Somethings are so up my ally that it’s pretty much impossible for me not to get excited for it. For example: this game. It’s a Devolver Digital published, brutally violent, story driven dark cyberpunk action game. Add in a Heavy Metal soundtrack and you might as well call this “That Game That was Made just for William”.
Now, i’ll be the first person to admit that just becuase something looks like it’s my thing doesn’t mean it won’t suck, but i’m holding on to hope here. Devolver tends to have an eye for quality, so anything they publish is worth at least a look. So yeah, this looks really, really good and i want it.
With the recent news that Overwatch is getting it’s own Death Match mode, and the current ranked season coming to an end soon, it’s not surprising that we’re coming up on another update in the near future. And with those updates tends to come new characters or maps, and this time is no different. Delving into Junkrat and Roadhog’s back story, Blizzard is bringing us to the irradiated Australian wast land the two call home.
Personally i am super excited about this as A) Junkrat is my main and B) it’s a payload map which tends to be my favorite. Not much to say about this other than “i’m stoked”.
At E3 this year Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé said something I want to talk about. It was something I was glad to hear him say and something I think speaks deeply to Nintendo’s core design philosophy, but none the less it is a statement I hate. He said “if [a game] isn’t fun, why bother?” While I’m not going to try and argue that video games need to stop being fun, that would be ludicrous, I do have to ask why this line of thought is so prevalent in the gaming community. Every other form of Art has its masterpieces that are not meant to be enjoyed in a way you could call “fun”. From Bosch’s “A Violent Forcing of the Frog” to Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, a lot of great art can be unenjoyable and even downright hard to sit through. Not only do I think games are capable of this as well, a few have ready proven it can be done.
Spec Ops: The Line is a great example of this, if a little cliche to talk about. In a lot of ways the game is a complete mess. The controls are far from tight, enemies act in predictable ways and spawn in obvious “video game-y” locations. On top of that, it had it’s fair share of bugs as well. I remember spending 10 minutes trying to shoot out a window in order to move the plot along, only to restart the mission and have it break almost instantly. There just isn’t a lot of enjoyment to get out of “Spec Ops: The Line”.
But it is a game I think every one should play. Released in 2012, Spec Ops: The Line came out near the height of the “Modern Warfare” craze and was a damning critique of both the genre and the culture that made it one of the biggest phenomenons in entertainment. While it would be easy to look at the games mechanical flaws and say it was shoddily made, in fact almost every part of it was expertly crafted. The poor controls and obvious enemy spawns help reinforce to the player that they are in fact playing a game. Unlike most other games were the control scheme is made to help the player forget about the hunk of plastic in their hands, Spec Ops never wants you to forget that you’re playing a game. It wants that fact in your mind at all times. Because the game soon starts asking you to do things that are meant to feel wrong. The games enemies are American soldiers, Not just that, they are the player characters countrymen. Through out the game you are constantly killing your own people, and you’re aware of that from the nearly the very start of the game. Then there is the games famous white phosphorus scene, when you kill hundreds of civilians. The question is, why? Why do you do these horrid things? Because the game tells you too. The game asks you to commit war crimes, and you do, because the game told you to and thus it must be the right thing, right? Spec Ops: The Line was designed not to be fun in order to ask why a game about armed warfare should be considered fun in the first place.
Another game well worth you’re time despite not being a whole lot of fun is Loneliness by creator Jordan Magnuson. Loneliness is a masterpiece of minimalism and a game that taught me a lot about myself. You play as a single pixel and you can beat the entire game in about 5 minutes by simply holding the up key. As you play other pixels appear, all of whom scatter as you approach. After constant rejection you may choose to stop interacting with the other pixels, much like I did. Or maybe you hold on to hope, enthusiastically greeting each new cluster as they appear. There is no wrong way to play Loneliness, but how you choose too speaks volumes. I never realized just how poorly I handle rejection and abandonment until I played Loneliness and was forced to confront it. After the second group ran off I started to avoid any other groups I saw. Just like in real life, I had been hurt and I isolated myself in return.
I don’t think it is passable to create an experience like this that manages to be fun. Loneliness, depression and isolation are not fun emotions. As such, really getting a player into that head space requires engaging them in ways that are atypical to gaming and antithetical to being “fun”.
I don’t want to see a world without my big dumb action games in it. I will take all the Uncharted’s, Overwatch’s and Mario’s this industry wants to throw at me. But there is a whole host of human emotions and experiences that games can address, and I also don’t want to live in a world were developers chose not to engage with that material because they don’t know how to make it fun. Fun is great, it’s important. But it isn’t everything.
It would seem that Playtonic had once brought on famed Youtuber and recently self-exposed Xenophobe Jontron for some voice work in their up coming game Yooka-Laylee. That partnership seems to have been ended after JonTron…well…you know….went on a racist rant about how immigrant are evil. While the games odd language and vocal distortions could have made it easy to hard hide the fact Playtonic were working with him, it’s nice to see people taking a stand against this kind of hatred and bigotry. Really the only bad thing about this story was i couldn’t settle on which version of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to post, so i had to use both. And that’s a good problem to have.
Hey, look! Some actual gaming news that’s worth talking about. That’s rare. Okay, enough jokes. March 16-19, right after PAX, Lawbreakers will be entering into a closed beta. Ever since i fell in love with Overwatch and heard this was its gory, M-Rated sister i’ve been interested in getting my hands on it. Granted that may not be until the player base dies down to just the overly dedicated and the game becomes inaccessible to new players due to poverty and a lack of free time. But hey, what matters is that i’ll always have overwatch to go back too once i’m inevitably driven off, right? But for those of you with some free time (please leave a comment telling me what that’s like), you can sign up for the open beta HERE . And for those of you with money, email me for my address, i take cash and checks.
