Showing posts with label halo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label halo. Show all posts

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Paramount+ enters the streaming wars

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) is now available in the UK and Ireland on a range of devices but not PlayStation or Xbox consoles at launch. Subscribers could sign-up a day early, and sci-fi cohorts (myself included) were able to begin streaming Halo: The Series and the Star Trek franchise on Tuesday.

I wasted no time in availing myself of a free 7-day trial (Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will get 1 month for free as a reward and to promote Halo: The Series) and began watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Apple TV. A stellar spin-off series spawned from Star Trek: Discovery. It's the best space western since The Mandalorian on Disney+.

Initial impressions of the latest entrant into an overcrowded streaming space are relatively positive.

The interface for Paramount+ is very similar to other streaming services such as Disney+. However, at launch, there isn't much content (due to pre-existing deals) unless you're a Star Trek fan (myself included) and streaming is capped at 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.

Therefore, I won't be watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition in 4K with Dolby Atmos for the foreseeable future. Of course, the UHD format could be added at any time.

It's worth remembering Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks are exclusive to Amazon Prime. That said, look what happened to Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix outside the US? Following a social media backlash in the wake of the series being pulled without warning, season four was shown for free on Pluto TV.

Is Paramount+ worth subscribing to as consumers emerge from a global pandemic, face a cost of living crisis and geopolitical unrest?

It's early days for Paramount+, so I'm hesitant to recommend paying £69.90 for an annual subscription (unless you're a Sky Cinema subscriber on Sky Q or Sky Glass, where it's available at no extra cost). This may change over the coming months, but it's a no-brainer for Star Trek fans. I'll post an update on Paramount+ in the autumn.

Are you subscribing to Paramount+? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Paramount+ launches this Wednesday

Hit it! Paramount+ launches in the UK with Halo and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds this week. To celebrate, Halo's season premiere will be shown on Channel 5, which is owned by Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS).

Paramount+ will launch in the UK and Ireland on a range of devices on 22nd June. Sky Cinema subscribers will get Paramount+ at no additional cost. However, there isn't a similar bundle for NOW subscribers so I've cancelled my subscription.

I currently subscribe to Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix. However, I'll avail myself of the free 7-day trial to watch the exclusive live-action Halo series and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The latter is the best Star Trek spin-off series in years as evidenced by Nick Smith's review.

Will you be subscribing to Paramount+ for all things Star Trek? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 9 May 2022

Paramount+ is coming to the UK

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) launches with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds this summer in the UK.

The ViacomCBS streaming service enters an increasingly overcrowded space as consumers face a catastrophic cost of living crisis amidst geopolitical turmoil and a global pandemic.

“The addition of Paramount+ to our strong portfolio of free-to-air, pay TV and streaming services will broaden the range of choice available to our audiences in the UK and Ireland”, said Maria Kyriacou, president, Australia, Canada, Israel and UK. “Paramount+ will be a one-stop destination for Paramount’s biggest brands, where fans of all ages can find exclusive original premium content, global hits, and discover a world of favourites from Paramount’s vast catalogue.”

Personally, I only subscribe to Apple TV+, Disney+ and NOW. However, I'll avail myself of the free 7-day trial to watch the exclusive live-action Halo series and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The latter is the best Star Trek spin-off series in years.

Paramount+ will launch in the UK and Ireland on a range of devices on 22nd June.

Will you be subscribing to Paramount+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 31 January 2022

Master Chief meets Cortana in Halo

Paramount+ has released a new trailer for its live-action adaptation of Halo, executive produced by Steven Spielberg (Jaws), and I'm here for it in the wake of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

Read the official synopsis:

"Dramatizing an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant, Halo the series will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future."

The upcoming live-action series is set in a 'Halo Silver Timeline' and won't be part of a larger shared transmedia universe (see Star Trek). Master Chief is played by Pablo Schreiber and Jen Taylor reprises the role of Cortana. Jen Taylor is amazing as Cortana but the live-action avatar is creepily jarring. Is there time to fix it in post?

