Esports has blossomed into the mainstream spotlight with teams and players earning up to millions of dollars in prize winnings. However, as the competition continues to heat up, athletes resort to anything to secure the victory, even if it means taking performance enhancements.

Video games have always been a passionate hobby of mine. I have been gaming for what feels like an eternity now, almost as if a controller was placed firmly in my hands the moment I was born. They serve as bundles of entertainment, with each game bringing a different feeling or sensation that may not always be replicated with other hobbies or activities.

Depending on the title, games have the ability to incite powerful reactions that leave players feeling excited, accomplished, saddened and even extremely motivated. These works of fiction act as gateways to worlds that we could never hope to venture in real life, at least not in this lifetime. However, as I grow older and as technology continues to take its inevitable course on the gaming industry, there are some serious issues that we need to address before they get out of hand. I have and will continue to believe that video games serve as the ultimate remedy to counter most of life’s stresses and are truly good in nature. Unfortunately, gaming has inherited a multitude of problems that will continue to persist, with some requiring the implementation of strict regulations or laws.

The esports problem

The rise of professional esports has opened a path that leaves thousands of aspiring gamers willing to risk their health in pursuit of successful performances in their respective titles. With professional contracts on the line and expectations at an all time high, pressures build up and some esports athletes resort to performance enhancements to heighten their senses in-game. It is ludicrous to think that someone would sacrifice their physical well-being and reputation for momentary glory, but that is the case in the highly competitive esports scene. The article ‘Nobody talks about it because everyone is on it‘ brings a focus to the prevalent substance abuse problem esports has kept hidden away.  

Washington Post writer Coleman Hamstead starts his feature with an anecdotal view of an aspiring semi-pro gamer and his weekly routine involving his favourite game, Fortnite. The gamer makes sure to take his Adderall, a pill usually prescribed for patients with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), just before logging in because he feels as though it gives him an edge on the battlefield. With esports being a relatively new scene, it has gotten a lot of traction regarding its athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Competitive gaming leagues have grown into a billion-dollar industry where it can actually rival traditional sports leagues in terms of popularity and revenue. However, as esports continues to become commonplace in society as opposed to an outlier, there are some grey areas that must be addressed before it gets problematic. The most commonly used drug among gamers, Adderall, a pill containing amphetamine, is often prescribed to those with both impulsive and attention disorders as it helps enhance focus by increasing the effects of dopamine and serotonin found in the brain. Esports athletes who play titles that heavily rely on their reflexes and ability to react to fast interactions, such as the first-person shooter genre, are notorious for taking Adderall to give them superior levels of attentiveness. 

No rules means no limits

Regulations and rules vary depending on the esports title, but most of the popular leagues, including Overwatch, League of Legends and Dota 2, have completely nothing that bans nor allows the usage of performance enhancing drugs. This absolutely questions esports athletes regarding their integrity and professionalism among their colleagues. Adderall has been proven to help players line up their crosshairs in first-person shooter titles.

With that being said, it should no longer be swept under the rug when addressing the empirical advantages it gives over athletes who do not rely on medical interventions. Hamstead reassures us that no one is willing to openly talk about drug usage in esports because, well, everyone is on it. In the feature, former and current esports athletes from Overwatch, Call of Duty and Counter Strike express the overwhelming usage of Adderall among their communities and that drug abuse was one of the reasons why they stopped playing competitively. No one can fully prohibit Adderall from being used in esports leagues simply because it is a prescription drug, and there are some athletes who truly need it to be on an even playing field with the rest. Despite that, there are no fines or post game drug tests that esports athletes most undergo to ensure that they are drug-free.

Enforce new rules

The negligence shown in regulating performance-enhancing drugs is yet another way to encourage players to take the plunge and swallow the pill, without any fear of the consequences given out by the higher-ups. It sets a precedent that anything goes, as long as there is no one there to enforce or stop it completely. Not only does it damage the athlete’s health over time, but it ruins the spirit of the sport and the comradery shared by the player and the fanbase. 

In the end, Hamstead is a crossroads with how to properly handle Adderall. “An outright ban on ADHD medications risks hurting players with legitimate prescriptions. But if organizers begin testing for Adderall but allow those with a prescription to use it, they risk encouraging players to seek a prescription illegitimately,” he writes. Although the usage of drugs in esports is indeed in a state of ambiguity and unrest, esports leagues need to do their part in providing absolute transparency as to what is and what is not allowed in terms of using drugs, prescription or not. For the time being, esports athletes and those aspiring to become professional will continue doing “whatever it takes to make it big in esports.”

With the launch of the ninth console generation coming in just two more weeks, the excitement that is being felt within gaming circles is palpable. All of the next gen console preorders were sold out within minutes of them going live, and for those lucky few who managed to secure their orders, the week of November 9th will be a busy one. As has been the case for nearly two decades now, the big two competitors will be Sony and Microsoft, pitting their flagship consoles (The Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively) against each other, in a battle for the domination of the holiday market. However, in this generation, Microsoft has introduced a wrinkle into the traditional two console battle; a smaller, less powerful, but more cost efficient console known as the Xbox Series S, which is retailing for $200 less than its aforementioned competitors. 

The backlash to this announcement was sudden and harsh in the gaming community, with many expressing their belief that this console would be holding technological progress back so that Microsoft could enforce parity with the more powerful Series X. Others were confused, wondering why this console, barely an upgrade on current generation hardware, would need to exist at all. Suffice it to say, the general reaction to the announcement of the Series S has ranged from vitriolic to apathetic. However, for my money, this is the console I’m currently most excited about. 

