Well… At Least 2015 Is On The Horizon

sigh-95m6d3md3-110474-485-321_large

While some promising titles have seen the light of day in 2014, I have to be honest: It’s been a disappointing year. Not because there weren’t any games to play, mind you. In fact, I was overwhelmed with the number of titles to play across various platforms (PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii-U, 3DS). No, what really soured the year for me was that most games just didn’t live up to their potential. Nothing stood out enough to make me say, “Wow, this could be game of the year.” As it stands right now, my best of 2014 (so far) list would be dominated by remakes and remasters… but they don’t count. Francis Ford Coppola could re-release The Godfather, but that doesn’t mean it would be eligible for any current awards. If they COULD count, my conscience wouldn’t allow it. I’d much rather stick with my respectable ‘chosen by default’ list of originals.

But don’t mistake my disappointment for surprise. Every time we move to a new console cycle, we, as gamers, have little choice but to clasp our hands together, breathe deep, and wait for developers to acclimate and produce. That takes time, of course, and I wasn’t expecting the PS4 and Xbox One to match the industry’s output in 2013… which, by the way, included the likes of Rayman Legends, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Assassin’s Creed IV, Super Mario 3D World, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us.

Even so, it felt like something was amiss this year. I know there’s a number of gamers that want to enjoy their products without focusing a critical eye on the industry, but I think it’s important – if not imperative – that we try our best to do both. Of course, that’s a difficult proposition when you’re left to wonder where that game of the year is…

The first title to really make waves in 2014 was, without question, Titanfall. I mean, the hype was unprecedented. According to Wikipedia, it took over 60 awards at its E3 2013 reveal, ‘including a record-breaking six E3 Critics Awards: Best in Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best PC Game, Best Action Game, and Best Online Multiplayer.’ IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey contributed to the hype, saying, “You will buy an Xbox One for Titanfall, and you should.” Needless to say, the hype was unprecedented.

As a ‘consumer watch’ side note: Why did Ryan McCaffrey go on record with such high praise? I could understand if he said something like, “Wow, this game is really promising. It could really shape up to be something special.” But he didn’t do that. He told people they should buy an Xbox One for Titanfall… without having seen the final product. Is it any wonder why people tend to take everything IGN (or various other industry ‘news’ sites) says with a grain of salt? I mean, this guy is an Executive Editor, meaning he probably overseas the work of other writers, ensures articles hold up to IGN’s standards, and even produces some of his own content. Furthermore – and this is the kicker – he probably makes and maintains relationships with various partners (as is typical for his job title). So, what was this guy’s motive? To maintain a relationship with the publisher (EA)? To get quoted on the back of a case? Ah well. The guys at IGN believe they’re on the right side of integrity…

So, back to it: What was wrong with Titanfall? It certainly wasn’t the core gameplay. No, the mech battles and parkour inspired verticality were a breath of fresh air in a genre staled by Call of Duty. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough content to back the gameplay. The campaign was shallow, boiling down to 9 multiplayer maps (and only two game modes between them). Multiplayer – the crux of the game – was also thin. More maps entered the fray with DLC – surprise, surprise – but it wasn’t enough to keep me playing. Again, Titanfall isn’t a BAD game… just lacking, and in a pretty big way.

Later that month, Infamous: Second Son broke the scene, and after many had expressed disappointment with the PS4’s launch lineup, it was poised to be the system’s first killer app. Its predecessor was a real treat: Character development was spot on, the story always had that much needed sense of urgency, and the gameplay had a great balance between challenge and fun. Second Son, on the other hand, seemed to take a step backwards in most respects. It’s one of the best looking next-gen titles to date, but the campaign has little variation in story and side quests, and secondary character development was seemingly saved for – again, what a surprise – DLC. I understand the devs had the task of introducing us to a new lead in an oppressive political climate, but variety is the spice of life, is it not? Get the drones, spray paint walls and billboards, take out the enemy strongholds, rinse and repeat… that was it. It’s a fun game overall, but again, just didn’t reach its potential.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes… I know the typical response is to say that it was a glorified tech demo. I hate to jump on that bandwagon… but it was. A really fun tech demo, sure, but certainly not worth its asking price.