Halo the series starts streaming exclusively on Paramount+ on 24th March. There's no news when it will be available in the UK, but Paramount+ is launching in partnership with Sky soon.

Has the new Halo trailer got you excited? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Power On: The Story of Xbox

Microsoft has released a refreshingly candid 6-part documentary series chronicling the creation of the Xbox, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Like many avid gamers in the early noughties, I bought an original Xbox solely to play Halo: Combat Evolved.

From Xbox Wire:

“As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Xbox this year, we invite you behind-the-scenes for this first-ever comprehensive and authentic history of Xbox, where you’ll hear directly from the team that lived through the compelling and challenging 20-year journey. This docuseries will be a nostalgic walk down memory lane for those who have been Xbox players since day one and an eye-opening origin story for those who are newer to gaming!”

Have you watched Power On: The Story of Xbox? What are your Xbox memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Halo series has The Mandalorian vibes

Halo Infinite from 343 Industries was released to critical acclaim on Wednesday.

Immediately, I dived into the highly-anticipated campaign free on Game Pass Ultimate. Halo Infinite's opening level rinsed away any residual memories of Halo 5 on Xbox One.

The Weapon. That is all.

Incidentally, Halo Infinite is a sonic showcase for my newly-acquired Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) compact soundbar, which I unreservedly recommend to all fellow gamers and audiophiles alike. It's a TARDIS with a Dolby Atmos soundstage bigger, much bigger, on the inside.

A first look at the new Halo live-action series on Paramount+ dropped during last night's The Game Awards, and it looks like the ViacomCBS-owned streamer may have its own The Mandalorian.

Read the official synopsis:

"Dramatizing an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant, Halo the series will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future."

Master Chief will be played by Pablo Schreiber and Jen Taylor will reprise the role of Cortana.

Halo The Series, executive produced by Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park), is expected to debut in early 2022 exclusively on Paramount+. Are you excited? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Steven Spielberg's Halo on Paramount+

Halo has had a long journey to the screen.

Directors Sir Peter Jackson (King Kong) and Steven Spielberg (Jaws) were attached to various projects that never materialised. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn was a web series released to promote the fourth instalment in Microsoft's multimedia franchise in 2012.

So, it was a surprise to see an official teaser for a live-action series, executive produced by Spielberg and announced by the man himself during the infamous launch of the Xbox One in 2013, finally coming to Paramount+.

Paramount+ dropped the teaser during the Xbox 20th anniversary celebration on Monday. Master Chief will be played by Pablo Schreiber and Jen Taylor will reprise the role of Cortana.

In related news. Microsoft announced the immediate availabilty of its free-to-play Halo Infinite multiplayer. Multiplayer is much more fun than I ever imagined on Xbox Series S! More so, as I've not bothered with multiplayer (outside of Destiny 2 Fireteams) since I stopped playing Call of Duty. The AI Bots are among the best I've ever played alongside/against! It's easy to forget that they're not human!

The Halo series is expected to debut in early 2022 on Paramount+. Are you excited? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 15 November 2021

20 years of Xbox

20 years ago, the original Xbox was released in North America, marking Microsoft's holiday debut into a console space dominated by Nintendo and Sony's PlayStation.

As I've written previously, my Xbox journey began with Halo: Combat Evolved in 2002. Dead or Alive 3, TimeSplitters 2 and The Sims took up my time, too. I was impressed with the monster-sized box until an infamous fire hazard issue in 2005. Microsoft posted a cable with a trip switch to affected customers (myself included).

However, I binned the now worthless machine and never envisaged owning another Xbox...

Then, I won an Xbox 360 S after entering a LOVEFiLM competition in 2012. This introduced me to the Mass Effect trilogy, and my unexpected Xbox homecoming culminated in Halo 4. All the while, my PlayStation 3 (PS3) gathered dust.

Subsequently, I've owned an Xbox One with Kinect, Xbox One X and Xbox Series S. Having gone digital during the Xbox One generation, the Series S was a no-brainer.

