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”.
I’m not sure why the 2015 platformer Ink is suddenly coming to consoles, but it is. Whatever the reason, this is pretty great news becuase Ink was freaking phenomenal. The game was surprisingly challenging and a little too short in my opinion, but i still thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a platformer with an interesting set of core mechanics, i can absolutely recommend Ink. And hey, maybe if you buy it i’ll get the sequel I’ve been wanting for ages now.
After two years in early access, Ark has finally gone gold and is scheduled to release on August 29th. While i don’t get the point of survival games (and wasn’t exactly pleased to see Ark releasing paid DLC before being a finished product), it is good to see the dev teams hard work has finally paid off. Now the question is: will it matter?
While the game hasn’t been in a finished state, it has been playable for the past two years. I was going to pose the question of “if the player base has dropped, will the game actually being released be enough to bring them back”. But after doing a bit of digging, i found this:
This more or less says that, at the time of writing, the game’s player base has been more or less consistent over the last two years. That’s all well and good, but now another question comes to mind: what if everyone who wants the game already has it? As far as i’m aware, survive games are a rather niche genre, and with a preexisting installed player base it doesn’t look to be a welcoming place for new comers. I could be totally off base here, granted, But i do have to ask: if there isn’t a large player base interested in the game who doesn’t already have it, how do you make any money off it? More DLC? Sure, that could work, but that requires more development time. I guess what i’m trying to figure out is, now that the game is done, how does it benefit from that fact? I’m not trying to say the game should stay in early access or that this isn’t an accomplishment for the dev team, it’s just a question that’s been on my mind.
At this years D23, Disney showed new footage og Kingdom Hearts 3, including an extended bit set in the Toy Story universe. The game continues to look amazing, but the real interesting news came at the end of the trailer. While no hard date was given, they did announce that the game in scheduled to be released sometime in 2018. After a decade long wait it’s hard not to get excited by this news, but it’s also just as hard for me to believe this information. I’ve yet to see any English language footage, which has me worried the localization with end up delaying the game at some point. Even so, having a release window is preferable over the “sometime in the next 3 years” Square Enix last said for this and the upcoming Final Fantasy 7 remake.
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.
By William Shelton
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Obtained By: Review Code was Provided
If nothing else, The Surge provides the single best case study as to why gaming needs a stronger AA market. The game does a lot that I like and there’s a lot I want to applaud it for. But in the end there’s an overall lack of polish that makes actually recommending the game challenging. In a year that saw the similar but superior Nioh, I can’t recommend The Surge at it’s $60 price point. But I do think it’s worth a look.
If you couldn’t tell by the Nioh comparison, The Surge is a Soulslike action-RPG, which tells you about three quarters of what you need to know. Slow, weighty, animation driven combat; Metroidvainia style levels that incentives exploration and finding short cuts, you lose EXP/currency upon death, exc, exc. What you probably won’t be expecting is that this game has probably the best opening out of all the Soulslike games to have been released. And why would you: Deck 13’s last game, Lords of the Fallen, opened with a boring cinematic with no real bearing on the plot. The Surge’s opening, however, actually takes it’s cues from Half-Life. You sit patiently on a train as a video gives you an exposition dump. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but I felt the moment was close to perfection. The scene makes a pretty authentic case for the company the player character is about to work for, and there is an air of optimism that you know is going to soon be lost, and it’s all the more saddening because of this.
Once you get control of the character, you find they are wheelchair bound. While I’m sure the game will receive some criticism for how it ignores this after the games intro, I feel the reveal itself was expertly crafted. From there you go to getting the Elysium style exo-suit that will allow you to progress through the game and…here I’m kind of conflicted. The character is told an anesthetic will be provided for the surgery, but there isn’t, and you watch as all the pieces are bolted on, blood spraying every were while the character screams in torment. One one hand, this tonal whiplash serves the game well, establishing the right mood for the rest of the game. On the other, I really hate it when science fiction plays on this kind of technophobia. The dev team thought up a technology that can give a man the ability to walk again, then frames it as this horrifying thing that shouldn’t be touched. I’m sure most of this was to get players ready for the game to come, but with how much effort went into the rest of this scene, it sucks they stumbled here.
I’ll also admit this section could have been stretched out for a bit longer too. What’s here does manage to be really effective, but not having the players interact with any other living people before everything goes to shit wasn’t the best call. If the game had taken the time to establish some relationships with the NPC’s players found along the way, I think it would have been much more effective as a whole. If the game wants to have the story so front and center (even going so far as to have dialogue choices), then giving us some info about who these people are and why we should care about them is kind of important.
While everything interesting about the games story might have petered out after the opening moments, the gameplay managed to mostly hold my attention throughout. The games biggest success is it’s dismemberment mechanic. Unlike in other Soulslike games, you can’t just wait for armor or weapons to drop. Instead, you have to fight an enemy with the armor piece you’re looking to obtain, then weaken that body part in combat before being allowed to dismember the opponent in order to grab the schematics. Once you have those, you can build new armor pieces in the Medbay, the games safe zones.
