Top 10 Video Games of 2017 & Everything else I played this year.

Well shit, I was so stuck on finishing a healthy amount of my backlog that I only completed ten games from 2017. One of them is just DLC from my GOTY last year (Dark Souls III) and I barely like number ten at all! Why didn't I play more 2017 games? I beat 17 other games from my backlog this year (see the list below the Top 10), played Dota 2 for about 2-3 hours a week, and I'm currently about 20 hours into Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition while also 10 hours into Persona 5. My greatest regrets this year were choosing to beat Sonic Mania and the Ratchet & Clank remake instead of Nier: Automata, and I regret not having played Mass Effect: Andromeda yet because despite all of it's flaws I enjoy the Mass Effect world, plus I paid full price for it and shelved it immediately. Keep in mind I'm limited to a PS4 Pro and a moderately powerful PC. As strong as Nintendo games look, the Switch is not yet worth it's cost and I don't see a long life for the system. Similarly, I have no interest in buying an Xbox because all of the games are workable on my PC. I did however purchase an SNES Classic Mini which I have played exactly once! If you want to buy it from me, send me an e-mail.

#/Game (Studio, Platform)Commentary

10. Sonic Mania

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(Headcannon/PagodaWest, PS4)

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Fuck! Whatever, this was supposed to be goddamn Cuphead but I never finished the game. I’d honestly rather talk about Cuphead here so yeah, Cuphead is great. Sonic Mania? Not so great! Good, and a nice return to the style of my favorite video game when I was like eight years old. But hey folks let’s just let all of our nostalgia die along with the horrendous traditions of white privilege, sexism, racism, religion, pandering to oppressive corporations, winter holidays, and living life without a bidet! I enjoyed this game for at least an hour and finishing it was a slog through bland and unfinished level design. Some of the level gimmicks were great but overall this shows that it just wasn’t worth it to keep asking for this game since 1996. This is only here because I only finished 8 -real- games that were released in 2017 and I needed 10.

9. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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(Ninja Theory, PC)

Rating: 3.0/5.0

I’ve been living with chronic depression since about age seven and playing video games almost exactly as long, so anytime I have the chance to play a game that deals with mental illness in a respectful way I jump right in. While I do have issues with some of the puzzles, the timed mechanic of things, and the lack of certain explanations I did find Senua’s story touching and disturbing at the same time. The combat is basically Infinity Blade, and lacks enough nuance to avoid repetition becoming dull but the experience as a whole is succinct and very well polished. As an experience this was memorable but I felt like the more I read about it, heard folks sort it out in podcasts, and thought about it myself Hellblade lost a little bit of it’s visceral luster over time. I’ll never get over how cool the ‘voices in your head’ are in this game.

8. Dark Souls III: The Ringed City DLC

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(From Software, PS4)

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Dark Souls III was this huge undertaking for me as I first played it during a home renovation. I got the Platinum while I was negotiating my divorce last year, and by the time this second DLC came out I’d moved to Seattle and was already on New Game+7 (I had beaten the game 6 times with the same character, each time the game gets harder). The Ringed City is fan service and innovation in equal measures, it attempts to tie up every meaningful loose end that it can and the whole thing ends with two of the most amazing boss fights from the series. Beating the final boss, then going back for the optional Darkeater Midir dragon on the hardest possible difficulty, mostly solo, was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in a video game and the perfect way to say goodbye to Dark Souls.

7. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

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(Virtuos Games, PS4)

Rating: 4.75/5.0

The Playstation 2 was home to the peak of JRPG creativity and presentation before the art-form largely died a slow death on PS3 and Vita. This has long been one of my favorite Final Fantasy games outside of the 2D ones and I couldn’t wait to replay it in HD after finding Final Fantasy XV way, way too similar in structure and far lighter in actual content. I spent a ton of time with this game thanks to the fast-forward feature for grinding and such, I explored more places than I’d ever seen in the game and I found new appreciation for the story. This is easily the best remaster Square-Enix have outsourced yet and it reminded me of how much I love JRPGs and gave inspiration to continue to play Persona 5 into 2018 despite it’s high time investment.

6. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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(Machine Games, PS4)

Rating: 3.5/5.0

The moment I finished watching the reveal trailer for this latest Wolfenstein game I bought The New Order and The Old Blood and played them both so much that I managed a Platinum trophy for each. I must have replayed each level in both games a minimum of 5 times doing everything. This cursed my enjoyment of this game because The New Colossus doesn’t entirely hold up by direct comparison. The second game has inferior shooting, confounding level design, and plot twists that are sometimes more shocking than they are meaningful. It plays out like a Watchmen style visual novel and for all of the amazing beats in the story the gameplay itself resembles Doom (2016) in that you’re forced to run around guns blazing to alt-metal guitar chugging rather than use the stealth tactics that made the first game in this reboot so amazing.

5. The Surge

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(Deck 13, PS4)

Rating: 4.0/5.0

I put off playing The Surge for months as I beat Horizon, Prey, and finished Nioh‘s DLC because when it came out it seemed like the mainstream video games press was nonplussed by it and compared it to Lords of the Fallen(which was mediocre). Well, no surprise that most folks were wrong. Sure it needs more variety but as a 15-20 hour Dark Souls-style game that uses mecha-style science fiction in a botched corporate terraforming plot. The combat is fast like Bloodborne and tactical in a very pleasing way. Working towards upgrades while moving through the excellent self-looping levels is a gameplay loop I can always get behind and The Surge does it better than most.

4. Horizon: Zero Dawn

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(Guerrilla Games, PS4)

Rating: 3.75/5.0

Horizon offers an interesting take on the third person open world genre by combining Far Cry’s jungles, Tomb Raider’s traversal/combat and Last of Us style on-the-fly crafting with storytelling very similar to the original Mass Effect trilogy. While it might sound like a mess these things work together wonderfully in a relatively bug-free world populated by interesting robotic beasts, compelling NPCs and a story that is ultimately satisfying until they throw a bone out there for a sequel. I kinda feel like my review and score took the bullshit ending too much into account. It is also probably the most visually appealing game I’ve ever played.

3. WipeOut: Omega Collection

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(EPOS Game Studios, PS4)

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Yes, two remasters and some DLC on my 2017 list. It can’t be helped. It wasn’t that it was such a slow year but that it was a year where I prioritized the games I’d already bought over the ones I wanted to buy next. WipeOut: Omega Collection takes the PS3 WipeOut games and pairs them with remastered versions of the Vita games and gives them all new music and 4K capable visuals. These are my all time favorite racing games and I’ve spend countless hours zipping through these tracks online and against AI. It is relaxing, has bumpin’ tunes, and the best feeling racing/combat of any series including Mario Kart (which is for fucking babies!).

2. Prey

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(Arkane Studios, PS4)

Rating: 4.25/5.0

Prey would be my number one album of 2017 if I hadn’t spent about 300 hours playing the number one game. Everything about Prey appeals to me from the revisionist history space station disaster to the psychological thriller aspects of the story. The immersive simulation/first person RPG genre has never felt so good with equal parts Bioshock, Deus Ex, and System Shock influencing its design. By the end of the experience I felt this is basically the best metroidvania of the last decade and haven’t stopped thinking about the game since I finished it. It was really hard to go play Wolfenstein II after this, because you have such insane freedom by the end of Prey that other games just feel limiting and old fashioned.

1. Nioh

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+ Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, & Bloodshed’s EndDLC

(Team Ninja, PS4)

Rating: 5.0/5.0

I was a Nioh fanatic from the moment I fired up the first Beta test. Once the game was released I was playing it 4-5 hours a day even when I didn’t necessarily have the time to do it. On days that I worked I’d get home at 10pm and play until 2am, I completely gave up playing Dota 2 (hard habit to curb, for me) and got lost in Nioh’s levels for hundreds of hours. There is an incredible amount of content here and your first playthrough could reach 80 hours even if you avoid grinding out loot and just go for collectibles and finishing every available challenge/level. Oh, and then there’s three giant DLC packs to play through which add tons more content. Nioh always has more to do, it is incredibly deep as an action RPG to begin with but there are copious co-op modes, PvP fights, a clan system, it reminds me of playing Diablo IIback in the day where it seemed like I could play it with friends endlessly. It outdoes From Software at their own game while improving upon the failings of the Ninja Gaiden series tenfold.

Huh, so I barely played ten games that 'came out' in 2017... what was I doing with all of my time? First of all games take a long fucking time to finish. Secondly I was playing games from my extensive backlog! I looked over at a shelf full of about 30 games that were still shrink-wrapped and I realized I'd basically bought a ton of games in 2016 and then spent 6 months playing nothing but Sega Genesis games on an emulator. Obviously not a bad choice but I really only finished Dark Souls III and the PS4 version of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, though a few of these games I'd mostly finished in 2016 as I played them off and on. So here is a list of the games I played and finished in 2017, that should more than make up for the lack of games actually released in 2017. This is the most progress I've ever made in my backlog in one year. They're in order of how good they are.

  1. Bloodborne + DLC (Finished Platinum trophy)
  2. Witcher III: The Wild Hunt (no DLC yet)
  3. Wolfenstein: The New Order (Finished Platinum trophy)
  4. Dishonored: Definitive Edition + DLC
  5. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
  6. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  7. Lords of the Fallen
  8. SteamWorld Dig
  9. Final Fantasy XV (Finished Platinum trophy, no DLC)
  10. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor + DLC
  11. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  12. Doom
  13. Transistor
  14. Ratchet & Clank
  15. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
  16. Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness
  17. Dota 2 (2900+ matches to date, and about as many hours...)

And here are the new additions to my pile of shame. A short list of 2017 games I didn't have time to finish or play before the end of the year:

  • Persona 5 (Currently playing. 10+ hours)
  • Cuphead (Currently playing on PC. 2nd world.)
  • Nier: Automata (Unopened)
  • Battle Chasers: Nightwar (Unopened)
  • Assassin's Creed: Origins (Unopened)
  • Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (Bought with Dishonored 2, playing that first)

originally posted on grizzlybutts.com

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Horizon: Zero Dawn and my briefly groovy summertime photo-mode safari~

After beating the Final Fantasy XII HD remaster in the first week of September I decided I'd take my sweet time and savor the next game I played. The grinding and fast-forwarding was pleasant and nostalgic but after so many hours I was ready for the open world action RPG gameplay that Horizon: Zero Dawn had been promising for months. Not too long after finishing the tutorial aka "The Proving" Horizon sets you off on a vague adventure to rid the world of its problems. Without cranking up the difficulty beyond Normal I quickly realized that the games difficulty was more or less artificial once you'd acquired all weapon types and had a little practice with each type of machine. Your 'Focus' and spear give such an upper hand against human opponents it becomes comical. But I'm honestly not here to review the game, or giggle about how easy it can be... My experience with Horizon was easygoing, casual, and the thrill of exploration never wore off across 50+ hours because the game is ceaselessly beautiful. So, here are some pictures and thoughts on how I spent my September evenings, chillfully scrambling and rolling my way through this robot-manufacted post-Earth terrarium. Was playing on a PS4 Pro so the images are in 4K but won't necessarily reflect the HDR settings I had applied when taking the screenshots. Spoilers everywhere.

