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Gaming Roundup – A New Box From Xbox

Hello! Welcome to the latest Geeky Brummie Gaming Roundup!

This week, Xbox, Ubisoft, Twitch, Riot and more, plus all the latest releases!

Xbox Games Showcase

In the latest round of big announcements, Xbox have revealed a bunch of titles coming to the Xbox Series X.

In new game reveals, there were teasers for State of Decay 3, a new Forza Motorsport and most excitingly for many, the reveal of the Fable reboot. However, all of these were CGI teasers that didn’t show much at all beyond a zombie deer, a lot of extra shiny cars and a fairy being eaten by a frog.

There was a large focus on Obsidian, with new DLC for The Outer Worlds coming in September (with a discount for Game Pass players), a closer look at Grounded (which launches next week and features an arachnophobe mode that removes all the spiders) and the reveal of a new project. Avowed is a first-person RPG set in the Pillars of Eternity universe and looks like the game you’ll probably be playing while you wait for The Elder Scrolls VI.

Other reveals included As Dusk Falls, a mysterious narrative adventure, a vague teaser for Warhammer 40k Darktide, a first look at a cartoony landscape-shaping action adventure called The Gunk, and the reveal of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. There was also the reveal of New Genesis: Phantasy Star Online 2, but no one is entirely sure if it’s an expansion, an enhanced version of Sega’s MMO or a brand new game entirely.

Elsewhere, we got a first look at the single player narrative campaign for Crossfire X. Crossfire is a hugely popular FPS, especially in Asia, and this first attempt at developing a story campaign is a collaboration with Control and Alan Wake developers Remedy. This would sound intriguing to me as an unrepentant fanboy of Control, but unless I can confirm Crossfire X will feature an ominous black pyramid that talks to you in multiple choice questions I will assume it’s not quite what I expect out of Remedy.

More of Psychonauts 2 was shown, with what appeared to be one of the minds you visit in the game. It had a psychedelic vibe that drew heavily from Yellow Submarine, so that should be interesting. The trailer also featured an original song from Jack Black, who’ll be voicing a character in the game too.

There were new trailers for Rare’s Everwild, Bloober Team’s The Medium and Ninja Theory’s Hellblade 2, but they were largely just extensions of what we’ve seen on those games so far. Everwild, especially, is still a mystery, as beautiful as it is.

In one of the few examples of gameplay, Halo Infinite was shown off. It looks like it’s heading in an open world direction and seems to be set entirely on a Halo ring. It also features an angry gorilla Thanos, so there’s that too.

In other Xbox news, the Series X will also be getting a multiplayer version of Tetris Effect as a timed exclusive, an updated version of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Destiny 2 will be arriving with enhancements, and its Game Pass release will contain all the expansions, including the new one out in November.

Elsewhere, Dontnod’s Tell Me Why now has a release date on August 27th, and while it’s got heavy Life is Strange vibes, it’s definitely not Life is Strange 3. It’s also not a Backstreet Boys game like the name suggests, which is disappointing. Dragon Quest is also coming to Xbox for the first time, as the Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI hits Xbox One on 4th December. Will this help the Xbox sell in Japan finally? We shall see.

Overall, Xbox have got a decent lineup, although there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering here. But I do have concerns for the Series X itself, as Microsoft seem to be putting a lot of money into the system, while simultaneously launching all their games on PC and Xbox One, at least for now. Certainly, as I was watching, even when I liked the look of the games all I could think was “cool, I can play them on the new PC I’m in the process of putting together” which, admittedly, wouldn’t upset Microsoft too much, but it does make me wonder just how successful the actual console will be.

Twitch and the Military

With political tensions within the US heating up, the military have decided that now is apparently the appropriate time to use Twitch as a recruitment platform. The US Army, Navy and Air Force all have Twitch profiles where they stream assorted shooters and encourage viewers to enlist. If this seems uncomfortable, then don’t worry!

It gets worse.

You see, some people have decided to use Twitch chat to question the actions of the US military, and have found themselves banned as a result. Usually, there’s an argument that Twitch users have the right to ban whoever they wish, particularly if they’re facing criticism, but since these accounts are owned by the US government, there’s a different argument.

Which is why there’s now a lawsuit coming, arguing that First Amendment rights mean that the military accounts shouldn’t be banning anyone for raising issues such as war crimes. The argument is that by doing this, the government is censoring critical voices. (Source)

The military has already come under fire for using Twitch as a platform in this way, particularly as their channels held “giveaways” that were little more than ways to get viewers to fill out recruitment forms. With little transparency, these misleading links could have potentially resulted in more impressionable people signing up for military service thinking they were going to win a controller. (Source) Twitch have shot down this behaviour, but allowed the accounts to remain.

As someone who felt uncomfortable seeing a large UK military recruitment booth at Insomnia last year, I don’t mind admitting that stuff like this angers me.

