The Division 2 VIP Beta Review

Let me start by saying that I did not preorder The Division 2. I did play the VIP beta, because I was fortunate enough to obtain a code. But I would never preorder a game in order to demo the game. For me, since demos are now almost completely dead (written as I currently download the Devil May Cry V demo), betas are the new demos. This is even more true when you consider just how little beta feedback actually changes the final game from the beta these days. Betas are the new way we try before we buy. And developers know that which is why they’ve started doing these closed betas that require most participants to pre-order the game. It’s a dumb system and dumb choice to fall into it, but lots of people do it so developers will keep getting away with it. That opening statement was not in any way, shape, or form meant to disparage The Division 2 as a game. It’s merely to comment on current business practices I disagree with while also stating my objectivity with this review because I haven’t spent any money on the game and thus can judge the beta from a neutral position.

The first thing that needs to be said about The Division 2 is that Ubisoft did not reinvent the wheel, and that’s a compliment. I really liked The Division. I liked the core story. I loved the gameplay. I loved the map. I loved the concept of the dark zone. I loved a lot, but not everything, about the gear system. For me it was a great game. The endgame was severely lacking at the start and then by the time it released I had no interest in jumping back into the game so I never really got to experience a lot of the later content. But in general I thought it was an excellent game. Really what I wanted from The Division 2 was the same core game with a lot more polish in a new locale with better endgame content. While I can’t speak to the amount of content in this sequel based on the beta, I can speak to the gameplay and basic mechanics and those are for the most part almost exactly what I wanted.

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Improvements have been made. One of the most noticeable is in the storage. It’s organized now. As soon as you open it, you notice the specific gear type categories. Thank God! So much more convenient. And managing your gear is streamlined as well. You can mark things as junk and leave them in your backpack or stash to return to them later still marked as junk. Or you can press “Deconstruct Junk” from the sub-menu and all your junk gear is instantly deconstructed. I will never go back to manually deconstructing again, because it takes longer to manually deconstruct one item than to just mark the one item as junk and deconstruct it through the sub menu. The gameplay is still really tight, but I think the cover to cover movement is even smoother than in the first game. The weapons and gear system is pretty much the same with the color coding, numbers, and special attributes. And that’s fine. The compare items system works much better than I remember it being in the first game. Maybe I’m just imagining that part though. But in general the gameplay feels better while not totally different. The crafting is still an annoying RNG system though.

The world is much more interesting. I know a lot of people were/are whining that it’s no longer set in New York, but that’s a stupid complaint. What really matters is how alive the setting itself is regardless of where it is. The world of The Division 2 is much more alive . . . with NPCs. There are many more animals in the map now. Not just dogs. There are dear, raccoons, rats, birds, dogs, and probably other things. Hopefully a bear appears at some point. And all the animals are interactive. You can even kill the rats, which I of course tested FOR SCIENCE! There are many more patrols of enemies as well as friendly NPCs roaming the map. You can call for backup from NPCs, which is awesome. You can take control points and then they get guarded and managed by friendlies, who you can then supply with resources to make them stronger. And these control points act as fast travel points so you have a lot more efficiency when traveling around the map, if you want it. At the same time though, the world outside the DZ seemed pretty devoid of other players. I want to believe this was just because it was a closed beta, but I saw plenty of other players in the safe houses. But outside I had very little contact, or even sight of, other players that I wasn’t personally grouped with. And honestly even the DZ wasn’t as populated as I expected/hoped it would be with actual people.

Dead Rat
Rat postmortem.

The lack of players was hopefully the cause of this, but I had so much trouble with the matchmaking. Really that was my only serious complaint about the beta. The entire matchmaking system outside of main missions is/was absolute trash in the beta. The first problem, which the game didn’t notify me about, was that your settings are defaulted to friends and clan members only. The problem with this is that it didn’t tell me which led me to spending over an hour trying to find people to join my group from the matchmaking station with no luck. Someone on Twitter had to tell me to change my settings. But that didn’t even really help. First, the game kept switching back to friends and clan only no matter how many times I set it to open. I’m not sure what was causing this. But even when it was set to open, I had no luck with getting people to join me. I’d sit at the matchmaking station forever and no one would join. I’d get tons of invites to join others but never got anyone to join me. Now usually I don’t care about being the group leader, but because of what I consider a content management flaw, being group leader when you’re actually trying to complete stuff outside of main missions is required.

The matchmaking in main missions works great. You go to the mission start point and the matchmaking station is right there. It works quickly and effectively. And when you complete the mission it’s done for you even if you weren’t the host. The same cannot be said for random map activities. Taking control points is challenging. It’s not impossible to do solo but it is hard. The final control point on my map was too difficult for me to solo with the gear I had at the time. So I opted to try to do it with other people. I joined a random group and we cleared it. Then when I returned to my session it was still unfinished, leaving me stuck still unable to finish it and still unable to get people to join my group. My main issues with the matchmaking come down to a lack of hard controls/customization options.

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First, why do I have to go to the matchmaking station? It’s 2019. This is supposedly a map full of players constantly roaming around looking for things to do. Why can’t I just initiate matchmaking from anywhere in the world and nearby players can just join up? In Destiny I you would see people running around the map all the time. You could easily work together without being in the same group and easily join up without having to change sessions or forgo your own game’s progress.

Second, why can’t I control specific details of the matchmaking process? I would get countless invites to other groups but no one ever joined mine. Why can’t I set that option in the matchmaking? I should be able to tell the game exactly what I’m looking for, whether or not I want to be the group leader, and what specific type of activity I want to do. The matchmaking station only had six categories: random activity, random main mission, open world exploration, answer the call, and random bounty and dark zone, both of which were not available during the beta. These matchmaking options aren’t specific enough. Random activity truly was completely random. It would just pick a task with no regard to what I actually needed to do on my map and try to toss me into some random group. Random main mission seems completely pointless until/unless you’ve already done everything and are just looking to farm XP. I hope I never need to use that. Open world exploration is too vague. Instead you should be able to choose from a list of available activities on the map like take control points, farm XP/gear, side missions, or any other number of things that can be done on the map. Random bounty gives me hope because bounties are a nice new addition. They’re randomly occurring hunt missions where you have to take down a specific NPC within a time limit for special gear and additional XP. Having a specific matchmaking option for this gives me hope that there will be tons of them constantly running on the map. During the beta I only encountered two or three bounties. A dark zone matchmaking system is of course necessary and will obviously be present in the final game. I just hope they put a matchmaking station in the DZ entrance, since there wasn’t one in the beta, in the final game because the safe houses aren’t near the DZ entrance, which you can fast travel to directly.

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The answer the call feature is the beginnings of a great idea that I hope works better and easier in the final product. While you can’t match make from anywhere on the map, you can call for help. This is not when you’re bleeding out and hoping for a revive. You can send up a call directly from the map or menu at any time. People can answer your call and randomly join your group to help with whatever activity you’re doing. This was the only time I was able to get someone to join my group. It took a while, but eventually a white knight answered my call. The nice thing about this feature is that you can leave the call on while still playing the game so you’re not just sitting around waiting like at the matchmaking station. And the game notifies you when someone puts out a call nearby. The problem is it doesn’t show you on the map where they are unless you answer the call so you never really know how far it is till you’ve already committed. Another problem with the feature is that I think you have to go to the matchmaking station and use the answer the call feature to help someone else. I kept getting random notifications via ISAC that someone was in need of assistance and had put out a call. And I genuinely wanted to join these players and help them. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that from where I was when getting the notification. I hope I’m wrong and just couldn’t figure it out because the feature will only be effective if at any time from anywhere you can just answer the call, join their group, and run directly to the location of the player in need. If you actually have to go to a safe house and use the matchmaking station first then it’s a wasted concept no better than the open world exploration matchmaking feature. The matchmaking needs to be heavily improved. Being part of the Division is the main crux of the game’s plot/concept. If you can’t easily and effectively team up and work with others then it’s a waste of what’s for the most part an excellent shared world shooter.

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The Dark Zone seems much improved in some ways and worse in others. There is no longer a single dark zone that everyone plays in. Instead, like the map itself, there are dark zone districts of varying difficulty levels, each with multiple entry points. This is a way better system. It allows players to choose the level of challenge they’ll be facing and better manage their DZ experience. I kind of hope there will be some sort of management controls from Ubisoft’s side that will ensure that super high rank players can’t just roll into the noob DZ and tear through lower level players. That’s the only problem I see with a system that actively tells you where the easy and hard parts of the DZ are. It’s essentially creating a shooting gallery for advanced players. The DZ otherwise works much the same as in the first game. But now there are more marked enemy spawn points and notifications to tell you when they’re occupied so you can better manage your roaming time and not just wonder around hoping to find stuff to do. I didn’t see enough other players in the DZ, but again this was a closed beta so I assume this won’t be a huge issue in the final game. My biggest complaint about the DZ was the frequency of valuable drops. There were not nearly enough air drops taking place. In the time it took me to reach DZ level 10 I saw only two or three total air drops. This is too slow for a populated DZ. They should be happening every five to ten minutes so there’s enough swag for all players to at least have time to get to and try to fight for. And the occupied landmarks weren’t dropping enough valuable stuff at all. Many times I would clear areas and not even get any contaminated gear. While I really liked the fact that you could get some gear in the DZ without having to do the extractions, this shouldn’t be happening at the rate it was compared to finding contaminated gear. And the contaminated gear I was finding was mostly complete trash.

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Since there was no DZ matchmaking available during the beta, I ran the DZ solo. I liked that I was able to do that effectively. I worked with other random players I found within the DZ without ever officially teaming up with them. The system works and people are able to coordinate well within the DZ without being in groups. I was also able to kill a rogue agent, steal his gear, and extract it solo. I only saw two the entire time I was in the DZ so a 50% success rate is pretty good. The DZ leveling system is nice. You can level up fairly quickly if you stick to farming landmarks. In The Division 2 DZ levels come with special perks that only affect the DZ. There are level tiers every five DZ levels and each tier grants you a perk. Some levels have only one perk and others have you choose which one you want to implement, sacrificing the others in that tier in the process. You can respec your DZ perks but this feature wasn’t available in the beta so I don’t know what the cost or process of doing this is.

In general, I really like how the map is broken down. Each area, including the DZ is clearly marked with level range recommendations/requirements. There are a fair number of fast travel locations in each area, once you’ve unlocked them. There are events constantly appearing to farm additional XP such as bounties, hostage situations, and broadcast hacks. Even if the endgame isn’t super strong, there seems like there will be more efforts to keep the game alive past the base game. But there is definitely going to be what seems to be a lot of end game content as well.

