Sigy Says – Life is Strange Review

The narrative driven, choice based adventure game has been a pretty big hit ever since Telltale made The Walking Dead. Lots of other studios have taken a crack at creating uncomfortable and trying scenarios for gamers to rack their minds with. Those studios usually forget to make choices have deeper meaning or create decisions that exist within a binary function of “right” and “wrong.”

Life is Strange attempts to tackle the problems these games typically face. It doesn’t quite nail the impact of decisions (deciding to go with an all or nothing type ending), but it certainly sidesteps the issue of viewing the world in terms of black and white.

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Life is Strange (PC [reviewed], Linux, OSX, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: Between January and October 2015
MSRP: $19.99

The main plot follows a week in the life of Max Caulfield, an 18 year old art student studying at a prestigious school in a fictional Oregonian town. She witnesses the death of a punk rock girl and, in a moment of desperation, turns back time. She doesn’t know what happened or how she did it, but manipulation of the very fabric of space and time is within her control.

The tale then follows her path to uncover the source of her powers, the reason behind the murder she originally witnessed and the problems facing Blackwell Academy. Lots of the story deals with a coming of age type narrative arc, before giving way to a murder mystery straight out of Law & Order.

The real meat and potatoes comes from all the different branching choices you’re given. Life is Strange deftly handles choices without falling back on “right” and “wrong.” Most decisions will never seem better or particularly easy. It’s all about figuring out how you would react or what causes the least amount of harm.

Max’s power of time control is also wonderfully worked into the gameplay. Once you make a choice and see the impact play out, you can immediately rewind to attempt the alternate option or just to tinker around with different outcomes. Instead of relying on the player to keep different save files or playthrough a second time, you can see basically all of the decisions first-hand.

There is one key part of the story that rips control away from Max and creates a heartbreaking encounter that can potentially end in tragedy. There are also story arcs that tackle the implications of getting a “do-over” and changing “destiny.” It’s not entirely original, but its application is very well done.

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What’s not so great is the dialog in the earlier episodes. Until around the mid-point of Episode 2, the writing is a bit wonky. Things like, “hella amazeballs” and “for cereal” are uttered without a hint of irony. It feels like an adult was trying to remember what being a teen was and mixed up some memes online.

The acting is also stilted, at first. I’m guessing no one was exactly sure how the game was going to pan out during the development of the first episode, but it just feels like a lack of direction was going on. Some of the lines are either a bit too soft or lack any dramatic weight. This does eventually pick up and turn into genuinely great performances (save for the final episode fizzling out), but it’s not thoroughly mesmerizing.

There are also some uncanny valley moments with the presentation. While this runs on the Unreal 3 engine, the characters are stiff and the environments feel detached. There is a very touching scene in a pool, but it looks like two dead mannequins floating in nothingness. I couldn’t get around that image, either.

What I did truly love was how gameplay elements were organically woven into the story. There are a lot of puzzles sprinkled throughout Max’s adventure and it’s awesome to not feel like you’re simply a spectator. You have to use critical thinking to figure out solutions based on the powers you’ve been given.

One scene has you gather chemicals to create an IED, blow open a door and then rewind so you end up on the other side. It’s a really awesome accomplishment. It truly feels like you came up with the answer on your own.

Chapter 4 is where this really shines. You have multiple pieces of information you’ve gathered over the course of the game that you’re required to piece together. You have to take a long look at any correlation and connect the dots. Even if you fail, the game has a few work-arounds to get you back on track (excluding your rewind).

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The final chapter drops the damn ball, however. There is a stealth section that is entirely pointless. Since you can rewind and remain in place, there is literally no reason to have characters searching for you. You cannot fail and pressing forward serves no repercussion. I understand it was a narrative device, but it utterly fails as a piece of gaming.

Honestly, the game was building up to a crescendo that Episode 5 never delivers. The definitive ending is certainly gut-wrenching, but the 2 hours leading up to it feel like a cop-out. It seems like DONTNOD had no idea how to really make your actions take affect or just wanted to impose their own will on the story. Regardless, Episode 5 does away with all of the good that the rest of the game exhibits.

