E3 fashion week – 5 best and worst looking console designs

It’s console fashion week (aka E3) and what a great time to look back at our beloved plastic boxes of the past, present and future and reminisce about some of fashions biggest triumphs and fails in console design.

WORST

5. Nintendo Entertainment System

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Bulky squared off design, with a grey colour scheme that just screams 80’s monstrosity, this saviour of the home videogames market really wasn’t much to look at. Though I give props for the scarlet red naming and buttons on the controller, this is a big fashion miss. The two toned grey’s just don’t look good, and give it dowdy aged look, rather than something retro and antique.

4. PlayStation 5

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Promotional images of the newest PlayStation are much kinder to this console than it is in person. This enormous monstrosities entire design doesn’t work for me. The tacky shiny black middle, the weirdly shaped wings, a disc drive that looks like they slapped it on at the last minute and the white black colour scheme making the console appear even larger than it already is. Thank god it’s internals make up for its externals, because this is one ugly console.

3. Xbox One

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This eyesore was described as looking like a VCR which is fairly apt, the console is bulky, cheap and boring. Its only saving grace being the glowing “X” logo on the front. But even the materials don’t work. The tacky shiny black plastic covering half the box and the other half adorned inelegantly with vents, it looked old before it was even new. There’s nothing sleek or about this design, it’s just a heavy black box.

2. Xbox

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The OG Xbox has a lot in common with the Xbox One, this was a large bulky and ugly looking design, even that now legendary green statement badge in the middle of the box couldn’t make this thing any prettier. Black is supposed to be slimming, this this console looks like it’s in desperate need of a diet. It’s very American in its design, it’s in your face like a Karen complaining in a restaurant, I don’t like it.

1. Colecovision

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Though very of it’s time, words cannot describe how much I hate the design of this console. It’s like they took every single 80’s “futuristic” look and threw it into the console. The strange knobs, the old school mobile phone controllers that slot in the top, the pointless grating, the cheap sticker on the front, the lack of symmetry. Nothing about this design works and for that I give it the top spot on this worst console design list.

BEST

5. Intellivision

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This is what I like to see in my retro fashion statements. I love the design of the Intellivision (the gold and brown is the best of it’s many designs), unlike the Colecovision, this design went for symmetry and understatement. The gold and brown compliment each other perfectly, with faux wooden panelling on the side, this console is brave and bold with it’s design and it just works. You can catch it’s sleek frame at any angle, it just loves the camera.

4. Nintendo Gamecube

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Not every Nintendo Gamecube was born the same. The black version is a bit of shrug, but the Gamecube came in such a variety of colours that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but the gold Gamecube is just stunning! What I love about the console is it threw out any regular conventions of design and went for a new shape that looks good from every angle. Comparing it to the bulky designs of the original Xbox and the uninspired look of the PS2, the Gamecube was odd, adventurous and above all sexy.

3. Xbox Series S

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If the current generation was going to be won on the looks of the console and nothing more, the Series S would win hands down, especially up against it’s bigger brother the Series X and the aforementioned monstrosity that is the PS5. The Series S is compact, in a stunning robot white that makes it both unassuming and sleek. The big black vent in the top, makes a statement without pulling focus – it’s beautiful and makes up for a lot of poor designs from Microsoft’s past.

2. Atari VCS

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There’s something about the Atari VCS design that I just love. There’s a more premium feel to it than the very toy-like quality of the Nintendo consoles of the time. Whether it’s the symmetry of the buttons and either side of the cartridge slot, the black grating leading to the faux wood finish at the end or the curvy under belly , but it just works for me and would look sexy living under a TV even today.

1. PSone

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This little console is an absolute snack. It’s curvy edges, the off white/grey colour, the symmetrical design and even the writing and logos work beautifully with this device. The pastel colours of the power and eject buttons work in tandem for a design that’s fresh even today. It’s just gorgeous, plus we need to talk about how dinky this thing is, almost like cute puppy you can hold in one hand. This is Sony’s most accomplished design in a home console. And the winner of my E3 fashion week.

WHAT DO GAMERS WANT?

Philosophers and academics have been asking this questions since the dawn of time and the answer to this conundrum will always be the same… literally. Gamers want the same things, that’s it, I’ve solved the riddle – pay me a million pounds , give me the Nobel Peace Prize, done.

Do you want a new IP that attempts brand new gameplay ideas, with innovative design and a setting that turns the most outrageous dreams (and nightmares) into a reality? We gamers will absolutely say yes, but when you dig a little deeper what they want is actually God of War 41 or Halo 976 – OOOOoooo they’ve added a grapple hook, that’s revolutionary – OOOOoooo Kratos has a beard, how inspired. So we muddle our way through the same old games and then lambast the industry for lack of ideas. I’m guilty of it too! I play the same Tomb Raider’s year in year out and I love them, I want more, like an addiction to drugs I crave the recognisable highs, so when I see the Tomb Raider’s tropes replicated in a something like Horizon Zero Dawn it feels like satisfying a craving.

Lets go back to 2013 and the release of the Xbox One/PS4, the next-gen game that really grabbed me wasn’t the generic Killzone Shadowfall or Dead Rising 3 – it was a little demo of Kinect Sports Rivals. I had dabbled in motion control with the Wii and wasn’t a fan, but Xbox One came boxed with the Kinect so like Herpes, I was stuck with it. I tried the water skiing demo of the aforementioned game… I was blown away – the Kinect was responsive and could literally recognise my fist closing to make the jet ski accelerate, this was the techiest piece of tech I had ever teched. Then I tried the full game and realised it was all a bit naff. But this was new, it was different, it was using this new technology in a clever and unexpected ways (in the water skiing anyway). The game got no reaction from the gaming community and the Kinect went the way of Old Yeller. What always struck me about the technology was that it was a really cool peripheral, with lots of potential. It could read your heartbeat, something that could have been game-changing for the horror genre , but we as gamers rejected the Kinect, we didn’t want it and to be honest I didn’t want it either as outside that one demo it was useless to me. We constantly want a revolution and yet that entire generation the most popular games were; Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, GTA and whatever 3rd person action adventure game is flavour of the month on PlayStation.

In the last generation the 2 most popular new IP’s from Xbox and PlayStation were Ghost’s of Tsushima and Sea of Thieves. The former game is a critical darling that’s beloved by fans, but it’s literally Assassin’s Creed in all but name. Sea of Thieves on the other hand did dare to be different, putting teamwork at the heart of it’s gameplay and creating something rather unique, and I absolutely hate it. I tried to like it, but it just wasn’t for me. And though Sea of Thieves has its fans, in the grand scheme of the gaming community it’s looked down upon, because what people actually wanted from the game was an Assassins Creed Black Flag clone with Rare’s sense of humour and style. I wanted that too. So we dismiss a game that really tried to be different, while praising a game that is so close mechanically to another series it might as well be in that series. The trouble is, I’d much rather play Ghost of Tshushima, so I’m part of the problem.

