The original Bill & Ted is a cultural touchstone. I mean depending on who you talk to the insane second entry is right up there with it, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself! This series made its name re-inventing itself, and while the long-awaited third film is more of a mix of the two, it still stands on its own.
Bill & Ted Face the Music smartly doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or reboot the franchise. Instead, it twists us up: that hit single that the duo recorded at the end of the second film that was supposed to unite the universe? It didn’t take. Bill & Ted instead grew up and drifted further apart, and the events of this film tell the story of how they really became the saviors of the galaxy.
It turns out, that’s tough gig! Bill telling his dad that he totally “did go to heaven and hell and has a medieval wife” is hilarious, as is the idea that after all these years; Bill and Ted still aren’t famous. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter slip effortlessly into the roles, with the former deserving a special kind of praise (a lot of us weren’t sure Reeves, now a mega-star, had it in him to give his heart and soul to a slacker comedy, but he pulled it off).
Similarly, Samara Weaving and Bridgette Lundy-Paine, the daughters of Ted and Bill respectively, echo their fathers’ mannerisms perfectly. I know what you’re thinking: “ugh, the kids!” But Lundy-Paine and Weaving are accomplished actors and pull it off, with the script to support their antics. It’s rarely “laugh out loud” funny, but it’s frequently heartwarming and smile-worthy.
I also appreciate that Face the Music attempts (but not always succeeds at) to weave a bigger-picture narrative. You get to take a look at the other side of the universe that hasn’t been as fleshed out in the past, like the future storyline. Having Bill & Teds’ kids go on their own story to help their parents is lovely.
That said, there’s a lot of downtime. It’s never bad, per se, but even at an hour and a half the film could use some tighter editing. The ending in particular is extremely abrupt: a criticism that could extend to the entire final act. It does work in the end, but the script could have used another pass in terms of reworking the overall story. I would have been fine with the daughters traveling through time for the entire film: but that would have been more in spinoff territory than a lovingly-crafted sequel.
Bill and Ted (the characters) might be crass at times, but their message is universal and wholesome. It’s crazy to think that a film franchise that’s lasted roughly 30 years has three enjoyable entries. So many others have tried and failed to reboot themselves or become relevant for another generation, but Face the Music is true to itself: and comes out on top because of it.
Crusader Kings III is, at its heart, a game about family. Though you may manage a kingdom in the Middle Ages, be it in Europe, Africa, or Asia,, building up its economy and expanding your realm through conquest, the driving force is the dynasty that bears your name. Its bickering poets, diplomats, schemers, deviants, and idealists will vex, delight, and confound you as they make their own plots amidst your attempts to create a legacy for your house. They will ruin you. They will surprise you. And you will crush your neighbours, backstab your allies, and work your way through a complex political landscape in their name.
Because what Crusader Kings IIIexcels at, thanks to the myriad ways its systems interact with each other and a user interface that is easy to understand, is making you invested in the story of your family. No matter if you’re a count, raja, chieftain, or emperor, the journey you’ll experience will be well worth it.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to become enthralled in these stories. I would hesitate to say that Crusader Kings IIIis more accessible in comparison to its predecessor – the sheer number of things to keep track of and manage make it difficult to argue that. But it is much more usable, with a clean UI that highlights important information and a tutorial that, while dense, is paced well. Even if I don’t know how to activate a specific interaction or what a certain term or phrase means, I know where to look for it thanks to the exemplary work Paradox Development Studios has put in to make Crusader Kings III easier to grasp.
Again, however, that does not make it any less dense. The start of a game begins with choosing between two eras of play (867 and 1066) and then picking one of thousands of possible playable characters and houses that make up the world. Stretching from Iceland to Tibet, the map is massive and filled with counties, duchies, and kingdoms for you to play as and interact with. And while there are a few characters who the game recommends to play for your first time, it is far more interesting to pick one of the lesser nobles and start from scratch.
In the file where I spent most of my 75 hours playing,I started as a simple count – Count Guilhem of House Forez, based out of Lyon in the Kingdom of Lotharingia. With no wife, no children, and being in his early twenties, he was a solid starting point in my view. He was lustful, ambitious, and impatient, which are but three of the many traits that each individual character can have. Each of these traits provide various benefits and setbacks; for example, lustful increases Guilhem’s fertility, but is also considered a sin by Catholicism, so he will receive penalties to his religious interactions. Some traits are developed during childhood, others are unlocked through actions, but each plays a large part in determining how a character will react to others, as well as how they can respond to events.
Furthermore, each character can embody a lifestyle that gives experience to one of five categories – diplomacy, martial, stewardship, intrigue, and learning. Experience is earned monthly or through making certain decisions, and once you reach the threshold, you can unlock a skill from one of the skill trees that fall under each category. And each skill can dramatically alter how you play. Count Guilhem’s first skill improved construction times on buildings – as a result, I built far more things during his reign than his two successors combined.
More than just having skills for each individual character, each Dynasty can unlock traits that apply to the entire family provided they earn enough renown. Much like character skills, these traits fall into one of several categories, most of which fall in line with the five aforementioned skill trees. In the case of House Forez, I devoted myself to the Kin path, which places an emphasis on family and fertility. To be honest, I wanted my heirs to have lots of children, and considering my dynasty would go on to have over 400 living descendants in the year 1250, it was a worthy investment.
With skills and traits as a base, you can begin to interact with your neighbours and other characters. Count Guilhem is impatient, which means his patient king already dislikes him. Not an ideal way to start a relationship, so I decide to see if I can get a hook on the king to blackmail him by asking my spymaster to investigate. Hooks allow you to threaten or otherwise change the opinion of other characters should you discover their secret. Later in this game, I will discover one of my niece’s is a cannibal, and I will use that hook to blackmail her into paying higher taxes. But at the moment, my spymaster finds nothing. Instead, I set my sights on neighboring counties to see if any are up for the taking via a good old fashioned war.
Battles take place on the map with only a small animation depicting the two sides hitting each other. There are a large number of factors that determine the outcome of a fight, the simplest being who has more soldiers. But elements such as terrain, skill of the commanders, the overall quality of the troops, what types of soldiers are at your command, and many other aspects mean that it is possible for better positioned forces to overcome larger ones. The most important battles are also typically sieges, when you watch an enemy army slowly make their way towards the capital they’ve foolishly left unguarded.
