Become a game tester

Making Money (6 Figures) Playing Video Games

What do LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Choi Seong-Hun have in common? People pay them a lot of money to play games.

Seong-Hun, or “Polt” as he’s known on the battlefield, is a professional video game player. He is currently one of the best Starcraft II players in the world, ranked number four in the game’s global standings.

And life as a celebrity among the Terran, Protoss and Zerg races is lucrative. For his work on the fictional planets of the Koprulu sector, Seong-Hun makes at least six figures a year in Earth dollars.

“People think we just play video games… [but] the game I’m playing right now is real-time strategy,” Seong-Hun says. “I have to counter strategy to my opponent’s. It’s similar to rock, paper, scissors — if I keep playing rocks again and again, I will lose every game.”

Polt (a name chosen based on a favorite character from childhood) has made a career in the rising industry of E-Sports. As video game tournaments gain popularity, events have come to resemble professional athletic events: spectators fill theaters, even stadiums, to watch gamers duke it out live in the virtual world.

It’s a growing business. The number of video game competitions has increased from about 9,000 in 2011 to roughly 47,500 this year, according to Battlefy, a software company for managing e-sports competitions. Competitions range from small, intercollegiate tournaments to this month’s League of Legends world championship, which will be held in Seoul’s 60,000-seat World Cup Stadium.

Beyond that, there’s the huge audience such events garner online: more than 71 million people watch — that’s watch, not play — video games online or on TV, according to SuperData Research. Last year’s League of Legends championship had a combined viewership of 32 million, compared to 26 million TV viewers for the NBA Finals.

Like professional athletes, the highest echelons of gamers are becoming bona fide stars — complete with sponsors and devoted fan bases.

In Polt’s case, his standing has not only landed him endorsements, but remarkably, a P-1A U.S. visa — the kind typically reserved for professional athletes in sports like baseball. He practices his craft six to eight hours a day for which he is paid a salary. So win or lose, gaming earns him a steady stream of income.

“In terms of money, it’s really good,” Polt says.

Like NASCAR, his very presence has become a marketing opportunity. He plays as CMStormPolt, short for Cooler Master, a company that makes equipment for gamers like keyboards and headsets.

While there is a sizable fan base for Starcraft II in the United States, none of the game’s champions are American. Polt’s U.S. visa has made him the closest thing to a U.S. Starcraft player, earning the South Korean-born gamer the sobriquet, “Captain America.”

Ironically, Polt was unfamiliar with the character until he heard fans chanting it when he took the stage.

Now, he says, “Captain America is my favorite hero.”

In late September, Polt played in front of a packed house in Washington, D.C., at the Red Bull Battle Grounds competition, an experience that feels somewhere between a rave and Broadway show. 1,200 people watched, boo-ing and cheering with every shot and the destruction of every base.

After a fatal mistake in one critical round, Polt took third place. Roughly seven hours of work netted him $6,000.

“It’s not the best result for me, but…I feel pretty good right now,” he said.

He turned back around and walked into a line of fans, patiently waiting for autographs.

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Releasing Games Before They are Ready

Over the course of 2014 purchasing a video game, popping it into your shiny new Xbox One or PlayStation 4 and then actually being able to play it, became a more difficult task than it should be.

Today’s modern video games and consoles have brought a number of innovations to the industry, giving players new ways to interact with traditional game experiences and creating vast, social network-like video games built upon living, breathing open worlds.

But with these interesting innovations has come a new problem: Developers are often releasing and selling unfinished video games – and unfortunately, it seems as if this is becoming a regular occurrence when it comes to the modern gaming industry.

Welcome to next-gen gaming.

Halo: The Masterchief Collection

The issues many of 2014’s biggest video games suffer from come in various forms. Sometimes a game needs an update that takes hours to download the second you put it into your console. In other situations, a title needs extra polish and multiple patches are released a couple of days after the game lands in the hands of consumers. And in certain instances many of the biggest games of 2014 were completely unplayable long after their release.

343 Industries’ Halo: The Master Chief Collection was still broken up to two weeks after its official release, with many players still unable to find games through its matchmaking multiplayer mode. This was a huge personal disappointment for me since The Master Chief Collection was one of my most anticipated games of 2014. Sony’s DriveClub suffered server issues that lasted weeks, rendering the online-only game unplayable (weather effects were also patched into the game at a later date).

Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed Unity launched with countless issues related to slow frame rates , often hilarious graphical glitches and even the occasional audio problem. Another Ubisoft title, Far Cry 4, forced some players to delete and re-install the game on their PS4’s in order to continue playing it, causing the player to lose their saved file and start the game all over again.

These issues likely occured for a number of reasons. Developers are now primarily creating games for two new, powerful consoles, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Both these devices have only been out for a year and many studios are probably still trying to get the hang of creating games for them. Developers also have financial goals to meet and despite how unfinished a title might be, a video game is still a product and sometimes products just need to ship. The video game industry is about making money after all.

Far Cry 4

The issues many of Ubisoft’s games suffered from, while not unique to the current state of the gaming industry, are an interesting example of what the source of 2014’s glitch filled gaming problems might be. Many of the developer’s recently released games, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity or even titles like Watch_Dogs, all featured what many developers refer to as “living worlds.”

Leading up to the release of Watch_Dogs, Colin Graham, Watch_Dogs’ Animation Director, explained he felt creating a more comprehensive and believable world was what would define the “next-generation” of gaming on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This is a sentiment many developers, particularly those at Ubisoft have emphasized in interviews over the course of 2014.

“When people get their hands on Watch_Dogs I hope they see the complexity of the systems, because we’re throwing more AI, more CPU to determine behaviors and there are hundreds of characters on-screen. Every civilian is their own AI and they react differently. AI civilians know the difference between seeing and hearing a person. There’s a different reaction between hearing a gunshot and seeing someone get killed,” Graham said during a Watch_dogs preview event in Toronto.

While Watch_Dogs didn’t launch any game-breaking issues, Graham’s statement holds true to many of Ubisoft’s other releases this year, particularly titles like Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed Unity, two games that blend multiplayer and singleplayer into a more seamless experience.

Assassin's Creed Unity

Because these worlds are detailed and included a significant number of moving parts – and in some cases even online features – there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the development process. Even with the army of testers most game developers have working through their titles before they land on store shelves, it’s impossible to test all aspects of the game until its bottled up, systemic world is open to the gaming public.

This seems to be why it has become increasingly common for developers to release early beta versions of upcoming titles. Destiny’s launch went relatively smoothly and this is likely attributed to the fact that the game was released to the public in both beta and alpha form, giving Bungie the ability to test the game under the stress of real world conditions prior to release.

Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer beta is another great example of this strategy, especially since the game’s release is likely over a year from now. Creating a multiplayer-focused beta, something the Halo series’ creator Bungie has done in the past with earlier Halo games, allows dedicated fans to give 343 Industries integral feedback about the game, and perhaps more importantly, test Halo 5’s online ranking system and network infrastructure, two issues that The Master Chief Collection suffered from.

Even one of Ubisoft’s own titles, The Crew – although it was developed by an external studio, Ivory Tower – was given a lengthy public beta testing phase, resulting in the game launching with minimal issues.

Halo 5: Guardians

If always-online experiences are destined to be the future of video games, public beta and alpha testing need to become a more regular occurrence in the video game industry. Unfortunately right now many public beta/alpha tests occur far too close to the game in question’s official release date for the developer to make significant changes to its experience.

This means that beta testing is often used as more of a promotional tool than a way for developers to gain feedback from their fan base and stress test their title.

It’s important to point out that games like Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection have been patched multiple times post-release and are much more playable than they were at launch

But at some point players are no longer going to put up with paying $69.99 for a broken gaming experience. However, flipping this concept around and giving players free early-access to a title long before its release date, allows developer to have ample time to iron out any kinks in their game.

