Construction genre without addressing the comparison, but Lego Worlds feels like a game that started off a lot more like Minecraft and then got scared at the last minute. I didn’t play it in early access, but the word was it started much more like Minecraft’s creative mode and received complaints that the game was too empty, like it was just a big toy box.

Throughout the game, however, there are design choices I like to call “Like Minecraft, but pointless.” My favourite examples are the Skeletons and Zombies that pop up on certain worlds at night. They’re here, just like Minecraft they spawn in once the sun goes down and attack, and just like Minecraft you can get a variety of equipment to take them down easier. Except there’s no wider goal.

Mobs in Minecraft force you to adapt to the day and night cycle. You’ll need food to heal, shelter to protect yourself from the monsters, a bed to sleep through the night, and armour to keep going. You are in the world, and if you die, you might lose some progress. Monsters might always destroy your home or interrupt a vital build that will make the next day more difficult.

Lego Worlds has no continuous presence. If a world has too many skeletons at night, I can hop to the next one. Or I can just run around in a circle faster than them and do all my quests at that speed. Who cares, I’ll never need to stop and eat or work. Worlds isn’t a survival game, and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it seems to think it should be. As if “be a bit like Minecraft” was such a brilliant guiding philosophy that pinching the night-spawning mobs works even with the rest of the survival mechanics. I guess that brings me to my final point…

It’s a good core game but feels very insecure about itself.

I like the game… a bit. I know I just rambled on about everything frustrating, but it’s hard to put it down and hate the game. It’s well polished, it feels like a big budget title even if it’s lacking on content, but for every positive, there’s a great big negative that seems to have come from a publisher anxiety.

Lego Worlds wants to be the next big Sandbox game, it wants to take the Lego name and make it as associated with creativity in video games as it is in toys, and it had an engine that is almost good enough to do that. Then, step by step, feature by feature, layer by layer, it works to lead you away from this vision. Tries to squeeze over a tight and agonisingly dull structure that seems more like Little Big Planet than Lego. It wants you to hop from little one self-contained bubble to another, sharing little builds and swapping bricks. Not necessarily a bad structure, but a poorly executed one, that comes at the expense of everything Worlds does right.

But Little Big Planet was never very successful, and never really very much fun.


What 2016’s Doom and Batman: Arkham Asylum Have In Common

The latest entry in the Doom franchise was a critical and commercial success last year, bringing the series back to its roots for a lot of the die-hard fans who weren’t as sold on Doom 3. It’s easy to see why, with its focus on pressing forward, and fluid gameplay that felt almost like an arcade game at times, Doom took the best of modern design and augmented it with a core of solid, mechanics driven play. It’s a violent, exhilarating experience, where you’re likely to be attacked repeatedly by rooms crammed full of demons ready to tear you apart. It should be overwhelming, frustrating, hard to stay on top of, but it never is. And I suspect Batman: Arkham Asylum is the reason why.

The Arkham series is about as far from Doom as you can get, the games are very story driven, thematic experiences, that deal more with psychology, character, and set pieces. Arkham Asylum is probably one of the strongest video game narratives in the modern era. But I want to talk about the Free Flow Combat System.

Free flow Combat System

Free Flow was introduced in Asylum and while it has been copied elsewhere, it’s only the Arkham games that seem to have a good feel for it.

Oh, and it’s sort of amazing.

See, the crux of combat in these games is that Batman needs to feel like a martial arts master capable of taking on five, maybe even ten guys, at once and without breaking a sweat. The problem with that is how to give the character this proficiency without expecting the same proficiency from the player. You could just make the goons go down really easily, but that wouldn’t be satisfying. Enter, Free Flow.

At its core, Free Flow is insultingly simple. One button to attack, one button to counter. Hit the attack button and Batman will trigger an move, wait until the game signals an incoming punch and hit counter. Follow these simple rules and, until pretty late into the game, most encounters will be solvable. Even the weakest players can master two buttons. But embrace the combat system and you find a world of flexibility that encourages you to think about fight differently. The goal is not to pull off the most intricate individual moves, but to plan how you’re going to string those moves together, and win the fight in the most incredible ways.

