Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.
Last week I got an Xbox One S, for work purposes. Somehow all my life, I've dodged owning an Xbox console. As someone who writes about games for a living, it's been a major blindspot. A gap in my knowledge. I'm trying to fix that now.
During Xbox's rise, I only had a PlayStation 2 and much, much later in its life cycle a PlayStation 3 (after saving up from my silly job at GameStop in 2011). While the rest of my friends bragged about their Xbox 360s and obsessive achievement hunting, I was left playing catch up with weird JRPGs, Uncharted, and other miscellaneous exclusives on the Sony end of things. But it wasn't Halo. It wasn't Gears of War. I felt like I was left behind by the trends.
While I feel like I missed the boat on the console family's golden period, after hooking up my new Xbox One, I thought to go to Twitter for recommendations for its necessary exclusives. I knew the big games that I had skimmed over in Xbox's absence in my life—Halo, Gears of War, Alan Wake—but wanted other recommendations as well. After building a hearty list, I went to Amazon to pick up a few titles.
They were cheap. Mad cheap. A friend once told me that they buy third-party games exclusively on Xbox One because they drop faster in price. (It makes sense, given there are around 60 million PlayStation 4 owners in the world, and comparatively only 30 million for Xbox One.) I picked up a couple games, the cheapest being Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac's open world action game that feels like Jet Set Radio in movement, and a mix of Tony Hawk's Underground and Saint's Row in spirit. I got it for $10. In retrospect, that fact makes me feel like a thief.
There seemed to be a sad, common thread after I asked for game recommendations from others; the fact that the Xbox One hardly has any exclusives at all. It seems to be a swell home for a few exclusive smaller-scale titles—Cuphead, Tacoma, Ori and the Blind Forest. Beyond that, not much. There's Quantum Break. There's Sunset Overdrive. There's the Master Chief Collection, a remastered gathering of the Halo series. Most of those, however, are just as accessible on PC as a part of Microsoft's "Play Anywhere" initiative. I have a sorta-functional PC (or at least, I can play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on it), rendering the necessity for an Xbox One almost null. Yet the Xbox One offers something PlayStation 4 doesn't, beyond its ease of crossplay.
The functionality, rather on new games, comes in the form of its Backwards Compatibility, something PlayStation 4 only offers in the form of re-releases of PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 1 games, or in its game streaming program PlayStation Now. Microsoft combats this, allowing users to re-download select games from their old libraries. Or, alternatively, makes the process as simple as popping a disc in. (Jet Set Radio, here I come... again.)
The Backwards Compatible library isn't entirely comprehensive, but it's immense in scope. Scrolling through, I've already counted a dozen or more games I've always wanted to check out. In a way, I'm seeing the Xbox One as a semi-old school minded console; like the days where I'd leave my PlayStation 2 on for far too many days as I played a PlayStation 1 game because I didn't want to lose my save.
I've grown a reputation around USgamer for being young, whether through the stories I've written, the dastardly "sorry, never played that" confessions I've made on our flagship podcast. (This reputation has cast a shadow over me, even though I'm not the youngest person on staff at the site. Time will vindicate me.) I hope that working through some of the Xbox 360's catalogue will inform me in some way. Who knows—maybe I'll walk away having the same god-tier-minded opinion of Halo. Maybe I'll just wonder how I'd feel if I played it back in its heyday. I won't know 'til I try. And I'm glad I finally have the opportunity to.
Writing about video games for a living means stepping out of my comfort zone, repeatedly. Like a good critic. In last week's Community Question, I wrote about my unexpected adoration for this year's surprise hit PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. I hope that during my time traipsing through an unfamiliar catalogue that I'll fall in love with more games, or at the very least, get a taste for what I missed when I was younger and confined to only Sony and Nintendo's late console offerings. Speaking of the latter, who knows if I'll ever truly venture into the Nintendo games of old, but at least this is my chance for Microsoft.
Also, if you have any particular games you'd like to recommend for me, feel free. I'm all ears. I have my Xbox One hooked up and I'm ready to roll (and would like for it to be more than just a 4K Blu-Ray machine).
Matt’s Monday Mornings
I spent the weekend in Los Angeles, on the ground to bring you some of that good video game content. While I was there for work I took a little detour and stopped by Indiecade, the annual indie games show in Southern California.
