ONLY YOU CAN MAKE ALL THIS WORLD SEEM RIGHT.
Far Cry always has, and always will be, one of Ubisoft's tentpole IPs alongside Assassin's Creed. While the latter game has been given hearty competition in recent years alongside Dishonored, Zelda, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and even the Shadow of Mordor series, Far Cry remains alone as a tried and true open world 1st person chaos simulator ripe with glorious explosions and hi-jinx galore. It's a series that, until now, has aimed to explore the far reaches of islands and Asiatic countries--most of the time as an outsider or invader. The Nepal analogue of Kyrat in Far Cry 4 was lustrous, diverse, and beautiful in how it mirrored the culture and nature of an actual country, and alongside this world was a story of a young man trying to discover the truth about his lineage. Atop a grey area of morality was Pagan Min, the charismatic tyrant whose generosity towards protagonist Ajay Ghale was one stemmed from betrayal and a lost attempt at true family. Ubisoft did the best job they could with this recipe, and created what I felt was one of 2014's better games. Far Cry 5 is, no pun intended, a far cry from the exotic locales in the past 4 iterations, preferring to take us down to Montana in the United States for country twang, grain silos, and a more toned-down approach. Far Cry 5's themes of family and falsehood are, in many ways, a bizarre funhouse mirror of the previous game's tale, and in doing so warps gameplay to positive and negative degrees.
Far Cry 5 follows the same underlying blueprint as the two previous games in the series: a huge region divided by separate claims of ownership via outposts, sidequests from various regular NPCs, animals who will pop up at inopportune moments, snappy gunplay, a wingsuit, heavy vehicular usage for travel, and antagonists who taunt you and make you miserable any chance they get. Unlike Far Cry 4, the fifth game gives a little more freedom with your choices via letting you tackle any of the 3 "herald" co-conspirators in any order and at any time. There's also a revamped "guns for hire" system, letting you have up to 2 AI companions from a list of 9 unique people or animals. Nothing's quite like storming an outpost base with a grizzly bear and a man doing strafe runs in a fighter plane. Each friend carries different skills, so depending on the situation you may want the silent bowslinger Jess Black over the trigger-happy bazooka joe, Hurk Drubman. Whether its through choppers, sniping, flamethrowing, or straight up "being a fucking mountain lion," the NPC companions are all fun or funny to utilize and converse with. They all have their distinct personalities and occasionally specific quests relating to their own goals.
Although the satisfying gameplay and combat largely remains the same from the previous iteration, there are some serious drawbacks in Far Cry 5 when it comes to other basic aspects. Foremost is the stock of guns available, which have been scaled down and made more exclusive. Instead of going out on specific goals to craft or earn special weapons like Robocop's Auto-9 or a handheld flamethrower, your unlocks rely on the level of progress across all 3 regions you're working to free. By the time you're nearly done with the game, the last of these weapons unlock--which is kind of batshit since there's no point in even using these last few tools at this point. The progression system in general is kind of fucked since it teeters between worthless and "things that you could just craft with materials at anytime in the last game." Eventually you learn to get over it, but the sad assortment of guns to play with and earn through special means feels a bit lifeless; the rewards just aren't there.
Let's talk about the most obvious change in the game, which is the fact that it takes place in rural America instead of a hostile island of madmen or an exotic hidden Shangri-la of villages and mountain paths. Montana is beautiful in motion and in passing; as usual, Ubisoft has done a fantastic job creating a scenic location that you'll be happy to drag on its face before blowing up with a remote bomb. Silos, tractors, and demonic turkeys are in abundance over the fruited plains and fields of grain, with plenty of rivers to traverse in your gunboats if you want to choose the low road. Adding to the choppers of yesteryear are fighter planes and seaplanes, which are a bitch to handle and will probably get you killed more often than not. Ubisoft claimed that FC5's world is their biggest in the franchise, though a lot of it is claimed by flatlands and the hilly mountains in the north which don't have that much to hide. The map may be larger but it feels less dense, making the game itself feel like a faster completion than FC4. Fortunately, there are no radio towers to climb to reveal locations or gain access to forts; you simply come across a thing to uncover it and earn a fast travel point. In doing so, this eliminates the need for the minimap (I never missed it) and promotes more exploration across the countryside. Although there are far fewer places to utilize the wingsuit, the other aerial vehicles and the option for an air drop make up for it.
Okay, great, we all know Far Cry is a happenstance carnage simulator wherein the boy with the biggest grenades wins the fights. What about the story and the characters therein, which have been called everything from "trite" to "downright worthless garbage?" I won't lie: Pagan Min and Ajay Ghale's dance of death across the land of Kyrat in a war to understand the past and the future of The Golden Path was a far more nuanced and well-crafted storyline than the bumblefuck cult of a David Koresh doppelganger believing in the world's end. I won't waste my time debating if there was something more political to the edge that was initially promoted for Far Cry 5 because it's clear it's not really there, just as clear as it seems Joseph Seed takes a similar "fuck politics" turn in his words and deeds. The core of Far Cry 5 lies within the apocalyptic ramblings of Seed and his siblings (John, Jacob, and Faith) as they abduct people from the surrounding areas in order to "save" them from a countrywide collapse. From the start, you are told that you are the catalyst of ruination; a prophetic horseman destined to sow even more chaos through the realms Seed has claimed.
