After 2 and a half years of waiting for No Man's Sky to jettison into our hands and save the world forever and ever amen, it's finally here, and boy is it boring. Look at me, I can barely write an introduction for this space sim about collecting space trash and chocolate pearls. No Man's Sky is, all in all, a very boring "point A to point B with a notepad, documenting bullshit" situation.
You start NMS with a laundry list of shit about fixing your ship. You mine things, as you will ad infinitude in this game, firing a laser into rocks and minerals to get crafting materials. You do this over and over so you can make energy or life support fuel for your suit and ship, both of which are things that guzzle resources. So you explore the random planets, looking at weird animals and weird plants and strange weather, looking for shit to continue your journey and move onward. You will eventually find lone aliens at small trailer park outposts, with whom you can trade doodads for more items, new ships, or artifacts. In the environment, you can found strange language stones and learn more about the 3 races you commune with. When you're done fucking around the planet, you can launch off and fly around to the next one, doing the next minuscule objective to craft or find another thing.
This is what you do in No Man's Sky.
I've heard people say this is a chillout game and you can listen to a podcast or whatever while playing, but I can't really equate "chilling out" with "incredible tedium." Moving around the planets is painful, as your plodding pace and miserable jetpack stretch out any activity undertaken. You can expect to amble all over planets, but no matter how initially interesting a planet seemed at first sight, I was always brought back to reality once I took a tour of the area. Truthfully, there is barely anything to "explore," as people are wont to say. There's legit better exploration in Witcher, Skyrim, Xenoblade, MGSV, you name it--all being games where new and engaging shit actually happens. The procedural generation in NMS is a hindrance that hurts the overall experience, as the random planets will all have common things to unplumb and uncork again and again.
I was especially frustrated with the godawful inventory, which kept reaching its pitiful limit. Sure, you can upgrade your cargo or suit, but these things take time that I'm already using just doing *whatever*. I'd go further into the various elements and items you mine and collect, but who gives a fuck about the differences when they amount to "one fuels shit, another shields shit, and another crafts gun shit."
One of the most disappointing things in this game is that the wildlife AI is literally dipshit level. Every animal adapts to the same arbitrary running away in panic, or angrily bumping into you with aggro. Having them all be dependent on procedural generation also sucks; I just see chicken head on cow body, lizard head on cow body, just this parade of mix and match shit. Even the zoos and random wildlife in MGSV were moderately interesting; here, the animals might as well be cardboard cutouts to modestly distract you while you trundle across a shitplanet towards your next whatever who gives a fuck objective.
Am I disappointed there isn't more to do? Sure. I came in with no expectations, save for the fact that my appetite for exploring cool worlds and secret caverns would be satiated. I've landed on a handful of utterly joyless plazas, watched as nothingness yawned and folded up empty chasms, sighed as flat vistas rolled on for miles. I've landed my ship, activated a beacon, and groaned as I realized I couldn't reach anywhere without wasting another launch of my ship thrusters. Even the abhorrent Xenoblade Chronicles X offered quick travel and several swift modes of locomotion; NMS has you choose between the on-again off-again dance of using your ship, or trekking endlessly to get anywhere or do anything. Don't even get me started about "combat" in this game--there is none. It's the most rudimentary shit you could possibly shoehorn in, and the game's pacing and UI is completely unsuited for any kind of dogfighting or gunplay.
I'm sure in later updates, there will be a bit more content, but only just enough to layer on top of an already tasteless cake. However, it's not even worth the salt to cry about something like NMS when there are other, better games coming out that will render my memories of this one void. I don't even have some kind of venomous hatred for "what might have been" like Evolve or Just Cause 3, partially because NMS is what it is, and the hype surrounding was the fault of the masses. What did we learn from all the previews over the years? Mostly nothing, as evidenced by how shocked people have been at the emptiness. Still, NMS has already made shitloads of money, putting itself in the realm of The Division, Watch Dogs, and Destiny for best IP launch. Naming those other 3 games is all I need to say, given their critical standing and longevity.
If you like playing NMS and digging for treasures in the crust of these planets, go ahead and go nuts--I won't vilify you. However, when it comes to open-ended games, I've played enough of them to know that you have to bring your A-game; Witcher 3 was an example of bringing an A+ game, meticulously crafting hundreds of new diversions, missions, and characters. You can even get away with relatively standard maps if the gameplay is excellent, which is what you experience in MGSV and its emergent strategies. NMS, in my opinon, offers neither exciting moments of discover nor any kind of dynamic gameplay; it is merely a skeleton of a greater idea, hidden almost as far as the nearest galaxy as you try in vain to race across the cosmos towards something grander. The ability to shock and surprise players can be found in Bloodborne. Tightly-constructed hubworlds and mission-oriented dioramas can likely be found in the future Deus Ex and Dishonored games. Almost any other critically lauded universe can do more than NMS has. Ultimately, I can't justify wasting my time with such a mediocre effort.