The idea of being an unpaid beta tester instantly becomes more appealing when you don’t have to shell out $69.99 for the privilege, and this is the direction the industry needs to be headed.

Video Games to look forward to in 2015

It’s very difficult to pick a top 10 list for upcoming video games.

2015 is filled with interesting and exciting titles, from PC and new-gen exclusives, to cross-platform entries, and from sequels to brand-new IPs.

In this post we’ll take a look at a bunch of these, and we’ll do so in alphabetical order. In fact, we won’t even bother with long intros. We’ll just dive right in….

Assassin’s Creed: Victory – The last major Assassin’s Creed release was a disaster in about every way imaginable. Perhaps “Victory” should be retitled “Redemption” for 2015, because Ubisoft needs to knock this one out of the park just to save face. Then again, the lackluster Assassin’s Creed III was followed up in 2013 by the marvelous Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, so anything’s possible. This time around, our merry band of assassin’s will haunt the streets of Victorian London.

Battlefield: Hardline – Cops and robbers replace soldier on soldier action in EA’s next big competitive shooter. From what I’ve seen of the game, the cops and robbers in question may as well be soldiers, however, replete with military-grade arsenal. Still, this might make for a nice twist on the genre. Maybe a clever developer could copy the formula a bit and come out with an Al Capone era game. Old cars and tommy guns would be a nice change of pace.

The new Batmobile for 'Batman: Arkham Knight.'

Batman: Arkham Knight – The final game in the Arkham series, Arkham Knight is the first new-gen game in Rocksteady’s incredible foray into the Batman universe. It’s also the first time you can drive the Batmobile. It looks amazing, and makes me want to play through all the Arkham games again ahead of time.

Below – One of the most unique looking Xbox One exclusives, Below is being described as a challenging game filled with exploration and brutal combat. It’s also a roguelike with permadeath steeped in atmosphere. Studio Capybara has worked on titles like Super TIME Force and worked alongside Superbrothers on the fascinating Sworcery game, which makes Below even more intriguing.

Bloodborne – There aren’t many games on this list that pique my hype as much as Bloodborne, the spiritual successor to From Software’s Souls games. This time around, the game is set in a dark, Gothic world filled with shambling villagers and massive werewolves. The combat is fast and ferocious, and new gameplay elements such as randomly generated dungeons promise to greatly change up a familiar formula, while still keeping the same, distinctive sense of challenge and despair.

Bloodborne

Dying Light – Zombie parkour could make for a nice change in the increasingly over-saturated zombie genre. Dying Light is an open-world first-person-shooter that gives players more movement options to rush about the city. The game also adds a day and night cycle, bringing out the truly dangerous undead only when the sun goes down.

Evolve – This competitive/co-op game pits a handful of human players against a player-controlled monster. This isn’t the first time this concept has been deployed in a video game, but it certainly looks like one of the best attempts at this type of asymmetric competitive play.

Game of Thrones – The remaining episodes of Telltale’s Game of Thronesstory game will release throughout 2015. The first entry was quite good, very much in keeping withe the brutal world created by George R.R. Martin. The art-style is great, the voice-acting solid, and members of the HBO show’s cast pop up here and there tying the events in the game to the bigger picture. I’m very much looking forward to what comes next.

telltale tyrion

Halo 5: Guardians – The next big entry in the classic Halo series is 343 Industries’ second crack at a new Halo game, following Halo 4. The fifth game in the series is already inspiring some controversy for its changes to multiplayer, but I’m excited to see what the developer can come up with for a truly new-gen Halo experience.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number – The sequel to the controversial, ultra-violent, and ultra-weird Hotline Miami looks like it might be even more violent and controversial this time around. I look forward to the funky soundtrack, excellent challenge, and whatever weird twists await.

King’s Quest – Finally a new King’s Quest game! The classic adventure series fizzled out years ago, now developer The Odd Gentlemen is teaming up with Sierra for one more crack at the classic franchise. The old point-and-click adventure has evolved into what appears to be more of an adventure-platformer, but hopefully it retains the charm of the older games.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U – The first truly open-world Zelda game looks absolutely jaw-dropping. If this doesn’t sell Wii U units nothing will. So far, everything I’ve seen about the new Zelda game points to something truly special.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was basically just a preview—a sort of short, over-priced tech demo—of things to come in The Phantom Pain, Hideo Kojima’s biggest, most open-world game to date. The game follows Venom Snake (aka Big Boss and several other aliases) and his new Diamond Dogs as they venture into Afghanistan during the Soviet war. This time around Snake will be voiced by actor Kiefer Sutherland instead of long-time Snake actor David Hayter.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Mortal Kombat – The long-awaited return to one of gaming’s most storied and infamous fighting games actually looks pretty decent so far. I can’t wait to “Finish Him!” though I suspect the gore of Mortal Kombat will no longer be as surprising as it once was, long ago in a more innocent time.

No Man’s Sky – I’m still not sure if No Man’s Sky will actually be a fun game to play, but it sure is a cool looking space exploration title. You can explore near-infinite worlds on your journey to the center of the universe, mapping out planets as you go. The game is massively multiplayer in a sense, and any world you discover will proudly display your tag. I’m very curious. No Man’s Skyremains unlike any other game I’ve seen.

The Order: 1886 – My mind is still not made up on this PS4 exclusive. It boasts gorgeous visuals and an interesting concept, but from what little I’ve played of the game so far it does very little new in terms of gameplay. The fairly run-of-the-mill shooter is bogged down by a wonky stealth mode and fairly boilerplate shooting mechanics, but it’s possible that the final product will be as good as its sumptuous graphics. I certainly hope so.

Overwatch – Blizzard’s newly-announced competitive shooter will at least be in a long beta in 2015, whether or not it actually releases then. The game is the remains of the cancelled Project Titan, Blizzard’s cancelled MMO. It looks pretty terrific, like an updated and expanded Team Fortress 2.

Persona 5

Persona 5 – Anyone who has played Persona 3 and/or Persona 4 understands that their time will be in short supply when the fifth entry in the series arrives. Managing your job, your schoolwork, your friends and other relationships—all of this is time-consuming business. Add to that a deck of Persona cards and some demon-infested dungeons, and you’ve got a full time game on your hands.

Pillars of Eternity – Obsidian Entertainment’s return to the classic top-down, party-based RPG, Pillars of Eternity is currently on Steam Early Access. Like Tides of Numenera, the game seeks to recapture the sense of a bygone era of RPG PC games such as Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. I look forward to seeing more old-school RPGs running on modern technology.

Project CARS – Okay, so there is a glut of racing games on the market right now, but there’s no denying Project CARS simply looks stunning. No matter how impressive recent new-gen racing games have looked, Project CARS looks better—at least graphically. The game has been in development for a long time, too, so any projected release date (including a 2015 release date) can be taken with a healthy dose of salt.

Rime – The PS4 adventure game looks a bit like the PS3 exclusive Journey.  The game’s lovely art-style, open-world exploration, and puzzle-solving all combine to make it a mysterious and exciting looking video game.

Rime 2015

Rise of the Tomb Raider – Very little information has surfaced on the next Tomb Raider, but the first Lara Craft reboot was good enough to warrant hype for its sequel. Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot of the classic series, gave every adventure game around it a run for their money, including Uncharted. We’ll see if the follow-up can live up to the new high bar.

Scalebound – Another Xbox One exclusive, I’m of the mind that you can’t really go wrong with Platinum Games, the developer responsible for games like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. This time around, action-game master Hideki Kamiya brings us a game world populated by massive dragons, and a fighting game that sounds little like his previous work. After the brilliant Bayonetta 2 and charming Wonderful 101, hype is basically a Platinum Games default setting. Scalebound looks very cool.

