Latest Articles

Xbox One X vs Xbox One S loading times with HDD and SSD

#article #forzahorizon3 #middleearthshadowofwar #reddeadredemption #titanfall2

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about using an SSD with the Xbox One. The short version is that there was a marked increase in performance when using an external USB 3 SSD over in the internal spinning HDD with some games seeing 55-60% reductions in loading times. I received my Xbox One X yesterday and wanted to revisit these benchmarks again for two reasons. Firstly, the internal drive has 50% more throughput than the original Xbox One along with an increase in CPU and RAM that should mean faster texture unpacking and the ability to cache more data thus making everything load faster. Secondly, I wanted to see if the SSD performance would improve thanks to the CPU and RAM improvements. Digital Foundry looked into this briefly in their backwards compatibility review and found impressive gains between the HDD of the Xbox One and Xbox One X but they didn't investigate any gains for external drives.

Multiple patches have been released for the games I tested last time and I also upgraded to an Xbox One S so I decided to completely redo all of my testing rather than just take Xbox One X times for the previous games and compare them with my original Xbox One scores. I chose 4 different games and tested load times at several points for each. Every game was retested 3 times (with the average taken) on Xbox One S HDD, Xbox One S with external SSD, Xbox One X HDD, and Xbox One X with external SSD. The same SSD was used for both consoles and all save files were reloaded from the same point. They were also all running the latest patches with some optimised for 4K and others that weren't; I even tested an Xbox 360 game just to see how it fared.

Titanfall 2

This game is optimised for 4K and HDR (although the patch doesn't seem great) and I tested at two key points; how long it took to get to the main menu from a cold startup and then how long it took to resume a saved game in the single player campaign (the excellent "Effect and Cause" mission to be precise).

Cold start to menu

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 45s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 41s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 36s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 28s

Continue saved game

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 53s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 45s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 43s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 33s

The Xbox One X HDD is roughly 19% faster than the Xbox One S but it is still slower than the SSD with the old console as I expected. However, I wasn't expecting the dramatic reduction in SSD load times between the S and X with a substantial 28-33% decrease. This is particularly surprising as I expected load times to be roughly comparable given that the CPU and RAM are increased but it should be loading higher resolution textures.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Another game optimised for 4K and HDR, this one was tested from a cold start up to the point at which the developer logos start to appear (as these are a fixed 19 seconds before you get to the main menu) and then resuming a saved game into the middle of the open world of the first city.

Cold start to logos

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 32s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 32s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 19s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 16s

Continue saved game

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 58s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 56s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 28s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 25s

Far less impressive reductions on this front with both the HDD comparison and SSD comparison only being 2-3s quicker on the Xbox One X. This is still a 5-10% improvement but nothing massively noticeable. Of course, this does highlight how much an SSD improves these large scale games with massive worlds and a ton of textures; loading times for continuing a saved game are more than half that of the HDD.

Red Dead Redemption

This is a bit of a curveball I put in just to see if there was any difference for Xbox 360 backwards compatible games. I tested the amount of time to get to the main menu and the amount of time to resume a game in the town of Chuparosa.

Cold start to menu

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 43s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 42s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 37s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 37s

Continue saved game

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 33s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 33s
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 32s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 29s

Very little difference in this case with the HDD being pretty much identical between the S and the X. The SSD is slightly faster than the HDD for getting to the main menu (shaving off 5 precious seconds) but resuming a game is pretty much identical across both HDD and SSD with the exception of the Xbox One X SSD which shaves off around 9%. Still, you aren't going to see giant gains here either from upgrading to Xbox One X or from switching from the HDD to an SSD on either model.

Forza Horizon 3

I chose this as my final game as it is unpatched and therefore doesn't have a 4K resolution bump or any improved textures. It does have HDR support but this affects the Xbox One S as well so this should be a good test of seeing what gains can be made to games that aren't haven't yet been updated for Xbox One X (although I believe Forza Horizon 3 is getting a patch at some point). I tested a cold start to the main menu and then resuming a game into the Hot Wheels DLC.

Cold start to menu

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 39s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 39s*
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 32s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 32s

Continue saved game

  • Xbox One S Internal HDD - 52s
  • Xbox One X Internal HDD - 85s*
  • Xbox One S External SSD - 32s
  • Xbox One X External SSD - 20s

There are a number of interesting things about this result. Firstly, the SSD is already much faster over the HDD by around 39% but the SSD with the Xbox One X gets a substantial boost with a 37% reduction over the already improved Xbox One S SSD when continuing a game. The real story is in the Xbox One X HDD though which is substantially slower than the Xbox One S. In the first test, I eventually got it to load at the same speed as the Xbox One S but there were a few 45s outliers. The saved game continuation though is 65% slower on Xbox One X which I just can't fathom. I retested several times but always ended up in the same ballpark of 85s over the consistent 52s on the Xbox One S. It will be interesting to see if this changes when an Xbox One X patch comes out for this game or whether the increased textures will push that load time even further.