Which is why I’m happy to see Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill restricting the use of streaming services as recruitment tools for the military. It’s unclear how successful it would be but it’s good to see someone in political office standing up to the practice. (Source)

Ocasio-Cortez is no stranger to gaming, either, as she’s popped up in charity gaming streams and is a noted player of League of Legends and Animal Crossing. She’s therefore aware of the power of Twitch as a platform so her bill comes from a place of understanding rather than moral panic, which is especially useful.

Again, personally, I have a problem with the military using gaming spaces to recruit, because playing a shooter and actually shooting another human being are two wildly different experiences (based on testimony from those who’ve done the latter, at least) and this recent drive to conflate the two by recruiters is disturbing. It’ll be interesting to see how the lawsuit will go.

Ubisoft Continue To Be Terrible

Ubisoft have issued their latest company results call, where they revealed, among other things, that they don’t intend to increase prices (yet) for next-gen titles, unlike 2K recently revealed they’d be doing. They will also be holding another Ubisoft Forward presentation in September

But this is Ubisoft, a company still embroiled in concerns around sexual harassment and workplace bullying, so that’s nowhere near as important as the exchange between Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot and financial analyst Ken Rumph in regards to the serious issues surrounding the company. When Rumph asked how much Guillemot knew about the accusations floating through his company, his answer failed to directly address the question. Instead, Guillemot claimed they’ve always taken harassment seriously, he will not compromise on his views and that his trust was “abused” by those being accused. (Source)

To recap, there is an allegation that Guillemot knew about the abuses prior to the recent whistleblowing but chose not to act because those responsible were raking in money for the corporation. While this is still only an allegation, Guillemot’s response does little to inspire confidence.

This comes to light alongside a new report, courtesy of the always excellent Jason Schreier, which goes even further into the extent of Ubisoft’s sexist culture. There are many more stories in this, such as the customer service employee whose harassment claims weren’t believed until corroborated by a male colleague, and who received a $200 gift card as “compensation”.

Disgraced executive Serge Hascoët is named extensively in this report, alleging that he encouraged a frat house mentality around the offices, with sexism, sexual comments and even pornography were encouraged. It is alleged he would hold business meetings at strip clubs and those who attended were frequently offered promotions, which naturally meant female employees who felt uncomfortable with this missed out. He also allegedly played a sexually suggestive song featuring the name of a female colleague in a pitch meeting when she left the room briefly to use the toilet.

Outside of his rampant sexism, he would also get easily impatient and bang his head on a desk if someone wasn’t keeping him interested enough. And this lack of interest extended to game pitches that didn’t meet his narrow standards, where the sexism manifested in refusing all pitches with female protagonists because “women don’t sell”.

Developers on the Assassin’s Creed franchise especially attested to this, with a desire for female character often pushed back on whenever it was suggested. The team behind Origins wished for Aya to become the protagonist after a point in the game, and Odyssey was originally set to feature Kassandra exclusively. Former staff members Jill Murray (now working on Subnautica) and Marie Jasmin (now at Bethesda) had their own specific stories from their time working on the series confirming this attitude.

This also goes some way to explaining some of the historical messaging around the series, such as the infamous “women are harder to create” argument around Unity and the continued downplaying of the female option in Valhalla.

It is, of course, nonsense, as plenty of female-driven games have been hugely successful. Tomb Raider is one of gaming’s most notable long-standing franchises, while Horizon Zero Dawn was so successful its sequel was made the big final reveal of Sony’s PS5 reveal at the same time The Last of Us 2 became the PS4’s biggest ever first-party launch. All it reveals is the sexism that existed (or possibly still exists) at the heart of Ubisoft’s creative decisions.

And now, here’s Mat Lovell with esports!

Riot Games Launches Esports Brand

First up, Riot Games has launched a new esports brand for its hugely popular MOBA League of Legends, creatively named LoL Esports. This will act as an umbrella brand that will encompass all Riot sanctioned League of Legends competitions around the world. At time of writing this includes 12 major regional leagues including Riot’s three major tournaments, the Mid Season Invitational, World Championship and All Star Weekend.

The purpose of this move is to provide a consistent and centralised platform which sponsors, teams and fans alike can utilise. Traditionally, tournaments will have their own websites, streams, brands, styles and event set-ups which differ depending on the host. LoL is not necessarily the first to do this, other publishers like Valve with Dota 2 and Activision/Blizzard with Starcraft II, have made similar moves, just not to this scale or production value.

LoL Esports relates to all tournaments associated with Riot Games, this means that there will be other tournaments big and small outside of this umbrella still running. However, this move seeks to “tidy up”, making it easier and more approachable to engage with the LoL esports scene and support its ecosystem – and yes, it gives Riot a bit more control on their IP.

It’s an interesting move, but not surprising. Riot Games have been making similar moves like this in recent times such as launching the Ignition series for their brand-new game Valorant in an attempt to kick start that games esports scene. Riot Games is a pioneer in shaping the esports scene and this could set the framework for other esports game developers.

New Half a Million Prize Pool Dota 2 Tournament

Second up, more MOBA news as tournament organisers WePlay! Esports and Epic Esports Events have a brand new Dota 2 competition called the Omega League.