Silent Hills – From Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, starring Daryl from The Walking Dead, I’m mostly excited about the new Silent Hill game Silent Hills because of the scare factor in the glorious PT demo we got in 2014. Scary is hard to pull off in a video game, but if anyone can surprise us it’s Kojima. (And yes, he is an odd choice for this franchise but sometimes the odd choice is the right choice.)

Splatoon – Nintendo’s weird paint-and-color competitive shooter looks like a breath of fresh air in a genre often populated by gritty military affairs. Given the quality of just about every game Nintendo has put out lately, this one should be a fun diversion.

Splatoon

Star Fox – I remember the original Star Fox with a mix of nostalgia and horror. A brilliant, one-of-a-kind game, it was still among the most brutal video games I’ve ever played. Some levels were nearly as challenging as the bike level from Battletoads. The new entry makes use of the Wii U gamepad, and while I suspect it won’t be as hard, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. (Then again, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze was every bit as hard as the other entries in that series, so who knows with Nintendo?)

Star Wars Battlefront – EA returns to the Star Wars universe with the third Battelfront competitive shooter. If the game does release in 2015, it will be nicely timed alongside Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Built in the Frostbite 3 engine, the game is essentially Battlefield set in the Star Wars universe. Then again, setting just about anything in the Star Wars universe makes it infinitely better. Torment:

Tides of Numenera – The Kickstarter-funded spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment uses an adapted version of Monte Cook’s Kickstarter-funded Numenera pen-and-paper roleplaying game and promises tons of dialogue and choices just like the original, all in an updated isometric RPG format. Part of the CRPG renaissance, if such a thing is truly happening.

Rainbow Six Siege

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege – This game just looks fun. You work together to plan hostage rescues or prevent hostages from being rescued in what looks to be the natural evolution of a game like Counter-Strike. The Rainbow Six games have typically been pretty top-notch, and this one looks like a neat direction for the series.

Tom Clancy’s The Division – Ubisoft has been under fire lately for promising more than they can deliver. The Division promises a lot, including some spectacular visuals that may or may not be the same as the final product. But the open-world cooperative game certainly looks like a unique experience.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – By far the most impressive video game I witnessed at PlayStation ExperienceUncharted 4 is the first new-gen entry in the chronicles of Nathan Drake and it looks beyond stunning. The game demo played in front of a packed audience in Las Vegas earlier this December drew cheers and gasps of surprise. The graphics and action were both like nothing we’ve seen before from the series, and this easily makes my top five most anticipated games of 2015.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is a tough act to follow, but if anyone can top their own fantasy masterpiece it’s likely Polish developer CD Projekt RED. This time around, the branching, linear story is being replaced by a massive open-world and myriad different possible endings(or ending states, as it were.) New-gen graphics should make the game look beautiful on consoles, and no doubt strain your gaming rig on PC. Few games have me as excited as Geralt’s final chapter.

Xenoblade Chronicles X – Xenoblade Chronicles was one of the best RPGs, and really one of the best games period, to release on the Wii. Hopefully X will be as tremendous as its predecessor on Wii U. Certainly it’ll be nice to have the game in beautiful HD.

Uncharted 4

So what did I miss?

Some games like the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem sound pretty amazing, but there’s so little information out there right now there’s no telling if they’ll even release in 2015. Surely a Call of Duty and a Skylanders will release, but we don’t know what they are just yet.

And I’ve little doubt that finally, finally Valve will release Half-Life 3 on the very same day The Last Guardian hits shelves.

But seriously, if I missed something please chime in on social media or in the comments. I can’t keep track of every promising future video game.

The Best Video Games of 2014

Video games are as diverse an entertainment medium as any I can think of. In 2014, competitive collectible card games that you can play on your tablet competed against racing games with classic Nintendo characters like Mario and Luigi. Action games and first-person shooters compete against turn-based RPGs starring the characters of South Park. Classic characters we played as kids faced off against brand-new IPs.

These differences are more stark than their equivalents in film. The way a game like Wolfenstein: The New Order plays compared to Mario Kart 8 is mechanically distinct in a way that simply isn’t a factor in film or television. One moviegoer may prefer comedy to drama, but they can just as easily sit and watch both types of film. Someone with no experience playing shooters might be perfectly skilled at a racing game but woefully bad at running and gunning.

Add to this the various platforms games can be played on now, from multiple consoles to PC to phones and tablets, and the problem with rating games becomes even thornier.

As such, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to say one game is “better” than another, all other things being equal—since very rarely are “all other things equal” to begin with. Picking the top video games in a given year is not just challenging, it’s very nearly impossible. But we’ll take a crack at it nonetheless.

Methodology(ish)

In choosing the Forbes best video games of 2014, several factors have been taken into account.

First is the vote. Our video game contributors have each come up with ten (or so) best titles of the year, and I’ve taken a tally. I then look as objectively as possible at the quality of these titles and the number of contributors playing on each platform. For instance, some of our writers did not play any Wii U games this year, which meant fewer votes went to some of the best games of the year. I then looked at the quality of the releases of these games, from launch issues to bugs to the tightness of the mechanics in each game on the list, and weighted them accordingly.

Finally, I disagree with the concept of placing each of these games in a best-to-worst style Top 10 list. Instead, there is a Game of the Year, then three tiers of “best games”—Gold, Silver, and Bronze—with a handful of games in each bracket. Again, this is because I believe that while you can say Game A is objectively better designed than Game B, it’s much harder to say well-made Shooter A is better than well-made Racer B.

In terms of a “point” system, the Game of the Year was on nearly everyone’s “Best Games” list; Gold medals have the equivalent of about 4 votes; Silver 3; and Bronze 2.

Ultimately, the list is also subjective. We haven’t played every game out there. Our contributors played fewer mobile and handheld games than some other outlets. We have a smaller team of game writers than many dedicated gaming publications. Our list is skewed toward our own personal tastes. And regardless, lists have limited utility and something like this serves mostly to entertain and to acknowledge achievements in video games. It’s not a hard science.

Now, off to the races….

Bronze Medals 

Our Bronze Medals go to five games.

Dragon_02_WM_web

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a controversial entry in BioWare’s fantasy RPG saga. It may be the best thing the EA-owned developer has produced in years, but it’s also split fans down the middle. Some love it, some hate it, but there’s no denying that for all its flaws Inquisition is a tremendously ambitious video game. I called it “the hit BioWare needed.” Time will tell if that’s the case.

Bungie’s return to video games after leaving the Halo franchise is even more controversial. Praised for its tight shooting mechanics, Destiny also faced criticism for its repetitiveness and lack of a compelling story mode. Nonetheless, many here at Forbes and the world over have gained an unhealthy addiction to the game.

“Mechanically, visually and conceptually, it’s nothing other than phenomenal,”writes Forbes contributor Paul Tassi. “It just needs to focus on a few more lingering problems before it can reach its true potential as the series everyone dreamed it would be.”

Shovel Knight also earns a Bronze for its retro 2D platforming goodness and extreme challenge. The funky indie hit has been both a fan favorite and a critical darling.

Alien: Isolation turned out to be one of the scarier games of the year, and a nice change of pace from the last Alien branded video game, the disastrous Aliens: Colonial Marines. Forbes contributor Jason Evangelho calls it “survival horror at its finest.”

Dark Souls II was a letdown in many respects, falling short of both its predecessors. Still, it was one of the best games of 2014 in spite of its shortcomings. The DLC trilogy was even better than the base game. Lots to love in this challenging, dark RPG, even if it fell short of the greatness the original Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls achieved.

