Make no mistake, despite the rather pessimistic tone of this article's title, 2013 was a GREAT year for gaming. On top of several excellent games such as Bioshock: Infinite, The Last of Us, and Tomb Raider there were also two seemingly successful console launches. The 3DS had a strong year with a new Fire Emblem, Pokemon, and Zelda all releasing while the indie scene continues to pump out quality content covering almost every style of game imaginable.
However, 2013 also had some rather dark moments attached to it. Broken promises, studio closures, and extremely disastrous launches all plagued last year. An industry that claims it wants to be taken more seriously keeps demonstrating a Peter Pan mentality over and over again with petty name calling on all sides of any discussion derailing any real chance of change. All of this darkened what should have been a banner year for games.
2013 was paved in gold, but the tarnished spots need to be highlighted in hopes that 2014 will be even better. I'll be showing off some of those moments in hopes that they can be avoided in the future.
Bullshots! The Lies Behind Aliens: Colonial Marines
There is absolutely no nice way of saying this. Gearbox sold the consumer something that was not advertised. The atrocity that was the game itself is only matched by how deceptive the trailers were. I've gone off on how terrible the game was and how nothing was near the quality of what was promised. Using high-res shots and "gameplay" that is unable to be replicated for the normal player is common in the industry, but Gearbox took this to the next level with its extremely immoral advertising.
The thing to take away from all of this? Don't buy into the hype of anything. Resist the buy it now, play it later pre-order culture that has been fostered over the years. These days, short of a small handful of releases, nothing will be sold out and if it is, it will be back on the shelf in days. It costs nothing to wait to verify what a company is telling you.
The Never-Ending Penny Arcade Controversy
Make it stop!
It no longer matters who is right or wrong about this. Both sides have dragged this down into the muck and the supporters on each side have devolved into rabid dogs. Once vicious death-threats and insults start being tossed about casually by both sides, it stops becoming a debate and turns into a third-grade playground fight.
What could have been a legitimate, teachable moment about sensitivity vs. political correctness has become a clusterfuck of callousness and arrogance all around. When people start having their heads shoved so far up their asses they can taste they own breakfast, it's time to move on.
If you want to have a real discussion, then have respect for the opposing side and, for the love of god, understand that sometimes people will never see things your way. It's going to be alright, your life will go on if someone disagrees with you.
On-Line Server Woes
Meanwhile, at EA...
So EA is the clear target here with both SimCity and Battlefield 4 having MAJOR issues at launch stretching weeks past the first day. Companies will try to explain these away with spin claiming that it's due to how well the game is selling and that the game is so popular they couldn't anticipate the server load.
Let me make this perfectly clear. These are no longer valid excuses in this day and age.
A major publisher like EA or Take-Two, who also suffered launch issues with Grand Theft Auto Online, knows full well at least ballpark estimates as to how well a game will do before it comes out. They have the ability to perform massive stress tests and make sure that any problems at launch are kept to a minimum as well as years of botched launches in the past to learn from.
The real culprit is a justifiable fear of their stock prices dropping from delaying any AAA game more than a week or two to address these problems. The result is that they launch what's essentially an "early access" game, still in beta, filled with game-breaking bugs in the form of disconnects, server crashes, and lost progress.
Releasing a buggy game to the public is infuriating, but then lying to me about it with spin trying to tell me the reason is that your game is selling so well insults my intelligence and is a lame attempt at an apology for ripping off a day-one buyer. No more. This idea of "ship it now, patch it later" needs to stop NOW.
Joel McHale's Blatant Disdain for the VGX Awards
"Just give me my God damn check, Keighley"
If there was one thing to take away from the VGX, it was how much of a professional Geoff Keighley is. Only a true pro would be able to put up with what an ass Joel McHale was during the entire show.
McHale spent the entirety of the show making fun of everyone ranging from the guests, to the viewers, to Keighley himself in a style that went far beyond simple comedic riffing to outright offensive. Insulting and insufferable, McHale was clearly here for an easy payday and made sure everyone knew it.
Microsoft's Xbox One Reveal
It takes a lot to unite the entire gaming community but Microsoft pulled off this feat with its Xbox One reveal conference. A overwhelming "Hell no!" was collectively screamed out in terror by multiple media outlets and gamers in general.
With its need to "check-in" through an internet connection every 24 hours, the always-on Kinect, used game restrictions, and the inability to play games on different consoles the Xbox One quickly became the punchline to several jokes and memes on the internet. Even Sony was unable to resist poking fun at their biggest competitor, themselves having been on the other end with their own lackluster E3 conference when the PS3 was first shown.