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Endgame is always the Achilles heel of these types of games. It’s especially difficult when they’re not trying to go the Destiny route of adding plot based expansions at additional cost, which I can’t say will or won’t be the case with The Division 2 at this point. What I can say is that the beta featured a number of endgame clues and teases. There is of course the DZ, which I already discussed. Each mission can also be replayed on a harder difficulty. But that’s not all there is. There are definitely going to be raids because they’re mentioned in the beta’s pause menu. But there are also invasion missions. Invasion missions are replays of old mission maps with completely new enemies and plot tie-ins. But these aren’t just the same enemies with new skins. These enemies are way harder, way smarter, and way different. I finished the final (second) main mission in the beta at level six. The maximum level you could reach during the beta was level seven. That’s regular level as opposed to DZ level. Upon completing the last available main mission you unlocked special access to an invasion mission. This gave you access to three specialty builds that were much higher level and had way better gear. This gear also included an additional (fourth) weapon with a special feature. Examples included a grenade launcher and a compound bow. This mission had enemies set to level 32, more than four times higher than the enemies in the regular mission. They were a special military group that was invading the area and presumably trying to conquer Washington DC. They had crazy stuff including literal attack robots. This mission was difficult. It took me, as part of a four man team, 58 minutes to complete. It was stressful, it was scary, it was exhilarating, it was satisfying as hell once completed. While I don’t love the idea of replaying the same mission maps over and over, calling these the same missions does a disservice to the people that designed them. It is a wholly different experience. In light of all this, I’d say it looks like there is going to be a fair amount of endgame. I just hope it’s available as soon as I reach the end of the base game.

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Finally, there seems to be a new PVP mode other than the DZ. The Conflict mode was described in one of the tutorial messages, but sadly I didn’t have time to try it before the beta ended. Hopefully I’ll be able to try it in a public beta before the game releases. Based on the little bit the tutorial screen tells about it, I believe it’s a PVP mode with multiple specialized maps and modes that nets rewards. It also has its own leveling system, making a total of three within the game I’ve seen so far. I could also believe that many people were playing this mode which might explain why the map felt so devoid of players to me.

Overall I was really happy with this beta. It showed me the things I needed to see and experience to want to buy the full game. Gold edition seems like it will probably be necessary, but without a content timetable, I can’t say if it’s the best decision for me, as I really didn’t make proper use of the season pass in the first one. I had a good time with this beta and I think this game will do very well. It’s the same core game from the first one with a number of noticeable improvements, added modes, and a new setting. I’m definitely looking forward to retaking Washington DC.

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Taipei Game Show 2019

Once again, I had the pleasure of attending Taipei Game Show this year. It’s one of my favorite shows because of how hands on it is. It’s also one of the better game conventions that’s both completely open to the public and extremely affordable, with a single day ticket price of just $10. I will say though that the ticket price is up 50% from last year so while it’s not high, that increase in price percentage wise is worrying for the future of the show. I will qualify that statement by saying Taipei Game Show is one of the best shows for high quality free swag that’s open to the public. Every year I get a fairly good haul of stuff I probably don’t need and this year was no different.

The best thing about gaming events in Taiwan is the large number of playable demos. I’ve been to company specific events like PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei and neutral events like Taipei Game Show over the last few years and consistently events in Taiwan always focus on having playable demos open to the public rather than just footage and demos only available for VIP invited visitors. This is the main reason I keep going back every year.

sega booth

In general, I’d say this was a weaker show than last year’s. At last year’s show, the bulk of games on display to try were unreleased titles or games that were very new. At this year’s show there was plenty of new stuff that hadn’t been released yet, but there were also a lot of demos for stuff that was already out.  Even some stuff that I’d already beaten. Take the Ubisoft booth for instance. They had Just Dance 2019 on their main stage, which is fine because they always have that year’s Just Dance running with people dancing because it makes for a good show. But their other offerings were lacking. They of course had The Division 2 Beta and that’s exactly what should have been there. That was the main portion of their booth. But the only other games they had on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Trials Rising. That means of the five games they had on display three of them had already been released last year. And I personally own all three of them so unless you wanted to wait in line for over an hour to try The Division 2, which I didn’t having already played the alpha, I just tried Trials Rising, which I’ll discuss in detail in my demos review section of this post.

It wasn’t just Ubisoft that was featuring a lot of already released stuff though. Bandai Namco always has a large booth, and this year was no different. But the only game I tried from them was God Eater 3. The main focus of their booth was Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which makes sense because it literally came out this month. But they were featuring demos for Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and a bunch of Gundam stuff that’s focused on the Asia market that I’ve never heard of, as per usual. The only game that they had that was truly special for a show was One Piece World Seeker, which I didn’t even get to try because I didn’t realize they had it until the show was closing for the day. They did no special promotion for it. No large display, which they had for two or three other games, including Ace Combat 7, no posters, no special One Piece swag. They just had it set up on a few screens and you had to notice it on your own, which sadly I didn’t.

bandai booth

As usual, there was no XBOX presence there. Other than PC gaming, which is a big thing at the show every year, Microsoft has no showings at Taipei Game Show. You can buy some PS4 and Switch games at the show every year, but not a single XB1 game could be found. Speaking of which, they had physical copies of Kingdom Hearts III available which is awesome because the game launched in Taiwan the day I attended, which shows just how on top of their game SONY really was for the show.

The thing I found most disappointing about the show this year was the limited Nintendo presence. They didn’t take the time to show up in person like PlayStation does every year. You only get glances of the Switch through third party developers/publishers like Ubisoft and Bandai Namco. But an actual Nintendo booth and store would have been so much better. PlayStation had their own official booth and store, selling new physical games and merch, like they do every year. You could even buy Death Stranding t-shirts this year, though they didn’t have any new footage or gameplay for the game being shown, because of course they didn’t. In a way PlayStation is uncontested just about every year at Taipei Game Show because they put in the investment to make a spectacular booth and feature a huge number of playable demos including PSVR offerings. Most of the demos I played at the show this year, as is true every year, were at the PlayStation booth. And really I don’t think it should be that way. It simply is because enough other companies don’t care enough to participate, which is sad to say the least.

playstation booth

On the PC side of things, it was kind of disappointing because though most of the big Asian players attended such as Nvidia, HyperX, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, ASUS ROG, MSI, and even ThermalTake, they all focused on parts rather than games. They were selling parts in their booths, which is fine, but really that was the main focus of their booths. Showing off and selling products that could be used for gaming rather than focusing on actual gaming. And while this makes perfect sense from a business perspective, as these are hardware companies, it really detracts from the spirit of the show. They could do a lot more to feature more playable demos for new and yet to be released games and make that the focus of their booths while showing off their hardware. In my opinion, this would be the more appropriate way to do things. Of all the PC booths I saw, only ASUS ROG had a demo for an unreleased game. They had a small section where you could try out the PC version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as evidenced by a single mid-sized poster on the far side of their booth. In comparison, PlayStation had a giant statue of one of the game’s bosses and a small Japanese hut shaped structure where you could try out the game complete with Japanese style stools/backless chairs. This was the only PlayStation demo I experienced that did not require you to stand. The point is that PlayStation put in that much investment to display a game that isn’t even exclusive to their platform, meanwhile these PC companies were doing the bare minimum to talk about actual games.

cm booth

On the swag front, I’m always really impressed most by the mobile app companies and indie studios. It shows just how much money mobile apps make in Asia, because their swag is on a whole other level compared to companies like PlayStation and Nvidia. The swag for the PlayStation booth was game specific. Meaning you got different stuff for trying different games, with most games having no special items at all. Every PlayStation demo gave you red envelopes with a 7 day free trial for PlayStation plus. This is very standard for Taipei Game Show as it always happens right before Chinese New Year, so the envelopes are culturally specific to Asia. Over the years I’ve gotten red envelopes from numerous brands. This year only PlayStation had them. But certain games also gave you special items for trying them. Dead or Alive 6 gave a lanyard and collectors pin. A VR game called Focus on You gave a full sized couch pillow. But most of the time you just got the envelopes. And remember that this is after waiting forever in those long PlayStation lines. Meanwhile some random mobile app company gave me a fairly large stuffed cow, which I named Mr. Moo Cow, for trying three apps over the course of maybe 10 minutes. I will clarify that trying the three apps gave me the chance to draw a prize and that’s what I won, but they had lots of great prizes and plenty of those cows to give away.

An indie PC game studio that I’ve never heard of gave me a full length mousepad of very good quality. Again I drew this, but the same logic applies. SEGA gave out blue lanyards. Nvidia made me travel to five different locations around their booth as well as one at another booth they were partnered with for the chance to draw a prize, which ultimately got me a Monster energy drink and some stickers. Of all the larger companies at the show, I’d have to say the best single swag item was from Bandai Namco. It was a Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! themed neck pillow. But it required you to try five different games they had on display, all of which had their own separate lines. Sadly I didn’t have time to complete this. I even offered to pay for the pillow because I really wanted one and they refused to let me buy it. Overall I was very happy with my swag haul, but my point is the larger companies in the industry really could stand to step their game up.

swag tgs 2019

I will say though that Ubisoft impressed me this year by thinking more outside the box with their swag. Last year they had a system where you tried any game, of which they had several compared to this year, and you got a prize draw. You went to the claims table and they had you play a Just Dance themed prize machine like the one in Just Dance 2018 and you won a random prize, of which they had a large variety of prizes you could win. I got an Assassin’s Creed Origins t-shirt, a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle t-shirt, and a Rabbid Mario hat. It was a really nice system because most of the prizes were really good and the system was entirely random so you didn’t have to wait to try a game you didn’t necessarily want to try to get the swag you wanted. It did however mean that you could get swag you absolutely didn’t want or repeat prizes. They also had a special For Honor keychain which was only available to those who waited in line to try that specific game, which I of course did. This year they didn’t have general swag. You only got a 5% coupon to the Taiwan UPLAY online store. But their game specific swag for The Division 2 was very creative. You got a “Tommy the Teddy Bear” backpack charm which consists of a teddy bear with a bowtie and a The Division 2 keychain. But the really cool part is that it comes with an in game activation code that will give your character in the game the teddy bear charm for their backpack as well. That’s cool swag. It makes a direct connection between the live event and the game. It’s limited edition, which players really care about for some reason, and it motivates people to buy the game. And it was still cheaper to make than the neck pillows or Mr. Moo Cow while being just as valuable to the gamers at the show. Kudos to Ubisoft.

