A Whole Lot of PS5 & Xbox Series Launch Impressions

2020 began with the promise that the next generation of mainstream videogame consoles (and by extension PC hardware) would at long last grace our homes by its end. At multiple points throughout this year, such a promise seemed about as far from reality as conceivably possible. The stop-start hype cycle, packed as it was with guesswork and noise, was nothing short of exhausting. Yet here we are. Despite two distinctly bitter flavours of worldwide preorder drama, the PS5 and the dual-threat Xbox Series exist in real life; they are out there in the wild and after almost two weeks spent with each, I’m here to talk about how they look out of the racing blocks. Strap yourselves in – this is a big one.

Seven years ago I posted a similar article comparing the PS4 and the original Xbox One. In many ways that feels like yesterday, but going back over it in preparation for this round I was struck by just how many shiny plates were spinning on both sides of the main home console divide in 2013. Gimmicks and talking points abounded: futuristic Kinect voice commands and hand gestures running on a tile-based solid-colour Windows 8 interface versus PS Vita remote play, the abandonment of Sony’s trusty “cross media bar” and Playstation’s most radical controller shake-up ever. Both consoles felt functionally fresh and experimental. They were missing key features their predecessors had taken for granted and neither one showed any interest in backwards compatibility with older-generation games, but at least in those first few months there was a sense that each cut had made way for something tangibly new.

Which is why that launch also feels like a hundred years ago. The still-young gaming industry has continued to change in many ways since 2013, and the feverish year of marketing and punditry behind us would have you believe there’s a growing ideological gulf between Microsoft and Sony. But the dawn of the ninth home console generation has a somewhat surprising streak of quiet confidence about it. Make no mistake: The PS5 and the Xbox Series X feel like marked leaps ahead for the home console experience, and they are quite different despite clearly learning lessons from one another during the last go-around. But neither Sony nor Microsoft has come off looking quite as insecure about it this time around.

Clash of the Titans

Let’s start by talking about the elephants in the room. It’s been well-documented (love an understatement) that 2020’s new boxes are a bit on the large side, but much like the pocket-friendliness of last year’s Nintendo Switch Lite didn’t hit home until I held it, the stature and weight of the Xbox Series X and PS5 feels like little more than a meme – until you actually have to try and fit them into your entertainment setup. I distinctly remember transitioning from PS3 to PS4 painlessly because they shared identical cabling and a similar stature, but the PS5 is so gargantuan that the tape measure had to come out more than once during the multi-hour entertainment unit reshuffle it demanded.

Visually the PS5 looks like it belongs firmly in the middle of the 2000s, right next to the lightly-toned, vertically-marketed day-one model Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Despite being larger than both combined, it would’ve fit right in among that semi-space-age design trend. It marks a huge departure from the last decade of flat, straight black lines that aim to draw attention away from the consoles they adorn, arriving instead with a weighty form factor wearing a brilliant white coat, collar popped like it was made by a company that just sold 100+ million PS4s. It doesn’t care that it needs a chunky (included) stand for stability; it wants to be the first thing anyone looks at in your living room.

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 4: A Lesson in Fight-Finishing

The dream is dead. Early on while I was writing this, Microsoft made the disappointing but very understandable announcement that 2020 would not be ending with Halo Infinite, due to “multiple factors that have contributed to development challenges, including the ongoing COVID-related impacts affecting us all this year.” Instead, we can now look forward to its release in 2021, hopefully as a better game made by healthier people. In the meantime, a true classic has graced the PC market for the first time in its history. And after another few months of clashing co-op schedules and progress delays, I finally feel like I understand why it has earned that reputation. I finally, as they say, finished the fight.

Once upon a time, I was a teenager, and I was lucky enough to own some videogame consoles. They were all produced by Nintendo. There were a heap of amazing games on those consoles. This was all fine and dandy for a good long while. But then in 2009, roughly two years into the stratospheric success of the Wii, Nintendo stopped making the kinds of games I wanted to play. So, soon after starting my first job, I began looking elsewhere for them. I ended up with an Xbox 360, although Halo wasn’t high on my list of reasons why. The days of playing the first game on the original Xbox at other people’s houses were long gone. Halo 2 had been a non-event for me. I just wanted the Banjo-Kazooie games, Tales of Vesperia, and Borderlands.

