Category Archives: Xbox

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Review)

It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over. The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…

Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Kevin Spacey as Jonathon Irons

First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.

The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.

However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gideon shooter bro

The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.

There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:

Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
/scene

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare - Ilona, the lone woman soldier

Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.

I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.

 Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.

What I’m Playing This Week

I have so many games on the go right now, that I set a goal of finishing games I was already playing rather than starting new ones. I totally failed at this, I keep picking up new games.

Mass Effect 3

I’m still slowly plodding through ME3. I’ve been able to continue to stay a total Renegade (though I refuse to just outright kill General Oraka.) Mass Effect 3 is such a puzzling game to me. Every 10 minutes I rediscover some really dumb design decision that bothers me, but it still manages to be immensely playable and enjoyable. The combat is the best of the series, plus there’s all the back story and nostalgia of running into practically every character you ever met in the previous two games.

Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC

I just started doing some of the DLC content, which I never did the first time around. Right now I’m helping Aria take back Omega. This is the DLC I was least excited about, I’m saving the best (Citadel, hopefully) for last.

Long Live the Queen

In Long Live the Queen you play as the Princess Elodie, who is getting ready to be crowned Queen. But can you keep her alive – safe from assassins, magic, and public revolt – until then? LLTQ is a kind of choose your own adventure with surprisingly complex systems. Every turn Elodie has the choice of leveling up 2 of 42 possible skills (things like Royal Demeanor, Archery, or Foreign Intelligence) in order to prepare her for being queen. Elodie’s mood also affects how quickly she learns, so that needs to be managed as well in order to optimize.

When I started playing this game, I felt like an utter failure. Every time an event happened that tested one of these skills I failed because I had chosen to learn something else. It was a bit off-putting. However, after playing through a couple times I learned that I didn’t have to pass every check, and it was better to level a few skills up a lot rather than try to learn everything. It’s a pretty cool game, and I’ve been having fun trying to discover all the different events and endings. I’m stuck trying to find out what really happened to Elodie’s mother though, I really want to get that achievement.

PT

I have a complex relationship with scary games; I love the idea of them, but I’m quite wimpy and find them difficult to play alone. I’ve been wanting to play PT since it was announced, but never even worked up the guts to install it. Until last weekend. I got together with a few friends (including my mom), and a few bottles of wine and we beat the hell out of the Silent Hill demo. It was very disturbing. I really applaud the makers of the game for how they made travelling down the same hallway over and over again such an engaging experience.

I’ll admit that there were a couple times 3 of us screamed in unison (but not my mom, she’s a rock), but we got through it okay and ended up completing the demo a few times. It’s pretty cool how the experience is always a little different. We almost never saw the ghost, and we never got killed in the time that we played.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake

Continuing with the scary games, I’m also playing Alan Wake. This game is spooky, but not too scary – I have no problem playing it alone. I’m on chapter 4 of 5 and  I’m really enjoying it so far. The game is very cinematic and focuses a lot on story, while still having good gameplay. The atmosphere of the game is enhanced by manuscript pages you find lying around (Wake is an author), which can be downright creepy when they start foreshadowing future events.  The pacing so far is fantastic and makes Alan Wake a very entertaining ride. I do tend to stream when I play this, in case anyone hasn’t played and wants to see it.

Wasteland 2

I told myself I wasn’t ready for another sprawling, text-heavy, 60 hour epic after I finished Divinity: Original Sin, but I jumped right into Wasteland 2 after getting it for my birthday anyway. It’s a lot of fun. I love isometric, turn-based combat. I love post-apocalypse stories. I love good writing, easter eggs, and 80s pop culture references (Teddy Ruxpin!). Wasteland 2 has all of these things in abundance. I’ve only put in about 10 hours so far, but it’s a lot of fun. There are some minor annoyances when it comes to using skills, but I’ve overcome them by playing the game on easy. Usually I don’t like to do this, but I don’t want to get frustrated with invisible dice rolls making me fail too many events or having to min/max every character. Easy mode is preferable, and less time-consuming, than save scumming.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

The only major complaint I have about Wasteland 2 is the character models, especially during character creation. Holy shit, they are ugly. Tie a porkchop around their necks so the dog will play with them- ugly. I ended up using all pre-made characters in my initial party because I really didn’t want to look at the terrible custom-made character avatars during my game, and I couldn’t bear to give any of them the name Jasyla.