There are some light puzzles, but everything is a forced, linear path and the dialog amounts to nothing more than expository exchanges with main characters. Some beats will tug at the heart strings, but most will just bore you (do I need to see that damn picture changing cutscene each time?).

That doesn’t destroy all the good that Episode 3 and 4 bring, but it does bookend the game with average scenarios. It starts slow and ends with a whimper. If you chopped out a little bit of the first episode, you could honestly combine it with the second and get the same result.

In all honesty, a lot of these games seem to crumble under marketing hype. Developers never know when to chill out with how cool their games are (or publishers pressure them into overselling their creations). Life is Strange is more about the relationship between two friends and how choices aren’t the end of the world (until they literally are).

I hate to be so harsh to a game that tackles such dark, dramatic and realistic topics like sexual abuse, stalkers, suicide and bullying, but most of the elements drag down the experience. The ridiculous twist of the real villain is also completely out of left field.

The game creates characters that feel like 3 dimensional beings and demands you look at them as more than caricatures, then the final chapter ends up labeling you a hero and the main bad-guy a psychopath. Dammit.

Still, Life is Strange is absolutely worth a playthrough. It’s not the best thing around, but it has an excellent mixture of gameplay and narrative heft to feel like a really important piece of gaming history. It will also resonate deeply with people who have suffered through similar tragedies in life.

I just wish DONTNOD nailed every aspect. This could have been a stone cold masterpiece.

6.5

All Right

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy this game, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.

Mid-Generation Refresh: Pros and Cons

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My gut reaction to Microsoft’s E3 reveal of the Xbox Scorpio was anger. I was so mad that mid-generation console refreshes were becoming a reality. I knew it was true, but I held out hope that Microsoft and Sony would deny all claims and keep their current boxes at the fore-front.

While I was wrong, I didn’t want to write a blog completely lambasting Microsoft. Every decision has a positive and a negative to it and I’ve tried my best to come up with a list of reasons that the Scorpio is good and bad.

Hopefully I haven’t swayed too much in one direction or failed to acknowledge the opposite side. I personally don’t want incremental console updates, but there are benefits to having things like the PS4 Neo and Xbox Scorpio.

Pros:

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No Issues with Backwards Compatibility

Right off the bat, I will say that launching the Scorpio as a more powerful Xbox One isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s the marketing strategy that is more troublesome. If the Scorpio is truly just another Xbox One, it will mean great things for backwards compatibility.

In the older days of cartridge technology, backwards compatibility wasn’t even a thought. I don’t know if the radical changes in hardware were to blame, but console manufacturers didn’t even bother to come up with a solution. Sony was the first to introduce it with the PS2; it helped that console become the best selling device in the games industry.

Sony continued it with the original launch of the PS3, but had to remove features to turn a profit. With the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, Microsoft and Sony arbitrarily decided backwards compatibility wasn’t worth it.

With mid-generation upgrades, there wouldn’t be an issue with having to support older games; everything should, theoretically, work. In Microsoft’s favor, even Xbox 360 games will work (ever since they started that initiative on the One). It will help consumers feel better in knowing their older titles aren’t becoming overpriced paperweights.

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Price Tiers for Different Consumers

As with any hobby, gaming is pretty expensive. Consoles typically cost upwards of $400 and games are $60 a pop. That’s ignoring how controllers have skyrocketed in price and that Sony and Microsoft require extra fees for online play. It’s not great for lower income families.

The introduction of the Xbox Scorpio will see the price of the original Xbox One drop. The Xbox One S, as a matter of fact, has a model retailing for $300. That isn’t bad at all. Now people in different price demographics can get into a hobby that was previously exclusive to the rich kids.

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Less Confusion about Software

This almost goes hand in hand with backwards compatibility; Xbox Scorpio is basically an Xbox One. This should clear up any confusion that people have with newer software. The biggest issue Nintendo had with the Wii U was how to market the system.

Consumers still haven’t caught on. When they pick up a game box, they simply see “Wii” on the top and assume it works. Sony seemed to luck out in that their console titles had a clear numerical distinction, but most people can’t grasp that newer consoles are different entities.

