E3 2016 Predictions!

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Publishers may be spoiling all of the fun of E3 with early announcements and “leaks,” but I get the feeling there is a bunch of stuff we don’t yet know about. Recent trends that are taking the games industry by storm aren’t going to go untouched.

There is a lot of speculation surrounding companies like Nintendo and Capcom, but I’m here to lay those worries to rest (hopefully). There is my list of predictions for stuff we’ll see at E3 2016!

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NX isn’t a console…it is Zelda!

While Nintendo initially stated their only title at E3 would be the new Zelda, they soon clarified that other games would be present during their Treehouse presentation. Most people are looking for new details on the upcoming NX console, but I have a theory.

What if the NX is just Zelda. I’m serious, too. What if the NX isn’t a separate console, but an entire machine dedicated to one game. The Wii U isn’t powerful to allow the creative vision Nintendo wants for the next Zelda game, but they also don’t want to divide their user base with another console that will (most likely) fail.

So the NX is unleashed as being another box, but it only has one game. That game will be Zelda: The Something of Whatever! It will have Demon’s Souls like multiplayer features, a never ending supply of quests like an MMO and will feature constantly expanding and growing characters in a world that changes based on your actions.

Then again, maybe the NX is just a codename for Nintendo XTreme!

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What’s Old is New Again…Again

Hot on the heels of Battlefield 1’s announcement to take place in the past, EA will begin to restructure their focus on “retro” themed games. This will lead to things like Plants Vs Zombies: Mendelian Conflict, Medal of Honor: Gettysburg and SSX 95.

Activision will take notice and announce a spin-off Call of Duty set during the rise of the Greek Empire, Call of Duty: Thermopylae. Seeing as how their only other franchise is Guitar Hero, they will announce a classic rock compilation of 50’s tunes dubbed Guitar Hero Live: All Shook Up.

A deluge of not modern military shooters will follow in the coming years. We’ll all have the EA presentation of 2016 to thank for our inevitable hatred of the “past” and our desire to head back to the “future”.

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VR Man

Since VR is becoming a hot trend, I predict that all of the major console manufacturers are going to show off their own version of VR. I know this one is mostly confirmed (and Sony has already been demoing their VR headset), but there are still a lot of details that haven’t been made public.

Microsoft will announce that they’ve teamed with Oculus for a simple VR solution on the Xbox Two! That’s right; the revision model of the Xbox One will be labeled Xbox Two, completely sidestepping the fact that the second console in the Xbox family was titled the 360.

Along with Oculus Rift support, Microsoft HoloLens will be required to utilize any VR technology of the new console. With a headset and controller in tow, you’ll be able to literally interact with everything in the game, as long as you have a 24x15x8 room available for setup.

Nintendo will reveal that the NX (which I said will be a Zelda only machine) allows VR to let players get truly “immersed” in the world of Hyrule. Players will be able to punch pots and crates with their own fists and can then put rupees into their pockets as if they were truly there.

Sony will finally come out and proclaim that the Playstation VR will only ever support one game and will then be discontinued by the company. They’ll mention it next to their deceased handheld, the PSV or whatever, and begin a whole new line of “legacy” Sony hardware.

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Xbox Live as an ISP

Now, I want to preface this entry with my own opinion; I think this would be an incredibly smart move. People have seemed to drift away from Microsoft’s service over to Sony’s this generation. Both offer virtually the same stuff, at present, but Microsoft’s console hasn’t won any favors since its original announcement.

Years ago, I proposed the idea that Microsoft should just turn Xbox Live into an ISP. Along with monthly fees that are competitive with cable companies, anyone who signs up would be given access to Xbox Live Gold and all the features that entails.

Microsoft will finally realize that their system isn’t going to topple Sony. After having ceased development of Windows Phone and focusing on Xbox as a brand, Microsoft will announce that Xbox Live will now be offered as an internet service.