I think that the Series S has the potential to serve a number of underappreciated, niche audiences, but for now I want to focus on a couple of key factors that I think will give the system a place in the new generation. To begin, consider the world that these consoles will be launching in. It’s one in which many people, especially in the West (one of the largest markets in this industry) are facing unemployment, eviction, and a loss of healthcare. While it is much too late to be pushing back the release of these consoles, both companies are being forced to market them as luxury products in a time where many don’t even know where their next paycheck is going to come from. By offering a much lower price point (almost half of the $500 price tag on the Series X and PS5), Microsoft is providing people with a way to enter into the next generation without bankrupting themselves on a flagship console. 

This ties in with a broader approach to the new generation that Microsoft is attempting, which is to get people invested in the Xbox ecosystem at any cost. According to a rumor floating around the internet, the company is taking a big hit on the production costs for these units, especially on the Series S. This indicates that they think the trade off is worth it in order to have an Xbox console be the one that occupies the most homes by Christmas. While there is a conversation to be had about corporate consolidation and the dangers of monopolies in any industry (especially given how large Microsoft has grown over the last two years), this means that there is a huge market that will be invested in the new generation that might otherwise have been ignored for several years. By extension, that means huge growth for an industry that will inevitably be hit hard by current events.

This should be reason enough for the existence of the Series S, but there are other factors that will contribute to its success. The price point at which it is launching is low enough to compete with the current consoles, despite the increase in power. This means that when current hardware inevitably breaks, it will be roughly the same price to upgrade to a newer generation, which will mean new sources of revenue for Microsoft. This, combined with their commitment to backwards compatibility with old tech and games, means that there will be more people than ever invested in the newer generation, and that’s something that anyone with even a passing interest in the industry, or medium, should be excited about. After all, what purpose is there in trying to exclude others from an industry that is making such strides towards inclusivity? There’s room for the Series S in this medium, and there’s room for new competition too.

In a massive stroke of luck that seems uncharacteristic for this year, I managed to secure pre-orders for two consoles over the last few months, and this last week, I’ve put in time with both the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series S. While it’s likely to be a few more months until people who missed out on pre-orders can get their hands on either of these new machines, we now have a very good idea of what the next 6-8 years of console gaming are going to look like. There are things to be excited about, things to be cautiously optimistic about, and things to be just plain old cautious about. So, without any further preamble, let’s take a look at what the ninth generation of consoles has to offer. 

First Impressions

What immediately struck me in the months leading to these console launches is that this generation seemed much more focused on the experience of the consumer than the last one was. I’m sure many people still remember the infamous reveal of the Xbox One, and this time around, there was nothing so blatantly anti-consumer as that. Instead, we got two vastly different approaches to the way in which each console was advertised; with Microsoft, it was all about getting people invested in a familiar and increasingly ubiquitous Xbox ecosystem at any cost, while Sony went for a more traditional focus on more powerful hardware and a ton of exclusive games. Both approaches had merit, and both offered a particular experience for the consumer. I got my Xbox Series S so that I could continue to play all the games I’ve spent the last 12 years accumulating on a more powerful machine, not so that I could play the newest and shiniest games on the market. To that point, I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest. It feels like an iterative upgrade on the Xbox One, and for the price point of the Series S, that’s a great value to me. On the flip side, I got a PS5 to be my flagship console for the remainder of the generation, giving me a way to play new releases over the next few years the way they were intended to be played, and I haven’t been disappointed with it either. The technology, which we’ll get into soon, is genuinely  impressive, and I’ve had a blast diving into the launch games for it. 

Unfortunately, the lack of launch games is the biggest issue with the new consoles. Microsoft made the questionable choice to advertise the fact that there would be no exclusives to the Series X/S for a few years, and many of the games that Sony was promising were delayed until 2021. As a result, neither console has a particularly robust launch lineup, and much of what I’ve been playing on them since I finished the Demon’s Souls Remake are last-gen games. Granted, this isn’t a terrible thing; on the contrary, I love that both consoles have a way to access a back catalogue of games for a small subscription fee. It negates that ancient problem of unpacking your new console, finishing whatever game you got with it, then allowing it to gather dust while you wait to expand your library. However, there’s only so many times I can play Fallout 4 and Bloodborne, and unless you’re looking to play Demon’s Souls (a remake of a game that’s over a decade old) or replace a previous generation console with a new model, there’s no real reason to buy any of the new boxes yet. 

The Technology

Something that’s really stuck out in this generation is that it seems as though the obsession with realistic graphics is finally over. Make no mistake, the games on the PS5 look fantastic and are incredibly detailed, but I think the general public has stopped being impressed by games trying to visually emulate real life, and the main innovations in the new consoles reflect that shift. From the marketing to the games themselves, it seems that Sony was less interested in showcasing the graphical power of their games, and more on how the PS5 would impact the experience of playing them. The SSD has enabled lightning fast loading times, and while that may not be a feature that’s immediately apparent to a spectator, it has completely changed the way I play. As I went through Demon’s Souls, I stared at the iconic “You Died” screen countless times, and more than once I caught myself reaching for my phone while I waited to respawn. It never took more than a second and a half. In fact, I was usually back to gameplay before I could even reach over to my phone. As someone who’s a big fan of Bethesda and From Software games, I’ve had to contend with some truly egregious load times over the years, and with their elimination, I can already tell I’m going to have trouble ever going back to old consoles. Even from the PS5 home screen, it takes less than ten seconds from the point in which I open the game to the point of having control of my character. Longtime PC players will talk about how they’ve had these kinds of load times for years, but having it on something as accessible and budget friendly as a console is going to fundamentally change game design in the coming years. 