Yet battles may also be the weakest part, which says more about the quality of the other systems in comparison to warfare. For example, it is difficult to control or direct allies in a war, regardless of whether you are its leader or a mere vassal, which makes it harder to pull off campaigns. Often, allies would target an unimportant barony or would neglect to assist in a battle I was fighting. It is merely adequate at this time, and it did instill in me a habit of neglecting allies as a result. Better to do the work yourself than wait on others’ erratic habits.
I also feel that how you raise an army is cheap and too open to abuse. When raised, soldiers gather at designated rally points which you create. The simplest soldiers, your levies, take time to form up, which is determined by how far the levies home is from the rally point. Your professional soldiers, be they mercenaries or men-at-arms, can form up instantly however. This means that you can disband an army in Jerusalem and have that group spawn in London with no time passing at all. I abused this regularly, and though it is effective, it is far too powerful of a strategic option and makes fighting multiple wars/revolts easy.
Jumping ahead a few centuries, House Forez has formed the Empire of Francia, and its current head, Empress Alda, is starting her own Christian faith. Creating this faith is intuitive, with a diverse set of options to choose from in how that faith will operate and its core tenets. Most importantly, I choose to make this faith more open to other religions so that I can quell the revolts in the Islamic counties that I obtained when I briefly travelled to Spain. Many of these counties will convert to the new faith – yet I could have just as easily crushed them through tyranny and military force rather than put up with them.
I will not list everything I could have done at this juncture, but the number of choices I could have made ensured that the one I did make felt important. Every action and choice had consequences, some more clearly defined than others, and they each served to build upon the story and legacy of this simple family that I picked on a whim early on. Crusader Kings III is built to tell these stories, and it’s fantastic in how it does so.
As fantastic as the story of House Forez has been, it has not been without some repetition. I routinely experienced the same events time and time again, sometimes while playing the same character. Feasts in particular are infamous for this, as there are only so many times where I can see two people fall out of a closet before it gets boring. My learned emperor acquired four pairs of eyeglasses to compensate for his failing eyesight over a ten year period. If you happen to play back to back characters who specialize in the same skill, say diplomacy for example, this is much more noticeable as certain events only occur in certain paths. There are a vast number of events in Crusader Kings III, yet I would all too frequently see the same ones pop up far more often.
Even with that repetition, Crusader Kings III still allowed me to create a memorable story around House Forez. What’s more, I know there is plenty more to do with other families and regions that will offer a very different experience. I already know playing as a tribal leader in Africa is an entirely new challenge in comparison to feudal Europe, just as playing as a clan of Muslims in Iberia is. India excited me in the brief hours I played, as did the Scandanavian raiders who I need to test out at some point. And there are a lot of unique events exclusive to playing female rulers that add yet another layer on top of the proceedings.
This is not even taking into account the number of parameters you can change before the game begins. Want to randomize the starting locations of every character? Done. Want to make society matriarchal? Easy. Want to make asexuality the most common sexuality in the world? There’s an option for that. If you want to get creative, you absolutely can.
And that’s ultimately what Crusader Kings III is; a game that excels at creating a story that will captivate you regardless of what kind of story you want to tell. It will surprise you all too often in how each system interacts with each other and how your neighbours and family respond to your actions. House Forez’ trials and tribulations will stay with me for some time, and I hope that those who play this will create a dynasty that is as memorable for them as this one was for me.
Facebook is reportedly notrebranding the entirety of Oculus to its Reality Label, according to tech writer Joe Parlock who received an email from the tech giant.
According to Parlock on Twitter, he claims Facebook had emailed him about keeping the Oculus tag for its first-party VR projects and products. Despite the reassurance, he continues questioning the source following the company’s announcement of Facebook Reality Labs, which overshadows the six-year-old VR brand after an acquisition in 2014. Since then, the VR department has maintained its presence and Oculus Studio tag across its Rift, Rift S and Quest exclusive titles.
The name will allegedly be staying under Facebook’s umbrella term for Reality Labs, with Oculus joining other names including Spark AR and Portal. But VR communities became confused following the announcement earlier this week, after renaming Connect into Facebook Connect and Medium into Adobe Medium.
VR users and long-time Oculus communities were also divided over Facebook’s login requirement for current and future Rift headsets, forcing first-time users to create a social media account with their platform in order to gain access. Founder Palmer Luckey earlier stated his earlier promises of an independent service would be kept, while it “would be lame” to always need a Facebook account for playing or creating Rift games. Those with existing Oculus accounts would get to use them until they are deactivated in 2023, while new headset owners would have to login with Facebook starting October 2020.
“Previously, FRL was the name given to our research division, which had historically been known as Oculus Research,” Facebook wrote in their latest rebranding news for Facebook Connect. “Our research teams have helped establish Facebook Reality Labs as a pioneer in the AR/VR space as we work to deliver the next computing platform.”
CGM has teamed up with No Straight Roads to give away some a two 12″ vinyl soundtracks and two digital codes for the OST. No Straight Roads is an action-adventure video game developed by Malaysian independent studio Metronomik and published by Sold Out Ltd. Play as an indie rock duo who battle an EDM empire to free Vinyl City from their control with the power of rock.
Horror-platforming sequel Little Nightmares 2 received an official 15-minute gameplay snippet from Tarsier Studios, continuing Six’s adventure from the perspective of a new character.
In its demo, players became Mono, a boy with a paper bag mask on a mysterious mission outside of the Maw. After navigating a dark forest and moving past traps, he also solved puzzles to help him continue. Like the original game, Little Nightmares 2 contains some unexpected running segments where players need to sprint and jump for their lives. But even though players from the first game escaped the Maw, bigger threats wait for Mono and Six in other places inhabited by giant, cannibalistic people. The demo showed off the Hunter, a shotgun-wielding enemy who sets traps for players.