Gamers who sign up will be given access to Xbox Live Gold and some subscriber benefits that non-ISP users won’t have access to. While the service will be platform agnostic, there will be some speed benefits for Xbox users to give Microsoft a leg up over cable providers.

Sony and Nintendo will be stunned, but unable to fund their own comparable networks. Both will announce a greater emphasis on digital sales and subscriber benefits, though neither will be able to cut out the middleman required for internet service.

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Other than these predictions, I don’t see much else happening at E3. The past few years have been pretty lousy in terms of announcements and reveals. The widespread adoption of the internet has allowed many users to track down hints of games well before publishers are even ready to talk about them.

There has also been some pretty harsh backlash against companies using fake trailers to promote their games. Gearbox and Ubisoft have come under fire for the way they lied about Aliens: Colonial Marines and Watch_Dogs, respectively. I get the feeling that most companies are going to shy away from pre-rendered trailers in favor of showing live gameplay on stage.

Either way, I don’t have much interest in E3. I just wanted to write a sort of jokey blog about what I see in the industry. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a few of these predictions come true. I’m not much of a prophet, however.

 

 

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DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Re-Release: Definitive Edition

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This isn’t a blog about the influx of re-releases we’ve been seeing this generation. This isn’t even a blog about how I dislike GOTY/Definitive releases of games that I spent too much money on. No, I’m more concerned with the titles that publishers see fit to attach to their games.

In what world is Tomb Raider on PS4 or Xbox One the “definitive” release of the game? Does it have support for 4k resolutions? Can I use my mind to control everything? Does it include everything the sequel did better?

This kind of problem is something I noticed at the beginning of the current gaming generation. Nintendo stated that the philosophy for the Wii U was centered around the individual. That is what gave the moniker of “U” to the console, as in “you”.

At the same time, Microsoft dubbed their next console the Xbox One. Since it was going to be the sole box underneath your television (or at least the main attraction), they named the console after being a one stop destination for entertainment.

While that’s all fine and dandy, what does it tell consumers? When you use ridiculous superlatives or descriptors for your products, it confuses people. Xbox One sounds like someone referring to the OG Xbox. “Definitive” Edition implies that there will not be another release of the game or that it cannot become better.

As I stated above, you can do better. You can always do better. It’s the reason why a film like Blade Runner has 5 different versions; Ridley Scott wasn’t satisfied with the end result until nearly 30 years later (granted the studio kind of fucked his movie, initially).

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Stop fucking with my movie!

As stupid as it may be to re-release a game with little to no extras, at least Nintendo hasn’t tried to disguise the fact. Both of their HD Zelda ports have simply been named “HD Edition”. That isn’t even entirely true, as facets of the game have been tweaked for better playability.

Still, one can know exactly what they are getting with that. If you don’t care to have an HD version of a game you enjoy, then you don’t need to get it. You won’t feel cheated out of missing something or sad that you spent money on downloadable content that is now included with the base game.

Sleeping Dogs happens to be the worst of them. Not only is the original PC version better looking, but the original console releases were pretty bad. They certainly ran decently enough, but they looked awful. Textures were flat, load times were horrendous and the game felt too slow.

Now there is a “Definitive Edition” for PS4 and Xbox One and it feels much closer to the PC original. This just sucks for console gamers who spent $60 for the base (unacceptable) game and $30 for the (completely useless) season pass. Why not just delay the game for another year to launch on next-gen consoles?

Capcom seems to be going with a more archival approach, but how many times can someone willfully buy Resident Evil 4? Not only did you just come out with an HD version of it, but there is literally nothing you can add over the final PC release.

For that matter, next-gen consoles cannot output at 4k resolution, so when are we going to get 4k remasters of these games? Are those going to be “Ultra HD Remasters”? Will there be any sense in selling the same product across multiple generations?

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Leon looks so much better!………………..

Not to come off as a PC Elitist, but that format never had a problem with re-releases or “enhanced” versions. Games on PC were essentially required to support multiple resolutions and eventually came with HD support out of the box.