tommy the teddy

Now let’s talk about what’s really important at game shows: the playable demos. I had the privilege to play seven AAA/large studio demos for games that weren’t yet released at my time of playing (I’m counting Kingdom Hearts III because it wasn’t available in the US for another four days) as well as a few indie titles. Sadly, the three indie titles I recall playing, one on PSVR and two on PC, weren’t anything special so I won’t take the time to go over them in this already long blog post. So let’s just talk about the big stuff. Please note that at Taipei Game Show demos only last 10 – 15 minutes due to the sheer number of people waiting to play. They simply can’t let people play for as long as I would have liked to, and that makes sense. So be aware that my assessment of these demos should be taken with a grain of salt because I didn’t have time to change any settings or get super comfortable with the controls. Also note that the demos in Taipei Game Show are mapped for Asian players, which is different from standard button maps in the West. For instance, on a DualShock 4 controller O is the confirm button in Asia, while X is the confirm button in the West. These sorts of things do really make a difference. I remember going to Taipei Game Show back in 2016 and trying Attack on Titan for the first time and absolutely hating it because of the button map and my inability to read the directions, since they’re always in Chinese or Japanese at Taipei Game Show. Then when I got to try the game at home with an American button map and English directions I absolutely loved the game.

red envelopes

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Of all the demos available, this was the one I was most excited to try. Obviously Kingdom Hearts III was more important overall, but that was set to release less than a week from the event so trying the demo for 10 minutes wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Sekiro on the other hand is one of my top games for this year that won’t be out for some time. The only game I wanted to play more than Sekiro is Ghost of Tsushima, which sadly wasn’t available to play. Though they did have a giant poster and a guy dressed up like a samurai to promote the game and taunt my very soul. But thankfully I at least got to try the next great soulslike title.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a rough demo experience. Obviously the game is difficult, which it should be. But it’s also not the same gameplay as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so you can’t just walk on with that past experience and expect things to just click right away. This is a completely different animal. For starters, the pace of the gameplay is much faster than even Bloodborne. You’re zip-lining around the level, dealing with long range attacks like rifles, and having to dodge the view of spotters stealthily hidden throughout the world. It’s as much about stealth as it is about combat performance. And you are not very powerful in the grand scheme of things. Basic samurai go down in a few swipes, or instantly with a stealth kill. But even the first tier armored samurai were quite the amount of effort/attacks to take down. And the first mini-boss was pretty much impossible for me to bring down in the 10 minutes I had. This is because he had four other enemies in the area with him, two of which couldn’t be stealth killed. The three of them together were just too difficult for the items I had. The long range attacks are severely lacking. At least what was available to me in the demo. I really hope to be able to get a bow and/or rifle in the full game. I really hated the button map in this demo. I hate to be one of those people that makes excuses like that for not being able to beat a game, but honestly if I can’t remap that game and that’s the final layout for the US version, I’m gonna have a terrible time. It did not work for me at all. It’s not that it’s drastically different from Bloodborne. It’s that what you’re doing in Bloodborne with the controls is vastly different and that makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the button layout.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gx

I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think it’s a bad game after playing the demo. I’m fairly certain I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition day one. It’s very challenging, which is what it’s supposed to be. But there are definitely things I want to see changed in the final product from what I experienced in the demo. That’s of course assuming the conditions leading up to the point in the game the demo took place in are inevitable for the items, skills, and damage I was getting in the demo. It’s very possible that the experience I’ll have based on my preferred play style will net drastically different outcomes from what I got in the demo.

Dead or Alive 6

I’m a big Dead or Alive fan and have been since I bought the third installment on the original XBOX 18 years ago. I had played the earlier games causally in arcades but DOA3 is when I really fell in love with the franchise. It’s still in my top five fighting franchises and I play every game. Really I don’t expect things to be too different from game to game and I prefer it that way because the DOA formula is nearly perfect in my opinion. I just want some new fighters, new stages, and maybe some new special moves and I’m pretty much fine with it.

What I got from this demo is almost exactly what I wanted. The graphics are good. The roster includes all the characters I wanted, including Hyabusa, and the gameplay is much the same. There are some new specialty attacks, similar to what you get in the latest Soul Calibur, but by and large it’s the same buttery smooth, fast paced gameplay fans of the franchise are accustomed to. There was also a great selection of costumes for all the fighters. I’m very much looking forward to playing this game.

doa6

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve never beaten any of the DMC games, unless you count DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) by Ninja Theory. But I’ve always wanted to play them all. I’ve been very impressed by the things I’ve seen about DMC5 so I finally bought  1 – 4 remastered on PS4. The DMC5 demo delivered both what I wanted and expected. It’s fast paced, smooth, visually gruesome, and slightly comedic. I was very happy with the gameplay, though I do feel that I didn’t fully understand the robotic hand system they implemented. I thought it was a bit weird, but I also liked that you could completely destroy your hand and then have to fight with one arm. The different arm types were cool as well because it allowed you to create a more customized gameplay experience based on your preferences. The gameplay was fair. I’d recommend playing this one on hard if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise or genre. I beat the boss in the demo with little fear of dying. But overall I was very happy with it and I’ll certainly be buying the game.

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God Eater 3

God Eater is a franchise I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to really play. I actually own the first two games on PC, but I’ve never played either of them. I really like the genre because of games like Toukiden and Monster Hunter World. But when you have games like Monster Hunter World available the motivation to take the time to play anything else in the genre becomes sorely lacking. But I still wanted to try this demo.

Personally I struggled a lot with this demo. A large part of that comes from the fact that it wasn’t in English. I had such a hard time trying to figure out the weapons controls. I kept accidentally changing from the sword to the gun mode and then couldn’t get the gun to fire properly. The demo had me running around looking for monsters but very few were spawning in the level. I actually ran out of time before the real monster showed up so my whole demo experience was really lousy. I hope they release a public demo because I’d genuinely like to try it again with a full understanding of how the gameplay mechanics work before passing final judgement. That is to say the game is not at all intuitive.

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Kingdom Hearts III

I have waited more than a decade to play Kingdom Hearts III. I have watched as Square Enix dished out garbage handheld spin off title after garbage handheld spin off title. I have seen Sora travel to worlds that made up my childhood and fight alongside some of my favorite characters growing up. But in all these years I have never seen his story get a proper conclusion. It is my hope that I will finally get this in Kingdom Hearts III. No I did not need to play a demo for a game that will literally be released before this blog post is even published. But of course I took the time to wait in line and play it anyway.

The game dropped me directly into Toy Story world. I don’t know how far into the game that was/is, but it seemed like it was quite a ways in because I was really OP. I could combo through the air for what seemed like forever. I had magic attacks that were super powerful. It was definitely fun but it did not feel earned. The team up moves were amazing and quite beautiful. I also really liked that Buzz and Woody fought alongside me without me having to sacrifice Donald or Goofy from my team. The demo definitely did its job in making me excited to play the game. But I’m hoping they don’t just drop me in at that level of power from the start. The gameplay was very smooth overall, as is to be expected. And the AI for my team mates was very effective as well. I can’t comment on Donald’s healing AI/ability at this point because I didn’t take enough damage to require healing.

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At the end of the day, I already preordered the game months ago so playing the demo didn’t matter much to me or have any impact on my decision to buy and play the game. But I am really looking forward to finally getting to play it. As I write this post, I’m preloading it onto my PS4.

Space Channel 5 PSVR

I didn’t actually know this game was in the works. Space Channel 5 was one of my favorite games from the Dreamcast. It’s one of the only games that I enjoyed with my sisters as a kid. Even my mom liked watching us play it. I’m a big music/rhythm game fan and SC5 was one of the best from that era. The blend of story, challenging gameplay, and sci-fi graphics made for a great music game experience. And it featured Michael Jackson. So I was both shocked and ecstatic to find out that a VR version of the game was in the pipeline and available to try.

I have to say that it worked very well gameplay wise. You really had to do the moves and keep to the rhythm. It was responsive, mostly fair in its judgement of your move accuracy, and quite fun. The demo didn’t have any of the more challenging dance battles because it was only the first level, but from what I experienced I think it could end up being a stellar overall gameplay experience. What I didn’t like was that they changed the level structure and presentation. In the original game you play as Ulala and travel through the stages dance battling aliens and rescuing people along the way. In this demo you played as Ulala’s trainee and the entire concept of traveling through the stage was removed. You just stayed in the same place the entire level and the aliens came to you, bringing their hostages along with them. This lazy way of doing the level really took away from the overall experience of the original game. And playing as a trainee was kind of a bummer. Especially since she never talked back to Ulala. I would have much preferred an entirely new story as the third installment of the franchise with this new system rather than change up the process of the original game in this manner. The gameplay is quite solid though so hopefully we’ll see something like that in the future whether it’s Space Channel 5 or a new IP altogether.

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Trials Rising

I only tried this game because I played and liked the beta for Trials Fusion and didn’t want to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both of which I already own. And I certainly wasn’t going to wait two hours to try The Division 2 beta. Especially after having already played the alpha. So I tried the one game that was completely new to me.

Trials Fusion is extremely hard. I’m so glad you can continue from the very plentiful and automatically applied checkpoints because wow is it difficult to get past the various obstacles in a given course. The ramps and angles are so unforgiving. Timing is everything and you rely on luck way too much. I crashed so many times trying to get through a single course that it got depressing. I don’t know who the target audience is for that game but it’s certainly not me.

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The only two demos that I didn’t get to play but really wanted to were One Piece World Seeker and Concrete Genie. Both of these were under marketed, as in not marketed at all, so I wasn’t even aware of them till the booths were already closing up for the day. This was probably my biggest complaint from the show this year. There simply wasn’t enough put into providing people with information. Usually there’s an information booth in every main intersection. This year there was nothing. No people walking around to ask for directions. No help desk inside the floor. You could get assistance about specific booths from booth employees, but for general help about the show you were on your own with nothing more than a printed map, which I had to go out of my way to find because they weren’t handing them out at the door like they always have in past years that I’ve attended. There should have been a list of playable demos made available online before the show started so you could plan what you wanted to try in advance.

One thing I noticed about a number of demos, both indie and AAA, was that many of them had intros that were way too long. If you tell me I only have 10 – 15 minutes to try out a game, less than a minute of that should be taken up by story introductions. I didn’t wait in line for an hour to get plot points. I just want to try the gameplay and see the graphics. Between that and loading times, so many games were just wasteful in their time management of that 10 – 15 minute span of time. A VR demo I tried from an indie studio had me sit through 10 minutes of introduction with Chinese subtitles and not enough volume before I got to fire a single bullet. This is not OK.

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My prize for competing.