Space may be an endlessly curious entity, but No Man's Sky offers very little in the scope of providing interesting questions--or, at the very least, answers as to why I should play it.
Overwatch is essentially the spiritual successor to the throne that Team Fortress 2 has been sitting on for almost a decade. TF2 was a game I didn't even start playing until my last year of college, around 2011 or so; it was an experience that sunk its hooks into me and never let up, leading to over 400+ hours spent with the manic class-based cartoony shooter. I loved TF2 dearly, even if time has passed and I haven't played in a year or so. How do you follow up such a massive experience that has been subsisting on stupid hat cosmetic DLC and weapon crafting forever? You don't, because it still makes money constantly for Valve. The question remained: could anyone usurp the razor-sharp quality and longevity that Valve had cultivated in their team-based FPS?
Blizzard, with their new Overwatch project, was probably one of the only companies fit to meet the challenge. There was at least precedence in multiplayer expertise with their RTS, MMO, and now MOBA genre forays--but a first person shooter would be unlike anything they had ever attempted. What a wonderful surprise it's been that Overwatch is not only a huge success, but might represent the next dose of crystalline excellence that TF2 once provided.
Although Overwatch is cut from the same cloth as TF2's objective centric matches and class-based roster, the main differences come in the form of just how that roster has been developed. As opposed to the 9 classes and the multitude of loadouts that TF2 offers, Overwatch sets everything in canonical stone--there are no customizations for weapons or abilities. Each characters brings their own unique strengths and weaknesses, though in ways that go far beyond just swapping guns. Warping, climbing, grappling, and jet-boosting offer a huge degree of verticality that isn't the norm in most games of this caliber, and as a result the maps feel that much bigger and ripe for possibilities. Although characters have been broken up into typical Offense/Defense/Support castes, everyone feels fresh and fun to toy with, no matter the match stipulation. One thing I do appreciate is how the selection screen for teams will offer suggestions, telling you if there's a gap for a Tank character or if you have too many Snipers. It's no guarantee that people will swap characters, but it's a nice piece of advice to have if you want to shore up your team vulnerabilities.
The characters themselves in Overwatch are quite fun and interesting. Blizzard did a fantastic job creating vibrant, colorful avatars with clear jobs on the field and likeable personalities. Possibly my only complaints lie within more passive roles like turretman robot or turretman builder, but both of them can be countered given the right distance or flank style. All 21 original characters not only have very easily recognized silhouettes, but also have distinct voices which warn you of incoming threats. Characters automatically commune with you when turrets are in view or when they get destroyed, as well as when their ultimate attack is at hand. Hell, even more useful are the audible lines from the enemy that serve as fair warning for a number of their attacks. It's within little things like this that Blizzard went beyond the norms of team-based shooters to provide small quality-of-life touches.
Overwatch ships out with quite a few maps, most of which have an Attack/Defend scenario, a payload guidance, or a straitlaced KOTH. There are a few maps that combine a point grab with a 2nd-phase payload, too. Although the number isn't huge, they're all unique enough to provide enough fun even when you've cycled through them more than enough times. It's true that we probably need a lot more maps, but I'm not too worried about the future; it's a Blizzard game with the promise of free maps and characters as long as the ride lasts, and with the recordbreaking launch it had, there will surely be more content on the way. As of this writing, I haven't yet tired of the stock maps the game has launched with, and still need to learn the greater intricate shortcuts each has to offer.
It's been a few months since Overwatch released, and the most impressive quality by far has been Blizzard's response to various quirks of the game. Within a small span of time, many characters have seen great improvements, nerfs, and rebalances that have made the game far better than it was at release. We've even had the chance to try a new sniper healer hybrid character, Ana--and more maps/costumes are well on the way. To tell you the truth, I'm stunned by the workrate the Overwatch developers; seldom do games get such a quick and intelligent level of support, but I suppose it shouldn't surprise me too much--this is, after all, this is the company that still patches even Diablo 2, and brought Diablo 3 back from the grave.
Blizzard has made it clear--through the gigantic marketing campaign, hard-pumped updates and patches, and consistent monthly content--that Overwatch is their golden goose fit to stay in the cradle of profit. Given how large the playerbase (and sales) have been not only on PC, but the console generation as well, I'd say it has a very long and fruitful life ahead of it. By year's end, I expect it to look even bigger and better than the time of this writing. Where others have failed, Blizzard has succeeded in their creation of the Next Big Thing. This game owns.
At the beginning of the year, DOOM's gutsy reboot was on the laborious road towards failure; the multiplayer beta had received lukewarm reception, and it had been reported that review copies would not be sent out to game websites. All signs pointed to id Software shaking itself free from a potentially bad release--and so, it was let loose into the wild. The unthinkable happened: through the initial word of mouth, DOOM was being praised as a magnificent and chaotic spree, hearkening back to what made the original games before Doom 3 so mindlessly fun. Fast forward to the present, and even the noted critics have agreed that DOOM is indeed a kind of triumph--not only due to what it had going against it pre-release, but because it had the temerity to grind against typical linear cover-laden FPS games. Having little experience with the original Doom games myself, I decided to see what this was all about. I'm pleased to say that DOOM has offered some of the best fun I've had in a game in quite a while.