Far Cry games, in general, are chaos simulators. Far Cry 3 asked the player if they knew the meaning of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again. Climb a radio tower, do a sidequest, reload your guns, practice your bowhunting. Far Cry 4 asked you to put aside your petty cares about this land you have no real connection to, and join the benevolent tyrant Pagan Min in the Best Weekend Ever. The twist, of course, is that you really can't, though you are free to try even as you support one of two opposing factions whose own ideals are different kinds of fucked up. If Far Cry 4 is the tease, then Far Cry 5 is the fulfillment of what the other two prophesized: the ultimate in destruction of the self and your inability to truly fix the world through a hail of bullets.
The criticisms of the Seed family (and their stupid abduction mechanics that interrupt gameplay) are all well-founded, though they do at least attempt to bring more to the table. John clearly has issues and Faith is a whole can of worms when it comes to drug abuse and Joseph Seed's predilection to "use up" people himself, but it's in Jacob's metanarrative on video game violence that the game comes closest to saying something different. Joseph Seed's final encounters and the game's ultimate passage result in one of the creepiest, most ridiculous endings in the Far Cry canon to date--much more batshit than the "congratulations, game over" of the previous title--and unlike many other people, I loved it. It's the perfect way to end a game that has promoted you to the rank of an angel of death, and in the final moments has the unflappable guts to spit in your face as a thank you for playing. As Jacob might have said, you were never really free, and as the protagonist who likely fucked up more than once in your playthrough, you might be nothing more than another horseman of death. It's a somewhat clumsy and bittersweet curtain call that could have offered more clues and pulled more strings to earn what it does, though given the overall disconnect of the entire game's shenanigans versus the brutality being kept at bay, I can't really complain too much. The game saves its most heated, honest moments only when characters--the Seed family included--are at their most desperate; this goes double for Joseph, whose postmortem moments are among the game's best and help redeem his voice actor's presence. Death, the great equalizer, serves as the emancipator of the emotional resonance that Far Cry 5 is so curiously intent on hiding.
Though I still have a soft spot for Far Cry 4, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Far Cry 5 as I soldiered on and began to unlock more ways to cause havoc. A few of the story beats did fall in nicely (someone in the dev team clearly loves Nick Rye), and by the end, Joseph Seed becomes unhinged enough to gain a degree of menace I didn't feel for most of the journey. A few shortcuts were taken here and there, but the initial experience is still a fun one to take, even if it doesn't last as long or hit as hard until the sucker punches near the end of each region. Life, as Hobbes puts it, is nasty, brutish, and short--a fitting way to transcribe FC5 versus the others of its bloodline. FC5 condenses a great many things in favor of bringing you down to earth for some home cooking in the US of A, watering down some of the potential with gaseous monologues from Jacob and John while gifting you with better excursions happening with your NPC pals. You are, in the grand scheme of Far Cry 5's world, a tiny blip trying to save a tiny town on the brink of collapse, even as the rest of the world is trying to figure their own shit out. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, fire that grenade launcher into the sun, sic your dog on cultists, and take your combat drugs daily, because we're all just ants and Far Cry is the magnifying glass we are so hellbent on using to get that last roast of the hour.
Arkane's history is one that's been carved out of the blood and cracked grandeur of games like Deus Ex, System Shock, and Arx Fatalis; the games they make wear these inspirations on their sleeves easily, mainly because Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio have either directed, written, or done extensive QA on all of those aforementioned projects. Arkane has continued a strong tradition of skill trees, power sets, worldbuilding through documents and audio logs, freewheeling hubs, dark secrets, and continuous espionage with their products over the course of their existence. In Dishonored 1 and 2, there was a beauty in the mechanics and the freedom of choice--the ways in which to conquer each objective and utilize a terrifying mystical arsenal in rich, satisfying ways.
Prey, although hewn from the same sharp minds that collected and dispersed the wonders of Dishonored, goes further in both narrative and game design, especially when it gifts you the subtle poison of being unfaithful to the player. In times past, games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Bioshock had the audacity to commit a sin: lie to the player. In recent years this is not so shocking, but as an early concept in the last 10 or so years, deliberately leading you on is a quality that many games are not particularly partial to. Prey is built to test your perception of self inside and outside of the game, leading you to confront your own actions as you explore a story that is built on the environment and relics left behind.
Prey begins with a lie that slowly spreads like a death blossom, countering what you fear to be the worst case scenario with even worse half-truths. As Morgan Yu, you're suddenly privvy to an accident at a research facility that you and your brother Alex are in charge of. The science being undertaken at the Talos 1 Space Station is both life-changing and gruesome, as the same wonderdrug that grants humans unbelievable abilities has ties to an interdimensional menace known as the Typhon. These aliens are not only versed in elemental attunements and psychic blasts, but can do things such as split into many or even mimic ordinary objects in order to ambush you with their deadly tendrils. What follows is a battle of attrition and paranoia, as the first half of the journey is spent in fear over whether or not a simple cup or a chair might turn into a dangerous spidery Typhon. This is a mission of not only survival, but one of discovery and re-discovering who you are, what you will be, and how you want to end this nightmare--before the literal Nightmare enemy stalks and destroys you.
Your means of exploration and self-defense are sometimes an overlapping junction, as one of your primary tools is the GLOO gun: a machination that serves both as a halting containment to most Typhon and natural hazards, and a constructor of platforms that you can climb upon to reach almost anything. Aside from that, you'll be taking a page from Gordon Freeman with a blunt wrench, a standard pistol, shotgun, and a few other specialized grenades to do battle with your alien enemy. Aside from these weapons, you'll begin accruing Neuromods--the product that your TranStar company is famous for. Plugging one into your skull grants hacking power, health upgrades, agility boosts, scientific knowledge, or repair abilities. Later on, once you've studied enough Typhon, these powers will divert into 3 more skill trees of morphology (turning into teacups and cellular regen), telekinetics (psionic shocks, telepathy, and remote control of machines) and energy-based power (elemental attacks, resistances, and siphons.) The drawback in ingesting such alien material is yet to be seen, although it does mark you as hostile to any turret systems currently in use on Talos 1.