Microsoft wouldn’t need to worry about any of that with Scorpio. Now, developers can make something for Xbox One and consumers can buy it regardless of their own hardware. It should be a win-win for everyone.

Cons:

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Software Update Incompatibility

There are a lot of issues that cellphone users take with constant software upgrades to the OS of their devices; often times, it feels like the phone is running slower and slower. This isn’t some corporate conspiracy to force users into an upgrade; it’s just the side effect of trying to strain older hardware past its limits.

With the Xbox Scorpio, this is going to become a reality to console users. There will come a point in time where the current Xbox One hardware cannot support a dashboard feature that the Scorpio will introduce. This will bring about a division in the install base of consoles (similar to how 360 users cannot party chat with One users).

It’s something that hasn’t really come up until recently. Older consoles weren’t created with constant internet connectivity in mind. Newer hardware has that as a staple feature. Eventually, the original Xbox One will become deficient.

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No Clear reason for Upgrade

If we take Microsoft’s word on the Xbox One, then the Scorpio ends up being pointless. Why upgrade to this newer hardware if the old system will continue to be supported? This isn’t like the old days when a new console had a clear identity; it’s easy to tell that PS2 games are different from PS3 games, for example. These are two platforms that are both called Xbox One.

Nintendo has recently stumbled into this issue with the “New” 3DS. Hell, even before that, the launch of the 2DS caused issues for consumers who weren’t up on hardware naming conventions. Consumers will struggle to understand why they need a Scorpio in the first place.

Now, you can state that 4K is the real reason behind the Scorpio, which is definitely true; that doesn’t address how older Xbox One games will fare. The Xbox One S does 4K upscaling, so clearly a Scorpio isn’t needed for that. Unless developers are required to render games at 4K on the Scorpio, there isn’t even really going to be a performance difference on the new unit.

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Spreads Consumer Distrust

For years, Apple has launched each new unit of the iPhone to record breaking sales. It seems people were eager to have the “latest” and “greatest” technology at their fingertips. Just this year, Apple finally saw a drop off in hardware adoption.

Consumers are beginning to see their trust in Apple waver. Why spring for incremental updates when the “true” successor will come out in a year? Microsoft seems to be heading in that direction.

As a non Xbox One owner, the only message I took away from their E3 conference was that the original launch was pointless. Xbox One was built around some always-on DRM nonsense that Microsoft quickly scrambled to change. Now, they want consumers to shell out more money for an even better box that will offer greater power to developers.

When does the next upgrade come out? When will the Xbox Two or Project Phoenix arrive? Why spring for a Scorpio when, quickly, that console will be obsolete? I can’t help but feel that smaller updates to hardware will be released in rapid fashion; there will always be performance issues with games that the new units fix.

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Sends a Negative Message to Hardware Manufacturers

This is more a con if the Xbox Scorpio manages to be successful. If people buy into this unit, it will tell Microsoft that mid-generation upgrades are the way of the future. They will have the proof they need to continue updating the console every 2-3 years.

That will only lead to console development echoing cellphone production. Incremental innovation in hardware technology will be released into the public at faster and faster rates. The Xbox One S will then turn into the Scorpio S which then brings the Xbox Two S and so on. That isn’t good for game development.

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While I could go on with more cons, I’ve decided to stop here. As I said earlier, I don’t want to completely bash Microsoft for their decision here. Maybe they can turn the situation into a positive and change how crappy consoles have become in recent years.

Only time will time. At present, things aren’t looking great. At the end of Microsoft’s presentation, I sent a text to my friend saying, “We need a new hobby.” I feel so alienated from current gaming trends; I’m almost like a walking relic of a bygone age.

I will try my best to be impartial as time marches on. If anything, this new hardware should bring us closer to the eventual platform agnosticism that gamers truly desire. Microsoft has started an “Xbox Anywhere” initiative, so that could bring about the end of dedicated boxes.

Whatever happens, I’ll still be there to comment on it. I may not remain a hardcore gamer, but I’m always interested in the shifts and changes the industry takes. Here’s hoping that we don’t end up with another industry crash like 1983.

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.

 

 

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.

