Well… At Least 2015 Is On The Horizon

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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.

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Opinion-Bytes: Will the Dangling Carrot Sway You Into Buying Wolfenstein: The New Order?

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A lot of people give the famed Doom franchise credit for launching the FPS genre, but this style of gameplay had its roots firmly established in the 70’s. That said, if you really wanted to discuss the first game to kick things off proper, that honor belongs to Wolfenstein 3D (1992). I probably need four hands to count how many times I’ve played the game in its entirety over the years, and many more if I were to throw the reboot – Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) – into the mix. I’d like to pretend the franchise remained a contender ever since, but I’m only able to count how many times I played its sequel – Wolfenstein (2009) – with a single finger.

Opinions vary wildly on that installment, but for me, it was honestly one of the most forgettable games I’ve played in the last decade. Not because the game was riddled with bugs, mind you. It’s just that Raven and Id Software produced a dreadfully boring game, and it all boils down to horrendous AI and archaic level design. Instead of being challenged by adversaries with intellect, I was met with mindless drones which would respawn endlessly until I forced my way through them. Furthermore, the maps only served to make me feel like a rat in a maze. Plenty of people felt the same way I did apparently, because Wolfenstein didn’t sell nearly as well as its publisher Activision had hoped.

So, here we are some years later, and Wolfenstein: The New Order is ready to release on May 20, 2014. I’m obviously not going to buy this game… not yet at least anyway. Despite the fact it’s being handled by MachineGames and Bethesda Softworks, my skepticism remains at an all-time high.

“Wait, Id Software have no involvement in the latest Wolfenstein? What gives?!”

Chin up. This is a GOOD thing. Id Software may have been kings of the industry once, but they haven’t come up with anything fresh in a long, long time. Their most notable effort in recent years was Rage, and it was a flop.

Not only that – and this may sound like blasphemy – but Doom 3 wasn’t as revolutionary as we were lead to believe either, by fans or media alike. Sure, it was a ton of fun, but it was still little more than your standard run-and-gunner. So, why did it work? For starters, the premise validated the game’s linearity – You’re trapped in a space station on Mars, and you’ve got to get the hell out of Dodge. The end. Thanks to the immaculate textures and lighting – which were a gamer’s wet dream upon release – a dark and spooky atmosphere oozed from every pixel. We can’t expect every game to turn out like Doom 3 though, because when it comes to games or even film, simplicity is exceedingly difficult to pull off. Just think of all the summer blockbusters you’ve seen – They’re all eye candy, but some ‘just work’ while others miss their mark. Unfortunately, Wolfenstein (2009) was one that missed the mark, and by quite a bit at that.

So yes, I’ll wait until I see some reviews and actual gameplay before making a decision. I mean, that’s the reasonable thing to do, right? Right.

Well, Bethesda seemingly wants to secure your money before YOU decide to be reasonable, because they’re offering beta access to the next Doom with every pre-order.

It’s a brilliant strategy, to say the least. The previous Wolfenstein all but killed the franchise, so they needed a hook to reel people back in… but how? Why, by dangling a carrot off a stick, of course! “Wolfenstein? Pssh. Wait, huh? Doom beta access is included? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” Just by glancing at Reddit and various message boards across the web, people are already excited to pre-order because of this announcement, meaning a boost in day 1 sales is now an inevitability. Interested or not, these gamers are going to give the new Wolfenstein a try, and for better or worse, word of mouth will take care of the rest.

Well played, Bethesda. Well played… but I’m still going to wait. ‘Beta access to Doom’ sounds nice and all, but keep this in mind – It’s been in development hell for a while now. It’s nice to have confirmation that it’s still in active development, but it could be years before it’s ready for beta testing.

But how about you? Does this sway your decision to pre-order the game in one way or the other? Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll discuss it!