The more i see of this game the more the exact same issue pops out at me: the levels seem almost lifeless. I’ve said before that in game that may not be an issue and that i can’t say for sure until i get my hands on it. That remains true now, but this trailer does help illustrate why i’m concerned. Look at the part at around 23 seconds in when the character pulls the lever on the slot machine. Look at the vast empty space that surrounds it. Look at how there are almost never more that three enemies on screen in big open spaces. I really hope i’m wrong about this: i really enjoyed what little i played of Banjo Kazooie as a kid and want to see more games like it and after Mighty No. 9 i’d really appreciate one of these throwback games to…you know…good. But for right now, i’m worried. i would love, LOVE, to be wrong but until i hear from reviewers i trust that it’s good i’ going to have to lower my expectations.
Release Date: October 4, 2016
Systems: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed), Mac
Developer: Lince Works
Publisher: Lince Works, Merge Games Ltd., Maximum Games
Obtained By: Review Code Provided by Lince Works
Aragami is not a bad game, but I think it will be mistaken for one by a lot of people. The stealth action gameplay is flawed but enjoyable….for a while. For the first few hours I was having a blast, but by the mid-point, were I stopped, I just wasn’t anymore. Nothing had changed and it took me a little to figure out just why I wasn’t enjoying my self as much any more. Then it hit me: nothing had changed. After the first few missions the game just runs out of steam and new ideas.
You play as an Aragami, a vengeful spirit, summoned by a young girl named Yamiko to free her from captivity and bring ruin upon those who killed her people and imprisoned her. In order to do this you must collect several talismans before the night ends and the light kills the Aragami. This is Video Games 101 story stuff: kidnapped girl, eight macguffins, ticking clock, go. Hell, change a few names around and this could be the gritty reboot of Zelda. Yamiko even accompanies you as a ball of light and actually says “hey, listen” at one point.
The classical nature of the games story doesn’t hut it as much as it’s predictability. When you obtain one of the talismans the Aragami is hit with a rush of memories that are supposed to be foreshadowing a future twist, but I guessed it almost instantly. This had me wishing the game would cut the pretense and get to the point. Or at the very least they could have done a little better in the sound department to make the story more enjoyable to sit through.
Okay, it’s unfair to blame the entire sound department. The issue is the voice work for the two leads. The actors for Yamiko and the Aragami might have done a fine job but I wouldn’t know as the developers put on a thick layer of echo on each one of them. I get what Lince was aiming for, making it sound like these two come from different planes of existence, but I found it got on my nerves pretty fast. Everything else works just fine: the music has a nice traditionally Asian sound to it, the kills are cartoonishly gruesome which fits nicely with the stylized visual aesthetic and your main power (a short distance teleport) has a subdued “whoosh” that conveys the speed and stealth ninjas are associated with.
The gameplay fairs better for the most part. In the way only stealth or horror games can get away with, the player character is incredibly weak and most foes can kill the player in one hit. Because of this it’s best to keep out of sight and in the shadows. To reinforce this, shadows are now more important than they are in most other stealth games. The Aragami has several supernatural powers at his disposal that deplete energy which can only be refilled by standing in shadows. And that teleport you have from the beginning can only transport you to a shadow covered area. With all of this combined I really did feel like a stealthy badass once I got into the games rhythm. Getting into that rhythm was part of the problem however.
Most of the skills available you have to unlock by finding a certain number of scrolls hidden throughout each level. Because of that, unless you search every nook and cranny of every level it can take you longer than it should to unlock basic stealth mechanics. For example, one skill allows you to dissolve bodies in shadows, but until you unlock that ability there’s no way to deal with the corpses you leave in your wake. In the early game that meant I was constantly putting guards in high alert as they found their fallen comrades.
Not helping matters is how many of the powers are more or less useless. After unlocking three or four of the abilities I really didn’t feel a particular need to unlock any more. And the ones I did were, once again, standard mechanics for the stealth genre.
The game makes up for this short coming, at least in the early hours, by being really well made and a lot of fun. While the controls took some getting use too (“Space” to kill? “F” to interact? Who came up with this control scheme?) once I got the hang of it I was never too bothered. But like I said at the start of the review, after a while the game just kind of runs out of ideas. The levels get bigger, but you face off against the exact same enemy types throughout and you’re doing the exact same thing in each level, breaking the power source for a light shield so you can move on to the next area. In the last mission I played before stopping to right this review they added the first new enemy type since the second level: a proximity mine that’s too easy to avoid. This is part of the reason so many of the powers feel useless; the player is never asked to adapt. Only once in my play time was I ever put into a situation that felt like it was shaking up the gameplay and that was dropped once I beat that part of the level. That’s why I think this is going to be misjudged as a bad game by a lot of people: if you play too much of it at once it begins to feel tedious and it’s easy to forget just how good the stealth is.
Special mention has to go to how not only how good the game looks, but how well the interface in handled. The cell-shaded look of the game is simply beautiful, and the hand drawn look of the flashbacks complement it well. And you never have to stop paying attention to how gorges the game is to check visibility meters or manna points as that’s all a part of the character. The Aragami’s cape tells you how much manna you have and the character darkens when hidden in shadows. Any and all information you need to know can be found with a single look at the character, and I really appreciated that.
In the end, a lot of bad choices keeps Aragami from being a great game, but it was an enjoyable enough. It’ll probably be even more enjoyable when played right, in short burst every now and again. I am very much looking forward to going back and completing the game, just not right now.