Games As a Service

Man, Street Fighter V is certainly great. It’s got ranked matches and player matches and…replays and…some short story bits and…um…not a whole lot else. I mean, comparatively speaking, this isn’t much different than Super Street Fighter II on SNES, but that also released in 1994.

A lot of developers like to look at their games as “services”. When DLC is factored into the development cycle, one is constantly thinking about what is coming next. Does the base game end at going gold, or do you continue to release things steadily throughout the year?

Most of us gamers grew up in an era where ceasing development was the end point of any changes to the game. There are always going to be last minute changes, but for the most part, calling a project finished meant just that.

More recently, however, games have continued to grow and expand. Killer Instinct launched on Xbox One as a free-to-play game with multiple seasons. Hell, that game is prepping for a third season and PC release; it is far from being finished.

Not finished? The hell, you say?

For that matter, Sony has molded Driveclub into a pretty respectable racing sim. That game launched with a laundry list of issues, but those barely remain. The constant stream of extra campaigns and new courses has also kept the game from becoming stale.

If you look at the history of Street Fighter, you almost see the same thing. Capcom had listened to fan feedback and kept tweaking the foundation that Street Fighter II was built on. When the game’s initial run was complete, we ended up having six official versions of it; if you want to count the HD Remix, that makes seven.

For that matter, both Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III saw three different versions (and Alpha had some console ports with different things). Capcom has never been one to release a fighter and call it a day. Their previous efforts without the internet lead them to creating multiple SKUs.

Street Fighter V is just the natural progression of their developmental mindset. They are no longer shackled to brick and mortar releases or physical distribution. The internet has changed the way which they can tweak their titles.

That doesn’t excuse the lack of features in the current version. For $60, it is insane to expect people to be okay with waiting for content that is available in other games. A story mode is coming, but what is included just seems insultingly bare.

And this is insultingly not bare (in the final game).

For that matter, why are most of the online features not present? You would think with all of the work done onStreet Fighter IV that Capcom would have some grasp of what their community wants. Basic multiplayer lobbies and better replay features should be present.

This is all putting aside the fact that Capcom rushed the game out for tournament players. The deadlines for making EVO qualification were at the end of February, so Capcom needed this released to allow hardcore players to get in the competition.

That doesn’t do much for the more casual gamer. I’m of the mind that a company as big as Capcom could have spent more resources to finish all of the features for launch. There is no compelling reason that anything should be absent, apart from planned DLC.

If EVO were such a big concern, why not release a cheaper, digital only release with an upgrade option? We do live in the age of the internet, which is something Capcom is clearly banking on. My main concern becomes when any kind of server support for Street Fighter V is ceased; people will have a game on disc that is basically nothing.

Then again, we are in the year 2016 and there are still Street Fighter II tournaments being held. Capcom has created a legacy with this series that will not burn out. Even if the genre of games saw a hiatus between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV, the rise of social media and blogging has given niches a voice.

I know, Ryu; it is really stupid.

Those voices wanted a return to the glory days of 16-bit fighters. Since 2009, I can’t even recall the amount of fighting games that have appeared. BlazBlue, Mortal Kombat, Persona 4: Arena, Guilty Gear Xrd; I could be here for a while mentioning them all. There was always an audience for this genre, but developers just assumed no one wanted to play them.

As it stands, though, Street Fighter V is a bit disappointing. The game may be solid and have legs, but the amount of content present is unjustifiable. Anyone whom drops $60 on that and is happy is either blinded with nostalgia or just plain easy-going.

Hopefully Capcom doesn’t go back on their word. They stated that Street Fighter IV would be a service, yet we’ve seen four different retail releases of the game. For what is planned, I have hopes for Street Fighter V. I like that playing the game will earn me new characters, which just plain makes sense.

It’s almost like an old-school game; almost.

Disappoint ≠ Bad

Destiny is the greatest version of “Follow the Dot” I’ve ever played. You sure do a lot of looking at your radar, running straight towards the objective and forgetting exactly where you are. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics are nice and all, but the level design doesn’t matter.

I can’t recall half of the missions I’ve even done in Destiny. I do side missions in the same area and I don’t even realize it. When I log on to help my friend, I can’t even guide him through an area I’ve previously completed. I end up relying on the dot and everything else is blank.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently played through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. I wasn’t enthralled with the original, but I honestly forgot how lackluster the level design is. It may not be “Follow the Dot,” but the interconnectivity makes no sense.

