Tag Archive: XB1

A shorthanded debut

NHL 14 was the pinnacle for EA Sports’ NHL franchise—and that’s saying something, considering its quality and consistency for more than two decades. It seemed like the folks at EA Canada had crammed in every mode and feature they could come up with and pushed the technology to its limits on the last generation of consoles. But this peak seemed to come at a perfect time, since it was just as we began the transition to new consoles. It seemed more than plausible that EA Canada could reach new heights this year with NHL 15 on new-gen hardware.

Unfortunately, this is another case where expectations were greater than reality. It’s not that the on-ice product is bad with NHL 15. In fact, once you decide to start a game in Be a Pro, Be a GM, or any of the other modes, actually playing a game of hockey might be better than ever. The new NBC presentation package makes it feel like every game is Game of the Week, and commentary from the team of Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro is stellar. I’m about 40 games into my Be a GM mode (I play every game of the season), and I’m just now starting to hear some repeat commentary, but I’m still getting surprised here and there.

The graphics have also made a spectacular transition to the new console generation, and everything looks sharper and crisper—you can almost feel the chill of the ice itself. What’s more, the player models are amazingly realistic and even borrow a few tricks from EA Sports UFC when it comes to bruising and facial contortions from fights. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the eye of a guy you pummeled in an earlier bout swelled shut by the third period.

The biggest improvement comes from the revamped physics, though: huge player pileups when you crash the net, realistic puck bounces that lead to frustrating turnovers or fortunate close calls, and more dynamic goalie saves make it seem like you’re watching a game in real life. All the goal-scoring glitches of past years have seemingly been erased as well—the AI’s improved all around, and your opponent always tries to anticipate your every move. And even the issues with faceoffs—my one disappointment from last year’s game—are now fixed, since you can use your stick with more pinpoint precision than ever before.

When you get off the ice, however, everything takes a horribly sour turn. Countless modes from previous years have been nixed. Even with patches coming in during the next 60 days to bring back Playoff Mode and Online Team Play, you’re still missing EA Sports Hockey League, Winter Classic, and Be a Legend. NHL Moments Live mode from NHL 13 was brought back to cushion this blow, but you still don’t want modes completely removed from the game. It feels like instead of continuing to build on what they’d created over the previous few years, EA Canada instead hit the reset button with new-gen.

The worst part, though, may be the fact that EA Canada scaled back the modes that did make it into the game. Be a Pro has lost the “Live the Life” feature introduced in last year’s game, which allowed you to interact with teammates, family, fans, and the front office and deal with a balancing metagame as you tried to keep everyone in your life happy while also maintaining a high level of on-ice play.

You’ve also lost the ability to simulate to your next shift in Be a Pro. Now, you have to watch the entire game on the bench when you’re not playing, whereas last year, a button press would move you forward in time. This becomes particularly painful if you take a penalty and then have to watch the minutes tick off on the clock from the sin bin. I don’t want to watch a hockey videogame. I want to play. These subtle omissions have turned one of my favorite modes from last year into an afterthought when I boot up the game now.

Be a GM has its own set of issues now, too. To begin with, your team’s AHL affiliate has been completely done away with—now, minor-league players are just “in the system” instead of accumulating any stats or progress whatsoever. There’s also no GM tracking mechanic anymore to let you know how you’re doing or to give you an idea of what goals you need to aim for. The preseason and fantasy-draft options have also been removed, and the year-end draft for each season is fully automated by the CPU. If I’m running a franchise, I want to run the franchise! Don’t take any aspect of that away from me—and especially don’t assign it to the computer!

To make matters worse, the little control you still have left becomes all the more complicated due to the panel user-interface system that’s now permeated every EA Sports franchise. Yes, being able to jump to my favorite modes as soon as I start the game up is a welcome addition, but making trades, changing my lines, and even just resting my goalie have all become a chore because of this new system. The old list system had its problems, but it was nowhere near as bad as what this universal UI homogenization by EA Sports has done. Changing your lines is so difficult that in Hockey Ultimate Team, one of the patches is solely to help adjust this. I wish this patch were for all game modes, because changing lines and making adjustments in Be a GM right now is a nightmare.

And speaking of HUT, nothing has infuriated me more than not being able to earn pucks (the HUT currency used to buy packs to get new players) in single-player modes outside of HUT. Yes, you earned many more for playing online, but as someone who loved Be a GM and Be a Pro modes and spent more time there than anywhere else, it was nice to still earn a few pucks for playing the modes I wanted to play. This only helped extend NHL 14’s life for me; after a while, I would play a little bit of HUT because I’d accrued so many pucks. Now, it feels like the best way to get pucks is to buy them through microtransactions. EA Sports trying to squeeze more money out of us? Color me surprised.