This was my first adventure in photo mode, I believe after liberating my first camp. The adorable hearts were hard to say no to. I typically chose expressive levitation for Aloy's poses because it conveyed her 'truth' in a world of lies. Being that is was night-time I felt this photo pointed towards the dark journey that Aloy would soon be encountering. From countless murders, to robotic overlord powers, to Hades himself, darker days are to come.
This was my first adventure in photo mode, I believe after liberating my first camp. The adorable hearts were hard to say no to. I typically chose expressive levitation for Aloy's poses because it conveyed her 'truth' in a world of lies. Being that is was night-time I felt this photo pointed towards the dark journey that Aloy would soon be encountering. From countless murders, to robotic overlord powers, to Hades himself, darker days are to come.
Here we are atop a peak overlooking what I think was the first area after leaving Nora territory. I thought I had done a photo-mode thingy atop the highest peak in the game but since that one was lost, this will have to do. Much like Far Cry 4 the boundaries of your questing are mountainous, so below a certain altitude you are free to roam. This was probably the point when I realized not only how big the game was but how Guerrilla had nailed the scope and the scale of the game. It never feels empty or 'safe' beyond the Nora hunting grounds and the challenge of enemies and traversal really peaks around your discovery of Meridian and the deeper corners of the map. Also: I did a lot of the weapon tutorials, which while it might have seemed pointless, I became a lot more proficient with each weapon type and elemental effects in doing so. Knowing when to use Ice, Bolt or Fire can make the bigger machines much easier to take down.
Here we are atop a peak overlooking what I think was the first area after leaving Nora territory. I thought I had done a photo-mode thingy atop the highest peak in the game but since that one was lost, this will have to do. Much like Far Cry 4 the boundaries of your questing are mountainous, so below a certain altitude you are free to roam. This was probably the point when I realized not only how big the game was but how Guerrilla had nailed the scope and the scale of the game. It never feels empty or 'safe' beyond the Nora hunting grounds and the challenge of enemies and traversal really peaks around your discovery of Meridian and the deeper corners of the map. Also: I did a lot of the weapon tutorials, which while it might have seemed pointless, I became a lot more proficient with each weapon type and elemental effects in doing so. Knowing when to use Ice, Bolt or Fire can make the bigger machines much easier to take down.
In one quest on the far West end of the map you're asked to figure out who was stealing fruit and why. As I was trailing discarded fruits with my handy Focus I came across this cob of corn. You see, corn being labeled as a fruit seemed like a hilarious thing until I did some hardcore fuckin' corn research and learned that corn is technically a fruit, a vegetable and a grain depending on what part of the life cycle you're in. It best meets criteria for a fruit. This was probably the most earth-shattering revelation of 2017 for me besides: The slow destruction of the world around me by reckless controlling billionaires intent on chaos and mayhem.
In one quest on the far West end of the map you're asked to figure out who was stealing fruit and why. As I was trailing discarded fruits with my handy Focus I came across this cob of corn. You see, corn being labeled as a fruit seemed like a hilarious thing until I did some hardcore fuckin' corn research and learned that corn is technically a fruit, a vegetable and a grain depending on what part of the life cycle you're in. It best meets criteria for a fruit. This was probably the most earth-shattering revelation of 2017 for me besides: The slow destruction of the world around me by reckless controlling billionaires intent on chaos and mayhem.
Meridian is one of my favorite locales in a video game in recent memory. It is so overly designed and ornate that it perfectly expresses the 'science fiction tribalism' that Horizon is going for beyond the other cities within the worlds boundaries. It was somewhat of a shame that the plot only barely thickens within the city while big revelations are left to cavern and facility exploration and audio logs. It is a necessary thing but I had hoped for more people to help within the city itself. I felt like the bent palm and the corkscrew tower in the background offered a contrast in both geometrics and life vs. machine conflicts. Also there is another bent palm in the distance if you look to the group of palms at the bottom right of the base of the screw-lookin' tower.
Meridian is one of my favorite locales in a video game in recent memory. It is so overly designed and ornate that it perfectly expresses the 'science fiction tribalism' that Horizon is going for beyond the other cities within the worlds boundaries. It was somewhat of a shame that the plot only barely thickens within the city while big revelations are left to cavern and facility exploration and audio logs. It is a necessary thing but I had hoped for more people to help within the city itself. I felt like the bent palm and the corkscrew tower in the background offered a contrast in both geometrics and life vs. machine conflicts. Also there is another bent palm in the distance if you look to the group of palms at the bottom right of the base of the screw-lookin' tower.
I didn't really take the time to re-listen to these audio-visual logs that were set at lookout points but it appeared to be folks documenting the world's end as well as the machine's maker lamenting his world ending actions. These were completely under-used as collectibles in the game and I loved seeing pre-apocalypse Colorado and comparing it its post-apocalyptic future. It sucks that in 2017 I'm still playing open world games that rely on found recordings to convey complex plots. I see the necessity of it in Horizon because the past had literally been deleted by the guy who created the machines that would end humanity... but it still feels like audio logs have stayed around longer than other terrible trends like QTEs and 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games.
I didn't really take the time to re-listen to these audio-visual logs that were set at lookout points but it appeared to be folks documenting the world's end as well as the machine's maker lamenting his world ending actions. These were completely under-used as collectibles in the game and I loved seeing pre-apocalypse Colorado and comparing it its post-apocalyptic future. It sucks that in 2017 I'm still playing open world games that rely on found recordings to convey complex plots. I see the necessity of it in Horizon because the past had literally been deleted by the guy who created the machines that would end humanity... but it still feels like audio logs have stayed around longer than other terrible trends like QTEs and 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games.
I'm wearing my magical future/post-future/past armor that deflects all damage and I'm levitating in front of Meridian after completing the game. I'm basking in the glow of Summer's end while I'm floating. I was trying to be minimalistic in my photo-mode tampering this time as to fully capture the simply joy that came from completing the main story. I still had a lot of hunting grounds challenges and all that to do, but I'm completely comfortable with not getting the platinum trophy for this game. Exploration is more fun than combat in Horizon, by far. It felt a lot like Tomb Raider's reboots but with better traversal and weapons options, superior enemy types, and Far Cry 3's world/skill tree.
I'm wearing my magical future/post-future/past armor that deflects all damage and I'm levitating in front of Meridian after completing the game. I'm basking in the glow of Summer's end while I'm floating. I was trying to be minimalistic in my photo-mode tampering this time as to fully capture the simply joy that came from completing the main story. I still had a lot of hunting grounds challenges and all that to do, but I'm completely comfortable with not getting the platinum trophy for this game. Exploration is more fun than combat in Horizon, by far. It felt a lot like Tomb Raider's reboots but with better traversal and weapons options, superior enemy types, and Far Cry 3's world/skill tree.
The other 13% of the game seems to be hunting challenges, perhaps a few side quests, hidden activities, and item acquisition. I think across my time with the game I milked it for all the good times I could get and the hunting challenges are quite frustrating timed affairs that reward you with weapons and gear that are largely pointless considering that beating the game is a small challenge. You're tasked with defeating two Deathbringers, who appear in staggered timing while a few groups of enemies show up including two Corruptors. It is easy if you've learned to use all of the traps, tripwires, and arrow types you've found up to this point. Tear and fire arrows are incredibly helpful.
The other 13% of the game seems to be hunting challenges, perhaps a few side quests, hidden activities, and item acquisition. I think across my time with the game I milked it for all the good times I could get and the hunting challenges are quite frustrating timed affairs that reward you with weapons and gear that are largely pointless considering that beating the game is a small challenge. You're tasked with defeating two Deathbringers, who appear in staggered timing while a few groups of enemies show up including two Corruptors. It is easy if you've learned to use all of the traps, tripwires, and arrow types you've found up to this point. Tear and fire arrows are incredibly helpful.
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And that's it. 53 hours later I'm done with this game. The story was perhaps better than comparable games like Tomb Raider/Rise of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 3 but Aloy was robotic, asexual, and purely interested in justice above all else. She is the anti-Geralt and perhaps too wooden to warrant another starring role, though when I was able to choose her heart over her head in dialogue options she came across like a fully decent human being. The game is incredibly beautiful, too. Anyhow, I'll likely fully review the game this coming week even though I think a quick little photo safari is all the game needs to sell its value.

Next up is Dishonored: Definitive Edition for PS4, a game I never finished on PS3 but am quickly discovering great love for and of.

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Gamers have allowed anti-consumer practices to reach a nauseating peak in 2017. (Alpha version 0.14c, see patch notes)

No Caption Provided

A decade ago, before the age of all digital releases was fully upon us, it seemed like video game hobbyists were within read of cheaper and easier to access video games. Consoles increased their storage capacity with each generation and the size, style and scope of games became increasingly varied. Steam, an all digital service, emerged victorious as the preferred platform for PC gamers in this new era. Their regular sales, bundles and all-inclusive DRM created a haven for multiplayer video game consumers. Quality curation and a controlled number of releases meant Valve could showcase their groundbreaking catalog while taking a cut from others who’d wish to be included on their store. Valve and their Steam platform became the most prosperous trendsetter among online gaming stores. Who could keep up? Certainly not retail: GameStop and other shops have been slowly dying a brutal and bloody death for year. Thier consumer exploitative pre-orders are absolutely the only reason anyone gives them physical copies to sell anymore. Amazon helped drive the knife into brick-and-mortar stores further, offering huge discounts for pre-orders. As a dedicated and passionate gamer in 2017 my options for buying any given ‘new release’ are frustrating as fuck.

This caption was funded by the readers of this blog post. Thank you for your support. I will not guarantee any future updates to this caption.
This caption was funded by the readers of this blog post. Thank you for your support. I will not guarantee any future updates to this caption.

Some games are free to try, pay to play, free to play until it becomes unplayable, free with micro-transactions, free but features pop-up ads. Hey? Remember when trying a game was always free? It was called a goddamn demo. Video game publishers are so desperate to have their games played in a crowded marketplace that all platform specific markets have now begun to resemble the chaotic hellscape that is the Apple App Store and now the PC/console markets are taking it to a whole new level. Some games have “season passes” which feature regular releases of new content at a 150% price increase. You’ll buy a $59.99 game when it is released, add up to $39.99 for the season pass and most people who play end up investing over a hundred bucks for popular multi-player games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and those sorts of ingrained iterations. This all developed from the original form of “DLC” aka game changing expansion packs. Blizzard could put out a polished first draft of a game like Warcraft III or Diablo II and then follow it up with a pricey expansion pack that cleaned up and expanded the original game while also including new content or mechanics. DLC became a ‘thing’ as games went online, it started out as cheap additional content that many developers put out for free as a thank you to fans. Greed took over as games began leaving out content just for the sake of selling it as DLC later so that gamers would feel like they’d get an incomplete experience unless they bought it, too. The marketing went from fan-service and expansion to exploitative “splitting” of games into pieces that could be parsed out over time. The problem? Video game culture so readily accepted DLC and bought so heartily into crowdfunding that it has now become completely mainstream to pay for games that are unfinished or “in progress” before they are a shipped and quality-checked product. This is a terrible mistake and it has done irreparable damage to the rights of video game consumers.

At this point in history the average gamer has incredibly low standards for the art form itself, and the idea of “fun” in terms of video games has been blurred to an abominable low. The awkward an slow emergence of eSports as a gigantic multi-contintental billion dollar business has inspired a constant consumer race for Early Access, Alpha builds, Beta builds, and the lowest of the low, the dreaded: Unfinished crowd-funded multiplayer video game. A video game in 2017 does not ever have to be a complete product, in fact these types of games often stay in a ‘Beta’ state for more than three years on average. Publishers are getting fully on board with the new business reality of the perpetually hellish long-con that is ‘Games as a Service.’ Investing in a new IP means committing to continuous tweaking and reshaping of their game, projecting its extended development cycle while considering pre-release and post-release while draining maximum amounts of consumer cash. The pay-off is incredible when it does hit but so few games become big, profitable and established that a lot of trashy exploitative garbage games are coming out with a central philosophy that is anti-artistic, damaging to consumers and the video game as a concept. It isn’t all hot garbage and trash games, though. There are plenty of examples of studios like that have created 'seasons' of ongoing content for finished games. I have no issue with Hitman, GTA V Online, Rainbow Six: Siege or Battlefield 1 continuing to pump out DLC or 'episodes' as they are all servicing a completely finished game that has been priced out accordingly. The difference should be clear, I'm not anti-DLC at all, I'm frustrated by the relentless patching of games for the sake of milking gamers. There are big bucks in micro-transactions in online competition and it baffles me that other gamers have led us down this path with irresponsible spending of credit and disposable income. The pay off is nonexistent.

If Manet had kept adding to his paintings over the course of his life they’d all be a horrendous blur of brown and grey. A tortured, ruined painting is no less tragic than an ever-evolving video game that exists only to please players enough to convince them to stuff it full of money. The video game as a complete artistic statement had only just begun to ramp up these last ten years. Presentation in story based video games had reached such a fine apex in quality that it seems graphics couldn’t possibly get any better. Games became more daring, more experimental and poignant and just as quickly it appears that movement seems to have died with the distrust of crowd-funded independent game developers. What is a sure thing anymore? Well, while old school developers like Square Enix and Sony pump out half-funded risky story based games while just hoping that something sticks… it appears everyone else is moving towards ‘games as a service’ regardless of style. DLC season passes are limited run games-as-a-service. These games often continue to be tweaked and refined to please their online/multi-player contingencies. The result is lost artistic vision when artfully grandiose games like Nioh or Dark Souls III end up as an entirely different polished up turds after a year of player-pleasing patches/tweaks. No game is ‘finished’ at release anymore and this wasn’t a huge, scary beast on my radar until I saw what games like Rust, DayZ, H1Z1, and the like were doing with extended beta release schedules. It is hilarious that the game at the center of my fury is an unfinished spinoff of an unfinished spinoff that was made into two separate games. Yes, the true straw that broke this camel’s back was in fact PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) an unfinished, simplistic video game that has sold over 10 million copies at $29.99 a pop.

"PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is the Kim Kardashian of video games. There is no justification for its popularity considering its generally low quality."

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a team-based competitive shooter that pits 100 players against each other on an island map that is taken almost directly from Arma III. The game has a litany of bugs and issues, it has a bug report list ten times longer than your average Todd Howard game. The planned fixes aren’t coming out as fast as the micro-transaction options, the deals with Microsoft, and the hilariously bad eSports logos and ‘meme art’ that now appear cartoonish in the otherwise gritty game. The game has become a darling for streamers, video game pundits, and YouTubers. The gaming community has largely turned a blind eye to the sinister implications of its popularity simply because they’re having fun with their friends and people have fun watching the game. Those things are acceptable: Giant Bomb’s Murder Island and similar shows on Polygon, Waypoint, Eurogamer, PewDiePie, etc. are good fun. What irks me is that these publications continue to tout this shoddy, thoughtless cash-cow of a game without ever having to truly review the game as a product. There is no true quality curator responsibility for PUBG because it is Early Access and Unfinished. Nobody wants to point out faults that could potentially be rebuked post-release. No journalist wants to date themselves negatively in critique of a game that could be historical, trendwise. I mean, we’d all hate to be that guy who gave The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time a 6/10, right? Consumers need to know each and every problem, detractor, flaw, bug, etc. at the time of purchase. The time a game is “finished” and released is no longer a concrete thing at all. For the sake of the consumer: As long as you can buy a game with real money it can be criticized in full. Don’t get me wrong! Consumers are absolutely and almost solely responsible for the horrendous clusterfuck that is the video game marketplace in 2017 because we’ve all allowed games to go unpunished for being incomplete and exploitative. But I’ll be damn sure to keep pointing fingers at idiotic YouTubers and ex-journalists turned ‘pundit’ who hype the shit out of unfinished low-rent games with their influence. The rush to be the loudest voice, the first on the scene, and the most popular gamer has lead to widespread acceptance of low-quality video games and sub-par experiences. PUBG has done very little to earn its popularity. It is a shallow experience that has no true competitive angle. Seriously go watch the competitions they’ve held so far it is a massive drag to watch the cowardly circle-hugging hilarity of competitive PUBG. The game isn’t finished and remains so clearly ‘cheesable’ that it takes a truly broken mind to even think sponsored competition is worth money.

What about the others? Yeah, this is my face when I imagine them all dying...
What about the others? Yeah, this is my face when I imagine them all dying...

But PUBG isn’t the entire problem, it is an expanding phenomenon that only makes the development and publishing industry that much more risk averse to greenlight projects that are different or new experiences. Remember Mass Effect: Andromeda? It sucked for good reason, the team was forced to push out a game before it was finished. This should have bigger implications considering what I’ve written so far: Games take a long time to finish and the creators generally know when a game is finished. Publisher deadlines have meant nothing over the last decade. Game releases are regularly pushed back time after time for not meeting quality standards as they’re rushed into the quality assurance and testing stage. When a large redesign is needed in those phases of testing publishers are often left out of the loop on purpose, as to avoid the game being canceled for meeting quality assurance standards for release. It is more than a failure of leadership to release an unfinished game, it can often lead to closure of entire studios at the loss of hundreds of jobs. It was no surprise that EA and BioWare dropped Andromeda like a sack of shit after their final patch, there’s nothing more undesirable than a buggy, unfinished game, right? No? Well what about No Man’s Sky? What a risk that was, hyping a game beyond its capabilities before it was even close to finished. Charging $59.99 for a game that was maybe worth $19.99 on a good day if you’re a Sci-Fi/indie game junky. It was promised too soon and it probably missed too much. Sony knowingly forced out a half-digested turd of a game that didn’t meet its own purported high expectations. Well, hey?! They’re still working on it, right? Yes, I actually bought it when the Atlas Shrugged patch came out and reportedly fixed a lot of bugs and contained huge renovations to the graphics, art, and extended the story a great deal. It was truly an expansion pack and it was free. Time to buy? No! After an hour of playing the game I experienced three separate-yet-common game breaking bugs that forced me to restart my playthrough. No Man’s Sky is still not finished, it will likely never deliver upon the idea they’d initially sold.

The root of many anti-consumer evils.
The root of many anti-consumer evils.