Interestingly, the Little Nightmares 2 demo shows the player dying to encourage trial-and-error problem solving. Unlike the first game’s lack of frequent checkpoints, the sequel puts players back to recent obstacles for quicker completion. This was seen after Mono was snared by a trap, only to respawn moments later and use the environment around him to spring it before moving on. Mono then climbs into the home of the Hunter, where he finds Little Nightmares protagonist Six trapped in the basement. After freeing her with a nearby axe to the wall, she quickly runs out before becoming a companion for the rest of the game (This time, Six is without her signature yellow raincoat).
Little Nightmares 2 then uses the companionship for teamwork across a new set of puzzles along their journey. The demo showed Mono getting a boost to lift down switches for doors and other secret openings. But tensions rise up as a dropped ladder alerts The Hunter, whose footsteps get louder to tell players to get out of there. Both also have to use their strengths to push heavy objects and use them as platforms to escape. While Six cn take care of herself as an NPC, players as Mono still have to solve another puzzle in reuniting with her. These include finding ladders for her to use or giving her switches for safe passage (before she is captured or killed by incoming enemies).
The demo also gives viewers more lore behind the still-mysterious universe in Little Nightmares 2. Mono and Six travelled through a decrepit house, which used to be hosted by a now-decaying family at the dinner table. This sheds some light into an apocalyptic world in which humanity is divided into large, well-fed and resourced creatures and smaller but craftier survivors. Both Six and Mono are suggested to be children of the latter as they survive in this world.
Building from the first game’s stealth mechanic, players also have to be quiet behind larger enemies. But this sneaky plan is short-lived as Mono and Six take cover behind a shotgun. For the Hunter, players have to find cover as much as possible and take advantage of the game’s 2.5D mechanic to dodge one-hit shells. Players can also hide under canyons to escape the Hunter’s searchlight while Six can guide players in scripted moments. A new feature comes in holding Six’s hand as Mono guides her past enemies in tall grass. The pair also move slower, requiring players to plan out their escapes.
Little Nightmares 2 releases for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and the next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X sometime in February 2021.
It’s been a tough row to hoe for Microsoft lately. In the past few weeks alone they made the stunning eleventh-hour decision to delay their upcoming next-generation console’s de-facto exclusive launch title, Halo: Infinite from Holiday 2020 to a yet unknown date in 2021; they publicly admitted their failure thus far to bring Xbox Game Pass to iOS devices due to Apple’s App Store restrictions; and they had no answer whatsoever to yet more Series X/S controller leaks appearing in the retail wild that allegedly revealed the planned November release date for the Xbox Series X, potentially stealing what little marketing thunder the company might have left leading up to launch.
Amid all that noise, Microsoft seemed desperate to put out at least one positive announcement that no one was expecting. So in retrospect it made a lot of sense when Microsoft announced that its Project xCloud game streaming service (which has been in public preview since last October) would finally be coming to the Xbox Game Pass App for Android devices on September 15th, only to then turn around the following week and shadow-drop it immediately in the form of a new, limited beta, referred to as the “Xbox Game Pass (Beta) App”. Take note that his app should not be confused with the current live version of the Xbox Game Pass App, or the Xbox App, or the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) App, all of which are expected to be shut down in early September and replaced by this new app. It’s puzzling that Microsoft hadn’t already found a way to effectively simplify and merge them all into one streamlined app by now, but at the very least, integrating the nebulous and relatively new addition that is xCloud into an improved version of the Xbox Game Pass App is a good start, especially considering that the streaming service is now free-of-charge to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (XGPU) subscribers.
Full disclosure: despite my being a dyed-in-the-wool, old-school hardcore console gamer, the concept of game streaming for consoles has always been fascinating to me. I was there front-and-centre with my PlayStation Portable a decade ago when streaming the PS3’s dashboard (along with a handful of titles I had no interest in playing) to the PSP was a thing. I’ve re-bought several digital games on PlayStation 4 that I already own on Xbox One just to have the option to Remote Play them on my PS Vita while in bed. And you can bet that ever since Project xCloud’s Preview Program expanded into Canada for Android devices this past January, I’ve been opening up the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) App on my phone periodically to gauge how well the performance of Microsoft’s cloud gaming tech has been coming along. With the Preview app slated to be shut down in early September and xCloud now existing as part of a paid service however, the Xbox cloud gaming rubber has officially hit the road. So at this point it’s probably a fair question to ask: Does xCloud finally have the potential to be an effective tool in Microsoft’s arsenal against cloud gaming competitors like Google Stadia and PlayStation Now, or is it fated to be little more than a gimmick? In anticipation of the service’s September 15th launch date, I endeavored to find out.
It should be mentioned that in terms of overall appearance and functionality, not much is different in this beta version of the Xbox Game Pass App than in the current live version. They share a near-identical and newly streamlined interface which was recently overhauled in preparation for xCloud’s arrival, evoking a rounded-edge motif not dissimilar to the new Xbox Store on console. Popular games and important PSAs coming to the subscription service (such as the always prominent reminder of xCloud’s full roll-out in September) are still advertised in the large, side-scrollable top banner, and further down users can browse by games by genre or by categories such as “Most Popular”, “Recently Added”, “Leaving Soon”, or view the entire library. If you are so far down the Xbox Ecosystem rabbit hole that you care to enough to participate in Xbox Quests and collect Microsoft Rewards points, you’ll be relieved that the Quests section has also been retained. In the new beta version of the app, the xCloud games are accessed via a third, inconspicuous “Cloud” filter tab resting to the left of the “Console” and “PC” XCloud tabs, which of course filter out any games in the Xbox Game Pass library that are not available on those respective devices. Clicking on the Cloud tab will bring you to the selection of games that are currently available to stream (as of this writing only 38 of the over 100 titles available on Game Pass are streamable in the beta), and clicking on any title from there will take you that game’s individual tab, from where you can view details, screenshots and auto-playing trailers of the game, and most importantly, choose whether to remote-install the game to your home console or play it directly from xCloud.