Then there’s the debate about VR and this revolutionary way to play games. My limited time with the peripheral means my opinion about games on it can’t be fully formed but I have enjoyed what I have played (Beat Saber is class), but even last year a game like Half Life Alyx which apparently used VR in new and interesting ways, seemed to be seriously overlooked in favour The Last of Us Part 2, which no shade to Naughty Dog as I love the game, didn’t really do anything gameplay wise that 100 other similar games haven’t already done.

We as gamers need to stop lying to ourselves, we don’t want new ideas, we never did. We want the same ideas recycled with a new skin to give us the illusion of individuality. That’s not a dig, we want the familiar, but we should also give games outside our comfort zones a try, as there’s 100’s of indie games out there that do break the mould but won’t get the love and adoration of yet another Spider-Man game. We can’t criticise developers and publishers for never attempting a new IP when we all seem to play the same old Gears of War and Uncharted. Though I think we can all be united in the opinion that Gears of War needs to die right?

TOP 10 DRAG RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE SEASONS

So the time has come for me to rank my favourite Drag Race seasons. As the excellent second season of Rupaul’s Drag Race UK draws to its conclusion, I felt it was time to look back over the seasons and decide which ones I feel stand tall above the rest. This is no easy task, especially as I will be including both the US and UK seasons as well as all the All Star seasons, there has been a lot of battling Drag Queens over the last 13 years and by God it’s been good!

Sadly season 13 of the US season won’t feature as it’s still only half way through and if we’re being honest, it’s pretty shite. Also not included is any other international version as I’m yet to watch Canada’s version or any other, apologies.

10. All Stars 3

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All Stars 3 had a lot going for it, a stellar cast featuring fan favourites, a tried and tested all stars formula (vote bitches off the island) and some brilliantly conceived challenges. It was all going so well too, but Drag Race’s penchant for “twists” to keep the show fresh backfired massively in the finale whereby the eliminated Queens scuppered the showdown we should have got between eventual winner Trixie Mattel and Shangela. It was an unnecessary move that robbed the finale of the excitement it should have had.

But despite this, it was still a fun ride. BendeleCreme’s early dominance and brilliant snatch game as Paul Lind, followed by her self elimination were highlights, as well as Shangela’s bizarre and sometimes obsessive Game of Throne’s references, Trixie’s awful but iconic impersonation of Rupaul and Kennedy Davenport’s hilarious challenge dominating improv skills. All Stars 3 lives in the shadow of All Stars 2, but it is still one of the best season of the show and deserves it’s 10th place on my list.

9. Season 3

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The early seasons of Drag Race are really nice to go back to as they often feel a lot less driven by controversy and producer meddling. They come across more natural, with the Queens a lot less polished and prepared for what’s to come and season 3 combines that rawness with a more honed sense of what the show was meant to be.

This was a stellar cast of very likable characters such as Manila Luzon, Delta Work, Shangela, Yara Sophia and eventual winner Raja, they all worked well together despite a mid-season divide of the Queens (Heather’s Vs Boogers) which was childish and eye rolling, but a combination of fun challenges and some great fashion from Raja makes this season stand out. Not to mention this features a legendary lip-synch where Mimi Imfurst power lifts India Farrah, it’s hilarious.

8. Season 7

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Season 7 got a lot of hate when it debuted, but I think this season deserves a lot more credit. Yes there were too many acting challenges and the cast was maybe a little too bloated, but there were some real stand out moments in this season, including the second best Snatch Game to ever feature on Drag Race with all of the queens succeeding somewhat, with Kennedy Davenport’s Little Richard, Ginger Minj’s Adele, Pearl’s Big Ang and Katya’s Susie Orman really standing out. The episode dedicated to Divine and John Waters was brilliant, with all the queens embracing the absurdity of this historic drag performer.

There’s a lot of stand out queens in Season 7, the 4 aforementioned queens but also Miss Fame, Jasmine Masters, Trixie Mattel and eventual winner Violet Chachki, whose first episode “2 in 1” Spring look still gives my willy a little twinge.

7. Season 9

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I liked season 8, but 7 and 8 back to back feels a little uneventful, so season 9 felt like a shot in the arm, especially in the latter half of the season. The diverse cast really helps Season 9 rise above some of the others and an absolutely iconic finale that has yet to be topped. Rose petals now have a new meaning to the gay community and we will never be the same again. In the twist to the formula that saw season favourite Shae Coulee get annihilated in a lip-synch against best mate Sasha Velour, it was a shocking but joyous moment as a well liked queen truly proved her absolute brilliance in a unique way. It’s an iconic moment for the show.

Stand out’s of the season are Valentina, Peppermint Farrah Moan and Aja. This season also features the Valentina mask lip-synch, I absolutely loved the drama.

6. UK Season 1

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It had been a very long time coming, why it took UK broadcasters so long to bring Drag Race to the UK, especially with the UK’s history of Drag on primetime television is anyone’s guess. Channel 4 and ITV must be kicking themselves for not snapping this show up now, but their less was the BBC’s gain. It was the breath of fresh air Drag Race needed. Gone are the cut-throat digs for the desperation of $100,000 payday of the US season, instead we have Kim Woodburn impressions and cheeky British humour and some shite plastic badges.

It was a stellar cast of likable queens. With the top 5 queens Cheryl Hole, Blu Hydrangea, Baga Chips and eventual winner The Vivienne all being an absolute delight to watch. Not to mention the brilliant Frock Destroyers song Break Up (Bye Bye) that will go down in drag race herstory as one of the best Rupaul songs ever! It’s still in my head over a year later.

5. Season 12

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Certainly the best season for the newer seasons of the show, the quality of season 12 was somewhat marred by the Sherry Pie’s controversies, meaning a would-be front-runner ended up getting cut out of the show as best they could. But even with those issues season 12 was barnstorming success.

With a mix of humours and endearing queens like Heidi N Closet and Jackie Cox, some brilliantly done challenges (the Madonna Rusical being one of the best they’ve ever done), some stunning fashion moments from Nicki Doll and Gigi Goode and the fabulous weirdness and personal growth of Crystal Methyd makes this one of my all time favourite seasons.

4. Season 5

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Season 5 felt like a turning point for Drag Race, this was the season where I feel comedy started to become a more domineering force in the show. This is one of the best seasons as it was anyone’s game. All the 3 finalists had 2 wins each, they all offered something different from one another and they were all fabulous. So the finale episode was one of the most tense and exciting of any season.

It had some of the most iconic challenges like the perfume challenge (Red for Filth, Delusion: Convince Yourself), the Candy Ball, telenovela (watching Alyssa attempting to orgasm, but sounding like she’s having a bunion removed will never get old), Can I get an Amen and Jinkx Monsoon’s legendary Little Edie impersonation on Snatch Game. It’s a season I can re-watch as it’s just so much fun, but also feel-good, with Jinkx Monsoon overcoming the pressure from Relaskadox and coming out triumphant.