Xbox backwards compatibility has enabled gamers (myself included) to discover or continue to play video games from previous console generations. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I've been able to experience classic BioWare titles Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) I & II and Jade Empire.

Game Pass Ultimate (combined with Microsoft Rewards) has saved me money, and Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite will be festive favourites during the holiday season. The former is a quintessential arcade racer set in an open world social hub and contender for Game of the Year (GotY)!

Microsoft has released an Xbox 20th Anniversary Wireless Controller (affiliate link) in classic black with green touches that hark back to the beginning.

The Redmond-based company is streaming a celebration of all things Xbox today.

What are your Xbox memories? Do you have a favourite Xbox console generation? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Halo Infinite this December

Originally delayed just months before the launch of Xbox Series X|S consoles last November, as promised Halo Infinite will be released this holiday season. However, the co-op campaign, a longtime staple of the series, will not be included at launch. Nor will Forge mode. This has irked some fans, but I'm here for the single-player campaign.

Many fans (myself included) assumed Halo Infinite would launch in late November to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved's release in North America, but Microsoft has chosen 8th December. Presumably to avoid clashing with Call of Duty: Vanguard, as a friend suggested.

Along with the announcement, a limited edition Halo-themed Xbox Series X and Elite 2 wireless controller were available for pre-order during Gamescom 2021. Needless to say, the Series X console sold out in minutes with listings on eBay at significantly inflated prices. Elite 2 (affiliate link) is available (while stocks last). As someone who has bought countless controllers and joysticks over decades, this will be the most expensive I've owned to date.

For anyone who misses out on the limited edition goodies, there's a free Halo Infinite dynamic background for Series X|S. Settings > General > Personalization, then scroll all the way down to Dynamic Backgrounds, and finally, you'll find Master Chief waiting for you at the end of all the background options. You're welcome.

The next instalment in one of video gaming's most iconic franchises is looking promising (it can't be worse than Halo 5, can it?) and I'll be playing the campaign day-one on Series S on Game Pass Ultimate.

Are you excited about Halo Infinite? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Halo Infinite campaign teased at E3

Microsoft is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Xbox and Halo through November.

During yesterday's Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase at E3, Halo Infinite's campaign was teased with the introduction of a mysterious new Cortana-like AI companion. She's tasked with impersonating Cortana and helping Master Chief destroy her forever, which should lead to a tense interpersonal conflict in what promises to be John-117's final battle.

“We are continuing the story of the Master Chief and Cortana from Halo 5, but also telling a story that’s welcoming for new players,” wrote Halo Infinite head of creative Joseph Staten in a blog post. “Cortana’s fate is one of the Infinite campaign’s big mysteries, and early in the story, you will meet a new UNSC AI, ‘the Weapon,’ that was created to help stop Cortana. Together with the Pilot, the Master Chief, and the Weapon begin an epic adventure to explore Zeta Halo, defeat the Banished forces who control the ring, and unravel even more mysteries along the way.”

Although there wasn't any campaign gameplay shown during the Mass Effect 2-inspired presentation, it's captured my imagination and encouraged me to pick up an Xbox Series S at the weekend. Why not a Series X? I already own a PlayStation 5 (PS5), and the Series S with its matching livery will be my console of choice for all things Game Pass going forward.

Game Pass is making Sony's first-party PS5 titles look prohibitively expensive and the strategy is working for Microsoft.

If the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase wasn't enough, you can look forward to Xbox Games Showcase: Extended, featuring internal studios including Ninja Theory, this Thursday.

Halo Infinite will be released over the holiday season after being delayed from last year. The next instalment in the beloved franchise looks incredible and I'll be playing day-one on Game Pass Ultimate.

Are you excited about Halo Infinite? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 14 May 2021

20 years of Xbox and Halo

Microsoft is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Xbox and Halo through November with a plethora of related products and Xbox FanFest.