As you progress, Batman’s gadgets will get added to your combat arsenal, with each accessible from a simple quick-fire button; as your variety increases, the elaborate possibilities of the fight do too. What starts as a game of punch and counter soon becomes a rush to plot out a string of devastating moves. Punch, counter, stun, plant explosives, punch, dodge, detonate explosives, grapple enemy, throw batarang, finishing move. The game encourages you to approach each fight like a routine, winning isn’t up for debate, you’re Batman! What matters is how quickly, or cleverly can you do it. The more variety you throw in, the more XP you’ll claim at the end.

So what has this to do with Doom?

Well, Doom kinda does the same thing. Things are tweaked a little differently, of course, this isn’t a martial arts, super-hero game; the game wants to give the player a feeling of pure brutality. A lone super-soldier prepared to mow through these demons. And mow he does. While Doom is a shooter, melee executions play a huge part of the game. The marine will be surrounded by enemies in little arenas throughout the campaign, he will then be encouraged to hot swap weapons, take them out phase by phase, and stay alive. Health is scarce. It should be difficult, but play up to the mechanics and a familiar flow starts to emerge.

doom 2016 screenshots

Every time you weaken an enemy enough to stagger them, they become susceptible to an execution, performing the execution makes them drop health, you’ll need this health to survive the trickier waves. You’re surrounded by enemies, some tough, some weak, but focusing on the toughest enemy is rarely the best strategy. Often better results can be found by planning a route through demons, take out some mid-strength foes with a half decent gun, execute a tiny imp or two for health and ammo, aim your big guns at the biggest demon and if it damages you, harvest a few more imps. Like the Free Flow combat system, rarely is a battle in Doom about thinking about taking down one enemy, or firing the best gun until something dies. It’s about planning a path from one foe to the next, using mechanics intended to preserve the flow of the fight.

The two games doesn’t have much else in common, but this approach to combat is something I’d like to see more games try.

If you know any other games with similar systems I could add to this, leave me a comment. I’d love to know about them!

The more games become my job, the less I play.

I wanted to play Uncharted 4 today and didn’t.

I might still, the day isn’t over yet, but I probably won’t. I’m recording Uncharted 4 for the channel right now. It’s my first time through, I’d probably have finished it by now, but I’m clearing an hour at a time, chapter by chapter because I’m doing it for the channel. Playing Uncharted 4 means getting out the little PVR Rocket, clearing the USB stick, turning of the PS4’s HDCP protection so I can get a picture etc. etc. etc.

I’m loving Uncharted 4. It might be my favourite entry in a series I love, but playing it for the channel is so different to just sticking it on and vegetating to Nathan Drake’s dreamy blue eyes. Commentating, making sure the footage is still recording, making sure I sound clear; it’s all work. Not very hard work, but work all the same. Playing a game I love for a few hours leaves me feeling refreshed and relaxed, recording leaves me drained.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and I love running the Youtube channel, but it’s strange how easily your hobby becomes your work. I try to hit three big streams or uploads per day, once that’s done, who wants to spend more time staring at a screen? Playing for fun takes place strictly between sessions of playing for serious, which is still fun, but not as fun as the other kind of fun play that I mentioned before.

It’s a good thing in a way. I set up the channel in the first place because I was spending too much money on games that were either consuming all my time so nothing really got done, or sitting on shelves unplayed. By making my hobby my work, I’ve really turned my life around, but I sort of lost my hobby in the process. I’ve had to actively pursue other hobbies. Netflix is a blessing. But youtube isn’t the sort of job that lends itself well to this kind of life. I find myself perpetually in the mindset of the self employed. If I have time to watch three episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events, I probably had time to log in and stream a bit of Minecraft, if I can kick back and waste time brushing my teeth, surely I could be answering a few silly little YT comments.

Working with games has made me a workaholic…

Well, except for the money.

And it’s not like I can kick the hobby completely, enjoy games only in my little circle of work and learn to love Films instead. I need to be up to date, even my outdated little channel needs a new game every now and then. Even I need to be up on the conversation, Nintendo Switches and Playstation Pros.

It’s not really a complaint, I love what I do. I want to do it for the rest of my life. I’d like to say one day that entertaining people pays the rent. I sit and I think about that and really, truly, genuinely, and uniquely sit back and think ‘there’s a job I’d feel satisfied to do’ and yet the deeper down this rabbit hole I get, the less I play. I spend time with games, sure… I have the controller in my hand for no less than five hours most days, but play?