In conclusion, using an external SSD is still the fastest way to load your games on Xbox One and the increased CPU and RAM of the Xbox One X means that load times are even faster both for optimised and unoptimised games (sometimes up to a 37% reduction in load times over the Xbox One S with SSD which I did not expect at all). Meanwhile, the internal HDD is slightly harder to gauge; whilst it seems to be slightly faster for most things (though not as fast as an SSD even with the old hardware) there is that odd outlier of Forza Horizon 3 where it is substantially slower.

Fractured or Whole?

#review #southparkthefracturedbutwhole #southparkthestickoftruth

The Stick of Truth was a surprise hit in 2014 when, after several delays, Obsidian Entertainment gave the world a South Park game that felt like an episode of the show. At just under 8 hours in length and with a fairly light combat mechanic, the game was really more about the story and the number of things Matt and Trey could and couldn't (in certain countries at least) get away with. The Fractured But Whole looked to follow this trend albeit with a switch from the Lord of the Rings / Hobbit style fantasy setting to the current trend for superheroes; gone are the pointy ears and sticks to be replaced by capes and lasers. There was a similar delay of almost a year and whilst there were rumours of a larger script I was generally expecting more of the same.

Even now, I'm struggling to decide if this is really a sequel or if it is more akin to a DLC expansion. There is a huge amount of refinement to the game both in terms of combat mechanics and inventory management whilst also clocking in at over double the length of Stick of Truth with it taking me around 18 hours to finish the main campaign. Yet I also can't shake the feeling that this feels all too familiar, a natural byproduct of having a fixed amount of game world (the same town) along with the majority of the characters from the original.

Improved combat mechanics are the main draw for this sequel
Improved combat mechanics are the main draw for this sequel

The main area where there is a substantial difference from Stick of Truth is in the combat. Whilst the first game had a fairly basic turn based system limited to two controllable characters, The Fractured But Whole has a full movement grid with four controllable characters which increases to even more at certain key points. The first game saw you choose from four different classes whereas here you have ten classes available to you with options to multiclass becoming available as you progress. Thankfully there is no longer a Borderlands style weapons inventory but instead each class has three attacks and a special move when a meter is filled based on successful blocks and attacks. This means that you aren't constantly changing your weapon as you find something with a 1pt increase but instead getting to use the same moves every battle; the fact that you have three constantly changing companions from a roster of ten keeps things fresh along with the fact you can swap out a move you don't like for one from another class later in the game.

All of these things lead to a much richer battle system and actually make it feel more like a game rather than a series of quick time events as the first one did. Whilst I worried the game was going to be too easy at the start, those fears were erased once the difficulty started to climb half way through with some of the final battles being particularly challenging. I also appreciated that not every battle was a "kill all enemies" affair with some needing you to reach a specific point or destroy certain items on the board.

Making a return from Stick of Truth are summons, powerful beings that can help turn a battle. There are only four to find in The Fractured But Whole and they also have a finite limit as you need to use certain collectibles to call them. They can also only be used once per battle so you can't constantly summon Moses to heal your party even if you do have enough macaroni pictures to do it.

There is a huge amount of cosmetic outfits to choose from
There is a huge amount of cosmetic outfits to choose from

As you no longer have weapons, the way in which you level throughout the game had to change slightly and is now achieved through artefacts. These are essentially patches added to your character that increase your rating in three key areas; brains, brawn, and spunk. Each of your abilities will be based on one of these types. For instance, boosting your brawn stat if you do a lot of physical attacks will increase your damage whilst boosting spunk will improve your healing abilities. These artefacts go into slots on your character sheet (of which more are unlocked as you level your character) and total up to a "might" number which is a good way of seeing if a quest is going to be too hard for you or not as you will be able to see the average might of your opponents. In addition to artefacts, there is also DNA which is a single slot that wildly alters your stats. For example, you might choose a strand that boosts your brains by 30% at the cost of a 20% reduction in hit points. All of this combines to making inventory management simpler as you are no longer going through a long winded process of swapping minor patches on weapons every battle in order to gain an extra point or two of damage.

The changes to inventory management go slightly further though. The first game was notorious for having a "junk" section which was literally just references to items from episodes of the show that didn't actually do anything. This is now an ingredients section broken down into a few types that can then be mixed together in a simple crafting mechanism for creating certain artefacts or consumables like health potions. Crafting has its own levelling system which allows you to make better and better recipes; this led me to be a bit too powerful at the start of the game (as I'd found loads of ingredients) but it all balanced out around half way through.