The challenge of evaluating a cloud gaming service like xCloud is that in practice, there are many performance-impacting variables that lie outside of the control of the service provider, such as the speed and reliability of the customer’s internet or ISP, the customer’s hardware (e.g. modem and/or router), the streaming device’s proximity to the router, etc., so there’s always a chance that the following results were more due to factors on my end than on the part of Microsoft and xCloud. All that notwithstanding, for the purposes of this piece I strove to provide an environment that would give xCloud or any other game streaming service the best chance for success. Microsoft recommends a minimum internet connection speed of 5GHz or a mobile connection with at least 10Mbps download, as well as an Android device running Android 6 or higher with Bluetooth 4.0 or higher, so on paper at least my home setup was more than adequate for xCloud, with a robust 250 Mbps down/90 Mbps up via my fibre-powered Wi-Fi network and a fairly impressive 38/28 via my LG G8 ThinQ’s LTE mobile network. Getting set up was simple. After downloading the new Xbox Game Pass (Beta) app and logging in with my Microsoft credentials (I already subscribe to XGPU), I clipped my smartphone to my Xbox One controller via an optional (but highly recommended) MOGA Power-A cloud-gaming clip and was off to the races.
In the interest of being as objective as possible with my playtesting, I selected a sampling of games that I was already familiar with playing natively on Xbox One that place different levels of demand on the hardware, and by extension, the game stream. After all, if this was going to be a true test, I couldn’t go easy; I had to make sure that xCloud could actually walk the console-gaming walk. My choices were the following: Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, Halo 3 and Halo 4 from the Halo:Master Chief Collection, Streets of Rage 4 and Untitled Goose Game.
First off, it can’t be overstated how well the basic nuts and bolts of the technology works, as there is very little fuss in getting a game started once your controller is synched to your mobile device via Bluetooth, and over the course of my tests, in most games I rarely experienced any discernable input lag in terms of controls, a marked improvement over what the experience was originally like in January. Regrettably, one notable feature missing from the Preview build that is still lacking in the Beta is support for the Xbox One controller’s rumble and haptic triggers, features whose absence are most felt in games like Forza Horizon 4 and Gears 5 where tactile sensitivity is strongly incorporated into their gameplay. For example, active reloads in Gears lack serious heft without rumble, and the haptic triggers are one of Horizon 4’s most signature and immersive ways of signalling to players what kind of driving surface they are on (and hence how close they are to running off the road). It might be a big ask to get these features working on Android devices, but hopefully there is a fix for this incoming.
Moving beyond xCloud’s controls however, it’s a bit disheartening to confirm that performance and overall game stability are still moving targets for the fledgling game-streaming service, at least on Android. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the games from my selection best known for pushing the visual envelope on Xbox One (e.g. Horizon 4, Gears 5 and Halo 4) collectively turned in the worst performance, suffering from noticeable signal interruptions, choppy framerate dips, occasionally glitchy audio and garbled image quality whenever there was fast movement taking place on the screen. Forza Horizon 4 in particular was the worst of the bunch, with extremely poor framerates (in the low 20s or worse) , constant audio drop-outs and data compression artifacting so severe that “waves” of pixelated blocks would wash across the screen at regular intervals, making it nearly impossible to drive my Lamborghini Huracán around Great Britain with any modicum of skill. The game was also saddled with a consistent input lag of about half a second, making it next to unplayable.
Halo 3, by contrast, was a far more enjoyable experience. Controlling Master Chief felt responsive, fast, and familiar. The excellent soundtrack, dialogue and sound effects came though crisp and clear with barely an audio hiccup, and while the aforementioned occurrences of dips in framerate and resolution that plagued its successor on xCloud were not completely and eliminated, they were greatly reduced. By about 10 minutes in I was already having so much fun re-learning how to dual-wield that I had almost forgotten I was playing the game on my phone.
The same could almost be said for Streets of Rage 4. As a classic 2-D side-scrolling beat- ‘em-up, SOR4’s large character sprites, smooth animations and colourful, mostly static levels lent themselves well to streaming, retaining much of the game’s solid framerate. The fast-paced nature of the game however meant that when the inevitable momentary signal loss or glitch reared its ugly head, the impact was much more detrimental to gameplay, as a one second loss of tactical visibility in a Streets of Rage game is often the difference between successfully avoiding an enemy attack or taking an unwanted nap on the pavement. On the bright side, I actually managed to get an online co-op session with my brother working (I played as Adam Hunter via xCloud while my brother played as Blaze Fielding on his Xbox One X) and aside from the random streaming glitch on my end and my inability to enable Xbox Live voice chat without crashing the Game Pass app entirely, it felt as though I was sitting right next to my sibling as we took out Wood Oak City’s human trash.
I flirted with Untitled Goose Game a number of times on xCloud largely because I figured it would be one of the least demanding games on the service, and while I really have no idea if that is technically true, the game ran quite smoothly on my home and mobile connections with few glitches. Since the game is largely about chilling out and causing mischief around town as a horrible goose, it was also the perfect palate cleanser for game streaming as you can play at your own pace and there is no sudden death or failure in the game for a problematic glitch to drive you towards. It also didn’t hurt that the game’s large and expressive characters, coupled with its clean and simple design made Untitled Goose Game the easiest of my selection to enjoy on a phone screen.
Unfortunately, that last point highlights an issue that I personally believe will present a far bigger challenge to the adoption of xCloud on Android devices than any of the game streaming-related “teething issues” mentioned above, which is the tiny screen of most Android smartphones. Let’s be honest here. At the end of the day, the Xbox One, Xbox One X and by extension the upcoming Xbox Series X weren’t built to run mobile or handheld games. They are powerful, HD consoles pushing resolutions of at least 900p and higher, and their content is intended to be enjoyed on screens large enough so that the average person can appreciate the fine details and legibly read the text. So it goes without saying then that if you’re not rocking an XL-sized Android device, Android tablet, or the razor-sharp, 20/20 vision of a boundlessly energetic teenager, streaming console games on a smartphone quickly devolves into a chore for the eyeballs. In my own testing on my LG G8’s modest 6-inch screen, I found this to be especially true of all the higher-fidelity games like Gears 5, Halo 4 and to a lesser extent Halo 3, where distant enemies nearly became indistinguishable from background elements like jungle foliage or shadow, and crucial information in the HUD proved very difficult to read. Case in point, I spent more than five minutes in Halo 4 being repeatedly killed by an Elite at the conclusion of a lengthy QTE event in an elevator shaft, simply because I wasn’t able to clearly make out the button prompt I needed to dispatch him with before he gutted me with a sword. Meanwhile, in Horizon 4 the same visibility issues made it almost impossible to anticipate oncoming vehicles or sharp turns when travelling at high speeds, and in conjunction with the lag the experience was like trying to drive on black ice. Even under optimal conditions, playing games ideally meant for widescreen TVs on a smartphone would prove a challenge, but when combined with all the aforementioned visual glitches I encountered in my tests, game streaming on Android is arguably the worst way to play your Xbox games right now.