Speaking of Talos 1, it's a wonderous art noveau juggernaut that holds a wealth of unique installations and facilities, from the lush Arboretum and the wide space of the gallant lobby to the core reactors and dark reaches of the cargo hold. What's even more unique to Talos 1 are the airlocks, which serve as "fast travel" points and allow you to spacewalk outside the station itself to quickly get from one area to another as they are unlocked. Spacewalks were a highly enjoyable way to float back and forth between areas, and even the cold reach of outer space holds its own secrets and side-ops for you to discover.
Although the main narrative--one of conflicting histories and memory banks of deceptive directives--will be guiding your hand towards one of several conclusions, the real meat in the skeleton of Prey's gameplay lies within the world contained in company emails, documents, and audio recordings. Like Dishonored, this is a game that hides the most interesting tidbits in plain sight; however, with Prey, these side stories are substantial in scope and will often cascade and intersect with each other. There is a mindblowing amount of detail in this web of relationships, from a far-reaching RPG game group across the space station to a huge amount of information for Danielle Sho, who could be considered almost a full-fledged character when you see just how much information and history she leaves behind. Sho is a character who you could easily never read about, care about, or encounter once--but putting in the work to discover new things in Prey pays back with a myriad of fascinating facts about Morgan Yu and his ever more dangerous projects.
Even though the exploration is the main hook to Prey, you're still trapped in a space station with a hundred hungry Typhons and all their terrible abilities. As the game moves onward, more and more breaches will mean that not even the central lobby hub is safe from bigger and badder aliens inhabiting it. The combat that takes place in Prey is a mix of stealthy assault and psionic warfare, depending on your build halfway into the game. A shotgun blast is reliable, but indirect attacks hacking security drones and creating pyrotechnic implosions can be just as good, depending on resistances and enemy type. Luckily, your constant psychoscope can pinpoint weaknesses in each alien as you gradually analyze more of them. I wouldn't go as far as to say Prey's combat is on the same tier of Dishonored's dance of teleportation and hidden blades, but
Through both the main story quest and the missions, evidence, and scandals you collect along the way, Morgan's story will quickly become your own--due in part to the memory erasure of the Typhon mods and the delirious experimentation Morgan took upon himself. In more ways than one, the game becomes an exploration of identity and consequence: in the circumstance that you are embroiled within, how can you avoid the mistakes of the past and build upon the future? Will your sense of truth and reality affect your actions? What does it mean to be humane--or even human? Being that Prey is essentially a game about mimics that transform and mirror everything from people to desk lamps, the greatest transforming act of all may be within your own story told through Morgan. There is so much more to the elements of self-consciousness, ethics in science, and transhuman development, but it will be up to you to define the path ahead and decide how Morgan Yu should--or-would--react.
Within the rich construction of both the inner world and the inner self that Arkane creates in Prey, there's a story even greater than the shocking ending and ramifications therein. There are particles and pieces in the scenery that echo the spectacle of Dishonored 2's Clockwork Mansion, and much like how amazing peeling back the layers of that level was, there's a hidden joy in combing over the intricacies of how Prey both seduces and deceives you. Whether it's seeing for yourself how the ridiculous intro was "created" or connecting the dots from one departed scientist's project to the far reach of the space station's outer workings, the best moments lie within systematically finding your own truths. Even as the final beats of the story tick down and leave you with even more questions, the answer for me was clear: Arkane once again delighted and intrigued me, even against the darker and challenging moments posed in the middle of the experience. If this was truly Rafael Colantonio's swan song, it was one hell of a fucking game to go out on--combining everything he and Harvey Smith touched in their 20+ years experience and crafting an immersive experience that asks you to similarly touch upon a plethora of stories in one package. Prey is, for this multitude of reasons and psychological queries, a fantastic example of what a videogame can accomplish.
YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE SOMETHING WONDERFUL
How do you define what Resident Evil is? It began as a tank-control 3rd person survival horror set in a mansion in the midst of nowhere, then quickly spun out of control into a huge series. After the initial 3 or 4 installments, the franchise went everywhere from radically divergent (Gun Survivor, Outbreak) and revolutionary (Resident Evil 4) to hamfisted (Resident Evil 6) and possible low-key revivals (Revelations 1+2). The gameplay, as of late, has generally held on to the core principles and 3rd person controls introduced in RE4, veering further and further into badly-balanced action segments and convoluted stories. What had started as primarily a horror series was becoming an offshoot bioweapon shooter with wildly fluctuating dips in quality. As someone who enjoyed Resident Evil 2 and 4 (the best ones, the Leon ones), I began to just accept that all hope was lost and Resident Evil, with Revelations 2, had become a low-budget throwaway property concerned with microtransaction bullshit and shoddy gameplay.
Capcom's answer to this was twofold: dedication to the old-school crowd with development of a Resident Evil 2 remake, and a surprise reveal of Resident Evil 7 at E3 2016. RE7: Biohazard was to be a complete resurrection of the series, taking place in a completely new setting with new characters, and throwing the player into a first person experience. Resident Evil 7 puts the "resident evil" back into the series and more, because this is one scary fucking game fraught with terrifying situations and encounters. I was distraught when P.T., a game rich with promise, was cancelled and sent to the abyss--however, RE7 has pulled in some of the best elements of Outlast, P.T., classic Resident Evil games, and SOMA.
