A Fresh Bit of Nostalgia with Resident Evil 2

Editorials

It’s not often that we get to relive bits and pieces of our childhood, that feeling of nostalgia that grips us usually only lasts a moment or two. The nostalgic sense is also particularly elusive, too, because it’s something different for every one of us and can be tough to explain why someone has such a strong affinity to a particular experience, and only tends to last a few moments. We all remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance, but we each had our favorite mutant amphibian, our favorite villain and of course our favorite episode; that one thing that encompassed what a show meant to you as a viewer. It always feels good to find a person who shares a vivid memory of the same characters, the same dialogue and the same action. Nostalgia is also a double-edged sword. Most, if not all of us know the feeling of seeing something years later that we loved as a kid, just to discover that it doesn’t hold up like it used to. A loss of that fond memory and the feeling that it gave you thinking back on it becomes replaced with the realization that it had its time and place, but now it’s gone, a memory you sacrificed ignorantly without having the understanding that it should have stayed a fond memory. The real travesty comes from knowing only too late that, that is in fact where the experience belonged, in your memory. With movies being remade or “reimagined,” it is inevitable that something comes along to tarnish what we had put on a pedestal. This same experience seems to have caught on in gaming, too. First with the upscaled textures and high-resolution upgrades of original games, with very little change, but now we appear to be seeing a new brand of re-releases. Resident Evil 2 was recently released, again and with it brought a completely different experience.

Resident Evil 2’s release showed Capcom that there’s a market for some of their older games that they can bank on from long-time fans, but has also attracted gamers who never played the original, or in some instances, may not have even been alive for the original release. There’s the expected familiarity in the remake of RE2. Leon, Claire, Ada. They’re all here, and when they first show up on screen, players versed in the RE series instantly know who they are. The game hits players with that excitement, dread, and nostalgia of being chased from room-to-room by the Tyrant, or having the hell scared out of them by their first run-in with a Licker with their long, proboscis-like tongue, flicking through the air as it peeks out through the sharpened teeth that drip with thick saliva. Players could still have this very same experience with the older game, but chances are they’re also going to feel the sting of dated game mechanics. The scares and B- rated horror movie dialogue doesn’t seem to land like it all used to, not only because the player’s experienced them all before but because the dated mechanics of the game just won’t hit home like it used to.

Let’s take a look at the very opening of the game. The gas station sequence, when Leon (or Claire) has the player getting out of their car to have a look around. The original station is closed off, claustrophobic and there’s not a whole lot to explore. It’s a sequence that’s really meant to simply introduce the players and their chosen characters to their first zombies. It worked fine for the time. Now when we look at the gas station though, it’s still all of those things, it’s claustrophobic, dark and foreboding. What’s different here is now you’ve got room to explore and really take in the scenery. The atmosphere isn’t passively working on the player and making paranoid, well, it is, but that’s a foregone conclusion at this point. Now, the player’s given room to actually help the game exploit their fears and anxiety. The details, the slow, methodical pace of the character moving through the tight shelves and debris in the way. Players can stop and look at their surroundings right up until they run into their first zombie and only then is it time to make a quick escape back to your car. The presentation is also much more organic, the way Leon and Claire meet and are almost immediately separated, the additional dialogue that hooks the player much more quickly. All of this was built from the very same premise but expanded to give players something entirely new that we weren’t expecting.

Players will also see the gruesome detail that Capcom took the time to add. The damage that players can dish out to the face, chest, and neck of a zombie or other horrifically mutated creature is incredible. Instead of merely seeing a half rotten or eaten zombie that indicates being shot by swaying slightly off balance and faint mists of blood with each bullet impact, players are now given an incredible and frankly unexpected visceral looking bullet wound to act as a violent accessory to an already hideous looking corpse. If the zombie’s wearing a hat, the player can shoot it off their head. If a zombie gets too close, players can plunge a knife into the enemy. It will buy them time but at the expense of losing a melee weapon. The shuffling corpse will still have the blade firmly lodged in it as well, and if the player can successfully kill it, the blade can be retrieved. All these little things expand on the original experience, stacking the updated combat and atmosphere on top of classic puzzles that gamers don’t see a lot of in games anymore.

Further improvements can be seen in the character models, not of just the zombies, but the player characters themselves. There are alert and nervous qualities of Leon and his design. His eyes dart around, he’s often in a defensive stance, seemingly ready to bolt at any moment and just the overall body language of him as a character is something we would never have seen in the original Resident Evil 2. The technology just wasn’t there at the time. While this advance in technology is very pleasing to the eye, it delivers far more than a simple, visual enhancement. Leon’s body language helps tell the story; it helps sell the suspense and nervous energy that later games in the series are known. The exciting thing about this is the persona changes from character to character. When it’s time for the player to take over Ada Wong, for instance, she has an entirely different body language to her. She has a confident, almost cocky presentation to her. The movements seem more deliberate, and sure of herself than her counterpart, Leon. She is more familiar with the virus, she understands what it can do, and she’s more prepared for it. This confidence shows up in the character’s movement, which passively helps tell the story, much better than the original experience and this same presentation that also helps to illustrate the missteps of the character as she moves through her portion of the story.

Gamers have grown and experienced other, more modern horror and more suspenseful action as gaming has progressed — plenty of which within the Resident Evil franchise. As players grew, so did their expectations and this what has made the Resident Evil 2 remake something special. It takes the familiar and does more than update the graphics it improves the whole experience. It’s a game packed with nostalgia, yet feels entirely new. The RE2 remake has all the trappings of the original while giving players something new. The experience carries with it the familiarity that players want from a remake while being able to deliver on something that the technology of the time of the original could not produce. Remakes like RE2, show that there are ideas still worth exploring outside the game’s initial release.

Cynics would call this a nostalgia cash-in, but that seems like an over-simplification of Capcom has managed to accomplish. Yes, I am sure Capcom was well aware of the money they were going to make on this release. Considering how popular the franchise is worldwide as both Resident Evil and the Biohazard names in the West and Asian, remaking this game with an approach to quality and actually including new content was sure to sell well. Resident Evil 2 is still considered a hallmark of the Survival Horror genre and had helped to put a lot of other great horror games on the right path it also helped to define what needed to change in the series. From Capcom’s response about how well the remake has sold, they didn’t seem to realize that they’d managed to touch on the type of a remake that people have always wanted, but have not had yet. Not just the retelling of a story, but a chance to explore what is now a classic survival horror setting, in a modern gaming world, and at least for this particular remake, seems to have struck very particular chords with gamers. Capcom even went as far as to release a demo for the game to entice players to give them a taste of things to come, something that we don’t see all that much of these days. It seems that even the marketing team was thinking of classic ways to promote the new experience because we sure don’t see too many game demos these days.

Resident Evil 2 has shown that not only are there large markets for remakes with a significant facelift, but there are also improvements to be made from the original experience. Even for gamers who have already enjoyed the original titles, there’s something to be said about re-visiting an adventure like RE2, especially after it’s had a chance to mature and grow. In the case of RE2, the game went from a fun, but clunky control experience, with a decent, but noticeable cheese-factor, to an experience that’s much more cinematic and manages to add suspense and expand on the characters we’ve already grown to love. There’s still a market for older games, people are willing to go back and play things that they played years earlier, which will keep a company like Capcom in the good graces of gamers for years to come, but the company’s also shown that there’s a demand for old games with a fresh face. With rumblings of a Final Fantasy VII remake coming from Square Enix, we may have a resurgence of classic games that have been remade from the ground up to give us a recognizable, but the fresh take on something that we thought had long since come and gone.

Reviewed – Monster Hunter: World for PC

Editorials, Reviewed

Monster Hunter: World finally made its way to the PC after an eight-month wait. The franchise as a whole has had quite a dedicated following in both the East and West that has generated quite a few sequels and spin-offs to the series on consoles, handhelds, and even mobile platforms. The delay in release was meant to give developers some more time to make sure their port to PC was a successful one because it is the first game to make its way to that platform. Capcom finally decided to take the plunge, which seems to be the right move, since the game’s already sold over two million copies on PC since it’s subsequent release. It looks like PC gamers are finally getting a Monster Hunter experience that PlayStation and Nintendo fans have had for years, but does the port stand up to its console predecessor and how well does the Monster Hunter experience transfer over to the PC? For many gamers, this will be their first steps into the shoes of an expert Monster Hunter, so let’s see if it’s a good one.