This took some getting use too, as you have to lock on to an enemy, then manually target which part of the body you want to attack, but I soon found my self really enjoying how it all worked. It added a tactical edge to combat, as you could only get one new peace of armor from an enemy at a time, and there’s no knowing if the next time they will have the same load out. On top of that, you can attack unarmored body parts for extra damage. While I think there is something to be said about the depth Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Nioh get out of a relatively simple combat system, I can’t say I disliked the added complexity The Surge added to it’s one on one fights.
But once the game adds in another combatant things start to go down hill, and The Surge loves ambushing the player. Because of all the extra work involved in locking on to an enemy, there is no easy way to simply switch between two or more. So in order to switch targets, you have to unlock from one, manually move the camera onto the other, then lock on again. And that’s just the beginning of the game’s issues.
All of the games enemies have little cool down for their attack, and the animations for them rarely convey enough information to begin with. So getting hit in The Surge is almost an inevitability. Non-human enemies are even worse, as they tend to be designed in a way that makes reading their movements almost impossible. Only adding to this frustration is a number of glitches and some really bad design choices. More often than I can count the AI for enemies just seemed to turn off altogether and they just let me whale on them until they died. One enemy, when using a back flip attack that is meant to knock the player into the air, simply launched out of the game world entirely. And the second level is filled with robots you can only meaningfully harm from the back, but placed in tight corridors, making getting behind them a pain as I’d get stuck between them and the walls. This could have easily been fixed by widening the environments or making these enemies either smaller or slower so the player can more easily get around them.
Up grades are also handled pretty poorly. As you make your way through the game you collect “tech scrap” which can be used to increase your suits power and upgrade your weapons and armor. Increasing your suits core power allows you to use more armor and implants (swapable bonuses like health injections, increased stamina and more) as well as give you the ability to access more areas of each level. However, as you aren’t leveling up the character himself, the only way to increase attack or defense is to upgrade your armaments. And this gets annoying fast. For each piece you need scrap and an extra component. For armor this just means continuing to dismember enemies where you’re looking to upgrade. You want to boost your helmet? Chop off some heads! However, as you upgrade you need higher level materials, and I have no idea where to find them. To be fair, I’ve only made it to the third boss, but I’ve yet to find a single enemy that dropped level 3 materials for anything; weapons or armor. And speaking of upgrading your arsenal, I have literally no idea where I got the right pieces for that. You can’t target the enemies weapons, so where you’re supposed to find the upgrade materials for them is lost to me. Yet every so often I’ll find I have the means to upgrade something as if it’s just been added to my inventory out of the blue.
All of those issues aside, I do think the moment to moment gameplay manages to be pretty solid. That’s good to know, because finding out where you’re supposed to go in this train wreck is even more complicated than in any of the other Soulslike game I’ve played, so you’ll spend a lot of time in that gameplay loop. Unlike Dark Souls, each level only has one Medbay, and all the short cuts you find lead back to it. While this seems like it should make finding your way around easier, what it really ends up doing is creating confusion as you have to remember which of the interconnecting short cuts lead to where. So many of these shortcuts criss-cross through each other that at any given moment I couldn’t remember where I was trying to take a short cut too. It’s hard not to find fault with the games overall aesthetics here too. While Deck 13 did pretty much everything they could do with “post apocalyptic industrial area”, there really wasn’t much there to begin with. So areas lack any real identity of their own, which only makes getting lost that much easier. This has the unfortunate consequence of it never feeling like the player is making much progress. No matter where I go I’m always right back where I was.
And then there are the boss fights. My god, does this game have awful boss fights. First off, simply finding the boss is often a chore in and of itself. Not just because of the issues I mentioned earlier, either. When I first stumbled upon the arena for the first boss I said to myself “yup, this looks like a boss arena”….but it wasn’t. I moved through without even an enemy encounter. “Okay”, I thought, “maybe this was just to give me some breathing room”. It wasn’t until hours later, when I went back there by accident (I had no reason to be in the area anymore, or so I thought) that the boss appeared. Then the bosses themselves are a combination of the games worst traits. They do large amounts of damage with almost no cool downs for their attacks, the robotic nature means it’s hard to tell if they are moving or attacking, and they tend to move in such a way that the camera can’t keep up, forcing me to take a moment to readjust, a moment the bosses tended to use to wreck my shit. And the second boss has a number of one hit kills it can just keep using due to that lack of cool down I talked I about, and I’m told only gets worse later on in the game.
Thankfully everything else is at least on par. It’s visually bland, but it doesn’t look bad. The game could use a bit more light, as dark areas are nearly impenetrable even with a flash light on. More diverse environments could have helped a lot too. The dev team clearly tried, with a major part of the third level taking place in a greenery, but it never manages to be enough in my opinion. Sound is also pretty generic, with human enemies making basic zombie-like noises while mechanical ones have no real personality to their audio design. That’s not necessarily bad, just unremarkable.
I wanted to like The Surge more than I did. And to the games credit, it is a marked improvement over Lords of the Fallen. For all of it’s faults I do think it’s enjoyable enough to warrant a look….when you can find it half off or used. If Deck 13 keeps up the rampant improvement, it’s not hard to imagine their next game being something truly special. As for The Surge, I can only recommend it if you’re like me and you really enjoy Soulslike games and want to at least try all of them that come out. It’s far from perfect, but I don’t quite hate it. I’m disappointed it wasn’t better, but had it not been shackled to the AAA market, I think it could have been a much easier sale.
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.