Like many avid gamers in the early noughties, I bought an original Xbox solely to play Halo: Combat Evolved.

Bungie's seminal first-person shooter (FPS) had captured my imagination when Halo was unveiled by Steve Jobs at Macworld in 1999. However, Microsoft would acquire exclusivity of Halo, as the first killer app for its fledgeling console, much to Jobs' annoyance.

Master Chief and Cortana's story had me enthralled in what is lauded as one of the most influential video games of all time. As mentioned previously, I wouldn't return to the Halo franchise until Halo 4, after winning an Xbox 360 S from LOVEFiLM (now Prime Video), in 2012. Halo 4 was the perfect homecoming for this lifelong fan of storied space operas.

Xbox also introduced me to BioWare's fabled Mass Effect trilogy - arguably one of the greatest space operas in any medium. What gave Mass Effect 2 its edge was working with the enemy, lead by Martin Sheen's Illusive Man, propelling the game into The Empire Strikes Back of the saga. So, I'll be playing Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (affiliate link) this weekend as FemShep (Jennifer Hale) and will be an ugly mess by the end.

The next game in the Halo franchise, Halo Infinite, is set to launch later this year after being delayed, during the launch of Xbox Series X|S, due to the pandemic.

343 Industries‘ studio head Chris Lee said: “The extra time will let us finish the critical work necessary to deliver the most ambitious Halo game ever at the quality we know our fans expect.”

Personally, Halo Infinite evokes nostalgic feels for Halo: Combat Evolved and I'll be downloading day-one on Game Pass Ultimate.

What are your favourite Xbox and Halo memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Next-gen Xbox Series launches without Halo

The next-gen of video game consoles began with the launch of Microsoft's Xbox Series X and S without the brand's flagship, Halo, today. This isn't the first time Master Chief has been missing in action (MIA). Halo 5 wasn't released day-one on Xbox One.

Halo Infinite has been delayed, amid controversy and merciless memes, until 2021 at the earliest. Sony's PlayStation 5 (PS5) launches with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales in the US this Thursday. However, this hasn't dampened demand for the Xbox Series X and S over the holiday season.

The launch of new PlayStation and Xbox consoles is a welcome respite during the second coronavirus lockdown. So, it's understandable that fellow gamers are eager for something that will bring festive joy in a year that has taken its toll on everyone's mental health.

Retailers GAME and John Lewis had Series X and S stock online this morning but sold out. And friends are reporting, on social media, that Amazon pre-orders have been delayed. Although I originally pre-ordered both next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, I decided to cancel and bump up the spec of a new iMac (the machine I'm typing this on).

My PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One X have life left in them for the foreseeable future.

I'll be getting Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales for PS4 and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the gift that keeps on giving with EA Play and Destiny 2: Beyond Light from Halo's original developer, Bungie. Also, Apple TV+ is now available.

Have you received your Xbox Series X or S and what video games will you play first? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Halo Infinite delayed until 2021

Microsoft has confirmed the Xbox Series X will be released this November. However, Halo Infinite will no longer be a launch title and this could be damaging when the PlayStation 5 (PS5) is launching with an exclusive edition of Marvel's Avengers (including Spider-Man in 2021) and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales this holiday season.

Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, delaying Halo Infinite is a wise decision irrespective of how poor the response was from the gaming community during Xbox Games Showcase. That said, please keep everyone's favourite bald brute as an Easter egg. Personally, I'm more than happy with my Xbox One X and Game Pass, and will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 on Microsoft's mid-gen machine later this year.

Literally, as the UK enters its worst recession in decades, there's no incentive to buy an Xbox Series X at launch and the PS5 has that sleek alien form factor advantage that appeals to my sci-fi fandom too. Make Mine Marvel, Make Mine PlayStation.