The premise of Monster Hunter: World, (MHW) is relatively straightforward. Players create their character and are dropped into the role of a world-class monster hunter who’s just journeyed across the ocean, to hunt monsters naturally. The character creation system is something player with find familiar. Here you’ll find all your standard sliders, collections of the nose, lips, eye shapes and menacing looking scars to choose in customizing your look. There’s nothing particularly exciting or unique about the creation system, but it fills its niche just fine. Players will create some attractive looking, or in my case, goofy-looking characters. One small and pleasant feature is the developers have allowed for spaces to be used in a character’s name, which is something I wish we would see more of in new titles across any genre. When you’re all done customizing yourself, you’ll have the opportunity to customize your Felyne friend, who is a cat-like companion that hangs around and helps you throughout your adventures. The creation tool for your Felyne is a simplified version of your own character creation tool, so there are some options for it, but nothing too deep. Don’t be surprised if you see your cat-friend running out there with a different hunter and another name attached to it.

Once you’ve arrived at the new continent, there is plenty of new biomes to explore. These separate regions in the game have a collection of different wildlife, plants and of course, monsters to hunt. You’ll see everything from lush oceanside jungle to barren deserts, and much more as your character explores the new continent to unlock even more stunning; and in some cases, absurd looking regions. These areas are full of little hidden corners and nooks that will usually have new items, rare creatures, and even characters that can give you a leg up. Players that enjoy freely wandering and exploring in games should love these multitiered, complex regions of the map. Character advancement is tied to their gear, so if you want to do more damage, or be resistant to particular elemental effect, players will have to change or upgrade their armor, weapons, and accessories to keep up with their quarry. Advancing through the game and becoming a higher ranked hunter means you’ll unlock more weapon and equipment choices. The better a character does, the more gear becomes available. Each of the weapons has their individual upgrade tree that can be explored, too. A character also isn’t married to a single weapon-type and Players can choose to swap a weapon in between missions. Each weapon comes with a different move-set to help take down enemies. As a result, weapons will have different tactics that a player or group can employ to maximize damage to a Monster. The Sword and Shield for instances provide a character with improved defense and faster attack speed, while a weapon like the Gun Lance grants a character the ability to shoot at a monster from range. If you pick a weapon that doesn’t work for you, no worries you can always craft another one out another one. With the number of weapon-types available and upgrades for each of them, players shouldn’t find themselves feeling bored with the combat for a while.

Monster Hunter’s constant focus on preparation will often have your character eating a meal to boost stats like health, stamina and even damage. Players that don’t eat before going on a hunt will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage compared to any other hunters they are playing with, but most certainly the Monsters themselves. This portion of the game is quite pretty and full of activity. The delicious looking food that may actually look good enough to make you hungry when you see it. The downside to the Canteen portion of the game is that you’ll see a lot of the same actions and the same food over and over. There’s also no way to skip these sequences, and after a few hours, you will likely find yourself feeling pretty bored of them. There are also upgrades to the Canteen itself, which will add some variety to the time spent there, but honestly, you’ll likely get sick of those as well, since it just upgrades the food you see and these upgrades just replace the previous food and animations. There’s also a variety of items that the player can pop throughout their time in the field which keeps their character feeling as fresh and perky as a spring morning. These items grant health, stamina boosts and even attack damage or speed. Some of these items are an absolute must if you want to be a successful hunter as well. The whetstone is an item that keeps your weapon sharp. Sharpness is a stat degrades over time as the hunter fights beasts. If a weapon becomes too dull, it can no longer penetrate a monster’s thick hide. As a result, a minimal amount of damage is dealt, and our hunter’s combo is broken, leaving them open to attacks, especially from tails, seriously, watch out for those tails. The items and buffs require time and in themselves can be a dangerous decision while fighting A monster. It’s easy to try and step away to drink a potion, sharpen your blade or grab a mid-combat snack of nuts only to take a spiked head, tail or load of vile poisonous spit to the back. Since these character animations take time to execute, it adds a nice bit of tension to the combat experience and again focuses on strategy and foresight. Mechanically, most of these features will be familiar to people who have played pretty much any action game or RPG in the last ten or so years. While not fresh, it does allow players to focus more on just playing rather than learning how to play.

Like the weapons, armor, and items, questing will be something most players recognize as well. Everything’s posted on bounty boards or are given to you by your handler. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young woman who’s more than willing to provide you with advice. She’s also, as you may expect, a walking, talking anime trope. Occasionally she’s sending you off to speak with other characters, or you’ll see exclamation points scattered about the map. These characters will usually have a quest to give you. The weird thing about this is, those characters aren’t giving you a mission, not really. They are just there to inform you that it’s available and that’s about it. It’s easy to forget or assume that once you’ve spoken with someone who has a golden exclamation point floating about your head, that you’ll likely get a quest. Not so, no, once the NPC and player have made one another’s acquaintance, the player will need to go back to the handler or the bounty board to accept the quest. The way questing is managed seemed a bit strange to start with but was easy enough to adjust after playing for a little while. You can check the board for whatever you might need, and you won’t get stuck in long, drawn-out conversations to progress the game’s story. The board is also where you can join other player sessions or respond to calls for help, called “SOS missions.“ These are calls for help that other players in the world request by shooting a flare. In standard RPG fashion, there are, of course, a slew of side-quests to do for the good folks of Astera. Early quests in the game won’t punish you too badly for having a loadout that’s not quite right for the battle, but later on, some monsters get pretty nasty, and it can ramp up kind of quickly. The early game monsters feel a little bit too easy and don’t seem to really do the job of preparing players for the colossal, flying motherfuckers that come a bit later in the game. Experienced Monster Hunter players may be bored with the first four or five hours of the game, while after six to ten hours, a new player suddenly finds themselves fighting much more complicated and dangerous monsters. Players can always call for aid from another player so there’s a chance to take down something that’s may a little too big for a single player. There also might be some unexpected assistance from other monsters on the map as well. Monsters have some interesting interactions in each area that aren’t immediately apparent. The largest of the beasts usually controls the area and will fight or sometimes eat other monsters they meet while moving through their territory. An interesting interaction is that if you’ve severely wounded a monster, others creatures in the area may pick up on this and attack the bully that’s been pushing them around all this time. It’s best to find a bush to camp out in and watch the majesty that is Mother Nature unfold, as two or more horrific beasts rip into each other like the bloodthirsty monsters they are. When the fighting’s all over just collect your loot from those gullible, dead monsters.

The port from consoles to PC, especially for a first-time was a pretty decent try; it is however not without its problems. There have been many complaints about crashing and stability issues with recent driver releases, that were supposed to improve the experience, but instead, seem to have caused problems for some. Another problem seems to be with textures displaying at higher graphics settings. Armor, clothing, and weapons, as an example, look muddy or fuzzy and is much more noticeable at high resolutions. The low-quality textures aren’t problems the console counter-part has experienced. So, for now, at least, the console version of the game currently has higher resolution texturing than the PC port, making it a better visual experience. This is likely a bug that hopefully, Capcom will fix in the very near future. Monster Hunter also seems to have some difficulty in maintaining 1080×1024 resolution, with a steady 60 frames per second. Even with GTX 1070 and the 1080 family of cards, people seem to be struggling to get their rigs to pull over 60 fps. It is, however, hit or miss for people and is likely another bug that needs to Capcom will have to address. I was lucky enough not too experience many issues with fps on a GTX 1080Ti and maintained an average of about 85 fps. That being said, high-end graphics cards should be performing better. For how good Monster Hunter looks, there shouldn’t be such poor, and unsteady frame performance. There are a few settings that can be tweaked or turned off entirely that will probably give players back some frames, but some of those settings also run the risk of making the game look quite a bit different. In the Advances Graphic settings, there’s an option called “Volumetric Lighting.” This setting is mostly responsible for the clouded or misty look in the area. This same setting also seems to be responsible for heavy frame loss when it’s raining. Disabling this setting will give players quick a decent frame boost, but there is a bit of a loss of ambiance and aesthetic to the experience. This setting is also left entirely up to personal taste, as disabling it doesn’t affect how the game plays and may get a player a much-needed boost in fps by turning it off. These graphical hitches and bugs, unfortunately, shine a glaring light onto the fact that Monster Hunter: World is a console port. This fact also becomes evident if you’re playing with a keyboard and mouse. After an hour or two it’s just not a comfortable experience. The best way to play this game without a doubt is a controller. Since it was a console game first, using the scheme it was initially intended for is going to yield the best results and probably the least amount of frustration. MHW also seems to be plagued with disconnect and failure to join errors in multiplayer, which for some, has affected their experience, and understandably so. Sessions appear to be unavailable to join for no apparent reason and groups that have already joined up may find their group disbanded after a generic error code tells players they are no longer able to play online. The only fixes for this I’ve found were to cancel the current session and set up a new one or if that does not work, then to quit the game and relaunch it. Sometimes Monster Hunter: World fails to find a host altogether from launch and the player is forced to play in offline mode. While texture issues and stability problems are undoubtedly annoying, those will likely be fixed. If Capcom cannot keep players connected through a hunt, then that’s going to be a much bigger problem down the line for the game. People can deal with muddy, low-definition looking textures, but not being able to play online consistently for a game that’s meant to be played with friends will kill the game if the issue is not resolved.

