Sea of Thieves offers players a vibrant, cartoon world of stories big and small - but perhaps none of them are as significant as the tale of developer Rare itself. It's hard to believe that Kinect projects aside, it's been over nine years since we last saw a full game from the studio. Much has changed since then, with the studio's reliance on custom, per-game engines replaced by a shift towards Unreal Engine 4. But this game is a title quite unlike any other built on the Epic middleware - Sea of Thieves is beautiful and unique.
Over the last couple of months I've been falling in love all over again with Final Fantasy XII. I know I'm late to the Zodiac Age party, but I've been marvelling at how much this game has come into its own since its original release back in 2006. Certainly the remaster's smoothing-off of the original's (literal) rough edges helps, but I'm not the first to observe that it feels a bit like gaming has caught up with some of its ideas that weren't fully appreciated at the time like its distinctive automated battles. Or maybe it's just that I'm in a different place in my life, and FF12's peculiarly hands-off approach to monster hunting fits so much better into what a 30-something wants after a day at work than it did the long holidays of a student with time on his hands.
Do you know what makes Monster Hunter: World's beasts so convincing? Motion capture. That's right, some of World's creature animations began life as a person in a moleskin suit flailing around the studio, rolling on the floor, flapping their arms like wings, and scurrying about on all-fours. Yes, we humans were the monsters all along. Boom! Plot twist.
Take one look at any shmup in full flow and it's no wonder that this remains the most intimidating of genres; cascading curtains of bullets, flotillas of enemy ships and somewhere, almost imperceptible, in all that chaos is you, the lone fighter ship taking on impossible odds. You can trace the genre back to the inky black void of the arcade from which modern video games were born, from Space Invaders to Scramble to R-Type, and sometimes all that's seemed to have really changed is those odds you face have become greater and greater still. Stare into the face of a modern shmup, and it can seem like so much colourful noise.
When I first saw Dragon Ball Legends, the new mobile title due out this summer for iOS and Android, pop up during a Google Game Developers Conference talk on how to make money from apps (perhaps a worrying foreshadow), I thought it looked like it could be a decent, surprisingly slick fighting game based on the hugely popular anime. After all, it features real-time player versus player online fights, teams of three characters you can switch between at will, combos, special moves and over-the-top super attacks. Bandai Namco, the company behind it, even mentioned plans to host tournaments.
I've been playing a lot of Sea of Thieves this week and so far it feels very much like being in an exciting new relationship and not being able to work out why your friends aren't as happy for you as you thought they would be - a heady combination of being incredibly enthusiastic, with just a slight creeping sensation that you're making a fool of yourself. I'm not overly bothered, mind you - I'm still having a lovely time - but it did get me thinking about what exactly draws me in so strongly while putting others right off.
At the end of the first episode of Sam Barlow's reimagining of WarGames, I got to look through all the choices I had made along the way. And the weird thing is, I didn't think I'd made any. I was thinking of choices that paused the action for a second and gave me a decision to think about and then act on. I was thinking of the big (literally) show-stopping moments in games like Life is Strange. What I should have been thinking about, perhaps, is a question of influence. You nudge WarGames around while watching it unfold. You nudge it through the very way that you watch it. It's fascinating stuff. It's also occasionally boring at times, and generally a delightful oddity.
For years now, Hearthstone has had a Charge problem. Blizzard hopes The Witchwood, Hearthstone's next set of cards, will finally hold the answer.
Sea of Thieves has just gone live on the Microsoft Store for Xbox One and PC, and we're setting to the high seas to bring you our review as soon as we've had plenty of time with final code on fully stressed servers. Before then, though, here's some early impressions from time with the various betas and a small while with final code.
A studio with a remarkable heritage for technical excellence, Sony Santa Monica is closing in on completion of its latest God of War and this past week, we've finally had the opportunity to see more of the game in action via PlayStation 4 Pro's pristine 4K video output. Right away, it's clear that what's on display here is extremely promising. God of War should comfortably stand alongside the likes of Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn when it comes to the quality of its technology.