Are you planning on getting an Xbox Series X at launch or has Halo Infinite's delay changed your mind? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 31 July 2020

Beyond Light on Game Pass

Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding Halo Infinite and that bold brute. During July's Xbox Games Showcase it was all too easy to overlook Bungie's surprise announcement that current and future Destiny 2 content will be included on Game Pass from this September. Especially as Bungie and Microsoft were estranged bedfellows after a parting of ways following years of critical and commercial success with the Halo franchise.

Longtime readers may recall I was a huge fan of the original Destiny in 2014 and embraced the notion of a decade-spanning story. However, the release of Destiny 2 marred the experience to the point where I stopped playing, entirely, within weeks. More slog than compelling sci-fi space opera and it was deserted of players.

When Bungie broke free of Activision and Destiny 2 went free-to-play, I briefly revisited the looter shooter but it failed to rekindle my enthusiasm. Foolishly, I'd overlooked cross-save and created a new Titan (the original Titan remained trapped in PSN purgatory, her story unfinished).

The Game Pass announcement spurred this lapsed Guardian out of retirement and last evening imported his female Titan - via the wonder of cross-save - from the original Destiny on PS4, to be greeted by a story so far sequence that resonated more powerfully than expected.

An absence of 2-3 years made the heart grow fonder and suddenly I was reunited with old friends; struck at how much I'd missed the banter with Ghost (filling the gaping void left by one of gaming's most beloved characters, Halo's Cortana). After completing the opening story mission for Shadowkeep and a few live events. Shoot me to the moon! It's fun again, Guardians!

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Beyond Light has been delayed until November. However, there'll be plenty of content when Destiny 2's current expansions arrive on Game Pass. This should give new and lapsed Guardians (myself included) time to level up in readiness for exploring the frozen wastes of Europa.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Halo Infinite gameplay Combat Evolved?

Like myriad gamers in 2002, I bought an original Xbox solely to play Halo: Combat Evolved.

Bungie's seminal first-person shooter (FPS) had captured my imagination when Halo was unveiled at Macworld in 1999. Ultimately, Microsoft would acquire exclusivity of Halo as the first killer app for its fledgeling console.

Master Chief and Cortana's story had me enthralled in what is lauded as one of the most influential video games of all time. As mentioned previously, I wouldn't return to the Halo franchise until Halo 4, after winning an Xbox 360 S from LOVEFiLM, in 2012. Halo 4 was the perfect homecoming for this lifelong fan of storied space operas.

During Thursday's Xbox Games Showcase, coinciding with Comic-Con@Home, 343 Industries released a first look at Halo Infinite gameplay. Microsoft's first-party studio has seemingly gone back to Bungie's original playbook for inspiration and fan reaction is divided.

Personally, Halo Infinite evokes nostalgia for Combat Evolved and I'll be downloading day-one on Game Pass Ultimate this holiday season.

Get Game Pass for first-party and selected third-party titles (including Destiny 2: Beyond Light from Bungie) and save money. You can thank me later. xCloud, Microsoft's cloud-based gaming service, comes to Game Pass Ultimate this September.

But what do you think? Are you excited to see Master Chief return to his roots in an open world and where's Cortana? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Microsoft shuns VR as it unveils Xbox One X at E3

In a move echoing Apple's annual iPhone release cycle. Microsoft unveiled Xbox One X (codename Project Scorpio) during the company's Xbox E3 Briefing on Sunday. The new premium console joins, but does not replace, Xbox One and Xbox One S.

Matt Charlton shares his insights into the sleek Xbox One X and the direction Microsoft appears to be going with brand Xbox under the leadership of Phil Spencer:

"I see exactly where Microsoft are taking Xbox and it's extremely clever.

They are creating a single platform - Windows 10-based, with multiple tiers. They look to be heading down an Apple iPhone-based distribution model.

You can buy a game for Xbox knowing that it will work on your console, no matter which one you have, the more money you spend, the better graphics and performance you get.

Microsoft has moved to an annual release cycle where they bring out a new console with a new CPU and a new graphics card with more RAM, more storage and more power. The systems and ecosystem evolve with time, but you'll always be able to play the games you've bought. With the company bringing original Xbox games into the fold, it's now a cross-gen platform for anything ever released (as long as developers allow).

