Weekly Roundup 12/02/2012

SPOILER WARNING: I talk about The Walking Dead’s ending very vaguely here. I don’t think it really counts as spoilers, but anyone overly sensitive to that kind of stuff probably shouldn’t read the first three paragraphs.

In theory, new releases should be slowing down heading into December, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. The first thing I made sure to do after Thanksgiving break was play the final episode of The Walking Dead, which was of course fantastic. Season 1 has gone out on a real high note, giving a good sense of closure to a lot of the main characters, while leaving just enough open questions to provide a jumping off point for Season 2. It’s smartly done.

It's been a long journey for Lee and Clem.

Anyway, Episode 5 continued to do what the entire season has so done well, which primarily comes down to great writing and characters. It all builds to a head here though, and for many of the characters we finally get some real emotional payoff, and frequently closure. Episode 5 might be my favorite episode, but that’s not really because it’s fundamentally better than the others; it’s the simple fact that this is a memorable end to a long journey, and it’s a well done one at that. And, ironically, the ending is great without incorporating one of the series’ selling points, which is the idea of player choice. Like Mass Effect 3 before it, in spite of all the various choices you’ve made across each episode in the series, everyone’s ending winds up being essentially the same (I’m talking about literally the final few moments). Granted, it’s an extremely well executed ending, but the game still does that diamond shaped thing with the different paths players can take. Everyone may deviate wildly in the middle, but the beginning and end are the same for everyone. After finishing it I talked to two other friends who had also finished, both of whom had made drastically different choices than me during the course of the season, yet all of us saw the same ending.

That fact about the ending does not bother me one bit though (just like it didn't bother me in Mass Effect 3). I bring up that point because I think it highlights what I consider to be the most brilliantly subtle thing about The Walking Dead on the whole, which is the illusion of choice. You’re constantly making choices throughout the game, and each and every one of them feels incredibly important and potentially game changing. And yet, none of them really do change the game, as I’ve found out by comparing my choices and their results with others. It’s the way said choices make you feel that makes them resonant though, and the fact that I came to be deeply invested in my own personal playthrough despite recognizing this fact makes it that much more impressive. In the end, it’s not so much that your choices change the game, but more that your choices change you. That, to me, is the defining feature of The Walking Dead, and explains why I think it’s so great.

Not as similar to Smash Bros. as it initially appears to be.

Moving on from The Walking Dead, I’ve been playing a fair amount of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale this week, which is a super weird game. I’ll go ahead and get the obligatory Super Smash Bros. comparison out the way right up front by saying that it’s not as similar to Smash Bros. as it initially appears to be. Sure, the idea of taking some of the biggest "PlayStation" characters and pitting them against each other in a four player free for all has a similar ring to it, but the unique fighting style that defines Smash Bros. at its core isn’t here at all. Where Smash Bros. is a wild, rambunctious brawler that’s almost more of a party game than a fighting game, PlayStation All-Stars is a lot more technical in its execution, having more in common with the Street Fighters of the world than with Smash Bros. in a number of ways. There’s a real measured, methodical pacing the the game’s movement that’s built around a more delicate system of combos and counters than you might expect. Smash Bros., on the other hand, is built around pure chaos.

Connecting with your supers is everything.

PlayStation All-Stars mostly tries to fit in that middle ground between Smash Bros.’ more unruly nature and Street Fighter’s more demanding, technical one. And that’s where things get weird, as the game doesn’t really find a great balance in a lot of ways. The weirdest thing by far is how you kill other players. Rather than knocking them off a ledge or whittling down their health bar, you damage them to build up your own super meter, which you then use to unleash super moves (which can miss, thus wasting your meter). Connecting with these super moves is the only way you can get kills, which means virtually everything rides on these handful of all-or-nothing moments once your meter fills. That’s where PlayStation All-Stars runs into the most trouble too, as I don’t think the super moves are balanced at all. My brother can smack people around all day with Big Daddy, but he can’t connect with his level one super to save his life (it's mind-bogglingly terrible). Other characters like Raiden, on the other hand, are easily and consistently able to get multiple kills with their level one super. It’s a total shame too, because I feel like other than the super moves, most of the roster is fairly well balanced. But the game puts so much stock in the super moves that it becomes real apparent real quick when one is more effective than another, rendering most other aspects of the characters useless.