After playing limited demos of NHL 15 leading up to its release, I could not be more disappointed with the final result. It feels like so much time and focus went into getting the graphics and physics systems up to snuff for new-gen that EA Canada forgot about the rest of the game. At the very least, there’s hope, though. Now that the transition’s been made—however painfully—next year’s title can bring NHL back to its former glory.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.09.14
The new physics system, presentation elements, and graphics are definitely a step forward for the franchise, but the wholesale removal or scaling back of so many modes leaves you wondering how such a great series could struggle so mightily with the console transition.
The Good The physics and graphics are the best the series has ever seen.
The Bad So many modes and features are missing compared to NHL 14 that it’s hard to believe this is the full game.
The Ugly This will go down with Madden 06 as one of the most disappointing generation transition games for a sports franchise.
NHL 15 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

Batman: Arkham Knight will be available for purchase on June 2, 2015, and will also have two different collector’s editions, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced this morning.

The first collector’s edition is the Limited Edition and includes an 80-page art book full of concept art, a unique SteelBook case with the game, a limited edition comic, three skins from DC’s New 52, and a Batman Memorial Statue. This entire package will cost $99.99.

The second collector’s edition is the Batmobile Edition and will include everything as the Limited Edition, except the Batman Memorial Statue is replaced by a fully transformable Batmobile statue by Triforce and will retail for $199.99.

The final chapter in Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy (Arkham Origins was done by Warner Bros. Montreal) was originally scheduled for release sometime this fall before being delayed earlier this year. There were then rampant rumors, including some started by the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy, which had the game looking at a Q1 2015 release. WBIE put all the speculation to rest, though, with this announcement.

Batman: Arkham Knight will be available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Daredevil’s delight

I’ve always enjoyed the Trials series, because it’s uncommon nowadays to get a game that gives you a sense of accomplishment every time you finish a section—and that seems to be a staple of Trials’ charm. It constantly tests your reflexes as you try to guide a digital motorbike across ridiculous landscapes while battling Newton’s laws of motion. It’s rarely easy, but almost always fun.

So, it was with great pleasure to find that Trials Fusion, the latest entry in the series, has that balance that made me curse it at times—like when I didn’t have enough momentum to carry me through a vertical loop—but still made me want to try again and again until, thumbs aching, I could pump my fist in the air after nailing a perfect run for the gold medal.

Just like previous games in the series, you play as a motorbike driver who moves along a linear path through an obstacle course designed by madmen. By beating stages both quickly and without crashing, you earn medals, which then unlock more stages that continue to ramp up in difficulty. To increase replayability, each stage also has three special objectives that require you to play the course differently each time. Some tasks ask you to locate and flawlessly run through alternate paths, while others demand you perform a variety of acrobatic moves on your bike.

The first things players will likely notice is that Fusion’s courses are just as demented as those seen in previous Trials games. You bounce across a bunch of blimps hovering around skyscrapers, get shot into the air by water fountains in a park, and need to anticipate tracks that rise and fall at the whim of an automated factory’s maintenance programming. Couple this with the voice of your instructor providing color commentary in the background and the always comical demise you meet after crossing the finish line, and the tracks seem to have as much personality as some antagonists in more narratively driven games.

The controls are also just as tight as the previous games, with your position on the bike affecting momentum just as much as the pressure you apply to the gas or brakes. When you combine the insane level design with the crisp controls, it’s easy to see the series’ infamous difficulty is also mostly intact. Even early on, you can’t just hold down the accelerator and hope to barrel your way through each stage.

There’s a little more handholding overall, however, that Trials veterans should be aware of. Fusion sees a lot more checkpoints in each individual trial to restart from, but only a perfect run will net you gold, which is a nice way to cater to both the casual as well as the hardcore.

Something that clearly favors newcomers? Tricks don’t unlock until the third level, nearly two dozen stages in. While I get that a lot of controls might be a bit much for novice players to take in—and with this being the first game in the series on a Sony system, there’s a strong possibility for a new audience—that means experienced Trials players have to wait for almost a third of the campaign before they can unlock their Superman handlebar grab, and that could rub them the wrong way.

Putting this aside, when it comes to the core pillars of the game, developer RedLynx thankfully appears to have taken a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to things. There’s more to Fusion than just racing through obstacles and performing absurd poses in mid-air and praying that you stick the landing each time, though.

The renowned track creator also sees a return. RedLynx once again opens up their toy box and gives players all the tools they used to make the tracks the game launched with. Once you create your own tortuous run to the checkered flag, you can upload it to a new community bulletin board where players and developers will vote on tracks each week, with the best of the best getting the spotlight.

Like many of your runs through late-game courses, however, Fusion does hit the occasional pothole. A new leveling system sees you gain XP for every course and challenge you complete, and it’s used to unlock different costumes and bike parts. This common gaming feature hits a snag, though, because the parts are for purely cosmetic purposes. Cosmetic-only unlocks certainly aren’t unheard of, but I would’ve loved for new parts—or even entirely new bikes—to feel like they handle differently from one another. The only vehicle that doesn’t feel like a clone of all the others is the ATV, but that’s because it’s a completely different class of vehicle. I don’t need to completely deconstruct the bike and fine-tune the engine like some car-racing simulator, but knowing that some bikes go faster or have better grip would’ve given me some motivation to unlock items.