Game developers know the platform, they know DirectX and we don't have any of this stupidity where processor architectures change and development for one generation is completely redundant in the next. I remember reading that the PS3 was ridiculously hard to develop for. This stops that.

Different sized texture packs will ship with games, resolution and draw distances can be changed depending on spec, its no different from playing Starcraft 2 on a 4 year old laptop against playing it on an all-singing all-dancing £2000 desktop gaming rig.

Games might get a little bigger, but that's to be expected anyway. You still keep things simple by only having known hardware configurations and multiple tiers.

Also gives them the opportunity to increase their player base. Your frontrunners buy the latest consoles as they come out, the old console is still perfectly fine - they pass it on to a friend or a family member and they buy games and play.

Clever. Very clever.

It's a good time to be a gamer."

So, aside from the Xbox One X, which is garnering a mixed reaction due, primarily, to a price point of £449.99GBP when the new console is released on 7th November. The big takeaway from E3 was a dangerous lack of first-party exclusives, VR and an emphasis on indie developers. 42 games represented as a dull laundry list with BioWare's Anthem, a third-party title that deleteriously impacted Mass Effect: Andromeda's development, closing the presentation.

There was no mention of Rise of the Tomb Raider being enhanced for 4K on Xbox One X, which is disappointing given the superlative sequel was a timed-exclusive and improved fidelity is available for PS4 Pro. And Halo was nowhere to be seen.

Will I get an Xbox One X? Yes. I already own a 4K UHD TV and enhanced fidelity is appealing. Plus, as Matt's already stated, all my existing Xbox games will be available to play out of the box from day-one. Something that neither Nintendo nor Sony offers.

Again, this E3 is Sony's to lose in terms of first-party exclusives and third-party marketing deals including Call of Duty: WWII, Destiny 2 and Star Wars Battlefront II. Unless Nintendo knocks it out of the park.

But, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Phantom Menace haunts Mass Effect: Andromeda

What follows are my initial impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda first trial on EA Access.

As I only finished the original Mass Effect trilogy - arguably one of the greatest space operas in any medium - a couple of weeks ago. Commander Shepard and the fabled crew of the Normandy are still fresh in one's mind.

Possible mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't played Mass Effect...

Andromeda seemingly has an identity crisis. At first blush it's a disparate mishmash of the original Mass Effect, Halo and Batman: Arkham franchises. Too familiar tropes and first contact degenerates into a firestorm with rock people before you draw breath. So much for the Prime Directive. This is Star Trek funded by Cerberus. More on Cerberus later.

There's a nagging feeling of The Phantom Menace, surrounding the opening act, in spite of a sense of awe I haven't experienced since playing Phantasy Star Online (PSO) for Sega Dreamcast. Why should I care about the fate of the main protagonist, and her crew, when the writers rushed the introduction and the role of Pathfinder doesn't feel earned? That said, I'm enjoying playing as female Ryder and there's plenty of fun callbacks to the original trilogy: from familiar soundtrack cues to sound effects and much more.

Boarding the Tempest evoked emotions once reserved for the Normandy, USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon and TARDIS.

Appreciate the more nuanced dialogue options in Andromeda. Paragon and Renegade, inherited from Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), was perfect for Shepherd's war with the Reapers in the original trilogy. Amusingly, it's too easy to unintentionally start romancing other characters, and this levity is welcome in the first few hours of the game. At its heart, Andromeda should be about exploration and hope.

Personally, I'm enjoying the banter with fellow crewmates at this early stage in the story. Liam, the most rounded member of the human crew, Peebee, a playful Asari, and Vetra, a female Turian capable of giving Garrus a run for his money, are the standouts thus far.

SAM, your AI assistant, appeared to be an annoying incarnation of Halo's Cortana in various video clips I'd watched. However, the backstory behind SAM's controversial development, begun by Ryder's father, on the Citadel, before embarking on the long journey to Andromeda, suggests a compelling mystery is in the offing. This is underscored by SAM and Ryder's rich interaction aboard the Nexus, headquarters of the Andromeda Initiative.