The obvious shift in RE7 is the 1st person control, which serves in making each escape and confrontation that much more stressful. Unlike the movie angles of classic RE games, you're only going to see what's in front of you. As I don't have a VR headset, I can't comment on what it adds to the game--but I imagine it makes things that much more immersive. Although this shares many tropes and controls with other 1st person horror games of this ilk, RE7 still rests on collecting weapons, sparse ammo, herbs, and first aid kits, and puzzles that rely on things like weird objects and a series of keys.
In RE7, you play as Ethan, who is convinced his long-lost wife is being held hostage in a Louisiana estate. Ethan wanders into a southern swampmeat residence, gets captured by backwoods psychos, and hilarity ensues. It certainly puts the "resident" back in Resident Evil, as you mainly explore and run around an old house full of secrets, a disgusting basement area, and a dilapidated shack near the water. The sinister Baker family--Jack, Margeurite, and Lucas--all have their own unique quirks and challenges for you, and their respective areas change up the game each time. You'll go from a wild goose chase with a Nemesis-esque Jack to dodging bugs in the shack to solving tripwire puzzles from Lucas in the main playthrough. I did love how the type of encounter changed with each family member I had to go through, and the resulting backtracking into new, horrible areas to keep making progress. Like the original Resident Evil, the house itself is a pertinent and important feature because you'll be traversing its entrails for quite some time, and the challenges will constantly morph. Besides the merry pranks from the Baker family, you will also have to deal with a slimy black symbiotic slew of monsters called Molded. These guys are more or less the dangerous shock troops that have been infected by whatever moldy shit is infecting everyone's brains, and some of your toughest decisions will come from whether you want to use your limited ammo to take them out or flee.
It feels like yesterday I was downtrodden over the death of the excellent P.T. project, which held so much promise in its presentation and unease. Resident Evil 7 has actually succeeded in spooking me just as much as P.T. did--the terror of pushing open each door and navigating through the next dimly-lit room had my heart pounding, especially when I knew something was following me. A lot of this can be attributed to the excellent graphics and hyper-real construction of the household, which was a reason why P.T.'s hallway and relatively "normal" space seemed so scary; there's something not quite right under the surface. Much like the odd viscera and threatening pictures in that game, RE7 has more than enough moments to make you question what the fuck is going on in this estate, and what happened to this family. The best moments come from absolute radio silence, because in those instances the threat is at its worst. You will be taken aback when you feel your safest, and every escape feels like a tiny victory--especially in the more decrepit areas of the Baker estate that have fallen to ruin and sludge.
It wouldn't be Resident Evil without boss battles, something that I feel didn't even become worthwhile until Resident Evil 4. I'm glad to say the battles in RE7 range from pretty good to genuinely thrilling. I don't want to spoil anything, but some of the battles are actually fun and/or funny to go through, especially since you're being egged at by the equally fun Baker clan. Provided you are careful with your inventory, you should almost always have enough in the tank to conquer these battles, though quite a few supply you with items in or around the fighting arenas. Towards the end of the journey, those battles may get a bit bigger and more obnoxious, but critical thinking and quick reflexes will always win out over these creatures.
Regarding the narrative and pacing of the game as a whole, things are at their best when it's confined to the madhouse of the Bakers and their humble abode. The game gets a bit iffy once you leave this area and dive into the final 2 zones, which will have you getting a bit more trigger happy than usual--but the payoff, and storyline revelations, are served up on a platter that is an exquisite callback to classic Resident Evil in ways that mirror the finale of the very first two games. After an initial game dominated by caution and fear, you're sent on a wild run through to the bitter end; a bombastic reminder of what series we're still entrenched within.
My hope going forward for Capcom would be that they continue on this new route of satisfying the hardcore old-school crowd with their REmakes, while also experimenting with this well-conceived first person dimension. RE7 is a largely satisfying endeavour when you understand the perspective of its release frame--a game that came out after P.T. was buried, in a world where Resident Evil's latest outing was a very cheap-budget but acceptable Revelations 2. Although RE7's makeup is an amazing beginning/ending with a low point in the ship zone, it's more than worthy of your time if you're hungry for survival horror and a tense, terrifying dive into gross muck and brainwashed podunks. It's an extremely promising start to what I hope is a new tradition. And after all, tradition is what makes a family closer, son.
NINTH CENTURY NETWORKING
Ubisoft, the perennial slash-and-burn 3rd party, is coming off a moderately successful Watch Dogs 2 outing (I wouldn't know, I don't give a shit about realistic open world busywork) and a bargain bin snowslope sim in Steep. Normally, I'd have something to say about an Assassin's Creed game, but Ubisoft took a year to think about the franchise future and offered up Ghost Recon: Wildlands and For Honor in 2017 instead. For Honor is easily their most unique IP in the last few years, not stemming from any series in the past and offering a new kind of fighting game formula. Pitting samurai, knights, and Vikings against each other in 1v1, 2v2, and 4v4 scenarios, it's focused largely on the multiplayer components--though it offers AI matchups and scenarios, including a semi-interesting single player campaign that functions more like an introduction. Although For Honor lays the groundwork for some very fun brawling and laughable moments, it does suffer from an outer layer of typical Ubisoft bullshit.