You’ll go from a woodland setting, up an elevator and enter some lava pit. How is lava existing above a forest and not seeping down? For that matter, why is warping at bonfires such a prominent feature? I can’t remember where I’ve been and what bosses I’ve finished, despite being level 240.

Oh no…Not you two again…

The pedigree that each developer had before making these games makes them all the more disappointing. How do you go from Demon’s Souls and end up with Dark Souls 2? Where does the idea of Halo becoming an MMO go wrong?

Is either game bad, though? Honestly, no. I’ve managed to beat Dark Souls 2 four times and I’m currently still playing Destiny. I didn’t even want to give Destiny a shot, but my friend persuaded me into it. Logging around 24 hours is pretty good for being indifferent.

Even if most of the package is lackluster, both Destiny and Dark Souls 2 get their core mechanics right. It’s fun to pick up a gun and shoot in Destiny, while Dark Souls 2 makes the act of timing your attacks, item usage and defensive tactics engaging.

Dark Souls 2 may lack the art direction, world design and enemy design of it’s predecessors, but fighting is incredibly awesome. There are new moves, a slightly faster speed and an extensive amount of weapons (though some are basically copies of each other).

Destiny has horrendous level design, a pretty garbage story and a lack of enemy diversity, but the speed, weight and feel of firing your weapon keeps you coming back for more. The loot system is captivating, the quests are quick and plentiful and the PvP harkens back to what Bungie did with Halo‘s multiplayer.

YES! ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

The small hub areas are pretty pointless and all the “emotes” are regrettably locked behind a microtransaction system, but finding friends and embarking on a short quest is fun. It feels different to experience the typical MMO mold from a first-person viewpoint.

I can’t disagree with any of the haters of either game; they make a lot of valid points. Both titles feel like they are resting on the laurels of their creators. Even more, both games kind of reverse the mentality that was set up with their predecessors.

Demon’s Souls was all about making the world feel oppressive and deadly. You died quickly to make a point; death matters. In a world where dying throws you back around 5 seconds, Demon’s Souls would cause you to lose your experience if you died. That heightened the tension as you now needed to really pay attention to everything.

Halo was about adapting an old-school FPS design into a console format. Due to limited buttons, you were given two weapons. Since split-screen was such a big feature of consoles, co-op was added to the campaign in a way similar to Doom. Multiplayer was based more on skill than any kind of level system or perks.

Dark Souls 2 feels like it is making concessions to get more people interested in the series. Hardcore fans will breeze through the game while newcomers won’t understand what the fuss was about.

Doesn’t look all that appealing.

Destiny is basically Bungie’s take on Borderlands. It also reeks of forced online connectivity. There is no reason why the game could not be made offline and with split-screen. Those were core features of the Halo games that helped foster the community that exists today.

What hurts the most is that both of these games could be better. I hate enjoying them as much as I do, but their foundations are so sound. If industry trends hadn’t become so prevalent, I feel like Dark Souls 2 and Destiny could have been so much more.

Either way, these two games prove that being disappointing doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is bad. It could even be quite awesome.

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.

Rock (Band) Isn’t Dead!!!!

One of the biggest complaints you will hear in regards to modern music is that rock is dead. When Gene Simmons claims Rock is dead, it’s probably a pretty decent sign that the genre is on the way out. Statements like that reinforce the cynical nature inside of older people who just want a return to the old days.

The same echoes with the rhythm gaming genre. When Activision and Harmonix killed off Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gamers were left without any kind of successor. Sure, other types of rhythm games popped up, but nothing that utilized the guitar controllers and plastic drum kits we had collected over the years.

It seemed like all of that investment and trust was just thrown to the curb. Harmonix did their best to support Rock Band 3 with DLC well into 2012, but they eventually closed up shop. Since the genre had seen better days, there wasn’t much purpose in producing content for a game that people weren’t buying.

Just like how most people claimed that rock was dead, so was Rock Band. We all had our fun and now just have memories. No one will ever make the same classic game again. Why would you? We have all moved on.

Except that isn’t even true. Not only will Rock Band 4 be releasing tomorrow (with Guitar Hero: Live releasing later this year), but rock is not dead. Far from it. It may not hold the mainstream appeal it once had, but people haven’t forgotten about rock.

Sup?

A little band by the name of Ghost have done everything in their power to resurrect the 60’s style of gothic/satanic inspired pop/rock for a new era. Mastodon, once a progressive metal band, have transitioned into mostly their own genre with lots of throwbacks to classic rock styling.

For that matter, The Darkness released a new album in May of this year. They are a band founded on bringing back 80’s hard rock. To even claim that rock has died is just being ignorant; if anything, rock is more specialized now then it ever used to be.

Certain things fade in and out of fashion all the time. Music is the easiest to track as it has been around for as long as people began speaking. Much like how the Middle Ages was overrun with chamber music and the Renaissance brought about classical music, most of the 20th century was dominated by rock.

You can even go further by dissecting different decades and identifying sub-genres. The 50’s was the dawn of rock’n’roll. The 60’s brought pop/rock and the 70’s started with prog rock. Even now, in 2015, rock has mostly turned to metal with some bands clinging to old-fashioned ideals.

Gaming has had a similar resurgence of the past. 2D Platformers had all but died in the early 2000’s, but we now have more made every month then were released in the entirety of the 6th console generation. It’s almost as if the SNES never left.

If only you could buy one of these brand new.

To say anything is dead is to know where humanity and public interest is going. If you can logically see into the future, then you can make the claim that something has moved on. How can that ever come to fruition when so many people talk about it?

Could rock music ever die? There are indie bands no one has heard of pumping out sweet licks every week. There are people in their bedrooms recording songs made solely by them. Even gigantic, mega famous bands like Metallica are going back-to-basics and producing music in the vein of their origins.

Rock isn’t dead. Far from it. The same can be said for Rock Band. Now that the time is right and the consumers are hungry for a return to basics, Rock Band will get to thrive where it’s needed most; in the hearts of true fans.

The genre may have crashed before, but Harmonix never left the building. They let other acts take over the stage while they calculated how to one-up the competition. Allowing users to retain DLC between console generations is completely unprecedented and will definitely lead to sales from cynical folk.

More importantly, we may finally have that dream version of Rock Band we always wanted. Every single hit song from every decade on one console. The fact that I can load up Jimi Hendrix, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads and The Police in one setlist is beyond amazing.

Better still, Harmonix has the power to make new music known. Most people who will buy Rock Band 4 are probably going to be younger then the target demographic (18-34). They will get to experience the best of the past and the brightest of the present all under one roof.

Long Live Rock!!

I don’t think there is a better time for rock then right now. If you still think it’s dead, you’re just delusional.

Forever Alone?

After playing the Rainbow Six: Siege beta for a few hours, I’m not quite convinced that Ubisoft’s decision to axe a single-player campaign was the best choice. This has nothing to do with my own preference for campaigns, mind you, just that the netcode is pure garbage.

My memories of the Rainbow Six series are almost entirely dedicated to the online portions. I loved Rainbow Six: Raven Shield for it’s open-ended structure. It fit perfectly into co-op play and gave great competition to Counter-Strike for competitive play.

I played the hell out of terrorist hunt in Rainbow Six 3 on Xbox with my friend, Corey. He and I eagerly anticipated the expansion, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, and continued to bounce between the two games in co-op campaign and terrorist hunt for a few years. We just loved experiencing that game style together.

As for the plotlines, I don’t really even recall what any of them were about. A tactical shooter is more about replicating a tense, life and death situation then it is about presenting any thought provoking questions to the player. Just take a look at how muddled the plot is in Rainbow Six: Vegas.

The sequel to that game was almost entirely a prequel. Apparently the first game didn’t make enough sense to enough people, so Ubisoft had to detail where the villain came from (I guess being Russian/Chinese wasn’t enough for Tom Clancy fans).

The Tom Clancy universe of games aren’t really tailored around being solo excursions. Splinter Cell was the first time that going alone made sense. Sam Fisher was a better ghost then the Ghost Squad and his mission was to leave as little a trail as possible. Bringing another player, while fun, wasn’t a requirement.