Other collectibles in the game include clothing items which are now purely cosmetic rather than having offensive or defensive properties. There are entire costumes to find with challenges granting extra XP should you find a certain number. There are also quest based collectibles such as finding Big Gay Al's missing cats or collecting Yaoi depicting Tweek and Craig's romance. Finally, as in The Stick of Truth, you need to collect followers by propositioning the townsfolk but this is done via selfies within the "Coonstagram" app on your phone in which you can pose and change your facial expressions to suit your feelings.

There are ten allies to choose from and you'll cycle through them all during the course of the campaign
There are ten allies to choose from and you'll cycle through them all during the course of the campaign

The plot continues exactly where Stick of Truth left off but you quickly switch from the fantasy setting to the superhero one. Coon & Friends want to try and start a franchise with multiple movies and a Netflix series but an argument over the franchise plan means that some of the boys end up forming a rival superhero franchise named Freedom Pals. You as the unnamed 'new kid' are working for Coon & Friends trying to find a missing cat so you can claim a $100 reward to kickstart the franchise but all the while strange things are happening in the town. It's about as far fetched as usual for South Park and there are definitely some huge twists and turns throughout the adventure that will delight longtime fans of the series whilst also bringing it up to date with the more recent series with the inclusion of characters such as PC Principal and locations such as SoDoSoPa and Historic Shi Tpa Town.

The dialogue and writing throughout is top notch with all the correct voice work. This isn't a surprise after Stick of Truth but it is always nice when original cast are used for video games as it happens so rarely. South Park do better than any game I've previously seen though with a vast amount of dialogue for such a small game. Every character interacts not only with others but also based on certain plot points throughout the game. There is constant bickering between your superheroes as you fight and even the enemies you might only see for a couple of minutes may have many different lines of dialogue just in case you take your time making your next move. I particularly enjoyed characters that were just in the background making themselves known such as the cinema attendant telling you that he's seen better costumes in 1980's Doctor Who if you battle in front of the cinema. It is these little moments and the endless hours of dialogue that must have been recorded that make the game what it is and make you feel like you are actually in South Park.

Praise should also be given to the excellent soundtrack that manages to keep up with the constant twists of the script be that providing a stirring superhero backdrop, a Joker-style funfair ensemble mixed with Mexican music, or a poppy soundtrack for the Raisins girls. There is as big a variety in the soundtrack as there is in the vocal work which is to be highly commended.

Flappy Bird meets Only One in this Kanye West spoof
Flappy Bird meets Only One in this Kanye West spoof

On a related note, the sound effects are horrific which is to say they do their job incredibly well. One of the points I've neglected to mention so far is that you have certain powers related to your farts that come in handy around the "overworld" between battles. These vary from a way to clear lava to a way to reach high places. Each one is graphic and has some of the more puerile sound effects you can imagine; it is incredibly childish, but even after my 30th time of shooting a hamster out of my anus I still couldn't stifle an adolescent snort. This also goes for the toilet based minigame which sees you performing rock band style quick time events in order to evacuate your bowels.

In case it wasn't clear, The Fractured But Whole is on a scale of lewd to massively offensive depending on where your own sensibilities lie. It is full of toilet humour but also has a scathing critique on gentrification, microaggressions, immigrant labour, and gender fluidity. There is also the matter of helping Seaman get a gay fish's mother into heaven by means of a flappy bird game aimed squarely at Kanye's recently cancelled Only One game. Oh, and the lap dancing minigame.

This is the sort of thing that was banned in The Stick of Truth in certain countries...
This is the sort of thing that was banned in The Stick of Truth in certain countries...

I did run into a few issues whilst playing The Fractured But Whole although most of them are relatively minor. First of all, there is no ultrawide screen support which is disappointing especially as many of the battle boards don't fit on a single screen and have to be panned to see certain enemies. I did also have one battle where the game would get stuck in an endless loop until, bizarrely, I took a screenshot at which point I could use my controller again. Finally, everything goes through UPlay so even on Steam you'll need to install that and have it sync your saves and pop up with extra notifications about achievements, etc. I don't really mind this but it is annoying to see items of clothing in the game that require you to purchase them with UPlay points. There are less achievements than in the first game but they are also less bullshitty; the Chinpokomon in Stick of Truth were notoriously easy to miss requiring a restart of the game but I've not seen anything like that here. The addition of Steam trading cards was also a pleasant surprise.

There is a season pass available with several big DLC packs due to launch over the coming months starting with Doctor Timothy's Danger Deck this December and then two new story-based content packs in 2018. A couple of minor bits of DLC are available already as they were used for pre-order bonuses. This includes a cosmetic pack containing outfits from Stick of Truth and "Towelie: Your Gaming Bud" which sounds a lot better than it is. I received that as a pre-order bonus and it is just Towelie popping up occasionally to tell you obvious tutorial things; it does get a bit funnier towards the end but it is something that should have just been included (I was expecting it to be a unique summon).