Zuma’s Revenge

Zuma's Revenge - XBox live arcade

Zuma! I loved the original Zuma, and noticed that there was a sequel on XBox Live Arcade the other day (it came out in 2012, I am obviously oblivious), so I snapped that right up. I bought it on Tuesday and finished the last of the 60 levels 2 nights later. Zuma is my perfect mindless puzzle game. Somehow the developers managed to make the process of shooting coloured balls into other coloured balls fresh with the introduction of boss fights at the end of every level, along with coins you can earn by beating target times and scores to level up spirit animals who will boost your abilities a little bit. This sequel did seem to scroll back the difficulty from the original quite a lot though – the only times I ever “lost” a puzzle was when I was trying for achievements.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

More scary games, this one is a psychological survival horror. Even with pixelated graphics this game manages to be quite nerve-wracking because of the setting and the unearthly, hair-raising sound effects. The encounters in Lone Survivor are weird in an almost Lynchian way, so the story has managed to capture my imagination. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends, but I don’t think it will be a happy ending.

The Yawhg

The Yawhg

I hadn’t heard of this game until I picked it up as part of a bundle. I really wanted something short to play so I could say I’ve finished something and this fit the bill. The Yawhg is a strange game. It’s kind of like a digital board game or choose your own adventure, but the encounters on each “space” are random, so you don’t always know what you’re going to get. You play between 2-4 characters and the goal, if you can call it that, is to prepare for “the Yawhg” which is going to come and destroy everything. Each character has stats like Mind, Strength and Wealth, which get built up by completing activities. This is an amusing little game that made me laugh out loud a few times as the encounters often entered the realm of the bizarre. Also the soundtrack is tops. I played through a couple times in 40 minutes before deciding I had seen everything. Game complete.


So, what have you been playing this week?

What I’m Playing This Week

This past week I bought a lot of video games, I even had time to play many of them!

Divinity: Original Sin

I wrapped up my game of Divinity with 65 hours played. It’s been a while since I’ve spent that much time completing a game. I was going to write a full review but I honestly have nothing too clever to say. It’s a very solid, enjoyable isometric RPG and if you liked Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment, you should play it. I could do without the rock, paper, scissors though.

Richard & Alice

After finishing Divinity, I wanted to play something short. Richard & Alice fit the bill. It’s an indie adventure game, set in an apocalyptic winter wonderland. It’s not much to look at, but it tells a thoughtful and melancholy story about what people will do to survive.

Richard & Alice

The gameplay is simple and the puzzles are straightforward, but the writing is where this game shines. Two hours well spent.

Mass Effect 3

I started a replay of the whole ME series and while back and I’ve been slowly making my way through it. I had only played ME3 once before, right when it came out, and apparently I have a terrible memory because the whole beginning felt completely new to me. I considered ME2 my favourite of the series before, but I’m really digging how wide open this one is, and I love reuniting with my old crew and building up a giant military force to fight the Reapers. I’m playing Renegade this time around, and enjoy getting to punch a lot of people in the face. I also got most of the DLC, so I’m looking forward to seeing that content for the first time.

I gave the multiplayer a shot for the first time and found it surprisingly fun. I’m determined to get to 100% galactic readiness for this playthrough, so I’ll be playing a bit more of it. I play as a Vanguard in multiplayer, which makes me regret not being one in the single player game this time around. There really is nothing better than Biotic Charge > Nova > shotgun blast to the face (and maybe a melee strike for good measure).

Destiny

Honestly, neither of the terms “MMO” or “FPS” fill me with girlish delight, but the Destiny hype machine was so big that I had to try it. It is a beautiful game, and the combat mechanics are solid. I’m playing as an Awoken Titan – obviously. Purple punchy person > everything else. The first thing I noticed was that my kick-ass Awoken lady was not wearing a sculpted breastplate that would kill her. So, kudos to the design team.

I’d like to add a gorgeous screenshot here but… XBox.

I really enjoyed the first few missions – the combat was fun, Peter Dinklage was talking to me. When I got to my 4th or 5th story mission it all started feeling the same. Also, the story missions are pretty light on story. You pick up grimoires as you progress through the game which give you backstory on the different races, factions, enemies, weapons, etc. However, you can’t access this information in the game. You need to go to the Bungie site, or download the Destiny app on your phone. Seriously. Putting contextual information in the actual game is so passé.