All of this combined with several mixed messages from Microsoft executives in the days that followed as well as former Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth's "deal with it" comment only angered the already upset fan base. The outrage was so great that Microsoft even reversed some of its policies before launch.
I've come not to bury 2013, but to praise it. The good far outweighed the bad and anyone who claims 2013 sucked for gaming needs to re-examine their priorities. However, that said, it was far from perfect.
As spiraling development costs lead publishers and developers to push out broken or extremely restrictive products, the public needs to be ever watchful to call companies out on their patronizing bullshit and demand to be respected as consumers.
Gamers need to realize that this is a two way street, though. If people want companies to treat them like adults then they need to ACT like adults. This asinine, horrifying need to not just disagree with, but to destroy anyone and anything that someone might not like needs to stop. There will never be anything that is acceptable to everyone. Everyone has different lines and there is room to discuss where they are, but let's keep the conversations civil and not let it turn into a flame war.
As 2014 starts I'm sure there will be a fair share of controversy, but lets at least try to show a bit of humanity about it.
Capitalistpig (Steven Brown) is someone who thinks he knows WAY more than he actually does about gaming and isn't afraid to share that with the world. You can follow him on Twitterif you want to hear more of his ranting.
Call of Duty: Ghosts has been released and the reviews are in. Most seem to feel it's a solid, albeit familiar, addition to the franchise. A few outlets, such as Destructiod's review by Jim Sterling, were far more critical of how little innovation there was and the limited risks Ghosts was willing to take, especially in light of Black Ops 2's attempt at a branching campaign and changes to its venerable multiplayer.
I finished up the game earlier today and I'm going to share a few quick thoughts about it here. There could be minor spoilers for those reading, so if you want to go into the single player completely blind, stop reading now.
1. You could take any level from Ghosts and tell me it was from Black Ops 2 or Modern Warfare 3 and I would believe it. I noticed very few changes to the look and style of the game. It's more of the same with all the good and bad that comes along with that.
2. For all the hype about Riley the dog, he wasn't really in the game all that much. It feels like the marketing team was trying to find any reason to make Ghosts stand out from previous installments and the only thing they could find was that damn pooch. I get it, dogs are popular in games for some reason, but the messaging should match the payout.
3. Who the HELL names their God damn kid Hesh?
4. I felt like I was going through the Call of Duty checklist the entire time.
Flashback mission? Check.
Player character dies? You bet.
Stealth mission where you crawl through a bunch of tall grass? You better believe it.
Blasting things from the air in a gunship/airplane/flying pasta monster? Oh yeah, we got that.
Rail shooter on the back of a truck? Did you even have to ask?
Ends with a slow-motion quick time event? Well, it's Call of Duty right?
5.Ghosts has what I felt to be one of the silliest endings since Sci-fi movies from the 70's used "The End...?"
Please feel free to comment below and tell me your thoughts and ideas on the game. Also, follow me on Twitter if you want to listen to me babble even more about games.
"Yo, Chummer. You wanna set up a run? I got what you need right here. See my crew over there? That elf ain't just fo' show. He's one of the fastest Matrix runners in the city. That boy will slice for ICs like it ain't shit. The scary bitch next to him? She slings magic like a dealer slings BTLs. You need someone ta watch their asses, you got 350lbs of orc muscle right here. So what da ya say, Mr. Johnson, gotta deal?"
-Jackson Bonebreaker, six hours before his death.
The Shadowrun universe has close to 25 years of history behind it. The pen-and-paper RPG is just as recognizable in some circles as Dungeons & Dragons. Its fans can recite the history of the sixth age from the Awakening all the way up to the "current" year of 2050. Dozens of books have expanded the universe beyond the core system and added to the already deep lore Jordan Weisman created in the late '80s.
Never stops raining in the City of Dreams.
Clearly this cyberpunk universe lends itself well to the idea of a video game and there have been a few attempts at bringing the table-top to the screen. Fans recall the SNES and Sega versions fondly while lambasting the 2007 FPS multiplayer focused remake as having no heart. Since then, the guys at Harebrained Schemes (led by original creator, Weisman) launched a Kickstarter to right the ship. Enter Shadowrun Returns, a carefully crafted throwback to those golden days of the 16-bit age.