3. UK Season 2

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UK Season 1 was stellar, but with only 10 Queens it felt like a mini series, whereas season 2 felt fuller and more well rounded. Again the Queens are all an endearing bunch, all of them have a sharp sense of humour and it was great to finally see some more left field queens like Ginny Lemon and Joe Black, as it’s very representative of UK drag, I’d love to see some bearded Queens in season 3.

The season felt like more of a competition with higher stakes than the previous season, with a covid break shaking things up and turning the competition completely upside down. After a 9 month break the Queens returned and a rejuvenated Bimini Bon Boulash started to absolutely dominate turning a lovable underdog into a real contender for a crown. Despite some slightly wonky challenges in the latter half of the season (stand up in front of 5 people was uncomfortable), the queens were able rise above it (some of the tasks post covid felt more hollow). Highlights include Bimini’s Katie Price impression (the nipples are the eyes of the face), Lawrence Chaney general being a delightful soul, Awhora’s incredible design challenge outfit, Rats the Rusical being delightfully bonkers and Tayce’s damn face – what a stunning looking queen she is! It’s a shame some of the judging was questionable or it might gone even higher, season 3 has a high bar to overcome.

2. All Stars 2

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I honestly didn’t know whether this season needed to be number 1 or not, it was so difficult to choose!

What a fucking season this was, the drama, the challenges, the laughs, the tears and Katya… Katya really made this season special, yes she was a good competitor but she was also the narrator of the season and it was hilarious. Every good Drag Race season needs a good talking head, and Katya is one of the best.

A legendary Snatch game of Alaska and Katya doing hilarious impressions of Mae West and Bjork respectively and Alyssa Edwards just randomly blurting out quotes from Mommie Dearest was EVERYTHING! A stellar stand up challenge with Alyssa, Tatianna, Alaska and Detox absolutely nailing it. The shequels acting challenge with parodies on Thelma and Louise and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane had some of the best (over)acting of any season ever. Then there’s the drama; the mirror reveal mid-season, the bribery to stay in the competition, Ginger Minj’s elimination and the relaskatox alliance. This season was brilliant from the word go and it never let up, I love it!

1. Season 6

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Season 6 is my favourite season as it had the strongest cast of any season (all stars included), it had the best pacing, best challenges and plenty of drama to make it the most engaging season ever. Some queens went on journey’s like Trinity K Bonet’s self doubt, leading to her breaking free of her insecurities and making the best of herself. And we also had a star making turn from season winner Bianca Del Rio, who still remains a force to be reckoned with and is probably the most popular winner to ever grace the show, not to mention she was funny as fuck.

But even first eliminated queen Kelly Mantle had personality and was sent packing in dress that looked like bacon, it was brilliant. Aussie legend Courtney Act is still one of the most stunning female impersonators to ever take part in the show, Milk was one of the first Queens to truly gender bend in the completion, Joselyn Fox was just a delight (why hasn’t she been on All Stars yet?), Leganja Estranger was a bizarre and dramatic force of nature who was insanely entertaining, Adore Delano also went on her own journey, Darienne Lake was a hilarious and bitchy queen who might have won a season with a weaker cast and Bendelecreme was just a joy to watch whose Snatch Game as Maggie Smith is the single greatest performance in the history of of the show.

Season 6 has yet to be topped for me and maybe never will, but the best thing about Drag Race is that it’s still so fun to watch. Sometimes it all comes together in perfect harmony, but there’s still a lot miles left in the tank of this long running series. Just please don’t drag it out like you have season 13 World of Wonder, it’s painful.

TOP 5 FEMALE VIDEOGAME CHARACTERS

It’s women’s history month as well as International Women’s Day (on March 8th) and with that in mind I wanted to honour some of the best and most iconic female videogame characters.

5. SAMUS ARAN

Samus Aran is an icon, the protagonist from the 1986 game Metroid, this ground breaking character was one of the first ever female leads in a videogame (first female human character). Part way through the original games development, the creators decided to reveal the gender of the suited up hero to be female at the end of the game, an inspired choice for anyone skilled enough to finish it, but also a shocking twist as the games booklet implied the opposite. Heavily based on Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, Samus was never intended to be an objectified character and she is often seen as a tough and enduring solider with her exoskeleton suit being more famous than the woman inside. But credit where it’s due, Samus is still in games and many people are eagerly awaiting a new Metro Prime – come on Nintendo you’ve had years!

4. ALOY

Female leads are becoming more common in videogames and Aloy has been part of the recent batch of female characters. Thanks to her unique robot-dinosaur setting, Aloy stands out in the crowd. The ginger haired beauty with early man style attire is interesting and fun, plus we have a character who manages to rise above the oppression she faces in game, and is still able to treat everyone around her with dignity and respect. Plus she can take down a robot from half a mile away, which is simply awesome. We’re all looking forward to seeing what she gets up to in the next game.

3. CLEMENTINE

It’s rare for characters in videogames to get have such a compelling character progression over such a long period of time, especially from childhood to near-adulthood. Despite only appearing in the videogame series, Clementine really stands out as one of the best characters in the Walking Dead universe, we meet her as small child just trying to survive and we end with her taking the reins as the mentor and mother figure to someone else’s orphaned child. Her relationship with Lee in the first season is compelling, Clem feels like a real person and her actions in the game come across as authentic under the circumstances she’s in. Telltale’s Walking Dead series really paved the way for multi-choice story based games (some call them walking sims) and Clementine is a big part of what made the game a success, not only is she a well-written child in a game but she is the emotional heart and an excellent addition to how women (and young girls) are portrayed in videogames.

2. JILL VALENTINE

The Resident Evil franchise has produced plenty of strong women; Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Sheva Alomar and Sherry Birkin. But none quite measure up to the brilliance of Jill Valentine. We meet Jill at the Spencer Mansion in the very first game, where this tough solider first encounters the deadly T-Virus, armed with a gun and limited ammo against a small army of zombies and other creatures. Jill gets by with tenacity and skill as well her determination to uncover the truth. Even though Jill was later put into overly sexualised outfits, her initial appearances were notable for her being dressed similarly to her male counterparts, not only that but her relationship with Chris Redfield never falls into romance and the two are only ever portrayed as equally matched colleagues, which is rare in most narratives (Resident Evil would pass the Bechdel test if it applied to games). Despite Jill’s most recent appearance being the disappointing Resident Evil 3 remake, we’re all looking forward to seeing Jill return to the franchise… maybe in Resident Evil Village along with a 9 foot ball vampire woman.

