I heart the Forza Horizon series

It’s funny, I would never actually race a car. I’d be too afraid of the consequences – like scratching up the bumper or, ya know, dying in in a fire.

But I LOVE car racing games. Specifically, I love the Forza Horizon series.

Right now, for Gold Members, Xbox is giving away Forza Horizon 2 10th Anniversary Edition. and it is definitely worth downloading. I just went and started up my old game to see if it still held up after all these years and was immediately sucked into racing for 90 minutes, completing championships, racing a crop duster, and taking pictures of cars for easy credits.

I purchased Forza Horizon 3 when it came out, and it takes everything from the first two games and makes it better and then puts you in Australia. The open world in all three games means you can just cruise around and enjoy the scenery, “collecting” roads, going through speed traps, and finding XP billboards.

It’s not all just fast, shiny cars. Driving around, you discover “barn finds”, rare and classic vehicles that are hidden throughout the world. Once discovered, they are repaired so you can drive them and most of them are about style more than speed. I just did a retro hatchback championship and drove a car that was only slightly younger than I am, could maybe hit 100 if I was on a long, open stretch of road. The next championship I signed up for was for Hypercars and I used my credits to buy a Bugatti and now my brain can’t process driving at 200 mph down the tiny Italian roads! The variety of races and car types means you can pretty much play these games forever.

But each time they put out a new one, it is hard to resist the latest features. Forza Horizon 4 will have seasons that change weekly, meaning that the races and challenges available will change each week too.

I mean, just LOOK at this video (from my favorite YouTube gamers on Outside Xbox)

Oh, and the in-game radio stations are not too bad either! I mean, after you’ve played for 6 hours, they can get a little repetitive, but if you change them up enough, there is always something good for driving (or you can always turn them off and have Spotify running in the background since Xbox has an app for that).

So, if you have Games with Gold, do yourself a favor and download this one! And if you have an Xbox One and like racing, I’d definitely recommend any titles from this fantastic series!

@outsidexbox : My new YouTube addiction

Some nights after dinner, we open up the YouTube app on the Xbox and just start watching random stuff. Usually it’s clips from Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien but a few weeks ago, we stumbled on a a channel with lots of “top ten” this and the videos that were amusing, even though some were a bit of a stretch since this was all the channel did. Then one of the Suggested Videos linked to a show called “OutsideXbox“.

There are three of them – Jane, Mike, and Andy. They are gamers. They are British. They are darlings. I can’t stop watching the videos.

I think what I like most (apart from the fact that Jane is there representing the ladies) is that they are never really *mean* about things. Yes, they are snarky and poke fun at a lot of video game cliches, but the humor comes from a happy place. The show is about Xbox games but they don’t sit and take potshots at PC, PS4, or Wii games and frequently reference classic titles from these systems when doing their lists. I never feel like they are attacking anyone, just having a laugh. They can joke because they love the games too. We’ve all been there!

I am addicted to this channel. My gateway drug was all the silly lists of ridiculous things, like achievements and easter eggs. Then the other night, Tim clicked on them playing through a portion of the Slender game, and while I have never really been into watching other people play games, I think having the 3 of them in the room together made this SO much fun to experience. Instead of a gamer talking to themselves, we had the three of them laughing and jumping together (and Mike acting like he wasn’t scared but we know he was screaming internally the entire time).

To top it off, each Friday they post a “Show of the Week” wish some highlights and comment reactions from the videos uploaded during the week, which usually has another list and some antics in the studio.

So if you’re in need of a gamer show or think you might be (I didn’t even know I was until I started watching!) then give OutsideXbox a try!

gaming thoughts: Assassin’s Creed Unity

I finally have a game for my Xbox One and it’s one of the buggiest releases ever, or so the Internet would have you believe. Honestly, Ubisoft did a good job of patching a lot of the gameplay issues as quickly as they could. Yes, if I was a hardcore AC fan who was up at midnight and ready to power through memory sequence after memory sequence, I probably would have been perturbed. But as a casual fan of the series, I haven’t come up with any game stopping moments (er, except when the game wouldn’t load, but that seemed to be one of the quickest issues dealt with in the weekend patch).