Kratos is still angry. If you're concerned about how much has changed in Sony Santa Monica's reboot of the God of War series, it's worth knowing this; in two hours playing the game, what's remarkable is how much has stayed the same. There's the same pent up rage, unleashed in pliable combat as enemies are juggled in the air and then pulled furiously apart, the same cinematic showdowns that dazzle with their panache. The same spectacle, and the same sense that the host hardware is being pushed to its very limit. It's a God of War game alright, in that it's hard to think of any better showcase for what's possible with Sony's console.
The first video game my son ever played - I mean really played, rather than toyed with - was Burnout Paradise. We played together, but he took control; he decided what he wanted to do and he did it. The 2008 open-world driving title from Criterion, which is being released in a remastered edition on PS4, was a formative entry in the emerging universe of free-roaming multiplayer racers, leading us to the likes of Forza Horizon and The Crew. It gave you a city and a car, and it just said 'drive'. That's exactly what my son did.
It's been over three months since Playerunknown's Battlegrounds arrived on Xbox One and Xbox One X. Released as an early access 'game preview', what was immediately clear was that PUBG's console implementation had profound issues in nearly all areas: presentation was lacking, textures possessed severe streaming problems and frame-rate was sub-optimal, to put it generously. Three months on and there have been a range of improvements, but performance, key to the PUBG experience, is still lacking - and the developers agree with us.
This piece contains spoilers for Rime.
The Switch market's awash with ports and remasters, but one of the most eagerly awaited must surely be the conversion of Dark Souls - the first time the series lands on a handheld. Early signs point to it being handled by Virtuos - the studio behind the daring Switch conversion of LA Noire. Little else is known about the scale of the project, or what form the remaster will take across other platforms, but last week's Nintendo Direct did deliver a short burst of gameplay that offers up a wealth of clues.
I have Fortnite on my iPhone SE. The complete thing? Well, the Battle Royale part, anyway: the part that is currently taking over the world. And it works! It works surprisingly well. It's a little more basic to look at and I'll need a while to get properly comfortable, but I suspect Fortnite might well conquer the touchscreen much as it's conquered everything else.
After the darkness and dormancy of winter life restarts, almost as if the punishing frosts, snows and winds had never happened. The season of spring starts to take hold, colours reappear, foliage regrows and landscapes transform to offer different looks, feels and opportunities for interaction. This can be truly impactful when it manifests in video games. Where winter revealed the bones of landscapes and their design, spring brings a softer touch, its re-birth and revitalisation draping life and colour back over lands. Spring can empower a landscape to represent and symbolise in its own way. By adding these into games' story arcs and narratives, a whole new side of the landscape can be seen and experienced - one where the land tells stories of recovery, shows an ability to cleanse and has an ability to enhance peace and quiet, all while under the drape of a colourful, full of life landscape, giving the land an entirely new look and atmosphere.
Opinion regarding Sony's Playstation VR is mixed. On one hand it's a brilliant piece of kit that gives you plug-and-play access to a new frontier in gaming. On the other it's an expensive novelty that lacks proper support from Sony.
We've had a lot of requests for this over the last few months, and having finally sampled WWE 2K18, we can see why. The Switch port has built up quite a reputation since its release in early December last year - in fact, many believe it's the worst game available for the system. There've been reports of terrible performance and game-breaking slowdown, but the game was patched recently, so we thought we'd dip in to see whether there's been any improvement. First impressions suggest not, and out of all the multi-platform Switch titles we've experienced, this is easily the worst port we've tested.
Last week, news emerged of Nintendo's immediate and longer term plans for the Switch, reported on the Wall Street Journal, no less. The headline made it clear that there'd be no Switch hardware revision this year, with Nintendo's emphasis shifting to USB-C peripherals and its fascinating Labo initiative. However, tucked away at the foot of the report is coverage of a February investor briefing, where Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima talks about his plans of extending Switch's lifespan beyond the five to six year console average, taking the lifespan of the console hybrid up to 2021 at least. To make this work, hardware revisions may be inevitable.