I might never play again.

Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.



In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.


Star Wars VR mission At-AT


The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.


X-Wing Vr cockpit


Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.


VR cockpit Blockade Runner


Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.


Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission


If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.


Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR


At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.


Playstation VR Worlds – Review

If you’d like to see my review for the PSVR hardware itself, click here.

Playstation VR Worlds – Review

Playstation VR Worlds is an oddity. On the one hand, it’s the most well rounded and effective demo of the Playstation VR in the launch lineup, on the other, it’s exactly that… a demo. Or rather five demos, thematically distinct apart from their ability to show off a different style of VR game. The quality varies but the entire package represents the essential beginner’s guide to VR.

So why does Sony want more money for it?

Vr Worlds Shark Attack

The Games

VR Luge

VR Luge is the weakest of the bunch, embodying all the Playstation VR’s most prominent weaknesses in one package. You play a street-luge racer, hurtling down a mountain road through busy traffic, construction sites, and other perils. Steering with your head, your goal is to reach the bottom of the mountain in the best time possible. It sucks. Visually it’s just hideous, with low resolution visuals combining with fast paced action to make a blurry mess that feels anything but immersive. Steering is awkward and flimsy, running in to the cars is unpleasant in VR and the whole thing just feels flat and dull. Worse still, the underlying game is terrible. It promises multiple tracks, but most seem to be part of the same course with different start and end points chosen, like the project started as an early tech demo stretched to meet the definition of a game.

Danger Ball

Danger Ball is better, though still not the most immersive experience. It’s Pong, basically, but from a first person perspective. You tilt your head to move a paddle that is locked to the centre of your view and while a ball bounces between you and your opponent. Meanwhile, you’re set in a series of Tron-Style sci-fi environments that really steal the show. Danger Ball is a strong, arcade style action and pretty fun in short sessions but doesn’t have a lot of substance. The VR effect here is better, but still doesn’t lure you in much. You’re too focused on the game really, and while 3D in VR has been some of the best I’ve ever experienced, the ball still doesn’t really feel like it’s flying towards you . Worse still, if the game gets really vigorous it starts to take it’s toll on your neck. This is one of the stronger games in terms of pure gameplay and design, but it’s hard not to feel like this is an experience I’d rather not play in VR at all. The game would work just as well on a 2D TV.

London Heist

I’m torn on this one, it’s probably the strongest experience on the disc but the gameplay is limited. London Heist is ostensibly Sony’s stand in for the big budget, narrative driven, AAA shooter that they want on the platform. Still, it isn’t a complete game, but a twenty minute segment in which you’ll visit a short but fairly well written story about a diamond heist gone wrong, enjoy a few pretty absorbing shooting sections, and play with a few motion control sections where you get to really get your hands involved. It tries to show you everything, and to its credit most of the sections are really strong. I enjoyed the shooting a lot, even using the normal DualShock 4 to control. Holding the controller like a single pistol and turning the gun around in your hands gave me some of the most immersive moments in VR so far. Shooting is strong and well thought out, with a laser sight equipped at all times avoid a HUD crosshair. I also loved having to physically move yourself around objects to get a better shot; it might get tedious after a while, but for this little adventure it ever outstayed its welcome. London Heist persuaded me that the best VR games in the world and those in which you can see your hands, watch them respond to your movement, and feel like you’re directly controlling the world around you. It’s amazing how soon your brain adapts to what it’s seeing and starts to play along.

There are problems though; too much of it is sitting in a chair while characters talk at you, and often it can be a bit too “hey, you’re in VR” about it all. In one segment you’re supposed to be receiving your mission briefing, and meanwhile the guy talking is depositing enough trinkets on the table to stock a reasonably priced market stall. Each can be picked up and turned around, played with, and thrown about the room, which is fun and all but the effect is like being told “this is serious, stop and listen” while a man fills up a ball pool full of balls. London Heist might be the best entry on here, but it feels least like a product that deserves to exists separately from the hardware. It’s only purpose is to soft tutorial different ways of interacting with a VR world, to sell it separately shows a lack of understanding in the product, and what people expect from a retail game.

