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By Asher Madan
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy on Xbox Series X — Cult classics lacking polish
by Asher Madan
Last week, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. The package includes remasters of Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. All three titles are regarded as cult classics, but how do they play with modern controls and upgraded visuals on Xbox Series X? Read on to find out.
Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas run at 4K resolution and up to 60 frames per second (FPS) on Xbox Series X. They offer two modes, Fidelity and Performance, which appear to lock the frame rate to either 30 or 60 FPS. By default, the game is set to Fidelity so you don't notice any FPS drops. Unfortunately, the input lag is horrendous at 30 FPS so I'd recommend switching all three of the titles over to Performance from the Options menu.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy features upgraded visuals like car reflections, water reflections, high-resolution rendering, and different character models, but the games still look quite dated. It's clear that the remastered bundle is meant for existing fans of the franchise. They won't attract that many new players in my opinion.
Despite the upgrades, including revamped controls, Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas need a lot more work to look like contemporary games. Had these titles been along the lines of the recent Resident Evil remakes, they would've been more appealing. While all three games still tell amazing and relevant stories, they suffer from performance and visual issues that detract heavily from the overall experience.
Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III was released before Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Due to this, it feels rougher around the edges than the other two. While all three exhibit performance issues to some degree, Grand Theft Auto III on Xbox Series X has the most frequent frame rate drops to 20 FPS, even when the 60 FPS mode is engaged. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a close second.
Apart from that, I noticed that the default brightness and contrast needed adjusting. I had to raise the brightness to 100% and lower the contrast to 25% to clearly witness the action. Even during the day, the title looked dark. Since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City didn't exhibit this issue, I think it's a bug with the high-dynamic-range (HDR) lighting in the Grand Theft Auto III remaster.
Luckily, the game's plot redeems this port to some degree. You step into the shoes of Claude who's betrayed by his girlfriend Catalina. It's an old-school tale of revenge and involves making a name for yourself in the city by causing all sorts of mayhem.
The controls are standardized across all three games. However, the sensitivity seems a little too high when you're playing with an Xbox Series X|S controller. Again, this is mostly an issue in Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Depending on what you prefer in terms of thumbstick sensitivity, you'll have to spend some time tweaking various settings to figure out what you like.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City tells my favorite story out of the three because it plays out like an old-school Martin Scorsese film. Plus, beloved actor Ray Liotta voices the protagonist Tommy Vercetti. It's all about experiencing 1980's flair and ruling the city, two combinations that are hard to beat. A major drug deal goes south due to unknown assailants and it's up to you to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is probably the most polished remaster out of the lot. The only change I made was to switch the game to Performance mode from Fidelity to improve controller responsiveness. Unfortunately, even then I noticed some stuttering during gameplay, especially when driving around town, but it didn't detract too much from the title because the drops were few and far between. The drops are less frequent than in the Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas remasters.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City uses bold colors so they pop on a modern display. Additionally, the reflections on cars are the most noticeable in this version. They add a layer of complexity to the visuals that wasn't there before. The controls are relatively good, but I'd still recommend turning down the sensitivity a little to gain more precision, especially when aiming and firing weapons.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas tells the story of Carl Johnson, simply known as CJ, as he returns to the city of San Andreas due to his mother's murder. You have to help rebuild your gang while also uncovering what really happened to her. It's a compelling journey even though there are a lot of performance and visual glitches, some that can even cause your console to crash.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas also suffers from the dark HDR lighting issue like Grand Theft Auto III. Luckily, it's not as severe so you just need to turn the contrast down to 40% and the brightness to 70%. As expected, the performance issues are back and the frame rate drops to around 25 FPS when you're driving around town. Unfortunately, it gets stranger.
All three games feature weather effects like rain, but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has some odd lighting during storms. When it's dark, rainfall streaks across the screen like white bullets. It's the strangest phenomenon I've ever witnessed in a game. It actually hurts your eyes and makes it impossible to see anything. I would've taken a screenshot, but at that moment the game also crashed my Xbox Series X. Luckily, many users on YouTube managed to record it.