Silver Medals

Four games received a Silver Medal for 2014.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was, in many ways, the year’s dark horse. Early previews made the game look a bit like an Assassin’s Creed with orcs. Instead we got an action-adventure title that makes Assassin’s Creed look simplistic by comparison. I found it “remarkably satisfying” and “one of the best experiences I’ve had on PS4 to date.” The unique Nemesis system was one of the most effective gameplay innovations we’ve seen in years, making enemies far more interesting and giving death in a video game a cool new twist.

Far Cry 4 was one of the best shooters of the year, and while some found it too similar to Far Cr 3, others felt it took that game’s excellent formula and improved upon it, tightening up gameplay and improving the story and characters. Easily the best open-world shooter of the year with a co-op mode that allows players to play the entire single-player campaign with other players, Far Cry 4 is enormously fun and boasts some of the best graphics on new-gen consoles.

South Park: The Stick of Truth was, in many ways, a bit of a buggy mess when it released (after a year of delays.) Still, it was one of the best things South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done in ages, and a great take on roleplaying games, youthful imagination, and the myriad familiar faces of South Park. It’s not the deepest RPG out there, but it’s one of the funniest video games you’re likely to come across. Indeed, I called it “one of the most enjoyable, hilarious, and disgustingly offensive roleplaying games I’ve played period.” David Ewalt agreed, noting that “it’s got to be the most disgusting and deliberately offensive mass-market video game ever made. I loved it. You probably will too.”

Divinity: Original Sin is another humorous RPG, though it takes a top-down approach to the genre, and allows players to play one or two PCs and have up to two extra companions. One of the neat innovations here is the ability to play the two main player characters in co-op mode and actually role-play with or against your player-controlled companion. Disagreements are worked out through a system of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The entire game is a wonderful, challenging experience and ranks among my favorite RPGs in many years.

Gold Medals

Wolfenstein 5

Only three Gold Medals are going out this year, to three very excellent games.

Wolfenstein: The New Order proved yet again that rumors of the death of single-player, campaign-based first-person shooters are greatly exaggerated. This game is the yin to Titanfall’s yang, and for those of us reporting on video games at Forbes, a much more satisfying experience.

Tight shooting and stealth mechanics, well-designed levels, and an engaging story with top-notch voice-acting all made this one of the best single-player experiences of the year. The New Order followed in Dishonored’s footsteps in many ways, and publisher Bethesda continues to impress in their ability to publish SP experiences in an online age. I called it Shooter of the Year (so far) when it released, and it remains that even after all the competition.

Bayonetta 2 is that rare sequel which improves on the original,” writes David Ewalt. And indeed, there is little to complain about in the Wii U exclusive. While some find the titular heroine a bit too sexualized, the majority of the game’s fans see Bayonetta as the badass she is—a ninja-witch-extraordinaire who kicks ass and takes names of each and every baddie she comes across. The combat is pretty much flawless, level design is excellent, and even though the graphics may not be as pretty as a PS4 exclusive, the art style more than makes up for it. A practically perfect game.

No game has so absorbed my time and attention in the past year or so as Mario Kart 8. Andy Robertson called it “the best Mario Kart experience I’ve has since is revelatory introduction some 22 year ago.” This second Wii U Gold Medal finalist is again an almost flawless game, with only the lack of a proper Battle Mode holding it back. Everything from the tracks to the graphics to the online experience is terrific, and it’s fun online but even better with friends and family on the couch. The very reasonably priced DLC only makes the game even better.

Game of the Year

hearthstone

Forbes’ Game of the Year goes to an unlikely candidate: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

Blizzard’s competitive collectible card game made just about everyone’s top ten list here. And while some of us played the game more than others—Paul Tassi spent over $600 on the free-to-play smash hit—we all agree that Blizzard has crafted something special here, on computers and tablets alike.

“Hearthstone is my game of the year,” Tassi writes. “It has no sprawling open worlds, nor pulse-pounding combat, but it’s done absolutely everything right over the past year from its debut to its expansions, and I only see it continuing to evolve in great ways from here. In an age when a shift to mobile and free-to-play is something to be feared, Hearthstone is proof that concept can work wondrously, if handled with care.”

Simplicity, balance, and attention to detail all make Hearthstone a tremendous achievement simply in terms of minimalist design even aside from its commercial success.

~

Of course, even this list leaves out many terrific video games. The Forbes Video Games team has a wide array of tastes. Some writers prefer much more eclectic games. Other than our GOTY, no mobile or handhelds made the cut. We’ll keep bringing you our take on 2014 and what it meant for games, what our favorite experiences were, and more in the coming weeks as we move slowly into 2015.

Hopefully this year will be even better for video games—and perhaps a bit less controversial, too.

Shout out your top video game picks in the comments and on social media.

Face Off: The Evil Within

As we observed in our performance analysis, the game essentially operates at a native rendering resolution of 1920×768 on PS4 and 1600×640 on Xbox One, which is really just 1080p vs 900p with those large black bars inserted. The dynamic resolution scaling seen in Rage and Wolfenstein: The New Order is gone, so we’re looking at a fixed framebuffer on both consoles backed up with what appears to be standard FXAA to tackle aliasing.

The basic anti-aliasing technique does a reasonable job eliminating edge aliasing, but on Xbox One the combination of an upscaled image with FXAA and heavy post-processing results in a rather blurry experience. A soft-focus depth-of-field effect is also utilised throughout, which also cleans up distant pixel shimmering. Its intensity varies scene to scene, but the effect creates an interesting juxtaposition between high-contrast foreground objects and soft-focus background elements. Combined with the narrow field of view, the game does indeed deliver on its cinematic aspirations with some beautifully framed sequences but, unfortunately, this comes at the expense of playability.

The PC, of course, offers a full selection of resolutions to boost image quality. Three types of post-process anti-aliasing (FXAA, SMAA and MLAA) are available, but we get the feeling they will fail to impress PC gamers – many edges are left untreated and image quality can be rough, while forcing MSAA through the GPU control panel doesn’t seem to work as it did with Wolfenstein: The New Order. The narrow field of view of the console game is an issue on PC as well, but thankfully some resourceful users have been working hard to solve the problem. One user, Kputt, has released a FOV fix utilising Cheat Engine, while another user compiled those memory edits into a standalone executable available through Reddit. It works brilliantly and allows for on-the-fly adjustments that completely solve the FOV problem. (Flawless Widescreen has also been updated to support the game to similar effect.) That said, widening the display angle does seem to incur a performance penalty, so hitting 60fps may prove even more difficult. Away form the PC, it’s unlikely the console versions will see any changes but, after they were patched into Resident Evil 6, there’s always a remote possibility.

The Evil Within goes head to head on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in this video. They look very similar most of the time but there are plenty of subtle differences if you look close enough.

 

It’s difficult to ignore the performance issues The Evil Within suffers from, but looking past the frame-rate reveals a very attractive game. Beautifully detailed maps are complemented by a selection of extremely high quality character models, lovely texture work and excellent post-processing. It looks a fair bit more impressive than any previous id Tech 5 title and possesses a unique aesthetic. The game also effortlessly weaves in and out of its entirely real-time cut-scenes and isn’t afraid to attempt complex scenes that would be pre-rendered videos in many other titles. The presentation is wholly unlike anything else this engine has produced and feels uniquely Japanese.

The developers have taken things even further with a more robust lighting model than previous id Tech 5 titles. After focusing so heavily on lighting and shadow with id Tech 4, it was surprising when all of that was cast aside in Rage for a mostly baked approach, but Tango Gameworks seemingly took it upon itself to implement a dynamic lighting model and it looks excellent. Dynamic light sources all cast proper soft shadows, with multiple sources even casting overlapping shadows of varying intensity. Shadows themselves can appear a bit fuzzy at times with noticeable shadow jittering in certain cases, but the effect still looks great in motion. It’s very likely that the addition of this new lighting model is at least somewhat responsible for the game’s performance problems, but it really wouldn’t look right without it. Shadow quality between the three versions is remarkably similar, however, which may be quite disappointing for enthusiast PC users with untapped GPU power in their rigs.