I’ll end this post by sharing a rather interesting experience I had at the Ubisoft booth. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that I’m a big Just Dance player/fan. Though I’ve never formally competed, based on my online performance for the past two or three installments of the franchise, I genuinely believe and tell people that I’m in the top five players in Taiwan. At least on Nintendo platforms. While I was at the Ubisoft booth waiting in line, I mentioned to one of the employees that spoke English that I was a big fan of the franchise and that I was a top player in Taiwan. As they do every year, they had Just Dance, 2019 in this case, running on the stage. But this year they allowed anyone to walk up and play rather than limit it to invited guest players only like they usually do. I actually didn’t want to play because I had only played about three hours of Just Dance 2019 at this point, having just opened the game earlier in the week. This employee went and told the guy in charge of the Just Dance section of the booth that I claimed to be a top player. He, also being able to speak English, came and asked me if I’d play. I felt like I had to at this point otherwise it would look like I was lying about my skill level. After reaching the stage, they introduced me to the host and Ubisoft’s brand ambassador for Just Dance in Taiwan. The host seemed to be an active Just Dance player but he wasn’t actually playing at that time. The brand ambassador was introduced to me as the number one player in Taiwan. I chose to introduce myself by my Just Dance online name rather than my real name and to my surprise they both recognized my Nintendo Switch User ID from previous Just Dance versions. The brand ambassador was quite good. He had already mastered all the 2019 songs, which makes sense if you started playing it day one because it’s been out since October. I just got a late start because I usually close out the year with the previous version before starting the installment for the next year. I will say without argument that he was better than I was consistently. But of the four to five players playing, I was getting second place and the ambassador was not blowing me out of the water. At times I was even ahead of him but he was ultimately closing out each song in the lead. I actually really would have liked to play against him in some songs from 2018 because I do believe that I was at his level of play. Ultimately they interviewed me after I was done playing and featured my interview in this official Ubisoft Taipei Game Show video. See if you can figure out who I am.

So that’s it for another solid Taipei Game Show. Here’s looking forward to a great year of gaming and attending again next year.

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2018 Year in Review

I’m gonna be honest and say that I was not looking forward to writing this post this year. Not because it was a bad year for gaming but because it was too good. There is just so much to say about gaming in 2018 that I didn’t want to take on the daunting task of trying to summarize it in a single post. There’s really no way to address all the positive things that happened in gaming during 2018. Outside of gaming, the last year was shit. Literally right up to the end of it. But gaming wise it was one of the best years we’ve seen in a long time. So while I’m gonna do my best to do this year justice in a single blog post, I acknowledge that I’m going to come up short. But this post is tradition so it had to be done.

As always, let me talk about how gaming in 2018 was for me personally first. This was an excellent year. I played more release window games in 2018 than I have for the last five to ten years. And I didn’t even break my oath to only buy three day one release titles. Due to review copies, which I’m now getting again in small amounts, as well as borrowing from friends, sales, and winning some contests, I was able to play many games while they were still relevant, which almost never happens. Some of the games I played this year include Monster Hunter World, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Spider-Man, The Crew 2, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and of course Smash Bros. Ultimate. I also got a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey but I haven’t played it yet because I still haven’t played Origins, which I just got for Black Friday. So many of the games I played this year were amazing. I got four platinums. That’s not me bragging. Usually I only get one in a given year. I got four because games kept being so good that I wanted to fully complete them. Plus I played some amazing games from past years like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If I had to pick my absolute favorite for the year I would reluctantly say God of War. But we’re talking inches of difference between first, second, and third place. The game that I actually felt had the strongest narrative experience for me personally was Detroit: Become Human. The game that surprised me the most was Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I went into that game thinking I would hate it but it was great. Really it was just a full year of phenomenal gaming experiences.

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As for completing my gaming goals in 2018, I was pretty disappointing. I only managed to complete six of my 13 main goals and one of my bonus goals. This is much lower than my completion rate for 2017. I’m gonna try to be better and set more practical goals for 2019. The goal I’m most proud of myself for finishing is that I beat Final Fantasy VII for the first time. Now let’s talk about the highlights, good and bad, of 2018 for the rest of the gaming community. Highlights are in no particular order. As I said already, I’m not really going to be able to do this year justice but I’ll do the best I can.

PS4 Wins the Year

Many great games were released in 2018 on all platforms, but there can be no debate that the overall highest quality total gaming experience was on the PS4. SONY delivered exclusive hit after exclusive hit while still allowing players access to the great cross platform exclusives released in 2018 like Red Dead Redemption 2. The best overall platform for gaming in 2018 was objectively the PS4.

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God of War

In my opinion, this was the game of the year. I was very much against the idea of them making another Kratos game. I was worried about them changing the setting, changing the actor, and adding in a kid. I went into the game expecting something mediocre, but Cory Balrog managed to reboot a franchise that didn’t need to be touched beautifully. It was visually stunning, well written, expertly acted, and mechanically sound. While I wasn’t happy with the cliff hanger ending, I’m happy that a direct sequel will be made and I was extremely impressed with this game overall. And so was everyone else. It won several awards including PlayStation Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards. At the time of writing this it has a 94 on Metacritic. It truly was a perfect reboot to an already great franchise.

Detroit: Become Human

As hit or miss as David Cage is, he delivered an amazing narrative experience with this one. This story was powerful. These characters were meaningful. This world was depressing while being extremely realistic. Parts of this game hit me so hard I thought I was gonna cry. The multiple social issues addressed were done tastefully while not being overly preachy. I will definitely go into the next Quantic Dream game with optimism. While this game didn’t score as high critically as some of the other games released this year, it is a respected PlayStation exclusive and was nominated for several awards.

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Spider-Man

Insomniac Games managed to revolutionize the comic book game genre with this one. This game played perfectly. It looked amazing and had one of the best photo modes I’ve ever seen. It was written at the quality of a Marvel movie and even had a Stan Lee cameo. Hopefully it’s to games what Iron Man was to movies and we will now get a collection of amazing interconnected comic book games taking place in the same universe. It’s a PS4 exclusive though so if you don’t have one you better buy one soon so you don’t get too far behind in the timeline.

ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

I’m not a huge fan of current VR and I have yet to be truly impressed by any games released on PSVR, or really any VR platforms for that matter. While I haven’t personally played ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission, the talk is that it revolutionized VR gaming. It’s been called the Mario 64 of VR. That’s a hefty claim, but if it’s true I hope it means that we’ll start to see consistently great VR games that make the platform actually worth buying for the majority of gamers. I do personally want to try this game after watching some footage but not enough to go out and buy one of those overpriced headsets. Hopefully as the library grows so will my interest in making the purchase.

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Tetris Effect

It warms my heart to know that Tetris still mattered to people in 2018. It still matters to me and always will. While I think the VR aspect of the game is overrated, it is an excellently made Tetris game overall. Filled with stunning visuals, hypnotic music, and an overall calming vibe, this may be the best Tetris game ever made. The price is way too high but it’s quite a good game for what it ultimately is.

PlayStation Won’t be at E3 2019

Just over a month ago, SONY announced that there would be no PlayStation/SONY presence at E3. The reasons why aren’t exactly clear but many people have their theories. Really this shows that SONY is so confident with the PS4 at this point that they’ve become arrogant.  Maybe that’s OK though. As long as prices don’t go up and they continue to release great exclusives it really doesn’t matter how they get the word out. In the age of the internet, it’s more effective to do news posts all year round like Nintendo than to launch all your bombs in one event. Personally I have no problem with them ditching E3 as long they continue to keep the public informed about current and future projects.  I find the fact that they cancelled PlayStation Experience in 2018 to be more unsettling.

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XB1 Continues to Disappoint

I have no love for Microsoft but I also have no reason to hate the XB1 or the people that use it. At this point I just feel sorry for them more than anything. They get all the cross platform games so that’s nice, but that’s not why you buy a console. It’s the exclusives that make or break a gaming platform and by any objective standard the XB1 is broken. The only truly great exclusive they released in 2018 was Forza Horizon 4. And while it may be a good racing game, that genre doesn’t justify consoles or those who purchase them all on its own.

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves is to XB1 what No Man’s Sky, which wasn’t even an exclusive, was to PS4. It’s a boring, repetitive, mostly disappointing pirate themed farming scenario except the prizes are even more disappointing than those of Destiny. Even more depressing is the fact that it was developed by Rare, because we all expect better from them.

Backwards Compatibility

The one thing that the XB1 must be praised for is the backwards compatibility. The library of backwards compatible games continues to grow and that’s a beautiful thing. It still doesn’t justify the console overall, but it’s a noble thing that Microsoft has taken huge steps in preserving the overall useable lifespan of games. This is even more important in light of Nintendo literally suing private citizens for trying to preserve their older titles. I’d like to see PlayStation take on similar policies with the PS5.

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Sunset Overdrive

I have spent years waiting for them to port Sunset Overdrive to a platform I actually use. In November, they finally ported it to PC. While this is great news for PS4 users, it only serves to cheapen the value of the XB1 even more.  Porting an exclusive like that is a slap in the face to the entire loyal XBOX user base.

Nintendo Gonna Nintendo Hard

What can I say about Nintendo that hasn’t already been said about pet cats? They do whatever they want. They almost completely ignore public opinion on most topics. Nothing they do ever seems to make sense from the outside. They literally attack those who love them. But we still love them. The company doesn’t always make the best decisions, but they almost always make profitable ones. Sales wise, Nintendo owned this year. And that’s following 2017 where we saw Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They just print money.

Pokémon Let’s GO

Haters ranted and raved and continue to do so, but this game sold three million copies in the first three days after release. I haven’t purchased it but the more I see footage from it the more I want to. It looks the way Pokémon was originally intended to but couldn’t because of technological limitations. While I think it’s ridiculous to be charging $100 for it because of a single use controller, the overall concept of the Let’s GO games works. And linking it to Pokémon GO was a brilliant move. I doubt this is the last we see of the Let’s GO series.

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Smash Bros Ultimate

Simply put it’s the best Smash Bros. ever made. It is definitely missing a number of features like break the targets and a story mode reminiscent of the original game. But I would still argue that it’s the best in the series. And I do foresee patches and additions being added to it. I will be playing this a lot more than I already have and I don’t even have Nintendo Switch Online.

Super Mario Party

This was certainly a step in the right direction but it came up short. Most people who grew up with the original Mario Party wanted Super Mario Party to just be that with online pvp functionality. Instead they just did a small list of boards, lots of mini-games, and limited online functions. This game was so close to being perfect, but isn’t that what Nintendo does all the time? They love to get about 75% there and just screw up the end game.

Nintendo Online

This service is pretty much everything I feared for Nintendo. It’s peak predation in every sense of the word. The so called deals are basically non-existent. The number of games worth having the service for is super limited. The retro titles are too retro to warrant paying for the service. This is pretty much an additional paywall for Splatoon 2 and Smash Bros Ultimate that has to be repaid annually.