It's clear that Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy needed to be delayed to 2022. All of the games suffer from performance issues and some feature bizarre visual problems like dark lighting and white rain. As I mentioned in my Battlefield 2042 Xbox Series X preview, I understand that game development is also a business, but releasing products in such a poor state — where months of polishing are required — isn't acceptable. It only damages the reputation of the publisher, studio, and franchise.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy costs $59.99 on all platforms. In its current state, I simply cannot recommend purchasing it. Hopefully, developer Grove Street Games, with the assistance of Rockstar Games, will rectify this in a timely manner. It's unclear if that's possible because game development has shifted dramatically due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many titles, including expansions and updates, have been hit with severe delays due to the adjustment required to work from home.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy is available on the Microsoft Store or the platform of your choice. The package launched on November 11, 2021. Due to some controversial files that are part of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the title has been pulled from PC until they're removed.
Rockstar Games provided a code for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.
By Asher Madan
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack costs $49.99 a year
by Asher Madan
In September, Nintendo revealed that Nintendo Switch Online would receive a new tier that included Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games. Nintendo Switch Online is the gaming giant's subscription service along the lines of PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold. Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is the upcoming membership option that launches on October 25.
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack's price point wasn't announced back then, but the company gave us a complete rundown today. Keep in mind that the standard Nintendo Switch Online membership comes in at $19.99 a year, or $34.99 for the family plan. However, Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack will cost $49.99 for 12 months.
There's also a family plan in the works that'll cost $79.99 a year, and you can add 8 Nintendo Account holders. You can take a look at the video above for an explanation of the benefits and differences.
Fan reactions have been quite mixed since this announcement. While many gamers are praising the ability to play Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games on the Nintendo Switch, the limited library and high price point have been criticized by others. The fact that the newly announced Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Happy Home Paradise expansion is included with Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is also seen as a positive given the popularity of the base game.
More titles like Banjo-Kazooie and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask will be added down the line. We'll have to wait and see how many Nintendo Switch owners upgrade to this tier come October 25. Are you interested in Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack? Let us know in the comments below.
Nintendo shoots down the Switch Pro 4K rumor... again
by Chandrakant Isi
Nintendo is all set to launch the updated Nintendo Switch OLED on October 8. However, that hasn't stopped speculations regarding a Switch Pro model with 4K gaming support. A recent report from Bloomberg claimed that third-party game developers including Zynga have access to Nintendo's 4K development tools. Hinting at the initial development of a 4K Switch console, this news spread like wildfire, and eventually, the Japanese company had to step in to address the situation.
Nintendo Japan's official Twitter account stated that Bloomberg's report "falsely claims that Nintendo is supplying tools to drive game development for a Nintendo Switch with 4K support." In the following tweet, the Japanese company reiterated that it has no plans for any new model save for the Switch OLED.
The latest update from Nintendo is going to be a bit disappointing for the fans who have no option but to make a "switch" to the latest PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to experience 4K gaming. However, it is worth noting that Nintendo usually focuses more on gameplay experience rather than a mere visual upgrade. So, packing in more powerful hardware at this point may not align with its strategy.
Launched in 2017, Nintendo's Switch still brings in strong sales numbers. Going by the figures from June, the Japanese company has moved over 89 million units of its Switch console. It has surpassed the lifetime sales of the Sony PlayStation 3 that sold around 88 million units. These numbers are expected to jump further with the launch of Switch OLED, which is priced at $349.99.
By Asher Madan
Diablo II: Resurrected Xbox Series X review — A classic reborn
by Asher Madan
This is a spoiler-free review of Diablo II: Resurrected
As you may have assumed after reading the title, Diablo II: Resurrected is a remastered version of Diablo II and its expansion, Lord of Destruction, which released in 2000 and 2001, respectively. It features all of the content that launched twenty years ago, but adds modern refinements like upgraded visuals, a redesigned user interface, and an expanded stash. This new version was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and Activision's Vicarious Visions studio. On the whole, it's an impressive project, but it may be a little dated — particularly when it comes to inventory management — to be thoroughly enjoyable for all gamers.
Characters and environments
For those of you new to the franchise, Diablo II: Resurrected is a dark fantasy isometric action game where you pick a unique hero and work your way through a number of environments, pursuing a mysterious figure known as the Dark Wanderer. You'll traverse somewhat randomized swamps and deserts in a quest that eventually pits you against the titular villain.
Diablo II: Resurrected features a number of unique environments and locations that increase in splendor. While the camp you start at is quite understated, you'll eventually explore desert cities carved out of rock and venture into crypts that haven't been opened in generations. The visual variety is quite astounding and there are a number of biomes throughout the adventure. Each area also has distinct enemies that increase in difficulty. Diablo II: Resurrected constantly keeps you on your toes because complacency leads to death.