So, for what reason do I remain optimistic about xCloud? Well, for starters, the Xbox Game Pass App for Android won’t be the only official entry point to xCloud Game streaming for much longer. As confirmed by The Verge last March, Microsoft is currently conducting internal testing of a Windows 10 version of Project xCloud, which when inevitably released to the public will come in the form of a new app that that reportedly supports both xCloud game streaming as well as local and remote Console Streaming. That last bit of news might be as shocking as the revelation that water is wet, but I personally believe that the full-fledged inclusion of PC into Microsoft’s xCloud stratagem is the chess move that will elevate Xbox Game Pass’ cloud gaming component from a neat gimmick to an essential feature that everyone will want to use.
The rationalization here is simple; while not as ubiquitous and portable as Android devices, PCs by nature of their design are able to leapfrog several of the challenges that stand in the way of an enjoyable game streaming experience. A desktop or laptop can easily make use of an ethernet port (natively or via an adapter) to take advantage of a wired internet connection when available, providing faster and more stable performance for cloud gaming. PCs generally pack more horsepower than smartphones, allowing for much better streaming quality at faster speeds and higher resolutions. PCs support far more input devices (i.e. controllers, headsets, keyboards, etc.) as well as many of their bespoke features (such as the Xbox One controller’s rumble and haptic feedback triggers). Finally, on PCs, xCloud users won’t have to compromise screen real estate anymore, even if they are going portable. With their many different shapes and sizes, Windows 10 laptops, ultrabooks, Surface tablets and the like should be able to strike the perfect cloud-gaming middle-ground, balancing portability and power with screen sizes large enough to provide the “full-fat experience” of gaming on a home console.
The second reason I’m optimistic about xCloud is that little nugget about Console Streaming that I mentioned earlier. Observant gamers who tune-in to the big E3 Press Conferences every year might remember that when Head of Xbox Phil Spencer formally revealed Project xCloud at the 2019 Xbox Showcase, it was announced as part of a two-pronged strategy alongside “Console Streaming”. Spencer mysteriously described the latter as a new, upcoming platform feature that “turns your Xbox One into your own personal and free xCloud server”. Of course, all of this was quickly drowned out by the following announcement of Project Scarlett (a.k.a. Xbox Series X) being in the works, and since then Console Streaming has been quietly pushed further and further into the background as the next-gen console wars have been heating up. But what many people do not know is that the ability to stream your Xbox Console to your PC either remotely or locally via the Xbox Console Companion App (formerly known as the Xbox App for Windows 10) has quietly been a been a thing since as far back as 2015. As someone who has been using the Windows app more and more frequently to stream my Xbox One X to various PCs in the household when my work-at-home-during-Covid wife needs to borrow (read: hijack) my workspace, I can attest to near-rock solid framerates with only the occasionally brief signal interruption when console streaming most games. Better yet, since I am streaming directly from my Xbox One X as opposed to the vanilla Xbox One server blades that xCloud utilizes, all the benefits that the added horsepower of the Xbox One X hardware brings to a game when it is played natively on the console are also present when streaming, including higher framerates, increased graphical detail, and more responsive gameplay. And yes, Console Streaming on PC via the Xbox Console Companion fully supports the Xbox One controller’s rumble features and haptic triggers.
In other words, Xbox Console Streaming is currently at a level of stability, reliability, and performance that its twin sibling xCloud desperately needs to be at right now. Console Streaming works, and it works well. Therefore, the smart money then is on Microsoft to bring Console Streaming to every current and future version of the Xbox Game Pass App as soon as possible, either as a supplementary xCloud feature for XGPU subscribers, or as a free service to any gamer with a Microsoft Account and an Xbox console, in order to whet their appetite for xCloud streaming and tempt them to sign up for an XGPU subscription. There’s already a precedent for this on Android, as the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) App for Android also supported Console Streaming with similar performance to that of the Xbox Console Companion on PC, so it’s less a matter of “if” than “when”. The average customer won’t likely spend any time trying to split technical hairs between what is xCloud versus Console Streaming (Microsoft will likely market them both under the simpler portmanteau of “Xbox Cloud Gaming”), and if Console Streaming can be counted upon to work well 99% of the time, satisfied customers will be more likely to put up with the glitchier Cloud Gaming features that are “still in beta” until they are ready for their close-up.
If the recent struggles of other streaming services like Google Stadia and GeForce NOW have taught us anything, it’s that no Cloud Gaming initiative is too big, ambitious or well-funded to stumble catastrophically out of the gate. The race to a potential future where all game content can be streamed to and enjoyed on any device will be a marathon, not a sprint, and as my own experiment with Microsoft’s xCloud seems to suggest, the finish line to that future is a long way off, despite the company’s relentless faith (and many years of investment) in the technology. All that being said, Microsoft still stands the best chance of success in the Cloud Gaming space because much like the company’s approach to the Xbox Ecosystem as a whole, its success won’t be dependent on one singular device, platform, gateway, or even use-case. The Xbox Game Pass App with xCloud is already on lock for Android devices with PC coming soon, but if Microsoft is destined to have their way we can expect them to negotiate an end to their deadlock with Apple and put the app on iOS devices in short order, granting access to the remaining, untapped third of the mobile market. And there are other non-mobile platforms where the app could appear, like Samsung Smart TVs (a near certainty given Microsoft’s long partnership with the Korean electronics manufacturer). In a page from Google Stadia’s playbook, even Xbox consoles could employ xCloud in more subtle ways to power quality-of-life features, like allowing players to instantly stream a game they’ve just started downloading to eliminate wait times. The best part however is that with so many potential uses and options for accessing xCloud, many of the technical issues that would stop another cloud gaming service in its tracks will likely become only minor inconveniences on Microsoft’s service (like switching to local console streaming if xCloud performance is spotty). Provided Microsoft keeps putting its cloud gaming eggs in as many different baskets as possible, it’s difficult to fathom a future where xCloud won’t have an increased influence on videogaming as we know it. The future of the service looks extremely bright.