Little moments like this whereby your battle is interrupted due to a car driving down the street are wonderful
Little moments like this whereby your battle is interrupted due to a car driving down the street are wonderful

In conclusion, this is a bit of a mixed bag depending on your point of view. First of all, if you are not a South Park fan then there is nothing here for you; the story and humour lean too heavily on a knowledge of the series and you simply won't enjoy it for the game mechanics alone. For fans though this is definitely a gold mine in terms of content. An 18 hour campaign filled to the brim with dialogue and nostalgic references including possibly some of the most offensive content that you won't see in the programme (and that is saying something!). Pair that with an improved combat system and reduced inventory management and you should be onto a winner. I haven't even mentioned the subtle details that make the difference such as Toolshed's entrance animations, Cousin Kyle's many interruptions, Wendy as "Call Girl", Cartman's flashback sequence for teaching you new class moves, collecting memberberries, the Half-Life references later in the game, Jimmy's superhero character being "Fast Pass", or the wonderful fact that Mr Garrison isn't anywhere to be seen.

I still have a nagging feeling about recommending it too highly though. It is a great game but the reliance on Stick of Truth for the plot, the fairly repetitive puzzles, and the limited environments means that I'm in two minds about how much I actually enjoyed it. This is definitely not just an expansion to the first game but it doesn't quite feel like it has grown enough to be a true sequel either. Instead it is stuck inbetween; fractured, but not quite whole.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole is available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. I played on my gaming PC with an Xbox One Elite controller and occasionally streamed it to an Nvidia Shield TV (although that was more trouble than it was worth... as usual).

Connecting to Host #29: Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle

#cth #mariorabbidskingdombattle #podcast

Episode #29 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I play the inexplicably conceived Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle:

The Mushroom Kingrom has been torn apart by a mysterious vortex, but fear not because John and Ben are here to save the day with a Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle co-op focussed review. After meeting up in Stockholm we put the local (only) co-op campaign to the test to find out whether it’s worth making a journey to a friend’s house to play this game on the sofa together.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle offers a number of co-op specific stages which are designed to be played by 2 teams of 2 units by a pair of players sitting back in the same living room (or sitting next to each other on the same flight). Each stage can be played in easy, medium or hard mode and the stages unlock as you progress through the single player game. You’ll be using the characters you’ve built up from the main game to work through the co-op quests.

Join us for this latest episode to hear how Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle holds up as a co-operative experience.

You can get Connecting To Host from these fine outlets:

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or letting us know on Twitter via @CTHCast; you can also suggest games you'd like us to review!

Connecting to Host is a podcast exclusively about co-operative and multiplayer games. I host it with my good friend John Wordsworth who is based in Sweden; due to this, we generally look at online co-op / multiplayer games but we will occasionally play some couch co-op games when we meet up every 6 months or so. You can find out more at connectingtohost.com and follow us on Twitter via @CTHCast.

Connecting to Host #28: Cuphead

#cth #cuphead #podcast

Episode #28 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I make mugs of ourselves in Cuphead:

It’s a good day for a swell battle and with traditional hand-drawn cel animation and an original jazz soundtrack Cuphead has turned out to be pretty swell as well! John and Ben talk about their experiences fighting bosses and collecting coins while playing Cuphead in local co-op on PC.

Cuphead is a classic run and gun action-platformer heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons from the 1930s, Studio MDHR have created a fantastic opportunity to revisit an old-school style of game in a new and classy way. Beyond the gorgeous visuals and audio, Cuphead provides a decent challenge and an addictive experience. In short, it’s a great slam and then some.

You can get Connecting To Host from these fine outlets:

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or letting us know on Twitter via @CTHCast; you can also suggest games you'd like us to review!

Connecting to Host is a podcast exclusively about co-operative and multiplayer games. I host it with my good friend John Wordsworth who is based in Sweden; due to this, we generally look at online co-op / multiplayer games but we will occasionally play some couch co-op games when we meet up every 6 months or so. You can find out more at connectingtohost.com and follow us on Twitter via @CTHCast.

Connecting to Host #27: Elite Dangerous

#cth #elitedangerous #podcast

Episode #27 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I wing it with Elite Dangerous:

John and Ben hop into their Sidewinders and make their way through a tiny fraction of the 400 billion star systems that make up the huge world of Elite Dangerous. We take some time to fly as a wing through the expansive galaxy basking in the light of many suns while we destroy pirates and smuggle goods between different star systems.

Whether it’s trading, smuggling or bounty hunting, we take a look at what it’s like to play Elite Dangerous as a co-op experience. We put the features released as part of the Elite Dangerous: Horizons expansion to the test and join up to form a single crew hunting bounties as a team. Last but not least, we also talk about the VR support in Elite Dangerous.

You can get Connecting To Host from these fine outlets:

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or letting us know on Twitter via @CTHCast; you can also suggest games you'd like us to review!

