The joy of couch co-op with Gears of War Ultimate Edition

This week I’ve been playing Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (which is ‘free’ via Xbox Game Pass) with my brother, in split screen, on a couch in a living room. Couch co-op is often something gamers reminisce about, a seemingly left behind method of playing video games. Even if more games offered split screen co-op, I wouldn’t get to experience it as I live 2,382 miles away from my brother and visit once a year. I’m glad to have the ability to play through games via the internet, but there’s certainly something about sitting together on a couch that makes gaming more fun.

There have been moments of hilarity, as one of us stupidly runs toward a group of enemies bullets flailing sloppily past them only to die at a boomer’s feet, and moments of triumph as we hunker down and methodically advance toward an enemy position. We’ve been having a blast playing through the campaign, and have played for longer than we probably would have had we been playing online.

I don’t think I ever played through the first Gears of War on the 360, so it’s been nice to finally experience the start of the franchise. I’ve enjoyed each mission so far, and it’s been incredibly satisfying to shoot the variety of weapons in the game.

Once we finish Gears we’ll probably dive into working through the Halo campaigns in Master Chief Collection (I’ve only ever finished Halo 3, Reach and ODST).

Unfortunately, there’s not as many opportunities to enjoy a local campaign as there used to be. I remember having a blast in Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games back on the N64 and first Xbox. I can’t think of many games on the current platforms that offer complete co-op experiences (Gears 4 is a notable stand out). On the bright side, during the 350 other days of the year there’s plenty to play together online, so I really can’t complain.

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Battleborn’s last breath?

Earlier today the struggling shooter Battleborn effectively went “free to play”, validating the long standing rumor that it would indeed end up being free. Most would agree that Battleborn’s troubles are mostly due to the fact that the game launched just before Blizzard’s Overwatch, which quickly took off to become one of the hottest games of 2016. It may not have been fair to compare the two games, as they play quite differently, but they were similar enough in most people’s eyes that they decided to pick one title (Overwatch for most) and stick with it.

I was incredibly excited for Battleborn’s launch, especially after reading about how it would blend MOBA gameplay with a shooter. As someone who was a casual fan of MOBAs (but never any good at them) it seemed like it would be the perfect game for me. I eagerly awaited its launch, and early on I found it to be fun, if a little slow moving. As days went by, however, I found that the hardcore player-base got so good that I couldn’t have fun playing anymore as I would be overwhelmed by more skilled players. What made things worse was that teams of randoms never seemed willing to communicate, and I would often get matched against teams of players who were mic’d up.

As Overwatch neared release I started to get more and more excited by the hype surrounding it. I caved and bought it for PC on release day which ultimately led to me never returning to Battleborn. I had so much fun in Overwatch from the very first moment I launched it that I couldn’t see myself wasting any time playing Battleborn that could be better spent in Overwatch. Once or twice, out of curiosity, I tried to give Battleborn another try, but each time I was met with longer and longer matchmaking times (on the Xbox One) only to have to spend thirty minutes or so to complete a match when I finally got in. This didn’t prove to be fun, whereas in the same time span I could’ve played two or three games of Overwatch. More recently I launched Battleborn one last time, only to sit at the matchmaking screen for a full twenty minutes without finding a match (there were no server issues reported with either Xbox or Battleborn at the time).

I’ve always felt like if Battleborn ever wanted to make a splash at all, it should have gone free to play long ago. It remains to be seen if the free to play model will have a significant impact on the game’s player-base and perception going forward, however I personally think that I’ve already had my fill. Still, I’m going to try it out on PC (I already own it on PC from a Humble Bundle) to see if the new influx of players can make things fun. I’ll be sure to post an update after playing a round or two of the PC version of the game to see if any of my feelings have changed.

Xbox Game Pass is here, and it’s a great value for new Xbox One owners

When I first heard about Xbox Game Pass earlier this year I was excited, especially after finding out that you would be able to download the games as opposed to streaming as you do with PlayStation Now. $9.99 a month gives you access to over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 (backwards compatible) games that can be downloaded and played as much as you like as long as you’re a subscriber. This is a great way for anyone who is new to Xbox One to get a great library of games for very little upfront investment. Many of the games have been available at deep discounts or for free as part of Games with Gold, however there’s still plenty to try out even for those who have been gaming on the Xbox One for awhile.

Last night I queued up several games, including NBA 2K16, Mad Max, Payday 2 and Grid 2. I’d download many more, but my data cap wouldn’t be happy. Other notable titles (most of which I already own) are Halo 5, Gears 1-3, Massive Chalice and Roundabout. There’s plenty to check out, and there’s even a free 7 day trial if you’re unsure of the service. If you have the bandwidth I’d recommend enrolling in the trial and downloading any games you might have missed out on over the years.

I’m looking forward to seeing what additional games come to the service as it ages, and am glad Microsoft is continuing to support Xbox One owners with another great service.

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition (Xbox One) impressions

I remember playing a little bit of Bulletstorm when it came out for the Xbox 360 in 2011, however it never hooked me and I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. After seeing some coverage of the remaster that released earlier this year I decided I wanted to give it a second chance. I’ve played for an hour or two so far and have really enjoyed my time with it. It certainly feels like a 360 shooter, but that older gameplay and style feel somewhat refreshing in 2017.