1600×1200 might not sound like an HD resolution, but it actually has more pixels than 720p (and, vertically, 1080p). The picture format may be relegated to 4:3 (or a square), but it produces a crisp, clear picture that consoles still struggle with rendering.

Consoles will always be locked to the hardware they were created with. That may allow a developer to push their technology to the max, but it clearly doesn’t produce an end result that is “definitive”. A newer console will be able to run that same game with better clarity.

On PC, you never have to rebuy an older game just to experience it with smoother gameplay (there are some exceptions). Just upgrading your hardware a little tends to increase fluidity in controller response. It goes a long way to making less graphically demanding games feel beautiful.

Yet consoles are stuck with their fixed hardware and games that end up falling short of the mark. Then the next generation begins and we’re saddled with an “Ultimate Edition” or “Remaster”, etc. It’s pointless; just stop calling your games that.

Mojang has it best with Minecraft. This is the PS4 Edition. This is the Xbox 360 Edition. You aren’t getting more or less stuff (disregarding the console exclusive packs), you’re just getting it for your platform of choice. It’s title is clear, concise and free of bullshit lies.

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No shit here.

So developers, just stop lying to us. I don’t care if you’re compiling all your DLC into a new package. I don’t give a shit if this is a “better” version of a previously released game. Just stop claiming it’s “definitive”; we all know that is horse shit.

Paystation 4

Going into the 8th generation of console gaming, it seemed like Sony finally understood their fans. All their mistakes with pricing and vague marketing with the PS3 were a thing of the past. Microsoft became money grubbing and lost their focus on gaming. Nintendo was being Nintendo, but promising a stronger drive to make new games.

A few years into this generation, Nintendo is the only one that remained consistent. Microsoft made a dramatic reveal of backwards compatibility on the Xbox One at E3 this year and Sony is now following suit.

Wait, let me rephrase that; Sony is now charging us a 3rd (4th or possibly 5th) time to play our old games on new hardware. I think I’ve had enough of this lunacy. Despite me strongly preferring the PS4 interface over Xbox One, I can’t believe that my older games are being resold to me.

It’s not the largest deal to me as my PS3 is still functional and plays PS2 games. Many people are not in that same boat. Backwards compatibility should be a required on all consoles, regardless of architectural differences. All those legacy consoles are not going to last forever and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep feeding money to a company bent on making me bankrupt.

Sony has gleefully taken to the trend of re-releasing “HD Remaster” ports of PS3 games on PS4 and now the PS2 is falling in line. Instead of selling a more expensive version of the current console with backwards compatibility support (which would make sense!!!), we’re being asked to fork over $10-15 for our favorite older games.

That doesn’t seem too dramatic, but the implication is that this will be a trend. Down the line on the PS6, we’re going to be rebuying our PS4 games. Hell, it may not even take that long as we’re currently rebuying PS3 games!

Because we all asked for this shit…

What makes this so shocking is that Sony was such a stalwart for PS1 support on the PS2. It was one of the defining features of the console when Nintendo switched formats and Sega basically forgot about the Saturn. With a PS2, you didn’t need to kiss your old library goodbye.

When the PS3 launched, Sony figured that not giving gamers an option was best and decided on jam packing the system with a bunch of extraneous features. Most people didn’t need media streaming, SACD support, wireless networking and video playback; for some, just playing a video game was all they wanted.

If you wanted the prestige of owning a Sony product, you had to deal with the price and extra nonsense. You were getting a Blu-Ray player, whether you liked it or not. You were dealing with internal storage and install times despite older consoles not having that. You were making due with WiFi even if your network didn’t support it.

Granted, the PS2 forced DVD support, but Sony managed to keep the price down by including expansion ports on the system. This let Sony develop a hard drive and network port for later use and for people to decide if they wanted.  Now that philosophy is lost.

With Microsoft granting you access to your games simply by owning the 360 disc, Sony has no reason to expect gamers to jump on these PS2 remasters. What is more baffling is that Sony launched a “PS2 Classics” line on PS3 that let gamers purchase things digitally.