I played with a friend and that made the normal missions more enjoyable, but then we did a strike mission which was terrible. We came up against this bullet sponge spider tank that took way too long to kill and would one-shot me any time I made a mistake. I’m only level 7 so far, so I’ll keep playing to max level, but it looks like it will be just more of the same. Neverending games really aren’t my thing, so I’ll likely finish the story missions, proclaim that I’ve beaten the game and not play again unless under duress (much like I did with Diablo 3).

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

This is one I’ve been slowly making my way through for a month or two. Though I’ve always considered myself a fan of adventure games, they’ve begun to make me wary as the puzzles often make no fracking sense. Luckily, this is not the case for most of the puzzles in this game. Testament of Sherlock Holmes has an intriguing story, it looks and sounds pretty good, and best of all, the puzzles do not make me want to tear my hair out. The puzzles are logical and make me feel smart when I solve them. There’s no mindlessly trying to combine every object in your inventory here. Holmes is a dick and can be annoyingly loquacious, but he’s a genius so I can tolerate it.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

Metro 2033

Metro is a game that interested me when it first came out, I just never picked it up. Since it got remastered for the latest gen consoles, I figured I should finally give it a go. I think I’m about halfway through Metro 2033 and I’m enjoying it. Though it bills itself as survival horror, I’d call it more of a straight up FPS. It has some spooky things in it, but it’s really not a horror game. One of the best parts of the game is the atmosphere. While I’m in the metro stations they are bustling; NPCs are talking to each other and reacting to my presence. The environments are wonderfully detailed. In the tunnels and above ground our character reacts to radiation and bad air, has to wipe dirt and blood off his gas mask. For the most part the HUD isn’t visible, so you don’t see health levels and only see ammo quantities while you’re reloading or bring up the weapons menu. The combat is challenging, especially before your weapons are modified and the mutants you fight come from everywhere, so it can get intense.

Pixel Puzzles: Japan

I bought an indie bundle last week because it had Lifeless Planet in it, which I wanted to try. I originally wrote off the other games, but when I actually looked at them, many seemed interesting. Last night I was looking for something I could play while catching up on the week’s Big Brother episodes, and discovered Pixel Puzzles. It’s basically just a collection of digital jigsaw puzzles. The images are all lovely and the pieces float around in a koi pond.
PIxel-Puzzles-Japan

Before I knew it, I had put together 11 puzzles. Pixel Puzzles – all the fun and relaxation of a jigsaw puzzle without the fear your cat will knock all the pieces onto the floor.


What have you been playing lately?

What I’m Playing This Week

Another long weekend, another few days full of games! Here’s what I’ve been playing recently.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I never got into many games on the PS3 though I did own the whole Uncharted series, which sat unopened on a shelf for a good year. Finally this week I felt the urge to start the series. My feelings about Uncharted 1 are so mixed. It’s very cinematic and I like the combination of platforming, puzzling, and combat. However, the combat can be completely rage inducing. Raising your weapon puts your reticule not where you’d expect it to be, enemies are bullet sponges who never stop spawning and take 6 or 7 shots to take down if you don’t hit them right in the head, they often spawn behind you (how did they get there?), and Drake is very fragile. Plus, the game is super mean about where you respawn when you die. I’ve often found myself dying after taking out a dozen enemies, only to have to restart from the very beginning of the sequence. There were also a couple of jet ski sequences which were the opposite of fun. At one point I rage quit at the very end of the game due to being given only a shotgun with which to take out a bunch of enemies behind cover, at range. I did go back and finish later, when my blood pressure had stabilized.

Now, after all this complaining, I don’t actually dislike the game. It’s mostly a lot of fun, it just has some really annoying aspects. I really hope that combat is more enjoyable in Uncharted 2 though.

Divinity: Original Sin

This is what I’ve been playing most, I think I’ve sunk  almost 30 hours into this game over the last couple weeks. It’s amazing. It’s an isometric RPG, reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate, except it’s even better than BG. It’s almost as good as Planescape: Torment. There’s so much in the game to explore and discover, from the main quest lines to little secrets and sidequests. Combat is tactical and a lot of fun. There’s a lot of reading to do in-game, but the dialogue is often hilarious. If you’re into RPGs, I definitely recommend picking this up.