Starting from the beginning, the fighting system in For Honor relies on your 3 directional stances and the numerous light and heavy attacks from them. You also have special directional moves, character-specific combos, guardbreak grabs and throws, parries, deflections, dodges, and movement-assisted moves. Certain characters have qualities like a dodging parry or a full-defense stance, others may have better counter cabailities and bleed effects to their attacks. With 4 characters each for the 3 factions, the basic 12 (with 6 to come for free later on) is a nice round number for a 3D weapons fighter. For the most part, each character has a nice balance of strengths and weaknessess, although selections like the viking raider or the ironclad Lawbringer suffer in speed and moveset pool when compared to other easier characters. When it takes twice the work to do things that come simply to others, why bother playing them? Overall the system is very unique and very enjoyable, mostly through the one-on-one duels you have where you're on equal footing.
The game modes available boil down to a few basic selections: solo or duo battles, group elimination, and a quasi-MOBA zone capture. Solo/duo is exactly what it sounds like: 1v1 or 2v2 against players or the AI. The 4v4 modes are a little different; not only are you in complete chaos, but you'll be dealing with "gear stats." Throughout your play, you'll get gear you can equip on each character, buffing and nerfing specific qualities. You can buy stupid steel points with real money to speed up this process, if you're insane. Normally, these stats are not active for solo and duo modes, but they'll be turned on for any 4-man battles, and this will quickly become problematic for you if the matchmaking decides to fuck you over. Though the game is primarily one of skill, being matched up against characters with ridiculous high-tier high-level gear will undeniably cast things in their favor. Additionally, Elimination matches can quickly devolve into either 1) your opponent hightailing it away to doubleteam someone faster, or 2) a wild goose chase to continuously revive teammates ad infinitum. Elimination is rarely "for honor" and to be fair I don't expect anything beyond frantic drunken fights, but it gets fatuiging chasing down another agile character through a level over and over.
Dominion is a mode where you have a horde of AI soldiers helping you take Point B in a map, while points A and C depend on you and your teammates to capture and hold them for points. Again, this is a mode that quickly turns into "rove around as a pack to take points or get ganked badly" so it's not nearly as interesting as it appears.
Let's talk about the stages and the overall aesthetics. I think Ubisoft ought to be commended at locking this game to a very steady 30fps, as I rarely experienced any kind of stuttering or slowdown (terrible fucking servers nonwithstanding). Each stage for duals and larger 4v4 setpieces is lovingly crafted and looks great, from the crumbling medieval forts to the Asian temples and walls. There are plenty of stage hazards, aka "places to throw people off a cliff or into a pit" and that will surely cause many a player to disconnect in salty anger. In terms of animations and effects, Ubisoft nailed everything from telegraphed motions to the more brutal executions. Where the game sucks is the bare bones bullshit of the "soundtrack," which is mainly the same loop of fucking war drums over and over. I ended up setting the "music" down to almost mute because it's fucking worthless. I would have preferred some kind of heavy metal or stupid techno shit but I guess no fun is allowed, even if the presence of such metal aesthetics would have lended itself to such a soundtrack.
So, For Honor has a cool combat system, some nice stages, and looks pretty good. What else is there to say about the core of the game? Well, besides the multiplayer modes, there isn't much else. Like Overwatch, this is primarily a multiplayer game--though one with not as much flexibility or updates, most likely. For Honor has a few problems with the gear functionality, primarily with the piss-poor matchmaking: there is zero discrepancy with how you get premade with people that are either level 8 or 80 with their overall experience and items. There's the entire issue of "honor" in the game, as well--and why not, it's fucking called For Honor, isn't it? And yet, across platforms, people disconnect or quit midmatch all the time, or accuse others of not fighting "fair" i.e. waiting their turn to jump in next in a 1v2 situation in duo dualing, or grouping up rapidly against others in 4v4 scenarios. While I can't really say how this gets enforced or if people really care about it as a majority, I will say that Ubisoft gives zero shits about leaver penalties at all. It's very common to see a "desyncing, please wait" notification break the action for a few seconds, leading to players getting rapidly replaced by bots or even replacing bots without much warning. The peer-to-peer matchmaking isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's certainly susceptible to errors and fuckups when people are dropping out like flies. I don't think Ubisoft really thought about this kind of thing hard enough, so as a result the multiplayer is less than solid. What we're left with is a fairly confusing base game with modes dominated by gear stats and anarchy while others are governed by strictly standard rules. Meanwhile, a "pay-to-win" dichotomy exists for those who want an easier time with 4v4 rules, possibly gaining better items from the weapon packs on sale. Add to all this the tiring matchmaking with a lack of lobbies for duels and a necessity to exit out of underfilled matchups, and you have an undercooked product.
I like playing For Honor--it's an enticing new direction to go with duel-based games and has the ability to make people isnsanely angry. That alone is pretty cool, but if I paid the full $60 for this game (I paid $1.80 due to old trade-ins) I'd be pretty disappointed. In the long run, I can see a lot changing with the game, and maybe it'll have a longer tail than Rainbow Six Siege does for Ubisoft. For now, it remains an experience that is marred by stupid statboost microtransactions, moronic matchmaking and connections, and a playerbase that cannot decide if they want honor or glory. For now, the only potential dishonor might lie with Ubisoft if they fuck up an otherwise great new idea.
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.
I'm pretty bad at XCOM, even though I bought a PS3 partially because XCOM: EU was the current free PS Plus game of that month and my current PC was incapable of playing the game. XCOM's newer titles encapsulate so many great things I love to see in tactical games: cover fire, overwatch, classes of soldiers, heartpounding permadeath, stealth segments, and blowing up buildings just to get to your adversaries.