All signs are pointing to doom and disorder as two more massively popular multi-player games hit the market this year. Ark: Survival Evolved has been in development for years already and was in early access seemingly forever. You could have bought it for $29.99 unfinished! Now it is $59.99 and appearing on consoles soon. Ark is a clone of a clone-ass survival game (Rust) and save for a few cyborg dinosaur options it is an overly complicated version of Minecraft full of micro-transaction exploitation and player fleecing strategies. I’d like to know how many journalists played that game in the Beta phase and could point out how it has been changed drastically beyond visual polish. The core game has not changed and the only real additions are literally DLC packs sold for $19.99 a piece before the game is even fucking out! I’m not sure if Fortnite is an even more egregious offender as it is now on retail store shelves posing as a finished game before it is finished. Would you pay $59.99 for a Beta of an unfinished game with the hopes it’ll be supported by players long enough to finish development? I paid $59.99 for a copy of Battleborn, how did that work out for me? At this point developers and publishers have become heinously and blatantly anti-consumer in their desperate and greedy practices. Publishers have no trust in their artists and developers, they’re so risk averse to investment that they’ll only stay on board if they’re funding micro-transaction flooded monstrosities of deception and exploitation. You are being exploited as a consumer, if you haven’t read the word exploitation enough. You fools! Ehh, us fools! Dedicated gamers are being lied to, scammed into paying for unfinished products with no guarantee that they’ll ever get the finished product.

I’ve never felt so stupid as when I paid for early Beta access for Paragon, a great third person MOBA that is just a fun on consoles. The founder’s pack that I bought gave me tons of cool stuff. I played the game day after day on my PC and PS4 interchangeably and once the Beta was over all of my rewards and points and stats were erased. I had no idea this was going to happen. I paid $39.99 for four months of a demo for a free to play game. I’m an idiot, but I knew I was right there with millions of other idiots making that same mistake. You might argue that paying for early Beta access is smart because I had an edge up on my competition when the game went into open Beta and release, but when paid early access becomes necessary in competitive games isn’t that essentially long-form pay-to-win? It really boils down to consumer entrapment, base exploitation, and users should not find this acceptable. You’re literally throwing your money away on these games for the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).

Friends don’t let friends pre-order unfinished games’ retail versions with DLC passes
Friends don’t let friends pre-order unfinished games’ retail versions with DLC passes

Why doesn’t slighting and straight up using dedicated video gamers worry companies in the long run? Developers are in the business to make money, short-term greed in the form of long-con games-as-a-service is simply following trends made acceptable by rabid iPhone game consumers. Sure, we’re all eventually victims of horrendous marketing practices, lies and fleecing but the consumer is at fault for giving in to these practices. As a long-term player of any games-as-a-service model, you need to realize that you’re only paying for reputation among other players, you have no advantage and you’re likely paying more than the average purchaser of the final product. By paying more and adopting games earlier you’re made the fool, buying into a product that will change drastically from the time of purchase to the time of release. The big money for these business models isn’t the dedicated fan, the hardcore player, either. The most revenue in a hype-based market comes from new players making new purchases as they enter into a sort of ‘honeymoon’ phase with the game for the first time. They spend the most before realizing how repetitive and soul-sucking it is going to be to stick with the game until it is ‘finished’. As Jeff Gerstmann pointed out on Giant Bombcast 497: All games change over time now. They’re all updating frequently as a business model and almost none of them are truly finished when they come out. The game makers of the world are no longer willing to stand behind their products, instead they bend to the will of the vocal majority and continue to ‘refine’ games with constant tweaks and updates. Once their broken, unfinished game is perceived as ‘fixed’ and better by video game journalists it will be perceived again as purchasable. So, for the record this is bullshit and there has never been a worse time to be into video games. Stop buying unfinished video games, you’re making the world a far less fun place to play in.

Originally posted on grizzlybutts.com (9/8/17)

Patched (1:11PM PST, 9/8/17) Beta version 0.02b Notes:

  • Added bonus Deus Ex pre-order image caption.
  • Remade point that DLC isn't bad, but it has lead to exploitative practices in most cases.
  • Edited for punctuation and some changes to hyperbole.
  • More grammar updates coming soon.
  • Rewards introduced for the Duders who read it the most times.
  • Further edits will be free, but crowd sourced.
  • No updates available on future paragraph splicing efforts.

Patched (1:11PM PST, 9/8/17) Alpha version 0.14c Notes:

  • Added spoiler markers for controversial statements. Avoid if sensitive.
  • Bolded the word "Warcraft III" out of respect. Also bolded the word Fun once.
  • Edited captions for Mass Effect andromeda pic, and the GameStop thing.
  • Decreased size of quote comparing Kim Kardashian to PUBG.
  • Split one paragraph into two. More to come if we reach funding goals.
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An argument for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age's place in your backlog.

This is the ultimate attack from a god fish, Zodiark, lord of Espers. It kills everyone.
This is the ultimate attack from a god fish, Zodiark, lord of Espers. It kills everyone.

The shortest possible personal history of Final Fantasy I could give is to simply state that I’ve been abused mercilessly by anime tropes as I’ve tried to ‘grow’ along with the series since it's inception. I don’t want to be that anti-anime guy, I’m honestly not a for-reals hater outside of some hyperbolic shaming I do for the sake of posterity. The trouble I have with Final Fantasy 7, 10, 10-2, 13, 13-2 and to some extent 15 are the gasping, belabored anime drama tropes, essentially Barbie’s Sci-Fi Adventure 2 Self-Esteem: Japan Edition, that have focused too much on the dwindling Japanese RPG market while not even attempting to write for the “western” audience. Who do I blame? Kingdom Hearts fans and people who support the absolute trash factory that is Tetsuya Nomura's creative team at Square Enix. I have never liked his character designs, his meager design contributions to Final Fantasy VI are negligible, and it has been a wicked sore point for me since Final Fantasy X blew up in popularity. I hate his designs. Anytime he has headed a game in the last ten years it has gone off the rails into development hell and you can’t blame Square Enix for everything. The point?

Final Fantasy XII was different than any other main entry in the series before it: It was a forward-thinking reduction of JRPG tropes that simultaneously retained the core essence of the series SNES popularity while making bold, modern choices with the battle system.

The trouble I have with Final Fantasy XII’s place in history is that it was so maligned for it’s resemblance of a MMORPG that it sits at the bottom of many FF fan’s favorites lists. I sit scoffing on the side of justice and truth, and posit that those who disliked the game were scared, conservative JRPG fans whose thought crimes were perpetuated by casually RPG fans who feared that RPGs would trend into messy, pointless MMORPG experiences sans personality or story. (Or hey, lots of folks don’t like it just because it wasn’t more Final Fantasy X, a putrid brain-dead abomination of a game.) History is on FFXII’s side! Why? Because it wasn't actually an MMORPG at all, it just looked like one. Fact is that FFXII’s battle system does not resemble an MMORPG outside of how it looks when you initiate battles. Having the decision to choose how automated the repetitive tasks of moment-to-moment FF battles are is not a bad thing. In 2017's live-action cyberpunk dystopia JRPGs have stagnated into cheaply made anime showcases full of juvenile coming-of-age stories for giggling hentai-obsessed Vita owners. Final Fantasy XII was the right way to start modernizing the series and Nomura’s Final Fantasy XV totally felt like his team came to the realization that FFXII had already done things right. Having played both games again within a month of each other gives me confidence that the core experience of Final Fantasy XV is a polished up, shiny version of XII (not including the cringefest boy band ensemble). Anyway, the twelfth main entry in the Final Fantasy series was a revelation back in 2006 and I’m still salty that the rest of my JRPG fandom didn’t join me for the ride and instead chose the incredibly shallow and embarrassing world of Kingdom Hearts. Into the storm-like cyber future the JRPG continues to dissolve into the creepiest of niche fan service, here I am barely still a fan and damn happy to be playing this game again.

I probably played closer to 90 hours of this game. Some of the optional bosses take 30-90 minutes to beat, and I failed at them repeatedly. I've also gone back and did the boss rush mode for at least 3-4 hours.
I probably played closer to 90 hours of this game. Some of the optional bosses take 30-90 minutes to beat, and I failed at them repeatedly. I've also gone back and did the boss rush mode for at least 3-4 hours.

Why is Final Fantasy XII so different from every other Final Fantasy game? Simple: The core creative artists and design team were almost entirely ex-Quest (Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre) folks who cut their teeth with Square making Vagrant Story and the Final Fantasy Tactics series. The world of Ivalice is some of the most detailed and mature world-building of any Final Fantasy related projects. Their stories are mature, political, and have easily understood overarching themes that never dwell in the teenage, unformed frontal lobe, conflict-with-gawd, emotional catastrophes that are Nomura’s character examinations. Whoa! I love Final Fantasy Tactics. I have the original PSX game, and the ‘War of the Lions’ version on Vita and on my iPhone, too. I love it, but I can’t beat the game. For whatever reason I’m too impatient and have trouble sticking with it. Chalk it up to just being too stupid for chess or whatever. Regardless of my skills, I ended up buying their next game Vagrant Story, which served as sort of template for a lot of things the team would do in FFXII: The use of precise texture drawing/painting on relatively blocky polygons to great effect, the restrained and intentioned palette, and everything from character design to a story chock full of political intrigue and examinations of social structures. That game was amazing. So, back in 2003 I bought Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for GBA and loved it simply because it was the baby version of Final Fantasy Tactics made for a younger, dumber audience. I was obsessed with the game, going out on missions and skirting time limits and modifying jobs. I was addictive as all hell, I played it about three times in a row the month that I bought it. That game is one of the many reasons I still love my GBA more than any other Nintendo handheld. For my taste, the general creative team behind these games were on a roll. I’d spent years playing each of their games. But the reality was that ‘who’ had been making these games was a complex shuffling of artists and producers with each project and as these projects grew bigger, so did their budget and staff. Yatsumi Matsuno was apparently kind of awful to work with, he didn’t like co-chairing the production with Hiroyuki Ito and his illness had troubled him for years. For a fan like me, Ito’s involvement in XII was cause for excitement when it was announced because he was a big part of Final Fantasy IX, which had the best world of the FF games on PSX (the ending was completely befuddling, though). Ito would eventually fully take the helm for XII after Matsuno had left, along with a lot of the original FFXII team (who went to work with Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker instead.) So, I waited about four years for the game to come out. It was the catalyst for me digging into more and more stuff outside of the RPG genre, with only The Last Story on my radar. Oh man, The Last Story is another game I could write thousands of words on. If you are reading this because you just kinda love Final Fantasy XII and you haven’t played Mistwalker's The Last Story, that game is entirely a reaction to FFXII and featured a ton of folks who left FFXII mid-production before the final push to finish. There are many artistic similarities between the games, with the Last Story perhaps being sorely disaffected by the Wii controls.

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A look at my loadouts for each character. Looking back I'd rather have made Baltheir my Red Battlemage/Shikari.

Final Fantasy XII’s story is mature and focused. It never depends on belabored suffering or childish frustration for impact, and the presentation of the story emphasizes a desire for resolve above dwelling on problems. In this way FFXII is inspiring and feels more “adult” compared to the more teenaged focus of the PSX era of Final Fantasy. It also never veers off into obscure garbage-assed metaphysical chatter. Fans who express frustration with Vaan and Penelo are likely to have never finished the game, as they are not a huge part of the game's plot after the first 5-6 hours. They are lighthearted curs who are just along for the journey and offer a unique point of view for a JRPG of its time. The two function just like Locke in Final Fantasy VI, where they provide a neutral point-of-view to observe the main protagonists (Baltheir, Ashe and Basch.) Their story is remarkably succinct, builds an intriguing open world and places you into it with frequent updates to the changing climate of the war sweeping over southern Ivalice. The political intrigue never teeters too far into complex or overtly personal storytelling like FF Tactics. The esoteric Japanese ’emotional journey’ of the main hero is so tastefully downplayed in FFXII that it makes Ashe likable, strong, and simple as a story focus, with the competing analog of Vaan serving as emotional solidarity rather than cheesy corny anime trope focus. The people of Ivalice are cunning, witty, and speak in arcane English a half step removed from Shakespeare. Baltheir was perhaps the best character to come from a Final Fantasy game since FFVI and it’d be a shame if you missed any of his contributions to the story both as a confident sky pirate or disenfranchised heir. The story is one of revolution, resistance against oppression and defiance of those who lust for the power of crystals formed by puppet-master false Gods. By eliminating the coveted crystals, a destructive power divined by false Gods that allowed man to rule over others, the conclusion of Final Fantasy XII offers a moment of freedom against tyrannical leaders. I appreciated the implications of the fable.

Coming back to this game and experiencing the story, cut-scenes, and exposition only reminded me how jarringly bad FFXIII was at the time with it’s childish, teenage anime heroes, glossy world, and pretentious, long-winded meaningless story. How fucking abstract did sci-fi Final Fantasy need to be? On the flipside Ashe’s story of overcoming the need to use the crystal's dark power to avenge her dead husband is humbly performed, but remains a powerful parable. Her story is one of the most concrete and mature central plots to a Final Fantasy game, ever. The game itself is remarkably “grounded” in terms of the oldest SNES games as well: FFXII doesn’t go to space, doesn’t fight surprise incomprehensible Dark Lord figures you've never heard of, it stays in the world of Ivalice. Granted it is a big ass magical world. Ivalice’s mixture of high fantasy with hints of steam-punk is exactly in line with games like FF 4, 5, 6, and 9 but contains the series greatest diversity in terms of races (uh, ok but I will concede that all humans in Ivalice are white.) It is worth noting that Matsuda’s original vision for the story is remarkably in tune with the first Star Wars movie and some of the battle scenes among ships feel like they were ripped out of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I’m not a big Star Wars guy but the influence on the first half of the plot and presentation is undeniable and hey, pretty good too. The absolute best thing about experiencing Final Fantasy XII again in 4K is seeing the story play out and remembering how beautiful and huge the game was. It should be pretty concrete by now that the game was ahead of it’s time in an era where JRPGs, and their fans, were becoming regressive and preservationist.

Most of the game takes place in the Dalmascan regoin of Ivalice, sandwiched between two warring states. The game is just huge.
Most of the game takes place in the Dalmascan regoin of Ivalice, sandwiched between two warring states. The game is just huge.