Connecting to Host is a podcast exclusively about co-operative and multiplayer games. I host it with my good friend John Wordsworth who is based in Sweden; due to this, we generally look at online co-op / multiplayer games but we will occasionally play some couch co-op games when we meet up every 6 months or so. You can find out more at connectingtohost.com and follow us on Twitter via @CTHCast.

Connecting to Host #26: Star Wars Battlefront

#cth #podcast #starwarsbattlefront

Episode #26 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I find the droids we are looking for in Star Wars Battlefront:

Similar to how the Imperial Blizzard Forces descended upon Hoth, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 will soon be overrunning our hard drives, so we decided to revisit the Multiplayer FPS Star Wars: Battlefront from 2015 in it’s final form on PC. Join us as we talk about our favourite game modes in Star Wars: Battlefront and the issues we hope they will improve in the upcoming sequel.

You can get Connecting To Host from these fine outlets:

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or letting us know on Twitter via @CTHCast; you can also suggest games you'd like us to review!

Connecting to Host is a podcast exclusively about co-operative and multiplayer games. I host it with my good friend John Wordsworth who is based in Sweden; due to this, we generally look at online co-op / multiplayer games but we will occasionally play some couch co-op games when we meet up every 6 months or so. You can find out more at connectingtohost.com and follow us on Twitter via @CTHCast.

Vortech adds support for LEGO Dimensions Wave 9

#article #legodimensions

I'm pleased to announce that v1.4 of my LEGO Dimensions tracking app Vortech has been released adding full support for the recently released Wave 9:

Wave 9 consists of three new worlds (Beetlejuice, Powerpuff Girls, and Teen Titans Go!) along with seven characters:

  • Beast Boy (Teen Titans Go!): Similar to Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, Beast Boy can shape shift to gain additional abilities such as Drone, Dig, and Tracking. Interestingly, the Atlantis ability was previously limited to Aquaman from Wave 4 but three new characters in this wave now gain the ability including Beast Boy.
  • Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice): I feel like I should say his name again... Beetlejuice! This character only has 7 abilities but they include the newly added "Slurp" for getting through access points hidden in some of the new worlds in this wave. He is the only character in this wave without the Flight ability.
  • Blossom (The Powerpuff Girls): Each of the Powerpuff Girls has heart regeneration, an energy shield, and a new LEGO Constructs ability which was previously limited to the Red Lantern version of Supergirl. Blossom has Freeze Breath which was previously just for Superman and Supergirl and she also gets X-Ray Vision.
  • Bubbles (The Powerpuff Girls): In addition to the standard set of Powerpuff abilities, Buttercup has Rainbow LEGO Blowup due to her love of cute stuff and Parseltongue due to her ability to speak with animals. She and Raven (also in this wave) are the only characters not in the Harry Potter universe to have the Parseltongue ability.
  • Buttercup (The Powerpuff Girls): In keeping with the other two Powerpuff Girls, Buttercup has abilities that were previously limited to other properties including Gyrosphere Switches (previously limited to Jurassic World vehicle or Jake the Dog from Adventure Time) and, more interestingly, Spinjitzu which was limited to the seven Ninjago characters.
  • Raven (Teen Titans Go!): Raven has a good range of abilities including Drone, Flight, Hazard Protection, and Magic but she also has a unique ability called Raven Portals which can be used in several worlds such as Gremlins, A-Team, and Adventure Time.
  • Starfire (Teen Titans Go!): In many ways Starfire is the same as Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls; she has the Atlantis, Parseltongue, Heart Regeneration, and Rainbow LEGO Blowup abilities as well as more common abilities such as Acrobat and Dive.

If you enjoy the app, please leave a review on the App Store. If you notice any errors or have suggestions for new features, please get in touch.

With the release of these team and fun packs, wave 9 closes out this series of LEGO Dimensions and it now remains to be seen if anything else will be announced or whether this is the end. There are several properties that could still be added (The Matrix, Red Dwarf, The Flintstones, The Jetsons) but with 30 franchises covered already it isn't unthinkable that it will now wrap up. If it does continue, I think they need to do some updates to the core game and sort out some of their voice acting but, if this is the end, I'll be sad to see it go.

Titanfall: Assault (on your wallet)

#review #titanfallassault

I am not usually one to play freemium games. Having run my own for many years, I know all of the psychological tricks that are designed to part the player from their money. It is incredible to me, then, that I've managed to put over 20 hours into the one-armed bandit that is Titanfall: Assault.

I can only think that this is due to the Titanfall wrapping that has been applied to this Clash of Clans style mobile game in which the usual freemium tricks of timers, login bonuses, and clan rewards are par for the course. There is little that is innovative here but I am a sucker for anything with the Titanfall logo on it as my 700+ hours on the core games on Xbox will attest.