1. LARA CROFT

Who else could be number 1 really? Lara is the most famous, most enduring female videogame character whose under gone several iterations across various pieces media. She has inspired so many people of all different genders and backgrounds that her influence can’t really be measured, but what we know is the mark she’s left on the videogame industry – it’s enormous. Even characters on this list owe a debt (big or small) to Lara. Originally conceived as Laura Cruz, a Mexican adventurer the developers at Core Design decided to turn her into a dual pistol wielding English heiress with a long braid and hot pants, an icon was born almost the moment she was revealed. Despite her wholly inappropriate attire Lara became more famous than the games she starred in. Though Lara’s appearance has been subject of debate over the years and despite some questionable marketing – Lara’s tough as nails, no nonsense personality is what we love about her and we eagerly await her return, whatever that may be.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
Senua Do you hear something?
Ellie – Really hates going on golfing holidays
Cortana – I’m blue daba dee ba da die
Joanna Dark – She’s got initiative, but she’s still rare
Nina Williams – You’re frozen when you’re hearts not open
GLaDOS – How are you holding up? BECAUSE I’M A POTATO

A Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Wishlist…

I make no secret about my love for the first Hellblade game. It came as a complete surprise how much I loved it, the game was barely on my radar till Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft and I finally played the game once it hit Gamepass – I wish I hadn’t waited. I was met with a visceral, emotionally powerful story with a character who suffers with mental health problems, which were both delicately and realistically handled. I’ve never played anything so daring and original – gaming will often go for very familiar story beats, but Hellblade was unique not just for the medium but storytelling in general. I was seriously impressed.

The new game was announced in December 2019 and though we’ve heard little about the game, the in-engine trailer showed a beautifully realised world and a character model with jaw-dropping realism. Whether the graphics are replicated in the gameplay remains to be seen, but with Ninja Theory’s pedigree there’s no reason why it can’t.

Now I’m no game developer and I never like to make suggestions about games, because I have no idea what will necessarily make a compelling Hellblade game. I trust these developers and their process (especially as this is not yet a franchise), but I’ve complied some things I’d maybe like to see from this sequel from the perspective of a gaming idiot.

More Varied Puzzles

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The first Hellblade followed a fairly shallow loop of combat – puzzle – combat – puzzle – boss. I enjoyed the loop and thought it worked well for the length of the game, but a lot of criticism levelled at the game have been down to the rune puzzles that make up the majority of the games non-combat sequences. Though I personally enjoyed lining up obstacles in the environment to create shapes, they are used a bit too often and lose their appeal in the latter half of the game. Though I think these puzzles will remain in the game if they are used more sparingly to give them more impact. Plus with the name “Saga” in the title it seems like it will be a longer length game so stretching these puzzles out over a longer run time might be a detriment to the overall experience.

Some of the other puzzles in the first game were brilliantly implemented, such as using large glass masks to shift the world between time periods to gain entry to a building or using archways to that alter the environment allowing doors to open or bridges to be built – I would personally like to see more of this in the next game and new and interesting puzzles that challenge the player in unexpected ways, using the new Icelandic environment to alter the players perception of the environment would be amazing.

Deeper Combat

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One of the biggest criticism’s of the first game was the combat. Though I believe many people have over-exaggerated the problems with the combat, there is still validity to it. The first games combat was perfectly serviceable and did pose a challenge with some of the large scale fights and boss fights. My complaints with the combat stem from it being a little bare-bones, it felt like a great core system that needed more layers to make it truly interesting. But I did appreciate how the sound design in the game aided in dispensing of enemies, it certainly helped with the cinematic feel of the game.

I think to diversify the combat Hellblade 2 could do a number of things, but I think the most natural for this game would be to add more weapons. Enemies in the first game would to adorned with axes, hammers, twin blades – where Senua is stuck with her sword. Obviously her “Hellblade” needs to be the core device but weapons that affect Senua’s speed and movement in different ways could really open the combat up.

More Open

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I certainly don’t want Hellblade to be open world, it would completely ruin what made the first game so compelling, but with the next games stunning Iceland setting, having larger environments to explore would be a serious boon. Adopting a mixture of open areas with the linear corridors could be the way to go. I often felt with the first game that the environment could have been used to hide secrets from the player, rewarding exploration – I loved these places and and would have killed to have seen more.

A more open environment may also allow for more gameplay opportunities, such as larger scale battles (hinted at in the trailer) or tie into more intricate puzzles. You could even have some stealth added into the mix, the first game toyed with this in the trials section and would be lovely to see this done again.

Boundary pushing storytelling

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This is where the first game truly excelled and it’s a game sequel where I truly cannot predict how the stories narrative will go. The end of the first game did set up for more adventures in Senua’s life, but the first game was such a personal and affecting journey that ended with closure that’s really hard to predict what comes next in her story. But there are hints given, Senua’s father Zynbel is a prominent figure in her first story and is the catalyst to the events leading up the death of Dillion at the hands of the Norsemen, I imagine he will feature in the sequel, a journey of revenge might be a little too obvious, but as The Last of Us 2 showed, you can take a simplistic premise and create something truly thought provoking and brilliant.

All in all, I trust Ninja Theory in their vision for Hellblade 2. I believe they have the storytelling chops to compete with the best the game industry has to offer and even if none of this wishlist comes to pass, I know they’ll create an incredible game that I can’t wait to play it.

THE PLAYSTATION STUDIOS TO WATCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION

PlayStation have had a killer generation, the bounce back from the PS3 has been the stuff of legends, every year since 2015 Sony have managed to turn out a shocking number of high quality exclusives that have not only defined their respective genres, but will go down as some of the greatest games of all time. The sheer quality has outstripped both Nintendo and Xbox meaning PlayStation are going into the PS5 generation with swagger.

It’s difficult to pin-point which games from PlayStation first party have had the biggest impact, God of War was such an outstanding reimagining of the series that has truly reinvented itself but still maintaining and surpassing the high quality from the series glory days. The Last of Us Part 2 was an ambitious and daring narrative that was polished with a sheen that puts games from other developers to shame. Sony managing to wrangle the Spider-Man IP was a massive get for the company and pairing the superhero with developer Insomniac was a small stroke of genius.

There’s a lot to look forward to in the PlayStation 5 generation, it’s shame PlayStation have started paying to keep 3rd party games as timed exclusives (Final Fantasy 16, Deathloop) as they really don’t need to – their first party can speak for itself as it has always done. So I’m having a look at some of the PlayStation Studios to watch out for in the next (current) generation. .

NAUGHTY DOG

I mean this is a no-brainer. Not many studios have had such an impressive run of high quality games, where they keep on topping themselves with every single iteration. Everything that comes out of this studio is exciting and pure gold, with The Last of Us Part 2 the studio into created a beautiful immersive game world with stellar gameplay whilst pushing the boundaries of videogame storytelling with its complex characters.

But with the Uncharted series seemingly drawn to a close or at the very least being passed on to another development studio and The Last of Us Part 3 unlikely to be made immediately after the 2nd game, where could Naughty Dog take us next?

A new IP from this studio would be welcome, it’s likely to be a 3rd person narrative driven experience as it’s the studios bread and butter – but you never know, maybe they’ll zig when when we’re expecting them to zag. I would love to see Naughty Dog try their hand at a narrative driven first person shooter maybe set in a war or something, if any studio can out-do the campaigns of Call of Duty/Battlefield and make Activision/EA quake in their boots it’s Naughty Dog. Hopefully we’ll see the fruits of their labour in a year or two, whatever it may be.