There are many flaws that couldn't be ironed out of FFXII with a graphics filter and up-res: The camera sucks, the voice acting is wildly inconsistent, and once you've used fast-forward it's hard to stop and smell the roses. Voice acting is plentiful throughout the game but is generally a mixed bag. Most of the main cast is amazing but a few are decidedly awful: The Marquis’ accent is basically a Apu from the Simpsons, the romantic Rosarrian guy and his silly Zorro accent needed an Ennio Morricone guitar number for how cheesy it was. Judges, law-bringers and protectors of royalty, speak within their helmets like Stormtroopers (or conversely Bane) making for an oddly canned vocal effect. Flowery olde-English speech is sometimes silly when paired with the decidedly UK-based cast, but it works well enough the same way it did in Dragon Quest VIII and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It’s a shame they couldn’t clean up the actual quality of the voice cast’s tracks for the remaster as some of it sounds compressed and cheaply done. Think of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night‘s voiceover as a reference. The music is another story, this is probably my favorite score for a Final Fantasy game as it is very fitting for the locales and the fantasy setting. Hitoshi Sakimoto is responsible for some really incredible soundtrack work: Radiant Silvergun, FF Tactics/Ogre Battle, and most all of the Vanillaware games (Dragons Crown, Odin Sphere etc.) and his collaboration on the soundtrack is exceptional. The re-orchestrated soundtrack is very similar to the original but features some extended pieces and different placement of tracks in some locations. While I enjoyed the re-orchestrated version, most of my playthrough stuck with the original score as I felt it was already very effective.

The controls are just fine but my major gripe with FFXII is the awful camera positioning and field of view, the vision cone is (like most PS2 games) set so intensely close to the party leader that you miss the vistas in the game and you can’t literally see the screen filling mega-bosses simply because you’re stuck behind your leader’s shoulders. It made sense in 4:3 but not in widescreen 4K on my giant TV. Enemy designs are pretty awesome in this game, so it blows that you often can't get a good look at them. So, the camera sucks. Well, how does it play? Oh, you didn’t know? Final Fantasy XII can eventually be set up so that you can set AI parameters for each member of your party and battles will play out automatically. Does this work very well during boss fights? Well, I wouldn’t recommend relying on the Gambit system entirely. Not only is that kind of boring, but you’ll need to exploit weaknesses and be able to adapt during fights. Most of the late game bosses, Esper fights, optional hunts and final bosses require you to strategically prepare and adjust tactics on the fly. Bosses have phases of attacks, and often use palings (buffs that can't be debuffed.) The great secret of FFXII's gameplay? It can be played like an Action RTS game that has more in common with Dragon Age: Origins than any other Final Fantasy game. The second best secret of FFXII? You don’t have to automate anything. You can finish the whole game making every single decision in the battle menus as you would in any previous entry in the series. On paper it really is just the ATB system from the SNES games from the perspective of a third person action game. Having the choice to automate things such as automatically using a Phoenix Down when KO'd, or using Fire spells on an enemy weak to Fire spells, is incredibly useful.

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Much like Final Fantasy XV, you'll likely have the most fun doing Hunts for Marks, side-questing, and the rare game hunts. But hey unlike FFXV if you decide to forego the greatest challenges and side-quests of the game, you'll still get a great story. I had my fun replaying FFXII in HD, and the amount of changes they've made in the remastered version are substantial. I feel validated in keeping it up there as one of the very best Final Fantasy games in the series. It absolutely has flaws and battle system quirks that only reveal themselves when fighting the game’s hardest bosses, but as a full JRPG experience it is still peerless in world, story, and design.

Edited/shortened from original post on grizzlybutts.com

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DOTA 2: Four years and 2,824 matches later, a rant about why I friggin' quit.

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The hardest part about writing about DOTA 2 as a video game is that the game itself has changed so much as I’ve kept playing it that I can’t really levy any true criticism against it. Everything from the look, the presentation itself, the UI, loading screens, and the character models has changed dramatically since 2013. To bother trying to create some kind of post-mortem for what DOTA was when I started, as I played it and what it has become would go too far beyond my own personal experience with the game. The fact is that the moment I finish writing this I’m going to play one last game of DOTA 2, probably lose, and completely give up on the game in earnest. This comes after I returned to the game after a one year hiatus, where I just couldn’t stomach the people I was playing the game with anymore. But don’t let me get ahead of myself, that isn’t where I started with Valve’s bajillion dollar MOBA phenomenon.

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It all started when I watched Johnny Chiodini (at the time he was on Gamespot UK) playing online multi-player medieval hack-and-slash game Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. He was hilarious and while the game was incredibly janky and unfinished at the time, I had to join in. The only way I could play it was to re-install Steam, a thing I hadn’t done since buying Bastion back in 2012. After about 20 hours of Chivalry, where I actually became good at playing the game, I grew bored. Well, for whatever reason Steam’s Summer Sales weren’t such a big deal to me at the time and I more or less ignored it until I saw the usual Valve pack that includes their Counter Strike and Half-Life series and offshoots. I don’t remember how this lead to me getting a Beta invited to DOTA 2 but I had some kind of instinctual hesitation towards whatever the hell a MOBA was. Whoa now, I didn’t mention that I was one of those asshole pre-teens who obsessively played Warcraft II, IIIand Starcraft to the point of actually injuring my neck. The issue I had with DOTA 2 and League of Legends (crap baby game) in 2013 was that they eschewed story and campaign for the sake of a pure team multiplayer game. Little did I know that MOBAs are totally hilarious crack made especially appealing to idiots like me. So, I did what any self-respecting fool does: Sat on my beta invite and didn’t play the game.

It wasn’t until I’d spent a few months obsessing over Giant Bomb’s premium content, after becoming a member, that I began to watch their live streams. Brad had a vested interest in DOTA 2 and once I’d watched his party burn through a few games on their short-lived “Daily Dota” series that I decided I had to give the game a try. Watching a few games was enough for me to realize that it was essentially a team-based real-time strategy game that concentrated the gameplay of Starcraft/Warcraft into a very simple set of goals. What I didn’t realize was the incredible depth of the game. Remember I’m that guy who could beat Frozen Throne on its hardest difficulty, the kind of wiener kid who put 300 hours into replaying Starcraft without even knowing there was a multi-player aspect to it. DOTA 2 is an amazing feat of balance, strategic movement, and it can be an absolutely beautiful thing to experience. So, my first 500 games were learning the skills and typical playstyles, roles and keeping up with changes made during the Beta phases. I became a good support player, was able to carry, and I really took the time to study just exactly when and where each hero was effective. Here are a handful of my favorites, though I’ve left out Razor, Dragon Knight and Crystal Maiden.

My first true love in the game was the hero Lycan. He summons companion wolves that make jungling (farming away from the lanes) easier. A jungler was a good way for me to learn the ropes early on and his ultimate ability makes him incredibly strong in 1vs1 fights as well as for chasing down enemies and taking down towers. He isn’t incredibly versatile, though, and his nuances wore thin after a while. He is also fairly easy to counter until he is beastly strong. When you first start the game PUSHERs are the way to go because new players are more likely to be focused on kills rather than towers (the whole point of the game is to take out towers!)
My first true love in the game was the hero Lycan. He summons companion wolves that make jungling (farming away from the lanes) easier. A jungler was a good way for me to learn the ropes early on and his ultimate ability makes him incredibly strong in 1vs1 fights as well as for chasing down enemies and taking down towers. He isn’t incredibly versatile, though, and his nuances wore thin after a while. He is also fairly easy to counter until he is beastly strong. When you first start the game PUSHERs are the way to go because new players are more likely to be focused on kills rather than towers (the whole point of the game is to take out towers!)
Lich is probably my favorite support hero due to his strong ability in lane as well as during team fights. His nukes are powerful and I had a lot of fun creating different builds for him that would combine support and aggressive team fighting techniques. I have a fairly high success rate with Lich and he was my most played for a very long time
Lich is probably my favorite support hero due to his strong ability in lane as well as during team fights. His nukes are powerful and I had a lot of fun creating different builds for him that would combine support and aggressive team fighting techniques. I have a fairly high success rate with Lich and he was my most played for a very long time
Karroch the Beastmaster is perhaps my favorite character design besides Silencer or Razor. Not only is he reasonably tanky but his nukes and powerful stun ultimate make him great for team fights. I loved him more before they nerfed his companion dog’s strength which coupled with his DPS aura made for very effective pushing. He is one of two heroes where I actually spent money on costumes. Very few people play this hero so you’ll be at an advantage versus players who have no familiarity with him.
Karroch the Beastmaster is perhaps my favorite character design besides Silencer or Razor. Not only is he reasonably tanky but his nukes and powerful stun ultimate make him great for team fights. I loved him more before they nerfed his companion dog’s strength which coupled with his DPS aura made for very effective pushing. He is one of two heroes where I actually spent money on costumes. Very few people play this hero so you’ll be at an advantage versus players who have no familiarity with him.
Silencer is my personal favorite hero in DOTA2 because he is incredibly versatile. He can support, he can hard carry, has powerful nukes, some of the best disables in the game and Valve has steadily improved his place in the roster over time. He’s never been nerfed to hell because he is rarely a big part of competitive meta. I bought several sets for him and even sold a few things back when you could. If only there was a DOTA RTS featuring Silencer… *sigh*
Silencer is my personal favorite hero in DOTA2 because he is incredibly versatile. He can support, he can hard carry, has powerful nukes, some of the best disables in the game and Valve has steadily improved his place in the roster over time. He’s never been nerfed to hell because he is rarely a big part of competitive meta. I bought several sets for him and even sold a few things back when you could. If only there was a DOTA RTS featuring Silencer… *sigh*

Things went to hell pretty quickly once the game was officially released and it didn’t help that I was taking a one year hiatus from college and had all of the time in the world to play DOTA even more. What happened? Upon public release of the game I began playing ranked matches. I quickly realized that I am personally very flawed in the realm of massive multiplayer online games. I am not good at making friends with other players, I am not good at cultivating those friendships within online games, and I generally do better when I am teaching rather than taking orders from others. It isn’t that I am not a team player it is that I do not fundamentally understand the impulsive non-strategic play style of most casual DOTA 2 players. The next 500 games were spent teaching other people how to play the game so that they might learn, get better, and hopefully play multiple games with me. The true issue was that I had studied the game intensely and knew several strategies to win but the public ranked solo matches I was getting into were full of people who hadn’t put in the same effort. Young men and women are resentful of being told what to do within the space of multiplayer videogames, this isn’t too much of a blanket statement and I feel comfortable generalizing. They simply cannot take direction, suggestion, nor can they learn from their mistakes when the culture of multiplayer games always, always gives room for scapegoating, harassment, and blame. I’m sure DOTA was always a toxic environment, team games played by the unskilled casual video game child often devolve this way. I’d heard about Counter Strike toxicity and absolutely had similar experiences playing solo Quake III and Unreal Tournament iterations. My expectations for MOBAs were that these were all people interested in strategic RPG gameplay, that these people would be intelligent and focused on making a team work. They weren’t, they aren’t, and they never will be.

Oh silencer, how I will miss your dreamy robes...
Oh silencer, how I will miss your dreamy robes...

Team play is the only proper way to play a MOBA and after a few years of trying to create friendships and teams around DOTA 2 play I finally realized that I’m not capable. I cannot find friendly people to play DOTA 2 with because of the matchmaking in the game. I was reported for abandons, for contributing to toxicity, for just being seen as the weakest link by a group of immature asshole children. I was muted several times for trying to reason with toxic players, the same thing always happened over and over where the toxic player would convince the other players that I was the worst shit ever and they would all win. Valve did nothing to help me out of this rut in fact they made it ten times worse when they started increasing the low priority matching penalties. Not only would you have to play several low priority games, full of the least skilled and most toxic players in the game, but you’d have to WIN with them. I loved DOTA 2 and I was so obsessed with the game that it crushed me to see the toxicity of others affecting my ability to just play the damn game. I decided that after so many matches I just wasn’t enjoying the people I was playing with. I had to mute everyone both their microphones and their text to enjoy the game again and that left me at a strategic disadvantage, plus I would get reported for not communicating. I just could not win the war against the fucking mean people that, one after another, were repeating the same ridiculous hate-speech to each other over and over.

The game broke me, no… The other players broke me. I became toxic, I joined in and I harassed anyone who so much as told me what to do. Like everyone else with me in the 1,000-2,000 ranked matches I became an asshole. I suggested reports, I called names, I was a fucking dickhead who yelled at anyone who did anything wrong. I became a cocksure bully idiot who was no longer having fun playing his silly fantasy multiplayer RPG garbage game. The people who loved me the most noticed it too, that my couple of hours of DOTA a night only frustrated me and at times depressed me. It was my fault, I lowered myself to a terrible place and the day that I realized it September 20th, 2016 I stopped playing DOTA altogether. It wasn’t just videogames that had pushed me into the realm of internet asshole, it was around the same time that I decided to get divorced. Somehow my own personal relationship was echoing itself into the game, not because of it but in addition to it. Almost a full year of my life had been verbal abuse from DOTA 2 players as well as from my spouse. The relentless disapproval, the constant nagging mentions that I was not good enough for the person I loved, nor the game that I loved, helped me realize that I did not belong where I was and that I could be happy.

“The casual shit-posting twenty-something who plays multi-player games to socially muscle their way through others, to push them around and piss in their face for fun, is the worst form of human being.”

Nobody has the right to verbally abuse you and it isn’t normal to exist in a culture of abject disapproval. When people fall back in their chairs and resign themselves to letting multiplayer games be negative, hateful experiences are enabling this culture. Speak out against it and if nothing improves abandon that toxic environment. It will affect you and it will eventually change the way you approach the people you should be enamored with: Other fucking video game fans! The casual shit-posting twenty-something who plays multi-player games to socially muscle their way through others, to push them around and piss in their face for fun, is the worst form of human being. I say this with salt-a-plenty but I am serious that this only bleeds into other places. Twitter wars, harassment of journalists and creators, GamerGate, etc. all of these abusive personalities have been allowed to incubate within communities of hate and feigned posturing for way, way too long. I came back to DOTA 2 during this year’s International tournament and I was nice, I kept things positive and steered players towards winning in the nicest way possible. What happened? I was harassed, repeatedly called a ‘faggot’ for being nice across 5-6 games. One player continued their harassment beyond the game across Steam chat, a first for me, and it was just too much. I do not belong to that world anymore and I never will again. If the consequence of avoiding toxic online video game communities comes at the price of isolation and single-player experiences then so be it. I quit, but before I go for good I want to be clear: I love DOTA 2, it was the deepest and most incredible experience I’ve had with a videogame since I started playing them in the late 80’s. Thanks for anyone who bothered with my salty rant, it felt good. Originally posted on www.grizzlybutts.com

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Video games that Brad Shoemaker reviews have convinced me to buy and enjoy (2000-Present)

Ever since I bought my first issue of GamePro in 1992 I've been addicted to reading about video games. I was obsessed with reading about upcoming games as a ten year old. I'd look at screenshots for games like X-Men: Children of the Atom and Mega Man X and imagine how they'd look in real life. I actually read about most Neo Geo fighting games for years before ever seeing one in action, there was nothing else that piqued my imagination more than video games in the 90's. What made this reasonable to me as a developing young man was that, much like Playboy, I'd also read the articles and reviews. Those reviews would ultimately help me decide what choice I would make once Christmas and birthday wishlists were made. Nothing was more satisfying than reading about games like Fatal Fury 2 (Sega Genesis version) or Super Metroid and having the game completely live up to the hype. Of course I fully contributed to the decline of print magazines by completely switching to online publications around 1997 when sites like GameSpot and IGN began to push out more content. While my lust for screenshots didn't officially die until 2001, when I could actually watch trailer videos for games, I made sure to basically read every single review ever published on both sites. GameSpot almost always had the edge on other websites solely because the ratio of good writers to poor ones was ace. It was there that discovered reviewers like Alex, Jeff, Greg and Brad (among others) before ever seeing them on video. They were writing in a less pompous style than a lot of IGN or PC Gamer reviewers, and the shift from the systematic review machine towards a more editorial style helped me stay interested in game reviews as I became a smarter, older human being. It might seem stupid now, but reviews weren't pure opinion and personal testimony back in the day and functioned more like tech reviews with a little squeeze of opinion over the top. Essentially the flipside of what they are now.