Another huge innovation is the DualSense controller for the PS5, and it is something that Sony has boasted about to no end. To their credit, it is incredibly impressive technology, and despite my reservations about how it would actually feel to use, I was more than impressed. The adaptive triggers feel really satisfying to use, the haptic feedback was used to great effect in the handful of games I played, and from an ergonomic perspective, the design is the best that Playstation has ever had. It also feels a lot sturdier than the Dualshock 4, and given that it’s an expensive replacement, that’s reassuring. With all this being said, my biggest concern is still very much alive; outside of first party Sony exclusives, how many games will actually utilize these features? Even in Demon’s Souls, a game which you’d think could find all sorts of use for something like the adaptive triggers, the only controller function that it took advantage of was the haptic feedback. It’s really cool tech, and I’d love to see it put to good use, but only time will tell if it actually will. 

You might notice this section has been largely focused on the PS5, and that’s not an accident. The Series X, which I was not able (or particularly interested) to get my hands on seems to be largely the same in terms of performance to the PS5, and it’s good to see that they can keep parity with each other, but it lacks the big controller innovations that have defined the the move from PS4 to PS5. On the other hand, the Series S doesn’t have 4k support, a disc drive, or a few other key features of its stablemates, but for the functions I need it to serve, it serves them admirably. The one big new feature is the ability to have multiple games open at once, something that I’ve taken huge advantage of, as I tend to get bored of some games quickly. It’s nice to be able to switch between games in seconds, and while the PS5  doesn’t have the feature (at the time of writing at least), load times are so quick that it barely makes a difference.

As for the new Xbox controller, it’s more of the same, and that’s also not a terrible thing to my mind. As far as I’m concerned, the Xbox One had the best standard controller design of all time, and the Series S/X controller is almost identical, albeit with a better d-pad, more texture on the grips and triggers, and with a dedicated share button. There isn’t anything that will blow your mind like with the Dualsense, it’s just an all around well designed controller with few bells or whistles. 

And yes, 60 FPS seems to be the standard for everything I’ve played.

The Console War

Even when the consoles had just been revealed over the summer, people on the internet were declaring which side had won the console war for this generation. As always, this idea of some great battle of the brands is ludicrous; at best, it promotes unquestioning loyalty to a brand and corporation, and ultimately just serves to deepen divisions in the community. That being said, despite having owned and played primarily on an Xbox One last generation, I think in hindsight most people will recognize that the PS4 was the better piece of hardware. In this generation though, I think both sides have pretty equal footing, they just both serve very different spaces in the market. While Xbox tries to make gaming more inclusive and accessible to everyone through services like Games Pass and products like their accessible controller, Sony has pushed the technology for playing games farther than we could have imagined it would go this generation. Which one you want to play on will depend entirely on what you’re looking for in gaming, and that’s great. There will be a lot of healthy competition over the next few years, and I can’t wait to see what kind of innovations that competition will give rise to. For now though, I have both consoles sitting on my entertainment stand, and I think they’ve both done enough to earn their space there.

Gaming has introduced endless hours of entertainment by yourself or with friends. However, it’s not always a harmonious interaction when it comes to online play. This article discusses the harsh reality of online harassment/bullying through the lens of a young gamer who is rather familiar with toxicity.

The most baffling aspect about Tony Xiao’s essay on toxicity in gaming is that the writer is only 15 years old. However, despite being a decade and some change in years, Xiao already has a firm understanding, and presumable first-hand experience, on the hostile side of online gaming. He is quick to note that most insults thrown in online game chat rooms mostly consist of racist or homophobic remarks, slurs that inflict severe hate with just an ounce of a breath.

These derogatory phrases evoke real anger without any consideration of the recipient’s side. When it comes to online trash-talking, there is no such thing as off-limits. No punches are pulled and there are definitely no officials or moderators present to defend you.

Online battlefields

Players will hurl the nastiest offensive words in their arsenal, all without ever fearing real-world consequences. Xiao realizes that the reason ill-advised players are so open to talk in such derogatory terms to others is because there is hardly any punishment to worry about. In addition, there are easy ways to bypass censors that are supposed to stop profanity and slurs.

“But in most cases, these measures are perfunctory, amounting to a slap on the wrist. Players evade censors easily by omitting letters or adding numerals to ethnic slurs written in game chats,” Xiao writes. The 15-year-old illustrates an example in which a victim of online toxicity today may gradually, in a few months or so, become the bully themselves in online chat rooms, almost as if it were a tradition or ritual.

Hatred breeds more hatred and that is also part of the toxic cycle that Xiao knows all too well. The advice most given to those who are recipients of online bullying would be to mute the assailant as well as themselves to prevent further instigating. This cuts the source of toxicity directly and allows the player to refocus on the task at hand, which is whatever the objective of the game is.

Mute won’t solve all the problems

The title of Xiao’s essay makes reference to this but it ultimately does nothing to stop online gaming from being cesspools for rude and offensive remarks. In fact, I would argue and compare it to someone witnessing a crime, but instead of reporting it or assisting in whatever way possible to prevent or stop the culprit, the witness simply closes their eyes and walks away.

It does wonders to get you out of immediate danger, but it does close to nothing to deter the criminal from doing another heinous act. To truly stop toxicity from going rampant on video games that are, at times, intended for children is for developers to enforce chat room rules and punish those who feel the need to throw cheap shots regarding genders or ethnicity. Hate among the differences of people is a deeper problem that society has been a victim of for centuries, but the unnecessary bigotry that manifests in online gaming could be contained and be put to a swift halt.