In the meantime though, here’s hoping xCloud gets a serious performance boost in time for its September 15th coming out party on Android, otherwise it’s going to be a rough start. An XL-sized Android device and rose-coloured prescription glasses are recommended.
IO Interactive has announced a January 20, 2021 release date for stealth action sequel Hitman 3 and revealed a bonus level with pre-orders.
In a blog post, IOI stated all pre-orders for the standard and special editions started today on physical and digital releases. Apart from the standard edition, players can also get their hands on the Deluxe Edition which comes with a bonus pack of cosmetics, developer commentary and in-game activities. A digital book called The World of Hitman is also included as a compendium to the reboot trilogy which started since 2016. There’s also a digital soundtrack for all three games, featuring the scores and themes in each globe-trotting level.
But anyone pre-ordering the game will get a sweet set of cosmetics which call back to the original classic games. The three sets each come with a suit, hardballer pistol and briefcase in white, red or black. These separate items can also be mixed and used in any way players choose before a mission. As an added premium bonus, the gold agency logo is also tacked onto the briefcase and as a tie-clip for no suspicions by NPCs (at all).
IOI also stated Hitman 3‘s release over next-gen platforms comes with a perk: free next-gen upgrades for current-gen buyers.
“Yes, we’re doing a next-gen upgrade for consoles and yes, it’s free. Console players can buy (including pre-order) a digital edition of HITMAN 3 on the current generation of platforms and receive a free upgrade to the next-gen version of the game for no additional cost,” IOI wrote.
That also means digitalPS4 or Xbox One owners have an option to grab the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X version over its respective store for free once they own a next-generation system. The Xbox versions are also connected directly with its Smart Delivery system for a smooth transition.
Hitman 3 also came with a new location update. Called Dartmoor, Agent 47 visits a wealthy family at their mansion in a classic murder mystery game. Each eccentric family member is also a suspect behind the murder of an aged tycoon, while 47 has to investigate each one while discovering the mansion’s wacky secrets.
Hitman 3 comes to PC (as an Epic Games Store timed exclusive), PS4, PSVR, Xbox One, Google Stadia and the next-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X earlier in the new year on January 20, 2021.
Capcom’s survival horror franchise Resident Evil is being adapted into a new Netflix series, while its plot will be directly taken from the games across two timelines.
In an official tweet and announcement by Netflix, viewers would be focusing their attention on Albert Wesker’s teenage children as they move into New Raccoon City. According to Variety, sisters Jade and Billie Wesker are growing up into adolescence as they’re surrounded by Umbrella’s corporate presence. But secrets become to surface as they spend more time exploring New Raccoon City and begin investigating the shadier parts of their family history.
It’s also worth noting the series will be exploring a different timeline in the future, with the T-Virus having raved the world. Over 15 million humans are left on the planet, while over six billion monsters including zombies and animals are roaming around. So far, only Jade will be surviving as an older character while most of the familiar brands of action and horror will be shown in this setting.
“’Resident Evil’ is my favorite game of all time,” Dabb told Variety, adding much of the game’s elements will come in full swing for the Netflix series.
“I’m incredibly excited to tell a new chapter in this amazing story and bring the first ever ‘Resident Evil’ series to Netflix members around the world. For every type of ‘Resident Evil’ fan, including those joining us for the first time, the series will be complete with a lot of old friends, and some things (bloodthirsty, insane things) people have never seen before.”
It’s unknown if the series will be taking on a Paul W.S. Anderson approach to adapting the long-time video game series, while Resident Evil is getting eight episodes for its first season. The original film series’ studio will also be filming the show, under a script by Supernatural writer Andrew Dabb. He will also be the show’s executive producer and showrunner with Robert Kulzer and Olivia Berben from Constantin Film.
Gamescom 2020 finally kicked off on August 27, 2020 with a digital opening night which featured a variety of new and announced titles from developers at home. The dawn of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X were also highlighted as over 35 games were given new trailers ahead of a new generation for platforms.
Hosted by Geoff Keighley, the event was also tied to the Summer Game Fest, which became an outlet in collecting every developer’s own digital game event following the cancellation of E3 2020 and other major annual conferences. For Gamescom, the in-person shows were cancelled due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic while Keighley continued to interview developers and transmit updates through Summer Game Fest.
Kicking off Gamescom 2020 was an in-depth update of Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War. Viewers discovered more details into the return of Treyarch’s smash-hit setting from the original game in 2010 with a cutscene. Like Black Ops II, the game will also feature multiple endings based on character choices across the campaign. Following the game’s full announcement on Warzone, viewers learned more about Perseus as he was shown in a picture and briefing with CIA operatives Jason Hudson, Alex Mason and Frank Woods.
U.S. President Ronald Regan also made an appearance to brief players of their mission before sending them into enemy territory. As introduced in Infinite Warfare, Black Ops Cold War will feature CG cutscenes in between campaign levels. New character Adler will be joining players across the single player story as its new running and gunning support character, shown leading the investigation behind Perseus.
Doom Eternal: The Ancient GodsPart One is the first story expansion for the demon-slaying sequel. Expanding on the ending, players dive back into hellish landscapes as they descend into a base surrounded by water and new sacred realms to revive a long-dormant beast in the fight against demons. Samuel Hayden also returns to support the Slayer through his ripping and tearing. The Ancient GodsPart One releases for Doom Eternal on October 10, 2020.