The Monster Hunter experience has taken a first, good step into a new platform. There are a few rough edges though that need to be worked out, and hopefully, Capcom will be receptive to folks that are experiencing performance issues. The idea that the textures technically look better in a console environment than on the PC is an issue that developers should address quickly. This new game has improved on what we’ve come to expect from the Monster Hunter formula, and if you’re a gamer who enjoys a bit of a grind and a more methodical action experience that most RPG’s don’t have. MHW is at its best when players team up and rip into some gigantic beasts they’ve got no business hunting alone, but can knock out as a group. MHW offers both a great multiplayer and single player experience that is hard to come by, and it’s about time the PC gamers finally got a taste of the experience that console gamers have had for a while. Even with its issues, I still have to recommend this game. Monster Hunter: World is fun, the environments are detailed and slaying gigantic monsters is a thrill. Monster Hunter: World is a unique journey and a fresh addition to the PC platform that I hope we’ll see more of in the future.

Write.Click’s Favorite Games from 2015

Editorials

Better late than never I always say, Here is my collection of games from 2015 that really did something for me. These games seems to bring something special to the table, at least as far as I was concerned and they left a lasting impression as well as a lingering desire to be irresponsible and play them rather than go to work, or clean, or shower and in some cases, even feed myself! Anyway, without further ado here’s my list of favorite games from 2015.

Rocket_LeagueThis game is absolutely addicting in its simplistic yet fantastic idea. This wonderful twist on soccer meets RC racer has a whole lot of charm. The game is full of perfectly timed shots, great blocks and just dumb luck to get ahead. It’s an easy game to pick up and play for a round or two, but often enough many of us find ourselves sinking hours on end into Rocket League. While the basics of the game are incredibly easy to understand, amounting to little more than, “drive that car into this ball.” it takes a surpising amount of play-time to get good at the game. There is quite a bit more that goes into being able to read the bounce and spin on the ball, or positioning yourself just right to stop a hard, direct shot on net. Timing seems to account for a lot as well, just being in the right place at the right time is incredibly satisfying, especially when it’s a complete accident. Whether it’s an assist, goal or defiantly blocking a shot on your net there is a fuck ton of satisfaction to have from this game that can be found in every match played. Rocket League is a great game, especially for the price. With the amount of time and fun I’ve put into it, it’s definitely one of my top picks for the year and even though it was a freebie from PSN a few months back, the $20.00 price tag is worth it. Frankly the developers deserve every penny and probably even more.

6986287-the-witcher-3-logoHow can this not be on my list for one of my favorites this year? A gritty Fantasy world where the best that most could hope for is that they die a quick, relatively painless death. This is however not the fate that enemies of Geralt have the luxury of getting. With good graphics, engaging, fun and sometimes downright ludicrous dialogue options makes the latest Witcher game something special. CD Projekt Red has done a great job and hopefully are as proud as we are entertained with their newest creation. It’s kept me coming back throughout it’s release, when there is a low point or I find myself stuck between releases. It’s just a fun game to sometimes hop on Roche and explore. There’s so much to see. With the time I’ve spent in The Witcher 3, the game was definitely worth the money. If this is what we can expect from CD Projekt Red in the future, then I really cannot wait for Cyberpunk 2077.

1364418937-mgsv-tpp-logo The Phantom Pain was one of my favorite games of the year, but really left me with some strong mixed feelings, both good and bad. The gameplay was great, fun weapons, items. The addition of vehicles and companions added to tactical options and just made “Big Boss,” seem not so isolated. With all that said, MGS:V unfortunately delivered a watered-down story that failed to deliver any real closure with some of the most iconic characters in gaming. It felt pretty hollow when it was compared to other Metal Gear titles. Despite this, the game we did get was still quite amazing. All and all I cannot really be disappointed with it, even with the title’s weak-points being plainly visible. Metal Gear Solid at least ends with some dignity and is still a very entertaining experience. While there will probably be another Metal Gear game at some point, Kojima being involved with any MGS titles for here on out seems pretty unlikely. For many of us, it’s the last true Metal Gear and at leats somewhat of a fitting end to one of our favorite franchises. While it may not have been what we hoped for, it’s the closure we ended up getting, really it’s a pretty good one.

Nuclear_ThroneJesus Christ, this game is a blast and a half. I still haven’t made it to the Nuclear Throne yet, but I’ll be damned if I stop trying any time soon! The game is like the run and gun version of your favorite snack. You just start eating them and can’t stop. Suddenly it’s two hours later, the bag is empty and you’ve got an odd mixture of pride and shame over what you’ve done. Nuclear Throne drags players through punishing 2D levels with the hideous mutant C.H.U.D. of their choice, blasting and bludgeoning their way through every obstacle in the way. Most of which are other freakish mutants, thankfully. It’s hard to put down and I could swear is some kind of devilish time-machine that will just warp you to the end of your night or even the entire weekend in the blink of an eye.

Dying_Light_Full_LogoThis might be the best zombie game I’ve ever played. The zombies are pretty terrifying, modeling, audio and movement all resemble the worst drunken homeless man you could ever imagine and on top of that, they all want to eat your flesh. Dying Light has the unique ability to make the player feel over-confident in their weapons and abilities and suddenly turn the tables on them. It’s easy to find yourself surrounded by a horde of undead, rotting fucks and if you’re not fast enough, you’ll be pulled right down to the ground and turned into lunch. The parkour aspects of the game are fluid, adding a whole lot of options at every turn as well as making a hardy contribution to the game’s pacing. Movement feels responsive and smooth as you transition from wall to roof and street. Even after leveling a character up, the game throws plenty of challenges at players to keep them coming back. The multiplayer experience is definitely something worth diving into. Cooperating with a friend or two adds a nice dynamic to the game and in some cases pushes players to try and tackle things that they may normally avoid alone..It’s one of the more unique gaming experiences that came out of 2015. Even if you’re pretty sure you’re done with zombie games for a while, it may be worth picking up on a sale or grabbing a used copy.

gta-5-official-logoYeah, I know this game didn’t exactly come out this year, but PC gamers finally got their hands on this beauty after having to wait so long. The wait was definitely more than worth it in the end though. Memorable characters like Trevor, Michael and Franklin, make sure GTA 5 a fun ride. Most of us had already played it before it migrated to the PC platform, but there were still some surprises to be had in playing it again on the PC. Being able to play the game from an entirely first person view (minus cut-scenes of course.) Added quite a lot of depth and immersion to the game that quite frankly I was not expecting. It’s always amazing what simple swap of a camera angle can do for a game. Being able to get so close and explore the world like that really shows how much effort and care were taken in creating the right Los Santos. This is a game i’ll certainly be revisiting in 2016 and beyond. GTA: Online, is of course very fun. The heists are intense, while the chases and shootouts with other players are satisfying and full of excitement.

Destiny-LogoThe Taken King, so full-disclosure on this one. I was pretty enamored with Destiny when it was first released. Unfortunately it was a wild, lust-filled game that wasn’t really “love” at all. This flame of gaming passion burned hot and fast. Ultimately my first trip into Destiny left me feeling pretty unfulfilled, but I still had some good times with it. After playing Destiny for about 6 weeks like I needed it to live, I just got bored one day and walked away. Destiny: The Taken King however seems to have fixed that, for me at least. It finally feels like the game we were mostly promised from the start. TTK is the same great combat experience, with some superb new additions. While the game isn’t quite perfect, it’s developed a healthy and supportive community. The lack of Matchmaking does seem to have worked out in a strangely useful way as we move through second year of the game. Destiny finally feels like an online experience that’s matured and improved as it’s gone on, and all because of TTK. The improvements and continued, nearly weekly support from Bungie coupled with the solid gameplay makes TTK a good reason to come back to Destiny, or keep playing it like I have since I picked it up.