One person can make a difference

It ultimately falls on the shoulders of gaming studios and, to an extent, the players to “[understand] that they have a responsibility to stem the spread of hate on its platforms,” and to recognize that there are actual people, with real feelings and emotions, at the other end of the screen. Words carry a lot of weight behind them and toxicity in online games could absolutely cause serious and lingering damage.

I applaud Xiao for putting this seriousness into the centre stage for a broader audience via The New York Times. Still, I cannot help but feel an alarming concern that someone of his age, and perhaps younger, have already experienced or witnessed these acts of belligerence carried out by unpleasant individuals who hide by their online anonymity. It is unfair that the children of now are at the peak of online gaming and inevitably in the frontlines of gaming toxicity.   

Video games have always been an outlet that many people seem to enjoy. Perhaps lost in our own excitement, we tend to forget the issues that overly obsessive gamers are faced with. Using a recent article from the New York Times, let’s explore a first-hand account of video game addiction and the underlying problems that may arise from younger audiences.

With the release of the PS5 earlier this week, I think it’s an appropriate time to look back on Ferris Jabr’s Can you really be addicted to video games? submitted for the New York Times. Jabr introduces the readers to a late 20-something-year-old video game addict Charlie Bracke and recounts his history of playing video games for an obscene amount of time, all while crumbling under the stresses that society has thrown his way.

Jabr paints Bracke’s story like somewhat of a drama motion picture, but without the part where it elicits a sense of empathy or sadness. Instead, Bracke’s supposed sob story sounds like the tale of someone who did not even bother to fight through adversity when challenged, but rather succumbed voluntarily. It is made apparent that Bracke used video games to escape from the realities of society and not because of the games themselves. Where I found similarities in Bracke’s story with my own was the lengthy gameplay sessions that would easily proceed well past 12 hours in one day. In my case, I played those ungodly hours until my mind became distorted because of the joy and sheer satisfaction of seeing my progression right before my very eyes.

Titles such as Runescape, Elder Scrolls Online, and Call of Duty, excellent games that are still relatively popular today, were a few franchises that rewarded good players with items or experience. It is also worth mentioning how much more enjoyable it was with friends. Time would escape us and I would only have myself to blame when it came to missed deadlines or a lack of sleep. With that being said, I regret absolutely none of the time I spent playing video games when it was in my best interest not to because the games were tremendously gratifying.

Down the path of no return

Bracke could not keep up with his university studies or maintain a relationship with his girlfriend. These troublesome affairs eventually led him down a path of heavy gaming, in which he could drown his sorrows away in the virtual world while further neglecting his duties in real life. Video games are highly credited for their ways to alleviate the burdens of everyday stress, but when used to completely replace someone’s world, as was Bracke’s case, it should be no surprise that health, career and relationships with others would surely deteriorate.

Fabr then goes back and forth questioning whether gaming is an actual addiction or a symptom of another underlying issue, perhaps depression even. Sure enough, there were many medical professionals that have come to the conclusion that gaming can be an addiction. The World Health Organization went even as far to add a new disorder to the section on substance use and addictive behaviours, citing that “gaming disorder, which it defines as excessive and irrepressible preoccupation with video games, resulting in significant personal, social, academic or occupational impairment for at least 12 months.”

Some of gaming industries biggest leaders, like the Entertainment Software Association, were in complete disagreement with the diagnostic, claiming that it may stigmatize future products that they would release, thus endangering the entirety of the gaming entertainment industry. There are even medical experts who would also disagree with the notion that video game addiction is a real disorder. Andrew Przybylski of Oxford Internet Institute says, “the whole thing is an epistemic dumpster fire,” while Fabr adds that “people enjoy and sometimes form all-consuming passions for countless activities: fishing, baking, running, and yet we don’t typically pathologize those.”

As mentioned before, Fabr does an outstanding job bringing the facts outright for the readers to gather as much information before deciding a conclusion for themselves. Perhaps the most damning evidence to suggest that video game addiction is a legitimate disorder is disclosing studies that “indicate compulsive game play and addictive drugs alter the brain’s reward circuits in similar ways.”

Living through adversity

As technology continues to advance, so will the complexity and immersion of video games. There are titles out there that can take thousands of hours to complete, and some that, technically, cannot be beaten as there is no end game. Regardless, in this day of age, games are built to be addictive. It is simply part of the business route that all studios inadvertently instill in games to make a profit. There is no point blaming the developers for someone developing an unhealthy obsession with their game. If anything, it is a testament to the game’s exceedingly successful replay value.

Bracke would eventually go to rehab to treat his gaming addiction where it yielded positive results. During his time recovering, he would make lifelong bonds with friends who were treading down the same ill-fated path. Together, they fought against their addiction and gradually came back to society with healthy levels of gaming in mind. The conclusion whether gaming addiction should be considered a disorder is still at the centre point for debates among gamers and medical professionals alike, however we should, at the very least, accept that gaming can serve as an infinite sponge to harbor depression or other mental health issues.

Bracke is one of the few extreme cases that made great leaps in recovery and self-awareness. It goes without saying that there are millions, who do not have the luxury to appear in feature articles, that are coping with life’s struggle through video games, resulting in addictions that further adds fuel to the fire.

Video games have and will always be an undying passion of mine, but to claim that it is a hobby, passion or lifestyle without deep-rooted issues would be a slap to the face of everyone who has ever dabbled in the virtual realm. Gamers could easily find themselves insulting others as if there were no repercussions to have on the other side. Insults and trash talking have been prevalent in competitive online games since their inception, it is almost revered as a tradition rather than blatant bullying.

Over in the competitive scene, children as young as high schoolers have admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs to propel their gameplay to the next level. It is a twisted scenario that is unfortunately the reality that we live in. Gamers feel the need to perform at unprecedented feats to the point where sabotaging their life is a risk worth taking.