Watch Dogs was set to launch on virtually every platform in November, but was delayed until May. There was a bit of controversy about graphical downgrades, but I bought it anyway because it’s the GAMEPLAY that counts. As far as strolling through virtual Chicago goes, the devs really brought it to life. Citizens were walking, talking, jogging, you name it. I even came across a couple arguing at a hotel: The man stood in the parking lot, pleading for his significant other to forgive his infidelity. She, on the other hand, was tossing his belongings over the balcony. Small touches like this made all the difference, and I don’t think enough credit is given for the ‘world’ that’s been created. It. Was. ALIVE. And, because Chicago WAS so immersive, I spent a great deal of time snooping on people and doing the side quests. Then, I went back to the campaign, only to get bored. Why? Because there’s virtually no difference between the story and side content. Watch Dogs recycles the same few game modes over and over again. Say it with me now: Fun for a while, but didn’t reach its potential.

Mario Kart 8 – much like Titanfall and Infamous – was also poised to be a system seller… and to be fair, it was. Still, it felt a little light on content. Sure, there’s always been four new cups and four old, but that’s precisely the problem: Half of the core game is remakes of old tracks. Nintendo fans have more or less told me “That’s just the way it is.” But that’s not really a good justification, is it? Furthermore, why does the roster feature so many duplicates? Doesn’t Nintendo have a wide enough array of characters that they shouldn’t have to resort to this sort of thing? The lack of unique tracks and roster slots are going to be addressed… but – surpriiiiiise! – as paid DLC.

In September, Bungie finally got to launch their new franchise: Destiny. From the get go, I absolutely adored this game. See, I’m the kind of guy that HAS to play through the campaign first and tackle multiplayer after, and Destiny broke me of that habit. It didn’t matter how I bounced between strikes, patrols, campaign missions, PvP and even other fire teams… everything was integrated well enough, that I never felt like I was leaving the core game. That said, I recognized and even acknowledged the game’s numerous flaws… but I was having so much fun, that I didn’t care. Once I hit the soft level cap of 20 though, my opinion began to change, and it was only a short while before I lost the will to justify the lack of content, plot, character development, etc. Yes, the veil had been lifted, and I finally accepted Destiny for what it was: A DLC platform. An empty shell of a game.

I don’t really want to take a lot of time to comment on Shadow of Mordor since I haven’t completed the campaign, but there’s something missing from that game, too. Yes, the Nemesis system is amazing and is precisely the sort of thing I want to see from this generation of gaming, but it’s not the 8 or 9 out of 10 most of the early reviews made it out to be. And, if you’ve been following the news as of late, it seems that those reviews were compromised by WB Games… sort of a ‘don’t talk negative about our game and we’ll give you a digital code’ sort of deal.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity was supposed to wow everyone with a highly detailed recreation of Paris. The city is certainly gorgeous, but the rest of the game has been criticised for a slew of immersion breaking bugs. The game allegedly has 25GB of lighting data, but shadows come and go as they please. Characters will pop in from 30 yards away. The main character fell through level geometry. The frame rate regularly dipped below 30fps and, at times, looked like a slideshow. Technical issues aside, is Unity a fun game for Assassin’s Creed fans? Yes, but hold on to your money and wait for Ubisoft to confirm the game has been fixed. Also, you should ask yourself if you’re tired of the franchise at this point or not. While Unity is certainly fun, it isn’t ‘Black Flag’ fun.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection was supposed to make people want to buy an Xbox One, but a key component – multiplayer matchmaking – didn’t work at launch, nor two weeks after the fact. But, if you don’t care for multiplayer, that’s all well and good. After all, there’s four stellar campaigns that have received performance upgrades. Oh, and Halo 2 has been given a COMPLETE overhaul. But, for people like me who have more games than they know what to do with, these campaigns may not have been the primary selling point. I’ve played Halo 1-4 a bunch over the years, and while I have no doubt I’ll revisit them again in the future, all I wanted was to relive some of the best multiplayer console gaming has to offer… and 343i botched it.