But I’ve never been the kind of person to let entire corners of a console’s library go unacknowledged, and once I had a taste of HD gaming I wanted more. So I began to explore more 360 titles. I joined the Call of Duty train. I checked out Viva Pinata and Crackdown. I had my videogame preconceptions shaken by Braid. I gave Gears of War a spin. And even though almost nothing about it felt recognisable to me, I eventually found my way to Halo 3.

I did try the campaign – my first-ever taste of one in the Halo series – but without the context of the prior games I lost interest a couple of missions in. I moved on to multiplayer, which did hold my attention thanks to some extremely flashy controllable vehicles. Though it took a while to grow accustomed to the deluge of combat options that were brand-new to me, and I got bodied in several online matches, my relationship with the game improved drastically when I found a group of friends at uni who were keen to play. Thanks to the wonders of Xbox 360 System Link, I hosted my first LAN party with Halo 3 as the centrepiece. Then, my second. And so on and so forth. It took time, but Halo 3 became my default, my ground zero, the yardstick to which I would unconsciously compare every other game in the series.

A decade later, playing Halo 3 on PC feels like coming home.

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Movie Review: Tenet

My second full-on movie review in four years! Why not!
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Starring:
John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Director:
Christopher Nolan (Inception, Dunkirk)
Rating: M
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Before the year turned over, 2020 looked to be studded with tentpole film releases. A new James Bond movie, two big Marvel Studios releases, another wave of Disney live-action remakes, two new Pixar films, and at least one DC juggernaut. And yet for many of us out there, the promise of a new Christopher Nolan movie with another trademark timey-wimey gimmick stood above them all. Perhaps it was the ‘surefire sequel success’ vibes of most of the above, contrasting starkly with Nolan‘s stubborn refusal to leave behind practical effects, needless IMAX shots and fiercely original scripts with no concern for cinematic universes. Tenet loomed large.

Of course we all know that’s pretty far from how 2020 actually played out. Here in this current reality, most of those tentpoles have yet to see release. New movies in general have been hard to come by, matter of fact, even though streaming services have been more than willing to help out. Yet Nolan‘s reliable stubbornness has now ensured that not only is Tenet going exclusively to cinemas, it’s doing so before any other title of comparable size and hype. If Tenet looked like an imposing 2020 title before, it’s now positively monolithic. For this and many other reasons, I’ve actually written a full review. Yeah, 2020 is weird for us all.

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 3: It Was All A Blur

It… might actually happen. We’re now over halfway through the year, and somehow also over halfway through the Master Chief Collection‘s chronological rollout of PC-optimised Halo games. As the rest of the gaming industry attempts to navigate the pitfalls of 2020’s justified uncertainty, Microsoft continues to drop its tantalising sci-fi FPS breadcrumb trail. And so at long last, sixteen years after the fact, I have finally finished the Halo 2 campaign.

But for goodness’ sake, dear reader, let’s not undersell this; sixteen years after the fact, I have finally played Halo 2.

If 2002 was an exciting year marked by the seemingly limitless possibility of a new console generation – where even Nintendo fanboys could marvel at the possibilities of a company like Microsoft joining the console war – 2004 was defined by entrenched teenage loyalties for yours truly. I won’t hesitate to admit that I have no memories of any hype around Halo 2‘s initial release – When I wasn’t dealing with high school drama I was too busy immersing myself in what would become three of my favourite games of all time: Tales of Symphonia, Pokemon Leaf Green and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. My brother also got a PS2 that year, with two controllers and the original Star Wars Battlefront to boot. I had more than enough to chew on, and my friends at the time weren’t exactly Halo superfans.

And so years later, when I found myself in the Microsoft ecosystem thanks to my very own Xbox 360, the reverence I discovered for the second Halo game came as a bit of a shock. But I still didn’t dive in, because Halo 3 was already out and, well, we’ll get to that. Long story short, in 2020 I still knew much less about Halo 2 than I thought I did, and most of my experience playing the game felt wonderfully fresh as a result.

That is, when it worked.