Organisers partnered with a group of European Dota 2 teams and have launched the competition with a European Division and Americas Division with the former having a prize pool $550,000 USD (£436,821) and the latter $40,000 (£31,768.80) in prize winnings for a combined total of over half a million dollars.

Open qualifiers for the Omega League began on 20th July, with it’s main event running from 14th August to 6th September. It includes some of the best teams in the game, including several former winners of The International (TI), Dota 2’s headline tournament by Valve. Teams include Natus Vincere “Na’vi” (TI1), Alliance (TI3), Evil Geniuses (TI5) and double TI winners in 2018 and 2019, OG Esports.

This competition is good news for Dota 2 fans who have been deprived of big tournament action since the postponement of TI10 to 2021 due to Coronavirus. While the tournament won’t be to the same scale as TI (which is Esports biggest competition), it will take place around the same time as the cancelled TI and will include many of the best and most exciting teams in the game who were expected to appear.

The Omega Series is also another example of how esports as an industry is adapting and overcoming the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrating the robust nature of the industry compared to most major mainstream sports.

Other News

Spider-Man: Miles Morales will feature an optional 4k/60fps performance mode. While Sony are targeting 30fps as a base framerate for all PS5 games, it seems that it may be possible for developers to make adjustments for players to customise. Most likely ray tracing will be the factor that allows the change, so it’ll be a case of one or the other, but that’s still an interesting option nonetheless.

Rocket League going free-to-play “later this summer” at which point it will become exclusive to the Epic Games Store, meaning it will no longer be available for Steam. The Steam version will still be supported if that’s the version you’re already playing, and console versions will be available as normal. There will be special bonuses for those who paid full price already too.

Sega have revealed the first trailer featuring Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s English dub, the first dub in the main series since the first Yakuza in 2005 (although the excellent detective spin-off Judgment also received one last year). The game will receive a PS5 upgrade “at a later date”, although Xbox Series X will be receiving an updated version alongside the Xbox One version’s release in November.

Bleak Metroidvania Blasphemous is getting DLC in two weeks, bringing a new story, new areas and a new game plus mode, along with a bunch of other goodies. Best of all, it’s completely free!

Zombie-killing co-op shooter World War Z is getting full cross-play soon, as PlayStation 4 has been added to the mix, and a new class, the Dronemaster, will be added in the same update.

Kid-friendly game creation platform Roblox tends to get ignored by a lot of mainstream gaming press, and yet it’s emerged that more than half of all kids under 16 in the US play it. Now, this is a claim from Roblox themselves, so take it with a grain of salt, but if true, that’s impressive. The pandemic has certainly helped these numbers to rise, as the game has offered up a virtual space for kids to meet, so it’s somewhat unsurprising when you bear that in mind.

Overcooked 1 and 2 will be coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X as Overcooked: All You Can Eat. All the original Overcooked stages have been remastered in the Overcooked 2 engine, and new stages will be added.

Sonic creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ishima have revealed their new project, Balan Wonderworld, a 3D platformer set in a musical world built around emotions, with costumes unlocking new abilities.

New Releases

Somehow I got my release dates confused and Beyond a Steel Sky was released on Steam last week, not this week, which I feel especially bad about because this is a game I’ve been very interested in. It’s a sequel to 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky, a game that I played to death as a kid and never got very far with. It’s set in a dystopian future city called Union City, and there’s a sarcastic robot sidekick, so what else do you want?

In smaller releases, GolfTopia is a golf course management sim in Early Access for Steam. Panzer Paladin for Steam and Switch is a big, brash retro platformer full of swords and power armour. Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break, released for everything including Stadia (!), is a combination of tower defence and Super Monkey Ball wrapped up in a Pythonesque art style.

Rogue Company got a paid beta release for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch this week. It’s a team shooter of some kind, but most info I can find on it tells me a lot about what you get with different pricing tiers, but not a lot about what distinguishes this from other shooters. Best watch that trailer above and decide for yourself, I guess.

Carrion for PC, Xbox and Switch is an almost Game of the Week, and it’s a Metroidvania set on a space station being taken over by a tentacled alien creature hellbent on murdering everyone in sight. Here’s the catch. You play the alien! That’s right, you get to be a hulking mass of flesh and tentacles and devour a spaceship. I’m a little too excited for this one, honestly.

Game of the Week

Game of the Week this week is Roki, the debut game from Polygon Treehouse, a team founded by Tom Jones (not that one) and Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, both former art directors at Sony. It’s a Scandinavian adventure game, drawing from Norse myths and legends, and features a gorgeous hand-drawn art style.

In this interactive fairy tale, you play as a girl named Tove trying to save her family out in the Scandinavian wilderness. As she journeys, she encounters an assortment of creatures and a lot of tricky puzzles to solve.

I’ve been enamoured with Roki since I first heard it was in development, so I’m really happy to see it’s finally out. It looks set to be an excellent traditional adventure game that I’m looking forward to getting my hands on.

And that’s it for this week! See you again next week with more gaming news and releases!