Those super moves, to me, are the core of the game’s design, so it’s a bummer that I don’t think they work that well from a balance standpoint. Everything else around that can be kind of hit or miss. The rest of the fighting (ignoring the supers) feels pretty solid for the most part, though the movement and timings can be a little sluggish, and there’s a lot of animation priority here (not uncommon for the genre). I still prefer Smash Bros.’ more rambunctious approach, but I also like this middle ground better than a pure technical fighter, which is a genre that I’ve never gotten into at all. What makes it better is that I’ve played quite a bit online and have had almost no issues; it runs smoothly with a full four players virtually every time. I’ve been playing a lot of 2v2s with my brother online, which is something I’m not sure any other decent fighting game reliably offers, and that right there is a pretty big plus to me. Finally, the game’s roster could be a lot better (why are there are two Coles again?), and the single player offerings are super lame. The arcade mode is too long and boring to be worth grinding out more than a few times, and the various challenges and trials aren’t much better. Playing free-for-alls or 2v2s online is hands down the way to get the most out of PlayStation All-Stars, and by that limited and occasionally flawed measure, the game does manage to be pretty fun.

I’m sure I’ll keep playing PlayStation All-Stars this week (my Ratchet needs practice), and Borderlands 2’s second DLC recently came out as well; in theory I’ll find time for that at some point. Last but not least, I finally made the plunge and started my Ironman Classic game in XCOM: Enemy Unknown this weekend, and that thing doesn’t mess around. Anyway, that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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Posted by MajorMitch

SPOILER WARNING: I talk about The Walking Dead’s ending very vaguely here. I don’t think it really counts as spoilers, but anyone overly sensitive to that kind of stuff probably shouldn’t read the first three paragraphs.

In theory, new releases should be slowing down heading into December, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. The first thing I made sure to do after Thanksgiving break was play the final episode of The Walking Dead, which was of course fantastic. Season 1 has gone out on a real high note, giving a good sense of closure to a lot of the main characters, while leaving just enough open questions to provide a jumping off point for Season 2. It’s smartly done.

It's been a long journey for Lee and Clem.

Anyway, Episode 5 continued to do what the entire season has so done well, which primarily comes down to great writing and characters. It all builds to a head here though, and for many of the characters we finally get some real emotional payoff, and frequently closure. Episode 5 might be my favorite episode, but that’s not really because it’s fundamentally better than the others; it’s the simple fact that this is a memorable end to a long journey, and it’s a well done one at that. And, ironically, the ending is great without incorporating one of the series’ selling points, which is the idea of player choice. Like Mass Effect 3 before it, in spite of all the various choices you’ve made across each episode in the series, everyone’s ending winds up being essentially the same (I’m talking about literally the final few moments). Granted, it’s an extremely well executed ending, but the game still does that diamond shaped thing with the different paths players can take. Everyone may deviate wildly in the middle, but the beginning and end are the same for everyone. After finishing it I talked to two other friends who had also finished, both of whom had made drastically different choices than me during the course of the season, yet all of us saw the same ending.

That fact about the ending does not bother me one bit though (just like it didn't bother me in Mass Effect 3). I bring up that point because I think it highlights what I consider to be the most brilliantly subtle thing about The Walking Dead on the whole, which is the illusion of choice. You’re constantly making choices throughout the game, and each and every one of them feels incredibly important and potentially game changing. And yet, none of them really do change the game, as I’ve found out by comparing my choices and their results with others. It’s the way said choices make you feel that makes them resonant though, and the fact that I came to be deeply invested in my own personal playthrough despite recognizing this fact makes it that much more impressive. In the end, it’s not so much that your choices change the game, but more that your choices change you. That, to me, is the defining feature of The Walking Dead, and explains why I think it’s so great.

Not as similar to Smash Bros. as it initially appears to be.