One aspect of id Tech 5 that remains in place is its MegaTexture technology. Virtual texturing has always been interesting from a theoretical standpoint, but in practice it has often produced ugly side effects, with some surfaces in Rage and even Wolfenstein resembling poorly compressed JPEG images. Clearly the advantage to this approach is texture variety, eliminating unnatural tiling and truly allowing the artists to go crazy with art design. From that perspective, The Evil Within delivers an even greater variety of artwork than its engine stablemates and seemingly does so with higher-resolution assets across the board. Tango has done a great job creating appropriately filthy surfaces – reminiscent of the Resident Evil remake in some ways – that manage to avoid the compressed image look and it often feels as though each room you explore features entirely unique artwork.

Select a thumbnail to launch comparison tool

Of course, texture pop-in has always been an issue for id Tech 5, but The Evil Within handles it a bit better than Rage or Wolfenstein. You’ll still note minor pop-in during quick cuts or after a loading screen, but in general texture detail never feels as if it’s being drawn while you play. Interestingly the PC version doesn’t have any significant advantage here as the consoles keep up remarkably well with minimal pop-in. Texture decoding was always a bit CPU-heavy, though a GPU option was available in Rage for Nvidia users, and it seems possible that some of the game’s performance issues on consoles stem from this element of the tech.

Historically, load times have been another sticking point with id Tech 5. Thankfully The Evil Within fares a bit better on all three platforms. On the PC front, even from a platter drive, loading times are extremely quick and painless, lasting no more than five seconds on our setup, while installing the game onto SSD makes it difficult even to read the loading screen tips. On consoles, however, things don’t fare as well, with most levels requiring 15-25 seconds to load. This becomes more of an issue if you die, as the game needs to reload level data at this point resulting in a similarly long load screen. It’s much faster than the console versions of Rage and just short enough to prevent frustration setting in, but it certainly isn’t optimal. It should be noted that the game weighs in around 40GB across the three primary platforms as well.

Looking at other elements, we see a lot of similarities between each version. The highest settings available on PC are basically equivalent to the PS4 version with a few minor exceptions. The depth-of-field used in certain cut-scenes, for instance, appears noticeably chunkier on PC and in select cases Xbox One. Looking at the intro we found the PC version seems to render objects passing outside of the police car at an obscenely low resolution resulting in a chunky appearance, yet during gameplay the subtle depth-of-field effect is actually somewhat less pronounced on PC, and indeed all three versions are slightly different in this regard. It does give the impression of increased distant texture detail on the PC at times, even at an equivalent resolution to the PS4.

Select a thumbnail to launch comparison tool

The updated engine also makes heavy use of specular highlights and we noted another minor difference between the versions here as well. We ran across a number of scenes where an appropriate specular effect on PS4 was missing on Xbox One and PC. Another minor difference is a slight change in the way SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion) is rendered on PC. It’s not always obvious in every scene, but the effect actually seems more pronounced – and not necessarily in a good way. Corners sometimes appear to collect thicker black blobs that seem, strangely enough, less precise than the effect on console.

Ultimately The Evil Within is a very nice-looking game on all three platforms (well, as nice as a game this gruesome can look, obviously), so it’s a shame the performance falls short of expectations. As established previously, The Evil Within has consistency issues on both current-generation consoles while the PC version has severe scalability issues on higher-end hardware. Anyone considering buying the game on disc for PS4 should also make certain that the latest patch is installed, as out-of-the-box pre-patch performance is much worse. (We weren’t able to test the Xbox One version without its patch, so we’re uncertain if that’s the case there as well.) There’s a night-and-day difference with the latest update installed, but it still feels under-optimised and sluggish. We should point out that all of our performance analysis published to date is based on patched code.

The Evil Within’s performance issues do not manifest in a typical fashion. Normally the inclusion of additional light sources or large numbers of enemies hammers frame-rate, but in this case performance seems tied to the map itself. Chapter three, for instance, produces similarly low frame-rates exploring the village free of enemies as it does during combat. The most demanding section we’ve run across isn’t a large open battleground, but rather a small room tucked in the corner of a mansion at the beginning of chapter four. Clearly there is something wrong here, although none of this is to say that effects work can’t drop the frame-rate further – for example, looking directly into an open fire had a noticeable impact on fluidity, particularly on the PC when running with the frame-rate uncapped.

A look at the Evil Within’s performance on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – it has more optimisation issues than virtually any other game we’ve looked at in the new console era.

As noted above, we also suspect texture decoding accounts for some of the problems. There are scenes that demonstrate massive dips in performance upon arrival only to return to locked 30fps moments later. We can’t say for sure, but it certainly seems possible that the decoding process is bottlenecking the consoles’ lower-power CPUs. All of these different factors combine with the narrow field of view and jittery camera motion, leaving the game feeling very inconsistent and jerky.

Then there’s the issue with the Xbox One version we mentioned previously, which persists as of this writing. The game’s renderer seems to be out of sync with the background simulation, producing a persistent stutter even when the frame-rate holds steady at 30fps. Anyone familiar with the frame-skipping issues present in a number of Bethesda-produced Gamebryo titles, such as Fallout 3 and New Vegas, will know exactly how frustrating this persist tic can be.

Looking at the PS4 and Xbox One versions side by side, the results are actually rather interesting. Ignoring the sync issues on Xbox One, the minimum frame-rate is often a touch higher than PS4. The moments that this occurs, however, seem to be tied to texture decoding where the PS4 appears to struggle a bit more. Once these hiccups are passed, performance between the two becomes closer. After playing through half the game on both platforms, we have to give the nod to the PS4 version when it comes to performance. Texture streaming can cause greater dips on PS4 but the overall performance is generally smoother, while the Xbox One version is stuck with a constant stutter that impacts any sense of fluidity.

Select a thumbnail to launch comparison tool

The Evil Within – the Digital Foundry verdict

Is this the end for id Tech 5? As it stands there aren’t any other products in the pipeline with the engine behind it – that we’re aware of, at least. Its utilisation has proven to be an interesting experiment and the fact that it produced two consoles games capable of holding a solid 60fps is impressive. However, The Evil Within clearly shows that it’s not right for every development environment. The team at Tango Gameworks has made some impressive changes, with id’s engine pushed in brand new directions, but we can’t feel the underlying technology is ill at ease with the demands placed upon it.

Does The Evil Within manage to rise above its performance issues and live up to its potential? Well, yes, it’s a solid and interesting game. Of the two console builds, PS4 gets the nod – the higher resolution is welcome and the game simulation is more closely linked to the renderer, meaning less stutter than the Xbox One version. However, while improved over the Microsoft console, the PS4 game still feels highly under-optimised. Indeed, as things stand, with the possible exception of Thief, The Evil Within probably has more performance issues than any other title we’ve tested on the new wave of consoles – and that’s a real shame, as there’s a remarkably good game here let down by its surrounding technology.

That being the case, those looking for something closer to the best possible experience should really opt for the PC version, provided you have the requisite hardware to at least match and exceed PS4 performance – a modern Core i3 processor matched with something like a Radeon R9 270 or a GeForce GTX 660 should get you to 1080p30 with a consistent performance level. Liberating the game from its overbearing borders and narrow field of view improves the experience, plus there’s the opportunity to scale beyond 1080p for those who own higher-resolution displays. But even here, it’s clear there are profound optimisation issues. We like to think of the PC as the platform capable of powering its way to the best possible gameplay experience, with 60fps gameplay a key component, but for now at least that’s completely off the table, and that’s a real shame.

Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor Review

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – a complex and compelling role-playing adventure, set between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Photograph: Warner PR

Warner Bros; PC/PS3/PS4 (version tested)/Xbox One/Xbox 360; £45; Pegi rating: 18+

You’d be forgiven for not getting too excited about Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. There’s that clunking title for one thing, forged in the most basic video game name generator. Then there’s the licence itself – the gaming battlefield is littered with the corpses of near-forgotten sub-par genre contenders half-heartedly wrestled into an uncomfortable fit with Tolkien’s fantasy world.

And the tick list of features from the back of the box does very little to generate much more excitement – beyond the one noticeable exception I’ll get to later. The game wears its influences shamelessly: this is Arkham’s Creed with a side order of Grand Theft Far Cry. And orcs. Lots of orcs.

And yet …

It turns out that Shadow of Mordor is that rarest of things in video game culture – an unexpected knockout punch. It’s also a glorious return to form for one of the most interesting developers out there – Washington-based Monolith Productions – whose track record is inconsistent but features glorious oddities such as No One Lives Forever, FEAR and Condemned.

The story of Mordor, much like the rest of the game, is a Frankenstein’s monster. You are Talion, a ranger of Gondor responsible for guarding the Black Gate of Mordor. In an assault by Sauron’s army you and your family are killed, but you find yourself returned to life and twinned with a mysterious wraith who gives you magical powers. The stage is set for you to sneak across a battered landscape, doling out revenge on Sauron’s minions. It’s basically Batman with a longsword.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? But Monolith sends out an early sign of quality with an introductory cut-scene that doesn’t outstay its welcome and features voice actors who don’t sound actively appalled by the dialogue. It’s told with the economy and flair you’d expect from one of the writers of Red Dead Redemption and everyone involved sees the plot for what it is – a peg to hang a game on. Which makes it exactly 100 times more enjoyable than almost every high-profile game with literary or filmic pretensions.

How to slay a monster

It’s the same for the basic mechanics. Monolith does what anyone who’s played Assassin’s Creed recently wishes Ubisoft would do – it makes the parkour tighter, makes the stealth coherent and consistent, rips out the combat model and replaces it with something inspired by Rocksteady’s Batman. The team then gets the story out of the way as quickly as possible, and then doesn’t waste development time on a card game simulator that no one wants; it reduces the size of the map and trims back the 12 million tedious side quests to a handful that actually benefit the player in gameplay.

It sounds so simple, but it’s bracingly surprising to simply sneak up on an isolated band of Uruk-hai and start tripping off the various systems Monolith gives you to dispatch them – safe in the knowledge that they all work as they should.

And that’s not taking into account Shadows’ trump card – the Nemesis system. It sounds too good to be true: the game responds dynamically to your actions, shifting the Orc’s hierarchy as you make your way through and generating a roster of enemies who look, speak, behave and fight very differently. Injure an orc in a battle and you’ll find later on that they not only remember you, they also bear the scars of your recent attentions. Find yourself caught out by a lowly Uruk-hai in a melee and when you return to life they’ll now be promoted up the chain of command and will taunt you when you next face them.

How much of this is smoke and mirrors is a moot point. It feels like it’s doing what it promises and it transforms the two tight open-world maps into something living and engaging. Every session of the game is peppered with moments of glorious chaos that feel far more rewarding and exciting than the scripted fodder Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed push in the player’s direction.

New but old

Two PS2-era games continually sprang to mind as I made my way through the Uruk-hai ranks with a pleasing sense of power and purpose – Psi Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy and Metal Arms: Glitch in the System.

Neither of these are remembered terribly well by the majority of gamers, and both share with Shadows a godawful title, unpromising narrative, a few ragged edges and a comparative lack of pre-release hype. But they also featured thumpingly well-executed mechanics, emergent gameplay and at least one genuinely game-changing idea. You could argue that games like these lack a sense of scope that can only ever mean they’re second-tier. But in a straight fight between Shadow’s eagerness to please and, say, Destiny’s production values, sterility and self-proclaimed ambition, and there’s only one winner for me, and it’s not Bungie.

That may sound hyperbolic, and true, Shadows of Mordor isn’t perfect by any means. But right now, it’s my main contender for game of the year, simply because, in its lack of pretension, its attention to detail and its understanding that video games first and foremost should be fun, it puts everything else I’ve played recently in its long shadow.

Destiny Full Review

Destiny is a game about evolution, and a game about journeys. By their very nature, you won’t appreciate just how deep those twin philosophies go at first. This isn’t a game that reveals itself immediately. Destiny teases its (current) complete form by presenting its constituent elements in turn, letting each settle in over an extended period before subverting, expanding and revitalising it with the next. It’s not a short-term process, and there are a couple of ups and downs along the way. But stick with Destiny, trust that it knows what it’s doing, and you’ll find that your ultimate destination is–for consoles–an utterly unique and immensely gratifying place to play. Not only that, but it’s just the first stage of an even longer journey.

Let’s start, as the game itself does, with Destiny’s core shooting. Whatever you find yourself doing, wherever you go, however long you invest, this will be the core experience underpinning it all. And the good news is that it’s excellent. Heavily based on the weighty-yet-fluid feel and adaptable, aerial versatility of Bungie’s other FPS, Destiny’s handling–typified by the whirling, emergent use of cover, the importance of shifting spatial control, and punctuated by the none-more gratifying feedback of its weapons– is always, always fun. This wonderfully balanced shooting ensures that whatever the high-fallutin’ RPG framework built around any particular mission, whatever the higher purpose of your actions within the later, deeper meta-game, the real meat of the experience–the things you actually do to achieve your goals–is constantly enjoyable.

It’s not a 100% recreation of Halo, of course. The interplay between gun and grenade, for instance, is the first sign of Destiny’s RPG identity. Operating as inherent character-abilities rather than collectable weapons, each class’ grenade is furnished by a cooldown timer. Initially, this feels odd and slightly limiting, but as you level up and new skill properties become available, it evolves into something akin to a tactical magic attack, to be saved and unleashed strategically to modify the battlefield in different ways.

It can be an extended, area-of-effect health drain, used to lock down entry points and soften up mobs before engaging. It can be a splitting, enemy-seeking cluster-bomb for rapidly shattering problematic, tight groups. It can be a flashbang for buying time during a PvP confrontation. It can be a tripmine, or a sticky, lightning-emitting booby trap, used to limit enemy movement.

Similarly, special melee and ‘supercharge’ moves intermittently become available in the same way, evolving Destiny’s strategic game into a new layer floating above the immediacy of its shooting. Even more-so when unlocked ability variants and gear perks start supplying the facility to buff, adapt and empower those moves as part of an interlocking, resonating, personalised combat system. Though there’s little rigidity here. Currently owned weapons, armour and abilities can be swapped in and out on the fly as needed, taking the stress out of character-building, and making Destiny’s tactical ‘theory’ choices as fluid as its gunplay. It’s an incredibly smart system, providing a raft of malleable depth right now, and setting up a great framework for growth as Destiny expands over the years.

The never-starting story?

Destiny’s story is vaguely-sketched at best. What is here is Bungie-by-numbers, all ancient evil races, ancienter, eviler alien races, and barely explained space-gods of general darkness and bad. There is however, a Tolkienesque amount of ultra-detailed lore to Destiny’s world. It’s just that it’s all attached to the unlockable Grimoire cards stored on Bungie.net, rather than in the game itself.

But for all of its internal layers, Destiny’s combat exists within a wider ecosystem. When you first arrive at The Tower, the game’s central hub-cum-market town, you’ll likely feel a little bamboozled if you have scant experience of MMOs. Wrapped up in rich, evocative presentation typical of the game’s slick polish, Destiny’s altogether more civilised Mos Eisley is packed with alien concepts, both literally and figuratively.