When I covered Indiecade last year I observed that the idea of expanding the play space to outside the digital medium (whether it's a controller and screen, or a smartphone) was one of the big trends. Last year's games had a lot of unique, physical controllers and puzzle room-type setups which made the showcase seem more like an amusement park than a video games showcase. It's good to see that trend is still kicking, though there were far less "installations" than last year's Indiecade.
One of the larger games I saw, which happened to win the Critic's Choice Award, was an installation-type game called Busy Work. Developed by the team at Mouse and The Billionaire, Busy Work is essentially a LARP of Mike Judge's Office Space. Four stations are set-up to resemble an office cubicle at a white collar data entry firm. Your job is to embody the sad sack white collar employee as you respond to emails, answer phones, grab files, and maybe engage in a little office romance. All the while a proctor acts as your supervisor who asks for the right forms, or spreadsheets.
Mike's Media Minute
This was a good weekend for Blade Runner 2049, but it ultimately was a bad weekend for Blade Runner 2049. Let me clarify: The film was sequel to the cult classic Blade Runner directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has generally surprised and excited audiences with films like Arrival, Sicario, and Prisoners. It is, by all counts, a very good film that in fact improves upon the original in a few ways. This past weekend was the right time to launch the film, as it was up against nothing; IT and Kingsman: The Golden Circle have settled into their runs and there was nothing else to draw audiences away.
Well, except the film itself. Blade Runner 2049 is a science-fiction noir film with a running time of 2 hours and 43 minutes. It's a visual feast, but it's also a film that wants you to think about things like life, freedom, and meaning. There are long stretches of the film given over to just seeing a character emote. Blade Runner 2049 is a great film, but great films don't always attune to the needs of the wider audience.
As such, Blade Runner 2049 came in this weekend with only $32 million at the domestic box office. Worldwide, the film only made $81 million. That's not necessarily a flop, but it is definitely below expectations for a film that cost $150 million to make. This doesn't really help in a year where films like Ghost in the Shell and Valerian also failed to find audiences. (Blade Runner 2049 is honestly better than both of those films.) It just a matter of seeing whether Blade Runner 2049 has the legs to make it to profitability. If not, at least Oscar buzz.
This Week's News and Notes
- Apologies to start this off with a bummer, but as a Bay Area, California native (and still resident) I feel like it's my duty to bring attention to it. There's a terrible fire that's been tearing through the North Bay counties of Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and more all night; all of which are heavily populated areas. As of the time of writing this, there's been one dead reported and 1,500 structures destroyed. It's among the worst wildfires in Northern Californian history. Once there's a reliable source for donating towards relief efforts, I'll link it here. In the meantime, our thoughts are with all those affected.
- Loot boxes seem to be the hot topic on everyone's minds, and for not-so-great reasons. Mike argues that Middle-Earth: Shadow of War's loot boxes don't get in the way until far later in the game, whereas the problem seems to be far more obtrustive in Forza Motorsport 7 and Star Wars: Battlefront 2. He wrote extensively about the loot box controversies last week.
- People are really wild about that McDonald's limited edition Szechuan sauce, which was originally offered as a promotion around the release of Mulan in the 1990s. The show Rick & Morty apparently willed the sauce back into existence, but the problem was that for McDonald's limited promotion: they didn't make enough. Fans got mad. So it goes. As our own Matt told us, it looks like Szechuan sauce is the NES Classic of the year.
- Speaking of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, it's finally out this week! Tomorrow, October 10th to be exact, on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. There's plenty more games heading to release this week too. Most notable is The Evil Within 2, hitting storefronts on a poignantly creepy day, October 13th.
- Halloween events are kicking off this week. Splatoon 2's latest Splatfest starts at 9pm PT on October 13th. Which side will you choose: Werewolves or Vampires? In other news, Overwatch's Halloween event returns October 10th, with new skins galore.
- Please remember to listen, comment, and subscribe to our podcasts too! On last week's USgamer Podcast, we talked about Cuphead, SteamWorld Dig 2, Forza Motorsport 7, and the SNES Classic. Plus Axe of the Blood God, our RPG podcast, had a special guest join the crew, with Kotaku editor Chris Kohler talking about his new book on Final Fantasy V, available now on Amazon.