There’s other games, of course, but I haven’t been able to get hands on with some of the notables as of yet. Sunset Overdrive is on my Christmas wish list, as is Little Big Planet 3. I have Far Cry 4, but Dragon Age: Inquisition is also waiting for me on my game rack…

“Woah, Mr. Zupan. You’re forgetting some important releases!”

Well, I can’t talk about EVERY game.

I guess I glossed over South Park: The Stick of Truth. Honestly, it was an excellent RPG and I enjoyed every minute of the 16 hours it took to slay the campaign. Keep in mind, those hours INCLUDED the side quests. That said, 16 hours is nothing to scoff at… but once you beat the game, there was nothing left to do but start over. Dark Souls II was amazing, but in many ways failed to live up to its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong: These are really good games… but not ‘great’.

Not that there weren’t games that took me be surprise. Wolfenstein actually EXCEEDED expectation (which, granted, was pretty low to begin with). But the most refreshing game this year, at least for me, was Bayonetta 2. Yep, Microsoft and Sony are going to have to pound sand this time around. The Wii-U exclusive is absolutely smashing, both literally AND figuratively. It has INSANE over-the-top action coupled with breathtaking set-pieces, and the combat offers enough variety that it remains fresh and satisfying throughout. The only downside is that it’s an incredibly linear experience, but I was having so much fun watching Bayonetta unleash her ballet of pain, I just didn’t care. Oh, and they ported the original Bayonetta on its own Wii-U for this release, at least in the United States. THAT’S how you support a release.

Just for fun, I’ll talk about those remasters now:

I had never played the new Tomb Raider, so my time with it on the PS4 was pure bliss. The Last of Us made its way to the PS4, and I didn’t regret the upgrade for a single second. Diablo III (Xbox One / PS4) wasn’t only an improvement over the original PC edition, but I found it to be the definitive version overall. Rockstar seemingly did a bang-up job with Grand Theft Auto V, too.

But, like everything else in this article, while there’s a positive take on all these remasters, it only makes the rest of 2014’s line-up look all the weaker. When some of the best games of any given year are titles we’ve already played… well, isn’t it obvious that something isn’t right?

Here’s hoping 2015 rounds out to be better in every perceivable way.

Advertisements

4 responses to “Well… At Least 2015 Is On The Horizon

  1. This year I’ve often played indies on the PS4 and only bought a few of the major games. I have hope that the “bottom up” approach of indies will reveal more creativity, although a lot of times it’s just lazy throwbacks to tried-and-true genres (sidescrollers, overhead shooters, etc). I still see the most creativity on PC and mobile, and also the best prices.

    It’s a little ironic that as much as people complain about indies not taking advantage of the PS4 (or Xbox One)’s powerful specs, most of them, MORE of them, originate and are developed for PC (as anyone who browses Steam knows). Sometimes I wonder if there is just too much risk in in the AAA development world. What we get now is primarily the equivalent of the empty summer blockbuster movie release, but all year round.

    I do think they need to quit with the sequels and remasters and ports. But I wish we’d just move past platform-specific titles (exclusives) and have universal gaming systems (PCs? Steam machines?) I don’t know if that will ever happen because people love their consoles and all the unique games and branding they have every generation (I was just browsing these tweets celebrating Sega Saturn’s 20th anniversary, as though I needed a reminder: https://twitter.com/hashtag/%E3%82%BB%E3%82%AC%E3%82%B5%E3%82%BF%E3%83%BC%E3%83%B320%E5%91%A8%E5%B9%B4?src=hash). Plus they love collecting for them and all that. I sort of get that, but I’d still rather it be like other media (books, movies, music, etc) where you only need an up-to-spec device (MP3 player, Blu-ray player, tablet, etc) and you can play media from any company, even though those companies are competing with each other, basically.