The shooting is satisfying, as is the grapple hook which allows you to fling enemies around and pull off sweet moves such as pulling an enemy toward you and kicking them into exposed electrical wires. The text on screen that describes and scores each kill is also quite satisfying. In most shooters your only concern is mowing down enemies as quickly as possible, but in Bulletstorm you get rewarded for killing with style. You use the points you earn to upgrade your weapons and abilities which allow you to take down your enemies in more exciting ways.

The game looks great and plays smoothly on the Xbox One, and never seems to drop in frame rate no matter how many enemies and explosions are on screen. I’m really enjoying the game, and it’s definitely worth picking up if you passed on it during its initial release. The singleplayer campaign will take most players around eight hours to complete, so the $60 price might not justified for some people, but if you happen to find it on sale for around $30 I wouldn’t pass it up.

Forza Horizon 3: Hot Wheels!

I played a little bit of the latest Forza Horizon 3 DLC, Hot Wheels and had an absolute blast with it! I didn’t know a lot about the expansion going into it, and mostly assumed it would just feature Hot Wheels cars, but they went all the way with it, right down to the orange plastic tracks that loop and turn in wacky ways! There’s so much attention to detail, and I especially love the mechanical sound the launchers make as you approach them (it sounds like a rollercoaster). I’m looking forward to checking out more of the game this weekend!

A Walk in the Dark has one stylish trailer

I hadn’t heard of the upcoming (May 19) game A Walk in the Dark until I happened across the trailer above last night, and I have to say the trailer took my breath away. Once it started showing gameplay I was a little put off (it looks a lot like Limbo, and I’m just not into those types of games) but the incredible music made kept me watching from beginning to end. I can’t say I’m interested to play the game, but I am going to buy the soundtrack.

For those interested, the game has been available on Steam for nearly four years (currently $6.99) and 83% of its 270 reviews on Steam are positive, resulting in a ‘very positive’ rating. I haven’t been able to find the price for the Xbox version, however it will be an Xbox Play Anywhere game.

I’m really not into Mass Effect Andromeda

The Mass Effect series has provided some of my favorite moments of my entire ‘video game life’ (even Mass Effect 3!). Up until last night I was incredibly excited for Mass Effect Andromeda, and thought for sure I would be buying the game. The only decision I had yet to make was whether I’d get it for the Xbox One or PC. However, the two hours I spent with the 10 hour EA Access trial last night has almost entirely dissuaded me from buying the game.

Right off the bat I found myself annoyed with the writing. Not only was the set up a bore, but the dialogue between characters, both during cut scenes and during background conversations was cringe worthy. At one point one of my squad mates uttered something to the effect of “Did that hurt? YEAH BECAUSE I SHOT YOU IN THE FACE!”. I almost shut the Xbox off right then and there, but I decided to keep trudging through to see if anything exciting would happen. It never did.

My time on the first planet felt like nothing but busy work. Run here, then here, then here, Scan some things. Shoot some things. On and on. I know this isn’t wildly different from the other games, but at least on those games there’s a real sense of purpose. The whole Pathfinder concept just comes across as cheesy, right from the start. The opening dialogue trying to make the journey to Andromeda seem like some “grand adventure” just made me cringe, and as I spent more time as Ryder I wished there was a button Nier Automata style to just shoot myself in the head and get a game over screen.

To make matters worse, the combat just feels sloppy. I found it difficult to line up shots (kind of slow, but all over the place at the same time) which sucked because I had been playing Mass Effect 3 all week and loving how solid the combat feels in that game. The guns and abilities feel like they have very little bite, and there’s no satisfying “pop” as you drop enemies like there is in Mass Effect 2 and 3.

Even worse than the combat are the textures, animations and voice acting. The first planet isn’t very pretty to look at (a darn shame after spending time with Horizon Zero Dawn or even Breath of the Wild), but beyond the art style there are some incredibly flat, muddy and ugly textures (the dark matter particularly). The animations have probably been ragged on enough by everyone else on the internet, and I could probably ignore them if it weren’t for the god awful voice acting. Some of it has been so bad that I nearly burst out laughing. Specifically, the first lines out of the female Turian’s mouth on the Nexus are horrendous. Shortly after speaking to her I had to turn the game off and boot up Mass Effect 3 instead, I couldn’t take it anymore. She’s not alone, however, as most of the characters sound like they were voiced by the developers themselves, blandly reading lines into a microphone with no enthusiasm or emotion.

Lastly, there are some really bad pop in issues, most noticeable while on the Nexus. As I found myself running into rooms, entire groups of NPC’s would pop in two or three seconds after I entered a room. Maybe this is a bug that gets fixed with a patch, maybe it’s a limitation of the Xbox One, but regardless, it really screws with any sense of immersion you might have.

Ultimately, I’m not even sure it’s worth my time to play another couple hours of the free trial. I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see. I don’t think I could take another minute of easily the second worst game I’ve played in 2017 (second only to Ghost Recon Wildlands, another game that suffers from some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a video game).

I don’t mean to hate on Mass Effect, I really wanted to love the game as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series, but I don’t think it’s possible at this point. At least I can take some relief in knowing that Andromeda was developed by an entirely different team than the original trilogy, and I think in the long run many will come to look at Andromeda as a sort of B-level spin off, rather than a continuation of such a great series.