SUCKER PUNCH

Sucker Punch have a ton of talent and Ghost of Tsushima really was a display of their ability to craft a solid and beautiful looking game. However I will say that their games can often air on the side of caution, rarely trying to expand beyond the realms of a tried and tested gameplay formula. But what makes Sucker Punch an exciting proposition for the future is that everything they make is still a high quality product and despite Ghost of Tsushima being generic in it’s execution, it’s a world away from Infamous and Sly Cooper showing they are willing to take on anything.

It’s likely the next game from this studio is still a while away and with the success of Ghost, and they’ll probably be working on a sequel given the games success, which is a perfect opportunity for the studio to not play it quite as safe as they did with the first one, take some risks – it’s an exciting proposition whatever they’re doing.

INSOMNIAC GAMES

Sony’s most recent acquisition felt like it was a long time coming. Insomniac’s game output this generation has been fantastic, from the Xbox exclusive Sunset Overdrive, to the Ratchet and Clank remake and of course a little game called Spider-Man. Insomniac are masters of creating worlds where traversing the environment is the best part of the experience. And over time their flair for exciting cinematic set pieces has put them in the upper echelons of game developers.

Their next game following on from the stellar Mile Morales Spider-Man game, is the next entry in the Ratchet and Clank series, promising an exciting use of the PS5’s SSD with the ability to jump between worlds on the fly, not to mention the game looks BEAUTIFUL! Again we are seeing a development studio at the height of their powers, using Sony’s endless budgets to create something new and exciting but still very much in keeping with the Insomniac games we know and love.

I can’t see the developer making any new IP’s this gen which is a shame, Sunset Overdrive’s comedic sensibilities were a refreshing change and still doesn’t really feel like anything else on either console. But more Spider-Man is no bad thing, not to mention the studio is clearly capable of making 2 games simultaneously, so who knows what might be next.

MEDIA MOLECULE

Media Molecule is one of the more exciting studios in PlayStation’s portfolio, their games really help diversify the range of games on the console. Their most recent game Dreams set out to give users the tools to create anything they set their minds to, in an accessible and brilliantly implemented engine.

Their prior games have been smaller in scale with Little Big Planet and the brilliant Tearaway, but this is a studio with limitless creativity and a studio that really is willing to go outside the box when creating their art. I’m intrigued to see where they’ll go (beyond a PS5 version on Dreams), trying to guess their next project is damn near impossible, but the one thing we do know is when Media Molecule set their minds to creating something, it’s always a very high quality.

I would love to see them go back to a puzzle platformer, with something unique that can really stretch the studio with their creativity – maybe something less aimed at children – there aren’t enough adult orientated foul mouthed platformers (a la Conker) for my liking and they seem a good fit.

BEND STUDIO

Day’s Gone was a big hit for this first party developer, their first big AAA game and it all came together beautifully. The game fell into the trap of being just a bit too close to other zombie filled games to really separate itself from the pack, but there is no denying that the game was still very well put together and the zombie hordes were a marvel to behold.

So what’s next for this developer? A Days Gone sequel with a bigger budget to iron out the bugs which plagued the first game and some better writing would elevate the game beyond its first outing. With the plethora of open world games recently released and on the horizon (Zero Dawn), I think I’d like to see the studio go in whole new direction – I’d happily take another zombie game, however something more dense and vertical or even semi linear might be a better fit.

We may see the fruits of their labour potentially this year, though more likely next as they only released Day Gone 2 years ago. I am interested to see what they’ve got cooking – I imagine Sony will allow the studio more creative and financial freedom given the success of Days Gone and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. If it’s not a Day Gone sequel then what could it be? The studio has certainly proved itself worthwhile with limitless potential.

TOMB RAIDER HAS NEVER REACHED ITS FULL POTENTIAL

Tomb Raider is now entering it’s 25th year in our lives, yes Miss Lara Croft has been with us for almost a quarter of a century (25th October is the 25th Anniversary if you want to mark it in your calendars), I have friends that weren’t even alive when the first Tomb Raider released! In that time the series has undergone several changes from high difficulty methodical platforming adventure games of the original PlayStation, to a dark methodical platforming adventure game so broken it almost killed the franchise, to a smooth Prince of Persia style platforming adventure game with shite combat, to a Rambo style killing spree with light puzzling adventure game. The metamorphosis has been stark and the current iteration of Tomb Raider barely resembles the one’s released prior, though I would argue this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the franchise has evolved to keep itself relevant in the tough AAA gaming machine and has largely retained it’s success and identity despite the changes.

To me – and this might be a controversial statement – there hasn’t been a Tomb Raider game yet that has actually fulfilled it’s full potential. It’s a difficult series to truly define what “Tomb Raider” actually is: it depends on who you ask in the Tomb Raider fandom, everyone has very different ideas on what makes a Tomb Raider game. The hardcore fanbase are so fixated on the original games, they barely see the modern reboot games as Tomb Raider at all, they see the Core Design games as the only ones worth playing. I recently conducted a poll in 2 separate Tomb Raider fan pages asking the question “If Tomb Raider was to release a AAA game soon, what would you want it to be?”, the overwhelming winner of this poll in both forums was to have a Tomb Raider 2 remake, I also voted for this – but the issue is what do people want to see in a Tomb Raider 2 remake? – some would like to see a return of the methodical tank control platforming – basically everything lifted from the original game but with better and more modern graphics, others want a want a return to the Tomb Raider Legend style gameplay and some of us would like new and fresh platforming mixed with the 3rd person combat of the recent games, with the emphasis on puzzles firmly back in place – basically a Resident Evil 2 Remake wherein the identity of the game is still very much there but fully modernised to hold up to modern day gaming standards. But when I asked this same question on a non-Tomb Raider gaming forum the overwhelming majority wanted a sequel to Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Which to me just seems like Tomb Raider is stuck between trying to appease old fans that dedicate their time to keeping the franchise active Vs the more casual players that are actually the vast majority of current Tomb Raider players that are keeping the series alive. Tomb Raider is in a lose-lose situation with itself, it’s become too many things to too many audiences and may never appease all of them, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been some incredible games along the way.