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I actually still have just about every issue of Sega Visions, each one has ripped off the glossy cover due to being so cheaply bound with two staples.

Anyhow, after reading Brad's review of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (2017) the idea came to me to write a bit about several games that Brad's reviews have convinced me to buy and try over the many years I've been reading his opinions. Why him? It is meant as encouragement for him to write more reviews. They're always great. Plus you'll see I've had a pretty high rate of success when taking his opinions into account over the years... Although I will say that my adventures with DOTA 2 were a horrible mistake and I blame Daily Dota for the everyday horror that is my now in remission DOTA addiction... but that is a blog for another time. I was going to make this a list but whatever. Brad wrote 147 reviews for GameSpot and so far 142 reviews on Giant Bomb. I chose the games that I liked the most, or the ones where I felt like he really hit the nail on the head.

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Breath of Fire IV (PSX, 2000)

"Nice presentation, an interesting story line, satisfying RPG-style gameplay, and above-average visuals combine to make it a good game for the RPG junkie who's already plowed through all of this year's other excellent role-playing games."

I was on the fence with this one at the time due mostly to my mixed feelings after Breath of Fire III, which was kind of ugly, slow paced and over-complicated despite how fun it was. What convinced me was the final line I've quoted, it appealed to me as someone who was obsessed with Playstation JRPGs and ripping through them. I loved this game. It was slow-paced but the art style, great writing, oddball skill learning system, and standard turn-based battle style with made it good fun.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/breath-of-fire-iv-review/1900-2592198/

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Dragon Warrior VII (PSX, 2001)

"Fortunately for people who mean to play the game instead of just look at it, Dragon Warrior VII has an RPG core so dense that few current examples of the genre can rival it. How many RPGs--ones that you've played lately--make you fight slimes with your bare hands for half an hour before you can afford a single sword?"

Brad's review of this hot JRPG slab of scary-long ugliness convinced me to buy the game after realizing how stupid it was for me to overlook the game because it was ugly and slow. I didn't realize how incredibly slow the game was, despite having read his review, and I put very nearly 150 hours into the game before realizing I'd made some mistakes with the job system, had a short tantrum, and eventually beat the game. I'd never really played a Dragon Warrior/Quest game before and this was probably the worst possible introduction to the series for how obtuse it was. But I always appreciated Brad's encouragement to give the game a chance and his advice was totally warranted for how much value I got from the purchase.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dragon-warrior-vii-review/1900-2826206/

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Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete (PSX, 2001)

"Lunar 2's translation is unusually divergent from the original source, which is par for the course for Working Designs; consequently, it's far livelier than most English RPG texts. Lunar 2's characters are made endearing by their words, and though many would criticize the company for taking such brazen creative liberty, the textual changes are truly effective in the end."

This was an important detail for me as a fan of the first Lunar game on Sega CD versions who wasn't sure what to think of the Silver Star Story remake. I had not played Eternal Blue on Sega CD, as it was like $100, impossible to find used and reportedly harder than the first game... but thankfully Brad's reserved appraisal of the game convinced me to buy it. Beyond the endless grinding required to beat the game it tells a really cool story using bad anime tropes. This is one of those games I go back to for the battle system and music rather than the story anyhow. This is another game that impressed me without being so focused on the graphics, which was so popular at the time while JRPGs became more flashy and less interested in evolving turn-based battle systems. I really didn't need every game to be as pretty as Final Fantasy VIII.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/lunar-2-eternal-blue-review/1900-2670150/

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Dark Cloud 2 (PS2, 2003)

"Dark Cloud 2 is simply a class act all the way. Every element of the game, from the georama system to the weapon upgrading to the interaction with a large cast of characters, displays a polish and attention to quality that you find only in real classics."

Eh, the first Dark Cloud game looked pretty great but it wasn't that good. I mean the idea of the georama system was just OK but the controls and combat were boring as hell. It was essentially Legend of Mana made fully 3D, which is great, but the tutorializing in the game was so bare bones that I never got anywhere in it. Brad's review of the sequel not only helped explain the basic things you needed to know to succeed in the game but it put to rest my reservations for trying it out. This was one of those rare RPGs where I didn't really care how it ended or finished because I had so much fun with the loop of the gameplay. Finding weapons and upgrading them and being able to explore more and more became very addictive and the cel-shaded graphics were pretty novel at the time. Level 5 has done better going forward for sure but I think I might have overlooked amazing games like Dragon Quest VIII and Rogue Galaxy if I hadn't already been in love with their work on this second Dark Cloud game. Curious that they never went forward with other games.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dark-cloud-2-review/1900-2911113/

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Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2, 2003)

"Final Fantasy X's combat had a measured, deliberate pace, but the active-time battle system in FFX-2 is the most active in the series' history. The game's battles flow at an extremely quick rate, almost so quick that it can be hard to keep track of everything (though config options allow you to slow things down to suit your tastes)."

No greater atrocity has ever been committed. The only thing worse than the terrible anime garbage that is Final Fantasy X is its much maligned suicide-note of a sequel. This is the worst filth ever made and the true beginning of Square's decline into japanime nightmare sad-senpai, girly-puff nonsensical drivel. The worst Barbie style makeover ever done to a mainstream JRPG and the worst part is that the horrifying soundtrack exists alongside the extinction-level abomination that is this game. Forget the awful cult of mutants that we call Kingdom Hearts fans, Final Fantasy X-2 fans are literally the worst human beings since Nazis. The annoying frump dweeb hogs from FFX are back and they're fucking pop stars?!?! No, I hate this. I HATE it. Kill everything. Nuke the goddamn planet. Burn it all forever. Oh, but Brad liked it in his review. I dunno I wasn't convinced that it would be good... but I did buy it after reading the review. All of his talk about the battle system and job-changing dresses had me interested in the combat. I have never regretted purchasing a game as much as I regret buying FFX-2. A pestilence upon all who enjoy this deranged J-pop nightmare scenario.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/final-fantasy-x-2-review/1900-6083743/

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GCN, 2004)

"Much ballyhoo has been made about Crystal Chronicles' rather unique multiplayer setup, which (as you may have heard) requires all players to use a Game Boy Advance and link cable to play the game. That's right--you cannot play this game's multiplayer mode without every player owning and using a game system other than the one the game is running on."

Brad's lengthy description of both the mechanics of the single player and the complexity of the multi-player setup was really valuable when I was assessing whether or not I should buy the game. I had a GBA and a link cable, but the game didn't make it clear that you needed one for EVERY player, so a GCN controller wouldn't work. I bought it all the same because I had a friend who had a GBA as well. I wasn't sure if I even wanted to try this game because what I'd seen was kind of ugly and looked like one of those shoddy Shining Force related action games for PS2 but Brad's comparisons to Diablo and Baldur's Gate gave a good sense of what the gameplay was like. I never finished the game, primarily because my friend lost interest and playing the game single-player becomes a real slog. It was also kind of twee even for a GCN game.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/final-fantasy-crystal-chronicles-review/1900-6089013/

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Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN, 2004)

"If you've played Metroid Prime, you've essentially played Metroid Prime 2. Retro hasn't mucked with the original, winning formula, so veterans of the first game will feel quite at home resuming their position behind Samus' computer-enhanced visor."

This is my favorite GameCube game next to the first Metroid Prime and Brad's review was more in-depth than most others at the time. One of the few games I literally restarted the moment it finished so I could go back and try a 100% run. In his review, Brad goes in great detail with the changes to gameplay in the sequel and generally just sells the damn thing. I mean beyond "Hey, it's more Metroid Prime, what the hell dude? Play this game." I bought it day one because this review hyped me for it so much. There are few games where I actually seek out the written exposition and general world building found in data logs and the Prime series was just mystifying for me.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/metroid-prime-2-echoes-review/1900-6112996/

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The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA, 2005)

"Another interesting new mechanic that harks back to last year's Four Swords Adventures allows you to create identical copies of Link using glowing tiles on the floor. These copies will attack when you attack and maintain their formation based on which tiles you activated them on, and again this mechanic is used extensively in some of the game's puzzles to create some interesting brainteasers."

The description of these sort of mechanics reminded me of how much fun it was to play Oracle of the Ages, which I think Brad also reviewed, and motivated me to try again with Zelda after Majora's Mask had me wondering why I ever liked Ocarina of time. I didn't really play through Wind Waker in full until it it was on Wii U so some of the references to that game were lost on me. For what it's worth, as I know many people mark this as their least favorite Zelda game, this is an amazing trip of a game. It is the most storybook psychedelic (not creep-core WTF-vision like M's M) of Zelda games, or would be until the more recent 3DS game. I had fun with it and I never felt the need to diminish HE HE HE the value of the game despite it being relatively short. The play with the Minish cap and Link's size changes made for fun dungeon challenges and the controls felt just as nice as ye olde SNES days. Go play it on an emulator, nobody will mind.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/the-legend-of-zelda-the-minish-cap-review/1900-6116162/

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Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (PC, 2005)

"Rounding out your arsenal is the very artifact that started this whole mess. As you play through the game, the artifact will grant you powers you can activate at will. At first, you'll be able to slow down time for a few seconds, giving you a speed advantage over your enemies. Later on, the berserk power will be added to the artifact, enabling you to punch anything to death with one hit. Finally, toward the end of the game, you'll become invincible when you invoke the artifact... "

Artifact powers and new weapons were definitely something id had communicated previously but it wasn't until I read Brad's review that they actually sounded interesting in the context of a single player expansion. One of the reasons I fell off of Doom 3 after finishing it was the lack of multi-player options and the frustrating final area and boss battle. I love the original game but the first half of it was remarkably better than the second and Resurrection of Evil fully made up for that flaw. I felt like I got a better version of Doom 3 with the expansion and some more combat options. I'd just played through Deus Ex for the first time before playing this and it was nice to at least do more than flip between flashlight and whatever weapon I had ammo for. There is still a need for the flashlight and honestly I loved that you needed it in the original game, it adds a tension to the game that is good fun. Kinda weird that they let you mount the flashlight in that complete doom collection thing for PS3/Xbox a few years back. Brad's continued interest in Doom has repeatedly reminded me that I like those games a whole lot too.

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/doom-3-resurrection-of-evil-review/1900-6121555/

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Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, 2005)

"If all this sounds like a series of massive boss fights that make up an entire game, it's more or less what it is. The designers could have doubled or even tripled the length of the adventure by placing hundreds of lesser foes between you and your ultimate objectives. But that would have only diluted the experience of fighting these beasts that tower hundreds of feet above you and shake the very earth with their footsteps. In other words, don't mistake Shadow of the Colossus' purity of focus for a thin or potentially unsatisfying adventure."

This paragraph went a long way to convince me to give the game a chance despite being turned off by the idea that I would be paying a game without enemies, without leveling up, and without townspeople to talk to. Damnit, this game was the most incredible thing I'd seen on the Playstation 2 at the time. The way the game used the scale of Colossi made the world feel so much bigger than anything else in video games at the time. The horse's flittering mane and tail, smooth animations and headstrong behavior felt like the Ocarina of Time of the future, I was transfixed. I spent countless hours wandering around the world no knowing what to do, fighting the controls for days, and eventually decided this wasn't a game I could rush through. I did eventually need to hit up GameFAQs to help me through to the grand finale though. I never replayed this on the HD remaster and I generally don't like anything else Team ICO has done, but I might try out the full remake once it comes out. A game that definitely made me think twice when recoiling at the idea that games can be "artistic statements".

https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/shadow-of-the-colossus-review/1900-6135831/

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Prince of Persia (PS3, 2008)

"Even if the platforming was really tough in a demanding, skill-based way, you'd have no penalty and little frustration due to the game's wildly forgiving death mechanic. In short, you can't die. Every time you miss a jump, Elika teleports in with her fancy magical powers and delivers you back to the last solid ground you stood on. In combat, she pulls you back for a minute to rest while the enemy regains a little health."

This part where Brad describes the platforming and combat mechanics kinda blew my mind. I'd seen screenshots and I'd read about the game a little bit but I had no clue as to how they'd changed the combat mechanics. At first I felt like it was a stupid baby game for babies who didn't like to die but it turns out the game's mechanics actually made it one of the most engrossing adventures I've ever had in a video game. Truth be told this is one of my top ten video games of all time. The controls feel more natural as you play, like any video game, but I was able to get into such a state of flow as I parkour'd and purified my way through the webbed together metroidvania-ish stages. The verticality of the game was impressive and the reward for completing any section of the game was almost always an incredible view. So what if you fall off? There was never any reason to get red-faced and screaming with frustration because I couldn't see where to go next and trial-by-error was actually half of the fun in experimenting ways to traverse hidden spots in stages. I felt this was an important, if not kind of overlooked, entry towards games becoming both "easier" (less punishing?) and more artistic in presentation. It might just be me who loves this game more than your average gamer, but it is still a very bright spot for me in a very crowded last-gen catalog.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/prince-of-persia-review/1900-94/

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Dead Space (PS3, 2008)

"Most of the game's grotesquely mutated enemies have spindly arms, legs, tentacles, and other appendages that you can shoot off with a well-placed shot or two, and you get these satisfyingly meaty snapping sounds and a jet of blood every time you separate another body part."