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Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet

This is noteworthy more in how surprising it is than the actual game itself. This port of the latest Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball game was not expected to be available on the Switch. Even more surprising is the fact that the Switch version will be uncensored while the PS4 version will be censored. And let’s not forget the HD Rumble feature. Basically playing this game on the Switch is as close to feeling up a woman that the people who are gonna buy this game will ever get to. For a console and company that’s always packaged itself as the family friendly gaming brand, it’s quite shocking and meme worthy that Nintendo allowed this.

Ports, Ports, and more Ports

Ports on the Switch aren’t just for Wii U games anymore. Real AAA PlayStation and XBOX titles are making their way to the Switch and they play and look fairly good while also being portable. DOOM, Wolfenstein II, and Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition are just a few examples. And many more have been announced from current and past gens. Slowly the Switch is becoming the most versatile console to game on and the sales numbers show that it’s working.

Noteworthy Non-Exclusives

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Monster Hunter World

Supposedly this was the bestselling Capcom game ever released  . . . and rightly so. What’s great about MHW, and why it was so successful, was that they took an already award winning concept and made it accessible to all gamers. The idea of hunting giant monsters with a very limited narrative structure has always been a good one. The problem with past MH games is that they were always too complicated and had a steep barrier of entry. This game keeps what’s good about the past games but made it much easier for new players to jump in. The many limited time events throughout the year with various cameos like Ryu and Dante have kept the game relevant even several months later.

Battle Royale is Cancer

Cancer is a disease that takes already existing cells within a body and transforms them into harmful cells. As the disease spreads across the body, more and more cells are taken over by the spreading cancer until the life form eventually dies. I think this is a rather apt description of the battle royale genre. It has over taken the industry as the most watched genre on Twitch and developers have taken notice of that. More and more games are adding BR modes. It’s a genre that adds nothing particularly new to gaming. It just transformed traditional PVP into baseless 100 man maps with no story, no chance to turn the game around after dying, and no reason to care about the match once you’ve died. I think it adequately portrays how much people’s attention spans have fallen due to technological advances. I fear for the day that all games become Battle Royale and real gaming eventually dies.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

What happens when you take The Witcher 3 and set it in the Wild West era? Something extremely popular even when riddled with glitches. I’ve heard people say this isn’t just the GOTY but the “game of the generation”. Slow your roll. It’s an epic achievement in many ways and Rockstar Games should be proud to have delivered something so impressive. That being said, it still has many of the various issues we’ve grown accustom to with Rockstar titles. While it was certainly one of the most impressive games of 2018, I’m fairly certain we won’t be talking about it once Cyberpunk 2077 releases.

WTF Bethesda

Bethesda went whole hog on not giving a damn this year. Not only did they put out the travesty that is Fallout 76, but they followed that up by saying The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield would use the same broken engine they’ve been using since 2011. Skyrim was an excellent game but it’s really time to move on to the next engine. I don’t completely blame the engine for all the problems with Fallout 76, but it definitely played a factor. Of course Bethesda is nowhere near closing down, but the fact that we keep letting them get away with releasing broken games is problematic to say the least.

Spyro Trilogy Remastered

When you find a winning formula you keep doing it over and over again until people get bored with it. Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a testament to how successful Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was. They’ve also announced that Medievil is being remastered for 2019. Personally I’m OK with them remastering much older games and clearly everyone else is as well.

Spyro

Destiny 2: Forsaken

While I have no love for Destiny and would never buy another game in the franchise, it must be acknowledged that people really seemed to like the Forsaken expansion in Destiny 2 so kudos to Bungie for getting that right. That being said, Activision is doing everything they can to make people angry with microtransactions.

No Man’s Sky Patches

I still haven’t played No Man’s Sky but as they have evolved the game over time the idea has become more and more appealing. While I’ll probably never completely trust Hello Games, I will commend them for acknowledging that they screwed up with that game initially and have worked tirelessly to improve it, which they have and continue to do. I think NMS is directly responsible for Ubisoft’s decision to make Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which is an achievement in and of itself.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

In my opinion, this was the hidden gem of 2018. I don’t know why it wasn’t talked about way more than it was, but I will admit that there are some inherent flaws with the way it was priced and distributed. I finished it and really enjoyed it, but I did feel like it was short at only 30 hours for an open solar system game. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, Starlink is everything we wanted from NMS plus Starfox, if you play the Switch version. It’s really just a narrative focused NMS with the ability to fast travel, a manageable amount of content, and a real plot to follow. You also have multiple playable characters. I think the toys, specifically how they were priced, were a turn off for people. I have the digital deluxe version and I think that really is the superior way to play. If they had not done the toys and instead just sold the deluxe version content with all the characters available as the vanilla version and then a gold edition with additional story missions, that would have been a lot more successful. Because the game isn’t about the toys. They’re a gimmick to try to compete with amiibo. But the game itself is great and it’s a travesty how little attention it actually got.

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Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

The Assassin’s Creed franchise went through quite a few years of disappointing content. People, myself included, were fed up with the horrible storytelling and the awkward structure of games like Unity. Having finally played Syndicate this year, I have to say that it was actually quite good on all fronts. But it was still the old style of game that had become tiresome and overdone. Changing the formula in Origins really reinvigorated the franchise and Odyssey successfully continued that momentum.

Darksiders III

I don’t think it’s the game itself that’s necessarily noteworthy here. It’s the fact that the game finally released. When THQ shutdown, the Darksiders franchise was up in the air. Most people who had played the first two, such as myself, definitely wanted to see III released, but there were no guarantees it would ever happen. To see it finally release six years after II is amazing. I haven’t gotten to play it yet myself, but thankfully I’ll actually be able to because it exists.

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Gaming Industry Do’s & Don’ts

Ninja

If the battle royale genre is the cancer of gaming, Ninja is a tumor. This toxic hack somehow managed to become the face of Fortnite and end up as the first non-athlete to make it on the cover of ESPN magazine even after having said a racial slur during a live stream and basically throwing all female streamers under the bus. It just goes to show you that the influencer system is no different than systems of the past. Minorities and women get shit on while assholes get rich for doing little to no actual work. I hope this hack goes away and takes Fortnite with him.

Castlevania Netflix Season 2

Castlevania is not just a great game cartoon. It’s just a great cartoon. The animation style, the storytelling, the acting, and the relationship with the games are all done perfectly. Cartoon production studios should take note of this show for literally any genre that contains violence and caters to an older audience. I hope we see other shows like this for other classic game franchises like Metroid.

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Monster Hunter Movie

The only positive thing I can say about this movie so far is that they cast Tony Jaa. That’s an A+ casting decision for a Monster Hunter movie. Other than that, this whole project looks like shit. They’ve shown tanks and modern looking guns. The casting in general seems to be steering more towards an American audience of people who don’t actually play the games. And don’t pretend like the Resident Evil movies were good. This all reeks of a cash grab franchise that will drone on for years and years against the desires of the people who actually play the games.

Kotaku

This is what happens when you cheapen the term gamer to the point of including absolutely everyone with a smart phone. The number of controversial articles they put out claiming games are destroying society, women, and the future is just appalling. Their twitter feed is one of the most entertaining comments sections you can read though so at least there’s that.

Diablo

I have no love for Diablo. I have no love for Blizzard. I have absolutely no positive feelings about Activison. In fact I’m worried that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will suck because of Activision. While I don’t support Blizzard in any way, I feel bad for their loyal fans who have spent years hoping for the next Diablo. Them announcing a mobile game and not even mentioning a proper next installment was a real slap in the face to all their fans. I commend that guy for standing up in the middle of their conference and calling them out. And then they followed that by announcing that all their franchises are getting mobile games. Clearly Activision has poisoned that already stagnant well and any smart person would jump ship rather than throwing more money into that pit or microtransactions, predatory pricing, and general disregard for their consumers.

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Goodbye Telltale Games

This hurt a lot. And the news came out of nowhere. I was so sad to hear that I won’t be getting The Wolf Among Us season 2 among other titles. I beat Guardians of the Galaxy this year and Game of Thrones last year. I was waiting for additional seasons of both. But really I should have seen this coming. I have said multiple times in the past that they seem to be taking on way too many projects. And I wasn’t aware of just how bad their licensing agreements were with a lot of these companies. The studio really was mismanaged and it’s a shame what happened to all their employees. It reminded me of when Visceral Games closed down, save for the fact that Telltale didn’t collapse because of bad management from an overarching publisher. Hopefully small studios will learn from this and stop trying to be too big for their britches.

Goodbye Prima Games

Prima Games closing its doors is the equivalent of seeing your childhood home demolished for me. I used to collect their player’s guides. I recall some of my favorite ones that I still have in a box somewhere. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, and many others. But it makes perfect sense that they closed down. I’m shocked they lasted as long as they did. Printed gaming tips in 2018? GameFAQs has existed for more than 10 years. YouTube playthroughs and guides can be watched from your phone. Google can pinpoint the exact item you’re looking for and bring up a marked map of where it is in the game in seconds. Who was still buying player’s guides for any reason other than collecting and nostalgia? And they weren’t cheap either. Every time I saw a new guide released by them I was shocked at how expensive they were in recent years. They cost more than many games do now. All good things must come to an end and Prima Games had a great run.

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2019 Looks Amazing

There are a host of great looking games coming out in 2019. For PS4 it’s going to be the year of the samurai. For the Switch we’ll see new installments of some classic fan favorites. CD Projekt Red may raise the bar even higher than The Witcher 3. This is just a small sampling of the announced games for 2019.

  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Kingdom Hearts III
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World
  • Medievil
  • Devil May Cry V
  • Nioh 2
  • Animal Crossing
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • The Last of Us Part 2
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3
  • Shenmue III
  • Doom Eternal
  • Bayonetta 3

There is so much more I could cover but no one wants to read a 20 page blog post in 2019 and I really don’t have the time or energy to write one. Overall I’d say this was a really good year for gaming, unless you’re predominantly an XB1 user. I really didn’t cover enough of the bad moments but there were just so many noteworthy goods to talk about. I hope this is not an outlier year and that 2019 continues this trend of great gaming. My biggest concern at this point is deciding which games I’m going to take the time to play because there are so many worthy candidates. How was gaming for you in 2018? What games are you most excited about in 2019?