Titanfall: Assault is a mobile-only freemium game in which you battle against other human players (or AI if you want to practice) in a game of hardpoint domination. As with the 'proper' Titanfall games, hardpoint is a collection of 3 points on a map that your soldiers must capture and then defend; for every 3 seconds that you hold a single point you'll gain 1 point. If enemy soldiers capture the point, then they start to gain its benefit. The first player to 100 points is the winner. To add a different tactic to the game, you can also destroy the opposing players base turret for 100 points instantly winning you the match although this tends to be significantly harder.

As with other competitive games of this ilk, you don't actually control individual units as you do in a RTS such as Command & Conquer or Cossacks so much as drop them at a specific point and hope they do the right thing. They rarely do. Given a unit the choice between fighting a pyro pilot from a distance or up close within his fiery surroundings and the grunts will go for the fire every time. Poor fools.

Your squad is made up of pilots, titans, and... miscellaneous
Your squad is made up of pilots, titans, and... miscellaneous

The game is fundamentally based around a concept of cards of which you use 10 to build up your squad; 3 pilots, 3 titans, and 4 burn cards which will be things like sentry turrets, single use missiles, or grunts that can be dropped in to secure a hardpoint. I found this card-based system to be rather ironic bearing in mind that Titanfall 2 dropped this from the original Titanfall formula.

Each match is played through in phases with the first half being mainly pilot and burn card based whilst the second half will lead to your burn cards mainly being replaced with titans. You are randomly given cards from your stack of 10 to play with and each one has a supply value that must be met before you can activate it; a supply meter fills up through the match and there is a single supply drop a couple of minutes in which gives you a sudden influx for a quick burst of action plus a 30% speed increase in supply for the rest of the match.

You collect cards by opening caches that are earned from winning a match or by opening the app every 3 hours. The caches you earn typically have a timer of 2-10 hours that it takes for them to open but you can of course pay extra to speed up that process; you can also pay to buy a cache of cards that you can open immediately and be fairly sure of their contents. Collecting multiples of a single card will lead to it being levelled up to a total of 20 levels although getting to that level with a single card would take hundreds of hours or hundreds of pounds - your choice. You can join guilds to get an objective every so often that will net you a few extra cards and there are daily goals that will usually give you a cache of something fairly decent.

In addition to the cards, you yourself have a player level that increases the more games you play which unlocks extra maps and AI commanders to fight against. I also feel this is the core item that is used for matchmaking (so you are likely to always be playing people similar to you in terms of time played). There is also a trophy rank which is a fairly standard ranking system of gaining lots of points if you win a match and losing a few if you lose. This is likely also used for placement and increasing up the ranks will give you new rewards and unlock new types of cards. For example, getting to Silver III will unlock the Ronin and Arc Ronin titans whilst Gold I will unlock the drones that were added in a recent update - you don't just get them, you'll have to find them in the various caches, but they at least are added to that lottery pool.

It should go without saying that there are two currencies within the game that can be used and help obfuscate the amount you pay should you go down that route. Credits are the soft currency that you get fairly frequently and are used to buy cards from the market (that increase in price the more you buy) whilst tokens are the hard currency that can be converted to credits, used to speed up timers, or can be spent on specific caches of cards. Finally, there are fixed price caches that have a theme such as defensive turrets, fire titans, or shield-bearers that will generally give you a shit-ton of specific cards and some credits and tokens.

The pyro pilot is a good choice for an opening gambit
The pyro pilot is a good choice for an opening gambit

The first issue you'll run into with Titanfall: Assault is the size of it. Whilst the initial download is 125MB, once you open the app you'll be stuck with a loading indicator which downloads another 1GB of data. Beyond that, the largest issue by far is the constant reminder that everything you do is being sent to a server. If you open a cache there will be a brief pause as the server explains what is inside; if you try and edit your squad there will be a pause as the server checks what you have available; if you try and look at what objectives are available, the game will hang as the server checks your guild. These are all excusable although there are a number of "smoke and mirror" tricks the developer could use to make these transitions less jarring.

The second issue is the sheer number of connection problems and failed matches you'll try to start. In the beginning I just assumed this was teething problems as unexpected demand led to their low server number being overwhelmed but even weeks after launch I only end up connecting to a game one in three times and that can take over a minute to start! This is not what you want from a mobile game that you are likely to dip in and out of. Compounding the problem is the ridiculous timeout that is allocated to match connections; the screen will literally be locked out to you whilst matchmaking and it typically takes 2-3 minutes before it gives up and returns you to the main menu. On one memorable evening I had 12 of these in a row before I gave up.

The biggest issue is the fundamental nature of a freemium game; the more you pay, the better you'll do. I gave in and spent £5 to get a beginners bonus of a few tokens, credits, and caches in order to get some decent titans. This then put me at the same level as the other people I was up against who had similarly spent around £5 to get various bonuses that simply aren't available to the non-paying player. There were a few matches that I'd describe as fair – pitting similar squads together – but the majority of them were either uneven in my favour or in my opponents favour. If somebody has several level 8 rare titans against your level 6 titans then you are likely going to lose. Similarly, if they have high-level shield grunts and bombardments, your regular grunts and turrets aren't going to do much damage. There isn't really a way around this; if you've played the game for more than 10 hours then you are likely not going to mind spending a few pounds to make yourself much better and that is really the trick in a game like this. It's a parlour trick where you are always being goaded into spending more rather than a game of real skill.