Divinity Original Sin

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

I picked up this game for free with my XBox Live Gold membership. It’s a fun little platformer. You play a boy attempting to rescue his little brother, and his special power is that he can build and erase platforms with his magic marker. It’s pretty, the controls are good, and it’s fun so far. It’s not particularly innovative, but at this point I’m pretty desperate for things to play on the XBox One so it doesn’t just sit on the shelf like a $500 brick, and Max is pretty good entertainment.

The Bridge

This is a fun puzzler with mechanics that focus on using gravity and momentum to reach your goals. The controls are simple, you can move your character left and right, or spin the entire puzzle in either direction. So far it’s been a lot of fun, and the puzzles are starting to get more challenging as new ideas are introduced. It’s also quite gorgeous, with levels that look like they were design by Escher.

The Bridge

I’ve also been continuing to pick away at Saint’s Row IV which is still ridiculously fun and I finished The Walking Dead season 2, which I reviewed.


What have you been playing?

Gaming Questionnaire – My Answers

I guess I should fill out my own questionnaire, here are my answers.

  1. When did you start playing video games?
    I started playing games as soon as I could sit up at the computer, when I was 3 years old. I’ve been playing ever since.
  2. What is the first game you remember playing?
    I’m using a very loose interpretation of the word ‘remember’ here, as I actually asked my mom what the first game I ever played was. We weren’t 100% sure of the name, but we think it was Cross Country USA, a game about trucking on MS-DOS. My first console game was Super Mario Brothers, but that was a few years later.
  3. PC or Console?
    Console.
  4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
    XBox. Though for the newest generation I’ve played a lot more games on the PS4. Come on XB1, release some games I’m interested in.
  5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
    Planescape: Torment. It’s an amazingly immersive and well-written RPG based on AD&D rules. The story and characters are all amazing, and it’s backed up by very solid gameplay.
  6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
    WWII Combat: Iwo Jima. Part of the problem came from the fact that this game was the definition of a generic, low budget, military shooter. And part of the problem was that testing it was my job. I’ve done QA on a number of mediocre games, but this was a special experience. While QA was expected to test this game for 8 hours a day, the developers were doing something else I guess, and we were only getting a new build every week or two. This made for the most tedious gaming experience I’ve ever had.
  7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
    To the Moon. It had a really good, inventive concept, but I found the main characters endlessly irritating. They completely ruined what would have been a very sweet and poignant story, and I spent the last half of the game clicking through their dialogue as fast as I could, waiting for the game to end.
  8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
    Remember Me currently has a metacritic score of 6.5 from critics. This is bullshit. Remember Me is a really fun action platformer with an interesting story and a lot of great female characters.
  9. What are your favourite game genres?
    RPG and action-adventure.  I also really like clever puzzle games.
  10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
    Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Jade has strength, smarts, and sass. She wields her camera to expose truths as expertly as she wields her jō (staff) to kick ass.
  11. Describe your perfect video game.
    I’d combine the story, writing, and character depth of The Last of Us, with the gameplay of Tomb Raider. It would take place in space, or on some distant, unexplored, gorgeous planet.
  12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
    Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins.
  13. What game has the best music?
    Final Fantasy VII. It’s good on its own, but I especially like it when it’s remixed or recreated.
  14. Most memorable moment in a game:
    The beginning of Under a Killing Moon. The first time I saw it, it just looked 100x cooler than anything I had seen before. The music and sound were great – it had James Earl Jones reading Poe quotes! FMV is often looked down upon, but in Under a Killing Moon it showed me a whole new idea of what games could be.
  15. Scariest moment in a game:
    The radio in Silent Hill. It was so unnerving that it made me turn the game off and never turn it on again.
  16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
    Saying goodbye to Garrus before you head toward the final showdown in the Citadel in Mass Effect 3. All the goodbyes at the end of the game were hard, but this one was the worst.
  17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?
    I really like Polygon for gaming news. It goes beyond the normal review and previews and often looks at gaming from different points of view. Also, I really like The Astronauts blog. It’s written by game developers and often has really fascinating insight on game design and good articles like The 7 Deadly Sins of Adventure Games or How Gamers are the Ultimate Trolls.
  18. What is the last game you finished?
    Broken Age.
  19. What future releases are you most excited about?
    I’m really looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition this fall. Also, a little further out, Rise of The Tomb Raider, since the previous game is my game of the year so far. I’m also looking forward to Life is Strange, by the studio that made Remember Me. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Inside, Torment: Tides of Numenera. Lots of games!
  20. Do you identify as a gamer?
    Yes. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. It’s something I spend a lot of time on – not just playing but also reading about, writing about. I know the term ‘gamer’ is starting to become a dirty word in a lot of circles, but I don’t let the loudest and most awful parts of the community detract from how I identify myself.
  21. Why do you play video games?
    For entertainment mostly, though games can entertain in a way unlike books or movies. I love really being able to put myself in a game, feeling what a character is feeling, and having decisions be difficult. I love the sense of adrenaline they can give when you face a particularly challenging or stressful scenario. And I like that games are ultimately something I like to enjoy on my own while playing, but there’s never a shortage of analysis and people to talk to about the games I’ve played.