Even that series got expanded into a multiplayer affair. In the latest game of the series, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, the game is markedly improved when in co-op (since the AI is brain dead). It feels excellent to coordinate your attack with a friend.

Even with pointless BS like this.

Enough with Ubisoft games, though. How about the fact that the last gen versions of the upcoming Black Ops III don’t feature a campaign? Well, if not for the price tag, I wouldn’t see this as an issue. From my times working at GameStop, most people didn’t even know Call of Duty had a campaign.

People used to tell me that they would tinker a little with it or plow through the thing on Easy and then forget it existed. Why Activision keeps trying to bolster the campaign is beyond me. Instead of wasting money on putting Kevin Spacey in the game, I think Activision should be boosting the MP up with a larger map count and more modes.

I’m also thinking of one of my favorite shooter franchises, Unreal Tournament. It’s new pre-alpha just released and it’s extremely fun. What doesn’t it have? Any kind of extensive single-player mode. There are bot matches, sure, but nothing in the way of story or character development; the game is focused on delivering the most fast paced and finely tuned multiplayer experience possible.

Having a game forgo a single-player campaign isn’t that big of an issue. To use Hollywood as an example, two of the biggest film releases this year were Max Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2. Both movies didn’t try to appeal to anyone outside of their target demographic.

Men wanted a more action focused film and got just that with Fury Road. Women were dying to have an all female cast be represented in a way that wasn’t sexist or objectified and got that with Pitch Perfect 2. Funny how disregarding a huge portion of the general population worked in those films favors.

There is nothing men can relate to, so let’s just cancel the whole thing. – Stupid Movie Executive, 2015

With Rainbow Six: Siege excluding a single-player campaign, I think Ubisoft is realizing that the main attraction and lasting appeal of the series is online. Now, I’d agree with them under normal circumstances, but this is Ubisoft we’re talking about. They tend to abandon support for their games a few years after release, leaving online a wasteland.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the netcode is currently horseshit in the beta. I’d join matches and the entire game would be littered with pings of 380. I have a 50 MBPS download, so my ping shouldn’t be higher then 40.

I’ve seen this happen time and again with a lot of newer releases; developers rush the game out to meet some arbitrary release date and the lasting appeal suffers. All conversations focuses on the horrible launch and how disappointing the online experience ends up being.

With a single-player mode attached to Rainbow Six: Siege, I think gamers would be more forgiving of any online deficiencies. The game truly marks an arrival of next-generation style gameplay. Destructible environments and particle effects not only make the game looks expensive, but have a tangible impact on the gameplay.

With a strong internet infrastructure, I feel that Rainbow Six: Siege could be a game changer. Without that (which is more then likely going to be the case), I don’t think gamers will stick around. That lack of single-player is going to feel like a wasted opportunity.

For the most part, I feel that a lot of developers should focus more on the strengths of their game’s concepts then on ticking off some checklist for marketability. Just like Unreal Tournament doesn’t need a campaign mode, Rainbow Six: Siege shouldn’t require one.

Remeber how this game had a campaign? Yeah, I don’t either.

Games don’t exist to cater to everyone at all times. If you don’t fit into the mold of what Rainbow Six: Siege aims to do, then just skip the game. Don’t complain that Ubisoft made a bad decision to eliminate single-player. Don’t nag EA to provide an offline option to Star Wars Battlefront when the entire concept was designed with multiple players.

It’s pointless to want every game to be the same. Not all shooters need a campaign mode, just as how not every fucking game needs tacked on multiplayer. We need to stop having developers split their teams into single and multi-player offsets and combine their powers to make the best possible experience they can. If that happens to be multi-player only, so be it.

Survivor’s Guilt

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an exceptional game with a shockingly awful story. Fans of the series are disappointed that many questions are not answered (or even brought up) and that the conclusion doesn’t really mesh with the Metal Gear canon. It seems that Kojima’s shift to open-world has put the plot on the backburner in favor of making an expansive and rewarding gameplay system.