Games like Dead Space always seem really stupid the same way your typical Summer blockbuster movie does. It looks flashy in the trailers and there are some fun gimmicks to be had, but the experience typically ends up being kind of shallow and pointless once you're done with it. I wasn't going to buy Dead Space until I read Brad's review here and found his descriptions of the fun of the gore-splattering and some comparisons to some other games I liked. Plus the zero gravity stuff was really compelling. His mention of needing a big HD TV to take in the game rang a bell in my head, too as I'd just gotten a large TV and felt the early years of the PS3 were kind of bland. The game itself was just OK, I preferred Dead Space 2 for many reasons and this one felt short and highly repetitive with a few frustrating mechanics. There is something about aiming for a moving target as it runs towards me that just makes me freak out, and it honestly stems from Resident Evil 4, a game I could never finish because I was always too slow and wasted too much ammo missing. I did finish this game once, though.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/dead-space-review/1900-68/

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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3, 2010)

"The game's dramatic scenes are among the most convincing in the business, utilizing Serkis' obvious flair for the dramatic, and the "performance capture" process made famous by Avatar, to fill Monkey, Trip, and the game's one other meaningful speaking character with more lifelike personality and pathos than a dozen text-heavy role-playing games."

Oh man, Enslaved was one of those games that nobody played but the ones that did were generally blown away by it. Brad's review did a lot to emphasize the cinematic value of the game, its expert level cut-scene integration, and creative combat mechanics. Maybe I'm too much of a fan of the game to be saying this, but I always felt like Uncharted 2 wasn't half as good as this game in both presentation and gameplay. This review was important in convincing me to give a game a chance that I honestly would have ignored and written off because I thought Heavenly Sword was kinda bunk-ass garbage that wanted to be Ninja Gaiden. I've liked everything else Ninja Theory has done since, though. If you have this in your backlog I'd highly recommend playing through it, one of the best of its kind.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/enslaved-odyssey-to-the-west-review/1900-320/

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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (2010)

"What follows from this brief intro is around 10 hours of the series' trademark acrobatic obstacles punctuated by staccato moments of large-scale melee combat. If you played any of those POP games on last-generation consoles, you're already well acquainted with this formula; Forgotten Sands adheres to it so strictly that you still get that broad camera pan across each new environment showing you exactly what combination of pillars, poles, ledges and sheer walls you're expected to nimbly navigate to get to the next section of the castle"

Again Brad steered me back towards a game I was going to write off. I thought it was going to be a cheap movie tie-in but it was actually just a continuation of the trilogy from the previous generation. I loved those games and have probably played through each one two or three times at the least. He was right, though, that this was too much of a throwback to the previous games and didn't necessarily take anything from Assassin's Creed's open world murdering. Had a blast with this game either way, almost got the platinum trophy but the final challenge was essentially "never die, never get hit and beat the last boss on the hardest difficulty" and fuck that I guess. It might look like a B-game to most, but this is another game I can go back to and still be really happy with the look of it and the gameplay itself.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/prince-of-persia-the-forgotten-sands-review/1900-285/

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Mass Effect 2 (PS3, 2010)

"But Mass Effect always had great characters and story. On the most-improved list, however, the combat sits right at the top. The basic movement, aiming, and shooting feel much tighter here, and I'll put them right up alongside any pure third-person shooter on the market. Honestly, I didn't know BioWare had it in them."

There are very few third person shooter/RPG hybrids out there that are any fun to play and Mass Effect 2 is probably the best one I've ever played. While I actually enjoyed the Mako, the inventory management, and the jank of the first game the changes made in the sequel really did serve the story and the moment to moment gameplay in leaps and bounds. As much time as I spent in all three Mass Effect games this is the only one I bothered to play twice to see how other decisions affected the games plot. Is it the best game of that generation? No, but it is one of the best "RPGs that is basically Star Trek" of all time. This is one of the first games I can remember providing DLC that was actually worth paying for as I wanted to see every bit of story and explore every piece of space that I could.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/mass-effect-2-review/1900-254/

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Outland (PS3, 2011)

"Finnish developer Housemarque is back on the right track with Outland, an eye-popping 2D platformer that owes equal debts to Metroid and--of all things--Ikaruga. That odd combination results in a tightly designed downloadable game bursting with demanding traversal, surprisingly deep combat, and lush visual design."

I mean he'd said all he needed to in the first paragraph. Outland was a game that you couldn't lazily scorch your way through due to the aforementioned Ikaruga style mechanics. Every new area felt like a new platforming puzzle rather than a collection of floating sprites to swish a whip at. It got pretty damn challenging towards the end of the game and I never fully beat the game before having a screeching hissy fit and tossing my controller. Was great fun while I was playing it, though and remains one of the better downloadable games that I have on my PS3.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/outland-review/1900-378/

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Rage (PS3, 2011)

"Nearly all of id's games have just been shooters--run forward, blast everything that gets in your way, repeat in next level--and that sequence of events still forms the backbone of Rage. But instead of merely presenting a linear chain of levels joined end to end with loading screens, those levels are now connected more dynamically with a wasteland hub environment that you traverse in your Mad Max-style dilapidated vehicles."

I was going to skip on Rage because it looked like just a stupid post-apocalyptic shooter and Doom 3 had rubbed me the wrong way anytime I went back to it. Brad's review subverted my expectations by describing Mad Max: Shoots up Thunderdome (aka Rage) in the most necessarily straight forward way. It did turn out to be a strange beast that reminded me of Borderlands with it's quirky-but-gory presentation. Rage is an awesome game, though, and once I picked it up I didn't put it down until I finished it. Exploring areas using a quest/objective structure felt like an RPG. I was building an arsenal by traveling to dungeons and killing off everything in sight. The game was lightly cinematic but lets you focus on shooting waves of pretty smart AI bad guys. To this day few things are a cool as tossing one of those silly fan-blade boomerangs at an enemies head and seeing it explode. The vehicle stuff didn't throw me off as much as a lot of other people, once you know the map and understand where enemies spawn you get the hang of it. Also having the multi-player in the game be customizable Twisted Metal was lame, but there was fun to be had if you stuck with it. If you'd played machinegames' Wolfenstein: The New Order you should go back to Rage sometime, you'll find a lot of very similar things happening between the two games and it might make you appreciate Rage more than you did before.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/rage-review/1900-426/

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Mark of the Ninja (PC, 2012)

"You know that feeling in a stealth game when everything feels like it goes just your way, and you clear a whole room of witless guards without so much as a sound? I haven't gotten that feeling since Arkham Asylum, but Mark of the Ninja has it. That's the highest praise I can think to give this game."

Yes, I know that feeling. I would like to subscribe to your newsletter sir, thank you. I love stealth games and have since discovering I could stealth my way through the original Deus Ex. I have no love for Metal Gear Solid, though, which is more of an anime cartoon than a stealth game (much less a "video game"). *spits on the table* Mark of the Ninja is a game I can just replay over and over and still have fun. There is something very satisfying about outsmarting the AI puzzles and making progress through the game that I haven't gotten from any other Klei game. I always like when a reviewer comments on the overall design of a game's stages, I know this is fairly commonplace in written reviews but video reviews and podcast 'hot takes' don't always go into enough depth when it comes to meta-structures of experiences. When I thought about Mark of the Ninja from the perspective of a designer it became even more impressive that the game never drags with the objectives and challenges it gives you, despite being a relatively gameplay experience.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/mark-of-the-ninja-review/1900-525/

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Far Cry 3 (PS3, 2012)

"Enemy-held checkpoints--one of the weakest points of Far Cry 2, due to their neverending stream of respawning enemies--become maybe the best part of Far Cry 3, since they're now a formal type of side mission. The enemy-tagging mechanic of the original Far Cry, and Crytek's subsequent efforts with the Crysis series, is especially useful here since you can now tag an enemy on the fly just by aiming at him for a second, and once he's tagged, you can see his movements clearly through walls."

When I'm envisioning the gameplay experience I might have with a game I'm considering purchasing it is these sort of details that can tip me towards getting the game. Far Cry 2 was such a stupid and frustrating mess of a game, but for all of its frustrations it did reward the player for progress in a way that kept me coming back for more. At this point I was so ingratiated with Crysis and it's expansion that I was rabid with enthusiasm to try a game that looked to be essentially Crysis' earlier island sections combined with an Assassin's Creed style experience. I played this game so much that I literally ran out of things to do. I did every challenge, every quest, explored every part of everything possible. Sure, the story fell on it's ass toward the end but damn if Far Cry 3 wasn't fun as hell to play. In fact I found myself avoiding vehicles altogether so I could take my time exploring and getting surprised by tigers left and right. It's a damn shame I couldn't care less about Far Cry 4, who knows why. That reminds me, I really need to play Crysis again...

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/far-cry-3-review/1900-552/

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Tomb Raider (PS3, 2013)

"In its efforts to paint Lara as a vulnerable but resilient heroine, the game suffers an identity crisis of sorts. It swings wildly between quiet character moments, where you feel every bit of the physical pain and emotional anguish her grueling situation entails, and the sort of ludicrous, over-the-top action this medium just can't get enough of. The contrast is only so irksome because the game goes to such great lengths to legitimize Lara's struggle in the first place..."

Ludo-narrative dissonance was something I hadn't really thought about until reading this review, and it is a good example of a video game protagonist being both the 'lamb' and the 'lion'. It is a great review that re-introduced me to Tomb Raider, a series that I hated because of the controls and stupid as hell movies, as a legitimate sort of game I might play. The fact that it was essentially a Arkham Asylum-ish metroidvania thingy helped too, although I did get sick of pinging to get secrets to show up on my detective vision. I played the hell out of this game and didn't start to think it was stupid until the later areas where encounters increased and the stunts got more and more death defying. It was like when Con-Air goes full off the rails but Tomb Raider just keeps going until the weird ending. I similarly liked Rise of the Tomb Raider, and had trouble forcing my way through the last few chapters due to being fatigued with shit to do and silly gimmick areas meant to halt the rush towards the story's conclusion.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/tomb-raider-review/1900-561/

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Doom (2016)

"In short, new Doom plays like classic Doom, but with some modern twists. The big one is the "glory kill," a feature that lets you stagger any monster after putting a certain amount of damage into them, and then launch into a canned execution move that one-hit-kills them. Half an hour with the game allayed my fears that this feature was a concession to mainstream accessibility, for the simple reason that glory kills generate small amounts of health and armor."

Click-click-click, the sound of my analog stick repeatedly clicking in as I glory killed everything possible. hadn't been interested in Doom when it was first announced. It was just kind of 'out' all of the sudden and I didn't really care because it essentially looked like more Doom 3 but prettier. The years of postponed release and comparisons to Call of Duty had me full uninterested. Though Brad's talk of it on the bombcast and this review convinced me to check it out. While it wasn't as good as Wolfenstein that came before it, Doom (2016) was a hell of a lot of fun to play through. For all of the waxing Brad did in this review I actually found the game's promising early levels and easy-breezy traversal pretty incredible compared to the second half of the game. It started to feel like playing a horde mode in an Unreal Tournament game as I was locked into monster closet after monster closet and exploration for collectibles was the only really redeeming part of the conclusory half of the game. Still, I don't regret beating the game and spending well over 30 hours in the multi-player and snap map portions of the game.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/doom-review/1900-745/

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Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PC, 2017)

"Hellblade's robust bag of psychological tricks and the sheer fact of Senua's distressing reality result in the game's uncommon ability to capture the feelings of worthlessness, lack of control, of being misunderstood and shunned, the strange mix of hope and despair that can accompany a debilitating mental illness. Much of the credit for this authenticity has to go to the performances, chiefly Senua herself, played improbably but with a piercing intensity by one of Ninja Theory's video editors..."

This is a great review in general as Brad illustrates the narrative audio-visual experience above the gameplay itself. I was weary of what this game actually was after seeing Game Informer's coverage of it, which made it look like shitty third person Infinity Blade. While I was initially disappointed that the action wasn't deeper, this was one of the most harrowing game experiences I've had in a long time. It is deeply disturbing, especially because I can relate to post-traumatic depression and self-doubt. Would not have chosen to experience this game without the review, the Quick Look made it look very frustrating, and I'm grateful that reviews are still happening on Giant Bomb because they're still one of the best ways to convey the gameplay experience before playing the game myself.

https://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/hellblade-senuas-sacrifice-review/1900-765/

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Well, thanks for jogging down memory lane with me. I thought it'd be interesting to see how one game journalists body of work had influenced my video game choices here and there over the years. I feel like I've had a lot of simpatico with certain games journalist's taste and coverage-lean over the years, that is one reason why I hopped on the Giant Bomb train in the first place.

6 Comments

Does Nioh finally deliver on Team Ninja's initial promises with patch 1.14 and the Defiant Honor DLC?

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Nioh just feels great to play. Sure, you'll die a bit until you've got your timing down but you'll start to find a combat groove several missions in. I personally went through the first set of missions 4-5 times each until I was able to really figure out the AI patterns and get a sense for weapon speed, range, and stamina management. Everyone I've talked to has played through Nioh in a different fashion, even when using the same starting weapon you'll have to find ways to adapt to survive and the game gives a Mt. Fuji sized set of options. There isn't better action RPG combat around in 2017, it makes Dark Souls III combat feel like fighting off monsters with a balloon animal at 30 fps. But hey, the vanilla/launch Nioh experience was severely less complicated with fewer systems integrated, fewer weapon types to master, and a pretty chill co-op system. I remember writing a review for this game back in April and scrapping at least five pages of notes explaining the intricate systems of this game that lead up to powerful and fun character builds. I've jumped back into Nioh on my PS4 Pro for the first two thirds of the planned DLC for the game and each time I do I've started to wonder if my initial 101 hour long Platinum trophy for Nioh was an experience that is no longer possible for someone starting with the most current version of the game.

Here are some basic patch notes if you want to read the actual in-depth changes: Nioh Patch notes (up to version 1.12)

My stats and whatnot after beating the game the first time. This is pre-DLC completion although I had leveled up my main guardian spirits to level 30.
My stats and whatnot after beating the game the first time. This is pre-DLC completion although I had leveled up my main guardian spirits to level 30.