The plot is simply fantastic and I'd forgotten how many twists and turns are woven in there. It has been almost twenty years since I played the original. Running Diablo II on my old HP laptop, in my college dorm, has to be one of my best memories. It was a great way to relax after studying biology and chemistry the whole day. Diablo II not only featured a rich story, but the build-up to the climax has to be one of the best in gaming history. Even to this day, many other titles can't match it. The stellar plot is a testament to the writers who carefully constructed the narrative and slowly let the player figure out what was going on.
For the most part, Diablo II: Resurrected plays like a traditional hack-and-slash experience. You equip increasing powerful weapons and armor, while taking on greater challenges. However, each hero has unique abilities that make the fight against the legions of Hell a little easier. For example, the Druid can transform into a werewolf or "werebear". The Amazon, Assassin, Necromancer, Paladin, and others have their own skills to choose from, though some are more dramatic than others.
To illustrate this, let's compare the Druid and the Paladin. The Paladin has a number of devastating abilities like the Holy Bolt that vanquishes enemies or the Holy Shield to protect himself from arcane damage. He's a strong character, but the Druid is just so much more fun. Transforming into different creatures never gets old and requires you to experiment with more balanced builds if you want to use brute force and magic at the same time. I'd recommend trying all of the characters — particularly the Assassin and Druid since they were part of the Lord of Destruction expansion — to find the one you like the most.
Diablo II: Resurrected pays homage to the original's graphics, but with greatly enhanced effects. If you were expecting a visual upgrade along the lines of Diablo III, or the upcoming Diablo IV for that matter, you’ll be disappointed. Diablo II: Resurrected stays true to the look of the cult classic, but features all-new textures, animations, and cutscenes.
It's clear that a tremendous amount of work went into this game. Diablo II: Resurrected also adds wet surfaces, better weather, real-time reflections, and much more. Suffice to say, it's a noticeable upgrade if you compare the two versions side by side.
If you haven't played Diablo II in a while, you may feel that the game looks relatively the same, it just runs at a higher resolution. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. When you kill enemies like Dark Hunters, encounter a pool of water in the middle of a marsh, or witness the light shimmering on a wet brick bridge, you’ll realize that Diablo II: Resurrected is a modern game. Blizzard and Vicarious Visions have done an excellent job with the new graphics. Because of this, the remaster shines.
If you're ever curious as to what the original looked like, you can always press Left Trigger and the View button together. The View button is commonly referred to as the boxes button on the Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One controllers. I promise you you'll be shocked and astounded by the results. I had personally forgotten how clunky the old animations were.
Diablo II: Resurrected offers two modes on Xbox Series X. The default, oddly enough, is "Quality". This boosts the resolution to 4K, but locks the game to just 30 frames per second (FPS). Despite how crisp Diablo II: Resurrected looks on Quality mode, I wouldn't recommend it because the input lag is horrendous. I would go as far as to say that it's unplayable on this setting because it feels like you're trudging through molasses.
Luckily, there's a "Performance" option that lowers the resolution to around 1440p — based on our estimate — and boosts the frame rate to 60 FPS. This dramatically enhances the experience because the title is much more responsive. When you load Diablo II: Resurrected, your first step should be to go to "Settings" and change the visuals from Quality to Performance.
It's curious as to why we don't have a 4K 60 FPS mode on current-generation consoles, at least for "Offline" single player. To me, it seems like a problem with optimization more than anything else. Unfortunately, I don't think Blizzard or Vicarious Visions will go back and change this on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
Inventory management has to be my biggest gripe with Diablo II: Resurrected. While it's a little cumbersome to use a thumbstick to hover over objects, it gets worse when you want to sell tiny gems or other miscellaneous items to a trader. You have to inelegantly maneuver the cursor over them and hold a button. Understandably, this isn't an issue with a mouse and keyboard, but it's one of the most torturous acts on consoles. Surely there's a better solution.
Diablo III's circular inventory system was tailored for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — despite some questionable results — and is a marked improvement over Diablo II: Resurrected. The development team should've included a similar setup that was made for thumbsticks in this remaster.
Now that's out of the way, let me tell you about why you should consider playing Diablo II: Resurrected with a controller. Instead of clicking enemies or clicking where to go, you can control your character directly through the thumbstick. This gives the game a more action-focused feel because you're directly connected to everything happening on screen. Let's say that you want to kite an enemy, but there aren't a lot of options except for a massive tree. Well, with a controller, you can just run around the tree and keep hitting the foe whenever the time's right. This added maneuverability isn't really found with a mouse.