They also started an initiative called “Cross-buy” that allowed you to make one purchase of software and get it on every Sony console. Like that cute little game on your Vita? That’s cool; you can have it on PS3 and PS4 for no extra cost! Why is this not a feature with PS2 on PS4?

It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion of, “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!!!” It’s doubly hard when Eurogamer took an in-depth look at the first PS2 remasters (Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Racer Revenge and Jedi Starfighter) and found that they truly are emulation. This isn’t even some new code being written for different hardware; it’s the same damn thing!

Yeah! I’ll rebuy that!!!!

I could maybe understand not allowing discs to be used as there were a tremendous amount of PS2 games, but previous digital purchases not being supported is just unacceptable. It’s downright criminal, if you ask me. For a company so prided on their dedication to their fans, this just reeks of greed.

I will not stand for it. I may not be able to speak with Sony directly, but I’m not going to buy a single one of these “PS2 remasters”. There is no point. If I give in, what’s to say that I won’t be buying a PS2 Re-Remaster on the PS5? In some cases (San Andreas), you may already be doing so.

Unless you really cannot find a functional PS2, don’t give in to Sony. Let them know that you demand to have your games back. Owning a disc should mean that I can use it; the PC format has been like that forever. Enough is enough with this remaster trend.

Indifference Be Thy Name!

Something seems off with me lately. Whether it’s because of age or general apathy towards the vacant release schedule near the end of the year, I’ve been pretty indifferent to a lot of new things happening.

Fallout 4 launched last week and I don’t care. Spectre just came out in theaters and I thought it was pretty mediocre. Guitar Hero Live has been getting good press, but I found the game is simply the same old thing. Indifference Be Thy Name!

At least with James Bond, you can tell it’s a bit of brand fatigue for Daniel Craig. Some recent interviews have shown that he has grown tired of the character, but I’m still unsure why he would put out another movie with that attitude (I’m guessing the extra 0’s at the end of his paycheck helped).

It can’t just be my cynical attitude towards Hollywood, because I also saw The Peanutsand thought it was pretty good. I believe MGM is constantly battling with whether to reinvent Bond or stick to the same old formula. Sadly, Spectre just feels like a continuation of Roger Moore’s films.

I was never big on Fallout 3. I loved the introductory sequence and was blown away by the scale of things, but none of the missions really added up. The ending felt rushed and even your choices were stuck in a binary process. You couldn’t do a moral grey, just black and white.

My favorite memory from the game was running with your dad and getting hit by a god damned fatboy. That was intense. Otherwise, I just remember the game looking average and being a stripped down shooter and RPG. It was a cool combo, but the game was basically Oblivion with guns.

I also used to be a gigantic rhythm gaming nut. I played all the Guitar Hero games up to 5 (as well as Aerosmith and Metallica) and played each Rock Band game (including the preposterously stupid Lego one). I even still own DJ Hero. I just feel nothing with GHLive.

Yeah, I want to play this instead of some classic rock…

The addition of the lower fret is kind of neat, but I can’t wrap my head around the icons for Black and White buttons. For some reason, I keep reading White as if it’s on top. I know that is more of my problem then the game, but what isn’t my issue is the lackluster presentation.

The FMV sequences are pretty stupid. It’s funny to watch someone else play, but they are completely pointless in the midst of you grabbing the controller. Not only that, but those transitions are not seamless; the damn screen flashes blue between “Awesome” and “Poor” performances. It’s really distracting.

Rating a setlist is always going to be subjective, but I’m just tired of these games front loading all the horrible songs to make you work for your favorite tunes. I like the idea of GHTV, but the menu system loves explaining every detail with excruciating clarity. I just want to play the damn game.

In all fairness, it isn’t a bad game. In the intervening years, I’ve managed to pick up an actual instrument and learn to play. I’m a decent bassist and going back to Guitar Hero, I just want to play my bass. The controller is so light weight and flimsy that I don’t feel like a musician; I just feel like some tool with a toy.