ANYWAY, as far as gameplay goes, AC:U doesn’t feel that different from ACII or Black Flag. Lots of running, jumping and then jumping over your actual destination. If you have played AC games before, it’s very easy to pick up and get going – maybe too easy as you can find yourself getting distracted by collecting quests immediately since all the chests and collectible items appear on your map as soon as you start the game up.

The game is VERY open. It’s easy to wander into a quest that is far beyond your ability. The game gives you a heads up that you might want to upgrade your equipment but it doesn’t stop you from attempting the side quest if you really want to try. The missions are what you would expect – assassinations, puzzle solving, and stealthy thievery. I really enjoyed the first two Nostradamus riddle sequences I solved, a nice change of pace from all the stabbing.

There are lots of ways to earn points here and there. The game is generous with handing out “creed” points, which are used for upgrading equipment. You can earn them by hiding or using a quick lift. You can also earn them by stopping fights, killing enemies, and tackling a thief. (Thieves in this game are MUCH slower than in previous games! Not sure if that was on purpose of a glitch or if they will get smarter once I’ve tackled 30 of them).

There is also the notorious Companion App, AC Initiates, and Uplay – part of Ubisoft’s online program that is meant to link you to your other games and reward you. Sadly, the Companion app seems to be the only one that works right. AC Initiates and Uplay have had issues linking all weekend and I know I’m not getting any credit for the time spent with previous AC titles. The Companion app can be loaded onto a phone or tablet and you have a “nomad” group of assassins that can be sent on missions, which when completed unlock in-game chests and missions. There is a “premium” version of the app that can be purchases for $2 but…let’s face it, I just spent $60 on the game (well, not me personally, since my copy came with the Xbox One) but it seems sort of rude to expect me to pay MORE to access features in the game. But if you’re a completist and need 100% of the achievements, you will probably cave and pay so you can unlock all the chests.

The game is fun, I’ve been enjoying myself running around London Paris (it’s hard to remember that I’m in FRANCE since everyone speaks with a cockney accent…WTF?). Arno is not as charming as Ezio; he’s less of a rogue and more of a scoundrel, if that makes any sense. The main campaign story is interesting enough to keep me playing and the side quests have been enjoyable enough to make me want to spend a couple hours completing them.

It will keep me amused until my copy of Dragon Age Inquisition arrives next week. Then…well, if you don’t hear from me after that, you’ll know I’m lost in Fereldon. But for now I will help the French peasants survive the first few days of the revolution.

“goodreads for video games”

dpadd logo vs. grouvee logo

These are the things I search for on my days off. I have GoodReads to help me track my books, Letterboxd for tracking my movies – now I need a site for my video games!

After a perfunctory Google of “goodreads for video games” I came across two sites that launched in 2013:
Dpadd
Grouvee

Time to sign-up, compare and contrast, and let you know who comes out on top!

Dpadd is currently winning in the “sign-up and get going” realm. You fill out the form (or log-in using Facebook, Twitter or Steam account info) and you’re on that familiar screen with your info on the left and a feed in the middle. You can add what you are currently playing, played, want to play, or rate/review a game all from this page.

Grouvee tries to help you build a “game shelf” and has a list of the “most popular” games from several genres, which is has you rate and list as either Playing, Played, Wishlist, Backlog or creating a whole new shelf (I’m thinking my first shelf will be “abandoned” for those games too bad to finish).

Dpadd is definitely prettier. The dark gray background with light gray text, the blue border – someone took a aesthetics class along with their coding class.

Grouvee is a bit more sparse in design but WOW is there a lot of information on the game pages. Here is the page for Tomb Raider. It lists every platform it is available on, the publisher and developer information, box art, and user ratings and reviews.

In contrast, Dpadd just the basics – original release date, overall rating from other users, how many people are playing/want to play, what you have said about the game and a feed of recent activity about the game.

On your “Game Collection” page on Grouvee, you will find the release date for the game, when you added it to your list, and dates when you played the game (helpful for single-player campaign games). Dpadd doesn’t seem to have this feature at all, which kind of annoys me because I tend to use these sites to keep track of WHEN I did certain things.

Dpadd lets you link quickly to your Steam, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, and Twitch.tv profiles. Grouvee only has a place to enter your Steam URL. Grouvee is also beta testing posting to Facebook for you, I don’t see anything like that on Dpadd (not sure if that is a pro or a con considering how I feel about Facebook right now LOL).