Yes, this post arrives perhaps a month or two later than I wanted because for far too long I could not get a co-op game running with my Combat Evolved partner. No matter how many fixes we googled, what settings and configurations we changed, those first few weeks after Halo 2 launched in early May were beyond frustrating. We could play competitive multiplayer, but not campaign. When life (and other videogame releases) got in the way, we benched the idea until one day in late July, when our schedules aligned and at long last, I was able to take one of my favourite screenshots of the year so far:

I don’t know how much of this was due to my heat-of-the-moment decision to buy Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Steam after uninstalling the repeatedly disappointing Game Pass version, and how much was just months of game patches bearing fruit. All I know is I’ve never been happier to see the face of another Master Chief. Anyway, onto the game itself!

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The Great & Perilous Era of Long-Life Nintendo Games

The morning sun peers over the horizon, rays painting the sky and illuminating the dew on the tree leaves. The birds stir and my alarm shakes me from my sleep far too gradually, considering it’s the weekend. I reach bleary-eyed for the glasses next to my bed, stretch slowly and pull my Switch Lite off the charger. I take it out of flight mode and boot up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, with the volume just loud enough to let the gentle grooves of the soundtrack tell my ears it’s a new day. Isabelle greets me with typical cheer and updates me on the status of my town. There’s Nook Shopping to be picked up, rocks to be struck, fossils to dig up, weeds to pull, villagers to talk to, beaches to comb, a fresh catalogue to peruse. I get stuck in.

Half an hour later, when I’ve done all the tasks that can’t wait until tomorrow, I swap out to Pokemon Shield. All the dens in the Wild Area have been refreshed, after all. So have the Watt Traders. Yesterday one of them had the Substitute TR, which I hadn’t ever seen in the game before, so I have to check them all. I’ve checked the Wild Area News and there are some rare spawns to check out. Plus a new online battle season just started and I only need two or three wins to get into the next tier, securing myself enough BP to buy that Choice Band to help my Barraskewda hit like a missile. So I ride around for a bit, scoping out the daily updates, jumping into a few online raids and a quick battle. I try to brush aside the guilt that I still haven’t finished that new Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC story and briefly entertain the idea of logging into Super Smash Bros Ultimate to clear a Spirit Board or two – I still need to check out that Trials of Mana crossover after all. But I need caffeine, so I get up.

Such is a normal day in this year of 2020. And as a lifelong Nintendo fan, it feels a bit strange.

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Launch is Not the End

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We stand at a familiar junction. Barring any unforeseen delays (or indeed foreseen, given the current worldwide landscape), we stand at the dawn of a new videogame console generation. We now know that on both sides of the blue/green divide the games optimised for this new generation will not just be enhanced by lightning-fast solid state storage drives, but require them in order to run at all. If spending the extra money and effort to “down-port” a new PlayStation/Xbox game to the Nintendo Switch was already a tricky proposition, it’s about to get several times more difficult. Nintendo has an absolutely gigantic head start when it comes to mind-share and third-party allies compared to where they were at the start of the Wii U era, but they’re about to face a similar problem. Until they are ready to phase into whatever piece of hardware comes next, the Big N is going to need to be a whole lot more self-sufficient.

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 2: Co-op Evolved

They did it. The world is going crazy, but the mad lads at 343 Industries got another Halo campaign out on the PC in 2020. We are one step closer to achieving the Year of Halo.

The original Halo: Combat Evolved is – surprise surprise – hugely nostalgic for me. I had a friend who got the game Day 1 alongside four controllers at the 2002 launch of the original Xbox. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was definitely jealous. As a Nintendo kid by trade I was already well used to console launches boosted by games in well-known franchises, so the Xbox came in with a definite disadvantage; but Bungie’s Halo was just so ridiculously polished that playing it made you quickly forget its status as a series debut. Halo didn’t originate twin-stick FPS controls, but it refined them and brought them into the mainstream; the jank of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark would never be convincingly disguised again. The splitscreen multiplayer experience on Blood Gulch is now legendary. I don’t think it’s that controversial to call Halo: Combat Evolved one of history’s greatest console launch titles.

But despite three or four attempts over the decades, I have never surpassed the second level of the first Halo campaign. The notoriously minimap-free level design has tripped me up on more than one half-hearted occasion over the years. That finally changed early last month, when I lined up a Halo-loving mate for another tilt at the campaign that started it all – now with yet another new coat of paint and a handy suite of fresh features on the mighty PC. Thanks to all manner of spicy technical difficulties, it would eventually take us almost two months to get it finished. But before we began, it was time to play some Halo multiplayer again at last.