Using your abilities or casting spells is just as simple as it is with a mouse and keyboard, in my opinion. You can bind whatever you want to a button or combination of buttons. Just look in the general direction and press. The standard abilities bar can be augmented by holding down Left Trigger. This gives you even more slots to bind abilities to.
The revamped user interface really doesn't live up to the hype on consoles, but the fact that you directly control your character with the thumbsticks is a blessing. You're also given a few extra inventory boxes for good measure. In my opinion, the controls are the most prominent changes that improve quality-of-life the most. As you know, the inventory still requires using a cursor and its few extra slots don't dramatically ease hauling loot. You'll still have to make a number of trips back to town to sell or store gear.
Diablo II: Resurrected features online and offline modes. As mentioned earlier, Offline is the single-player setting and you can take on endless enemies on your own. However, if you choose to create an "Online" character, the difficulty goes up a little, but you can team up with more than half a dozen players to help you along the way. I'm positive that all of them can hire mercenaries, so you essentially end up with a small army by the time you take on Diablo.
Aside from the launch day login problems, Diablo II: Resurrected servers still suffer from occasional rubberbanding — you move in one direction and suddenly you're teleported back several feet to where you once were. I plugged in the Xbox Series X directly to the modem and it still exhibited the same problem on a 1Gbps connection. Hopefully, Blizzard and Vicarious Visions have a fix in the works because it can lead to an untimely demise if you're playing online.
Overall, Diablo II: Resurrected still holds up surprisingly well even after all these years. It's a must-play title. The story is captivating, and slowly unraveling the mystery behind the Dark Wanderer is quite thrilling. I just wish the teams had completely revamped the inventory system for consoles.
Diablo II: Resurrected relies on constantly finding better gear, and having to manually control a cursor to select items is tedious, to say the least. Luckily, you get used to it, as it becomes second nature after a few hours. While the game is brimming with nostalgia, and is clearly designed for those who've played Diablo II before, it should still appeal to newcomers. It's a very good remaster, but the aforementioned design choices are holding it back from greatness. The original didn't have any noticeable issues that I can recall, but it seems like the PC version is the way to go because Diablo II: Resurrected works the best with a mouse and keyboard given its inventory situation.
If controlling the inventory with a cursor seems like a dealbreaker, you should check out Diablo III due to its radial menu. The game brings you up to speed rather quickly with what happened in Diablo II and its expansion.
Diablo II: Resurrected features cross-progression so you can experience it on any platform and retain your progress. Unfortunately, you'll have to spend another $39.99 to buy it on another system.
It'll take players around 20 hours to complete Diablo II: Resurrected's campaign, but if you're looking to slay demons on the highest difficulty there is, then it's probably going to be around 150 hours of playtime. It's a substantial game with addictive gameplay. Despite the problems, I can't recommend it enough because it's just so much fun! You don't even realize how quickly the hours fly by.
You can purchase Diablo II: Resurrected from the Microsoft Store or the platform of your choice for $39.99. The game was released on September 23, 2021 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Blizzard Entertainment provided a review code for Diablo II: Resurrected. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.
Nintendo Switch Online "Expansion Pack" will add N64 and Sega Genesis games
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
During the today's September Direct presentation, Nintendo unveiled a brand-new tier for its Nintendo Online Services platform that will contain a selection of retro games from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive) consoles. A couple of new controllers matching the new announcement were also confirmed for the Switch.
Named the Expansion Pack, this N64 and Genesis game carrying new tier will sit on top of the standard Nintendo Switch Online membership, and it is slated to go live in late October. The games announced to be available exclusively via the service at launch were as follows:
Nintendo 64 Sega Genesis The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Starfox 64 Super Mario 64 Mario Kart 64 Mario Tennis Yoshi's Story WinBack Dr. Mario 64 Sin and Punishment Ecco the Dolphin Musha Streets of Rage Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine Castlevania: Bloodlines Gunstar Heroes Shining Force Ristar Shinobi III Contra: Hard Corps Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Golden Axe Phantasy Star IV Strider More titles like Banjo-Kazooie, Pokémon Snap, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Paper Mario will be added later as the Expansion Pack service matures. Unfortunately, pricing was not revealed today, but it is slated to sit higher than the current $19.99 per year cost of the regular membership.
Meanwhile, the company is also bringing out official Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis Wireless Controllers for the Switch. These will come in at $49.99 each but once again, no exact release dates were revealed today. Check them out in the tweet above.