Multiple vendors ply you with high-level weapons and armour, demanding large amounts of multiple, unheard-of currencies. A man known as the Cryptarch offers to decrypt something called an Engram for you. He’ll sell them to you as well, if your reputation is high enough. Whatever that means. A polite robot will give you bounties–Achievement-style mini-challenges for PvE and PvP play–but Lord knows what the point is, other than a modest XP bonus. If Destiny has one major failing, it’s that during its early periods, it does a terrible job of explaining any of this. In fact it does no job at all. This definitely has the potential to scare off less dedicated players, but it’s worth fighting the intimidation. All eventually does become clear, as the inter-relating economic and levelling systems that make up its complete experience become relevant at late XP levels. But with no initial path carved out toward that point, confusion and misconception are an occupational hazard to the unwarned player.

Either way, it won’t be long before you head back into the PvE missions that construct and garnish Destiny’s current story. And from thereon in, the experience of them becomes richer, deeper, and more involved with each passing hour. As your character develops, so too does Destiny’s core gameplay. Levelling up is about more than increased attack and defence. It also fundamentally changes interaction. New methods of moving, jumping, controlling and defending evolve not only your character, but the game you’re playing with your character. However often you replay a scenario, or new, more challenging variants of it, you’ll always find that something has always changed, even if it’s just your own perspective, or those of the people you’re playing with.

MORE INFO

Release date: Sep 09 2014 – PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: MMO
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Bungie
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Animated Blood, Violence

That said, Destiny certainly does not thumb its nose at the solitary player. While the expanding content of its ‘endgame’ (I’m loathe to use the term, as hitting the initial level cap really does feel like just the beginning) is certainly pitched for co-op, it would be feasible, if not entirely easy, for a solo player to break through a good proportion of the main story unaided. Indeed, for all the fun of knuckling through missions as part of a three or six-man squad, some of Destiny’s most epic, standout combat moments have come about through taking on a tough challenge alone. The increased threat and higher stakes reward the kind of creative and improvisational FPS play that few other shooters have the capacity to offer.

The quality of Destiny’s combat becomes even clearer in the Crucible, the in-world setting for the game’s competitive multiplayer component. Currently comprising four main modes–base control, team deathmatch, free-for-all, and a tight, tactical TDM mode for small teams, in which co-operation is vital–and 11 maps, Crucible is no standalone addition. It becomes an increasingly important part of Destiny’s overall make-up as you progress, but beyond that, it’s simply one of the most robust, well-developed FPS PvP servings in recent memory.

Again, obviously descended from Halo’s legendary multiplayer, it’s a slightly faster, more aggressive variant with more scope for fast kills, but no less varied or accessibly deep in its cat-and-mouse firefights. Played using the same persistent character and gear-set as everything else, it removes level advantages in the name of fairness, but keeps properties such as firing rate and stopping power. It’s sometimes possible for Destiny’s currently rather relaxed matchmaking approach to cause notable level disparities between players, but in practice, map knowledge and shooting skill largely trumps all else.

When Destiny’s wider world starts to reveal and explain itself–around about XP level 16–and when more complex and interesting perks begin to arrive with higher-level gear drops, it initially feels too late. What use is better stuff when the story is nearly over and the level-cap of 20 looms? But in truth, this is just a transitional period. It is Destiny’s, admittedly overdue, method of prepping you for the real meat of its content, in terms of challenge, creativity, and player-led potential. All of that stuff starts post-20. Now, the game and its world change all over again, and what appeared to be the end turns out to be really only the end of the prologue.

A new levelling system, based on a new statistic called Light–attached to advanced armour–replaces the traditional XP system. The Crucible PvP modes and the newly available, increasingly challenging, remixed and reworked PvE Vanguard missions become the source of Light armour, through loot drops and by providing the previously unexplained currencies for purchasing high-level gear. The seemingly unimportant bounties reveal themselves to be a major part of Destiny’s economic fuel.

Daily and weekly challenges start to appear on the map screen, offering greater rewards for those brave and strong enough to tackle them. The first part of Destiny’s future Raid roster unlocks, bringing with it a design philosophy previously unseen, made of oblique, enigmatic, combat-driven environmental puzzling, and demanding immense levels of team communication and coordination. The versatility and scalability of the core combat become even more apparent, as it services everything from traditional FPS scenarios to frantic, chaotic mob battles. Finally, all of Destiny’s seemingly disparate, parallel elements coalesce into one, cohesive form, building a robust, enticing framework for adventures yet to happen.

Is Destiny flawed in the way it explains itself ? Of course, but when it gets there, the pay-off is more than worth the wait. Is its story slight, skating only on the surface of its lore? Yes indeed, but once you get past it, you’ll realise that its real stories are the many you create with your assembled cast of co-op players, those of epic, emergent set-pieces and heroic, last-ditch Crucible victories. And does Destiny need more content? Eventually it will, but we know that it’s coming. In the meantime, I’m 45 hours in, and only becoming more engaged by the day. Hell, I still have a sub-set of support skills to unlock, and a second class to build.

The only problem with reviewing Destiny, with summing up my feelings and experiences so far, is that it will always be a case of ‘so far’. That’s why I’m leaving the extra point of breathing space on the score. It’s there for potential. To be filled. But with Destiny’s 10-year plan starting so strongly, and set to begin evolving over just the next few weeks, I feel very content that it eventually will be.

Free Copy of XCOM: Enemeny Unknown—-Enjoy

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the finest strategy games ever. That’s why we gave it a splendid 4.5 stars back in 2012. And hey: it’s still damn good more than two years later. You command a covert group of super-soldiers as they face off against a mysterious alien invasion. Each soldier can be upgraded and even renamed, so you take it damn personally when one is gunned down by an alien scumbag!

Enemy Unknown’s unique blend of strategy, squad management, and shooting the massive eyes out of aliens makes it a true classic. And you can have a FREE Steam key for the game. Why? Green Man Gaming has teamed up with the Golden Joystick Awards to give away thousands of keys. All you have to do to get one is…

Place your votes: Head over to the Golden Joystick Awards website and pick your winners. Make sure you submit your votes with the same email address as your GMG account if you have one.

Claim your free game: Make your way to goldenjoysticks.greenmangaming.com and fill in the ‘Claim your free game’ form. If you’re registering your GMG account for the first time, make sure you use the same email address you used for the Golden Joystick Awards website.

Link your Steam account: If you’re an existing Playfire member with your Steam account linked, you’re already finished.

The offer is “while stock lasts” and you’ll have to be over 18 to claim. Please be aware that certain territories may run out of keys faster than others based on demand.

Madden 15 In-Depth Game Review

The new generation of consoles has been kind to Madden. While the PS4 and Xbox One version of last fall’s Madden NFL 25 only features slightly upgraded visuals from its last-gen counterparts, its significant gameplay improvements won over hardened football fans. Less than a year later, Madden 15 arrives as a more ambitious effort. There are significant modifications in key areas–analytic data and play-calling among them–that bring a more modern feel to Madden even though they border on information overload. An impressively spruced-up presentation combined with further refinements of the core gameplay results in steady progress for the better–and a really fun game of football most of the time.

Analytics are all the rage in real-world sports these days, and Madden 15 delivers them in a big way. Information is presented to you in real time, and much of it takes place as you’re walking towards the line of scrimmage. A nifty right stick-driven analysis module allows you to judge matchups and check tendencies before you snap the ball, giving you actionable data about potential success points or risky choices. If the right side of your line is struggling to block an overpowering defensive lineman, you’ll know this immediately and can make adjustments; conversely, if your slot receiver has a big speed advantage against a defender, you can tinker with his route and exploit that weakness. Even if you’re just observing, the coaching tool becomes a go-to feature every play. The effect is immediate and positive, as you learn to make sense of what’s presented then employ tactics based on the feedback.