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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The Game Awards 2018

As this year comes to a close, I have to say that I have had the pleasure of playing some excellent games. Rarely do I get to play as many new games as I did during the release window in 2018. I was truly impressed by the offerings presented in this year of gaming. The Game Awards for 2018 are highly competitive. I’m sure, like with most years, the games that deserve to win will get beaten out by over hyped genre titles and pew pew FPS nonsense. But 2018 is one of those rare years where I’ll say that my choices for this year are heavily subjective and that it’s genuinely difficult to actually pick the best games of this year. As long as one of several titles takes the awards, I’ll probably have no complaints. The only things that would actually irritate me is if some ridiculous upset wins like Overwatch in 2016 (looking at your Celeste) or Red Dead Redemption 2 sweeps every category. As long as neither of these two things happen, I will probably be satisfied with the overall results.

For this year, I’ve decided to go over each category with a short summary of my thoughts on the nominees as a whole and then give both my pick and my prediction for what will actually win the award. For the purposes of space and time, I’m going to assume you’re actually looking at the list on the official website so I don’t have to take the time to actually type out all the nominees by hand. Click the link and it will take you to the nominees page in another tab.

The Game Awards Date

The Game Awards 2018

1. Game of the Year – God of War

I’m very comfortable with five of these six nominees. As I’ve already said, it was an extremely competitive year. I actually own four of the six GOTY nominees. I don’t remember the last time that was the case. My only complaint about this list is the inclusion of Celeste. I honestly don’t know how it got there. Let me be clear in stating I’m not saying it’s a bad game. From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty game. But just from looking at it, I can safely say that it wasn’t the sixth best game released this year. It wasn’t better than Detroit: Become Human. It wasn’t better than Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I doubt it was even better than Mega Man 11. So I have to ask, how was this indie platformer, that looks a bit like a Guacamelee clone, nominated for Game of the Year? It won’t win though, so we really don’t need to discuss it any further. I just think it’s sad that there are other games that deserved the nomination and were denied the privilege.

Though the other five choices were all excellent in their own right, I do believe God of War deserves it. It took an old franchise that personally I wanted to be left alone, completely changed the setting, the tone, the powers/combat, the mechanics of traversing the game, and the main character personality and managed to not only not screw it up, but did a damn great job without breaking canon. That is a tall order that I was sure they were gonna fail at. And they didn’t fail. Not necessarily by a wide margin, but I believe Kratos deserves to take home the crown.

While I do believe the winner should be God of War, I don’t think it will actually win. It will most likely be Red Dead Redemption 2, not because it particularly deserves it, but because it’s still fresh in people’s minds. It’s still extremely strong on the hype train and many people haven’t even finished it yet. It’s not that it’s the best of the year so much as it’s the flavor of the month. Great release tactic by Rockstar. I could also see it going to Spider-Man. This game was extremely well written. It played exceptionally. It has the Marvel hype. It basically revolutionized the comic book game genre, setting a new standard and probably franchise of games. And Stan Lee, who appears in the game, literally died the day before the nominees were announced. A lot of people will vote for the game simply in honor of one of the greatest and most popular men of our time. And while that does sound a bit cynical, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’m still not 100% sure Heath Ledger would have won the Oscar for the Joker in The Dark Knight if he hadn’t of died. Whoever wins though, as long as it’s not Celeste, it will be an excellent game worthy of the title GOTY.

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2. Best Ongoing Game – No Man’s Sky

I personally don’t care for any of these games. I’ve played three of them and I wish at least three of them would just die. But that’s OK. I don’t need to like a game or even a category to judge it fairly. In fact my dislike for all these games makes fairer than most people. My pick is No Man’s Sky. I have no love for this game. I have been brutally critical about it on this blog, on Twitter, and to anyone who would listen. I saw it being a total shit show from the first announcement, and at release it was. I actually own the game. I bought it for $20 on Black Friday a year or two ago. I still haven’t taken the time to open it. But I have seen it make great improvements over time. They have patched in a lot. Improvements have been made. And I might have even enjoyed it if I had tried it before Starlink: Battle for Atlas. My opinion is that Starlink is everything NMS needed to be and wasn’t. And I’m still playing Starlink and will be for tens or even hundred more hours. So I have even less motivation to try NMS. But compared to the other games in this category, it has shown the most improvement and for all intents and purposes is a better game to begin with except for maybe Rainbow Six Siege which has been shitting the bed with political bullshit recently.

I’m not fool. I know Fortnite is gonna win. Nothing else needs to be said about that.

3. Best Game Direction – Spider-Man

This for me was a tough category. Because, contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about this best game. It’s about the best direction, vision, and innovation taken by a game. Every game on the list did that amazingly. I almost picked A Way Out, even though I’d say it’s the worst game in the bunch, because in many ways it is the most innovative. Ultimately though my pick is Spider-Man. Insomniac Games has set a new bar for comic book games. It’s also set a new bar for putting realistic modern settings in games. The writing was not only good, but surprising. Even though I knew from the start who the villains were and was going to become one, I was still moved by the narrative. The way they handled the relationship between Peter and Doctor Octopus was just excellent. The costumes and the powers that come with them were comic book relevant, diverse, looked awesome, and made playing the game a more personal experience. While it’s not my game of the year, the direction really was quite stunning.

While it absolutely doesn’t deserve it, I do believe the winner will be Red Dead Redemption 2. Again, because it’s currently the hype title. It has not really revolutionized the genre. It’s still a buggy, glitch filled Rockstar game. It’s very slow. And really we’ve seen everything it has to offer before. From Rockstar even. It’s really just a well-made sequel to an already well liked game. It is not the “game of our generation”. Really GTAV was much more revolutionary. But hype is hype and hype tends to win.

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4. Best Narrative – Detroit: Become Human

Best narrative was another tough one for me. God of War surprised me the most. I did not expect to enjoy the narrative as much as I did. I did not expect to identify with new Kratos as much as I did. Because I really identify with OG Kratos a lot. I thought I was going to hate Atreus, and at times I did, but by the end he did grow on me. What I don’t like about the game’s narrative is that it ends on a clear cliffhanger. Not only that but it spends much of the game setting up a conflict that never comes to fruition in the game itself. It plays like a timeless classic and then goes franchise right at the end. And that for me is bad writing. What I love about the original God of War is that it has a clearly defined ending. If they never made a second game, you would have no questions. And yet they also wrote it in a way where a sequel could be made without changing the canon. That’s the mark of a good game. Spider-Man does this exceptionally well. Great story, clearly defined ending, yet left open for future adventures, which it adds with the DLC and will continue to with future games. But each game can and hopefully will standalone. But I have to award this one to Detroit: Become Human. That game is powerful. I didn’t even really want to play it. I hated Beyond: Two Souls. I was done with David Cage. The only reason I even considered this one was how much it was blowing up my Twitter timeline. I did like the demo, but I didn’t love it. Thankfully I was able to borrow a copy. And I’m so glad I did. That game is so emotional, moving, and sad. I felt for those androids. I wanted them to obtain freedom. I felt bad as a human playing the game. It was too real. I platinumed it.

 

I don’t want to believe that Red Dead Redemption 2 will win this one. I hope it won’t. I have faith in the gaming community that they can at least acknowledge that both Spider-Man and God of War had stronger writing than Yee haw Skyrim. I believe Spider-Man will take it because there is such a large comic book audience in the gaming community and the story is straight out of a comic book. But I would not be surprised or unhappy if God of War takes this one.

5. Best Art Direction – God of War

Let’s be clear about two things. First, there is no way to properly judge this category. God of War, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and Red Dead Redemption 2 all deserve to win this one. It merely comes down to which setting you prefer. Second, Return of the Obra Dinn does not deserve to be nominated. It’s exactly like Celeste being nominated for Game of the Year. This should have had six nominees instead of just five, Return of the Obra Dinn should not be one of them, and any two between Spider-Man, Detroit: Become Human, and Starlink: Battle for Atlas should be among those six. I’m actually comfortable with Octopath Traveler being nominated, but it should not win.      My pick is God of War, but again that is a completely subjective choice. All of the games I mentioned are damn beautiful games. And if the standard is simply the biggest open world wins then that’s not really fair or particularly objective.

I believe it will go to Red Dead Redemption 2. I will not say in this case that it doesn’t deserve it, but I will say that the fact that it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind helps it a lot with this particular category among many others.

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6. Best Score/Music – Spider-Man

Honestly with this category I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the nominees this year. I would actually have chosen Detroit: Become Human, which even took the time to add an album section to its menus because they put that much work into their soundtrack.  I voted Spider-Man, but I really don’t have an opinion here. I actually do think Celeste could win this one if enough people played it because that genre is usually great for music, albeit repetitive and limited in what that music actually is.

7. Best Audio Design – Spider-Man

This one was close for me between Spider-Man and God of War. Both did an excellent job and either one deserves to win it. The reason I chose Spider-Man is that the number of gadgets, web shots, swinging, and other tiny sounds that were required to bring this game to life just sets it apart from the pack. The setting and audio aesthetic of the game just is more impressive than the other choices. It really just wins by sheer mass. Even the voice acting was impressive in that they recorded multiple takes so that they could make Peter’s voice change based on his current situation. They really just put the work in to earn this one.

I do think Spider-Man will win this one.

8. Best Performance – Bryan Dechart as Connor, Detroit: Become Human

This one sucked to choose. It was like choosing your favorite child. Let me just say that I am appalled that Jessie Williams wasn’t nominated for his performance in Detroit: Become Human. His performance was so good that I left the game thinking I wanted to watch more movies with him in them. Before now, the only thing I’d seen him in is The Cabin in the Woods (2011). He was robbed here. Christopher Judge, a classic actor by all standards that I’ve since Stargate, played an amazing Kratos. And that’s following several amazing performances by T.C. Carson, the original Kratos voice actor. Yuri Lowenthal was a great Peter Parker. It was the way I wanted Peter Parker to be. But I am going to give it to Bryan Dechart as Connor in Detroit: Become Human. He is the only one of the bunch whose character had to make drastic changes in who they were while simultaneously remaining the same person. Connor was an android and he became a human by the end of that game. It was real. Like if I saw Bryan Dechart on the street I could believe he was actually an android simulating a human. It definitely helps that Detroit: Become Human uses motion capture and models that are directly based on the actors, because that really brought them to life. And the game’s setting is super realistic even while being set in the near future. Really he was just dealt the right hand to win this one.

I think Christopher Judge will ultimately win this one for his Kratos. I just hope that the current hype of Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t end up handing it to Roger Clark for Arthur Morgan.

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9. Games for Impact – Life is Strange 2: Episode 1

I’m actually really disappointed in this list of nominees. Detroit: Become Human should have been nominated here. It’s about so many issues currently plaguing our society right now as well as the ethics of AI, which will have to deal with one day. It’s about racism, classism, sex slavery, agency as a person, defining humanity, and so many other things. Child abuse comes up in it. Identity politics. It really deserved to be nominated.