From a gameplay perspective, XCOM is my dream date--even if it brings a bouquet of tough-as-nails challenges and anxious failstates with it. One thing I really hated about the previous installment was how annoying it was to build up your base and maintain approval of all those whiny countries. With EU/EW, you could easily get to a point halfway where you know you're completely fucked, and heading into a very unwinnable in-game year of strife. With XCOM 2, these logjams and more have been rendered into more agreeable terms: a singular doomsday counter that can be continuously brought down, and can still be pushed back at the brink of Armageddon. XCOM 2 basically makes it possible to reach even the endgame state faster if you know what to do--and have the skill to pilot a team of suicidal fuckers into the fire.
XCOM 2 goes about its gameplay a bit differently for one reason: the aliens have already won. Humanity, for once, has become the aggressor, the terrorist, the resistance. Missions are more about invasions and stealthy recons as opposed to area defense or patrols. The turf belongs to the x-rays now, and you'll often be pressed to quickly take down a target or disable a thing before the enemy sends in an insurmountable fleet of backup. Even in normal VIP rescues or base infiltrations, the aliens will call down for support a few turns in advance to warn you to get your ass back to evac. Unlike the previous outing, you can't just turtle with overwatch forever; you'll have to haul out and take insane risks to win the day.
Instead of catering to needy countries all day, you'll be piloting your mobile fortress aroudn the globe gathering Intel for contacts, supplies for monies, and taking various missions which range from retaliation strikes to full-blown blacksite destruction. As the game goes on, a doomsday scenario called the Advent Project will gain pips on its meter, but you'll have constant chances to subtract from the countdown level and hold it off as you continue storyline-driven tasks. This is far more relaxed than the previous game's fail state, although it's still a stressful value to keep track of.
The typical classes like "grenadier" or "sniper" have been redone into broader roles that actually give you a few new options for character growth. You could easily take the Sharpshooter class into typical sniper territory, or go the gunslinger route for free pistol takedowns or standoffs. You can turn the Ranger into a lithe executioner with an uber powerful sword attack, or a stealth-driven shotgun flanker. I also love the new Specialist drone driver, who can heal from a distance, shield comrades, and deliver guaranteed shock damage from afar. There's also the semi-hidden Psi Ops class, which is basically "Mewtwo with a rifle."
I could go on about other little improvements and character options this new XCOM provides, but if you've seen the previous game then you already have a good sense of how the baseline will be with this one. The real kicker is how open XCOM 2 is for modding and editing, which has made all the difference in my playthrough. Not only can you import tons of great premade soldiers into the character pool (as well as create your own), but tinkering with things like the Advent clock's threshold or the amount of troops you can bring on missions is remarkably fun. I've enjoyed my time with this iteration of XCOM moreso purely because I can relax the failstate the clock or bring 10 fully loaded squaddies into a fiery fray. It's not for everyone, but the ability to morph the rules to be easier or harder to your heart's content and develop easy edits that Steam can subscribe to is wonderful. It makes sense that this is currently only a PC release, at least for me; I can't imagine going back to playing with every cosmetic or hard-coded element strictly on the default. And, I won't lie--the bigger squad numbers and longer Advent calendar (pun intended) make for a better experience for me. I'm sure if the opposite is your cup of tea, it's just as easy to change througH either the Workshop options or the easy .ini edits.
XCOM 2 isn't without its flaws, though. Aside from the natural "that's XCOM, baby" hard luck chances of fucking up in combat, the overall performance of the game can sometimes suffer. I'm running on moderate settings and I usually get about 4o FPS, but sometimes things will chug at 20FPS if there's a shitload of flames and particles exploding around. It's not incredibly bad for me, though--it'd be more of an issue if this wasn't a tactical strategy game, and this is coming from someone who thought 25 FPS for Witcher 3 on PS4 was the worst thing imaginable. There are also moments where the animation will fuck up a bit, freeze for a few seconds to register, or offer baffling pauses between attacks for the sake of nothing. These bugs didn't happen at a horribly consistent rate during my first playthrough, though--and I have to admit that the game runs much better now that some patches have been pushed through. There's also a "Zip Mode" to hasten things up if you're getting impatient in a big firefight.
In terms of physics, I'm still confused about how many times I've been able to shoot through smaller walls or corners, or get grappled by an Enemy from a weird angle. The cover and construction of most objects stays consistent, but there have always been very strange moments wherein I can shoot through a ceiling to get an enemy. Maybe that's intended with a magnet gun; who knows.
Despite the performance problems here and there, XCOM 2 has been a huge step up from the initial reboot of EU/EW. Turtle gameplay has been mostly replaced with frenetic rushdowns, boorish upkeep for 15 countries is swapped with a "manage at your own leisure/danger" armageddon countdown, and the overall map diversity has greatly improved. I suppose it helps that it's also a bit easier for me since I'm not the best at constant micromanagement--having a few more squaddies available definitely helps things feel less stressful, though the challenge and rate of enemy reinforcements always keeps your nerves shot. As the invading force here, it's always going to be a slightly uphill battle, especially against blacksite bases and installations.
I especially have loved the new and improved customization for soldiers, allowing me to add everything from Wolverine and Geralt to Deadpool and Tommy Wiseau to my character pool. The best thing about this is thanks to a recent patch that allows you to only draw recruits from this pool (until it runs out, at which point default randoms would start appearing), allowing you to wage your own kind of war with whatever weirdos you dreamed up. It's within this fun dollhouse option that makes me want to leap back into XCOM2 again immediately after finishing it.
Having beaten XCOM2 for the first time, my opinion on it remains the same as it was even 30 hours or so in: it's a majestic work of tactical strategy, still the top of its class when it comes to this type of grid-based combat. It wasn't always the smoothest ride, and the difficulty can still quash you--but the customization, mods, and overall ease of choice you're going to get in XCOM2 has ensured it can truly work for everyone. That is a rare and a commendable thing, even when the dirt and grime of certain performance and RNG issues threaten to tarnish the luster. There's something for everybody, even in a world of totalitarian alien overlords. See you for the 2016 election!
