Archive for November, 2020

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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