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Ten 2020 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

Well, this was tricky.

For obvious 2020-specific reasons, it’s quite difficult to see any fresh films right about now. Cinemas are not exactly prime real estate at the moment, and quite a few movies on my to-see list have been delayed either several months or indefinitely. After tearing through seven new release movies in six weeks, it took me a full two months to see my eighth. Then, thanks to the help of one or two major movie studios and digital entertainment platforms, I reached the ten you see here. Who even knows whether I’ll get to twenty this year.

Even before the current global health crisis began to gather steam, I was struggling with whether some of these films counted as 2020 releases, but that became less of an issue once our bigger problems emerged. At the very least, all ten of these movies got their wide mainstream releases in Australia this year.

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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The Gentlemen

Hunnam, Grant, Farrell dominate the screen. Ritchie’s best since Snatch.”

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1917

Utterly spectacular on a technical level but don’t expect optimism.”

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 1: A Bit of a Reach

Late in 2019 Microsoft did something rather devious – After a considerable period of drawn-out hype, the storied partnership between 343 Industries, Splash Damage and Ruffian Games bore its first meaningful piece of fruit for PC gamers; Halo: The Master Chief Collection took its first steps onto the wild plains of the personal computer. This was devious, of course, because it came roughly a year before the purported due date of the next Xbox console, and Microsoft has made a real point of saying that Halo Infinite will launch on the same day. What’s more, while only Halo: Reach is out on PC now, the remaining four-and-a-half Halo games are slated for staggered release over the course of 2020. Rarely has a pre-release run of hype dominoes been so tantalisingly lined up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a year of Halo.

Now I have only finished one Halo campaign in my life – ODST – and only because it was a mostly irrelevant sub-story. I’ve been playing Halo games for a long time, but the lore and plot hasn’t ever really had a chance to grab me. One of the reasons I was so readily able to rank Halo 5 so high in 2015, after all, was my complete disinterest in its campaign. To me, Halo has always been about the presentation and the multiplayer.

But with such a ready-made setup, I will likely never have a better chance to get into the main story of gaming’s most famous contribution to the sci-fi canon. The motivation just wouldn’t be there otherwise. So, Halo: Reach, here we go; it’s time at last for me to finish your campaign.
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Best of 2019 Closer

And so we enter a new decade, full of fresh promise and plenty of as-yet uncertain change. At the end of the ’20s, what will all these mediums look like? How many of the movies we watch will debut on streaming services? Will we have another new console generation or will the next ones stand longer with half-upgrades? Who even knows what K-Pop will look like?

In any case, this is how the 2010s closed out for me; my favourite videogame, K-Pop and movie stuff of 2019:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 4 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 11 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Movies

Like any other recent year, I spent the majority of 2019 trying to see as many movies as I could, thoroughly enjoying posting an entry in my ten word review series every time I passed another ten-film milestone. I wrote up two of those this year – a decent effort I thought, given some years I’ve struggled to get to 20 movies.

Four of those 20 made this list.

Yep, although the first two thirds of the year were certainly no slouch, that final bit brought the goods like nothing else and turned 2019 into a banner year for worthwhile theatrical adventures (though sadly I haven’t seen Parasite yet). In the process it transformed this list from a Disney-dominated extravaganza to a… slightly less Disney-dominated extravaganza. Yay for a bit of competition, right?

Happy New Year!

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Toy Story 4

This was a strong year for animation to be sure, but the most surprisingly good dose of it came from Pixar’s initially derided bonus sequel to the beloved Toy Story trilogy. Pixar is still doing a fair amount of good stuff in the modern era, but this still felt like a cash grab when it was announced. Then it actually came out, and wow. The team who brought you a heart-rending tale about growing up now brings you a heart-rending tale about parenthood and shifting between phases in your adult life. Oh, it’s also the prettiest animation you ever done seen, and it’s by far the funniest Toy Story movie yet. Unafraid to use only the legacy characters it needs in order to serve this particular story, it also introduces a hilarious set of new ones and none of them outstay their welcome. Toy Story 4 kicks a come-from-behind goal to beat 23 other movies to the tenth slot.

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