The truth of video game addiction

Performance enhancement usage to get an unfair advantage in traditional sports has been well documented for decades now, but never would I expect it to apply to online esports as well. Last but not least, the addictive side of gaming is a troublesome issue that many slip into, some without even knowing. They are too caught up in the immersive atmosphere the game has simulated to ever be bothered with real life consequences. In most cases, however, it is used to suppress problems or uncertainties experienced in the real world.

Games are rather amazing when they are played as intended and within moderation, but of course that is easier said than done. Video games have transformed to become more than just comfy entertainment devices. They are alternate worlds for some, a form of relief for the majority and actual careers for others. A lot of people take up the controller, or the mouse and keyboard, for different reasons but we should all remain vigilant of the surrounding issues that are inherently bundled with gaming. Again, gaming is a passion of mine that will never burn out, not even in the slightest, but it is important to remember that it never has been a beacon of purity or a bastion of peace, and it more than likely never will be.

Courtesy of Activision

My love for the Tony Hawk games is fairly well known. Part of it is the nostalgia for the series, I’ll admit it, but I’ve also argued in the past that they hold up better than most other games from that era. The lack of any iteration on the formula was eventually what killed the skating game genre, but it also turned out to be what preserved it. I’ve replayed Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 and Pro Skater 4 a few times each this year, and they both remain a ton of fun, even after the better part of two decades. This is largely because there has been no improvements on the genre in the intervening years, so it isn’t hard to pick them back up. So, for the remaster of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, all that Vicarious Visions really had to do was give the games a face lift, and then let the praise and good reviews flood in. While that is essentially what they did, there is a lot to appreciate in the remasters that weren’t present in the originals.

“There is a lot to appreciate in the remasters that weren’t present in the original”

Let’s get the surface level stuff out of the way; Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 are both very well done remasters that manage to capture the magic of the originals for an aging audience, while remaining appealing and accessible to new players. The core gameplay is mostly the same as it’s always been (although a few moves from later entries in the series, like manuals and reverts,  were added to make the gameplay flow a little better), and it’s been a blast to jump back into the arcade skating fun that the series has always provided. 

All the classic levels return and are largely unchanged in a practical sense, but have been given some aesthetic over hauls so that they look less dated. Everyone is talking about the redesign for the Mall level to make it look more dilapidated and abandoned, giving it more character, but the more impressive one to me was for Venice Beach. The lighting looks better than ever (as is often the case with remasters, the lighting effects make up a lot of the graphical improvements), the graffiti on the walls and ramps adds a ton of character, and the setting sun over the beach as a background to the stage gives it a much more charming feel than it had in the originals. However, these  changes do nothing to change the layout of the level, so fans of the originals will still be able to guide themselves around based on muscle memory. 

Courtesy of Activision

Another thing that Vicarious Visions has taken great pains to preserve is the soundtrack, which features nearly all the classic tracks from the old games. There are a few songs on the playlist that don’t return, but they’ve been replaced with new ones that manage to fit the tone of the games well (unlike that awful dubstep in the abysmal Pro Skater 5).

“Everything that made the games great 20 years ago is still very much intact”

So, for fans of the originals who are looking for a faithful remake of their beloved games, the THPS 1+2 Remaster won’t disappoint. Everything that made the games great 20 years ago is still very much intact, and for a lot of people, that would have been enough. However, while there is nothing revolutionary in these releases, there is more to experience here than there was in the originals. As a matter of fact, there is a a deceptively large amount of content in these games.

While neither game features a story mode, both have around 10 levels each, all of which are packed to the breaking point with things to do. The main “campaign” mode has the player running through each map in two minute increments, completing as many goals as possible within the time frame. After a level has been unlocked, you can do time challenges, speed runs, free skates, score challenges, secret hunting, go searching for all the hidden “gaps” in each level, and so much more. Even a classic level like the Warehouse, a fairly small area, had me skating around it for hours, trying to beat my scores and place in the top one thousand on the global leader boards. After around 35 hours of playtime, none of the levels have started feeling boring yet, and that’s more important than the breadth of empty content that other games feature. 

Courtesy of Activision

There is also an exceptionally well implemented multiplayer mode, which drops you in levels with 7 other players and gives you a variety of objectives to compete for. Some have you simply trying to get the highest score or combo in a 2 minute time frame, while others have you doing tricks off of as many objects as you can to claim them as your own. The drop in is quick and mostly seamless, and the short matches give them that addictive “one more round” quality that suits games like this so well. 

Outside of the core skating gameplay, there are the create-a-skater and create-a-park modes that are staples of the series. Neither is particularly complex, but they add some nice depth to the game. These modes are complemented by a large list of challenges, which can reward the player with cash to spend on cosmetics, profile experience, and unique board graphics and clothing items. There are a huge amount of challenges for every skater in the game (including your own player created ones), every level, and every mode. While the leveling system is incredibly arbitrary, and a transparent way of trying to force player investment, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. I spent a lot of time in the game trying to complete challenges, just to watch the progress bar slowly fill, to unlock outfits that I knew full well I would never use. As one final gripe, the create-a-park mode is not very well optimized for controllers, which is odd given that the skating itself seems to be made specifically for controllers. As I mentioned before, there isn’t a lot of depth to it either, but I’d be a lot more upset about it if the rest of the game wasn’t bursting at the seems with fun content. 

At the end of the day, there isn’t a lot to be said about THPS 1+2 Remastered that you couldn’t already assume based off of the name alone. They are the definitive way to play the games, and for my money, they are the best skating games you can get on current gen consoles. If this is a genre, or series, that you’ve ever had any interest in, these will be a must buy for you. 

