Games Inbox: Xbox’s comeback year in 2023

Games Inbox: Xbox’s comeback year in 2023


The Monday letters page thinks Sony is making too many Horizon games, as one reader is surprised at Japan’s favourite Final Fantasy.

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The year in Xbox
So 2022 is now over as far as video games are concerned and my thoughts naturally turn to 2023. As an Xbox Series X/S owner I can’t pretend that this year has been very good. There have been great games out, of course, but none of those have been because of anything Microsoft has done. Game Pass is certainly down to them but it doesn’t mean much to have day one first party games for free if there are no first party games.

We’ve got Starfield coming up next year, which I’m very excited about, but I am worried that it doesn’t have a release date yet, which means further delays are not ruled out. One of the biggest disappoints this year was the lack of any announcements at The Game Awards but I actually find this one of the most encouraging things about 2023.

Hopefully this means Microsoft is planning a blowout for games they announced years ago but have never shown, like Fable, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Avowed, The Outer Worlds 2, and Perfect Dark. Show those with gameplay and announce release dates and suddenly you’re in charge of the narrative in an instant. Especially if Sony’s only response is a free-to-play The Last Of Us multiplayer game.

I’m not enough of a fanboy to think any of this is guaranteed though and I do worry that Microsoft is going to end up staying too quiet for too long. They arguably already have but they should have enough in reserve now that they can really make a splash. I just hope they don’t get distracted by the Activision Blizzard acquisition, that’s really starting to feel like more trouble than it’s worth.

More on the Horizon
There’s going to be a Horizon multiplayer game as well? I hate to agree with that Reader’s Feature the other week but Sony may be going a bit too crazy when it comes to this franchise. I’ve enjoyed the last two well enough but they’re basically all graphics and relatively little gameplay. It’s fun to play one every five years or so but all these spin-offs? I really don’t care about it that much.

It doesn’t help that they’ve squandered a cool backstory on such boring characters but I just don’t think that’s Guerrilla Games’ speciality. If they are going to carry on like this then they really need to get some better writers. That’s not even a criticism, you always want the best person for the job and at the moment it’s clear they need to get in some additional help. Either that or just stick to action games with very little story.
Benjy Dog

Frame rate comparison
I’ve just encountered the most ludicrous glitch in a long time. During one of the side missions in God Of War Ragnarök you have to lure a gulon into a cage which you use to feed a drake. For ages I simply couldn’t get one of them into the cage due to invisible barrier syndrome, where even though there’s obviously a gap he wouldn’t pass through it. Having given up after hours of profanities I succumbed to internet guidance.

Turns out that if you have the graphics option set to high frame rate mode, favouring performance, the cage doesn’t open high enough when you hit the device with your axe so err… you drop it to favour quality mode and hey presto it opens fully and the goddamn gulon verily strolls in, without as much as an apology. Just thinks everything is fine. Thankfully from the roar I heard the drake must’ve tore him to shreds.

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Lock it down
I agree with reader Hypo’s feature on performance modes. I’m the type of person that’ll constantly stress about if I’ve made the right choice. It would be OK if the modes always did what they said but that’s not always the case. Plenty of games don’t have smooth 60fps frame rates in performance modes, resulting in jerky motion. The 30fps mode then sometimes offers a much smoother consistent image, due to it maybe being locked. So plenty of gamers who automatically jump to performance mode will end up having a less smooth experience.

I’m all for choice but if it means reading forums and watching Digital Foundry videos to help decide which mode is best (which I always do) then it is a bit contradictory to the console experience. I wish developers would choose a set frame rate and resolution and stick to it. Some games work fine with 30fps if frame rate is locked and frame timing consistent, then coupled with well done motion blur it can look far better than an inconsistent 60fps. For 60fps games developers need to reduce the graphical quality until they can get a locked frame rate rather than giving a false impression.

Missing numbers
Just saw a poll of Japanese fans and it turns out their favourite Fantasy is… 14, the MMO one which I’ve never played. As if that wasn’t anticlimactic enough the second favourite was the super predictable 7 and third was 10, which I thought was awful.

Final Fantasy 6 at number four was good but 12 wasn’t even in the top 10. I do not know how to parse this information, except to say that clearly I like very different things about the series than Japanese fans. At least the awful 15 was only at number 10, so at least we agree on that.

Time for change
I did not expect Ash and Pikachu ‘leaving’ Pokémon to make the mainstream news! It’s a long time since I watched the show (though I still instinctively find myself humming Viridian City during every game), so my reaction was more around losing that reassuring familiarity of characters I knew as a kid still being around.

However, I don’t understand why it’s happening from a creative perspective (plot-wise, it makes sense). More specifically, why now? The Pokémon TV series has been cyclical for generations of viewers – bringing in new characters and creatures – but the underlying premise has always been that it’s about Ash and Pikachu.

Persistent failure limits the narrative, but the status quo has been established for 25 years; the point for change was surely much earlier. It’s a bit like the writers of The Simpsons deciding that after 34 seasons, the next series will focus on a different family in Springfield because they fancy a change.

Even accepting Ash could probably be ‘retired’ given his design was based on a Game Boy sprite that has since changed considerably; Pikachu is among the most recognisable video game characters of all time and basically the de facto mascot for Pokémon.

Continuing the series without him in a regular role seems such a bizarre decision. I did wonder why the usual Pikachu anime cry wasn’t in Scarlet/Violet, but it makes sense if he’s going to be less prominent to the franchise now.

GC: Maybe viewership was down. It has got everyone talking about it.

It doesn’t suck
Thanks for that review of Vampire Survivors. I haven’t stopped playing it all day, and it definitely has that one more go vibe.

I’ve been playing it on my iPad and I’m finding it hard to comprehend how it’s free. I’d have paid money for that. Mind you, I can’t imagine playing it on a phone, with a tiny screen and all that action I think you’d lose track.

Anyway, thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to while a good few hours away.

Same old story
Good Reader’s Feature about Uncharted at the weekend which mirrors many of my thoughts about Tomb Raider, now that we know we’re getting more of that. I just don’t see where these games have got to go now, other than having better graphics. Neither franchise, or anything like it, has done any real innovation in years and the usual go-to, of making it open world, doesn’t sound like it would help.

I do think that what they could both use though is decent story. I’ve enjoyed most of the games in both series before and yet even I’d struggle to tell you what happens in any of them. Lara caused the end of the world and then had to stop someone from turning into a god? Nate was after pirate treasure and… then he found some?

There was an attempt in both to add some family drama, with Nate’s brother and Lara’s family but I’m sure I’m not the only one that cares. These games are never about anything, everything that happens is just for the next set piece and that’s usually how the very worst action movies are made. There needs to be a better reason to play these games than just seeing what the view is like over the next hill.

Inbox also-rans
Another great review of a forgotten game with Drainus, GC. I downloaded and played it and absolutely loved it. Never heard of it before and had no idea it existed.

GC: Thanks.

Who would’ve thought there’d be a Death Stranding movie before a Metal Gear one? Can’t wait for the overlong interactive segments that go on forever, stopping you from just watching the movie.

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The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length and content.

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