1080729092On the PS Vita, this game’s fun as hell. Like it’s older brother, Dynasty Warriors, the player gets to run around crushing, stabbing, slashing and generally pulverizing anything in their way. There is some light, but nice RPG mechanics in the game in between battles that may be simple, but are still appreciated. In the end though, it all comes back to running a Katana through your enemies in a violent and beautiful show of strength, grace and power. The “Warrior” games have always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. I found that it’s especially satisfying and helps to melt the time away while traveling from coast-to-coast like I seem to be doing so often these days. It’s also a great game to just lay in bed playing, being lazy and comfortable while committing a local genocide on feudal residents of a digital Japanese landscape. SW:C3 has all that you’ve come to expect from a Tecmo Koei game and packs it into a nice little, travel-sized package. It’s not going to blow your fuckin’ mind if you’ve played a Dynasty or Samurai Warrior game before, but damn are they a fun experience to always come back to and a great way to spend some extra cash if you’ve got a Vita.

Galak-Z-PlayStation4Developers, 17-Bit came up with something special when they created Galak-Z The Dimensional. This game is fun in all the right ways, the 2D, top-down roguelike has the feel of a late 70’s Sci Fi anime that just bleeds nostalgia. Galak-Z offers up quite a unique experience as far as roguelikes go too. While the game may not be considered a “hardcore” roguelike, it’s challenging enough and the mixing and matching of leveling and the strategy of progression kept me coming back. Galak-Z originally dropped on PS4 and later made the hop to the PC platform, so anyone who has missed out on it until now really doesn’t have an excuse anymore. The game is full of intense moments and close calls that are hard to match in other games, even in other roguelikes. While the game’s retro-futurist style certainly shines, it’s these breathtaking, action packed sequences and a hair’s width escapes from almost certain destruction that makes the game so hard to put down. I cannot stress how much fun this game is enough. I really hope we see more great games like this from 17-Bit, or dare I say, maybe even a sequel?

headerUndertale has heart, above anything else this game is great at giving players a gut-full of the warm-fuzzies. I was admittedly surprised too by what it delivered too. What appeared on the surface as just another retro-style “wannabe,” ended up delivering one of the most memorable and heart-felt experiences of the year for me. While most games on this list were about action, intensity and even absurd fun, it’s the story and emotion of Undertale that hooked me. While the game is only about 6-7 hours from start to finish, there are 13 different endings that all based on how players decide to play through the game. Undertale has a wonderful soundtrack that fits perfectly wit hthe game’s environment and creatures. It’s also a title that was very clearly crafted with care, which was largely created by a single man named Toby Fox. There’s a lot of unique game mechanics going on here and even fresh takes on old mechanics that any Role-playing fans would enjoy. Undertale is certainly not just another stroll through a dark dungeon. If you’re looking for a slower paced game, that has a few thrilling moments, with strong and endearing emotion then Undertale is a must-play.

Worth a Mention:

KF2Killing Floor 2 is still in early access and very much incomplete. There are quite a few tweaks and fixes that seem to hit Steam on a weekly basis, with some big patches that actually add new content to the game dropping every couple of months. KF2 really cannot make the list for 2015, since it’s got a long ways to go still. While it’s certainly playable I’ll be saving my final judgement until it’s completed. This sequel certainly has some promise though. All the viscera and destruction certainly makes for a satisfying experience. With seven different classes to select from currently, you can destroy hordes of monsters in just about any way that my tickle your fancy. You want to blow ’em up? Sure, that’s covered. You want to maybe barbecue the freaks where they stand? Well you’re in luck. There are various flame-based weapons available satisfy that burning urges. Maybe you want to go medieval slash a creature’s body a part until it’s nothing but a pile of limbs? It’s simple, but oh-so effective. The wave-based combat is always fun and ramping up the difficulty, number of enemies along with all the collateral damage makes for an action-packed horror-fest right up until the boss. Players desperately running for their lives, scavenging for ammo and trying to protect on another against a few different scientific monstrosities. Players can try to make a go at it alone, but this game’s really for those who are more team-oriented. If you’ve got three friends who love exaggerated movie violence, then think about maybe gifting them a copy. Play it forward and massacre some lab-grown super monsters. It’s a surprising good bonding experience. If you’re not the type of gamer who gets into the early release, then just wait patiently until April 2016.

So that’s pretty much all I’ve got. There’s been a lot more games I’ve played that came out this year, but these 10 (11)  just stuck in my mind and are titles I will keep going back to, probably well into; if not well after 2016 is over.

Spinning Tires

Editorials, Reviewed

I’ve been somewhat enamored by a fun little driving simulator called “Spintires.” If you’re still unfamiliar with the title, it’s a driving game that is based off of a pretty unique concept. Players are put in charge of a group of vehicles to complete objectives, like stocking a garage, filling up a fuel trailer to transporting lumber to a location for shipping, it sounds pretty easy right? Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s arguably the most challenging driving game I’ve ever experienced.2015-07-06_00014

The game charges players with crossing terrain meant to reflect the Siberian forests of Russia. It’s a driving game that requires a significant amount of thought. Everything from the obvious choices of which routes to take right down to the more subtle options of vehicle attachments a trucks weight and capabilities and even the distance versus fuel consumption.  The longer you play the more you learn how to take advantage of vehicle features like the differential lock and all wheel drive options that most vehicles have. Never has simply driving from point A to point B ever been so rewarding.

There is literally nothing else to the game, there is no getting out and walking around, there are no enemies to kill, no other truckers to race. It’s all between you, your truck and Mother Nature. The concept itself doesn’t sound exactly riveting, that is until you sit down and try to play it. Soon reality sets in and you realize you’re stuck and not just a little stuck, you’ve managed to dig yourself into a deep rut with your truck sitting on uneven ground. Backing out isn’t an option and when you try and wiggle to the right or the left all you do is dig in more. You enable your vehicles winch and attach it to the nearest tree in an attempt to hoist your burly Russian vehicle out of a pit of your own design.

The vehicle heaves and lurches forward at first. The tree you’ve latched onto groans under the stress. Suddenly your truck jerks to the right and is up on two wheels, you try correcting for the tilt while still attempting to winch yourself free and that’s when it h2015-07-06_00003appens; you reach the point of no return, your truck begins it’s slow, and unstoppable roll to the right. The body and frame sink deeply into the mud and your engine stalls. At this point you’ve got very few options available to you and they’re all require more driving across this unsure terrain.

The pacing of Spintires is a unique mix of calm enjoyment with bouts of blinding rage that bubbles to the surface for a few minutes, only to be replaced by a firm sense of accomplishment. The games lighting is superb, right around the times of dusk and dawn especially. That serene feeling is only broken by getting bogged down into a mud pit and the uncontrollable urge to yell out things like “c’mon you devilish bastard, you can do it!”

When you’re not slogging across rivers or attempting to rip your vehicle loose from the thick, pulpy mud, the game is very relaxing. Knowing that the objective is simply to get there rather than beat everyone else or at least a timer, the only thing you need to worry about is your fuel gauge, which often isn’t a problem. Any time you make any significant progress in single player, the map is saved for you. There is a multiplayer option too, which I’ve spent quite a good amount of time with. This game flourishes when teamwork is present. Players can assist one another with various objectives and even get the other player out of what would otherwise be nearly impossible to resolve by themselves. They can repair your truck, fuel you up and pull you out if necessary. It also makes for some great, tandem 2015-07-19_00002screenshot opportunities.

Graphically the game is beautiful, the water and mud physics add a lot of depth to a game that  would at first appear to be nothing more than a fun little tech demo amounting to nothing more than a romp through nature. Water flows up out of trenches and rivers, exhibiting great properties of displacement. Mud clings to tires and spatter the sides of your vehicle as the wheels desperately spin in an attempt to gain traction. The slop is also pushed out of the way or displaced when a vehicle with a large load drives through or stops on it. What may appear to be solid ground may actually cause player vehicles to sink deeply in and may take some real work to get out of.

The approach that Spintires takes to driving is a refreshing experience. A slow and methodical approach that actually requires a level of strategy and planning that just about no other driving game has is really an experience that fans of driving and racing sims should take the time to check out. It’s a very different driving experience that requires a lot of thought once players have gotten the hang of it, the game becomes very addictive.

 

 

 

 

Dying Light: Techland’s Shining Star

Editorials, Reviewed

Zombies are all the rage these days. It seems like we can’t throw a stone without hitting some form of zombified media. Techland is one of the many developers that’s caught an affinity for the undead genre. As you probably know the company released a game, “Dead Island,” a few years back. Dead Island took players to a beautiful vacation spot devastated by an undead plague.Dying Light_20150223211013 The game received some mixed reviews. Some loved it, others hated it. Personally, I found myself in the latter group. While the premise of Dying Light excited me, the previous experiences with Techland’s made me a bit apprehensive. The Zombie genre is pretty saturated these days and Techland’s last foray into it left quite a bit to be desired when all was said and done.