Scavenger’s Odyssey

Scavenger’s Odyssey is a decent enough concept that tries to fill another AAA game niche, but feels like it undermines VR more than it sells it. You pilot an armed mech that leaps from asteroid to asteroid, fighting bugs, and raiding wrecked spacecraft in environments evocative of Metroid Prime. It’s one of the longer titles on here, and can be pretty fun. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less immersive. Going in, I was excited. Like a lot of people I’ve long suspected cockpit and mech based VR games would be some of the strongest VR experiences due to the player’s seated position. For Savenger’s Odyssey at least, this isn’t true. Leaping from asteroids can be engrossing, or queasy, but the more mundane shooting and scavenging bits don’t feel immersive at all. Looking around the cockpit is great, but once you’re staring through the glass, the immersion drops the more you’re focused on the game. It’s another that feels like once the initial “wow” has faded, the game would be more fun on a TV. It’s designed well enough, though, and a lot of mythology and lore seems to have gone into the backstory just for this little experience.

Ocean Descent

I saved the best for last. This was the game that sold me on the PSVR, and I’m not even sure why. I never really wanted to descend in a shark cage or visit the bottom of the ocean, but from the minute I saw clips of reviewers at press events having their pants scared off by shark attacks, I was on board. It just looked like fun. And it is. It’s so fun.

Ocean Descent is the least interactive game on the disk. You have no controls, you do nothing to change the outcome of the experience. It is, in just about every way possible, a VR short movie. You are in a diving cage, a voice in your earpiece tells you that you’re part of a salvage crew here on a tip-off. They lower you into the ocean past a variety of wildlife, and then things take a turn for the worse. It really feels like a theme park ride, and yet it’s astonishingly real. The visuals are tight and clean, everything just looks so beautiful and when that cage drops, your stomach lurches. It’s just a shame it lacks any kind of hand tracking. Early builds of this game saw players equipped with a targeting gun for tagging salvage, a feature cut from the final release. I’d have liked something in its place. Being able to control my hands completes VR for me, I can see why it was cut when there’s really nothing for your hands to do, but I’d have still liked it there.  The only other problem is replayability. This is another short experience and you’re only going to want to do it a couple of times, once again it’s the kind of thing that makes so much sense on a free demo disc, and none on a paid product.

London Heist VR

In Conclusion

You can probably guess what I’m going to say, I’ve said it before many times, but…

Playstation VR Worlds should have been free. The experiences within it scream free-demo, they’re paced like that, they were shown completely to press at events like that, it’s what they exist for. The complete package is strong, with some duds, some solid games, and some really great experiences, but they’re all short single use adventures. Releasing them as a paid package feels like greed, or serious lack of judgement.

Technically they’re impressive, however, with all but VR Luge looking cleaner and more immersive than anyone else’s software right now. They do a great job of showing why the PSVR is quite so fantastic at doing what it does. And then it ends and you’re wondering what you spent your £30 on.

Why is 7 Days to Die so ugly on PS4?

As a Youtuber who falls reluctantly under the label of “Minecraft channel”, I’ve had 7 Days to Die recommended to me a lot. I’ve held back because I don’t really want to reinforce that label, and the market is so flooded with survival crafting zombie games it sort of feels like covering the existence of drinking water at this point. Still, it recently went on sale on the PS4 so I thought I’d check it out.

I like it. It might just be because this isn’t a genre I’ve spent much time with really, (I stream Minecraft every day but I draw the line there. When I’m done with Minecraft’s quota on the channel I put it away and play something else.) but I found myself really drawn in to the realist take on survival. This has always been my favourite part of Minecraft, and 7 Days to Die doesn’t prod as hard as We Happy Few did, so it has all been rather enjoyable. It’s hit and miss at times, the UI is a nightmare from hell, but the sophistication and intricacy of the gameplay grabbed me. I just don’t get why it looks so hideous.

7 Days to Die ps4 graphics

I know the game is procedurally generated, but it honestly looks a mess. Minecraft gets away with basic visuals because it has a complementary style, this aims for realism and undermines it any time you actually stop to look at anything. Character models are hideous, tools like like crap, digging the ground turns everything in a mess of muddy textures, the supposedly frightening Zombie enemies sometimes look like pre-bought assets lumbering around in different lighting to everything around them.