SUPERHOT, in a few ways, reminds me of dearly departed P.T.--it started as a small yet fascinating alpha level concept that held infinite promise, if given the chance to accentuate on its style and substance. Unlike the unfortunate end to the best Playable Trailer of all time, SUPERHOT went on to garner a generous Kickstarter cycle and eventually see a full release. The game focuses on a kind of bullettime premise: nothing moves unless you do, effectively turning each scenario into a kind of sadistic John Woo puzzle. With everything stemming from this solitary yet unique take on slo-mo action, the game manages to bring forth an intensely satisfying experience and subvert expectation, all at the speed of snail.
From the second SUPERHOT boots up, it presents itself as part of an odd metagame; you're on a crappy computer interface, complete with whirring and clacking drivers, miscellaneous apps and blips stuffed into a few folders, and even a primitive "hacker's channel" that looks like it was pulled from the 90s. The main game begins once you have a faux-chat with one of your "friends," who patches you into a super-secret .exe called Superhot. From there, you are beamed into a wild mix of Videodrome, VR, Matrix effects, and possible cybercrime. The overall story, while nothing completely groundbreaking, is incredibly entertaining for how it makes you feel like you're playing something forbidden. More than once, SUPERHOT will poke and prod at your immersion to ensure you don't forget that this is a game within a game computer interface.
Although you're probably familiar with how bullet-time works thanks to landmark games like Max Payne, the first-person gameplay of SUPERHOT has more in common with Hotline Miami--if Hotline Miami only let you see what was in front of you, and the concept of time was stretched to a crawl. Moving slowly and deliberately enables you to see muzzle flashes at their base instant, dodge the red-accented bullet trails, and predict trajectory of both the glassy Red enemies and their weapons. Time only moves as fast as you do, promoting that patience isn't just a virtue--it's your means for survival. However, going the route of daredevil--especially in time trials--is valid, providing that your swifter punctuated moments can be backed up with a bullet. Faster actions like jumping or throwing objects can be useful, and it's especially cool how everything you can utilize is outlined in black as opposed to the crimson hues of incoming bullets and enemies against the icy white backgrounds. There's no other way to describe throwing a pool ball at a shotgun goon, distracting him long enough to skirt across the bar to slice him with a katana while easily dodging an auto rifle's salvo in time to impale him on the thrown sword other than "fucking awesome." The engine allows for so many solutions just based off the simple "hit, pick up, throw, move, jump" ethos, and the ease of access ensures you'll be disarming and destroying Red troopers in no time.
You'll need to master your powers quickly, as the 30-odd levels in the main story will take you to some snazzy setpieces and hardcore situations. One of my favorites in particular was a short yet bitterly sweet stage wherein you spawn in a cramped elevator with three guns pointed at your head. Even if you get past the goons, the elevator dings open, and a man with a shotgun is waiting to spray you with a cone of pellets. Another was a recreation of the foyer battle from Matrix Reloaded, complete with sword baddies. You're going to notice some elaborate homages to cinema, and more than a bit of inspiration from Cronenberg classic Videodrome. After each massacre, the scene replays at normal speed to show you just how incredible your run truly was. Even nicer is the option to save a replay and upload it to a dedicated offsite known as Killstagram, enabling you to share your wildest runs with others.
After the psychotic 2 to 3 hour storyline has finished, Endless Mode, Challenge, and Freeplay for Story unlock. Endless is just that; fight impossible odds for as long as you can across a variety of arenas. Challenge Mode is a bit more fun, giving you modifiers across a huge set of missions. Can you complete story mode while just being able to use the katana? How about only melee, or at only regular speed? The lifeblood of SH lies within continuously challenging yourself with speed runs, crazier stunts, and new ways to tackle tasks you probably saw were improbable.
It's difficult to quantify why I felt SUPERHOT was so crisp, complete, and excellent even when I was just an hour into the game. It's an experience trimmed free of bloat and excess fat, presenting a lean and limber fight while throwing in a fun metatextual package around the product. It's not very often that the content for something is JUST right without wearing out its welcome or leaving you wanting more. In the case of SUPERHOT, I do actually want more, and I expect the continued challenges I unlock plus the free updates the developers have promised will continue to satiate me for a decent roll of time. In the same way people felt about tiny yet illustrious jewels like Hotline Miami, Gone Home, or Frog Fractions, SUPERHOT is a stellar example of marrying style and substance in an especially deadly and addictive way. It's one of those instances wherein you remember that this medium is quite young, and can still hold very pleasant surprises.
Darkest Dungeon is a 4-slot position-based RPG wherein you are tasked to continuously send frightened explorers and warriors into nightmarish wealds and slovenly brackens, with the sole purpose of rebuilding your ancestral home back up, brick by bloodsoaked brick. Your chosen party members and reserves are not hired and outfitted with the expectancy that they will live for the 90 or more times you dive into another excursion--this RPG is roguelike in nature, meaning death is not only expected, but it it imminent if you wish to fight through most of the tougher bosses. In sacrifice, there is radiance--your stressed-out heroes have equal chance to find either middling madness or courageous zeal.
As a bitesize roguelike, Darkest Dungeon will have you sending 4-person parties consisting of a handful of diverse classes and skills into horrid ruins, with the aim usually to do something like exploring 90% of an area, fulfilling all room battles, or slaying a boss enemy. In battle, there's a quaint selection of status ailments, movement shuffles, debuffs, and heals to be slung about, varying depending on your characters. But, there's also the element of Stress--a value that increases or decreases depending on how dim you keep the torch you bear, how many sickening critical hits you take, or what ailments and entrapments envelop each characters. At the edge of Stress lies the maw of madness; a Fearful hero may skip turns, while an Abusive one may hurt itself or berate others with increasing Stress. On the flip side, some characters will have the chance to rise up, becoming stronger and wiser as the tide of the fight turns. This singular feature alone is a wonderful addition to the RPG formula, and adds a lot of strategy to the scope ahead, as well. It serves not just as a thematic difficulty weight, but to also insure you consistently play with and utilize a variety of different teams and playstyles. it's quite a brilliant way to put forth the idea that each encounter with the unknown and the eldritch has a palpable effect on your poor adventurers, thus necessitating a visit to the bar or an internment at the medical asylums between missions.
When you aren't imploring your mercenaries out to the evil realms, you're constantly upgrading your haven. Early on in Darkest Dungeon, the focus is less about your adventuring roster and more about preparing your former hovel to a battle-ready home. Eventually, you'll be able to not only pay less for cures and heal more people effectively, but outfit leveled characters with better armor, weaponry, and buffed skills. As upgrades grow and characters get stronger/better, so too does the knowledge of how to better tackle traps, examine weakness of each enemy type, and formulate teams with synergy. It's an expertise that comes with both time and effort, since your stronger teams will not likely emerge until a few areas in your town are updated permanently. In this way, I've found this game much more accessible than other roguelikes like FTL or even Binding of Isaac, which gave you more options on each playthrough but did not guarantee what you could carry on. In Darkest Dungeon, even if you manage to wipe out your entire roster, the progress made in your village will ensure that the following adventures you have go by smoother due to the capability to actually upgrade stats cheaper and faster.
Thematically, Darkest Dungeon is beyond excellent; from the initial mood that narrator Wayne June dregs up like a thick fog of horror, the grim resolve permeates everything that is said and done throughout your journey. The notes and quotes of your ancestor litter each major boss fight's foreword, and with every strike and discovery there's a notation of victory--or defeat. Rarely is there something so notably incomprable when it comes to presentation, but the narration here is so enjoyable. Equally enjoyable is the fantastic art style, a kind of Gory/Mignola mashup that isn't quite hyper-real but still manages to be unsettling and shadowed with something sinister. A great many monsters are legit gross and abhorrent, which goes a long way at encountering some of the more disgusting bosses and knowing you're in for quite a match.
I'm not a roguelike guy at all--I've never even come close to beating stuff like Isaac or FTL or even Invisible Inc, much as I love those games and enjoy their mechanics. However, I've clicked with DD mainly because the "failure" of losing characters, even after a great many victories to build them up, doesn't cause me pangs of extreme grief. I am not the character--I am the descendant, and the township is my legacy, not the life of the mercs. This format allowed me to accept that the future excursions would become less fraught with peril, although the threats and stress therein will always consistently provide some sort of challenge. It's that roguelike everyone has where you can put 100 or so hours in, doing convenieently menial or repetitive tasks yet always curious what's next. What team composition can I try next? What lurks beyond that threatening curio on the map? Which quirks and diseases should I heal--or spend a fortune to lock?
When it comes to "that bullshit rng" claims--I have to laugh, as this is no different from any rogue/rpg/etc. The real elements of distress and fear of death are what seperate this from most smaller roguelikes, though this game's really no different in handling RNG-based tragedy than Fire Emblem or XCOM--both games that I love. Sure, there was rarely a boss that I beat without a significant death from my team, but again--this is a slow march towards getting better and building smarter. Death is inevitable as you climb closer to the zeniths ahead. As far as options go, for those who are not a fan of systems like enemy corpses affecting slots or heart attacks making stress potentilaly more taxing, the devs have chosen to give normal runs the ability to switch those features on or off. I admit, at first I found those features a bit overwhelming--before I began paying attention to the upgrades that would even the odds. I've played with all the normal features turned on since and never felt like they hindered me immensely.
Darkest Dungeon has been a pleasure to play, from its early access inception to its ultimate released form. There have been stumbles along the way, particularly nerfs or buffs that made me initially think that the game was on very thin ice. However, Red Hook's willingness to be flexible with toggled options and updates have won my trust, and I've found that there was more advantage given to the player over time when it came to things like debuffs and movement options. That I've played almost nothing else the past few weeks since their latest flurry of updates and upgrades says a lot about how fantastic I think this stress-inducing, mind-melting jewel is. What I love most is that even at the lowest point, I've been able to start again and stronger than before--not just due to the progress of the town, but based on what I learned from each triumph and failure before. That, I believe, is the mark of an outstanding roguelike. I've stood gallant and fearless as my Vestal withered into madness, depending on the Leper messiah to slay the Formless Flesh--and cheering silently as he proceeded to hew through the horrid menace with a much-needed hit. I've seen my entire force slaughtered and boiled to bits my the malignant Hag, cursing my fortune and vowing to return in due time to turn the tables on the morrow.
I've watched entire parties crumble, only to rally around one lone Crusader who decides to get Focused at the peak of his stress. And I've accepted defeat at the maw of the malicious Shambler, foolish in my confidence that my rank 1 group could possibly outwit the Lovecraftian beast. DD is as much about the stories and failures gifted as it is about slowly accepting your knocks and eventually besting the opposition. It's a marvelous, wicked game, worthy of at least a try if this relatively simple creation interests you.
Red Hook has potentially created a masterpiece of the genre. The match has been struck; a blazing star is born.
Amazing and topical!