Fans of the older games will have plenty to celebrate. Shadowrun Returns goes back to its roots with a story that tries to not only maintain the spirit of the previous games, but also tries to bring them both into the current pen-and-paper edition of Shadowrun. Weisman does a good job of trying to tie everything together in Shadowrun's ten hour campaign, packing each moment with the style and flair fans love. Sadly, this also is one of its greatest weaknesses.
Weisman tries to make sure a little bit of the entire lore toolbox makes its way into the game. The problem, however, is that to give the world the attention it deserves, it requires a game much longer thanthis one. By trying to fit everything into such a small package, nothing ever feels expanded on. I was left wanting more from the game, which is to its credit, but I also had a lot of the gaps filled in from prior knowledge. If you have never experienced anything from Shadowrun, then things will be confusing at best.
The game is NOT friendly to newcomers when it comes to the setting. Shadowrun Returns assumes the player is familiar with its world. Terms like SIN, Lone Star, and Tír Tairngire are tossed about casually with little to no explanation. For long term fans, admittedly the target audience, not having to explain itself with each time new slang is used is great and keeps the story moving along. For those not in the know, it can be extremely frustrating trying to piece together all the different terminology. There is a small glossary that explains some of it, but it could easily be five times larger to fit in everything thrown at you.
This is the 7th time I've seen this, damn right you do.
Equally aggravating is the complete lack of a manual save system. The entire game relies on autosaves. Nothing induces a keyboard-snapping rage in me faster than having to repeat the past 30 minutes of a mission because of a couple lucky blasts from a group of shotgun wielding orcs.
The combat is a lot like the also recently re-booted XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and that's a good thing. Each runner gets a set amount of action points per turn to accomplish whatever it is they need to do, be it shooting, reloading, casting, etc. The cover system is also heavily influenced by Enemy Unknown as well. The interface gives you an idea of exactly how well that rickety crate will shield you from a corporate mage's fireball. Here is a tip: Find something bigger to hide behind.
Shadowrun is a game that will get better with age. It comes with a robust level editor and Steam Workshop support for the modding community to play with. Already in the works are full conversions of the SNES and Sega games as well as several player-driven stories. While the campaign the game comes with, Dead Man's Switch, is well told and full of your typical Shadowrun intrigue, I'm personally looking forward to seeing what will be crafted by the franchise's rabid base.
Another satisfied Lone Star customer.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns, but I have reservations about recommending it to all but the most hardcore fans of the universe. There is just too much left unsaid through out the game. From it's complex, unexplained
lore down to the inefficient tutorial Shadowrun is just not welcoming to strangers. If you are just interested in solid, turn based combat without having to worry about story or how everything works, this game is great. Those looking to draw a bit deeper from the well, however, will find themselves at a loss unless they make the effort to look outside the game for answers. Fans, however, will be pleased with just how much is packed into the experience. Shadowrun Returns is a welcome sight for sore eyes with a bright future ahead of it if the content keeps coming.
What exactly is it? Well, a few weeks back Sony launched their "Greatness Awaits" PR blitz with the following trailer.
Now that the trailer as been out for a few weeks, Sony is giving its most hardcore fans a chance to win some of the props used in video. Between now and the end of July, PlayStation 3 owners can log into bidforgreatness.com with their PSN accounts and use the gold trophies they have earned as currency to bid on props or concept art all the way up to the full outfits worn by Deslin Rowe (inFamous: Second Son), Edward Kenway (Assassin's Creed IV), and others.
Much like an eBay action, those willing to throw their hat in the ring will sign-in, make an offer, and outbid each other until the time runs out. Don't worry, the disclaimer on the front of the page says your trophies won't be lost in the bidding.
Sounds like an excellent chance to get some cool gear as well as finally have a practical use for achievements. Go forth, eager Sony fans, go forth and show your devotion.
And if anyone reading this DOES happen to win something, please let me know. I'd be interested in seeing what they look like in the wild.
With next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft just around the corner, it seems that GameStop is pulling out of the PS2 business to make room for the upcoming systems. As of June 1st they will no long be taking in anything related to the PS2 for trade so if you've been waiting to get enough money to buy that lunch at McDonald's for all of your stuff, better start pulling it from your closets now.
If you are a collector or just like to revisit the past, however, keep an eye out for deep discounts that tend to follow such moves.
What a long, fun trip its been
What are your favorite PlayStation 2 memories? I still remember thinking how beautiful Final Fantasy X looked and how Silent Hill 2 showed me you can tell a mature story in a video game. With any luck, the next generation will bring the same sense of wonder the PS2 did for me.