Even with this blog, I haven’t had much to really say. I’ve been playing some neat games (and fucking WWE 2k15 for asinine reasons) and everything is cool. I have a Mega Yarn Yoshi and La-Mulana is kicking my ass. There really isn’t much I can write about.

Yeah?! Well, fuck you!

As fun as a game like La-Mulana is, there really isn’t any deeper meaning to it. I like the design and the philosophy behind it’s difficulty, but it’s just a really well made retro throwback with some punishing moments. It’s great for people like me, but not the general public.

I’m mainly worried that my lack of motivation is a sign of something deeper. I’ve been out of the loop with major game releases for awhile now. Metal Gear Solid V was a fluke for me, in that regard. It was a series I had fallen in love with, where Fallout and Call of Duty are just games that are in my past.

Even Xenoblade Chronicles X doesn’t appeal to me. That is insane, as the firstXenoblade Chronicles is one of my favorite RPGs and Wii games. I should be excited, but I just don’t care. If I get it, it won’t be for some time and I think I’ll manage without.

Oh well; I suppose one cannot always have some topic to bring up. I didn’t feel like leaving this blog empty in November, so this is what I came up with. I promise my next blog will have more of a focus to it.

In the meantime, have a picture of Yoshi with Hogan.

MGS V: Our Story

There are going to be MASSIVE spoilers in this blog. If you have not finished Metal Gear Solid V or are only part way through it, come back when you beat it. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Lots of discussion has been going on since the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. People seem to be pretty upset with the ending. An entire Kotaku article was written about how disappointing the whole affair was. (Then again, it is Kotaku)

I think people have the entire plot wrong. It may not be well written (in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s outright bad), but it has a bigger symbolic meaning then we realize. For the first time in any games plotline, you (the player) are the most important figure in it.

The big twist at the end of MGS V is that you were never actually playing as Big Boss. At the end of Ground Zeroes and leading up to the opening of Phantom Pain, Zero and Ocelot concoct a plan to fool the world and keep Big Boss’ enemies off him.

This leads to you getting a face lift and becoming “Big Boss”. In actuality, you are Punished “Venom” Snake, who was once a field medic and the best soldier of MSF. He had such a dedication to Big Boss’ philosophy that, when in the coma, his mind was easy to trick in believing he was Big Boss.

Thus kicks off a game where, without the twist, nothing big really happens. You get revenge on the man who destroyed Mother Base and the plotline just kind of peters out of existence. The credits roll, you lose a buddy and that’s really it.

It’s when you consider the twist that things start to get interesting. I won’t defend it’s place in the Metal Gear canon (as I think it makes no damn sense), but as a standalone game, Phantom Pain’s plot is pretty emotional.

For starters, it’s basically a gigantic thank you to every Kojima fan. Without us, he would never be the superstar developer he is today. By making us Big Boss, he is saying that no Metal Gear would be possible without our love of the series.

Or without *sob* David Hayter!

The shift in gameplay to an open-world also echoes this. Since we are now the most pivotal character in the plot, our choices are what Venom Snake goes with. There are multiple ways to accomplish any task, so the story is dependent on the player.

There are obviously some bits from Ground Zeroes thrown in to make some kind of connecting thread, but you could skip that game and not miss much. The ending might make less sense, but you wouldn’t initially feel shocked at how you were deceived.

In the aforementioned Kotaku article, the writer goes on about how Mission 43 becomes mess gripping once you learn you aren’t Big Boss. I actually think the opposite effect occurs; once you learn you’re not actually Big Boss, you begin to realize that you are the one making all the shots.

You walked into the quarantine zone on Mother Base and shot the soldiers that you extracted. Everything was done by you and has to be undone by you. If your character were Big Boss, it would be an emotional moment for him. Since it’s actually you, the impact becomes two-fold.