I have a great fondness and love for the original Tomb Raider games, but I’m not blind to the games shortcomings unlike some of the games more ardent fans. I go back and play Tomb Raider 1 and 2 every couple of years and I absolutely love them, many of the games design choices I find frustrating I can put down to the age of the games. But even thinking to back when I first played them, they had some shortcomings. The original Tomb Raider managed to deftly balance it’s gameplay with excellent level design to create a truly ground-breaking piece of gaming history, it had a lonely and foreboding atmosphere that I feel was never full replicated in the later games. The game was incredibly challenging and often frustrating, mostly due to the ridiculous 1-use save crystals. Combat also required little to no skill – Lara will lock-on automatically to enemies as they do rounds of charging at you and retreating whilst you hold the action button and leap from side to side. Lets be honest here the combat really wasn’t good nor was it the focus, there are occasional adrenaline rushes like the T-Rex fight and it could be a welcome break from getting lost in the giant areas or the long stretches of platforming – but the late game combat could often be an exercise in frustration. Tomb Raider 2 I felt had a better story (though a worse antagonist, I love me some Natla) and the mixture of tombs and cities was a refreshing and dynamic change (the canals of Venice is still my all-time favourite level), but the combat against human enemies increased exponentially and the problem here was the gun-toting human enemies would auto-aim at you and never miss, meaning you’d always take damage if an enemy spotted you, even if you were miles away creating some cheap deaths and unnecessary difficulty . But what elevates these two games above the others in the original series is they were much more cohesive and well balanced and for the most part both told simple and fun stories. By the time Tomb Raider 3 came around the series was starting to run low on ideas and it showed, the stories started to get more silly and the difficulty spiked to extreme levels, by the time the Last Revelation came out it traded in the globe trotting adventuring for just one location and though it told one of the stronger stories in the series, the obtuse puzzle solving and lack of variety hurt the game somewhat and never quite reached the heights of the first two games. The poor combat and clunky controls make the original games difficult to recommend for modern gamers if they aren’t well versed in the series history, but I would argue Tomb Raider 1 and 2 were the closest the original series ever came to knocking out the park.

Core Design’s final game Angel of Darkness sadly had rushed schedule that ultimately killed the game, but here is where I think Tomb Raider could have had its true masterpiece. For the time Angel of Darkness was a seriously ambitious product, building off the massively successful formula of the previous 5 games (though the less said about Chronicles the better) but added new and interesting elements such as stealth, dialogue trees and puzzles that required proper investigation. It also had a pretty stellar story and intriguing premise and one of the most beautiful scores of any game in the series, it was just massively let down by clunky controls and game-breaking bugs, not to mention it’s massively cut down run time that felt like it was missing massive chunks. Now we are stuck with this black sheep of a game, however it’s half baked ideas could have been a truly new experience had it had the time to be finished – again Tomb Raider had an opportunity to create a serious masterpiece, but instead had wasted potential.

Crystal Dynamics first 3 Tomb Raider games certainly modernised Tomb Raider where it needed it, controls were now fluid and Lara moved like the gymnast she was portrayed to be, the platforming was fun to execute and their first game Tomb Raider Legend told a tightly written story – it was just all over a bit quickly. In fact the game only just started to get going before it ended. Another issue I had with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld was just how linear and easy the games were, where the original games never held your hand and gave very few hints as to how to conquer it’s genius but evil levels these games basically held your hand. Anniversary avoided this better than the other 2 by being a remake of the original game, but one can’t help but feel like the game was still streamlined and any navigation and exploratory elements of the original game were mostly eradicated. Though these were still excellent games, they certainly didn’t hit anywhere near the highs of the original games and were all guilty of being far too easy with practically the same tired combat system the games had featured for 10 years. Add in the eras overuse of Quick Time Events and we we’re left with a game trilogy that was high quality but still sadly lacking many areas.

Then reboot Lara came along and completely changed everything. The 2013 Tomb Raider sought to modernise everything about the series, from the gameplay, the look, the feel, the combat and even Lara herself. By and large I would say the three games in the reboot trilogy combine to make an excellent game series in their own right, but they are bogged down by the sheer fact that the much improved combat took centre stage (especially in the first game), which was often to the detriment of the other game elements that make Tomb Raider what it is. Puzzle solving in the 2013 and it’s sequel Rise were almost non-existent barring some genius side tombs and though Shadow rectified this somewhat it was such a poorly written story with a Lara so devoid of any fun or personality it really bought down the entire game. In terms of level design, story and navigation I believe the 2013 game is the best of the bunch, but I believe Rise balanced it’s gameplay far better with an excellent mix of exploration, mythos, combat and platforming with a still serviceable story, only to be capped off disappointingly with Shadow.

To me, none of these 12 mainline games fully nailed it, each game has an aspect that the other ones need to truly be the ultimate Tomb Raider game. My personal wish list would be to have a globe trotting adventure similar to Tomb Raider 2, with aspects of loneliness and isolation from the original Tomb Raider, a fun strong and care-free Lara Croft similar to the one seen in Tomb Raider Legend, large open areas with plenty of secrets and dead ends like the original games, a well-written and cohesive story suitable for a modern game, platforming that’s interesting, fluid and difficult and combat similar to that of the reboot games. This is what I think, but maybe the makers of Tomb Raider can fulfil the series potential by doing something completely new and dynamic with the series, crazier things have happened. As mentioned prior, it will be difficult for whoever makes the next Tomb Raider to please everyone, as opinions about Tomb Raider are too wide ranging – but I think the series can still make something special that will appease most fans of the series, while taking the series forward.

In a way it’s a good thing the Tomb Raider has never reached it’s full potential, it means that the best is still yet to come. Though no game can ever be perfect, Lara deserves to take her place back among the 90 Metacritic scores of her forebears and become the must play games that they were in the 90’s. Whatever the future for Lara may hold it’s been one hell of a 25 years and I await the next instalment with much excitement. Just for the love of God give Lara her dual pistols!

WONDER WOMAN 1984 REVIEW

Films based on comic books were in danger over becoming oversaturated, every other month Marvel or DC would release their latest loud Blockbuster all vying for the same thrills and huge box office. The original Wonder Woman struck a chord with me, I loved watching this strong charismatic woman take centre stage in a fabulously directed and well-thought out origin story, though the films third act let the overall package down a bit, the preceding two acts were strong enough to hold it up. So the stakes were high for the sequel to deliver the goods and during these trying times it was a delight to return to the cinema to see Gal Gadot play the iconic hero once again.

Wonder Woman 1984 is fundamentally different to the prior film in almost every way. It’s a lot more colourful and there’s an elegance to the way the film is shot and the way movements are choreographed that feel very different to the grittier first film. I welcome this change wholeheartedly, I liked the fact it looked different and I loved the way the film embraced the 80’s era in which it’s set. The first Wonder Woman worked so well for me as it really felt like a period piece and 1984 is no different. Director Patty Jenkins has managed to capture the spirit of the 1980’s without it ever descending into a full on parody, it’s a tricky balancing act but it’s very well done. The setting is the perfect back drop to the films themes around greed and wanting something without earning it.

With the sequel taking place so far in the future returning characters are thin on the ground with only Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor returning (I won’t spoil how) and though Lucy Davis’s Etta Candy is missed, the new characters add some much needed friction as well as levity. We’re introduced early on to Barbara Minerva played to perfection by Kristen Wiig. Barbara is a shy and often overlooked individual who just craves human connection and to be seen – when Barbra and Diana meet they bond almost immediately and it’s sweet exchange between the the two women. But Barbara craves the attention and confidence that Diana exudes, attributes the character later acquires but at a grave cost. Wiig’s character arc as she slowly loses her humanity descending into a villainous threat is terrific and is one of the stronger aspects of the stories many threads. Pedro Pascal as the main antagonist Max Lord is also superb, his character has far more depth than I initially expected and the films climax surprised me in with the way Max’s moral quandary was played out on the screen.