    I know it works differently with games because there’s unique aspects of the hardware, such as the controllers and online services, and the coders do need to program things fairly specifically for each system’s software. But it’s a lot different from earlier days where it had to be hard-coded to that platform’s specific architecture, the exact chips it’s using. Today’s codebases are much more platform-independent, like with Unity and Mono. And the reason I’m bringing all this up here when you are talking about how lackluster 2014 has seemed is that, imagine this: all mobile, PC, Nintendo (!) and PS3/PS4/Vita and 360 and Xbox One games were playable, legally, in one place: either a PC device, a streaming handheld, or a traditional console (like PS4 or Wii U). Wouldn’t that be great? To me it would. In that way 2014 wouldn’t have seemed so bad. It might have been a rather good year: Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Infamous: SS, Titanfall — all these would be on the same “system.” You wouldn’t have to buy 3 to 4 systems (over $1200) as well as at least two paywall online services (PSN and Xbox Live) to experience them.

    So I think the console world is really out of whack. It’s out of step with the times, it’s old-fashioned. It has some corrupt business practices mixed in it. It’s not as attractive to developers as mobile and PC are.

    • Man, I love the indie scene. I’ve enjoyed some good stuff on my iphone, and since I got an ipad as an early Christmas gift from my wife (we don’t wait until Christmas day for our presents, the gifts aspect of Christmas is all about our son), I’m sure I’ll be enjoying various others. I’ve certainly been looking. Also, the indie releases on Xbox Live and PSN have been pretty great, too. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciated Volgarr… that game took me back to the days of Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts… and I loved every minute of it.

      I can only imagine what kind of indie titles I’m missing on the PC. I really don’t use my PC anymore for gaming. Between work, marriage, fathering, writing, and watching movies and gaming in the little spare time I actually have, sitting at my uncomfortable work station just isn’t appealing, and likely won’t be until I get another beast rig some day (this one’s outdated).

      A single PC/console that everyone could buy without having to worry about exclusives would be nice, but I think this generation is proving that you really, really, really have to fuck up BAD for 2 of the current 3 console makes to disappear. Nintendo are still proving to be viable enough, and they’re changing things around (I don’t agree with HOW they’re changing but… meh), Xbox is fighting harder than ever and early rumors of November numbers actually shows Xbox One ahead (although I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony wins again), and Sony is now changing its business around a bit to focus much more on the gaming side of things. We’re going to have console competition for a long, long time.

      I looked at those alienware machines and steam machines and… meh. They just don’t appeal to me. Mainly because if they’re going to offer what I really want in a PC that I’d use for gaming, they’ll cost an arm and a leg anyway. I could go for a model that’s similarly priced to the Xbox One with Kinect, for example, but I wouldn’t be happy with my purchase.

      I’m not sure the console world IS out of whack or ‘out of step with the times’, though. Personally, I think a lot of what they’ve done is only natural. In many respect, they’re only emulating what PC has already done by going digital and having digital marketplaces.

      What’s out of whack is just how much they’re abusing the consumer’s wallet via microtransactions and DLC.

      • Well, you don’t have to pay for online with PC — an added online cost over your ISP, I mean. The idea about console universality goes back some time, I think, like with 3DO, as it could be made by more than one manufacturer – actually certain Sega machines could too. I think each brand could offer special perks to entice the consumer, like free games on PS+/XBL, the controllers, the branding of the machine (the same way you might prefer to buy a stereo or DVD player from a certain company). Or it could all just be streamed to your display, whether TV or handheld. But yeah I agree definitely that they’re definitely dedicated to this kind of business they got going, and it seems to be working really well for them (even Nintendo). I just find it absurd when the guts of the Xbox One and PS4 are actually so similar (AMD “Jaguar” APUs).

        I wish at least that Nintendo’s Virtual Console appeared on other platforms, like Steam and PS4. I’m probably just saying that for my own sake, though 🙂 But it would be more money for them. I mean, I don’t feel like buying a Wii U, even though it has great titles… but I’d buy Castlevania III or GG Shinobi if it was on PS4/Vita.

      • I should add that consoles started that way with more than one manufacturer making them, like Pong machines and the Atari VCS. I believe Sears provided many of them with their own name on it. So… in my mind it was Nintendo that really brought console exclusivity to the forefront, and then Sony after that. They’re really big on proprietary hardwares.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s