Team Ninja promised a lot of ch-ch-ch-changes upon release of the game. From tweaks to animations to PvP integration and co-op matchmaking improvements all was delivered over the course of about four major version updates. Unlike most souls-like enthusiasts who already understood that 'nerfs' and 'patches' often meant completely altered PvP and PvE mechanics I binged and plowed my way through the game almost completely before version 1.06 had hit. Upon trying to solo my way through the last major level in the game, I was prompted to update. Version 1.06 added 10 main story missions, about half of which were challenging boss fights, and arguably extended my playthrough another 5-6 hours as I had to change my loadout and skills. I couldn't complain about such a huge update to the game and it was nice that they included a lot of things that were maybe odds and ends, tests of skill, and things that were unfinished upon launch. What I had to complain about were tweaks to systems that were integral to cheesing the original version of the game, which was largely unchanged by the 1.04 update (most a reward for reaching 1 million units sold). Living Weapon skills in the game allow the player to become invincible, fire off a skill, and deal a bunch of damage with enhanced range. You only have about 4-6 seconds, maybe considerably more if you spec it right with gear, to start killing things and as you kill them you gain more time in this living weapon mode. Players had figured out easy ways to beat whole levels while invincible. This update de-cheesed the game for the first time by reducing the duration of living weapon activation by nearly half AND making it harder to maintain living weapon status. Suddenly the game was much harder and I was forced to change my loadout, farm different weapon drops, and buy into ninjutsu/onmyo magic skills that I'd otherwise avoid (Sloth, spirit talisman, etc.) and I had to switch to the Diaba-washi guardian spirit as the skill knocks over human opponents/bosses allowing you to stab them for massive damage. The hardest boss battles involve several human opponents at once (and often in succession) and knockdowns are incredibly important for success.

Maybe I was being too thorough my first time through. It took 101 hours to get the Platinum trophy. That involved full proficiency with every weapon type, some collectibles, and completing every optional mission.
Maybe I was being too thorough my first time through. It took 101 hours to get the Platinum trophy. That involved full proficiency with every weapon type, some collectibles, and completing every optional mission.

Not only was the original game asking me to adapt my playstyle as I completed the game and worked towards a platinum trophy, Team Ninja was also changing the rules in their patches as I found easier ways to play it. It sounds fun at first, any souls-like nerd wants to brag they've gotten good and all that, but Nioh was already a difficult test of skill, system management, loot requisition, and success was often dealt through sheer luck with the games AI. Patch 1.08 came along with the first DLC mission area and probably made the most disheartening changes to the game to date as Team Ninja essentially 'nerfed' every single high level player. The previous maximum level in Nioh was 750 and it was reduced to 400 making it impossible to max out all of the stats in the game and anyone who put in the ridiculous amount of time it took to grind up to level 750 was now forced to redistribute their stats. Serves them right, of course, for cheesing the game but it meant that my level 146 game was not only underpowered for the DLC but Team Ninja's trophies for the DLC were essentially asking me to fully beat the game including optional missions three times (Way of the: Samurai, Strong, Demon). Don't get me wrong, I will eventually do this, but it was hard enough to beat it once. I can't imagine very many people stuck with Nioh at that point, the game got harder than it was initially and the PvP mode they debuted was notoriously laggy and devoid of players willing to try it because of the lag conversation surrounding it. I'm not a diehard PvP player in these games, but I did spend a lot of time in the Dark Souls II and III arenas and Nioh's co-op modes are far better than those of the Souls series. In fact I'm restraining myself from a ten page write up on why co-op is amazing in Nioh right now. The Odachi is a great weapon, can't complain about that. Whether or not the Nioh community felt that patch 1.08 was a disaster it changed the base game substantially with bug fixes, 'nerfs' and leveling progression. What does that mean? Anyone coming to the game after 1.08 will have a harder time leveling up and getting to the point where Nioh feels amazing to play. Team Ninja absolutely improved their game but also made their hard game harder for folks who aren't hardcore about these types of action RPGs. Raising the barrier of entry with a DLC is just a wet buttmess of a thing to do to a game that was perfectly fun to begin with.

Patch 1.12 had less effect on Nioh proper and instead focused on giving more incentive to engage in the Clan Battle system, a sort of meta-game similar to what Mortal Kombat X's factions did where you pick a faction and get a bonus for remaining loyal to the faction. Beyond that they improved the co-op "Visitor" rewards systems so you get better loot, and gave greater rewards faster when joining games. Trust me, playing Nioh co-op is incredibly fun and giving loot incentives to help people through bosses and difficult levels is an amazing way to keep me motivated to beat the game three times on the hardest difficulties. At this point the PvP worked really well for me, less issues with 'lag' and matchmaking that appeared based on in game progress and match success. No PvP matchmaking is perfect but Nioh's PvP is now what they've promised it would be. I had to re-spec my character's points with this update as I didn't realize a lot of the weapon/magic skill trees had changed. Having spent all of the possible points in the first playthrough I was frustrated to not be able to try all of the new options without doing the New Game+ style Way of the Strong difficulty. I was feeling pretty great about this game and figured everything was all set for the second DLC, which dropped a couple of days ago but then I read the patch notes: HERE

Here's hoping they add a Yo'Kai Necromancer to Nioh 6 years later like they just did with Diablo III.
Here's hoping they add a Yo'Kai Necromancer to Nioh 6 years later like they just did with Diablo III.

Patch 1.14 should confirm for anyone who wasn't completely sure, this game is Diablo. Yes, along with yet another stupidly impossible difficulty level where you can complete the game yet again you've got a new level of equipment rarity. Its OK just let it wash over you, achieve the Ethereal level, and reach the Way of the Wise. I'm still playing through the Defiant Honor DLC which already features some of the best level design (think Ashes of Ariandel as you play it) in the game and some awesome new characters previously hinted at with the infamously overused Red Demon armor. So, without doing some kind of silly pre-review of that content I can only look to the three pages of bug fixes, the further improvement to PvP modes with battle titles, extra maps, and even more reasons to co-op as to why this is still likely going to be my game of the year despite the rollercoaster the patches have put me through as a dedicated player. The question I'm asking myself at this point is whether or not I'm willing to put over 200 hours into Nioh, knowing that most of that time spent will be in red-faced, try-hard frustration as I try to cheese the game to death... fully expecting even more changes to the game when the third DLC arrives. With so many changes to the game in the first five months already, wouldn't it make sense to wait for the last DLC and power through it once Nioh is a 'complete' product? Playing Hitman on PC last year I hotly anticipated the content roll-out as IO Interactive never asked me to replay things I'd already mastered unless I really felt the need but at this point every update to Nioh gives me anxiety that Team Ninja might fatally screw up a game that I've already invested over 100 hours of my life trying to master on some level. With all of that said I hope it isn't too contradictory to say this is the best time to jump into the world of Nioh. The DLC has greatly changed the game into a smarter, easier to navigate beast of an RPG that might not hold your hand but gives you every tool possible (now with a Ninja Gaiden style Tonfa option~) to play it the way you'd like to.

I guess reaching to the larger topic at hand: Have you ever played the launch version of a game only to find it completely changed when revisiting it for DLC or just a second playthrough? Do developers more often ruin games spending a year plus patching and tweaking things? I would point to Dark Souls III and Diablo III as games that changed drastically in feel and content as they've been updated for better or worse post-launch/DLC.

2 Comments

Getting Supergiant's Transistor for free, two years ago, was the worst possible way to experience an amazing game.

Stop giving me free games, and just take my money. Please?
Stop giving me free games, and just take my money. Please?

My exposure to Bastion was a pure example of how I typically stumble upon my favorite games. I saw early footage on this website in 2010 and I quickly forgot about the game for about two years. If it isn't on sale and a known quantity, I can wait. It went on sale on Steam in the summertime, as games do, and I bought it. After having a lot of fun playing through it a couple of times, I found the Building the Bastion series of video interviews that spawned out of a Happy Hour episode. All of that not only made me appreciate the game more, but also wish I'd paid more than $3.99 for it. Since then I've felt like I owed Supergiant at least ten bucks. $10

"Yeah, just more B-games for my narrow urethra."

Hey, when Transistor was announced I should have pre-ordered it. It looked so artsy and feminine, plus I was busy playing DOTA 2 every single day. After not pre-ordering the game, like anyone else would, I ignored the game completely for a year until it was free on the PS Plus list for February 2015. At the very least I'd say that month alone justified my subscription right there. You had Rogue Legacy, Thief, Apotheon, Yakuza 4 and Transistor all in the same month. A quick look at that list initially made me think "Meh, Transistor must be pretty average because those other games aren't amazing." but that'd be crude as shit to say because after playing all of them, they're all totally worth paying for. It kinda sucks to think that the biggest issue I have with playing video games is that I can never pick what to play next and I have hundreds of games I haven't played yet. The way I saw it, in these privileged times of plentiful free video games I still owed Supergiant at least twenty five bucks. $25

I mean it might have taken me two and a half years to give Transistor a chance but I don't blame my glorious wealth of video game backlog. I blame my hilariously limited human cognition. >>Here<<.

I need you to wait here.
I need you to wait here. "What? Where are you going?" Everywhere.

I played Apotheon first when it came out, its a metroidvania where you're constantly smashing pots and stuff. Great game. At some point I bought a copy of Transcendence, a 2014 movie where Johnny Depp uploads his consciousness to an ever growing computer hive mind capable of uh, killing people and such. I don't think I even bothered to think about Transcendence until I'd finished Transistor this week. It was also a sort of love story the same way Transistor was, but without the Elysian fields ending for both sides. The real payload of the Transistor itself, a sword that collects the consciousness of the people it kills, as a story device is that no matter how many souls it devours it retains it's place as that soothing voice in the protagonists ear. As much as I'd like to deep dive into interpreting Red's journey, all of the persistent mercy killings and eventual suicide, but I feel like the story was simple enough to interpret in a broad way. The same way I could an artsy animated science fiction film. You're a superstar hotlady singer in a cyber neon future, your boyfriend gets impaled with a sword and his soul enters it. It tells you to go kill those that are responsible and save the world. You vanquish the leader of a terrorist group and then stab yourself to death with the sword to join the others. I don't care about a game's overall story arc as long as the moment-to-moment banter is good. The Bastion style narration goes a step further and is simply Red's significant other's voice with a script almost all to himself outside of some recorded messages.

My first three hours with the game weren't thrilling, I think the combat options aren't introduced fast enough within the story. My bloodthirst for robot souls was being slowed down by the dreamy, trip-hop soakedness of it all. The deadly computer sword's voice was so sexy, so calm. I didn't get into it because it was slow and I wanted to play Dark Souls III instead. Alright so I picked up back up last week and just decided to see it through, the average playthrough is about ten hours so it was never a big commitment to make. The combat system opens up the more you encounter enemies in the game, I almost wish they would have allowed you to grind out levels so you could create build-outs with every Function you have available. Transistor has the bones of an old CRPG crossed with something like Parasite Eve when it comes to combat scenarios. The combinations of functions as main attacks/techniques was interesting to play around with but I felt like there wasn't enough time spent in combat to explore everything. The various challenges in the challenge room/chill lounge unlock songs from the soundtrack while testing use of combat functions, it is a fun way to see variation but would have been nice to just put those challenges within story progression. I just wanted like five more hours of combat instead of having to replay the game's story again. Transistors visual style, fairly deep combat system and ultra-chill soundtrack all add up to a great game. Come to think of it I actually bought both versions of the soundtrack (Extended is far better) for free, so I owe Supergiant at least ten bucks less. $15

Diagrams of two types of bipolar junction transistors. You know, not the kind that kill themselves with a sword.
Diagrams of two types of bipolar junction transistors. You know, not the kind that kill themselves with a sword.

That's it. I owe Supergiant at least fifteen dollars. Whatever happened between loving Bastion and not buying Transistor that lead me to get the game for free admittedly had me avoiding the game. Not for guilt of not paying for it, free shit is great, but something about getting the game for free had me feeling like it was worth less compared to the games I was paying for at the time. Duh. I'm not trying to showcase what an entitled game enthusiast I am capable of being but rather suggest that a free tag on video games almost leads to great experiences being overlooked or considered less 'special' than they actually are. Transistor didn't need to be free on PS+. This isn't the first time this has come up either, I've been ignoring a free copy of Hyper Light Drifter for a full year. Shouldn't I have some sort of guilt for the perceived 'lesser' gems that slip by? or at least embarrassment for the gluttonous hoarding of digital experiences around me? I hate when I'm five years late for an awesome movie, tv show, or book and somehow it feels even worse when you miss the hype surrounding a video game. Talking about Transistor in 2017 is still worthwhile, but what shocked me even more than the ending of the game, where Red kills herself to be with everyone else, was that I experienced a sort of post-mortem fear-of-missing-out for not knowing how great Transistor was for three years. I think the game is good enough to warrant the anxiety.

Naturally the way I'll deal with the guilt and anxiety that comes from having too many video games the same way that any healthy person would: Pre-order Supergiant's Pyre. Which is obviously some kind of MOBA crossed with Basketball featuring Dogs and Goats that read Books, from what I can see in the screenshots. Not only does that make up for not paying for Transistor, but it makes sure I'll be forced to complete it out of sheer compulsion to get my money's worth. It'll also be a pretty good game judging by the other two they made. I dunno, does anyone else kind of shrug off or devalue the loads of free games they get every year on XBOX games with gold or PS Plus? $0

8 Comments

Doom (2016) still has way more to offer than it's single-player campaign.

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The reboot of DOOM in 2016 was overwhelmingly well received by journalists and fans alike and most of the conversation that I came across focused on the single player campaign. Everyone ranted and rave about how the game felt and controlled. Game of the year discussions and even entire documentaries primarily championed their subverted expectations with its story and gameplay progression. The game's single player campaign definitely lives up to the hype, it feels like Doom, looks like Doom and is packed with secret areas, challenges, and tons of upgrades and collectibles to find. The freakin' game has enough platforming that I felt like I was playing Metroid Prime after a while. It's good stuff. While MachineGames' reboot of Wolfenstein is more powerful and bold as a story, iD's Doom is a streamlined and comfortable FPS experience that doesn't have time for cinematic storytelling. It concerns itself with feeling good, slowly ramping up challenge, and the result is a very focused game the plays brilliantly. It baffles me that for all the ranting and raving that people do about the speed, feel, and shooting in Doom very few players invest any real time into the fantastic online multi-player modes and SnapMap features of the game. I'd like to encourage more folks who own the game to give the other 66% of Doom a real chance, not only because I'd like folks to play it with but because it is worth taking a second look at. Even if PvP or creation tools aren't your thing, you could possibly get tons of hours of entertainment out of a game that is already worth buying for it's single player campaign.

Well it's not exactly Doonesbury, I guess.
Well it's not exactly Doonesbury, I guess.

Doom's SNAPMAP feature is unexpectedly robust and fairly easy to use/control. I ignored this feature as much as I could until I decided to get the easy couple of SnapMap specific trophies in the PS4 version of the game. After completing both tutorials not only was I reassured that I am not a video game programmer or level designer, but I was impressed how deep the bells and whistles can go if you're willing to put up with the awkward PS4 controller controls for map-building and editing. It goes a few steps beyond what we'd gotten last generation with Little Big Planet iterations, Infamous 2's incredibly restrictive level/mission editor and the gloriousness that is Super Mario Maker. The depth of customization that people have to work with in SnapMap has lead to some very impressive projects that folks continue to impress with. Users have recreated the entirety of the original Doom and Doom II levels in sequence along with original music, sound effects and similar AI and movement patterns. The incredible amount of work that people have put into these levels is insane, the first small level I made took me over three hours to build out and make presentable and even that was severely less customized than what other folks have done. Recreating other FPS games in the map editor is only a small part of what people are creating, though it can be difficult to sort out the good levels from the highest rated ones. So, even if you'll never take a level editor seriously like me it is still worth the time to play with the maps available. A lot of it is better than some portions of the single player campaign, which involves a series of monster spawning arenas one after the other.