Unfortunately a very common sight
Unfortunately a very common sight

In summary, Titanfall: Assault is a standard freemium clan-based player vs player game with a Titanfall veneer applied replete with ways to make you part from your money and a complete dependency on a solid internet connection. Despite this, I still enjoyed over 20 hours of gameplay (of which only 5 hours was probably matchmaking errors) which I can't quite square with my recollection of that time.

Was I overtired and in need of something to sooth me to sleep? Was the lure of the Titanfall brand too much to resist? Am I more susceptible to the wiles of the freemium casino owner than I thought? I'm not sure. What I do know is that this would be an incredibly good single or multi-player experience for a fixed price without all of the timer-based freemium bollocks that is unfortunately synonymous with mobile. Had this been available as a standalone game on Xbox for £15-20 then I would have snapped it up. As it is, I've had my fill and don't think I'll be returning to this particular Titanfall game. A pilot can only suffer so many connection errors and prompts to part with his cash before he instead loads up Titanfall 2 on a real gaming device.

Titanfall: Assault is available on iOS and Android for free. I spent most of my time playing on my iPhone 7 Plus although I did play a few matches on my 12.9" iPad Pro.

Connecting to Host #25: Rocket League

#cth #podcast #rocketleague

Episode #25 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I take the shot with Rocket League:

Holy Cow! John and Ben have finally peeled their fingers away from their Xbox One controllers long enough to go for it and bring you their round-up of Rocket League. With over 600 hours combined behind the remote controlled wheels, we resisted “One. More. Game” and we’re in position to share the highs and lows of this vehicular sports game. So, if you need boost then why not take the shot and download this Siiiiick episode? Thanks!

You can get Connecting To Host from these fine outlets:

If you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or letting us know on Twitter via @CTHCast; you can also suggest games you'd like us to review!

Connecting to Host is a podcast exclusively about co-operative and multiplayer games. I host it with my good friend John Wordsworth who is based in Sweden; due to this, we generally look at online co-op / multiplayer games but we will occasionally play some couch co-op games when we meet up every 6 months or so. You can find out more at connectingtohost.com and follow us on Twitter via @CTHCast.

Beating the streets... and the crims

#beatcop #review

Beat Cop had been on my radar for some time as a somewhat Papers, Please-like pixel-art game in which you perform a menial job replete with a branching story and multiple endings based on your decisions and performance. I finally picked it up on Steam and completed it in around 8 hours over several sessions. Whilst I don’t remember watching cop dramas in the ‘80s, my consciousness seems to know all the tropes and common lines thanks to the parade of parodies that were available in my formative years; this should be viewed like those, a conglomeration of the various tropes and ideas of that time rather than trying to be an accurate simulation. The developers (who made popular survival game This War of Mine) even go so far as to put a notice at the beginning to explain that this isn’t meant to be a historically accurate piece but rather a game based on their memories of watching cop shows as kids.

You play as Jack Kelly, a homicide detective with the NYPD who gets demoted down to a beat cop after a failed attempt to stop a robbery ends up with one man dead and a large number of diamonds stolen from a powerful senator. Your goal is to get back to the life you once had by solving the mystery of who has the diamonds whilst also having to work the streets issuing out tickets for various violations. Throughout your working day, you’ll have to make decisions which can alter the plot and affect you later in the game.

There are lots of tasks for you - nearly all are optional
There are lots of tasks for you - nearly all are optional

The core game is set on the street that Kelly patrols, a long pastiche of ‘80s life with multiple apartments, shops, and restaurants. Every building can be entered often leading to a snippet of conversation with the locals who will come to you with their problems. On the street itself, you are generally tasked with issuing a certain number of tickets per day for parking violations or vehicle malfunction in the form of poor tyres or broken lights. Occasionally someone will try and perform a robbery at which point you can give chase and cuff them; sometimes you’ll be allowed to go for your gun rather than your cuffs leading to a quick shootout.

At the end of each day you’ll be given your salary so long as you hit your quota. If you go under, your pay is docked; if you double your quota, you are given a bonus. When issuing tickets, it is fairly common that you’ll be offered a sly $20 to turn a blind eye; doing so can net you a quick boost to your cash but if you don’t end up hitting your quota you could be docked more than the bribes you took. It is also possible that the undercover cops are patrolling the streets and you’ll be fined for taking bribes.