Both let you create “shelves” or “lists” that can be customized, so you could make a “favorites for Xbox” or “best games I ever played” shelf.

Neither site lets me pick which system I played the game on, which would be helpful since for some games there are additional levels based on which platform you chose.

Neither site has a way to embed your profile information into your blog or other social site, which makes it hard to spread the word and find your IRL friends.

Both sites are relatively new. I’m going to continue to play with both and see who wins my affections.

Have you used either of these sites? Which do you prefer?

game thoughts: Assassin’s Creed II

ac2boxart

Assassin’s Creed II was the free game for Xbox Gold members in July. I had attempted Assassin’s Creed way back in my early gaming days, before I really understood how to navigate open worlds, and all I remembered about that game was getting lost and getting killed. A lot. So I was a little hesitant to try AC2 at first. But it is one of my friend’s favorite games of all time so I wanted to give it a chance.

Totally worth it. AC2 may have been a free game, but I plan on spending money later this year to pick up both of direct sequels and will most likely get AC3 along the way.

You do not need to have played AC to enjoy AC2, though it probably helps. I had played enough of the first game to know that Desmond is the ancestor of the assassin’s and there is a mysterious group using his memories to explore the past. AC2 picks up where AC ended, with Desmond escaping with Kristen Bell (look, I can’t remember the character’s name, I just know KB voiced her…which is why I bought the first game back in the day). She tells him that the people holding them before are EVIL and her team is good and then she plugs him back into the Animus to explore a new assassin – Ezio of Italy.

The start of the game is slow going. I almost walked away when I had to play through Infant!Ezio’s birth and make his arms wiggle. But trust me, you want to hang in there. The tutorial/intro is long, yes, but there is SO MUCH STORY to get through and once you are through it, the world is open to you completely. You can either play through the main plot of Ezio’s “memories” or you can go side-questing to your hearts content. Each city is full of hidden treasures (buy maps at the art store ASAP), assassination contracts, races, beat-up events and more. You even get to do some old-school Tomb Raiding as you search for artifacts left behind by previous assassins. Lara would be proud. I’ve been playing for 16 hours and I’m barely halfway through the story-mode and I still have lots of side quests in every single city.

So whether you managed to snag this as a free game in July or if you’re thinking about buying it (it’s less than $20 on most websites), it is totally worth your time and money. If you like open worlds, a little bit of stealth, and puzzle solving, it is definitely worth a try. Be warned though – you will want to pick up all the sequels to find out what happens to Ezio and Desmond (and, of course, Kristen Bell!)

non-spoilery bioshock:infinite thoughts

ImageI’ve been humming ‘May the Circle Be Unbroken’ all day today because on Friday night, I finished Bioshock Infinite for the first time.

I say “finished” instead of “beat” because I don’t feel like it’s the kind of game you conquer.  It’s more unraveling a mystery, surviving the story.  

And I say “for the first time” because I now have every intention of buying the DLC and playing it through again…

…once my head stops spinning.

I want to write up my thoughts at some point but it’s all still a whirl in my head.  I miss Booker and Elizabeth, we spent some quality time together and I just want to pick up the game and start over again but…I feel like I need to digest everything I’ve seen before I go back in.

I had Jess play the start of the game when she was over on Friday, before I had actually completed the final chapter, but as I watched her enter Columbia for the first time, I began to pick up on things that I didn’t understand the first time through – that I wasn’t meant to understand – so I can already tell this will be worth the replay.

Plus, I didn’t get all the achievements yet!  Most of them are relatively easy, I just have to use different weapon and vigor combos.  And beat the game on Hard mode.  

I really hope the DLC adds even more depth to this gorgeous story.  Ken Levine said it will be additional adventures but where will it all fit in?  I can’t even imagine.  I just hope that, since they had the DLC planned all along, that it is worth the investment.  I’m thinking I will buy the “season pass” (which pretty much works like a buy 2 get 1 free deal when you do the math).  I wish there was more information about the DLC, it’s all still very hush-hush, I think they wanted to wait until everyone had a chance to play through the game first, so I’m wondering if the DLC ties in through some spoilery way.

Did anyone else complete the game yet?  Want to discuss?