Am I the only person who played the shit out of this version?
Am I the only person who played the shit out of this version?

Doom's Online Multi-Player is classic iD Software style FPS and the source of most of my enjoyment when playing the game. I've only played this game on the PS4 Pro and I'm sure the PC is the absolute best way to play this game as far as graphics and performance are concerned. Long loading times and glitched trophies made my single-player experience a little rough at times but jumping into the multi-player between single-player missions not only improved my skills on Rune Challenges but gave me a fast and fun online experience with friends. I'll preface what I have to say with the admission that I have somewhat limited experience with online multiplayer shooters compared to a lot of FPS fans. Most of my online FPS play involves Counter Strike or Unreal Tournament related games. I spent about eight and a half years playing nothing but Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament on a daily basis, so keep in mind that I'm a freak for that style of Online FPS. Those games moved incredibly fast and like most shooters rely on your ability to predict the movements of others and mastery of weapon timing, they are all gameplay all the time and there wasn't a lot of player progression. The repetition of early 00's style twitchy FPS games kept a lot of less competitive players out of the game, it was a different type of competition before games started including standard progression and class-based loadouts. Killzone 2 was one of my favorite online multiplayer FPS simply for its class based progression and incredible maps, it felt tactical and skillful and every mode was popular on the servers for years until it died. Doom is somewhere in between the fast and furious Quake III/Unreal style deathmatch and the more CoD style MP progression systems. Loadouts are customizable from the start but you have to unlock additional slots for separate loadouts while weapons gear cosmetics roll out with every match. For the first 5-10 levels you gain Doom tosses at least three things at you as a reward. You're initially given pairs of primary and secondary weapons to use as templates for loadouts and when you've unlocked more you can swap and switch things up as you see fit. This isn't far from what Killzone did in later games where class progression would unlock different types of class specific gear or abilities. Most of the progression and all that isn't new or mind-bending stuff, I think multi-player Doom is comparable to PvP modes in games like Halo 4 or whatever else.

Looks familiar...
Looks familiar...

Where I had the most fun was with team-based objective modes that feature the "be the demon" option that comes with Demonic Rune pickups. Turning into a giant demon and going on a killing spree is fun enough, but when you have a team behind you strategically helping you get kills it ends up being way more fun than the overly structured bore of a game like Evolve. Soul Harvest is a solid take on the deathmatch formula. Killing other players gains you soul points and if you get killed you drop as many soul points as your streak, its kind of like being a space marine version of Sonic the Hedgehog. If a key player in the match gets killed before banking his soul points, the score can change drastically. It creates great tension in the match and eventually good players will more or less start to squad up and support each other, not only covering each others asses but picking up their shit when they die. I haven't even mentioned Hack Modules yet, a set of several types of conditional limited use burns that give advantages like: "Get revenge on the last person that killed you by placing a timed marker showing their location in the match." and "Increase movement speed when near a player transformed into a demon." and these add a lot of lucky boosts to matches that are occasionally tactical helpful. For all of the time I spent trying to get into the multi-player of games like Destiny and Titanfall I ended up spending way, way more time with Doom because it felt fair, simple and always fast-paced. There isn't a better feeling multi-player shooter, for me, on the PS4. After six updates including three DLC map/demon packs with new mode variations this is the best time to spend part of your summer warming up to Doom's multiplayer.

This image included for aesthetics only.
This image included for aesthetics only.

The three DLC packs or the season pass will cost minimum $40 and the game itself is about $30 unless you go find it cheaper outside of PSN. If you already got your fill of Doom and didn't bother with the DLC pass that is one damn expensive set of maps/modes. I had just as much fun without the DLC because you can still play the content without buying it as long as you're not playing DLC only matches. If someone on your team has the DLC, you can play in those matches. I'd recommend the DLC if you're bought in already and want to play with more dedicated or skilled players. The difficulty curve hasn't been insane for me picking the online multiplayer back up after several months. I'd like to find more people who enjoy this stuff before the servers depopulate too severely on consoles as they naturally will. I'll be playing it on PS4 off and on while I search out collectibles that I miss in the single player.

PSN: terraasymmetry

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Uncharted 4: A Thief's End has many flaws but Troy Baker's Sam Drake is the worst.

Sam Drake, as played by Troy Baker on Naughty Dog's fourth Uncharted game.
Sam Drake, as played by Troy Baker on Naughty Dog's fourth Uncharted game.

Before you read this you might consider this four hour video showing all of the cut-scenes from Uncharted 4. Even if you have no plans to play the game, it should give you an idea of the ambitious and occasionally artfully directed cinematic moments of the game. This entire post, beyond the first two paragraphs, will be spoilers and the video is one huge spoiler.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is one of 2016's highest rated games, a quick glance at Metacritic reveals a solid 93. For all of the shortcomings of a site like metacritic, nothing else reviewed higher in major video game review outlets in 2016. It is by a fair majority the 'best' game of 2016 and one can easily see why folks think so. It is a beautiful game, one of the prettiest to date, with diverse gameplay mechanics and a story that goes places. Naughty Dog did a great job building a gameplay experience into a game that is essentially focused on telling a modern Indiana Jones murder mystery with a theme of brotherly love. Nathan Drake is at his most subtle this time around, though, and though he manages to murder roughly 1500 human beings in this game he -does- let some of the other characters shine in this fourth game. Elena's demeanor is different, she's a little more badass now, but her banter with Nathan is very nearly human. The only major story gripe that I have all seems to center around Troy Baker's appearance in the main cast as Nathan's estranged brother Sam. He doesn't fit into the previous game's plot particularly well, his banter with Nathan and the other surviving cast seems under-served, and the flat performance of the character is one of Baker's worst.

If you don't play the game, you won't ever know if they make a joke about road head while driving a boat towards an island.
If you don't play the game, you won't ever know if they make a joke about road head while driving a boat towards an island.

Extensive sidebar: Ok, I lied. The gameplay in Uncharted 4 has an incredible amount of flaws considering it only builds upon the skill-free, hands free style they created on the first three Uncharted games. It seems as if Naughty Dog only included the worst faux co-op aspects of The Last of Us here as scene transition and filler time meant to trigger additional banter. Not only does finding a crate to get on a ledge to knock down a ladder get old but the game finds twenty different ways to do that same action repeatedly throughout each of the games 22 chapters. Climbing is risk free as sequences are short and auto-saves are frequent, puzzles don't really exist apart from one where you're required to open Nate's journal to sort images. I felt like games like Tomb Raider, Zelda and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver offered evolving puzzle challenges that weren't too obscure to figure out and that legacy simply doesn't exist for Naughty Dog. Remember that Naughty Dog didn't exactly invent this type of gameplay, Prince of Persia (2008) did this no-consequences approach to platforming well before and for the sake of the game itself. The only reason a game like this is consequence free is for the sake of keeping the player engaged. The shooting is unbearably floaty and somehow lacks the impact of Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us. The only new additions to gameplay are the grappling hook and the vehicular gameplay sections both of which are incredibly limited experiments within the scope of the game. You're funneled through the game in service of the story. You really have to keep pressing on and focus on the story as inspiration to keep going. At one point I became so bored with the climbing, shooting and helping my pal find a ladder that I turned on auto-aim and just went auto-pilot through the story on the easiest difficulty. That is how I feel about the gameplay in a nutshell, the lowest common denominator is unavoidable.

No chance for a Naughty Dog game starring Troy's masterpiece performance as Action Bastard. *sigh*
No chance for a Naughty Dog game starring Troy's masterpiece performance as Action Bastard. *sigh*

Neil Druckmann and Amy Hennig had originally written a story where Sam betrayed Nathan presumably around the time it seemed he would in the last few chapters of the game. There is a lie revealed, and as such a sort of betrayal had, in this part of the game. Sam reveals that he lied about escaping from prison with a famous criminal warlord, the debt that Sam owed for being freed was a lie. In the final version of Uncharted 4, written by Druckmann and Bruce Straley, Sam decides to betray Rafe (yet again) and this is one of the most unsatisfying moments in the plot. Betrayal is a long-standing theme in Nate's adventures with other treasure hunters and some of the best moments the series has to offer. Hennig's contributions to the series kept reveals like this exciting and her exit from the project leaves us with an Uncharted story that feels half-baked and low-stakes despite how harrowing some of it seems. From swinging above ledges in impossible cities to a hilarious sword fight in a burning ship, the stakes just don't feel dire or butt-clenching. Hennig's Uncharted 4 would have featured Todd Stashwick as Sam, and Stashwick is a better actor for this type of "backstabber" role. He'll be in Visceral's upcoming Star Wars game penned by Hennig, so we'll see.

The script had issues, or rather the writers had creative differences so dire that it lead to Hennig's departure, a full re-write and some level of game redesign. I can't really do more than speculate, so I'll just say that I prefer the first three games plot-wise. Sam's introduction is brilliant at face value. We saw Nate as a kid in Uncharted 3 with excellent results but at no point did we ever get hints that he had a brother at that young age. In fact, Uncharted 4 pretty clearly shows Nate and Sam acting as partners in crime until the incident in Panama where Sam was shot and left behind, presumably dead. So which is it? Did Nate meet Sully on the streets without a mention of Sam? There is a plot hole there that I can't get my head around. I spent a lot of time with each game so maybe I missed a very sharp bit of exposition that explained that. My point is that if we're going back to Nate's childhood again to develop Sam as a minor protagonist, it should explain why we didn't see Sam the last time we were Nate as a child. The early scenes in the game appear to develop reasoning as to why Nate's obligations to his brother are so strong, but they ultimately raised more questions than they answered for me. If Sam is the catalyst for a new treasure hunting adventure is guilt enough for this new, human Nathan Drake to lie to his wife and leave on a mission that will very likely kill him? Yes? I see how this leads into Elena's anger later on, where she feels he left her behind in the harshest way possible, lying to her repeatedly. As a semi-fan of the previous game's story I found this far out of character for Nate who is incredibly loyal to the Lawful Good, less loyal to the Neutral Good and primarily acting as the Chaotic Good. Sam is more or less the Chaotic Neutral when he isn't being the Chaotic Good and this clashes with Nate in a way that isn't fitting for the Uncharted series thus far.

Sam as an impetus for the story pokes holes in it what was already somewhat paper thin to begin with. By calling into question how he fits into Sully's timeline with Nathan and Nathan's alignment with Elena Sam debases the three strongest character relationships in the series. The result is a very long game that is full of Nate and Sam developing their relationship over the course of the game. That shouldn't be such a problem, right? Joel and Ellie spent a whole game together in The Last of Us and it worked incredibly well because they were paired in such a way that Joel protected Ellie, Ellie humanized Joel and their backstory separate and together developed naturally. Shoehorning Sam into Nate's life feels like Season Two of Marvel's Uncharted: The TV Show on the WB. It isn't just an issue of where Sam fits into the Uncharted universe, which he barely does, but an issue of how the character is written. He is written in an incredibly monotonous way and as a result Troy Baker's performance is flatter than Leonardo DiCaprio doing a Boston accent in Shutter Island. Just like Nolan North, Baker does his best work when he is given a quality script where he has time to develop the character with input towards the development. Baker's flat, lifeless version of Sam is occasionally sensitive and relatable as Baker often can be but the underworked accent and repetitive dialogue forces him to play off of the other Drake brother in questionable ways. It almost seems like Druckmann wanted Baker to do "Nathan Drake-lite" to make them seem like two swords forged together, as if Nathan learned all he knew from this man we'd never seen before. The problem is that the writing gives Sam none of his own real personality, and honestly I think betraying Nate would have given him a standout moment to create something interesting in a remarkably rote Uncharted adventure.

"Witness my most powerful form!"

Troy Baker's talent isn't so much in question here, I would venture to guess he didn't have much creative control over the script. Either it was handed to him complete, or he didn't have room to develop an interesting character out of the blandness he'd been given. Baker is largely monotone, the banter with Nate is trite and a lot of "ch'yeah, he he, n'yeah bro" attitude nonsense. It comes across like two 40 year old men talking about how cool it is to work on a videogame, not take an amazing death defying journey towards a giant pirate fucking utopia scam gone wrong with a Goonies ship ending. North and Baker are both talented at ad-libbing, being funny, and none of that finds its way into the overly serious plot. That said, Baker isn't always good at what he does. He had the same issues when voicing the incredibly irritating douche-master Snow Villiers from Final Fantasy XIII which was similarly flat and likely restricted in performance. Baker's depiction of Delsin Rowe in Infamous: Second Son is easily one of my most hated protagonists of the last decade, and it would appear he had free reign of the role that he developed alongside the actor that played his brother in that game. The brotherly love theme somehow worked better in that game, as distant as it was for most of the plot, probably due to the different personalities of the brothers. Baker was the most interesting part of the dud that was Far Cry 4 playing Pagan Min, almost eclipsing his work as the Joker in the characterization of Min. The Drake brothers just don't play off of each other as you'd think and in several interviews they'd made it seem like it would be a strong dual-lead performance, and in my opinion North has the superior performance in Uncharted 4. Nothing could possibly touch Troy's biggest lead roles, but seeing a guy with a fair and consistent range of characterization working with so little is very disappointing. Following the game's release, Baker signed and promoted a petition to remove a negative review from Metacritic's consideration. He later retracted his statements after blowback from the awful internet harassed him to the point of leaving twitter. At the very least this embarrassing crib note shows he had passion for the project, he believed in his performance. I found both the tweet and the performance rather lame.

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The same way I'm done playing Infamous games, I'm uninterested in visiting the Naughty Dog's Uncharted world ever again. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy aspires to bring us back to that world but I'm not only tired of non-Hennig written stories within the gameplay format, I'm also tired of the gameplay. Oh, except the multi-player is really fun in Uncharted 4. Last of Us Part II will hopefully have multi-player, the stuff from the first game was amazing fun. I dunno... Am I way off in judging this game harshly? I felt like there was no need for Uncharted 4, no matter how pretty it was I didn't feel the need for it. It's like having a Lethal Weapon 4. I'm similarly worried about the prospect of The Last of Us Part II being just as beautiful, but phoned in and poorly written. Anyone else?

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