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.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Until fairly recently, purchasing choices for me were pretty simple when it came to games. Before I built my gaming PC I would get everything on Xbox One, usually digitally so I didn't have to wait for the inevitably late Amazon delivery (although I did make an exception if I knew it might be something I'd want to sell once I was finished like Dead Rising 4). Once the PC came along, I switched almost wholesale to that and bought everything on Steam; the only holdouts on my Xbox One were LEGO Dimensions and Titanfall 2.
This started to get a little bit more complex when the Xbox One S arrived as then I had the choice between low-quality low-framerate but HDR upscaled on a 4K screen or high-quality high-framerate non-HDR on an ultrawide 3440x1440 monitor. Fortunately the only game that really tested this was Forza Horizon 3 and, thanks to Play Anywhere, I was able to pick and choose between the gaming PC and the Xbox One S at any point as the saves were synced and you got both copies for the single digital price; it turned out I generally preferred the HDR version, especially for the Blizzard Mountain DLC, although it always took 5-10 minutes for my eyes to get over the 30fps judder.
Once the Switch arrived in March, life was made more difficult still as there were a number of games that I'd have to choose between getting for PC, Xbox One, or Switch. A good example of this dilemma is Sonic Mania and can be looked at like this:
PC - 100fps, ultrawide monitor, Steam achievements, sit at desk
Xbox One S - 60fps, 1080p, achievements, sit in living room
Switch - 60fps, 1080p, no achievements, sit anywhere
In the end, I bought it on the Switch although in part that was because it was the first platform to get it with a midnight launch; the Xbox One version didn't land until 16 hours later and the PC version was delayed by 2 weeks. This would have been a ridiculously easy choice if the Switch had an achievements system but the fact that it doesn't means I generally still want to buy games on another platform if they are available. I haven't found this too much of a problem yet as most games launch on Switch some time after PC (i.e. Hollow Knight, Yooka-Laylee, etc) but once release dates equal out as they are starting to it does become a real balance between portability and achievements.
The reason I mention all of this is that things are just about to become harder still thanks to the introduction of the Xbox One X which I pre-ordered last night. When it was first announced, I said to my CTH co-host John¹:
"I doubt I'll get one as there isn't anything coming to it which is exclusive to Xbox One in 4K (i.e. even their mega exclusives like Forza 7 are on Windows 10 as well). I guess I'd replace the Xbox One S with one next year maybe when it has come down in price a bit but £500 is a bit more than I'm willing to pay when I already have the PC - I'd rather put that money towards a Titan X or something"
It turns out I was wrong. Now that the Xbox One is able to render games at 4K with HDR rather than just 1080p with HDR it is becoming incredibly difficult for me to choose between the PC or the Xbox due to the 3rd party titles that are supporting it. For example, here are a few of the 100 upcoming games that are all confirmed to have Xbox One X support (in contrast to the minuscule list of titles that supported HDR on Xbox One S):
Assassin's Creed: Origins
Far Cry 5
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Star Wars II Battlefront
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
For every one of these games, I think my new default is to choose the Xbox One X. Sure the textures won't be as nice as those on my GTX 1080 but the convenience of the sofa combined with a 4K resolution and HDR means I'll gladly take the FPS hit. Add to that a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 which doesn't have a PC version (yet) and the 4K offering seems too good to pass up on.
I think the only thing that will change that now is the inevitable GTX 1180 coupled with an (as yet not a reality) ultrawide monitor sporting a resolution of 5160x2160px and HDR. It would also be nice if NVIDIA GameStream was more reliable as the number of times I've tried to do PC gaming in the living room has decreased the more frustrated I get with its connection issues and dropouts.
For now though I'm shifting my pre-orders to the Xbox One X, renewing my Xbox Live Gold membership, and getting ready to game in the living room again.
Back in February, Frontier Developments of Elite: Dangerous and Planet Coaster fame announced they were going to build games based on the movies of an "enduring franchise of global renown". At the time, most people were expecting a Star Trek or Star Wars game due to the Elite: Dangerous connection but I felt that it would be a curveball completely separate from their existing games. Turns out we were all wrong as the game, announced during Microsoft's presentation at Gamescom today, is closely related to the theme park genre...
Jurassic World Evolution will be coming at some point in Summer 2018 to coincide with the release of the new movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. There is little in the way of detail but it is safe to assume this will be a park builder / management sim in the same vein as Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. The trailer, whilst not game footage, shows an ACU building being placed to stop a rampaging T-Rex and Frontier Developments said that "players will build their own Jurassic World as they bioengineer new dinosaur breeds and construct attractions, containment and research facilities".
I've long wanted a follow up to Operation Genesis and the freemium Jurassic Park Builder on mobile was not it. Frontier certainly have the design chops for this with Planet Coaster proving to be a huge hit with creative players. That said, it does suffer from a poor management layer compared to its Rollercoaster Tycoon predecessors so I'd hope to see that improved upon in this game. Overall though, I'll be happy so long as I can breed the Pepsisaurus that Lowery wanted...
Episode #24 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I standby for Titanfall 2:
While originally released at the end of 2016, Respawn Entertainment recently added the horde-mode like Frontier Defense to Titanfall 2, which inspired us to go back and revisit this highly mobile FPS which we never got around to reviewing after it launched. With over 600 hours of gameplay between us in the original Titanfall, Titanfall 2 has a lot to live up to for us. Join us as we chat about what’s changed for the better and for the worse in the latest installment of Titanfall.
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Episode #23 of Connecting to Host is now available in which John and I discuss salty sea-based shooter Splatoon 2:
In this episode we get fresh an take to the front lines with our splattershots and curling bombs in an effort to ink as much turf as possible. A Nintendo Switch exclusive, Splatoon 2 is a team-based third-person shooter where the primary game modes feature 4v4 matches where the goal is to ink as much of the stage as possible in a short 3-minute match. Splatoon 2 also introduces a new co-op “horde mode” like experience called Salmon Run where you team up with up to 3 other friends in order to fight off waves of Salmonids and steal the bosses eggs before the time runs out.
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Episode #22 of Connecting to Host is now available in which we discuss the wibbly wobbly gravity wavity game of ibb & obb:
Released in 2013, ibb & obb is specifically designed as a two player cooperative platformer game set in a puzzle filled world where gravity goes both up and down. You need to work closely together in order to succeed and you can play in either local co-op or online co-op with a friend.
ibb & obb travel through a world divided by a horizontal line - above the line gravity goes down like normal, but below the line gravity is reversed and pulls you back up. Momentum is conserved and the world is filled with enemies and objects, which leads to a number of interesting puzzles and scenarios for ibb & obb to work through.
Tune in to find out what we thought of ibb & obb so you can decide whether it’s something you to pick up.
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