I believe Life is Strange will win mostly because it’s the most well-known game in the bunch. But I really don’t like the idea of a single episode being able to get nominated because that means it will probably get nominated again next year for an additional episodes.

Chosen because of noise online. Should have been Detroit.

10. Best Independent Game – Dead Cells

I’m going to be honest and say that I haven’t played any of these. I have looked into some of them this year, but none of them interested me enough to buy. The one I’m most interested in is Dead Cells so I voted for that one. I will say though that I don’t agree with the idea of a game being able to be nominated for GOTY and Indie GOTY. The whole point of the indie category is that we’ve agreed that indie and AAA aren’t really comparable. We’ve created a space where indies can thrive and be recognized because they can’t compete with AAA titles most of the time. But if we’re going to include them in the real deal then we should fully include them and do away with the indie category. Now personally I don’t think we should do that. As I’ve already said, I think Celeste shouldn’t have been nominated for GOTY. But if it is going to be nominated for GOTY, even though it isn’t going to win, I don’t think it should be able to qualify for both categories simultaneously. That being said, I do believe Celeste will win this category.

11. Best Mobile Game – Donut County

I haven’t played any of these and I don’t particularly want to. The only mobile games I played this year were Pokémon Go, Injustice 2 Mobile, Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, and Fill. I am absolutely not going to support the idea of mobile ports winning awards for anything other than best ports so I voted Donut County because it’s the only game from the list other than the phone pew pew BR games that I’d heard about before the nominees were announced. I think Fortnite is going to win though.

12. Best VR/AR Game – ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

I think the mark of a great VR game is that it has to be in VR to truly enjoy it and get the experience of the game. I’ve played three of the games nominated and I can say that none of the ones I played absolutely had to be in VR. I haven’t played ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission but from what I’ve been told it’s the Mario 64 of VR. Supposedly it revolutionized the platform and cannot be truly experienced on a TV. If that’s really the case then it deserves to win and I think it will win based on what I’ve heard about it compared to the other nominees.

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13. Best Action Game – Far Cry 5

This is a shitty list of titles and I think we need to better define action game because there are definitely games that could have been included here that weren’t. I’m also not a huge fan of Action and Action Adventure being separate because this allowed five meh games the chance to win an award while forcing five awesome games to duke it out in yet another category that Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably end up winning simply because of the date it was released. I chose Far Cry 5 because it’s the least mediocre of the list provided but really this category is just an insult to the rest of the AAA relevant categories. I do think that next year it will have some great titles depending on how they split up games like Ghost of Tsushima, Kingdom Hearts III, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry V, and some other already announced titles.

I think COD will probably take it because it disappointed people less than Destiny 2, but apparently people liked Forsaken so it’s anyone’s ballgame.

14. Best Action/Adventure Game – God of War

If we’re focusing solely on gameplay in the Action/Adventure genre it’s God of War with Spider-Man at a close second. Again, Red Dead Redemption 2 hype, but really God of War deserves this one.

15. Best Role Playing Game – Monster Hunter World

Where is Starlink: Battle for Atlas? That game got robbed this year. The one nomination it did get makes no sense and it absolutely deserved to be nominated in other categories, including this one. Now let me be clear in saying the winner is clearly and undebatably  Monster Hunter World and it will win. But Starlink deserved to be nominated in this category.

16. Best Fighting Game – Soul Calibur VI

It just is Soul Calibur VI. That’s not debatable. Dragon Ball FighterZ was a nice idea, but people who actually played both games know the truth. Soul Calibur VI will and should win.

17. Best Family Game – Super Mario Party

Starlink: Battle for Atlas shouldn’t have been nominated in this category. I think it was included simply because they realized it is a great game that deserved to be nominated for something so they just squeezed it in here. This actually was a tough choice. I think arguments can be made for both Overcooked 2 and Super Mario Party, as well as Mario Tennis Aces, but Super Mario Party has the most depth as a game that also works well for entire families to play. It deserves to win and I think it will. The only thing I will say is that Overcooked 2 is multiplatform so there is a chance that more voters played it than any of the other games, all of which are Nintendo Switch exclusives. Ignoring Starlink of course.

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18. Best Strategy Game – The Banner Saga 3

I haven’t played any of these and I’m honestly not super interested in any of them except The Banner Saga 3 so I voted for that but I withhold my prediction because honestly none of these have been particularly noteworthy or popular so I can’t even really take hype into account.

19. Best Sports/Racing Game – Mario Tennis Aces

I picked Mario Tennis Aces here because I think innovation trumps realism. All the other nominees have done their best to rehash the same formula for the umpteenth time with slightly improved graphics. Mario Tennis Aces is the only game that really innovated the sports genre and tried to make a game that was fun as opposed to just realistic. My prediction is FIFA 19 due to the sheer volume of players though.

20. Best Multiplayer Game – Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter World deserves it. Fortnite will win it. Moving on.

21. Best Student Game – LIFF

Sadly I haven’t heard of any of these student games. Usually there’s one that stands out from the crowd and gets some real attention but none of these were able to make it to any of my various feeds or new sources this year so I have no opinion. I voted for LIFF because it looks cool.

22. Best Debut Indie Game – Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is the only game from this list I’d heard of before the nominees were announced so that means it had at least enough hype to get my attention, which is why I voted for it. I predict it or Moss will win.

I’m obviously not going to do the eSports and content creator categories because why would I waste my and your time with that trash? As I said, overall this was a highly competitive year for games. So many titles were excellent and I’m thankful that I was able to play so many of them while they were new. Next year looks amazing too so The Game Awards 2019 will likely be just as difficult to judge. Thanks for reading. Let me know your picks and predictions in the comments.

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Black Friday Aftermath – 2018

If you’re reading this it means you survived another Black Friday. Congratulations. I hope that you’re not too traumatized, either physically or mentally, from any of the horrors you might have seen while out hunting for deals. As has been the case for a number of years now, my Black Friday was once again a purely digital shopping experience. It wasn’t all fun and games while I sipped cocoa in my pajamas, but I do miss the thrill of being on the ground hunting in the traditional way like the shoppers who came before me.

Let me start by saying that in general this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s. Black Friday 2017 was as bad as the rest of 2017. This year we had some actual deals and even in a fully digital marketspace, like I had, we had to actually shop around and locate the best prices. I bought double the number of games I did last year because there were just so many great deals between the various digital storefronts I visited. Many stores were changing prices throughout the last week through Cyber Monday, so it was imperative to stay diligent in the pursuit of discounts. This is the way Black Friday is supposed to be.

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As far as my personal list going into Black Friday, I managed to snag seven of my hoped for titles. That’s two more than last year but due to the volume of titles in this year’s list compared to last year’s, it’s only a 5% increase in success rate. That being said, I did actually manage to find a couple more titles from my list at the prices I wanted but was unable to get them because of limitations like “in store only”, which I cannot do, or I found the game at/below the price I wanted on the wrong platform. For instance, I wanted to pay $10 for Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn. I specifically wanted it on Nintendo Switch, for reasons I still can’t summarize or justify properly, and never found the price I wanted. I did end up purchasing the game but I paid $15 for it, which is 50% higher than what I wanted to pay. I found a copy of it on PS4 for $5. That’s a failure on Nintendo’s part for their hubris and mine for my stubbornness. I also found some games at the right price but decided not to buy them yet. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition is the best example of this. I found it for $20 but chose not to buy it last minute because I haven’t finished the first game yet. Overall though, I managed to pick up a lot of games for great prices.

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Here’s what I managed to get from my original shopping list.

  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $25
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at my desired price but I really wanted it portable for some reason.
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $18
    1. I beat my desired price by $2.
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $7
    1. It took some maneuvering but I managed to beat my desired price by $3.
  4. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PC) – $15
  5. Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $15
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at half my desired price after already purchasing but it was an in store only deal.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  7. Sonic Mania Plus (PC) – $9.28
    1. I gave up on the Switch version but was able to get the PC version for $5.72 below my desired price by purchasing the game and DLC separately.

I also managed to find South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins at or below the prices I wanted but was unable to get them or chose not to get them because of extenuating circumstances.

I also managed to find a Garmin Vivosmart 4 Fitness Watch for $99. $10 higher than I wanted to pay but it came with a two year warranty so I felt that it was worth the extra cost in case my girlfriend breaks it.

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What is more impressive is the number of games I got that weren’t on my list because of how good the deals were. I bought three times the number of off my list games than I did last year. And I actually wanted to buy more but couldn’t because of in store only limitations and some region locked prices. The one I was most angry about not being able to get was a physical version of The Banner Saga Trilogy on PS4 for $10. Best Buy screwed me with an in store only deal.

  1. Wolfenstein 2-Pack (The New Order + The Old Blood) (PC) – $9.89
  2. The BIT TRIP Collection (Includes 6 games) (PS4) – $0.99
  3. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (PC) – $4.79
  4. 1 Year PS Plus – $40

While this wasn’t the best Black Friday I’ve ever had, it was a great improvement over last year’s disappointing month of lackluster sales. I’m most happy about the fact that I finally managed to get Cuphead. I’ve been waiting to be able to get that for under $10 since before it released. I had started to lose hope that it was ever going to happen.

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A difference of 52% in price between USA and Taiwan.

One thing that surprised me a lot this year was how vastly different the prices were between the Taiwan and USA digital markets. Because I live in Taiwan but have American accounts that I started when I was still living in the states, I end up looking at both sets of prices for UPLAY, Steam, and a few other digital stores. Taiwan gets considerably better prices. For example, the reason I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed Origins was because if I had wanted it on PC, which admittedly wasn’t my ideal platform, from the US UPLAY store it would have cost me $39.99 but with the 20% additional discount they were offering for 100 UPLAY coins I could have gotten it for $32. In the Taiwan UPLAY store the starting price was $31.50 and the 20% off dropped it down to about $25.20. I absolutely would have bought it at that price but the Taiwan UPLAY store wouldn’t allow me to claim the additional 20% discount. Issues like this kept me from buying some other games I really wanted as well.

In general, I’m happy to see that Black Friday this year was much better than last year. I saw some amazing deals that were irrelevant to me such as God of War for $17. If I didn’t already own it, I would have for sure purchased it at that price. The Steam sale had a lot of great deals but the store wasn’t organized as well as I’ve seen in past years so I actually missed out on buying some games because some prices were limited time only, causing me not to see some stuff till it was already too late. The PSN sale was fairly decent but the Ubisoft titles, which were some of the most noteworthy in the sale, were not discounted nearly enough.