If you haven’t already, go answer these on your blog or in the comments here.

A History of Control(lers)

Video game controllers are something I have a lot of strong feelings about. When a game has a multi-console release, I don’t care too much about framerates or 720p vs. 1080p. Exclusive content usually doesn’t sell me on one or the other. But the controller – how comfortable it feels in my hands, and how intuitive playing the game will be – that’s important to me.

So today, I’d like to go through a (completely biased) history and review of all the console controllers that have been a part of my gaming life.

NES (1985)

I remember the good old days. Days when controllers were simple. When ergonomics was a term I had never heard. When I didn’t spend all day in front of a computer with my hands on a keyboard and need to worry about repetitive strain injuries. I was 7, and holding a blocky NES controller was second nature to me.

NES controller

Looking back, it’s not a pretty controller. And it’s definitely not a comfortable controller to hold. But it did its job for me at the time, and having only 2 buttons was good enough for the games of that era. Of course, I’m not 7 anymore and my hands are no longer child-sized. Games have also become much more complex. Luckily, controllers evolved.

Sega Genesis (1988)

The Sega Genesis was released in North America three years after the NES and it introduced a much nicer controller.

With the jump to a 16-bit CPU, Sega introduced a controller with a third button. Though the positioning of the buttons was a bit odd, the extra button was nice (and a few years later they introduced a 6-button version). The D-Pad allowed you to push in 8 directions. The shape of the controller was a huge improvement and much more comfortable to hold.

SNES (1991)

Nintendo entered the 16-bit era with the SNES.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller

The biggest improvement over the NES controller was the introduction of more buttons. X and Y were added and the diagonal placement of the buttons really worked and became a mainstay for most future controllers. Left and right shoulder buttons were also introduced, bringing the button count up to six. The D-Pad remained pretty much the same and though they added some curves, the way you held the controller didn’t change much.

Playstation (1995)

Sony entered the console wars with the 32-bit PlayStation.

Original PlayStation controller

This is console the one that spawned my love of RPGs. It’s also the one that added the phrase “No, I don’t want to come outside, I’m playing video games” to my daily vocabulary. The PS controller was an absolute joy to use after so many years of Nintendo bricks. PS added another pair of shoulder buttons (L2/R2), but other than that the button configuration was pretty much the same as the SNES. The the four face buttons were labelled with shapes/colours, likely so they weren’t directly ripping off Nintendo. The grip handles were the big selling feature for me, and (thankfully) soon every major console controller would have them.

N64 (1996)

Nintendo, not to be outdone by Sony, released the 64-bit N64 a year later. It was a more powerful machine but still relied on expensive, limited-capacity cartridges rather than moving to CD-ROMs. In terms of sales, the N64 was hugely outperformed by the PlayStation.

Nintendo 64 controller

Here is where the slow descent into madness starts. The N64 controller was odd in that there were a couple different ways you could grip it. It could be held in the traditional way, with the left and right grips – meaning you had to use the D-Pad, and would not be able to reach the analog stick or the trigger (Z-button) underneath. Well, actually you could reach those, but it wasn’t comfortable. I don’t even want to tell you how I held this controller for my first few months of playing Goldeneye. The other option was to hold the center grip and right grip – this way you could use the analog stick and trigger, but couldn’t use the D-Pad or left shoulder button. Not being able to easily reach every button on a controller was a very strange design decision. Nintendo also recreated the wheel by dropping the X and Y buttons and replacing them with 4 smaller C-buttons.