It's worth noting the conflict between artificial intelligence and organics drove the narrative of the original trilogy and impending apocalypse. However, there's a hopefulness here that is channelled through my favourite character. Ryder herself. Fryda Wolff embraces the role with an aplomb worthy of Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens. I can't speak to the male incarnation.

The past couple of years I, like many other gamers, have suffered from open world fatigue, which Guerrilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn deftly dodges. Andromeda appears to have a level of depth that may be just too overwhelming for some and is not in keeping with the franchise's legacy. Narrative fans may feel encumbered by crafting. The Witcher 3 remains atop my pile of shame as the notion of expending hundreds of hours playing a single game is too daunting a premise.

The Mass Effect universe has never looked shinier. The Frostbite 3 engine has pedigree as evidenced by stablemates Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront. There's a very rare pleasure in simply wandering around the Tempest and basking in its reflective beauty. The trial version includes the day-one patch. Hopefully, BioWare will support the game, post release, with the same fervor as CD Projekt Red.

Art direction is uniformly excellent, just don't mention the humans and their Pingu lips. In 2017 it's inexcusable given Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare's other franchise, boasts superior animations and dates back to 2014. Humanities tech alludes to Cerberus, which feeds into a rumour that Cora is the Illusive Man's daughter.

What gave Mass Effect 2 its edge was working with the enemy, lead by Martin Sheen's Illusive Man, propelling the game into The Empire Strikes Back of the saga. With that in mind, it's possible there'll be a twist to this tale of exploration leading to a chilling cliffhanger! Unless it's a self-contained installment, which I'm hoping it's not. Mass Effect, like Star Wars, warrants a sequel trilogy.

The Mako was an infamous addition to the original Mass Effect and possessed all the finesse of a helium balloon with a gun strapped to it. My heart sank at the notion of more planetside traversal with its successor. The Nomad. However, the Nomad handles really well and your squad can disembark, with ease, to explore or exterminate at will.

Whilst the combat system has been further honed since Mass Effect 2 and 3. The addition of a jet pack has lead to minutes lost frustratingly impacting against a wall, or cliff, that appears impassable as your squad mates look on from above, helplessly. I felt like telling them to get on with the mission whilst I returned to the comfort of the Tempest.

Then there's the Kett. Rock folk who prefer to shoot first and ask no questions. If these are the big bad in Andromeda, then they're Z-List canon fodder compared to the Geth, Cerberus, Collectors and the godlike Reapers.

Much has been made of the inferior character models, especially female Ryder's default appearance. Meet Jyn 'Erso' Ryder. Whilst the customisation control isn't cutting edge, a few minutes tweaking settings, and with a little help from a YouTube tutorial, I was able to create Felicity Jones' likeness.

It's odd that for all the secrecy surrounding Mass Effect: Andromeda, EA would enforce a piecemeal embargo that's culminated in the next installment imploding into nothing more than merciless memes mocking animations, online, within 24 hours. This is compounded in a month where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn have released to critical acclaim. The latter is Sony's most successful new IP launch in the history of PlayStation.

Further to the above. Michael Gamble, producer of the original Mass Effect trilogy and Andromeda, has responded to criticisms on Twitter.

"We appreciate the critiques (and memes!), but I am very happy to see how much y'all like the game after 10 gets even better."

Despite coming into this with a prejudice based on memes and early impressions from other gaming sites. I've enjoyed playing the trial over ten hours. It's a slow burner that maybe too slow for some. Standing in the Pathfinder's quarters aboard the Tempest, gazing out upon the great expanse of Andromeda, I had an epiphany: this is the Mass Effect I cherish. Can't wait to properly explore the new galaxy with my Ryder. FemShep's watching from beyond...

Lastly. I did smile when FemShep was already selected as legend during character creation. BioWare, you get me!