Now known as the 'masters of the remaster', Bluepoint Games has a well-earned, solid gold reputation for delivering some of the best current-gen - and indeed last-gen - ports of gaming's most beloved properties. From Metal Gear Solid to God of War, from Gravity Rush to the Uncharted trilogy, Bluepoint's work has been uniformly excellent across the years.
Jack Kelley and his father are standing in the middle of the woods in Phillipston, Massachusetts. The pair are taking photos of the nearby fire lookout tower when, suddenly, they are approached by a stranger. As she closes in, they see that she is holding a lead in each hand - attached at the end of each lead is a goat.
Mario is a simple guy. He wears overalls and a spiffy cap. He's got a brother and a couple of close friends. He can run fast and jump high. In his various quests to save princess Peach, he makes use of all of these attributes and relationships, yet none of them tell us anything about who Mario really is.
Since the announcement of Far Cry 5, details of its map editor and multiplayer portions have been surprisingly thin on the ground. I'm a big fan of that kind of stuff though, so during a trip to try out the campaign, I badgered the developers for a bit more info about Far Cry Arcade and in particular, the map editor.
Last month Eurogamer reported that the next Call of Duty would be a return to the Black Ops series, making it Black Ops 4. This week it emerged that the game's logo would be a stylised IIII.
Microsoft's Xbox One X enhanced programme for classic Xbox 360 games recently added support for a very special last-gen release: The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. I was particularly keen to check this one out because CD Projekt Red's 360 conversion effort was absolutely outstanding and with its arrival on the X, you might describe it as one technological miracle layered on top of another. The 360 release wasn't just a port, it was a top-to-bottom revamp of a PC original specifically built for the strengths of a far more capable platform. The port had many cutbacks, of course, but in some respects, I thought it actually improved on its counterpart. So with that remarkable port now upgraded for Microsoft's latest console, how does it look running on 4K displays? And how does the PC original hold up running at an equivalent ultra HD resolution, almost seven years on from its initial release?
It's still brilliant. It really is. And on Xbox One X, Crackdown is even better than you remember it. The 2007 classic scales up wonderfully to 4K resolution, but the biggest takeaway here is that, remarkably, the gameplay still holds up - it's still utterly superb. I picked up the game exactly where I left off - with a tooled up, maxed-out Agent ready to take on the final gang left in the game, the villainous Shai-Gen. What happened next is Crackdown at its best: absolute carnage on the streets of Pacific City, urban warfare on a simply spectacular scale. It is - quite possibly - the best £1.50 I've ever spent on a game.
I've been playing a lot of Blades in the Dark recently - it might just be the best pen and paper role playing game I've ever encountered. Blades is an RPG in which the players form a fledgling criminal gang in the grimy industrial city of Duskvol, pulling off daring heists and trying to stay one step ahead of their enemies and the long arm of the law. What makes it truly special, however, are the mechanics aimed at making the experience as sleek and swift as possible, because if there's one thing from which pen and paper RPGs suffer, it's an overabundance of planning. No matter the size of an encounter, players love to try and concoct a plan to cover all bases - an irresistible exercise in frustration, as the best laid plans of mice and men and tabletop role players gang always agley.
A conservative estimate puts the value of the entire Neo Geo library of games - all European, US and Japanese variants - at around a quarter of a million dollars. Some of the games are so scarce that they come up for sale only once a decade. In October 2009, for example, an anonymous buyer paid $55,045.64 for the European versions of the fighting game Kizuna Encounter and the football game Ultimate 11 (as if guided by a scriptwriter's pen, the buyer carried a custom-made briefcase to meet the seller, to ensure the games remained pristinely cosy on the flight home). There are, it is estimated, fewer than ten copies of each game in existence. Even for the wealthiest game fanatic, then, there is almost no opportunity to play these games anywhere outside of a PC emulator.
Rejoice! Bloodborne, a nailed-on cert for one of the games of the generation, is now available to everyone with a PlayStation Plus subscription, and it is soooooo goddamn good; From Software's finest, if you ask me, a razor-edged, blood-soaked distillation of the Souls formula into something that's headily unique. It's a work of exquisite art, basically, yet there are still some put off by it all. There are still those who haven't sampled its delights.