I probably would have cried more than strike a dramatic pose.

The Phantom Pain works wonders when it comes to player involvement. I do wish the narrative were stronger (or that Konami didn’t cut out the damn real ending), but I can’t think of how else to really get a player invested in an open-world style game.

A lot of sandbox adventures suffer from unfocused plotlines. Grand Theft Auto IV and V have really bad stories. Each one starts with an intriguing premise before falling into rote execution and repetition. In both of those games, the actions done are by your characters, first, and then you.

Assassin’s Creed III is another perfect example. The whole game is built around the growth and struggles of Connor, not you. Not only do I not care to see his story unfold, but the game takes so damn long to even do so that the gameplay simply acts as a distraction more then anything.

With the Phantom Pain, every bit of gameplay is story. Regardless of what you’re doing, those moments are a part of Venom Snake’s history. You decided to make it happen and it will be your own personal conclusion to Metal Gear’s legacy.

The previous entries in the Metal Gear series were all about how much of a bad ass Solid Snake was. Even with Metal Gear Solid 3, it was less you and more Naked Snake doing things. He was the one who got the glory and who had to put that final bullet into The Boss.

I just can’t help but think people missed that with the Phantom Pain. We were so used to games giving us a clear narrative and actual purpose that we were left disappointed. That’s not to say that every story beat is good (because that isn’t even close to true), but the whole of the Phantom Pain is bigger then it’s individual pieces.

Kojima has stated that the amount of player freedom in Grand Theft Auto V had made him depressed. He was positive that the Phantom Pain couldn’t reach the same heights as Rockstars latest blockbuster.

In all honesty, I feel that MGS V has the most freedom of any game I’ve played this year. It’s also more open ended then a lot of sandbox games claim to be. You’re given tools, a general location and then told to get at it. If anything, it echoes more of Far Cry 2 then it does Grand Theft Auto.

I truly think that Kojima was inspired by what FromSoftware have done with the Souls games. While those are a bit more linear then the Phantom Pain, they don’t beat the player over the head with exposition or cutscenes. You enter a world and rarely (if ever) lose control.

But I can’t control this! WHY?! WHHHOOOOOO?!

The cassette tapes were a decent idea with MGS V, just the execution of them didn’t truly work out. We may never know how much Konami’s decision to drop Kojima may have effected the game, but I do get the feeling that the story could have been grander if Konami just believed in their output.

Still, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is deeper then we all think. It probably won’t go down in history as a classic or even the best of the series, but it certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece. If nothing else, I believe we have a best new character of 2015; us.

What’s In a Character? – Agent 47

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I’m beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn’t really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn’t show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don’t have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game’s issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it’s sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn’t really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren’t really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn’t really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn’t really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn’t shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It’s just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it’s time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn’t happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47’s DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It’s a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It’s a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it’s cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn’t longed for a world where he doesn’t assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it’s enemies. It also remakes some of the first game’s missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can’t say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn’t get a single hint of development in any facet. He’s never really angry and he doesn’t explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It’s kind of a bummer, but whatever.

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn’t been entirely kind to it. I’d rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn’t really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You’re a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47’s DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim’s survivors. It’s really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47’s personality in Blood Money. When Diana “betrays” him, 47 lets out a, “YOU BITCH!” That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It’s something, even if it’s vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn’t exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn’t why I’m writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn’t deserve that. It’s basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 “modern.”

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn’t to say there aren’t moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He’s wonderfully acted, but he’s so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person’s actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren’t supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You’re just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It’s similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it’s violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn’t even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won’t let anyone take her. It’s basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn’t much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I’m also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That’s beyond pointless; it’s padding for the sake of making a “cinematic” game. I don’t want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I’m sure you’ll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don’t know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn’t evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their “genetically engineered agent” backstory, but all of that doesn’t matter much. It’s just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It’s surprising how we’ve seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I’ve never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn’t to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I’ve never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don’t think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.