As a final note, they have split screen too. That alone is enough for the recommendation.

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It’s extreme frisbee, it’s Pong revolutionized, it’s air hockey all in one, played on an entirely different atmosphere and pace. Disc Jam, the 2017 title courtesy of High Horse Entertainment, is an arcade game of air hockey combined with tennis.  

It’s extreme frisbee, it’s Pong revolutionized, it’s air hockey all in one, played on an entirely different atmosphere and pace. Disc Jam, the 2017 title courtesy of High Horse Entertainment, is an arcade game of air hockey combined with tennis.  

The two-man team consisting of Jay Mattis and Timothy Rapp are known for their art, animation and engineering, expertise that could very well separate good games from great ones. Disc Jam, although small in content, packs quite a punch with addicting combos and versatile characters. 

Fixed at a third-person perspective, with a long vertical camera angle to boot, players must continuously rally a disc, or a frisbee if you prefer, between one or two other players. The goal is similar to tennis but, of course, with a few twists and turns.

On your mark

Players must try to score on the opposing side by either launching the disc all the way to the end zone or by lobbying it on the ground. This, in turn, means that all players must do everything they possibly can to keep the disc afloat and out of harm’s way. Mere child’s play in concept, for sure, but extremely hard to execute.

The game is meant for casual gamers and those who instantly want to pick up a title without the hassle of learning all the mechanics. With that being said, however, the level of play can rise significantly when given a decent amount of time to practice angles and learn the character’s tendency.

Players have a variety of different throws including spin shots, curve shots, alleys and bankers. The many ways a rally can unfold can lead to intense, palm sweat-inducing plays which may leave users in sudden awe, disbelief, excitement and even frustration. The sheer joy of coming back and winning from a 40 point deficit, or continuously tricking the opponent with your web of cradle shots should be enough to keep the majority of the game’s population intact and eager to play.  

Although unpredictability is a staple and ongoing theme most sports genre games have, there was one noticeable flaw that deterred some players from Disc Jam. In its early stages, Disc Jam, understandably so, offered a slim cast of four characters to choose and control from. As you may have guessed, each of those characters possesses different attributes that tend to certain playstyles, which is an absolute must-have to maintain balanced matchups. The game has since added the heavy-set Kahuna and Lannie, the all-arounder.

All in the wrist

The disc is enveloped in a spiral of purple pixels, an indication that a quick throw is coming your way. Almost as if it were a glitch in the game’s mechanics, the disc travels so quickly, bouncing every which way before it reaches its destination—your end zone. Tracking the disc is one thing, but to move your character accordingly is a challenging yet rewarding task. The only hope for players on the receiving end of a purple throw is to anticipate which side of the court the disc will land ahead of time, in other words, calculate how the disc will bounce off the sides.

Guessing as the sole option is not in Disc Jam’s best interest, especially when it’s aimed to be a balanced sports game. Fortunately for the studio, the game actively listens to the feedback from their players, allowing the developers to make the necessary adjustments before users protest with pitchforks and signs. 

All roads lead north

As mentioned before, Disc Jam is, more or less, catered towards casual gamers and perhaps even for mobile fans as well. The vibrant colour schemes and an assortment of wacky characters to choose from strikes a similar resemblance to the looks of Fortnite and Rocket League.

However, unlike those aforementioned titles, Disc Jam, will probably be reserved to just couch play. With laggy servers and a player base that is shrinking exponentially, It’s safe to say Disc Jam will not be a staple game in households worldwide, heck not even in North America. 

On the bright side, the game is rather young and the developers are still pushing out new content even today. Their latest update was the introduction of instant replays from various different angles and enabled LAN tournaments.

High Horse Entertainment has the privilege that big-name studio companies have lost years ago, and that is interacting with their player base on a personal level. The studio receives tons of feedback from their players through Twitter and Discord primarily. Users have the opportunity to express genuine changes or quality of life improvements to one of the developers actively available throughout the community. It is a grassroots type of relationship that gamers and developers should appreciate before it’s gone.

The game definitely needs some touch ups here and there, but nothing that screams out like total bust. As the game continues to mature, the rest of the community can rest easy knowing Mattis and Rapp are still involved in the project.

A while back, my Xbox One seemed like it had finally died on me. It turned out to just be a power supply issue, but for the week that it was out of order, I found myself revisiting a lot of games from when I was a kid. Most were from the PS1 and PS2 era, things like Twisted Metal, Tomb Raider, Spiderman, etc. Unsurprisingly, I found myself unable to play most of them for more than a couple of hours, as the controls, visuals, and cameras became too difficult to contend with. There turned out to only be a few that held up well under modern scrutiny, chief among them being Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. 

My metric for determining whether a game has held up well is to ask myself one question: If this game came out today, exactly as it is right now, could I still enjoy it? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of games from the era that I still love, but I understand the power of nostalgia. The truth is, if the original Twisted Metal came out today, I doubt I would give it more than half an hour of my time. However, with THUG 2, and most of the Tony Hawk games, I honestly think I would enjoy them every bit as much, and I want to dive into why that is. 

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A Dead Genre

The thing with skating games is that, until recently, it seemed like they were a dead genre. We recently got the announcements of a new Skate game, as well remasters of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, but before that, the closest we had was the disastrous Pro Skater 5 (a game that isn’t even available to purchase anymore on digital storefronts). In the absence of new proper entries into either franchise or any newcomers to the genre, skating games stagnated for well over a decade.