Bioware made a return to Gamescom for Dragon Age with some concept art that promoted exploration and fantasy action under a new next generation light. The next game in the series will also feature multiple settings as an opposing force dominates each settlement. This is where players return as a custom character to fight enemies and interact with NPCs who cupport the character. Rough gameplay also showed off over the shoulder third-person-combat and a more streamlined approach to taking enemies down. With a sword and shield, players would be taking on various enemies in one-on-one engagements over the course of the journey. No release date was announced.
Gamescom was briefly crashed by Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown to promote Surgeon Simulator2. A World Premiere showed off more gameplay with co-op multiplayer making the forefront for even wackier steamer moments. The game was surprised launched immediately for PC over the Epic Games Store.
Happy Giant unveiled a trailer for a brand new Sam & Max title for Gamescom, returning to current generation consoles in a very short tease about the point-and-click adventure series.
World of Warcraft players will be leaving Azeroth and into the Shadowlands as part of its newest DLC, joining a variety of covenants which grant players new skins, items and abilities. In the first of four short films, viewers met Uther as he was slain by Arthas. In the afterlife, he was chosen by a heavenly realm to ferry the souls of the dead into the Shadowlands. Though the darkness was sealed, Uther continued his quest for justice as the denizens of Bastion retrained him through ascension as one of its peaceful agents.
Mentor Devos guided him to let go of his pain across his life, while his soul was damaged by the blade of his student. The Bastion realm convened to identify the threat of Arthas as the Order of the Shadowlands while the case was quickly dismissed be its lead Archon. Uther was given an ascension by Devos, granting the character a new armor and wings to claim Arthas’ soul. After players kicked his butt in WoW, he was cast into the Maw. The comic-styled trailer ended with an opening to pre-purchase the expansion for World of Warcraft. Blizzard announced the Shadowlands expansion release date for October 27, 2020 worldwide.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time received a new Gamescom update close to its October 2020 launch, while the titular character missed his live appearance to explore Germany and encountered the Gamescom bot. “Flashback Tapes” will be added into the game as a “peek back in time” into the 1990’s. This challenging 2D platforming mode is also designed by villain Cortex, while players are given limited platforms to use for completing puzzles. The tapes will be hidden across Cras Bandicoot 4‘s main levels and players have to reach them without dying in order to unlock every one.
A team of two developers released a trailer for Teardown, a fully destructible game which features a brand new engine developed by Tuxedo Labs. Featuring a mix of 3D and 16-bit textures, players can mow, shoot and demolish any structure or object to conduct a heist. Teardown also features driveable vehicles including boats and cars within an empty world.
Horror adventure game Little NightmaresII was given a new trailer, showing off its 2.5D platforming gameplay introduced in the first game. Players will also be escorting a new character as they hide from strange enemies and giant ceramic schoolteachers. They will also be sneaking past a “slender” figure who can teleport behind players if they don’t run fast enough. Little Nightmares II is releasing on February 11, 2021.
Space combat sim Star Wars Squadrons is looking to revive the hype for a Rogue Squadron game, taking players into a story trailer that sets the scene between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Imperial Forces moved in with their collapsing Empire for one last strike on the New Republic before their formation. Over this skirmish, players take on the roles of both squads from the Rebels and Empire. As an Empire TIE Fighter, players were shown piloting the screeching vessel in first person. Its cockpit also featured a HUD, complete with ship status, a map and even a targeting system that puts targets on the screen. Inspired by Dave Filoni’s creations, Squadrons also features appearances by Star Wars Rebels character Hera Syndulla, who will be briefing players on the Rebels side.
The Sims 4 is bringing Star Wars: Journey to Batuu for players, taking them into Disneyland’s attraction while offering new cosmetics and a lightsaber. Players will also be seeing the Outer Rim with a comical Sims makeover, featuring characters such as Kylo Ren and smuggler Hondo. As a Sim, you can also use Star Wars assets to turn your home into a piece of Batuu and own an astromech droid as a pet. The Journey to Batuu DLC for The Sims 4 releases on September 8, 2020.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was given a gameplay trailer at Gamescom, letting players relive the entire series in a family action adventure setting. The trailer showed off a fully-voiced cast and brand new visuals similar to LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens. But the gameplay is tweaked with a focus on third person combat and combos for light, heavy and force attacks. Smugglers and soldiers will be getting a revamped shooting system while The Skywalker Saga features its biggest library of playable characters yet. The game releases on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC in Spring 2021.
Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout Season 2 was announced, subjecting players through a new variety of minigames and third-person platforming/flopping. Its Gamescom exclusive trailer shown with new rounds in a medieval setting. Players have to dodge wooden spikes, navigate moats and run past drawbridges. Players can also earn new skins, including a knight, dragon and princess costume delivered in pieces.
Respawn Entertainment returned to give VR players an update on Medal of Honor: Above And Beyond, reviving the series for the first time since 2012’s Medal of Honor Warfighter. Under a first person WW2 setting, players will be fighting Nazis behind enemy lines, with a story-driven single player campaign. As an OSS agent, players will also be sneaking through hostile bases to collect information and engage in firefights against troops. The game also throws players into a tank and gunship while a fully-voiced cast will interact with them. Its trailer featured cinematic slow-motion sequences which sees players under intense VR gunfights through battlefields and stealth missions.
Various segments will also let players practice OSS espionage away from soldiering such as breaking into safes and assassinating high-profile targets. According to Respawn, the game will be divided into three acts. The beginning will put players in the hands of French forces as they prepared for an invasion into Normandy. The middle part taking players straight into D-Day in VR, while the final act makes players an OSS Agent foiling a Nazi science plan. They will also be living through a seamless experience while the studio state cutscenes are performed in real-time without camera cuts. Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond releases for the Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest Link and Oculus Rift S on Holiday 2020.
Magical battle-royale Spellbreak appeared with a Gamescom trailer, putting players in a new open-ended map as a battlemage. They will also be using a combination of elemental spells to eliminate enemies and become the sole survivor. Spellbreak releases on September 3, 2020 for the Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart received a gameplay demo for the PS5, showing the iconic duo navigate through another sprawling metropolis. The third-person shooting mechanics from the series is intact, requiring players to flip past enemy fire while switching through different weapons. Dr. Nefarious makes a return as the main villain, while he causes havoc with a weapon that can open dimensions.