Are you playing the trial? Are you enjoying it, or do you want to see fixes before making a final decision to buy? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The quest to find Game of the Year

Tauriel, an Elf Mage, begins an epic quest...

2014 has, for the most part, been notable for video game re-releases on PS4 and Xbox One!

There were no clear contenders for Game of the Year (GotY) as in previous years, which has included Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider. Instead, the media was fixated on the PS4's seemingly insurmountable sales lead on Xbox One and the latter's price drop. Where were the compelling next gen games coming from?

PlayStation exclusive The Last of Us Remastered and GTA V for PS4 and Xbox One could be considered worthy of, permanent, pride of place on a bookshelf in their next gen incarnations. And may garner GotY for a second year running from gaming enthusiasts and critics alike.

Bungie's overblown blockbuster Destiny fell short of the studio's greatest achievements: Halo and Marathon. Offering shallow, but addictive, fun in the form of Fireteams. A week doesn't pass by when I don't play an Heroic Strike mission. Only to see teammates and myself strewn, hapless, across the desolate dunes of Mars.

Delays have lead to an overcrowded November, which includes the annual Call of Duty. However, I may have discovered my GotY: Dragon Age: Inquisition. In short, a compelling blend of Mass Effect meets Skyrim. I invested an hour customising my character, Tauriel (pictured at the start), before embarking on the 100 hour or more quest.

Honourable mention: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which meshed Assassin's Creed with stablemate Batman: Arkham.

What say you, fellow gamer?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Agent Locke in Ridley Scott's Halo: Nightfall

Xbox Entertainment Studios may be closing, but Ridley Scott's Halo: Nightfall digital series is packaged with Halo: The Master Chief Collection this November.

Trade magazine Variety accidently gave readers a first glimpse of Agent Locke played by Mike Colter (The Good Wife).

Locke will play "a key role in Halo 5: Guardians," general manager and 343 Industries studio head Bonnie Ross said during a Halo-themed meeting at E3 2014.

"We're using Halo: Nightfall to basically tell his backstory and tell his origin story," Ross continued. "You don't have to watch this, but knowing this will kind of tee you up for all the new things that are going on in Halo 5: Guardians."

A few weeks ago Amazon Prime offered a discounted Xbox One Titanfall bundle. So, I jumped in and Microsoft's beleaguered box has earned pride of place in the living room. Appreciating the monthly software updates, which put Sony's PS4 to shame.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Bungie's beautifully bleak Destiny

During this year's PlayStation press conference at E3, PS4 owners were given the opportunity to sign up for Destiny First Look Alpha before next month's beta. On Thursday I received an invite code and dutifully downloaded the 6.7GB Alpha from PSN. Midnight passed by in a flurry of visual virtuosity...

With an alleged budget of $500 million dollars the weight of expectation weighs oh-so-heavily on this new IP. However, developer Bungie and publisher Activision may have a killer app to rival Halo and Call of Duty franchises!

Initial impressions are positive and the game only crashed once! Destiny looks beautiful, Killzone: Shadow Fall beautiful, and evokes Bungie's earlier opuses: Halo and Marathon. There's a Mass Effect and Phantasy Star Online vibe, which compelled me to create a human character in homage to Miranda Lawson. Incidentally, actress Yvonne Strahovski is deftly holding her own in 24: Live Another Day.

Is it me or is Peter Dinklage's Ghost bereft of emotion? The beloved Game of Thrones actor is no match for Cortana or EDI and at times he sounds sardonic, which may or may not be his intention. Just hear him say "It can't be... It's the hive!", without sniggering. Bill Nighy seems to be having more fun.

The Alpha is a teaser of what to expect this September. I played story mode, without so much as a tutorial or context, with several other PSN friends and random players joined in on the action too. Friendly fire is not a good tactic, in the midst of an epic battle, and I wasn't the one firing! Looting is addictive and brings Borderlands to the table amidst the Halo and Mass Effect design cues.

Looking forward to Destiny? Let me know in the comments below.