Your money typically disappears fairly quickly as you can use it for food, to get a better resolution of a particular quest, or it’ll get taken in the form of alimony payments to your ex-wife. Quite often you’ll start your day being told that you owe a certain amount within a few days time which may either make you take dubious deals with people on the street, take more bribes, or try and double your quota for that precious bonus. I also saw a quest which would allow me to collect a large amount to then flee the country.

Your rating with each faction goes up and down throughout each day
Your rating with each faction goes up and down throughout each day

In addition to your money, there are also three meters which will adjust depending on the actions you took throughout the day to reflect your standing with the police, the crew (a local gang), and the mafia. Whilst I played fairly straight and kept a good ranking with the police whilst maintaining a careful balance between mafia and crew, I imagine different quests and endings will appear if you let your ranking fall to far with any faction. Whilst there isn’t a clear numerical meter for it, your standing with the people on the street is also important and will affect which quests come to you. I managed to maintain a good relationship with them throughout my playthrough but if you always take the side of the crew or mafia or you never let people get out of their tickets then the relationship can sour very quickly.

There are numerous individuals across the street who you’ll get to know whilst also teasing out the story of their pasts. The main people you’ll talk to are the shopkeepers and restauranteurs including one memorable mission with the owner of the sex shop that sees you making a porno on the cheap. There is also a local drug dealer and a prostitute who can improve your mood for a few dollars. You’ll need to eat regularly at the various food outlets in order to keep your stamina up; if you don’t, you’ll find you can’t run far without needing to take a breather and that can be fatal during a shootout.

The trickiest part to all of this is the slow march of time. In the same way that you are constrained in Papers, Please by the looming clock, so you are constrained in Beat Cop. In fact, it is slightly harder as some actions will eat up your precious time such as stopping to have lunch or waiting for a patrol car to come and pick up a perp you’ve busted. Such delays are part of the continuous battle between trying to be a good cop but needing to cut corners in order to hit your quotas and costs.

The quests you are given tend to be fairly simplistic; tear down some posters around the neighbourhood by interacting with them, call in at a certain apartment to tend to a mad old lady and her dog, or inspect the trunk of a car to find a package of drugs. Some, though, are more complex with an individual you need to tail around the street and call in to central whenever he does something suspicious. There is also a huge amount of detail to the game with the ability to manually inspect the tyres, lights, and trunk of every car or to literally be able to buzz any of the 10 flats in each apartment complex.

Every morning starts with a daily briefing. They are awesome.
Every morning starts with a daily briefing. They are awesome.

In a way, it is almost a shame it is so detailed as there is a sense of rushing that forbids you the opportunity to look at the world in any real detail. You are always having to push forward for the next ticket or to crack a case at the detriment of just enjoying the world. Thankfully, conversations freeze time and so you can enjoy some of the wonderful writing that permeates the street from the wise-cracks of your team in the morning briefing to the bizarre ramblings of the local priest.

Whilst I didn’t experience any major issues, there were a few areas that caused frustration. The first (forgivable as a US-centric game) is that I didn’t realise there were parking meters on the street that turned red when the time was up for each car. For the first couple of days, the only parking tickets I was giving out were for those cars in no parking areas when I’d probably missed 20-30 expired meters. The only specific bug I encountered was that cultist members had black bounding boxes around them for some reason; this made it fairly trivial to spot them in a section where it should have been much harder. More generally, the difficulty gets fairly brutal towards the latter stages of the game with “game over” messages triggered if you don’t speak to the right person at exactly the right time; this was made all the more frustrating by the lack of a save system so if you lose towards the end of the day you have to do the entirety of the day again. These are generally minor gripes though and didn’t spoil my enjoyment too much.

On the positive side, Beat Cop comes with lots of achievements based on both the story mode and some of the optional bits and pieces you can do. There are also Steam trading cards available and I was pleasantly surprised when everything bar cut scenes worked at my full ultrawide resolution of 3440x1440px.

Do you side with the mafia, the crew, or the police? Tricky...
Do you side with the mafia, the crew, or the police? Tricky...

Whilst I played for just over 8 hours, it seems like I’d been in the world of Beat Cop for a lot longer. The amount of detail and the wonderful dialogue stuck with me long after I finished the main story. That said, even though I didn’t get the ending that I particularly wanted, I don’t think I’m ready to jump back and try for a different ending again mainly due to the save game issues. If I could quick save or have multiple pieces of progress I’d likely try a few variations (make deals with the mafia or the crew, play as a crooked cop who takes all the bribes, etc) but without that it can quickly lead to frustration.

I’m mainly left thinking that this would be a great experience on the iPad. Touch controls would work well with the UI that exists and I could see myself enjoying this on a long-haul flight. It also seems like a game that could easily accommodate some extra DLC or even a spin-off about a different cop. If you enjoy games like Papers, Please or you’re a fan of ‘80s cops, this is certainly a hard experience to beat.

Beat Cop is available on PC and Mac for around £13. I played on my PC with keyboard / mouse and was pleasantly surprised by the ultrawide monitor support.