That being said, there are a lot of individual moments that I truly enjoyed in the Phantom Pain. I like what the ending stands for and I’m really fond of the exploration of child soldiers in the modern world, but the side plot that focuses on Paz is probably the best of the bunch.

While Snake feeling remorse over the loss of Paz doesn’t make much sense for his character, it’s only after beating the game do you begin to understand the majesty of this side story. Since Venom Snake is actually the medic from Ground Zeroes, his guilt over being unable to save Paz makes sense.

Venom Snake may barely remember he is the medic, but his true identity can never be erased. He was there, staring at Paz as she blew up in his face. He even shielded Big Boss from the explosion and nearly died in the process.

You can’t even tell he had a different face!

Having lost his arm and identity, Venom Snake is left confused and alone. He doesn’t say much, constantly has people trying to kill him and bonds with a quiet woman who then leaves him. Worrying about Paz seems too minuscule in his life, but it’s very touching.

Throughout the course of the game, you can undertake side-ops missions that have you rounding up some of your soldiers from the MSF days. These guys were with you when Big Boss was taking on all the AI pods and saving the world from Paz and ZEKE.

The medic may not truly know that Paz was a traitor, but his mission with Big Boss to Camp Omega had one clear goal; bring Paz and Chico home. Even if Kaz and Boss’ intention were to extract information from them, they weren’t supposed to die in that plane.

The final revelation of Ground Zeroes turns out to be that Paz had a bomb implanted in her. Venom makes the call to extract it fast and proceeds to cut her open without anesthetic. It’s a tortuous scene that doesn’t make sense at first, but comes full circle with this side plot in the Phantom Pain.

The medic is guilty that, not only did he inflict more pain on Paz, but that he lived through the terrible ordeal. She was blown to pieces, but he is still alive and well. He cannot deal with the fact that he lost a patient that was so crucial to Big Boss’ plan.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though.

As such, when you gather up your soldiers from MSF, you are given memento photographs that showcase some of the best moments of Paz’s time with MSF. Things like her sun bathing, throwing a birthday party and singing with Kaz and Professor Galvez; it’s all really touching and helps to detail the internal struggle she suffered by being forced into hijacking ZEKE.

When you reach chapter 2 of the Phantom Pain, Ocelot informs you that a very important patient is waiting on the medical platform. When you go to inspect, you are dumbstruck to find Paz sitting on the bed. You saw her die with your own eyes; how is she still there?

At first, even the player is at a loss for answers. There is no conceivable way she lived through that incident. Unlike her falling into the water at the end of Peace Walker, Paz was torn asunder by a bomb. There is really no other definitive way someone could die.

As you bring the photographs back to Paz, it starts to become clear; this is an illusion in Venom’s mind that is materializing from his guilt. He has a classic case of survivor’s syndrome; he feels that he should have died in that explosion those 9 years ago.

The ending also has him relive the moments that ripped Paz out of this world. He sees her extract the bomb from her stomach and throw it on the bed. He tries his best to run for her and shield her from the blast. Nothing he can do changes the outcome; Paz is gone and Venom’s past life is over.

When he awakes from his delusion, Venom looks to the sky and realizes that life goes on. While he might have been able to do more, what happened is over. Paz understands that he tried his best, just as she did with Skull Face and Cipher.

More so, the medic comes to terms with the fact that he is now Big Boss. Though he never asked for the responsibility or the notoriety, the medic is Venom Snake. He is the Big Boss that the world will get to see. He will exist to increase the legacy of the hero he pledged allegiance too all those years ago.

With that revelation comes the image of a floating morpho butterfly (Morpho being the name of the pilot from Ground Zeroes). As Venom looks at it, he sees that Peace is written on the exterior of Mother Base. That was truly what Paz wanted and it is precisely what Venom will fight to give the world.

In a game whose story moments are so scattered and disconnected, this side plot does more to elicit emotion and understanding then anything else the game throws at the player. Not only that, but in a title dedicated to absolute player freedom, this quest has no alternate outcome; you have to face the fact that a character you may have bonded with is gone.

Much like life, shit happens. What defines a human is how they deal with the aftermath of a tragedy. What they give to life in their worst hour is how they will be remembered. Venom isn’t going to let anymore of his men die, not without a fight.