It's Thanksgiving out here this week, which means most Americans are taking a couple of days off to lounge around and relax in Boxing Day style. Except those foolish souls prepared to risk being shot, stabbed or trampled to save a buck or two in the depressingly awful spending frenzy that is Black Friday.
I took a day off from the drudgery of writing about video games so I could spend the day playing them. Well, to be specific, putting some serious track time into Forza 5. While it looks astonishingly good, the game's true genius is in the way it works with the Xbox One controller. The force feedback is incredible: especially through the triggers where a suite of vibrations accurately portray wheelspin, loss of grip, ABS coming on and even wheel lock under braking. It recreates the experience of driving amazingly well, and if you want to play the game effectively, you really do have to drive it like you would a real car. I wrote a guide about that earlier this week, which I'm linking to for those who might be interested in seeing just how detailed Forza's controls are.
However, much as I love Forza 5, it does have an aspect that I think is appallingly awful - and that's its microtransactions. We're already used to the obligatory monthly additional car packs that can double the game's retail price if you buy them all. But this time around you can also buy in-game tokens with real money that you can use to buy in-game cars, or boost the amount of XP you earn (thus speeding up the acquisition of cars). Of course, you don't have to buy these tokens and can earn cars by playing normally, but unfortunately the game has been tuned to make you have to grind the crap out of it just to earn the cars that are on the disc that you've already paid for.
I'm not necessarily opposed to Turn 10 making cars expensive so that the choice of cars becomes more meaningful as you progress through career mode - which is all about racing in specialised classes. But the game has a ton of online modes and challenges, and you need to buy cars to be able to compete in them - which means a ridiculous amount of grinding to do so. Or opening the old wallet and coughing up more dough. The biggest kick in the nadgers is that you can actually spend real money on a DLC car, and then spend real money to buy in-game currency so you can actually buy and use that car - and let's not forget - in the game that you already spent real money to buy in the first place. I mean, which bean-counting bozo thought that this triple-dip o' profit muggage was okay?
Microtransactions are certainly nothing new. Coin-ops of yore are essentially microtransactional machines - especially when you consider the “add coin to continue" option that appeared in the early 80's and quickly became the norm. But ever since mobile phone games revitalised the concept, microtransactions have been slowly worming their way into premium-priced games, either as extra characters, clothing, maps, new cars or expansion packs that add a whole new dimension to a game. I understand these things (but don't necessarily condone them). But Forza 5 takes it several steps too far. Ultimately, if you're going to do this, I want the game for free and let me buy the cars I want - or grind away so I can get them without paying cash. But to expect me to pay full whack for the game and then ding me with additional microtransactions on top of that? Absolutely piss-poor.
Fortunately, so much of a stink has already been kicked up that Microsoft have said they'll change the way the game works very soon. I'd like to think that this experience will provide enough of a scare to keep the microtransaction monster at bay for a while - but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it creeps back, this time more insidiously and stealthily so we won't notice it until it's too late.
Pete also talked about the evils of microtransactions earlier this week. I'd love to hear what you think about them. Is there a way they can work? Or are they as horrible and inevitable as many believe them to be?
With all the launches now done and dusted, we spent a little time looking at Wii U, since we've barely had time to mention it for a few weeks. We all picked our favrourite games for the system and talked about why we liked them. And we also reviewed two new games for the machine - Mario Party Island and the rather niftily named Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don't Know.
We also talked about how we integrated our next generation systems into our entertainment setups. Three of us weighed in with impressions on how we'll be using our machines - and how useable they really are as media boxes. It's a conversational feature, and I enjoyed the different perspectives we all had on our shiny new consoles.
And last, but not least, we took a look at Steam's Autumn Sale and made some recommendations about which games you should check out. It's funny. After all the fuss and bother of the next-gen launches, one look down this list provides a reminder that the PC continues to transcend generations and is still the platform with some of the coolest and most interesting games of all.
See you next week.
Jaz Rignall is editorial director of USgamer.net, Eurogamer's rootin' tootin' turkey shootin' American cousin.