The multiplayer from Trials Evolution also returns, but only a local versus option is available day one. A patch with a new online multiplayer mode is coming down the line, but neither mode is likely to hold your attention because your focus will always deviate back to not crashing than winning the race.

Trials Fusion is still a worthwhile experience for all those wannabe daredevils out there. When you’re able to push past a lot of the little additions that didn’t work out, Trials Fusion is still one heck of a platform racer with a core that longtime fans will enjoy—and that newcomers should embrace.

Developer: RedLynx • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.16.14
While Trials Fusion isn’t the best entry in the long-running motorbike-racing franchise, the core of what made previous entries so great remains, which should satisfy longtime fans and newcomers alike.
The Good Gameplay is still challenging enough that it feels like an accomplishment when you beat courses.
The Bad Pointless leveling system; local multiplayer only at launch.
The Ugly The looping theme song that haunts you in your nightmares.
Trials Fusion is available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review.

Sweep the leg? I can’t, Sensei. I’m using Kinect.

When I look at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware, there’s not the largely noticeable jump that defined previous generational transitions. One piece of tech that was supposed to help embody the little bit of change we did receive, however, was the new Kinect sensor. Whereas the original Kinect needed all your playing conditions to be just right in order to work (and even then, it failed at times), the next-gen model was supposed to alleviate many of these problems.

Space and lighting issues would be a thing of the past, and the sensor would pick up the slightest movements—right down to your tiniest finger twitch. While the voice-command recognition can be tested via the Xbox One’s menus, we wouldn’t be able to see the most needed improvements until we actually got a game specifically designed for the peripheral. Unfortunately, if Fighter Within was supposed to show off how far Microsoft’s Kinect technology has come, then new-gen motion controls might be in trouble.

Issues to which first-generation Kinect users have become accustomed—such as inaccurate motion tracking and input lag—are prevalent in Fighter Within. You can’t even navigate the game’s menus effectively, because the recognition is so piss poor. I’d often have to use my controller to move through the wretchedly clunky user interface, since my body movements and voice commands were completely ignored outside of fights.

Once you manage to get past the menus, you’ll find the game has two modes. The first of these is your standard arcade-type option. You pick one of the game’s 12 fighters and move up a ladder comprised of eight of the other fighters (there are no mirror matches).

The other is a story mode called Initiation that follows a street urchin named Matt through 21 fights that are supposed to tie his tale together. I wish I could tell you something more about Matt and his journey, but there aren’t any cutscenes until the very end, and the between-bout dialogue is so devoid of personality that I quickly stopped caring. Oh, Matt’s father was a drunk boxer! And his opponent’s mother a disgraced Olympian! I wasn’t sure if I should use the Kinect to help determine a winner in brutal one-on-one combat or ask my Xbox One to find them a good therapist.

Then, finally, you get into actual combat, and it’s here that any fleeting hopes for Fighter Within at least being a fun tech demo are thrown out the window. The game does offer an interesting variety of moves for a motion-control game: standard punches and kicks, picking up sticks to whack your opponent in the face, jumping off scenery in the level, and even special powers—and you’ll need to go through Initiation mode just to be slowly introduced to everything your fighter can do. Of course, even with the added tutorials, it can be a bit much to take it all in, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with just a handful of moves that are more than enough to work your way through the ranks.

Still, this is all contingent on the Kinect sensor actually picking up your movements. Straight punches and kicks aren’t a problem, but the more complex the maneuver, the less likely the game will accurately translate it onscreen. Often, my grab and throw attempts turned into straight punches, kicks turned into wasted special moves, and raising my arms above my head for one special turned into nothing but a high block. And if you move too quickly, the delay between your actions and what happens onscreen becomes more prevalent. There’s nothing more frustrating in Fighter Within than watching your character throw extra punches into a blocking opponent after you’ve stopped—and then being helpless as the computer takes advantage.

It might not be entirely fair to condemn the new Kinect, because after playing this game for several hours, I think Fighter Within just may be one of the most poorly designed motion-control games we’ve seen yet. Simply put, it’s a complete mess. It almost feels like this was a game meant for the motion-tracking technology of the original Kinect, but because nothing was in the pipeline for the Xbox One’s launch window to show off what its new sensor can do beyond dancing and workout games, the project was shuffled from one platform to the other. That’s still no excuse, however, for this being one of the worst launch games I’ve ever had to play, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Developer: Daoka • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.22.13
Fighter Within was buried under the rest of the Xbox One launch lineup for a reason. This one-on-one fighter is a throwback to the problems of the first Kinect—and does nothing but sow seeds of doubt that the next-gen Kinect sensor is any different from its predecessor.
The Good Interesting array of moves, including arena interaction. 
The Bad Input lag can be pretty terrible; lack of overall movement recognition, navigating the menus.
The Ugly How winded I was after some of the fights.
Fighter Within is a Xbox One exclusive.