Dying Light is a vast improvement to what was a similar concept used for Dead Island. While the games’ structure is very simple, amounting little more than scavenge, run, fight and survive. These basic concepts come together to make quite a fun and in-depth experience. Dying Light’s atmosphere plays a big part in the games’ morbid charm as well. Often not going for the quick and easy “jump” scare, but painting the entire scenario to feel like nowhere is safe and survivors must always be on their toes. The audio portion of the game adds quite a bit to the atmosphere as well, going from almost silent to deafening screams in a moment. Music ramps up during intense sequences and is practically non-existent in moments of serene calm where players are free to take in the view and enjoy the beauty of the chaos and wreckage.

The City of Harran is littered with the undead and living alike. Harran has a very “lived in” feeling, giving players the feeling that things are constantly happening whether they are there to witness it or not. Techland did a great job with level design and layout. Different sections of the game has a variety of architecture, building sizes and terrain that adds for a nice change of pace. The city looks like everything came to a violent, grinding halt. From the abandon cars scattered across the landscape to the half closed up homes and businesses. There is a feeling that many people left their entire lives in the streets, whether they escaped or died where they stood. This environment brings a foreboding weight with it; a sense that Harran is living on borrowed time from the moment our protagonist, Kyle Crane arrives in the doomed city.

The entire atmosphere of the city will put players on edge or make them feel outright terrified at times. The undertones of players not being safe anywhere is seemingly a constant theme in the game. Even in safe zones where the undead will sometimes literally wait outside for players to leave. Many safe zones that have yet to be unlocked are full of the undead, giving the feeling that one slip up could cause a haven to become a penned-in nightmare. Thankfully this doesn’t happen and is only used for affect when unlocking safe areas. Once players take a zone it remains safe for the rest of the game. The fact that it wasn’t safe when players found it. With the undead often only feet away makes for a very uncomfortable and claustrophobic environment.

Players can do quite a bit to improve their situation throughout the game. Like scavenging for new weapons, crafting upgrades and modifications to weapons to deal with the undead threat. These opportunities come with an inherent risk to them however. These risks can range from from an almost unlikely chance Crane will be snagged by a zombie, to almost certain death. Gathering the weapons and crafting items the players need take time and it’s very easy for a zombie (or ten) to wander over while players are distracted. It’s easy for the player’s attention to change when picking locks or scavenging an area, forgetting to check the radar or to glance away from a task every once in awhile can lead to disaster. While one zombie is unlikely to drag a player down, a group can make quick work of even a high level player. There are very few occasions where players will feel more vulnerable then when they’re trying to crack a lock. The risk vs. reward scenarios give the game a great balance and delivers a feeling of accomplishment for cracking into the back of a police van or opening a chest in an area that players have had to painstakingly clear out.Dying Light_20150227220634

Dying Light’s combat system is a simple but effective design choice. The closest comparisons that comes to mind would be “Zombiu” on the Wii-U. There is however a much more calculated feeling to it. Combat requires players to try and plan out their attacks, engaging when it suits them and singling out enemies from one another. Hopping into a group of zombies and swinging wildly is a terrible plan. Even at higher levels characters are vulnerable to groups of slow, “regular” zombies. Combat is grueling, but in a good way. Killing zombies is no simple task and players may be both horrified and amazed at the amount of punishment one zombie can take. Not much is left up to the imagination in combat either. Limbs, heads an chunks of torsos being severed or crushed in is a common sight, there is some real weight to the combat. The sense that you’re cutting into another human body is very real and as fun as it is disgusting.  Players will eventually find guns too, however these come with their own problems. All the zombies have an acute response to noise. If players aren’t careful they can make a bad situation worse by popping off a few shots or lobbing a grenade into a crowd of walkers. The option of whether to stand and fight or hightail it to the nearest roof is a question players will find themselves asking at every corner. While Crane has some excellent mobility, he does get tired and needs to take a breather from time-to-time. What players decide to do heavily weighs on what time of day it is.

As the sun dips lower there are reminders that players will need to contest with some much more frightening and aggressive creatures. The reality is you simply do not want to get caught out at night alone for a very long time. Even at higher levels players don’t stand a chance against Nightmares of even a group of determined Volatiles. Once the sun is down the best option available is to book it to the closest safe house. Dying Light certainly rewards players handsomely with experience for surviving the night. Crane can earn a massive amount of experience for any of the three upgradable skill tiers, which revolve around Agility, Survival and Combat, often the nights you venture out of the safety of the camp can heavily affect Crane’s equipment. It’s easy to burn through medkits, wDying Light_20150302202404eapons and explosives while dealing with the seemingly endless hordes that shamble out of the darkness.

As fun as it is to play alone, Dying Light really stands out when with a group. The game thrives on teamwork and cooperation with one another. Venturing out at night is a feasible option with a good companion and the way two players can assist one another in combat is not only affective, but incredibly entertaining. There are many laughable moments where a friend comes flying in from the boundaries of your screen only to dropkick a zombie off a roof, plunging to its (re)death. Certain zombie-types also get much easier to fight and deal with if you’ve got a friend. There can be a maximum of four characters in one game at a time, which really ramps up the action and can help to bring the monsters out of the woodwork. It can be as helpful as it is a hindrance though. Players will most likely want to pick their companions carefully as a bad team member can drastically and negatively affect the experience. This is however the case with many cooperative games, but just something to keep in mind while looking for someone to play with.

Dying Light isn’t perfect, but I was hard-pressed to find bugs that drastically and negatively affected the game. There are a few odd clipping bugs where a zombie will appear inside of the building, when really it’s scaling the building from the outside. Some other bugs that have cropped up are weapons that cannot be repaired until the player switches to one, then switches back. Zombies will also sometimes get stuck in between objects littering the street, though usually not for long. If anything a lot of these bugs are a welcome chuckle in a game with such a heavy atmosphere and setting. Nothing stands out as a glaringly obvious failure and overall Dying Light feels very polished.

The story itself isn’t bad, a bit of a classic zombie “standard” we’re used to seeing in gaming, but it’s a good one. Some of the characters you interact with in the game are pretty drab though. Crane forms bonds with these people that players may find themselves feeling pretty neutral about. You don’t hate them, you don’t love them and sometimes they just feel like they’re there to progress the story. They do the job, but you may wish they did more than the bare minimum. Some of these characters aren’t without their charms though. Rais, the games’ antagonist is a fun guy to deal with that reminds me a bit of Vaas from Far Cry 3 and totally off-the-wall drug lords like Pablo Escobar. The worst that can really be said is, “Hey, sometimes you’re just not going to connect with these characters all that well.” The rest of the games’ strengths more than make up for any of its short comings. In a game about bashing in the heads of zombies, players may not even really put much stock in the relationships Crane forms with other characters.

Dying Light is a great adventure across a dying city full of people who are already dead. Techland knocked this zombie head out of the part as far as I am concerned and delivers a game with the right balance of difficulty, flexibility, fun and fright. If you were a fan of Dead Island you’ll most likely enjoy this free-running action horror game. Even if you weren’t a fan of Dead Island this game is worth checking out. There is plenty of content to keep a player busy for hours and for many is well worth the money. Dying Light is what Dead Island should have been and more in all the right ways.

Leave it in 2014

Editorials

2014 wasn’t a bad year. We had some ups and downs just like we do every year. With any luck and a small amount of vigilance hopefully we can recognize the good and bring it with us into the coming year, while exiling the bad and leave it where it belongs. 2015 is a fresh start and we should really use it like that. While we as gamers should remember our mistakes, lest we be doomed to repeat them, we need to be able to address them before we can improve. This little list will include a few things from 2014 that we as a community can most certainly do without in the coming year and beyond.

Freemium Fever: This one really has to take a back seat in gaming, it’s even become such an apparent money trap that South Park decided to do an episode dedicated to “freemium” games. Now I am 100 percent certain that free-to-play games on mobile devices are going to be just as big in 2015 as they were in 2014, if not even bigger. There is a simple truth that many people need to acknowledge about these types of “games.” Most of them really aren’t that fun. I’ve given these kinds of games more than one chance and they’ve always gotten uninstalled a few days after trying them. The majority of them are mind-numbingly boring and terribly designed in my experience. On top of that, these games are developed to get people’s money, that is plainly obvious to most of us by this point, I would hope. The games are designed just well enough to produce some odd, addictive behavior so people can’t stop playing them while leaving them unsatisfied so they have to keep pouring money and time into them. They’re little more then heavily monetized Facebook games.Morrigan_HoDA

These mobile games are basically gambling, except without the small possibility of actually being re-reimbursed for all the time, energy and real-world money people have dumped into these things. If you look at it from this point-of-view they’re actually worse than going to a casino, which is also throwing away your money! I am not against the idea free-to-play models all together, what I am against is how most companies implement them. They are simply designed to milk money from the consumer with virtually no new game mechanics, ideas or entertaining hooks. There is no storyline, there is no “end” of the game and there is no benefit to actually playing money to play it because you never truly “win.” EA has been particularly abusive with this kind of gaming. Games like “Heroes of Dragon Age,” have players dumping real-world money into the game to compete in tournaments to win things that aren’t worth anything. There are even players who’ve been known to dump thousands of dollars into this game only to have those investments be ultimately worthless. EA updates the game so that players need to basically start from square one every once in awhile. We can’t forget that EA will also removed or make items obsolete in these updates as well, meaning there is a pool of wasted money for users.