Though I very much enjoyed Chris Pine and Gal Gadot’s enigmatic chemistry I did feel like his return was to the detriment of Barbra and Diana’s budding friendship. Wiig’s character arc would have had more impact had more time been spent on their slowly building friendship, rather than re-treading the same ground with Steve Trevor. At times his character feels like an after-thought but his use in the plot is smartly put together and the emotional pull of the his and Diana’s story still works very well. In fact this film is a lot more emotional than your typical Hollywood blockbuster, it’s one of the main things I enjoyed about it – the sincerity, it’s not afraid to have an emotional weight and consequences, it also doesn’t trade its mournful tone for cheap laughs like certain third God of Thunder film.

The action sequences in 1984 work very well and have similar level of excitement to the ones in the original film, a showdown in the White House and the Amazon’s Olympic were standouts for me. I enjoyed the fights between Cheetah and Wonder Woman and I’m happy to report that Cheetah’s final form doesn’t look like a hideous outtake from Cats. The look isn’t 100% perfect, but considering the challenge of creating a cheetah/human hybrid I was satisfied with the way it looked and the final battle between Cheetah, Max and Diana is far superior to the the climax of previous film.

This is a difficult film to decipher whether it is better or worse than the 2017 film, I think I preferred the 1918 setting and it was far more cohesive, with a simpler plot and better general pacing than the sequel. 1984 sags in some places and a plot point that moves the story over to Cairo probably could have totally cut out (even though there’s a really fun chase sequence), but it pulls ahead in the other places such as stronger villains, better character development and the film has a much better third act. In fact I’d say the 3rd act is the best part of the film, which really is a reverse of the first film.

CONCLUSION

What I really liked about Wonder Woman 1984 is that it feels absolutely nothing like any other modern comic book film, it really feels unique. My main gripes with it are some pacing issues and a slightly over-written plot, but it never gets bogged down in it’s foibles and when Wonder Woman 1984 works – it soars, both literally and metaphorically.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Pro’s

  • Unique style
  • Well written villains
  • Engrossing and emotional character arcs
  • Some really well-done action sequences
  • The cast are all superb

Cons

  • The plot is a bit all over the place at times
  • Pacing in the early film is a bit on the slow side
  • Steve Trevor’s inclusion doesn’t feel as necessary as it should.

IN DEFENCE OF FABLE

OK gamers as Meryl Streep said to Goldie Hawn in the film ‘Death Becomes Her’ as she shoots her in the stomach with a shotgun “you’ve bought this on yourself”. Yes readers it is you that has driven me to this, and possibly the extreme boredom bought on by a 2 week isolation, but instead of doing something constructive like cleaning the bathroom I have decided to write this – the limescale can wait as arguing about gaming is far more fun, don’t you agree? So onto Fable, there’s been a re-writing of history regarding Fable in recent years, even a recent readers feature said and I quote “Fable was never any good”, I’ve heard this sentiment a few times and though I respect everyone’s opinion and no opinion can be incorrect, your opinion is wrong and I don’t respect it. I should note that I am a Fable super-fan, so this perspective is going to well-balanced and totally unbiased…

The year is 2020, we are living in the world where an invisible virus that is destroying our way of life and we need distractions like gaming to take us out of the world we live in. It’s been an excellent generation for videogames, with Sony’s first party in particular nailing it with story driven action adventure games. But then when you look over the highest rated games a lot of them are humourless bores! The Last of Us though excellent is such a depressing couple of games I needed therapy after playing them. The recent Tomb Raider games have become so grim, dark and realistic it’s no longer fun to make Lara swan dive into a rock, sad times. Horizon Zero Dawn has a cool but ridiculous concept taken so seriously; they might as well have not bothered with mo-cap as everyone’s face was set to constipated the whole game.  It’s honestly refreshing when a game goes for comedy and in the AAA space as these have been very few and far between in recent years. Borderlands, Sunset Overdrive and Portal 2 are examples of games that have really worn comedy on their sleeves. So why are the majority of games so serious? That was something that made Fable really stand out among the brown and grey shooters populating gaming at the time. Fable’s world was a dark twisted fantasy not to mention foreboding, but it perfectly weaved in a marvellous Monty Python-esque sense of humour that’s so rare in videogames – it gave Fable a charm that’s missing from the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn that are held in far higher regard. Not only was this comedy, it’s British comedy (which is the best, sorry Americans), unafraid to be silly and sarcastic – from quests based around completing Gnome collections and to over dramatic Demon Doors that just want to see you get fat.

Fable managed to invigorate mundane quests that are present in most games in the genre but made them infinitely more entertaining with clever script writing and a silly morality system that was fun to mess around with. The social aspect of Fable was also a joy to play, finally you could live out your fantasy of farting to a group of people and getting the adoration and disgust you deserve. My Fable 2 experience almost ruined my love life, because I met my first husband in it, Roger the cobbler. He gave me a pair of boots for absolutely no reason other than love, that’s relationship goals right there, I love me some footwear – I’ve been searching for my Roger ever since. My real-life fiancé does share his Yorkshire accent but he’s yet to buy me boots that offer an armour stat boost, though he does buy me fried chicken when I’m hung over so it’s not all bad.

Yes Fable has a lot of short comings, the combat seemed to degrade with each subsequent entry and the third game was littered with micro-transactions and a ridiculous end game. Across the series the world was far too linear, never managing a proper open world with loading screens littering the game every 10 minutes as you travel from place to place. Never before has a game been screaming out for a densely designed open world like Fable. One has to remember though, that the 3rd game, which was undoubtedly the worst, was released a decade ago, so of course aspects of Fable will feel dated and not hold up under modern day scrutiny. Though after replaying Fable 2 last year what struck me was just how well the game stands up, it’s still incredibly fun and though the magic in combat is far too powerful there’s something really satisfying about unleashing lightning on 10 enemies at once, and the story is still a compelling tale with interesting side characters and a world you want to be part of.

As the new generation approaches, Fable is finally getting the revival it so deserves. Lionhead may be gone, but after playing the beta for Fable Legends that’s probably for the best. Playground Games the new developers of the series haven’t made a bad game and though all they’ve made is racing games, the recent trailer put my mind at ease. It would be extremely easy for them to create another fantasy RPG with a super serious tone, but I was relieved to see that Playground understand what Fable is – the new trailer said a lot in a short amount of time. We saw a grand scale fantastical world with its British sense of humour still firmly intact. Fable is now my most anticipated next gen game and I’ve seen absolutely nothing of it, but I can’t wait to return to this world. So Chicken Chasers, this is my defence of Fable. And it may not have convinced you otherwise, but Fable is great and always was, there’s a reason it’s being bought back. Now let’s get back to arguing about what console is better, now this Fable business can be laid to rest.