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GOG was a straight disappointment because they really only offered the same sales we’ve now seen countless times. Like The Witcher 3 GOTY for $20. That’s a great game but that price is nothing new. The point of Black Friday is to have the best deals of the year. Not the same deals over and over. And a lot of their prices weren’t even better than Steam and PSN. I was actually going to buy The BIT TRIP collection on PC but the price on GOG for all six games was like three times higher than on PSN. Their price for Runner 3 was way higher than Steam’s limited time promotion for the game and almost three times higher than the Steam Taiwan price.

For physical stores, Best Buy and Amazon had the best deals this year. Best Buy actually had the best deals but because so many of them were limited to in store only, it was impossible to fully take advantage of all their offerings for me. Something I noticed on multiple store fronts, including digital, is that prices weren’t fixed or constantly descending. This is not supposed to happen on/during Black Friday weekend. All prices are supposed to be fixed or continue dropping as demand waivers and supply clears. Some prices went up and that goes directly against the purpose and practice of Black Friday where the main goal is supposed to be clearing stock for the Christmas season and New Year stock.

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Of course the most disappointing company for every Black Friday is still Nintendo. Whether it’s physical or digital, their prices are always the highest on the market even with the lowest hardware specs. The fact that I paid three times the value of Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn is par for the course with them. The only game that was actually properly priced for the Switch was Just Dance 2019 and that only applies to the physical version. The reason I put $25 on my desired price list is not because I was guessing at the price. It drops to that on multiple stores every year and I almost always buy it from Amazon. But I could have gotten the physical version on any platform, including the Wii, for $25 just like with 2018, 2017, and so on. But the digital version on Switch was $28. I’ll never understand why they feel like that’s OK. I had hoped to buy Super Mario Party and possibly even Pokemon Let’s GO Eevee but those prices didn’t move a cent.

I hope this year was the beginning of a trend of making Black Friday meaningful again. Last year was worrying because it showed a continuance of a trend in declining Black Friday deals quality. This year went in the other direction. I hope that continues for Black Friday 2019.

How did Black Friday go for you this year? Did you see any notably great deals? How did it compare to last year for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Halloween (2018) Review – 8.5/10

I saw the original Halloween (1978) in 2008. I watched it for a class I took on horror films. Even 30 years later, it still stood up as an excellent slasher film. What I like about it is that unlike many other slasher films of that era, it actually looks good as far as conventional film making practices. Many horror films, both in and out of the slasher genre, aren’t shot particularly well. They often have a very low budget look to them which in many ways became the standard and has since the early 80’s been done intentionally, which I personally think is a stupid genre trope. The original Halloween is responsible for creating and/or normalizing many of the slasher/horror tropes we are used to today and it’s within that context that one should watch Halloween (2018), the direct sequel to the original film.

*Please note that from here on whenever I say Halloween I’m referring to the 2018 film unless otherwise stated.

The first thing that needs to be noted about Halloween is the attention to detail and consistency within the timeline of the franchise/story. The original film takes place on Halloween 1978 in Haddonfield, IL. In the original film, it’s stated that the villain, Michael Myers, murdered his sister when he was six years old on Halloween 1963 in Haddonfield, IL. Halloween takes place on Halloween 2018, exactly 40 years to the day later, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in both films) facing off against Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL again. It’s a beautiful coupling of history, canon, and aesthetic that many horror franchises have never and will never get to accomplish. And it makes the film way better. I assume this is even more the case if you watched the original in theaters 40 years ago. Note that this film acts as a direct sequel to the original and disregards all the various nonsense shown in the countless campy Halloween sequels and remakes that have been made over the years.

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Halloween is effective in its storytelling because it builds off of the original film’s ideas but modernizes them both in aesthetic and plot. It’s still Haddonfield, IL. It’s still a nice, presumably safe suburb full of happy families, friendly neighbors, and angsty but ultimately harmless teenagers. Though it’s set in 2018, a world full of various issues political, cultural, and otherwise, that’s not part of the film. Though it is commented on near the beginning in a single short conversation, the rest of the world doesn’t really matter here. This isn’t a story about the world or society at large. This is simply the story of maybe 100 people being affected by the actions of one man. You don’t have to read more into it and you shouldn’t. Whether it’s 1978 or 2018, teenagers still go to school, fool around when adults aren’t looking, and live mostly inconsequential, carefree lives. And that’s how it should be. Really that’s what Halloween, in the modern American context, is supposed to be about.

The Haddonfield of today may have some of the modern conveniences that weren’t present in 1978 like cell phones, but really little has changed. It still has a sheriff’s department instead of a police department. People still leave their back doors open. Most people don’t have security systems. It might not be how America is often depicted today in news media, but it’s the America people like to pretend still exists. And in many ways that makes it scarier. The most noticeable change in this film compared to the original and really most horror films of the 70’s and 80’s is that now there are considerably more Black people, with speaking parts, and none of them were the first one to die. #Progress!

Daughter

The film recreates a similar story where Michael has once again escaped custody the day before Halloween and has decided to return to his hometown to murder people at seemingly random for no explained reason. Really that’s my biggest beef with this and the original film. Michael simply is evil. We never get any insight into why he kills people and why he does it on Halloween. He just does. This movie takes the time to argue that some people just are pure evil. That there’s no explanation or justification for it. Michael Myers simply kills. While I may not like this explanation, it does accomplish two things rather well. First, it removes the need for a legitimate backstory and/or explanation. Often these come off cheesy and don’t necessarily make the film any better. I appreciate their presence in movies, but can admit that most of them don’t make any sense. How did the boy who drowned in the lake come back to life? How did the man become an evil spirit that hunts teens down in their dreams? Explanations justify the plot of the current story, but they often also leave the viewer with more questions than answers by the end of the movie.

The second thing a lack of justification accomplishes is that it makes the story even scarier. Films like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) give you a justification for the actions shown. The victims did something wrong and they are punished for it. Many slasher films work this way. Teenagers get killed because of bad behavior. This allows the viewer to not feel as bad for the victims when they get offed and allows them to remove themselves from the story, ultimately reducing the fear factor. It’s really easy to walk out of a theater after seeing a bunch of kids get murdered for covering up a manslaughter charge. You don’t even necessarily feel sorry for them at the end of the day. But if there is no reason for the violence and no specific justification for the victims chosen then that means everyone is a potential target. There’s nothing the characters and more importantly the viewer(s) can do to avoid being murdered. It’s simply a random case of bad luck where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a case of weaker writing to achieve a stronger overall experience.

Dr-Sartain-in-Halloween

In the case of specifically Laurie, it’s not even fully apparent that Michael had planned to go after her in this film. What it more seems to be is that he was just on a random killing spree and was maneuvered towards going after her again. Multiple characters go out of their way to try to put the two back together in order to see what will happen. This worked well here because it justified the story focusing on Laurie without giving up the original randomness of Michael’s victims. He kills almost indiscriminately based on who’s in his vicinity when no witnesses are present. By the end of the film a great many people had been killed by Michael, but only two of the murders shown on screen happened with other people present. There are a number of little details like this that make Halloween so much more than the original. Almost to the point where I’d be willing to believe that people had really spent the last 40 years planning this almost perfect sequel. I don’t want to go into too much specific detail about the main plot because it’s so tightly written that mentioning most things directly related to Laurie will spoil her story arc. Suffice it to say that they did a story that I didn’t expect but that I really liked. I found it to be a perfect ending to a 40 year struggle that was true to both the main characters.

The cinematography is excellent. It’s a very well shot film that takes advantage of the experience gained over the last four decades of horror films. The lighting, the angles, the cuts, and even the sound all comes together perfectly to create a very stressful yet entirely believable viewing experience. I also really appreciated that there was only one jump scare in the whole movie and it wasn’t done by Michael. It’s expressed intentionally as a Halloween prank within the movie and for me that’s important. Jump scares are the lazy man’s horror technique. I’m glad we’ve pretty much done away with them in horror movies in exchange for psychological terror. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie was when someone, who I won’t name for spoiler reasons, decides to try to turn the fight back on Michael only to get thrown out a window. But at this point the roles have been reversed and the camera expresses this very well. Michael gets distracted and when he looks back at the body lying outside it’s gone. The sequence proceeds to show Michael moving through the house searching for an intruder the way the prey usually is in this genre. It was a phenomenal sequence that humanized Michael. Many other shots and sequences were just as effective in their own ways at telling a great slasher horror story.

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While this is in many ways a higher minded slasher film that isn’t simply using gore to impress the audience, it’s still very graphic. Michael is at peak killing prowess and he’s not just using knives to kill people. Stabbing is just one of many ways he murders his victims this time around, but what’s also well done is the murders they didn’t show on screen. Many sequences cut or angle away from the actual violence and then show you the after math, leaving you to imagine what happened yourself. While this may not be the most visceral way to depict a murder story, it’s much stronger for the overall storytelling. You don’t have to dwell on every murder that takes place which keeps the pacing good. The film never drags on with violence even while showing you a slew of bodies left in Michael’s wake. Again, Halloween really shows itself as a high quality modern movie that just happens to be a slasher film rather than the classic low quality film that stereotypes the genre.

The acting was great. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance has only gotten better with age. You really believed that she had been struggling with the memories of that night for 40 years. But other actors did a fine job as well. Will Patton as Sheriff Hawkins was exactly what I wanted him to be. This movie actually centers mostly on women of various ages and they all gave great performances. The writing definitely plays a role in this because the story was very realistic, thus making it even more believable. It’s not the cheesy somehow Michael is everywhere scenario. The characters just happen to move into his path and are killed as a consequence of that. There are really only two murders in the whole movie that seem completely intentional as targeted victims and Michael targeting them made perfect sense. I will say though that there are a number of classic dumb horror movie character moments that take place. They’re believable, but they continue the stereotype of people (in this case me) wanting to yell at the screen because why would you run into the woods when a psychopath is trying to murder you when you’re already on a road that cars drive on? The movie isn’t built on these moments, but a number of them occur and as a Black man I had to do everything in my power not to yell at the screen. What was great was that there actually is a Black kid in the movie that basically does this for one sequence. He tells the two older white kids what not to do, they don’t listen, and bad things happen to them. So kudos to you David Gordon Green for acknowledging your audience and for casting a hilarious Black kid.

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I’m not going to say there haven’t been other great pure American slasher films in the last 10 years, but I will say that I can’t recall any. It’s not my favorite genre so I haven’t devoted time to actively seeking them out, but in my opinion horror as a genre has moved away from the slasher idea. Halloween does the genre justice. It’s not just an excellent slasher film. It’s an excellent film that I might even argue is better than the original both in how it presents the genre and circumvents many of the tropes of the genre 40 years later. If you enjoyed the original film, this is a must watch. But even if you didn’t see the original and aren’t a fan of the genre, I still think you’ll enjoy this movie quite a bit.

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