As a result, there was never any innovation, never any refinement of the formula after the golden age of the skating game genre in the early 2000’s. On the flip side, many of the other games from the era went on to newer generations, growing with the industry and their fan bases. Take Tomb Raider as a prime example. One of the reasons it can be so difficult to go back to the originals is because the medium has advanced so far past what they used to be. Third-person shooting, parkour, puzzle-solving, all the mechanics that made up the original Tomb Raider games have been improved massively in the last 20 years. The difference between the originals and the reboot trilogy is night and day, and unless you have rose-colored glasses the size of night-vision goggles, you’re going to find it difficult to go back. This isn’t the case with skating games. Because nothing has come out in the intervening years that have changed the game, so to speak, there are no improvements or refinements that I find I’m missing when I go back and play them. 

Another reason for the games aging well is the inherent simplicity. It’s the same reason that really old games, such as Tetris, are still commonly played to this day. Let’s focus specifically on THUG 2, which I personally consider to be the apex of the genre. While a lot of mainstream games these days tend to give us giant, sprawling worlds, packed to the brim with things to do, skating games never really tried to do that (and when they did, they failed miserably). They just wanted to be fun, and typically had no great ambitions beyond that.

In the case of THUG 2, there may be a lot to criticize, such as the camera controls when on foot, the shoddy voice acting, and the weird animations, but there were only a few things it really needed to get right. It made sure that the act of skating around open levels, causing chaos, and performing cool tricks was inherently fun. It felt like the rest of the game was built around that core mechanic, and everything else, while appreciated, was extraneous. As I mentioned before, the lack of any new games recently to build on that premise ensures that, if that’s what you want from a game, you aren’t going to find it done better than THUG 2 on the Playstation 2. Throw in a timeless and exceptionally well-curated soundtrack that combines punk rock, old school hip-hop, and some Frank Sinatra for good measure, and you have a game that’s going to hold up for decades to come. That’s a quality that just wasn’t shared by other games from the time, no matter their qualities. 

The Future of Skating Games

With a potential revival of the genre on the rise, I’m looking forward to seeing if I still think this in a few years. To be honest, I think I will. I’ve seen modern games try to do similar things, but none really seemed to grasp the essential components of a skating game. Take Sunset Overdrive, for example, an Xbox One launch title that you probably haven’t thought about in years. I heard people at the time compare it to a Tony Hawk game with guns, a fairly apt comparison.

That being said, I’ve played that game once since I got it, and I’ve played THUG 2 through to completion twice so far this year. The traversal was bare-bones, the soundtrack was forgettable, and the humor fell flat more often than not. However, it did make me think that if anyone were to try a new Tony Hawk game, and put some effort into it, it would be a smash hit. For that matter, it could be one of the very few live service games that I could see succeeding. After all, when you do something so much better than any of your competitors, it’s not really a competition at all, and in a medium where skating games are all but gone, I’m willing to bet that a new one would keep people coming back for years after launch. 

Please, for the love of God, leave the dub-step behind though. Bring back the punk. 


Blackout is a game mode within Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and features classic locations known thought the Black Ops universe. Black ops 4 was a different kind of Black ops compared to Black ops 3 or 2 because while all Black ops feature zombies and multiplayer aspects, Black Ops 4 had a battle royale instead of a campaign story mode. This enticed many players looking for a new game to play and Black Ops sales skyrocketed. Blackout is like many is a realistic battle royal where you players must find natural cover and be the last one standing at the end of the game. This is normal for any battle royal where the ultimate goal is to beat every player in your lobby and be the final person standing. 


Warzone is similar to Blackout in which they are both subcategories of another game. Blackout under the Black ops name and Warzone is under the Modern Warfare name. Warzone is a game where 150 people drop into a map and duke it out until you’re the last person standing.

Warzone has many unique features that other battle royals don’t have such as the fact that after you die you get sent to the Gulag where if you win your 1v1 you get back into the game. Players absolutely love this concept as there is nothing more frustrating than dying mid-game and not being able to do anything except watch your team play.

The thing that sets Warzone apart is even if you lose the 1v1 there is still a big chance you’ll be able to come back into the game. This is through a system called buy stations. At these stations, you can buy UAV’s, Loadout Drops, and many others but one important thing that players can buy is their teammates. Scattered around the map there is money that players can collect and use at these stations for $4500 if your teammate is completely dead you can buy them back and they will return to the game with full health and armor.

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Price Difference:

One unique difference between Blackout and Warzone is the price they each cost. Blackout is included in the game Black Ops 4 and the only way to play it is to buy Black Ops 4 which on release was around $69.99 which is one of the more expensive games at the time.

Warzone is unique in the way that you don’t have to buy Modern Warfare to play it, Warzone is technically a separate game under the name of Modern Warfare. This means that Warzone is going to be a lot cheaper than Black Ops 4, and it was, Warzone is completely free. This means that the player base for Warzone will be drastically higher than the player base for Blackout as you don’t need to spend anything to play it.

Weapons Players use:

In Blackout, players use weapons that are featured within the Black Ops 4 multiplayer whereas in Warzone players use the Weapons featured within the Modern Warfare multiplayer. This difference may seem small but is actually quite big.

The weapons you use will ultimately determine whether or not the game is fun. If all a game has is useless weapons that are too difficult to use then the player base will slowly start to deteriorate as people leave the game for something else. The weapons in Blackout although good wasn’t as well-received as the weapons in Warzone. Warzone has much more variety within their weapons allowing for more interesting gameplay and cooler combinations. 

Gamemodes available within these games:

In Blackout many game modes were featured to invasive on a specific part of combat. Similar to Fortnite game modes such as Close quarters force players to play more aggressively and which keeps the game higher paced and exciting. In Blackout there is the option to play Solo, Duo, or Quads allowing players to play with up to 4 friends.