In 1997 the Rumble Pak was released, making the N64 controller the first one that could vibrate in response to in-game events. The Rumble Pak was a separate peripheral that got plugged into the memory slot on the controller.

PlayStation DualShock (1998)

It didn’t come with a new console, but Sony released an even better PS controller a couple of years later.

Playstation Dual Shock controller

In 1998, the DualShock controller was released for the PlayStation, which added a number of new features. Most obvious were the two analog sticks, which gave gamers a choice between the D-Pad or the stick for movement, and opened up the door for camera control using the right stick. You could also press the analog sticks down, giving two more buttons to play with (L3/R3). Sony one-upped Nintendo’s Rumble Pak by adding internal vibration motors. The DualShock’s rumblings were far superior to the Rumble Pak’s loud and jarring gyrations.

PlayStation 2 (2000)

Oh PS2, how I loved you. What a great console with an amazing library of games. And that backwards compatibility… It’s the best-selling console of all time for a reason.

PlayStation 2 - DualShock 2 controller

Functionally and aesthetically, the DualShock 2 was not much different from the DualShock 1. Kudos to Sony for not messing with a good thing.

XBox (2001)

In 2001 Microsoft began their journey into the console market with the XBox.
Microsoft XBox controller
The original XBox controller was a hulking beast. I don’t even think that people with large hands liked it much, as even though it had a huge surface area, the buttons were inexplicably squished together. For me, Microsoft’s best design choice was swapping the positions of the D-Pad and left stick, which made everything feel much more balanced. The XBox controller had nice solid feeling trigger buttons, and also added two small black and white buttons (which I honestly can’t even remember a use for).

Nintendo GameCube (2001)

After the N64, which had some great games but lackluster sales, Nintendo released the GameCube, hoping to turn things around. Unfortunately, the sales were still dwarfed by the PS2.

Nintendo GameCube controller

The GameCube controller was quite different from the N64’s. They got rid of the middle grip, which was good. However, they also completely reconfigured the buttons again. Now we were back to 4 buttons (A, B, X, Y) on the controller face, which had 3 different shapes. There was a left and right Trigger, and the Z-button got moved above the right Trigger and changed into a shoulder button. There was no corresponding shoulder button on the left side. Like the XBox, the GameCube controller put the left stick above the D-Pad. I think the GameCube controller is funny looking, but it’s actually my favourite offering from Nintendo.

XBox Controller S (2002)

The next year Microsoft released a more reasonably sized controller for the Xbox, which became the standard.

Microsoft XBox controller

The A, B, X, Y buttons were moved into more standard positions with better spacing, though Start and Back got moved got moved to the left side because giant logo placement is clearly most important. It wasn’t quite there yet, but Microsoft was well on its way to creating a very good thing.

XBox 360 (2005)

Microsoft got a head start on the 7th console generation by releasing the 360 a scant four years after the original XBox.

XBox 360 wireless controller

And here it is. The XBox 360 wireless controller – the pinnacle of gamepad design. I love everything about this controller – the shape, the weight of it in my hands, the perfect placement of every button, trigger and stick in relation to my fingers. It’s sleek and smooth, the black and white buttons from the original XBox controller were removed and replaced with left and right bumpers. The center Guide button was added to turn the console or controllers on and off, or access the 360’s menu. If I could use this controller on every console I’d be a happy girl.

Of course, the problem the best controller being released in 2005 is that the future designs just feel inferior (some more than others).

 PlayStation 3 (2006)

Sony came out with two controller for the PS3 – the Sixaxis and the DualShock 3. However, they’re almost identical so I’ll address them both at once.

Sony PS3 Sixaxis control

Sony seemed to like the design of the DualShock, so the appearance of PS3’s DualShock 3 and Sixaxis controllers was very similar. The Analog button was removed, and a PS button (which functioned much like the 360’s Guide button) added. These controllers also used motion sensing technology to experiment with motion controls. Heavy Rain was the only game I played on the PS3 that used this (actually, it was the only game I ever finished on the PS3, period) and the motion controls weren’t as obnoxious as I expected.