I know, I know, PC isn’t much better, but there’s a reason for that. It came out longer ago, it has to run on wider hardware while being procedurally generated, and on PC once you get the gameplay right, mods can fix the rest. The PS4 entry has had a long time to tighten things up, and it just feels like a cheap rush job. It’s a shame because I really want to like the game. I can see myself continuing to play it and really finding a lot of fun with it, but I’m going have to do that in spite of awful visuals and an interface that makes no attempts to help the player out.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a quick port of a budget game, but trying to play it on the PS4 just shows how cheap, frustrating, and unrefined everything feels. Like the developers thought “people bought it on PC, this’ll do fine” without ever taking into account just how much customers can fix later on a PC game. I never wanted to like a game so much that felt like it was refusing to meet me half way at all.

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch is a refreshing example of high production values and solid gameplay overcoming traditional expectations of what a big budget game should be. It features no in-game narrative, no single player worth mentioning, and aside from its large cast of characters, a relatively sparse amount of content, but it makes up for it with focus and a level of polish that makes you forget you’re playing the same selection of modes and maps over and over again. Even when you do notice, you’re having so much fun it’s not really an issue.

While fundamentally a multiplayer shooter, it borrows liberally from MOBAs, delivering an array of distinct characters that all feel unique and occasionally genre-breaking. Shooter fans will feel at home with gunslingers like McCree or Soldier 76, but might find ninja robot Genji or mad-bomber Junkrat to be a bit of an adjustment. There’s enough variety that most players will find a play style that suits them, and despite this range of approaches, balancing feels finely tuned and appropriate. Each character comes with a unique weapon, special skills, and a powerful ultimate attack, but no character has the best of everything; often you’re forced to choose between a weapon you really like and a devastating ultimate, but it always feels like a willing concession, not a compromise.

Lucio doing special attack

A big part of the fun comes not just from trying new skills, but after each death you’re treated to seeing exactly how someone downed you. It’s good for stealing strategies, as well as learning which skills you want to try next. Even after you’ve been playing a while it’s possible to see someone do something you hadn’t even thought of, sending you scurrying to the character select screen to give it a go. The game rewards this by incentivising all skills, not just kills. Handling objectives, healing damage, eve blocking damage, are all considered worthy of score at the end of the game, and as such the community at large seems less fixated on maintaining their Kill / Death ratio and actually on switching it up and having fun. There’s an experimental camaraderie to it all, and this cycle of charging ultimate attacks, forcing your enemies to change character, and changing your own in response, keeps every game a revolving door of changing tactics that can provide endless variety. Almost.

All this takes place in a series of fifteen maps that represent futuristic interpretations of real world cities, and seem ripped right out of a Pixar movie. They play a massive part in setting the scene, with little consistent details popping up over and over like hidden machinery, hover cars, and skyscrapers towering over historical buildings, hinting at a deeper lore, Blizzard has hidden away in short films and other merchandise. Each does a great job of showing off how colourful the game is, and disguising how samey the game modes can be. It’s great to zip up to the roof of a Buddhist temple and pick enemies out from below, or surprise someone from behind the British postbox, but most of the maps are basically linear zig-zag paths between two bases. Even the game modes are largely indistinguishable from one another, with heavy objective based modes that see you claiming and reclaiming control points until time runs down.

Reaper being Badass

Overwatch is the most fun I’ve had with an online shooter in years, but it’s hard to shake the feeling the content is a little thin on the ground. The character roster is huge and will take hours to play through properly, but once you’ve picked a character you can play most of the modes and maps in less than a day. The lack of single player or story don’t hurt a game that feels so well developed for multiplayer, but it does make it feel, on consoles at least, a little expensive compared to other big budget games offering the whole package. And yet, the experience is so addictive, and so well designed that it’s hard to really feel this complaints while you’re in the game, all you want to do is jump in for one more round.


Overwatch is a solid, and compelling multiplayer game that hides a sparse amount of content behind a huge roster of characters. It’s great fun and will keep you coming back for more, but after a few hours you’ll have seen everything there is, even if you’re still having a great time.