This is where Warzone differs because while Warzone also has specific game modes such as Juggernaught battle royal there is also an option to play trios along with solos duos and quads. This allows for smaller friend groups of 3 to be allowed to play together. The game modes within Blackout feature more diversity and intensity within the play style and ultimately are better than what Warzone has to offer. Warzone wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to Blackout had it not been for them also having trios. Trios is one of Warzone’s most popular ways of playing is one of the most fun things you can do within the game.

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Overall thoughts:

My overall thoughts on which game is better are clear in my eyes. After playing them both for a considerable amount of time I think that Warzone is far superior to Blackout. Warzone has so many unique aspects that no one has ever thought of before making it a revolutionary game in the industry. With the whole gulag and buy system players never have to feel bored as there is a big chance, they will come back and rejoin their teammates.

While Blackout has more interesting game modes Warzone doesn’t need anything special to keep its player base engaged and entertained. The other major aspect of why Warzone is better and will do better in the industry than Blackout is because its free to play. There is virtually no pay to win aspects in Warzone meaning even if you spend no money you can be just as good if not better than people who spend 100’s on cosmetics. With all these things considered in my opinion Warzone is a better game than Blackout.

There’s been a lot lately that has had me considering the graphical power of modern gaming.  The PS5 reveal showed off some impressive tech, and the recent launch of The Last of Us: Part 2 has shown the power of current-gen consoles like arguably no other game has. Despite these advancements though, I’ve just ceased to be impressed by realistic looking graphics. 

Now, the graphics vs. gameplay debate has been done to death, especially by traditional games media. Frankly, I don’t think it’s worth even considering anymore. Just about every rational person is going to choose the game that’s fun to play over the one that looks as close to life as possible. After all, games are an interactive medium at their heart, and while pretty graphics can bolster the immersion or “wow-factor” of any game that’s already great, people simply looking for stunning, photo-realistic visuals can get them in another medium. What I don’t see talked about nearly as much, however, is the art style vs. photo realism debate. 

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What the next generation has in store

Allow me to get my exceptionally controversial stance out of the way before I go much further; I don’t see myself ever being impressed by “realistic” looking graphics in games again. I think that, if we’re talking about gaming technology in terms of how realistic we can make our games look, we’ve just about hit the ceiling on how impressive it can be. Sure, there will always be a million little details that could be added to make a game more true to life, but generally speaking, those details just do nothing to impress me or absorb me into an experience.

While I was watching the PS5 reveal, I remember the utter apathy that I felt at the 2K21 reveal, watching the sweat slide down the nose of the man in the trailer. It wasn’t interesting, impressive, fun, or anything else that might make the visuals something to take note of. If you had told me that this level of detail could already be achieved on current-gen consoles, I would have believed you without question, because there just doesn’t seem to be the same technical jump in visual quality that there has been in other generations. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there was plenty in the PS5 reveal that did impress me. Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Goodbye Volcano High, Deathloop, and more, all boasted unique art styles that looked visually spectacular and set them apart from many of the other games shown. Out of all the games that were shown, those are the ones I remember most, not the ones that looked like glorified tech demos. So, why buy a new console for games that, on a visual level, look like they could be played on a PS5?

Well, we won’t know for sure until it comes out and we can see the difference that the new box makes on the ways those games are played. For all Sony did right in that presentation, arguably their biggest misstep was keeping the biggest improvements somewhat more subtle than you’d expect. The Project Athia trailer didn’t impress me, but the new Ratchet and Clank game did. The speed at which new worlds loaded, the fluidity of not just the gameplay, but the dimension-hopping, demonstrated a massive improvement over the current-gen. Those are the innovations that I want to see trumpeted, not the realistic-looking sweat from 2K21. 

I’ve been asked what I think the best looking game of the generation is, and people always expect one of several recent games as my response: God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us: Part 2, or some other big-budget, Triple-A blockbuster. The truth is, I think the best looking game of the generation is Cuphead.

Never before have I seen visuals that truly elevated an experience so high above what it would have been otherwise. I showed that game to relatives who had no interest in gaming and watched their jaws drop as they soaked in the lovingly crafted environments, character models, and animations. Every ounce of that game dripped with love and passion, and the art style was a true testament to that. Things like Red Dead Redemption 2 just don’t even come close to that for me. 

The aforementioned games aren’t even the best in class for triple-A, in my opinion. Aside from Cuphead, I personally feel as though Dishonored 2 was the best looking game of the last generation. Gorgeous and immersive, the watercolor look of the world was such that I found myself thoroughly exploring every room in the game, soaking in the atmosphere. It was so much more impressive to me than anything else I’ve played lately and more impressive than most of what I saw in the PS5 reveal.

Why are publishers still pushing realistic visuals?

A lot of the reason that realistic graphics have been pushed as an essential part of the future of gaming is that they are arguably the easiest way to measure and demonstrate progress. The easiest way to sell a new console to someone who might only be a casual player of video games is to show them the leap in graphical power. If the reveal of the PS5 told me anything, though, it’s that that isn’t enough anymore. People have come to expect more, they’re bored with realism. The aforementioned 2K21 trailer was the subject of a lot of mockery, because it advertised the game in a way that just isn’t effective anymore. Even Project Athia, supposedly the big tech showcase, hasn’t garnered nearly as much coverage as, say, Bugsnax.

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for realistic graphics. There will always be an audience for those kinds of games. The thing is, publishers are starting to realize that audience is not the only one they need to serve. A lot of people are ready to move on from that, and it’s time for the industry to start providing choices.