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Editorial

Microsoft Doomed To Repeat Past Mistakes with UWP

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Microsoft’s latest exclusive, Quantum Break, is a pretty decent game by all accounts. It’s garnering solid, if not spectacular, reviews (we liked it) – at least on the Xbox One. The PC version is, sadly, a very different story.

A PC version of Quantum Break had been mooted by many, but it was only finally confirmed by Remedy and Microsoft earlier this year, somewhat late in the day of the game’s development. This should have been Warning Sign number one. Clearly they didn’t just start working on it then, but it did give the impression that this decision of a simultaneous Xbox/PC release was made a little late in the day.

But the biggest issue has turned out to be UWP – Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform. This is a fancy way of saying “a game ported from the Xbox One and delivered to the PC exclusively through the Windows 10 store.” And in and of itself that isn’t a bad thing, until you start to look under the hood. In UWP, V-sync cannot be disabled, nor can you use fullscreen mode. Your only choices are windowed or fullscreen (borderless). In addition, Eurogamer reported that your framerate is capped at 5/6 of your monitor’s refresh rate, no matter how good your video card. So someone who’s spent hundreds of dollars on a top-of-the-line video card can enjoy their framerate cap of 50fps on their 60Hz monitor, and this cannot be disabled. The game also has significant performance and crashing issues, even on top-0f-the-line graphics cards, to where it’s almost impossible to have a smooth gameplay experience no matter how good your PC hardware.

Quantum Break on the PC is also not natively rendered at 1080p, instead using something called “temporal reconstruction” to combine the previous four 720p frames into a 1080p output. Perhaps there’s an argument for doing this on Xbox – perhaps – but almost any modern PC should be capable running a modern title in 1080p on medium settings at the very least. In this PC age of 1440p and even 4k gaming (2160p), manipulation of 720p frames is a massive step backwards for a modern triple-A title. It’s particularly surprising coming from Microsoft, whose recent “we really like PC gaming; forget about Games For Windows Live, and also a bunch of other stuff we’ve said and done to screw the pooch” attitude towards the PC as a 50-50 gaming platform alongside the Xbox was actually beginning to make people think they were taking it seriously.

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And perhaps the biggest issue with UWP games: they are completely locked down, similar to their console brethren. One of the best reasons to actually play games on the PC in the first place is customisation. Maybe this .ini file needs to get edited to fix an issue the developer won’t be able to patch for another few weeks, or you want to add some new textures or mods to a game. On the PC, you can do this most of the time. Not so in UWP. There is no editing or modification of the game’s files possible in any way – meaning that all of the PC version’s issues can only be fixed by Remedy and Microsoft on their timetable (assuming some of the issues are even fixable). UWP further disallows any kind of game overlays, so no Steam overlay and no FRAPs overlay (showing you the game’s FPS counter). You get the base game and that’s it.

If Microsoft wants to convince PC gamers that they’re serious about PC gaming (and stop me if you’ve heard this before – more than once), these sorts of things can’t happen. Putting out a flagship title like this with the issues it has would not be acceptable on the Xbox – so why is it acceptable on the PC? Microsoft clearly doesn’t value their PC audience as much as their Xbox consumer base, so in turn, why should PC gamers care about Microsoft’s future plans for the platform?

It isn’t all absolutely dire. A forthcoming update to UWP scheduled for May will hopefully let us disable v-sync, as well as use technologies like Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync, but I’m not sure this will be enough to save the UWP experiment. PC gamers are reliant on user patches, modding, .ini file editing, and graphics and sound customization. Gutting most of these just so you can say that you’re releasing a game on PC is not going to make people buy your title, or make it good. After all, what’s the point of buying it on PC in the first place if you can’t do these things? You may as well just grab an Xbox One, slap Quantum Break in the tray and go to town. You’ll certainly get a far superior gaming experience that way right now, anyway.

At this point, I’ve lost count of the number of times Microsoft have professed their love of the PC as a gaming platform and have then turned around and done something moronic that’s completely at odds with that stance. Maybe UWP will go the way of Games For Windows Live, or maybe it can be saved. I don’t claim to know the future, but I do know what has happened in similar situations in the past. If Microsoft doesn’t turn the UWP ship around – and fast – expect to see it die a quick death in an obscure press release sometime in the future. And maybe that would be for the best.

The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.

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I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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