Wii (2006)

The Wii was the last of the 7th generation of consoles, and with its release came the realization that I was definitely not Nintendo’s target audience anymore.

Nintendo Wiimote and nunchuk

Nintendo went off the motion control deep end with the Wii Remote. The Wii Remote is long and skinny, designed to be used with one hand and pointed at the motion sensor. The labelling of the buttons was completely changed – again. Now there was a 1 and 2 where A and B would usually be. A was now a big button near the D-Pad, while B was a trigger on the underside of the remote. Start and Select were now + and -. Some games used the Wii Remote on its own, while others added the nunchuck which gave players an analog stick for movement and a C trigger button. I guess using completely awkward controls and flailing around could be fun if you’re: a) a child, b) playing Wii Sports with a group of people, c) drunk, but otherwise these controllers are total bullshit.

Wiimote horizontal grip

Some games let you hold the Wii Remote horizontally… I have nothing nice to say about this.

Wii Classic Controller

If you hated the Wii Remote, Nintendo also sold the Classic Controller (along with about 90 other accessories). With the exception of the analog sticks, the Classic Controller has a very similar design and shape as an SNES controller. Because of all the controllers you could replicate, why not copy the one released in 1991? Attach the cord to the bottom instead of the top just to show what a special snowflake you are as well.

Wii U (2012)

The Wii U was marketed terribly, and sold accordingly (though it seems to be improving now). As someone who pretty much stopped paying attention to Nintendo after the Wii, I was under the impression that the Wii U Gamepad was the new system, rather than the controller for a long time. Sigh. Nintendo, why don’t you want me to love you? (I could probably write a whole post on this).

Wii U gamepad

The Wii U Gamepad is huge. Like a handheld console, except even bigger. The thing that drives me crazy about many Nintendo controllers (well, one of the things) is that no matter how big the device gets – whether it’s the Wii U Gamepad or the 3DS XL – the controls stay child-sized. The D-Pad is small, the buttons are tiny and close together. My hands aren’t even large, but I pick up a DS and think “wow, this definitely was not designed to be held by me”.

The one cool thing about the Gamepad is that you can use it like a handheld and play in bed or something while the console is in the other room (you do have to get up to put the disc in though). However, playing with this monstrosity when you’re sitting in front of the TV the Wii U is connected to is so completely unappealing. It just isn’t at all comfortable to hold. The touchpad is used to as a 2nd screen to supplement gameplay in a lot of games. That can include things like displaying the track map in Mario Kart 8 (a feature which does not offend me), or having to blow into the microphone or rub the screen to reveal secrets in Super Mario 3D World (a feature which is fucking obnoxious).

Wii U Pro Controller

Thank goodness Nintendo had the sense to release a proper controller for the Wii U, because if I had to use the Gamepad or a Wiimote I would never touch the thing (which would be a shame, because Mario and Donkey Kong are fun). The Pro Controller looks like a rip-off of the 360 controller. I don’t know how Microsoft feels about this, but I think this was an excellent design decision. For some reason they’ve swapped the positions of the right stick and A/B/X/Y buttons, which makes this controller more awkward than it needs to be, but it’s still 100x better than the other options for the Wii U.

PlayStation 4 (2013)

The PlayStation 4 is currently the most powerful console. Apparently, with great power comes great responsibility… and the need to “improve” on an already very good controller.

PlayStation 4 DualShock 4

The DualShock 4 is pretty similar to the DualShock 3, but made a few changes. The grips are wider apart and the Start/Select (now Options and Share) have been moved to the top in order to make room for an gratuitously large touch pad. In games like Tomb Raider and Murdered: Soul Suspect, the touch pad is used open the game menu or map which is okay by me, even though it’s too big for this to be the main function. However, a game like Infamous: Second Son makes you swipe the touchpad to perform certain actions, which feels totally unnecessary. They also added a large light bar along the top edge of the controller. Apparently it’s used for player identification, though the light will often change colours based on things happening in the games. Generally the bar glows a really bright blue, so if you’re playing in the dark don’t tip the controller up if you don’t want to be blinded.

