Why Xbox Game Pass Matters: The Evolution of Games as a Service

At the launch of the Xbox One, backlash against the original plan to launch with mandatory license checks was still raging online after Microsoft had reversed course. The idea that games would be so pervasively tied to digital licenses, paid subscription programs and require an online connection (even periodically) was anathema to a vocal part of the gaming community.

A few years later, Xbox has returned to much of its original vision with a combination of Games With Gold (free games every month for Gold members), EA Access (early access, 10% off digital purchases & a digital vault) and aggressively marketing digital pre-orders for upcoming games. The controlled rollout of Xbox Play Anywhere with console + PC availability for selected digital games further commits Microsoft to the games as a service approach to Netflix has popularized with video and Spotify with music.

Their latest foray in the Xbox Game Pass is another complementary service that provides a rotating library of Xbox One and 360 games (all backwards compatible) for a monthly fee, starting with a heavy emphasis on first party games but with the promise of expanding to additional publishers over time. We’re starting to see that already with the arrival of Resident Evil 6 in the last title update, a promising sign that recent AAA games will be an important part of the Game Pass.

Games are added to your system quickly, a setup process that mirrors Games With Gold and continues the focus of local installation in sharp contrast to Sony’s streaming service in PlayStation Now. They play exactly as regularly purchased games do with no restrictions on earning achievements or connecting online. The benefit isn’t limited to trying new or library games; existing installs of games purchased on disc will seamlessly recognize the digital entitlement and load upon request. Games that have faded in online player base over time may also experience a small uptick in available players, adding a shot in the arm to previously dormant multiplayer games.

Xbox Game Pass matters because it offers a large library of games at a small fixed price, offering value as either a standalone service or as a complement to Games With Gold, EA Access and the assortment of free to play titles on Xbox One. For about $25 per month, gamers can access a library of over 100 games with regular additions on a nearly weekly basis. It’s a paradigm shift in how we acquire and experience interactive entertainment, one that I’m excited about as a gamer who appreciates both value and the preservation of communities on lesser known titles.

Why E3 Matters: The Importance of the Big Stage

Big game reveals (and media announcements in general) have undergone a radical shift in the modern era as social media and live streaming have become prevalent. The cost/benefit analysis for attending a major event in person compared to an HD live stream in the comfort of your own home is hard to argue, especially when gaining access at all for events such as PAX is nearly impossible due to extreme demand. Combined with major publishers such as Electronic Arts and Nintendo moving to separate events and a pre-recorded presentation respectively, the importance of a big stage event such as E3 is increasingly challenged.

That said, I strongly believe that major events like E3 still matter for gamers and the entertainment industry overall. Holding an event equivalent to the industry’s Super Bowl attracts significant attention to new and exciting developments such as virtual & augmented reality, new console hardware, 4K gaming and AAA games that energizes gamers and industry professionals alike.

E3’s tradition of major press briefings also brings an intense focus on participating developers & publishers that motivate them to bring hardware, software and services to their presentations that live up to the expectations of the annual event. Reveals such as Xbox 360 backwards compatibility on the Xbox One would have been big news under any circumstance, but unveiling it as the hammer for Microsoft’s E3 2015 briefing brought a huge amount of attention and public interest to the announcement.

Twitch, Mixer, Twitter, YouTube and other online services will continue to grow in importance in breaking and sharing news about the video game industry, but the sheer spectacle of E3 and other events such as PAX and The Game Awards will continue to serve as yearly industry milestones that take full advantage of the big stage for the largest possible audience.

Review: Full Throttle Remastered

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Full Throttle Remastered.

There was a brief, glorious moment a few years ago when Sony invested in a large slate of indie games & PC remasters. Among this group of revitalized games was Tim Schafer’s LucasArts titles, including the cult classic Full Throttle with a fully revamped set of graphics and audio that brought tough as nails biker Ben into the HD era.

Diving into the world of biker gangs, Corley Motors, the scheming Adrian Ripburger and the overall world of Full Throttle for the first time is a disjointed but oddly captivating way to experience the game. The modern day presentation is paired with classic adventure game navigation, requiring a deliberate approach of carefully scrolling and prodding level elements to progress (and unlock rare trophies). Taking on leadership of the Polecat motorcycle gang, tough as nails Ben’s journey from ambushed biker to fugitive on the run and eventually combating Ripburger for justice and the biker way is a fun ride! The dialogue trees are worth exploring for in-jokes and sly references to biker culture, the exaggerated characters are campy without becoming annoying and the protagonists have a distinctly 90’s mix of earnestness and brash confidence. It’s fun to look at, poke, open and interact with every element to fully explore the world.

Full Throttle Remastered has fully redrawn graphics in the same style and fidelity as the Day of the Tentacle remaster, rather than the inferior upscaling used for the Grim Fandango port to console. The clean lines, thin inks and flat shading feel tonally consistent with the original 1995 version; there’s a toggle between classic and remastered graphics that show the stark contrast after 22 years. I recommend switching between versions at quiet moments to fully appreciate the effort and care that Double Fine invested in the new edition.

It sounds great as well, each voice imbuing their character with a distinct tone that I can still hear clearly in my head. Double Fine used the original master recordings of Roy Conrad, Mark Hamill, Kath Soucie and the rest of the cast to retain the original dialogue flavour while the various punching, motor revving, explosion and other sound effects pop without the bass heavy, exaggerated volume style of many modern era games.

The game struggles with some pain point sequences, I found it frustrating to figure out the rock/paper/scissors type system to weapon swap through an extended Road Warrior bike battle and land stunt jumps at a climactic car battle. I may be spoiled by modern systems with obvious visual hints to problem solve; the grind of determining the sequences and nailing the precise timing to pass those sequences nearly derailed me from finishing the game (but grinding through them was ultimately worthwhile).

Full Throttle Remastered is a fresh, vibrant version of a classic game that everyone should experience. Whether it’s a return visit to a beloved favourite or a new introduction to¬†the world of Tim Schafer, spending a few hours with Ben, Maureen, Ripburger and company is time well spent.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars