Once again, I'm late as fuck to post this and now this list is worse than ever! 2018 was very busy/shitty/etc for me so I didn't even have the time and means to play through as much as I usually do, which might be a good thing but BAD FOR ALL OF YOU. Thus, the top 10 has been abbreviated to a top 8. Hope you enjoy this because I SURE DIDN'T.
8) SOUL CALIBUR 6 (PS4/XB1/PC)
I always try to add at least one fighting game to my list, though it pretty much happens organically anyway since I'm a big fan of fighting games in general. I was certain DBFighterZ would run away with this, but Soul Calibur's return had a bigger impact on me purely due to how the balance worked out. Less homogeneous in the tactical department, Soul Calibur just feels like a more mechanically unique offering; Dragon Ball's roster is hype as shit but still has like 4 Gokus and 3 Vegetas on the roster, and the overall experience with characters is pretty much the same across the board. Soul Calibur's wacky fighter creation suite alone puts it over the top, as does its continuously fun metagame of pokes and slashes. It's not rocket science, but Soul Calibur hasn't been in my hands for a very long time and I genuinely love how special it is in a sea of other 3D fighters that have come and gone.
7) MONSTER HUNTER WORLD (PS4/XB1/PC)
All of my prior experiences with the Monster Hunter series have been caked with frustration at the mechanics and distaste for the jagged, often handheld-bound graphics. I'm no stickler for graphics, but when it's a game that squishes everything onto a 3DS or Vita and downgrades the resolution into nightmare territory, I'm going to complain. The same goes for the controls and gameplay, which had a variety of quirks I was not ready to engage with fully. For years I'd try the newest demos before deleting the them hastily. Eventually, I accepted that this game series just wasn't for me. Then, Capcom refined the formula and brought it screaming to life on the big screen it was clearly meant for, in Monster Hunter World. Boasting not just a beautiful high-def experience but the most accessible, user-friendly gameplay yet, I'm happy to say that the global phenomenon has finally dug its Rathian claws into me and refused to let go.
6) OCTOPATH TRAVELER (Switch)
A JRPG revival project from the Square-Enix developers who gave us Bravely Default, Octopath is a modern marvel: a callback to the classic sprite-based RPGs of the 90's yet grounded with quality-of-life improvements in regards to combat, locomotion, and visuals. I've appreciated the 8 divergent stories going on, and none of them involve some kind of worldeater or destructive engine capable of planetary destruction; these are simple tales of discovery, vengeance, rescue, and self-reliance. In this way, Octopath has become a kind of comfort food for me: relaxing in the pace it offers, and bounteous in the ways you can approach the game.
Aesthetically, Octopath is an aural and visually magnificent game, and one that is bolstered by a series of moments--whether they come from the main stories of each character, or the brilliant subtlety of using your unique character actions to discover more about the world you inhabit. For example, while Tressa's bartering ability allows you to buy items from NPCs for a fair price, one elderly woman in particular would not let me purchase an expensive and very rare Spear. Using Therion the thief would allow me to attempt to steal the Spear (at a meager 5% success rate, mind you.) Curious about this artifact, I finally used the Scrutinize ability from resident scholar Cyrus, only to be granted access to this woman's small but important backstory: the spear belonged to her late seafaring husband, and was all she had to remember him by. Later on, I came across another old woman, who I was surprised to see was eligible for the "Provoke" command--a function that lets you battle other NPCs. However, I was stunned even further when I learned her strength level was off the charts; she was quite possibly the strongest NPC I'd ever seen. Further inspection into her backstory suggested she was an "ex-assassin," which makes too much sense and is frankly very amusing.
It may not have been the FF7-sized story of interwoven character purposes that people wanted, but I really enjoyed the time spent with Octopath and it provides a fantastic template for future successes on the Switch for this dev team.
5) SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE (Switch)
Worthy of the "ultimate" title, the latest and biggest entry in Masahiro Sakurai's grand circus is absolute the best. Boasting the largest and most balanced roster ever, SSB Ultimate pulls out all the stops with new modes, customizations, battle options, 100 stages, 800+ pieces of music, and a ridiculously large adventure alongside a revamped and creative Classic battle. Words fail me in describing how huge and bountiful this entry really is, and I doubt there's much I can add to the already plentiful takes on this game--but it truly is a cut above so many other games in terms of quality and detail, not to mention the craftsmanship in the attention paid to nostalgia and gaming history referenced throughout. It is the biggest love letter to Nintendo and perhaps game characters in general, and for that Nintendo has much to be proud of.
P.S. any publications that refuse to consider SSBU for their year-end lists because it "came out too late," shoot yourselves into the sun.
4) INTO THE BREACH (PC, Switch)
Full disclosure: I greatly disliked FTL, and despite the positive reception it garnishes these days, I was very disappointed by how badly the RNG of the game tends to skew, and how little progress you seem to make in spite of your efforts. The next game from Subset Games, Into The Breach, assuaged all my fears with a game that is more dependent on skill, positioning, and playing a highly chaotic game of chess with mechs versus buglings. Utilizing a 3-unit team of big bots, you'll need to destroy the ensuing menace threatening to eradicate the last remaining cities of an apocalyptic earth while taking on bonus objectives for precious resources. Positioning is the name of the game here, as it's crucial to pull or push enemies along the map, preventing them from executing attacks which you have knowledge of in advance. The skirmishes are short, but the puzzle nature of each encounter leaves the game to many viable strategies and squads on each run. The persistent achievements gradually unlocked more mechs to playe with, and you can even mix and match squads between each team or just field a team of 3 identical punching mechs. Into The Breach quickly became one of my favorite games of the year due to how quick it works and how satisfying the experimentation with your mechs tends to be. It also helps enormously how the loadouts lend themselves to skill over an RNG feel, and every squad out of the gate is predisposed to a certain strategy--though those notions can be morphed with the right equipment and custom squad creation. If you love strategy games, then this one is a no-brainer and---wait for it!--is perfect for the Switch.
3) HITMAN 2 (PS4/XB1/PC)
Clawing free from a poorly-managed Square-Enix that would have seen them put on the same shelf as Deus Ex, the steadfast people at IO Interactive fought for their baby and decided to go independent, with WB Games handling the new publishing rights. Continuing Hitman was enough of a success to begin with, but the refinements added in Hitman 2 have improved what was already an incredibly fun and creative sandbox of assassination. Not only boasting six new original locations, Hitman 2 lets you import all the previous maps as well, letting you take full advantage of all the new toys and engine upgrades that IOI has put forth for this quasi-expansion. Although the pricepoint might be a bit steep for 6 maps, the ability to bring in legacy content as well as 2 full upcoming maps is well worth the ticket to ride this rollercoaster of explosive rubber ducks and stupid costumes. IOI is worth supporting if only for how wonderful Hitman is and how lucky they've been to escape a bad hand with their flagship IP intact. It's been a joy to revisit the old stages as well as pry apart the new ones, and the game runs and looks better than ever. I'm enthusiastic about the future of Hitman now that there are more possibilities for IOI, and so long as they make bank, bald will continue to be beautiful, bloody, and bombastic.
2) MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN (PS4)
A long-kept secret that had been rumored for years, I chose to believe in the whispers that Sony was bankrolling the return of Spider-Man to consoles mainly because I badly wanted to websling through the city of Manhattan once more. The previous installments from Beenox only seemed to get worse with time, and for years I thought all hope for a worthy successor to Spider-Man 2 was lost. What Insomniac has done for Spider-Man in their incredible take on the mythos exceeds all of my expectations in terms of thrilling crimefighting, wonderful webspinning, and an excellent narrative that stands with the best that games in general have to offer. From the moment you take control midjump as Peter Parker to the emotional end of his journey, I was enthralled by the quality of the story in conjunction with how fun it is to BE Spider-Man. And that's what kept people hoping for a new Spidey game: it's fucking awesome being Spider-Man, from the uncanny agility and acrobatics to the gadgetry to the relaxing and engaging act of simply slinging around a metropolis, it's just plain fun and always will be. There's something to be said about how locomotion really plays a factor in so many games, and grappling hooks have always been a key point for me when discussing how much fun a game is. Spider-Man basically has the best grappling hook mechanic of all, and definitely has the most organic and smooth implementation of the idea. The worst part of Spider-Man is that we're going to have to wait ages for more of it, because it's one game I could play forever if given much more to consume.
1) GOD OF WAR 2018 (PS4)
This is probably the first time in a long while that my Number One has been kind of an "obvious" title--the past two years were picks that were largely off-center from what mainstream choices were (DOOM/Yakuza 0). God Of War smashing expectations by way of shattering the brainless, outdated theatrics of the original series and molding it into something extraordinary is no easy feat, but Cory Barlog and Co. have reshaped Kratos into a quietly poignant warrior who longs for peace in a nightmarish Norseland. Boasting a grand storyline in a wondrous new landscape, God Of War delivers in every aesthetic category possible while granting you so much freedom with how to proceed. Not only a contender to Zelda in terms of discoveries to be made, GOW's combat system is one of the best I have ever experienced: frenetic and heavy, rife with fun movesets for each weapon and a variety of magicks to learn and upgrade. It's just plain fun and the challenge level is JUST right; not easy at all but not hardcore enough to make me want to die. It's simply a modern classic that not only promises a great time but confronts the ugly shadow of anger in a character that was previously a very one-note rageman. I can't think of a better way to redeem such a rock-dumb series than cast its reflection next to it, injecting a sophistication to not only the buttonmashing but also the personality of a previously vengeful agent. In a sea of games that more often than not tasks you with killing things or ripping them up, I found God Of War's fatigued, hawkish take on the past refreshing. We're still going to have a good time ripping monsters to pieces, but God Of War was one of the only games in recent memory that asked the difficult questions about the ruins left behind after a life of violence and revenge. That refinement and discipline bleeds through into how detailed and finely-spun this game is, and I suspect we'll be seeing it in many Best Of lists for years to come.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
None of us want to be Elfstar. We'd rather be DEBBIE. Similarly, every game wants their Debbie award but not all of them can achieve such lofty ambitions. Here are the miscellaneous awards for things like Best Hamburger Grafix or Biggest Healthbar.
Fuckup Of The Year: Fallout 76
I still have no idea how this surprised people. Bethesda's rickety engine plus MMO bullshit sounded like pure strained dogshit but in all honesty, this was worse than I ever imagined. A laughable series of mistakes and consumer fuckups later, Todd Howard's House of Ideas looks to be in big trouble. People used to give Fallout the excuse of "well, nobody else is making games like this," which is admittedly piss-poor--but with Cyberpunk 2077 and onetime Fallout darling Oblivion's The Outer Worlds primed to make an appearance soon, the jig might finally be up. It's adapt or die for the little open world company that could, and their tricks aren't fucking working anymore. I suspect that Bethesda is going to be quiet in 2019 as RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal take the stage as the moneymakers for Zenimax. I'm not exactly optimistic about the future of Todd's studio and quite frankly, I'd rather see more from Shinji Mikami and Harvey Smith in the coming year.
Dogpark Award: Hitman 2
The original Dog Park recipient 2 years back, Hitman returns to reclaim its throne as the biggest asshole simulator of them all. Hitman 2 lets you put rakes down so joggers can smack into them like a cartoon character. You can throw endless explosive rubber ducks into a family barbecue. Do you want to derail an entire NASCAR race while dressed as a flamingo? Would you like to kill an island of Illuminati agents with a katana? Hitman has got you covered for all your stupid idiot dreams. Hitman 2 wins this award and it's honestly not even close.
Best Music: SSB Ultimate
It feels like cheating to award this to Smash Bros Ultimate over the sultry sounds of Octopath, but SSB Ultimate has 30 fucking Castlevania tracks to choose from and there's zero chance anything can compete with this.
Best New Character: H'aanit, from Octopath Traveler
LET MY ARROW FLYEN TRUE
COMEN, IF THOU DAREST
As per the usual, here's what I picked in 2017 for what my 2018 list would be like:
Red Dead Redemption 2
God Of War
Monster Hunter World
Far Cry 5
I already messed up by making a Top 8 this year instead but I suppose if I was going to make a Top 10, Yakuza 6 (I did not finish it) and DBFighterZ (I liked it) would be on there. I did not get to play Red Dead 2 due to life happening and the game being too fucking big to play. Octopath and SSB Ultimate fulfilled Nintendo Game 1+2, thankfully. Far Cry 5 doesn't really make the cut and Wargroove has been postponed to 2019. All in all, this list turned out surprisingly well; even if Far Cry 5 doesn't get the spot Hitman 2 claimed, it still was one of the only things I wrote about last year so that's kind of a victory. I'm gonna go ahead and say I was 9/10 for ths list.
Now, here's my prediction for 2019:
Resident Evil 2
Devil May Cry 5
Mortal Kombat 11
The Outer Worlds
Fire Emblem: 3 Houses
RE2make is already getting rave reviews and is by all means the definitive version of one of my favorite games ever so this was an easy pick, as was Devil May Cry 5. MK11 is the easiest layup ever for me, a dumbfuck who puts every NRS game on my year-end lists. RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal look like they're a better Borderlands and DOOM 2016 But More, respectively. Wargroove gets a pick because it got shifted over from 2018 and I still love the idea of it. The Outer Worlds appears to be Fallout But Good from Oblivion, and we could all use more of them. Judgment might snap me out of the Yakuza fatigue I've felt since Yakuza 0's sequels continue to spurt out like hot cakes. Sekiro is a no-brainer ninja Bloodborne, and Fire Emblem's new Switch entry looks like a cool new take on a great strategy series that I adore.
I could easily see something like Indivisible, Pikuniku, My Friend Pedro, or a future Nintendo title jumping on here, but for now I'm gonna play it safe with the stuff I know I'm gonna like that's set for a 2019 appearance.
Hopefully, in 2019, I'll be able to get review material and other shit on here faster (RE2, Wargroove, and DMCV most likely) or at least put up other retrospectives.
I HOPE THIS YEAR IS PRODUCTIVE FOR EVERYONE. LET'S BE GOOD IN 2019.
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.
MOVE ANY MOUNTAIN
At the start of Breath Of The Wild, I awaken after a 100-year long slumber. From the exit of my cavernous rejuvenation chamber, I can see the entirety of the world from this apex: a plethora of plateaus, pathways, and the cursed kingdom itself. I clamber down the mountain face rather than follow the trail towards a decrepit temple, hoping to explore a bit first. Soon after the dangerous journey, the earth quakes--a huge rockbeast called a Stone Talus erupts from the soil to battle me. With no equipment or experience in fighting, I'm quickly felled by the grand enemy, and two more additional times when I start over. Eventually, I gave up, and climbed back up to reach the path to the crumbling sanctuary.
Many, many hours later, I'm in the polar caps of a ruinous mountain range, fading slowly to the chills and perils. I parachute down to a thought-abandoned patch of flat land atop another peak. A Stone Talus emerges. Equipped with the necessary tools and quick-footed skill, this time the Talus falls to me, sprinkling amber pieces and minerals at my feet. Victory, for now, is mine.
Later, I climb one of the tallest structures in the game purely to see if I could do it. After much trepidation and several frantic dashes along the steep cliffs, I reach the top. There is a single rock; without thinking, I uproot it. I'm rewarded with a Korok seed--an item held by well-hidden faeire folk that can be exchanged for expanding your item slots. One down, 899 to go.
Breath Of The Wild is a fantastic example of how to create a diverse journey of discovery and wonder, and yet, it can be summed up quite easily: it is a game that never stops rewarding you for being creative, curious, and well-prepared.
To preface the rest of this review, I have to pose the following statement: I've never really given a shit about the sanctity of the Zelda franchise. Ocarina of Time isn't on my shortlist for anything, I never played much of Majora's Mask or Twilight Princess, and I detested the caged repetition of Skyward Sword. The extent of my Zelda gameplay lies within the handheld games, namely Awakening, the Oracle series, and Link to the Past. I was never a fan of the tired dungeon schema, the continued gimmicks in every game (ocarina time travel, turning into a wolf, motion control and boring bird flight). I was always more of a Mario and Metroid guy, so Breath of the Wild only got my attention when it became evident that this was a complete revision of the series tropes and traditions. As such, I want to try and completely divorce Breath Of The Wild from its siblings, much like how experiences like MGS5 or even the upcoming Prey should be judged based on their standalone gameplay and not their lineage.
As much as I fucking hate saying this tired phrase, Breath of the Wild--like Resident Evil 7--is a "return to form" in the most radical way. The original Zelda for the NES dropped you in a field, had an old man give you a tool for protection, and the rest was up to you. Breath of the Wild similarly puts you in a wide open space, has an old guy give you a semi-tutorial thing if you want (and you will want to, for the parachute item he gives you), and you're given a singular goal: Defeat Ganon. That's it. Whatever goals you set for yourself--whatever story beats, accomplishments, and rewards you receive--are completely optional from this point onward. Unlike previous Zelda games that consisted of the "3 or 4 macguffins followed by the Master Sword followed by 6 more macguffins" formula, Breath Of The Wild throws it all into the ocean; you can run right to the castle if you want, and have the guts to go through with it. Nothing is required and everything is permitted, so if you want to take part in things like recovering your memories, resurrecting 4 ancient beasts to help you, or even finding the well-hidden Master Sword, that's up to you.
The crux of why BOTW feels so good is partially within two facets: being rewarded for exploring a genuinely fascinating landscape, and having more means than ever before to conquer the world. Traversal in most open world games fluctuates, and is usually infuriating; Dragon Age had some truly awful ways to explore a world filled with boring minerals, and games like even Fallout promised things like "if you can see that mountain in the distance, you can go there." BOTW fulfills that promise by actually allowing you to get anywhere with the new climbing mechanic, which allows Link to scale almost every single object in the environment, provided he has enough stamina. This singlehandedly changes the entire game and the means you have to explore, especially with your parachute tool that lets you save yourself from steep falls or float over to distant islands. More than perhaps any open world created, Zelda's entirety is truly open for you to map out and claim for yourself. Even halfway through the map and I've still yet to uncover the depths and heights offered, as every turn may reveal new items, new characters, new shrines, and some of the 900 or so Korok faeries hidden throughout the earth.
One of the central themes of BOTW is the addition of shrines over dungeons. Each shrine offers a mini-puzzle room usually centered around one of your abilities, or several--or simply your ability to divine the solution from a perplexing situation. Not only will each one reward you with an orb--4 of which will help increase your Heart or Stamina meter--but they'll also function as fast travel points. Not all of the shrines are simply laid bare for you to enter, as some require anything from solving a small puzzle to actually engaging in some kind of epic encounter. Some of the most interesting moments came from events that I assumed were full-scale quests but actually turned out to be the key to shrine revelations. Some of the shrines can feel like padding, and not all of them are A+ puzzles, but in terms of the open world structure they work well as 1) meaningful discoveries to accrue orbs and solve fun little things and 2) as fast travel checkpoints along your way to exploring and scoping out areas.
The weaker shrines are just "use magnet thing here, use cryonis there" but some of the best moments in the game come from actually making a shrine appear through a battle with a huge enemy, navigating a strange area, doing some kind of platforming challenge, or some other weird shit like the "Twins" shrine puzzle. Running a gauntlet in a crumbling temple full of Guardians or shifting through haunted darkness just to find a shrine is pretty cool. There are more than enough of these special shrine scenarios to go around, and it's delightful to stumble into one and become enraptured in a miniature adventure.
Although shrines take center stage as functional fast travel checkpoints and as a means to upgrade stamina and hearts with every 4 orbs earned, the 5 or 6 main dungeons set in the bellies of massive mechanical beasts are quite fun and engaging in what tools and features they hand you to solve their mysteries. My complaint about them lies within the fact that they end in boss battles that are not as intruiging, and generally become annoying to deal with.
Central combat in Breath Of The Wild revolves around the durability aspect of your weapons and shields. Though it's a bit of a mixed bag for me--and others--I never really felt upset about this part of the game. Combat is such a fleeting thing in the big picture, and although it gives you the same lock-on and dodge aspects mixed with a new parry button, I never felt like it was ever the crux of any Zelda before, either. What does change are the physics in BOTW, which serve as part of your offense as much as any arrow or boomerang. Pushing or summoning boulders with your magnet tool, throwing rechargeable concussive bombs to separate enemies from weapons, blowing up objects, and even stopping time will be part of your arsenal as much as your inventory. Although I did feel a sense of paranoia about my rarer weapons earned in shrines breaking with too much use, I never felt like I'd ever be locked out of generally good weapons; luckily, many items like even knight greatwords and shields eventually respawn in set places after in-game days, and many enemies have decidedly good items on them to acquire at any given time. Besides fighting, items like axes, hammers, and torches have a great deal of uses, whether it's chopping a tree to get to its fruit, hammering a shiny rock for its minerals, or lighting an entire field ablaze to stave off attackers. Other non-breakable equipment like your head, chest, and leg armors can be upgraded and recolored with the right materials, which you can find literally everywhere.
Character sidequests range from a classic Cucco herding to re-discovering an ancient faeire fountain. Oftentimes, I found that some of the most interesting rumors and discussions amongst villagers and random travelers would lead me to truly intruiging journeys. A passing quest to find out what happened to a frozen shrine lead to an awesome boss encounter in the frozen peaks. A normal delivery across prairies leads to a short battle with a follower of Ganon, followed by meeting Hestu, the Korok ambassador residing up ahead. However, there are a majority of sub-quests given by other characters that are disappointing and not worth the effort, often rewarding you with little more than 20 rupees or something equivocal to that. As I've said before, the best discoveries and achievements usually came to me through simply going off on my own, accomplishing feats that I did not have prior notion were being hoisted along as NPC requests.
The journey in BOTW is as much about what you discover before even knowing about it --the Master Sword being one of the coolest "sequence breaks" in a game yet--and there are enough charming villages and settlements to walk around and play with. Exploring Hyrule is a beautiful thing, as this pushes the limitations of the WiiU to its threshold. From the lush grass-laden fields to the bleeding sunsets and lighting effects, every biome and atmospheric theme is breathtaking and is probably one of the most incredible graphical feats in Nintendo's history. The graphical power comes with a cost though, as I inevitably ran into framerate hitches in very intensive areas---mostly crowded towns, thunderstorms, and large clusters of enemies. I'm a huge asshole when it comes to FPS problems, though I will admit that the slight jitters you get sometimes in BOTW weren't a dealbreaker for me. Things never fell into a "day-one Fallout 4 on console" level of constant slowdown, and for the majority of the experience I was able to traverse throughout the game unhindered by the normal 30fps. Playing on a WiiU didn't see to have any drawbacks, either; this is still a visually wondrous game on the elder hardware. While it may be a matter of subjective taste, I also liked the more ambient musical score that reserves itself for either towns or grand encounters. Most of the game is populated by environmental sounds and only the occasional music notes accompanying discoveries or overlooking and climbing vistas. Given how free-spirited and liberating the game feels, I felt the minimal nature of the score was better fitting than a constant triumphant theme.
In even the most minute tasks and activities, such as finding and taming a horse or surfing down the rocky side of a mountain on my shield as dawn breaks, there's a simple and inimitable joy just experiencing what Zelda offers. The game has been a degree of freedom I did not think was possible coming from the longtime series, and I commend Nintendo on unshackling the old ways and handing the agency back to the player. I've been constantly impressed by how much more there is to see at every corner, even after the game's climax was reached--I still had much more to discover. Breath of the Wild is absolutely worth all the hype and praise if only for showing players how a simple yet exciting open world should look. It's my hope that future games take up the torch to not only show you the vistas waiting for you, but also assure you that yes--you can trek all the way there and stand atop the tallest spire...only to surf your way all the way down on a pot lid.
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.
YARE YARE BRAWL REVOLUTION
For the majority of us, Yakuza 0 is the first proper introduction to the batshit insane series by SEGA. Having started way back on the PS2, Yakuza is probably best described as Streets of Rage combined with Shenmue--a strange bizarro world representation of 1980s Japan crossed with a soap opera story, brutal brawling, and hundreds of side activities. It would also be correct to describe Yakuza 0 as a real estate and cabaret simulator with breaks to play darts, shoot pool, and smash bicycles over the heads of an entire crime syndicate. After all is said and done, you retire to your home office to write letters to a radio show in the hopes your stupid tale about helping a dominatrix restore her confidence will make the air. Also, your best friends are a man in a diaper with acute priapism, and a debt collector woman who destroys people with milk crates.
Yakuza 0 deals with the ascension and fall and ascension of two different crime mens: Kazama Kiryu, a strong chinned man who loves karaoke and hates kinkshaming, and Goro Majima, a yakuza-turned-cabaret manager with a fondness for blind chicks, baseball, and breakdancing. A murder happens, people are blamed for it, betrayal and sexy honorbound battles occur, and manly tears are shed over the course of a multi-chapter epic wherein you will switch back and forth between Kiryu and Majima.
The core of the game is a hodgepodge of factors, but after the narrative it's the fighting system. Although not as transitional in nature as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, Yakuza 0 gives you a wealth of combo options, grabs, and counters. The upgrade system, as explained by a drunk American wino/trainer, is tied to "investing" the monies you earned into any of the 3 fighting styles each character has. Being able to switch to each style with the control pad is quite intuitive, especially if you use one style as a "battery" to build up Heat for another. Heat is what you'll be using to strengthen normal attacks and pull off brutal finishers, which number things like curbstomps, smashing fruit in a dude's face, twisting (breaking) somebody's neck, or treating someone like a fucking lawn dart and piledriving them into the concrete headfirst. Combat is by and large quick, exceedingly painful-looking, and an absolute spectacle, especially when your Heat meter is off the charts and you're throwing around motorcycles like the fucking Juggernaut. Equally as fun are the many skills to unlock and upgrade, which give access to some truly neat counters and context-sensitive actions that might save your ass in the thick of the tougher encounters. Don't forget that block button, kids.
I'd call this game "a bit like Shenmue" because it's not a "true" open world, and honestly, thank god for that. Unlike sandbox games like GTA, Yakuza 0 trims the fat and the meandering drives towards fuck-all; there's very little filler here and little time wasted from one event transpiring to the next. SEGA instead has created a smaller hubworld for each character with restaurants, shops, random sidequest encounters, and recreation centers around, with random thugs sprinkled around to test your resolve. It has a distinct arcade feel, densely packed in a small but lovingly crafted city rife with places to visit and experience. Since the city is such a contained sphere, it's easy to simply run around and discover new things to do and partake in, many of which are humorous side-stories that usually require hilarious dialogue challenges.
I love taking a break from burying people's faces into concrete to help a poor little kid purchase a porno mag, or help a band achieve its big break. The more sidequests you complete, the more letters you can write about them to a radio show. You'll also be able to recruit some of the people you've helped into Majima or Kiryu's side-business games. There's nobody I'd rather trust with my property investments than a guy known only as "Masochistic Man."
That being said, how is the actual storyline for the main game? In a word, it is the GREATEST STORY SINCE METAL GEAR SOLID 2. This is a MANLY COURAGE tale, one inhabited by love, loyalty, and danger. Kiryu, the strongest human in the world, will do anything to honorably clear his name and restore honor to the imprisoned man who took him in as a child. After being thrown out of the yakuza, Kiryu proceeds to become even stronger and more diligent than the clan itself--a paragon of unrelenting, unyielding machismo and halfway-heroism. On the other side of the coin is Goro Majima, a yakuza broken and beaten but accepting of his assigned role as a stewardly manager of a cabaret. A hitman unwilling to execute the innocent, Majima slowly ponders ditching his one-time family of cruel criminals and creates a new identity as the "lord of the night," a dutiful manager of hostesses who doesn't even know how to return to the life he worked so hard to get back. It's interesting that Kiryu is the protagonist that changes the opinions and reactions of those he comes into conflict with, enticing respect and friendship---whereas Majima is morphed and moved around constantly by the people he fights and protects. Majima's story is fraught with enemies who become friends, whilst Kiryu has made a family clan the enemies. That Kiryu is willing to burn down the institution of the Yakuza to make things right while Majima views his destiny to profit or suffer eternally within his caste is as telling as their fighting styles; one man is an unstoppable force centered on brute force while the other is one rooted in strangely different styles, all adapted solely to advance his one goal with any means: winning a way back into the only life he ever knew. There are so many twists and turns and dramatic soap-opera beats that you'll likely be engaged for the entirety of the ride, and left with some new favorite characters to love and hate.
I'll leave the rest to you to discover but there is one other character--Tetsu Tachibana--who was very intriguing to me. Tachibana brings an element of xenophobia to the tale, being a half Chinese-Japanese man who was unwanted by both clans. A man desperate to make good by coming up from a life of crime, Tachibana fords a real estate front in order to reconnect with an ancient secret and prevent a city from upending into chaos. Moreso than even Punished Snake from MGSV, Tachibana is the real "Fallen Man" drawn by a unique phantom pain: the loss of his hand, along with his past, is the fuel that drives him to mentor Kiryu. In a world filled with dumb punk rocker bands and stupid salarymen, Tachibana's anger and sorrow driven by a dose of racism from his countrymen was a poignant point to take in. As much power as he wields, he cannot change the past, which defines both his failures he could have prevented, and the genetic code he could not.
The story beats and cinematics spare absolutely nothing, as we get not only fully-voiced high-def cutscenes, but also in-game cutscenes with voices, "motion-comic" stills with voices, and general interactions with text-only. At one point I think I went through all of these styles in one story moment, though it was followed up by a huge 3-on-50 gauntlet so I didn't really mind. Although it's not going to be mistaken for Naughty Dog anytime soon, the art and graphics are quite good and have a clean, colorful "SEGA arcade" feel. This is a great looking game, and one that sounds just as good, too--the mix of beat 'em up rock and techno fits well with every encounter and moment in downtime. There's a lot of cheesy buttrock, but it's the enjoyable kind. Personally, I loved the ridiculous karaoke song "Judgement" the most. Although it's Japanese-only dialogue with English subtitles, the professional inflections and excellent facial expressions go a very long way in building each character throughout their tribulations.
There is so much goddamned depth in this game that it's dizzying. Unlike other checkbox crap and boorish minigames inserted into every GTA clone on the market, Yakuza 0's side orders are as engaging as the main dish itself. I've spent hours just playing the various darts and cue sport minigames, both of them given a sheen of polish that most games would barely care about. That's the way it is with most of Yakuza 0's distractions and sidejobs; they could certainly be portioned off as very satisfying ventures on their own on mobile or handheld plaforms. It's an entirely new postgame activity in itself to go into Kiryu's real estate shakedowns and investments or Majima's recruitment and training ventures with his cabaret roster. There are entire storylines and cutscenes devoted to things like this, with more content constantly being brought forth. And yet, none of it is ever overwhelming, as you could do as much or as little as you want in the realm of combat training, weapon crafting, slot car racing, and more. You are getting the most bang for your buck, and without the bloat that most open world games bring with it in terms of long spans of nothingness partnered with needless grinding. With Yakuza 0, even the "grind" of your character stats is achieved by way of investing money in yourself; thusly, all your ventures in the game bringing cash will help you not only purchase items and plot macguffins, but also improve your abilities. It's a brilliant way to reward you for simply enjoying some of the non-fight related stuff, so when you do get back to busting up a 20-man gang, you're going to have a lot more fun and look a lot cooler doing it.
Yakuza 0 is a game that reminds me of that Dreamcast era where everything ran fast, looked beautiful, and constantly gave you fun things to do while handing you a ticket to the craziest ride you could imagine. It is a drama and a comedy, a fist fight caught in a twister of disco dancing and telephone clubs. Yakuza 0 boils down everything to its bare essence and slathers it with a saucy overdrive, demanding you give equal attention to epic showdowns and toy collecting. It's the Shenmue experience we never got in the following decades, a game that fulfills Sega's reputation of going big with the gameplay and unique attitude. This is one of the most enjoyable videogames I have ever played, combining the new era's narrative drama with the old era's arcade sensibilities--especially the long-dead brawler genre. Much like last year's DOOM, this game almost flawlessly packages everything you love about games into one experience.
A DISH BEST SERVED STEALTH.
The first time I played Dishonored was on the PS3. It was the first game I ever played on the PS3 when I bought the system--this was shortly after it had pumped out The Last Of Us, but all I wanted to play was this Dishonored thing I had heard such wondrous things about. I played it, but promptly made a decision that I hated it after only a few days. 6 months later, playing it again on a PC, I was completely enthralled; I loved it and still love it.
Fast forward to Dishonored 2, and I fell into the same trap. Ignoring the basics while being too passive, I forgot what made the original game fun for me: going fast and loose, yet smart and adaptive. Dishonored 2 is a game that kind of requires 2 playthroughs, much like its predecessor--though for slightly different reasons. Whereas you might want to try a second build in the original game, D2 dares you to try a completely different character with unique powers for your next go-around.
Dishonored 2 follows the same quasi-whalepunk setting mishmashed with the occult voidmasters and Jets v. Sharks gang drama of the first game, but trades in the rat plague for evil mosquitos and political villains for outright witches and Thomas Edison. In this outing, Lord Protector Corvo and his not-so-secret daughter-turned-emporess Emily Kaldwin are victimized by DLC Villain Delilah Copperspoon, who is essentially a lich from Coyote Ugly. Once you pick your character, the other is turned to stone while you flee the kingdom of Dunwall in search of more information on your mystic adversary. Most of the game now takes place in Karnaca, Corvo's birthplace; Karnaca is a bit different from the cold stones and drippy streets of Dunwall in that there's a broad ocean in the distance, opulent mansions, towering mining towns, and railway hamlets with special little trolleys above the streets. Tallboys aren't around anymore, but there are more than enough elite guards and gangsters, smarter and more numerous than before.
The scenarios and stages themselves are brilliantly realized in Dishonored's aesthetic, which has a bit of an exaggerated impressionist twist. Overlooking the in-progress vistas of the mining town or marveling at the extravagence of the Jindosh Mansion, I was entranced by every corner of this game; the detail is just breathtaking and absolutely kicks the ass of last year's ZeniMax game, Fallout 4. I'm thinking Todd Howard's team should take notes and move their engine to what Arkane is using, simply due to what is possible in terms of physics, as well. As far as performance goes, I'm sure everyone is aware the PC release had a rocky start, but the PS4 version has been pretty adequate. There are some slowdowns when using a special Timepiece item later on, as well as random hiccups, but for the most part I've been impressed with how stable things are considering this is a heavily modified last-gen id tech (Void Engine, as they call it) running on duct tape and a prayer.
Gameplay is what you'd expect from a Dishonored sequel, as it's once again a compromise between hardcore stealth and brief bursts of using your witchcraft to do anything from control rat hordes to pulling dudes with a symbiote arm to linking people together in a ridiculous domino effect. For those of us that need familiarity, there's Corvo with all his previous skills intact--some of them boasting new upgrades. If you want to go in with a completely new bullpen of powers, Emily has some truly fascinating abilities, ranging from the aforementioned domino and symbiote arm to a fun doppelganger trick, a totemistic mesmerize, and a murderous shadow-walk. I admit that spreading out my ability points too much lead me to get frustrated; being a jack of all trades but master of none may not always work out. Upgrading Far Reach to pull and pick off enemies from a distance changed the game for me, just as upgrading Doppelganger to the max creates an army of mirages that completely baffle the opposition. It's in this system that replays are earned, as there are so many incredible combos and playstyles to try. The story itself may clock in at about 9 missions, but with each one capable of sucking you in for 2+ hours across multiple areas, and the possibilities of using multiple strategies on 2 different characters, you'll easily top 30 to 40 hours alone messing around.
Admittedly, I had some sour moments in my initial playthrough of Dishonored 2: getting lost in the Clockwork Mansion and then accidentally sequence breaking the game to the point of defeat in the Stilton Estate lead to some frantic moments where I regrettably went higher on the Chaos spectrum than I would have liked. Even with moments of fleeting frustration, the uniform excellence in level design shines so goddamn bright; the Clockwork Mansion still holds so many secrets and passages to victory never thought possible. The nailbiting encounters with witches in their terrifying manor still stay with me, as do the sneaking into various factions' strongholds before the Stilton mission and the dilapidated state of the grim Addermire Asylum.
Dishonored 2, much like DOOM and Titanfall 2 this year, is remarkable in how tightly constructed and contained its overall storyline is--every level is a very well-crafted snowglobe just itching to be shaken up and turned upside down. Like the previous game, Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in chaos and stealth in harmony, providing you with double the options and beyond this time around to maximize your creativity and fun. It's yet another masterful outing by Arkane and friends, and one that I'll be replaying even more than most games on my year-end list.
BALD IS BEAUTIFUL. SO IS MURDER.
HITMAN is the soft reboot of the old assassination simulator by IO Interactive from the days of yore. Previously a kind of murderous sandbox containing multiple ways to achieve a bloody goal, Hitman's franchise took a small dive when Absolution was released a few years ago, turning a devious craft into a stealth-based shooter. Absolution looked and operated great, but completely destroyed much of what even made the series great; maybe a fourth of the game's missions actually had you plotting hits, and the disguise mechanics were dreadful. Hitman was, for all intents and purposes, dead with a bullet in its head. Square Enix and the folks at IOI resurrected 47 for an entirely new adventure, and have decided to run the game through a server-based, episodic structure. The reasons behind this release model are mainly about time; the developers have more freedom to design and test each huge stage individually, and players have more time to dive into the richness of said stages. Hitman, I've discovered, is one of the best representations of what even makes a game a true "sandbox" experience.
Within each location in the first season of Hitman, you begin with a very basic premise: assassinate a number of high-value targets (almost always 2) and make your escape. From there, it's up to you to make the use of a variety of tools and atmospheric anomalies to accomplish the mission. The game offers many Opportunities that only appear in your queue when you overhear interesting factoids or see useful items in the environment--you're encouraged to explore as much as possible and take note of literally everything in your surroundings. IOI has done an excellent job building each stage, providing thousands of NPCs with unique dialogue to eavesedrop upon, with even more secrets and narratives than you'd imagine. Most of your prime Opportunity routes will stem from a waiter mentioning maybe a certain recipe, or a guard talking about a chore that needs doing, or an auction that you could potentially crash by stealing a keycard or even impersonating someone. Although each mission comes baked with around 15 or so Opportunities, the Challenges within each stage number around 100 or so, pressing you to be even more creative with your assassination and discoveries. Can you find the vampire costume? How about killing both targets with a chandelier at once? What if you attempt to finish the job even after a safe-room alarm is activated, making things even more difficult? The possibilities that are insinuated are wide-reaching, with a good number of them probably getting ticked off the list just by your own experimentation.
Hitman begins with a literal soundstage recreation of two easy missions, and then begins to send you everywhere from Paris to Italy to Morrocco. With 6 unique main locations and 3 bonus missions, Hitman goes for extreme quality over quantity--and the quality is superb. Hundreds of NPCs have been painstakingly voiced with reams of dialogue and interactions, the environments and structures look beautiful and complex with dozens of layers to investigate, and the number of interactive objects to be used for potential kills is staggering. The game looks fantastic and mostly runs at 30 to 50 FPS on console, which rarely dips and manages to keep up the pace as you skulk around. The amount of time I spent on just 3 stages alone, discovering new things and unlocking even more starting points and tools, was ridiculous.
Although the game's world at large is generally pretty good in terms of AI and real-life behavior, there are moments that crop up that may do anything from amuse you to pissing you off. One opportunity I followed had me accidentally bump into a bystander by accident, leading to them labeling me as Suspicious long enough for a few cops to fucking shoot me in the head for no discernable reason. The save system lets you quicksave almost anywhere just in case these moments do crop up, but there have been a few instances that inconvenienced me due to stupid shit mentioned above.
Hitman does have detractors mainly due to the "episodic" nature of the package--a facet that doesn't even really impact the overall quality of the levels being churned out. If you truly can't get over the fact that a mission-based game is giving you parts a la carte--which adds up to a "complete" value in terms of the monies involved--then try to see it this way: at any point you can stop paying for the experience, and walk away without having spent $60 on a full package. Or, you can just pick and choose the levels you like. In any case, after seeing how creative Season One has been, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't pay upfront for a second or third season. Another online-only, piecemeal game--Destiny--is still played and defended in droves so I really don't see how IO Interactive flubbed anything with their business model, one which was probably designed to allow more focus and testing on each playground. In short, if you really can't stop weeping over what is an actually successful "games as a service" model, feel free to keep posting about it on NeoGAF until you eventually break down yet still buy FF7's 3-part remake anyway.
Hitman's structure is something that succeeds enormously in spite of itself: a serverside, episodic experiment sent forth by piecemeal-enthusiast Square-Enix. IOI has done everything in its power to put a decade of experience towards creating the ultimate Hitman game, one which has been tailor-fit for modernt times with special Elusive target updates, patched content, and seasons worth of content. Season One has been an absolute thrill to play with, so consider this the vote of confidence towards any new Hitman stages slated for the future.
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.
Amazing and topical!