The speaker added to the controller is kind of cool, and the motion sense is still there, but has been used sparingly in most games I’ve played.

XBox One (2013)

The XBox One is the most recent major console release.

XBox One controllerMost of the development for this controller was focused on refinement, while the design was left relatively the same. The textures of the analog sticks have changed and gotten a little smaller. The Start and Back buttons were relabeled. The biggest improvements are on the bumpers and triggers – they feel really nice, solid, and responsive now. The Guide button now glows white instead of a muted green. I’m not sure what it is about the latest generation and making the controllers glow so brightly – isn’t the glow from the tv enough? I don’t find the XBox One controller quite as comfortable to hold as the 360’s, but it’s pretty close.

Top 5

Here’s the TLDR version of what I’d rate the best major console controllers from 1985 onwards.

  1. XBox 360
  2. PS DualShock 2
  3. XBox One
  4. Nintendo GameCube
  5. PS DualShock 4

And the worst? Pretty much everything else from Nintendo, with the Wii Remote taking home the award of “controller I’d most like to throw in a fire.”

What do you think? What are the best and worst console controllers?

Contrast (Review)

Contrast was first released late in 2013, but just came out for the Xbox One on June 27th. As someone who prefers to play on the Xbox, but has found the lineup of available games lackluster (Do you like shooting? Racing? Neither? Sorry, can’t help you), I was excited to see something a little different appear on the console.

In Contrast you play the role of Dawn, an acrobat who can travel between the 3D corporeal world and the 2D shadow world. The only person who can see Dawn is Didi, a little girl trying to keep her family together. Dawn is a featureless protagonist – she has no real character of her own, she never speaks or emotes – though she’s the one you control, this is really Didi’s story.

Contrast Didi and Dawn

The gameplay revolves around Dawn’s ability to shift into the shadows, using them to get to places that would otherwise be unreachable. As the game progresses, you also manipulate lights and objects in the real world in order to create your own shadow paths.  The mechanics are simple, and the few times I ran into trouble it was due to not understanding how the game physics worked. For example, the first time I encountered a box I could pick up and move I assumed I had to put it in front of a light source to create a shadow. Actually, I was able to pick up the box and shift into the shadows with at, turning it from a 3D object to a 2D one. I liked the idea here, but the execution was not great. There were a lot of issues with camera angles, collision, sluggish controls, and getting stuck. Luckily none of these were game breaking – I could usually get unstuck by shifting in and out or dashing – but it was a major source of annoyance. Based on other reviews, these bugs are not unique to the Xbox One port.

Dawn and Didi are the only characters you see clearly, the rest appear to you only as silhouettes against brightly lit walls. This led to one of the more compelling parts of the game. You’d see and hear a vignette play out and traverse the character’s moving shadows to get where you needed to go. Though these were the least challenging platforming parts of the game, I enjoyed them the most as they really married the gameplay and story together.

Contrast Shadows

The story is simple and the characters are quite trite. Didi’s father Johnny is a hustler who’s just not very good at hustling. Because of this, he’s been kicked out by Didi’s mother Kat, who gets portrayed as mentally unstable when it comes to Johnny. Through the game Didi and Dawn are basically going around fixing Johnny’s mistakes to make sure his latest scheme works and they can be a big, happy family who can afford to pay their rent again.

Contrast has some good ideas and appealing designs, but it feels like a shadow of what it could have been. The game takes place in the 1920’s Paris jazz age and has some lovely aesthetics. There is also some beautiful music featured during certain scenes, but as you’re actually playing the game feels silent and empty. Shadows aren’t too exciting to look at and Act I in particular has almost no background music or ambient sound, which makes it feel unfinished. The whole shadow and light theme is a great idea, but not enough is done with it. The puzzles get repetitive by the end of the game. Many questions are raised – who is Dawn? why can she turn into a shadow? what is the shadow world? but few are answered. Near the end of the game you can find collectibles which reference these things, but don’t give any real insight.

 Rating: 5/10 – The game looks nice and has its charms – a scene where you participate in a shadow puppet theater stands out as the highlight – but is marred by glitches, poor controls, and lack of explanation. Gameplay became repetitive even though it only lasted about 4 hours. On the bright side, if you love achievements this game showers you with them. I earned 840 without trying to be a completionist.