Moving on from The Walking Dead, I’ve been playing a fair amount of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale this week, which is a super weird game. I’ll go ahead and get the obligatory Super Smash Bros. comparison out the way right up front by saying that it’s not as similar to Smash Bros. as it initially appears to be. Sure, the idea of taking some of the biggest "PlayStation" characters and pitting them against each other in a four player free for all has a similar ring to it, but the unique fighting style that defines Smash Bros. at its core isn’t here at all. Where Smash Bros. is a wild, rambunctious brawler that’s almost more of a party game than a fighting game, PlayStation All-Stars is a lot more technical in its execution, having more in common with the Street Fighters of the world than with Smash Bros. in a number of ways. There’s a real measured, methodical pacing the the game’s movement that’s built around a more delicate system of combos and counters than you might expect. Smash Bros., on the other hand, is built around pure chaos.

Connecting with your supers is everything.

PlayStation All-Stars mostly tries to fit in that middle ground between Smash Bros.’ more unruly nature and Street Fighter’s more demanding, technical one. And that’s where things get weird, as the game doesn’t really find a great balance in a lot of ways. The weirdest thing by far is how you kill other players. Rather than knocking them off a ledge or whittling down their health bar, you damage them to build up your own super meter, which you then use to unleash super moves (which can miss, thus wasting your meter). Connecting with these super moves is the only way you can get kills, which means virtually everything rides on these handful of all-or-nothing moments once your meter fills. That’s where PlayStation All-Stars runs into the most trouble too, as I don’t think the super moves are balanced at all. My brother can smack people around all day with Big Daddy, but he can’t connect with his level one super to save his life (it's mind-bogglingly terrible). Other characters like Raiden, on the other hand, are easily and consistently able to get multiple kills with their level one super. It’s a total shame too, because I feel like other than the super moves, most of the roster is fairly well balanced. But the game puts so much stock in the super moves that it becomes real apparent real quick when one is more effective than another, rendering most other aspects of the characters useless.

Those super moves, to me, are the core of the game’s design, so it’s a bummer that I don’t think they work that well from a balance standpoint. Everything else around that can be kind of hit or miss. The rest of the fighting (ignoring the supers) feels pretty solid for the most part, though the movement and timings can be a little sluggish, and there’s a lot of animation priority here (not uncommon for the genre). I still prefer Smash Bros.’ more rambunctious approach, but I also like this middle ground better than a pure technical fighter, which is a genre that I’ve never gotten into at all. What makes it better is that I’ve played quite a bit online and have had almost no issues; it runs smoothly with a full four players virtually every time. I’ve been playing a lot of 2v2s with my brother online, which is something I’m not sure any other decent fighting game reliably offers, and that right there is a pretty big plus to me. Finally, the game’s roster could be a lot better (why are there are two Coles again?), and the single player offerings are super lame. The arcade mode is too long and boring to be worth grinding out more than a few times, and the various challenges and trials aren’t much better. Playing free-for-alls or 2v2s online is hands down the way to get the most out of PlayStation All-Stars, and by that limited and occasionally flawed measure, the game does manage to be pretty fun.

I’m sure I’ll keep playing PlayStation All-Stars this week (my Ratchet needs practice), and Borderlands 2’s second DLC recently came out as well; in theory I’ll find time for that at some point. Last but not least, I finally made the plunge and started my Ironman Classic game in XCOM: Enemy Unknown this weekend, and that thing doesn’t mess around. Anyway, that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Good stuff. I was curious about All-Stars. I don't know. It just seems like a super weird "me too" of a game, designed entirely to let PS have a big holiday release without devoting a whole lot of necessary resources that one of their flagship titles would require.

And I agree with you on the Walking Dead. The structure and the writing meld togeter for a fantastic payoff. I like the diamond comparison in regards to the structure - is that your own analogy or did that come from somewhere? it's appropriate.

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Edited by MajorMitch

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: PS All-Stars does feel kind of rough around the edges, I kind of wonder how much they rushed it to get it out for the holidays... it could have used some more polish. I appreciate that they tried to do something a little different, and I think they genuinely wanted to make a good game, but the execution's not quite there. Maybe a sequel would make that final step, who knows? The original Smash Bros. was kind of rough and imbalanced too after all.

As much as I'd like to, I can't take full credit for the diamond analogy :P I hadn't heard The Walking Dead specifically described that way before, but I'd heard it used for Mass Effect somewhere (don't remember where) and though it seemed really appropriate for TWD too.