THE XBOX GAME STUDIOS TO WATCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION

It’s 2013 and the Xbox division isn’t in the best place, the end of the 360 generation had funnelled all their energies into creating gimmicky Kinect games and the direction of their newly released console was muddled under the stewardship of Don Mattrick. Despite this Xbox still managed a fairly appealing set of games for the launch of the Xbox One. Ryse: Son of Rome was a pretty, but shallow combat focused game that displayed the graphical prowess of the new generation, Dead Rising 3 provided fun zombie killing action with a silly and light hearted story and Forza 5 was a perfectly serviceable entry in the series. But it was the promise of things to come that truly excited; Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive, Lionhead’s Fable Legends and Remedy’s Quantum Break – sadly this excitement didn’t last with cancellations, shuttered studios, a gutted first party, not to mention some major disappointments.

Xbox Game Studios (formerly Microsoft Game Studios) were in a bad shape – Bungie the crown jewel in Microsoft’s proverbial cap had gone independent before the generation had even kicked off with 343 Industries Halo 4 receiving a mixed response from fans. Lionhead was a complete mess after Fable The Journey’s critical panning and Fable Legends failing to garner any hype. Sadly lesser known studio Press Play never really got off the ground, with their only major console game Max Curse of the Brotherhood releasing on rival platforms with very little fanfare and they were later shuttered along with Lionhead. And poor Rare were stuck giving CPR to the second generation Kinect. By 2016 Xbox Game Studios only consisted of 343, The Coalition, Turn 10, Rare and Mojang.

Everything changed from 2018 onwards with their studios swelling to 15 and with the upcoming Zenimax acquisition Xbox Game Studios will stand at a robust 23 Studios, it’s a massive turnaround luckily coinciding with the release of the new generation of consoles. These studios have a plethora of talent who now have the opportunity to really show what they are made of. Here are a few of my picks for Xbox Game Studios to watch out for in the new generation, I’m excluding Bethesda here as they haven’t been acquired just yet.

THE COALITION

The Coalition are an extremely talented team of developers, their work on the Gears franchise has been very good, scoring solid scores across the board. But it’s their graphical work that really makes them stand out, they have made 2 of the best looking games on the Xbox One, both of which had rock solid performance as well as being made in a timely manner.

It looks like the Coalition might be roped into making Gears for an eternity, however their trilogy looks likely to be complete with the upcoming sixth instalment. There has been a bit of acknowledgment that the series isn’t quite the draw it once was, it will be interesting to see if this studio will be allowed to spread their wings and create something completely new. They are a studio that can make a solid campaign and addictive multiplayer, if they get the chance to explore a new IP their future games could be worth getting excited for, and even if they continue making Gears, the franchise is still in good hands.

PLAYGROUND GAMES

Might as well get this out the way, Playground Games haven’t made a bad game yet. Their incredible Forza Horizon games have been the critical darlings of the Xbox One era. The studio really understand how to create compelling and stunning looking open worlds, not to mention their race routes are often devilish, challenging and above all fun.

Since being acquired by Microsoft the studio have expanded, creating a second team that will be responsible for the reboot of the beloved Fable franchise. The trailer shows that Playground know what Fable is all about, an intriguing fantastical land with a knowing comedic wink to it’s audience and British to its core.

This is a studio you should look out for because above all else they know how to make excellent videogames and it’s exciting to think of what the talent at this studio could do outside of the racing genre. It’s not only Fable that gets the juices flowing, Forza Horizon always delivers the goods and the fifth instalment is sure to be another genre defining masterpiece.

COMPULSION GAMES

Compulsion Games were part of Xbox’s 2018 acquiring spree, it’s studio that often flies under the radar and that’s completely fair. Unlike say Obsidian Entertainment or Playground Games, Compulsion’s game releases have been middling affairs. Their first game Contrast was a puzzle platforming game with a stunning noir style, with a visuals that harkened back to early Tim Burton films, the game looked great but also felt a bit empty and lifeless coupled with some obtuse puzzling and wonky controls it sadly didn’t quite come together.

Their follow-up game garnered much more attention especially with it releasing shortly after the announcement of the studio getting acquired. We Happy Few was a game with so much potential but sadly couldn’t quite live up to its ambition, a stunning art-deco aesthetic coupled with a brilliantly written and heart wrenching story about loss, the game had plenty of ingredients to be fantastic, but it was let down by clunky stealth gameplay, overly simplistic combat and a survival system that felt massively out of place. In general the game was a just slog to get through, which was such a shame as it had a so much going for it.

Compulsion Games has an ocean of talent and it’s very clear they were lacking in technical finesse and lumped with the budgetary restraints that many smaller studios encounter. The reason to get excited about them is these drawbacks should be alleviated by being part of Xbox, the studio will get the budget and support to reach the heights they’ve stretched for in the past.

NINJA THEORY

Ninja Theory were a massive get for Microsoft, similar to Playground Games they are yet to make a bad game, their reboot of Devil May Cry may have upset long-time fans but the game was a solid entry featuring a robust combat system and a well-told story.

But it’s their 2017 game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice that really caught the worlds attention. Hellblade set out to tell a complex tale about grief, through the eyes of a protagonist with realistic mental health problems including voice hearing and schizophrenia intertwined with a beautifully realised game world that gave levity to the character and plot. The game was created with between 10 to 25 developers that set out to create a piece of work that could be held up to the same standards as other AAA games but on a much tighter budget. Ninja Theory by and large accomplished this, Hellblade was an absolute masterpiece – though not a rick rollicking blockbuster, Hellblade’s emotional and personal tale was told at a much slower pace than most mainstream games, leaving some gamers wanting more, but for those that embraced the game found an experience unlike any other.

Ninja Theory managed this with limited means, imagine what this studio can do with a game that has no constraints. The in-engine trailer for Hellblade 2 (above) displays a studio that are doing everything they can push the boundaries of what they can produce, if the graphics present in this trailer resembles what we get in game, it’s going to look mind blowing – a true next-gen game. And that’s not all they’ve got cooking with Project Mara announced in January and another more mysterious project also in the works. There’s plenty to get excited about!

OBSIDIAN ENTERTAINMENT

Obsidian Entertainment are veterans of the videogame industry at this point, their prior work on the likes of Fallout New Vegas, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2, South Park Stick of Truth and the recent Outer Worlds they’ve proved time and time again they are one of the best in the industry at western role playing games. But even when Obsidian try something different like the survival game Grounded, they succeed because they know how to create crazy worlds, that are a joy to explore.

Obsidians biggest hurdle like others on this list has been a combination of limited budgets and time constraints. Fallout New Vegas is often touted as the best game in the series, but their limited time to develop the game led to bugs that detracted from the games excellence.

Avowed is the studios next game, we’re all hoping that Obsidian get the time and budget they need to create a game that can go toe to toe with some of the biggest and best Western RPG’s, they certainly have the pedigree. Obsidian seemed to fly under the radar during the Xbox One era, but what Avowed shows is a studio that has been fully reignited by the safety of being part of Xbox Game Studios.