The crux of DOOM's excellent gameplay is within its maddening tempo of verticality, constant action, and almost puzzle-like problems in when to use certain weapons or powerups against the burning legions. Favoring a blazing sprint to the jogging pace of other FPS games, DOOM effectively casts you as a superhuman capable of scaling and jumping around the enemy arenas, treating encounters like a hellish carnival as you take down the waves of demons. The scale of areas and the possibilities to move up and down these heights is something the original games did not have, and this was a great way to bring the controls into the next generation, giving you even more options to confront or escape enemies (many of which also crawl and leap all over the map, as well.) I found the blistering speed of DOOM refreshing after cover-based games like UC4 or other FPS games; you're encouraged to get your hands dirty, sometimes literally as your finishing "glory kill" move will reward you with more health or ammo. Standing still is a death sentence in DOOM, especially later on when certain baddies have a particular love of bullrushing you.
What's the point of all this bleeding and shooting, though? Long story made short, you are the Omega Man; the reckoning of Hell that has woken up to care little about a space station's research, only interested in getting off Mars and suspending the invasion of Earth. The Doom Marine's motivations begin and end with "rip and tear your opposition," punching out monitors that would seek to drop exposition on you. The plot is classic in that you are constantly moving forward to the next arena or obstacle. The demons themselves are well-made and have their own quirks, from hulking tackles and wallcrawlers that hurl fire, to rotund chaingun men and titanic Satans.
It wouldn't be any fun unless you had some nice toys to utilize in your holy quest of anger, and DOOM delivers with about a dozen unique weapons, all that have two upgrade paths for specialized abilities. My favorites included a minigun that could split into a ridiculous tri-gun, and a rifle that has a cute little missile box to impale foes with microbombs. You also get to play with grenades and hologram projectors, which will become invaluable when you need a quick fuckoff button as the hordes increase. As you weaken enemies, you can also go for the "glory kill" at the press of the control stick. What follows is one of several gory animations where you punch something's head off or curbstomp their brains out, resulting in more health or ammo pickups than if you merely executed the demon through your guns. It's bloody and visceral and just so satisfying; the kind of juvenile fun you'd expect from the 90's metalhead aesthetic in DOOM.
Speaking of metalhead aesthetics, DOOM does a great job with the locations and arenas you'll be clambering over. The Martian surface is grim and ablaze, while the cold industrial facilities are caked in crimson blood and cool chromatic blues. Your mind won't be blown by the sum of its parts, but it's quite a beautiful graphical achievement when you remember this game is constantly moving at the breakneck 60FPS. In fact, DOOM might be one of the most technically impressive games on the console, especially since it looks so good at the treasured 60 frames. I felt we only just got started with the power of the PS4 with Arkham Knight, Witcher 3, and Uncharted 4--but DOOM should easily slot in there due to the ease at which it handles.
DOOM's campaign, running at about 15 to 18 hours, brings some great reasons to keep playing at higher, hardcore difficulties--but besides the thrill of the great shooting in general, the ridiculously fun secrets and extras to find are quite interesting. Fun enemy documentation, tiny Doom Marine action figures, incredibly secretive throwback portals to classic Doom levels, rune challenges, and hidden weapon upgrades are littered around each chapter, with some more obvious than others. It's a nice breather offered after tough battles, letting you scour the stations and caverns for seemingly out-of-reach areas. It's a truly old-school machination that will keep you guessing what lies beneath the cracks, and I had a blast discovering some of the more unique easter eggs. I was intrigued by even the enemy and NPC profiles written, as they give legitimately interesting takes on the history of the facility before you arrived to tear everything to pieces.
I can't comment about the multiplayer arena as it did not interest me in the slightest, but the quirky SnapMap feature in DOOM has some promise. Everything from recreations of old levels to a strange Harvest Moon sim have been cooked up so far, though I have no idea how far other players will take SnapMap. At the very least, it will be interesting to go further in this mode to create some fun Horde scenarios, but there are certain limitations--like only 2 weapons at a time--that kind of hamper the creativity of the playerbase.
If I could sum up DOOM in a single sentence, it would be thusly: DOOM knows what it wants to do, and does it very well. For people who want a reprieve from the health regen and cover-based yobbery, DOOM goes full-tilt and makes no apologies for its gleefully retro bullet to the dome of its contemporaries. For an IP that has come screaming from the 90s, id has found a very suitable skin for DOOM to wear. It's the kind of skin that still looks good caked in guts and gunpowder, sprinting into another bloodsoaked arena, demanding excellence and aggression from the player. DOOM is a lesson in excellence, as it fulfills a promise kept since 2 decades past--chiefly, one that's hellbent on pure kinetic fun.
Amazing and topical!