Most of these freemium games don’t appeal to hardcore gamers as it is, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. Freemium titles are the “future of gaming” according to EA so we can all put a sock in it apparently.  Calling these things “Video Game,” really seems to be a bit of a stretch in many cases. When freemium games are compared to other PC, console and handheld games there is a clear difference between them in quality, scope and design. They are thinly veiled attempts to separate people from their money through addictive and repetitive behavior. So while we certainly can’t stop companies from making them, we can sure as hell stop playing them, or at least spending real money on them. Freemium simply isn’t worth the money people have spent on it. If you’re going to game save up all those micro-transactions for something that’s actually worth investing your time and hard earned cash into.

Yearly Franchise Releases: I’m looking at you, Ubisoft! Stop all the damned madness, it’s not working! Gamers are still buying these releases for some reason, but then most of them end up on the internet bitching about the product immediately after playing it. Assassin’s Creed Unity was a train wreck that could have easily been avoided had developers spent just a wee bit more time on it. Not only that but you launched another AC title at the same time which is just ridiculous. It’s fine if you want to invest in these franchises and release them relatively frequently, but a small gap in these launches may be in order here. Gamers would rather play a great game every once in awhile rather than a mediocre title regularly.

Assassin’s Creed Unity could have been a much better game had you waiting. Far Cry 4, while a good game could have been great had the developers spend just a little bit more time on it. The game was full of bugs and lacked a lot of story depth in a game that has the potential to be brimming with it. The community is taking notice to the bullshit embargoes that are being put on Ubisoft titles as well. Sure it could be so a game doesn’t get content leaked or so a review isn’t unfairly released that skips the content only available online. The reality is most of this  content in itself is supplemental and reviewers will still manage to get a solid core experience. Many professional known reviewers have done a wonderful job at informing and compensating for those facts in the past and I see no reason as to why this would suddenly change now. This development cycle is clearly and noticeably hurting these money-making franchises; franchises that many gamers really love(d) and we’re being taken advantage of because of it. Ubisoft has some of the best franchises that consumers are really starting to criticize regularly and with good reason. Their tactics have even got gamers worried about titles like “The Division” that won’t be out for easily another year or more.Monochrome_Institutional_Black_CMYK

Other developers are also guilty of this kind of development cycle and gamers are catching onto that too. Activision’s latest addition to the Call of Duty franchise has sold significantly less copies than it’s predecessors. This is actually somewhat ironic since Advanced Warfare attempted to add some new mechanics to the franchise for the first time in quite awhile. The popular EA Sports games are plagued with problems upon release that drive gamers crazy. Many FIFA and NFL fans can’t help but trash the releases as they come out. As far as the Madden series goes, there are quite a few sports gaming fans who wish more than anything that another developer could make an game using the NFL trade mark and it’s teams. Don’t even get me started on the NHL games either from EA. These things have been terrible for years and only seem to be getting worse as years go by. At least EA Sports has somewhat of a good excuse in saying they are trying to keep up with new rules, players and changes that actually happen in real life with these sports. Granted just about all of these things can be patched into a game after it’s been released, but there’s a half-assed excuse for it. Ubisoft isn’t the only one to pull this kind of shitty predatory development on the gaming community, but they’ve certainly been the worst in 2014.

Graphical Manipulation: To put it bluntly Ubisoft has had a horribly track-record in 2014 and they’ve done a superb job at earning it. This is another great reason why the community finds the company to be untrustworthy recently. Watch Dogs was a highly anticipated game and for good reason. It boasted being the first real next-gen open world sandbox game that brought a slew of new mechanics, ideas and of course gorgeous graphics. The problem was that these “amazing graphics” were nothing more than a “bait and switch” marketing technique that tech savvy gamers caught onto very quickly.

Watch Dogs was meant to be a PS4 launch title, but got delayed only weeks before the release of the new console. The game resurfaced a few months later with a new trailer, which people in the community seemed to be more than willing to pick apart, especially after it’s questionable delay. Most gamers immediately noticed that the graphics were very scaled down. Ubisoft denied this ferociously, despite there being plenty of gamers and websites who published screenshots and videos of the original trailers comparing it to the newly released videos. These bits of media had shown a discrepancy in the game’s graphical quality moving forward in it’s development. Well Watch Dogs was released and wouldn’t we know it? It didn’t look as good as was originally advertised. Ubisoft still denied that they made any real changes to the quality of graphics in the game… That is until someone spent a lot of time looking at the installation directory of the PC version of the game. They uncovered the original files that made the game look like it had during it’s initial preview and announcement. Now that they’d been caught red handed their story changed a bit. Suddenly it wasn’t them saying they made no drastic changes to the graphics, it was that they had to change it due to stability issues within the game. After much testing and re-testing of these “modified” graphics people re-instated, most of them discovered that Ubisoft was at least partially telling the truth. The problem was that most gamers experienced the same level of instability from the original graphic settings compared to the modified versions. TotalBiscuit did a wonderful job and illustrating the bait and switch tactic that Ubisoft pulled with this game and if you haven’t seen it, I’d strongly recommend giving it a look. It may be old news at this point, but it’s something that consumers should be on the lookout for in the future. This is especially important because Ubisoft pretty much got away with this kind of deceitful marking scot-free.

These kinds of tactics shouldn’t be getting used to sell a game.index Any game, let alone a triple-A title should be able to make it on it’s own and without having to be drastically doctored from test footage to release. It preys on the consumer’s inherent desire for the next thing in gaming, while delivering a shoddy and second-rate product. It rewards a company for underhanded marketing tactics and ultimately leaves gamers with a inferior product that could have easily been avoided had the company been honest. Sure, it’s entirely possibly that the developers found an instability that may have caused problems for gamers when it was released, however it’s something they could have been honest about. Watch Dogs would have still sold a boat load of copies and most likely Ubisoft would have still turned a profit from it. The fact that they tried to hide it is the biggest problem that I see with this, especially once they had been caught in their own lie. The company essentially stuck their fingers into it’s ears and repeated the same lines over and over despite the facts that were uncovered. Hopefully this experience with Ubisoft and their deceit will stay firmly embedded in gamers minds for years to come and each of us look at all up and coming titles through a more critical lens.

#GamerGate: Jesus Christ where does one start with this total fucking explosion of stupidity, self-entitlement and blatant across-the-board hypocrisy? At this point if you’re a gamer then you know about #GamerGate. If you have thought critically about it, then you also probably know how utterly fucking stupid and pointless it all is. What started as a few people being dickheads to a female developer for a game they didn’t like then judging her based on the choices she made in her private life leads right into some less restrained writers who felt they held enough of moral high ground to lecture the gaming community. These writers basically came to the laughably illogical conclusion that the entire gaming community was responsible for what a small subset of Chud did.

As if it weren’t enough of a mess already people started boycotting writers, entire websites and leaking emails that showed a somewhat orchestrated opinion from the gaming media regarding what has now been know as “#GamerGate,” since sometime in August. To take it a step further Social Justice Idiots and ill-intending morons began doxing people from both sides of this “movement”. If you were publicly in support of or against #GamerGate and you had a relatively large following there was at least a small chance you were a target of doxing. If you’re not aware of what “doxing” is, it basically means someone releases a bunch of your private information to the web for people to do whatever the fuck they want with it.

#Gamergate has done nothing good for gaming any way you slice it. It has consumers distrusting more Gaming Journalists than they trust these days as well as made gamers look like some woman-hating hobby where the cavemen come together to collective bash women. #GamerGate is the digital equivalent of two unruly mobs with different opinions meeting in the streets and fighting to the last man. If you approached the topic with any sort of rational middle-ground you were automatically marginalized by everyone. It is nothing more than a movement of extremism from both sides about something that honestly doesn’t matter at all, here’s why.