Music has been a part of gaming history almost since its inception. There are few out there who can't at least hum the opening bars of Super Mario Bros. main theme and most would at least recognize the intro to Sonic the Hedgehog or the crystal theme to any of the Final Fantasy games. Music, or the lack of it, can set the tone of the entire experience.
A horror game might place the protagonist in a silent, darkened hallway where only the sounds of his footsteps and labored breathing can be heard, creating an atmosphere of being completely alone. A knocked over paint can followed by an unintelligible chattering can cause the paranoia of being watched set in without having to show anything at all.
Licensed music can have the same effect as original efforts if done properly. One of the last missions of Saints Row the Third presents Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero" in such a way that it matches perfectly with the game's overall satirical and over-the-top tone. Both Borderlands' intros capture the viewer's interest with the first game in particular, setting the pace for the game's irreverent feel. The right song can also give a scene emotional weight, much like in World in Conflict, where Audioslave's "Shadow on the Sun" accompanies a group of marine helicopters attempting to retake Governors Island from the invading Soviet forces.
FarCry 3 highlights just how important music can be during a scene. Early on in the main campaign, Jason Brody has to burn down a field of marijuana in an attempt to create chaos and disrupt the flow of drugs for the island's despot, Hoyt Volker. As he closes in on the crops, the music starts to slowly change into "Make It Bun Dem", an appropriate mix of reggae and dubstep by Skrillex and Damian Marley. The upbeat, almost surreal tune emphasizes the glee that the once hesitant-to-kill Jason has further devolved as he excitedly destroys the crop and murders anyone in his way, laughing and cheering the entire time. This scene, one of the highlights of the game, would have been easily forgettable without the song playing in the background.
Play this scene with the music off and you will know exactly what I mean.
While the right song can make a good sequence great, it can also save what would have been an otherwise boring stretch of gameplay. During the climax of Max Payne 3, the game reaches a moment where Max has to cut his way through seemingly endless waves of hired goons down a long airport terminal hallway. What would have been a generic showpiece is made into something memorable by HEALTH's haunting theme to the game hanging in the background as Max slaughters his way from one end of the hall to the other. The music flows perfectly with the bullet-cam and slow down mechanics saving what would otherwise have been a frustratingly long turkey shoot.
"One second, let me turn on my iPod."
Sometimes in a game, it's not a single song, but a soundtrack as a whole that brings the entire thing together. It would be easy to point to the massive licensed discography is that is the Grand Theft Auto series, but I would argue that those games stand alone just well enough without the music. There are those games, however, that when they are mentioned one of the first things brought up is the amazing soundtrack. Katamari Damacy wouldn't be anywhere near as beloved without its catchy, lounge singer crooning, absurd beats. Anyone who has played this is already thinking about their favorite tune from Katamari just by naming it, it's that infectious.
In a similar vein is Persona 4. The entire breadth of Persona's soundtrack serves to help one embrace the culture of a high school student in a small Japanese town. From the J-pop battle music to the cheery tunes that play while exploring town, the music serves to pull the player into the world itself. By immersing someone so fully it makes what happens to the characters have a greater impact. These aren't just some nameless NPCs made to give quests or act as cannon fodder, but living people with lives that are cared about. In combination with a great translation, the music helps breathe life into what would be nothing more than another JRPG in a modern setting.
Sometimes it can just suck you in.
And then there is Bioshock: Infinite, where the music in the game in part of the plot itself. While wandering around the floating city of Columbia, barber shop quartets sing covers of songs which are several decades from being released. 80's pop hits are changed into carnival music and ragtime tunes hinting that there is something very off about the entire setting. Anachronistic uses of well known songs like this do far more to build a world mythology than any cut scene could have conveyed.
Best use of licensed music ever.
As games continue to grow as a storytelling medium, it's important that all aspects the experienceare covered. The most amazing action packed set piece can fall flat without an appropriately epic musical score driving the player forward. Likewise, a forgettable moment can be given an extended life by simply choosing the right song to play alongside it. The atmosphere of a game can be completely ruined if something breaks the immersion, pulling the player out of the experience and killing any emotional attachment that might come along with the game. Much like how a good meal can be made exceptional with the right combination of spices, the right music can make a mediocre game better or a fantastic game into something that will truly be remembered.
Steven Brown falls asleep listening to the Skyrim soundtrack every night. You can listen him on Twitter to hear his thoughts on damn near everything.