When the whistle is blown, Madden serves up the plays called by the offense and defense so you can determine what worked or failed. This information may seem trivial, but it’s vitally important to players yearning to understand how to be more successful. It puts powerful information in your hands; if your opponent is calling the same few defensive plays over and over again, you’ll know and can then plot a counter-attack. Opponent strategies are laid bare–just as they are to observant coaches in the real-world NFL–and your success ultimately comes down to your ability to call the right plays and executing them properly.

Longtime Madden veterans definitely have their work cut out for them in the play-calling department, as the new menu system for selecting your personnel and strategy takes some time to process, especially when analytics are served up at the same time. Madden is more intent than ever on making play recommendations, and now that it backs them up with quantitative reasons for its suggestions, it feels like you’re the head coach watching an offensive or defensive coordinator sending in the plays. It’s very easy let Madden pick every play for you, and veterans of the series may resent the need to do more work to drill down into formations and specific calls. Conversely, newcomers are given a much clearer idea of what may be a good idea to run and why. Regardless, the navigation here is a drastic change from a decade-old template. It’s easy to read because the visuals are extremely large and in your face, but a more toned-down approach would have made the system feel less busy.

Offensive tempo is another big part of modern football, and the most welcome improvement to play-calling comes in the form of new settings that let you tweak the pace of your games. Madden NFL 15 features two Tempo toggles–‘No Huddle’ and ‘Chew Clock’ (in addition to the default of ‘Normal’). ‘No Huddle’ makes your offense get to the line quickly and forces the defense to do the same, while ‘Chew Clock’ automatically brings the play clock down to 10 seconds as you break the huddle. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to both settings. If you go no huddle and speed up the pace, you can wear down defenses and catch them off guard. However, you can’t change your personnel while doing so, and are limited in the variety of plays you can call. On the other hand, chewing the clock eliminates those awkward late-game “just standing around to kill time” moments everyone hates. The downside is the defense gets time to rest and there are precious few seconds to make any adjustments. These nifty additions are easy to turn on and off as the situation changes, and add a good deal of strategy to every drive.

Of course, analytics and play-calling improvements aren’t worth much if the core gameplay doesn’t hold its own. Fortunately, Madden builds on its new-gen debut. The offensive and defensive line play continues to improve, as your ability to find running lanes and hit them feels true-to-life. Momentum and physics prevent your ability to slash and cut into holes as quickly as you may like, but they resemble how real players move and react. Running up the middle seems a bit easier this season, and it’s definitely tougher to net those big yards on outside tosses and stretch runs.

Passing remains a challenge, however. Interceptions are still too prevalent, especially in some one-on-one situations where receivers don’t fight for the ball and corners have too much of an advantage. This can be counterbalanced, of course; it just takes practice and impeccable timing to consistently complete throws. There are times when you’ll swear you made the pass at the right moment to an open receiver only to be foiled by a linebacker or defensive back. Simply put, Madden gives no quarter to sloppy passes–you will be punished for mistakes.

MORE INFO

Release date: Aug 26 2014 – PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Sports
ESRB Rating:
Everyone

When you take a step back from the field, it’s easy to spot some nice improvements to the overall presentation as well. Madden 15 looks and sounds better in every way, from the opening montages to the television-style stat graphics to the cutaways of coaches and individual players. Stadiums have been upgraded too, incorporating much better jumbotrons that finally replace the outdated ones Madden has been saddled with for years. The player models are noticeably improved, and many stars are immediately recognizable in the way that they run or throw. Stadium crowds are more alive, and the lack of in-game cutscenes in favor of showing the action “live” is a breath of fresh air.

The heart of Madden remains its Connected Franchise Mode, where you and your friends can be a player, coach, or owner. While little has changed at the high level from the past couple of seasons, there are dozens of nuanced modifications that longtime fans will notice–for better or worse. The most drastic is the elimination of Practice in favor of a Game Plan, a feature that allows you to target various metrics such as Confidence to improve player attributes and increase XP. Its implementation is a bit clunky–the menus don’t make it readily apparent how influential your decisions are, and you’re never quite sure if you’ve completed your tasks for the week–and the overall results are difficult to measure. On the plus side, things happening around the league (such as your team’s upcoming schedule) are referenced on-screen more often during games, adding desperately needed context to your experience. Overall, Connected Franchise Mode remains a deep mode for players online and off; every major sports game should have similar experiences.

Naturally, the revenue-generating Ultimate Team mode–a combination of fantasy football and card collecting that lets you take a custom-built team online against other players–gets more attention every year. This season, it’s evident EA wants to bring in as many players as possible. Menus have been dramatically simplified, and there are less “walls” around the various aspects of the mode. Newcomers to the mode are given better tools to navigate, while veterans will appreciate the consolidation of actions.

Madden NFL 15 does a lot of things right. The overall presentation makes a nice leap from last year’s new-gen debut, and while longtime players may have some challenges with new play-calling options, the analytical data at your fingertips is a welcome addition. Connected Franchise Mode offers deep experiences for every kind of player, and the core gameplay continues to improve. Despite its challenging passing game and sometimes-clunky menus, Madden NFL 15 will make fans happy this football season.

Madden NFL 15 Review

One of the biggest complaints about the “Madden NFL” series is that over the years, it’s gotten too complex. With the pressure to tweak the series annually, the football franchise has added and discarded features so often that it feels as if fans need a doctorate to wade through it all. The convoluted controls, bugs and hit-and-miss changes have been the biggest barriers for average players, and they are part of the reason why some are turned off by the game that bears the name of Oakland Raiders coaching legend John Madden.

EA Tiburon finally has addressed this and other qualms, creating one of the most accessible entries in years.

EA TIBURONColin Kaepernick, in all his tattooed glory, is featured in "NFL Madden 15," the latest version of the video game designed and named

EA TIBURON Colin Kaepernick, in all his tattooed glory, is featured in “NFL Madden 15,” the latest version of the video game designed and named for football coaching great JOhn Madden. ( eas )

With “Madden NFL 15,” the game makers fix many nagging issues while revamping visuals on the latest consoles. Now, quarterbacks and star players look more like their real-life counterparts. Colin Kaepernick is so detailed you can almost read the tattoos on his million-dollar arm.

Although the eye-popping visuals and slick presentation will get the oohs and aahs, fans will appreciate the upgrades to the defense.

Like many changes, the defensive side of the ball has been simplified so that rushing the passer doesn’t need a complex series of button presses and tackling isn’t a guessing game. EA Tiburon added a layer of transparency with button prompts and a tackling cone, so defenders can consistently bring down their man. Fans won’t be frustrated with missed tackles because the system makes those mistakes clear.

For those who’ve been out of the game for a while, “Madden NFL 15” comes with a proper tutorial called the Skills Trainer. It’s the best way to get reacquainted with the controls; more importantly, it teaches players football concepts. This is something I’ve wanted for years.

Want to know how to attack a Cover 3 defensive scheme? The training will drill that into you. Is man-to-man pass coverage leaving your offense frustrated? There’s a lesson on the flood concept and how, as a quarterback, to better read pass defenses. It’s the best way for casual fans to get a deeper understanding of football and improve their virtual passing and running game.

That seems to be the general theme around “Madden NFL 15.” It’s a title that aims to cut through the byzantine systems that have weighed down the franchise and to streamline the experience so that everyone can jump in.The intimidating task of building a squad in Madden Ultimate Team is allayed by a straightforward to-do list. Improving your player or team in the connected franchise mode is done at a press of a button or a short drill that is much less arduous than past versions.

These advances really open up “Madden NFL 15,” though I do have occasional issues with bugs. The improvements help players unlock elements of the franchise that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

 

This is just a brief review of Madden 15. I will go more in depth tomorrow.