After the device is destroyed, Ratchet gains an ability to skip through time and space. This also brings in stranger enemies, waiting for players on the other side of each rift. The demo showed flying sandsharks and other prehistoric aliens terrorizing NPCs and enemies across the metropolis. As shown in the PS5 reveal, the Gamescom footage is a much expanded version of the demo and features a signature voice work by James Arnold Taylor who plays Ratchet. Rift Apart is the first original game in the series following the first game’s remake in 2016 as part of the movie.
Clank is separated into another rift, but meets other versions of Ratchet. A female Lombax is teased again at the end of the Gamescom reveal, while her debut at the PS5 reveal sparked a buzz from fans looking forward to Rift Apart. It’s suggested that Clank would be working with different Ratchets to stop Dr. Nefarious’ plans while sewing the universe back together. According to Insomniac Games, players will still be playing as the original Ratchet as he uses a hand tether to teleport around firefights. He will also have an access to a new arsenal of guns with their own upgrade paths. Using the DualSense controller, each weapon will also give different haptics. Grenades could manipulate the controller’s trigger pulls while heavier double-barreled weapons can be pulled halfway or fully for selective shots.
Rift Apart is also a “standalone adventure” which happens after the events of Into the Nexus. Despite Keighley’s best efforts, Insomniac also kept their lips sealed for the female lombax’s name. The game will be releasing into a “launch window” as the PlayStation 5 launches on Holiday 2020.
I know this is going to come across as soapbox standing, but there really isn’t a lot of diversity in “AAA” gaming. Oh sure, the industry will tell you that their games were made by, “multicultural teams of various religious faiths and beliefs,” but the vast majority of games feature white, male protagonists and rarely do they delve into the cultures and mythologies of people who were on the receiving end of Colonialism.
This is why Raji: An Ancient Epic initially intrigued me. The sad fact is, I honestly cannot think of a game that stars middle-eastern characters, and actually prominently features their mythology in the same way Greek, Norse, or Christian mythology are. I genuinely believe that video games can act as a bridge in many ways; and I was excited to experience aspects of a culture I know so little about.
Unfortunately, while I definitely think it is an excellent representation of diversity in an industry so lacking—at least in the mainstream—as a game itself, Raji: An Ancient Epic suffers in a lot of ways that I fear will keep many people away from it.
The game takes place in ancient India, where a young circus girl named Raji and her brother Golu are performing for a crowd, when suddenly the great lord of demons, Mahabalasura, invades the human realm; seeking to avenge his defeat at the hands of the gods thousands of years ago. The demons capture Golu, and as Raji rushes to rescue him, she is chosen by the goddess of war who defeated Mahabalasura—Durga, who gifts Raji with her the Trishul, a versatile and powerful spear, and with her newfound power, Raji vows to rescue her brother, and drive back Mahabalasura and his demon army.
While “sibling fights through hell and back to save their sibling,” may not be the most original story told what makes Raji: An Ancient Epic’s telling of it so compelling that very little of it is from the perspective of Raji herself. While the player is guiding her, and experiencing the story alongside her, the story is constantly being commented on by Vishnu and Durga, who not only converse with each other, but provide much of the mythological context to the story.
However, where the game begins to fall apart is within its gameplay. Raji: An Ancient Epic plays very reminiscent of the PS2-era Prince of Persiagames; combining a mixture of platforming with fast paced combat. However, unlike those games, questionable design choices make this feel more like a mobile version of Prince of Persia and hold the game back from being exciting, and oftentimes, functional.
The first odd decision is the way the camera is pulled back to an overhead viewpoint, much like a Diablo-style dungeon crawler. This immediately reduces the excitement of the game and shutters the pace, as not only does everything appear small, but it never lets combat feel personal and intense. Whether this was done to play on the narrative aspect that this is from the perspective of the gods, I cannot say; but it does a lot to detract from the experience.
Combat itself is usually more frustrating than exciting. While players are encouraged to use a combination of nimble tumbling and light and heavy attacks, there’s a distinct lack of feedback from attacks, and everything feels ineffectual. Raji’s dodging does little in the way of avoiding attacks, and enemies seemingly can’t be interrupted during their attack animations, which usually results in the player taking damage mid-combo, which gets even worse when the faster, and projectile spewing enemies spawn into a fight.
There’s just a general lack of control which makes everything feel sloppy. The platforming segments are a particular bother as where Raji is supposed to jump off ledges can often be a complete mystery, resulting in multiple plummets to the ground before you somehow find the exact spot you were supposed to jump from so she would grab a ledge. Furthermore, the camera angle can often cause confusion in where players are even supposed to aim their jumps, again leading to the aforementioned plummets.
Visually, the Raji: An Ancient Epic is fairly underwhelming. The game is said to be inspired by, “Indian mythologies such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, and by the medieval architecture of Rajasthan,” and this is definitely present in many of the game’s landscapes and intricately designed structures. Furthermore, supposedly, “the game’s environment is drawn in the Pahari art style and combines hand-painted textures, rendered in 3D.” However, and I really hate how mean this is going to sound, none of that really comes through in a clear way, and Raji: An Ancient Epic ends up looking like a low-budget indie game: ambitious but unpolished.
This, again, is attributed in large part to the bizarrely pulled back camera that never really lets you get a close look at anything to appreciate the epic scale of the whole affair. While I imagine these demons, inspired by Balinese and Hindu mythology, have a unique aesthetic—they certainly do in the paper-doll cutscenes—in game, they just end up looking like cheap goblin assets.
Much of the landscapes and architecture just looks somewhat generic, since you can’t get close enough to see the finer details. And I can’t help but feel like, had the game given the player greater control of the camera—or gone with pixel art to create some truly stunning visuals, ala. Blasphemous—then much of the art, that was clearly implemented with genuine love and vision, could’ve been better appreciated.
It really breaks my heart that so much of Raji: An Ancient Epic’s gameplay actively deters the player, because I truly believe it’s great that it’s the kind of game we need more of. Supposedly a bug fix is, “in the works,” which might address some of the issues with combat and platforming, but in its current state it’s just not enjoyable enough to warrant the experience.