At the end of the day people are going to play and support the games they are interested in. As long as those games are making money developers are going to continue making them. People are still going to criticize many games because they find it “offensive” or “wrong” in some way and they’re going to be loud about it. It’s happened with books, music, movies, TV and you’re damned sure it is going to continue to happen in gaming. Try to remember that people have every right in the world to say they don’t like something. This doesn’t give them any real direct power to change it. They are simply complaining about something that they find offensive, which for the most part is a largely subjective experience. What one of us finds offensive others may not. What someone else finds totally acceptable may be the reincarnation of Hitler to another. As long as it’s not infringing on someone’s personal freedoms then there isn’t anything wrong with the content we choose to expose ourselves to. I support peoples’ right to contact developers of all forms of media that someone finds to be distasteful and be given a chance to plead their case. I also support the developer’s right to choose not to change their own creation. It is their ultimate right and final say what happens to content they are making and paying for the development of. When it’s all said and done that’s really all there is to it. Consumers are left with a choice to buy the games or not. If it doesn’t sell well, it won’t continue to be made moving forward. In capitalism the most effective way to vote is with your wallet.

This same concept goes for sites and writers whose consumers find the content to be done poorly or have an obvious bias. These people also have the right to contact their advertisers to request them to pull media. Those advertisers also have every right in the world to tell those people to take a hike. Everyone has different views, different values and different “triggers.” These same people can easily go somewhere else to get the same information. Large websites don’t hold a monopoly on information. It’s not rational or acceptable for the entire world to walk around on eggshells, worrying they could offend anyone or everyone with facts or even a simple opinion. The world doesn’t work like that and it never will. If it does one day, God forbid; we’ll lose all true artistic freedom as well as technological vision and social advancement. Can we just leave this embarrassing, self-entitled bullshit known as “#GamerGate” in the past where it belongs. I along with most other gamers are sick of seeing it and most of us are well passed the point of actually giving a shit.

I am sure I missed things that people would also love to leave in 2014. I just figured I would cover the big ones for myself. Things that stuck out to me as either trashy, poorly implemented or just downright embarrassing for either companies or the community itself. Feel free to chime in with something I may have missed, since most likely there is a lot out there we’d be better off not carrying into the new year. I am sure that 2015 will unfortunately have no shortage of sad moments in our favorite hobby, but lets hope for the best and move forward.

 

 

 

The Carrot and Stick Approach to Morality in Gaming

Editorials

Morality is a tough thing to pin down. The idea of what makes someone “good” or “evil” is largely a subjective one. What some people think as evil or wrong, others’ may find acceptable or justified.  There are a lot of black and white scenarios that people can agree upon with morality in life, but just like everything the real, true majority is varying shades of grey. So how do developers create a morality system that works as intended without portraying everything so simple, so cut and dry? Morality, the difference between right and wrong, or how we perceive it is a complex human experience and it’s tough for developers to put this in a box. Should they be putting in a box and constraining it in the first place? Many times it just feels like the carrot attached to the stick, leading players through their choices rather than letting us decide for ourselves.

There are a lot of games that have built-in morality systems. Things to measure, reward, punish or change the progression of the story based off of how a gamer plays their character. The problem with this system is that it’s so short-sighted and obvious. Players know what direction they are going to go in when they build their characters. The typical Bioware RPG titles suffer from these sorts of problems. It is a conscious decision to become Light or Dark, a Renegade or Paragon. The games aren’t bad, not by any means and in fact are very much the opposite.ME_shep The Bioware brand of RPG all the way back to the “Knights of the Old Republic,” titles are amazing games. The problem is that no one in real life gets out of bed in the morning and decides they are going to be good or bad. Our morality is shaped by the choices we make and the actions we take day-by-day. I doubt anyone, or very few of us decide to be “evil” when we enter adulthood and are given full control over our own choices in life. A good morality system should in-act what we would expect in real life. A good morality system, if it is going to be included shouldn’t even be a part of the player’s interface. However, their choices would still affect the characters they interact with in the world; the character’s morality being a reflection of what has been done up until that point. Let the players decide for themselves what is and is not acceptable in the world their character exists in rather than relying on a visible and measurable points system that the player can manipulate easily. Let the morality system manipulate the players.

This is only one point where quite a few games using a morality system fails to provide any real depth. The player can consciously choose to be good or bad and it’s really just a simple black and white choice for most and that is how they are portrayed in most cases. These systems aren’t bad exactly, but they just feel antiquated by now. We’ve had system like this for over a decade and for the most part they all work off of a similar concept. A player makes a choice for a character and they immediately see the consequences, receiving points in one direction or the other. It would be good to see more games that keeps track of this and hide it from gamers. Make choices various shades of grey rather than simply “good” or “bad.” Just because a player decides to fight for justice doesn’t mean they are good people. A character can do terrible things in a game and still maintain a heroic rank. Simply showing the player a number and rank level for their morality gives a player a conscious goal to work for rather than relying on their gut instincts and playing the character how they feel like it should be played.

backgroundLike many people, I read a lot of comic books. One of my all time favorite Marvel comics is The Punisher.  He’s consider a “good guy,” and a “hero” in the Marvel Universe. However it’s more accurate to call him an anti-hero. He does terrible things for the right reasons, at least in his eyes. It’s not about revenge or justice. It’s simply about punishment for him. He punishes the evil by doing quite frankly unspeakable, monstrous things to people he deems deserving. These are actions that most other Marvel heroes cannot even bring themselves to think of doing. When they do actually commit these levels of violence, there is a real crisis for the character. For Frank Castle however, it’s business as usual. Other heroes in the Marvel Universe don’t even want anything to do with him. They think he’s a mass-murdering monster made flesh. He kills without compassion and is more than willing to murder for something as simple as association. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drug kingpin or just slinging crack on the street corner so you can feed your family. To him, they’re the same and how other major characters interact with him in the world of Marvel is very noticeable. He’s shunned by others and for the most part is viewed as a criminal himself. He deals with people within the universe that the reader undoubtedly know are bad, but the way Punisher chooses to deal with them so viciously and without compromise does not make him a good person. One can easily  make the argument that he is just as evil as the people he kills. It’s a complex moral situation that really makes the readers think and this is in comic books! Things that are only a few pages per issue and cost between $2.50 and $4.00 a pop. If writers can make such an impressively complex and lasting impression in roughly 20 pages of panel and speech bubbles, how come we aren’t getting the same complexity in gaming?

Many of the moral choices in gaming wind up being very noticeable and consequently is very easy to manipulate. To break it down simply, you end up either being a squeaky clean quire boy or a dickhead. Some players want to be evil, not a dick. It’s really easy to be a jerk. Lets think about some of our favorite villains in fiction. Most of them aren’t assholes, at least not outwardly or in a way that is immediately noticeable. In fact, some of our favorite antagonists are quite charismatic. They are characters that can often be related to. Darth Vader is undoubtedly evil. He however didn’t start out like that. He doesn’t choose to be evil, it’s only when the things he cares about are taken from him that he falls to the dark side. It wasn’t necessarily a choice for him as much as it was him choose  a series options that he saw available. These choices caused Anakin distress which pushed him further down the path towards the dark side. He didn’t decide to just become Darth Vader one morning.walt It was a series of complex, yet small and seemingly insignificant choices that eventually built off one another and led him down the path he walks.

A more modern favorite example may be Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” He’s undoubtedly a terrible human being at the end of the show, however he was not that person when it starts. Far from it, in fact Walter White is much  more akin to Cranston’s previous character, Hal from “Malcolm in the Middle” than his slow evolution to the embodiment Heisenberg, Walter’s alter ego. Mr. White didn’t wake up, decide to cook meth and kill people on the side because it was fun. He killed people to protect himself, his business and his family. He made decisions available to him based on what he’d gotten himself into throughout the show. If  Walt had a morality bar chilling out in his sunglasses the entire time, watching his ranks being affected in real time we wouldn’t have ended up with one of the greatest crime dramas in the history of television.

Ironically games that portray a good morality system didn’t really intend to have one at all. Skyrim for example definitely has the ability to make a player feel like their character is good or bad. All of this is based off of the missions they take, how they are completed and of course what gods you choose to help. If you are not familiar with the quests however, you don’t really know what you’ve gotten yourself into until you’re in the thick of it all. What the player ends up doing to complete the mission may not exactly be something they’re comfortable with. Actions that may clash with the view they had for their character that cannot be taken back. For most of us, the hero of Skyrim is somewhat tarnished by our actions throughout the game. This is entirely dependent on how the player views themselves and the choices made. How they are viewed by the player and other characters in the game is entirely up to the gamer, but sometimes it’s not necessarily obvious. 2013-07-22_00001Despite there being no inherent morality system, there is a feeling of the world changing because of choice. Characters you kill stay dead, their homes stay empty, in some cases opening up more game options. These choices create a convincing illusion of satisfaction and regret that is tough to beat. Your choices aren’t being colored or manipulated by anything. It all comes down to what you feel is the right choice to make at the time. Whether to kill someone or let them be, to steal something or buy it from the vendors. The choices we make shape us and when you can see the immediate result of those choices it diminishes the results. A game that is shows the dark side of morality where the player has no choice is “Spec Ops: The Line.” This game is gruesome and the player does some terribly violent things to both civilians and your enemies. There is no choice of morality in the narrative of the game, however the main character does everything possible to justify his actions and in many cases the player follows him down that path. Even in the light of all the atrocities the player’s committed as that character. Ultimately Spec Ops takes the character for a no holds barred ride into the deep and dark recesses of the human morality. It does a good job at convincing players they are doing things for the right reasons, when in reality they couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a very jarring and raw game that is built off the emotions tied to morality and what is right and wrong. The game plays off of the discontent the player feels when their protagonist tries to justify those actions.

The video game world seems to be evolving constantly. Game mechanics come and go, but the introducing morality that is decided by a player’s choices seems to be here to stay. It only need to advance now. As it stands, it largely feels like the mechanic is a consistent, measurable and visible choice. The most exciting experiences in gaming are the unexpected aspects of a story-arc. Things that surprise a gamer or sneak up on them are often the most satisfying bits. These experiences are marginalized when a character has visible control and can map out their moral progression. There are plenty of games that are strengthen by including a morality system, however it would be further improved by removing some of that gamification that we often see pinned to it. Don’t show the player their progress and introduce choices that are more morally grey. Not in just choosing what to do in the game, but how they go about it and how their goal is achieved. Does the end justify the means or is that something people tell themselves so they can sleep? These distinctions can make all the difference in the gamer’s experience.

 

The Dance of Destiny

Editorials

Destiny has been a curious game to watch after it’s release. During it’s testing phases where public had access to it, the game was almost universally loved. After it’s release though, there were quite a few reviews that were favorable, but only slightly. Though there have been some patches, changes and specialized events in Destiny it seems to really be struggling to keep playings interested in the way that Activision and Bungie were hoping for. There are quite a few gamers who feel like they’ve fallen for the old “bait and switch,” tactic. When it comes to Destiny, looking back at what was promised versus what was delivered seems to be two very different things.Destiny_20140922235703

Destiny sold fairly well, especially in it’s first week of release. While the game was a marketing success both Bungie and Activison recently came out to say they were “disappointed” by their sales numbers. Both companies seemed to expect the game to have sold even better than it did. With the amount of money spent in developing the game and all time and effort put into marketing it must have been a bit discouraging seeing the mixed reviews from critics and gamers alike, but the problem doesn’t lie in the fact that gamers weren’t interested in Destiny. The problem was that the game consumers were promised and the version that was delivered were two entirely different products. This is a sentiment that’s caught on like wildfire in the gaming community and it’s definitely affected sales of the game moving forward.

It’s not that Destiny is a terrible game in the form it was released in, not at all. It’s a competent a game that at it’s core was a good shooter, unfortunately that’s really all it has going for it. The problem seems to be everything around those core mechanics just isn’t appealing for the long term. The world that the player is a part of is like a painting. It looks beautiful and serene, but it’s a static environment. Characters exist in it, but they have no real lasting affect on it. A game that was marketed to players as a dynamic experience, where characters have choice, a feeling of power and influence over the universe just doesn’t have those aspects in it. Realizing  that at level 1 an area will be exactly the same as level 30 after all that time and effort doesn’t give players a sense of control or affect. In many cases it causes the exact opposite feelings in gamers, as players have seen. Gamers are no longer content with their characters just existing in the same, static world, killing the same enemies respawning repeatedly with no change. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, the design choices made Destiny into such a static and repetitive experience that it inadvertently reflects the sentiment of some of the characters in the game, that no matter how hard humanity fights, they are doomed to lose and no matter what the Guardians do they can’t save the universe. Which is what it sort of feels like when the player actually finishes the main story.

Destiny_20140917004420As a character progresses through the game it seems to become more restrictive towards their growth. This of course isn’t quite the case. It’s more accurate to say that as a player’s character progresses the constraints of the game become more apparent and affect the player much more directly. As an example, a character can only have two exotic items equipped at at time. One weapon and one piece of armor. Many people are struggling to understand this so obviously limiting design choice. In both single and multiplayer RPG’s, MMO’s and Shooters the goal is to get the very most out of your characters. This includes equipping the best gear and weapons as well as selecting skills that play into a gamers strengths. From a competitive standpoint this would almost make sense if Bungie were interested in keeping the PvP portion of the game more balanced, however there are countless games that allow players to wear whatever gear they want and still have a successful competitive gaming component. These choices don’t help players feel empowered, but restricted.

This design choice is also discouraging because of the sheer amount of time a player needs to put into those items to maximize their potential. It’s a waste of time to put hours or even days into getting the experience and resources required to upgrade the gear, only to have to either choose to not use it while upgrading another piece, or simply not upgrading more than one Exotic item and hoping you’ll be satisfied. While this isn’t a huge deal for weapons since players regularly switch their firearms around to fit the game’s scenario, it is a particularly rough design choice for a player’s armor. Players keep getting Exotic items, yet they can only have two at a time. This means the player has to choose to weaken themselves so they upgrade a new piece of gear while not wearing an item that took them a very long time to upgrade. The player can of course choose to simply not level another item and ultimately removing equipment options for the characters, but that’s just another limiting factor to the scalability of the characters. The decision to run the game like this makes players feel trapped within their own choices. Once you’ve moved passed a certain point, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth pouring that much more time without having any real advancement. or character growth.Destiny_20140923000811

There isn’t enough content to sustain players and keep them interested for a long period of time. Most players are going to get bored of grinding the same strike and story missions well before they reach the max level of 30. There isn’t enough options to keep the player coming back. Even if they do manage to work their way up to max level it feels like a chore. Once they hit max level what exactly is left for them to do? Destiny was supposed to be about the “end game” according to Bungie. This claim made is plainly false by the time the player finishes the main story they’ve got very little to look forward to. Bungie claimed that the game truly begins after level 20, yet there are no new missions added at this point, no quest to be done that are unavailable to lower level players that actually tie into the main story. It’s all the same things the player’s been grinding through the entire time trying to get to the payoff. Yes, the player has a choice to select different difficulties, but there are no new instances or bosses. The only thing that opens up to a player at level 26 is the raid. While the raid is actually fun and does add a different cooperative dynamic to the game there’s only one. Players have in essence spent weeks getting from level 20 to level 26 in an effort to have a single new experience that is over in about three to four hours. One mission is not “end game” content, not even close.  Plenty of gamers fail to reach max level because there is simply no reason to. There is no new game content the player gets to experience for reaching the highest levels available. You simply play a harder version of the very same instance that’s been available since level 26. This is not what most gamers had in mind when Bungie and Activision announced and marketed Destiny.

Destiny_20140922235806Bungie’s choice to have a single set of weapons stats for each gun in both PvP and PvE scenarios has really hurt the game’s PvP options. A common scenario that many players have complained about is spending all this time collecting items to buy special weapons from vendors only to have Bungie nerf the hell out of said weapon. While there is definitely some nerfing and balance issues that needed to and still do need to be addressed with Destiny, having a weapon use the same stats between PvP and PvE gameplay is a terrible idea. What you end up with is a weapon that players spent a long time trying to get and then almost as long upgrading to it’s full potential only to find out that it’s not nearly as affective as it once was in either PvP or PvE. This is a problem because at max level, players in a cooperative environment want to feel powerful and sometimes overpowered and unstoppable. This reduces that feeling of power and advancement through the game. While this is fair to pay attention to balance issues in PvP, Bungie could have easily had two sets of stats for gear. One for PvP and the other for PvE. It would have solved quite a few problems when dealing with the majority of players who like to engage in both arenas of play. In the end it makes the player feel like the reward for putting that much time into the game and it’s gear wasn’t worth the time spent.

In the end, Destiny isn’t a bad game. Not at all. It’s just not what was promised to the gaming public when it was being advertised. Bungie and Activision both deserve to wear a little egg on their faces for this release. They unfortunately let the marketing and hype-machine take control of the game and in the end didn’t deliver on what was being promised. Ultimately many players are left with a fairly enjoyable, but generic and forgettable experience. The game did do well enough to warrant a sequel. Hopefully the developers take not only the complaints to heart, but take a long time to look at where their own design missteps landed Destiny, choices like cutting major backstory out of the game in favor of strengthening their second screen features of the game and limiting equipment are some of the things Bungie needs to take a long hard look at moving forward or else Bungie’s new IP is destined to fail.